Is Ontario Anti-Motorcycle?

Motorcycle insurance in Ontario has always thrown me for a loop.  To emphasize that strangeness the Toronto Star recently printed a searing indictment of Ontario’s motorcycle insurance policies.   In it a rider who has been out west (California and B.C.) comes back to Ontario to experience the disastrous way Ontario does things.  He suddenly finds his $2-300 a year insurance rates multiply by ten to well over two thousand dollars a year, for the same bike!

In breaking down Ontario insurance he discovers some discrepencies that appear to be practically criminal:

“My motorcycle was assessed as if it was new — $20,000. But if I have a crash and the 12-year-old bike is destroyed, will I receive $20,000? Of course not. The payout would be more like $4,000 or $5,000. For the insurance companies in Ontario, this must the gift that keeps on giving.”

So, you’re insured on a new bike no matter what, but you’re only paid as little as possible on the back end.  That’s the kind of quality fairness that exemplifies Ontario’s approach to insuring motorcycles.

When I called in to see what a second bike would cost to insure I was told that another bike would essentially double my insurance.  I pointed out that I could only ride one at a time and having two would mean both would have fewer kilometres than a single bike.  They just smiled and said that’s the way it is.  If you read that Toronto Star article you have to be asking yourself, “why is this the way it is?”

Last year we went out to B.C. and discovered that my wife could easily rent a scooter with a G license and go for a ride around Victoria.  We had a fantastic time and she came closer to considering two wheels as a mode of transport, but not in Ontario.

To ride a scooter in Ontario you need to take courses and work your way through the graduated motorcycle license.  Ontario is determined to keep people off two wheels even if it is a much more efficient way of getting around.

The block is systemic, from insurance practices that are out of sync with the rest of North America (and the planet) to governmental regulations that are more focused on milking citizens for license money than they are on offering access to an environmentally friendly, efficient and exciting way to get around.  Ontario couldn’t help but become more efficient with more people hoping on scooters and motorbikes to get where they’re going, but that isn’t the vision.  Ontario isn’t about environmental consideration, efficiency or excitement.

Free parking, but Ontario makes riding so difficult to access that it’s empty.

How un-bike focused is Toronto?  On my recent trip down there I could use HOV lanes and park for free downtown, but the bike parking area was virtually empty.

After reading that Star article I’m thinking that Ontario is anti-motorcycle.  The government supports an insurance industry out of whack with the rest of the world and throws as many blocks as it can at riding.  Ontario may be the most over licensed and expensive place to insure a bike in the world.

Below I looked up costs randomly in the US and the UK and Ontario is way out of whack with the the results.  If I lived five hundred kilometres south of here in urban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (instead of in rural Ontario), I’d be paying about $295 Canadian for my insurance this year (that’s with equivalent policy).  I currently pay almost $900 a year on a twenty year old bike that I bought for eight hundred bucks.  A second bike in PA would cost me an additional hundred bucks, so I’d be paying about $400 a year for both.  In Ontario I’m paying three times that.

When I first started riding I considered a new bike for safety reasons.  When I requested a quote on a new Suzuki Gladius (a 650cc, mid sized, standard motorbike), I was quoted at about $3000, but most insurers just refused to offer coverage – this on a guy in his forties, married with auto and home insurance and a family.  Had I been in England I could have quickly been insured with equivalent coverage AND road support and bike transport in a breakdown for about $950 Canadian in my first year of riding.

Considering the blocks to access on basic scooters and the insurance madness, Ontario isn’t maybe anti-motorcycle, it’s systemically anti-motorcycle.

Inside Motorcycles had a good article on the benefits of integrating motorcycles and scooters into a coherent traffic plan.  It would be nice if Ontario followed the research and encouraged more people onto two wheels.

My buddy in Japan got back to me – he pays $161 a year in motorcycle insurance… in Japan, one of the most expensive places to live in the world!


Just to torture myself I got a quote from Progressive as if I lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – my stats, my bike.  The cost for basic insurance was $75 a year.  To get Ontario equivalent insurance it went up to $226 a year.

Are you feeling the love yet?

£467 works out to about $950 Canadian


Think it’s expensive to live in the U.K.?  Not if you’re insuring a motorbike.  MCN’s site has a listing of new motorbike insurance costs (on the right).  A new Gladius in Ontario will cost you well north of three grand to insure new if you’re a new rider and assuming you can find someone to insure you at all.  The quote on the right is full insurance with more bells and whistles than the Ontario minimum including road side assistance and bike return in case of a breakdown.

What is the average cost of motorcycle insurance?

“Drivers above the age of 25 with a good driving record usually qualify for good prices. Combine those factors with liability only coverage and a touring bike and you are looking at $200 to $500 a year”  – Ha!  Not in Ontario
“You can reduce your rate further by purchasing motorcycle insurance through your auto insurance carrier, owning a home, having good credit, and taking a motorcycle safety course.” – I have all those things (auto, house, good record, good credit, a safety course) and my auto insurer wouldn’t touch me. They said to come back after I’d been riding for a few years.

Music, millenials and the lost art of curation

The other day I asked my senior class how millennials listen to music when they get their first car.  They seemed confused by the question.  I’ve noticed that young people don’t like to manage files any more (many grade 9s don’t know how to find files on a desktop), and since music turned into file management around the turn of the millennium, it’s all about file management these days, isn’t it?  It turns out it isn’t.

When I started driving near the end of the 80s the couple of cassettes in my pocket turned into a briefcase of tapes.  That briefcase contained whole albums by artists, both what they released and B side stuff.  When you went to a concert you’d hear the released stuff, but you’d also hear the unreleased songs, and the majority of people in the audience were very familiar with it; they were fans of the artist who had spent a lot of time in a long form medium (the album).

That process continued into the 90s as my tape collection evolved into compact disks.  The smaller form factor resulted in flip books of disks.  The plastic box with the album art on it got left behind, but I was still listening to whole albums and collecting the works of specific artists in a detailed, long form, album based manner.  I was introduced to mixed tapes in the mid-90s by my hot, new girlfriend, so the idea of designing your own playlists have been around for a long time, but albums were the main point.  We spent a lot of time curating our collections.  You’d discover new artists in friends’ collections, you’d hear unreleased music while in their car.  At a concert you knew the words to every song, even the unreleased stuff.  What happens at concerts nowadays?  They play their released songs only and then do popular covers so everyone can sing along?

I went digital early.  From Napster to modern mp3 distribution, I kept cultivating a locally based, artist focused collection of music, but that isn’t the way that the industry has gone.  Nor is it the way that teens today relate to music.  The gigs of music I’ve curated aren’t the future, it’s me using modern tools to imitate my past relationship with less fluid, physical mediums, but is that a bad thing?  I’d argue that my relationship with an artist’s music was deeper and more intimate because of the limitations of our mediums.  When you have the collected works of Dire Straits (six original albums plus four live ones) on hand, you are diving deep into what they did.  Surely deeper familiarity breeds a more loyal fan.

Kids are still into music, but the digitization of the medium has resulted in a much more fluid relationship with it.  I frequently watch students randomize YouTube videos as background music and then click through a song in the first ten seconds if it isn’t grabbing them.  Their’s is a high input low attention threshold relationship with the artist.  You can hardly blame modern artists for producing shallow, catching songs – the cloud based medium that has descended upon us pre-selects that kind of music for success in a fluid, digital landscape.

Laying on a bunk at air cadet camp in Trenton on a hot, un-air conditioned summer night in 1985 and getting lost in Brothers in Arms on a walkman isn’t something millennials consider doing with music, is it?   We started doing the skip a song thing on CDs in the 1990s, but it was such a pain on tape that you’d just listen to the song.  In doing so you sometimes came around to liking something that didn’t grab your attention in the first ten seconds.  At the very least you’re experiencing an artist’s thoughts and music in a more detailed fashion.

When I asked my students what they do when they get a car for the first time they were confused.  Spotify was the answer (it turns out Spotify is the millennial answer to any music related question).  I get it if you’re swimming in wifi at home or at school all the time.  Sure, it’s bandwidth and data ain’t free, but it is if you’re a kid in 2017 for the most part.  But what do you do when you’re going for a ride in your first car and have no locally curated music to take with you?  I figured they’d all have MP3s on their phones, but they don’t.  Spotify premium was the answer.  That’s ten bucks a month to listen to whatever you want, and you can evidently save it locally if you’re on the road, but do they?  If you’ve never had to manage a local music collection before I suspect it wouldn’t even occur to you to do it this late in the game, it’d feel too much like work.

So the young driver’s solution to the problem of never having cultivated a personal collection of music is to pay for a monthly cloud based service and then now begin cultivating a local music collection?  You could just hope your phone is willing and able to bring down all that data in a continuous way, but that’s an expensive prospect in Canada.  With some of the highest mobility costs in the world and lots of long car trips in store, Canada isn’t a comfortable place to be cloud dependant for your tunes.  If you end up not being able to pay the ten bucks a month for the pro version of Spotify, you lose all your local music.  Just when you thought the digital native’s relationship with their tunes couldn’t get any more ephemeral, it gets more so.  When you live in the cloud you don’t really own your data, do you?

Another problem with cloud-based digital music natives is the interactivity.  When you’re used to constantly inputting changes to infinite cloud based music it’s second nature to go looking for whatever strikes your fancy, or skip through the play list looking for whatever drifted into your mind as a must-listen-to song in the moment.  How long are your eyes off the road while you’re doing that?  If that’s your relationship with music then you’ve trained yourself over many years to surf through your fluid, digital music with frequent inputs.  I wonder how this is reflected in statistics…
Digital distraction for the win.
  • MADD stats on young drivers.
  • Young Driver stats on distracted driving
  • Transport Canada on distracted driving: “the highest proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes was in the under-20 age group (16%) followed by those aged 20 to 29 (13%)”
  • NHTSA on distracted driving
  • It’s a world wide issue, here is Australia
The texting culture is generally blamed for the problem of distracted driving, but I suspect this learned, constant input approach to music has a part to play in it as well, especially with younger drivers.

The long and the short of all this is that the music culture of young people is completely foreign to anyone over thirty.  For people who got into music before it got very cloudy in the twenty-teens, curating your own local music means you can jump into a car or go on a trip and never once wonder about access; you own your music.  Because of that effort you’ve probably also got a closer relationship with the artists you call your own.  For the cloud dependent millennial that move to vehicular mobility produces a number of expensive problems.  Of course, since you never really got into any one musician when you were younger because listening to more than one third of a song is boring, maybe you don’t care.

from Blogger

EdCamp Waterloo

My second EdCamp in the past six months, I guess I’m hooked.  EdCamp Waterloo Region was, like EdCamp Toronto, a chance to break the mold on how PD is done to us.

I volunteered before hand to do a first round session mainly because, after seeing the nerves and reticence at EdCampTO, I thought I could bring some experience to it and help it start a bit smoother.  I started off with an excerpt from a TEDtalk looking at how future technology could become more interactive and intuitive in the class room, and how we could access and present data more seamlessly while teaching.  Everyone seemed content enough to be lectured at, so I made it difficult for them.

Being an edcamper means being a good listener too, something else we’ve learned not to do in PD.  I made a point of listening closely to comments from the audience, and tried to reply with a question that refocused the discussion on them rather than trying to get them back to what I want them to know (standard PD protocol).  It took about 20 minutes, but they started to realize that EdCamp was all about the US, not the ‘expert’.  A few of the bolder people spoke up, but by the end I think everyone in the room had said something at some point, and we went 15 minutes over.  That doesn’t happen too often in PD, but then PD doesn’t happen on Saturday mornings too often either (unless you’ve got a PLN).

About half an hour in I said, “there are no rules in EdCamp, but I’m going to make one anyway, no more hands.”  It became a running joke, but the conversation began to flow after we got that nineteenth century convention of teacher control put behind us.


As a survival mechanism, many of us have developed the habit of, at best, being passive in PD in order to make it end sooner, or worse, have found ways to wander off in our minds while it’s happening so the condescension, repetitiveness and/or latest poorly performing American EduFad which we have no interest in, doesn’t make us angry.

Edcamp throws all that on its ear.  It’s all about you being there.  It assumes your experiences in your profession, which are current and unique, are as valuable as an entrepreneurial guest speaker’s (who hasn’t been in a classroom in decades and when they were tried to get out of it as soon as they could to become a paid speaker and sell their latest book on a fad they’ve invented).  It assumes that teachers talking to teachers and valuing each others experiences are what professionalism and developing it are all about.


For me this EdCamp started with teachers showing and telling what they are doing to make the future in technology available to their students.  I then wandered into a group talk on the nature of professional development that evolved into a deeply nuanced philosophical discussion about the subtle, individually powered profession of teaching.  After lunch I watched a bit on Edmodo then finished listening to a talk on technology use across k-12 curriculum.  The last one was on how to continue EdCamp ideas beyond EdCamp.  By that point I was intellectually fried; something that doesn’t happen too often in PD.  I found the focus on how to cater to the disinterested tedious, but if you don’t get where it’s going, you can leave!

EdCamp is, by its nature, an experimental process.  After doing a couple, I still wonder at the blocking of time, like classes.  Some of the discussions still had a lot of steam, others were ready to end (or should have earlier).  A more flexible schedule might be interesting to try.  Perhaps having spill-off areas where groups that want to finish a discussion can go would offer an out there, or having enough rooms that they aren’t booked one after the other might work; built in extra time if you need it.

The other trick is to ensure that it’s easy for people to slip in and out of classes.  Regular classrooms are designed around the opposite idea (keep them contained and accountable).  There were a couple of times where rooms were full enough that getting out would have been overly disruptive.  The classroom seating arrangements of rows facing a central board also cater to the sage on the stage, something EdCamps ideals don’t seem thrilled with.

If you’ve never done an EdCamp, I highly recommend the experience.  You’ll find it personal, meaningful, intense and empowering.  You’ll have to break through many of those learned PD habits, but it’ll be nice to let your chained inner-professional out to see the sun for the first time in years.

The only PD experience I’ve ever had that came close was (is) ECOO conference, which is very teacher driven as well, and Barrie Bennett’s Beyond Monet workshop, which was career changing.  The vast majority of the rest feel like an infomercial admin demands that you sit through.

The next time I’m grinding my teeth as another professional presenter with a new book to hawk is telling me how I have to revolutionize my practice by doing exactly what they suggest (and nothing else, until the next book comes out), and who has been flown up to us (business class), and paid thousands of dollars that could have gone into classrooms instead, I’ll think back on EdCamp and wonder why administration is so afraid to trust us with our own PD.

EdCamp Waterloo Region Twitter Doc

The Utterly Baffling Biker

We’re minutes away from collapsing from heat exhaustion on our rally ride the other week when I start to hear voices.  We’re riding through Elora on our way to Fergus and a flock of cruisers have just pulled out in front of us.  The large man on a Harley ahead of me creates concussive sound waves that knock birds out of the sky whenever he cracks the throttle, which he has to keep doing because his Milwaukee iron doesn’t idle very well.

Between hundred and forty decibel POTATO POTATO, a voice, as clear as a bell was talking directly into my ear. It was telling me about carpets, I should buy them, but they’re all out of off white Persian.

From this far back you can’t hear yourself think.
I wonder if he’s in his happy place.  I’m not.

Am I losing my mind? It took me several moments to realize that the three hundred pounder in beanie helmet, t-shirt and shorts on his baaiiiike in front of me had the radio so loud it was like I was in the front row of a concert, if it was a concert about carpet advertising.  That we were at the end of a marathon ride and I was exhausted didn’t put me in the greatest of moods, but genuinely, other than making me think I’d lost my mind, what was the point of this man?

Mushin: literally means no mind,
but he’s doing it wrong.

I’ve had Lee Park’s Total Control on Kindle for a while.  I got lost in Park’s OCD maze of suspension minutia, but the latest chapters are much more accessible and are about your mindset when riding.  Lee describes the perfect motorcyclist in Zen terms: completely in the moment, aware of everything with no specific focus drawing attention away from that whole.  You should be using all of your senses to do this.  He’s quite serious about how you should approach the zone of peak performance while riding (and make no mistake, you should treat riding like a competitive sport – one you don’t want to lose).  None of it involves pipes so loud they cause small children to cry, a radio turned up so loud someone a hundred yards back can hear it clearly or wearing a beanie helmet and next to no clothes.

There is much I really dig about motorcycle culture, but it all has to do with excellence.  Watching a thirty-eight year old, six foot tall Valentino Rossi win a race again at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing last weekend was an example.  Watching Dakar riders survive the marathon they run (if marathons were run over two weeks) is another.  Watching a skilled road rider showing how it’s done on a high mileage bike with a kind of effortless ease, that’s impressive.  I’ve got a lot of words for what I saw last Sunday, but impressive isn’t one of them.

At one point I’d closed up on him while he was adjusting his radio.  I revved the bike to let him know I was there and he practically jumped out of his skin.  As far as awareness and respect for the act of riding goes, I’m just not seeing it.

They puttered down the road ahead of us when we pulled over in Fergus.  A steady stream of traffic followed them down the road at their leisurely but loud pace.

from Blogger

Quiet Mind at Ten Tenths

Written March, 2013, courtesy of Straw Dogs:

I’ve wanted to get a bike since I was old enough to drive, but my parents did backflips to put me in a car instead (probably wise at the time).  Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m looking for something other than just thrills from riding a motorcycle.

What feels like a lifetime ago, I was living in Japan.  A colleague and I came across a student who was into racing carts.  He invited us out and it became a regular event.  I’d always had an interest in motorsports and fancied myself a decent driver, it was nice to have the lap times prove it.

One of the most enjoyable side effects of ten tenths driving in a tiny shifter cart doing 100km/hr into a left hander was how focused your mind is.  You are taking in all sorts of sensory inputs, your adrenaline is ticking, you can feel the tires on the edge of grip, the wind is thundering past your helmet, the engine is screaming behind you, and you are no where else but in that seat.  You feel burned clean of any worries, plans, random thoughts or distractions.  You feel like you’re dancing with the machine under you, it becomes an extension of yourself.  It’s a wonderful feeling and I have never felt so exhausted and relaxed as I did after a day at Kiowa, deep in the mountains, tearing around that track.

I’m hoping that I can find that same quietness of mind on a motorbike.  The personal space and focus needed will be therapeutic.  The chance to disappear into my senses, to be entirely with the moment… the best kind of meditation.

Tao of Teaching

Chapter 17 of the Tao Te Ching

The best education is the one no one notices, the people are free to go about the business of realizing their potential.  
The next best is the education that is loved, though this distracts people from realizing their potential in favour of a shared idea.
Next is the education driven by fear where testing and failure dictate your future.
The worst is the one that is despised, this education creates such hatred that none can succeed.

Student happiness in their school system

Ah, that Tao te Ching (that’s my favourite translation by Wing-Tsit Chan), it pretty much works for everything from governing to ethics to metaphysics to naming a blog…

Chapter 4… blunting sharpness, untying tangles, softening light and becoming one with the dusty world
I first came across the Tao in a fourth year philosophy class. Our prof had the six of us go through this little (5000 character!) classic in detail. It’s the closest I’ve come to finding a holy book. At the end of the course he asked us if we could find fault with the ideas presented in it, no one could. It’s a profound, deeply sensitive and honest guide to life. He then asked, will any of you give up your delusions and follow it? No one could or would. Opting out of modern society isn’t easy to do. Even finding the path out is difficult.

From bad days in class to moments of clarity, the Tao te Ching offers a voice to the teaching experience:

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

The basics that Lao Tsu stresses are honesty, flexibility and an immediacy with creation. You’d think these simple things to keep in mind but we seem wired to cater to the distractions and abstractions of our intelligence.

There is a grace to Lao Tsu’s Way that emphasizes just how fractured we are from the world today. As a teacher I see it more than most because I see generations pass before my eyes. Rapid changes in technology affect both how they see themselves while also further limiting their relationship with the reality in which they exist.

It’s a pyramid, it must be true!  Hierarchy of Digital Distractions

Replacing Perished Rubbers

I got replacement rubber bits for the now fifteen year old Triumph Tiger 955i in before Christmas, but the weather has been so diabolically cold that even with a propane heater in the garage, the floor is still radiating negative thirty degrees and working in there is a misery.  We finally had a break in temperature this weekend so I got a chance to fit new rubber on the Tiger…

It’s only -1°C out there, so it’s garage door open time!

My targeted bits were the rubber covers on the mirror stalks, which aren’t that important but you see a lot of them while you’re riding and they bothered me.  The shift leaver rubber has been held together with Gorilla Tape for the better part of a year (that’s some tough tape) and one of the rubber bits that go between the seat and the frame had disappeared, so I was aiming to replace that too so the seat would sit evenly and there would be no metal on metal rubbing.

The shift leaver was a simple thing.  I cut off the tape and the old rubber which was half torn.  With the new rubber warmed up and some WD40, the new bit slid on fairly easily.

The mirror arm rubbers were equally straight forward.  The mirror is on a threaded end.  Undoing that and the nut under it that holds it tight meant I could slide the mirror rubbers off.  The old ones were cracked in multiple places and barely hanging on.  I cleaned up the threads and metal under which was a bit rusty, put some rust paint on there to make sure none comes back and slid the new rubber covers on.  Another quick fix.

The problems arose when I tried to fit the seat rubbers.  I suspect the dealer sent me the wrong bits.  The rubbers that sit between the adjustable seat height bracket under the seat and the frame are circular with a flexible back that holds them to the frame.  What I got were some pieces of rubber with sticky backing that aren’t even the same thickness as the circular rubber grommets.

I’d shrug it off but at $3.30 plus tax and shipping for each of these sticky rubber bits, I’m out fifteen odd bucks in parts that seem to have nothing to do with what I was trying to fix.  I did send photos of the parts required and I thought we were clear on what was needed.  Rather than flush more money on parts I didn’t ask for, I found a rubber grommet that was a bit too big and cut it down to fit the hole.  It’s a snug fit and compresses to about the same thickness as the other grommets.  I might eventually get four matching rubber grommets just to make things even down there, but for now the seat isn’t uneven and the frame isn’t metal rubbing on metal.

The winter maintenance on the Triumph has been pretty straightforward this year.  Last year I did the fork oil, spark plugs, air filter and coolant and upgraded the dodgy plastic fuel line connectors, so this year the only maintenance was my usual end of season oil change.  I run the bike on the Triumph suggested Mobil1 10w40 motorcycle specific oil and I change it once at the end of the season.

The perished rubbers thing was as much an aesthetic choice as it was a performance fix.  Little details like rubber pieces on an older bike bring it back into focus.  Regularly watching Car SOS buying full sets of rubbers for older cars they are restoring probably intensified the urge.

Since I purchased the Tiger almost two years ago I’ve done all the fluids and changed the tires which produced a much more road capable bike (the old ones were well past due).  I’ve also replaced the chain, but other than these rubber bits and the fuel fittings last winter I haven’t replaced anything that wasn’t a regular service item.  The old Tiger has been a trustworthy steed.

I’m usually able to steal a ride toward the end of winter as the sunlight returns and we get the odd warm day with dry roads.  With any luck I’m only a few weeks away from stealing another one.  The Tiger’s ready for it.

from Blogger

Competitive Urges and Real World Expectations: How to Differentiate For Experts

One of the ways I differentiate my courses in order to cater to students who will become digital engineers and technicians is to find opportunities to compete in skills based competitions.  Not only does this offer them advanced study in specific areas of computer technology, but it also provides curriculum material that often trickles down into my regular course work.

In the fall we took our first run at the CyberPatriot/CyberTitan IT security competition.  Cyber-security is a high demand field we don’t produce enough of in Canada.  With a very strong team of seniors we made big steps forward in each round figuring out how the competition works and what we needed to focus on to get better at it.  Once we knew how to focus on Windows and Linux operating systems and Cisco networking, we got a lot better.  By the final round we’d fought our way up to the sharp end of the competition and ended up finishing in the top 10 out of 90 odd Canadian teams.  We’re off to Fredericton in May to see how we fare in the national finals.

I’ve been looking at ways to bring cyber-security into my curriculum and this ICTC run competition has provided me with a pile of material on all levels of IT security from the desktop all the way up to networking.  In the meantime, I’ve got four students who are national finalists, which looks mighty fine on both a job and post-secondary program applications.  The team isn’t a mono-culture either.  One student is aiming at software engineering, another at information technology, another at teaching and the last isn’t ICT focused but is a strong, multi-talented student who can solve esoteric problems well.  They also work well as a team, so we’re looking forward to seeing how we fare in the finals in New Brunswick.

Meanwhile, we’ve got four students aiming for Skills Ontario provincial finals in Toronto in May.  Unlike last year when we tried to commute into the GTA for the event (utter misery), we are lining up hotel rooms and staying overnight, so everyone will arrive early and well rested – no seven hour school bus commutes for us this time.  We’ve got last year’s bronze medalist at IT and Networking who is angling for a higher finish, last year’s 7th place electronics student in the hunt for a medal and last year’s 10th place web developer looking for a top five finish.  I’ve also got a ringer for the first ever coding competition at Skills Ontario provincials.  Like the CyberTitan competition, I’ve been able to lift a lot of useful course focuses out of Skills scopes.  Our electronics have diversified and become much more complex thanks to our competitor’s work in skills (and I love that she’s beating the boys in a predominantly male competition).  The web development we started last year is going to provide much of the coding focus for our new grade ten computer class that starts next year.

I get a real charge out of competition.  I used to coach soccer at school but now I spend my time focused on supporting technology curriculum.  The differences are many.  Instead of only catering to students who are wealthy enough to not work and have the free time to play games at school all week, I find myself supporting a wide socio-economic range of students, which I find more gratifying.  In the process I’ve been able to show many of them opportunities and post secondary pathways that they hadn’t considered before.  I didn’t manage to produce a single professional soccer player in years of coaching, but I’ve managed to help engineers, technicians and digital artists begin their careers.  Of course, I don’t get paid to do any of this, but finding students and helping them develop into competitive provincial and national challengers is one of the favourite aspects of my job, even though it isn’t actually my job.  The hardest part is convincing them that it’s possible; doubt is the hardest thing to overcome.

Meanwhile, in the classroom this semester I’m running yet another round of capped at 31 students software engineering (it’s tricky to stuff 31 student computers into a classroom, but I manage it).  I started this course three years ago as a bit of a joke, but I couldn’t run it like one, the opportunities it provides are too real.  Our school started offering courses in hockey and camping and I jokingly suggested I make a video game course if we’re giving credits out for recreational activities.  I spent much of my youth playing hockey, camping and video gaming, so why not?  Of course, I didn’t get high school credits in those things, but I digress.

Our software engineering class has become an applied coding course that focuses on engineering process rather than the mathematical minutia of coding, which I leave to computer science.  We start with IEEE’s Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK) to get a handle on best practices in real-world software building, then we learn 3d modelling in Blender and scripting in C# in Unity in order to prepare everyone for some game development.

This class has produced published software since the first year it ran and has allowed students to produce digital portfolio work that has gotten many graduates into some of the most challenging post secondary programs in the province.  Like the competition opportunities described above, software engineering has turned into an intense but demanding real world opportunity that allows senior students to step up and demonstrate some leading edge digital skills.

We’ve just finished the training portion of the course where the grade twelves introduce the grade elevens to SWEBOK, the basics of 3d modelling and the Unity game development platform.  With these basic skills in place everyone then reorganizes into startups and proceeds to develop software titles for the rest of the semester.  This time around we’ve got a mini putt VR simulator, a VR based survival game called Grave Dug, a nostalgia arcade title called Devil’s Hollow, a two player cooperative asymmetrical puzzle game called Shield and Staff, an atmospheric stealth title called Instinct and for the first time we’re also developing a non-interactive title focused on 3d animation that should offer our 3d artists a less restricted and more experimental approach to modelling without the complexities of interactivity.  We hope to use VR (Tiltbrush, Oculus Medium) and our Structure Sensor 3d scanner to produce less Blenderized looking models and experiment with our design process.

My senior computer technology (TEJ) courses also focus on real world problem solving.  We cover CompTIA industry testing for A+ technician in 3M and NETWORK+ administration in 4M, and both courses also do in-school tech support.  We’re also building VR ready systems for our board SHSM program to distribute to other schools.  Working in real world situations with live problem solving and deadlines is something my students find invaluable, whether it’s in class or in competition.  It gives them strong portfolio work (check out our ever expanding collection of 3d models, in 3d!) and prepares them for the intensity of life outside of the rubber walled, failure-not-an-option world of high school.  It’s a lot of extra work, but I didn’t get into teaching computer technology in order to be able to spin the same lessons out year after year; the constantly changing nature of the subject area is one of the reasons I chose to do it.  The real world challenges and intensity of competition keeps  things interesting for me too.

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2019-20: Persistence and Possibility

I stand on the cusp of another year teaching computer technology and I have to say I’m looking forward to it in spite of the various nonsense surrounding Ontario education these days.  I have a particularly strong crop of seniors and I’m hoping to exceed the lofty heights we’ve previously reached.  @CWcomptech continues to grow and seek out new opportunities.

I’m hoping for at least two Skills Ontario provincial medals and successful runs at CyberTitan and by all three (and possibly a fourth) of our teams.  Thanks to the groundbreaking work of our Terabytches last year, we’ve achieved a 50/50 gender split in our cybersecurity teams with 2 co-ed teams and our champion all-female team at a time when the industry is struggling to balance a 25/75 gender split.

I’m also hoping this strong senior group will uncover new opportunities for us to explore, but then they already have.  The Cybersmart Project, a student run training course for other schools interested in getting onto CyberTitan started over the summer and has already picked up a number of schools they are going to help.

We had Gord Alexander from IBM Canada come in last year and show our grade 10s how to code IBMcloud’s Watson AI.  The pickup on that was amazing with students of all skill levels returning to it in their culminating projects.  Gord followed up by applying to present at this year’s ECOO Conference #BIT19 on how students can access this free and very accessible artificial intelligence learning environment.  I’m looking forward to helping out with that at the conference.

One of the nicest things about teaching computer technology is that it’s never the same year to year, but sometimes those emerging technologies can be difficult to access.  Not so with Watson.  If you’ve got students who can code in Scratch, you can get them going with Watson and have scripted, AI supported projects very quickly.  I suspect students from grades four onward could manage the coding involved and I’m looking forward to sharing this exciting possibility with Ontario teachers in November.

Over the summer I took two Cisco courses (thanks Philippe!) that will improve our practice.  The IT Essentials course was something I’d been looking to complete in order to give my students access to current materials.  Up until now I’ve been cobbling things together from books and various online sites.  It was a lot of work and constantly falling out of date.  The Cisco Net Academy course is current and covers much of what we were doing anyway, but in a concentrated and curated format that should lighten my preparation for teaching IT in junior high school classes.

Having been a certified computer technician since 2002, the IT Essentials course was review, but the other course I took was a bit more ferocious.  The CCNA Cyber Operations course is designed for cybersecurity specialists who want to get a handle on the current state of play as they begin working in cybersec.  It’s a no-holds barred review of advanced networking analysis tools followed by detailed explanations of how cybersecurity has been implemented in the very networked world of 2019.  I’ve really enjoyed taking the course and should be wrapping it up over the next couple of weeks.  Having an understanding of best management practices in cybersec should help me coach our school teams more efficiently and effectively.  It has also handed me a plethora of current network assessment and management tools that will find their way into my senior ICT curriculum immediately!

2019-20 feels like it could be a banner year.  Competition is always fickle and you never know what Goliaths you’ll face, but we’ve never had better access to the tools we need to succeed as we do now.  As long as the education system isn’t thrown into an artificial crisis, we should be ready to produce an exceptional year of graduates with rich extracurricular experiences who are ready to tackle the challenging, digitally empowered 21st Century workplace.

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Balancing Personal Responsibility with Sainthood

The in-law’s cottage happens to be about 20 kms away from the bottom of the 507.  I like the 507.  It twists and turns through the Canadian Shield offering you bend after bend without the usual tedium of Southern Ontario roads.  I lost myself riding down it the other day.

Last week I was pondering how fear can creep in to your riding in extreme circumstances, like trying to ride through a GTA rush hour commute.  This week I’m struggling with how the Canada Moto-Guide and Cycle Canada are portraying deaths on the 507, which is evidently a magnet for sportbike riders who have confused public roads with private race tracks.

On the motorcyclists spectrum I tend toward the sportier end of things.  I’ve owned Ninjas, sports-tourers, adventure and off-road bikes.  The only thing that chased me away from sportbikes early in my riding career were the insane insurance rates and the fact that any modern motorcycle is already light years beyond most sports cars in terms of performance.  My old Tiger goes 0-60 in under four seconds, or about as fast as many current top-end muscle and sports cars.  To spend thousands more on insurance for a bike designed for a race-track just doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially when you factor in the condition of Ontario roads.

If you missed the British MotoGP race at Silverstone last
weekend, do yourself a favour and look it up.  From start
to finish it was spectacular.

Having said that, I’ve been a diehard MotoGP fan for the past six years.  Watching riders develop and express their genius at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing is not only glorious to watch, but it has taught me a lot about riding dynamics, and I think it has improved my bike-craft.  I totally get speed.  Riding a bike always feels like a bit of a tight-rope walk, and being able to do it quickly and smoothly is a skill-set I highly value.

Like so many things in motorcycling, balance seems to be key.  Last week, among the idiotic commuters of the GTA, a frustrating number of whom were texting in their laps and half paying attention, I was unable to manage that danger and it led to a great deal of anxiety.  Rather than give in to that fear or throw a blanket of bravado over it, I looked right at it and found a way to overcome it.  Honesty with yourself is vital if you’re actually interested in mastering your bikecraft.  I came to the conclusion that you need to approach two wheels with a touch of swagger and arrogance when that fear rises up.  This is done to moderate fear and give you back some rational control, especially when circumstances conspire against you.

The problem with swagger and arrogance… and fear for that matter, is that it’s easy to go too far, and so many people seem to.  Emotionality seems to dictate so many aspects of motorcycling culture.  From the arrogance of the ding-dongs in shorts and flip flops who tend to the extremes of the motorcycling spectrum (cruisers and sportbikes), to the ex-motorcyclists and haters who can only speak from fear, it’s these extremes who seem to speak for the sport.  I struggle with those emotionally driven extremes, but recently CMG seems intent on writing odes to them.

The CMG editorial news-letter this week makes much of not knowing why this rider died:

“He knew the dangers, and he admitted to going fast,” says his partner, Lisa Downer. “He knew when, where, how – it was just one of those things. A lot of people think the way the curve was, there was a car (approaching him) that was just a little too far over the line and David had to compensate. By the time that car went around the bend, they wouldn’t even have known that David went off, because the sightline’s gone. Or it could have been an animal, or a bit of gravel. You just don’t know.”

There were no skid marks on the road. Like so many of our lost, no one will ever know why.

Our lost?  Here’s a video by that same rider from the year before:

“…the helmet cam shows his speedometer. “A decent pace on the 507 in central Ontario, Canada,” he wrote in the description. “Typical Ontario roads, bumpy, keeping me in check.” His average speed on the near-deserted road was above 160 km/h, more than double the speed limit, and at one point it shows an indicated 199, where the digital display tops out. At such speeds on a public road, there’s little room for error.” – little room for error?

With that on the internet, one wonders how he had his license the following year.  You can come at this from ‘it might have been an animal, or a car, or gravel’, but I think I’m going to come at it from here:

“David was an experienced rider who’d got back into motorcycling just three years ago; he was 52, but had put bikes on hold since his 30s when he went out west…”

That’ll be over 170 kms/hr on rough pavement around
blind corners next to a massive provincial park full of
large mammals…

An ‘experienced rider’ who had been riding for three years, after a twenty year gap?  And his first bike in twenty years was a World Super-bike winning Honda super sport?  Whatever he was riding in the mid-eighties and early nineties certainly wasn’t anything like that RC51.  What his actual riding experience was is in question here, but rather than assign any responsibility to an inexperienced rider, we are speculating about animals, cars and gravel?

I generally disagree with the speed kills angle that law enforcement likes to push.  If that were the case all our astronauts would be dead.  So would everyone who has ever ridden the Isle of Man TT.  Speed doesn’t kill, but how you manage it is vital.  There is a time and a place.  If you’re intent on riding so beyond the realm of common sense on a public road, then I think you should take the next step and sort yourself out for track days, and then find an opportunity to race.  In Ontario you have all sorts of options from Racer5’s track day training to the Vintage Road Racing  Association, where you can ride it hard and put it away wet in a place where you’re not putting people’s children playing in their front yard in mortal peril.  If you’ve actually got some talent, you could find yourself considering CSBK.  Surely there is a moral imperative involved in how and where you choose to ride?  Surely we are ultimately responsible for our riding?

Strangely, Mark’s article, The Quick and the Dead, from 2017 has a much clearer idea of time and place when it comes to riding at these kinds of speeds.  In this most recent news-letter we’re at “it would be easy to dismiss David Rusk as just another speed freak, killed by his own excess“.  In 2017 he was quite reasonably stating: “If you’re going to speed, don’t ride faster than you can see and dress properly. And if you’re going to speed, do it on a track“.  I guess the new blameless recklessness sells better?

There is a romantic fatalism implicit in how both CMG and Cycle Canada have framed these deaths that willfully ignores much of what caused this misery in the first place.  Motorcycling is a dangerous activity.  Doing it recklessly is neither brave, nor noble.  Trying to dress it up in sainthood, or imaging blame when the cause if repeatedly slapping you in the face is neither productive nor beneficial to our sport.  Up both ends of the motorcycling spectrum are riders who are all about the swagger.  For those dick swingers this kind of it’s-never-your-fault writing is like going to church.  I get it.  Writing for your audience is the key to enlarging it.

Last Sunday I did a few hundred kilometres picking up bodies of water for the Water is Life GT rally, with the 507 being the final run south to the cottage.  The roads weren’t exceptionally busy and I was able to fall into a rhythm on the 507 that reminded me of what a great road it is.  As it unfolds in front of you, you can’t guess where it’s going to go next.  Surrounded by the trees, rocks and lakes of the Shield, it’s a gloriously Canadian landscape.

I’m not dawdling when I ride.  I prefer to not have traffic creeping up on me, I’m usually the one doing the passing (easy on a bike).  The big Tiger fits me and the long suspension can handle the rough pavement, but I’m never over riding the limits of the bike where gravel on the road, an animal or other drivers dictate how my ride is going to end.  The agility and size of a bike offer me opportunities that driving a car doesn’t, but it doesn’t mean I open the taps just because I can.  Balance is key.

There are times when a rider (or any road user) can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and no amount of skill will save you.  For the riders (and anyone) who perishes like that, I have nothing but sympathy.  They are the ones we should be reserving sainthood for.  Not doing the things that you love, like being out in the wind on a bike, because of that possibility will neuter your quality of life.  That doesn’t mean you have a free pass to be reckless though.  Do dangerous things as well as you’re able. 

I’m well aware of the dangers of riding, but I’m not going to throw a blanket of arrogance over them, and I’m certainly not going to describe recklessness as a virtue while hiding in delusions of blame.  Doing a dangerous thing well has been a repeated theme on TMD, as has media’s portrayal of riding.  Having our own media trying to dress up poor decision making as victimization isn’t flattering to motorcycling.  If you can’t be honest about your responsibilities when riding perhaps it’s time to hang up your boots.  If you don’t, reality might do it for you.

Related Thoughts:

Training Ignorance & Fear Out of Your Bikecraft:

Parent, Child or Zen Master:

Do Bikers Ignore Reality?

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