What’s in a Story?

Last year, when I created Generations as a homage to the many generations that built St. Philip’s Anglican Church in Dunbar (to honour the church’s 90th anniversary), the idea came to me of tying together a narrative of music with a story line.

The first rule of such an approach is to avoid hitting the audience over the head with the story, so I left a lot to their intelligence and their own personal creativity to figure out.

The music selections where lightly connected to the idea of intergenerational connections (A string quartet by “Pappa” Haydn, Songs my Mother Taught Me by Antonin Dvorak, and the feature work, Timepieces by Jeffrey Ryan, which I had commissioned as a memorial to my own father).

This year’s concert part of The Tárogató Project springs from a similar idea—it weaves together three distinct stories:

1) The musical part is a journey through the literature (or some of it) of Hungarian music (from simple shepherd’s songs to grand Romance to newly commissioned works for the tárogató),

2) the next part explores the story of the Hungarian refugees, particularly those from the University of Sopron who came to Vancouver and made a positive impact on the city, UBC, and forestry practices in BC, and

3) the final story deals with the contemporary unfolding drama of today’s refugees and the challenges they face making their new home, Vancouver, home.

The music will weave its own thread leaving the other two stories to drive the narrative (and the music to provide meditation points).

The date is 30 April 2017 (4pm) at St. Philip’s Church (Dunbar).


Designing end-user documentation and training

One of the major problems I encounter with technical training and documentation is that it so often focuses on product features rather than real-world tasks users need to do their jobs. My approach is to start with learning objectives and an audience profile and then seeing how the technological feature fits in.

The following two samples (one for training and the other for technical documentation) describe the solutions I employed. They are followed by a new course design I create for a new course at BCIT where I teach.

CKD Patient Registration

With CKD Patient Registration (designed for clinical staff to enter important kidney care information into the clinical software system), the first challenge with training was economising the efforts taken to create and maintain the documentation. I always advocate for a single-source solution that organises information into chunks for re-use. While the ultimate solution is to use a topic-based authoring tool such as Madcap Flare, something similar can be obtained using less feature-rich software.

With the samples below, I started with that big picture of single-sourcing and drilled down to a lesson organised into different clinical scenarios for transfering patients. Although the Adobe Captivate elearning isn’t available to share here, I’ve included similar material (KCC Patient Transfers) that, for the first time, links the software features to real-world clinical procedures.

Selected files:

Webtech Driver Center User Guide

Audience profiling is an important part of training and documentation. For this next sample, we already knew that our audience (truck drivers and dispatchers) was highly visual and independent. I recommended building a guide that was down-to-earth, and I tied each procedure to a task in the order that the user might encounter it during a typical work day. It might seem obvious, but this approach replaced a rather stuffy technical writer style of documenting every feature whether or not the user was likely to use it (we stuck to documenting 80% and left the remaining 20% to Technical Support to address should the user need arise).

Selected chapters from the guide (I designed this document in InDesign using some of its responsive design technology to allow readers easy reader whether on a desktop or mobile device):

Course Design Samples

The following samples show a sample course design done for a course at BCIT.

Testimonial – Words of wisdom on proposal writing

I appreciate the words of wisdom Jason shared in class about persevering and being open to all kinds of writing as a technical writer. Those words were valuable when I began my technical writing role as part of a sales team. It involves a lot of proposal writing, which walks a nice line between informative and persuasive writing. I’m using my strengths, but expanding the scope of my writing skills as well.

—Deborah Hazebroek, Technical Writer, ENBALA Power Networks Inc.

Celebrate Canada Day! 15 uniquely Canadian words


For many new students in BCIT’s Technical Writing Certificate program, I am the first instructor they meet. They usually show up slightly nervous about their writing with all its rules for grammar and style. Sensing their nervousness I’ve devised a fun game to get them to think about the English language and its many variants.

Canada is long in geography but short in history so the fact that our country sports uniquely Canadian English spelling variants is a point of pride among many Canadians. For Canada Day, test your Canadian-ness with these 15 spine-tinglingly unique Canadian spellings.

Bard’s Merry Wives a Basketful of Summer Mischief

Bard’s Merry Wives a Basketful of Summer Mischief

Have you ever walked into a bar—say a blue-collar sort of bar—only to hear someone abruptly say something, strangely Shakespearean? “Argh. The bar wench has cut me off. Forsooth, I am undone.” It’s funny just for being so incongruous, but now imagine three hours of this sort of banter and you have set the stage for this year’s Bard on the Beach production of The Merry Wives of WindsorOntario.

Windsor, Ontario? Yes, Ontario although poor drab Windsor is not, has never been, nor will ever likely be quite so electrifying as you’ll find it here. Director Johnna Wright’s Merry Wives effectively transforms Windsor into a wild Wurlitzer of a town, pulling out all the stops of nostalgia to help you remember (or not, if you were there) the Sixties. It’s one part Shakespeare, one part Hairspray, a little of the old Cheers camaraderie mixed in with enough period Canadiana to rival The Beachcombers (although the writing’s much, much better).

The Merry Wives of Windsor follows the misadventures of one Sir John Falstaff, whom Shakespeare reprised from Henry IV by popular demand. This production (also a reprise from the Bard’s sold-out 2012 production) features all the dramatis personæ you’d expect from a 60’s sitcom: desperate housewives, a jealous alpha male husband, flower children, a toffee-nosed British expat dispatched to the Colonies, beatniks, a foppish Frenchman (though sadly not Québécois), the skipper, Mary Ann…no wait. But it’s the music, ah, cue the music.

As the line between actor and musician faded into irrelevance, the players traded soliloquys for guitars, grabbed a fiddle (naturally the Garter Inn had a house band), and even ponied up to the microphone to croon out a Patsy Cline torch song. All the singing and dancing had the audience clapping along too, even with the never-you-no-mind your Shakespearean iambic pentameters delivered occasionally in Fonsie voice. It was all in good fun. The show grabbed us out of our seats, whirled us ‘round the dance floor (in some cases literally) and didn’t let go until its shit-kickin’ epilogue.

Just as the TUTS production of Hairspray was acknowledged as last summer’s hit, you can wonder no further which production has it in the bag (or basket) for this year. Merry Wives is a basketful of mischief. So lace up your farthingale, brush off your 60’s Canadiana, and make haste thither to the Bard’s Merry Wives of Windsor before it sells out. It’s going to be a runaway hit.

Photo courtesy David Blue

Was Marx Right? — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”

In “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, English journalist and broadcaster Paul Mason sets out in the third chapter to build on the theories of waves and cycles, and how Marxists leaned heavily on the idea of that capitalism was inevitability doomed to collapse. He starts in the near present (2008) with the resurgent popularity of Karl Marx, or “Marx-mania” as he puts it, and then works his way back bringing in the entire panoply of Marxist dramatis personnæ — many of whom were unknown to me.

According to Karl Marx, capitalism is beset by crises and breakdowns making it inherently unstable. While classical economists Adam Smith and Malthus explored the limits to capital as “barriers to expansion, decline of profit, and the fragility of stable growth”, Marxist theorists Rudolf Hilferding and Rosa Luxembourg by contrast awaited its doom.

My own curiosity had previously led me to Richard D. Wolff, an economics professor turned Marxist rock star in the wake of society’s disillusionment with the current state of capitalism. Among his followers he’s best known for the quip, “If you lived with a roommate as unstable as capitalism, you would have moved out long ago.”

Listen to Professor Richard D. Wolff’s widely popular monthly updates (May 2016):

Mason focuses on the theorists and activists of the early twentieth century and how their interpretations influenced the inter-war years and the rise of the Soviet Union. Luxemburg, who was critical of Lenin (but who was embraced by later communist acolytes), asked questions that we’re asking again today: “What happens when the whole world is industrialised?” and “What happens if it can’t create new markets within the existing economy?” She proposed that capitalism is not cyclical, but is in fact fatally flawed (a conceit held by Wolff and many others today). Observing the increasing financialisation of the economy, Hilferding concurred that “finance-dominated capitalism was proof of the system’s imminent doom”. Mason both praises these theorists when they moved toward concrete facts and criticizes them for their abstractions, particularly for ignoring the adaptive nature of capitalism.

Here’s Noam Chomsky on Rosa Luxemburg and Revolution (2013)

Mason ends the chapter describing the “perfect wave”, aka the typical wave structure of capitalism (I paraphrase here):

  1. The start of a wave is usually preceded by the build-up of capital in the finance system
  2. Once new technologies, business models and market structures, capital rushes in.
  3. In each up cycle, the economy has no trouble absorbing new workers into the workforce.
  4. When the ‘golden age’ stalls, there is a traumatic break point.
  5. Now the adaptations: attacks on wages, redistribution projects; and recessions become more frequent.
  6. If adaptation fails, capital retreats from the productive sector and into finance systems (as we’re seeing right now).

All of this of course is to pave the way for the premise of the book: “That there is a different route beyond capitalism”.


The Seventh Wave — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”


In Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, the book I’m serial reviewing chapter by chapter, I’ve come upon some of his most colourful writing. Writing that also completes a gap in my understanding of Marxist economic theory.

In the second chapter, Mason sets out rhapsodically to describe the discovery of sine waves, from their natural origin to Classical Indian mathematics to harmonics in music and even with the presence of “waves within waves” that surfers rely on. It takes Mason less than a page to bring this metaphor back to his dissection of capitalist economics and from there he launches into market long cycle theory and crisis theory.

He starts by describing the sad demise of Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff, whose assertion that Capitalism wasn’t ultimately doomed but was instead cyclical in nature. This caused Stalin and the Bolshevik boys to go all aggro on him as Communist orthodoxy at the time could only tolerate the tenet of Capitalism’s imminent collapse. So poor old Kondratieff finished his own earthly cycles in 1938 at the receiving end of a firing squad.

Mason defines some important concepts to Kondratieff’s capitalist theory – the theory of fifty-year cycles or long waves. Or in Kondratieff’s words,

During roughly the first two decades before the beginning of the rising wave of a long cycle, we observe an invigoration of technical inventions. Before and during the beginning of the rising wave, we observe the broad application of these inventions in industrial practice, due to the re-organisation of production relations…

Mason neatly translates this for modern internet-conditioned readers:

  • The rollout of new technologies
  • The rise of new business models
  • New countries dragged into the global market
  • A rise in the quantity and availability of money.

This chapter reminded me of the intellectual rigour and liveliness among thinkers and theorists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in Soviet Russia. In the era we’re presently leaving, it seemed there has been no debate to be had about Capitalism and Socialism. As neoliberal Maggie Thatcher put it, “There is no alternative.” Now the question is—a question I suspect Mason is working up to answering—is Capitalism coming to the end of one of its fifty-year long cycles, or is this really it?

Neoliberalism is Broken — Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”


As I continue to rip my way through Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, I realise that Mason’s fluid writing style is what makes this book such captivating reading. That and his descriptions of the shenanigans of modern economics, concepts I’ve struggled to understand for years, which Mason quickly renders into facile waves of concise prose.

In the first chapter, Mason identifies for the four horsemen (my edit) of neoliberalism which have created the modern world (circa 1988) and are now destroying it: Fiat money, financialization, global imbalances, and information technology. In a single paragraph, he clarified my hazy understanding of what’s meant by fiat money, “The Latin word ‘fiat’ means the same as it does in the biblical phrase fiat lux – let there be light; it means ‘let there be money’ created out of nowhere. In Texas, there was land, cattle and trade – but not enough of them to warrant printing $4 million and incurring a public debt of $10 million. The paper money collapse and ultimately the Texan Republic disappeared.”

The gradual move away from pegging money to real value (such as the gold standard) and the tendency of banks to deregulate has paved the wave for “gaming the system” or what others call casino banking. Since the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, “Banking became an ever-changing tactical game focused on skimming money off your competitors, your customers and your business clients. This created the third basic reflex of neoliberalism: the widespread illusion that you can generate money out of money alone.”

Here’s Bernie Sanders back in 1999 denouncing the Financial Services Modernization Act – a repeal of the Glass-Steagall banking protections.

Mason describes the tendency of our economy to rely increasingly on financialization (such as the pre-2008 US housing bubble), even to hallucinatory levels, which ominously portents the final stages of decay in other societies ranging from the Genoese Rupublic in the late Middle Ages, to the Netherlands in the 17th Century, and London in the late British Empire.

Most astounding for me, Mason goes back to the real beginnings of trade and disputes the common assumption that money arose out of the difficulties with barter. He quotes David Graeber who found no evidence that early human societites used barter, or that money emerged from it. Instead, Mason underlines the most fundamental necessity for trade and commerce to work: “They used trust.”

Hear Paul Mason speaking on Postcapitalism: Envisaging a Shared Future at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Reading Paul Mason’s “Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”


Writers like Seth Godin giddily describe the “new economy” as if still buffeted and buoyed by Mid-Century optimism. Seth credits the Internet for decentralizing work, “Technology has enabled the transition to the new economy, but connections in the new economy are fueled by a focus on two specific aspects of humanity – generosity and art.” But Paul Mason goes deeper. Much deeper.

Paul Mason tears at the heart of the beast—Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism—that system of endless growth, deregulation, high finance—is The Matrix, “It’s everywhere, it is all around us. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” Neoliberalism has been so normalized as how things are run that we constantly have to review our understanding of it to remember what it is.

Reading Mason’s “Postcapitalism” also gives credence to Ralph Nader and Chris Hedges’s refusal to endorse Bernie Sanders on the grounds that he’s thrown his lot in with the Democratic party (although Hedges’s hedges his bets with Sanders based on his stand vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestine question). They know that America’s two leading political parties are no more than two flavours of vanilla—two near identical facets of the same same system.

Mason contrasts the revolts and uprisings following the collapse of 2008 and the Establishment’s attempts to suppress them with a different path opening up, “The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy, between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.”

Listen to Paul Mason’s talk at Google Recorded in December 2015, London.

Testimonial – Perfect journalism




Just read this article and want to share it widely. It’s to me perfect journalism – it describes and reports and provokes in a way that allows the reader to vamp on your ideas without having necessarily attended the event themselves…it seems entirely organic, almost subconscious!!! Can I take you to all of my concerts?

And by the way, thanks jason. You are boss!!!!

—Lori Freedman, musician