Using the Canon EF-S macro lense on a Rebel T6i DSLR to get up close with ice formed on a windshield on a cold, December morning.
I‘ll come straight out and tell you that I’m an avid video game player, have been since I got hooked on Donkey Kong Jr. when I was ten years old. From dotty eight bit graphics on my first Vic 20 to the Pentium 4 powerhouses and monster video cards on my home network today, I’m a technology junkie of the highest order. A simple decision by my parents set me down the path of intelligent adoption early in my experience: I begged for an Intellivision, they got me a Vic20. Suddenly I’m programming instead of mind numbing button pushing – I’m a creator not just a user. Twenty years later I’m working as a systems trainer and technician.
From that brief biography I give you my reaction to the documentary called “First Person Shooter” I saw on CTV last Sunday (www.firstpersonshooter.tv/index.html), created by Robin Benger, a TV producer and film maker. Rather than simply trying to scare you while appearing to keep a semblance of veracity and professional indifference, I’ll try and unpack all of the assumptions and the real intent behind this lightly veiled propaganda. In its desperate attempts to stay on top I find the current popular media (and in this case medium of television itself) taking poorly researched, rather desperate shots at the latest distractions. In the case of “First Person Shooter” the father of a child deeply addicted to a game called “Counter Strike” uses his own medium (he is a television producer and film maker) to analyze and ultimately criticize his child’s dependency on media.
The general issue of addiction can be dealt with in fairly specific terms. Game playing, even in its most chronic form certainly can’t be quantified as a physical addiction. At best it can be described as a reinforced behaviour. What reinforces the behaviour of a chronic player, a need for control, expression, respect? Online playing is not just the wave of the future any more, it is here today. Community, interaction and team building are a huge part of the modern online gaming experience. A child addicted to this is a child addicted to a need to belong; not exactly a damning statement; and one that prompts the question: why are these things so lacking in his non-virtual existence?
What is especially laughable about Mr. Benger’s documentary is that he uses his medium of television to debunk a new and competing medium for media. I wonder if he is more upset that his child is having trouble prioritizing his life or that he isn’t supporting Mr. Benger’s own media infatuation. The question of what benefits television has in attacking a competing medium must be an integral part of this examination.
There is a small step between an addictive personality and an obsessive one and in either case they can lead to amazing, expression or discovery. The price people pay for this kind of infatuation can also lead them to depression and ultimately make them unable to support their need. In short if you’re shooting for a small target like genius you will often miss and the results aren’t pretty. If a child becomes so infatuated something that it consumes their lives, it seems to me the best way to push through it is to assist them in swallowing too much. They’ll eventually force themselves away from it and in doing so their rejection of the infatuation will surely be more meaningful.
In the meantime we’ve got something like video games, that many older people simply don’t accept. They find it threatening, difficult to understand and so place a low value on it. As a gamer (with a fine arts background and an honours degree in English and Philosophy) that gaming has been churning out exceptional pieces of art for many years now. As the technology continues to improve the media presented on it will only become more immersive and meaningful. Whereas once printing allowed for the widespread, sedentary activity of reading for the masses, and movie and television furthered the trend towards sedentary, cerebral entertainment, video gaming has reintroduced the entertainee as an active participant in the process. In doing so it promises to further enhance our ability to express and understand our selves and the reality around us; the goal of any media.
There has been much talk of gamification as a means of engaging the digital native (sic). I’ve been a fan of integrating complex simulation into the classroom for a long time now, and I believe that digital tools offer us a great deal of paracosmic power in that regard. As a means of assessing student ability, nothing comes close to the immersive simulation to see multi-dimensional aspects of student skill, from basic knowledge to how they work under pressure and what their lateral problem solving skills look like (something most assessment is devoid of).
But like the flowery classroom in which no one can fail, the vast majority of games are designed to be entertainment. The satisfaction you have in finishing them is entirely artificial – the point was for you to finish them. Sort of like making a big deal of getting a high school diploma… way to get what just about everyone has. I missed my high school graduation, but I didn’t miss my university ones. The best part about those degrees where all the people who started with me that didn’t finish.
If we’re going to set up games in the classroom, then they need to be full spectrum experiences (where failure is an option). If you want to go all the way, actually set up the simulation to put your students in an impossible situation and then assess how they respond rather than how they perform. If it works for Starfleet Academy in two hundred years, it should work for us now.
One of the most immersive games I’ve ever played was called Planescape: Torment. I’ll spoil it for you because no one will go looking for a fifteen year old game to play. You begin in a Memento-esque amnesia in a morgue. Through the course of the narrative you learn that you are immortal, though you’ve been killed many times (and are covered in scars). The end of the game has you having to come to terms with a character you’ve come to identify with realizing that he has to die (and spend an eternity in hell – he hasn’t been a nice man) in order to complete the game. It was a game playing moment where I was completely lost in the story, when it asked more from me as a participant than I wanted to give, but I gave it anyway, and have never forgotten the effect. Watching a character you’ve struggled to keep alive walk into an eternal battle on the planes of hell was truly epic. Winning isn’t always about collecting badges.
I’ve had a number of those epic moments while playing Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve also created some sufficiently complex simulations in the classroom where students have forgotten where they were. Being a Dungeon Master is excellent training for a teacher.
In English I’ve spun mutants v. humans in a Chrysalids simulation that had students who thought the prejudice and violence shown by characters in the book where ‘ridiculous’. An hour later the simulation had the same students jailing (and worse) the hidden mutants in their classroom, while the mutants tried to hide, then ended up drunk on their own power. It left many students hyper-engaged, frustrated and introspective about human nature. I wonder what kind of quiz would have resulted in that mind space?
Immersive simulation is a powerful learning tool – I believe it should be the end game of digitization in education. A student who has had to experience Brock’s sacrifice or Napoleon’s Waterloo will have a sense of personalized learning that strikes the gaming nerve – they feel like it was a personal experience rather than something told to them.
They do this on the holo-deck all the time in Star Trek. Janeway has Leonardo Da Vinci as a mentor, Data has arguments with Einstein and Hawking about physics. Their learning is personal and they are active participants in it, the learning environment is personalized, immersive and offers the mightiest access to information.
Any well designed simulation has to allow for free-play and unexpected outcomes (Data vs. Moriarty is a good example). If your games are designed for single outcome, or you’re throwing badges on achievement, you might as well go back to photocopying worksheets, you’re not getting what games can do for people. Unless you take into account player freedom of choice and are willing to address unexpected outcomes, you’re only hanging a badge on the same old linear knowledge attainment.
I’ve looked into the savage world of motorcycle tires before. Way back in 2016 I got fixated on customizing the rims and putting new rubber on the Kawasaki Concours, and got introduced to the expensive nature of buying half as many tires that wear out way faster. That first time left me with a $500 bill for getting 2 Michelin Commander sport touring tires installed and left me wary of the expense.
More frustratingly, I ended up using the Counteract balance beads anyway because the caveman weights used on a traditional balance machine still left the wheels with a wobble, so that $500 bill ended up being even higher, though it did make me feel way better about using those beads – they work better than weights and a technician half paying attention to the balancing machine.
In 2017 the Tiger’s tires were getting tired, so I was once again at Two Wheel trying to get in for service (they suggested a one month wait was likely that time – local car tire places really need to look into this market). At that time they were pricing Michelin Anakees at about $420 for both, with another $100 for installation which was only the tires because if I wanted service within a week instead of a month I had to remove the tires and bring them in myself. With taxes and incidental costs that crept in on the bill, those two tires ended up costing me almost seven hundred bucks, and I had to take the damned rims off and put them on myself!
Fast forward to 2020 and supply chains are in tatters (not that they were that good a couple of years ago). After trying to contact Two Wheel and getting no response to multiple attempts, I started looking elsewhere. No local tire companies do motorcycles – you’re missing a market there everyone. Motorcycle tires wear out quickly, get replaced often and cost more! The only motorcycle focused company that could be bothered to raise a response was Revco, who were responsive and delivered the tires quickly and efficiently, even beating expectations I’d have had pre-pandemic. If you need motorcycle tires in Canada, Revco can and do deliver!
Where am I at with costs this time around in the expensive world of motorcycle tires during a pandemic? Counteract Balance Beads were just under thirty bucks, the two tires were $126 & $155, so the whole bill came out to $310. I’m at $360 including taxes and delivery. Lloyd installed them for $100, so now I’m at $460 for this round of motorcycle rubber. That’s 35% cheaper than my last pre-pandemic tire buying experience.
Just out of curiosity I looked up the same Michelin Anakee tires I put on the Tiger three years ago that ended up costing me $500 just for the rubber. They’re starting to square off and have a fair number of kilometres on them, so an over-winter tire change is likely this year. On Revco three years later they’re $382 delivered with taxes, or 24% less expensive. Even Lloyd’s newly updated shop costs for installation at Mostly Ironheads are less than dealer costs in 2017, and are done in 48 hours. I’d be at $482 ready to roll when it cost me $700 before.
I know where I’m going and how I’m getting tires fitted from now on – and I’m even supporting my small, locally owned shop in the process. The only thing preferable would be my own tire installation machine, but I can barely fit in the garage as it is, so that’d only come after a house move. With the deficit in service around here, maybe I should just be doing motorcycle tires out of my garage anyway.
Ontario gets you to buy a vehicle history when you transfer ownership. The main reason is to make sure you’re not buying something with an existing debt on it, but I like it for the history lesson; you get a good sense of a bike’s life from that list of dates and owners. I’m the third owner of the Tiger. The first one owned it for most of its life. The guy I bought it from owned it for a short time (I think it was his first bike) before passing it along to me.
The Fireblade’s history also tells a tale. In July of 1996 it was sold to a guy in West Hill, Ontario (part of Scarborough in the east end of Toronto). He sold it to McBride Cycle in Toronto (Percy’s name is still down as the owner on bikes they brought in then) less than a year later in May of 1997. McBride Cycle moved it on to a guy in Mississauga two months later in July of 1997. The previous owner to me bought it in April of 1998 and owned it up until his divorce when he gave it to his ex as part of their separation. It then sat with her through the divorce until her new boyfriend dropped it off for me last September, 2019. Timeline wise, the owners of this bike have lasted:
- 10 months
- 2 months (dealer)
- 10 months
- and 21 years, though it looks like it was unused for most of the last decade of those.
I’m the 5th owner of the bike, and if I hold on to it for more than ten months I’ll be the second longest owner it has had. This 23 year old Japanese super model only has twenty-five thousand kilometres on her and sat unused for long enough that the petcock that metres fuel out of the tank failed and flooded the engine, then it sat broken in a garage.
This Honda is a ‘supersport’ bike with ‘hypersport’ tires, meaning they’re soft, grippy and don’t last long. I once heard a story of a guy who used to drive his supersport bike to twisty roads in his van, ride it hard for a couple of days, and then open up his van and change to new tires using the tire mounting equipment he kept mounted in there. Heavy handed riders can burn through a set of these types of tires after a single track day.
Lloyd at Mostly Ironheads measured the depth and determined that the ‘Blade needed new tires to meet safety requirements. I’ve got the ‘Blade raised up in the garage at the moment and had a good look at the tires today, and found these:
The only reply I got was from John at REVCO.CA, an online tire company out near Ottawa. He was straight up with me, saying that they can usually turn around an order in a matter of hours, but it might take up to a week right now. What convinced me to spend nearly four hundred bucks with him was his responsiveness and openness, so I ordered the tires. REVCO outdid themselves, delivering the tires within 48 hours. Fortunately Lloyd at Mostly Ironheads can install tires, but not balance newer rims (he focuses on heavy metal from the 20th Century with spoked rims, not racing alloy rims). It wasn’t a worry though because Revco also had Counteract balancing beads, which I’m a bid fan of. I removed the old fashioned balancing weights, installed the beads on the new tires that Lloyd installed on Saturday morning, and the ‘Blade feels like it’s walking on air, wearing her first new pair of shoes in over two decades.
Our blog entry for today (we do one a day during this qualification course to teach computer engineering)…
|Mike Druiven‘s lab at CKSS in Milton|
In the context of teaching Computer Technology, 9 to 12
What do you like about 112 & 113 at CKS?
- The rooms are purposed for what they teach (I have to teach comp-eng in a board lab with locked down computers shared with 2 other subject areas).
- The cupboards were installed to a very high standard (we installed them last year 😉 and provide a lot of easily accessible storage.
- The work benches have plugs on hand and encourage building as well as easy collaborating (Conestoga’s computer engineering lab uses similar benches – I’d LOVE a set of them!)
- natural light is nice
- Smartboard is permanently installed and out of the way
- multiple seating areas
- two labs designed around two different purposes so you can go to what fits what you’re doing best
What would you change?
- the stools aren’t the most comfortable over a whole day, but that’s not really an issue for teenagers in 75 minute periods, wheelie ergonomic work chairs would be nice, but wouldn’t fit the regular student in here (as opposed to the old guy with a dodgy back)
- rack mounted LCD monitors that could be folded away when not in use would be nice for the benches, as would a sleeve to hold peripherals for quick set up of desktops
- having more control of the server side IT structure would allow for more complete networking opportunities while still making use of board internet access
- I saw a sound-field system used a few years ago and even though I’m not a particularly audial learner, I found it absolutely fantastic for de-stressing a teacher’s voice and aiding student learning, having one in here would be nice
- we’re inches away from 3d holography. Mike could go full ‘help me Obiwan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!’ with a 3d holography system in front of his desk… where else but in computer engineering should we show of the leading edge of computer engineering?
Develop a 5 year action plan to improve a Computer Technology classroom that you work in, have worked in or have seen.
- improve tools & supplies
- improve equipment
- improve seating and lesson delivery
- improve displays
|The Dream Media Arts Lab|
A couple of years ago I saw THIS video about Finnish classroom furniture. I used it in my dream media arts lab. Having a room with furniture that could reconfigure on the fly for whatever we’re doing is the kind of flexibility I dream of in the classroom.
It was a 6° morning, so I waited for an hour or so until the sun warmed it up to double digits. The goal was to enjoy some curves on the last weekend before it’s back to work.
I pushed north to Grand Valley and got a quick coffee at Brewed Awakenings before pushing on up past Shelburne and onto River Road out of Horning’s Mills. Finally, here were the twisty roads I’d been looking for. South Western Ontario is a patchwork of tediously straight roads. The exception is the Niagara Escarpment and this is one of the closest pieces of it.
|Playing with vanishing point electrical lines|
South out of Terra Nova Public House after a quick (and fantastic) bowl of hand made fish soup, I pushed south down the spine of the escarpment into Mono Cliffs and Hockley Valley.
By this point it was early afternoon and a warm, 22° late summer day. Leaving the escarpment I pushed back across the barren desert of straight roads.
My first season in the saddle is rapidly coming to an end. I’m sad. I’ve been OD’ing on magazines and media in the past couple of weeks but I’m also doing more concrete things to keep the dream alive over a cold, dark Canadian winter.
This weekend I’m finishing the garage (insulation & ply-board) which should make it more inhabitable for stage 2 of Tim’s cunning winter motorbike plans.
With the garage organized (a tire rack for the car’s off season tires, new workbench, shelving, etc), there should be a lot more room! The Ninja will find a nice corner to spend the winter (while I strip the fairings off and refinish the frame). In all that empty space I feel a strong urge to project bike!
One of my earliest motorbike urges was driving by an old Honda on the side of the road over and over again. That bike was selling for $450. If I can find an old bike that needs some TLC I’m going to get it home and give it a place in the garage. I’ll spend the winter stripping carbs and breaking it down to nuts and bolts. The best way to understand is to lay hands on. Having a rebuild project would be the perfect way to keep myself immersed in two wheel thinking.
Come spring I might be kick starting an old beasty that hasn’t rolled on roads in years. My recent infatuation with Cafe Racer culture might inform this process a bit.
As thousands of young teachers are handed pink slips and those left behind are looking towards a system intent on cramming as many students into a classroom as possible, good will is drying up in Ontario education. You might not think that this matters, but it does. Good will is what has teachers doing hundreds of hours of volunteer work each year to maximize student experience in school. All of the teacher coaches and club leaders spend time enriching their schools with these efforts. I’m hard pressed to think of a single teacher I work with who doesn’t do some kind of volunteer work in addition to their paid work.
Beyond the volunteerism, there is a general misunderstanding in the public about how well teachers are paid. From reflective edu-blogging and sharing best practices on a Saturday to marking on a Sunday morning, most teachers aren’t work free when they aren’t at work. You might think this extra effort is well funded, but it isn’t. With five years of university and the massive debt that accompanied it, ten years of industry apprenticeship and experience, five summers of additional qualification training and fifteen years of teaching in Ontario classrooms, I take home about $58k a year. I don’t work all year round, true, but on the weeks I do work I typically average about 10 hours of work a day on teaching related activity and about five hours per weekend. I typically put in at least 6-8 hours of work a week during holidays as well, just to keep up on marking and planning. Out of my fifteen teacher summers off I taught summer school on five of them and took additional qualification courses that I had to pay for myself in another four. On other years I’ve presented at conferences and learning fairs. I don’t think I’ve had an actual summer off yet, so don’t get too carried away with those ‘summers off’. The vast majority of my summers have been work related, and often at my expense.
Some Teacher Math:
2000 hours of work while teaching daily (40 weeks per year, 5 days a week, 10 hours a day)
+160 hours over weekends (40 weekends per school year, 4 hours per weekend)
+25 hours over stat holidays (Xmas and March Break, Easter, etc)
=2185 hours of work. That’s not counting the week before school starts when I’m usually in pretty much every day until things are ready to go, or extended field trips when I’m essentially at work 24 hours a day, or the times in the summer when I’m training, or presenting at educational conferences. Nor is counting any of the hundreds of hours I spend working on Skills Ontario, CyberTitan or other extracurricular student enrichment. Sure, not all teachers hit it this hard, but you’d be surprised at how many do.
At my $58,000 take home a year that’s about twenty six bucks an hour – and I had to spend huge amounts of money and years of my life to get myself trained to the point where I could even begin to do this job – a job that I still have to do even when I’m sick (teachers plan their own absence when away ill). I then had to spend fifteen years teaching at lower salaries and paying for additional qualifications to get to where I am at the top of the pay scale. If you factor in all the extracurriculars that many people believe should be a requirement of my job, my take home pay for the amount of time I put into this gig is about twenty bucks an hour. If you think teaching is about the money, you have no idea what you’re talking about.
When I left millwrighting in the early 1990s I was taking home $918 a week for a forty hour week. If I took an extra half shift, which I often did, my take home was more than I make now as a teacher some thirty years later. Of course, when I did overtime in the private sector I got paid for doing overtime. When I do overtime as a teacher, I get attacked by my employer.
I think teachers get paid sufficiently, but you’d have to be nuts to say it’s extravagant. Unlike provincial politicians, Ontario teachers haven’t seen cost of living increases that keep up with inflation in the past decade, and we’ve had all sorts of contractual obligations illegally stripped in the same period. So, if it isn’t the money and safe working conditions that keeps people at this, what does? It’s good will. Teachers go above and beyond for their students. All they ask in return is to work in a system that honours that effort with equal bonhomie.
When we get into a situation like we do now, where a government uses our profession as a scapegoat for all of society’s ills, that good will evaporates at a startling rate. A difficult but satisfying job becomes just difficult. Young teachers who have been battling for years to find permanent work are shaken out of the system and the best senior teachers start thinking about all the other ways they could make a living with less hassle elsewhere.
Good will is a fickle thing and it seldom beds well with politics. As our populist regime with a mere 23% of Ontarian’s votes steamrolls our public support systems while paying off friends and family, the feeling that this is about balancing a budget feels less and less true. If Ontario were to attack its financial imbalance in all areas, I think education would be more than willing to do its part, but when MPPs are voting themselves cost of living increases while removing many teachers’ ability to make a living at all, it’s hard to feel like we’re all pulling together. As things tip further and further out of balance, there will be a brain drain from Ontario, which is a loss that is already hurting our classrooms and one that will cost the province for years to come.
BIKE magazine had a travel piece where the writer paraphrased a French pilot talking about how flying takes him away from the minutia of life. I’ve flown planes but I find riding a motorcycle much more what I thought flying would be like. The check listed and tedious process of operating an aircraft along with the strictly regulated flight paths don’t lend themselves to a sense of freedom. You’re much more likely to slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of god on a Hayabusa than you ever are in a Cessna.
I was reflecting on my mood when I returned from a ride with my son Max on the weekend. It wasn’t a big trip but I came home relaxed, as I always do from a ride. Riding a bike involves you. You can get lost in the complexity of operating it. Even once you get familiar with the controls the subtlety of working them all together harmoniously becomes a never ending aspiration. You can always ride better.
I started writing this in October when we went for our ride, but it’s the beginning of the new year now and it’s been weeks since I’ve ridden. At this point I’m reduced to driving a damned car which offers nothing like the sensory thrill you get from riding a bike. While everyone else wrings their hands about how dangerous being out in the wind is, I’m addicted to it. Riding a bike makes even the most tedious commute an adventure.
Coming back from that ride all those weeks ago, I was blown clean by the wind. I’d been in the world in a way that seems foreign to me now, encapsulated in winter. About the only redeeming feature of having a long off season is the growing anticipation of getting back out there again.
I sometimes wonder how my son Max feels about riding. I’m always worried that with his autism he finds the sensory overload overwhelming, but he loves going for rides. Even on very long trips he’s a trooper who is always ready to hop back on the bike. He isn’t generally interested in being cool, but I don’t think the cool factor is lost on him. I don’t get many images of him on the bike behind me, but I love seeing him doing his wings in these images.
It’s been snowing for days. We’re buried in the stuff. The thought of jumping on the bike and going for a ride is still months away. Sigh.
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