Construction: The Concrete Driveway Apron

The last important part of my building to be finished this year.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

Back in September, I hired my favorite earth-moving guy, Jeff, to level a space in front of my building’s big garage door. As part of that job, he also dug and later buried the trenches for conduit that brought power, water, fiber optic cable, and telephone lines to my building and water and power to my garden shed. I blogged about that three-day project here.

Although I don’t expect to live in my building this year, it was vital that the ground work be done before winter so that I could get a concrete apron laid in front of the door. The apron was necessary for me to park my helicopter’s landing cart so I could land out front and pull the helicopter into the building. I didn’t want it outdoors any longer than necessary and certainly not over the winter.

I got the concrete work done at September month-end. Bill, whose company had laid the concrete inside my building, came by on Monday at around midday to lay out the forms. The apron would be 22 feet wide (in front of my 20 foot wide door) and about 30 feet deep. He made quick work of laying out the area with strings and stakes, triangulating or whatever it is these guys do to get things square.

There was some confusion, at first, about the slope to the concrete. He expected a constant angle slope while I expected it to be nearly level close to the building with a steeper slope on the half farther away. I don’t think Bill liked the idea, but that’s the way I had Jeff prep it. Still, we had to go at the gravel substrate with a rake and shovel in one area to ensure that the concrete was at least 4 inches deep. When he was finished, we confirmed our order for 14 yards of 6 sack concrete and got a delivery time of 9 AM the next day. I drove a pair of t-posts and put ribbon on them to keep the workers off my just-planted grass seed.

Concrete Prepped
The apron framed out and ready to be poured.

Bill and a helper showed up the next day a little after 8 AM. The did a bit more framing and got out a bunch of tools. Then they waited. No one else showed up. It was going to be just two of them.

The first concrete truck showed up at about 9:45. It backed into position and the driver got out to assemble the chute. And then they started pouring.

Pouring Concrete
They began pouring concrete at about 9:45 AM.

Smoothing Concrete
Bill’s helper spread the concrete at the edge of my garage.

The work went quickly. I stayed out of the way. Penny stayed inside. The first truck delivered about 2/3 of the concrete we needed.

From the first truck
The first truck poured most of the concrete we needed.

The second truck arrived just as the first one was ready to pull out. They poured the rest of the concrete. Bill and his helper worked it.

Finishing the Concrete
Finishing concrete properly takes a lot of work and expertise. Bill and his helper definitely know what they’re doing.

Concrete Blocks
A closeup of the concrete “blocks” I made with extra concrete and a mold I’d bought. This was an experiment; I expect to do a better job when I need to.

I got a wheelbarrow full of concrete and used it to experiment with the concrete block mold I’d bought. Within about a half hour, I had a 2 x 6 “block” pad in front of my shed. It wasn’t pretty, but by the third 2 x 2 section, I had the hang of it. With the right concrete — without big rocks in it — it might actually look nice.

Intials in Concrete
The last time I carved my initials into concrete at a home was in 1997. Although that was a milestone in my life, this one was much more meaningful and rewarding.

When the guys were done — but before they left — I brought Penny outside on a leash. I carved my initials and the year into the wet concrete and pressed one of Penny’s paws into it.

The concrete work was done by noon on Tuesday, September 30. According to Bill, I’d have to wait until Sunday, October 5 to drive on it.

Coincidentally, I had a flight scheduled for that day. I realized that if I got everything set up properly in advance, I’d be able to put the helicopter inside my building before nightfall on Sunday.

A Hike in the Mountains

What a great trail!

On Wednesday, I went hiking with my new midweek hiking friends, Sue and Jerry. They’re both retired and they know a lot of local trails — including more than a few just a short distance from our homes.

Penny in 2012
I found this photo of Penny shot that day in August 2012. She was probably about 5 months old here.

Wednesday’s hike was actually on two different trails: Devils Spur and Beehive. We drove up toward Mission Ridge on Mission Ridge Road and parked at the last switchback, which is the trailhead for the Devils Spur Trail. There’s a viewpoint there where you can look down into Squilchuck Valley — I’d been there a few times in the past — and a closed road that led off into the forest. I’d hiked a bit on that road with Penny the Tiny Dog back in 2012, but hadn’t gone far, mostly because I was worried about Penny and the potential for encountering predatory animals on a trail I knew nothing about.

But Sue and Jerry knew the trail well. It wound into the forest, a former road blocked off for hiking and biking only. I was surprised to see felled trees and cleared forest a little way in — it certainly hadn’t been like that two years ago — but realized it likely had to do with the 2012 fires that occurred after my hike with Penny. Then the forest returned to its natural dense growth.

Forest Trail
Can you see Penny sniffing at something up ahead on the trail?

It was cool and moist in the shade — so unlike the desert around my home less than 10 miles away. I was glad I’d worn a fleece sweatshirt. But just when it got uncomfortably cool, the trail would open up to a dry, exposed patch, full of warm sunlight. The sweatshirt came off. And just when I was starting to get really hot, the trail dove back into cool, shady forest. It made the switch over and over for the entire length of the hike.

Jerry accompanied us about a mile up Devils Spur trail. Just before the trail narrowed, he turned back. He has a bit of acrophobia and a while later, I realized why he didn’t want to continue with us — the trail wound along a narrow ledge on a cliff face of volcanic talus. Instead, he went back to get the car and drive it around to the Beehive Trailhead where we’d emerge some time later.

Sue and I (with Penny) continued along the trail. Sue is very knowledgeable about the mushrooms we saw along the way and even pointed out some clearly visible fossils on a rocky outcropping the trail passed. Penny ran ahead as she always does, occasionally running back to hurry us along. The trail climbed about 600 feet over about 2 miles — a gentle grade that didn’t require many rest stops. It was a perfect day for hiking, with calm winds, cool air, and clear skies.

Fossilized Leaf
I would have walked right past this rock full of fossils if Sue hadn’t pointed it out. This leaf was especially clear and easy to see.

The trail approached the old Pipeline trail, which runs alongside Forest Road 9712. I’d driven quite a distance on that gravel road in 2013 several times, including with my friend Janet, who was visiting from Colorado. Recently, I’d taken the Jeep up there with my friend Bob and noted that they were doing some sort of work on the pipeline. That Wednesday, they were hard at it and as we got close, we heard the steady beep-beep-beep trucks backing up. We never did see them, though. The trail reached 9712 where it turned back downhill as the Beehive Trail and we started our descent to Beehive Reservoir.

Vista from Trail
There were sweeping vistas down toward Wenatchee from various points along the trail. My home is at the base of the cliffs nearly dead center in this photo.

We were about a mile down the trail when we saw another hiker approaching from the other direction. It was Jerry. He’d parked the car and walked up to meet us. I assumed we were close, but there was still another mile or so to go. I think he got the same length hike we got, but did two out-and-backs rather than a long one-way hike.

Hike Track
Here’s our track as recorded by Gaia GPS. The blue pins indicate places I took photos; the photos are uploaded with the track on Gaia Cloud.

The hike was just the right length for me: just over 4 miles. I tracked it with Gaia GPS on my iPhone, which I highly recommend to anyone who hikes with a smartphone. (The main benefit: being able to load detailed topo maps before starting the hike so a cell phone signal is not necessary to view live location-on-map data.) I took photos along the way and later uploaded the track and photos to the Gaia Cloud.

It was a great hike — one I hope to do again, perhaps with my Meetup group. This is certainly the right time of year for it. Many thanks to Sue and Jerry for introducing it to me!

On Cheapskate Publishers

I really can’t believe this ad.

This morning, I was cruising Craig’s List for some part-time/fill-in work to help get me through my slow winter season. As a writer, I figured I’d check out the writing/editing jobs category. And that’s where I found one titled “Rockstar eBook Writers Wanted (FAST Pay + REPEAT Work!) (Virtual).”

Let me say upfront that I knew from the title that the job was going to be full of hype. (Rockstar? Really? Do people still use that term?) But I never expected it to offer a whopping $3 per 200 words (yes, that’s 1-1/2¢ per word) starting pay for original content that the writer wouldn’t even get his/her name on.

To qualify, not only would you have to submit a 200-word minimum sample of your writing work, but you’d also have to have a 15-minute long Skype interview, review (or possibly fill out?) a questionnaire and outline, read other relevant resources, and sign a contract. Then, for each job, you might have to have a 1-2 hour Skype session with a client.

All to earn 1-1/2¢ per word.

The way I calculate it, if you can generate 500 words of original, researched content an hour — which is a lot faster than most people can write — a 1000-word article would take 2 hours. Add 2 hours spent chatting with the client and another hour to prep for the job. Do two of those a day and you’ve made $30 a day. I don’t know about you, but I can’t survive on $30/day.

Because I was so repulsed by the ad, I decided to make a point. I emailed a reply using the magic phrase in the subject line and including a writing sample. Here’s what I sent:

I’ve been a freelance writer since 1990 and have authored numerous books and articles on a wide variety of computer-related topics. I am intrigued by your Craig’s List ad. Here’s my writing sample.

What amazes me most about the current state of the publishing industry is how little some “publishers” are willing to pay experienced writers for original content. Just today I ran across an ad for a company willing to pay $3 per 200 words—that’s only 1-1/2¢ per word! Am I showing my age when I share memories of the days when I was paid $1.50 per word to write for print publications such as MacWEEK and MacUser magazine?

Fortunately, the offer in this Craig’s List ad isn’t representative of the entire industry. The 1,000-word article I wrote yesterday morning, for example, earned me $500. Although not generous, I consider that fair compensation for an experienced writer creating original content for the Web—even if that content includes screenshots and captions.

Back when I began writing for a living in 1990, I learned that success as a writer meant producing content quickly. After more than 20 years, writing now takes very little effort. I don’t need to labor over words like others do. My writing flows naturally, with a good rhythm, and requires very little editing, either by me or my editors. It’s for this reason that I’m able to get enough work to keep me busy—and plenty of offers of additional work.

It also makes it possible for me to whip up a quick writing sample to educate a cheapskate publisher about what experienced professional writers expect to be paid.

I sent it from my NoReply account so it’s unlikely that I’ll hear back from this offensive idiot.

A waste of time? Probably. But it’s all about venting and I needed to vent after this one.

From now on, I’ll stay away from ads looking for rockstar writers.

Just Say No to Writing for Free

Don’t be part of the problem.

Yesterday, an editor of an aviation publication contacted me about writing for the organization’s blog. He’d found my blog through a link from another blog. He’s interested in increasing the amount of new content on his blog and wants to do that by signing up other writers. He already has a flight school operator signed up. One new post a month from each of four writers would get him the one post a week he wants for the blog. Makes sense.

From his email to me:

It’s quite difficult to find working helicopter pilots who can write, as I’m sure you can imagine. But you definitely seem to have the knowledge and interest. Would you consider doing some additional writing for [organization]?

At first, I was thrilled. I’ve been wanting to do some more aviation writing and the publication is well-respected. But then I began wondering whether this would be a paying gig or if I’d be expected to write for free. I worded my response carefully:

I definitely WOULD be interested in joining you folks. I’m an active helicopter pilot with a single pilot Part 135 operation now based in North Central Washington. And you probably already know that I also make a portion of my living as a writer.

Please do tell me more. If you’d like to chat, give me a call.

If you read what I wrote between the lines, the phrase “I also make a portion of my living as a writer” was meant to tell him that I’m usually paid to write.

His response came an hour later:

Thanks Maria. I should tell you up front that our budget for the blog is nil. So as much as it pains me to say it, I wouldn’t be able to pay you for the work. That said, there is always potential for additional opportunities.

I have to give him credit for not telling me that I’d be compensated with the “exposure” I’d get for writing for them. That really told me that he understood the situation — any editor that offers you “exposure” as compensation is either stupid or a manipulative bastard. You can’t pay the rent or buy groceries with exposure and the only thing it really exposes you to is additional editors looking for writers who will write for free.

As you might imagine, I put it out on Facebook to get feedback from friends, many of whom are freelancers. I was careful not to identify the organization. After all, does it really matter?

My post got lots of comments that are really worth reading. As my Facebook friend Carla said:

Comment from Carla

But this editor didn’t suggest such a thing. And I respect him for that.

The “additional opportunities” line, however, was obviously a lure — whether it was real or just a fabrication I’ll likely never know.

My response was frank:

We can still chat about the blog posts. I am willing to help out if it leads to other paying work. But if the additional opportunities never materialize, I probably won’t be motivated to continue writing without compensation.

Unlike the flight instructor you’re working with, I don’t have a flight school that might benefit with my name or company name getting out. My blog is already very well read by helicopter pilots — for good or for bad — and if I’m going to write for free, I’d rather write for my own blog.

I didn’t get a response.

The comments kept coming in on Facebook. All the publishing professionals and freelancers understood the situation perfectly. One of the commenters, a friend of Carla’s as a matter of fact, had this to say:

Comment from David

And that really hit home hard. The reason I couldn’t make a good living as a writer anymore was because too many people were writing for free. Publishers didn’t care much about quality when they could get free content. All they really want are hits and if something is interesting enough to attract the hits, they’re satisfied. Who cares about how it’s written? This is what’s killing the publishing industry — and giving those of us who actually enjoy reading well-written content a lot less to read.

I chewed on the comments overnight and when I woke up I knew I needed to send a new response. Here’s what I sent:

I’ve given this some more thought. I’ve decided that it would not be in my best interest, nor in the best interest of professional writers anywhere, to write for a commercial publication without compensation. Professional writers are paid for their work. Amateurs are not. I am not an amateur.

Maybe you don’t realize that I’ve written more than 80 books and hundreds of articles since 1990. Maybe you don’t realize that the money I earned as a writer enabled me to learn how to fly a helicopter and eventually buy my own. Maybe you don’t realize that my writing income kept my helicopter business afloat for its first eight years.

So not only did I earn a living as a writer, but I earned a very good living.

Sadly, those days are over. It’s now very difficult for freelance writers to find decent paying outlets for their work. I’m fortunate that my helicopter business became profitable when it did.

The way I see it, the reason [organization] is able to ask people to write for them without compensation is because too many people say yes. That’s the problem. That’s what’s bringing down publishing and the overall quality of what appears on the Web. Publishers settle for whatever they can get for free.

You say that it pains you to say that you can’t offer compensation. As a writing professional, I can understand that pain. But what I can’t understand is why someone in your position doesn’t push back and argue in favor of the writers. What’s a few hundred dollars a month to [organization]? You realize that’s all it would take. It’s the principle more than anything else.

I love to write; that’s why I have a blog. But I need to limit my uncompensated writing to my own blog — not one used to support an organization that generates revenue off the work of uncompensated writers.

I don’t want to be part of the problem.

Say No to No PayI emailed it this morning. I suspect the editor I sent it to will understand completely. But I don’t expect to be offered any money or any opportunities to write for them in the future.

Did I burn a bridge? Perhaps. But is it a bridge I really wanted to cross? I doubt it.

Are you a writer who can create quality content? If so, don’t sell yourself short. Demand compensation for your work. Don’t be part of the problem.

Postscript

Just moments after clicking the Publish button for this post, I got a response to my last email (quoted above). I was offered a reasonable amount of money for my work. I’m just hoping this blog post didn’t piss off the editor enough to make him retract his offer. (I really do respect the guy, especially now.) Yet I won’t delete this blog post because the message remains the same: professional writers should not write for free. If I lose this opportunity for making this statement and using my situation as an example, so be it.

It really is the principle of the matter more than anything else.

One more thing…

Another Facebook friend reminded me that I’d embedded a rant by Harlan Ellison in my blog years ago. Mr. Ellison says it a lot better than I could.