A big ask

After wandering around the NAIMs the one motorcycle wish I had was RACER5.  I had a nice chat with the people running the stand and after seeing that, a weekend in the summer getting my race license would be the most awesome May/June or early July weekend birthday present I could think of.

They run the three day course at Grand Bend Motorplex on little Hondas.  You get lots of track time and classroom support.  By the end of the course you get your racing license.  Watching how they set up the bikes would also be handy as I’d eventually like to build my own track bike.

They also offer kit rentals, so I could get a good idea of what size I’d need as well as how racing gear fits.

The race focus would allow me to explore riding dynamics at an advanced level on a closed track.  I’d be able to bring that knowledge back to my riding on the road.  As a form of insurance, it might well save me a lot of grief.

It’s a big ask, but it would make one hell of a birthday present.  I wonder if any other bikers I know would be interested.

Notifications Off

While away in the States recently I turned off notifications in the various apps on my phone to save on data, and then turned off notifications entirely when I got home, I found I was enjoying the silence.

In that silence I started thinking about operant conditioning and just how wired to our personal devices we’ve become.  Digital distraction is a cultural phenomenon with people wringing their hands over rising vehicle accident rates and people falling into open manhole covers.  We tend to forget that looking at a screen when we should be doing something else is a choice.  We’d rather play the victim than accept that kind of responsibility.

The dreaded notification is at the core of this idea of being victimized by digital distraction.  There is a simple fix though: turn them off.  Your social media is all still waiting there for you, the only thing you’re missing is immediacy, but that urge to respond quickly points to a deluded sense of self importance; despite what you think, most people aren’t pouring over their social media waiting for you to post something.

I didn’t get data while I was away, I figured I’d get by with wifi when I could find it.  This quieted the noise even more, making me wonder why I’d want a device constantly demanding my attention in the first place.  

The lack of data made me very conscious of the urge to post as events are happening.  You see this all the time at sports events.  A game winning goal gets scored and instead of cheering people are taking bad photos and spending time putting them online.  It happens in concerts too.  People spend bucket loads of money and time getting to these events only to view them through a smartphone screen, or ignore it entirely while they create social media posts.

You get this urge when you’re in the middle of something fantastic to want to share it immediately like a live news broadcast, but your social media audience isn’t watching a show, they come and go.  Audiences on social media aren’t like audiences on broadcast media, they are never all in the same place at the same time.  That sense of urgency is you misunderstanding how social media is different from broadcast media.  Sure, take a picture, but if you don’t post it in the next 30 seconds your ratings aren’t going to drop.  Your production team isn’t going to be out of a job.

Social media is inherently addictive.  It is designed to provide an
unconditioned stimulus response.  It doesn’t take long to tie the
notification to that initial, unconditioned response.

Our approach to smartphone use needs to evolve.  Having a general purpose, networked computer in your pocket shouldn’t mean you’re on the social media hook 24/7.  A good first step is to try and view your social media use from a more accurate perspective, don’t get sucked into a false sense of immediacy with it.  Enjoy being where you are, maybe snap a picture to share later when you’ve got a quiet moment.  Whatever you do don’t miss what you’re doing because you’re viewing it through a smartphone screen, or ignoring it while you’re making social media updates about it.  In spite of what you might think, you’re not a media personality, even if you do have 1000 friends on Facebook.

A good first step is to turn off notifications.  It’ll all still be there waiting for you, but you won’t be a Pavlovian experiment in distraction when you interact with it.  This will probably upset mobile service providers who are making a mint from over-priced travel packages designed to keep you ‘connected’.  You’ll probably also find your interactions take on a more nuanced and thoughtful appearance; something else it would be nice to see more of on social media.

Metacognition Missteps

What Mr. Cleese is so eloquently describing above is the Dunning-Kruger Effect, something that didn’t receive a moment of notice in the metacognitive PD we recently received.  Metacognition is often seen as a way to encourage student directed learning, and I’m generally a fan of the idea, but this bias deserves some consideration, especially if we’re trying to improve student learning.
In trying to break this down I came up with the Venn diagram to the right in hopes of understanding what should be a process toward enlightenment rather than a barrier to it.

There is a degree of stupidity so intense that it is self-consuming.  People trapped in that tend to reinforce their own ignorance and simply can’t hear alternative points of view, even if they are self evident.  These people tend to wallow in limited, habitual action.  If you want to see it happening watch most digital natives on a computer.  In that kind of stupidity you’re going to be hard pressed to learn anything, let alone expect any kind of accurate self assessment.

Ignorance is bliss, you’re going to be happy if you think you know everything.  Anyone who lives in an Earth centred universe and thinks their species the darling of creation is that kind of certain-happy.  People like this make a point of surrounding themselves with like minded people.

If you can begin to take in evidence from around you, certain self-evident truths will begin to make you question your beliefs.  That would get you out of the stupid vortex and into ignorance.  The more you realize you don’t know, the more rapidly you’re able to move toward knowledge.  Humility is a vital component in this process, and where metacognition could begin to help.

In the realm of knowledge you may know many things but your experience with them is limited, so while you know theory you are unable to successfully interact with it in reality – this is one of the reasons I enjoy teaching tech so much (reality doesn’t coddle you in your learning).  You’ve read about riding a bicycle but you’ve never done the deed.  The final step is to do as well as know, only then do you graduate from talking head to doer.

Metacognition is a valuable tool in creating the kind of self-aware humility that can move you from ignorance to knowledge, but applying it too early will push you in the wrong direction.  At the early stages of learning you are incapable of knowing what you don’t know, so you’ll think you’re better at something than you are.  This appears especially true in mind based, academic work because your math equation doesn’t burst into flames when you do it wrong.

At no point did our metacognitive training suggest that there was a threshold where you should (carefully) begin to implement self-analysis of learning, rather, it was suggested that we do this continually and throughout, which appears to be just what you shouldn’t do if you want to get somewhere with it.

I like the DIY motive here, but getting to “learning to self correct” is a tricky step
that can push you the wrong way if you do it too soon.

 

California Snapshots

I went to California for the first time over the mid-winter break.  I was out there on a family trip so I didn’t have many opportunities to ride, but while there I made a point of trying to understand California biking culture.  When you can ride year round biking becomes much less of a niche means of transport.

Here are some snap shots and thoughts from the trip:

LANE SPLITTING or FILTERING

This is something that is a real no-no up here in the safety North.  Talking to a cabbie about it, he said you need to be really careful about changing lanes.  If you hit a filtering biker while changing lanes in a cage you’re likely to take the blame.

Riders in California expect cars to not crowd the gaps between lanes and will make them aware of it if they do.  I saw a guy on a sports bike revving the snot out of it to move an SUV out of his way while he was filtering.

At first lane splitting looked like a dangerous thing to do, but if it makes cage drivers more aware of bikers and offers a real advantage to getting through the attrocious L.A. traffic for riders, then I’m coming around.




LOS ANGELES IS BROKEN

From the moment we landed at the most disorganized airport I’ve ever been to (LAX) and the subsequent traffic chaos all around L.A., I’ve come to the conclusion that the place is broken.

Rides at Disney world appear to mimic the hell that is driving
in LA with remarkable accuracy – do people do this for fun?


The roads in the rest of California were lovely, but around L.A. they make Ontario’s frost heaved slabs look smooth.  With virtually no public transit infrastructure and a fanatical car culture, L.A. is the kind of place you can expect to spend half of your life sitting in traffic.

On a coach trip out to Universal Studios I was able to look down into the cars sitting in traffic.  At any one time more than 90% of the drivers had a smartphone out on their laps.  We saw many accidents in the L.A. area – every single one was an unexplained rear-end collision.  I can explain those ‘accidents’.

L.A.’s car culture has become L.A.’s distracted driving culture.  I’d rather drive in Tokyo or London than L.A. any day of the week.  They say Toronto’s commute is now worse than L.A.’s, but Toronto (GTA ~6 million) is a tiny burg compared to Los Angeles (>18 million).  The dozens of highways that bisect L.A. aren’t up to handling the full on assault of those millions of thumb texters behind the wheel.


  
L.A. STUNTING

While sitting in traffic (behind another unexplained rear end collision) we had a group of sports bike riders doing their thing on the access road next to the highway.  The group must have been almost one hundred big and were all revving, wheelying and otherwise stunting themselves silly on a sunny new year’s day.



It was fun to watch them while we crawled along interminably in the never ending freeway traffic.  The bikes were all very customized with both paint and go-faster bits, and their riders looked like they were having a riot.


You might frown at their antics, but when you consider the alternative is to sit in the cavalcade of metal boxes on the freeway, texting before you run into someone, I’m not sure if they don’t have the right idea.



I thought they were more entertaining than any of the very serious pirates we saw filtering by on their Harleys on the highway.





MULHOLLAND DRIVE

Is one of those icons of Southern California, so I made a point of making the drive down it.  It’s a very long stretch of road that eventually turns into the Mulholland highway and goes all the way to the ocean.

We started at the beginning right out of Studio City in Burbank and the road was terrible!  I guess rich people don’t live on this bit.  You’d need an ADV bike to make any time on tarmac this bad.  For a place that doesn’t get much frost, I’m not sure how their roads can be this rough.

Fortunately, once you get past the first bit the pavement improves dramatically (rich people live here).  The ride is fantastic and the road (named after the engineer who built it) is a testament to imaginative road design over challenging terrain.  We turned off on the 405 and headed to the airport to fly home to freezing Ontario, but Mulholland deserves a look if you’re in Southern California, just grit your teeth on the opening stretch.




PALOMAR MOUNTAIN

I’ve had a poster of the Hale telescope on Mount Palomar on my wall since I was a kid.  The chance to see it in the flesh was one of the highlights of this trip for me.  The trip up the mountain, from sea level to five and half thousand feet, looked pretty epic too.

I, unfortunately, had to do the road in a rented RAV4, which felt like a double decker bus loaded with lead.  The happier people at the top had a variety of two wheel conveyances to get them there, with sports bikes being the clear favourite – not a cruiser in sight.

The guys hanging out at Mother’s Kitchen (great veggie food!) were an all ages sports bike party, with Keith Code look-a-likes and younger riders all chatting amiably about their machines and the road.

Bikes ranged from super sports and even sport tourers like the Interceptor to light-weight nakeds.

It was a cool day in late December when we went up the mountain.  The temperature dropped from high teens to about twelve degrees at the summit – all sunny though.  The riders didn’t seem cold.  Riding up that insanely wiggly 20+ miles of mountain road would be an aerobic workout of the first order.

The observatory itself is completely free to the public, offers parking and a museum with crazy-cheap merchandise (if astronomy hoodies are your thing).  You could spend a perfect day riding up and around Palomar mountain before going for a walk around one of the biggest mirrors in the world.

With a variety of roads, a state park, the observatory and that lovely little restaurant, Palomar mountain just outside of San Diego is a great destination for any biker, and a must see for those bikers with the astronomy bug.

A few days after our trip up there it snowed, but for most years this is the exception rather than the rule.


PRICES IN A YEAR ROUND BIKING CULTURE

While in La Jolla (just north of San Diego), I checked out some of the local bike shops.  The prices are heart stoppingly low if you’re used to Canadian numbers.  You might find a one piece leather suit up here for $600 on the bottom end, but down there the same level of kit is half the price.  Out of curiosity, I wondered what it would cost to outfit myself to ride with all new kit down here.  At Cycle Gear in San Diego it ended up being a shade over $300 for a new helmet, gloves, boots, riding pants and jacket… unreal!


SUMMARY

If you like to ride, California offers some fantastic roads (not in the L.A. area) that beg to be explored.  We also hit Joshua Tree National Park on our travels and it is other wordly!  There are few straight lines, even riding the hilly highways around San Diego would feel special to someone from table-flat Ontario.  There is a vibrant, large biking culture that shows through in the shear variation you see.  I can’t wait to go back and experience the place as it was meant to be experienced, on two wheels.

Bike Bag: Tesseract Dream Motorcycle Accessory

It’s as crazy as it looks, and
utterly fantastic!

I’m sitting on the beach in Lajoya California as a I write this. It’s a comfortable 18° Celsius and I’m missing my bike. I can always rent something down here, but the road I just did begs a bike I’m familiar with; I was watching the guys in their worn leathers and sports bikes with envy.

The road to the Palomar observatory is a knee down roller coaster that takes you five thousand feet up to one of the biggest mirrors in the world. It’s a road that makes me wish my Ninja was here instead of a rental bike that doesn’t feel familiar and is, quite frankly, designed for looks rather than athletics; virtually all rental choices are cruiser or retro based.

After watching Interstellar I started reading about tesseracts and multi-dimensional mechanics. The first thing I’d create with my new-found multi-dimensional engineering skills would be the Bike Bag™!  You press the zipper up against a wall and roll your bike and gear in.

The idea’s been around for a while.

 Once you zip it up you can roll up the zipper and put it in your pocket.  When you get where you’re going you put the zipper up on a wall again and when you unzip it there is your bike and gear ready to go.  A carry on bag and an airline ticket and I’d be ready to ride pretty much anywhere I landed.


I’d have been able to tackle the road up to the big eye in the sky with something other than cautious optimism with my preferred road weapon.