Moorhead Marketing

31 05 2010

My first live copywriting project!

Working closely with the company director, John Moorhead, the copy for Moorhead Marketing needed to professionally express what a professional John is. Having been in the marketing business for more than 20 years, his company needed a new website to demonstrate that he’s still very current, very knowledgeable, and very good at what he does – in traditional marketing strategies as well as with optimised web development, new media and mobile marketing.

Working with a customised WordPress template, the layout of the site is simple and easy to navigate, with the copy being sharp, descriptive and confident.





I Just Can’t Get it Out of My Head: Earworms

26 05 2010

This is a corn earworm, a real organism. Auditory earworms, to my knowledge, are not.

After reading this press release, I’ve been thinking about earworms. Earworms are not real creatures (thank goodness!), they are those songs that you just can’t get out of your head. I get the all the time. In fact, right now, I’ve got “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue firmly wedged in the ol’ gray matter and I just know I’ll be singing it all day. How annoying.

Why do songs “infect” us like this? Professor James Kellaris from the University of Cincinnati has been studying earworms for many years and has developed the “Theory of Cognitive Itch”. Just as some chemicals released in the body can make the skin itch when there is really nothing there, so too, he thinks, certain properties of music can stimulate parts of the brain that bring to mind a certain song, or part of a song. What’s more, just as scratching an itch often just makes it itchier, constantly repeating a song in your head can make it stick even more.

While 98% of people surveyed admit to suffering from earworm, there is evidence to suggest that certain people, particularly musicians, are more prone than others. Kellaris thinks that this suggests that our personal traits, as well as the type of music, can affect the likelihood of suffering this type of cognitive itch.

Going back to the press release I mentioned, Andréane McNally-Gagnon from the University of Montreal’s Psychology department recently carried out a study to find out the most common earworm songs. Bearing in mind that many of the songs are francophone, there aren’t too many on the list that I can identify with, especially the number 1 most infectious song in French-speaking Canada, “Il Fait Rire les Oiseaux”, but I certainly agree on “Hey Jude” by the Beatles, “Singin’ in the Rain” by Gene Kelly and the Muppet’s “Manamana” song. I’d also like to add James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” (also my most hated song!) to the list, and after having enjoyed the Top of the Pops 2 Wham Special a little bit too much on Sunday evening, “Club Tropicana” is up there too!

How do we get rid of an earworm once it’s started? Unfortunately neither Kellaris or McNally-Gagnon offer much advice here. My top tip is to sing “My Old Man’s a Dustman” in your best Cockney accent. Works every time for me!

References:

  • “Hey Jude: Get that song out my head! University of Montreal study on those pesky earworms”, press release, 26th May 2010
  • “Why do songs get stuck in your head?”, from The Straight Dope blog, Oct. 2009
  • Earworms research page, University of Cincinnati College of Business




  • Quick question for Freelancer.com users…

    26 05 2010

    Just a quick blog post to ask a quick question to Freelancer users…

    When I transfer money from my Freelancer.com account to my PayPal account, sometimes I am charged $1 USD, sometimes I’m not charged anything. Why is this? I asked Freelancer.com what this fee is for and to explain why it is not taken every time I make a withdrawal from my account. Freelancer.com replied by saying, and I quote, “Freelancer.com is not charging any withdrawal fee. PayPal is charging $1.00 withdrawal fee…For more clarification regarding this matter, we suggest to contact PayPal.”

    So, contact PayPal I did. This was their reply: “We do not have records of the $1.00 USD charges on your account since PayPal is not the one who charged you for the said amount.”

    This leaves me very confused! Who is taking a $1 fee from my hard-earned cash, what is it for, and why is it not consistent? As a full time self-employed freelancer it’s very important that I submit accurate records to the tax office and I don’t know what to make of this. Do any Freelancer users out there have any answers?





    Bringing Research Out of its Shell

    22 05 2010

    Gulliver 2.0 enjoying my sunny back garden

    “Bringing research out of its shell” – that’s the motto of Gulliver, the open access turtle, mascot of open access science publisher BioMed Central. Today, one of 0ver 2000 Gulliver 2.0 clones arrived on my doorstep, thanks to a prize draw that BioMed Central are running whereby if you befriend Gulliver on Facebook, you too could be the proud owner of your very own Open Access turtle! The fact that I used to work for BioMed Central and still freelance for them *probably* didn’t give me any advantage…

    What is open access all about? Well, if you’ve ever tried to read a scientific paper, you’ll probably have experienced the frustration of hitting a “paywall”. While the abstract (summary) of any scientific paper is usually free, if you want to delve deeper into the article and gain a deeper understanding of the research, you usually have to pay for it. This can be in the form of a one-off fee (which is often somewhere around the $35 USD mark, but can be cheaper or more expensive depending on the cred of the journal), or as a subscription fee that allows you to access all papers within a journal for an annual payment. If you’re a student or researcher then great, your university or institution will usually have a subscription to the most popular science publishers, meaning that there is no cost to you, the user. However, institutional subscriptions come at a cost of hundreds or even thousands of pounds per year – money that could be better spent elsewhere. And what if your institution doesn’t have subscriptional access to a journal that you need? Or if like me, you’re an individual writer, journalist or someone who is just interested in the latest scientific research? Tough luck – you have to pay.

    Me and Gulliver 2.0 in his new home

    So, coming back to “what is open access?”…BioMed Central, and a number of other publishers, have turned the traditional model of science publishing on its head. Rather than allowing researchers to publish their work for a very minimal cost or even for free and then asking the people who want to read their research to pay for it, open access works the other way around. Researchers pay a fee to have their work published (although it still has to pass through peer-review to make it into the journal), and users can access the work – the full text of the work – for free.

    Why would a scientist pay to have their work published if they can get it published freely or cheaper elsewhere? Simple. Because making research open access increases the audience who have access to your work. It means that people in non-subscribing institutions, those who are too poor to pay for subscriptions, or those who are simply put off by the fees, can read the research, build on it, cite it, use it and tell their friends. A wider audience potentially means more exposure, more media coverage, greater popularity, and crucially, more funding for further work to drive science forward.

    To read more about open access, Gulliver himself has his own blog on WordPress (gulliverturtle.wordpress.com), or if you’re turtley too serious to be educated by a soft fluffy turtle, the official BMC Blog is here: BMC Blog. Cowabunga!





    The Science Bit: Part 1 – Digestive bacteria

    20 05 2010

    BioMed Central has now published my first column for the staff magazine so I am now delighted to be able to share it with you. Here’s the first installment for your reading pleasure, ever-so-slightly edited to remove BMC in-jokes…

    If you’re reading this on your lunch break, then so much the better. Digestion, the process of breaking down the food you have just eaten into tiny, absorbable molecules, is a complex and wondrous thing. Much of the process is controlled by enzymes – protein molecules that speed up the numerous chemical reactions needed to turn your hunks of cheese and bread into particles small enough to pass through a microscopically thin membrane in your small intestine and into your bloodstream.

    It’s mindboggling. In your mouth, enzymes in saliva break down some of the carbohydrates in your food and your teeth mash it all up with the liquid so that you don’t choke on chunks of dry bread when you swallow. Muscles in your oesophagus squeeze the food down your throat, it then sits in a stomach acid bath for about an hour and passes into your small intestine. More enzymes and chemicals of all different types are added to the partly digested food and eventually, all the useful molecules from your cheese sandwich end up in the blood. From here, they are transported to wherever they are needed to take part in new chemical reactions, perhaps even ending up as a salivary enzyme again.

    This complex process has a flaw – we’re pretty rubbish at digesting fruit and vegetables. Since we don’t make the right enzymes needed to digest all of the plant matter that is good for us, we’ve enlisted the help of bacteria. FYI: you don’t get these bacteria from eating probiotic yoghurts – they’re already there (although the yoghurts may help to replenish them if you’ve been ill and, ahem, flushed them all out). Bacterial enzymes break down the things that our enzymes can’t; the bacteria take some of the nutrients, we take some of the nutrients and everybody’s happy.

    A new piece of research in the journal Nature suggests that the enzymes of bacteria in the guts of people around the world may be different, depending on regional diet. In a collaboration between French and Canadian scientists working in Japan, researchers found that bacteria in Japanese guts contained genes from an external bacterium found on seaweed. They believe that in swallowing seaweed-wrapped sushi, surviving sea bacteria on the nori may have transferred their genes to the bacteria in the intestines, thus empowering the intestinal bacteria with the ability to digest seaweed. Since Japanese people eat a lot of seaweed – approximately 14 grams per day – that’s a pretty big boost to their digestive systems.

    The study was only small, but it is the first time that bacteria outside of the body, from a completely different ecosystem, have been found to alter the bacteria inside the body. With further research, we may well find that microorganisms, like the nori bacteria, help to shape and evolve the human body and our behaviour in more ways that we previously thought.

    Reference: Hehemann et al, Transfer of carbohydrate-active enzymes from marine bacteria to Japanese gut microbiota, Nature 464, 908-912 (2010)





    The Science Bit…concentrate!

    18 05 2010

    When I was employed by BioMed Central, I got involved with writing for the staff magazine, The Word. I inherited a column called “Now You Know…” from a colleague who had left, in which I interviewed each department in turn by asking them silly questions such as “If your department was a cocktail, what would you be?”, and “If you could have super powers, what would would you have and why?”. The column sadly ran its course and by the time I left the company to become self-employed, I’d finished interviewing every department in the company. However, since I still have regular freelance work with BioMed Central, I was asked to continue writing for The Word (hurray!), and came up with the ingeniously titled, “The Science Bit”. You see, for a biomedical publishing company, the staff magazine was completely devoid of any science, so I decided to put that right! I’ve been given the go ahead by the magazine’s editor to publish the column on my blog as well, although I won’t do this until BioMed staff have had a chance to see it. Nevertheless, keep ’em peeled for some (hopefully!) interesting articles coming this way!

    FYI, if *I* was a cocktail, I’d be a spiced dark rum and coke, and my chosen super power would be the ability to teleport.





    Freelancer.com on Wikipedia and in New Scientist

    7 05 2010

    My latest published project is right here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freelancer.com.

    After reading and commenting on my previous blog posts about Freelancer.com (here, here and here), Alaister from the company’s marketing team hired me via the site to write a Wikipedia page about the company. It’s quite difficult to make an encyclopaedic entry for a product or service without making it sound promotional or unbiased, but I hope I’ve done enough to satisfy the Wiki-geeks.

    I just hope the page doesn’t get sabotaged – there are clearly a lot of people with very strong feelings about Freelancer.com out there and I’ll be most upset if my hard work suffers attack from angry users. 😦

    In other news, Freelancer.com appeared in the New Scientist this week. The popular science magazine reported on the launch of “FreelancerAPI”, a slightly creepy sounding piece of software that tells humans what to do, instead of the other way around. I’m far from being an expert in software or programming (the most I’ve ever achieved was to program a game of “snap” on an old BBC Basic machine), but what I understand of this software is that it allows a company to automatically task workers to perform certain jobs. Say, for instance, that a business launches a new product. The FreelancerAPI has the capacity to be able to automatically post a job on Freelancer.com asking for sales people, extra marketing staff, a graphic designer, or even a software engineer to fix a bug because the company didn’t actually launch a new product. It’s the first API of its kind and while it sounds a little bit Matrix to me, I’ll be interested to see how useful and effective it is.





    Freelancer.com: How to Spot Spam, Scams and Shams

    1 05 2010

    Please also see:

  • The Trouble With Freelancer.com
  • The Trouble with Freelancer.com: Part II
  • My previous posts on Freelancer.com seem to get more traffic than any other post on my blog. Most people seem to arrive here after searching for words to the effect of “Is Freelancer.com a scam?”, and to be honest, the reason I wrote the original post was to discuss exactly the same question. As a freelance writer and editor, I’ve opted to receive daily email alerts that inform me when new projects matching my skills are added to the site, and for a while, I really wondered whether it was worth it. Every day I’d have to sift through the newly posted projects and more often than not would instantly delete them or report violations against the project owners because they fell into one of 3 categories: spam, scam or sham.

    Spam projects range from the outright illegal, such as “I need someone to create a programme that will hack into Facebook/Hotmail/GMail/Yahoo” and captcha projects, to the more subtle, yet equally as annoying, “need someone to get me 1.5 million Facebook/Twitter followers”, or “need someone to post comments containing links to my site on blogs and websites”. I’m always amazed that these projects get any bids at all, especially for the paltry sums that the advertisers offer – I guess not everyone can afford to take the moral high ground, and that’s sad.

    Scam projects are the ones that really make my blood boil. They can include money transfer scams: “my Paypal account has been closed down due to an internal error and I need someone to transfer money from my Freelancer.com account to my Western Union/Indian bank account”. Freelancer.com makes it very clear that these projects are not to be posted on the site, and yet some people still try and get away with it. Other scams include things like the buyer asking for money from the freelancer to cover “admin fees and start up costs” before the project starts, sample article theft and asking for large numbers of articles with payment on completion of the whole project – no milestone payments or escrow.

    Finally, less illegal but equally as immoral in my eyes, are the sham projects. There are an awful lot of these abounding on Freelancer.com every day. In the vast expanse of cyberspace, the websites that succeed are those that rank highly on Google. To get your website to the top of the rankings, it must be heavily keyworded with search terms that people are likely to look for when they want to research a particular topic. This is called SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation and in itself, it’s a very lucrative marketing tool. However, some people set up sites called affiliate sites which contain large numbers of badly written, but – crucially – heavily keyworded articles, along with a whole pile of monetised adverts. If you land on these pages because you are fooled into thinking that you will find out whatever it is you were searching for there, and click the advert links, you’ll be making money for the site owner. Needless to say, the site owners don’t write the content themselves, they pay pathetic sums of money to people in India, the Philippines and Africa to write the content for them, or even to rewrite content stolen from elsewhere, while the site owner knows that he will more than recoup this small outlay in click money.

    Personally, I will have nothing to do with any of these “jobs”, but I have to admit that sometimes the project owners make it very difficult for freelancers to judge whether or not a project is legitimate. I’m happy to say that I have noticed less trash projects advertised on Freelancer of late, and I must again stress that the problems do not inherently lie with Freelancer.com itself, more with the shameless people who try to abuse the site. Nevertheless, here are some tips to avoid being caught up in spam, scams and shams.

    1. I live in the UK so, personally, I tend to stay away from article writing projects that offer a very low rate of pay simply because they’re not worth my while. Also, while I appreciate that there are people in developing countries who would be overjoyed to receive a few dollars for a days work, the majority of projects within this budget – approximately $0.25 – $3 per 500 words – are the aforementioned affiliate shammers. They’re not interested in quality articles, they just need high keyword density and as low a price as possible so that they can easily absorb their outlay in advert click earnings. There is a place for outsourcing to developing countries, but I think projects like this are highly unethical and exploitative.

    2. Scams and spam projects are quite easy to spot. Money exchanges, hacking, and rewriting anything other than somethat that either you or the buyer has copyright for is illegal. If you have concerns about a project, always ask the project owner for clarification. If they don’t reply or are cagey in their response, it’s probably not worth it. Report a violation!

    3. Steer clear of projects that state that they will not use the Freelancer.com payment system. It isn’t perfect, and you will incur a few dollars in fees, but it is a useful safety net. You can check if the buyer has enough funds in their Freelancer.com account to pay you, and you can also arrange milestone payments that can be released as you complete each phase of a project. If you conduct a project outside of Freelancer.com, then you’re on your own if there’s a dispute. I would recommend to only conduct a project outside of Freelancer.com‘s framework if you trust the buyer, e.g. if you have worked with them before or they have very good feedback as a buyer.

    4. It is against Freelancer.com‘s terms and conditions to offer less than $30 for a project, so report violations against those that do. Also, don’t bid lower than this yourself. It’s not on.

    5. Check up on your buyer’s feedback. Obviously, it is better to work with someone who has received good feedback points and comments from their previous clients. Not having any feedback doesn’t instantly make them untrustworthy though; they could be new to the site or past providers may not have left feedback for any number of reasons. They might not have been able to leave feedback if they conducted a project outside of the Freelancer.com payment system. Check if they have posted any projects before, what those projects were, and whether the projects were cancelled or not. Be wary of anyone who has cancelled a lot of projects or has had projects deleted – this usually means that they have previously been in breach of Freelancer.com‘s terms and conditions.

    6. Check out your buyer’s profile. Have they given a company name, or their real name as well as a username? If so, google it and see what you can find out. I once discovered that a past client of mine was not only involved in some really dodgy “cash gifting” scam system, he was also a student at an Ivy League university and the project he had asked me to do was his school lab report!

    7. A freelancer should never ever have to pay money to the buyer upfront. Ever. “Admin fees” and “start up costs” should ALWAYS be borne by the buyer – if you pay them, you probably won’t ever see that money or hear of the buyer again. This happened very recently on People Per Hour – the buyer advertised this great-sounding job, but when he responded to people asking for clarification, he suddenly began asking interested people to pay £35 up front to cover the costs of “getting you set up on the system”. A google search for the company name also, tellingly, gave no results. Using a freelancer will already be saving a company money, so there should be no reason for the freelancer to bear any start up costs.

    8. If you bid on a project, always mention that you will require the buyer to sign a contract. If they’re a spammer, scammer or shammer, they probably won’t even bother replying to your bid. If they do, and they refuse to sign a contract, stay away from the job. Make sure you get your client’s full contact details: full, real name, company name if applicable, postal address (no PO Boxes), phone number and email address, from a paid ISP if possible rather than Hotmail or Gmail etc. If you both sign a contract and there is still a dispute, at least your back is covered from a legal point of view.








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