Timing

After enjoying The Perfect Vehicle so much I started on The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing.  I sent the author a quick email saying how much I enjoyed The Perfect Vehicle and hoped she’d keep at writing so well about the craft of biking.

After ripping through the first couple of chapters I did what anyone in the information age would do and looked up what John Ryan is doing at the moment.  The assumption was that he was making time somewhere and putting miles behind him.

I have a unique talent for lousy timing, and my starry eyed thanks to Melissa Holbrook Pierson for writing The Perfect Vehicle contained no idea of what was happening with her and motorbikes right now. She was very kind to right back so positively.  More people should drop a line to the writers they enjoy and say thanks (says the English teacher).

John Ryan, the main focus of my current read, is a record breaking Iron Butt rider.  He covered huge distances in record breaking time.  I stumbled across the Iron Butt Association when I was planning my Lake Superior circumnavigation earlier this year, so Melissa’s latest book on this hidden subculture wasn’t completely new to me.  As I was researching circling Superior I saw a blog post where the rider casually mentioned that he did it in less than 24 hours.  I was astonished!  And intrigued!

I’ve been greatly enjoying The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing so far, so much so that I wanted to link John’s blog to this one.  That was when I discovered that he’d recently died in a seemingly benign road accident.  I’m frustrated that he was rear ended by a cager in a Mustang, and that no other details of the accident are forthcoming.

So here I am, a week later, mulling over John’s fate (yes, I’m a muller).  There is no doubt that motorbiking is a dangerous pass-time, one that demands the utmost attention, and I now suspect a degree of fatalism.  If John Ryan can be taken out by some idiot texting in his Mustang, so can we all.

I’ve been osculating between despair and bravado in responding to this. A small part of me wants to question what the point of it all is, and the other (larger) part is thinking, ‘fuckin’ ay! He died doing what he loved.”  We should all be so lucky.  I’ve lately had the fear that I’ll go shovelling the driveway, or be at work… how horrible!

In the book Melissa has a great quote: “Give your best years, your now, so that at some distant point, which may never in fact arrive, you can get all the pills you’ll need to extend your shuffle to the grave.”  The fearful response to two wheeling is, I think, based on this truth that so many people live by.

Melissa also talks in great detail about the calculus of risk in riding.  Knowing John as well as she did, I suspect she’d appreciate the fact that he left the world on two wheels, even while wishing he were still here.

I crossed the line a year ago when I decided to go take the course and get on two wheels.  It’s approaching mid-winter here in Canada and that feeling of immersive freedom is as far away from me as it can get.  I’m sorry that John is gone, and reading the rest of Melissa’s book is going to be tinged with that regret.

Does any of this stop me from getting back on two wheels as soon as I can?  Not remotely.

Bikes v. Cars, the one we lose

$33,800

Since I started riding last year I’m smitten with motorbikes.  I like old bikes, new bikes, sport bikes, adventure bikes, bikes with sidecars, hyperbikes, scamblers, cafe racers, touring bikes, low cc bikes, big cc bikes… I dig ’em all.  The motorbike offers a unique approach to efficiency and size in personal transportation that most other vehicles can’t touch.  I’m not a big fan of choppers or Harley type cruisers, but I get the appeal.  One I don’t get though is the CanAm Spyder.

$28,250

A thirty-four thousand dollar tricycle?  I’d be sorely tempted to pocket five grand and buy a Mazda Miata.  The Mazda is cheaper, gets better gas mileage, corners better and goes significantly faster all while keeping you dry and carrying way more stuff.  It’s not like the Miata is a slouch on the road either, it’ll put a smile on your face in the curves.  The Mazda not only gets the wind in your face but in your hair too (you don’t need a helmet).

One of the reasons I’m so fixated on bikes is that they outperform the most engaging experiences I’ve had driving cars.  As a sensory experience and a source of efficiency and power bikes take some beating, except in this case.  I don’t mind trading some safety for that kind immersive, complex experience.  When it comes to Miatas and Spyders though the calculus clearly points to the four wheeler.

Random Inquiry Based Learning

Inquiry based learning is the current buzz in educational circles, but until we truly free students from the yoke of expectation, they can never be free to own their own learning.  In order to recognize the entirely arbitrary and capricious nature of the world, we take a page from Zen.

The RIBL classroom

Inquiry based learning depends upon the teacher to create an environment in which students pursue their own goals in their own way, Random Inquiry Based Learning (RIBL) takes it a step further.   In order to experience RIBL, a student must be surprised by the learning.  Taking a page from Zen teaching, RIBL thrives on coincidence, serendipity and happenstance.  Any attempt to organize RIBL results in a RIBL-less outcome.

RIBL cares nothing for fairness or rules.  RIBL capers in the chaos of a dancing star. 

In a RIBLed classroom the teacher must take on the roll of instigator, chaos clown and mischief maker, unless of course students are expecting that; only the unexpected can yield RIBLed results.  RIBL thrives in the unexpected.

The RIBL teacher recognizes that life is essentially meaningless and doesn’t force a false sense of security on their students.  They discourage any belief in social norms and try for existential angst whenever they can.

RIBLed rubrics contain sections like: shock, awe, bewilderment and eureka.  If the learning is unexpected and creating an epiphany in the learner, then RIBL has been achieved.  If a student learns what they are supposed to be learning, the teacher has failed.  Only when students discover momentous breakthroughs in calculus while studying Shakespeare, or suddenly grasp photo-synthesis in phys-ed class, is RIBL being achieved.

RIBLed students are often nervous or completely terrified of what may happen in class.  They often cower in groups in the hallway, refusing to make eye contact with their terrifying, unpredictable teachers.  Many high schools seem to have adopted RIBL approaches to learning already.

There is only one rule about RIBL, you do not talk about RIBL!  (unless you unexpectedly do)

RIBL defies optimization or organization, in fact, it actively dismantles them.  The RIBL that can be explained is not the true RIBL.  Only through lack of certainty can students truly exceed their own expectations and learn something new about themselves.

Beware staring into RIBL, for 
the longer you stare in to RIBL, 
the longer RIBL stares back into you!

Graduates of RIBL schooling include: Vinny VanGogh, Freddy Nietzsche, Gini Wolfe and Bertie Einstein.  Students of the RIBL school produce unpredictable results, and surprise their teachers with amputated body parts or dramatic suicide attempts.  Collateral damage is a certainty if you’re RIBLing properly, but if you’re a committed RIBLer you gain more from failing than you do from succeeding.  Safety is another false belief that the RIBLer discards.

A student who produces work that annoys or seems irrelevant to the work at hand is a strong candidate for a good RIBLing.

Engagement is never an issue in the RIBLed classroom as RIBLed students are often in great peril and tend to approach classwork in a defensive/survival stance rather than with sighs of boredom.

RIBLing is the most divine form of teaching, it’s what the world does when class isn’t on.

 

Death of Vision

I was listening to CBC radio the other day and Ideas had a review of the repatriation of the Canadian Charter.  One of the people pondering the politics of the day noted that modern politicians don’t stand for anything.  They remorselessly chase poll numbers, trying to place themselves in front of whatever the herd currently believes is worthwhile (itself dictated by big media interests).  McGuinty’s shameless chasing of right wing votes while throwing teachers under the bus this summer is a fine example of that approach.

Don’t look for moral standards, or even any kind of consistency in modern politicians.  As the radio interviewer suggested, we look back on our political leaders as giants and see the modern ones as dwarfs.  The old ones would push for a vision based on belief, even if it wasn’t always rational.  The current ones shamelessly chase data in hopes of power.  It makes the business of politics very economical (and I don’t mean that in a flattering way).

CTV is quite excited by this as ads for their Powerplay political commentary show declare, they are all about watching how politicians get and keep power.  I thought politics were about developing visionary leaders who take Canada toward a better version of itself.  It’s now all about holding power, and not standing for anything in the process other than a Machiavellian quest for control.

Last summer I was once again listening to CBC, this time Matt Galloway interviewing the CEO of RIM.  As the agonizing interview went on, it became clear that this MBA wasn’t put in charge of RIM to lead it, but rather to manage it into successful insolvency.  He shrugged off a question about RIM failing by simply suggesting that investors will make money on the deal because he’ll just cut the business into pieces and sell them off.

Can you imagine if Churchill had suggested that?  Instead of we will fight in the fields, we will never surrender, how about we give you Scotland and Wales and call it even?  Everybody ends up happy, and so much more productive.

We value leaders because they stand for something, and never back off it, even (or especially) if it makes them difficult.  Wired did a recent article on Steve Jobs as either angel or demon.  The man was difficult, almost impossible to work with, and the result was market dominance.  He took over from a bumbling committee of MBAs who had discussed Apple into insolvency and took the company from the brink of destruction to an enviable market position before his death.  I have difficulty liking Apple products due to their closed nature and proprietary design, but I have to appreciate the power of a Steve Jobs.  If you want to be a visionary you aren’t looking for consensus, you’re driving for the best vision even if it seems unattainable; Churchill would have approved.

It’s a pity that RIM went to the MBA pool to find another finance monkey to further run the company into the ground.  I’d much rather see a visionary, a true believer, attempt greatness rather than a controlled slide into insolvency all to benefit the moneyed class.  This German jackass they’ve hired couldn’t give a damn what will happen to Waterloo and the many RIM facilities that communities depend on around the world if he manages to successfully dissolve Research In Motion into the highest bidders.

John Ralston Saul talks about the death of leadership and the rise of management in his The Collapse of Globalism.  Using false economics (there is no other kind), Saul cuts apart the chop logic of globalism and how it is used to manage people into a massive mono-culture with no way out.  Globalism comes complete with a data driven wrapper that is self justifying, and that desire to base leadership action on data driven decisions has been conditioned into us for decades now as the only credible justification for planning; it’s scientific, logical!

In an age of computing it serves our current mindset to over value the potential of computed statistics

The MBA manager/priest uses incomplete/fictional statistics (are there any other kind?) to manipulate belief, founding all decisions on the inherently logical and statistically valid benefits of globalization, all while ignoring simple truths.  Those truths don’t go away.  When you found your system on  the idea of an unlimited, limited resource (cheap oil) the truth will make itself evident.  The problem with globalism (and the politics, media, and education it has infected) is that we have all been conditioned to swallow statistics like they are Truth.

The last half century of post-modernism, globalism and mass media have weaned us from visionaries and simple truths.  These things are now aberration s rather than a cause for celebration; panicky by-products of a lack of control in an era of false computational certainty.

I am NOT a committee!

Next time your data-driven boss/principal/MP tries to base future plans on data that are obviously minimalist,  fictional and/or fabricated (and what facts born of data aren’t?), ask yourself where our sense of vision went.

I don’t want to base my very important job on data.  I’m not interested in grossly simplifying teaching to suit ease of management for MBAs looking for efficiency.  What I’d like is a leader with vision, maybe even someone who asks for the impossible and leads us on a charge into it.  Even a near miss in that case is better than the best laid plans of a data driven committee, and sometimes the results are revolutionary.  Even the failures are more helpful than statistically supported fictions leading to more data that prove how right everything is; simplifications supporting simplifications.

I’d rather take the road less traveled and risk failure while attempting greatness.  I’d rather fail trying to address hard truths than present false successes best seen in standardized test scores.  Most importantly, I’d rather believe in what I’m doing rather than being told what to think by a spreadsheet.

I guess I’m a man out of my time.

Winding River Road on an Easter Monday Morning

Riding River Road on Easter Monday morning.  The day promised to warm up, but it was cool in the valley.  With little traffic and miles of winding road, the Tiger was frisky and I was ready to explore some corners.


With the ThetaV 4k video camera wrapped around the rear view mirror, I proceeded down the hill on Prince of Wales Road to River Road before heading east.  The Theta seems to kick off when it hits two gigs of video.  4k video is heavy and you reach two gigs after only five minutes, so here is five minutes of riding down into the valley before it chokes on itself. 



I couldn’t stop at the Terra Nova Public House (closed for the holiday), but on the way back I went back to my happier medium of still photography and set the ThetaV at its one photo every four seconds rate to catch some corners, which I then chased down on my way back through the valley to Horning’s Mills.  Later in the year it’ll be quite busy, but on this early spring holiday, there were only a smattering of other vehicles and the corners were open and empty…

Riding through the desolation of winter before spring green is back.

Neutral throttle in, winding it on through the apex and out the other side. The Tiger is a settled, athletic thing for such a big bike.

Some Photoshopping to give it a painted look.  That scalloped sky followed me all the way home.


I ride an hour out of my way just to find that magical sign.

Terra Nova might have been closed, but Brewed Awakenings in Grand Valley was open with hot coffee and a date square ready to go.

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Shop Class as Soulcraft

 

Originally published on Dusty World in way back in August of 2012: temkblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/shop-class-as-soulcraft.html

It might sound very tech-specific, but this book contains many education related thoughts.  Here are some of my favorite bits from Shop Class As Soulcraft, along with some observations in blue:

In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant,  and the passions for learning will not be engaged – Doug Stowe (Wisdom of the hands Blog)

“We have a generation of students that can answer questions on standardized tests, know factoids, but they can’t do anything” – Jim Aschwanden
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I never failed to take pleasure in the movement, at the end of a job, when I would flip the switch. “And there would be light.”
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I too feel this whenever I finish building a computer.  I call it ‘first light’ (a term I stole from astronomy for when a telescope is first turned  to the sky and used).  I get a thrill every time, when all of those complex components work together for the first time, and attain a kind of dim intelligence.  If AI ever happens, I would happily propogate it, it feels like birth!
 

Boasting is what a boy does, because he has no real effect on the world.  But the tradesman must reckon with the infallible  judgement of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpretted away.  His well founded pride is far from the gratuitous ‘self-esteem’ that educators would impart to students, as though by magic.

This focus on student self-esteem seems cart before the horsish to me.  You develop self esteem as a by-product of making your way in the world under your own steam.  It is one of those things that cannot be given to you, yet so much education theory revolves around building self esteem in classrooms.  Unless you allow failure, self esteem is meaningless.  My soccer players gain more self esteem in a draw against a better team that should have crushed them than they ever got in a classroom designed to hand it to them.

The craftsman is proud of what he has made, and cherishes it, while the consumer discards things that are perfectly serviceable in his restless pursuit of the new. – Richard Sennett, The Culture of the New Capitalism

You won’t find a better description of modern, globalized capitalist consumerism than in these two quotes.  Why this is a standard for economics, let alone ethics, is completely beyond me.  I’ve always believed that if you can’t build it, you shouldn’t get to use it.  Can’t build a working computer?  You don’t get to use one.  Can’t build a car?  You don’t get to drive.  Were this the case, we’d have far fewer incompetents operating equipment they are far too dim to be using.

Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political.

On of my greatest frustations… trying to have a rational discussion with fanboys (and girls) about technology.  Mac users are the worst… though AMD fanboys aren’t far behind.  I’m interested in the brilliance of the engineering, not whether or not you’ve been convinced by witty advertising, though many people make their technology (all?) purchases based on little other than a cult of personality.

Persig’s mechanic is, in the original sense of the word, an idiot.  Indeed, he exemplifies the truth about idiocy, which is that it is at once an ethical and a cognitive failure.  The Greek idios means “private,” and an idiotes means a private person, as opposed to a person in their public role – for example, that of motorcycle mechanic.  Pirsig’s mechanic is idiotic because he fails to grasp his public role, which entails, or should, a relation of active concern to others, and to the machine.  He is not involved.  It is not his problem.  Because he is an idiot…  At bottom, the idiot is a solipsist. (p98)

Many a student I’ve seen be idiotic in the truest sense of the word.  They fail to grasp what being a student is, and then create all sorts of social tension as a result.  I once had a student in media arts who was having a rough time.  She stormed out of class one day and another student wondered aloud at all the drama.  This troubled student didn’t do anything, failed everything, and otherwise used an disproportionate amount of school resources to keep them from wreaking even more havoc.  I asked the questioning student why she was here, at school.  She said, “so I can get good grades, do post-secondary and get a satisfying job” (which I thought was a brilliant answer from a 15 year old).  I told her that other student has no idea why she is here.  This is a cruel, jail-like torture for her.  She sees no value in it for herself (likely because her life isn’t full of parental role models that demonstrate the advantages of a good education).  The whole class stopped to listen to our conversation, I suspect many of them wondered why this student was this difficult.

Management:  a “peculiarly chancy and fluid” character (Robert Jackall)  … vulnerability of managers in managing abstract, non-objective work develop a highly provisional way of speaking and feeling.  Staking out a position on all sides of a situation, so you always have plausible deniability of a failure (that’s not what I meant).  Vague language to protect a vague job.  Managers are always on probation, constantly vulnerable and anxious about the essentially meaningless role they play in a fickle corporation that could shift the ground under their feet at any moment.

Up in the Air for a poignant look at this kind of management in the middle of the 2008/9 1% money grab… and one of the reasons I never worked well in business.  Also one of the reasons I’m fairly relentless with people when they start talking about private business/corporate work ethics, organization and effectiveness.  I worked in a number of private companies before I became a teacher, I was lucky to find one in five run competently, let alone effectively.

A last, favorite piece, and a brilliant analysis of the apprenticeship process:
Often someone working at a speed shop spent his younger days lingering around the counter, then, as he penetrated the social hierarchy, in the back, allowed now to pull his car around and perhaps use a floor jack to install some shock absorbers purchased at the counter. Such an exposure to injury liability would give a lawyer fits; implicit in the invitation to the back is a judgement of the young man’s character and a large measure of trust.  He will get some light supervision that is likely to be disguised as a stream of sexual insults, delivered from ten feet away by someone he cannot see (only his shoes) as he lies under his car.  Such insults are another index of trust.  If he is able to return these outrageous comments with wit, the conversation will cascade toward real depravity; the trust is pushed further and made reciprocal.  If the young man shows promise, that is, if he is judged to have some potential to plumb new depths of moral turpitude, he may get hired: here is someone around whom everyone can relax. p 183

That sense of relaxation and trust is something I really miss from mechanics.  The education environment, so focused on political correctness, is the antithesis of shop culture; even justified swearing is a real no-no.  

When I showed this to my wife she just shook her head and said, “I have no experience in this.”  This sort of environment is created in groups of males.  I see it in hockey change rooms, on shop floors, and in warehouses where I’ve worked.  It’s not that women are incapable of working in that environment, I’ve known a number who have successfully done it, it’s that the vast majority of women see this as cruel, degrading and pointless.


This is a complicated issue, one that I’m still working out myself.  There is a direct roughness, a kind of honesty, to how men socialize that has been squeezed out of business (education being a subset of that culture).  Boys in school respond to it.  If we’re playing soccer and player goes down having been kicked in the groin, I go ballistic at the ref and get a warning.  I then attend to the kid on the ground.  He’s hurting.  I say, “how did that feel?”  The kid laughs despite the pain.  He knows I’ve just almost been removed because of what happened, he has no doubt of my stance on what’s happened, and the flippancy helps him deal with the agony.  Those opportunities don’t come up in class; another reason to protect extracurriculars, they let you create a more genuine bond with your students.


In Crawford’s brilliant analysis above, he emphasizes the honesty and familiarity that can come out of this kind of ribbing, a real sense of camaraderie.  It’s the kind of thing that makes Fight Club resonate with boys, and men, who read/watch it.  You can’t relax around someone who tells you to trust them.  You can relax around someone who is able to display real ‘moral turpitude’ in response to your own baiting.  The lack of understanding of how this works separates many men from developing a close working relationship in feminized work environments.


Whether you agree, disagree or simply want to try and understand, Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft makes a compelling argument for value of skilled manual labour, and the culture that surrounds it.

Idiots In Cages Day

It was sunny this morning, so Max and I thought we’d try and squeeze in a ride over to The Fork of the Credit and back.  Once we got going it was cloudy and 5°C instead of the 7-8 partially sunny degrees we were promised.


So, with a windchill of -3 we got there shivering only to discover it was idiot-in-a-car day on The Forks.  They’ve removed the speed bumps so every bosozoku dingdong from the GTA rushed up in his Fast & Furious car to make a traffic jam.


Many of them seemed particularly confused by the hairpin, especially the mouth breathing fuckwit in the Ford Focus who came around the corner half in our lane.  Once again my assumption that anyone in a hopped up turd-mobile is next to useless saved us.  I wasn’t riding the hairpin so much as sticking to the outside of my lane – as far from the Eminem clones who can’t drive in their own lane as I could get.  Even on this cold day, driving a car still feels like a poor alternative to riding a motorcycle.


Just in case the twisty road wasn’t difficult enough, there was also a car parked at the top of the switchback with a drone hovering right over the road.  As a qualified drone operator, it’s this kind of stupidity that gives the hobby a bad reputation.  He could have easily set up and flown so he wasn’t a potential hazard, but he didn’t.  It’s a shame.  Getting some aerial media of the road is a great idea, just do it with some sense.


We got back to Belfountain and ended up turning around and going the long way around back to Erin and Holtom’s Bakery.  The big row of traffic blocking up the only road through the tiny village is yet another win for the the four wheeled crowd.  Between being unable to drive in their lanes, blocking up villages and otherwise being pests, our cold trip out to The Forks underlined car culture in all its glory.

Escaping up the back way on Mississauga Road away from Belfountain.

That might have been our last ride of 2018.  Since then winter has descended:


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Stunning Yellowstone National Park

From three short days spent in Yellowstone in August of 2018.  At over seven thousand feet elevation, there was frost on the ground the day we left (hence the atmospheric, morning fog in the sunrise photos which have been worked over in Adobe Lightroom).  


Life inside the caldera of the super volcano is odd.  The grass has a strange hue and the animal life in the world’s oldest national park is wonderfully shocking.


Photos taken with the Canon T6i.  Some of the snapshots and gifs were done with the OnePlus5 smarphone.  Variations can be found on my Instagram account and in Google photo albums.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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