Exercising the OnePlus5 Smartphone camera

Following that adage I looked for a phone with a good camera this time around.  The OnePlus5 has an excellent camera as far as hardware goes, but the software still has some catching up to do.  Fortunately OnePlus seem committed to regular updates.


Walking home on Dec 23rd, one of the darkest days of the year, I took a post-sunset shot of the Grand River thinking it wouldn’t come out at all.  Not too bad for a very low light shot.  Similarly the multi-shot night time hockey gif taken on winter solstice in full darkness.


The photo of my lovely wife and her colleagues singing was also taken in a dark room.  It was post processed in Paper Artist, my favourite on-phone photo editing app.





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Forming an ECOO Presentation

Originally posted on Dusty World in October, 2012

There were three key books I read in the past year that have clarified for me a direction we could head in educational technology.  Ideas from each of those books, which at first appear to be in direct odds with each other, helped form the content of my ECOO presentation this year.

After reading The Shallows, Nick Carr’s carefully constructed argument held a lot of weight – the internet and how it is being adopted by the general public is actually making people less effective as both thinkers and doers.  As educators, we should all be concerned about this result.  At a conference this year a frustrated, thirty-something CEO said of the twenty-somethings she’s tried hiring recently, “I just wish they could finish a thought!  I can’t even get them to close a sale because they are checking Facebook!”  This problem goes well beyond education (where any teacher can tell you it’s an epidemic).  Everyone involved in education should read this book, especially if they are trying to implement technology in the classroom.

From The Shallows I took a serious concern about technological illiteracy and habitual use of computers actually injuring people’s ability to think.

I read Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularlity is Near as a counterpoint to Carr’s very accurate, and very depressing Shallows.  Kurzweil’s giddy optimism in our engineering skills verges on evangelism.  He is a wonderfully interesting and eccentric character.  His belief goes well beyond merely living in a time of transformative change.  The singularity he refers to is a moment in the near future where we are able to develop a greater intelligence than a single human brain, or even a group of them.  He goes into mathletic detail about exponential growth and how this is occurring in computers.  Very soon we’ll understand things in finer and more complete detail than we’ve ever been able to before and our management of the world will take on omniscient proportions.  Technologically enhanced humans exist beyond the technological singularity – living in a world that looks as alien to us now as ours would to someone from the middle ages.

From Kurzweil I recognized how technology is evolving in increasingly personalized ways.  This is an argument Carr makes from the other side too.  From external machines, we are on a journey to technological integration.  This integration is going to well beyond smartphones, that’s just the latest step in an inevitable trend.  If education does everything it can to present technology as generic and impersonal, it is failing to notice a key direction in technology, it’s failing to produce students who will be useful in their own futures.  This is perhaps the most controversial aspect of my BYOD/differentiated technology argument, but I believe it’s a fundamental part of our technological evolution.  Computers want to become a part of us.  We’re not going to develop a Skynet or Matrix that will take over.  Our technology IS us, and it wants a more perfect union.  This probably scares the shit out of most people.  My argument to that is: if you’re going to amalgamate with other systems, make sure you the one directing them effectively.

Matt Crawford’s wonderful philosophical treatise on the value of skilled labour goes well beyond simply being handy.  He argues that skilled labour psychically protects you from consumerism and makes management doublespeak and creative economies an obvious joke.  The value he places on objective, quantifiable skills development often savages the feel-good ethos of a lot of educational theory which then sounds like management double-speak nonsense.  I read the book after taking my AQ in computer engineering, and it made me re-evaluate (and recognize) the value of my skilled labour history – something I’d walked away from in becoming a teacher.  I’m loving being a tech teacher this year and working with my hands again.

From Shop Class For Soul Craft I took a recognition of the importance of hands on, skill based learning.  It brings real rigor to learning, and should be a vital part of developing past the poor digital literacy I see around me.  One other experience kicked this up a notch.  In the summer we visited the Durnin farm and Heather talked about how her husband teaches people to use the farm equipment.  He gives them the tools, and expects them to figure it out and get it done.  It’s a high expectation, immediate result environment that puts a great deal of expectation on the student; Crawford would approve.  I tell my students, “no one ever learned how to ride a bike by watching someone else riding a bike” – it’s an experiential thing that offers real (often painful) immediate feedback… what effective learning should be.

Into that mix of big ideas of warning, optimism and rigor I also mixed in the standard PLN secret sauce.  Concerns over BYOD abound with teachers online.  The idea that BYOD should just be thrown into curriculum struck me as simply wrong.  As Andrew Campbell suggests, it’s more about stretching a divide (or Carr would argue intellectually crippling idiots) than it is about increasing digital fluencies.

Teaching competency, flexibility and self awareness on digital tools should be a primary goal of current educational practice.  We’re graduating students who are dangerously useless to employers.  The idea of a continuum of digital mastery based on objectively developed skills linked to a gradual loosening of restrictions and access to increasingly diverse tools and online content was the result.

I present on Thursday, and I’m more interested in the discussion that ensues than I am in telling anyone anything.  ECOO is a wonderful braintrust, and usually super-charges my educational technology awareness.  I’m looking forward to the brain soup we create out of this!

Diversifying Edtech: the key to a digital skills continuum

 

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Mechanics

After another fraught week remote working in a pandemic working twice as hard to do half as much, I was at it again all Saturday morning before finally springing free for the afternoon, but I had a lot to do and I was already off-kilter from a two hour meeting.  I walked into my happy place (the garage) after once again spending too much time trying to work with people badly through screens (one of the joys of a pandemic is WAY too much screen-time) and went about reassembling the Tiger, which was causing anxiety by occasionally not holding an idle and stalling.  

The Tiger rebuild began poorly.  I couldn’t find one of the two retaining bolts for the spark plug top I’d taken off the week before.  In the days between taking it apart and waiting for Amazon to get its finger out and deliver new spark plugs, the bike must have been jostled in my too-small garage and the bolts rolled off the head where I’d evidently left them.  I know better than that.  If I remove fasteners I usually put them in a container in groups or loosely reattach them to where they came from so they’ll be there when I come back.

While that was going on I got Lloyd’s message from Mostly Ironheads saying that I could bring the Fireblade in for a safety, so I cleaned up and got it over there for that.  He has some fantastic projects going on, I’ve got to see if he’ll let me do another round of photos – that shop is half working garage, half motorcycle museum.  (He did let me do another round, they’re here).

Back in the garage I was now frazzled with things going on in multiple places and the Tiger rebuild frozen by a lost bolt.  I found a replacement, but doing things half-assed means doing them for way longer than you need to.  It makes me feel like I’m my own make-work project.  I was angry at myself and swearing as I put it back together.  I took it out for a ride in the clearing afternoon weather (it had been threatening rain all morning), but the intermittent stall still happened, even after all the pain in the ass parts ordering waiting during a social distancing slow down.

I put the Tiger up on its stand and figured I’d take a run at it again the next day.  Then Lloyd called saying the ‘Blade was all good except tires – so now I have to try and find some tires, in a pandemic (I did, Revco is fantastic).  I brought the Honda home got into a ridiculously complicated plan for suspending it so I could remove both wheels at once.  The end product looked more like a roof mounting for a sex swing when I finally gave up on it and locked up the garage for the night.

***

The next day I spent the morning brain storming ideas for a work project and then finally got to the garage mid-afternoon.  My mind-set was completely different this time.  Instead of being weighed down by worries from a meeting, I was buoyant from just having thought my way out of them.  In a good mood and with the importance of keeping my shit organized clearly at front of mind, I went about fabricating chocks for the front wheel of the Honda and attached them to Jeff’s motorcycle stand.

They worked a treat and before I knew it the CBR was suspended and the wheels were off.  The brakes were pretty grotty, so taking it all apart, even if the pads and rotors do all meet MoT safety standards, wasn’t a bad thing.  The music was playing, it was a cool, sunny afternoon and I was getting shit done.

As I disassembled the Fireblade, I was Sharpy marking parts, taking photos and batching fasteners together so I can find everything when I reassemble.  I’ve been mechanicking for too long not to do this, but a callous disregard for shop etiquette gave me the result I knew I deserved the day before, but not this time.  The jigs we create make the jobs we do possible, and vice versa.

What had taken me twice as long to do badly the day before, took me a fraction of the time to do better the next day.  Instead of spiralling into anger and frustration, I was in the zone.  Problems still occurred, of course.  This is mechanics where I’m dealing with immutable reality, I have to bend because reality won’t, but rather than succumb to those problems I was agile and adaptive.  I can hear the sound of one hand clapping when I’m in the zone like that.  It feels effortless and completely engaging.

The Honda was sorted so quickly I turned to the Tiger and began the astonishingly fussy job of taking the fuel tank off (again).  What was tedious the day before became a matter of minutes the next day.  With the tank and air-box off (again), I looked over the idle control valve under the air-box and discovered one of the tubes going into the back of it was loose.  I cleaned up all the connecting and ensured they were tight and put some gasket compound on the rubber gasket to help it seal where it was squashed.

The whole thing went back together again equally quickly and the bike started and ran, so I shut it all down and cleaned up (some more good shop etiquette I’d been ignoring).


I’d gotten two days of work done in one, but it didn’t feel like it.  Disappearing into the garage is one of my favourite things to do, but doing it when you’re frazzled and fraught can mean you’re bringing a lot of negative energy in with you.  That negativity can make you ignore best practices you’d otherwise follow and might result in simple jobs becoming much more frustrating than they need to be.

Just like when you’re riding, you need to find your inner zen when wrenching.  Not only will it make you a better mechanic, but it’ll also make the work itself a joy.


Followup:  

A couple of days later I was working through week six of the Science of Well Being course I’ve been taking and it went over the state of flow and how it induces a sense of happiness.  There is a lot of research into flow states, especially in terms of peak performance in sports, but any complex task, from painting to mechanics, will offer that moment when you’re balancing your skills with your situation in a way that’s so engaging you forget yourself.  That’s actually what you’re doing in a state of flow, you’re so immersed in what you’re doing that you don’t have any mental acuity left to self realize.

Sony’s mission statement:  what a place to work that would be!
If that doesn’t clear it up for you, maybe the TEDtalk by the guy who invented the concept of flow will:



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Dealing With The Impossible

Two decade old parts mean things don’t fit together.
Making something work in this circumstance seldom
has anything to do with following directions

The other day I was trying to install carburetors on an old motorcycle (I was a millwright before I was an IT guy). I wasn’t even sure if what I was doing was possible. I spent a couple of frustrating hours trying before I pulled it all apart and did it over a different way.

What I love about technology and engineering, especially when it involves free-form building rather than following directions, is that you have no idea if what you’re doing is possible. This never happens in digital environments – they’re all designed for you to eventually succeed. Kids think video game wins are wins, they’re not, they’re a conditioned response.

Any teacher who thinks free form building is just for fun is the kind of teacher who only wants students to perform conditioned response with a predetermined outcome (I’m guessing so they can control the situation). A lot of people (students and teachers alike) think that’s learning. I think it’s all about management and control, and it’s one of the emptiest things we can do with students.

We shy away from stochastic processes in the classroom because we believe that failure is the inability to do something rather than an opportunity to better understand complex and open ended situations.

When trying to put together those carburetors I was unsure if the process I followed would lead to a successful outcome.  That uncertainty filled me with doubt and made me question what I was doing in a way that no lesson ever would.  We desperately hope for metacognition in student learning and then stifle it with overly restrictive learning goals.  No student ever starts a math problem, writes an essay or even plays a video game wondering if what they are doing is possible, yet most of the world, when it isn’t a digital distraction or a lesson, works that way.  I suspect the cockiness I see in student attempts at engineering is grounded in the fact that most of their world (digital, educational, or worst of all: both!)  is a coddled exercise rather than a stringent test of reality.

In a classroom we like controlled circumstances with defined and plausible outcomes because they suit easy analysis of work completion, collection of assessment data and cement the teacher’s place as the all knowing master of learning, but that limited circumstance doesn’t offer much in the way of learning real world outcomes.

What would a learning environment look like if it wasn’t modelled on data collection and teacher insecurities?

A Perfect Ride

Sun’s going down…

Last fall I took my last ride of  2017 on a strangely warm November day over to Higher Ground at the Forks of the Credit.  The sun fell out of the sky on my way home before 5pm – winter was coming.


The next day temperatures plunged and by the weekend we were looking at minus double digits and the snow was flying.


Yesterday was my first time back there since the end of November.  The sun baked my back on the way over and then we sat out front sipping coffees and soaking up the rays.


A quick blast up and down The Forks made me realize how rusty I am with being in the right gear to make the most of a corner.  I’ll be working on that in the next few weeks.


The trip home with the sun still high in the sky promises more long summer riding days to come.


The corkscrew on The Forks.



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Copyright is sticky business

I read this which led me to this, which made me want to write this: (!)

Copyright is a sticky business. More often than not it isn’t the artist that is being protected by copyright so much as the distribution company that owns the rights. The music industry is still trying to get itself out of being a manufacturing and distribution concern, which is where the copyright habits we’ve developed with music started.

When you’ve got to justify stamping millions of CDs to make music financially viable, the focus shifts from the artist to the manufacturing/distribution system (where big infrastructure costs exist). In order to protect this distribution system, a robust, aggressive and quite jackassey legal specialization developed that has nothing whatsoever to do with the art it claims to protect.

It seems we’ve arrived at an age where an artist can be stimulated by influences and then effectively prevent anyone else from evolving ideas out of them. The Beatles, perhaps one of the biggest offenders in this, freely stole ideas and even whole pieces of music from the black R&B musicians in the US that proceeded them. Later in their careers they made art by evolving influences from Indian and other world music as well. They then aggressively locked down the rights to the art they freely took from other people.

It seems that Boomers are unique in many ways, not the least of which is their self-claimed right to take everything that came before them and own it entirely forever. US copyright has led this erosion of artistic license for many years, continually expanding and pursuing the entertainment industry’s right to own a piece of music, eventually (they hope) forever.

One of my favorite cautionary tales is Sita Sings The Blues. An artist going through a breakup creates an animated piece that integrates the 1920s music she is listening to at the time with an ancient Indian myth and her own relationship disaster. It’s very thoughtfully done. Give it a look if you’ve never seen it before. The details are on the website, but here’s the summary: when she went to get the copyright for the 1920s recordings (long out of copyright) that she wanted, she discovered a copyright law firm (one of many that buy up copyright-passed, older material) contacted her back and wanted a quarter of a million dollars for songs they didn’t own by an artist they never represented.

This is the state of copyright nowadays: a savage wasteland of corporate vultures looking to pick the bones clean of any work of artistic merit. It’s a completely unsustainable system that stifles art and kills creativity. Had Shakespeare been alive now, he would not have been able to publish any of his work (almost all of which borrowed heavily from proceeding material). Corporate vultures would have swooped in and killed Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth or Hamlet stone dead.

I make no bones about artists being able to make a living from their work, I’m an artist myself. My hope is that digitization of the workflow will free us from the vultures that have been feeding (and killing) the artistic process for the past 60 years.

Many artists are beginning to push content directly to fans. Courtney Love famously once said, “I work for tips” when she was talking about how little she made from CD sales. Doing tours made more, but even live performance requires covering a lot of hangers on.

The irony in all of this is that the music industry claims to be the protector and savior of music, yet it is the very thing stifling creativity, and it’s doing it to protect an archaic manufacturing system that barely exists any more.

Ok, so after all that? I think NerdyTeacher’s blog is a great opportunity for Taylor to step into a new era and develop fan based appreciation through Twitter and social networking. Those students, and the people who see the performance will know of her willingness to share her art. What I fear is that she isn’t the one to make this decision. A legal firm representing her music industrial complex will make that decision, and it won’t go well.

Thanks to @dougpete and @TheNerdyTeacher (and twitter) for the impetus to write!

A Dakar Rally With Teeth

I’ve been watching the Dakar Rally with great interest once again.  It’s always a wicked competition that has more in common with the Isle of Man TT than it does any other sporting event.  From a Hemingway perspective The Dakar is the real deal.

I enjoy the Dakar more for the battle than I do the singularly focused professional factory teams.  This year’s high profile dropouts have cast light on just how speed focused the rally has become.  With rally drivers and MX racers charging across a carefully chosen course with fairly straightforward navigation and off-road dangers minimized, recent Dakars have felt more like day by day sprints for that faster set than a cross country adventure.  Ever rising speeds and increased completion rates seem to support this.  Thanks to a Marc Coma designed course, this year’s rally seems to have come back to Dakar’s core philosophies.

The completion of a Dakar is a mighty achievement in and of itself.  Winning a Dakar is a team achievement that depends on a lot of complex pieces coming together perfectly for weeks at a time, but I’ve felt like the vehicle operators were increasingly specializing in speed over everything else.  Just throw yourself at the horizon and let the mechanics sort it out.
  

You don’t want to be pushing so hard
that you’re breaking the vehicle and/or
yourself and depending on luck to not
have that happen.  That kind of racer-
think might work on a closed course,
but the Dakar is something else.  You

need some pride to keep you going
when you’d otherwise surrender.  The
meek don’t inherit The Dakar.

In recent years, with rally drivers infiltrating the ranks, it feels like the race has moved toward a higher speed, less nuanced approach – hammer it and throw money at the damage and then complain about anything on the course that slows you down seemed to be the way it was going.  The course Coma has set up this year has the speed bunnies getting lost and damaging their machines because they are all go and no slow down and consider.  The return to a more thoughtful Dakar that rewards navigation and terrain reading (because the terrain isn’t pre-screened to favour speed bunnies) makes for a better race.  Finding way points and completing timed sections should demand intelligence and terrain reading as well as a racer’s touch.  During a Dakar you should sometimes have to slow down to win.

These complexities had me trying to think through how you approach a Dakar.  The speed bunny approach tends to lean heavily on pride, hand-eye coordination and balls-out courage.  If the race organizers did anything other than design speed sections that catter to your approach you complain about it.  Luck was taken care of by influencing speed focused course designs that take you on prepared trails and less intensive navigational challenges.  This year’s Dakar is stressing humility and a considered approach to crossing some truly wild stages.  You still need the hand-eye coordination, strength and endurance, but you also need to bring along your strategic thinking.  Mashing the throttle and flying over the terrain doesn’t work when the terrain isn’t pre-screened for you.  It pays to be more than a racer in the Dakar.

One of my favorite parts of the 2015 Dakar was the blast across the salt flats.  Many of the speed bunnies complained bitterly about it because it was hard on the machinery, but this race isn’t just about pinning a throttle.  The journey is the destination on the Dakar.  Too many were only focused on getting to that destination and making the rest incidental.  If they want to race short, closed course rallies, go do that, the Dakar is and should be something else, something bigger.

The Dakar Rally continues to evolve into something better and better.  I hope it keeps embracing its uniqueness by focusing on the adventure rather than catering to the wishes of a small subsection of hard core racers who can see nothing other than how quickly they can complete a rally stage.  Make it hard.  Cross the wilds.  Make the winners think about something other than pinning the throttle in order to win it.

The Dakar is happening right now (January 2nd to January 14th, 2017).  You can watch it on the Dakar website, and Red Bull TV is also doing daily updates.  It’s also playing on varied TV channels across the world (but not so much in North America).  Daily Motion is another excellent online place to follow the event.

Why else follow the Dakar?  It’s one of the few motor sporting events that goes out of its way to consider its environmental impact.  If you like a considered, intelligent adventure, you should be watching this.

Étape 6 – Dakar Heroes – Dakar 2017 by Dakar – Riders like Lyndon Poskitt are why I love The Dakar

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Winter Stable Dreams

It’s snowing so thick you can’t see the road.  I’m at the end of a semester and in full day-dreaming mode.  If I were out bike shopping this week, this is what I’d be aiming to bring back:




The naked:  I’m still smitten with the Kawasaki Z1000.  An orange one, with a tail tidy to get rid of the only ugly part of this stunning machine (the ugly plastic plate hanger off the back).  Some aero crash protectors and I’d be ready to track day with it as well.







The sporty road bike: the jewel-like Honda VFR800 still plucks a heart string.  It’s the descendant of one of my first motorbike crushes and would make for a mighty entertaining, sport focused road bike that could still swallow miles if needed.  It looks spectacular in white, but it also needs a tail tidy!





The all terrain bike is a tricky piece of work.  The temptation is just to go all in on a big adventure bike, but the main purpose for one of those is as a road riding mile-muncher.  My off road able bike needs to work on the road and keep up with traffic (something my current 250cc Kawasaki isn’t great at), but its focus should be off tarmac (unlike a big, heavy adventure bike).



A light-weight scrambler would be a the preferred choice aesthetically.  Building out my own custom from an existing, off-road focused bike would offer both the scrambler vibe while using light-weight, off-road ready tech.

The Suzuki DR-Z400S makes for a great base.  At 144 kilos (317lbs) it’s almost half the weight of BMW’s big queen of adventure bikes, and made by a manufacturer that makes bikes with one quarter the number of manufacturing mistakes.  I don’t feel reckless in the decision.

Is a Scrambler DR-Z400S possible?  I wouldn’t be the first to try.  The DR-Z400SM is a street version of the off-roader, so Suzuki has already done a less off-road focused version.  It’s an adaptable bike.

Too bad no one makes a sub 500cc off road focused, light weight Scrambler (instead they market stylish new ones or sell recycled history).  Anything north of 200kgs (441lbs) might be surprisingly capable off road, but it’ll still be a misery to pickup and all that weight means you’re going to be breaking suspension all the time.

Suzuki already has the platform on which to build a perfect modern scrambler.  C’mon, you’re almost there!

Some people want a $30k bike that can do one thing, I’d happily spend that money on a Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki that can do just about everything.

2015 North American International Motorcycle Show

This was my son and I’s second go around at the big, messy NAIMS.  It feels more like a jumble sale than a bike show, but we have a good time storming around the International Centre in Mississauga.

This show’s best attribute is its timing.  Just as everyone is getting snowed in and a bit stir crazy along comes this ludicrously large motorbike extravaganza to satisfy all appetites.

We did it backwards this year, wandering around the clubs and smaller vendor hall before pushing through the big halls and finally getting to see the custom bikes (we missed Hall 5 last year).

It was nice to talk face to face with a fellow CoGer (they had a stand).  It makes me want to get out to one of their local meetings.  That they don’t dress like pirates (which seems to be a thing with many of the other clubs) ingratiates them to me even more.

Ironically, both times we’ve purchased things at this show we’ve done it from Two Wheel Motorsports, our local dealer.  One of the instructors from my motorcycle licensing course works there and he always remembers me, which is some good customer service.  This time around I stumbled upon an armoured jacket that happened to have my initials on it.  $100 for a $270 retail jacket?  Nice.  My son also got some iron man coloured leather gloves ($50 retail, twenty bucks at the show) that he was very happy with.

NAIMS is definitely good for shopping, though many of the larger retailers there didn’t seem to be offering prices much different than on their webpages.  It’s also pretty much the same gear over and over again.  If you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path (like ROOF helmets?) then you’re outa luck.


The custom show in Hall 5 out back was full on bizarre.  Some beautiful paint on some plain ridiculous bikes, Hall 5 is where the pirates with disposable income go!

We enjoyed the show, but once again, grumpy old men selling Victory Motorcycles growled at my son when he tried to sit on one… it’s always a good idea to bring a bike to a show and not expect anyone to sit on it.  Once again, Kawasaki and Harley were the only two manufactures that showed up and provided bikes you’re expected to sit on.

The Toronto Motorcycle Show comes along in February down at the CNE.  That’s the one you want to aim at if you want to actually sit on bikes.  We’ll be there ready to sit on everything!

It Was The Worst of Times, It Was The Best of Times

I managed an 800+ kilometre loop through Southwestern and Central Ontario over the weekend.  The ride out and the ride back four days later were distinctly different, though they did have one thing in common:  gravel companies with little regard for public safety.

I began early on Thursday morning hoping to beat the heat, but even a 9am departure had me sweating in humidity fuelled mid-thirties temperatures.  On Fergus/Orangeville Road heading into Orangeville a gravel truck decided to drive into oncoming traffic so he could have a chat with his buddy pulling up on a side road.  He cut it so close the old couple in the Cadillac at the front of our group left ABS intermittent skid marks on the road and almost got rear ended by the guy behind them in an F150 who was too busy texting to notice events unfolding.  This is the second time an employee of Greenwood Aggregates/Construction has been a pain in the ass for us.  Last time it was a fist sized lump of gravel that cost us a $500 deductible to get the windshield replaced in my wife’s car.  This time around I was in full-biking-radar-paranoia-mode, so I saw the whole thing unfolding and made myself some space by moving to the shoulder so the guy behind me didn’t run me down in the heavy braking.  It’d be nice if the OPP spent a little time observing misdemeanours by Greenwood Aggregate drivers on the Orangeville/Fergus Regional Road 3.  If they can’t take other road users’ safety into consideration, perhaps they should have their licence revoked.

Rather than continue to enjoy the chaos of the busy-for-a-Thursday-morning regional road, I ducked onto a gravel side road (a benefit of riding the Tiger) and took the back route around to the bypass.  Being clear of traffic, even on loose, recently graded gravel always feels so much better than riding with jumpy, unpredictable pillocks in their boxes.  Bigger the box, bigger the pillock, and these days everyone drives the largest possible thing they can find.

I’ve been working on the Tiger’s recent stalling issue, and thought I had it licked, but it stalled on me after getting gas in Mono Mills in the middle of a highway intersection, so I was on edge.  It did it again while making a left turn off Highway 9.  The key to my survival as a motorcyclist is my ability to respond to traffic quickly with awareness and agility.  A bike dying on me in the middle of an intersection feels the exact opposite as it suddenly makes me vulnerable and immobile; it feels like betrayal.  Some people online have suggested just riding around the issue, but I think that’s absurd.  If you’re riding something that can leave you dead in the middle of a turn, that’s not something to ride around, it’s something to fix.

Now truly fraught and soaking in sweat, I pulled over to get my shit together on a tiny side road before getting onto the 400 Highway.  My new COVID normal is to find a shady spot and have a stretch, a comfort break and a drink.  I pulled over onto Side-road 4 which had zero traffic and re-centred myself.  It was a lovely stop in a quiet farming area.  No sound of traffic and only the breeze stirring the trees and corn.  It was a Zen ten minutes that let me get my head on straight again.

The 400 north was surprisingly busy for a late Thursday morning, but was moving at warp speed anyway.  The inside lane was averaging 120km/hr.  I dropped into the flow after passing a cruiser parked under the overpass I used.  I guess he was only looking for people doing 160+.  By now the air temperature was well into the high thirties and the oppressive humidity had it feeling in the forties.  Even at speed on the highway I was always sweating.  I got to Barrie in next to no time only to discover that a single lane reduction at the Essa Road exit meant that the me-first GTA crowd had backed up traffic for 20 minutes because they all have to be first.  Massive trucks and SUVs (few people drive cars in Canada any more) were pulling out onto on ramps and burning to the end before trying to butt in ahead of where they were.  Being Ontario, I couldn’t filter through and ended up sitting on sixty degree tarmac for the better part of twenty minutes in stop and go traffic under a relentless sun surrounded by air conditioned cagers who were making it even hotter, with a bike that stalled if I let go of the throttle.

I finally got clear of Barrie and things were once again moving at warp speed, with trucks towing boats passing me at 40km/hr over the limit.  Ontario highways are truly something special; a hybrid of Mad Max and a never ending grocery store line up of the biggest jackasses you’ve ever met.  But I was now clear of Barrie and Orillia and only had the wide open spaces of the north to look forward to.  I was evaporating sweat so much a cloud was probably forming above me, but at least I was in motion, until I wasn’t.

Ten kilometres outside of Gravenhurst traffic came to a sudden stop again.  Why?  Ontario refuses to widen the bypass around Gravenhurst onto Highway 11, and we all know how GTA traffic likes to merge with grace and efficiency, so things had come to a stop, again.  At this point I was deep into fuck-it territory.  My plan to get up to the lovely 118 and cross over the Haliburton Highlands and down to my wife’s family’s cottage near Bobcaygeon was starting to smolder in a dumpster.  After sitting next to a Shell station for a couple of minutes on baking asphalt, I pulled in and looked at the map.  Oddly, the Tiger was now holding idle.  The ECU learns how to set idle when you reset it with a new fuel map, so maybe the Tiger had learned how to solve its own stalling?  I should be so lucky.

Gravenhurst Traffic
Early Thursday afternoon GTA traffic into Gravenhurst where all the citiots have to all go to the same place at the same time, all the time.  The old fella at the gas station told me it’d be a 40 minute stop and go to get through it on fifty degree tarmac.  Bigger is always better in the cager crowd.  See many cars in there?  Trucks and SUVs, all the better to hit you with while ensuring your own safety!

I had a look at the map and thought that Washago and south around Lake Simcoe and over to Kinmount would at least get me out of attempting a route that thousands of people in giant vehicles from the GTA were plying.  Highway 11 has lots of turnarounds to go south, which I’ve always found odd until today.  I was quickly able to get on the empty highway south and found myself back in Washago and heading down an empty 169 and then east on an equally empty 45.  The temptation is to say Ontario is under-funding infrastructure, and it is to a degree, but the real issue is the group think in the most overpopulated area of Canada, which I have the misfortune of living near.

Changing my mind on where I was going changed the ride.  I’d been aiming for unfamiliar roads, but that’s not something easy to find in summer of pandemic.  The Tiger seemed to have changed its mind too.  At the odd stops at lights it was suddenly idling steadily and the pickup on throttle and vibes at speed felt better than they used to.  I guess the ECU had finally worked out the new fuel map.  I was still dehydrated and cooked, but I was on winding roads with almost no traffic.  Unfortunately, these were the same winding roads I’d taken last month to the cottage.  I stopped in Kinmount because I’d done that last time and knew they had a public washroom in the park.  After another comfort break and as much water as I could neck, then I sorted out the 360 camera and headed toward Gooderham on the 503 for a roller-coaster ride down the 507 and then into the cottage.  This was the good bit coming up.


The sun was getting low behind me and I early evening was upon us.  I got to Gooderham just past 5pm and headed south on the 507, the Tiger feeling better than it had in months.  Just south of town I saw the inevitable sign:  CONSTRUCTION.  Unreal.  I’d just busted my hump for hundreds of kilometres of Ontario tedium and the highlight is dug up.

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA


After some kilometres of gravel, some of it ankle deep because they’re in the middle of resurfacing, I

got back onto the pockmarked but paved 507 and proceeded south.  The long shadows meant the worst of the heat was off me and I soon found myself in Noogies Creek, working my way into some of Ontario’s prettiest wilderness.


The 14kms up Bass Lake road goes from two lane gravel fire road to a winding, single lane gravel fire road quickly before ending at the lake.  Ten minutes later I was neck deep in it washing off a day of sweat and frustration.

***




***

Four days later I was saddling up just past 11am for the return trip.  My cunning wife suggesting doing the 118 route backwards on the way home since no one from the GTA would be going that way.  To make it even better, it was a humidity free 22°C on a Monday morning.  The Tiger still had almost half a tank, so I skipped cutting back to Bobcaygeon and headed east toward the 507 on Peterborough Regional Road 36.

I was approaching the turn north on to the 507. Quarry Bay Stone was just up the road and a gravel truck had just pulled out fully loaded and was ramming it up through the gears heading westbound towards the group of traffic I was in.  Bucketfuls of gravel were pouring out of this piece of shit truck as it approached us, bouncing down the road at 150km/hr closing speed.  Remember the Millenium Falcon in the asteroid storm in Empire?   Now I know how the ship felt.  I was lucky to be able to duck behind the truck and car ahead of me.  I imagine both vehicles are looking at body damage and broken windshields.  I got whacked on the shin hard enough to knock my leg off the peg.  That’s another win for my awesome, armoured Macna motorcycle trousers.  Not only are they cooler than any other pant I’ve tried, but they also prevented me from getting a broken shin and/or severe lacerations on my leg.

When I realized how many rocks were coming at me and at such a high speed I put my head down and my new-this-year Roof Desmo RO32 took the impact for me right on the crown.  The rock was big enough to ring my bell, but had I not ducked it would have hit me at neck level, which might have been fatal.  Other sharp bits of gravel clattered off my road side pannier and I got a big scuff on my front fender, but otherwise the Tiger dodged the rocks.  I glanced back to see more bucketfuls of gravel skipping down the road, bouncing off the vehicles behind me.  The road was covered in it.  The next day at home I thought about what happened and came to the conclusion, fuck those guys.  It’s their responsibility to operate safely on public roads, and they aren’t doing that.  That this happened with two aggregate companies suggests that industry has a real fuck-you attitude to the rest of the citizenry who are using public roads.  It made me angry enough to make an online report with the OPP.  It’s two days later and I haven’t heard anything, but I’m not holding my breath  They’re probably too busy trying to figure out what to do with all their pay raises.


This is one of those things you don’t think about so much at the time.  I wasn’t bleeding too much and the bike was ok, so I kept going.  I wasn’t about to chase the truck down and I was too shocked to pull into the gravel yard.  I would have just flipped out on someone in any case.  Biking requires a sense of inevitability and fate.  You control what you can and live with what you can’t.  Glad I did the report though; fuck those guys.

The 507 was virtually empty and cool as I made my way north.  Being a week day I suspected they’d be

working on the road and soon enough I came to the edge of the construction.  I had a nice chat with the girl doing traffic control and was soon off.  Since they were laying tarmac they’d just put down a thick layer of sand and gravel, so thick my front tire disappeared into it and the Tiger bucked.  Thanks to recent SMART training my wrist did what it was supposed to do instead of involuntarily grabbing the brakes, which would have been bad.  The Tiger leaned back on its haunches and the Michelin Anakees bit into the loose material and launched us through the wave of loose material.  My feet never even left the pegs and I like to think I looked like I knew what I was doing.  The guy behind me on a Harley wasn’t so lucky.  Legs all over the place before he ploughed it to a stop.  He then cut across the road to the tire tracks and then continued slowly up the verge.


The construction was soon behind me and then so was Gooderham.  I’d taken Haliburton County Road 3 to Haliburton a few years ago when I did a birthday ride through Algonquin Park, and knew it was a good one.  It’s not as long as the 507, but at least as twisty and in much better shape; it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride through cool, noon-time air with thermoclines down by the lakes that I could both smell and feel.

I got to Haliburton still reading above empty.  This new fuel map was richer and smoother than the stock map, so I’d expected worse mileage, but because I’m not asking for more throttle and what I did use was smooth and effective, my mileage was actually better.  I figured there would be a gas station in Haliburton on the 118, but I passed through and found nothing.  I was far enough out of town that riding back didn’t appeal, so I pushed on to Carnarvon figuring there had to be a gas station there as it’s at the intersection of two major highways, but there was no gas in Carnarvon either, so I ended up ducking down the 35 to Mindin to get gas as the gauge fell into the red.  I was able to put 19 litres in, so I still had the better part of 5 litres in the tank when I filled up.  I’d have tried for Bracebridge if I’d have had a jerry can with me just to see what the run-to-empty is on the new and improved Tiger.  As it was I was over 400kms into that tank and think I still had another hundred in it (the Tiger has a big 24 litre tank).

Brimming with gas I rode back north to 118 with more vigour than I’d come south.  The Tiger was idling so well I’d forgotten to keep checking on it, and the new fuel map was giving it a spring it had been missing.  Passing a cement truck (front wheel getting light as I wound it up through third) onto the 118, we found ourselves rolling through muskeg and ancient stone as the road took fast sweepers left and right around the Canadian Shield.  At one point a couple had pulled over and were slowing traffic (which was just me) because a snapping turtle was making its way across the highway.  He was a dinosaur amongst dinosaurs.  Easily a forty pounder with a giant, spikey tail.  I’m not sure how old they get (the interwebs say they can approach fifty years old); this was an apex predator snapping turtles.

Having circumnavigated the turtle safely, the Tiger burst off down the road with a snarl.  I saw no traffic until I was within twenty kilometres of Bracebridge.  The 118 twists and turns so much there are few places to pass, so soon enough a pile of us were behind a lovely old couple enjoying their leisurely motoring afternoon in a large American automobile.  I managed to squeeze out a pass on the only broken line and then enjoyed clear sailing all the way in to Bracebridge, which is much bigger than I remember it, looking more like a Toronto suburb with big box stores than the remote Ontario town it used to be.  Maybe it’s all our fates to one day be living in identical subdivisions all doing the same things at the same time while staring at the same box stores.

Bracebridge was a bit of a faff, with more lights and traffic than any other part of the trip, then I was clear of it and off to Port Carling.  One of my first long rides on the Tiger was with my son across Ontario when we first got it in the summer of 2016.  Back then we had a great stop at a lovely coffee shop and had chats with lots of people at the local tourism office.  Port Carling is a lovely little town, but COVID has taken its toll.  The coffee shop was gone, and the rest of the place was mostly closed, though this might have been a Monday thing as much as a COVID thing.

I ended up skipping town and stopping COVID-style at an empty side road in the shade for a comfort break and a granola bar and as much water as I could take on.  I’d been hoping for a hot lunch, but hot lunches are few and far between in 2020.

The ride south to Bala was trafficky but moved well.  I’d never taken the 38 west to the 400 out of Bala and was surprised to learn it passes through Mohawk land.  It was a nice ride on interesting roads which I spent mostly behind a couple of native one-percenters (badged vests and all) on Harleys.  They gave me a wave when they pulled over to their clubhouse which was nice, a lot of the too-cool-for-school cruiser types don’t bother with the biker wave.

The 400 was what every highway should be:  lite traffic moving like it means it.  Traffic was cruising at 120 in the slow lane.  I flashed south to Horseshoe Valley Road in a matter of minutes.  It was 80kms of quick moving but with zero headaches because I bailed before Barrie.  Horseshoe Valley Road was doing culvert repair (a lot of government COVID support has been going into needed infrastructure updates, which is no bad thing).  It was only about a ten minute wait and I was off again.  I remembered the Strongville bypass and took back roads to Creemore where I made my last stop by the Mad River where it gets its name tumbling down the Niagara Escarpment for the last of my water, then it was the final hour and a bit home, but now I was back in the Tiger’s natural hunting range on familiar roads.

Other than being pelted by another anti-social gravel company, it was a lovely ride back.  Mostly empty roads and in much more humane temperatures.  The Tiger ran like a top, not a single stall, and feels like a new thing with its software update.  I’d been having anxiety about it on this trip, but it’s a multi-dimensional thing that can do everything from single lane tracks in the woods to superhighways.

I’m back home again for a few days for work conferences (all remote), before we’re forced back into classrooms by a government that seems to have no idea what it’s doing.  In the meantime though, I have two working bikes in the garage and the rest of the short Canadian riding season to enjoy them.  Life is good.

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