Redundancy—A serious and critical crime since 1066

Here’s a little tip from my technical editing and grammar class about why there’s so much accepted redundancy in English:

“It all goes back to that fateful Battle in Hastings in 1066. After the Anglo-Saxons lost, Norman rule was established in England and with it, a second language. In order to rule the country (and be understood), court officials, lawmakers, and judges had to repeat themselves in both official languages (sound familiar?). Commoners, anxious to put on airs and sound official, incorporated these redundancies into everyday language, bringing about some of the phrases we have today:

  • Null (Anglo) and Void (Norman)
  • Just (Anglo) and Proper (Norman)

This writing habit is now so widespread that writers often think they need to use the and/or construct to accommodate both words, when the best solution is to simply remove the offending redundant word or phrase.”

Endorsement from Jeremy Berkman, Co-Artistic Director, Turning Point Ensemble

Jason is very sensitive to the needs of his clients and—being a musician himself—helped us immensely in crafting our ensemble’s acclaimed web-site. He is easy to brainstorm with and patient in explaining areas of his knowledge with those less familiar. 

October 16, 2011, Jeremy Berkman, Co-Artistic Director, Turning Point Ensemble


My Six Keys to Achieving Excellence

I just read Tony Schwartz’s recent blog on the Harvard Business Review describing the six keys to achieving excellence. I enjoyed it and was inspired. Then, I thought how my music training, apart from providing a lifetime of enjoyment playing music, has given me a first-hand experience achieving excellence. Sometimes, I forget that not all people have had that excellence, so they don’t know why things are tough or don’t they don’t get the results they want.

I’ve taken Mr. Schwartz’s six points and applied them to my experience in music to draw some inspiration in other areas of my life where I feel, er, less accomplished:

  1. Pursue what you love. This is a no brainer as nobody in their right mind would pursue music for any reason other than he or she loves it. A couple of years ago when I started questioning the wisdom of leaving a promising career as an orchestral musician for technical writing (what?), I had an epiphany that has helped me rejig my career back into something I can say I love.
    I was using my head to make big decisions (what shall to do with my life?) and my heart to make small ones (what should I have for lunch today?). I should have been doing the exact opposite.
    I realized I’d been directing my life to things that were rational and, um, boring instead of inspiring. On a daily basis, I was being capricious in a way that was essentially undermining my plans. I needed to start doing the exact reverse: plan my life from my heart and my daily affairs from my head. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” — “Practice!”
  2. Do the hardest work first. In music, the fastest way to do something is slowly. Orchestral musicians meticulously dissect a passage of music until they can play it with ease. Getting to the ease part can take a long time and a lot of patience, but things don’t necessarily come easy—even in music.
  3. Practice intensely, I think people imagine that playing music is relaxing. Well, it is but only after conquering the Himalayan peaks of practice. I don’t know whether musicians practice because they love music or they love music because they practice so much. I think I practiced my way into loving music. It became all consuming in the best possible way. Don’t do things by half measure.
  4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses. There is nothing so humbling as bearing your soul before a more accomplished musician. I’ve always been suspicious of the self-taught musician. How can anyone grow surrounded only by there own opinions and habits? There’s no better way to acquire new abilities and to go beyond what you thought yourself capable of than by seeking out an expert to help you reach your goals.
  5. Take regular renewal breaks.When I studied at the Banff Centre for the Arts, we would play chamber music in the morning and then go skiing in the afternoon. By the next day we were indeed renewed. Besides, when you’re doing what you love (or loving what you do), you’re integrating new information all the time—even when you’re asleep.
  6. Ritualize practice. As a musician, I really liked playing scales. It was like a morning ritual. I had the most brutally difficult study book I’d found somewhere. It was called, “Vade Mecum” which I think means “Take along companion” and it was actually written for flute. It included every possible scale and arpeggio configuration in every register. Two hours of that and I felt like I could wrestle a bear!

A music endorsement

“I’ve had the distinct pleasure and honour of playing music with Jason Hall for much of the past year. Jason’s musicality and unquestionable ability wonderfully combines sensitivity with humour and vitality with compassion.”

—Jason Jones, Musician

The Future of the Book

With touchscreen technology poised to become a ubiquitous part of our lives, the future of the book is likely to change dramatically as well.

From TED.com – “Software developer Mike Matas demos the first full-length interactive book for the iPad — with clever, swipeable video and graphics and some very cool data visualizations to play with. The book is Our Choice, Al Gore’s sequel to ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.”

Learning Adobe Illustrator

In 2010, I determined that I wanted to improve my Adobe Illustrator skills and so I started creating a mandala a month. Below is the final result.

How to Use the NextBus AVL Solution

In our July 21st, 2011 blog post (which coincided with the inauguration of Saint John Transit’s implementation of NextBus), I described the innovation, the need, and the application of Nextbus. Since then, this helpful YouTube video has appeared (courtesy of The City of Saint John, NB) describing how to use Nextbus for finding your next bus when in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.

While the Nextbus AVL system is so easy and intuitive to use it hardly needs directions, this video can be helpful if you’re not familiar with computer-based solutions or you would like an overview of how NextBus works from the client end.

Print and Layout acknowledgement

“Hi Jason. Just took a look at the new product (Quadrant) brochure! It looks great!”


Brad Teeter, journalist, Georgia Straight

Wonderfully written piece…the depth of understanding generated a feeling of gratefulness, pleased to be getting the inside story.

Copy Editing English for a Globaliz(s)ed Audience

In one of the courses I teach at BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology), I received an email from a very keen participant asking how to prepare for the course (Technical Editing and Grammar course – 1008). Inspired by such enthusiasm (this is what makes September great!), I decided to take it further and include  information for anyone interested in improving their core skills as a technical writer.

Get a Quality Style Guide – Consider ordering the Chicago Manual of Style (I have both an online and hard copy version). It’s an excellent investment for anyone interested in high-quality English-language writing.

Learn MS Word – Research the Track Changes feature in MS Word. There are other software programs technical writers need for writing, but MS Word is still the most common. As a technical writer, you’re expected to use Word at an advanced level.

Learn hard copy markup – It may seem archaic, but hard copy markup makes you indispensable when editing and developing large documents).

Learn the Most Common Grammar Errors – In my course, we learn the ten-top grammar errors. Don’t feel you have to know all grammar errors (that’s what a good style guide is for), but your credibility as a writer is increased exponentially if you know the core ones. To find out the ten-top grammar errors, take my course.

Write, write, write! – to get your foot in the door, take every opportunity you can to write and edit even if it means working for free. Ensure you ask low paying (or non paying) clients to let you keep a copy of the before and finished versions, so you can use them to market yourself.