Archive for Blogging

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!

 

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.”

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 ! ! !

Making Hay of Story Threads

In the Rumpelstiltskin fable by the Brothers Grimm, a young maiden makes a pact with a gnome to help her fulfill her father’s boast that she can spin hay into gold. It’s this bit of alchemy that reminded me of the many threads that can come together to make a good story.

More than Marketing Bumpf

The challenge in writing an ongoing blog about the same technology (as is the case at Webtech Wireless where I write), is to write about more than just the products and services the company offers. That gets stale really fast. I try to keep it alive by finding interesting threads that tell stories indirectly about the benefits of our goods and services. So, not a direct sell but value given in the vicinity of our goods and services.

For example, my May 23, 2013 blog post, “Fleet GPS: The Needle in the Haystack” brings several seemingly unrelated events together and tells them in a way that reflects favourably on Webtech Wireless’ offerings.

Here are the threads the provided an interesting story about Webtech Wireless’ GPS fleet tracking technology:

  • Recent tornadoes in Oklahoma galvanizing the media’s attention
  • Other severe weather in Oklahoma, drought. Did you know it’s been going on there for three years?
  • Due to drought, the price of hay is going up.
  • As the price of hay goes up, theft of hay bales is on the rise.
  • To counters this, ranchers and farmers are turning to technology in the form of GPS locators placed in hay bales to help track them.
  • A recent article lambastes the perception that Intelligent Communities are always urban. The writer says that rural areas stand to benefit from new technologies.
  • Oh, did you know that our wireless GPS locators are really good for tracking assets to prevent theft and help with recovery?
  • And by the way, several of our clients have been nominated for Intelligent Community awards (here, I rely on SEO to tie this thread in as we have several articles about Ville de Québec and other clients of ours that were nominated).

These stories by themselves don’t relate closely to our products, but put together into a narrative they spin a tale that, if not gold, is a step up from the usual marketing bumpf that plagues many blogs.

Read the article: “Fleet GPS: The Needle in the Haystack

Death by Powerpoint – My Writing: September 18 to 24

This week, I attended the TMW Transforum to find out all I could about fleet management in North America. The scale of this event is staggering as are the numbers in trucking—2 million long haul trucks in the US. While here, I attended a talk on agile software development and found myself staring down that old barrel—death by PowerPoint.

Microsoft needs to include in its software something that prevents slides with long bulleted lists to fade from view while the presenter is speaking. It’s impossible to follow both at once. To make matters worse, the presenter had trouble pronouncing some words in the presentation leading me to suspect that the presentation wasn’t his own.

Going Down the Road with Terry Fox actually tells the back story of the Trans Canada Highway (the highway Terry Fox ran), that transportation route so vital to Canada’s economy. Incidentally, Webtech Wireless—the company that produces GPS/AVL solutions for transportation—had several runners in the 32nd annual Terry Fox Run.

Is Your Doctor Putting Your Disability Claim at Risk? asks if procrastination on the part of doctors can affect the speed and success of a disability claim. Your disability claim.

5 Autumn Driving Tips to Keep You Safe provides some tips to remind you to drive safely as fall brings a different set of driving risks. Watch for Bridges, Shadows, and Intersections, or a pile of wet leaves near a neighbourhood intersection.

 

 

When is “is” a Poor Verb Choice? (My writing: Sept 10 to 17)

Like so many ineffective charitable organizations trying to come to a mutual decision, the “to be” verb can wring its hands and drain the life out of your writing.

Consider this example:

Our goal is to pave the way for sales to create and land opportunities. We will be delivering content for the next platform.

These two sentences have been robbed of their power by an overuse of the verb “to be”. Along with its only slightly more energetic mate, “to have”, “to be” is very passive.

As in life, sometimes “being” is perfectly acceptable. Other times, action is required. Being is important and is therefore important in writing, but only where appropriate. To improve passive writing, I check the vicinity to find other more powerful verbs stymied by the “to be” verb. In the example above, I found “pave”, “create”, “land”, and “deliver”—all excellent verbs that when set free, will transform your writing.

Here’s my revision:

Our goal paves the way for sales to create and land opportunities. We will deliver content for the next platform.

Read my latest posts:

Webtech-Wireless-Temperature-MonitoringCargo Temperature Monitoring Helps Reduce Hunger draws an interesting line between food security, food wastage, and the trailer temperature monitoring solutions Webtech Wireless provides in the transport of food.

 

http://www.disabilityclaimdenied.caAging and Accessibility Go Hand-In-Hand describes baby boomers create demand for universal design. September 23 to 29 is Active Aging Week, and Canada’s aging boomers are smoothing the path for people living with disabilities.

 

 

http://www.disabilityclaimdenied.ca4 Healthy Ways to Reduce Engine Idle showcase idling and its affects on health. As parents idle in front of the school, important lessons are being learned—and lost. Why not introduce your family to a few new habits and skills?

My Writing: Awareness, Absenteesim, and Accomplishment (August 21 to 28)

 

Cell Phone Distraction May Depend on Who’s Driving describes the loss of situational awareness that airline pilots get. What is situational awareness and how is it similar to what happens to distracted drivers?

 

Be Aware of the “Disability Managers” at Your Workplace describes disability and absenteeism and who’s checking up on you when you call in sick. According to Statistics Canada, an employee who is absent due to disability may require some management.

 

 

 

City of Vaughan Embraces a Four Seasons Solution describes how Public Works departments must manage public perception as well as public roadways. The City of Vaughan has relied on a Webtech Wireless solution for years to accomplish just that.

My Writing: Habits, Racing, and Oil (July 30 to August 6)

I’m constantly confounded by the extent to which subject/verb and noun/pronoun errors cause mayhem to the English language. Consider the following:

Ottawa’s attempts to fast track Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline are just one example.

I am in agreement with the choice of “are” over “is”, because the subject of the sentence “attempts” is clearly plural. Where it gets crazy is in the choice to end the sentence, “just one example”. What could be more singular than that? For what it’s worth, here are my solutions:

Ottawa’s attempts to fast track Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline are just examples of…(content needed from writer)

Ottawa’s attempt to fast track Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline is just one example.

As for this week’s writings, here are just one example…

5 Dangerous Driving Habits to Avoid this Long Weekend points the blame at mom and dad (and other middle aged drivers) to smarten up. If the ICBC statisticians are to be believed, the dangerous drivers are the older ones.

 

Pedal to the Metal describes the strange case of the overturned ICBC claim against a fellow racing (and smashing) his corvette in a speedway. In the eyes of the judge, the difference between a motor “racing” event and “training” event is all in the timing.

 

How to Reduce Dependence on Offshore Oil describes our efforts to lessen ourselves of offshore oil dependence. One way is to rejig our entire fleet of vehicle to use natural gas; another, is to lessen our consumption through GPS/AVL technology. This time, what costs less is also easy on the environment.

My Writing: What’s the most common grammar error? – (July 9 – 23)

It’s been a couple of weeks without an update, but the writing goes on (along with lots of copy editing of others’ works not mentioned here). This gives me an excuse to use a unit of measure almost unknown in North American English: the fortnight, British English for two weeks (fourteen days).

I recently heard that English doesn’t suffer from a lack of a clear second person plural, but in fact from a lack of second person singular. The classic greasy-diner waitress who asks, “Okay, what do yous guys want?” is not inventing a second person plural to distinguish from its identical singular form, but is in fact doubling an already second person plural form. “You” is plural; the singular form is “thou”. So, next time you’re dining alone, an informed waitress could ask you, “What dost thou want?” Or, maybe not.

Below are my corporate blog post for the last two weeks:

What Do Lawyers Cost? is overview of what you need to know before you decide to hire a lawyer to represent your claim. You want one who acts solely in your best interests, advises you to protect your rights, positions your claim to obtain a fair settlement from your perspective, and decides what compensation you deserve for your case.

 

Disabled, “Yes”; Unemployable, “No” describes the Government of Canada’s 2012 Economic Action Plan. By investing an additional $30 million over three years into the Opportunities Fund,  more Canadians with disabilities have the opportunity to become gainfully employed.

 

ICBC and Drunk Drivingdescribes ICBC’s aims in preventing drunk driving, which includes convincing drivers (demographically young men) that making excuses and rationales for why it’s “okay” to have a few before getting behind the wheel is part of the problem of drunk driving itself.

A Week of Writing, June 3 – 10

One of the beauties of corporate blogging of course, is to be able to do it from anywhere. As I’ve been quick to irritate my friends and co-workers by saying, “If I can work from home, I can work from the South of France”, which is exactly what I did last winter. This week, however, I’m writing from Toronto where I’m holed up researching and writing for Webtech Wireless’ InterFleet division (headquartered in ultra trendy west King street area). Once again, much of my work is research and less finished projects, so get ready for the deluge when all this stuff goes to print.

How Voluntary Disability Insurance Works describes the recent story of how the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada has introduced a flexible set of voluntary group disability insurance options.

 

 

Could You Live on 25% of Your Wages? describes the sad tale of Pat Tillapaugh of Burnaby who was in an MVA (motor vehicle accident) and found that her loss-of-work coverage from ICBC amounted to only 25% of her wages.

 

This week, I interviewed a client at LA County Transit about the InterFleet GPS devices they use to track the whereabouts of their 38 mini vans and buses. They approached me to write the story although their isn’t yet much content. There isn’t really a story, but I’ll probably write a little slice-of-life blog post about how their using this technology.

 

I also drove up from Toronto to the City of Vaughan (a satellite/service town of Toronto) to interview the senior engineering assistance for their Public Works department about how their GPS winter fleet management solution is equally effective in summer (on grass mowers instead of snow plows). I asked a few questions about business intelligence (the buzz in the industry) and non rolling asset watcher devices, piquing their interest in technology InterFleet is also now offering. Maybe I helped make an additional sale.