IIHTM: The Digital Workshop

If I had the money, what would the dream workshop look like?

I’m a computer tech teacher by day, and the 3d printer revolution is astonishing to behold.  The dream workshop would have the usual suspects (awesome tools etc), but it would also have some truly alien looking tech.

Ever seen a resin based 3d printer?  It’s like something out of Terminator:

3d printing is about to get even wilder, with larger scale prints becoming an option.  Imagine a 3d printer that could handle motorcycle fairings… except you could do anything you want.  Want a fairing made out of dragon scales?  No problem!  Want customized etching across the entire fairing?  No problem!  Want to design a radical fairing using the stock mounting points?

Some time in Blender and you’ll be ready to print radically customized fairings and other parts.

The BigRep1 goes for almost $40,000, but imagine what you could print in over a cubic meter of build space – motorcycle fairings would be not problem.  I think I’d rent one first to see what I could get away with before buying.

Using resin based printing instead of additive 3d printing means you can produce parts that have the same structural nature as cast pieces (they aren’t made of bonded parts).  These pieces would be incredibly strong – they could also be made much more quickly.  Instead of hours long build times, we’d be looking at minutes…

If you’re looking for futuristic workshop inspiration the Big Hero 6 garage would be a good place to start – in there he’s 3d printing carbon fibre!  The holographic display is pretty dope too…

Iron Man is another film that gives you a good idea of what a 21st Century garage might look like.  Tony Stark’s workshop is a holographic wonderland with built-in fabrication capabilities.

It was once thought that with fuel injection, onboard computers and digitization we would be losing the ability to modify and customize our motorbikes.  It turns out that digitization is actually handing the ability to manufacture back to individuals from the factories that took it from them.  Industrialization meant standardization and centralization in the 19th and 20th Centuries.  In the 21st Century manufacturing will return to the craftsmen it started with; localized micro-manufacturing is going to be the way of things to come.

If you’re making shop space for yourself, having a computer in it gives you access to a world of information (I frequently use my to watch how-to videos and view schematics), but that workshop based computer is soon going to be providing a lot more than just information.  Do yourself a favour, get a handle on 3d modelling, it’ll come in handy in the near future.

Ways to get started:

  • Get handy with Blender – it’s free, and it’s powerful!  There are also a lot of tutorials available for it online
  • Structure Sensor: a 3d scanner that snaps onto your ipad.  It makes making 3d copies a breeze!
  • Basic 3d printers start at about $1000.
  • If you want to give printing a try, many people in the maker movement offer 3d print services. It’s a nice way to see what a 3d printer can do for you without the overhead… 3D Hubs is one such option, and they’ll introduce you to makerspaces in your area.
  • Sketchfab is handy for sharing and doing light editing on 3d models.

Snow’s A Fallin’

It’s accumulating outside.  While that’s happening, I’m in the garage busy stripping the Concours down to its underskirts.

Once that’s done I’ll give it a final cleanup before getting into the brakes and bearings.  While the wheels are off I’m going to look into getting them refinished.  Fireball Performance in Erin does wheels, so I’ll see if I can drop off the rims while they’re off the bike.  I’m curious to see just how magical a transformation that can be, and what it costs.


The partially stripped Concours.  It made me wonder what a stipped Connie would look like… pretty fantastic as it happens:



Strange that I’ve been through the Yamaha’s carbs in detail, but never the Connies…


With her skirts off, the Concours still looks good for a 21 year old motorbike that spent too much time outside.  A drop of coolant on the back of the block has me in full suspicion mode – I’m hoping it’s a bit of overflow splash, but mechanic’s skepticism tells me it’ll be a leaking water jacked and a lot of gasket work – the coolant reservoir isn’t low…


Emotionally Charged Engagement

Pettis‘ manifesto demands the freedom needed to make things work. Educators might get excited about Maker philosophy like this, but it isn’t what they want in classrooms.

This talk of Making at ECOO had me thinking about my own process of building, repairing and creating.

My engineering process is closely related to my creative process.  Creativity came first as a toddler mainly because I found visual art intuitive to step into.  Engineering followed shortly thereafter (about 6 years old?) when I found myself dismantling bicycles and toys, sometimes for creative purposes but mainly driven an intense desire to understand how things work.  My mother was an artist, my father is an engineer; my behavior wasn’t a happy accident.

Both my processes have evolved and entwined, and both demand absolute ownership.  I find myself fully committed to my process which makes the idea of going to committee abhorrent.  If what I’m doing ends up not working it’s on me and me alone.  That focus and responsibility is what allows me to work through frustrating, stochastic, non-linear builds and repairs that would cause most people to shrug and give up.

I prefer to work alone.  If I’m going to seek help, I will initiate it.  Being forced to accommodate collaboration prevents me from doing what needs to be done to make the thing work.  Lateral thinking never works well when you’ve have to constantly explain every intuition, it breaks your flow.

How much faith do I have in my process?  I drove my wife and newborn son home in a car I rebuilt the brakes on.  I ride a motorcycle (with my son on the back) that I rebuilt from scrap.  If I did it, it’s done properly, I regularly bet my life on it.  This is what competency looks like when making something work is the priority; mechanical mastery can’t exist in any other circumstance.

intuition works best in silence

When I’m working on an engineering problem or a creative project I am radically engaged (fixated?) with what I am doing.  This isn’t the kind of directed, controlled engagement that teachers encourage in classrooms.  Being interrupted by a well-meaning teacher who wants to make my process transparent antagonizes the hell out of me.

Teacher interruptions in my process are vexing.  I don’t seek an expert to do it for me, that doesn’t teach me anything.  I’d prefer to ask another capable student who is struggling with similar issues and figure it out with them rather than ask a teacher who has done it a hundred times before.  This is what mastery learning is and why it seldom happens in a classroom.

This all comes from my first post-secondary learning experience as a millwright apprentice.  I left high school before graduation because it felt like a holding tank rather than a learning opportunity.  In that apprenticeship I didn’t have teachers assessing my learning, I had people who were invested in it because it meant less work for them.  That we were all doing the same work went a long way toward me valuing their expertise.

Collaboration isn’t the point of any engineering activity.  It shouldn’t remove the focus from a project, it should amplify it.  When teachers say things like, “we’re going to be makers, but what the kids are really learning is collaboration!” I would expect to see a group of frustrated students and a pile of newly purchased Arduinos and Raspberry Pis gathering dust in boxes.  You’ve got to respect the skill and focus needed to make things work first.

My favorite kind of teacher is the one I try to be.  I encourage skills development and provide expertise if asked (though I am reluctant).  I provide materials and offer multiple avenues into how to get it done, but then I get the hell out of the way.  What I hope to see is a student lose themselves in their process and improve as a result of this intensive engagement.  You learn more in the doing of a thing than you ever do in the theory of it.

I observe, I offer help if it’s asked for, but I also allow students to fail if they refuse to take risks and engage in a meaningful engineering process.  In the best cases I’m able to look at a finished prototype that shows resiliency, creativity, and works.  That last bit is important, I’m not grading how hard they tried, or how well they get along with each other, I’m grading engineering.  The student who built a working prototype feels a genuine sense of achievement because they went through real struggle to resolve complex, non-linear (non-textbook) problems.  They seldom worry about what kind of mark they got, the value is self-evident.

Assumptions and cultural influences won’t get you far in mechanics –  you need to be stringent and respect reality because it doesn’t care about your perceptions.  This is the reason why two mechanics from opposites sides of the world with no shared language can still effectively communicate with each other.  Reality is a shared language.

A highlight of a recent unit was watching a student who found the process of building Arduino circuits very challenging.  In his presentation of a partially working prototype he angrily said, “… and it didn’t work again, until I realized, like a n00b, that I hadn’t plugged the power wire into the rail.”  He was absolutely right, he is no longer n00b, and he should be frustrated with having made such a rudimentary mistake.  His emotional engagement with his failure was telling – he is beginning to take pride in his skills.

Emotional engagement is at the root of my work with machines.  Radical engagement makes my process an emotional one  (or is it the other way around?).  The sometimes stochastic, often non-linear and usually frustrating nature of building and repairing complex machinery requires an emotional edge.  That edge is what powers my resiliency.  I refuse to let a complication derail me, sometimes not giving up even when I should.  If it continues to not work, emotion not only powers my resiliency but also my imagination, driving me to think laterally around problems.

Class bells, rubrics, teachers showing you how and assigned groups are the antithesis of my kind of radical engagement.  Schools seem designed to prevent this kind of focus and break learning up into an arm’s length, carefully managed chunks.  Learning is an organic process until you see it diced up into curriculum and fed to students who have no idea what it is they are supposed to be learning or why.  The education system might work for basic skills but mastery isn’t what its set to produce.  Education elbows its way between student curiosity and their natural tendency to learn in order to manage the process.  The ultimate purpose of the education system is not to teach but to produce grades which everyone believes are an expression of student learning but are actually entirely fictional.

Radical emotional engagement is the antithesis of the clinical, rational engagement educators look to manage, but this emotional engagement is at the root of my empathy with machines,  Education spends a lot of energy encouraging collaboration, linear consumption of curriculum and a cold kind of empathy between students, but ignores (stamps out?) human emotional engagement in order to retain control.

The difference between how I and many others learn, and the mono-cultural, rationalist’s philosophy of education is why you seldom see radical engagement in a classroom.  It’s why you see outliers, especially highly engaged ones, do poorly in school.  Education is designed to hit the medium, the comfortable middle class child who requires no emotional connection because they have it elsewhere.  Deviants, whether they are eccentrics who want radical engagement in something they are fixated on, or students who need more from a teacher than grades, aren’t a good fit with the system.

The difference between applied and academic students has
a lot more to do with family dynamics and the need for
emotional engagement than it does with intelligence.


Education’s discomfort with emotional engagement lies at the root of Ontario’s high school streaming system.  Applied students tend to come to school from less stable home lives and look for more emotional engagement with their teachers.  This freaks out the academics who teach them.  Academic students (and the teachers they turn into) prefer to treat school at arm’s reach – rationally and emotionally distancing themselves from it because information is all they require from a classroom.  To these academics school is a job, one they have figured out and are good at.  These are the students who get mad at you when you saddle them with a problem that may not have a solution.

This distance between student need and teacher approach is probably the single largest difference between academic and applied students.  Some of the smartest kids I’ve ever taught have been applied level students.  Teachers willing to support emotional engagement with learning often find these students are the ones who make the biggest leaps in high school, but they are challenging and often emotionally exhausting, especially when the rationalists who run the system think 30+ students in a classroom is manageable (and it is if you don’t treat students like people).

Ironically, all of those teacher movies that educators so love are the ones that emphasize this emotional learning connection but it just doesn’t happen that often in the real world.  At a recent Heads’ meeting a rule was put up saying that people have to be rational and unemotional when making suggestions.  They can’t be emotionally engaged in any debate.  That’s how ed-quants like it in the classroom too.  What a sure way to make something tedious, distant and uninspired.

Radical engagement is powered by emotion.  It makes for a messy, demanding learning environment, but it’s also a vital key to differentiating learning that the vast majority of educators don’t just ignore but actively seek to stamp out.  The doorway to mastery is one you have to walk through yourself, and you’ll never manage it if you’re dependent on the advice of others.  It takes resiliency, courage and a lot of work to become that kind of proficient.  Emotion is a powerful ally in getting there.

Sense of Satisfaction!

After all the Maker talk this week at a conference I attended, I was keen to spend some quality time in the garage working on the 35 year old XS1100 basket case.  It’s easier to walk the walk than talk the talk when it comes to Making.  Unlike the education approach infused with collaboration for your own good, I did it the way I always do: alone in a garage.  It’s wonderfully cathartic to get something broken working again, and meditative when I don’t have to explain everything I’m doing.

How do you get a 35 year old motorcycle left outside for several years unattended working again?  Very carefully!

The front brakes were seized, the throttle body was seized, the rear brake is still seized, as are other things I haven’t found yet.  Motorcycles aren’t like cars, when they’re left in the world they don’t have a shell protecting the mechanicals from the weather.  Restoring a car tends to be more mechanically salvageable as a result.

I ended up having to take the end carburetor off the rack of four Mikunis that line the back of the Yamaha engine.  It was the most carboned up and filthy one, and the grit had seized the throttle body rod.  A complete dismantle, cleaning and reinstall has the carb working again (before this you couldn’t move the throttle body without great effort and a nasty creaking sound…

It took a couple of hours to break it down, find the problem and rebuild it.

It was pretty before, but the Mikunis are even prettier now that they work!

Miles per Day

A couple of experiences this season have given me some idea of possible mileage numbers in a day of riding.

We did 300 hot, sticky miles, mostly on freeways, coming back from Indianapolis this summer.  This involved getting lost for about half an hour before we finally stopped for the day near Detroit.

Without the getting lost part, 300 miles would be easily doable with gas and snack breaks if you’re making highway miles.  We were on the road from about 9am to 5pm.  400 wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, and would be an 9am to 6pm with stops kind of day.

That run to Detroit was in hot, humid weather and had me saddle sore with a bad case of baboon butt.  Less extreme conditions would make those miles easier to manage, but bike miles tend to be fairly extreme even at the best of times.

On that same day our riding partner headed straight home, doing Indianapolis to Alma, just shy of five hundred miles in a single day in about 10 hours of riding.  Had I not been two up with my son I’d have done it with him.  A five hundred mile day is certainly doable on freeways.  It’s a full day, but you’d sleep well afterwards.

On the way down to Indy we did two stints, from Elora to Coldwater and Coldwater to Indianapolis.  In both cases we minimized highway riding and spent most of our time on back roads (and sometimes dirt roads and trailer parks when we got turned around).  Coldwater to Indy was just over two hundred miles and took us a good day of riding.  We left about 9am and were feet up in the hotel in Indianapolis by 4pm.  Elora to Coldwater was a long day of riding, leaving about 8:30am and finally stopping just before 6pm.  Even that long day had us up and ready to go the next morning, so it was a sustainable distance.

Based on those experiences I’d say a three hundred mile day if you’re minimizing freeway use is a reasonable number to aim for, knowing that you could push a bit beyond that and still not be riding into dusk.

All of those experiences were on a fully loaded bike with my ten year old son as pillion, so we weren’t exactly ascetic in our riding, looking to pound down the miles relentlessly.  I stopped more frequently than I otherwise might and for longer.

What got me thinking about this was the 178 mile ride the other day that got me over the 30k mark.  In cold weather and over twisty, slow roads with no highway at all, I left about 9:30am and was home again just past 3pm, stopping for a coffee and lunch.  The cold weather made this feel longer than it was, which reminded me just how much being comfortable in the saddle makes the miles go by.

Around the world, it’s a long slog!

Your typical around the world trip is about 15,000 miles, so is north to south in the Americas.  If you’re managing 300 miles a day, that’d be 50 days on the road.  If you’re doing 300 mile days that means you’re averaging 50 miles per hour for at least six hours a day.  Not as easy as it sounds when you factor in borders, extreme weather, navigation, bad roads and other potential slow downs.  All things to consider when trying to schedule a long trip.