With age comes wisdom, but age often comes alone

I’m up early on a Sunday morning out of a nightmare. It’s a recurring one where I’m forced to do nonsensical things at work designed to run me into the ground and make me feel like my presence is meaningless and I don’t matter. It’s your typical lack-of-control nightmare and I always wake up from it in despair, but relieved that it isn’t what’s actually happening (at least not that badly).

I’m in that space late in my career when I want to direct rather than act but don’t have the network around me that enables me to do that.  As I approach retirement I know more and more people who have crossed over into it.  I also know more people who are getting properly old and are struggling with the complications that brings.  Getting old is difficult and few people seem able to do it with any kind of grace.

Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “”With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone” comes close, but I’d reword it – I suspect most people aren’t any wiser towards the end.  A few years ago we were working away on circuit building in class when one of the grade nines wondered out loud, “why is it that in movies old people always seem so wise and kind, but in real life they just kinda suck?”  This sparked a heated debate where many other students said that their grandparents were lovely, but when I asked them to name any other elderly people who were so giving and wonderful the room got silent.  It seems that only nepotism trumps the worst habits of aging.

As you get older it’s difficult to retain a Yoda-like calm and act benevolently for the good of others without making it all about you.  You become less capable and have less of an impact in the world each year, usually while seeing your income decrease as well.  In those circumstances most people grasp for control and interfere with others in order to retain any kind of presence in a world that has passed them by.  I understand the impulse but I hope I’m not consumed by it.  The past few years have asked more of me than I have and I find myself ducking and covering when I used to be all-out in my teaching, but I hope my reflex to enable and empower others remains even as my ability to do it diminishes.


Getting old and retiring from riding has come up before in TMD.  A few years ago Jeff and I rescued a BMW from a retired rider which led to For Whom The Bell Tolls.  This guy had ridden the BMW home from a conference fifteen years earlier, parked it in his shed and it then sat there.  He finally sold it on to Jeff when he honestly told himself he was never going to ride again.  I get all Dylan Thomas about that and think I’ll be riding to the end no matter what.  Twenty years of deterioration with no time in the wind at the end of life doesn’t sound like living at all. 

Another time the Canada Moto-Guide wrote a strange obituary on a rider who crashed at over twice the legal limit on a rural backroad, suggesting that he was a motorcycling martyr rather than reckless rider who caused his own demise.  There is a different kind of abstract fatalism here that has more in common with the stingy pensioner than it does with those rare elders that have found and express wisdom even in their weakness.  Being honest is a big part of growing old or riding well.  Understanding your limitations honestly allows you to be genuine in your being in whatever state it’s in.  There is an unfortunate arrogance around motorcycling (and aging) that often prevents us from thinking about either thing rationally and honestly.  If that’s all true, then if I ever get to the point where I can’t ride effectively I shouldn’t.  That guy who sold Jeff the BMW was wiser than I.

I’ve tried to apply some eastern philosophy to my riding (and aging) on a number of occasions in order to manage the challenges both things create without devolving into dick-swinging nonsense.  Machismo, or just plain old gender-free arrogance, might move you up in the world of management but it doesn’t make you a very nice human being.  I think I’d rather age honestly and retain my urge to mentor and support rather than force my way up the ladder in order to gain a fictional sense of control along with accompanying ego.  When it comes to directing, the only person I really want to direct is myself and I want to do it while enabling myself to act as genuinely and with as much fecundity as I’m able.  Perhaps then I can find myself old without finding myself frustrated and angry, hopefully while still riding.

Hasn’t happened yet in 2022 and I’m missing the Frostbite.

This is the kind of thing I don’t usually carry with me because I’d go out for a ride and ruminate on things until I found my quiet centre again, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance style, but I’m in another never-ending Canadian winter with COVID piled on top (and on the verge of WW3), and instead of being in the wind I’m stuck inside.  This is the only year in the past many where I haven’t managed a cheeky February ride on a clear day.  Riding and aging are both very difficult things and doing them well is more than many people can manage, for me it’s even worse when I can’t get out into the wind.


Nothing like a bit of poetry to create some perspective:

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas – 1914-1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 4

Tao is empty (like a bowl). It may be used but its capacity is never exhausted
It is bottomless, perhaps the ancestor of all things.
It blunts its sharpness. It unties its tangles. It softens its light. It becomes one with the dusty world.
Deep and still, it appears to exist forever.
I do not know whose son it is. It seems to have existed before the Lord.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 5

Heaven and Earth are not humane. They regard all things a straw dogs.
The sage is not humane. He regards all people as straw dogs.
How Heaven and Earth are like a bellows. While vacuous, it is never exhausted. When active, it produces even more.
Much talk will of course come to a dead end. It is better to keep to the centre.

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Zipper Replacement on a Motorcycle Jacket

Back in 2016 we did a winter family holiday to Las Vegas and then drove down to Phoenix.  While there my son and I rented a bike and rode the Superstition Mountains just east of the city.  Having done some research, I thought I’d try buying a leather bike jacket while down there as US prices tend to be much kinder than Canadian ones.  I ended up with a Bilt black leather bike jacket that I’ve used on cooler rides since.  It’s not high tech protection wise but the leather is thick and the jacket is a solid thing.  It was the last of the 2014 designs and I got it on sale ($159!) as they were wrapping up their Christmas shopping season at the CycleGear shop in Mesa.  Your typical excellent American sales service too.

Since then I’ve done thousands of miles with the thing and it has always done the job.  It isn’t well vented so it tends to do early spring/late fall duties.  This past fall on my last big ride of the year I was wearing it for the 270km ride up to Deerhurst Resort and then it handled a torrential downpour when I rode into Algonquin Park the next day.

It was all good until on the way home I undid the zipper and it came off in my hand when I stopped for a drink before heading back south.  I managed to get the zipper to reconnect so I wasn’t flapping all the way back, but a broken zipper meant the jacket couldn’t be used anymore, which made me sad.  What followed was a deep dive into zipper technology as I attempted to fix it.

A six year old leather jacket might not be my first choice when getting caught in a downpour, but it did the job!  The hotel room had a lot of drying leather hanging up in it when I got back.

Some online research had me filling my head with new zipper related vocabulary.  The retaining box on the jacket had come off when I pulled the zipper down.  Most of the online advice (which turned out to be right) suggested that you can’t fix a broken box, it requires a zipper replacement, but on a thick leather jacket that seemed like a bit much.  Of course, Amazon sells crap that insinuates that you can fix a broken retaining box, so I wasted money buying that and then found that it wouldn’t grip and simply didn’t work, even after multiple attempts.

Top Tip:  don’t waste your time trying to fix an old zipper.  It took some effort, but removing the old zipper and installing another is just some work and isn’t impossible.

I finally ended up buying a quality YKK replacement zipper (after learning an awful lot about YKK zippers).  My crafty wife has all the sewing kit so she gave me a seam ripper that made removing the old thread very easy.  If you’ve got an exacto knife or craft blades and steady hands you could probably remove the thread that way, but the seam ripper does it without damaging the material.  With the old zipper removed and the outer leather separated from the inner liner, the jacket ended up sitting under my work table for a couple of weeks because the thought of pushing a needle through the leather seemed like a bit much, but it’s no harder than other mechanical work (makes your hands ache though).

I got some heavy duty coat thread when I purchased the replacement zipper.  This stuff is nylon-rope strong which helped with the sewing, which I did by hand.  The stitching doesn’t look like it’s done by a machine but it’s consistently spaced and didn’t cause any pinch points up the zipper.

I came in through the back lining and out through the existing holes in the leather.  By separating the layers I was able to line up the needle with the holes and then it was just a matter of keeping everything straight as I worked my way up the zipper hole by hole.  Alanna suggested I start at the bottom and work up – that was good advice.

Using the existing holes on the thick hide is the trick.  You might be able to do this on a machine but I don’t know how you’d do that as the jacket material is thick and you’d need to align the holes the machine is punching with what is currently there.  Doing it by hand is a bit tedious but it works and means you’re not punching any new holes in anything.

When I got to the top I tucked the zipper (I couldn’t get one the exact length of the old one so got one about half an inch too long) into the collar which had been separated when I removed the zipper thread.  With the top of the zipper tucked into the collar, I sewed everything up using the existing holes in the leather.  Once again, separating the material let me align the needle with each hole one by one.

The final product zips up like new and has no pinching or clumping on the front of the jacket.  Sewing in the other side was easy.  I separated the zipper once one side was in and then  did the other just the same way.  By the time I was wrapping it up I’d gotten quick at it.

Alanna had a thick needle and that strong thread really helped the process.  With a leather jacket the trick is to use the existing holes in the material rather than trying to punch new ones, which in my case meant doing it by hand.  The end result is that my old leather jacket, which now has some nice patina on it, is back in service and ready for the 2022 riding season, should this never ending winter end.

If you lose a zipper on your favourite old motorbike jacket, don’t toss it out.  A replacement zipper is less than $15 (CAD) and with thread and other odds and ends you should be able to replace that tired zipper with something that’ll let you enjoy your well loved leather jacket for years to come.

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Motorcycle Mechanical and Restoration Photography

You can follow my various motorcycle wrenching on Tim’s Motorcycle Diaries.  Here are some photos from another long COVID winter in SW Ontario ranging from a brake pad and fluid service on my Kawasaki Concours to a chain and sprockets maintenance on my Triumph Tiger and ongoing work on the venerable 1971 Triumph Bonneville long-term project.  Some are taken with the OnePlus5 smartphone, usually as a reference for when I have to put something back together again.  A few are taken with the Canon SLR when what I’m working on looks particularly visually interesting.

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A Canadian Student Bill of Rights

2020 was an unprecedented year in Ontario public education.  After two years of a hostileincompetent government hacking away at the system in order to replace it with inferior, for-profit options conveniently supplied by their party donors, we rolled into a world wide pandemic that only amplified the lack of competence in our political leadership.

Education is too important to be derailed by political demagogues intent on dismantling public services for their friends’ profit.  If the past three years have shown us anything, it’s that Canada needs a student charter of rights in order to prevent corrosive political interests from abusing this vulnerable population.

With Canada’s history of systemic abuse in education you’d think protecting students from misguided political interests would be an obvious step forward, but no politician likes to enact laws that limit them from doing whatever they like while grasping for another election win.

I’m not sure how to pry education out of the hands of self-serving and manipulative provincial politicians, but something needs to be done federally to ensure that Canadians who are members of vulnerable communities (like k-12 students who have no vote or say in how our society operates) have protections enshrined in law.
You’d hope their parents would act in their children’s best interests but that clearly hasn’t been the case in Ontario or other Canadian jurisdictions.  It’ll take someone with principles and fortitude at the federal level to see this through.  A Canadian Student Charter of Rights would mean Machiavellian interests can’t run roughshod over the rights of every child in Canada to access a safe and rationally administered learning environment focused on enabling them to become their best selves.

from Blogger  https://ift.tt/2VXVqtk originally published, August, 2021.

The Determined Luddite

They showed this at the Google Summit a couple of weeks ago:

A metaphor for users of technology?

It’s a special kind of learned helplessness, and I see it every day when trying to get people moving on their computers again.  There is nothing magical about computers, though many people like to think there is (it gives them an excuse not to engage in learning about them).  If we’re going to make digital skills a foundational skill set in the twenty first century (and we certainly seem to be moving in that direction), then we need to integrate digiracy into curriculum in the same way we integrate literacy and numeracy, and we need teachers to be able to demonstrate competence in digital skill in the same way that we expect them to display proficiency in traditional literacies; acting helpless does nothing to move this forward.

Our board is about to take steps toward a BYOD/multi-platform approach to #edtech.  This can’t happen until people get off the escalator and figure out how to open a book.

Helplessness, learned or otherwise, isn’t going to lead to the effective integration of technology in the classroom.  How we train teachers to become digitally competent is a vital piece to this puzzle.  The mini-lab approach with digital coaches assigned to their own tech-cloud is a way to encourage the tech-curious to develop better skills.  It also (through collegial interaction with peers) lets the tech-curious spread their enthusiasm and know-how to the less keen.

Build digeracy through scaffolded, objective learning with diverse technology. Opting out is no longer an option. It was an embarrassing approach ten years ago, it’s quickly becoming untenable now.

That people seem to rewind well past where you think reasonable caution may lie in trouble shooting computers is frustrating from a tech’s point of view.  If a user has a genuine issue with their computer, or something has actually broken, then we’re generally happy to be of assistance, but when a teacher says a printer is broken when it is simply unplugged, this points to a willful kind of ignorance.  When that teacher is also one of the schools computer teachers I want to move to the arctic and give up.

A minimum expectation of digital fluency should be a willingness to address basic, operational issues before evoking support.  If schools want to develop digital fluency, an expectation of honest engagement has to be where that starts.  If the internet is really becoming that important, then it becomes incumbent upon the user to make that connection as stable and effective as possible.  I’d say that 80% of the tech calls I deal with are people unplugging things they shouldn’t be touching in the first place, and then everyone else being too helpless to plug it back in again.

One of my grade 9s shared this as a video to help them out with an introduction to computers (the editing is hilarious):  Komputer Kindergarten.  MSDOS and the beige 1990s are the reason this sounds so antiquated (and funny).  That so many people twenty years down the road still don’t “do that stuff'” is getting to be equally ridiculous.  I’m not saying everyone has to be a technician, but everyone should be able to change their own tire, otherwise they shouldn’t be driving.  You can’t be expected to operate the equipment effectively if you’re determined to know nothing about it and want nothing to do with it.

Effective teaching with digital tools begins with teachers, and I find so many of them not just reluctant but downright contrary to the idea of learning even the basics of how a computer or network functions.  Some of that lies at the feet of teacher unions and school boards who have taught teachers to be helpless through locked, fear driven educational I.T. regimes.  Educators who have bypassed these restrictions and developed digital fluency in spite of their union and board’s best efforts are the ones we need to bring back in from the cold now that the school technology cold war is over.  Their fluency as digital coaches could create momentum to inflect enough colleagues to adopt a more open approach to learning technology.

The idiotic idea that technology is the realm of the young and if you want to know anything about it, just ask your students, needs to die.  Students are the rocket scientists who unplug an ethernet cable to plug into their infected laptop so they can have faster internet.  They then leave it unplugged and the next student comes along and instead of plugging the end back into the computer, plugs it into the wall, creating havoc as the network loops itself.  Then everyone complains at how slow and unreliable the internet is; it’s not the internet that is slow and unreliable.

As school systems stumble along years behind business and society, they have finally gotten the idea that being online is just a new medium of communication (not bad, only a decade after the rest of us did).   As education evolves into a more diverse, open technological environment, perhaps the hardest people to convince will be teachers who have bought into the fear and panic of their unions and employers and have been forced out of step with social expectation as a result.

650cc Air Cooled Triumph Bonneville Exhaust and Seat Options

More 1971 Triumph Bonneville restoration project research (all prices courtesy of BritCycle):

High pipes:

721-T74X exhaust pipes – $304.51/pair.
711-709669/9670 mufflers – $486.00/pair.
2x 742-158 clamps – $16.61 ea.
70-9673 “H” connector – $72.28.
2x 742-112 clamps – $16.61 ea.

TOTAL:  $930

Plus associated bracketry and hardware, etc if needed. The one item we’ll have difficulty sourcing will be the ‘chip basket’ heatshield; our manufacturer of those long since retired.

Looking like Steve McQueen on a scrambler styled Bonneville costs extra!  Britcycle said they might have some scratched and dented options on sale, but those aren’t regular stock (obviously).

Stock(ish) exhaust system:

721-T79 exhaust pipes – $289.02/pair.
712-102 Dunstall decibel replica mufflers – $330.32/pair.
70-9888 balance tube – $29.09.
2x 742-138 clamps – $16.61 ea.
TOTAL:  $683

What I’d really like to do is form my own pipes, but I don’t have the space, equipment or time to do that.  For this project I think I’ll use it as a learning process and get this particular Bonneville cleaned up and mechanically sorted and leave the radical customizations to a future time when I’m loaded, have lots of free time and a much bigger workshop with a full range of tooling in it.

I think stock is the way I’ll go on exhausts…

As far as seats go, BritCycle has just the sort of thing I’m looking for: 

The only thing that might knock it out of contention is if, price and fit-wise, Corbin’s customizable seat is in the ballpark.  It says they might fit a ’71 but they’re mainly for ’72 Triumph twins and up.

Quality (made in England) newly manufactured seats specific to the oil in frame 650 twins run at about $500US ($612CAD) – I’m not sure what Britcycle’s go for.  The customizable (and probably higher quality) Corbin is $618US ($788CAD).  There are cheaper options manufactured in India & China to less exacting standards to consider too.  I’ll be keeping that all in mind as I juggle seat options and make a decision.

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Old Bikes Tell A Story

I took the big SLR into the shop for some closeups.  These are photos from the 1971 Triumph Bonneville T120 project currently in process.

Call it patina, or scars, but the years on an old bike tell a story…

The ‘spare’ cylinder sleeves after some clean up.

Orange was the colour of panic in the early 80s.  The cylinder head was covered in this stuff in an attempt to seal a leaky motor during the aborted chopper phase of this bike’s life.

That’s the motor stamping (from Jan-Feb 1971).

Lucas! The Prince of Darkness™

My kind of still life.

Patina that tells a tale.

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1971 OiF Triumph Bonneville Restoration: a seized top end

The old Triumph motor has refused to turn ever since I picked it up in the fall.  Every attempt at cycling the engine has failed so last weekend I dug into the top end, which turned out to be much more difficult than it needed to be.
Many moons ago I was putting myself through university by working as the service manager at an automotive shop.  One of our technicians, Jeff, always cheerfully described a situation where you’re up against parts that don’t want to move as a ‘bend the fuck out of it’ situation.  I’m no fan of pointless violence when it comes to mechanics, but there does come a point where you’ve either got to ‘give ‘er’ (another of his favourite sayings) or give up.
Your mood when performing mechanical taks seeps into the machine.  If you’re angry when you do repairs, that anger ends up in the mechanical work you’re doing, which usually doesn’t end well.  A Zen approach to mechanics usually creates a zen machine that doesn’t emit the drama that an angry machine will.  Having said all of that, I’d pretty much emptied my swearing vocab by the time I had untangled this Triumph twin on Sunday.

Having never worked on this kind of motor before, I was lucky enough to get a spare head and cylinder sleeve when I got the bike, so rather than go in blind I disassembled the spare unit first to see how it all went together.

I continue to enjoy working on this pre-digital, very mechanical motorbike.  While it isn’t as efficient and exact as a modern bike, there is something very satisfying about getting the mechanical bits lined up so that they work together.  When it’s finally running it’ll feel like I’ve rebuilt a Swiss watch.
With the practice head disassembled, I began removing the head on the bike.  It came apart as my reconnaissance suggested it would and looked mechanically sound with no discolouration or obvious wear.  The bad news came as I finally got down to the head gasket.

The right hand cylinder looked fantastic, but the left side was a mess with a thick layer of corrosion and an obviously seized-in-the-sleeve cylinder.  I’d expect to see something like this on a water cooled engine when the head gasket has failed allowing water and coolant into the cylinder, but this is an air cooled unit with no coolant in sight.  My best guess is someone left the spark plug out in a damp environment for an extended period of time letting moisture in to disastrous effect.  It’s amazing what a bit of laziness or stupidity can be amplified into over time.

With a cylinder seized in the sleeve, I was left in a bind (see what I did there?).  I left it soaking in brake fluid overnight (I’d tried WD40 previously), but the next day it was just as stuck.  I applied heat, and then tried to lever the head off the cylinder to no effect, which led to that Jeff moment where I had to decide how far I’m willing to go to win (the answer is: all the way, in case you were wondering).

What followed was longer and longer breaker bars to apply more leverage, mixed with some applied heat from the propane torch.  What finally ended up working after a couple of hours of swearing and sweat was applying heat, inserting a long piece of wood to lever the head up while applying some focused violence to the cylinder top.  Millimetre by millimetre the cylinder sleeve eased up until the head finally came free, which was good because I was all out of swear words by that point.

I was rewarded with a couple of nice observations once the damned thing came off.  Firstly, the bottom end moved very smoothly for a motor that hasn’t spun in 30 years.  There is no play or noise in the big end as it turns.  Secondly, the kickstarter I rebuilt the other week works perfectly, engaging and spinning the motor when applied and not interfering when left, which was satisfying.

Looking at the jammed cylinder, it looks heat seized with burn marks all over the inside and physical damage up the side.  If replacements aren’t crazy, I might use the spare head I’ve got to get things into motion, but if it’s going to cost a lot to the replace these bits I think I’m looking at a more aggressive customization option:  a 750cc big-bore kit.

Dropping $1000 into a broken motor seems extreme (it is extreme), but I’ve had to recalibrate my what-I’m-willing-to-pay index throughout this project; vintage ain’t cheap.  If it’s going to cost the better part of $500 to get the motor back to stock, why not get all new parts and get an engine upgrade in the process?
Before: sleeves like that usually slide off.  Cylinders are snug but not stuck.

After: a couple of sweaty, intense hours later.  It was a satisfying win.

I’ve done a number of projects now where I get a sidelined bike back on the road, the most recent of which was a ’97 Honda Fireblade, but I’ve never had to do a complete engine rebuild.  Unlike some of my more fraught earlier mechanical work on the only bike I owned that was keeping me from the far-too-short Canadian riding season, I can take my time with the Bonnie and go all the way if it needs it and I’m up for it.  The only thing producing drag is my inherent cheapness.
I’m still intent on making sure the project pays for itself.  It doesn’t have to pay me for my time, this is a hobby, but when I sell a restored machine and it balances the books in terms of purchase price and parts, I find that inherently satisfying; it means my hobby is a zero-sum game.  The Bonnie currently owes me $1500 for the bike and spares and another $500 in parts so far.  Rebuilt in running shape (but customized and I’d say pretty fugly) similar Bonnies are asking $7500.  If I can mechanically restore this bike to good running order and clean it up, a $5000 budget should see me well into the black.
Now to decide how to drop the next three grand on this thing…

Some other photos from the work this past weekend:

Seized cylinder soaking in brake fluid overnight.

First look at the head gasket after getting the cylinder sleeve off.

A disappointing first look into the heart of the Triumph.

This is the head on the bike motor.  The other head must be from an earlier machine, or it’s missing parts.  Those risers with bolt holes in the top were on the ’71 top end but not on the other one, which looks to be an earlier unit (Triumph built the 650 twin for many years).
I get a great deal of satisfaction from cleaning up the old parts on the wheel in the shop.  This is an exhaust clamp, lovely patina!

This is the ‘practice’ top end on the bench.  Unlike other top ends I’ve been in (my ‘modern’ Triumph Tiger, the Fireblade, etc), this isn’t an overhead cam motor.  It uses push rods to operate the valves from down below (they’re dead centre in the photo).

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Riding Scottsdale

I just got invited to the Education Innovation Summit in Scottsdale at the end of the Easter weekend.  I get in early the day before so I’m thinking about getting myself on something appropriate for a lovely Sunday afternoon and evening around Scottsdale.  Eagle Rider has a place in Scottsdale and seems big on Harleys.  I’m not really a Harley guy, but when in Rome…

They have a little thing called a Harley Davidson Sportster 883, which seems ridiculously large for what it does, but then I guess that’s kind of the point.  Riding around the hills near Phoenix would be a blast on a big blatting Harley.

Scottsdale area seems like a biker’s paradise, with winding mountain roads and desert all around the city.  The Mesa, Globe, Punkin Center ride through Four Peaks Wilderness, Tonto National Forest and past Theodore Roosevelt Lake looks like a nice afternoon/evening ride on the big American bike.

Another great opportunity to expand my riding experience in an unexpected location, can’t wait!  I only hope they have a sparkle purple Harley there waiting for me.

Gasping For Breath: the lost art of pedagogy in Ontario schools

Written Feb, 2022:

Horses usually get put down when they break a leg.  They get euthanized because a three legged horse can’t stand on its own and ends up developing consequent health problems.  Keeping a lame horse alive is simply extending its misery.  These days, Dusty World feels like a lame horse.  I started this blog in 2010 after having attended my first ECOO conference and found it a valuable way to share my own ABL (always be learning) approach to teaching and learning effectively while navigating an information revolution.

Dancing in the Datasphere: thoughts on digital pedagogy from way back in 2011.

I’m sitting here looking at a dozen posts I haven’t published on Dusty World in the past year because I think there is no point.  It has been years since we focused on pedagogical best practices in Ontario education.  My reflections on this blog have always been focused on that slippery and often ignored concept.  Even at the best of times getting our education system to focus on pedagogical best practices has proven problematic, and we’re very far away from the best of times here in early 2022.

I’ve used pedagogical best practices to direct my teaching throughout my career, even when it made me unpopular with management, my union and even colleagues and students (many are happy to do less – learning is hard work).  In my mind, pedagogy means I’m focusing on maximizing student learning to the exclusion of all else.  The past two years have made so many educational workers (and students, and parents) disinterested in pedagogy to the point where I may be one of the only people left who gives it any thought.  Many weren’t into it in the first place, others have bailed for their own survival, and some have even actively attacked the idea of learning as a focus in schools, usually for their own political ends.

Pedagogy in Ontario public education has been set back decades since 2018.  These days we’re reduced to focussing on student wellness (usually while being driven to destroy our own) rather than teaching, but good pedagogy leads to student success which also brings with it meaningful (rather than proscriptive) wellness, though that is much more difficult to do than simply tossing learning out the window in favour of proscriptive wellness.  I didn’t became a teacher to provide daycare or be an emotional councillor, I got into teaching to teach.  In an attempt to survive this ongoing disaster, Ontario education has given up on teaching and learning and has fallen back to wellness as a last raison d’être.

Pedagogical best practices have always struggled to survive in our educational bureaucracy.  I’d honestly hoped that a change in government in Ontario would create efficiencies and opportunities in a system too long under single party control, but the new guys are just as (if not more) duplicitous and manipulative as the old guys, and obviously not focused on pedagogy.  This loss of faith in our provincial education system is what had me daydreaming about a student bill of rights for all Canadian students.  Unfortunately, Canada’s colonial history tends to systemically abuse disenfranchised people (like students under 18), leaving me worried for the safety and efficacy of learning for our children.

For me, the point of Dusty World is to allow me to transparently reflect on my teaching practice in order to improve it.  I have always done this publicly in the hopes that other people might find it useful, but the unpublished posts I’m looking at feel more like hopelessness than they do constructive reflective practice.  Every time I post something I get blowback from exhausted people who are trying to make nonsensical system-think work in practice.  The best thing I seem able to do as one of the few people left in the system actually interested in effective teaching and learning is to not publish reflections on it, which breaks my heart.  We seem to have lost the plot entirely.


Systemic Pedagogical Failures Continue…

Not posting anything doesn’t mean there are still major problems in our system.  So far this year I’ve had graduates tell me they are in real trouble in post-secondary maths classes.  How an A+ high school student can suddenly find themselves failing in post secondary raises very concerning questions about how we are teaching and learning.  Other students are able to use their maths like a toolbox to solve problems, but our grads struggle with rote learning that renders them ineffective.  My son had a senior maths class last year where the entire class failed unit 5.  The teacher said it’s ok, everyone fails unit 5.  If we were focusing on pedagogy we’d be trying to solve this.

This past year I had prominent STEM educators tell me that only academic/white collar courses matter.  When I suggested we create content for non-academic technology courses I was told that they don’t matter because barely any schools teach them.  This STEM is more just S & M thinking is ongoing and obviously inequitable.  This is one of those things I’d hoped a change in government might address, but blue collar subjects (and students) are still an afterthought in our degree fixated system.  Were we considering pedagogy on a systemic level, this kind of thing wouldn’t come up in conversation.

I’m currently teaching over 70 students in grades 10-12 in computer technology and engineering, four of them are girls and there are no girls in my senior class.  Sexism and genderism is still a major problem in our system.  My partner had one of our local students in elearning last quadmester and she told the story of how, when she expressed concern about her course selections she was told, “you’re so pretty, you don’t need to worry about that kind of thing.”  I want to have trouble believing that this was said, but then I look at how genderized our course selections continue to be and wonder how this kind of systemic genderism can happen.

I’m one of the few that has tried to keep extracurriculars alive in our aimless wander through COVID and have had many difficult experiences and observations about how student performance is affected by long term trauma, but that too can’t be publicly reflected on because it doesn’t matter anymore, and doing so only seems to aggravate the situation.  Having an opportunity to reflect, share and talk to other professional educators about my practice has been a valuable ‘breathing’ process for my teaching, but like trying to teach through a mask every day, I’m left gasping for breath.

My current situation (massive classes while trying to teach hands-on engineering skills without the space needed to do it) has always been an issue where I teach, but nothing changes because I’m expected to hurt myself making it work every year, at least until there is an injury then it’ll be my fault.  I recently had a student in my post-secondary bound senior computer engineering class (capped at 31, like an advanced calculus class) who is credit poor, essential level/DD and has a history of violence.  When I asked guidance why this student was directed into our class I was told that he had selected my course, which begs the question: who is being guided?  We have resources set aside for students like this, but when we don’t guide them into those programs we reduce the efficacy of everyone else’s learning.

Speaking as a parent as well as a teacher, I’d like our education system to focus on teaching and learning best practices, which should include gender unprejudiced and level appropriate guidance.  I suspect the dearth of maths skills in our grads is also a result of the ‘pick-what-you-like’ (unless you’re female) approach.  It’s hard to cover pathway appropriate curriculum when a significant portion of every class has neither the inclination nor background to engage with it.  If pedagogy mattered, we’d be resolving these problems instead of ignoring them.

The world has many problems and I feel that pedagogically focused public education is the answer to many of them, but because of politics and circumstance, schools in Ontario aren’t focused on being schools anymore.

Meanwhile, the digital information revolution is, if anything, accelerating, and we’ve thrown hundreds of thousands of staff and students into the digital divide in an attempt to weather the pandemic, all with no time or training to tackle any of it with pedagogy in mind.  I’m rejigging my entire curriculum again for the 3rd major change in scheduling in the past 18 months (with no time given).  It’s like trying to build a plane while it’s in the air… again.

Inconsistencies have poked so many holes in the fiction that is our public education system that many people are now questioning it in ways they wouldn’t have before.  The one-two punch of a vindictive, populist government and this never-ending pandemic has left our schools angry and confused.  That loss of faith is hard to recover from.  Trying to honestly reflect on pedagogical best practices in this void only seems to aggravate the situation.  It might be time to send Dusty World on sabbatical for a while and focus on something where I can give it 100% without other people constantly telling me to do less.  I didn’t get into teaching to do it at low intensity, the kids deserve more, but that’s where we’re at.

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