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!

 

Janet Steinberg, Associate Principal Cellist, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

 

Thank you so much for the wonderful article. I thought it was beautifully written and I absolutely loved it!   It was so nice chatting with you last week. Thanks also for making the interview such a pleasant experience.
I am looking forward to reading more of your articles in future and hope to see you at a concert sometime next season.

—Sincerely, Janet Steinberg,
Associate Principal Cellist, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

Stefan Hintersteininger, composer/musician

Excellent review of Ethos Collective’s concert last week by the always-insightful Jason Hall in The Vancouver Observer.

—Stefan Hintersteininger, Canadian Music Centre

Jenny Uechi, Managing Editor at The Vancouver Observer

Jason is an incredibly thoughtful and detail-oriented writer and communicator. I’ve worked with him for a few years and have found that not only is his work impressive but he’s a great person to have on a team. His strengths are not just in writing but in public speaking as well. At a recent editorial meeting, he gave a really inspiring speech about writing and putting soul into a story. It was very powerful and moving.

—Jenny Uechi, Managing Editor at The Vancouver Observer

Stefan Hintersteininger, cellist/composer

Spot-on analysis of my piece (last Friday’s Colin MacDonald Pocket Orchestra concert) in this review!

—Stefan Hintersteininger, composer

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

HotelScribe

Somewhere in the back of my head, Ernest Hemingway cautions me to avoid excess. I’m usually attentive to the perils of excessive adjectives, and in fact, that’s mostly what gets cut in the first edit. I admire his terse style, although to write like Hemingway is to risk becoming a parody of brevity.

Last week, I wrote one of the longest sentences ever. In a story I wrote for Webtech Wireless, I needed to pull together several disparate ideas in as few words as possible. To reinforce the sentence, I put the punch at the end, echoing the point made in the title.

Last week at the 2013 Management Conference and Exhibition, Bill Graves’ “State of the Industry” keynote address quoted from Bob Dylan’s classic song, “The Times They Are a Changin’”, and this year’s Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry – 2013 report by The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) gives further fuel to idea that the trucking industry is in the midst of profound changes.

Read 2013 ATA Critical Issues and the Road Ahead

Another way I curb my writing is to search out the verb that most efficiently coins the action. As a rule, the verbs “to be” and “to have” describe action least effectively. Usually, replacing them with more descriptive verbs moves the story along nicely. In the sentence quoted above, I use “to be” like brakes on a train. “To be” only appears at the end to stop the forward movement of the sentence.

And then this week, I reviewed a concert for the Vancouver Observer and wrote an article with a series of long sentences. Here there was another reason for long sentences: Sometimes they give a sense of breathlessness to writing. Especially, when pierced with a few short sentences that once again stop the action dead in its tracks.

Pianist Anna Levy took a few moments to describe how the relative thaw in artistic expression in the Soviet Block countries during the 60s allowed for Fantasia’s creation. What’s all the fuss? Well. It has jazz in it.

Read Colin MacDonald’s Orchestra: A Pocket Full of Fun
PDF

2013 ATA Critical Issues and the Road Ahead

TheRoadAhead

Last week at the 2013 Management Conference and Exhibition, Bill Graves’ “State of the Industry” keynote address quoted from Bob Dylan’s classic song, “The Times They Are a Changin’”, and this year’s Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry – 2013 report by The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) gives further fuel to idea that the trucking industry is in the midst of profound changes.

The Report’s opening salvo describes “no shortage of changes and challenges” and then goes on to innumerate the new federal House of Service rules that went into effect July 1, 2013, unknown safety impacts stemming from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) CSA Initiative, pending changes to regulations around electronic logging devices (ELD), and even driver shortages resulting from a revitalizing economy and more stringent CSA regulations.

How Its Top-Ten Issues are Calculated

To create the report, respondents from the industry are surveyed and asked to give values to the issues affecting the industry based on the Industry Concern Index (ICI). From that, the top-ten list is developed with particular attention paid to the top-three spots.

2012-ATRI-Survey-Stats

Hours of Service

This year, Hours of Service achieved top billing for the first time in three years. Its promotion is due largely to the new US Federal HOS rules surrounding 30-minute mandatory breaks and the 34-hour restart rule.

  • 30-Minute Mandatory Break – Drivers of a CMV operating in the US cannot drive if more than eight hours have passed since the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper break of 30 minutes or more.  When a driver reaches the eighth hour into the work shift, before continuing the driver must take a 30-minute break.
  • Restart Rules – A 34-hour restart is a “valid” restart only if the driver ensures that the period includes two back-to-back nighttime rest periods from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. The restart rules restrict how often a restart can be used. If a driver restarts more often than what’s allowed by US rules, the driver must indicate on the log which restart will be the one that’s being used as the valid restart.

CSA

Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) was eclipsed by HOS this year, but it still held the number two spot. According to ATRI, “Two of the most significant areas of concern surrounding CSA are the lack of crash accountability in CSA scoring and the inability of CSA scores to accurately predict carrier safety performance”.

Driver Shortage

While the concern over driver shortages has dropped since its heyday back in 2006, it still rocks the top-three concerns for trucking. Even with the economy growing again and increased CSA regulations, opinions vary regarding the true source of driver shortages. Most agree that it’s a multi-faceted issue. According to ATA, estimates of the driver shortage run between 20,000 and 25,000 drivers.

Get the full report

At Webtech Wireless, we anticipate changes to HOS rules and provide regular software and hardware updates well in advance of change deadlines to ensure our customers never experience downtime and business interruption. In addition to readying all of our customers for the new HOS rules last July, in the previous December, we released an update of our In-Cab solution to offer HOS Oil Well Waiting capability for fleets in the Oil and Gas sector. Our new Webtech Driver Center is our latest solution to provide a single software platform for Hours of Service.

If you’d like a full copy of the Report, contact ATRI and complete their request form.

How GIS Data Makes Municipalities More Efficient

How-GIS-Data-Makes-Cities-More-Efficient

 

Our Chris Jackson, VP Government Sales, was asked to present at this year’s APWA (Alberta) Partners in Excellence 2013 Annual Conference & Tradeshow held in Red Deer, Alberta. On October 1, he shared the stage with CTS (Certified Tracking Solutions), and presented a 45-minute talk on GIS (geographic information systems) to a room packed with over 100 municipal planners from around the province.

Mapping all city assets to GIS (for example, each city street light tracked by its location and detailed information about its components) is significantly big enough that most municipalities either have a GIS person or a GIS department, and by adding telematics data (vehicle data) to the equation, the combined effect points the way to new benefits in visual interpretation, operational and service-level decision making tools, and spatial processing capabilities. Chris cited the example of InterFleet customer Alberta Transportation, which developed the AVLS Billing System to combine route information and material totals to bill third-party contractors.

Larger municipalities in Alberta, such as Edmonton and Calgary, have gathered over a decade’s worth of municipal GIS data and vehicle data, but smaller communities are just beginning to see the possibilities of what they can do with it. Even so, the successes of Apple and Google’s various consumer-oriented mapping applications have made GIS common knowledge for most people. The word’s out, and constituents are consuming data at ever-increasing rates, which is putting pressure on municipalities to provide it. For Public Works departments, the open data movement is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, communication and transparency; on the other, the risk of public misinterpretation of complex data.

Chris finished by mentioning the successes of the Webtech 511 app, which provided a middle ground for municipalities that want to share the vast amount of data they possess, but fear the risk of having it misinterpreted by software developers who could misrepresent it. Unlike predictive transit information, Public Works GIS information can be very complex, so by promoting an App that they themselves have had a hand in creating, municipalities lessen the risk of having their data misinterpreted while providing a reputable alternative in the event that someone goes ahead with the open data and inadvertently creates a public relations monster.

Automatic Vehicle Locating System

Carrie G. Koens, Weaving Influence Social Marketing

I personally enjoyed today’s blog post, Jason. Makes it so much fun to promote! Well done. And I loved learning about the background of a Webtech Wireless employee. You just never know what people do when they aren’t at work! 🙂 I appreciate the personal touches you’ve been using on the blog recently.

—Carrie G. Koens, Weaving Influence Social Marketing

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.”