Why Increased Accuracy Matters

–By Chuck Lane, Solution Engineer, Webtech Wireless

With ever increasing fuel costs, a common question these days is, “how do I accurately measure my individual vehicle fuel consumption?”

GPS versus Vehicle Odometer Reporting: “It’s a mine field”

With the advent of on-board diagnostics (OBD) in the 1980s the problem was solved, right? In an automotive context, OBD is a generic term referring to a vehicle’s self-diagnostic and reporting capability. All vehicle manufacturers conform to SAE J1979, and the OBD-II standard has been mandatory for all cars and light trucks sold in the United States since 1996.

“It’s complicated”

Problem solved! We just connect to the vehicle OBD port (they all have one) and read the fuel consumption data, right? Wrong—it’s not that simple—it’s complicated and fraught with pitfalls.

Each vehicle manufacturer implements the OBD standard uniquely and will rarely, if ever, share that standard outside its service network. It’s possible to gain access to that standard and implement a solution to read the PID (parameter identification) number codes, but manufacturers are not required to implement all PIDs listed in J1979, and they are allowed to include proprietary PIDs that are not listed. It’s just a minefield to attempt to interpret individual manufacturer PIDs accurately.

Most importantly, non-approved connections to a vehicle OBD port (ECU/Engine Control Unit) could invalidate warranty and cause other legal or technical issues. Modern vehicles are controlled by highly sophisticated computer systems, can detect miniscule unexpected current draws, and may register a fault. What if you have a mixture of old and new cars, vans, buses, and other vehicles from different manufacturers? Older vehicles don’t have any OBD port at all.

Comparing OBD against GPS Statistics

Both OBD collected data and GPS calculated data have some inherent flaws—neither one is 100% accurate. Recent studies have shown a variation of plus or minus 5% for speed and odometer data from OBD. We recently conducted a series of studies with our major customers involving hundreds of vehicles measuring the accuracy of ODB versus our GPS locator information. With recent improvements in our  locator hardware and algorithms we have now confirmed our GPS information is accurate to plus or minus 3% versus OBD data from the same vehicles.

The federal specification for vehicle speed/odometer is plus or minus 10%. A recent study by a major Webtech Wireless customer has shown that their trucks were reporting a speed of 15% to 20% higher than actual when using cruise control (this data was taken from the ECU (engine control unit)). This prompted the customer to switch to GPS calculations for speed.

Odometer Drift Analysis for 827 Vehicles

Recently, Webtech Wireless completed a study of 827 vehicles from a large customer fleet. This study compared the odometer readings from the vehicle with the mileage calculations from the Webtech Wireless Locator using GPS calculations.

The results of the study are as follows:

Odometer Drift Analysis for 827 Vehicles

  • Average GPS odometer drift was plus or minus 3.07% when compared to vehicle odometer
  • 87% of the vehicles had less than 5% drift
  • 63% of the vehicles had less than 3% drift
  • 2% of vehicles had GPS antenna issues (19 vehicles)

In an additional study, one of our largest clients found ECU data on speed to be way off, so they asked us to switch to GPS calculated speed.  When the GPS antenna was properly mounted and had clearance to the sky (i.e., in highway conditions further from obstructions such as skyscrapers), GPS speed and odometer calculations were favorable.

Increasing Accuracy

The biggest factor in getting good GPS odometer (mileage) readings is to have the GPS antenna installed properly. Improper installation can cause a high number of no-fix records that, in turn, can cause invalid GPS odometer readings.

The following actions can increase GPS odometer accuracy:

  • Install a GPS antenna with a good view of the sky
  • Update the GPS odometer for all vehicles every 6 to 12 months
  • Update the GPS odometer during scheduled maintenance
  • Monitor vehicles with high no-fix rates of greater than 25%

Summary

In conclusion, both vehicle OBD and the GPS odometer readings can have some issues regarding accuracy. Webtech Wireless Locators and highly accurate GPS calculations provide proven GPS accuracy for speed and odometer readings. These studies resulted in our customers using Webtech Wireless GPS reporting for accounting purposes.

Making a Difference

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your instruction and guidance in class.
Having teachers who have a passion for what they teach makes the difference.”

—Joe Coll, Technical Writer, Ballard Power

Five Super Fantastic Tips to Improve Your Writing

When I’m editing (either corporate technical and marketing materials or student papers at BCIT), I pay particular attention to sentence construction. Technical and business writing is prone to awkward sentence construction, because the material is so complex. And marketing writing only compounds the problem, because the writer feels compelled to decorate the writing with as many superlatives as possible.

Here are five tips I use to keep my writing clear:

1. Avoid nominalization. Most people are familiar with it even if they don’t know what it’s called. In nominalized writing, the writer turns verbs into nouns. It’s most common in bureaucratic writing, and I believe, originates from a writer’s attempt to gain ground on the target audience—it talks down to its readers.

Here’s an example:

Improve driver safety by notification of Emergency through panic button depression.

You can see that nominalization also results in a lot of passive voice. By returning the nominalized verbs into true verbs, your sentence instantly has more life:

To improve driver safety, notify Emergency by pressing the panic button.

2. Keep the subject and its corresponding verb as close to each other as possible.
Here’s an example:

Before:
“This concept demonstrates how simple data related to, for example, salt dispensed on the public highways during the winter months when combined and processed with external data like geo-spatial, traffic fatality, and weather data can be turned into useful information.”

After:
“This concept demonstrates how simple data can be turned into useful information (for example, data from salt dispensed on the public highways during the winter months becomes useful information when combined and processed with external data such as geo-spatial, traffic fatality, and weather data).”

3. Move parenthetic content away from the core of the sentence. In the example above, I’ve moved the parenthetic material away from the structural core of the sentence, but mirrored the point to reinforce the meaning. Parenthetic content is not always contained in parentheses (brackets). You can also use commas and even em dashes to indicate a parenthetic idea. I distinguish each as follows:

  • Parentheses – an idea entirely outside the structural core of the sentence; a lesser point.
  • Comma – a subordinate idea, but closely related to the core of the sentence (i.e., the sentence would be lessened without it).
  • Em dash – a non related point that has a slightly exclamatory quality to it. It’s unrelated to the core meaning, but it’s an important aside—I use them a lot in web writing!

4. Check your logic. The most common logic error in grammar has a name: It’s called the dangling modifier. It occurs in sentences in which the doer is unclear (either because the sentence carries two or more doers or it’s omitted). It’s often the source of humour, as in the famous quote of Groucho Marx, “Last night, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How the elephant got into my pajamas, I’ll never know”.

Here’s an example taken from technical writing:

“The currently open table appears in the top-left corner of the window.”

“Open” in this case is not a verb; it’s an adjective. The intransitive verb “appears” is doing whatever action it can. “Currently” is a misplaced modifier. It should read, “The open table currently appears in the top-left corner of the window.”

5. Limit your use of adjectives and other superlatives. I call this “super fantastic writing”, because it’s used when “fantastic writing” just isn’t good enough. I recently edited a document that made the claim “…saving you more than millions of dollars in lost revenues”. As in point four above (Check your logic), it just doesn’t make any sense. Without an exact number, you can’t add a superlative (“more than”). As an editor, it’s sometimes difficult to persuade writers to release their white-knuckled hold on such writing—but it must be done. Decorating your writing with lots of adjectives, superlatives, and other do-dads doesn’t make it better or more persuasive.

Endorsement – “Personable, Expert, Creative”

“I felt challenged in Jason’s class and I credit him with helping me to develop the level of organization and precision I needed to succeed as a technical writer. He is an inspiring educator, and I look forward to encountering him in future courses.”

Helen Dudley, BCIT student, February 7, 2012

 

BCIT endorsement

“Jason’s clear and engaging style carries over from his writing into his instruction. He happily goes out of his way to ensure participation and understanding.”

Pritpaul Bains, technical writing student, BCIT – February 1, 2012

A One-Float Parade

Yesterday, I came upon a one-float parade making its way through afternoon traffic in downtown Menton, France. It appeared to have no fixed direction (although it led us to the beach with its seaside restaurants and shops). For me, it represented a lively example of what a small group of people—about five in this case—can do to bring playfulness and happiness to a city.

One-float parade - Menton

Living life like a whole parade sounds expensive, and excessive; like a one-man parade, lonely and perhaps lunatic; but a one-float parade with close friends—just right.
Happy holidays friends,
Jason

The galley slave, the orchestra conductor, and the kitchen party

There’s a kitchen party going on in my head these days. It could be the air here in the south of France where I’m otherwise churning out corporate blogging content for Vancouver clients, or it could be that I’m discovering that the kitchen party in my head is pretty effective for getting certain things done, I don’t know.

Recently, I read a story, which utilized the popular metaphor of the orchestra conductor to describe enlightened leadership in a corporate setting. I liked the comparison, but I had to look elsewhere for a metaphor that was more enlightened still.

How do Slave Galleys Work?

Credit: funnytimes.com

In the old, OLD days, employees were seen merely as resources (sometimes costly ones). Like a slave galley, most everyone was chained to his post and the “employer” used negative motivation (usually whips and torture) to produce results (i.e., forward movement).

Why is an Orchestra Conductor more Enlightened?

The orchestra conductor metaphor is considered more enlightened, because everyone brings together his or her best talents under the conductor’s light touch, (who of course brings it all together into beautiful music). The emphasis is on bringing out each person’s unique talents.

Dumas – “The orchestra when tragedy is being played”

Having played in a symphony orchestra, I know firsthand that it is not always that enlightened. An orchestra is extremely hierarchical, music is programmed sometimes years in advance, and except for first-chair players, there’s very little freedom to interpret the music freely. Bluntly: Sometimes it’s much, much closer to a slave galley than what you might imagine.

So, Why a Kitchen Party?

In a kitchen party, everyone is draw there because he or she wants to be there. There is no obligation—it’s a party! Everyone participates and everybody shares equally in the creation. There may be a host, but no leader. If you don’t want to play, you can always sit out (or leave). Kitchen parties seldom have distinct rules and, being spontaneous, they tend to follow rules set out by those involved. It’s a viral happening.

Newfoundland_Kitchen_Party_by_AlexisLynch

Credit: Alexis Lynch

I believe that if everyone who disliked his or her job were to quit, after the initial bumps and burps as the world reconfigured itself into one in which people only did what they were drawn to do, things would probably improve considerably. This is the kitchen-party metaphor: Love what you do or do something else.

Complaining 101 – How to Get Results

Here's what I'd hoped for...

Did you ever notice how optimism can turn to disappointment and then to anger? Yesterday as I was playing in the sun with several semi-feral kittens, I let my mind wander and I suddenly observed the distinct thresholds that brought me to lodge a complaint at my hotel.

When I first saw my room, I just laughed. It was like a student dormitory, but it didn’t matter. This hotel serves the French school where I’m learning French, so there are a lot of twenty-something students around and the atmosphere is decidedly informal. But when informal crossed the line into incompetent, the problems started mounting:

  • I asked to have my shower fixed three times with no action from management.
  • Although I’d been promised a WIFI connection (a necessity for staying in connection with my Vancouver clients), it frequently didn’t work or the connection was so slow it was like being thrown back into distant 1994.
  • With no notice, the management of the hotel tore apart the ceiling in the corridor leading to my room, leaving wires and dangling lights in the way.
  • While I expected a certain amount of partying, it didn’t occur to me that some students would selfishly party all night long on a school night at the expense of sleep for everybody less inclined to party (and then miss classes themselves the next day to catch up on sleep).
  • My room was close to the shared kitchen where noisy students tended to gather and in addition to the noise, a night’s partying left our shared kitchen (already laughably inadequate) filthy—a cochonnerie in fact.
Castel Arabel has clearly seen better days

...Here's what I got.

A few years ago, before I learned how truly counterproductive complaining can be, I think I actually thought complaint was an effective communication tool. When I realized this was not the case, I resolved never to complain again. Now, this untenable situation was backing me into a corner. As a readied myself for class, I pondered the most effective way to complain so that my grievances would be heard and acted upon.

Here’s what I decided:

  • No matter how justified, nobody likes a complainer. When stating the grievance, avoid whining. Whining is a fast ticket to abdicate your power. Instead, clearly explain the problem and the solution you expect to see.
  • Document your complaint. Make sure your facts are straight before you complain, then you don’t find yourself on the defensive.
  • Give people receiving an out—an opportunity to be right; otherwise, they may become defensive.

When I arrived at the school, I sat down with administrator. I simply said I had a problem with Castel Arabel (my hotel) and held up my iPhone with pictures of the filthy kitchen and the disemboweled ceiling. I described my attempts to get my shower fixed and my lack of sleep resulting from the all-night partiers. I then explained my concerns about my friend, Sylvie, coming from Quebec and whether if the problems were not resolved could we expect to be reimbursed should we move to a different hotel? I only used strong words where when he tried to excuse the state of the hotel. I simply said, “No more excuses”. He then offered to call the hotel and speak with its manager.

When I returned to the hotel, my shower was fixed and the manager explained to me that because of the work in the hallway, he’d be moving me to their “de luxe” accommodations for the duration of my stay. I let him save face (it’s much easier for him to apologize for moving me because of the repair work in the hallway than my lengthy list of other complaints). I courteously thanked him for thinking of me and finding me a different room.

après la tempête

Après la tempête - wellbeing restored

All is well now. I can feel my optimism begin to return. I conveyed that I wasn’t going to fly into a rage, I am not a complainer, and I expect results if I do lodge a complaint.

 

Learning French with Dignity

Here’s an excerpt from my travel journal. It doesn’t really fit the business angle I’d intended for this blog, but hey, this is where the humour’s coming from so I’m going with it.

Yesterday, I headed up to Vence (a mountain town close to the coast). There’s a lovely old town there but I really went to have tea with the friends of parents of a friend of mine in Vancouver. How do you like that for 6 degrees of separation? I was concerned that they might be a little French and formal, especially the parents of my friend, who’s but 30, is quite formal—almost regal in his ways. But his parent weren’t and neither were the hosts and it wasn’t long before we all sitting in the study drinking coffee and eating homemade orange merengue (oranges courtesy of the neighbour’s orange trees) and having a roaringly fun time.

The hosts are both visual artists and art collectors so their home is a veritable gallery. Helen is English born, but has lived in the Cote d’Azur since her teens and her husband, Joe, a witty Sicilian has a genius for tending the conversation with word play and other trickery like it was a fire. When I left, my stomach hurt I’d been laughing so hard.

This contrasted strongly with my experience at the French school where I’ve been studying. Maybe, in the greater scheme of things, I’ll conclude that coming here was a really bad idea, but for now, I’m adapting myself to the situation as I go. It’s a little bizarre for me as everybody is about 20 to 25 years younger and not nearly as amusing as the crowd in Vence, who is about 20 years older (okay, maybe 15).

At the school today, I was compelled to join in with our class to sing Jingle Bells in six languages for the faculty. I was the only male singing as all the other classmates were girls. I thought, “how much more humiliating is this going to get?” I’d just bite down on it and endure, and in the end it really wasn’t that bad as everyone was laughing and nobody was really listening to the quality of the music. Just festive fun. Who’s the formal one here?

If the courses weren’t so good, I’d probably complain about the hostel where I’m housed—it’s quite a dump. I’ve been waiting for five days to have my shower fixed, the shared kitchen is filthy and very run down, and the internet barely works at all.

But now my French is so improved I’m comfortably ordering food in restaurants, asking people for directions, and exchanging pleasantries with a high degree of efficiency. Although, today on my walk downtown, I had to go to the washroom really badly and finally simply walked into a cafe to ask to use their WC. In my urgency, all I could come out with was, “Je dois faire les toilettes”, which either doesn’t mean anything at all, or roughly translates into “me make do-do”. Whatever I said, the owner gave me a dead metallic look and just said, “Allez”, which I took to mean “just do your business”, not “get out”.

Using Dropbox on the iPhone

Travel is always fraught with unexpected challenges and my experience is that a small oversight can cartwheel into a major breakdown when in a different country trying to use unfamiliar technologies. Take for example, the train in France.

I reserved my train passage on the TGV from Paris to Antibes with little difficulty, and it was only at the last step—literally—that everything suddenly went very, very wrong.

I had become comfortable with the manual doors on the Paris Metro, but the doors on the TGV were a new adventure. And while I’m on the subject of the Paris Metro, the iPhone app for it is called, “Le Metro Parisien”, and it’s one of the best apps around (if you’re comfortable with directions in French), particularly because it works as well offline as on. You simply enter your start and finish station and it walks you through the steps to get there.

When the train stopped at Antibes—a whistle mere stop—I pressed the button to open the door and nothing happened. In my halting French, I asked several old French ladies on the train trying to open the door, but we couldn’t open it. Two minutes later, then train departed Antibes with me still on it bound for Nice.

In Nice, I was able to catch a train back to Antibes, but I’d missed my pickup. This is when another small problem became a large one. I’m missed my pickup in Antibes by this time, so I opened Dropbox on my iPhone to check the hotel information and, to my horror, the confirmation files weren’t viewable.

I was using Dropbox on my iPhone to read PDF versions of bookings and other travel information. I’d never checked, but files only open in Dropbox offline, if they’re been viewed online. I hadn’t bothered to get roaming wifi or a European phone account, so I found I couldn’t even read my hotel information. Fortunately, I could boot  up my laptop in the train station and read the files there offline. It’s always good to have multiple failsafes and lots of redundancy.

I told myself not to panic—even when I thought I’d have to book into another hotel for my first night in Antibes—and in the end, panic wouldn’t have helped. The entire ordeal lasted no more than 1 1/2 hours, including the little trip to Nice and back.