Thanksgiving Moments

Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada is early (winter is coming), but this one was pretty rideable.  The Honda is calling from a mechanical perspective, but that can wait until the Canadian motorcyclist’s hibernation.

In the meantime, I’m getting the rides in where I can find them…

Some digital art…

… and some on-bike 360 photos…



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Motorcycle Lift Table Instructions

A friend and colleague retired but kindly left his DIY motorcycle stand with me when he moved to the West Coast.  Here’s the construction of it back in 2016:

HERE are the plans he worked from in PDF format.  Now that I’ve got the plans I can find a properly spec’d lift to use on it.  My old lift is leaky and over two decades old, so the replacement will work the motorcycle lift as well as the odd car tire change.

Currently it’s home to the Honda Fireblade project:

The garage is a nice place to work (though small) for 10 months of the year, but during Ontario’s deep freeze in January/February, as outdoor temperatures often dip to -30°C and beyond, the cold emanating, even through the rubber lined floor, makes it torturous.  Even with a propane heater running, working on the floor isn’t any fun for my fifty year old bones.  The stand, even when lowered, has been nice to work on.  Now that I’ve got access to the specs, I can source the right kind of hydraulic lift and have everything at an even more ergonomic height.

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Mid-November Last Gasps

The Tiger’s still purring to the
edge of winter! 

Mid November and I’m still commuting in to work!  It was -2°C while riding past frost covered grass on the way in, but a comfortable 12°C and sunny on the way home.

I should be able to two wheel it in and back for the rest of the week, but come the weekend things take a turn for the worse.  If there’s salt down and icy roads this may finally be the end.  Still, riding from the end of March (it would have been sooner but for a carb-dead Concours) until Mid-November is no bad thing.

In a perfect world I’ll be back in the saddle in March some time, and might even steal a ride or two in between,weather permitting.  That’s four months of waiting… unless I can convince my lovely wife to let me get… THE VAN (it’s still for sale).  If that happened there’s no telling where we might get to over the cold months.

That don’t look good, but it was inevitable.

In the meantime, there was a super moon!

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Demo Daze

Kawasaki Canada’s Demo-Day, if there is one in
your neighborhood, I highly recommend heading
out for a day of diverse riding experience.

There aren’t many opportunities to ride motorcycles when you first start out.  If you’re a new rider buying even a second hand bike generally happens without a test ride.  Based on very loose ideas of what fits and the advice of others, you wind up on a machine with little or no idea of how it might work with you.  I purchased my Ninja 650 without test riding it and I often wonder if I would have had I a chance to ride other bikes.

This past Saturday I spent most of the day at Two Wheel Motorsport in Guelph riding a variety of bikes from Kawasaki Canada.  Kawasaki’s demo-days lets you sign up to ride your choice of pretty much their full range of bikes, and it only costs you a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society.

The demo-day setup is a well oiled machine with a Kawasaki trailer set up along with tents to cover the bikes.  After a briefing on what to do if separated and the expected ‘don’t ride like a fool’ safety talk, you’re ready to go.  The ride is 20-30 minutes and took us through country roads, small towns and offered some twisty bits as well as opportunities to open up the bikes.  One of the safety tips before we began was to not grab a handful of brakes if you’re coming off an older bike.  The more athletic machines have such good brakes that you might launch yourself if you grab them too hard.

After the ride you get a debrief and chat with the Kawasaki people there who are very responsive to rider feedback, often taking notes on what people are saying.  Apart from the opportunity to ride all of these new machines, it’s also nice to see a company so interested in getting ground-level rider feedback.

The people at the demo-rides ranged from early twenties to seniors and on some of the rides there were as many female riders as male.  Some people went out on the same kind of bike that they rode in on, others were obviously looking to try something specific, and then there were the few ding-dongs like me who just wanted to try as many different bikes as they could.

I ended up riding everything from a Z1000 naked sport bike to the all rounder Versys and even a little Ninja 300.  I’ll go into details on subsequent posts, but I’ll end this one saying, if there is a demo-day going on in your area, head out for a couple of three hours of riding that will expand your appreciation of just how different motorbikes can be.  If they’re all run as well as Kawasaki’s was, I’ll be heading out to others at earliest opportunity!

A sea of green… a chance to ride everything from a KLR650 to a ZX-14r or a Vulcan!

Once more into the breach dear friends!

Originally posted on Dusty World in February, 2014…

From thirteen years old in Air Cadets onward I’ve taken leadership courses.  I think I have a pretty good grasp of the mechanics, though its often hard to see my own shortcomings in the process.  One of those short comings is I tend to leap into the breach rather than direct the battle.  I’d rather be hands-on and leading by example, but this creates its own problems.

This past couple of years I’ve been working as Head of Computer Studies.  I inherited that job and the rather unique responsibilities that came with it, but rather than moan about it I stepped up and did everything I could to make it work.  While I was running one of the only remaining integrated computer studies departments in the board I was also managing an increasingly complicated IT budget (which I had suggested in the first place).

Ten years ago there was one kind of printer in our school and it was tightly integrated into a closed, wired board network.  In the past three years especially, our board (in a very forward thinking move) began to diversify technology beginning with wifi a couple of years ago.  This has peaked with the introduction of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative that has caused a diaspora of technology in our school.  Where once we had a single kind of printer, now we

You need to be wearing this shirt yourself

have dozens.  Where once everyone was on the same kind of desktop on the same operating system with access to the same applications, now we have hundreds if not thousands of combinations of hardware and software in the school.  I think this is a good thing, but it asks a lot of questions of teachers when they are expecting students, who aren’t as digitally native as you might think, to get work done.  Many of those teachers aren’t interested in being their own technology support either.

While all this has been happening, due to politics beyond their control, our IT budget has been slashed and the amount of support we get has dried up.  Where once we could expect our centralized board IT department to support a monolithic technology environment, we now have a diverse technology wilderness.

Into that wilderness I tried to maintain the level of support our staff and students had become accustomed to.  Being ‘mixed’ into a headship, our key computer teacher position was at best vague, and as the undercurrents in technology trends and support became clear, the job became heavier and heavier, to the point where I was taking days off from teaching to move labs around because IT couldn’t manage it.

One of the reasons I’m good at this sort of thing is because I throw myself into it, body and soul.  With that emotional energy I get a lot done, and it stings when it isn’t recognized or appreciated.  As the headship restructuring occurred it was hard not to take the dismissal of any role I had at the table personally.  That is one of the short comings of my approach to work, lots gets done, but I take it personally.

My main concern is successfully engaging staff and students with vital 21st Century digital fluencies that our graduates will need outside the walls of our school.  Perhaps plugging in network cables for people isn’t the best way to achieve that goal.  One of the problems with being a go-get-em type problem solver is I tend to have a myopic view of the bigger picture, especially when circumstances conspire to bury me in tech support.

When I came into teaching in 2004 I was shocked at how far behind education was compared to the business environment I’d just been an IT coordinator in.  In 2003 we’d already moved most staff to one to one technology (laptops) and our ordering system was accessible online.  In 2004 teachers were still filling in bubble sheets for attendance and having a secretary run them through a card reader (like it was 1980).  What few labs there were old desktops running six year old versions of windows that barely had any network functionality.

I started a computer club at my first school in Brampton and we put a wireless router into the library – the first one in the board as far as I know.  Students immediately began using it and our librarian was overjoyed, he could suddenly supply internet to all sorts of students.  That would be BYOD and wifi, in 2004 in an Ontario public high school.

I’ve pushed and pushed to connect education to more current information technologies, and there has been constant if slow improvement.  We’ve now caught up with 2004, we’re probably well into 2007 by now.  Of course, when students graduate they aren’t going to be expected to have a firm knowledge of 2007 digital workflow, so I’ll keep pushing.  

One of the reasons young people look so out of touch with business need is due to our outdated handling of technology in their education; it’s tough keeping up with a revolution in a system as conservative as education.

This matter of technology support is something I’ve got to reconsider, especially if we aren’t going to make a space for it locally.  The goal was never to do everything for everyone, the goal was to teach people how to perform basic troubleshooting themselves in order to make digital tools available when they need them; I’m not sure how that will happen in the future.  I don’t think a strong central support role is something that will return.  We need to find a way to integrate digital fluencies, including a basic understanding of how to get computers working, across the curriculum so that all teachers and students feel responsible for their own tech-use.  The idea is to see an acceleration in how current educational technology compares to what happens outside of the walls of a school.  This disparity causes tensions in both graduates and students who strain at the differences between school-tech expectations and how they are experiencing technology in the rest of their lives.

I’d make the argument that if you’re going to drive a car you should know how to change a tire and take care of basic maintenance, but many people can’t be bothered (though they are quick to complain about how much it costs to have other people do these things for them).  The same thing happens with computers.  Not everyone needs to be able to rebuild a computer from the ground up, but if you want to use one you should be able to do basic troubleshooting in order to have the technology work when you need it to.  How to create that self sufficiency is the question.

I’m not sure how that’s going to happen in the future, but I’m still determined to create an educational experience that produces digitally relevant graduates.  Rather than leaping into the breach and doing onsite technology support I have to find another way of getting more people technologically self sufficient.

Pan American Motorcycle Diaries

As I got into motorcycling, I came across Ewan McGregor & Charlie Boorman’s Long Way Round.  I HIGHLY recommend it if you enjoy travel documentary.  The Long Way Down is a second trip they took that felt a bit more rushed, but still very enjoyable.

The idea of being on a bike, out in the world, and seeing the world, has real pull for me.  And so… the Pan American Motorcycle Diaries: From Toronto to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.  Courtesy of Straw Dogs (originally published February, 2013):

The North and Central American ride

  • gearing for 500kms a day in the States, 2-300 a day in Central America
  • minimizing interstate/get there fast without seeing anything roads
  • the idea is to get away from the local touring scene as soon as possible and get into the once in a lifetime bit (Central & South America)
The direct route: minimal highway travel in The States

The South American Ride

A much shorter and cheaper ocean voyage, then south through Columbia
 PAMD2.0: from north to west to east in South America

Using the new ferry service from Colon, Panama (on the Carribean side) to Cartegena on the north coast of Columbia.

  • much cheaper than trying to charter a boat down the Pacific side
  • regular, dependable service
  • more than enough space for everyone to go at once
Chilean Atacama Desert & Volcanoes

The South American portion now includes Columbia and an angle through the Atacama desert in Chile. The end result is a more economical, shorter trip (though with more time on the ground in South America) and we still get to add another two countries to the roster.

  • 7000kms in North & Central America (6 days in The States at 500kms a day, 22 days in Central America at 2-300kms a day)
  • A 500km/7 hour ferry trip from Panama to Columbia
  • 8000kms in South America (27 days at 300kms/day)
Even if we reduce the South American mileage to 200kms/day, we’re still only looking at 40 days.
With the reduction in time and cost, we could easily leave mid-May and arrive without rushing (including days off and/or diversions) at the beginning of August.

May 17th, 2016 departure from Southern Ontario.

North & Central America: 7000kms

CANADA: 325kms to U.S. border ~ first day – stop in Toledo?
USA: 2700kms to the Mexican border ~ 6 days, 6 nights
MEXICO: 1800kms to Guatamala ~ 7 days, 7 nights
GUATAMALA: 300kms to El Salvador ~ 2 days, 2 nights
EL SALVADOR: 328kms to Honduras ~ 2 days, 2 nights
HONDURAS: 150kms to Nicaragua ~ 2 days, 2 nights
NICARAGUA: 360kms to Costa Rica ~ 2 days, 2 nights
COSTA RICA: 560kms to Panama ~ 3 days, 3 nights
PANAMA: 581kms to Colon (ferry) ~ 4 days, 4 nights

North America:   6 nights
Central America:  22 nights

South America: 9500kms

COLUMBIA: to Ecuadoran border 1550kms ~ 6 days, 6 nights
ECUADOR: to Peruvian border 931kms ~ 3 days, 3 nights
PERU: to Chilean border 300kms ~ 2 days, 2 nights
CHILE: to Bolivian border 288kms ~ 2 days, 2 nights
BOLIVIA: to Brazilian border 1566kms ~ 6 days, 6 nights
BRAZIL: 1866kms ~ 7 days, 7 nights

South America: 26 nights

Basic budget 

  • Gas per day ~ $30 avg (higher in expensive countries, lower in cheaper countries)
  • lodging per day ~ $60 avg each (shared accommodation)
  • food per day ~ $40 avg (lower/higher)
  • ~ $130/day/person
  • 54 day trip = ~$7000 each
Had I the means, I’d offer ten places and budget $10,000 per person and do the trip from May 17, 2016 to August 1st, 2016. The seats would be filled by people willing to document the experience using various forms of media from their own distinct perspective.  I’d want people of various backgrounds who would all bring their own insights into the experience of riding through such a diverse range of cultures and climates.  I’d then take the results and build a travel documentary in multiple media about the experience.

The Pan American Motorcycle Diaries

A two month odyssey along the spine of the Americas.  Out of the Great Lakes basin, across the Mississippi and the Mid-West, through South Western U.S. desert, along the Mexican coast before crossing the back of Mayan Mexico and tracing the Pacific coast of Central America all the way to the Panama Canal. Recrossing to the Caribbean side of Panama, we take a ferry service to Cartegena and trek south through Columbia into Ecuador. Following through the Andes and bouncing off the South Pacific shoreline, we enter Peru and after heading inland to Machu Picchu we skirt Lake Titicaca (I just wanted to say skirt Titicaca) and head south into the Chilean Atacama desert.  Crossing volcanic Chilean Andes we enter Bolivia and finally cross the back of the Andes into the Amazon basin.  The rest of the trip skirts Brazilian jungle on the way to Rio on the South Atlantic coast.

60 days, 15 countries, two continents, 16,500kms!


A Year of Living Dangerously

Work’s been heavy as of late, and I’ve got the middle-aged itch to do something profound before I’m too old to do anything interesting.  As usual, money and responsibility tie me to the earth, but in my more imaginative moments I wonder what I’d do with a year off and the money to do things that one day I’ll be too old and creaky to manage.

If I finished work at the end of June this year and had a year off I’d be back at work the following September.  That would give me the better part of fifteen months to explore three of my favorite aspects of motorcycling:  road racing, endurance riding and long distance adventure riding.  In chronological order, here’s my year of living dangerously:

It’s seat forward, middle & back,
in ergocycle but it looks like I *really*
like that Daytona.

1… Road Racing:  This spring get my race license, get a bike sorted and complete in the SOAR schedule over the summer.

A 12+ year old Triumph Daytona 600 would be a nice machine that fits into specific age (lost era) and displacement categories and wouldn’t be what everyone else is sitting on.  I also fit on it quite well (see the suggestive gif on the right).

Road racing would sharpen my riding skills and let me wrap my head around some of the more extreme dynamics of motorcycle riding in a controlled environment.  

Familiarity with high speed on a bike wouldn’t hurt for what I’m planning to do next, and racing over the summer would also focus my fitness training which would be helpful in building up to #2.

Costing a road racing season:  ~$20,000 (including race prepping a bike and racing in a local series)

Less than 50% usually finish, it’s
difficult, astonishing and viciously
exhausting, but finishing puts you in
a very small and exceptional group.

2… Race the Dakar:  Happening over New Years and into early 2017, finishing the Dakar would be the kind of thing that not many people manage.  Dreamracer puts into perspective just how difficult this can be.

Leaving work at the end of June I’d be full-on training and preparing for the race.  There are a number of Baja and other sand/desert focused races that would get me ready for the big one.  There are also a lot of off road training courses available well into the fall.  My goal would be to get licensed, certified and experienced in as many aspects of motorcycle racing as possible in the six months leading up to the Dakar.

Doing a Dakar would also be a fantastic fitness focus.  With a clear goal in mind, it would be a lot easier to schedule and organize my fitness.  A personal trainer and a clear targets would have me ready to take my best run at a Dakar, one of the toughest tests of mind and body ever devised.  It would do a fantastic job of scratching that middle-aged urge to do something exceptional.

Costing of a Dakar:  ~$98,000 Cdn

3… Ride Home:  The Dakar raps up mid-January, the perfect time to begin a ride back to Canada!  After resting up from the race I’d head south to Ushuaia at the beginning of February (summer time there) before riding back up the west coast through Chile.

A stop in Peru at Machu Picchu and then up the coast through Ecuador and into Columbia before loading on the Ferry in Cartegena to Panama around the one roadless bit in the Americas.

Once landed in Panama I make my way through Central America before pushing all the way up North America’s West Coast to the Arctic ocean in mid-summer (lots of sunlight!).  The last leg has me finally heading south again and east across Canada and back home.

The new Tiger would do a sterling
job of taking me the thirty three
thousand kilometres home.

All told it would be just over thirty three thousand kilometres.  Leaving Buenos Aires at the beginning of Februrary, and averaging 500kms a day (less on bad roads, more on good roads), I’d be looking at 68 days on the road straight.  Fortunately, if I wrap up the trip at the end of July I’d have more like 180 days to do it, leaving lots of time to enjoy the magic I’d find along the way.

Cost of a trip like this?  A week on the road is cheaper in South and Central America than North America.  If this is a 160 day trip (with 20 days for potential slowdowns to stay within the 180 day/6 month goal), then the money can be roughly estimated using these approximations:

  • $150/day (gas, food, lodging, expenses)  in South & Central America
  • $250 a day in North America

The raw numbers break down like this:

  • 14,500kms in South America (43% of the trip)  –  69 days = $10,350
  • 5600kms in Central America (17% of the trip)  –  27 days = $4050
  • 13560kms in North America (40% of the trip)   –  64 days = $16,000
For a total of $30,400 for the trip + $15,000+shipping to Argentina for a new Tiger
For the low, low price of about $150,000, I’d have a year of unique challenges, once in a lifetime experiences and get a chance to do three things that will only become more and more impossible as I get older.  Some people like the idea of a holiday where they can do nothing, but that isn’t for me.  I’ll take the challenge any day, if only I had the money and the time money gives.
The goal once I was home and back to daily life would be to collate the notes and media from this year of living dangerously into written and visual mediums.  Being able to produce a video and book(s) out of this experience would be the cherry on top.

Besides a fantastic set of memories, some new skills and the material needed to write an epic tale, I’d also have a race bike ready to compete on again the next summer.  That year of living dangerously might persist.

Are you ready for your fitting? Tailored Motorbikes & Micro-manufacturing…

I just read a good article in Motorcycle Mojo called, “Building The Perfect Bike.”  In the article the author supposed that since no ‘off the rack’ bike fits properly, he would give himself a new bike budget, buy a lightly used machine and create a custom-fit.  His exercise made for an interesting process, and he got closer to a custom fit, but it’s still far from a tailored motorbike.

I’ve used Cycle Ergo to great effect when considering off-the-rack bikes for fit,but you have to wonder how long it will be before we migrate from mass-produced, generic machines to personalized/tailored ones.  In that future Cycle Ergo two point oh will 3d scan you and get your performance needs and produce a custom machine specifically for you.

My day job is as head of technology at our local high school.  My focus there is in information technology and electronics.  I work closely with our technology design teacher who has a background in robotics.  We’ve both watched the rise of specialized manufacturing with great interest.  Our labs have taken on 3d printers, digital routers and five axis digital CnC machines in response to this evolution in manufacturing.  The prices on these devices have dropped dramatically over the past few years.  It won’t be far off when you’ll be able to custom build parts from scratch for a fraction of what it used to cost.

Computer controlled, small scale manufacturing will radically change our understanding of what have always been industrial scale production processes.  I suspect that in the future most of the manufacturing process will decentralize from factories and into regional shops that can produce customization on a scale unimaginable to 20th Century industrialists.

Some of the very high end motorcycle manufacturers are already embracing the idea of tailoring a machine to the rider.  Even a tiny volume manufacturer like Brough Superior can now consider machining all its own pieces in response to individual customer demand.  As the costs of personalized machining come down, the idea of a tailored motorbike will become the standard rather than the exception.

When you can cut your own pieces,
you can build your imagination.

One of the unseen hands that is encouraging the latest surge in the customized motorcycle scene is access to machining and manufacturing processes that used to only make sense in thousand plus unit runs.  You can build an astonishingly well built customized machine nowadays because you can build the bits you need for it to your own specifications.  Custom builders are a step toward truly individualized production.

Rather than plugging my dimensions into a database of bikes, one day soon I’ll be plugging my dimensions and performance needs into a blank template and watching the perfect bike form around me.  The seat would be designed for my backside, the handlebar grips built to fit my hands.  The system would then CAD/CAM out all the parts and custom produce everything from the frame to engine components, all to my specific needs.  The distinction between OEM and aftermarket will disappear, there will only be builders.

Now *that* would be a perfectly tailored bike!

Ongoing 360° On-Bike Photography

With some second generation parts I’ve got the on-bike portrait down to a fine art.  The Lammcou durable flexible tripod is a solid, dependable thing compared to the cheap and terrible flexible tripod I used before that I had to keep gluing back together.  The light, inexpensive and easy to use Ricoh Theta is still my favourite go to camera.  I’d like to try the higher resolution ThetaV but they aren’t cheap.

Here are the latest round of photos and video from the ThetaSC.  On the afternoon of the longest day of the year my wife and I went for a romantic ride over to where we got married almost twenty years ago.  On a rainy Saturday I put the waterproof cover on the camera and tried to get rained on.  I didn’t get wet, but I did see a ghost on the covered bridge in West Montrose.  That was a weird, atmospheric ride.

Solstice Romantic Ride:

Creepy, Atmospheric, Rainy Saturday Ride:

OK, so it’s not a ghost.  A young old-school mennonite woman was walking across the bridge complete with bonnet and black dress.  This is the covered bridge they used in the Stephen King movie, IT.  Creepy, right?

Staying ahead of the end of the world.

Dark and sinister…

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Cybersecurity and the AI Arms Race

We had a very productive field trip to the University of Waterloo for their Cybersecurity and Privacy Conference last week. From a teacher point of view, I had to do a mad dance trying to work out how to be absent from the classroom since our school needs days got cut and suddenly any enrichment I’m looking for seemingly isn’t possible.  I managed to find some board support from our Specialist High Skills Major program and pathways and was able not only arrange getting thirty students and two teachers out to this event, but also to do it without touching the school’s diminished cache of teacher out of the classroom days.

We arrived at the conference after the opening keynote had started.  The only tables were the ones up front (adults are the same as students when it comes to where you sit in a room).  Sarah Tatsis, the VP, Advanced Technology Development Labs at BlackBerry, kindly stopped things and got the students seated.  The students were nervous about being there, but the academic and industry professionals were nothing but approachable and interested in their presence.

What followed was an insightful keynote into Blackberry’s work in developing secure systems in an industry famous for fail fast and early.  Companies that take a more measured approach to digital technology can sometimes seem out of step with the rock-star Silicon Valley crowd, but after a day of listening to software engineers from various companies lamenting ‘some companies’ (no one said the G-word), who tend to throw unfinished software out and then iterate (and consider that a virtue), the hard work of securing a sustainable digital ecosystem seems further and further out of reach.  The frustration in the air was palpable and many expressed a wish for more stringent engineering in online applications.

From Sarah Tatsis I learned about Cylance, Blackberry’s AI driven cybersecurity system.  This reminded me of an article I read in WIRED recently about Mike Beck, a (very) experienced cybersec analyst who has been working on a system called Darktrace, that uses artificial intelligence to mimic his skills and experience as a cybersecurity analyst in tracking down incursions.

 I spent a good chunk of this past summer becoming the first high school teacher in Canada qualified to teach Cisco’s CCNA Cyber Operations course which, as you can gather from the name, is focused on the operational nature of cybersecurity.  After spending that time learning about the cyber-threatscape, I was more and more conscious of how attackers have automated the attack process.  Did you know criminals with little or no skill or experience can buy an exploit kit that gives them a software dashboard?  From that easy to use dashboard, complex attacks on networks are a button push away.

So, bad actors can perform automated attacks on networks with little or no visibility, or experience.  On the other side of the fence you’ve got people in a SOC (so much of this is the acronyms – that’s a Security Operations Centre), picking through anomalies in the system and then analyzing them as potential threats. That threat analysis is based on intuition, itself developed from years of experience.  Automating the response to automated attacks only makes sense.

In the WIRED article they make a lot of hay about how AI driven systems like Darktrace or Cylance could reduce the massive shortage of cybersecurity professionals (because education seems singularly disinterested in helping), but I don’t think that will happen.  In an inflationary technology race like this, when everyone ups their technology it amplifies the complexity and importance of jobs, but doesn’t make them go away.  I think a better way to look at this might be with an analogy to one of my other favourite things.

Automating our tech doesn’t reduce our effort.  If
anything it amplifies it.  The genius of Marc Marquez
can only be really understood in slow motion as he
drifts a 280hp bike at over 100mph.  That’s what an

AI arms race in cybersec will look like too – you’ll only
be able to watch it played back in slow motion to
understand what is happening.
What’s been happening to date is that bad actors have automated much of their work, sort of like how a bicycle automated the pedaling by turning into a motorcycle.  If you’re trying to race a bicycle (human based cyber-defence) against a motorcycle (bad actors using automated systems) you’re going to quickly find yourself dropping behind – much like cybersecurity has.  As the defensive side of things automates, it will amplify the importance of an experienced cybersec operator, not make it irrelevant.  The engines will take on the engines, but the humans at the controls become even more important and have to be even more skilled since the crashes are worse.  Ironically, charging cyber defence with artificial intelligence will mean fewer clueless script kiddies running automated attack software and more crafty cybercriminals who can ride around the AI.  I’ve also been spending a bit of time working with AI in my classroom and can appreciate the value of machine learning, but it’s a data driven thing, and when it’s working with something it has never seen before you quickly come to see its limitations.  AI is going to struggle, especially with things like zero day threats.  There’s another vocab piece for you – zero day threats are attacks that have never been seen before, so there is no established defence!

Once a vulnerability is found in software it’s often held back and sold to the highest bidder.  If you discovered a backdoor into banking software, imagine what that might sell for.  Did you know that there is a huge market for zero day threats online?  Between zero day attacks, nation-state cyberwar on a level never seen before and increasingly complex cybercriminals (some of whom were trained in those nation state cyber war operations), the digital space we spend so much of our time in and more and more of our critical infrastructure relies on is only going to get more fraught.  If you feel like our networked world and all this cybersecurity stuff is coming out of nowhere, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  AI may very well help shore up the weakest parts of our cyber-defence, but the need for people going into this underserved field isn’t going away any time soon.


Where did the Cybersecurity & Privacy Conference turn next?  To privacy!  Which is (like most things) more complicated than you think.  The experts on stage ranged from legal experts to sociologists and tackled the concept from many sides, with an eye on trying to expose how our digitally networked world is eroding expectations of private information.

I found the discussion fascinating, as did my business colleague, but many of the students were finding this lecture style information delivery to be exhausting.  When I asked who wanted to stick around in the afternoon for the industry panel on ‘can we fix the internet’, only a handful had the will and interest.  We had an interesting discussion after about whether or not university is a good fit for most students.  Based on our time at the conference, I’d say it isn’t – or they just haven’t grown into the brain they need to manage it yet.  What’s worrying is that in our increasingly student centred, digital classrooms we’re not graduating students who can handle this kind of information delivery.  That kind of metacognitive awareness is gold if you can find it in high school, and field trips like this one are a great way to highlight it.

The conference (for us anyway) wrapped up with an industry panel asking the question, “Can the Internet be saved?”  In the course of the discussion big ideas, like public, secure internet for all (ie: treating our critical ICT infrastructure with the same level of intent as we do our water, electrical and gas systems) were bandied about.  One of my students pointed out that people don’t pirate software or media for fun, they do it because they can’t afford it, which leads to potential hazards.  There was no immediate answer for this, but many of the people up there were frustrated at the digital divide.  As William Gibson so eloquently said, “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”  That lack of equity in entering our shared digital space and the system insecurity this desperation causes was a recurring theme.  One speaker pointed out that a company only fixated on number of users has a dangerously single minded obsession that is undermining the digital infrastructure that increasingly manages our critical systems.  If society is going to embrace digital, then that future better reach everyone, or there are always going to be people upsetting the boat if they aren’t afforded a seat on it.  That’s also assuming the people building the boats are more interested in including everyone rather than chasing next quarter earnings.

This conversation wandered in many directions, yet it always came back to something that should be self-evident to everyone.  If we had better users, most of our problems would disappear.  I’ve been trying to drive this ‘education is the answer‘ approach for a while now, but interest in picking up this responsibility seems to slip off everyone from students and teachers to administration at all levels.  We’re all happy to use digital tools to save money and increase efficiencies, but want to take no individual responsibility for them.

I’ve been banging this drum to half empty rooms for over a year now.  You say the c-word (cybersecurity) and people run away, and then get on their networked devices and keep doing the same silly things they’ve always done.  Our ubiquitous use of digital technology is like everyone getting a new car that’s half finished and full of safety hazards and then driving it on roads where no one can be bothered to learn the rules.  We could do so much better.  How digital skills isn’t a mandatory course in Ontario high schools is a mystery, especially when every class uses the technology.

I was surprised to bump into Diana Barbosa, ICTC’s Director of Education and Standards at the conference.  She was thrilled to see a troop of CyberTitans walk in and interrupt the opening keynote.  The students themselves, including a number of Terabytches from last year’s national finalist team who met Diana in Ottawa, were excited to have a chat and catch up.  This kind of networking is yet another advantage of getting out of the classroom on field trips like this.  If our pathways lead at the board hadn’t helped us out, all of that would have been lost.

We left the conference early to get everyone back in time for the end of the school day.  When I told them we’d been invited back on the bus ride home they all gave out a cheer.  Being told you belong in a foreign environment like an industry and academic conference full of expert adults is going to change even more student trajectories.  If our goal is to open up new possibilities to students, this opportunity hit the mark.

From a professional point of view, I’m frustrated with the lack of cohesion and will in government and industry to repair the fractured digital infrastructure they’ve made.  Lots of people have made a lot of money driving our society onto the internet.  The least they could do is ensure that the technology we’re using is as safe as it can be, but there seems to be no short term gain in it.

The US hacked a drone out of the sky this summer.

Some governments have militarized their cyber-capabilities and are building weapons grade hacks that will trickle down into civilian and criminal organizations.  In this inflationary threat-scape, cybersecurity is gearing up with AI and operational improvements to better face these threats, but it’s still a very asymmetrical situation.  The bad actors have a lot more going for them than the too few who stand trying to protect our critical digital infrastructure.  

Western governments have stood by and let this happen with little oversight, and the result has been a wild west of fake news, election tampering, destabilizing hacks and hackneyed software.  There are organizations in this that are playing a long game.  If this digital revolution is to become a permanent part of our social structure, a part that runs our critical infrastructure, then we all need to start taking networked infrastructure as something more than an entertaining diversion.

One of the most poignant moments for me was when one of the speakers asked the audience full of cybersecurity experts who they should call, police wise, if their company has been hacked.  There was silence.  In a room full of experts no one could answer because there is no answer.  That tells you something about just how asymetrical the threat-scape is these days.  Criminals and foreign powers can hack at will and know there are no repercussions, because there are none.

Feel safer now?  Reading this?  Online?  I didn’t even tell you about how many exploit kits drop hidden iframe links into web pages without their owners even knowing and then infect any machine that looks at the page anonymously.  Or the explosion of tracking cookies designed to sell your browsing habits to any interested party.


I’m beating this drum again at ECOO’s #BIT19 #edtech Conference in Niagara Falls on November 6, 7 and 8…

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