Dealing With The Impossible

Two decade old parts mean things don’t fit together.
Making something work in this circumstance seldom
has anything to do with following directions

The other day I was trying to install carburetors on an old motorcycle (I was a millwright before I was an IT guy). I wasn’t even sure if what I was doing was possible. I spent a couple of frustrating hours trying before I pulled it all apart and did it over a different way.

What I love about technology and engineering, especially when it involves free-form building rather than following directions, is that you have no idea if what you’re doing is possible. This never happens in digital environments – they’re all designed for you to eventually succeed. Kids think video game wins are wins, they’re not, they’re a conditioned response.

Any teacher who thinks free form building is just for fun is the kind of teacher who only wants students to perform conditioned response with a predetermined outcome (I’m guessing so they can control the situation). A lot of people (students and teachers alike) think that’s learning. I think it’s all about management and control, and it’s one of the emptiest things we can do with students.

We shy away from stochastic processes in the classroom because we believe that failure is the inability to do something rather than an opportunity to better understand complex and open ended situations.

When trying to put together those carburetors I was unsure if the process I followed would lead to a successful outcome.  That uncertainty filled me with doubt and made me question what I was doing in a way that no lesson ever would.  We desperately hope for metacognition in student learning and then stifle it with overly restrictive learning goals.  No student ever starts a math problem, writes an essay or even plays a video game wondering if what they are doing is possible, yet most of the world, when it isn’t a digital distraction or a lesson, works that way.  I suspect the cockiness I see in student attempts at engineering is grounded in the fact that most of their world (digital, educational, or worst of all: both!)  is a coddled exercise rather than a stringent test of reality.

In a classroom we like controlled circumstances with defined and plausible outcomes because they suit easy analysis of work completion, collection of assessment data and cement the teacher’s place as the all knowing master of learning, but that limited circumstance doesn’t offer much in the way of learning real world outcomes.

What would a learning environment look like if it wasn’t modelled on data collection and teacher insecurities?

A Perfect Ride

Sun’s going down…

Last fall I took my last ride of  2017 on a strangely warm November day over to Higher Ground at the Forks of the Credit.  The sun fell out of the sky on my way home before 5pm – winter was coming.

The next day temperatures plunged and by the weekend we were looking at minus double digits and the snow was flying.

Yesterday was my first time back there since the end of November.  The sun baked my back on the way over and then we sat out front sipping coffees and soaking up the rays.

A quick blast up and down The Forks made me realize how rusty I am with being in the right gear to make the most of a corner.  I’ll be working on that in the next few weeks.

The trip home with the sun still high in the sky promises more long summer riding days to come.

The corkscrew on The Forks.

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Copyright is sticky business

I read this which led me to this, which made me want to write this: (!)

Copyright is a sticky business. More often than not it isn’t the artist that is being protected by copyright so much as the distribution company that owns the rights. The music industry is still trying to get itself out of being a manufacturing and distribution concern, which is where the copyright habits we’ve developed with music started.

When you’ve got to justify stamping millions of CDs to make music financially viable, the focus shifts from the artist to the manufacturing/distribution system (where big infrastructure costs exist). In order to protect this distribution system, a robust, aggressive and quite jackassey legal specialization developed that has nothing whatsoever to do with the art it claims to protect.

It seems we’ve arrived at an age where an artist can be stimulated by influences and then effectively prevent anyone else from evolving ideas out of them. The Beatles, perhaps one of the biggest offenders in this, freely stole ideas and even whole pieces of music from the black R&B musicians in the US that proceeded them. Later in their careers they made art by evolving influences from Indian and other world music as well. They then aggressively locked down the rights to the art they freely took from other people.

It seems that Boomers are unique in many ways, not the least of which is their self-claimed right to take everything that came before them and own it entirely forever. US copyright has led this erosion of artistic license for many years, continually expanding and pursuing the entertainment industry’s right to own a piece of music, eventually (they hope) forever.

One of my favorite cautionary tales is Sita Sings The Blues. An artist going through a breakup creates an animated piece that integrates the 1920s music she is listening to at the time with an ancient Indian myth and her own relationship disaster. It’s very thoughtfully done. Give it a look if you’ve never seen it before. The details are on the website, but here’s the summary: when she went to get the copyright for the 1920s recordings (long out of copyright) that she wanted, she discovered a copyright law firm (one of many that buy up copyright-passed, older material) contacted her back and wanted a quarter of a million dollars for songs they didn’t own by an artist they never represented.

This is the state of copyright nowadays: a savage wasteland of corporate vultures looking to pick the bones clean of any work of artistic merit. It’s a completely unsustainable system that stifles art and kills creativity. Had Shakespeare been alive now, he would not have been able to publish any of his work (almost all of which borrowed heavily from proceeding material). Corporate vultures would have swooped in and killed Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth or Hamlet stone dead.

I make no bones about artists being able to make a living from their work, I’m an artist myself. My hope is that digitization of the workflow will free us from the vultures that have been feeding (and killing) the artistic process for the past 60 years.

Many artists are beginning to push content directly to fans. Courtney Love famously once said, “I work for tips” when she was talking about how little she made from CD sales. Doing tours made more, but even live performance requires covering a lot of hangers on.

The irony in all of this is that the music industry claims to be the protector and savior of music, yet it is the very thing stifling creativity, and it’s doing it to protect an archaic manufacturing system that barely exists any more.

Ok, so after all that? I think NerdyTeacher’s blog is a great opportunity for Taylor to step into a new era and develop fan based appreciation through Twitter and social networking. Those students, and the people who see the performance will know of her willingness to share her art. What I fear is that she isn’t the one to make this decision. A legal firm representing her music industrial complex will make that decision, and it won’t go well.

Thanks to @dougpete and @TheNerdyTeacher (and twitter) for the impetus to write!

A Dakar Rally With Teeth

I’ve been watching the Dakar Rally with great interest once again.  It’s always a wicked competition that has more in common with the Isle of Man TT than it does any other sporting event.  From a Hemingway perspective The Dakar is the real deal.

I enjoy the Dakar more for the battle than I do the singularly focused professional factory teams.  This year’s high profile dropouts have cast light on just how speed focused the rally has become.  With rally drivers and MX racers charging across a carefully chosen course with fairly straightforward navigation and off-road dangers minimized, recent Dakars have felt more like day by day sprints for that faster set than a cross country adventure.  Ever rising speeds and increased completion rates seem to support this.  Thanks to a Marc Coma designed course, this year’s rally seems to have come back to Dakar’s core philosophies.

The completion of a Dakar is a mighty achievement in and of itself.  Winning a Dakar is a team achievement that depends on a lot of complex pieces coming together perfectly for weeks at a time, but I’ve felt like the vehicle operators were increasingly specializing in speed over everything else.  Just throw yourself at the horizon and let the mechanics sort it out.

You don’t want to be pushing so hard
that you’re breaking the vehicle and/or
yourself and depending on luck to not
have that happen.  That kind of racer-
think might work on a closed course,
but the Dakar is something else.  You

need some pride to keep you going
when you’d otherwise surrender.  The
meek don’t inherit The Dakar.

In recent years, with rally drivers infiltrating the ranks, it feels like the race has moved toward a higher speed, less nuanced approach – hammer it and throw money at the damage and then complain about anything on the course that slows you down seemed to be the way it was going.  The course Coma has set up this year has the speed bunnies getting lost and damaging their machines because they are all go and no slow down and consider.  The return to a more thoughtful Dakar that rewards navigation and terrain reading (because the terrain isn’t pre-screened to favour speed bunnies) makes for a better race.  Finding way points and completing timed sections should demand intelligence and terrain reading as well as a racer’s touch.  During a Dakar you should sometimes have to slow down to win.

These complexities had me trying to think through how you approach a Dakar.  The speed bunny approach tends to lean heavily on pride, hand-eye coordination and balls-out courage.  If the race organizers did anything other than design speed sections that catter to your approach you complain about it.  Luck was taken care of by influencing speed focused course designs that take you on prepared trails and less intensive navigational challenges.  This year’s Dakar is stressing humility and a considered approach to crossing some truly wild stages.  You still need the hand-eye coordination, strength and endurance, but you also need to bring along your strategic thinking.  Mashing the throttle and flying over the terrain doesn’t work when the terrain isn’t pre-screened for you.  It pays to be more than a racer in the Dakar.

One of my favorite parts of the 2015 Dakar was the blast across the salt flats.  Many of the speed bunnies complained bitterly about it because it was hard on the machinery, but this race isn’t just about pinning a throttle.  The journey is the destination on the Dakar.  Too many were only focused on getting to that destination and making the rest incidental.  If they want to race short, closed course rallies, go do that, the Dakar is and should be something else, something bigger.

The Dakar Rally continues to evolve into something better and better.  I hope it keeps embracing its uniqueness by focusing on the adventure rather than catering to the wishes of a small subsection of hard core racers who can see nothing other than how quickly they can complete a rally stage.  Make it hard.  Cross the wilds.  Make the winners think about something other than pinning the throttle in order to win it.

The Dakar is happening right now (January 2nd to January 14th, 2017).  You can watch it on the Dakar website, and Red Bull TV is also doing daily updates.  It’s also playing on varied TV channels across the world (but not so much in North America).  Daily Motion is another excellent online place to follow the event.

Why else follow the Dakar?  It’s one of the few motor sporting events that goes out of its way to consider its environmental impact.  If you like a considered, intelligent adventure, you should be watching this.

Étape 6 – Dakar Heroes – Dakar 2017 by Dakar – Riders like Lyndon Poskitt are why I love The Dakar

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It Was The Worst of Times, It Was The Best of Times

I managed an 800+ kilometre loop through Southwestern and Central Ontario over the weekend.  The ride out and the ride back four days later were distinctly different, though they did have one thing in common:  gravel companies with little regard for public safety.

I began early on Thursday morning hoping to beat the heat, but even a 9am departure had me sweating in humidity fuelled mid-thirties temperatures.  On Fergus/Orangeville Road heading into Orangeville a gravel truck decided to drive into oncoming traffic so he could have a chat with his buddy pulling up on a side road.  He cut it so close the old couple in the Cadillac at the front of our group left ABS intermittent skid marks on the road and almost got rear ended by the guy behind them in an F150 who was too busy texting to notice events unfolding.  This is the second time an employee of Greenwood Aggregates/Construction has been a pain in the ass for us.  Last time it was a fist sized lump of gravel that cost us a $500 deductible to get the windshield replaced in my wife’s car.  This time around I was in full-biking-radar-paranoia-mode, so I saw the whole thing unfolding and made myself some space by moving to the shoulder so the guy behind me didn’t run me down in the heavy braking.  It’d be nice if the OPP spent a little time observing misdemeanours by Greenwood Aggregate drivers on the Orangeville/Fergus Regional Road 3.  If they can’t take other road users’ safety into consideration, perhaps they should have their licence revoked.

Rather than continue to enjoy the chaos of the busy-for-a-Thursday-morning regional road, I ducked onto a gravel side road (a benefit of riding the Tiger) and took the back route around to the bypass.  Being clear of traffic, even on loose, recently graded gravel always feels so much better than riding with jumpy, unpredictable pillocks in their boxes.  Bigger the box, bigger the pillock, and these days everyone drives the largest possible thing they can find.

I’ve been working on the Tiger’s recent stalling issue, and thought I had it licked, but it stalled on me after getting gas in Mono Mills in the middle of a highway intersection, so I was on edge.  It did it again while making a left turn off Highway 9.  The key to my survival as a motorcyclist is my ability to respond to traffic quickly with awareness and agility.  A bike dying on me in the middle of an intersection feels the exact opposite as it suddenly makes me vulnerable and immobile; it feels like betrayal.  Some people online have suggested just riding around the issue, but I think that’s absurd.  If you’re riding something that can leave you dead in the middle of a turn, that’s not something to ride around, it’s something to fix.

Now truly fraught and soaking in sweat, I pulled over to get my shit together on a tiny side road before getting onto the 400 Highway.  My new COVID normal is to find a shady spot and have a stretch, a comfort break and a drink.  I pulled over onto Side-road 4 which had zero traffic and re-centred myself.  It was a lovely stop in a quiet farming area.  No sound of traffic and only the breeze stirring the trees and corn.  It was a Zen ten minutes that let me get my head on straight again.

The 400 north was surprisingly busy for a late Thursday morning, but was moving at warp speed anyway.  The inside lane was averaging 120km/hr.  I dropped into the flow after passing a cruiser parked under the overpass I used.  I guess he was only looking for people doing 160+.  By now the air temperature was well into the high thirties and the oppressive humidity had it feeling in the forties.  Even at speed on the highway I was always sweating.  I got to Barrie in next to no time only to discover that a single lane reduction at the Essa Road exit meant that the me-first GTA crowd had backed up traffic for 20 minutes because they all have to be first.  Massive trucks and SUVs (few people drive cars in Canada any more) were pulling out onto on ramps and burning to the end before trying to butt in ahead of where they were.  Being Ontario, I couldn’t filter through and ended up sitting on sixty degree tarmac for the better part of twenty minutes in stop and go traffic under a relentless sun surrounded by air conditioned cagers who were making it even hotter, with a bike that stalled if I let go of the throttle.

I finally got clear of Barrie and things were once again moving at warp speed, with trucks towing boats passing me at 40km/hr over the limit.  Ontario highways are truly something special; a hybrid of Mad Max and a never ending grocery store line up of the biggest jackasses you’ve ever met.  But I was now clear of Barrie and Orillia and only had the wide open spaces of the north to look forward to.  I was evaporating sweat so much a cloud was probably forming above me, but at least I was in motion, until I wasn’t.

Ten kilometres outside of Gravenhurst traffic came to a sudden stop again.  Why?  Ontario refuses to widen the bypass around Gravenhurst onto Highway 11, and we all know how GTA traffic likes to merge with grace and efficiency, so things had come to a stop, again.  At this point I was deep into fuck-it territory.  My plan to get up to the lovely 118 and cross over the Haliburton Highlands and down to my wife’s family’s cottage near Bobcaygeon was starting to smolder in a dumpster.  After sitting next to a Shell station for a couple of minutes on baking asphalt, I pulled in and looked at the map.  Oddly, the Tiger was now holding idle.  The ECU learns how to set idle when you reset it with a new fuel map, so maybe the Tiger had learned how to solve its own stalling?  I should be so lucky.

Gravenhurst Traffic
Early Thursday afternoon GTA traffic into Gravenhurst where all the citiots have to all go to the same place at the same time, all the time.  The old fella at the gas station told me it’d be a 40 minute stop and go to get through it on fifty degree tarmac.  Bigger is always better in the cager crowd.  See many cars in there?  Trucks and SUVs, all the better to hit you with while ensuring your own safety!

I had a look at the map and thought that Washago and south around Lake Simcoe and over to Kinmount would at least get me out of attempting a route that thousands of people in giant vehicles from the GTA were plying.  Highway 11 has lots of turnarounds to go south, which I’ve always found odd until today.  I was quickly able to get on the empty highway south and found myself back in Washago and heading down an empty 169 and then east on an equally empty 45.  The temptation is to say Ontario is under-funding infrastructure, and it is to a degree, but the real issue is the group think in the most overpopulated area of Canada, which I have the misfortune of living near.

Changing my mind on where I was going changed the ride.  I’d been aiming for unfamiliar roads, but that’s not something easy to find in summer of pandemic.  The Tiger seemed to have changed its mind too.  At the odd stops at lights it was suddenly idling steadily and the pickup on throttle and vibes at speed felt better than they used to.  I guess the ECU had finally worked out the new fuel map.  I was still dehydrated and cooked, but I was on winding roads with almost no traffic.  Unfortunately, these were the same winding roads I’d taken last month to the cottage.  I stopped in Kinmount because I’d done that last time and knew they had a public washroom in the park.  After another comfort break and as much water as I could neck, then I sorted out the 360 camera and headed toward Gooderham on the 503 for a roller-coaster ride down the 507 and then into the cottage.  This was the good bit coming up.

The sun was getting low behind me and I early evening was upon us.  I got to Gooderham just past 5pm and headed south on the 507, the Tiger feeling better than it had in months.  Just south of town I saw the inevitable sign:  CONSTRUCTION.  Unreal.  I’d just busted my hump for hundreds of kilometres of Ontario tedium and the highlight is dug up.

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

After some kilometres of gravel, some of it ankle deep because they’re in the middle of resurfacing, I

got back onto the pockmarked but paved 507 and proceeded south.  The long shadows meant the worst of the heat was off me and I soon found myself in Noogies Creek, working my way into some of Ontario’s prettiest wilderness.

The 14kms up Bass Lake road goes from two lane gravel fire road to a winding, single lane gravel fire road quickly before ending at the lake.  Ten minutes later I was neck deep in it washing off a day of sweat and frustration.



Four days later I was saddling up just past 11am for the return trip.  My cunning wife suggesting doing the 118 route backwards on the way home since no one from the GTA would be going that way.  To make it even better, it was a humidity free 22°C on a Monday morning.  The Tiger still had almost half a tank, so I skipped cutting back to Bobcaygeon and headed east toward the 507 on Peterborough Regional Road 36.

I was approaching the turn north on to the 507. Quarry Bay Stone was just up the road and a gravel truck had just pulled out fully loaded and was ramming it up through the gears heading westbound towards the group of traffic I was in.  Bucketfuls of gravel were pouring out of this piece of shit truck as it approached us, bouncing down the road at 150km/hr closing speed.  Remember the Millenium Falcon in the asteroid storm in Empire?   Now I know how the ship felt.  I was lucky to be able to duck behind the truck and car ahead of me.  I imagine both vehicles are looking at body damage and broken windshields.  I got whacked on the shin hard enough to knock my leg off the peg.  That’s another win for my awesome, armoured Macna motorcycle trousers.  Not only are they cooler than any other pant I’ve tried, but they also prevented me from getting a broken shin and/or severe lacerations on my leg.

When I realized how many rocks were coming at me and at such a high speed I put my head down and my new-this-year Roof Desmo RO32 took the impact for me right on the crown.  The rock was big enough to ring my bell, but had I not ducked it would have hit me at neck level, which might have been fatal.  Other sharp bits of gravel clattered off my road side pannier and I got a big scuff on my front fender, but otherwise the Tiger dodged the rocks.  I glanced back to see more bucketfuls of gravel skipping down the road, bouncing off the vehicles behind me.  The road was covered in it.  The next day at home I thought about what happened and came to the conclusion, fuck those guys.  It’s their responsibility to operate safely on public roads, and they aren’t doing that.  That this happened with two aggregate companies suggests that industry has a real fuck-you attitude to the rest of the citizenry who are using public roads.  It made me angry enough to make an online report with the OPP.  It’s two days later and I haven’t heard anything, but I’m not holding my breath  They’re probably too busy trying to figure out what to do with all their pay raises.

This is one of those things you don’t think about so much at the time.  I wasn’t bleeding too much and the bike was ok, so I kept going.  I wasn’t about to chase the truck down and I was too shocked to pull into the gravel yard.  I would have just flipped out on someone in any case.  Biking requires a sense of inevitability and fate.  You control what you can and live with what you can’t.  Glad I did the report though; fuck those guys.

The 507 was virtually empty and cool as I made my way north.  Being a week day I suspected they’d be

working on the road and soon enough I came to the edge of the construction.  I had a nice chat with the girl doing traffic control and was soon off.  Since they were laying tarmac they’d just put down a thick layer of sand and gravel, so thick my front tire disappeared into it and the Tiger bucked.  Thanks to recent SMART training my wrist did what it was supposed to do instead of involuntarily grabbing the brakes, which would have been bad.  The Tiger leaned back on its haunches and the Michelin Anakees bit into the loose material and launched us through the wave of loose material.  My feet never even left the pegs and I like to think I looked like I knew what I was doing.  The guy behind me on a Harley wasn’t so lucky.  Legs all over the place before he ploughed it to a stop.  He then cut across the road to the tire tracks and then continued slowly up the verge.

The construction was soon behind me and then so was Gooderham.  I’d taken Haliburton County Road 3 to Haliburton a few years ago when I did a birthday ride through Algonquin Park, and knew it was a good one.  It’s not as long as the 507, but at least as twisty and in much better shape; it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride through cool, noon-time air with thermoclines down by the lakes that I could both smell and feel.

I got to Haliburton still reading above empty.  This new fuel map was richer and smoother than the stock map, so I’d expected worse mileage, but because I’m not asking for more throttle and what I did use was smooth and effective, my mileage was actually better.  I figured there would be a gas station in Haliburton on the 118, but I passed through and found nothing.  I was far enough out of town that riding back didn’t appeal, so I pushed on to Carnarvon figuring there had to be a gas station there as it’s at the intersection of two major highways, but there was no gas in Carnarvon either, so I ended up ducking down the 35 to Mindin to get gas as the gauge fell into the red.  I was able to put 19 litres in, so I still had the better part of 5 litres in the tank when I filled up.  I’d have tried for Bracebridge if I’d have had a jerry can with me just to see what the run-to-empty is on the new and improved Tiger.  As it was I was over 400kms into that tank and think I still had another hundred in it (the Tiger has a big 24 litre tank).

Brimming with gas I rode back north to 118 with more vigour than I’d come south.  The Tiger was idling so well I’d forgotten to keep checking on it, and the new fuel map was giving it a spring it had been missing.  Passing a cement truck (front wheel getting light as I wound it up through third) onto the 118, we found ourselves rolling through muskeg and ancient stone as the road took fast sweepers left and right around the Canadian Shield.  At one point a couple had pulled over and were slowing traffic (which was just me) because a snapping turtle was making its way across the highway.  He was a dinosaur amongst dinosaurs.  Easily a forty pounder with a giant, spikey tail.  I’m not sure how old they get (the interwebs say they can approach fifty years old); this was an apex predator snapping turtles.

Having circumnavigated the turtle safely, the Tiger burst off down the road with a snarl.  I saw no traffic until I was within twenty kilometres of Bracebridge.  The 118 twists and turns so much there are few places to pass, so soon enough a pile of us were behind a lovely old couple enjoying their leisurely motoring afternoon in a large American automobile.  I managed to squeeze out a pass on the only broken line and then enjoyed clear sailing all the way in to Bracebridge, which is much bigger than I remember it, looking more like a Toronto suburb with big box stores than the remote Ontario town it used to be.  Maybe it’s all our fates to one day be living in identical subdivisions all doing the same things at the same time while staring at the same box stores.

Bracebridge was a bit of a faff, with more lights and traffic than any other part of the trip, then I was clear of it and off to Port Carling.  One of my first long rides on the Tiger was with my son across Ontario when we first got it in the summer of 2016.  Back then we had a great stop at a lovely coffee shop and had chats with lots of people at the local tourism office.  Port Carling is a lovely little town, but COVID has taken its toll.  The coffee shop was gone, and the rest of the place was mostly closed, though this might have been a Monday thing as much as a COVID thing.

I ended up skipping town and stopping COVID-style at an empty side road in the shade for a comfort break and a granola bar and as much water as I could take on.  I’d been hoping for a hot lunch, but hot lunches are few and far between in 2020.

The ride south to Bala was trafficky but moved well.  I’d never taken the 38 west to the 400 out of Bala and was surprised to learn it passes through Mohawk land.  It was a nice ride on interesting roads which I spent mostly behind a couple of native one-percenters (badged vests and all) on Harleys.  They gave me a wave when they pulled over to their clubhouse which was nice, a lot of the too-cool-for-school cruiser types don’t bother with the biker wave.

The 400 was what every highway should be:  lite traffic moving like it means it.  Traffic was cruising at 120 in the slow lane.  I flashed south to Horseshoe Valley Road in a matter of minutes.  It was 80kms of quick moving but with zero headaches because I bailed before Barrie.  Horseshoe Valley Road was doing culvert repair (a lot of government COVID support has been going into needed infrastructure updates, which is no bad thing).  It was only about a ten minute wait and I was off again.  I remembered the Strongville bypass and took back roads to Creemore where I made my last stop by the Mad River where it gets its name tumbling down the Niagara Escarpment for the last of my water, then it was the final hour and a bit home, but now I was back in the Tiger’s natural hunting range on familiar roads.

Other than being pelted by another anti-social gravel company, it was a lovely ride back.  Mostly empty roads and in much more humane temperatures.  The Tiger ran like a top, not a single stall, and feels like a new thing with its software update.  I’d been having anxiety about it on this trip, but it’s a multi-dimensional thing that can do everything from single lane tracks in the woods to superhighways.

I’m back home again for a few days for work conferences (all remote), before we’re forced back into classrooms by a government that seems to have no idea what it’s doing.  In the meantime though, I have two working bikes in the garage and the rest of the short Canadian riding season to enjoy them.  Life is good.

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National Skills Competition Reflection

We’re back from Skills Canada’s National Competition.  It was my first time as a Team Ontario coach and it was a spectacular six days in New Brunswick.  The sight seeing was frenetic and then the opening ceremonies astonishingly loud and boisterous.  To say we were revved up would be an understatement.

After a weekend waiting for competition to start we were finally able to do what we went there for (compete), except we didn’t.  I’d hoped for a top half finish.  Ontario’s provincial skills are much more competitive than most other province’s simply because we have the biggest population and therefore the most contestants; we had to beat more people to get to Nationals.  Aiming for a top half finish didn’t feel like a long shot, especially when we’d done so well in provincials (a gold medal and one of the highest technical scores in all competitions).  I fear our good provincial results meant we didn’t drive at Nationals like we should have.

I prefer Bull Durham’s
dissonance over the pat
just be humble quote.
There is a place for
swagger in competition
as long as it doesn’t blind
you to what you need to do

You need a bit of arrogance when you walk into a competition because, despite the platitudes, everyone isn’t a winner, in fact the vast majority are losers.  When you dangle yourself out there in competition you need a bit of cockiness to survive the failures.  There were a steady stream of people bursting into tears and running out of the awards ceremony when they didn’t medal.  Humility wasn’t helping them keep their composure when they lost.  If you don’t think composure in the face of failure matters you probably haven’t competed much.

IT & Networking came up early and because of a screw up on the screen I’d realized we hadn’t medaled before they actually made the announcement.  In that moment all that hope evaporated and I was struggling with disappointment.  As a coach, I felt protective of my student who wasn’t happy with the result but didn’t run out of the room in tears.  Since we were announced so early we had another hour and half to sit there watching others succeed.  It certainly set a reflective mood.

Our approach to Skills all along has been one of the long game.  Each competitor returns and brain dumps everything they can remember into a document that we can use to prepare better next time.  Our current competitors are often able to get in touch with alumni (the benefits of a small town) and get additional support and advice.  That’ll happen with our first go at Nationals as well, so when we get there next time we won’t be going in blind.  The three who did medal in this national competition had all been there and seen the scope of competition before.  Knowing what to expect is a key to success.

But there is another side to this that I need to consider beyond the long game.  I was very hands off with training my competitor after our successful provincial run.  He asked questions about subnetting and IPv6, and I provided him with material on it, but didn’t follow up to see if he’d looked at it.  He hadn’t.  I’d assumed he’d grabbed this opportunity with both hands and put his training into overdrive, but end of year distractions and a very successful provincial run had shifted him to glide.  After a long, exhausting first day of competition we were both sitting there going over material that should have been second nature instead of resting up for day two.  At that point hope replaced confidence for me.  I hate depending on hope.

I’m a big believer in students, especially seniors and even more especially competitors, being self driven.  I have no interest in hand puppeting students to a win, I want them to feel like it’s their’s because they are the prime movers in their own skills development.  I don’t believe in moulding students in the likeness of my own learning, I want them to internalize it in their own most effective manner.  My job is to do backflips in the background making sure they have the information and tools they need to efficiently and effectively develop their own skills.

High school seniors on the verge of post secondary work in technology should have a developed sense of professionalism as a part of their skills formation, which means not off-loading blame when you fail, and taking on responsibility for fine-tuning your own expertise (I drive this home in class constantly).  Because these things didn’t happen I’m at peace with losing – we didn’t deserve the win – though it still irks me and has me wondering what I could have done differently.

Another reflective piece for me was remembering all of the curriculum I ditch in order to serve the relatively digitally illiterate students I get in computer technoology.  As we were going over subnetting I remembered how doing this used to be second nature for me as a technician, but I can barely get basic IP addressing across to the majority of my students let alone binary subnetting.  Dumbing down curriculum might make my program more palatable, but it didn’t help us get ready to compete at Nationals.  That one’s entirely on me.  If this experience means I’m not shying away from expected curriculum in the future, it might cripple my program’s ability to take in the digital dilettantes and guidance refugees I’m expected to serve, but at least we won’t get pwned again in competition.

When the lights come up and judgement begins, you don’t want
to be hoping you might squeeze out a medal after missing
questions and going in unprepared.  Hope isn’t how you win.

After losing for years (see below) and putting a good face on it (I don’t like losing, I’m competitive by nature), I suddenly found myself, on only my third attempt, on Team Ontario, coaching my strongest Information Technology student yet.  That we didn’t perform like we could have is the most disappointing part of this experience for me.

I don’t care if questions are repeated so students who have been there before have an advantage, I don’t care if the environment they put us in seemed intentionally designed to produce poor results (we were placed between an amplified loud speaker job presentation and millwrights hammering metal and running power tools) because everyone had to suffer through it.  What I do care about is approaching Nationals with a self-driven, professional mind-set, and I think that’s what I’ll focus on next time around.  Not shying away from complex material in my courses and keeping a focus on being properly prepared will help my competitors to do more than hope for a medal.  The valuable information we gathered this year on how Nationals are scoped means we’re not going in blind next time either.

Losing for Years…
I stopped coaching soccer at my high school after a number of years because it was a constant hassle trying to get players out to practice (the fact that our talent pool was desperately shallow and we lost almost every game wouldn’t have shaken me off like indifference did).  The time the student players decided (after losing another game) to just not show up at 7am the next day for the practice time they told me they had to have broke it for me.  I’d paid for daycare, put my own child into it at 6:30 in the morning and was standing there alone on the pitch in the pre-dawn light when I decided I’m done volunteering for this kind of abuse.  I’m glad I was able to find Skills Ontario/Canada as an outlet for competition that also helps improve my own program.

The New Literacy

I recently became the head of Computer & Information Technology at my high school.  To many this might cause confusion, not many schools appear to have a head of digital technology.  When recently asked to join up with the other two heads of Comp/Info tech in our region I discovered that there aren’t any, I am the sole head of digi-tech in my area.

A day in the life of that rare creature: the head of info-tech

I was supposed to be meeting up with them to plan our upcoming PD day.  Being the resourceful fellow I am, I started putting together ideas for the pd on prezi.  In thinking it through, I want to go after three ideas:  how we administer computer studies, how computer studies are presented in ministry curriculum (and the problems around that), and what the future of computer studies holds.

The general response I get from teachers around digital technology is that very few know anything about it, but they’re all expected to be comfortable with it.  The other response is that the digital natives won’t learn anything from us because they already know everything.

The myth of the digital native is just that, a myth.  Student digital fluency is pretty much the same as the general population, except they spend a lot more time doing the same, limited activities in digital space.  The digital native is, in  many cases, actually the digital serf.

After working my way through thinking about computer studies and how it’s taught in my school (and board), I want to try and change the way computer studies are delivered.  The current state of curriculum is that of a still maturing discipline, hogtied to its past.  In talking to other computer teachers, they find themselves (variously) under math or business headships as a sub-department.  On top of that computer studies are divided into two sections: computer engineering (hardware) which falls within the tech department (along with carpentry and automotive repair amongst others), and computer science (programming), which tends to get swallowed by business or math.

It’s common for computer science teachers to have nothing whatsoever to do with computer engineering teachers.  This makes it tricky to develop coordinated curriculum, share resources, plan field trips or even just advocate effectively to hire the vanishingly few qualified computer teachers there are out there.

As I mention in the prezi, this is the equivalent of us teaching music by having a course on maintaining, tuning, building and repairing musical instruments, and then having a completely different course on how to read and write music; theory separated from mechanics.  In the case of music, an ancient discipline that has evolved over millenia, we recognize an obviously unified course of study.  Computers do not have the benefit of these years of evolution.  We need to start unifying these skills.

The division of the discipline results in crushingly small numbers in computer science.  When I was in computer science in the 1980s, we ran six sections of senior computer science a year… on card readers!  Last year my high school (roughly the same size as the one I attended back in the day), ran a single, mixed (academic/applied) section of computer science at the grade 12 level, and it wasn’t full.  Did computers hit a high point in the 80’s and become a less relevant part of modern life?  Why on Earth would we teach fewer people how they work now?

Computers are a part of everyday life in 2012.  We have come to expect a level of competency in our population equivalent to the universality of literacy or numeracy, but we don’t teach to this need, and it is largely unmet.  We are instead producing graduates who teach themselves bad habits on computers and then we fear their apparent familiarity; we wouldn’t dream of teaching literacy or numeracy like this.

A coherent push to unify computer studies would reduce staff technology fears, improve digital pedagogy, build digital fluency in both staff and students and actually prepare people for the digital world that is being built around them.  Failure to do this is sending our students into the future without addressing an increasingly urgent and important skillset.

Last Light of the Sun

I’m thinking about a final trip before the snows fly.  I did Georgian Bay early in the perilously short Canadian motorcycling season, but now I’m thinking about a circumnavigation of Huron to end it.  I’ve never been to Northern Michigan before and I’d be passing right past where Hemingway spent his summers as a child.
It’s an epic sweep worthy of Hemingway!

The trip is roughly 1600kms.  If I struck north out of Elora I’d aim for the 1:30pm Chicheemaun Ferry out of Tobermory but instead of heading right around Georgian Bay I’d swing left toward Sault St. Marie.  Overnighting in the Hemingway-esque Petosky puts me about half way around.  I’d strike south through Northern Michigan the next day before coming through Sarnia and cutting back across Southern Ontario to home.

It’s ~776kms to Petosky, or about eleven hours of riding.  A normal departure and then the 1:30pm ferry puts me in Manitoulin at about 3:30pm.  That would get me into Petosky well after dark, which isn’t the way to do it.  There is an 8:50am ferry that puts you on Manitoulin just before 11am.  That would put me in Petosky around dinner time.  It’s a nicer fit, but it would mean a 5:30am departure, which would be brisk.  On the upside, the only riding I’d be doing in the dark would be in Southern Ontario on familiar roads, and once I’m on the ferry I could catch up on the sleep I missed.

After overnighting in Hemingway’s summer retreat, it’s a straight shot with no ferries back to Ontario.  The ride back from Petosky could be done in six and a half hours and 673kms.  The 8 hour version with a few hours next to Huron would be the preferred route.  A nine to six day with an hour lunch would get me home well before sunset.

Doing it backwards might work better.  After spending the night in Petosky, I’d be aiming for a 3:50pm ferry to Tobermory where I’d be riding south on the Bruce Peninsula at 5:50pm.  I’d need to be on the road from Petosky by 9am to make the Ferry.  Backwards might be better…  You’re looking at 7:20am sunrises to 6:20pm sunsets in mid-October around here, so the last bit home would be in dusk and dark.

The temperatures are on their way down in October.  With some luck I’ll have a weekend that is precipitation free to make this run on.  Night temperatures are dropping toward freezing by the end of the month, but with some luck I’d be riding into some amazing fall colours.

I don’t mind riding in cool temperatures. The Concours is built for it with a good fairing, and sitting on it is like sitting on a volcano.  With proper kit even single digit temperatures are easily dispatched.

The trick will be to get a couple of days free to go ride through Hemingway’s Michigan the way he’d have done it himself nowadays, on a motorbike.  I couldn’t find any motorcycle specific quotes, but I know he’d approve of the method of transport…

The write up on this trip would be damn right hilarious!
Lots of time for self improvement while riding a motorbike


… practically written for riders!


There is a physical challenge to riding that does make you stronger

I think I’ll bring along some Hemingway to read during breaks in the ride…

Indianapolis MotoGP: It’s happening!

After roughing it out we’ve finalized plans to ride down to Indianapolis to see the practice day of the Indianapolis MotoGP race.  It’ll be a chance to see a legend like Valentino Rossi in the flesh doing what he does.  It’ll also be an opportunity to wander the paddock and watch everyone setting up their machines.  I’m aiming to come away with a Sam Lowes t-shirt and some Rossi paraphernalia.

We couldn’t do the whole weekend due to other commitments, but hitting Indy on the Friday means it isn’t as busy and costs almost nothing (twenty bucks to get in!).  We’re going to ride down Wednesday and Thursday and then stay in a Hampton Inn by the track on the Thursday and Friday nights before heading back on Saturday.  We should be home Sunday afternoon.

Motorcycles on Meridian looks like a good time!

Since we’re in town Thursday and Friday night we’ll be looking for some bike related magic happening around the day at the track.  Downtown Indy’s Motorcycles on Meridian is happening on Friday night and we’ll be there.  I’m looking forward to a brief wallow in American motorbike culture before heading out on Saturday morning.

I’ll watch the qualifying and the race when I’m home the week after, but I’ll also know what these bikes sound and smell like, which is magic!

The 2014 Indy highlight reel

My son Max and I are all set to go on my ’94 Kawasaki Concours, but it got me wondering about what I’d take out of the new batch of Kawasakis, so here’s a list!

Old Concours New Concours

I have a ’94 ZG1000 Concours.  The new ones are monsters by comparison, but it’d be interesting to ride a team-green bike down to the MotoGP race, even if they aren’t involved any more.  The new Connie is a massive 1354cc machine.  It would be interesting to see what Kawasaki has done with my beloved Concours over the past twenty years.

What do you say Kawasaki Canada, got a new Concours you’d like ridden?

Ninja Redux

A small part of me misses my Ninja.  Riding two up down to Indianapolis means looking for a Ninja that can handle Max and I, fortunately Kawasaki makes just such a Ninja!

The Ninja 1000 is a capable long distance sport touring bike with the emphasis on sport.  It would have no trouble getting Max and I down to the Speedway, and it would do it in MotoGP fashion.

Versys Variations

Last year I test road the old version of the Versys 1000 and really enjoyed it.  The new Versys is supposed to be better in every way.

My buddy Jeff (a Yamaha Super Ténéré rider coming down with us) would take to this bike like a duck to water.  If Kawasaki Canada were to set us up with a pair of these they might convert a Yamaha faithful!

We’re more than ready to head south on my trusty Concours, but it’d be interesting to ride something green and new into the MotoGP at Indy and make the place a little greener.

T-minus one week until we’re on our way south!

New Mobil 1, everything checked and cleaned up.  Connie is ready to do some miles down to Indy
There and back with minimal repetition

Education Will Never Become What It Should Be Until It Is Freed From Politics

Education is a leaky, old boat.  It limps forward, year after year, attempting to do a difficult thing: raise everyone who darkens its doors toward their intellectual potential.  It does this with as few resources as it possibly can.  Students in the system span the full range of human society, from future astronauts and doctors to serial killers and drug addicts.  With the same simplistic, systemic process, education attempts to meet each of them where they are, which can range from years ahead of the curve with loving support from parents, to intellectually challenged and abused children who don’t know what a safe home is.  Those two students often wind up in the same class.

To further complicate things, education is run by politicians.  These are people whose first inclination is to ensure their own re-election, regardless of how cruel they need to be to satisfy their angry, ignorant, myopic supporters.  The education system knows nothing of long term planning or sustainability, which is why it struggles to keep up with societal shifts such as the evolution of technology.  Depending on the vagaries of Canada’s outdated first past the post system, a small minority of Canadians can vote in a ‘majority’ government that has four years of free reign with no checks or balances.  Plans and programs can disappear in a single election cycle to be replaced by whatever self-serving project the sitting government decides suits it.  The Ministry of Education isn’t really about education, it’s about governments exercising unchecked power.

The rubber hits the road in the classroom where teachers attempt to ply their trade under seemingly random changes of management.  As a teacher your goal isn’t to cherry-pick the best students and forget the rest, as in business, though that is what many teachers fall back on due to a lack of training or support in our changeable system.  The true goal of public education is to have everyone finish their year better than they started it.  That alone would be a difficult ask, but in the lost world of public education teachers also have to force students with a wide range of socio-economic and developmental disparities through standardized testing that demands all students of a certain age, regardless of their personal circumstances, perform similarly in reading and mathematics.  Privilege is systemically rewarded in public education.

A worthy long term pedagogical goal would be to ensure every student ends the year better intellectually equipped than they began it, and a viable graduation requirement would be for every student to have attained a proximity to their own specific developmental potential, but none of this is the case.  Grades are a fiction designed to compare students to an average that doesn’t exist.  If every graduate was operating close to their specific potential, society would benefit greatly and we wouldn’t wound students by educating them as we do.  Instead, as in society at large, the education system rewards privilege and exacerbates social inequities on a massive and meaningless scale.  No wonder so many students and the adults they become hate the education system, but in fairness, our education system is merely a reflection of the shittiest aspects of our society.

At times of stress, such as during a pandemic, education’s low resolution, stigmatizing approach to learning is cast into a clear focus.  When suddenly asked to learn from home, it becomes apparent that many children don’t live in home that can or does focus on maximizing their potential.  The most obvious examples are socio-economic in nature.  You can’t be a student in a home where you have neither the space nor the resources to use the digital tools needed to continue your learning remotely, but these students never had these means of enrichment, though they’re expected to be fluent in them.  Academic students go home to stable, literate and enriched home lives, applied and essential students go home to intellectual deserts.  This isn’t always socio-economically driven.  A student can be just as intellectually impoverished when their parents decide to buy them game systems and toys instead of multi-purpose computers and other tools capable of something other than mindless entertainment.

The stigmatizing nature of our education system also produces its worst outcome: school is something that is done to students against their will.  They are passive victims of their own education – a dehumanizing process that they are dragged through unwilling and something they come to despise as a great injustice in their lives.  When an emergency prompts remote learning, this culture sees students walking away in droves the moment the Minister of Education tells them marks don’t matter any more.  Marks never mattered.  These same children, disenfranchised from their own potential, grow up to vote in anti-education politicians who gleefully eviscerate the system further, usually by instituting punitive standardized testing that moves education ever further from its primary duty of helping everyone attain their potential.

Our society is broken in so many ways, and our education systems reflect that dysfunction.  Individual pedagogical needs are subsumed by systemic processes driven by the punitive aggregation of individuals into dehumanized, simplistic levels.  The system divides children into Brave New Worlds of academic, applied and essential levels of learning based as much how a child’s social circumstances have influenced their intellectual output as what they are actually capable of.  If you don’t have to work thirty hours a week to help your single parent keep a roof over your head, you have much more time to put a shine on your school work and enter the rarified academic stream.  That also happens to be the stream that the instructor at the front of the class wants to teach.

Imagine an education system that is considered an essential service and exists to meet a rigorous set of requirements based on scientifically demanding best pedagogical practices.  This system exists beyond the reach of callous politicians and the angry, bitter people who put them in power.  Its only function is to raise everyone in it year over year and graduate them as close to their human potential as possible.  This imaginary system does this as safely and progressively as it possibly can.  It embraces change and works continually to develop the science of pedagogy.  Adults working in the system are held to the highest standards and success in it takes more a privileged home life.  Imagine an education system blind to privilege that can see a student’s potential clearly, wouldn’t that be something?

By refocusing on individual student needs this imaginary education system would radically differentiate itself.  The idea of a ‘standard’ classroom would fade away to be replaced by responsive learning spaces that can adapt to individual learning needs.  Engagement would play a role in this, but it wouldn’t be the cart-before-the-horse that it is now.  Education would come into a high resolution relationship with each student.  Standardized testing might also play a role, but only insofar as it helps direct system efficacy, never as a punitive outcome for the students taking it, or the teachers who have to administer it.  Imagine testing that helps a compassionate system recognize the need for more support in a low-literacy neighborhood instead of one that just lowers real estate values.

The backwards class size arguments made by people who know nothing of the science of instruction would also disappear in this system.  There are class sizes that produce optimal learning outcomes.  That is how big classes would be.  In a class where a number of students have learning challenges, the class size would be smaller.  In a class full of capable senior students, classes would be bigger.  The idea of a simplistic cap that ignores who is in the room would no longer exist.

Graduation would fall out of its yearly lock-step.  Instead of low-resolution grading and group assessments leading to a fictionalized grades, students would be required to individually demonstrate mastery and would then move on individually.  Students may still find themselves in loosely grouped cohorts by age, but their learning is individually analyzed and advancement is based on mastery rather than the year they were born.  In this way some students might graduate high school when they are fifteen, while others may do it when they are twenty.  The stigma we apply to age and grade would fade away in a system when individual student mastery was what defined advancement.

This fictitious education system as an essential service would be lean.  Its main focus would be on student learning.  Positions in the system that did not directly support differentiation and personalization of learning would be rare and only filled by peer reviewed experts.  The moment such a position had met its goals it would release the teacher back into teaching.  People who didn’t want to focus on teaching wouldn’t exist in this lean system.  The current bureaucracy in education that insulated privileged people from the harshness of the classroom would blow away. In Canada’s essential education service everyone is in immediate proximity to teaching.  Non-teachers are hired to manage administrative details, but these specialists have no financial or administrative control over pedagogical decision making.

Massive secondary education factories would give way to smaller radically localized schools that embrace immediate community connections.  The walls of schools would be much more permeable than they are now and the concept of school would seep out into community centres, old age homes and local businesses.  Students would work with peers of different ages and these localized schools would be connectivity hubs for their areas, providing digital literacy to both students and the community at large.  The majority of students would walk to these localized digital school houses rather than being herded on busses to age specific, remote locations.  Canada’s education service would also be a green revolution with a radically reduced school busing system no longer spewing diesel and making our roads less efficient in order to benefit an antiquated, age based school system.

Virtualization means that some teachers would spend the majority of their time providing their expertise through specialized instruction to a wider audience in cyberspace.  Augmented and virtual reality would have students and teachers meeting in immersive, meaningful ways not based on geographic proximity.  Advanced experiential simulations would offer students learning opportunities that today’s analogue, geographically limited systems can only dream of.  Rapid development of these systems and home connectivity provided by radically localized schooling means that remote teaching in a pandemic isn’t a disaster but an opportunity for enrichment.  In such a culture of learning, students and teachers wouldn’t find reasons not to learn and teach during a crisis.

The various bureaucracies that have attached themselves to the current school system in order to defend it from politics would fade away in a this essential service that self organizes around individual learning needs and instructional effectiveness.  As geographic groupings became less relevant and the benefits of wider networks of distributed expertise came into focus, the service would have an increasingly wider focus, eventually eclipsing national boundaries.  At some point in the distant future, a student in Ethiopia would be able to participate in a virtual class happening in Ontario, Canada, all of them operating under the same best pedagogical practices.  Education would finally become the great enabler in an interconnected world.

Until public education is unhitched from our increasingly myopic and self-serving political system and placed in a protected category of an essential service focused on maximizing individual potential, it will continue limp along as a broken reflection of a society in distress, augmenting societal inequalities rather than mitigating them and graduating generation after generation alienated from their own potential.

Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor after visiting a school in Ethiopia on Long Way Down.  In places where education is still recognized as the opportunity it is instead of an expected government service that aggrevates privilege, students approach learning in a very different manner.


The UN describes education as enabling “upward socioeconomic mobility and is a key to escaping poverty”, but it’s the first thing cut to support ‘financial experts’ intentionally destroying the economy in western democracies.

Schools are poorly maintained on radically cut budgets, and classrooms limp along on equally eviscerated budgets (my program is enjoying a budget one-third of what it was five years ago, while trying to serve 25% more students).  

Ontario pays less than the Canadian average per student in public education, while also running the largest and most diverse (Ontario takes in as many new Canadians as the rest of the country combined) education system in Canada.  Canada itself pays significantly less tax per person than any other G7 country for education and other government services, but produces some of the highest education results in UN testing, beating all those other G7 countries that pay more for less.  And still, education is a political scapegoat.

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