Motorcycle Mojo: Tim’s Birthday Edition

My great aunt and Granddad across the page from a Triumph,
I think they’d approve!

It’s been a good month for publishing.  Glenn at Motorcycle Mojo ran two pieces I’d submitted.

In the Remember When section I’d sent in the family photos I’d discovered while back home in Norfolk, England in 2013.

It was a real joy to see Grand-dad and a great Aunt I’d never met in pages that I knew were being seen across Canada.

Our Vancouver Island adventure got many pages!

I was then astonished to see that Glenn had also run the article I handed in last year on our ride on Vancouver Island.  Seeing my byline right behind Lawrence Hacking‘s was a real rush!

There is no greater satisfaction for an English major than seeing your writing published.  I’ve managed it academically, but this was my first go at motorcycle media and it was no less satisfying.

The Motorcycle Mojo piece reads well (and I’m a tough critic with myself).  After seeing myself in print I think I might be addicted.  I’m so glad I brought the camera and aimed to write this up from the beginning, it’s like reliving the trip over again, and my son Max is over the moon!

I’ve already pitched another piece to Glenn.

If you’ve thought of writing out a motorbike experience but didn’t, give it a go!  Glenn is a considerate editor and the joy of seeing your words publicized is powerful!

Vancouver Island?!?!?  How can you not want to read that?!?

ASU/GSV Summit

I went to the strangest education conference of my career this past couple of days.  Wikispaces invited me down to attend and what a learning experience it was.  Surrounded by a struggling US education system that spends more and produces less than our own, I found it difficult to follow the circumstances they’ve invented for themselves.

Being a stranger in a strange land I wasn’t necessarily trapped by the expectations of the other people in attendance, though I wasn’t the only one questioning what I saw.  There seems to be a clear split in American education.  There are the Common Curriculum fans (check out that webpage, ride the hyperbole!), and then there are parents & teachers who are questioning the value of such a regimented, testing focused approach to learning.  Strangely, very few education technology companies seem to be questioning this approach, though they all appear quite interested in education.

The whole thing occurred on the surface of a conference that was more an educational technology trade show than an examination of sound pedagogical practice.  That politics and the business that feeds it drives the US education system rather than sound pedagogy became more apparent to me as the conference went on:

The only time I heard someone actually refer to pedagogical practice, best practices in teaching and learning, was when Michael Crow, the ASU president, gave a thoughtful talk on how we adapt to technology use in changing times.  Everything else was urging people to get on board with the common curriculum (and buy our system that caters to it).  That educational technology in the States is so focused on the politics of testing rather than best practices should concern every Canadian who adopts American technology in the classroom.

I’ve got a lot of notes and ideas I want to chase down from this experience.  In the next week or two I’ll write to them after mulling it over.

In the meantime, here are some photos of beautiful Arizona in bloom

The ASU/GSV Summit Blog Posts:
Data Exhaust
Who Owns Your Data?
Dogmatic Digitization


The old bike is coming back together again.  I’ve learned a couple of valuable lessons in the process:

a $30 toolbox should prevent $50 in lost parts, every time

1) Don’t take your parts to high school to get them worked on, they lose parts, don’t do the work anyway and it causes confusion and headaches when you’re trying to reassemble the thing.

2) I tried taking photos as I took the bike apart, which works well when you’re putting it back together, but with so many small fasteners and other odds and ends it pays to have a parts tray set up and labelled.  

I’ve since purchased a cheap sectioned toolbox that will serve as a parts holder.  I’ll use an erasable marker to label the parts as they go into each section of the toolbox.  That should resolve future finding-the-right-fastener headaches.

In the meantime, after multiple trips to dealer to pick up bits and pieces, I think I’m putting this all down as lessons learned and moving on.

The geometry of the bike is coming back together, but I’ve still got some work to do.  The rear brake went back on well, bled well and works perfectly.  It even has good pedal feel.  A concern in the rear is that the rotor suddenly seems out of round (it was fine before).  I’m going to get it back on the road and see if it needs reseating – it’s a 20+ year old bike, so maybe I put the rotor back on the hub in a different way and it’s not happy.

The front end all went back together without problems, but the front brakes don’t seem to want to bleed to a tight lever.  Fortunately CoG has a solution.  After leaving the lever tied closed for the night the brakes are starting to come back.  Another round of bleeding and I should have some sharp feeling front brakes again.

The bike is running rough, and I can’t tell if this is because it’s been sitting over the winter or it needs the carbs tickled.  I’m going to have to look into it in more detail.  A short run yesterday in double digit temperatures showed that the back end is back together perfectly.  The beads are doing a wonderful job of keeping the wheels balanced and the new bearings and tires make for very smooth and quiet operation.

If I can get the front brakes finished up and the fueling sorted, I should be ready to go just in time for the roads to get rained clear of the sand and salt of winter.

Money Clouds

You hear a lot about the magic of the cloud these days.  It’s linked to online integration, website optimization and the evolution of computers.

  Integration and optimization involve encouraging users to put information online and making that data easy for aggregators to access.  The modern, monetized internet is built around turning data into a commodity.  The 2014 web is designed around encouraging you to put as much of your life online as possible because that data has value.

The idea of computers evolving from mainframes to desktops to laptops to smartphones appears self evident, but I’m not so sure.  I’m starting to think the devices prompted us online and the evolution idea was set up afterwards as a marketing angle.  Our devices might not be a response to market needs, but a push by the data bankers to get more people producing.

When you boot up a computer you’ve created a self contained virtual environment that is designed for and subservient to your needs.  Within that machine you have security, privacy and administrative power over your data.  It’s hard to argue that this is anything other than an empowering position for a user.

When you connect to the internet you surrender administrative control.  Your virtual environment is no longer yours, your data is no longer internal and local, it’s no longer your data.  Privacy is an antiquated idea you have to let go of and security is entirely at the discretion of hackers who are increasingly supported by big business and government.  When you go online you have lost that private computing experience and thrown it wide open to many interested parties.

When you send in three one year old
broken Chromebooks you get one back, the
rest aren’t cost effective. If driving people online to

collect data is the goal, then the Chromebook is a
master stroke – disposable hardware that funnels you
into using a single browser – a branded internet.

Why have we stampeded to the cloud?  Did our devices change to serve our needs or have our devices been designed to drive us online?  Apple famously rolled out the ipad.  At the same time they put together itunes, which not only dominates media sales but has also now come to dominate app sales as well.  Selling an ipad is nice, constantly selling media is an exciting, never ending source of income.

Data as an income stream is at the root of our online migration.  Microsoft made billions selling an operating system, but the data produced inside it was very much the domain of the user.  Software we purchase for that environment had to also be subservient to the user.  This is a lousy approach if you want to monetize data and enjoy the benefits of a continuous income stream.

Blizzard realized this with the move to online gaming.  World of Warcraft was one of the first games to successfully follow the data=continual income model, charging monthly fees instead of a one time point of sale for the game.  The end result is a gamer spending hundreds of dollars on a game instead of the single $50 outlay.  If you don’t think it worked, check out how WoW compares to the other top grossing games of all time.

Google famously claims that it wants to organize the world’s information and make it available and useful.  This is always dressed in altruistic nonsense, but this is a profit driven business that goes to great lengths to not pay taxes.  Google is a data mining company, it always has been.  The happy result of this data mining is a remarkably accurate search engine that also happens to feed the data mining operation.  

Once the search engine was established Google went after traditional desktop based applications.  Lite versions of word processing, spreadsheet software and other traditional desktop apps drew users in with the suggestion that your software and data could be wherever your internet connection was.  This drove the expansion of the internet as well as the need for more bandwidth. Once the apps were rolling other data collection techniques like mapping and geo-location were added to the mining process.  The more data that feeds the machine, the more ways it can monetize it.

Claiming to be free, these apps drive users out of their private desktops and into the fishbowl of the internet.  Online apps feed data mining operations just like search engines do.  This blog is written on Blogger, a Google owned web application that encourages information to be put online so it can be mined.  Why do I use it?  Because I want to publish my writing.  In certain circumstances it makes sense to put data out into the fishbowl, but you don’t get to choose those circumstances on the web today.

The reason Google struggles with offering unmined online resources is because Google is a data mining company, it’s what they do.  This isn’t necessarily evil or nefarious, but it behooves us to understand how online companies work, especially if we’re going to get all giddy about driving students online.

A lot of infrastructure had to be put into place for your personal computer to be built, but that infrastructure is minuscule compared to what is involved in creating an internet.  The cost of building and maintaining a worldwide networking infrastructure is staggering.  The only way to make it cost effective is to make the data itself pay.  There are cost benefits to scaling up this kind of infrastructure, so online companies drive as many people into producing data as possible.

Any company that lives online can’t simply create something of value and then stand by it.  The sand is constantly falling through the hourglass, it costs bandwidth to offer even a simple online service in this expensive, complex, cut throat infrastructure.  The only way you can survive in an environment this carnivorously expensive is to make the data you’re attracting pay.  You push to schools, to charities, anywhere you can to generate input.

There is no such thing as a free online app.  The whole point of any online service is to get you producing data that can be mined.  This data is valuable even if your name isn’t attached.  Most privacy legalese attached to online services explicitly allows them to use your data as they see fit.  Cursory efforts are made to hide your name because no name = privacy, but your data is where the money is, and it isn’t yours according to most online agreements.  You surrender control of your data when you agree to use their data mining, um, nifty, online application.

Now that we’ve trained entire generations to ignore traditional media, this intrusive and invasive analysis is where market research has gone.  Multinationals don’t spend marketing dollars on TV commercials for people under thirty any more, it’s wasted money.  Instead, they drive the herd online, creating heat around exciting new smartphones / tablets / wearable computing – whatever gets people producing data to feed the network.

Again, this is neither good nor evil, but it is an evolution away from ideas of traditional advertising (which itself could be cast in a poor light).  The questions we need to ask ourselves as educators are: 

  • If we demand that students use online services that monetize the information they share, are we eroding ideas of privacy and personal security by demanding their online interaction?
  • Are we commoditizing our students’ learning?
  • Should that make us uncomfortable?

There are ways to bypass all of this, but that means turning away from the carefully designed, market driven future laid out for us.  Education could adopt open source software that offers complete administrative control.  Educators could require students to actually learn how to manage digital tools from a mastery learning perspective (instead of whatever bizarre kids-know-this-stuff-intuitively / digital native thing we’re doing now).

We could supply Tor browsers for students to use that would guarantee real anonymity and privacy.  We could expect students and teachers to learn how to manage their own online spaces and develop their own tools with education as the focus and no hidden data mining agenda.  We could leverage the sharing power of the internet to spread these tools around the world at little or no cost, but we don’t, because the future we’ve been sold is so shiny that we can’t think of anything else.

One thing is for sure, the future will be branded.  Branded
information, branded thinking, branded learning?

At the Google presentation at the recent ECOO conference the g-employee asked the room, “why aren’t you all joining Google For Education?  I’m not going to go on until someone can tell me why!”  He was very enthusiastic in his hard sell.

In a less high-pressure sale situation I can formulate a response:  I use Google tools, but I make a point of understanding what they are.  I get the impression that most Google Certified Teachers are more interested in being unpaid sales reps than they are recognizing the complexities of cloud based computing.  Any teacher who rushes into branding themselves with a private company’s logo makes me question their commitment to pedagogy.  What’s more important, using the best tool available or using the best tool from your brand?  It’s a big reason why the idea of brand specific computing devices will never get my vote.  

We’re being led to the cloud by implacable market forces who have monetized our information flow.  They offer ease of access, integration and a general malaise that many regular users of technology turn into ecstatic fandom.  You don’t need to learn this stuff, we’ll take care of all that for you, just hook yourself up to this milking machine and it’ll all be OK.

Hook up students to the milking machine and tell them it’s for their own good.  Edtech is preparing them for the future!

Setting the Stage

I somehow managed to fanangle my way into an Edtech symposium this week on the sustainable development of digital technology in education. Amidst former deputy ministers of education, board CIOs and other provincial education types I got to see the other side of the equation.

This year as head of Computers/IT has been good for this actually, getting my head out of the classroom context and seeing the bigger picture. I’ve been able to attend imaging committee meetings at the board level and gained an understanding of why everyone can’t have whatever they want. At this past meeting I tweeted that I felt like a sergeant from the trenches who suddenly found himself in a 5-star strategic planning meeting; it was engrossing.
From Hamilton-Wentworth’s awesome curriculum push into 21st Century Fluencies to what New Brunswick has been doing to get ahead of the game, I found the board and provincial interest in pushing ahead with our use of technology in the class to be… a relief!
During any battle to use digital technology in the class room (getting access, getting it to work, getting students over their jitters), I often feel like I’m losing ground. I’ll take one step forward in implementing a new piece of technology in a lesson or on a school wide basis, and get knocked back two steps by angry senior teachers who feel out of step with what’s going on, or lack of access to equipment, or failure of the tech, or OCT/board restrictions that seem panicky and unfounded, or the union telling of a horror story that seems to justify panicky and unfounded restrictions…
One of my preliminary thoughts before I went was to ask about how to beat the malaise of that feeling; how not to give up. I’ve heard from colleagues about how they burn out trying to push that envelope, and ultimately just disappear back into their classrooms and do their own thing. John Kershaw had an honest and helpful response to the question:
During his talk he spoke of a big set back where the winning party in an election used his one laptop per student policy as an example of government waste, and won on it, after telling him that they supported the program. This is exactly the kind of thing that brings idealists to their knees. His solution was pragmatic: work on your environment. Set the stage so that what you’re doing becomes a certainty, if not now, then eventually.
In the case of the laptop plan, he’d done groundwork with business groups (who were onside for more digitally literate graduates), the general public (who wanted their children more literate with technology), and the school system (who wanted to better prepare their students for their futures). That groundwork meant that even though the politics turned on him in the moment, the plan eventually went through, and he got what he thought was important; a New Brunswick education system that actually mattered in a 21st Century context.
I’ve been thinking over his for a few days now. If you’re on the right side of history, if you know you’re fighting a good fight, you’ve got to shrug off the knock backs. If you keep working to create the environment you’re aiming for, and you know you’re part of a wave of change, have some faith in the fact that the truth of what you’re trying to do will eventually win out.

Privilege Masquerading as Superiority

Last year while at the CyberTitan National Finals in Fredericton I happened to be standing by Sandra Saric, ICTC’s VP of talent innovation, during a photo opportunity where the fifty or so student competitors were all together on a long stairway.  Under her breath she wondered, “where are all the girls?”  There were maybe three or four female contestants.  Sandra’s comment resonated with me and I became determined to put together a female team that would get their own points and where no one is ‘just a sub’.

CyberTitan and Cyberpatriot have doubled down on this focus on bringing women into a cybersecurity industry that has only moved from 11% to 20% female participation in the past five years.  For the
2018-19 season any all-female teams had their costs waived.  For a program that isn’t rolling in support, that made a big difference and enabled me to pursue this inequity.

Graduating girls into non-traditional careers is an ongoing challenge in education.  Pushing against social norms is never easy, particularly so in our conservative, rural school where gender expectations tend to be even more binary and specialized program support significantly lower than in urban environments.  I’ve managed to have one or two graduating female computer technology focused students each year, but even that small step has only come after massive effort, and it’s not nearly enough.  Even with all that stacked against us, we still managed a 33% female participation rate in CyberTitan this year, and of our six Skills Ontario competitors, two were female.  We’re aiming to raise that even higher next year.

This year CyberTitan made a point of trying to address the very one sided gender participation in the cybersecurity industry by making the national wildcard position open to all-female teams.  There were only 15 out of 190+ teams in the competition, and our Terabytches finished in top spot.  We were delighted to discover that one of our boy’s teams actually finished one place out of the top four eastern teams.  A number of people (oddly all male)  grumbled about the all-female wildcard spot, but the irony is that we knocked ourselves out of the finals.

Taking an all-female team meant that I needed a female chaperone with us.  Fortunately, our board’s head of dual credit programming is a triple threat.  Not only is she very tech focused (her student just won top secondary brick layer in Ontario!), but she’s also computer science qualified and an absolute joy to travel with (I went to Skills Canada Nationals in Edmonton with her last year), so I quickly asked her to join us when the call came through to bring our girls to nationals.  Not only did she not need coverage herself, but she kindly covered mine so my school literally paid nothing for this trip.

I like to think I’m pretty sensitive to gender roles in the first place, but taking an all-female crew to this event had me constantly seeing micro-aggressions I might have otherwise missed.  Within five minutes of picking up the Toronto (all-male) teams on the bus ride to Ottawa, one of them had intimated that we were only there because we’re a girl’s team.  Another later said that it’s not fair that girls are getting special attention.  It must be tough when everything isn’t about you all the time.  These comments were a daily occurrence from all the other teams, even the two co-ed ones, one of the girls of which said that she was just the sub.

That same Toronto team was able to attentively listen to a male speaker during the visits to cybersecurity companies in the Ottawa area after the competition, but the moment a woman stepped up to speak they began a loud and rude conversation among themselves.  I wonder how often these little princes (who did ever so well in the competition) have had their gender superiority enforced to develop such outstanding habits.

Walking in to the competition, our team had all signed in but one and as she reached for the pen a boy from another team stepped in front of her like she wasn’t there.  Talking to Joanne and the team about it after, they shrugged and said, “you get used to it.”  By that point I’d been triggered by this so much that my already light grip on my aspie-ness was slipping and I was starting to get right angry, but even that anger response is couched in a male sense of privilege.  When a man gets angry it’s seen as assertiveness, when a woman gets angry she’s a bitch, which brings up yet another point.

After fighting to get a team together against overwhelmingly genderized expectations in our community, and encouraging that team to develop a representative sense of identity in an overwhelmingly male contest, and then having to push back when the powers that be didn’t like the name, you’d think this was all starting to get too heavy, but it has only clarified my sense of purpose.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if girls didn’t have to get used to being invisible and could self-identify without being told what they can and cannot be called?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could be what they are and explore what they could be without some small minded traditionalist trying to put them in a superficial box?  When you push back against that social apathy you get a surprising amount of kickback from the people it benefits.  Ontario’s current political mess is entirely a result of that conservative push back.

You even get kick back from the people it subjugates.  At an ICT teacher’s meeting earlier in the year, a teacher from an Ottawa school said she would never run an all female team because it isn’t fair to her boys.  Were everything else level, I’d agree with her sentiment, but in the landslide of unfairness around us, you’d have to be wilfully blind to ignore historically integrated misogyny in order to be ‘fair to your boys’.  This teacher taught at the local International Baccalaureate school, which brings up yet another side of competition and privilege.

Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver… Fergus.  Your
usual expected centres of digital excellence.

We’re a rural composite school that spreads itself thin catering to our entire community.  The major industry in our region is farming, we recently had our annual Tractor Day.  Our school contains programs for developmentally delayed students and has a sizable special needs student population.  We also manage to run a number of successful academic programs, but these are by no means our sole purpose.  Tech exists in there somewhere.

As far as computer technology goes, our lab is a room full of ewaste we’ve re-purposed to teach ourselves technology.  Thanks to some board SHSM funding and an industry donation from AMD we got the cheapest CPUs and motherboards we could find and put them in ten year old ewasted board PC cases running on ancient hard drives and power supplies.  My students have never touched a new keyboard or mouse in our lab.  We have to clear away our practice networks built of garbage because we have the largest tech classes in our board and province and we have no room in the lab to leave those networks set up with classes of 31 coming in next period.  I don’t imagine any of the other schools operate in a similar environment.

We returned the board desktops in our room to the school who redistributed that money into other departments because you can’t teach digital skills on a locked down machine.  We’ve received no school funding for the current lab.  Looking into the backgrounds of who we were up against in this competition, every other school is a specialist school from an urban centre.  In many cases they only teach top academic stream students pulled from other schools, and yet they can’t put together an all-female team for this competition?  One wonders if those competition focused, talent skimming schools inherently encourage gender imbalanced technology with their incessant focus on winning.

We’re built on sweat and tears.  Our disadvantage is also
our strength, but when it comes to competition it
gets frustrating not getting to run the same race
as everyone else.

The socio-economic side of privilege is every bit as battering as the sexism.  One of the little princes from Toronto was telling a Terabytche about his parent free March Break touring Europe with his friends.  She replied, “Hmm, I spent the week playing video games in Fergus…”  Last year half of our CyberTitan team had never left Ontario before, let alone had a week in Europe with their buddies.  The students who attend these specialized schools tend to come from economically enabled backgrounds and have parents looking to leverage that advantage.  The amount of support those wealthy families rain down on these specialty programs is yet another advantage we can only dream of.

Think the privilege ends there?  Because we cater to the full spectrum of students in our community, my classes are huge in order to reserve smaller sections for high-needs students (even though many of them also take my courses).  In talking to other coaches, my class sizes were the largest by a range of 20% to a staggering 50%, and their operational budgets ranged from five to twenty times what mine are; I teach up to a third more students with a fraction of the budget in a lab made out of garbage.

We were surprised to learn that we would be beginning the competition short-handed because one of the IB schools had exams some of their competitors had to write, so to keep it fair we’d all start short handed.  Right.  Gotta keep it fair.

That these urban, wealthy, gender empowered, privileged kids are flexing that privilege doesn’t surprise me.  That they continually complained about special treatment for a group of underfunded, rural, girls busting through gender expectations in technology, and who fought their way to these nationals literally using ewaste, only underlines the expectation that comes with their privilege; the expectation of winning.

In spite of these society-deep gender inequities and our specific socio-economic circumstances, the quality of my students continues to shine through.  Finishing fifth last year with only four team members and two broken competition laptops was just the kind of awesomeness I’ve come to expect from our kids.  It didn’t occur to me to have the whole competition changed to make it fair for them.

This year we managed a ninth place finish out of ten teams, only beating the intermediate team who can’t really compete with older more experienced teams anyway.  That earned another round of, ‘you’re only here because you’re girls’ from other teams.  After careful consideration I think my response is: if you came from where we came from, I wonder where you would have finished.

Is winning more about how you perform, or how you are economically and socially engineered to succeed?  I’d love to give gender and social equity to those complaining about our presence.  Having those boys experience people talking over them and stepping in front of them like they aren’t there would be good for them.  Facing down gender based prejudice in an industry where women are a small minority is an act of bravery, not special treatment.  Wouldn’t it be nice to bring everyone up instead of holding people down?  To do that we need to recognize what winning is and how privilege enables it.

Next year we have returning students for the first time in this competition.  I’m aiming to put a co-ed team of our fiercest veteran cyber-ninjas together, build tech out of garbage and then win anyway.  Nothing gets me going more than an underdog fight against privilege, especially when those with that privilege like to selectively ignore it.

I hope we’ll be back with another all-female team too.  Many of the Terabytches are interested in returning, but I can understand their hesitancy.  Working through this competition has challenged many of them in ways that were unintended.  If it was just about technical skill, then we’d have been much further down the track, but when you have to fight to be noticed and are constantly talked down to, it’s exhausting.  I get why they might think twice about going through the never-ending online and face to face sexism all over again.  It’d be nice if other schools would pick this up and run with it instead of rolling their eyes at it.

Last year was all about giving the haves a black eye, and it thrilled me.  We didn’t return home with a trophy or a banner, but we were running a different race.  I’m not even sure how anyone could make this an even race.  Teaching technology is dependent upon access to it, and the digital divide is deep and wide.  This year it was about something even bigger.  Yet again we came home empty handed, but I think what we won was worth more than any of the prizes.  I hope the girls see that and come back to defend their title.

An amazing opportunity and a chance to begin to create balance in an industry that lacks it.  Great work ICTC!

from Blogger

April Fools Forks Of The Credit

It crawled up to near double digits on Saturday, April 1, so Max and I took the Tiger by the tail and went for our first ride over to The Forks of the Credit.

On our way over to Erin we were stopped at a light when a truck passed us carrying an spanking new Africa Twin – very nice.  The truck driver was giving us thumbs up and we gave ’em right back.

We stopped at the Busholme in Erin for a warming lunch; 8°C on a motorbike will cool you off quickly.  It’s now on Max’s places to eat memory map.  After a quick stop at Holtom’s Bakery we headed over to the Forks and did a lap…
Music: The Fire The Tread The Steel by Hot Water Music

The ride from Belfountain out to Highway 10 was lovely – clear of speedbumps (both on the road and the four wheeled kind).  It was cold and there was still a lot of snow runnoff crossing the road, but I could let the bike go as fast as it felt comfortable without having to worry about some Ontario numpty in a box in front panicking that the road actually has curves on it.

On the ride back to Belfountain for my first coffee of the year at Higher Ground, we quickly caught up with just such a numpty driving a Subaru WRX… and he was driving it like he stole it his grandmother.  Baffled by every bend in the road, this toolasaurus in his rally car practically stopped every time the road got interesting.  Max and I, two up on our fourteen year old adventure bike almost pulled off to let this guy have his moment of sheer driving brilliance.  I guess that’s why you buy a forty thousand dollar rally car knock off and then drive it out to one of the few twisty roads in the area.

Soon enough we got to Higher Ground where only the very serious people were out.  The parking lot was littered with half a dozen BMW adventure bikes, a Ducati Multistrada and two Triumph Tigers once we got there.  Ours was the oldest bike by ten years.  There were a lot of peaked adventury helmets and Klim clothing.  Everyone felt very robust and adventurous.

Off the bike it was twelve degrees and sunny, so looking at all the bikes and chatting with the other riders was a nice break from the frost bite at speed.

We wrapped up our coffee break and took Mississauga Road north past the ski hill still thick with snow before heading back home a bit wind burned and out of practice saddle sore, but happy to have gotten the first two up ride of the year in.

Loading up at High Ground for the Ride home.
Mississauga Road north behind another four wheeled speed bump
A veil of beautifully scalloped clouds followed us all the way home.
All taken from the 360Fly4k suction cupped to the wing mirror and edited in-camera.

from Blogger

Sea to Sky and Back Again

My son and I are two up on a BMW F800ST on our way out of Sooke on Vancouver Island’s south coast.  It’s the last big stop before heading into the wild, and it’s not that big a stop.  The road has met up with the rocky shoreline and I’m bending the bike left and right around constant corners, I’m seldom able to see more than a couple of hundred feet down the road.  From the steep hillside down to the Pacific Ocean a deer pops over the barrier onto the road right in front of us.  The BMW seamlessly comes to a stop five feet in front of the startled deer that tears off into the forest.  I wait for the inevitable follow up deer and see it next to the barrier watching us.  We pull away slowly and elect to ease off a bit and keep it under 80 kilometres per hour.  Even at speed limit speeds this road is something special.

I’m supposed to be in class, at work, instead I find myself over four thousand kilometres away from home on a cool and sunny Friday morning at the end of May with a rented motorcycle, beautiful weather and three hundred kilometres of astonishing roads in front of me, sometimes life offers up nice surprises.

I’ve only been riding on the road for just over a year.  I have my M2 license and I left an ‘07 Kawasaki Ninja 650R at home.  The BMW is only the second road bike I’ve ever ridden.  It’s amazing how different two machines that do the same job can be.  The BMW is a bigger bike, with larger seats, it’s much more comfortable according to my pillion.  The suspension is soft and supple compared to my Kawi, and the controls feel lighter.  The clutch take up is smooth and the brakes make me think I need to do the front pads and bleed my Ninja when I get home.  The BMW is a more mature bike in every sense.  The redline is a sane 8000 rpm, and with the soft suspension and big seat it’s easy to ride for a long time.  Other than the weird left hand/right hand indicators it’s an easy transition from the Ninja (one of the reasons I chose it).

The rider of this fine machine,
in his beaten up, old BMW
leathers was in his seventies!

We work our way down this increasingly empty coastal road until we stumble across the small town of Shirley and Shirley Delicious.  We’d been told by the technician at Cycle BC where we’d picked up the bike that the temperature can drop ten degrees on the coast, and he wasn’t wrong.  After a hot coffee warm up and the best sausage roll I’ve ever had, we bump into another BMW rider who is in his seventies.  After some affable, Teutonic chat we are back on the long and winding road.

From Sooke to Port Renfrew,
endlessly entertaining

From Shirley we wind our way north west up the quiet coast of Vancouver Island.  The east coast faces Vancouver and is as busy as anywhere in Canada, but the west coast faces the endless Pacific and remains largely unpopulated.  From Shirley we saw only a couple of other vehicles as we chased the tail of this amazing road that clings to the side of mountains edged by ocean.  The switchbacks that lead down to single lane bridges over mountain rivers look more like Scandinavian fjords than Canadian back roads.

We stop and stretch about forty minutes into the ride at a scenic lookout, which along with many provincial parks, dot the route.  As we clear the straits between Vancouver Island and the mainland and begin to face the Pacific, tsunami warning signs and escape routes begin to appear.  You really get a sense of being on the edge of the world here.  The edge of North America, the edge of the former British Empire, facing half a world of ocean.

Port Renfrew is more an idea than an actual place; a few buildings scattered among the trees.  We pass through it in moments and find ourselves on a rough paved road into Juan de Fuca Provincial Park where we hope to find Botanical Beach.  We strip off the bike gear and stow it in the big Givi box on the back and head down the trail.  The tide is out and an amazing beach full of tidal pools awaits.

We warm up on the long walk down and soon find ourselves clambering over black stone jutting into the ocean.  The sea life is prodigious, with massive strings of clams, crabs and a million other things crawling on the rocks.  The smell of salt and sharp, clean air is magical. We’re the only people we can see.

Jurassic Park has nothing on
Juan de Fuca!

We spend two hours wandering around the rocks, but I’ve only got the bike for the day and the sun is way past noon.  A quick uphill hike back to the bike has us both sweating.  I figure we should eat and the Coastal Kitchen on the way in looked like a good choice, but my son has a thing for chain restaurants and says he isn’t hungry (though he was).  I don’t get to the Coastal Kitchen, one of my few regrets on this trip.

I’m looking at my watch and wondering how I can possibly get back to Victoria since it’s getting on for 2pm and we’re not even halfway around our loop yet.  Lake Cowichan is halfway across the island.  It’s only 63 kilometres away but this road is something else, you don’t make time on it.  Around every corner (and there is always a corner) you find idyllic waterfalls, tumbling mountain rivers and absurdly beautiful alpine vistas.

Almost two thousand metres in elevation
changes, it’s as uppy-downy as it’s lefty-righty

The BMW is bending left and right over the patchwork surface of the road, the soft suspension soaking up the bumps.  I get into a rhythm and lose myself for a while chasing this road. 

Unlike the Ninja, I can barely feel Max back there until he uncharacteristically thumps into me as a I brake for a switchback.  He mumbles that he’s ok, but we’ve been on the road since 9am, he’s had no lunch and he’s dopey, not a good combination.  I push on to Lake Cowichan, now more worried about him than enjoying the ride.  I really wish we’d eaten at the Coastal Kitchen before leaving Port Renfrew, we’re not putting that to a vote next time.

We stop in Cowichan and eat lousy fast food at an A&W.  He perks right back up and we get back on the road quickly because it’s getting on to 4pm and I’ve got less than two hours to return the F800.  But Cowichan marks the return to the populated side of the island and the highway out of it is the first 100 km/hr zone we’ve seen since leaving Victoria.  In a flash we’re back to the Trans Canada in Duncan and, after a day spent virtually alone on twisting roads, we find ourselves in a traffic jam surrounded by box stores.  We wait our way through the worst timed traffic lights ever in Duncan and finally get moving south towards Victoria.

Even a commuter road like this makes most roads in Ontario look sad.  It’s smooth (it barely snows here and frost heaves are all but nonexistent), and the asphalt constantly snakes over and around mountains.  Though very different from the west side wilderness, the highway ride back to Victoria was nice too.

At speed the BMW is surprisingly comfortable.  The tiny screen on the front had me doubting its high speed comfort, but now I understand how wind to the chest can keep your weight off your wrists.  At highway speeds you seem to lay on the wind, it’s remarkably comfortable.  The minimalist aerodynamics on the F800ST do a surprisingly good job.

Once clear of Duncan we don’t see another slowdown until entering Victoria, and it isn’t a big slowdown.  By five o’clock we’re pulling back into CycleBC’s downtown shop, tired but elated.  The bike did the whole trip, over three hundred kilometres all told, on a single tank.  It also cast some perspective on my Ninja.

The BMW’s suspension makes me want to look into the Kawi’s, but a 650R is a very different kind of bike than an F800.  Given a choice though I’d take the BMW’s buttery, compliant suspension over the teeth rattling shocks on my Kawi.  I thought the lack of a windshield would hurt the BMW but it was surprisingly good, and makes me question the turbulence I get off the aftermarket windshield on the Ninja.  The weird switch gear on the BMW wasn’t convenient, but all of the controls were light and responsive, making the bike a joy to take down twisty roads.  It all sounds like a slam dunk for the BMW, but there is one place where the my older Kawasaki leaves the BMW behind.

It’s pretty and capable,
but it has the heart of a tractor

After lugging that BMW engine around for a day I was happy to put it down.  At best it chugged down the road, but most of the time it sounded agricultural.  One of the reasons I fell for the Ninja was the sound of its engine, I’ve seldom heard anything happier.  Whereas the BMW goes about its business with conservative, grim faced determination, the Kawasaki is an eager accomplice, with a soprano’s voice.  While the BMW is grumbling to its redline something magical is happening in the Kawasaki.  Happy up to 8000rpm, it dives to the 11,000 rpm redline with a euphoric banshee wail; the last half of the Ninja’s rev range is something wonderful.  That it also manages to feel stronger than the BMW even though it’s a much smaller lump is also telling.

I enjoyed riding the BMW, but it didn’t move me.  The good news is I now have much higher standards for control feel, brakes and suspension, but without that all-singing engine I’m just not smitten.

As for the trip, it was unforgettable.  From sea to sky and back again, it was challenging, exhausting and completely worth it.  Were I to do it again, I think I’d get the bike for 24 hours instead of 8 and stay over in Cowichan before coming back the other way down the empty coast.  That road deserves two way attention, and I’d happily avoid the traffic in Duncan and the stress of trying to rush the bike back at the end of the day.  It also eat lunch at the Coastal Kitchen, damn it.  The days are long on Vancouver Island in the summer.  If you left at noon on one day, you could meander up to Cowichan enjoy a 10pm sunset and be on the road well after sunrise at 6am the next day looking forward to retracing those mad roads back to Victoria – you’d also miss rush hour on both sides.

CycleBC is located in downtown Victoria right under the conference centre attached to the Empress Hotel.  The staff are quick to get you on the road, know the area inside and out and offer up some great insider tips (why we ended up making a point of seeing Botanical Beach).  They offer a wide range of bikes from the F800ST I was on to a BMW GS, Suzuki Vstrom, Kawaski KLR, Triumph Bonneville and various cruiser options.  Everything looked to be in top form (they have an onsite technician), and the F800 was flawless for us.

If you get a chance to ride southern Vancouver Island, you won’t be disappointed.  Next time I’m out there, I’m looking at a longer ride around more of the island.

Perfect Moments on 2 Wheels

Lexus has this ad about being in the perfect moment:

Other than the narrative (I find that I’m lost in moments like this, not narrating them in my head), I like the idea. I was editing footage from riding last week and had trouble finding a frame where I didn’t have a perfect moment look on my face:
Even pausing during the high speed sections of that video shows a series of very content micro-expressions.  You might find a perfect moment once in every blue moon in your Lexus, but I find them almost constantly when out on the bike.  I’m starting to get the idea behind the ‘you never see a bike in a therapist’s parking lot‘ saying.

The real question is: what is it about riding a motorcycle that causes this kind of continuous immersion in the perfect moment? (redundant perhaps, every moment is perfect isn’t it?)

When I ride well I find myself immersed in what I’m doing I lose myself in it.  It’s only when conscious thought arises that my corners aren’t carved perfectly and my gears are wrong.  Some of this has to do with the fact that I’m still relatively new to motorbiking and very conscious of improving my process, but the majority has to do with the immersive nature of riding a motorcycle.

I even look happy parking the bike at work!

Being in the wind means you are enveloped by the world you’re passing through.  Your senses are alive to sounds, smells and the panorama around you.  You aren’t seeing the world through a letterbox wind shield and smelling recirculated A/C.  The sensual nature of riding, the wind tugging at your clothes, the sun on your back, goes a long way to making you the ride rather than you doing a ride.

If the sensual side of it isn’t enough (and it’s often overwhelming, ask any biker who has felt the temperature drop and smelt the ozone as they’ve ridden into a thunderstorm), there is always the mechanical intimacy of riding a motorcycle to make you forget concious thought and become one with the moment.

Unlike the hand on the wheel, one foot on the gas approach to driving, the motorcyclist is changing gears with their left toe, rear braking with their right, operating the clutch and indicators (and sometimes horn, lights and choke) with their left hand and twisting the throttle and applying the front brakes with the right.  On top of that they are using both arms to counter-steer into corners and their whole bodies to manage those turns.  Motorcycling is a viable and complex form of exercise for both the mind and body.

So what we have here is a mode of transport that is physically taxing, mentally demanding and sensual.  On top of all that, if you do it badly it can very quickly become fatal.  You very quickly want to be able to fall into the zone when riding.  Peak performance and awareness it fosters isn’t nice to have but a necessity when operating a motorbike.  Fortunately, getting to that state is fantastically rewarding.  There are a lot of ways to get there but seat time seems to be the magic ingredient.

In a cruel twist, this morning I got the bike out for the short commute to work.  The rain had stopped and the smell of water soaked plants filled the humid air, but my up-until-now bullet proof old Concours wouldn’t start, it had a dead battery!  Maybe I left the ignition on?  Maybe some water got into things?  Maybe something broke?  Suddenly that string of contented moments I was looking forward to became a morose push back into the garage after changing out of my gear.  My commute turned from fifteen minutes of bliss to the tedium of driving.  The bike is a wonderful form of therapy, except for when it doesn’t work.

In The Crowds: Scripted Experiences

I’m just back from my first trip to California.  Having visited it so many times virtually, I was surprised at how different the place is from how it frames itself.  Like a movie set, Southern California has a face that looks good while hiding a lot of things that don’t work.

My favourite parts of California were the real bits: the coast, Joshua Tree Park, Mount Palomar.  It got dodgy for me the minute we wandered into the invented places, strangely also the most crowded places.

We’re all victims of our own childhood.  My parents spent ours taking us camping.  When we went to The States we visited family and hung out on the beach.  In Florida we went to the Kennedy Space Centre, but never Disneyworld.  This might have had as much to do with how much disposable income we had as it did with our interests.

Going to California for the first time, my wife, who has fond memories of attending Disneyworld as a kid, wanted to show me Disneyland.  I’ve had a long personal history with Disney.  It was what we watched as a family on Sunday nights on TV growing up.  The first film I ever saw was Jungle Book.  Being an animator at Disney was a long time dream.  I’m anything but a Disney hater, but I’ve never had an interest in going to their theme parks.

Going on Christmas Day with thousands of giddy people in mouse ears felt like attending some kind of cult meeting.  I don’t do well in crowds and this particularly day is one of the busiest the park has.  I enjoyed various aspects of the park, but at the end of a hot, sweaty, crowded day, what it did most was clarify for me the difference between a shallow, scripted experience and a genuine one that offers depth of narrative.

I used to enjoy amusement park rides, but nowadays if I want a thrill I’ll scare myself for real on a motorcycle rather than sitting like a lab mouse in a centrifuge.  I prefer a situation where my own skill dictates the quality of the physical experience.  This also ensures that the experience will be mine instead of what is spoon fed to me.  Two people on a rollercoaster walk away with the same cookie cutter experience.  Two people riding motorbikes on a mountain road do not.

My son isn’t a fan of rides either, so we tended toward shows and entertainment rather than lining up to strap into spinning things.  The Star Wars tour, Pirates of the Caribbean and various stage shows all offered a focus on entertainment rather than vacuous adrenaline.  Disneyland tends to focus on immersion in the Disney ethos, so you can easily go to the park and not once get on a spinny ride.  Having said that, we didn’t go on ‘It’s a Small World‘ because it would have taken two hours of lining up to see just how small the world is.

People get in their vehicles and sit in traffic to get to Disney World, where they line up to get into the park, and then line up to get on this ride where they then sit in traffic.  Some people’s idea of fun is completely foreign to me.

Strangely, I’m more than happy to shift into a more passive mode and follow a narrative on the screen.  Experiences that use digital technology to create interactive, sensory experiences are quite interesting to me.  In our time in California we also went to Universal and did the Minion Mayhem ride, which is a great example of advanced digital media being used to create an experience, it feels like a roller coaster with a plot.  Pirates of The Caribbean also was remarkably immersive with complex robotic tableaus that told a story.  Star Tours was a nice mix of both, with a smartly done interactive line up that leads to a digitally immersive ride; I can get lost in narratives like those.

Now that I’m back in school I can’t help but consider these ‘amusement park’ experiences in terms of learning.  There is such a strong emphasis on engagement at all cost that many classrooms have taken on the giddy quality of the spiny ride, complete with lineups to get on the digital tools needed.  Any experience that comes out of it tends to be scrambled if retained at all, and the idea of patiently building deeper understanding doesn’t have a chance.  The hook becomes the reason for the lesson rather than anything you can immerse yourself in and take away afterwards.

I’ve heard students talk about how they ‘did’ a rollercoaster – as though their interaction with it somehow affected the outcome.  The rollercoaster did them, they didn’t do the rollercoaster.  When students talk about video games designed to deliver you to a conclusion I feel the same way – the game played you, you didn’t play the game.  When failure is never an option, you never get to succeed at anything.  It’s the difference between real and not real experience.  I’m willing to bet that, if surveyed, the majority of students would feel that their education was something that was done to them rather than anything they had a say in the outcome of.

When I think of those millions who press their way through Disney to see concrete starfish plastered on walls when real ones are only a few miles away at the beach, I wonder what it is we’re aiming at in terms of engagement.  Giving people what they want is often pointless when what they want is empty.