We’re Not Ready For This: A.I.

I saw this the other day:

He goes over deep learning, self-directed computer intelligence for the first fifteen minutes or so and summarizes at about 17:00 minutes.  The social implications of deep machine learning are quite profound.

Here are some other artificial intelligence related media that you might want to peruse:

Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near (a long and tedious mathematical read with some wonderful implications mixed in.)

Her, Spike Jonze’ deep ode to A.I.:

A lot of Hollywood A.I. talk falls short into HAL type horror, but this one doesn’t, it goes all the way.  By the end you’ll be questioning our short comings rather than fearing what a superior intelligence might do.  I wonder what Kurzweil thought of the A.I. in this film and what it ends up doing.

Better education doesn’t help? Work is irrelevant? What do we do
in a world of human pets that serve no real function in terms of survival?
This could be an age of unprecedented creativity, or the beginning of the end.

The TED talk has an interesting moment in those final two minutes where Howard is talking about the social implications of an imminent (the next five years!) machine intelligence revolution.  He talks about computers taking over jobs that we consider to be human-only and doing them better than people ever could.  This isn’t about coding a better piece of software, it’s about computers coding themselves in a never ending cycle of improvement.  It’s also about people no longer having to be responsible for their own survival decisions.

What happens to insurance companies when automotive accidents are a thing of the past?  Accidents don’t happen when the A.I. managing it can not only control the car in question, but also move the entire traffic jam up ten feet to avoid accidents.  This is often misunderstood as people say that A.I. driven vehicles could have bad code that causes a massive pile up.  These aren’t machines running code, these are machines that create code as they need it, kind of like people do, but much faster, and with absolute precision.  And however well they do it now, they’ll do it better tomorrow.

What happens to human beings when they are no longer
responsible for their own survival?

The busy truck driver still needs to sleep, what replaces him won’t.  It’ll never drive tired or hungry or angry or distracted either.  It’ll only ever use the least amount of gas to get where it’s going.  One of the tricky things about trying to grasp human superior A.I. is in trying to envisage all the ways that it would be superior.  That superior A.I. would never stop improving, it would take over any concept of efficiency in business.

As Howard says, machines that are able to build machines in a continuously improving manner are going to make the social change caused by the industrial revolution look like a blip on the radar.

Perhaps the hardest implication of a machine intelligence revolution is the idea that your income is tied to your usefulness.  Our entire society is predicated on the idea that your income somehow reflects your usefulness.  If human usefulness is no longer tied to social status, what would society look like?

During the big market bailouts in 2008 someone online described business as the cockroaches that feed off the work of human society.  He suggested that you don’t feed them steak, you just let them thrive on the waste.  The implication was that capitalism is a necessary evil that serves human beings, not the other way around as it’s often stated (people are a necessary evil in capitalism).

The idea that people could be free to pursue their own excellence in the future without having to work for the cockroaches is quite thrilling, though it would require a huge jump in social maturity for human beings.  We’d have to begin identifying our own self worth through our own actions rather than our education and employment.  I suspect most people aren’t close to that.  We’d also have to recognize that everyone has a unique and valuable place in society, which sounds like socialism!

Education is as guilty as any social construction in aiming children towards the idea of success being employability and income.  We stream students according to their intellectual capital and then tell them to work hard in order to achieve financial success in the future.  The very idea of effort is tied to financial success – something we’d have to change in a machine intelligent future.  Can humans value themselves and seek excellence without the yoke of survival hung around their necks?

Universal income is an idea being floated in Switzerland and elsewhere.  If the future is one where people are no longer integral to their own survival, we better find something other than a survival instinct to base our self value on, or we’re going to quickly run out of reasons for being.

The IT idiot


I’m currently reading the very meaty and painfully direct “Shop Class as Soulcraft” by Matt Crawford.  In the book he laments idiocy in professionals and (at another point) the vagaries of management language in modern business where there is no objective means of determining an employee’s competency.  Both of these arguments come together beautifully in the relatively recent field of information technology.

I’ve been working in IT, both in the private and public sectors, for going on fifteen years now.  I’ve worked in small offices, and on massive installs, in engineering shops, manufacturing concerns, universities, schools, and in offices.  With a certain breadth of experience comes a pretty good bullshit detector.  Crawford’s ideas around professional idiocy and manager-speak appear to have, unfortunately, come together in a perfect storm of hidden incompetence in information technology.


Crawford talks about Robert Persig (the author of Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance – another great read)’s idiot mechanic, who is more intent on appearances and action than submitting himself to the truths the bike is trying to tell him, and what that means to his public role as a professional mechanic.  The kid ends up butchering Persig’s bike while taking no time to actually try and diagnose what the problem is; he’s all hands and no brain.  Crawford describes the idiot:

“Persig’s mechanic is, in the original sense of the word, an idiot.  Indeed, he exemplifies the truth about idiocy, which is that it is at once an ethical and a cognitive failure.  The Greek idios means “private,” and an idiotes means a private person, as opposed to a person in their public role – for example, that of motorcycle mechanic.  Persig’s mechanic is idiotic because he fails to grasp his public role, which entails, or should, a relation of active concern to others, and to the machine.  He is not involved.  It is not his problem.  Because he is an idiot…  At bottom, the idiot is a solipsist.” (p98)

That lack of involvement should spark a memory with any teacher reading this.  The student who refuses, at all costs, regardless of the differentiation you throw at it, to do anything whatsoever, is an idiot in the technical sense of the word.

From the IT angle, I see people like Persig’s idiot mechanic every day.  You know the type, they know just enough to be dangerous (and have tools on hand).  They tend to make grand assumptions, usually based on a non-existent knowledge base, and then act on them to make the situation worse.  They talk loudly, and use a lot of word whispers (“you know?”, “right?”, “know what I mean?”, etc) to make sure you agree with them (it’s a handy way to externally monitor what’s going on when you have no idea yourself, and dovetails nicely with the idea of management speak presented later).

The disengaged idiot fits especially well with information technology because it’s a dark art to the vast majority of people.  You can talk out of your ass to 95% of the population and they have no idea what you’re saying, freeing you to say pretty much anything you want.  The bigger the words the better.  And because most people are users, they’re more than happy to sit in on the tech talk, and participate at the same level as the disengaged idiot.

Many moons ago, right out of high school, I found myself working in a Canadian Tire shop.  One day one of the mechanics burned himself on Fuego.  He proceeded to flip out and run up a bill of unneeded repairs to the order of a thousand dollars; a good example of the moral failure of the idiot, and one I see all the time in IT, especially when dealing with older customers to whom the dark art seems positively Satanic.


Crawford also does a brilliant dissection of the ‘peculiarly chancy and fluid’ life of the corporate manager (substitute administrator or educational consultant for equal value here).  In a world with no objective means of assessing competence, the manager lives in a purgatory of abstraction, using vague language “…staking out a position on all sides of a situation, so you always have plausible deniability of a failure.”   Crawford goes to great lengths to point out that this isn’t done maliciously, but rather as a means of psychic protection for the people trapped in this morass.  At any point an arbitrary decision can make you redundant (shown brilliantly in Up In The Air – many of the people in the interviews are real people who have actually been downsized), regardless of your own abilities or actions.

In a world of meaningless language, actual technical competency is devalued with every spoken word (a central theme in Crawford’s book).  Objective competency is ignored in favor of MBA wording that allows the initiate of globalized business speak to survive regardless of what decisions they might have made.  In fact, the very making of decisions is discouraged.  In places where reality matters, your opinion is not as important as it has been socially projected to be.  As Crawford so cuttingly notes: “This stance toward ‘established reality,’ which can only be described as psychedelic, is best not indulged around a table saw.”

One of the many reasons I’m looking forward to ‘teaching tech’ this fall; there is no doubt of the student’s focus, ability and honesty of effort when reality is judging them.  If you made it, ignored lessons, examples and process, and it didn’t work, no amount of ‘but you’re still fantastic’ student success talk will mitigate a failure staring everyone in the face.  The fantasy of ‘everyone’s a hidden genius’ so popular in education today is best not indulged when reality (and the objective assessment implied in it) are judging the results.  Do or do not, there is no good try in tech… and that’s not a bad thing, unless you’re trying to peddle a new ed-theory on zero failure.

Management speak, based on the the surreal, ‘psychedelic’, entirely provisional world of business became popular along with globalization (itself founded on many hidden assumptions).  Grown out of the initial industrially driven abstractions of Taylorism in the early 20th Century, modern business is so far from the witness of truth (like the stock market it has spawned) that it has more in common with Alice in Wonderland than it does with a shop manual; the best you can hope for are some vague metaphors to describe it.

The IT Idiot Management Babbling: Making An Objective Technical Skill Abstract

Information technology is a new technical field.  It began and grew in a well established, Taylorist, globalized, MBA driven, entirely fictional world.  The language around IT maintenance is often clouded in mysticism, grown from the same vague, plausibly deniable language of modern business and finance.  We feed that fire with talk of digital natives, people who magically have technical skills because of their birth date.  In education, we ignore this new, vital fluency in favor of magical realism; our adherence to business speak serves our students poorly.

I’m not saying every student needs to be a qualified information technology technician, but it is safe to say that every student graduating at the moment should be familiar enough with digital technology that they don’t get white washed by an idiot’s babbling, or convinced by the parochial and intentionally misleading language surrounding information technology.  Auto shop is often taught this way – as a means of delivering a basic familiarity to students so they aren’t bamboozled by an idiot.  IT should adopt the same position as this older, wiser tech.

IT is a measurable skill.  I take great pleasure in offering up the A+ certification practice test to the resident experts in senior computer engineering.  When the best of them barely get half right, and realize that they are 30% away from a pass, it sets the stage for a systemic, meaningful learning of a technical skill they’ve always been told they magically gained by being born in the nineties.

I wonder if people born in the 1900s were magically imbued with the ability to fix the new automobiles just coming out.  What we do is absurd, and it feeds misinformation and empowers the idiot.  It’s bad enough when we purposefully remove objective standards from academic classes (and I’m not talking about standardized tests – they are about as far from objective standards as you can get, just another fiction), but to actively discourage objective standards in a technical field?  That gets downright dangerous, and expensive!

Installing LED indicators on a 2003 Triumph Tiger 955i

I’ve done a few LED light upgrades on motorcycles to date, so updating the indicators on my trusty 2003 Triumph Tiger 955i isn’t producing many surprises.  Unlike the Kawasaki Heavy Industries ZG1K project bike last time, the Triumph doesn’t use standard automotive blinker relays, so the cheap and cheerful option I went with last time from Amazon doesn’t have the same pinouts.  Fortunately, the blinker relay is easy to get to on the Tiger (pic right).

The stock, German made Hella blinkgeber 4db 003 750-36 indicator relay swaps the positive and negative terminals from the Japanese standard ones, so it isn’t a plug and play swap for a cheap, Chinese relay from Amazon.

Like most relays built for standard bulbs, it speeds up when it senses a lack of resistance (ie: a blown bulb) so you know when you’ve got a bulb out because it ticks fast.  LEDs are so much more efficient than standard bulbs that they act like a blown bulb, so you end up with hyper-flashing where your indicators are blinking silly fast.

While looking around for a plug and play alternative that wouldn’t have me making a rat’s nest out of a neat wiring loom, I came across superbrightLEDs.com and their primer on hyperflashing

Looking through their site, I found an indicator relay that would be a straight swap on my Euro-awkward bike.  The price is pretty much the same as the Chinese part on Amazon, but then you get stung with shipping that is more than the cost of the part (Amazon shipping was covered).  They promise that this will work with LEDs, which I’m a bit cautious about because the other ones I’ve purchased have a potentiometer (dial control) on them that lets you adjust to the speed you want, and this one doesn’t.

It’s suggested in places that you can swap the power and ground, but a number of people seem to have had problems with that on various bikes, so I bit the bullet and ended up with a $24USD bill where it would have been $12CAD (shipping included) on Amazon.  I’m hoping I’m getting a higher quality piece for all that extra outlay (the superbrightLED one has a 2 year warranty on it whereas the Amazon one didn’t).  The part is on its way, so I should be able to finish the indicator upgrade in early January.

The rest of the wiring has been pretty straightforward.  The LED set I purchased from AliExpress (my first time using them – shipping wasn’t quick but everything got here eventually and the prices are amazing), worked fine when the system was doing 4 way flashers, but went into hyperblinking when I indicated.  It’s an easy wiring in, but again the Euro-awkward nature of the bike means it didn’t have standard sized spade clips and I had to cut the old ones off and use replacements which were way harder to find than they should have been.

Your 21st Century Hardware store sells you things, just none
of them are tools or, you know, hardware…

As an aside, have you noticed that hardware stores don’t carry hardware any more?  A trip to my local hardware shops was more like going to home decorating shops with lots of pretty things but no actual hardware.  I ended up at an automotive specialty retailer to find electrical connectors.  Hardware stores are now just glorified department stores.  You can’t survive as a hardware retailer in a world where no one fixes anything.

Anyway, onwards and upwards.  After the Tiger, the Honda CBR900RR Fireblade project is getting the same treatment, so I’m going to have to figure out what indicator relay Honda went with.  Hopefully it isn’t as Euro-awkward as the Triumph.  I’ve always wondered why they don’t include an LED friendly relay in the LED lighting kits for motorcycles, but with everyone using different variations on the indicator relay, you’d be selling people parts that might not fit their situation.

The middle block is the indicator relay on a 955i Triumph Tiger.  It’s easy to get to
with only a black, plastic cover to remove.  With any luck, my expensive LED indicator
relay will do the trick and plug right in there.

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You’re Supposed To Tell Me The Answer

“You’re supposed to tell me the answer, you’re the teacher, it’s your job!”

Isn’t that a sad expectation from a senior high school student?  After twelve years in education this is what they think the process is about.  I wonder how many teachers it took to embed this thinking in these students.

My considered response to this was, “it’s not my job to give you the answer.  If I give you an answer it isn’t yours.  It’s my job to ask you the right questions and give you the tools you need to answer them yourself.”  This isn’t a handing off of the responsibilities of teaching, and it isn’t easier than giving students answers by talking at them each period; this isn’t a case of a teacher becoming a facilitator.

Part of setting up the right question is carefully considering the student’s knowledge and where it can go next.  The right question is a tricky proposition.  Your classroom relationship with students has to contain a lot of two way communication and observation if you’re going to get a handle on where they are in their learning, you’re never doing that when you’re talking at students giving them all the answers.  You can’t frame questions that are in a student’s zone of proximal development without a lot of feedback and observation.  Teachers who talk at students and hand out answers and information like candy have little idea of where student understanding begins or ends. 

The other side of this equation is providing tools for learning.  This is a bit more complicated in an engineering class as I have to bring in a lot of equipment for student use.  That equipment needs to be open and accessible so that students are the ones setting it up and making it functional.  I was amazed this year when the vast majority of my senior computer engineering students had never partitioned a hard drive and installed an operating system.  That kind of nuts and bolts work when building a functional learning environment is vital if students are going to begin to take responsibility for their learning.

Responsibility is at the bottom of this.  Learning isn’t something that you do to someone, though many of our students believe this to be the case.  Learning never happens unless the student doing the learning is active in the process, no one ever learned something from being told.

We’re back at it again tomorrow, and I’m still working to convince my senior engineers that they are the ones creating their learning, not me, I do a lot to curation though.

Finding My Way Back From The Dead (red)

What I miss most about STAY AT HOME pandemics:  Getting lost on unfamiliar roads…

I’m lost in the Grey Highlands on my way to Coffin Ridge Winery for a COVID-shutdown social-distancing/prohibition vibe pickup of some of their Back From The Dead Red.

I lost my internal compass on the unfamiliar, winding roads of Walter’s Falls (though it could have been the meteorite buried under the town) and ended up in Bognor! It doesn’t just sound like it’s out of Lord of the Rings, it looks it too.  I guessed west when I should have turned east and found myself in the Bognor Marsh battling fetid, shambling swamp creatures like a later day knight aboard my trusty Tiger.

I eventually fought my way out to the shores of Georgian Bay, looking north across the never ending grey water to the end of the world (or its equivalent in French River).  Coffin Ridge Winery, perched on the north facing edge of the Niagara Escarpment, was pandemic deserted but for a lone fellow looking over the vines in the bitter, overcast April wind blowing in off the bay.

Ironically, adventure is hard to come by in a stay-home pandemic shut down, but this gave me a much needed shot of it.

Kiri at Coffin Ridge was a delight to communicate with on email and had our order sitting on the red chair ready to go (I was only 20 minutes late, battling Bognorian Shambling Mounds not withstanding).

If you’re riding in Southern Ontario and looking for a bit of adventure in your antiseptic COVID bubble, a ride into the Grey Highlands might just bring you back from the dead (red).  You can reach Kiri here.

A deserted Coffin Ridge Winery, just before the COVID zombie attack, but I can’t talk about that, the government is involved.

Thornbury Harbour closed – no standing on the rocks communing with Georgian Bay for me this time. The GB Kraken must be getting lonely, and hungry…
The bizarrely Victorian and completely deserted hydro generation building in Beaver Valley, where I had a lonely stretch before being beset by a pack of OHM-wolves infected by the now feral electricity leaking out of the abandoned generator and into the surrounding wilderness.  Jerry Bruckheimer couldn’t have done this spectacular battle justice, that beautiful brick building is now a smouldering ruin.  The Tiger and I barely escaped with our lives!

From the #covid19 closed Thornbury Harbour inland through Beaver Valley, with a brief comfort stop at the hydro generator before heading south west through Flesherton – I eventually had to turn the camera off due to rain.
#Theta360 on a flexible tripod attached to the wing mirror of my Triumph Tiger 955i. One timed photo every five seconds. #360Photos modified in Adobe #Photoshop into #LittlePlanet format and then formatted in Premiere Pro into a stop motion video. AIVA AI generated background music.

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Demonizing Public Employment

An article by a conservative think tank, disseminated by a conservative media outlet:


“Teachers have also seen very decent raises — 12.55% between 2008 and 2012 (10.4% for public elementary teachers) — while the rest of us have lost jobs or are just treading water.

Facts by the government:


“The largest increase occurred in the transportation component, where prices rose 6.6% in the 12 months to March.”
Here’s where the opinion starts:

So, according to StatsCan, we are in an inflationary spiral (a boom/bust cycle predicted by Jeff Rubin in Why Your World is About to Get a lot Smaller caused by increasing limitations on oil production and economies designed to work on nothing else).
If we’re averaging 2-3+% inflation every year since 2008, that ENORMOUS 12.55% teacher salary increase actually looks more like (2008 2%, 2009 2%, 2010 3%, 2011 3% 2012 3% = 13%) a net loss in standard of living. But we shouldn’t even try to keep up with the standard of living, should we?
Why is the economy in such a mess? Because the free market has swallowed itself with its own greed. Public employees didn’t crash the economy, private business did.
I first heard this a couple of years ago in the middle of the financial melt down, when an investment banker had the nerve (after his industry made a mockery of capitalism) to suggest that the local waste removal workers should take pay cuts to help pay for something they had nothing to do with. The people who orchestrated this market collapse have somehow convinced the dull, cow-eyed public that they should enjoy a less restricted marketplace and continue to serve themselves bail outs with taxpayers’ money.
In an unrestricted marketplace, private employees lose their jobs, take pay cuts and can do nothing. With no oversight they are indentured servants to the wealthy. They are then incited to riot against the public sector employees who work for the social collective (government), performing duties vital to the public good. In the process, there is some kind of odd flip that happens where the private wage earners actually feel that what they do is more inherently valuable (putting money in rich people’s pockets), than what a public employee does (earning a living while serving the public good).
I’m choking on this nonsense. Evidently business and the economy are vital to us, but we shouldn’t oversee and ensure its smooth operation. We should eviscerate government services and oversight and put all that money back into the pockets of a self serving marketplace that would destroy itself for short term gain that benefits a tiny percentage of people. They then seem to Jedi mind trick a weak willed public that they employ as minimally as possible to accept the lie that private sector salaries are somehow more honestly earned than public sector ones.
Don’t pay taxes and slash government oversight now so you can pay enormous bailouts later. It’s not a great deal you idiots, and in the meantime you’re fired and hired for less over and over again. Left to its own devices, an unrestricted marketplace would place the lowest possible value on human work as it can. There are more and more people in the world, where do you think that puts your value as a worker?
Democracy isn’t going to work when special interest groups make claims regardless of the truth, and are allowed to manipulate media to indoctrinate a dim, accepting public.
Don’t feel bad about working for the public good, it’s one hell of a lot better than working as disposable labour to make the rich a bit richer.
And if you work for a private company? It’s not a bad thing unless you give them the reigns, they’ll sell you for a short term gain in a second (if it hasn’t happened already to you, it will). Only intelligent public oversight will ensure a reasonable, sustainable, fair private sector. Left to itself private business would cannibalize society for short term gain.


Ninja Blues

This has been many weeks in the making.  I began de-blacking the ’07 Kawasaki Ninja 650r (my first bike) in May.  Last weekend I took another big run at it.  This weekend I finally got it to the point where I can live with it.  I think I’ll do the rest once the riding season is over in Canada, but in the meantime, I’ve got a Ninja that looks a lot better than it did.

I’ve blued the front end and the fairings down to the air intake.  I’ll eventually do the entire bike, but those fairing are big and it takes a long time to strip the flat black off them (I’m using graffiti remover in small areas at a time).

At the moment the tank, front end and rear end are completely covered, but the fairings are only half blue.  I’ve faded the metallic blue into the existing flat black and it doesn’t look half bad.

The more interesting bit is the frame.  I wanted a burnt orange, but every orange on the shelf was a pylon orange.  I was all set to mix a yellow and dark red to a burnt orange, but the mixing didn’t go well, it ended up looking an angry pink.  It eventually settled into a darker orange, but I still wasn’t happy with it, it looked muddy..

I had greater success getting the orange I wanted by doing a base coat of pylon orange spray with a cover of candy apple red metallic.  The result is the sparkling burnt orange I was looking for.  The plastic drop sheets and cardboard I was using to shield the rest of the bike looked like they’d come out of a volcano when I was done.  I’m not entirely thrilled with the finish, but now that I have some sense of how to mix the colours (orange based, mix in light layers of red while the orange is still wet), I’m ready to experiment more.

Orange base, light candy apple
red metallic over top
while still wet

I think I’ll eventually make the entire frame that burnt metallic orange. It’s also rust paint, so it’ll seal up the frame nicely.

I got a different gloss this time, thinking they are all pretty much the same,
they aren’t.

You want the one on the
right; AWESOME clear coat

The ultra-cover 2x (the blue and white can), gives you what looks like a factory clear coat finish.  The lacquer makes a foggy mess.  I’ll only use the Ultra Cover in
future applications.

The angry young man’s flat black Ninja:

A truer, bluer Ninja:

One heck of a lot more visible, and it sparkles in the sun.

When I get the fairings finally done I’ll giver her a real photo shoot.

I’m now thinking about Kanji-ing up the front end… Ninja Kingfisher…

Public Teacher, Public Job

Originally published November, 2012 in Dusty World

I’ve been teaching now for eight years so this is my first time experiencing work action.  I’ve had union jobs before, union jobs that went to the wall with job action, but the teacher experience is very different.  When I was a warehouse worker for National Grocers we were fighting for our benefits and pay, but no one in the general public ever thought that they knew what my job was or demanded that I stay after my shift to volunteer to do extra work for no pay; I guess the private sector has it easy.

The public nature of this teacher job action has produced a startling realization – there is a portion of the population that hates teachers.  Around that small kernel of teacher-haters is a larger layer of people in the general public who think that teachers are lazy, overpaid and undeserving of even basic Charter rights.  I have noted that many of these people tend to be under-educated and have a  lasting hatred of what happened to them in school.

Listening to someone who couldn’t hack high school, let alone university (twice, once for undergrad, and again for teacher’s college) crying about how little teachers do is like listening to the guy who thinks he can play hockey but can barely skate going on about how he could have gone pro.  That doesn’t stop ignorant, lazy people from making noise though.

Then there is the management thing.  If you’ve ever tried to work out a deal with private business, they are cheap and relentless, but they are consistent.  If you can understand what their parameters are in negotiating, you can come to an agreement.  Also, if you do your job very efficiently and make money for them it makes more room for you in negotiation.  At no point in private bargaining situations did I see a deal stopped for political reasons.  You also have the benefit of working for bosses who are experts in the business (because they made it).  I never had to explain to National Grocers management what our job was because everyone at the table knew the business.

Ontario: top 3 in the world, midpack in cost –
best bang for the buck in education in the world!
If you don’t believe me, believe the freaking UN!

If you’re a teacher in Ontario these days your boss has no background whatsoever in what you do, and even though you produce some of the best results in your field in the world it isn’t acknowledged at all; you still get to hear an unrelenting carcophany in media and the public about how easy your job is and how lazy you are.  Even your boss, a lawyer who hasn’t taught a day in her life, likes to point out that you just took the whole summer off (which you hadn’t).

Ontario’s education system is truly world class, to the point where it is copied around the world.  If you go to an international school there is a very good chance that it will be running the Ontario K to 12 curriculum.  Private schools copy our public school system, it’s that awesome.  If we were building cars, they would be the best in the world, they’d be selling like hotcakes, no one would think to question what we were doing.

So here we are, dealing with a Minister of Education who has never actually worked in Education – ever, a government that is more interested in poll numbers than in resolving serious issues and getting everyone back to work, and it’s all happening while Ontario Education is the envy of the world.  Trying to negotiate in this environment makes very little sense.  It makes me long for the private sector where things made sense.

We threw money at GM so they could stop making crappy cars and become solvent.  We threw money at banks that had purchased bad loans.  If private businesses make bad choices, we cripple ourselves financially to support them.

However, if we create excellence we bitterly attack it, demean it and then use it for shabby political ends.  It’s not hard to see why Ontario is going down the toilet.  We don’t even recognize and protect excellence any more.  And when we’ve let ignorant (dare I say stupid?) loud mouths vent their frustrations at their own failures by blaming teachers for their own short comings while at school, we’re left with a demoralized education system… hardly the kind of place that can compete successfully on the global stage.

Other Notes:
The poor right winger: what you get when laziness and greed replace industry and reward
All Hands on Deck: when politics dictate economics
Death of Vision: where our leadership went
Educational Maelstroms: what it’s like to hear the negativity
Surfed PISA lately?: How fantastic our Ed system is!

Passing Etiquette

I came upon a group of riders after exiting the ferry and getting most of the way across Manitoulin; first off the ferry gives you wide open roads!

Boats unloading…

I’d been moving along at a nice clip alone but had to slow down to follow them.  Had they been a car or truck I’d have used my power to weight ratio to good advantage and made a quick, safe pass.  This clump of bikers were much longer than your typical truck, so passing them would be tricky.  In addition to the physics there was suddenly a lot of motorcycle psychology to consider.  Would these riders take offence at being passed?  I’m not safely ensconced in a box if they got aggressive.

In wondering about this I sparked a rather heated debate on COG.  The sensible (and rather Zen) solution seems to be to find a nice place to have a stop, a stretch and a drink, then get back on the road when they’re well down it.  In this case that would have meant a long, patient wait while the entire guts of the ferry that had been trundling along behind you ruminate down the road at their cow-like pace.  Strangely enough, the only thing that seems to be able to clip the wings of a motorcycle are a bunch of motorcycles in front of it.

I had a moment when I first started riding where I suddenly realized I’m on a machine that has Lamborghini like power to weight ratio.  Since then I’ve made a point of exploring what this means.  When you ride you’re missing the steel cage, but what you lack in mass you make up for in agility and power, and learning to harness that power is vital to your well being.   Following that logic I prefer to have things coming at me and don’t like being passed or boxed in, but for twenty frustrating minutes that’s exactly where I was as a line of campers and SUVs formed up behind me.

What eclecticism in motorcycling looks like.

The general feeling on COG was to either pull over or take your chances passing a bunch of leather clad bikers not knowing if these are wannabes or one percenters.  The later are much more likely to do something about it if they perceive disrespect.  In any case, it’s not like you’re in a big box so antagonizing them seems like a potentially dangerous course of action from both a physics and a psychology point of view.

I was out on a ride with a group the other week for the first time, but these guys didn’t hang about and were making a point of using side roads rather than main through fairs so we weren’t holding anyone up, and there were only half a dozen of us.  We were also riding a wide variety of machines designed to exploit the natural agility of the motorbike from GSX-Rs to forty year old Kawasakis in genres from adventure to standard to sport and sport touring.  I’d also say we were pretty approachable based on the number of people who approached us.  Eclectic would be a good way to describe us, we certainly weren’t wearing anything approaching a uniform.

On COG someone suggested that when they ride in a group they intentionally get out of the way if they feel they are holding up traffic because everyone has the right to enjoy the road how they want to, but not everyone feels that way:

A clip from Henry Cole’s World’s Greatest Motorcycle RidesRiding the American Deserts

I’d say physics and some rather negative stereotypes (along with a lot of bikers adopting those stereotypes) held up that traffic.  I don’t think respect had anything to do with it.

So there you have it:  the best advice when you come upon a large group of floorboard grinders is to pull over and take a break, it’s not worth the hassle of trying to make a pass, even though you’re on the machine best able to do it.

Google motorcycle films and this is what you get, the odd intelligent attempt amidst the bikespoitation flicks.  And we wonder why the general public still has doubts about motorcycling…


Café racer

I’ve been getting a handle on café racer culture recently.  A good place to start is the documentary below available on youtube:

A motorcycle phenomenon that combines DIY backyard mechanics, customization, restoration, links to British post war culture and a focus on pure two wheeling?  I’m in!  When you also factor in the old RAF inspired bike gear café racing only gets better.

What first got me thinking about it was It’s Better In The Wind, a beautifully shot and music themed short art piece about friends on their classic café racers.  As a mood piece it captured a lot of the gritty romanticism in motorcycling.

Last summer I was reading Shopclass As Soulcraft, and in it Matt Crawford described motorcycling as ‘a beautiful war’, which captured the risk and reward beautifully.  That book is mind expanding stuff written by a guy who walked away from academia and the magical thinking of the thought economy to open his own independent bike repair shop.  It’s a must read, change your life kind of book that will make you want to get your hands busy again; just the sort of thing that racer building encourages.

I’ve tried my hand at restoring old cars or just keeping them on the road, but that tended to be a make it work to get to work kind of situation, lots of stress in that.  This is a hands on project that may very well lapse into a piece of rolling sculpture.  Mechanics, electronics and sculpture? I’m in love with the idea!

So, I’m on the lookout for an old bike that needs to come in out of the cold for the winter, one that’s looking for a new lease on life.  It can be rusty and rough, the more it needs changing the more I’ll want to change.  The end result will only enhance the feeling of oneness I’ve already felt with the Ninja.

There are many café racer links that will catch you up online:


1964: The ‘leather boys’ later generation rockers on modded cafe racers


Rocker style, 1950s England


The leather jackets, boots and gloves, the helmets and googles, RAF uniforms
were an obvious inspiration for the cafe racer look