Is The Digital World A Branded World?

Who Is Paying For This?

I’m at the Google Apps for Educators Summit in Kitchener on a Saturday morning.  I’m a Google fan.  I Android, I use UGcloud for school work, I use Google+.  I’m aware that all of these services require a means of income or they’ll evaporate, hence the Google ads I see on them; I’m OK with that.  In a field that can get grabby and greedy, I think Google is more balanced in how it performs its business than most.

As a teacher I’m a bit more cautious about how online tools are framed in terms of learning.  This morning’s keynote with Jim Sill asked what kind of world do we live in.  I suspect the desired answer is a giddy, Silicon Valley logo filled blurt:  I live in an Instagram world! I live in a Google world!  I live in a Facebook world!  When the question turned to how you access this magical world, it revolved around brand names for apps.  Tying brands to information offers you a unique way to infect unrelated material (and learning itself) with your logo and corporate image.  Google has done this perhaps better than anyone (though Facebook takes a pretty good run at owning friendship).


Is the 21st Century really an information revolution, or a branding revolution?  I watched We Are Legion: The Story of Hactivists last night and I’m feeling the dissonance this morning at a conference that is all about companies branding information and funneling it to eager teachers who want to be relevant to their students.  I’m not saying yea or nay to this kind of business, I’m just wrestling with the chaotic freedom the information revolution inspired in hactivists last night and the business of information this morning.

If the information revolution really is about a radical change in how information moves (and I think it is), then talking about apps and brands is akin to focusing on the make of hammer you purchased when you’re learning carpentry.  It would seem strange if, in learning carpentry, the master carpenter went on and on about the brand of hammer they are using.  They might mention why they like it briefly, but they wouldn’t start calling carpentry “Mastercraft hammer”, that would be odd.

Google: a great tool, but be careful not to brand
learning and information with it

People identify with brands, it gives them a sense of belonging, it offers them a ready-made identity in a field where they might not know much else. Excessive brand loyalty is usually the result of ignorance.  I’m less interested in the kind of hammer you’re selling and more focused on how the wood is being fitted together.  I happen to enjoy using my Google hammer when online, I just don’t know that I identify an important revolution in human development with their peppy logo, and I’d hope they’d be OK with that.

That Guy…

I’m that guy! I always wanted to be that guy!

It’s been spring-ish in Ontario for the past couple of days (after the ice storm).  I’ve had the bike out a few times.  I still get a charge out of waving to another rider.

Yesterday I went out for almost an hour.  The front end felt a bit soft, but now the bike feels balanced on a knife’s edge with the right pressure in the tyres (the front was at 20psi after a winter in storage).  That was the first fifteen minutes of the ride, trying to find a gas station with a working air pump and then paying a buck… for air.  Once that was sorted I was south on the small highway out of town.  I’d never gotten the bike properly warmed up before, it’s an eager, responsive creature, even at low RPMs, but it seems happiest between 3500 and 4500 rpm for cruising..  I’d also never gotten it up to highway speed before, wind noise is surprising, though it shouldn’t be; a 100km/hr wind wouldn’t be quiet, would it?

I’m getting better at remembering the indicators.  The stuff drilled into me on the course has stayed.  I’m always in neutral and on the clutch when I start it, and I don’t get on until I’m completely suited up; good habits to have.  Had the bikes we practiced on had indicators, I would have probably internalized those too.  I don’t want to look like a (dangerous) n00b riding down the street with a forgotten signal flashing.

I took a left turn off the highway onto a back road and made one of my few control errors.  I thought I was in 3rd, but I was in 1st.  I dropped the clutch too hard and was thrown forward. As I reacted I accidently pulled on the throttle… my first wheelie!  On Highway 6!  Fortunately I was sitting close (as an instructor had told me during the course).  I let go of the throttle, and with my weight forward got back on 2 wheels.  As I rounded the corner the kid sitting at the stop sign was all worked up by my wheelie, so he smoked the tires on his Cavalier.  Had he known how freaked out I was, he wouldn`t have been so excited by the whole display.

You get cold on a bike, even in good gear when it`s cool out.  I got home with cold hands and a big smile on my face.  I got to know my Ninja a bit better, and have an appreciation of just how athletic she actually is.

Do As I Say

Reading Shopclass as Soulcraft a second time has me thinking about the similarities between Crawford’s and my work histories.  I walked out of high school before I finished.  I wasn’t failing anything, I was just sick of the officious and arbitrary nature of the place.  I wanted to learn how to do *things*, but I was being taught how to sit in rows and do what I was told.  I’m not very good at that.

“Teaching takes a back seat to the more socially salient task of sorting, and grading becomes more important for its social consequences than for its pedagogical uses.” p 146 Shopclass as Soulcraft

From there I bounced around your typical low income jobs (night time security, Canadian Tire) before finding myself an apprenticeship.  This I did for a couple of years before finishing up high school and going to university.  It only took me until second year to get into trouble at university, brashly questioning the veracity of my professors.  The younger profs tended to want to change your life.  I have a great deal of trouble buying in to systems, especially when the people advocating them put themselves in the centre of this marvelous new way of thinking.  I’ve always felt that these Rasputiny types aren’t in it for mastery, they are in it to be masters.  My skepticism in this has been born out in politics as well.

“The master has no need for the psychology of persuasion that will make the apprentice compliant to whatever purposes the master might dream up; those purposes are given and determinate. He does the same work as the apprentice, only better… for the apprentice there is a progressive revelation of the reasonableness of the master’s actions.” p. 159

When I worked as a Millwright, I had a number of senior mechanics who taught me the ropes.  They taught me by doing the job, showing me the job, letting me do the job while they berated me for doing it badly, letting me do it on my own and if it worked, it worked.  It was messy, but at no point did any of the senior guys have to tell me they were the experts and I should do what they say, they let the work demonstrate their expertise.  I seldom saw that kind of do as I do, not as I say demonstration of expertise in formal education.

Students are always looking for credible teachers.

Many teachers I know don’t practice what they teach.  Many business teachers teach business, they’ve never run one.  Many art teachers teach art, but don’t make any themselves.  Many English teachers teach writing, but don’t write themselves.  You might make the argument that they teach, and that is what they are good at.  I’d argue that this is an abstraction of an abstraction, and whatever it is they are teaching, credibility is in question; student engagement necessarily follows (they subconsciously pick up on a teacher’s own doubts).  If you’ve ever shown students your own work, they look like meerkats; they long for credible learning, and showing mastery does that.

Last summer I took my additional qualification for computer studies.  I worked in I.T. after university, mainly because objective skill sets pay a lot better than abstract ones.  Ask anyone with a Masters Degree in the arts or humanities how the job search is going for proof of that.  While in university I worked as an auto mechanic because it paid way better than the knowledge economy job my arts degree was preparing me for.  I’ve always migrated back to those objective skill sets because it feels like credible work.  You don’t have arbitrary managers downsizing you based on abstraction, personal dynamics or their own towering sense of self importance.

I love seeing those MBA types on the side of the road, their BMW SUV’s tire flat, waiting for someone who can *do* something to come and move them back into the clouds they live in.

Crawford makes a compelling argument for respecting those skills that we tend to diminish.  Objective, experientially gained mastery is often looked down upon by the academic class which itself rules education with a university-clad fist.  Objective mastery isn’t up for debate, or the charismatic manipulation of office politics by experts in “human management”.  If you know what you’re doing, reality responds, and no amount of talking is going to change that.  I miss that kind of traction in education.

Objective Learning, Humility and Real Achievement

I’m re-reading Shopclass as Soulcraft, which begins with Matt Crawford asking what value hands-on work offers.  He questions the abstractions in which we all traffic (consumerism, academics, politics) in the information age.

There is value in learning about something external from ourselves, something with absolute requirements unlike the everyone’s a genius in their own way/student success means everyone passes/let students direct their own learning so they aren’t bored mantras you see whirling around edu-speak these days.  Crawford is focusing on trade skills in the book, but he’s arguing for any skill that has needs beyond whatever criteria we choose to apply to it.  This would apply to languages (you either understand and can communicate in it or not), technical skill (you can rebuild that carburetor so that it works, or not), or even sports (you can ski down the hill, or you can’t).  These kinds of skills get short shrift in schools these days because we can’t bend the requirements sufficiently to pass everyone and claim success.

Conestoga’s Motorcycle Training

This past weekend I took a motorbike training course.  It was exhausting, and very rewarding, and it had a six and a half percent failure rate. Those people paid four hundred and fifty dollars and were unable to complete the requirements of the course in a road test.  They left frustrated, and in some cases angry, but in a very real way they demonstrated that they could not control and place the bike.  The instructors were transparent and explained the failed components in detail, but people still left early with high emotions.  It’s hard for people who are used to paying and passing to suddenly find themselves having paid and failed.  Doesn’t payment equal success?  Doesn’t consumerism replace competence?  It does in many situations, and increasingly in education.  Students become clients (especially in post secondary where they are paying directly for it), but even in k-12 tax payers are the clients and success for all is what they are paying for.

It’s fair to say the test asked us to demonstrate about 60% of what we’d been asked to do that weekend – it wasn’t brutal by any means, but controlling a motorcycle is a tricky business, and some people found the learning curve too steep.  Whether it was full body coordination or keeping what you’re doing organized in your head, there was a lot to manage in doing this test.  The criteria were clearly explained and had been practiced relentlessly for two full days, there were no surprises yet some people were unable to *do* what was required.  Alternatives weren’t offered, differentiation was self directed – by you – while you were learning on the bike, the instructors offered advice and it was up to you to take it or not.  Those that failed generally didn’t take it.  Riding a bike isn’t like driving a car.  You’re alone on it, you don’t have a voice in your ear making suggestions or stepping in with alternate controls, it’s all up to you.

The curriculum was demanding and had specific requirements that couldn’t be ignored. It was physically exhausting and required twenty four hours of your time over a single weekend, early wakeups and hours outside in very changeable April weather.  When someone showed up late on Sunday they were dropped out of the course (and seemed utterly flabbergasted at the situation); 100% attendance was required, and in order to see success you had to be there mentally, physically and emotionally.  There was a high correlation between failures and people who were always the last to show up.  As Crawford mentions in his book, learning an objective skill requires a degree of submission and humility to the task at hand – something that we ironically iron out of schools in order to demonstrate success.

For the rest of us, marks were given and certificates (which include a big drop in insurance costs as well as a direct pass to the next level of licensing) were given out in a ceremony.  People who got perfect scores were mentioned, and applauded. Everyone still in that room realized how much work they’d put into their success that weekend.  But they’d put in more than effort, they’d also been willing to be taught, to check their pride at the door and learn something challenging and new from the ground up.

There is an important difference between submission and humility. One can be humble and it enhances self worth, and allows learning in the oldest educational context we possess.  Submission is about the power of the strongest, humility is about an honest awareness of one’s circumstance.  A master at a skill is honoured when their apprentice is humble before the task because they are receptive and teachable, and they are also respecting the skill that the master possesses. That humility allows you develop perhaps the most powerful learning tool available to us, self-discipline, which in turn grants the serious student the ability to master skills that would otherwise defeat a dilettante. You assume the mantle of a serious, even professional student when you are able to apply self-discipline gained through the humble acquisition of meaningful skill.  In school we constantly seek ways to amateurize learning in order to satisfy a Taylorist economic logic.  We try to streamline and ease student passage, forgiving absence and inattention in a misguided effort to generate successful data.  Any statistic you’ve ever seen about education has nothing to do with learning.

This sounds like throw back language, especially in light of the MBA edu-babble popular today. Students teaching themselves in order to stay engaged?  Best not done around a band-saw, as Crawford suggests.  Students able to ‘pass’ with a 50% average? Or with weeks of absenteeism?  They’ve hardly mastered anything.  Students given multiple avenues to success with targets that get closer the more they miss?  This learning is empty and pedantic, and students recognize that. Reward comes with real effort, and real failure.  Guaranteeing success for all?  The surest way to a systemic failure of learning.

I hurt all over from this past weekend, but it was profoundly satisfying.  I worked hard, didn’t treat it like a joke, gave it my full attention and realized early on that the people instructing know so much more than I do that it would behoove me to be humble before their skill and experience.  I think that humility is what led to my success.  That success may very well save my life one day.  Engagement was never an issue.

I won’t see much of that humility and openness to learning in the diploma factory I’m returning to today, though I’ll try and try to put reality’s demands in front of my students and let them be frustrated by it.  It’s real success when you overcome an obstacle and figure something out, especially if you experienced failure in the process.  Not so much when people systemically remove obstacles to keep nearly inert objects in motion.  As self discipline erodes and humility dries up, the process of learning itself begins to break down.

Are you teaching curriculum today?  Or are you teaching how students should passively pass through the Kafkaesque education factory in which they find themselves?

Being taught how to actually do something with objective demands has made me proud, humble and grateful for the skillset I have as a learner.  When I see opportunities to approach learning with humility and develop self-discipline missing from so much of what we do in school, it makes it seem an empty, even dangerous place.

n00b at 43

Tim’s Motorcycle Diaries

I’ve always wanted a motorcycle.  The simplicity and immediacy of the relationship between rider and bike has always appealed.  Finally, at the age of 43, I’m becoming a rider.  A couple of weeks ago I sat in an MTO drivetest centre and wrote my M1, so I’m now licensed in the most rudimentary way.  Next weekend I’m taking my training course at Conestoga College in Kitchener. Following that I hope to be on the road.

This blog will trace the process and development of my riding.  I’ve dug up a couple of entries from another blog that show why I’ve gotten into riding now.  They should provide some background for what is about to happen next.

A Nice, Canadian Magazine to get you into the hobby…

In the meantime, I’ve been looking through motorcycling magazines trying to find one that fits.  I’m not a Canadian publications at all costs kind of guy, but Cycle Canada offers smart writing on a wide range of subjects related to the sport (hobby?).  Being a rider in Canada is sort of like being a surfer in Greenland, you can do it, but you’ve really got to want to.  The place itself isn’t really conducive to the activity.  I feel like Cycle Canada approaches this with honesty, humour and wit, while peeling off many of the preconceptions around biking.  Before I began reading it I thought most people think Harleys are the be all and end all of motorbiking.  I was glad to learn that they aren’t.  I like ’em so much, I just subscribed.

Getting Your Bike License in Ontario

Getting the M1 was easy enough.  Ontario has a graduated licensing system for becoming a motorcycle rider now.  The M1 is a sit down, multiple choice test on the basics of motorcycle operation (which you pick up from a Motorcycle Handbook you can get for about $17 from any MTO licensing office).  There are also multiple choice tests on road signs and basic driving situations.  There are 20 questions in each set and you can get up to four wrong and still pass (so you need an 80% on each piece).  I’ve had my G class (regular car) license for 26 years, I didn’t study for either of the general quizzes and got only 2 wrong.  If you pay attention to your driving, I’d suggest focusing on the motorcycling handbook.  If you have no idea what is happening around you or what signs mean, it might be time to review the general stuff.

I should add, the general driving portion was very wordy.  Remember those long math word problems you used to get in school?  Like that.  It was almost like it was designed to test your ability to parse complicated text more than it was about rules of the road.  Be ready for that and take your time with it.

You have to go to a drivetest centre to write the M1.  There are many scattered around Ontario but only a few open on weekends.  It took me a couple of hours to get to the counter, write the test and then get the results.  They tell me it isn’t always that busy.  The old guy who blocked the only open gate for an hour arguing about his license didn’t help.  The M1 costs you about $17 to write.

After the M1 written piece, the idea is to go out and get experience.  You have 60-90 days with your M1 before you have to move on to M2.  M2 you can have for up to 5 years, but if you let it lapse after that you’ve got to start over again.  After your M2 road test you become an M licensed driver with full privileges.  Conestoga College offers a driver training course for beginners that moves you from M1 to M2.  I’m signed up to go next week.  It costs about $400 and I’m told you’re at the bikes they provide a lot over the one night and two day long course; it’s very hands on.  At the end of that course I’ll have done what is needed to pass the M1 driving test to move on to M2.  M1 means no driving at night, or carrying passengers, or 400 series highways, and no alcohol in your system at all.  M2 is still no alcohol, but you can do the other things.  You usually have to wait 60 days to get your M2, but if you take the course they shrink that time.  I should be able to push up to an M2 in mid-May after taking the course in early April.  I plan on riding at the M2 level for at least a year or two before getting the full M license.


I called the company that I’ve been with since I was a teen (who has made a small fortune off me) and asked for a quote on motocycles.  They told me to come back in two years.  They then said I should call Riders Plus.  They were very helpful.  Talking to a friend afterward, he’s been riding for thirteen years and has been with Rider’s Plus the whole time.  He’s paying about $600 a year for a 2000 500cc Ninja.  I’ll be paying about $1300 a year for a 2007 650 Ninja, to give you an idea of what the insurance looks like.

I’ll throw on a couple of older posts showing what I’ve been reading and why I’m going through this now.  Over the next few days it looks like I’ll become the proud new owner of a 2007 650r Ninja that has been painted an unfortunate flat black by an adolescent male of questionable taste..  With the bike in the garage and the course next weekend, I should be insured, plated and on the road by mid-April.

More to come as it happens.

Ghostly Distractions & Digital Doppelgängers

Cyborgs are all around us now, and they have trouble finishing a thought

If you popped into a current classroom from any time before the last five years you’d think your students had gone mad, or were in need of an exorcist. Being unfamiliar with the rapid miniaturization and personalization of electronics, you’d be left wondering what it is they are fiddling with on their navels, why they seem to be constantly thinking about something else, and why when you walk into your next class the students there already know what happened to pretty much everyone else in the school (and the ones who skipped) last period.

I was talking to a colleague the other night about this sense of personal dislocation in students, though digital vertigo isn’t a student only issue. The teacher in question won’t even make a Facebook account because he believes (perhaps rightly) that it means the internets will know where he is all the time. He was telling me about a difficult student who was giving him a hard time in class. This teacher has a great rapport with students so many other students leapt in and argued his point for him. Afterwards the difficult student in question seemed overly despondent and would not re-engage in discussion. I suggested that the disagreement in class may not have ended in the classroom but had become virtualized.  The idea that invisible forces were emanating from and reflecting back into the classroom was quite upsetting to this teacher.

The fluidity with which teens pass back and forth between physical and virtual space make them very hard to read, at many moments in their day they are literally in two places at once. That uncommunicative student may still be getting hammered on Facebook long after the physical confrontation is over; digital echoes of a verbal disagreement. The moods so common in teens anyway are amplified by these invisible, always on, invasive connections; their volatile minds are wired to always-on drama.

There was a time when you could read a class by the students you had in it. Relationships were obvious and management challenging but straightforward. If you had the nitro and the glycerin in the room  you could separate them, you can’t do that any more.  You can’t do that if you move them to a different class… or a different school.  I’ve had students who moved up to our small town to get out of the GTA and away from a bad influence only to be intimately connected with them on Facebook the moment anyone’s back is turned. Always on, always connected, always being emotionally amplified – that is the modern, connected high school student.

This creates some  interesting new psychology in the classroom.  That student who used to feel isolated for their poor behavior in class might be experiencing any number of unseen influences.  Instead of being able to modify poor behavior by moving a student, or placing them in classes where their bad influences are not, they are always connected.  Many of those connections may very well be morally supporting or even inciting them; they never feel isolated in their bad attitude and are always supported in their beliefs, even if it is hurting them.  In that sense you might argue for a lack of emotional growth because  you never have a chance to get free of a clique or bad influence.  In the other direction you’ve got the example above where a group of students may easily create an ad hoc digital mob and go after someone. This can happen so quickly and quietly that it’s almost impossible to consider let alone manage.

Working with the emotionality of high school students is challenging at the best of times, but with the drama-net of Facebook fully embedded in every student’s mind, administration struggles with the more obvious cyber-bullying while the subtle ghostly influences go unnoticed, thought every teacher faces them daily.

As students migrate to Twitter without realizing the very public nature of it (many think it similar to texting),  coercive social media becomes even more widely broadcast than just between Facebook friends. Suddenly we have social media as means of large scale slander, creating influence well beyond the intent of the ignorant person thinking their tweets are private.

This is a new social situation that affects early adopters while others remain entirely ignorant.  Many teachers don’t consider it at all because they have no experience with social media yet it increasingly influences the students in their classrooms. Kids whose minds are in many places at once, constantly being emotionally tweaked and influenced by social media inputs, not knowing how to manage this pervasive influence in an effective way.

Digital literacy considers media fluency, collaboration and critical thinking, but the extent to which digital media is influencing the minds of our students isn’t really on the table. Their inability to manage their own access (watch a student, they are Pavlovian in their use of social media, they can’t self manage) is only one part of the problem.  In the emotionally charged world of high school, social media pours gasoline on that fire, making teaching a challenge in ways that it never was before.

had to add a wee update. It’s Monday morning and the internet meme from the weekend that all the grade 10s are talking about is of a girl and her feminine hygiene product on youtube.  It sets new (low) standards on what teens are willing to do to get seen online.  

This race to the bottom in terms what teens are able to subject themselves to is radically changing how they approach both sexuality and social norms in general.  Teens nowadays have seen things that would have been virtually impossible for them to see even a decade ago, and this is entirely a digitized influence.

You really don’t want even think about what teens do for truth or dare nowadays, they’ve seen things that will make you ill, they dare each other to.  The entire nasty world is available to them and influencing them moment to moment. Yet another way that online  influence creates a classroom unlike any before.


Stellar work without a bonus?

One of the reasons I love teaching is that the job isn’t about making a fat, old, white guy a bit richer than he already is. Every other job I’ve had has been inherently limited by this focus; the only reason you’re there is to make a one percenter a little bit richer.  That raison d’etre infects everything about working in a money focused business. That I hear people refer to this as ‘real work’ always makes me laugh; it’s real work in the same way that prostitution is real honest work – you lay yourself down for the money.  The argument that working for money adds real vigor and toughness to a workplace is nonsense. What it actually does is create fearful, simpering employees who believe that sucking up to their boss is more important than the work they do.

Ideas like excellence, originality, creativity and even work ethic are pretty much irrelevant.  If they can make more money by tossing out the hardest working, most creative, excellent employee, they will (and do – especially in the short term gains world we live in now). The only time businesses produce excellence is when small groups within the organization are protected from the pimps who are running it. That doesn’t happen often. What usually happens is that businesses take the excellence and research they need from publicly funded universities.

That infectious economic thinking has blighted Ontario education thanks to Laurel Broten’s story telling around fiscal responsibility.  Listening to the tragic prostitutes in the private sector telling us to accept their shabby circumstances because of economic necessity is purely the result of Ontario Liberal Party spin, and it has demonized my profession as a result.
Education: a reason to be optimistic about the future!
Teaching in Ontario has achieved real excellence in the past decade. We are truly world class, one of the very best. What made this happen? Bonuses? Financial incentives? No teacher ever got into teaching to make money. No teacher has ever gotten a cash payout for doing their job at a world class level (we’ll leave that for all those excellent bankers out there). If financial reward isn’t the point of performing at such an outstanding level, what is?
Public education is one of the most powerful social movements we’ve ever created. As Ray Kurzweil states his five reasons to be optimistic about the future, we are more educated than we’ve ever been before. We pay ten times what we used to into education as a society, but our post secondary graduation has increased by 280 times. We are making better use of the talent of our people; that is the crowning achievement of public education: social efficiency on a previously unheard of scale. The irony is that this very socialist mechanism, designed to realize the potential of all members of our society, also drives economic growth.
I’m back at school again tomorrow, dropped in to the political maelstrom of a forced contract, listening to blathering idiots whining about how much teachers get paid and how little they do. I’m tempted to get stingy about my work, but I don’t think I can. I didn’t get into this profession for the politics or the economics, I got into it because it’s one of the finest possible reasons anyone could have for going to work; to help human beings recognize their potential.

What I do is the opposite of the pyramid scheme most people find themselves working at each day; it’s a good in itself, economically, socially, personally. I can’t help but want to over achieve, no matter what the lowered expectations around me might suggest.

The Evolution Of On-Bike 360° Photography

The evolution of on-bike photography from hand
held push button shutter to mounted, hands-free

and distraction-free autofiring shutter.  The photos now
show a rider riding instead of a rider being distracted.

The 360° on motorcycle photographic experiment continues.  At this point I think I’ve got it down to a science.  What was once an awkward hand held process has evolved into a consistently effective, hands-free automatic process that I could easily set up on just about any bike and get shots with no action needed from the rider.

Initially I just popped the 360 camera into my pocket and went for a ride.  When I saw a nice scene I took it out and pressed the shutter.  The downside was that my arm was in every shot.  Another issue was that I didn’t look like I was into the ride because the camera was a distraction, which it was.  All this busy work meant not being able to get photos of the best bits, like bending the bike into a corner.

My first attempts at attaching the camera to the bike highlighted a number of issues.  Out of the various 360 cameras I’d tried, only the Ricoh Theta offered a timed shot option, taking a photo automatically every 8-60 seconds depending on how you set it.  The Samsung Gear 360 and the 360Fly both only offered stop motion video at much lower resolutions and quality.  The Theta is also light weight and low profile, so it works well in the wind, unlike heavier, blockier designs from other manufacturers.

I initially tried suction pad mounts, but I never trusted them in the rough and tumble and windy on-bike environment.  I eventually migrated to a flexible tripod, but my first choice started falling apart right after I got it.  When it let go while we were riding down the road and killed the camera I was ready to give up on that kind of mount, but I went up market and got a Lammcou model that has been durable, strong and perfect for the job.

Now that I’ve worked my way through testing all the kit, it’s so well sorted out that I think I could set it all up on any bike and start the photos going.  When the rider returned I could download all the captured images and see what we got.  Ideally I’d have a camera that takes a photo automatically every couple of seconds, but such a thing doesn’t seem to exist.  At the eight second delay on the Theta I don’t get every shot I want, but after a ride I get an awful lot of choice and there are always some gems in there.

I’d really like to try this process on something a bit more extreme, like track day riding or off road riding.  As long as the rider keeps the bike rubber side down, I think this resilient setup produces unique shots impossible to get otherwise.  When people see these shots they ask if I was using a drone or was from another bike dangerously close, but the process is much safer and cheaper than either of those things.  I’m surprised that no motorcycle magazine wants to give this a go.  The shots it produces are exciting, original and show riding from a very intimate point of view.  The ThetaV takes very high resolution photos that would work well online and even in print.

Putting together a kit that will do this is fairly straightforward.  The list on the left is all the parts you need to be taking 360° photos easily and well on your bike.  If you already have a smartphone you can skip over half of the costs listed for the ipod.  The camera and tripod are only about $300 Canadian ($225USD).  Getting the photos off the camera is easy enough and the Ricoh Theta software is by far the most stable and easiest to use out of all the manufacturers that I’ve tried.  Ricoh also offers a pile of accessories including a weather resistant hard case that has easily fended off rain while on the motorcycle.  There is also a new fully waterproof case if you wanted to get some action shots of your next river crossing.

The process for shooting 360 on-bike photographs is straightforward:

  • Wirelessly connect the Theta 360 camera to your device and remotely set it over wifi to fire every 8 seconds (maximum shot speed).  Once this is set you never have to do it again -the camera remembers.
  • Just before the rider sets off start the shutter firing by hitting the start shooting button on the ipod or your smartphone.  Have the rider drop the ipod or whatever device you’re using into a pocket and off they go.
  • When they get back you can stop the camera auto-firing and collect up the ipod/smartphone, Ricoh Theta and tripod.
  • Plug in the Theta to your PC or Mac using the supplied USB micro cable and copy the photos over to it.
  • Open up the Theta software and drop each picture into it.  You can move around within the pictures.  If it looks like it might make a good tiny planet photo, then upload it to the Theta360 website and use the online editor to quickly and easily (one button push) make a tiny planet out of the photo.
  • You can screen grab any photo angles that look good.  If you have a typical 1080p monitor these images will be well detailed for online presentation.  Get yourself a high resolution monitor to screen grab high resolution images suitable for printing on paper.  The ThetaV takes the equivalent of 14 megapixel images that display spectacularly on a high resolution monitor.  I use a 4k monitor for print images and they come out sharp and detailed.  Dell’s 8k monitor is on my wishlist.
  • Once you’ve grabbed the angles and images you need you can sort them out in Adobe Photoshop to meet the look you’re going for.  The Theta shoots dark but has a lot of detail in the shadows.  An HDR (high dynamic range) filter tool does wonders to pull details out of dark images.
Like anything else digital, experiment with it for best results.  I’ve attached the camera to my windshield extender, rear view mirrors and tail luggage rack, but if you’re adventurous (and have that protective case), why not try wrapping it around your frame in various locations.  Since it’s set and forget, you can just go for a nice ride and then see what you caught when you get back.

The red thing just below and left of my head is the top of the flexible tripod holding the camera onto the rear view mirror.  It’s triple wrapped around the stalk and doesn’t move even at triple figure speeds.  The other two arms of the tripod are arranged to help brace the tripod and still leave 70% of the mirror unobstructed, so even the rear view is still good (the Tiger has nice, big, and not buzzy mirrors).  The nature of the 360 camera forces perspective back around the base, so I usually angle the camera away, which also uses the length of the Theta to push the lenses even further away.  The result is a an image you couldn’t get any other way. 
A ‘tiny planet’ photo done using the online Theta360 website.  It’s the easiest way to get this effect I’ve found.  Again, a unique perspective you would find hard to duplicate any other way.

from Blogger

Five Big Wishes For 2013

2012 has been a challenging year for me as a teacher, a Canadian and an online citizen. My five big wishes for 2013 range from recognizing digital literacy to changing the way we run organizations, but the underlying theme becomes obvious:  technology is changing how we interact with and influence each other.

A flattening mediascape means everyone can publish information. From wikileaks to Anonymous to social media induced political upheaval, technology is unhinging how societies control their members. Organizations that used to control their message through limited access, broadcast media are stumbling while whole populations are discovering that they can now speak to more people than multinationals could in television commercials only twenty years ago.

Here are my five big wishes for these interesting times in which we live:

We stop wishing for digital literacy and actually do something coordinated about it.

Students flounder in this strange new world as much as anyone else.  We’ve not been very organized about trying to get them up to speed. A Digital Skills Continuum needs to be integrated into curriculum. We need to stop putting our faith in myths like digital natives and BYOD and begin to intelligently address the revolution we’re in the middle of.  We do a real disservice to students with the half-assed way in which we deliver digital literacy.

As a teacher I’m worried not only for students I see being graduated into a time of radical change with virtually no preparation from their education, but also for the teachers who seem intent on patently ignoring these changes to both their own detriment and those of their students.  If I could get Ontario education leadership to stop playing politics and get back to, you know, education, this is what I’d be begging them to begin taking seriously.

Listening to business types begging us to graduate people who are useful in a digitally enhanced workplace is panic inducing! I really wish we’d start taking this seriously and build it into curriculum so technologically illiterate teachers couldn’t just ignore it.

Ontario politicians stop using teachers in their shabby games.

Watching the Ontario Liberal Party thrashing around in its death throes was been startling, getting black eyes from their their dishonest, manipulative politics has been very disheartening. Ontario has one of the cheapest, highest performing education systems in the G20 and performs favorably when education costs per GDP are concerned with even many third world countries. We don’t pay much for the fantastic results we get. Watching politicians (who get to magically become my boss when they have no background in what I do at all)  heap lies on their mistakes and vilify my profession has been very demoralizing.

I’m sorry that I let the divisive nature of this battle turn me on Ontario Catholic teachers. I think the dual nature of our public/Catholic boards in Ontario must enrichen our educational process somehow, and it isn’t breaking the bank as many might have you believe. If we’re this good for this little, just leave us alone to do our work; go play your shabby political games by yourselves.

Perhaps begin by not bailing out giant multinational banks and lousy car makers.

Teachers vocalize how difficult their job is

Part of the political angle played against teachers is that they are overpaid and under-worked. This plays to an uneducated idiot’s view of the profession – I’m surprised by how many people swallow this, and it isn’t helped by many teachers not saying anything in response.

I don’t doubt that there are a few that do as little as they can while milking the system, but in my experience these people are a tiny minority. The vast majority of teachers I know put in sixty hour plus weeks while in school, and still spend hours a week working on preparation and research when not actually in class. 

I recently did the math, if you look at the time I put into my job, I make about $15/hour… and I need two degrees, first aid qualifications, a clean driver’s license, a clean criminal record and years of experience to make that much. Starting teachers make less than minimum wage if they are also doing the requisite extra curriculars and extra class work.

Watch any teacher who is active online and you’ll see how much time they spend collaborating on lessons and building good pedagogy. If we judged every profession by the 5% who bottom feed, no one would be looking very good.

I wish more teachers would open their mouths and explain to friends and family what it is they do. The chance to spread this information far and wide lies at your fingertips.

No more charter school American education consultants brought up here at great expense in order to tell us how to do something we’re already much better than them at

I’ve been begging Canadians to put away their be-polite mantra and recognize what we are doing well.  Apparently being proud about hockey is as far as we’re willing to go.  Watching (evidently) cash strapped boards throwing out thousands of dollars to push bankrupt American philosophy makes me financially, culturally and educationally sick. If we do something well, recognize it and bring in the local talent that is making us world class. I’d love to see more Canadian content in the educational conferences I’m attending. I’d love to see more Canadian educators publishing and presenting on what we are doing; the rest of the world would benefit from it… especially the Americans… even the Charter school ones.

Radical transparency in our institutions… all of our institutions.

Social media is wreaking havoc on the status quo. Organizations used to a hierarchy based on one sided media transmission are floundering. The signal is no longer owned by the few rich, anyone can now publish information to the world. 

An active democratic population isn’t what most of these organizations want though. They are far happier with an apathetic electorate that hands them sufficient power every few years and then does what they are told. This came home to me not just with the Ontario Liberal nonsense, but with my own union’s nonsense too. It’s a tough thing to have two organizations that are supposed to be representing you instead threatening you for exercising your voice.

After making mistakes that would make any individual blush, these ‘leaders’ are incapable of a simple apology, which only indicates the arrogance still found in the crumbling halls of power. Many of these people in positions of power still feel that they are superior human beings to the rest of us. I’m all about the healthy dose of humility coming their way.

The democratization of media is forcing a democratization in organizations too. I tried to do this in my union and was demonized for it. At least the inevitability of progress is on my side with this one. With individuals having more voice than ever before, the idea that organizations can force their members into a lockstep, parroting the company/union/government line is an old idea whose time has passed. 

Democracy is messy, loud and boisterous; forcing a single voice in this noise is factory thinking.  As is said in Radical Transparency, “Radical transparency means you don’t have to stand up and read a script, you don’t have to wonder how the numbers will play out on a new policy… you know your beliefs and you act on them.”  

Leaders who are managers and don’t stand for anything shouldn’t be leading. I’m looking for people who believe in what they say, and say it consistently   Clever people who think they can manipulate people to their own ends? Those people have an uphill struggle in a flattening mediascape.  The leader who is transparent and direct in their communications? That person need never fear many voices, their transparency is their strength.

Wrap Up

What I’m really wishing for is a digitally literate population who makes effective use of our new ability to speak loudly to each other without being pushed to distraction  by it.  The weak link in our current digital maelstrom are the people using it.  If we could manage:

  • Social media that respects and empowers its users without hypocrisy
  •  Digital tools that clarity and amplify their users rather than obfuscate and distract them
  • Technology companies that respect user effectiveness, and aren’t solely purposed to get in the way
  •  Educational systems that produce technically and socially competent students, especially in the middle of a digital revolution

 we’d be able to begin to exercise the real power of a global village.  Classrooms that range across the world, world wide democratic voices empowered by free information, transparent organizations that prevent abuse by being only what they are, publicly… that’s all I’m wishing for in 2013.

Radical Transparency

Mr Universe Knows!

I just read an email from our union lamenting the lack of control when it comes to presenting our contract information to us.  In the 36 hours OSSTF took to put together a two page comparison of our deal with the one the Catholic teachers had land on them, details leaked to the press and were already flowing around social media before that.

When we finally got ‘official’ information it was formatted entirely in comparison to the OECTA deal – we don’t get to see actual details, we get a selection of facts designed to look better than the pile of manure OECTA provincial executive signed off on for their members (none of whom have ratified it) last summer.  I’m having trouble seeing the democracy through the political machinations.

Watching the government, the forth estate and our union trying to manipulate the flood of information in an increasingly flat mediascape is rather tragic to watch.  These lumbering dinosaurs try to breach holes or spin facts, only be swamped by crowd-sourced social media.  They want to harness the crowd for their own ends only to find their carefully laid plans designed to manipulate results thrown into the weeds.

We might have evolved into Web2.0, but it is also causing a more democratic means of understanding the world and ushering in a Democracy2.0 wherein people have access to more information sources and are no longer held captive by traditional organizations and the big media that served them.  The Arab Spring, OccupyAnonymous and many other social movements are happening because governments and corporations don’t own the signal any more.  Anyone with an internet connection can publish to the world, find information and create community with like minded people.

How is a political organization to survive in a time where they can’t control their own message?  Perhaps by putting out a message that doesn’t need controlling in order to be accepted.  This would mean un-spinning and de-lawyerizing your organization and simply being direct and consistent with what you stand for.  Being accessible and open about communicating wouldn’t hurt either – if you’re working behind closed doors, you’re not getting the point..

Your political party shouldn’t be trying to win elections, it should have a clear vision of what it stands for and then never waiver from that goal in word and deed.  If you’re consistent, radical transparency and the flattening mediascape doesn’t frighten you, it empowers you.  If you’re a shifty, manipulative organization that is used to getting its own way by having direct access to big media, your days are numbered.

Radical transparency means you don’t have to stand up and read a script, you don’t have to wonder how the numbers will play out on a new policy, and you never have to come back to an interview and say, wow, we really screwed that up.  You don’t have spin doctors telling you what to think about issues, you know your beliefs and you act on them.

As insane as I think Tim Hudak’s tea party Conservatives are, at least they are consistent in their insanity.  The NDP are also consistent in their left winged-ness.  The Liberal party (whom I used to vote for and was considering membership in after I became a Canadian citizen) are something unique to Canada, but in trying to be centrist they have ended up being worse than the right wing bullies; a manipulative party that only stands for being in power, consistency be damned.

I’m having trouble being unionist at a time when my union seems to be playing the same kind of Liberal game, of speaking out of both sides of their faces.  One moment the offered contract is a disaster and we’re ordered to go on work action; the union is overjoyed at the crowd sourced support they are seeing online and myself and others are more than happy to vocally convey the unfairness of the situation.  In the next we are suddenly accepting a similar contract.  Communication has stopped and online voices have turned from supportive to hurt and confused.

I’m a creature of this flattened mediascape.  I cannot understand or condone the backroom politics or spin.  I don’t want to be manipulated, I don’t want to be treated like an idiot who can’t know details, I want the facts, and if I’m not given them, they are easily enough found online.