Archive for Web Writing

10 top stories – tooting my own horn

Award-Winning

Over the last five years, I’ve written so many stories, blogs, and articles that it’s easy to lose track of what they are and what made them work.

To come up with a short list, I’ve chosen ten top stories and assigned “award categories”:

Best headline – This concert review might have gone unnoticed had I not tied one of the pieces performed with issues critical to The Vancouver Observer’s news coverage. The result: Erato Music got much more attention from readers who might not otherwise have taken an interest in chamber music.

“Oilblood” re-imagines Harper with Baroque vengeance

Best use of images (supplied) – I worked with Bicycle Opera and their photographer to find really compelling photos to help tell this interesting and quirky story. In the end, I also pirated several photos from their Facebook page

Bicycle Opera wheels into rural Ontario

Best use of images (I took) – This was a really interesting article to write. It was part music story, research project, and travel story and perhaps owing to the fact that I was a participant to these workshops in California, my photography skills came through.

The Balkan Music and Dance Workshops: re-thinking dissonance

Best niche story – There’s no niche for this story really, because it’s so weird an quirky. Still, there’s a real person who made his own drum kit that could be transported by bicycle.

Musical instrument makers on bikes

Best interview –  Also, on the theme of musical instrument makers, this story describes in great detail two Vancouver-based musical instrument makers. I visited their workshops and photographed them at work.

Discovering Vancouver’s hidden music makers

Most detailed historical travel story – I like this story because it shows one of the most saturated travel destinations, Paris, from the perspective of a lone cyclist not afraid to go anywhere to dig up some good history.

Unforgettable bicycle trips around Paris: Notre Dame, Château de Vincennes, Arc de Triomphe

From my three-and-a-half years at Webtech Wireless, a few outstanding stories emerged:

Best corporate technology story –  I attended a trucking trade show in Orlando and attended a talk about data – yawn. But wait, then I wove it into a colourful story drawing a thread of continuing from Sumo wrestlers, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Québec performance artist, Jean Francois–all who had something to say about perspective.

Drawing Intelligence from Data

Best corporate human story – I interviewed Webtech Wireless firmware engineer, Alireza Nematollahi, and wrote about his success as a national kayak champion and drew a connection to his testing work at Webtech. When I criticize formulaic blog writing, I see this as an example of what corporate blogs could be. 

Testing the Limits

Best corporate hay-making story – Here, I found a connection between the temperature monitors Webtech Wireless makes for food transportation and world hunger. The statistics for food wastage in transport are huge, so it wasn’t an unreasonable stretch–certainly one I was happy to make.

Cargo Temperature Monitoring Helps Reduce Hunger

Best corporate culture/technology tie-in story – I decided to write our weekly blog as a travel story and sing the praises of Ottawa’s winter celebrations (and its fabled Rideau Canal skating rink), while slipping in the expected corporate blog about how the City of Ottawa uses Webtech Wireless technology to ensures its roads are kept ice free.

Winter Fleets—Let’s Celebrate!

 

How GIS Data Makes Municipalities More Efficient

How-GIS-Data-Makes-Cities-More-Efficient

 

Our Chris Jackson, VP Government Sales, was asked to present at this year’s APWA (Alberta) Partners in Excellence 2013 Annual Conference & Tradeshow held in Red Deer, Alberta. On October 1, he shared the stage with CTS (Certified Tracking Solutions), and presented a 45-minute talk on GIS (geographic information systems) to a room packed with over 100 municipal planners from around the province.

Mapping all city assets to GIS (for example, each city street light tracked by its location and detailed information about its components) is significantly big enough that most municipalities either have a GIS person or a GIS department, and by adding telematics data (vehicle data) to the equation, the combined effect points the way to new benefits in visual interpretation, operational and service-level decision making tools, and spatial processing capabilities. Chris cited the example of InterFleet customer Alberta Transportation, which developed the AVLS Billing System to combine route information and material totals to bill third-party contractors.

Larger municipalities in Alberta, such as Edmonton and Calgary, have gathered over a decade’s worth of municipal GIS data and vehicle data, but smaller communities are just beginning to see the possibilities of what they can do with it. Even so, the successes of Apple and Google’s various consumer-oriented mapping applications have made GIS common knowledge for most people. The word’s out, and constituents are consuming data at ever-increasing rates, which is putting pressure on municipalities to provide it. For Public Works departments, the open data movement is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, communication and transparency; on the other, the risk of public misinterpretation of complex data.

Chris finished by mentioning the successes of the Webtech 511 app, which provided a middle ground for municipalities that want to share the vast amount of data they possess, but fear the risk of having it misinterpreted by software developers who could misrepresent it. Unlike predictive transit information, Public Works GIS information can be very complex, so by promoting an App that they themselves have had a hand in creating, municipalities lessen the risk of having their data misinterpreted while providing a reputable alternative in the event that someone goes ahead with the open data and inadvertently creates a public relations monster.

Automatic Vehicle Locating System

On the First Day: The Importance of Planning

God knew nothing

I’m taking an IT course at BCIT loftily entitled, “Business Analysis and Systems Design”. It’s about project management for large enterprise systems, and with data coming in that such projects have a terrible track record—about 75 per cent fail or go way over budget—there’s a need to refine the planning process and train people better.

Some have postulated that the universe is really just a vast software system, but that idea always infers that it’s a successful system. What if God knew nothing of project management? What if He just jumped in and started making the cosmos with no clear plan of where he was going?

Here’s one scenario:

God Goofs OffOn the first day, God rested. He figured He had a whole week to create the cosmos so “hey, like what’s the rush?”

On the second day, God got up, made a cup of coffee, and checked His email. He had over 7 million messages.

Most were spam.

On the third day, God logged into Facebook and updated His status—28,000 times.

Then He tweeted about it.

On the fourth day, God realized that He had better start to seriously do something about creating the cosmos, so after lunch He created the night and the day. But then He realized that it might be too dark at night (even with the moon, which he hadn’t created yet), and people would get lost or fall down in the dark and would probably curse His name, so He revised His decision about creating the day and the night deciding that it might be a bit rash without considering all the repercussions of this cosmos building stuff before jumping in.

He resolved to sleep on it and start fresh the next day.

On the fifth day, God got an idea. He decided that He’d create the waters and the firmament. “Oh my God”, said God, “That would be so cool”.

But then He thought, “What’s the point of water and firmament (does anybody even know what the heck “firmament” is anyway?) with nothing to swim in it or fly through it? Instead, He thought it would be super fantastic to create all the birds, bats, insects and other flying things as well as all the fishes that swim in the sea.

He stayed up really late creating all that cool stuff.

The sixth day wasn’t a good day for God. On the sixth day, God woke to find that, without the water and the firmament, all the birds of the air and fishes of the sea had died horrible deaths. It was pretty depressing (and it smelt bad too).

God wasted most of the sixth day cleaning up from the fifth.

On the seventh day, God woke up in a cold sweat well before His alarm clock rang. It was dark and cold and He realized He’d done nothing useful to create the cosmos. He told Himself that He’d certainly tried—”but life can be so unfair, you know”—and now He didn’t have a prayer of getting the cosmos ready in time. What He needed was a miracle.

And just as he was about to curse His fate for the third time, God noticed a handbill from Wal-Mart and it was offering a ready-made cosmos for sale. At these double discounted prices, God knew this would cover His Ass perfectly. Sure it was cheap and made mostly of plastic and particleboard (probably in some country with dubious labour practices and no environmental regulations), but with all the plug n’ play features, it would do just fine as a last-minute solution.

God thought, “Hell, why not?”

wal-mart-smileyOn the eighth day as God checked out of Wal-Mart, He then noticed that, where His original idea for the cosmos stressed cooperation, this pre-fab version was built on the Darwin model of competition­–survival of the fittest. “Oh well”, thought God, “It didn’t matter really.” He was out of time and short on good excuses.

“Besides”, God said to Himself as He left the parking lot,
“No one would even know the difference.”

My Life After Civilization

CIV5

One month ago today inspired by my friend Todd’s commitment to quit smoking, I decided to take on a little addiction challenge of my own—could I survive one month without my precious computer game, Civilization?

It had all started out innocently enough about 15 years ago, when I first started playing Civilization II (we’re up to version V now). A lover of history and culture, this game promised me mastery over the minions, bestowed me with kingly powers to lead the charge to a better world, and enchanted me with hours of timeless imagination about other times and places.

The beauty of this game is you can play it as a warlord, a diplomat, a merchant, or a key religious figure—and still win (if you’re good at what you do). You can also pick your civilization as well as your opponent civilizations. Typically, you’d start at the beginning of recorded history and progress through Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, and so forth until you reach modern times (the game even went a little into the future (2025), to let you conclude your business if needed). Also, you could acquire Great Wonders to advance your civilization, such as the Great Pyramids, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, or the Eiffel Tower.

NapoleonI tended to play as one of the European civilizations, but would occasionally indulge in other exotic cultures to play out my quasi racist fantasies. I liked to start in the Middle Ages (an option) and would often play the French (so characters like Dagobert, Charlemagne, and Henri IV were popular). Some versions of the game were easier to mod than others, so there was a period where I’d set up unimaginable “Civilizations” such as the provinces of Canada all pitted against each other (imagine the Great Wonders available in this mod – the skidoo, Green Gables, poutine, the potlatch…).

I’m painting this picture, first to show how addictive it is and second to set up the craziness and unreality that comes from such things. Because, when it comes down to it, I’m not cycling, or learning new skills, or playing music, or meeting interesting people, or travelling or a thousand other things I could be doing with this all-too-short life I have. Instead, I’m dweebing away in my apartment pushing little pixels around a screen. What made matters worse was these games aren’t short—they can go on for hours and hours, so like any classic addiction, one minute was too long and an entire night, not long enough. And like an addiction, the next day I’d be staggering back to the real world half asleep and wondering why I wasn’t as productive (or happy) as I’d intended to be.

“In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

—Desiderius Erasmus

But this month since I quit playing, I’ve started doing really interesting things, like reading books, and going for long cycles around the city, and taking courses to upgrade my skills, and playing more music, and, oh yes, and getting a full night’s sleep. How amazing is that?

End of Civ

So let this be a warning to you. Yes, YOU! Time flies on fleet wings. Don’t waste your time doing things that ultimately don’t matter. Turn off the computer and go outside.

Reaching out to Resource Industries to Reduce and Save

BCRoadbuilders

Andrew Paul, VP of Commercial Sales at Webtech Wireless, attended the BC Road Builders’ Annual Fall Conference in Kelowna, British Columbia this week and, apart from a few rounds of golf, came away with a renewed respect for the concerns of the transportation sector in the Interior of BC. Nestled between the Pacific Coast Mountains and the Rockies and stretching from Washington State to the Alaska/Yukon border, the Interior may be few in people, but it’s plenty in natural resources and keeping its primary industries (logging, mining, oil and gas exploration) clean includes the trucks and heavy equipment that service the region. The statistics support this need: while overall Canadian transportation accounts for 27 percent of all carbon emissions, in BC the amount is much higher at 37 percent.

Andrew mentioned his meeting with Scott Everall of the Carbon Offset Aggregation Cooperative (COAC). The COAC is a non-profit organization that promotes its Fuel Efficiency and Carbon Reduction Initiative to owners of heavy diesel burning equipment, and long and short haul trucks. Its aim is to help trucking companies reduce their carbon footprint by providing monitoring and reporting their fuel consumption.

I caught up with Scott to find out how greening a trucking fleet can save fleet managers money. Talking green to business owners in northern British Columbia can be a hard sell. “Imagine yourself visiting a trucking company that’s in the business of cutting down trees, and you go in there to chat them up about making their business more environmentally friendly”, said Scott. Then with humor, “the look they give me is like, ‘are you going to give me a hug now?’ But my position is to describe how monitoring carbon emissions can reduce fuel costs by 10 percent”, he says adding, “Even a one percent reduction annually can add up to $300,000 in savings over our suggested three-year monitoring period. That, they listen to.”

Scott mentioned that many trucking companies have the willingness to change, but they may not have the manpower to manage the administration of carbon monitoring, “so that’s where we come in”, said Scott. “We help them reduce their operating costs by help them monitoring, reporting, and finally trading or selling carbon offsets”, he said.

“If using a system like what Webtech Wireless has, they’d be able to save money while reducing carbon emissions”, Scott said.  Scott’s attitude is, “As we become more aware of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, the Carbon Offset Aggregation Cooperative program will play an increasing role in helping the transportation and resource sectors reduce emissions, increase fuel efficiency and create a safer working environment”.

What’s Your Calling?

Addiction

My friend, Todd, made a commitment to quit smoking this month. To support him, several of his friends ante-d up with some form of commitment of their own. I don’t smoke, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have some addictive behaviour—everybody does. For me, it’s a nasty little computer game called Civilization, in which an hour of relaxing time can (and does) easily spin out of control into seven-hour marathons that leave me sleepy, unproductive, and somewhat guilty about not achieving the goals I’ve set for myself.

The only way I can think it’s possible to thwart addiction is to overcome it with something more attractive. That would be, something non addictive, that’s more attractive. Without the usual outlet to steal myself away, I’ve discovered something much more attractive than a computer game—people.

Since I’ve declared war on my addiction, not only am I going to more events (last week three concerts, the Tweed Ride, a francophone barbeque, a birthday banquet, and a new course I just signed up for at BCIT), but I’m also using these events to branch out more connections. That is, I’m meeting more and more interesting people.

Todd is back to smoking sadly, but I ensured my commitment was not contingent in any way on him keeping his (that wouldn’t do our friendship any good). I’m beginning to see what even a smallish addiction is costing me in terms of, well, life. Who knows, it might be my term to inspire him the way he initially inspired me.

 

Your calling is where your deep gladness
and the world’s deep hunger meet.

—Frederick Buechner

Waking Up to the Costs of Fatigued Driving

Waking-Up-to-the-Costs-of-Fatigued-Driving

Huffington Post’s Third Metric campaign recently warned businesses to redefine success to include wellbeing—or face burnout. The Post’s intent is to raise awareness on the dangers of overwork and the opportunities of employee wellbeing, and in it Arriana Huffington advised, “The biggest obstacle keeping our desperately needed redefinition of success from becoming more widespread is the misguided belief that overwork is the route to high performance and great results.”

What caught my attention is how she draws a link between overworked and fatigued employees, “There is no company whose bottom line will not be enhanced by healthier, happier, less-stressed, well-slept, centered employees.” In the world of commercial trucking, the overworked employees are drivers and an overworked driver is a fatigued driver.

Westcoast Crackdown

Washington State Patrol’s (WSP) Commercial Vehicle Division (CVD) is using a more conventional approach to combatting fatigued driving—fines. It recently announced that it has partnered with Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia authorities to crack down on fatigued driving along the busy West Coast corridor. “A fatigued driver at the wheel is just as serious and as dangerous as driving under the influence,” said WSP Assistant Chief, Mike DePalma, “The effects caused by a fatigued driver can be devastating.”

The crackdown targets commercial vehicle drivers’ Hours of Service reporting, especially as previous investigations have found that “eight of the drivers had falsified their logbooks so they could drive more hours”. According to the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA), “Driver fatigue is a contributing factor in 19% and the cause in 4% of all fatal vehicle collisions. It is the cause of about 20% of non-fatal crashes”.

HOS Promotes Wellbeing

Whether we’re compelled to change your behavior out of fear of fines or propelled to do so to create a healthier work environment for your drivers, the result is the same: preventing driver fatigue results in fewer deaths, injuries, and destruction on our roads—and that means safer roads for everybody.

Our Quadrant In?Cab solution is a fully automated device that monitors and enforces Hours of Service regulations, prevents driver fatigue, and saves the lives of drivers and innocent bystanders on the road.

Ride the Wall

Adversity

My randonneur ride to Victoria with my friend Todd was scotched, because  Todd had has bicycle stolen today. For me, and without a doubt for Todd, this is a real bummer. My sense of discouragement about humanity is profound. Todd’s a good person; he doesn’t deserve to have his bicycle stolen.

Perhaps it’s also why this video inspires all the more. Michal Maroši, a Czech downhill competitive cyclist showed me how to get over discouragement mighty fast. After a devastating early-race fall, he dared something wild—and won!

There are a lot of advice givers out there quick to tell us how important it is to overcome adversity, but quick thinking Maroši showed what it looks like. Next time adversity rears its head—and it will again—I’ll remember Michal and Ride the Wall ! ! !

Foresight Lights Up Winter

Are-You-Ready-for-the-First-Snowfall

It’s August, the air conditioning is turned up full blast, and all you can think about is… “I hope my snow plows will be ready when the first winter storm hits”. More likely, you’re thinking about a cool drink by the lake, but while you’re not thinking about winter, InterFleet is. Because, as sure as death and taxes, winter is coming.

“Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.”
? Sinclair Lewis, writer, thinker, Nobel laureate

Shouldn’t This Just Work?

Some people mistakenly assume that AVL technology doesn’t need to be checked after a summer of dormancy. “It should just work”, they say. That perception sometimes carries over to vehicles that have had their plow blades removed for summer work and even had their locators removed.

Even if a vehicle sits idle in the yard for six months of summer, you want the assurance that once the first snow storm hits, its AVL capabilities are ready to go. Statistically speaking, the bulk of accident claims are made against municipalities around the time of the first storm of the year, more so than later when drivers are re-acclimatized to winter conditions. If equipment isn’t ready, you can’t use the AVL data to defend against mistaken (or false) claims. Your winter operations department is on the defensive.

Get Your Fleet Ready for the Storm

According to James Dai, Manager of Winter Light Up, having your AVL components checked early produces significant gains. “After we completed the Winter Light Up service for five customers with a total of 199 snow plows, there were only two service tickets. In comparison, for customers who did not sign up for the WLU program, we received five service tickets for ten plows at one municipality, and six service requests from another municipality with over 15 plows. One city only discovered that ten of its winter maintenance vehicles had not even been reporting its controller data—until February!”

Given those kinds of statistics it’s no wonder field managers who’ve learned the value of using the Winter Light Up program well before winter arrives, endorse if fully. “Whatever you’re charging, it’s well worth it”, said Jim Kettle, Technical Specialist at City of Mississauga, Ontario.

Winter Light Up

Winter Light Up is a program from InterFleet that’s designed to ensure your winter operations are running smoothly before Old Man Winter arrives. InterFleet offers experienced project managers, project coordinators, solution engineers, and certified technicians to ensure your fleet is on-time and ready.  By having our Winter Light Up team analyze the technical details of your existing fleet, you are assured that your units have the right configuration files and the accuracy and details of your advanced reports are verified. This gives you the data you need to respond immediately to events as they unfold.

We ensure your spreader controllers, plow sensors, and temperature sensors are working and all locators are reporting as they should, so you get a thorough audit of your winter fleet’s AVL readiness. Let’s manage winter together so you can focus on storm fighting, not your AVL system.

InterFleet logo

For more information about the InterFleet Winter Light Up program, contact your account manager or call
+1 (877) 434-4844 (Option 2).

 

 

Readiness

tarogato-Jason-HallJason_Hall_clarinetsLast week was my birthday and, in the spirit of simplicity, I sent out a single invite through Facebook to my nearest and dearest friends to drop by my place for drinks.

Several drinks into the evening, somebody said “Play us something on the tarógató” and the crowd chanted “Jason, Jason, Jason”. Last year, I had a tarógató hand made for me in Budapest. A tarógató is a Hungarian form of clarinet with a melancholy sound somewhere between an English horn and a soprano saxophone (nothing like a clarinet).

My background is classical music (although I’ve been exploring improvised types such as jazz, blues, and Balkan music in the last few years), so playing spontaneously isn’t something I’m accustomed to. Nonetheless, I had several little ditties to play along with  stories of their origins:

  • “Kuruc dalok”, a Hungarian recruiting song used to entice young men off to war.
  • “Margot Labourez La Vigne”, a humorous medieval French song that admonishes Margot to keep working the vines and to stop flirting with local soldiers.
  • An old dance written by none other than King Henry VIII

It’s music performance the way I like it best—warm, intimate, and in the company of friends. There was much cat calling and hilarity too, especially around how Henry VIII could find time to write music whilst chopping off the heads of his wives. “He didn’t chop their heads off himself—someone else did that. That’s how he had time to write music”, one of my friends said.

I was happy that I had a few tunes that I could play (and stories about them) on a moment’s notice. Later, I got thinking about how great it would be to have other “party pieces” ready that describe who I am and what I do. If anyone asks me about what I do as a marketing/technical writer, I should have a story to tell him or her.

Last year, I wrote a winning award application for Webtech Wireless. The fallout from that was a stream of related documents and the CEO saying, “Now, we can now call ourselves an award-winning software company”.

Now, I have a handy one-pager to share about how I helped Webtech Wireless win its first-ever technology award.