Motorcycle Media: a documentary to look forward to

I came across a description of The Greasy Hands Preachers in BIKE Magazine this month.  The two guys responsible for this upcoming documentary about motorcycle culture previously did a short film called Long Live The Kings:

LONG LIVE THE KINGS – Short film documentary – from SAGS on Vimeo.

It packs a surprising amount into a short film.  It’s nicely shot and carefully crafted, though it does seem to fall into a genre trap that I saw pointed out the other week; the dreaded bullshit hipster bike video.  There is something genuine about Long Live The Kings that (I hope) excludes it from being a BS hipster bike video. 

Looking at BHBV’s bingo card (left), they seem hit a lot of the hipster bullshit, yet I still want to believe that they are genuine.

With luck The Greasy Hands Preachers will offer some real insight into motorcycling.  I’m hoping against hope that they have interviewed Matt Crawford and are able to present a film that doesn’t just paint motorbiking and working on your own machine crudely in a fad that will quickly look out of date.  

Long Live The Kings has moments of philosophical insight that might develop into a deeply reflective documentary in Greasy Hands Preachers.  Crawford’s brilliant Shopclass as Soulcraft would be a perfect fit for that approach but I’m afraid the film is going to devolve into another ‘ain’t bikin fun?’ video, this time with a veneer of hipster bullshit on top.

Sneak preview straight from the edit – The Greasy Hands Preachers from SAGS on Vimeo.

THE GREASY HANDS PREACHERS DOCUMENTARY Pre-trailer Kickstarter from SAGS on Vimeo.

Motorbike Aesthetics


I can remember being about six or seven and playing in my grandparent’s yard in Sheringham.  Suddenly there was a rough, mechanical roar coming from the road.  I walked over to the fence, climbed up and watched in amazement as a stream of vintage vehicles rolled by, everything from Bentleys, Jaguars and old MGs to motorbikes with side cars.  When it’s 1976 in the UK, the vintage vehicles you’re seeing are all war-time or earlier – MG, Triumph and all those ‘old’ British manufacturers who have disappeared were still building cars when I was standing on that fence waving to the drivers in their goggles.

In the 1980s I got into Japanese animation. From Akira to Robotech to many other anime, motorbikes have taken the samurai’s horse into the modern era.  Anime definitely plays into my idea of what makes a cool bike – if it can transform into a robot then so much the better.

The ’80s anime also informed a lot of ’80s TV shows and movies, like Battlestar Galactica and Tron.



The idea of motorbiking has media romance all the way from Lawrence of Arabia to The Great Escape.

Between the sci-fi fixation I had as a kid and the romantic notion of motorcycles in media, I think it safe to say a classic/futuristic vibe drives my motorbike aesthetic.

If anyone ever invented a steam punk motorbike, I’d be all over it.

In the meantime I’m all about bikes that call back to a mechanical simplicity, or look like they come from another planet.

Royal Enfield

Some of my favorites gleaned from wandering about the interwebs:

Triumph and Suzuki to Royal Enfield and Honda; ranging from classic, naked bikes to modern naked bikes and sport/touring/adventure bikes.  I’ve got no interest in cruisers, choppers; they sacrifice way to much in the way of physics for looks.


A naked bike is a throwback to those classic bikes I grew up with, but they incorporate the latest technology: the best of the old and new!

I’m not completely anti-fairing, but it’s nice to see the mechanicals working, it speaks to a simple aesthetic that I find appealing in a motorbike.

Some other bike aesthetics that have caught my attention:


Old Vintage Cranks



Anime motorbikes
Robotech Cyclone


Kawasaki KLR

Long Way Round: gets me wishing for an epic trip with weeks on the road… like, say, A Pan American Motorbike Diary!

The KLR has been of interest, but my first bike ends up being a Ninja…  The go anywhere nature of the KLR makes it ideal for my Pan American trip, and lets me dream of following Ewan and Charlie on an epic, life changing adventure.

Once I’ve spent more time in the saddle, I’ll have a better idea of what a bike can do for me and what I look for in a bike, but in the meantime, my entirely academic aesthetic interest in motobiking is what I’ve been going on.

My first bike ends up being a Ninja… very anime it is!  It won’t be my last!


Toronto is sinking man and I don’t want to swim.  While the GTA slowly sank into Lake Ontario under record breaking rains, I was discovering the visceral thrill of storm surfing on two wheels…

Riding home tonight into a wall of black. Yesterday I dodged the storms, today I’m not so lucky.

If it starts to spit I’ll pull over and put my rain jacket on and cover the tail bag.  

It starts to spit.  I pull over.  

I get the rain jacket out and throw it on the ground and cover the tail bag with the rain cover.  As I’m getting the jacket on I look up and a wall of water is moving toward me.  I get the jacket on quick and get back on the bike.  I’m back up to speed when I hit the wall.  The rain is so heavy the guy in front of me in a pickup is hydroplaning everywhere.  

It’s so black I can only see cars by headlights.

The bike is a bit skittish but surprisingly sure footed, then the gusts begin.  I get to highway 24 and there is a lightning strike so bright it’s blinding, followed by an almost immediate thunder roll.  The gusts are so hard I’m leaning into them to stay on the bike, visibility is almost zero.  If there is a tornado I’ve decided to hang on to the bike – together we weigh almost 650 pounds, that’s got to be better than going solo.  Being out in a violent thunder storm is an entirely different thing from watching one hit your windscreen.

I hang on for a couple of kilometers and everyone starts to pick up speed as the sky starts to clear.  The road begins to show patches of tarmac through the water.  I ride the last 15 kms home soaked to the skin but elated!  That scared the shit out of me!  It was great!

Fear and Arrogance

The other day I did a ride that isn’t typical of my time on two wheels – I aimed for the middle of a city, during rush hour.  The siren call for this insanity was strong.  The Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival was having a best-of showing at the beautifully restored Playhouse Theatre in Hamilton.

From TMD you’ll know I’m a big fan of motorcycle media and the TMFF’s push to encourage Canadian films is something I’d like to both support and participate in.  Riding down to Hamilton on a beautiful summer’s day was the perfect entry point and has me thinking of ways to get to their main show in Toronto in early October.  I’m secretly hoping I can find a project that needs a drone pilot aerial camera operator and likes weird camera angles.

But first, the peril.  Driving in rush hour isn’t like driving at other times.  The people doing it are miserable, embroiled in the last part of their forced servitude for the day, the part where they get to spend a sizable portion of their time and income in a vehicle that has become an expensive appliance whose only function is to move them to and from the job it demands.  The aimless frustration and misery oozes out of them at every turn, sometimes expressing itself in sudden bursts of anger and aggression before settling back into a miasmic death stare of indifference.

So that was making me anxious.  Looking at Google Maps red roads of the GTA at rush hour on a warm, sunny day wasn’t thrilling either.  Sitting in traffic on a motorcycle in moribund no-filtering Ontario sucks.  It sucks on the fumes of the massive SUVs all around you, their contents breathing filtered, air conditioned air while you choke on their output.  Edging toward a green light inches at a time on hot tarmac surrounded by this excess and misery is about as much fun as a deep periodontal cleaning, without the benefits, and with the destruction of nature as the result of this pointlessness.

I haven’t had much time on the bike this summer.  My wife’s surprise cancer diagnosis and surgery has meant other priorities take hold.  Finally back from weeks in a car, I was facing my first long ride in over two months, and it wasn’t for the ride, it was for the destination.  Alanna wanted to ride pillion down, though she’s still recovering.  I was worried about her, feeling very over protective and also dealing with my son’s anxiety in us going after being away at camp for the first time this summer (don’t worry, we’re coming back!).

That’s a lot of emotional luggage to take on a ride.  Even leaving our subdivision I was second guessing traffic and riding awkwardly, and getting frustrated with myself for it.  I’m usually loose and light on the controls.  I’m usually not stuck in a conscious state while riding and I’m usually smooth and fluid as a result.  We worked our way down to the dreaded Hanlon bypass in Guelph (which isn’t because it’s covered in traffic lights)  and sat in row after row of the damned things every few hundred metres.  I was constantly placing us on the road where I could squirt out of the way of someone not paying attention.  We passed two collisions, rear enders caused by the epidemic around us.  Sitting up high on the bike has its disadvantages, like seeing down into the vehicles around us and watching over half of the drivers working their phones on their laps.  I guess that’s the new normal in a 2019 commute.

Down by Stone Road the guy behind us didn’t stop (he has a nice iPhoneX on his lap), but I squirted out onto the shoulder and took the next exit where we worked down country side roads instead, but not before being choked to death by a diesel black smoke belching dump truck that jumped out right in front of us causing me to brake so hard we bumped into each other.  I finally got past him after riding in his bleching, black haze for several kilometres, but by this point I was fried, and we’d only ridden through Guelph, the small city before the big one.

I was going to pull off at the lovely old church in Kirkwall and have a stretch and get my head on straight, but the F150 dualie behind me was about six inches off my rear tire even though I was going 20 over the limit and I was afraid to hit the brake, so pressed on.  He blew past us coming out of Kirkwall only to pull up behind the car 150 metres ahead of us and stay there until he eventually pulled off some time later.  You gotta make time on your commute I guess.

Doubt isn’t something that creeps into my riding, but it was starting to here.  The lack of control and extremely defensive mindset was exhausting me.  Alanna was suffering hot flashes on the back mainly due to Guelph’s atrocious traffic and lights and was feeling wobbly, and I was starting to question everything I was doing.  We are coming home Max.  This isn’t going to end badly!

We were both on the lookout for a place to stop when the Rockton Berry Farm appeared as if an oasis in the desert.  I pulled in and we both pulled our sweaty, tense bodies off the Tiger.  Alanna went in and found some sustenance and I did some yoga.  After stretching and some Gatorade and trail mix I felt human again.  Talking to Alanna I mentioned how I was battling some demons on this ride and reminded myself that the best kind of rider is the Zen rider.  Matt Crawford describes motorcycling as a beautiful war, but this one was more like a pitched battle.  It’s amazing what a stop can do for your mental state though.

After a fifteen minute break we saddled up again ready to face the horror of Hamilton’s rush hour, but something had changed.  Instead of holding on too tight, I was letting go.  My riding was more fluid, we flowed with the chaos and when we got down to the mean streets of downtown Hamilton, they were a delight.  Unlike Guelph, who seem determined to stop you at every intersection, Hamilton actually times its lights so you can cut through the heart of the city with barely a stop.  Past the beautiful old houses and industrial buildings we flew, down to the up and coming area where that beautifully restored Playhouse Theatre sat.

As we pulled into the parking lot that was already filling with all manner of motorcycles, I thought over that ride down. I’d actually suggested that maybe we should take the car, but that would have sucked just as much and had no sense of adventure and accomplishment in it, though it would have been easier and safer – the motto of modern day life.

If you’re in a situation where you’re riding and finding it overwhelming, take a break and give yourself a chance to get your head back on straight. You’d be amazed what a ten minute stretch and reset can do for your mindset, and that mindset is your greatest tool when riding.  In spite of her cancer recovery, Alanna had pushed to ride because she wanted us to ‘immerse ourselves in that biking culture’ in going to this event.  Standing in the parking lot chatting with other riders, we were doing just that.

I’ll cover the film night in another post, but the ride down was a reflective opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  In Bull Durham, Crash Davis talks about how you go about the difficult job of being a professional athlete.  You’ve gotta have swagger, even when things are going against you, and that’s equally true in motorbiking.  After this ride, I can see why many people who otherwise enjoyed it gave it up.  That fear, once it worms its way inside you, will talk you out of risk no matter what the reward.

Of course, the point isn’t to not feel fear, but to feel it and work through it anyway.  That’s bravery.  Not feeling fear at all is psychosis.  Baz Luhrman has a good take on this with his motto:  a life lived in fear is a life lived.  Letting fear dictate your life is no way to live.  We are already dead when we always play safe and stop taking risks.

What made it especially challenging this time was that I couldn’t moderate many of those risks by riding away from the faceless hordes of commuters.  Spending a day with them in their pointless battle to destroy the planet was exhausting and terrifying, no wonder they box themselves up in the largest container they can.

The motorcycle films shown by the TMFF were great and completely new to me (and I’m a guy with Austin Vince’s entire DVD collection – I know moto-films).  One of my favourite parts of this kind of documentary film making is showing what is possible, and I was briming over with it when we left.  I couldn’t have been in a better mood to ride.

We exited into the dark for the long ride home.  It was cool and the streets were flowing and half empty as we worked our way back to the highway and shot up into the dark of the Niagara Escarpment.  Even the guy driving 10 under the limit who suddenly stood on the brakes for no reason (he had evidently received an exciting text message – he was two handing a response as we passed him on the inside lane of Highway 6) didn’t phase me.  I was back on my game, staring into the dark out of my third eye.  When that eye gazes into the abyss, the abyss is the one that gets nervous.

We got all the way up to Guelph, sane now that traffic had died down and all the sad people were in their row houses waiting for tomorrow to do it again.  If we’re so smart, you’d have to think we could find a better way.

Shakespeare Arms by the university we met at over twenty years ago provided us with a late night dinner before we pressed on home, passing a skunk (the Canadian night is filled with them) galloping across the road into the graveyard ahead of us.  The last light (of course) caught us, then we were away into the night, the Milky Way glittering above us and the night smells all around.  We were home seemingly seconds later, our creaking, cold joints groaning as we finally seperated ourselves from our trusty Tiger.


We rode right into south central Hamilton at rush hour and out after 9pm, about 12 kilometres of dense, urban riding with more traffic lights than I could count, but we got stopped at three of them both coming and going.  I commented to Alanna about how Hamilton has its shit together in a way that Guelph seems oblivious to.

Passing back through Guelph past 10pm at night and covering about a kilometre less in a city with less than a quarter the population, we got stopped at nine traffic lights.  On our way south earlier in the day during rush hour, Guelph was a traffic light bonanza (even on the ‘bypass’) getting stopped at no less than six lights before we could escape the madness.  Guelph should rename itself the city of lights, just not in a Parisian sense.

Perhaps the moral of this story is really just don’t go anywhere near Guelph if you can help it.  It’s time they started urban planning like the city they have quickly grown into.  It’d make the chaos that much less overwhelming (not to mention, ya know, stopping the iminent demise of the human race).  There’s this thing called IoT and smart cities?  Guelph should look into it – I’d be happy to help.

from Blogger

Simple Magic

We recently spent a day in Stratford and one of the more surprising and engaging events was a Q&A talk with two of the Festival’s experienced actors.  Maev Beatty and Ben Carlson are both starring in The Front Page.  We hadn’t seen the play and I was a bit worried that it’d be all about that, but it wasn’t at all.  When you get two smart, capable professionals showing you inside their process, whatever their profession, it’s an enlightening experience.  Here are some of the highlights that I’m still mulling over:


Early on someone intimated that it must be nice only having to work 2-3 times a week for a couple of hours and I think both actors bristled at that suggestion.  One of the stresses on acting that most people wouldn’t think about is the physiology of putting yourself out there in an absolute physical sense.  On an evening you’re going on stage you typically start to feel that intensity in the early afternoon.  By the time you’re on stage your adrenaline is peaking and, though they didn’t mention it, I doubt many actors can go right to bed after performing.  Ben noted a study that showed a working actor experiences as much adrenaline as you’d feel in a car accident, times two!  He noted that if a normal person were to receive that much adrenaline at once they’d have a heart attack and die; it’s a high intensity high.

There’s something to be said for putting yourself out there.  It’s one of the reasons I encourage my students into competition.  The heightened sense of purpose that burst of adrenaline gives you allows you to do things you might not otherwise be able to do.  Experiencing that intensity also teaches you to manage it.  This is one of the reasons why I think things like school plays, competitions and sports are so important, yet they tend to be the first thing we throw under the bus when we start to look for ‘extracurriculars’ to cut.  The fact that the school system calls them extracurriculars is telling in and of itself.

Controlled adrenaline meant the busy kitchen we had lunch at was churning
out dishes at a prodigious rate.  The three chefs barely said a word to each
other, and could often be seen wordlessly handing each other what they needed
just as they needed it.  Professionalism kept popping up in all sorts of places
after that morning talk.

Teaching students to take risks and manage the adrenaline that comes from it should be a vital part of any school experience, but the vast majority of students running through schools don’t and the few that do tend to be the most economically advantaged ones; that’s a real system failure.

Watching these two professionals, who do a job that most people would find too terrifying to imagine (me being one of them), and listening to how they deal with that terror, was fascinating.  Many people say they wish they had a job like that, an extreme job that demands all of you, but even taking the exceptional skill-sets required out of the equation, the vast majority of people couldn’t take the heat of working in a kitchen like that.  For all the jealousy people feel for successful actors, musicians or athletes, most couldn’t handle the intensity of a life like that.  The amount of work involved puts it beyond the reach of most, but it’s the performance aspect that people don’t think about.  The wear and tear on their minds and bodies is astonishing.


There were a lot of questions around how you deal with failure in theatre production, including a number of questions about how you deal with poor performers or productions, but the most telling moment, again, I suspect in response to that initial intimation that acting was an easy gig, was how they both described auditioning.

These are two of Canada’s more well known actors and both are making a good living at it.  When asked if they still had to audition, they both said they did.  Ben suggested you could find the odd moment when you’d just give a hard no, but that isn’t generally the place of an actor.  Actors act and to do that you audition.

Once again referring back to how a Stratford actor fills their idle days, both said it isn’t uncommon for people in the troop to be on stage in up to half a dozen different plays, all of which required thousands of hours of preparation and rehearsal.  Since all actors are inherently self-employed, they also have to keep their ears to the ground in terms of possible TV and film opportunities and prepare auditions for them, which also take time and commitment.  The agonizing thing about this is that the vast majority, even if you’re a well known name, end up giving you back nothing.  To the I-do-work-and-get-paid-for-it crowd, this is yet another example of why one of those dream jobs like acting isn’t what you think it is.

Both Maev and Ben described weeks where they would audition almost daily and walk away empty handed.  Their experience has taught them to not take this personally (casting is alchemical and complicated and not about who is most well known).

At another point someone asked if they could create productions that suited them, but they said an obvious truth: “that’s not the job of an actor.”  They also mentioned that that’s a good thing.  Twenty-something Ben would have told you he could do anything, but the wiser, older Ben knows now that he couldn’t.  Letting directors direct and actors act is yet another of those intensity based requirements that we should consider in a classroom, but don’t because we shy away from genuine experiences in favour of artificially successful ones.

I’ve long talked about risk aversion and modern education’s almost psychotic insistence on success for everyone all the time.  Building resilience in an environment like that is nearly impossible.  Failure and our response to it is vital in everything from daily life to the grand trajectory of our lives.  Our education system is still built on the idea of passing and failing, but failing is where we learn the most and gain the least in our system.

Watching two toughened veterans of a brutal industry might make you think that they have become hardened themselves, but another repeating theme of their talk was in surviving the onslaught of theatre by working with the right people…

Working from a place of love and support

In the fiery crucible of the stage you really don’t want to be doubting where the people you’re in there with are coming from.  Any ideas of office politics or drama (the pedantic kind) make working in such an intense situation untenable.  Maev talked about a few productions where the people on stage were very difficult to work with due to their nastiness, but as a general rule this isn’t how actors relate.

When you’re displaying that kind of vulnerability on the stage you don’t want to be wondering if your partner is going to throw you under the bus.  She said, and it has stuck with me, that ” you want to be working with people who are coming from a place of love and support”.  Even under the crushing pressure of a live stage performance with everyone OD’ed on adrenaline, knowing that your colleagues have your back is vital.

I’ve been in situations where the pressure has created friendships that have lasted the rest of my life.  I can only imagine the personal connection actors feel with each other after going through that glorious hell together.  Staring into the abyss but knowing the person next to you isn’t going to let you down allows you to do incredible things, like create live art on stage.

That kind of empathic bonding is something else that too few students get to enjoy in school.  Once again this is a division of the haves and havenots.  The kids who have to go to work right after school never get to develop that sense of belonging whether it’s on a sports team or a stage production or a technical competition, and that’s a tragedy.  From that angle there is nothing extra about those extracurriculars.  There is a reason why you can’t remember a single lesson from high school but those experiences are pivotal to who you are today.  We’d be insane to dismantle them and should instead be incorporating them into learning expectations for all students.  Who doesn’t deserve to learn what that kind of love, belonging and support feels like?

Loving a bad character

The idea of having to act a character you hate came up along with the how do you work in a bad production or with bad people questions – there was a lot of curiosity from the audience about how things might go wrong.  The positivity and boundless optimism of the responses points to yet another difference between most people and the few who are willing to throw themselves at seemingly impossible jobs.

Ben’s answer to this once again pointed to that idea of positivity overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.  He and Maev gave several examples of characters they found so difficult that it seemed impossible to express them well.  In looking at the character, Ben said he always looks for something he can love about them and works from that.  Unlike the unwashed masses, actors can’t work from a binary place of I like ’em or I don’t like ’em.  This must seep out into their dealings with other people, though they didn’t mention that.

This was yet another theme that paralleled my own professional experience.  I’ve had students who I couldn’t stand, but I’ve always tried to operate from a place of positivity.  In getting to know them, I’ve always found some aspect of them that is worthy of appreciation.  It’s that approach that keeps me away from the staff room where well meaning binary colleagues want to tell you what a worthless piece of shit a child is when you mention that you’re teaching them for the first time.  I’ve never met a person so unworthy of any consideration.

Simple Magic

My glorious wife, Alanna, asked a question that had been tugging on her since our last trip to Stratford.  I commented, in my usual way, about how we are quite venerable ourselves and yet we were the youngest people in the audience by a decade or more.  In twenty years that theatre would be mostly empty.  My conclusion was that theatre is dying with this demographic.  The audience at the Q&A were of a similar demographic.

Alanna asked if theatre was evaporating before our eyes and Ben picked this up with glee.  He noted that theatre has been dying for centuries, but what always saves it is its simplicity. If you have an actor and an audience, you have theatre.  In talking it through, and this happened on many questions, both actors would think through the implications of a question out loud, he unpacked the history of theatre and came to a conclusion about how it always seems to survive its imminent demise; at its root, theatre is about people getting together.

That simple magic is what keeps theatre alive; it feeds a human need to gather together.  No number of screens, wifi or virtual presences have satisfied that need, and he noted there is some push back against the direction this has taken.  Making anonymous or even just remote comments online is nothing like the same as having a face to face encounter.  My role as a computer teacher and technician has no issue with this observation.  There is a quality in face to face human interaction that not only satisfies a deep human need, but also never be achieved through digitization, something will always be lost in translation whether through a lack of fidelity or a genuine presence and responsibility.

Theatre, like schools, libraries, concerts or sporting events, offer people something that digital experiences don’t.  That complexity of presence (call in bandwidth if you want) and sense of belonging call powerfully to the human psyche.  The sense of being there is important, though our digital adolescence crops up there too with idiots on lousy cell phone cameras making terrible media instead of enjoying the moment they went to so much trouble to experience first hand.

The current drive to elearning as a cost effective way to deliver learning is yet another example of failing forward into the idea that digital experiences can replace the real world.  It’s cheaper because it isn’t as good.  If you consider it from a bandwidth perspective, the sheer amount of data passing between a teacher and student in even a simple face to face encounter is something digital simply can’t touch.  Augment?  Assist?  Absolutely, but we replace basic human needs with poor digital equivalents at our own peril (and a multi-national’s profit).   We’re all poorer as a few get rich in this scenario.

That response got me thinking about how we prioritize our lives.  I’m an avid photographer, always have been, which is one of the reasons I don’t have a lousy cell phone camera in my hand all the time, especially when I’m at an event.  If I take a photo, it’s gonna be a good one.

Sean Penn has a great line in The Secret  Life of Walter Mitty when he’s talking about being in the moment instead of trying to record it, and he’s speaking about it from the perspective of a photographic artist, not some idiot with a cell phone in their hands.  These digital invasions, ironically driven by our need for digitally impoverished social contact, are eating away at our lived experience.

Simple magic is a good way to look at many aspects of modern life.  What core needs do human beings have and how have we always met them socially?  Are we meeting them as well in digital media?  Theatre is going to survive because it has more in common with genuine human need than social media ever will, and it’s able to do it in a simple and direct way.  The response to Alanna’s question gives me hope that one day we’ll wake up from this attention economy nightmare we’ve immersed ourselves in.


I went to this initially thinking that it would be a bunch of theatre shop talk, but there was barely any (and what there was came mostly from the audience).  Instead it was an introspective and insightful talk by two talented people at the height of their powers.  Their understanding of themselves, their art and the insight it gives them into the human condition makes it a must-do for anyone who can get out to Stratford… and it’s free!  It runs into October – a field trip including a talk like this  (though each is, of course, different) could change lives.

from Blogger

Hybridized Education

The Toyota Prius hybrid car is a series of expensive compromises.  Born at a time when we are transitioning from fossil fuels to electrical power, the Prius is a car that combines gas tanks, gas powered drive trains and engines with batteries, and electrical motors that do the same jobs more efficiently.  The result is a poor performing car that weights a thousand pounds more than the equivalent gas powered vehicle because it’s trying to live in two worlds at once.  If you’ve ever driven one, you’ve got to know that the future is grim indeed.  Fortunately, hybrid cars are a momentary blip on the automotive evolutionary scale.  As the transition from gasoline to electrical vehicles happens, and electrical infrastructure and technologies improve, the compromise of a hybrid along with all the pointless redundancy will no longer be necessary.

Our education system is in a similar situation, and it’s an expensive moment to have to live through.  The future consists of paperless, friction-less information.  The past consisted of papered, controlled, expensive, limited access to information.  In 2012 education is straddling that paper/digital divide, trying to answer to centuries of paper based tradition while also struggling to remain relevant in a rapidly digitizing world.  It’s an expensive gap to cross, and one that is full of incongruities and compromises – ask Toyota engineers, it’s an impossible position to create anything elegant in.

We struggle to produce students relevant to the increasingly digital world they are graduating into while experiencing more paper-based drag than just about any other industry.  Whereas business and research have leapt into digitization, driven by the need to find efficiencies in order to be competitive, education struggles to understand and embrace the inherent advantages of digitization.  The only urge to do so is in trying to remain relevant to our students – perhaps the least politically powerful (yet most important) members of the educational community.

I see teachers spending thousands of dollars a year on photocopying handouts (of information easily findable online which then get left behind), and no one bats an eyelash.  Thousands more are spent on text books that are already out of date when they are published, also often showing information that can as easily be found online.  At the same time we struggle to find funds to get the basic equipment needed to embrace digital advantages; the between directions is apparent.

No trees were destroyed in the writing of this blog, but a significant number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

The good news is that this is a temporary shortcoming – we won’t be building Priuses or trying to fund two parallel (analogue & digital) education systems for long.  Once the tipping point is reached and migration happens, the inherent efficiencies of digital information will transform education.  In 20 years will look back on this time of factory schools like we look back on the age of one room school houses.  In the meantime, the strain of trying to please the past and the future at the same time is causing confusion and misdirection.

We ignore what is happening digitally in society in general and risk becoming increasingly irrelevant as an education system.  We also risk producing students who are increasingly unable to perform (aren’t taught how to manage the digital)  in a world very different from the one they were presented in school.  In the meantime we’re trying to satisfy traditional academic habits in order to appear proper and correct (books on shelves, teacher at the front, tests on readily available information, streamed classes that feed the right students to the right post secondary institutions using the same old established marking paradigms).

Once again, the ECOO Conference, its feet firmly planted in the future, looked forward while getting slew footed by traditional interests.  Perhaps the best we can hope for is compromised hybridization.  Oddly, those traditional interests often include the people who run IT in education who seem more interested in ease of management than they are in our primary purpose (learning… right?).

The term guerilla-teacher came up again and again; a teacher who goes off into the digital wilderness alone in order to try and teach their students some sense of the digital world they will graduate into.  The last presentation I saw by Lisa Neale and Jared Bennett made a compelling argument for bringing the rogue digital teacher in from the cold, but as a digital commando I am reluctant to trust a system that still places perilously little importance on my hard earned digital skills.

Very little of my practice now occurs in traditional teaching paradigms.  My classes are all blended (online and live), virtually all of my students’ work happens online in a collaborative, fluid, digital medium.  I don’t spend a lot of time in board online environments.  It’s as much about my own discovery as it is my students.  Traditional teaching situations seem more about centralization, standardization, itemization and control.

If we move past a hybridized analogue/digital divide in education and digitized learning becomes standardized and systematized, I may very well lose interest.  There’s something to be said about being a cyber settler, alone on the digital frontier.  Perhaps I should be pushing the hybridized divide – it keeps this hacker/teacher beyond the reach of standardization.

Retro Moto Wish-List

Some retro-moto bits that I’ve come across that sparked the I want urge…

Austin Vince Custom Vintage Overalls!
Custom made by the man himself!  Vintage overalls in the colours of your choice.  I’m thinking blue with red and white stripes


Bell Bullitt Retro-modern Helmet
If you’ve seen Rush then you know the look, and this modern remake of the classic Bell helmet catches it.





100mph t-shirt ‘ton-tee’
Triumph looking logo but advertising the ton instead of a specific company… nice!



Vintage Race Fairing
I might be doing this a bit backwards, but I love old race faired bikes.  A 1970s Honda CB750 would get turned into a race replica and make an ideal vintage racing machine.  It all starts with a fairing!

~$200 (fairing)

Spartan Leather Vintage Race Suit

A tailored suit with race quality materials and armour.  As they say, less ‘Ricky Racer’ than your typical TRON styled current racing suits.  

$950+$260 in armour upgrades



I’m enjoying my current Kawi garage a great deal.  Fixing up the Concours and riding the Ninja is a good time, but I suppose we’re all rooted in the aesthetics of our youth.  As a child growing up in rural England watching the height of the British motorcycle industry roll by in the early nineteen seventies, I tend to return to that look and the associated nostalgia.

Ice Fog On Your Visor

A cool, foggy morning greets me as I put on my helmet and stare into a fog shrouded rising sun.  The Tiger starts with a willing snarl, burbling in its strange triple way, eager for the off.

Condensation immediately coats my visor as we leap down the road into the morning’s ground clouds.  The roads are dry but beads of condensation constantly reappear to be wiped away by a quick hand.

A cold, morning ride is a glorious thing.

Full of oxygen and surrounded by the smells of the world waking up to the first touch of the sun, I’m just another empty thing being filled.  Cold wind presses around and my heat bleeds away making me even more a part of the scenery.

It’s all especially sharp because I know that this can’t last for long.  Soon enough the roads will be covered in ice and salt and I’ll be trapped in a shiny metal box, trundling to work, removed from the world, wrapped in metal and glass.

I pass through empty countryside soaking up the rising sun and wiping away the never ending dew.

The camera struggles to capture this moment hidden as it is in the clouds.  Moisture streams from the lens as the camera tries to blink away its tears, but even blurry images of this ride resonate.  

Don’t fight the lack of clarity, embrace it, let it be.

I’m dripping with morning mist when I slowly dismount with icy joints at work, but my eyes have filled me with delights.  I leave the Tiger steaming in the glorious, golden haze and walk inside.

from Blogger

Death by Maintenance

One of the dangerous things about watching the shows my son likes to watch is that many of them aren’t what they appear to be.  He likes complexity, and there are few things on TV these days as complex as Rick & Morty (if it is ever on TV again…).  Like a lot of other modern cartoons, Rick & Morty hides surprisingly complex narrative behind simplistic animation.

Rick is a scientist who has discovered interdimensional travel and so can exist in any timeline.  As this ‘infinite Rick‘ he has almost god like power and is constantly criticizing everyone else for not realizing how pointless and narcissistic their reality is – any ethical value they place anywhere is a result of their lack of perspective.  This show goes to great lengths to force its viewers to question morality and how embedded it is in our personal circumstances.  If you’re looking for a show that makes you feel better about your circumstances, Rick & Morty is the opposite.  It shows you a multiverse in which even your unique self isn’t unique let alone special.  This pan-dimensional multiverse is so vast and so overwhelmingly indifferent to your circumstances that it continually screams a central premise of the show:  nothing matters.  Yet even in this chaotic and indifferent multiverse, Rick and the other characters in the show stand out as prime movers; people who make their own meaning in spite of the alienating size and indifference of reality.

In one of the most popular episodes from the last season of the show, Rick turns himself into a pickle so that he doesn’t have to go to family therapy:

He, of course, ends up in it anyway after he fights his way (as a pickle) through an impromptu action movie.  The therapist (voiced by Susan Sarandon!) finally gets to judge this character who goes to great lengths to avoid judgement.  Her monologue (which Rick immediately bashes as they’re driving away from it) is another of those moments where Rick & Morty gets startlingly real:

I have no doubt that you would be bored senseless by therapy, the same way I’m bored when I brush my teeth and wipe my ass. Because the thing about repairing, maintaining, and cleaning is it’s not an adventure. There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die. It’s just work. And the bottom line is, some people are okay going to work, and some people well, some people would rather die.

Each of us gets to choose.

This is idea of death by maintenance has stayed with me.  I turn fifty next year and I’m on my way to two decades in a career I’d never have guessed I’d be doing.  Unlike many teachers, I’ve never been struck by the divine ‘calling’ of teaching.  My early life of rolling over into a new career every few years as emerging technology caught my attention and encouraged me into learning something new is a distant memory while pensions, mortgages and stability drive most of my decisions these days.  I imagine this is how most people age until they end up the typically habitual old person who is scared of everything and avoids risk at all costs until they are in a nursing home.  It’s a long battle to get to that point of declining mediocrity, and the win condition kinda sucks.

In my younger years, with very little guidance or support from home, I struggled through high school, college, apprenticeships and university, trying to find my way towards a life that made best use of my abilities.  I walked away from stability and income many times in favour of those opportunities as a young man, and it’s why I’m where I am now, but I’m not inclined to follow that trajectory and maintain myself into mediocrity.  If I can’t find satisfaction in teaching, I’ll go elsewhere, but I’m hoping that teaching is one of those careers that can evolve with me.

The first ever blog post I did on Dusty World way back in 2010 was on Caution, Fear and Risk Aversion in students.  Those students are long gone but the learning risks we took paid off for many of them.  Taking risks and pushing learning has become my default setting in the classroom.  If we can’t reach for the potentially undoable then we’re just maintaining ourselves into mediocrity.  Whether it’s dangling students out in competition or creating difficult courses that push them to deal with real world consequences, including failure, I’ve got to find my way past the learning as maintenance approach or teaching is going to get dangerously stale and abstract.

Speaking of real, with the return of school this year I’ve realized I’ve only got a decade left in teaching.  I’m not sure how I’ll be able to approach that in a way that will let me finish with alacrity, but whatever it is, it’ll need to be something other than status quo maintenance teaching.  I know a number of my colleagues find this approach tiresome, but it’s the only way I’ll be able to stick with the job.  Some people love maintaining the status quo and ensuring continuity and conformity, they thrive on it!  I’m not one of those people.

Some find Rick’s lack of boundaries or context upsetting, but it’s that kind of existential freedom that we all enjoy, we just hide it behind socially constructed barriers.  Rick isn’t special, he just realizes that his future is his to author and doesn’t have to be determined by overly restrictive social norms.  In that freedom he prizes adventure and risk as the only real way to live and grow.  Testing boundaries and pushing limits is where we find ourselves.  When I eventually retire I hope I can dedicate my remaining years to those same goals and not spend my time and energy hiding from life.  If there is a better working definition of lifelong learning, I’ve yet to hear it.

If you’ve never watched Rick & Morty, give it a go.  Many of your students are.

from Blogger