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

Testimonial – Incredibly thoughtful and detail-oriented

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, 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.

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.”

Testing the Limits

Testing-the-Limits

When you master a skill, it can appear simple, almost effortless—but that’s just an illusion. Mastery takes hard work and dedication. This week, Webtech Wireless salutes our very own firmware engineer, Alireza Nematollahi (Ali), who’s been pulling in the gold as national kayaking champion while working to ensure Webtech Wireless hardware products are put through tests of their own.

Ali Tests the Limits

Ali works on hardware engineering projects at Webtech Wireless, either involved with new deployments or redesigning existing products and processes for increased efficiency. “Currently, I’m redesigning the automated testing hardware to improve how we test our locators”, he says and then explains that locators were tested manually, but “due to complexity of the locators, they are not human testable in a timely manner. By automating the testing, it will be possible to test up to 24 locators simultaneously.”

My impression of a slow hands-on testing process replaced by a faceless machine is dashed by Ali’s description of the rigorous test procedures in automated testing. Automation is more than just hurrying up (although that certainly is one aim). Automated testing improves how Quality Assurance analyzes the test data through improved reporting, and by analyzing the reports, they can continuously improve testing.

“I Will Be Fast!”

Ali has won a dozen or so medals over the years competing as a flatwater kayaker, and he credits his success in part to having “the best coach ever”.  Six days a week, you can find Ali training, either on his own in the gym or on the water with Kamini Jain, a two-time Olympian. Her motto, “I will be fast!”, must be what inspires Ali to say things such as, “You can do whatever you want”, and “I can be successful at my job and I can be successful at my sport”.

Overcoming Adversity

Although he’s not a professional, Ali has competed and won against the best in the field. He won the men’s gold medal at the national finals in Regina and won gold in Seattle’s Ted Houk Regatta K4, but is still content to have placed seventh this year in Montreal. “Does it seem like a failure to only place seventh after winning gold”, I asked, but Ali’s answer is a case in point of what a winning attitude is all about. “It’s not a failure. Seventh is very good, and failure is what motivates me to do better”.

On adversity he says, “I don’t let myself get caught up in comparison with others or my earlier successes. Comparison will tear me apart from the inside. I’m always thinking about the next regatta and the next year.” Then he adds, “Failure motivates you to do better.”

It’s pretty clear from talking to Ali that his training has prepared him for all the tests that life can offer, both at work and on the water. Congratulations for being an inspiration.