Work in progress!

19 03 2011

Dear visitors and subscribers,

I’m planning some changes here on my blog and I’m just writing to let you know that you might experience some disruption while visiting over the next week or so.

Thanks to the huge success of my posts about and freelancing in general, the focus of my blog has diverged somewhat. It originally started as a place for me to showcase my freelance portfolio, and as a place where people who wanted to hire me could find me online. I still want to maintain both my general freelancing and portfolio posts, but I think the time has come to separate these two quite different aims into two blogs.

Because the URL to this blog is on all my business cards, stationery and contracts, will become my portfolio blog. It’s kind of annoying to have to do it that way around, since a lot of my traffic comes from the general freelancing posts, but since the majority of that traffic comes from random searches, I hope that the new blog will quickly build it’s own traffic. The new blog, by the way, will eventually be at There’s not much to see there yet, but if you’re a subscriber to this site for my posts about freelancing, I suggest you head over there and sign up for emails to make sure you’re kept in loop about the forthcoming changes and eventual switchover!

If anyone has an idea for a better name for my new freelancing blog, please comment with your ideas!


FAQ: Why can’t I withdraw my full £ GBP balance from

11 03 2011

Until recently, only operated in US dollars, but with the company’s acquisition of various smaller freelancing sites around the world, it’s now possible to do business in other currencies including British pounds, Australian dollars and euros. This is great news for users of the site who don’t use US dollars in their home country, as it reduces the effect of fluctuating exchange rates and minimises conversion fees when withdrawing to PayPal or Moneybookers.

I recently completed my first project in British pounds, but hit a stumbling block when I tried to withdraw the funds from my Freelancer account to PayPal. I had £45 in my account, but when I requested to withdraw £45, an error message flashed up on screen saying, “ERRORS OCCURED – Withdrawal amount cannot be more than overall balance”. Huh?

Although Freelancer takes a £1 fee for PayPal withdrawals, this is usually deducted after you have requested the balance, i.e. you request to withdraw £45 and you receive £44 in your PayPal account. If I entered an amount of £44, this was accepted, but after the £1 fee, this would leave me with an amount of £1 in my account.That’s my pound! I want it!

I queried this situation with Freelancer Support and for once I received a straight answer! Helpful Shane said, “It appears that there is a bug in our system caused by the rounding of fees.” To remedy this situation, Helpful Shane deposited 1p into my account, making my balance £45.01, which has now allowed me to withdraw the full £45 that I earned. Hurrah!

I’m not sure if this happens if you try to request a withdrawal in other currencies, or if the same thing happens if you use Moneybookers or another withdrawal method, but if you’ve experienced the same thing, please leave a comment here to help and advise others. If this happens to you, contact Freelancer Support ( and they will be able to help you. An engineering team are allegedly working to fix this problem so hopefully it won’t be an issue for too much longer.

method5 software development

8 03 2011

method5 software developmentmethod5 is a Toronto-based software development company with a knack for creating web applications and iPhone apps. They came to me after posting an ad on and were impressed with the experience I’ve had of copywriting in this field (see the copy I’ve written for similar web design and development firms Moorhead Marketing, Pixel Designer, Kaus Design Studio and

method5 wanted fresh copy for their clean, new site and to “get the message across” simply, without too much jargon, and in a cool, quirky style. I’ve mixed bold type and catchy headers with friendly-sounding, informative text that doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet still shows that method5 know what they’re talking about. Since I couldn’t get the phrase, “there’s method in our madness” out of my head while writing this site, I’ve thrown in a few Madness song titles too. I’m not sure if Canadians are that big into two-tone, but method5 seemed to like it!

The Science Bit: Part 9 – The Human Genome Project – 10 years on

25 02 2011

The human genome projectIn 2001, the journals Science and Nature simultaneously published the results of a decade or more of groundbreaking scientific research – the Human Genome Project. But what is the Human Genome Project? Why was it done? And most importantly, what have we learnt from it?

Inside almost every one of our cells are chromosomes made up of DNA. DNA is a long, twisted molecule made up of units of 4 chemicals called adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine and (A, T, C and G respectively), plus some sugar and phosphate molecules to hold it all together. We’ve known for many years that small sections of DNA, called genes, provide the instructions to make different proteins, and proteins are important because they are involved in just about every chemical, mechanical and structural function in the body.

The primary aim of the Human Genome Project (HGP) was to “spell out” the sequences of As, Ts, Cs and Gs for every single human gene. It was hoped that if we can do this and discover what a “normal” gene looks like, then we would also discover the genetic mutations and abnormalities that cause human diseases. Not only that, but by mapping the location of each gene on each chromosome, we might be able to use targeted drug and gene therapy to treat or even cure some of these diseases.

The announcement, in February 2001, that the human genome had been sequenced was front page news. After years of trying, and $3 billion of funding, it had finally been done. Researchers heralded the beginning of a “golden age” for genomic research, and the media were in a frenzy speculating on all the terrible diseases that may now be cured, all the wonderful new drugs that might be developed. But then, after the hype, it all went quiet.

So what has the HGP achieved in the last 10 years? We still haven’t cured cancer, or AIDS, or Alzheimer’s, and stem cell therapy is still a rather experimental treatment for some diseases rather than the miracle cure-all we hoped it would be. Was the HGP a waste of time and money?

Of course the answer to this is “no”. Though, as a result of the HGP, medicine has not advanced as much as we might like in the last decade, our underlying understanding of genomics has made great leaps and bounds. As The Economist’s Science Editor Geoffrey Carr wrote recently, the race (between rival research teams Celera and the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium) to sequence the human genome “was not a race to the finish line, but a race to the starting line”.

So what have we learned from the HGP? Well, the very fact that the entire human genome – some 3 billion As, Ts, Cs and Gs long – could be sequenced and mapped is in itself a marvellous achievement for scientific research, and the sequencing process has been refined so that it is now much quicker, cheaper and more efficient. Despite humans being one of the most complex organisms on Earth, we’ve learned that the human genome is much smaller than we originally thought – we have around 22,000 genes, in comparison to the very recently-sequenced and very tiny water flea (Daphnia pulex), which has 31,000.

Though the head of pharmaceutical company Novartis once quipped that the HGP had yielded “data, data everywhere, and not a drug, I think”, we are now beginning to see advances in medicine too. While we have not yet witnessed a “revolution” in terms of “the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases”, as predicted by then-President Bill Clinton in June 2000, we have pinpointed the genetic defects that cause around 850 diseases and this is slowly but surely leading to advances in their treatment. Thanks to HGP research, several new drugs for cancer, osteoporosis and lupus are now beginning to enter the market after a decade of trials, and genetic screening is becoming more widely available for a greater range of diseases.

Despite the deficit in new discoveries that have been sensational enough to rouse the interest of the general public, the Human Genome Project and the ongoing research stemming from it, is still plugging away and helping to increase our overall understanding of genomics. If sequencing the human genome was a sprint to the start line, the race from here on is a marathon, but one that will ultimately impact greatly on biology, medicine and science as a whole.

FAQ: Public and private messages on – what are they for?

9 02 2011

OK, so I’m not *loving* right now, and I won’t be fully au fait with them until they have implemented the compulsory milestone payment feature they promised me in response to my last post so that freelancers don’t have to take a gamble every time they bid on and accept a project. But I am OK with them again, so it’s time for another FAQ session. This week, I’m talking about the public and private message boards on, and what they are for. And what they definitely are NOT for.

First of all, the public message boards. Each project description page, say for instance, this one, has a link to a “project clarification board” – that’s the proper name for the public message board, and it’s an important name. This message board is where you’re supposed to ask questions to clarify details about the project before you place a bid. In theory, the buyer is supposed to read the comments on this message board and answer any questions that potential bidders might have so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to bid, and if so, how much to bid. That’s it. That’s all this board is for.

Here’s what the clarification board (public message board) is NOT for:

  • Placing a bid. Bids MUST be placed via the proper bid form (the blue button on the other side of the page, where it says “Bid on this project”). If you place a bid on this message board, you’re breaking terms and conditions and could be suspended. Regular freelancer members have a finite number of bids that they can make per month, so this rule is to stop people who have spent their bids from trying to get an extra chance or ten (TIP: if you find yourself running out of bids each month, upgrade to Gold membership – you’ll get unlimited bids for a monthly fee). Also please note that there is a minimum bid amount of $30. You cannot bid lower than that, so bidding on the public message board is not a good way to get around this!
  • Uploading your samples. I actually don’t really know why there is the facility to upload files to the public message board – I don’t see any need for it and it can actually be damaging for freelancers to do so. People who post samples here should realise that because the board is public, ANYONE can access and download those files. ANYONE. Even people who are not registered Freelancer users. Even people who might collect samples and republish them elsewhere without your permission. Even (*gasp!*) buyers who might take your work without asking and not pay for it!
  • Uploading your CV (résumé). As above, remember that ANYONE can view files that are posted to the public message boards, so if your résumé contains your email address, your date or birth, your home address, etc etc, these all have the potential to be collected and abused by less scrupulous folk. This also breaks the next rule about…
  • Posting your contact details. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it is against Freelancer’s rules to post your contact information ANYWHERE on the site, other than when you first register for an account. Contact information includes your email address, phone number, home address, instant messenger ID or any other way that someone might be able to contact you other than through the Freelancer site. It even includes not-so-cunningly disguised email addresses such as “name at domain dot com”. The reason? Freelancer have been clever enough and kind enough to provide the infrastructure for you to find work by hooking you up with employers. If you contact them outside of Freelancer, you dodge having to pay Freelancer’s commission fees if you win a project. Like it or not, Freelancer, as a business, are entitled to make money, just like you, so pay the darn commission fees and bid/accept bids properly! If you don’t, well then don’t be surprised if your account is suspended, much like the idiot featured in this Freelancer blog post.
  • Posting a project or advertising another website. I’ve seen this quite a lot lately. Buyers who don’t want to play by the rules or pay Freelancer’s fees, instead try advertising a project on the public message board. This not is not only a deliberate attempt to dodge fees, but these users usually have to leave a contact email address or IM ID to get people to respond, so that’s two counts of Freelancer felony! I’ve also seen people advertising their companies, their affiliate schemes or other freelance websites here. It’s not allowed!

Each project also has an associated private message board. This is ONLY available to people who have placed a bid using the designated bid form – you cannot send a private message to a buyer until you have placed a bid. On the bid form, right at the bottom, you will find a little check box that says “Also send a private message to the project seller”. Check this, and a message box will appear and you can tap out your message to the buyer. The message will only be sent when you confirm your bid. If you chose not to send a private message at the time of bidding, you can still do so later by accessing the project from your project table (Projects > My Projects). Thereafter, you can message the buyer in private to your heart’s content.

As with the public clarification board, you are NOT allowed to post your contact details on the private message board! The private message board is “private” in the sense that the message cannot be viewed by Freelancer users other than yourself and the buyer, but it does not mean that Freelancer staff cannot see it! If you post your contact details here, or try to bypass any other rules and regulations, Freelancer have access to all this information – they can and will use it as evidence to suspend your account, just like the guy in the Freelancer blog post I mentioned earlier.

By all means, if you trust the buyer, feel free to post your samples and your résumés on the private message board (but be careful to remove any contact information first) and continue to discuss the project. Remember that even if a buyer replies to your private message, even if they show interest in hiring you, hell even if they SAY they want to hire you – the project is not yours until you have received that all-important congratulations email from asking you to accept or reject the project AND until you have actually accepted it!

As the saying goes, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”. I’ve told you everything you need to know about the Freelancer message boards – now make sure you get it right!


A fundamental flaw

4 02 2011

As regular readers of this blog will be well aware, I’m a fairly big fan of The site gets a lot of bad press and most people seem to find this blog after searching for the terms “Is a scam?”. My answer to this is, and always has been “No”. The trouble with Freelancer, or rather the trouble with Freelancer users, is that they don’t read, understand and abide by the terms and conditions. Many people sign up for an account without having read what they are signing up for, and muddle their way along, thinking that this is the next get-rich-quick scheme.  Unsurprisingly for me, but apparently surprising to a lot of people, users who breach the terms -whether they realised it or not – quickly have their account(s) shut down. These people find their way here, or onto one of a number of complaints boards, and rant and rave about how unfair is, when actually, it was their fault all along.

Surprising though it may be to regular readers of this blog, today I’m going to break with tradition and make my own complaint about I have found a chink in their armour; a situation where I find them to be completely accountable for the injustice that befell me today.

So the story goes like this. Yesterday afternoon, I spotted a project on in which a chap requested editorial assistance with a document that appeared to be some kind of literary academic assignment. He’d posted the document to be edited online, so I could see that it was only very short, and placed a bid for $30. I specified in my bid proposal that I could copyedit the document and return it to him within 24 hours, and also requested a milestone payment of the full balance.

My bid was accepted – hurray! I clicked “accept” and received the official notification from Freelancer telling me that the project had begun. Having received the buyer’s email address, I immediately emailed the buyer, thanking him kindly for awarding the project to me, and requesting again (just in case he missed it in my bid) that he set up a milestone payment for $30.

Then nothing. OK, so it was late afternoon by then, perhaps the guy was busy.

When I sat down at my computer first thing this morning and checked my emails, there was still nothing from the buyer, so I logged into my Freelancer account and checked the project page. To my surprise, I saw that another freelancer was now the selected provider! How could this be?

Of course, my first instinct was to email the buyer, which I did, but I have still not heard from him. I guess he’s well and truly changed his mind, though the other provider he selected placed exactly the same bid and turnaround time, so I’m baffled by his indecision. Anyway, then, for the first time, I used’s live help chat facility and spoke to a chap called Jeremy. He asked me for the project number and my Freelancer username, then went quiet for about 10 minutes while he checked my story. When he came back, he simply said, “The project was cancelled yesterday”. Well actually no, Helpful Jeremy, as you can see from the link to the project page I just gave you, the project is still open – you can see my bid there – but a different provider has been selected. How can this be?

Helpful Jeremy helpfully said, “I suggest you try contacting your buyer”. Yes Jeremy, I have done that, but he’s not going to refund me the $5 fee I paid to Freelancer now, is he?

Says Helpful Jeremy, “No. Please be aware that we do not refund commission fees. My best advice would be next time for you to request a milestone payment in advance”.

*Head -> Wall x 10*

But Helpful Jeremy, I DID REQUEST A MILESTONE PAYMENT. I specified this in my bid, and that bid was accepted. The buyer cannot physically set up a milestone payment until I have accepted the project, right?

“Yes”. I imagine if Helpful Jeremy had been speaking, not typing, he would have said this in a very quiet voice. Then, helpfully, “I understand your frustration Lisa, is there anything else I can help you with today?”


I fail to see that I have done anything wrong in this situation, and as a result, I fail to see why I should forfeit the $5 fee for being a victim of the buyer’s indecision. The fundamental flaws in Freelancer’s system, as I see them, are as follows:

1) I was somehow “deselected” as the winning bidder, but was not informed by Freelancer.

While I was speedily informed by email that I was the winning bidder of the project, there was no email or notice from Freelancer to tell me that I had been “bumped” as the winning provider. Surely, when a buyer awards a project, and the freelancer accepts it, an agreement of sorts has taken place, and it should not be the case that the buyer can simply change their mind and select someone else at all, let alone without the deselected provider being notified. If I had been less careful and not looked at the project page this morning, I could have carried on with the editing work I believed I had been given to do, and been none the wiser. As well as losing my $5, I could have also wasted my valuable time on work that I didn’t have to do.

2) Freelancer does not refund project fees – even if the provider is bumped.

I get it. I get why Freelancer doesn’t usually refund project fees. They say that they are acting as an introduction agency between buyer and freelancer, and once they have done their job and connected the two, what happens next is up to the buyer and freelancer. This would be fine if work ensued, but in this case, the buyer backed out and chose someone else. Surely the buyer should pay the forfeit here, not the innocent freelancer?  What’s more, presumably the newly selected provider has now also paid a $5 fee, so Freelancer has earned an extra $5 here, at my expense, for doing absolutely nothing.

3) You cannot raise a dispute unless a milestone has been created, but what if a dispute arises before the milestone has been created as asked for?

In this case, if the buyer had set up a milestone and then changed his mind, I would be able to raise a dispute. The buyer would then be found to be clearly at fault, and I would be awarded the milestone payment. But, even though I requested one in the bid that he accepted, the buyer didn’t set up a milestone and I am left powerless (and $5 out of pocket).

Freelancer, to eliminate this loophole, I propose that if a provider has requested a milestone payment in their bid, it should be compulsory to set up that milestone at the time the buyer awards the project. Then, if the freelancer chooses to reject the project, the milestone can be returned to the buyer, and if the freelancer accepts the project, the milestone is created and held. If the buyer *then* decides to change their mind, the freelancer can raise a dispute. This seems to me to be a sensible and workable solution to a problem that discriminates against the powerless provider.

The Science Bit: Part 8 – Alzheimer’s Disease

28 01 2011

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects almost 30 million people around the world. Characterised by worsening forgetfulness, confusion and mood swings, it is a heartbreaking condition both for the sufferer and for their loved ones. Though there is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, several scientific breakthroughs have recently been made that provide encouraging insights into the disease and developments in diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia most often seen in people over the age of 65, seems to be caused by the build-up of structures called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. These plaques and tangles are formed from fragments of proteins that would normally be broken down into harmless substances and recycled into new molecules, but a faulty mechanism in people with Alzheimer’s disease seems to cause these protein fragments to bundle together in hard, insoluble structures that lodge in between and around nerve cells in the memory cortex of the brain. As a result of both amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, the normal transport connections are inactivated and nerve cells begin to die.

A primary research target into understanding more about Alzheimer’s disease is to look at the reasons why these proteins go wrong. Since proteins are the products of genes, genetic investigation is key and so far, at least 4 different genes have been implicated. Researchers are also very interested in the link between Alzheimer’s and Down’s Syndrome, since people with this chromosome disorder tend to age more quickly than most people and also suffer from Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. In fact, a study from the UT Southwestern Medical Center earlier this year (Netzer et al., PLoS One 5(6): e10943) found that reducing the levels of an Alzheimer’s-related protein in the brain seems to improve the ability for mice with a Down’s-like syndrome to learn.

Another line of enquiry looks at the relationship between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. Cholesterol is usually thought of a “bad” substance that causes heart disease, but a certain amount of cholesterol is actually essential for the synthesis of the cell membranes. Smaller amounts of excess cholesterol in the blood is usually broken down into chemicals called oxysterols, which in turn are then eliminated in the liver and further broken down into harmless substances. Researchers have discovered that people with Alzheimer’s disease seem to have higher levels of certain types of oxysterols in their blood, which suggests that there may be a connection between a faulty cholesterol metabolism and brain degeneration. Building a profile of the types and levels of oxysterol in a person’s blood may help doctors to diagnose Alzheimer’s more quickly.

The most recent breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research, published in Cell this month (Reddy et al., Cell 144(1), 132-142), comes from a team at the Scripps Research Institute which has developed a new way to identify diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. Using thousands of different synthetic molecules called “peptoids”, the team were able to identify disease-specific biomarkers in mouse blood samples. It is hoped that now, by passing the technique over to Alzheimer’s experts, further research may one day lead to the development of a simple blood test that will identify these biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in individuals who have yet to show symptoms, thus allowing earlier diagnosis and treatment.

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