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.

Balkan Music: Re-Thinking Dissonance

In her book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, author and cultural historian Barbara Ehrenreich contrasts the “epidemic of melancholia” that pervades much of the modern world with the “phenomenon of communal, shared ecstatic ritual” that existed in our own culture even until the 17th century.

I touched into this phenomenon during last winter’s ever-rains when I began exploring Vancouver’s burgeoning Balkan music scene. There, I found a lively and musically nourishing community of musicians, dancers, and singers. At an Balkan brass band concert at the Russian Hall, I found a brochure for a music camp put on by The East European Folklife Center and I knew I wanted more.

So with the stench of burning police cars still hanging in the air (and local hockey riot pundits insisting that ‘we’re not like that’), I decided to leave Vancouver and follow a niggling intuition that a week of village life was just what I needed. My destination: The Balkan Music and Dance Workshops deep in the Redwood forests near Mendocino, California.

After the music finally stopped, we’d make our way back to our darkened cabins by flashlight and starlight. The next day, the whole process of singing, playing music, and dancing would start up again.

Dissonance + Consonance = Harmony

I soon found that the camp is an ideal artistic environment for anyone with a propensity for musical intelligence, and also it’s a rare chance to return to a rustic existence of woodsy cabins, merry village folk, and a healthy sense of belonging—even if just temporarily. Each day was punctuated with music, dancing, singing classes, and mealtime feasts. Evenings were given over to story telling, group dancing and intoxicating late-night music warmed by the huge stone hearth in the kafana (Balkan coffee house).

Rachel MacFarlane, general manager, cautioned me about the picture of the camp as a perfect village; although, in the next breath she praised the “collective spirit of goodwill” that stirred fellow campers to give up their cabins to accommodate a rained out gudulka class.

The Desire for Dissonance and Instability

“Western tonal music is based on the dichotomy of dissonance and consonance where unstable dissonances seek their resolutions to consonant sonorities”, states Kalin Kirilov, the camp’s expert on Bulgarian harmony. “If you compare music to energy”, he continues, “the dissonances carry a more powerful charge in comparison to the consonances”.

In 2003, Kalin Kirilov met a guitarist from Detroit who asked him if he could teach him to play Bulgarian music. At the time Kalin said it couldn’t be taught in a formal way, but the idea persisted with him and over the next few years he did figure out how to crack the Rosetto Stone of Bulgarian music. In 2007, he defended his dissertation, Harmony in Bulgarian Music. He now teaches music theory at Towson University in Maryland.

In my music education, I’d understood that complex metres (time signatures) in Balkan music were somehow the needlessly convoluted work of a people who were, well, ByzantineKalin provided the necessary context: “Asymmetrical metres exist in a huge variety starting from 5/8 to 15/8. Pushing the concept of asymmetry further, Bulgarians combine different asymmetrical metres forming complex metric groups (for example: 7/8 + 11/8) or juxtapose different asymmetrical metres one against the other”. Then Kalin startled me, “mixed metres push the extremes of what it is to be human”.

Balkan music is rendered simple as soon as one steps onto the dance floor. Its loping, elegant rhythms soon reveal themselves—it’s how a body of conjoined dancers naturally moves.

Continuous Learning

When some adults might be dreaming of marble counter tops in the suburbs or slowly burning out to channel-changer stagnation, Rachel (who originally joined the camp as a singer), took up the tenor horn (central European euphonium) and was instrumental in forming Brass Menazeri, San Francisco’s pre-eminent Balkan brass band.

Not that learning a new instrument in mid-life doesn’t come with its frustrations. “I’m 44 and I wanted to just throw this thing in the Bay”, she says with mock despair. Rachel stated that the camp attracts a vast range of people year after year, many of whom “wait all year”, and then added, “it’s their nourishment”.

Asymmetry and Autism

Sanna Rosengren is originally from Lund, Sweden, but now lives in San Diego where she works a is project scientist at UCSD in the department of Rheumatology. Sanna plays violin and grew up on symphonic rock bands, such as Emerson Lake and Palmer, but soon found that not only was Balkan music immensely satisfying, but it bridge the communication gap between her and her daughter, Ellinor, who has autism.

Together, they learned the complex melodies and rhythms of Greek and Bulgarian music, including popular favourites Yalo Yalo. Although autism makes is difficult for Ellinor to dance, she has a keen sense for Balkan metres and even despairs at the dull simplicity of most modern popular music, which is invariably in 4/4 time.

Genetic and Musical Homecoming

Bruce Salmon’s musical journey spans many genres. He played rock music with bands, such as Alejandro Escovedo, until at mid life he began to ponder what sort of future he had touring as a rock musician. He, too, was draw to the rhythmic complexity of Balkan music and through it chose to take a new path in life—one that would take him to Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey, including the Bulgarian Folk Music & Dance Seminar in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Klezmer music was a natural bridge into Balkan music for him, one that elicited what “felt like ancestral memories”. After a fellow musician mentioned his preternatural ease with playing Klezmer music, Bruce delved into his family roots and found a quashed memory of his own Jewish heritage.

Ageism—a thing of the past

Ken Blackwood, from Canmore, Alberta, is 77 and quipped that he may quit at 80. “I’m retired and active, rather than retired and dead” he added. Having witnessed him cut his way across the dance floor night after night (even after a day of Bulgarian, Albanian, and Greek dance classes), I knew he was serious.

A native of New Zealand and a regular at Balkan Camp since the early 90s, he maintained his father “practiced dying for years before he actually died for real”.

The Mystery of Bulgarian Music – Revealed!

Bulgarian music is at the centre of cultural crossroads. Like tectonic plates, three major musical systems have converged and overlapped the ancient pentatonic five-note scales (thought to be the oldest in the world­, as they can be found from Ireland to China). From Greece came the “Church” modes, which also form the basis of Western music (in the form Ionian mode (major scales) and the Aeolian mode (minor scales)). Makams, with their distinctive augmented second intervals and quarter tones, spread from the Middle East along with the conquering Ottoman Turks.

But the real trouble in the mix was tempered tuning system from the West. Far from be well tempered, it is built on a series of increasing compromises designed to allow musicians (particularly those of keyboards, such as the accordion) to play equally in tune (or out of tune as some argue) in all keys.

Bulgarian music draws its fascination by how it reconciles these seemingly irreconcilable differences.


Balkan Music in Vancouver

This week-end (July 30), you can immerse yourself in the wild and compelling music of the Balkan region at the Electric Owl on Main Street. Orkestar SlivovicaThe Tailor (gypsy/folk punk), and from Seattle, the Bucharest Drinking Team are the three bands that are playing under the banner, “Transform a crowd of strangers into a circle of friends!!!” If you’re not familiar with the wild ride that is Balkan music, you’re in for a treat.

Saint John Transit gets Wireless Upgrade

SaintJohn-110617-01web

Back in February 2010, Webtech Wireless expanded its InterFleet® implementation with the city of Saint John, New Brunswick to include an additional 100 public works and police vehicles—a contract valued at over $100,000. Now to complement the city’s Interfleet solution, Saint John Transit also plans to deploy a Webtech Wireless solution—NextBus.

NextBus will provide Saint John Transit with an AVL tracking solution for its 60 buses, allowing riders to check bus arrivals in real-time. Using PCs, landline phones, cell phones, or SMS text messaging, riders get real-time travel information (each bus is fitted with a satellite tracking system) designed to help them decide whether catching the next bus is a sprint or leisurely stroll. Currently, riders can only view a static schedule of intended bus arrivals and departures on the company’s web site.

NextBus will also install five LCD screens at various locations around the city, including McAllister Place Malland the university campus (UNBSJ) and LED screens at bus stops. To help make public transport more attractive to potential riders (and as a nod to Saint John Transit’s already existing environmental initiatives), the service will add to the city’s existing hot spots with free WIFI for riders on all its buses.

About NextBus

A subsidiary of Webtech Wireless, San Francisco-based NextBus implements real-time passenger information systems used by dozens of transit agencies, universities and other transit operators across North America. Because traffic variations, breakdowns, and day-to-day problems faced by any transit provider can interrupt service, NextBus was designed to help keep riders on schedule even if their buses aren’t. NextBus uses satellite technology and advanced computer modeling to track vehicles on their routes.

As Canada’s oldest incorporated city and New Brunswick’s largest municipality, the city of Saint John has been providing municipal services for more than two centuries. According to Statistics Canada, the Saint John municipal area has a population of 122,389, with a population density of 36.4 persons per square kilometre.

old_saint-john

Historic Saint John has been a transportation hub since long before confederation.

The Port of Saint John is one of Canada’s most important ports (its relatively mild maritime climate keeps its deep-water harbour ice-free year round when inland ports in the St. Lawrence Seaway must contend with ice). This keeps the city’s businesses and industries bustling throughout the year. In 2010 for the first time ever, the Port of Saint John exceeded 30 million metric tonnes of cargo in a single year.

About Saint John Transit

Saint John Transit was established in 1979 to provide scheduled transit service to the city. It replaced City Transit Limited (1948-1979) and a string of others dating back to the People’s Street Railway Company (1869-1876). Saint John Transit is the largest public transit system in the province, both by mileage and passengers.

Saint John Transit Statistics

Saint John Transit’s ridership is approximately 50 percent higher than the average for Canadian cities with a population of between 50,000 and 150,000.

  • Number of vehicles: 60
  • Ridership: 2.5 million riders per year

Current active fleet bus types:

Greening Saint John

To reduce auto emissions, the City of Saint John, along with the Federal and Provincial governments, is investing in public transportation between uptown Saint John and outlying communities. Branded as ComeX (Community Express), it provides a rapid bus transport service during peak commuting times.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

With the implementation of ComeX, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop by 1,500 metric tonnes and downtown traffic will decrease by 800 vehicles a day over the next five years.

NextBus Rolls into Saint John

Saint John Transit bus on King Street soon to be equipped with NextBus AVL solution

Saint John Transit bus on King Street soon to be equipped with NextBus AVL solution

Back in February 2010, Webtech Wireless expanded its InterFleet® implementation with the city of Saint John, New Brunswick to include an additional 100 public works and police vehicles—a contract valued at over $100,000. Now to complement the city’s Interfleet solution, Saint John Transit also plans to deploy a Webtech Wireless solution—NextBus.

NextBus will provide Saint John Transit with an AVL tracking solution for its 60 buses, allowing riders to check bus arrivals in real-time. Using PCs, landline phones, cell phones, or SMS text messaging, riders get real-time travel information (each bus is fitted with a satellite tracking system) designed to help them decide whether catching the next bus is a sprint or leisurely stroll. Currently, riders can only view a static schedule of intended bus arrivals and departures on the company’s web site.

NextBus will also install five LCD screens at various locations around the city, including McAllister Place Mall and the university campus (UNBSJ) and LED screens at bus stops. To help make public transport more attractive to potential riders (and as a nod to Saint John Transit’s already existing environmental initiatives), the service will add to the city’s existing hot spots with free WIFI for riders on all its buses.

About NextBus

A subsidiary of Webtech Wireless, San Francisco-based NextBus implements real-time passenger information systems used by dozens of transit agencies, universities and other transit operators across North America. Because traffic variations, breakdowns, and day-to-day problems faced by any transit provider can interrupt service, NextBus was designed to help keep riders on schedule even if their buses aren’t. NextBus uses satellite technology and advanced computer modeling to track vehicles on their routes.

About Saint John

Historic Saint John has been a transportation hub since long before confederation

Historic Saint John has been a transportation hub since long before confederation

As Canada’s oldest incorporated city and New Brunswick’s largest municipality, the city of Saint John has been providing municipal services for more than two centuries. According to Statistics Canada, the Saint John municipal area has a population of 122,389, with a population density of 36.4 persons per square kilometre.

The Port of Saint John is one of Canada’s most important ports (its relatively mild maritime climate keeps its deep-water harbour ice-free year round when inland ports in the St. Lawrence Seaway must contend with ice). This keeps the city’s businesses and industries bustling throughout the year. In 2010 for the first time ever, the Port of Saint John exceeded 30 million metric tonnes of cargo in a single year.

About Saint John Transit

Saint John Transit was established in 1979 to provide scheduled transit service to the city. It replaced City Transit Limited (1948-1979) and a string of others dating back to the People’s Street Railway Company (1869-1876). Saint John Transit is the largest public transit system in the province, both by mileage and passengers.

SaintJohn-110617-01web

Saint John Transit bus now equipped with NextBus wireless AVL solution

Saint John Transit Statistics

Saint John Transit’s ridership is approximately 50 percent higher than the average for Canadian cities with a population of between 50,000 and 150,000.

  • Number of vehicles: 60
  • Ridership: 2.5 million riders per year

Current active fleet bus types:

Greening Saint John

Saint John Transportation Usage - 2006 Census

Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

To reduce auto emissions, the City of Saint John, along with the Federal and Provincial governments, is investing in public transportation between uptown Saint John and outlying communities. Branded as ComeX (Community Express), it provides a rapid bus transport service during peak commuting times. With the implementation of ComeX, greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop by 1,500 metric tonnes and downtown traffic will decrease by 800 vehicles a day over the next five years.

Additional reading:

Using NextBus on Your Smartphone

Below is another excerpt from the Webtech Wireless blog I’ve been working on. As a corporate blog, I try to balance clear concise professional writing with a personable informal tone often not possible in other corporate materials. So, the purpose of a blog is not merely to blast potential readers with the same material they’d find elsewhere, but rather, it’s an opportunity for a company to show  a more human face and reach out a real people.

Excerpt

Just as the adoption of the cell phone became universal a decade and a half ago, the smartphone is now a ubiquitous part of life for most urbanites. According to New York Times writer, Damon Darlin, “historians will remember the advent of the smartphone as something as important as the elevator, air conditioner and automobile.”

The implication for transit companies is clear: adopt an AVL solution or face irritation and disinterest from your ridership. Fortunately, transit authorities are reading the writing on the wall and many of them are choosing NextBus—for its reliability and simplicity.

“NextBus, a wonderful Web site that monitors the arrival of city buses in many big cities, is a godsend.”

While there is no official phone application for Nextbus, the simplicity of the NextBus website makes it easy to use on most smartphones.

To access NextBus using a smartphone:

  1. Using your smartphone’s web browser (such as Safari), access the NextBus website: www.nextbus.com.
  2. Choose the mobile version or the full-featured website.
  3. Select your location, your transit agency, your route, and then your stop.The most current prediction for the arrival time of the next vehicle is displayed.
  4. You also can add your stop info to your home screen so it will be instantly available.
  5. If a prediction is already displayed on your smartphone, simply push the ‘refresh’ link at the bottom of the page to get the most up to date information.

Testimonial – Critical polishing greatly improved final report

Working to deadline, Jason provided valuable copy editing and feedback to a key customer report that was over thirty pages long. Jason’s changes provided the critical polishing that greatly improved the impression the prospect received with the final report.

— David Greer, VP of Marketing, Webtech Wireless