Yamaha XS1100: The Midnight Saga

Buddy Jeff gave me a hand getting the XS1100 home the other day; he’s an enabler.

Getting it on the trailer was a bit tricky as the front calipers were seized.  A couple of whacks with a rubber hammer loosened them up enough to get the wheel rolling.  It took three of us to get it up onto the trailer – it’s heavy (600lbs), had mostly flat tires and was still grabbing the brakes, but we finally got the job done.  We ended up settling on $400 as is, which gives me a working budget of about $1500 to get the bike back on the road.  It think it’s doable.  The only other one like it for sale at the moment is asking $3300.  After looking at the bike again critically before agreeing to buy it, it’s in surprisingly good shape for what it has been through.

Once home we had a victory beer after wrestling it off the trailer.  A bit later I had a go at it with a garden hose and some S100 cleaner.  The ride over had blown away most of the cobwebs, but the rest of the bike is quite astonishingly clean considering it has been sitting outside.  The S100 also has a corrosion inhibitor, but I also soaked the bike in wd40 in preparation of trying to remove any fastener on the thing.

Trying to muscle the 600+ pound bike into the garage earned my my first Yama-scar, but I eventually got it nestled in there.

In other news, here’s something to know about bike ownership in Ontario (and probably elsewhere): if you’re buying a bike off someone who bought it and never transferred ownership to themselves, you need to make sure you’ve still got chain of ownership intact.  This means either a piece of writing from the legal owner saying that the bike was sold to the intermediary or a signed ownership.  The kid I bought the bike off had neither (can’t find them).  He’s looking.  More updates to follow.

It’s getting crowded in there – once the season ends
the garage will only need to hold the Concours &
the Yamaha, everything else will winter in the shed.

In the meantime, the history of this old bike is long and storied.  I’m the fourteenth (!) owner (almost).  It’s a 1980, not a ’78 as the kid selling it thought it was.  In the early ’80s it went through three owners before finding itself at Norwich Collision Service in South West Ontario in the spring of ’82.  The crash owner had owned it since Christmas and had probably been on the road for a few weeks in the spring before spilling it.  Idiots buying bikes too powerful for their experience level isn’t a new thing then.  He got the bike back from repair and immediately sold it.

After the n00b crash and the repairs it got picked up by a guy who owned it for six years.  He then sold it on to a series of owners through the ’90s and zeroes, the longest being eight years by a guy in Halton.  The last legal owner was a guy from Stoney Creek in 2009.  

Whoever said the Ontario vehicle history was boring or a waste of money?  This one reads like a Jane Austen novel!

I’ll update the ownership situation as I hear more, hopefully it’ll be resolved by the end of this weekend.  I’ll hold off on working on the bike until I know I can own it, that seems prudent.

The Ebb & Flow of Pedagogy in Education

The intention of Dusty World is to work through ideas I’m having around teaching.  Since I’m a technology teacher, a lot of those ideas are tech-focused.  This week, after years of forced contracts and an unbelievably rough round of negotiation, my union has voted to accept an austerity contract that was bargained virtually at gun-point.  Since our last bargained contract we’ve been wage reduced, had benefits striped and work load increased.  By the end of this contract we’ll be looking at more than a 10% reduction in take home income when inflation is considered.

The politics of the agreement aside, what does something like this do to my work environment?  Instead of focusing on pedagogy and excellence in learning, I find myself performing damage limitation.  Knowing that my employer focuses on finances rather than pedagogy is difficult to hear, but when the school board association walks into negotiations demanding dictatorial control over teacher time, stripped benefits and wage reductions, you can’t help but come to that conclusion.

Teaching is a human activity, and I am the human face at the end of a large, faceless, increasingly politically driven bureaucracy.  I’m supposed to be teaching my students how to manage digital technology so it doesn’t manage them, but increasingly I find my time being spent trying to protect my students from a system intent on doing less for less.  When I’m cobbling together 8 year old computers just to give students a chance at hands on learning, or trying to calm agoraphobic students in overcrowded spaces, or sourcing fans to keep the classroom temperature from boiling because we have thirty two old machines huffing away in there, quality of instruction is obviously not the goal.

The education system goes through changes in focus all the time, and the effectiveness of learning waxes and wanes depending on the political climate. I began teaching in Ontario in 2004 and my early years were in a system in recovery from Mike Harris‘ “unprecedented disinvestment in public education, which destroyed a historical competitive advantage in the space of a decade.”

Ontario’s public education system, under reasonable management, saw huge steps forward in terms of effectiveness.  Before the cuts began in 2012, Ontario’s education system was top 5… in the world, and, with BC, led Canada up the charts.  You can imagine how satisfying it must have been to work in an environment like that.  I’d often find myself developing lessons or reading about teaching techniques on a Saturday night.  I didn’t take a summer off in my first eight years of teaching, taking many additional qualifications (at my own expense) and teaching online to expand my skills.  With the amount of time I spent at it, I was probably dancing with minimal hourly wage, but I didn’t care because I threw myself into my profession and my profession looked after and encouraged me.

That sort of intensity appeals to me, I enjoy the challenge and get a lot of satisfaction out of doing a difficult thing well, but it depends on support.  Anyone doing anything well does it because they have good support around them.  If you don’t believe me watch any professional sport.  When you suddenly find yourself losing common sense arguments around class sizes based on safety and access to tools, you start to wonder whether going all in is that productive, or healthy for you.

One of the best bits of advice I got at teacher’s college was,
“always be ready to go to work again tomorrow.”  I didn’t
used to get frazzled running hard, but now I do.

It was nice to start my career in a time of such positive pedagogically driven education.  I got to do that because the teachers before me suffered through a decade of cheap nastiness.  We’ve swung back to the cheap nastiness now, but rather than fight it we vote for it.  I was willing to fight for better, but the vast majority of secondary public teachers are ok with less.  How will that translate to their work in the classroom?

I’m going to have to reconsider my survival strategies.  If I throw myself all in and then get slew footed by a lack of support, I tend to get emotional about it.  Rather than do that, perhaps a little distance is the better way; a less passionate, more circumspect approach to the classroom.  How do you think that will play with students?

If I want to test myself by finding excellence in what I do, the Ontario classroom isn’t where that’s going to happen.  In 2015 it has become a political wasteland of compromise and an excuse to do things cheaply for political gain.  I’ll do what I can to protect the students I am given, but the goal isn’t excellence in learning any more, it’s do less with less.

Fortunately, I have a lot of hobbies.  I’ll find other aspects of my life to throw myself into with abandon.

Why Do You Like Bikes So Much?

Part of the pleasure is in the simplicity of the experience.
It’s analogue, immediate and visceral, yet still mentally
stimulating, meditative even! Mark Webber knows.

Asked by a grade 9 this week upon seeing my wall of motorbike photos ranging from Coventry Eagles to Kawasaki H2s.  My answer:

“Bikes are faster than cars in every way that matters.  They cost a fraction as much, insurance is less, they barely use any gasoline and when you go around a corner you feel like you’re flying.”  The kid nodded and then said, “I’m gonna get a bike.”

Beyond all of those excellent reasons there is also the involvement.  Cars have you sitting in a box, watching the world go by from behind a screen.  On a bike you’re out in the world.  You see more, smell more, hear more, feel more, and you’re expected to do more.  When you ride you’re using both hands, both feet and your entire body to interact with the machine.

In a car you spin a wheel and it goes around a corner.  On a bike you counter-steer out of the turn to drop the bike toward the corner and then lean into it.  Once you get the hang of it, it feels like dancing.  The first time they had us weaving through cones at the introduction motorcycle course I said to the instructor, “I could do this all day!”  Bike acceleration is astonishing, but the cornering is magical.  If you want proof, find any twisty road on a sunny summer day and see how many bikes you see.

Bike cornering is magical.
In the hands of a genius it’s ballet.

I’ve driven some pretty involving cars.  The best get you about 40% of the way to what a bike feels like, and I’m comparing sports cars that cost as much as a house to regular road bikes – I’ve never ridden a supersport or track bike.

There are lots of other reasons why you should ride a bike (the camaraderie and sense of belonging to a group that recognizes their own, the exercise it provides, the ability to go places a car couldn’t, the rich history, the technological know-how), and only one reason why you shouldn’t.  Yes, riding a motorcycle is dangerous (mainly because of all the people in boxes), and it demands attention and skill, but the benefits are epic.

Rivers to Roads

Yesterday I took the KLX out for a stretch, today the Concours.  I’m trying to get her up over thirty thousand miles this season.  Thanks to today’s run I’m a hundred miles closer.

I first aimed at Marsville to have another look at the XS1100, this time in daylight.  It’s $500, the motor isn’t seized (!), and it’s seen better days.  I left a message on the number attached to it, we’ll see what comes back.

That it’s covered in cobwebs and has spent the last who knows how long in the back of a barn somewhere only makes me want to take it home and take it apart more.  It’s a good candidate for a tear down – especially if I can get the price down.

After looking at ye old Yamaha, I struck north, aiming for Horning’s Mills and River Road.  Nothing works out the kinks like bending the big Kawi down some winding roads.  It was busy up there, with lots of bikes looking for the twisties.  The weather was hot (in the thirties Celsius) and sunny.

River Road gives you some very un-Southern Ontario like bends, it was nice to give the edges of my tires some work.  With all the traffic on the road I had to keep timing my corners so I wouldn’t run into nice old couple in minivans out for a lovely drive.  A guy coming the other way on an R1 showed how it’s done, executing a smooth, quick pass to get around the moving chicanes.

Just when you get past the twistier bits you come across the Terra Nova Public House, a tavern in the old style, with raftered ceilings and great local beers on tap.  After a break in the shade and a cool drink, I took the Concours back down River Road the other way and headed back via Grand Valley and Belwood, to Elora.

Three hours in the baking sun had me a little sun-stunned by the end of it, but what a lovely day for a ride.  The memory will keep me warm in the coming darkness!

Implications of a Situated Intelligence in Learning

One of the big shocks I got in philosophy was reading Bertrand Russell’s Analysis of Mind.  If you can get through it you come to the startling realization that we are barely conscious at all.  Russell does a thorough job of demystifying how our minds work.

With The Singularity looming a number of films attempt to
imagine what a super-human intelligence would look like.

If you can imagine a being with the mental capacity to be constantly self-aware and conscious you begin to see just how different from us it would be.  We have flashes of self awareness, moments of conscious consideration, but more often than not we fall back on instinct and autonomic processes.  An always on intelligence would never surrender a decision to involuntary reflex, but we do it all the time.  Basic processes aren’t the only thing at stake here.  If you’ve ever found yourself in your driveway but unable to remember the drive home, you’re performing complex mental and physical processes without conscious thought.

That always on, aware intelligence is able to consider and respond in non-reflexive ways to all physical and mental challenges.  Repetition is what we use to manage our limited ability to attend to the world around us.  With sufficient muscle memory from repetitive action we are able to do pretty amazing things with our limited attention spans, but we have to offload cognitive capacity to our muscles and the world around us to achieve it.

The idea that we are dislocated minds that exist metaphysically is one of the last remnants of pre-Enlightenment thinking.  From souls to Descartes’ ghost-in-the-machine, we’ve long cherished the idea that our selves exist beyond the mundane world in which we find ourselves.  But the very idea of a self only happens because it is situated in reality.  Context, rather than self awareness, is what gives us the continuity required to acquire a sense of self.  Your ‘youness’ isn’t a magical property that exists in the ether, it’s a consequence of your mind interacting with the world around you.  The circumstances you find yourself in are created by past action.  People around you treat you as they do because of past action.  What you think of as your mind is actually a series of circumstance that expand beyond your head and through your body into the world around you.

A skilled person recognizes this process and ‘jigs‘ their environment, using their surroundings to support their work.  You see this in everything from a scientist’s lab to a short-order cook’s kitchen, to a teacher’s classroom; they all design their work environment to allow them to do their jobs better (assuming they are good at what they do – jigging an environment to perform well is a sign of mastery).  In extremely performance focused jobs, like professional sports or acting, this jigging takes on talismanic power that look like superstitions to the uninitiated.  Our psychology can be very sensitive to how immediate surroundings support or detract from our performance.  The pre-game ritual of an athlete before a game or the actor before going on stage both reflect this.   Our intelligence leaks out into the world, forming it to our will in order to get ‘our heads on straight’.

I take the concept of jigging my work space very seriously.

Jigging of their environment is a window into student learning.  You can see how thoroughly a student understands a process by how well they manipulate their environment.  The student who can’t find the right tool for the job probably doesn’t understand the job very well.  My father always used to give me a hard time for leaving his workshop in a mess; I get it now.  If you can’t find a tool when you’re in the middle of a complex task you won’t be able to perform the task well.  Your continuity of thought is broken by poor workplace planning.  My father’s assessment of the dirty shop was actually an assessment of my understanding of the craft of the mechanic.

True mastery learning requires an advanced practitioner to
jig their working environment to produce complex work.
This isn’t that.

The stock classroom is a Cartesian throwback to the disassociated minds myth: our minds are magical buckets which we can fill with information.  Of course they aren’t, they are fractured, non-continual biological processes designed to interact with the world around them.  A human mind only blossoms in the presence of an interactive reality.  You have to shed the myth of a Cartesian mind in order to see the absurdity of the typical classroom.

If education is going to adapt to this simple truth it needs to recognize that learning isn’t confined to mental processes.  Even cognitively focused courses of study like mathematics are recognizing that tangible representation improves student learning.  If you teach students like brains in boxes you don’t get very far.

Recognizing tangibles in teaching concepts is only the first part of this incorporation of an accurate philosophy of mind in learning.  The real power comes in creating adaptable learning environments that encourage student control.  If you’re teaching anything sufficiently complicated then allowing students control of their learning environment will only improve their chances of mastery.  If they can’t control their work space (or worse, it’s handed to them complete), they are being robbed of the opportunity to own their learning.  Environmental control also allows teachers a vital insight into how well a student understands the material they are learning.  If a student designs a non-functioning work space it shows you just how far from understanding the basic concepts of what they’re trying to do they are.   It is a common occurrence for the least capable students to walk up to me days before the end of a two week engineering project and tell me they are missing key components to finish it.  This is a valuable insight for both myself and the student into just how ignorant they are.  The worst thing we can do is what we do now:   put students in institutionally designed spaces that demand conformity and tell them to do it in their heads.  A key aspect of mastery learning is recognizing how expertise is rendered in the world around us, and then using that information to assess understanding and improve learning.


Bertrand Russell, On Mind
Finishing off Descartes’ ghosts
Rene Descartes, ghost in the machine
If we can’t have souls, we can have magical, metaphysical minds!
Matt Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head
A modern dismantling of Enlightenment ideology that has run wild
I recently attended Stratford’s Possible Worlds.  
It plays on a conceit that you see in a lot of drama (Jacob’s LadderInceptionThe Matrix), that we would be incapable of realizing that the world around us isn’t real.  This conceit trivializes reality and sends us back into that superstitious state of magical minds.

I’d argue that our existence actually precedes and produces our intelligence.  We wouldn’t be what we are if we were brains in boxes being fed information; reality defines our intelligence.  I had a lot of trouble getting into Possible Worlds because it used science and tech babble to lead the audience through a fractured dreamscape, depending on our belief in magical minds to suspend our disbelief.

River Crossings & Riding In The Empty Quarter

I’ve been building a map of local green lanes and interesting back roads to use the KLX250 on.  If you know where to look, there are some surprisingly tricky off-road bits around where I live.   As I build up the map I’ll have a list of go-tos that mean I don’t have to go far to get off road.  If anyone lives in Wellington County or nearby and has any suggestions, I’d be happy to add them.

I headed down a back road suggested by Jeff the motorcycle Jedi this time.  It ended at the Connestogo River where there was a water crossing.  It was obvious that Jeff wanted me to try it, so I did!  What happens next is all on him:

Success!  The first was tentative.  I did what ABR Magazine suggested and scoped out the bottom first, looking for any deep holes I might fall in to.  The river was never more than two feet deep and fairly even, so I figured I’d give it a go.  ABR said to proceed slowly so you aren’t swamped by your own wake.  I might have been a bit tentative on the first pass, but the second was a test to see if I could proceed with a bit more throttle.  Like all things off road, the real trick seems to be don’t fight the handle bars, they’ll find their own way, even over slippery river rocks.

Some of the back roads in my area aren’t maintained, which makes them much more interesting from a dual sport perspective.  The farm trails I took to get to the river were remote and varied from groomed gravel to deep mud holes and larger rocks.  In a couple of places I couldn’t have gotten by with a car, which was what I was looking for.  You have a moment where you think, “if I drop it here and can’t get it going, I’ve got a walk to get out.”  Calling for a pickup wouldn’t have been an easy exit.  I was never more than a short walk from help though, farmers waved from a wide variety of vehicles while they tended fields throughout the ride.

In one mud hole I was in a rut which led me right into the deepest part of it – it was the only time I had to come to a stop to keep my balance.  Once I had my feet down the big knobbies on the KLX chucked up clods of mud and I easily powered out of six inch deep sludge (which smelled a bit cow-ish).

One of the nicest parts of dual sporting is getting lost in the world without traffic.  I put over 60kms on the KLX on this ride, the vast majority of it without another vehicle in sight.  At one point I was connecting trails and doing about 100km/hr on a back road and I was reminded why the empty quarters are better.  A guy on a sport bike blew past me and then slowed to look back over his shoulder with a shrug.  I waved at him to follow me down the next dirt track.  He didn’t.

The next day I’m still feeling it in various muscles.  Working your way though challenging trails on an off-road bike is a full body workout.  Austin Vince must be made of iron!

Another benefit of dual sport riding?  If you’re into photography, it’ll take you places worthy of it: