Staring Into The Abyss

Originally published on Dusty World  in October, 2012:

I was just reading Doug Peterson’s Blog about how a number of edublogs are looking at the Amanda Todd story.  I can understand the urge, but I’m coming at this from a different angle than most.

I’ve had a particularly difficult year dealing with suicide.  In September I received an email from the coroner with a PDF attached.  In many pages of astonishing detail I read the science that showed that my Mum’s death wasn’t an accident, that she took her own life.  When you’re staring into an abyss like this the rhetoric currently in the media sounds astoundingly shallow.  Suicide isn’t a rational choice, or even an emotional one, it’s an existential choice, the most profound one imaginable.

To pin an action like this on a single motivation (ie: cyber bullying so you can amp up anxiety around technology use with children) is simplistic and manipulative.  I have no doubt that cyber bullying played a part, but to base suicide on a single motivating factor is asinine and seems more in line with pushing a political agenda than recognizing a complex truth.

When I was in high school I was big into Dungeons and  Dragons.  At the height of the hobby a kid in Orangeville killed themselves and the press gleefully pinned the cause on D&D, causing panic in parents and making me, as an avid player, feel isolated and vilified.  They’d done something similar a few years earlier with Ozzy Osborne and another suicide.  This kind of simplification fills up the reports of the chattering classes, and helps idiots create fictions that let them push agendas.  That many in the public swallow it is a lasting sadness.

From an educator’s point of view, this is being treated as a management issue.  I fear suicide is being used to manipulate cyber bullying as a political tool – which under my circumstances seems particularly callous.  Rhetorical stances like ‘suicide is never an option’ and rationalizations abound in an attempt to direct this very difficult aspect of human behavior.  Control is the goal, based on a very real fear of the outcome.  But the rhetoric still comes on in response to the presses’ assertion that cyber bullying caused this death.

I’ve been staring into this abyss for a while now.  It has made work difficult, it has made life seem like the self made experience that it is, which is exceedingly heavy if you’re like most people and happy with distractions and assumption as your reason for being.  Nothing is inherently valuable, life is what we make it – literally.  In my Mum’s case she was battling mental illness and was finally on medication for it – which she overdosed on.  Did mental illness play a part in her death?  No doubt.  Was it the only cause?  Not remotely.

The suicide I’m dealing with didn’t happen in a vacuum, I suspect none of them do.  I also suspect that none of them has ever, ever happened for a single reason.  There is no doubt that Amanda was bullied, and that this was a factor in her suicide.  What I question are the responses that focus on dealing with a single social issue that has always and will always exist as though resolving it would somehow magically have prevented her death.

People are naturally social and competitive.  Bullying is a result of this basic human nature, it always has been.  The twist now is that many of the clueless digital natives are publishing what has always happened privately for everyone to see.  Instead of being seen as a window to a previously hidden behavior, the media has dubbed this a cyber bullying epidemic and called into question the very technologies that have made a problem as old as humanity obvious.

The educational response has been to try and get out in front of this invented epidemic.  As someone who has circled this abyss, I’d ask everyone involved in education to consider the situation from more than a single perspective.  Please do not simplify suicide into a misunderstanding that can be rationalized away.

We are not serving our students well if we simplify this into an administrative exercise solely to reduce suicide numbers.  Appreciate the complexities of suicide and try to see the people who end up in this darkness as whole people with many interconnected, complex issues, and not something to be convinced, coerced, manipulated or managed into doing what is more comfortable for everyone else.

Suicide is complex, terrifying and present.  It deserves our full attention, not a soundbite.

Art Therapy.

Long Distance Rallying: Lobo Loco’s Comical Rally

We were up early on Friday morning getting ready for the Lobo Loco Comical Rally. This was a tricky one with super-hero themed locations but without a set start and finish location. It sold out well before the start day and had people from all over the place participating in it.  A long distance rally like this gives you a list of theme based locations you have to research and plan to visit in a set time period.  This one also had a minimum distance requirement of 400kms in 12 hours.

For us we were looking at a warm (28°C), sunny day in Southern Ontario. Our plan was to create a ‘skeleton’ map of where we wanted to go and then research locations on the route that would get us points. Because this rally was a human-focused one, it made sense to head into population to find locations, so I elected to make a route that would lead us to Niagara Falls eventually. This would mean riding in the dreaded “Golden Horseshoe” – the most populated area in Canada and usually a sure way for me to lose all hope in humanity.

I usually aim away from population when I ride. Sitting in traffic and dicing with distracted drivers isn’t on my to-do list when I go for a ride, but one of the advantages to doing a rally is that it pushes you outside of your comfort zone. In this case it would help me hone my highway riding and traffic management skills.

The plan was to take the new Concours 14 on the trip but after a pre-rally ride on it we got home and looked at the Corbin seat on the Tiger and decided to take the older, less dependable and less long-distance touring ready bike simply for a saddle that doesn’t feel like a sadist’s dream.  The Tiger also has nicer foot pegs for pillion and wasn’t giving me any reason to doubt it so I spend the day before making sure everything was tight and ready to go.

By 10am we were on the road getting points.  We looped through downtown Elora to catch our first super-hero bonus (IRONMN1) and then bounced over to Fergus to get our first villain bonus at the Lutheran church there (LUTHOR1), then it was down to Guelph to catch a Spiderman themed stop (a science building at a university) before heading on to our first comic book store stop at The Dragon in the south end of the city.  We’d hoped to also do a motorcycle themed comic book cover in the store but thanks to COVID they were running on reduced hours and weren’t open yet.

We’d done a lot of research and planning for the rally but you’ve got to be ready to pivot while you’re in a timed rally in order not to burn time.  Unfortunately, at that moment the Tiger decided to get temperamental and wouldn’t start.  I finally got it going again so we decided to grab a MOVIEP bonus for a superhero themed movie poster at a theatre nearby instead (you could only pick up 3 stops in teach location).
The Tiger wouldn’t start again after stopping at the theatre (turning over but not catching when hot).  I was now anxious and worried that we’d get stranded while far from home during a never-ending pandemic.  It finally started and we pulled over at a local Starbucks to have a coffee and a think.  The bike was working perfectly other than the hot-start issue so we decided to press on.  Because we parked the bike for 15 minutes while we had the coffee, the Tiger fired up no problem – so it starts, just not immediately after you turn it off.  This is a problem in a long distance rally where you’re starting and stopping up to 25 times, but a manageable one.

South down Highway 6 we immediately got stuck in traffic coming off the 401 mega-highway.  It was starting to get properly hot now but once we got moving the temperature was bearable.  We were going to stop at Flamborough Patio Furniture to get a photo of one of their giant chickens (the INHULK bonus was to get a photo of an oversized road-side attraction), but there was no place to safely stop and I’m very conscious of safety when we’re rallying, so we pressed on to Terra Greenhouses where we got the GOBLIN1 bonus for finding garden gnomes.  We stopped long enough that the Tiger fired up no problem – 10 minutes seemed to do the trick, so on we pressed to Hamilton and our next three targets.

Another science building stop at McMaster University almost got us the REALHOx real hero bonus (get a  real-life hero to sit on or stand by your bike) when a nurse came out of the hospital still in scrubs on her way home, but we couldn’t find her once we pulled into the university parking area.  After McMaster we headed downtown looking for a Wonder Woman bonus (stature of a woman), but construction meant we would have been sitting in traffic for 20 minutes trying to get there so we bailed, hit the Levity Comedy Club for a JOKERx bonus before riding out along Hamilton’s rough dock area.

The next target was Do Eat Sushi in Grimsby where they serve octopus on the menu (the OCTOPI Doc Octopus villain bonus!).  We stopped for an excellent lunch at Station 1 across the street before pushing on to St. Catharines.  Our Skills Ontario GIS medal winning son was at home so we had him look up an alternative Wonder Woman statue we could do and he found a great one!  St. Catharines was the end of the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape the land of the free south of us.  Harriet Tubman was a real-life wonder woman who helped free hundreds of slaves and then went back to the US to fight for the Union in the civil war.  Her statue in St. Catharines, where she lived for a time, was in a meditation garden on the side of a small church in a rough area of the city, and it was lovely and all the better for it because we were originally going to just grab a statue of a queen instead.  Canada has a lot of hidden history like this but queen statues are a dime a dozen.

From Harriet we worked our way through St. Cats getting a Peter street and a Parker Street along with another science building to complete the Spiderman combo bonus (Peter & Parker streets, GOBLIN, OCTOPI and science building – so all the Spiderman – points).
We headed out toward Niagara toward Queenston Heights for our second wonder woman statue (Laura Secord this time) but the canal was closed while a massive ship with what looked like huge steel building construction on it closed the way over.  Some cars were turning left so we followed them down the canal to the next bridge and got over as the big ship was entering the lock upstream.  It was cool to see but slowed us down.  I missed a turn to get on the highway and we ended up travelling through Niagara wine country instead, which was an improvement.
As long as we didn’t stop the Tiger and expect it to start right away it was flawless, though the clutch was starting to make some odd noises.  Maybe it’s time to change the sparkplugs.  We collapsed in a heap on the grass in the Queenston Heights across from Laura’s statue at 5pm.  At that point we’d done about 160kms and hit 14 locations.  Our initial plan was to do 24 locations (one under the 25 limit) and continue on to Niagara Falls before looping back and catching our final stops in Cambridge and Kitchener on our way home, but my phone was acting up and the bike was causing worry and I was concerned about our stamina (over the past 3 years our family has faced cancer and heart surgery).

As we sat there with our boots and socks off (I took my pants off too), we had a picnic of apples, granola bars and water, cooling off and stretching, we made a decision to call it.  With better circumstances, a less questionable bike and better stamina on our part I think we could have aimed for a 10k score, but for this one my main goal was to finish and do it with a smile on our faces.

Finishing meant we had to do a minimum of 10 stops and cover at least 400kms.  The distance requirement was going to be tricky and we wouldn’t meet it by retracing our steps.  Just before my phone died I mapped an alternative route that would have us dodge west on the 403 to the 401 before heading home on the highway.  Going this longer way around on the highway would mean we wouldn’t be on the road so long (but it would be at speed in rush hour traffic) and we’d just get over the distance requirements.
We set out about 5:30pm and bombed down the QEW without any slowdowns.  When we got to the bypass around Hamilton things ground to start-stop with compression waves of impatient people cutting each other off and making it worse.  We sat amidst the rows of idling SUVs, minivans and trucks, all spewing carbon into the atmosphere while everyone made a point of slowing things down in hopes of getting themselves a few feet further down the road.  In circumstances like this it’s hard not to see every GTA rush hour as a metaphor for why we’re willing to make the world uninhabitable just to get ourselves a bit further down the road.  It takes a special kind of blindness to not see that when you’re sitting in it every day.
The jackass in an Audi wagon with fifteen grands worth of carbon road bicycle on his back bumper who ran right to the end of a lane before cutting in front of the row of traffic was in the majority.  Nothing makes people worse than there being too many people, and there are more too many people in the world every day.
I’d suggest lane splitting for bikes but after watching Ontario drivers fail to indicate and drive irrationally just in order to get ahead one space in traffic, I don’t think Ontario can handle lane splitting or filtering of motorcycles, we don’t have the culture or the driving skill to do it safely.
Once clear of the idiocy that is Canadian city driving (there’s a reason the only accidents Ewan & Charlie had when they rode around the world was in a Canadian city), we made tracks on the 403 away from the apocalyptic Golden Horseshoe.  The Tiger doesn’t have much in the way of wind protection (it’s basically a tall, naked bike), but the motor is a treat and we bombed down the 403 to Woodstock where we stopped to fill up at about 7pm.  The Tiger was managing over 50mpg two up with luggage.  The long ride into the setting sun had dried us out so we grabbed a Booster Juice and stretched before hopping back onto that lovely Corbin saddle for the final run home.
The 401 is a lot like Mad Max but without the speed limits.  As we got out onto the near-empty mega-highway we merged with 18 wheelers already doing 120km/hr and made tracks for Kitchener.  We got there in what felt like a matter of minutes and ducked off at Shantz Hill to take Regional Road 17 past the Waterloo Regional Airport and home.
The sun was low in the sky and the sunset was beautiful.  We passed through several small, Germanic communities around Kitchener and I figured at least one of them would have a Lutheran church so we could pick up another LUTHOR bonus, but all the little village churches had switched to United Church and I didn’t have it in me to go hunting this late in the day.

We pulled into the same Esso station in Elora that we’d left at 9:40am at 8:30pm and 407kms later.  If you factor in our three extended stops, we were in motion for 9 out of those ll hours averaging 45km/hr including 14 stops for points.
If you’ve never done a long distance rally like this you’ll find that you’re exhausted at this point.  Riding a bike is much more physically taxing than driving a car, especially an air conditioned one on a hot day.  We’d made a point of hydrating whenever possible but you always end up in a deficit doing an event like this.
This was our first timed rally as a team and we both have a much clearer idea of what’s needed to be more competitive next time.  An ergonomically sorted Concours would be a better tool for this kind of long distance work, especially covering the highway miles, and it would erase bike mechanical worries.  Stopping for hydration and to sort ourselves out is a good idea – being frantic and chaotic on something like this doesn’t help you maximize points.  We got penalties for misspelling not putting addresses in some of our emails, though our photos were good so we’ve got that down.
I had to get the Send Reduced App on my generic OnePlus Android phone in order to meet the size requirements for attachments which adds extra work to sending in stops.  Iphones and Samsung Android phones do these file reductions automatically in their email programs so that’s one place to trim wasted time and maximize scores.
It took us 9 hours in motion to make 14 stops.  You don’t want to rush stops because you can lose points making mistakes, but you also don’t want to end up with stop lag.  An efficient stop would probably be a couple of minutes if you’re finding a safe place to stop, parking up the bike, getting the rally flag ready and taking the photo and sending it correctly.  Some of our stops lagged up to 10 minutes.  If we’re running for maximum points we’d need to tighten up our stops, but retaining the breaks is a good idea to maintain hydration and limberness.
The biggest place to pick up points would be in building our stamina so we could run competitively for the full 12 hours.  This would require physical training.  There is also an element of circumstance/luck in a long distance rally.  If you get stuck in traffic or COVID reduced business hours you end up missing points that might otherwise fallen to hand.  I’ve always felt that if you practice your luck it will improve; experience makes luck happen.

Our rally prep is strong and our ability to pivot away from bad situations while in motion was good.  If we can improve our tools and stamina we could aim for a 10k+ finish points wise which would put us mid-pack.

The Concours is a better bike for this kind of work compared to the 80 thousand+kms, older and cantankerous Tiger, but I haven’t ergonomically tailored it to our needs yet.  A phone that streamlines submissions would help as would an on-bike navigation system rather than me trying to do all that through my generic and increasingly disappointing OnePlus Android phone.
TomTom makes a moto-specific GPS system (so does Garmin) that would allow me to create a full rally route rather than the limited number of entries Google Maps allows.  G-maps is also (like all Google apps it seems) a poorly designed afterthought designed to collect user data rather than provide an optimal service – we pay for free in many different ways.  Having a navigationally specific tool would make for much more streamlined directional plan.
Our goal was to finish the rally and we achieved that.  By building on our strengths and consolidating this experience and improving our tools and processes, we’ll be able to aim for a more competitive result next time.
Here’s our rally planning spreadsheet: 
If you’ve never tried a long distance rally, give it a go.  It’s a great way to hone your bike craft while riding with purpose.  You also end up finding things you might not otherwise known about, which is one of my favourite things about it.
Below are the final scores.  We finished, but just.  Check out the mileage on the top runners!  Managing over 1100kms in 12 hours means you’re averaging over 90kms/hr for 12 straight hours.  I can’t quite wrap my head around how that’s possible if you’re still stopping for points all the time.  Even if you’re pulling up, taking a photo, sending it and then immediately going again, you’d have to be really moving to manage that.  Even our perfect run wouldn’t have gotten us in the top 20.  The skill and stamina shown by the top runners is incredible.

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British Driving Culture

We’ve been in the UK for almost a week and yesterday spent the day skulking about London.  Like the rest of England, London makes demands on a vehicle operator’s attention that many North Americans would find onerous.  The small lanes, lack of shoulder and volume of traffic conspire to create a very intense and focused driving environment.  Efficiency of motion isn’t an option, it’s an expectation.

A few years ago they set up a roundabout in our small town in Southern Ontario.  The locals used to bring out lawn chairs and sit and watch the circus as Canadian drivers tried to negotiate an intersection that didn’t have lights telling them what to do.  At a roundabout in the UK you tend to accelerate into an opening.  If you slow down (or stop as many Canadian drivers do) before entering it, you’re going to create a chorus of honks behind you.  You can expect others to see you coming and make space, but you need to be attentive and collegial in your approach.  Ignoring others by cutting them off doesn’t fly here.  Being a waffling idiot and not taking an opening won’t make you any friends either.  A demanding kind of efficiency and cooperation that is foreign to many North American drivers is the expectation.

London traffic is that kind of urgent efficiency turned up to eleven.  Oddly, British drivers are still very polite, waving thanks and making eye contact when they are facing a problem, like cars parked on an otherwise busy road blocking an entire lane of traffic, which seems to happen constantly.  If the obstruction is on your side of the road you’re supposed to wait for traffic in the clear lane to pass, but people often pull over to let through cars that are stuck if it improves the flow of traffic and doesn’t slow them inordinately.  This kind of consideration is another aspect of North American driving that is vanishingly rare, especially in the Greater Toronto Area where drivers tend to take on more of a ‘get yours and screw everyone else’ mindset.

Based on what I’ve seen, even a hesitant, relatively slow British driver would be considered near the pinnacle of driving talent in Canada, which is one of the reasons I find driving a car there tedious.  Given a choice, Canadian drivers are content to give over about half of their attention to driving effectively, mainly because the massive roads with constant shoulders, signalling that tells you what to do rather than take initiative and minimal traffic volume encourage it.  When things do get busy, as in Toronto, asshole is the default rather than let’s all work together to make this go more smoothly.

Even with steep congestion taxes London is a constant flow of traffic, but it’s all moving, and usually quickly.  Into this maelstrom, thanks to demands of space and emissions requirements, motorcycles thrive.  My first view when we got above ground and out of The Tube was a blood delivery bike effortlessly cutting through traffic on a busy Thursday morning.  An older guy on a Suzuki Vstrom, he handled his machine with the kind of effortless grace you see of people who have a lot of miles under them.  He seemed to see everything at once and disappeared through the delivery vans and cars in a flash of effortless speed.

Two wheeled delivery vehicles thrive in London, with couriers of all shapes and sizes on everything from 50cc scooters to big BMWs making the rounds.  As we were walking toward Camden Market a rideere pulled into one of the few unused pieces of tarmac in London (the small triangle a car wouldn’t fit in before a curb) and carried out an animated conversation over bluetooth head piece with his dispatcher.

The efficiency of small vehicles like motorbikes isn’t ignored in England like it is in Canada.  Bikes can squeeze through gaps that would cause a queue otherwise and split lanes.  Parking is more efficient for bikes, so half a dozen commuters can and do park in the space taken up by one SUV.

Being a dispatch rider in London is considered a badge of distinction by motorcyclists here.  If you can survive that you’re a good rider with exceptional awareness and control.  If you weren’t, you wouldn’t last.

We’re now on a train to Norwich (my dad’s hometown) where we’re picking up a cousin’s car and driving in the UK for the first time.  I always look forward to it because it’s engaging and challenging.  You can’t eat or drink and drive here like you can in Canada, but you wouldn’t want to.  You seldom stop due to a lack of traffic lights and a plethora of roundabouts and the roads are tight, twisty and require your attention.  To top it all off everything is backwards.  For the first couple of days I chant that like a mantra inside my head when I’m driving here.  It keeps me on the right side of the road and gets me used to indicators and wipers being on opposite sides more quickly.  Within a day or two I’m acclimatized and accidentally cleaning my windows way less.

I might try and find a motorbike rental while I’m home and see if I can find out where my Granddad Bill took that picture on his Coventry Eagle and get a photo of myself on something similarly English and iconoclastic, perhaps an Ariel Ace?

The other night I was in the car back to my cousin’s house and we were intent on making time.  With the twisty, tight roads it felt like navigating a rally stage  As we thrashed down the highway a Porsche 911 blew past us like we were going backwards.  I love UK driving culture.

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Affidavits & Broken Ownerships

The XS1100 is finally mine.  After buying it off a clueless millennial who had managed to lose all useful paperwork associated with the bike, I’ve been able to re-establish ownership.  Here’s how you do it:

In order to reconnect continuity of ownership you need to get a signed affidavit from a legal notary.  Your local town government will have a notary on hand that can sign, stamp and date your declaration of ownership (they’ll offer this as a service).  I stopped in at the Centre Wellington Town Offices in Elora and explained the situation (clueless kid was previous owner, etc).  I showed them the ownership history the MTO had printed out for me (all six pages of it!), and the letter of sale from the previous owner.  I also said I’d made repeated attempts to find the last legal owner (I suspect he’s deceased).

The county clerk (who is a notary) signed, dated and stamped the affidavit I provided (that’s it above), and I took it back to the MTO office the next day.  In just a couple of minutes I paid the taxes on the sale price and the bike was attached to my name and a new ownership was printed out.  They keep all the relevant paperwork, including the affidavit.

It’s a bit of a pain in the neck to reestablish ownership, but it’s not particularly expensive (twenty bucks to get it signed) and just takes a bit of leg work by the new owner.  I’d argue a hundred bucks off the price for your time and costs to get the bike sorted – more if the previous owner is a tool (which they probably are if they lost all their paperwork).

Eye Of The Storm

We pulled into Creemore just past noon with rain forming on my visor.  My lovely wife (who is very
good at finding a seat in a restaurant) got us just that on a covered patio at the Old Mill House Pub and we enjoyed our first meal out since the pandemic started while watching the rain fall.

The thunder cell past over just as we finished lunch so we had a nice walk around Creemore checking out the Creemore Bakery & Cafe coffee shop and the local, independent bookstore, Curiosity House Books.  Of course, we stayed just along enough that the next cell was moving in, and it was a humdinger!  We could have sat it out but the afternoon was getting long and we had a doctor’s appointment to get to back home, so we got ourselves ready and jumped on the bike just as the rain came again.

This wasn’t a summer shower like the last one, it was torrential.  By the time we turned on to County Road 9 to follow the Mad River up the Niagara Escarpment and hopefully through the storm, the road was a river itself and visibility was down to just a few car lengths.
This was my first time tackling this kind of weather on the Concours and I was doing it two up and on a schedule.  I don’t know if Kawasaki Heavy Industries makes nuclear submarines (they do, of course), but the Concours handled this biblical end of time storm like one.  With the windshield raised I was able to duck out of the deluge in my face and track through the tsunami.
County Road 9 twists and turns as it follows the Mad River up the side of the escarpment and the volume of rain was already causing flash flooding.  As we approached Duntroon a construction site on the left side of the road had washed out leaving half a foot of muddy water running across the road.  I angled the bike to hit it at 90° and we crossed effortlessly leaving a wake of muddy water.  Further up the river had burst its banks and had flooded the dirt roads leading over it.
Stopping seemed more dangerous than the alternatives so I just pressed on.  As we climbed out of the valley the rain, which had been thumping down in quarter sized drops so heavy I thought they might be hail eased and stopped as quickly as it came.  As we crested the summit the sun broke out, highlighting the green valley behind us that was still under a diabolical sky.  We pulled up to the intersection with Grey Road 124 which would lead us down toward Horning’s Mills, Shelbourne and then home, except the sky south of us wasn’t just dark and sinister, it was green, like a fresh bruise.
“I don’t think I want to ride into that,” I said to Alanna.
“Noooo…” Alanna said, eying the apocalypse south of us.
“How about we jog west to Dundalk instead?” I said, nodding to the turnoff just south of us.

The sun was out and the road was steaming as we sat there watching Shelbourne getting rocked by a storm cell that would go on to Barrie and wreak havoc half an hour later.  

A deke onto County Road 9 and we were passing through county side washed clean by the passing storms.  We caught another followup cell past Dundalk but it was nothing compared to the submersion we’d experienced coming out of Creemore.

It was one of those moments when you bond with a new bike.  You ride it well and it performs like the fantastic piece of engineering that it is.  As we thundered home (making the appointment with 10 whole minutes to spare), I found myself appreciating the Neptune Blue Kawasaki in a new light.  This bike offers a level of versatility, even in the most obtuse situations, that opens up riding opportunities that I might otherwise not have considered.

On Friday we’re taking a run at Lobo Loco’s Comical Long Distance Rally.  We’ve got the right bike for the job.

Some Kawasaki Concours fan-art…

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Tablets are like high heels part 2

The original: Tablets are like high heels

A while back I tried to wrap my head around tablets and why they are so popular.  I struggled using an original ipad and eventually gave up.  A bit later I had an opportunity to use a windows tablet and almost broke it across my head in frustration.  I’m a tech savvy type, so I kept at it.  If tablets are so great, what wasn’t I getting?

This past year I got my hands on an Asus Transformer – the tablet that would convince me that tablets are handy (because it also comes with a keyboard).  It only convinced me that Android has a long way to go in being a tablet OS.

I’ve got an ipad2 and the Asus Transformer floating around my department waiting for robotics to start, so I offered them out to my staff for test drives.  18 emails requesting the slower, lower memory, single tasking ipad, one saying either would be fine (he got the quad core multi tasking Asus).  Marketing works.  Perhaps that is the key to tablet success.

The sell on tablets is a hard one.  You’re getting epic style (yes, Picard has epic style) along with interweb access.  I want to be peppy, mobile and look like I come from the future!  I want a tablet, right?

Turns out I don’t.  After trying and trying to tablet up, it just isn’t sticking.  It appears I’m at an impasse when it comes to tablets and how I use the internet.

When I go online it’s a full contact sport.  I like to get into many things simultaneously (that knocks the ipad out), I’m constantly taking pictures from one thing and slapping them into another.  I’m in and out of photoshop, dreamweaver and other processor heavy software, I want lightning fast responses, the ability to create media on the fly, a keyboard that rewards me for years of learning how to touch type, and a screen that offers a clear view of as many full colour pixels as I can lay my eyes on.

Keep your filthy touch screens!
I want no part of it!

I expect to be able to toss something I found online onto my twitter feed or Facebook or linkedin, or flickr or evernote, or Ning, or Edmodo or any of a million other online tools without having to wonder if it’ll copy and paste this time or not.

Touch screens drive me bonkers.  Until I’m getting Iron Man like performance from my 3d touch interface, I’m not interested in taking stabs at data to see if I can pick them up over and over again.  Watching people do this on tablet baffles me, they seem content to have to attempt the same action over and over again, resigned to it – the inefficiency drives me batty.  The fact that you look like a lost mole looking for a hole makes me snort in derision!

Then there’s the screen itself.  I’m the kind of guy who cleans the windscreen in his car often (or his glasses before he got the lasers).  If I have to look through it, I want it pristine.  Peanut butter encrusted high def screens hold no interest for me at all.  Even a plain old finger print smudge makes me wonder why you’d pay for the high-def screen in the first place.  I’m a visual person, I want my digital window to gleam.

Tablets are for people who like to watch, spectators.  If you are a passive web media consumer, I’d suggest going back to TV, but if you’re determined to lurk, tablets are a good fit for you.  You look nice, but can’t do much; we’re back to the high heels again.

If you’re an active web user, someone who produces (and by produce I mean generate media, not merely be a retweeting machine) as much as they consume, then you’re going to find that the all show

Geeky high heels.

and no go reality of tablets frustrating.

There is no single moment where I’ve wished for a tablet when I’ve had my ultrabook handy.  Light, fast and fully capable, and running on a full/real operating system instead of the dumbed down mobile OSes on tablets; that is where my proclivities lie!

If I have to have a tablet at all, it’s a phone and it fits in my pocket.  It has a good camera, can get me online in a pinch, the batteries last all day and it doesn’t run so slowly as to drive me around the bend.  I’ll live with the lame mobile OS until they get better and it’ll do everything I’d ever need a tablet for without spending hundreds of dollars on a redundancy.

At any other point, when I really want to hit the web, I’ll turn to the laptop.

Tablets might be a good fit for how you go online if you’re a freaky lurker, but otherwise stay clear!  You’ll look great using them, but you won’t actually be doing much.  If that’s your M.O., an Apple genius is waiting to take your order.

Riding In the Desert On an Iron Horse with No Name… for reals this time

I’ve been through the desert on a lousy rental car with no name,
now I’ll do it properly on two wheels!

I landed a free trip to Arizona a couple of years ago for an educational conference.  I’d never been to the desert before, it was a great trip but the cunning plan to rent a bike fell apart when I discovered they don’t rent over the Easter weekend when I was flying in.

Ever since driving a lousy Nissan rental car through the Superstition Mountains, I’ve wanted to go back and do it properly on two wheels.  My time has come!

We’re doing a family trip to Arizona over the Christmas break.  Opportunity never knocks twice, except when it does, like this time.

Eaglerider’s selections look all of a kind,
a kind that doesn’t really grab me.

Eaglerider has a huge selection of bikes, but AZ Ride has exceptional customer ratings.  I’ll end up looking into both and seeing which grabs me.

AZ has the Indian Scout, which tickles a fancy (riding in the desert with an Indian Scout, c’mon!), along with the ZG1400 Concours, which I’m curious about for obvious reasons.  

Eaglerider has a lot of Harleys and a smattering of other very heavy offerings from other manufacturers.  In other locations they offer Triumphs but not in Phoenix.  Scraping floor boards doesn’t make me think of spirited riding, it makes me think of a poorly designed motorcycle.  Lugging a massive hunk of iron that can’t corner around the desert doesn’t strike me as a good time.

Looking at what’s on offer, and taking into account the customer ratings on Google, I think I’ll be giving AZride a go.  They’re both up the right end of Phoenix to get to easily, so location isn’t a factor.  I’ll be aiming at a Concours if my son wants to come with or the Scout if I’m solo, then it’s off into the Superstition Mountains for a day… or is it?

309kms/192 miles, with that many bends should make for a good day of riding

The road to Roosevelt is something else.  I skipped it in the Nissan rental car, but on two wheels it might be reason enough to live in Phoenix.  It’s about 80kms of serious switchbacks through breathtaking high desert, except it’s a dirt road!  All my day dreaming about riding switchbacks of smooth Arizona tarmac aren’t happening unless I go the long way around and stay on paved roads.

Once up on the plateau I’ll make a point of stopping at the Tonto National Monument, which is a magical place.  The ride back down the other side offers a couple of nice stops, but also some tedium.  If that road to Roosevelt is as magical as it looks, I might just come back that way.

How do you say no to a road like that?  AZride has a BMW 800GS Adventure, but a ride like this would be the perfect time to try the new Triumph Tiger Explorer – alas, no one rents it.  I’ve been eyeing the 800XCx as well as the new Explorer, but no one rents ’em.  There is a Triumph dealer in Scottsdale.  Think I could convince them to let me have a 300km test ride along that crazy road?


In a more perfect world I’d rent bikes I’m curious about owning.  A short list would include:

The new Triumph Bonneville with the Scrambler package (favourite classic) – It’d also look awesome in the desert!

Kawasaki Z1000 (favourite naked bike), though Kawi just came out with a Z800, which I’d also like to have a go on – but I’d be trapped on pavement.

The Kawasaki H2 (because it’s bonkers) – but not so good on a dirt road in the high desert…

The Ariel Ace (because it’s sooo pretty) – but I suspect it lacks off road chops.

I’m in a conundrum now.  I really want to ride out of Apache Junction on the Apache Trail, but the bikes I want to ride are all pavement specialists while the adventure bikes I’d want to rent aren’t available to ride.

Meanwhile Triumph cruelly taunts me with their lovely new machines.

Damn it!


Instead of turning left before Globe,
head on towards Show Low.  The
roads be magic there!

All is not lost.  If we’re on pavement for the ride there is a nice triangle that’ll make for a fine high-desert ride.  The road north out of Globe into the higher mountains looks like a corker too.  I don’t think I’ll be suffering too much if I can’t ride the Apache Trail.  Either of those would be a blast on a big Connie.

Now to find a day when the weather is cooperating and see if I can make this happen.

Midnight Thoughts

What we have here is a Yamaha XS1100 ‘Midnight Special’.  It looks like it needs some love and is for sale for $500 along with some extra parts.  The flash from the phone makes this ’70s bike look pretty disco!

The XS1100 is a late ’70s/early ’80s ‘super’ bike.  From what I’ve read it’s Yamaha’s Vincent Black Shadow.  You’re spoiled for choice as far as customization goes with the XS1100.  It’s a big, air cooled engine with the old fashioned dual rear shocks.  It begs to be café racered a bit.

As a tear down/rebuild, this makes a pretty good basis for a winter project.  It would be my first air cooled bike, as well as my first tear down/rebuild.

The Clymer manual is readily available (I’m finding Haynes manuals lacking in covering many motorcycles).  This could be a winter sanity thing.

Recognizing Your Own Accomplishments

 I’ve written a number of negative end-of-year reflections on this absurd year of teaching and not shared them because swimming in those waters is poisonous.  I’m glad I was able to write and reflect them out of me though.  They’re hanging in the blogger draft space and I might just let them loose one day in the future when the idiocy of this past year is a distant memory.  I think it’s important to critically assess everything that went wrong in this human disaster in the hopes that it won’t happen again.

On Friday I attended a webinar put on by a group of professional creatives that focused on recognizing your own accomplishments.  This group formed to look at ways of maintaining creative output for a living.  This isn’t something most people have to worry about since their jobs are quite prescribed.  For too many teachers their teaching is prescribed but I’ve never been a fan of that approach.  For me teaching is a creative, never-rote activity and talking to professional musicians and visual artists helps me find the capacity to teach in the ever-evolving way that I want to.

I struggle with public acknowledgement of accomplishments.  I don’t do what I do for accolades and I prefer to step out of the way and let students take the limelight.  As long as I’m able to find the resources we need to be successful then I couldn’t care less about acknowledgement, except acknowledgement is frequently a mechanism that has brought us the resources we need to succeed so dismissing it out of hand isn’t sensible.

In listening to the artists in this webinar talk about their wins, I still struggled with the idea that this just sounds like tooting your own horn.  Creative output, for me at least, always comes with a healthy dose of humility.  Having crushed any rose-coloured glasses I’m able to get on with the difficult job of creation without any delusions, but this isn’t very marketable and marketing kept cropping up in discussion.  Does creativity have to include suffering?  Can you be clear eyed about your creativity or is being creative inherently delusional?

The other side to this harshness in terms of metacognitively accepting and being able to speak productively about accomplishments is that not being able to recognize your accomplishments can hurt you psychologically and ultimately make you uncreative and unproductive.  If you fall into a depression over abuse or unfairness then you won’t be able to do what you do.  Striking a balance with recognition of accomplishments is both a personal mental health and a being a functional creative issue.

From any rational point of view I should be viewing this past year as a towering success in my career.  My students fought their way to two places in the national finals of the CyberTitan Canadian National Student Cybersecurity Competition and both overcame all sorts of adversity in order to produce our best results ever.  Being top ten twice out of over 150 teams should be something we acknowledge positively.

Over in Skills Ontario we did backflips to keep student competitors engaged and although we had one competition drop out, the others performed exceptionally well.  We’d only ever won medals in IT & Networking previously but we didn’t just keep our string of IT medals going for a fifth consecutive year, we also won our first provincial medals in electronics, coding and GIS as well.  That too deserves positive reflection that encourages future attempts.

Meanwhile, from a classroom teaching perspective, we managed to retain very high engagement rates in this rudderless year of hybrid simultaneous face to face and remote or fully remote learning.  Even in the final quadmester our fully-remote (again) and exhausted game-development students produced fantastic examples of what digitally fluent Ontario high school students are capable of.  We also punched through to new heights in terms of student achievement while also saving those that were drowning in the sea of systemic failure.  I couldn’t see that though because what we were doing was only ever a fraction of what we normally do in a school year.

As a teacher I suddenly found myself being put up for awards and winning them.  NCWIT not only awarded two of our graduating women in technology their provincial award but also acknowledged me as a 2021 educator of the year for supporting girls in technology and engineering.  Then my board gave me an Everyday Hero Award and OTIP let me know I was an honourable mention in their provincial teacher award.  These are the hardest for me to talk about because my reflex is to step back and let students take the accolades, but the support of parents and students in writing those applications means the world to me so ignoring them is neither appropriate nor appreciative.

I’ve been unable to give these things the positive reflection they deserve because of the cruel year we’ve just been dragged through.  Next year doesn’t look much better with the same sabotaging political mismanagement in an education system paralyzed by our own political failures, but if I let the good things fade into the malaise from all these elements beyond my control then I’m lost.

I’ve put down several extra jobs this summer in order to find my mojo again.  I can’t go back into the classroom having lost all hope in the credibility of our education system.  If I can get my feet under me again I can stand up and fight for what matters for another year.

When the education system fell apart around me and work became frustration piled on frustration I found a creative outlet to release myself through.  Starting last fall I was up at 4am every morning when work anxiety wasn’t letting me sleep writing and I’m now 160,000+ words into a novel that I never thought I’d find the time to write.

I’m energized by teaching because it lets me pour my efforts into something that is difficult, important and credible, ideally while being surrounded by people doing the same meaningful work without pretense.  With credibility circling the drain this year and pretense the new normal, I needed to do something real that wouldn’t take anything other than my best effort.

I prefer to put my energy into something I believe in and that appreciates and respects that commitment.  When I couldn’t find that at school I did what I could to help and refocused my energy on this creative writing project that had no room for pretense.  Should anyone ever read the book I think they will find the frustrations of the last year written into it large.  France’s collapse in 1940 against the German Blitzkrieg has many parallels with Ontario’s approach to COVID19 in the past year.

Dusty World is going on hiatus for the summer and I’m going to focus on finishing the novel.  Now that I’ve gotten this negativity out of me I don’t need to carry it any more and I’m putting down teaching at least until the ECOO Conference in August because even in a year when I’ve lost faith in education I still can’t help but go above and beyond and start my school year weeks early in hopes of making it better for everyone.

from Blogger

Ergo-cycling: Concours 14 vs Tiger 955i for 6’3″ Me

 Cycle-Ergo, the motorcycle ergonomics simulator, is a great online resource for getting a sense of what you’ll look like and how you’ll fit on a bike.  Unlike cars, your options with bikes aren’t as easy as sliding your seat back or adjusting the steering wheel.  To make ergonomic changes on a motorbike you need to change hardware and make physical changes to make it fit.

The other day I was out on my trusty 2003 Triumph Tiger 955i.  I came off a Kawasaki Concours 10 to the Tiger and while the Connie was comfortable, it made my knees ache on long rides.  The first time I sat on the Tiger it felt like a bike built by people the same shape and size as me because it is.  I can go for hours without putting a foot down without a cramp on the Triumph.  This got me thinking about the differences between the big Kawasaki that sits next to the Tiger in the garage these days.

Cycle-Ergo gives me a quick way to check out the differences.  Forward lean is much more pronounced on the Concours 14 (12° vs an almost vertical 4° on the Tiger).  Knee angle is the same and my knees aren’t bothering me on the Connie but hip angle is 6° tighter on the Kawasaki which explains the cramps I was feeling after today.

I sold a Honda Fireblade to bring the 1400GTR in and that bike had an extreme ‘sports’ riding position which was basically like doing a push-up on the bike (you lay on it) – it ain’t easy on the wrists.  There are advantages to this aggressive riding position.  When you want to get down to business in corners a forward lean gives you a more intimate relationship with the front end, which is why sports focused bikes tend to sit a rider the way they do.  If I lived somewhere where roads were dancing with the landscape instead of cutting straight lines across it I’d have happily kept the Fireblade but in tedious Southwestern Ontario it didn’t make much sense.

Today I did a 200km loop on the Kawasaki and the constant lean does make it tiresome on the arrow straight roads around here (I have to ride 40 minutes to find 10 minutes of curves).  In the twisties the Concours is much more composed that the tall, skinnier (and ADV) tired and leany Tiger.  The Concours is a 50+ kg heavier bike but you can see in the animation that it holds its weight much lower than the Tiger.  In the bends today the Connie was fine but the Ontario-tedium I have to deal with most of the time has me thinking about ways to ease that lean.

There are solutions to this in the form of ‘bar risers’ which are blocks of machined metal that you slip in under the handlebars to bring them taller and closer to you so you’re not stooped.  For me the lean also means I’m putting a lot of weight on my, um, man-parts, which end up pressed up against the tank in the lean.

I had a look around at bar-risers.  There are number of people who put them together including some cheaper Chinese options but I ended up going with Murph’s Kits C14 bar risers.  Murph is well known in the Concours Owners Group and has been producing Concours specific parts for decades.  His risers aren’t quite as tall as some of the others and look to solve the problem without over-solving it by giving too-tall handlebars that spoil the lines and the purpose of the bike.

The biggest ergo-thing I did on the Tiger was getting a Corbin seat for it which makes it a long distance weapon.  I’ll eventually do the same thing for the Connie but I think I can make do with the stock seat this year and then do the Corbin over the winter.  That doesn’t stop me from mucking around with the Corbin seat simulator though:

By next spring I’ll have a C14 that fits, but it isn’t as easy as sliding the seat back in a car.  In the meantime we’ve got the Lobo Loco Comical Rally coming up at the end of the month.  That requires a minimum of 400kms travelled in 12 hours and will need more than that if we’re going to be competitive.  I’m hoping my bar risers will be installed and I’ll bring the good ole Airhawk out of semi-retirement to keep me limber over a long day in the saddle.

from Blogger