To Sell or Not to Sell

That’d get back what I’ve put into it and mean I’ve
put 15,000kms on it for free!

I put the Concours ZG1K project bike up for sale just to see how it would do.  I didn’t expect a reply but got someone who is smitten with it and immediately offered me a trade worth about $2000 (a Phantom3 drone with a pile of expensive peripherals).  I took a drone training course last year and have been looking for a way to get some flight time in accordance with the Transport Canada flight planning we practiced in the course.  This would do that and also let me explore the aerial photography market first hand.  This is a trade that could end up paying for itself many times over.

Finding a trade that fits this well seems too good to be true.  In my experience, something that is too good to be true usually is.

I’m fighting that skepticism, but what I’m also fighting is some classism, morality and loyalty.  The young guy interested in the bike has the kind of online profile that makes you roll your eyes.  Every photo of him is half dressed and flipping the bird.  Which leads me to the moral quandary.  Handing this bike off to some yobbo who is likely to kill himself on it isn’t something I can wash my hands of.  Then there is the loyalty.  I brought the Concours back from the dead.  We’ve done many long trips, including a once in a lifetime ride down the back straight of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Had the carbs not shit the bed on the worst possible day (the first day of a new riding season after a long winter off), I would have still been happily riding it today.  Had they died the autumn before, I’d have had the winter to sort them out.  Bygones, but I love that my hands brought this old thing back to life.

So here I am, with a great opportunity to make some space in the garage while pursuing a trade that could end up being quite lucrative.  That space could be filled with a new project bike and I’d be back doing aerial photography again.  There is a lot to recommend moving on this, but I’ve got some issues to work through first.

The classism I can get past, but the selling a weapon to someone without the sense to handle it is nagging at me.  I’d feel responsible if something happened.  As heavy as that is, what really bugs me is feeling like I’m sending Connie on to an unworthy home where she’ll be abused, broken and forgotten.  The mechanical sympathy that I apply to technical work often breaks out into full on mechanical empathy.  This is one of those times.  Maybe now isn’t the right time to pass on the Concours.  Maybe what I should be doing is re-energizing this project and finishing it to the point where I can eventually pass it on to a more deserving home.  (Hmm, the classism crept back in again).

from Blogger

When Your Learning Space is a Loud Close Talker

Originally published Sunday, 21 April 2013 on Dusty World

Tools provided and time to practice the theory learned.  Skills are expected to be demonstrated.

A couple of weekends ago I went to Conestoga College and took my motorcycle training course.  Other than about an hour on a dirt bike a year ago I’d never ridden a motorbike, but it has been a lifelong dream to do it; I was pretty pumped.  Learning to ride was a pedagogically charged process for me, going from near zero to basic competence in a single weekend.

This weekend I’m at the Ontario Google Summit.  I’m an advanced digital technology user and I’m attending this conference to look at ways to manage technology and ease adoption for beginners.  This isn’t a learning challenging situation for me, but I love the subject area (I teach it) and I’m a trained professional in information technology.  I’m keen to see technology use improve in education.

I’m finding myself comparing the two learning experiences.  Bike course and Google Summit are both expensive in terms of time and money: both demand your time on a weekend and neither are cheap: motorbike: $18.33/hr, Summit: $  This kind of time and money commitment suggests an intensive, impactful learning opportunity for motivated students.  Unmotivated students wouldn’t spend the time and money to attend these things.  With that as a foundation I couldn’t have had more different experiences at these two events.

At the motorbike course there were six expert instructors for 26 students for a better than 5 to 1 student/teacher ratio.  They moved logistical mountains to provide working technology for all students: over thirty bikes tuned, fueled and ready to use every day along with safe space to use them and a fully equipped classroom with digital media to cover theory.   Because a 1:1 student/technology ratio was guaranteed, the focus was all small group, intensive hands-on instruction with lots of one on one instructor feedback.  This was vital because the bike course had a theory and practical (road) test at the end, both clearly defined and focused on throughout the course.  If you were unable to demonstrate what you knew by Sunday afternoon you just spent over four hundred bucks without getting the license or insurance discount.  Attendance was absolutely mandatory, you got dropped for not showing (one guy got dropped Sunday morning after showing up nearly two hours late).  You had to bring your own safety kit but the most expensive technology (the bike) was provided, and it got used roughly and dropped by a number of students.  You also had to provide your own food and drink and there was time time given to consuming it (we ate during in-class sessions).  Intensive, focused and hands on with lots of expert help.  A number of of people learned that they shouldn’t be riding motorcycles by the end of the weekend and left very disappointed, but safer for it.

At the end of  the weekend you knew what you knew (or didn’t) and had demonstrated qualitative improvement (or hadn’t), resulting in the license and savings.  On a more pedantic level, you were provided with the room you needed to learn.  You had desk space in a large classroom for learning theory.  You had acres of pavement outside for developing hands-on skills in a closely watched and personally assisted learning intensive process.  It was a pedagogically credible, physically and mentally challenging process that made demands on you in order to see improvement.  My taking the course will probably save my life at some point, as well as saving me money.  I left that course having a very clear idea what I’d paid for and no question as to the value of it.

Lecture time! Sit and listen! The ‘educators’ are remarkably lazy about pedagogy. The technology doesn’t seem to be helping.

The Google conference is lecture driven (a necessity of the 100:1 student:teacher ratio).  The keynotes have been excellent and the audience response very positive.  I’ve greatly enjoyed the keynotes.  It’s fallen apart for me in the ‘learning’ sessions though; I’ve been unable to attend the sessions I’ve wanted to because the venue (a high school they presumably got access to for nothing) has classrooms designed for thirty odd students.  These rooms often had upwards of fifty people jammed into them, sitting on the floor, standing around the edges, all breathing on each other (yes, I have issues with that).  I didn’t have the space I need to be comfortable let alone to learn.  The provided internet is the best I’ve experienced at a tech-conference, so that’s in place, but the physical space, other than the auditorium I’ve been in all weekend, isn’t remotely up to the task of learning.  As I consider the lecture based, knowledge (rather than experience) learning focus of this GAFE Summit, I’m left wondering why educators do this to each other, and how we hope to improve educational technology when we continue to teach it like a poorly designed academic class instead of a set of demonstrable hard skills.

What is it about professional development that has teachers punishing other teachers in order to learn?  Ironically, we spent time talking about the Third Teacher and how the learning environment plays such a vital role in learning.  We then demonstrate how not to do it in vivid detail with overcrowded rooms and people sitting on floors in order to desperately hear a bit of knowledge out of the mouth of a sage on a stage who are part of a company that wants to radically decentralize and democratize knowledge for everyone… or just squeeze education for some certification money.

There has been a lot of opportunity for learning at this conference for me.  The back channels and keynotes have been very engaging.  Oddly, the learning sessions haven’t been where learning has happened.  Had this been the bike course, I would have spent that weekend sitting on the floor, jammed between other people, watching someone else riding a bike before I went and rode around on my own without any feed back; not the ideal way to learn is it?  You’d think teachers would know better.


note: this is six months later, right after the ECOO13 conference (not a summit?) not to mention EdcampHamilton.  My feelings about GAFE have only intensified.  GAFE is a money grab, designed to funnel teachers into a branding process with Google.  After speaking to others at ECOO I’m more than ever convinced that it is a teacher’s professional duty to not brand themselves and offer their students an unbiased access to any and all technology currently in use.  Anything less is a limitation to students and irresponsible on the part of the technology educator.

emotional intelligence

How we remove life experiences from life

I’ve had a tough week.  Whenever I thought about a parent dying, I figured I would rationalize my way through it.  It turns out you can’t do that at all.  The emotional journey I’ve been on has been as rich, complex and valuable as any rational mental exercise I’ve ever experienced, and it’s only just begun.  Not having a rational solution has made me realize how much we’re driven to that single mode of thinking.  No where is that more evident than in education.

Emotional intelligence is more than ignored, in fact, it’s actively discouraged in school.  Curriculum and bureaucratic process do everything they can to take the personal, emotive elements out of education; the fact that we teach kids in factory-like rows demonstrates clearly the singular approach we take to learning.  Emotionality is an embarrassment when it happens; it certainly isn’t a a form of human knowing we develop and nurture in modern education.  In fact, about the only time we do acknowledge emotional intelligence is when students don’t demonstrate it, then we tend to suspend them.

I went in to school last week for a day in between trying to sort out cremations, services and Byzantine government requirements, not to mention storms of crying, because a senior academic class of mine where contacting me directly asking for clarification on year end assignments.  Empathy wasn’t something that could (or should) have been expected.  If students aren’t expected to develop it in school, we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t display it.

The class I was most worried about, a primarily applied level media arts class, were fantastic.  They responded to my request for them to get their work done on their own and were empathetic to my situation.  Their response seemed genuine and we all felt better for the talk.  The academic classes sent condolences, but weren’t, for the most part, willing to help me by helping themselves.  The game they’ve learned to play so well is between them and the system, and their teacher is just the delivery man who should be delivering, regardless of what might be happening to him.

If we defined learning effectiveness in terms of emotional intelligence, I wonder what schools would look like.  I suspect a number of teachers wouldn’t be teaching.  I suspect a number of teachers who found themselves in trouble for being too passionate in school wouldn’t be suspended for it.  I suspect a number of academically proficient students would find themselves disadvantaged.  I suspect student engagement wouldn’t be a problem.

Unions are terrified of emotive responses in teachers, and actively discourage them because students aren’t the only ones to lack a developed emotional intelligence.  We’re developing a society that is emotionally bankrupt while entirely focusing on rationality.  We want students to engage, but be impartial with the process, then we complain when they don’t seem to care enough.  We want learning to happen, but we don’t want to let it be messy.  We want rational control over emotional engagement.

Boards come at it from the other side, driven by lawyers to reduce lawsuit visibility with their employees.  The whole affair is sat upon by societal expectations that press teachers to hold to professional standards (code for do everything at a distance) in all aspects of their lives, whether at work or not.  And ultimately to uphold that pinnacle of modern thought: rationalism.  If it can’t be measured or calculated, it has no real value, and is dangerous.  Modern society won’t create any Picasos or van Goghs or Shakespeares, we’re too busy building data and temples to it, like Google and Facebook.

The whole thing leaves me feeling like, as a teacher or even just a human being, I’m left unable to express my grief, or even expect basic levels of dignity when I try to take time away to deal with my loss.  Between the needs of my students, some of those same students yelling at me while I sit grieving in my backyard trying to write a very difficult eulogy on a Friday night, and the calculations of grief in my absences, I feel exhausted by my professional obligations.  I can’t even respond as a person when rudely interrupted.

All sides go on and on about the power differential, about how you as a teacher have all the power.  I don’t see it.  I’m a minor paper pusher in a massive bureaucracy that seems intent on minimizing any professional latitude I once had, and diminishing any opportunity for emotional development with students in order to ensure a clinical and generalized success.  Students are distanced from their learning, I can’t blame them for treating me like a thing, they are encouraged to see me as such.

Education has, like everything else, passed through industrialization and been changed into a Tayloresque production line.  What used to be a master/apprentice form of learning that was intensely personal and developed over years has turned into a bureaucratically driven production line focused on getting as many people through it in as antiseptic a manner as possible.

Every one of us will face death in our lives, yet everyone seems profoundly uncomfortable with it… like a room of children being expected to figure out calculus.  Shouldn’t education be a key part of learning empathy?  And anger?  And grief?  And then learning how to best express it?  Emotion ignored doesn’t disappear.

A North American distributed motorcycling network

It’s the time of year again.  My next chance to go for a ride is months away.  As the dark descends I need to get my head out of the idea that I’m stuck in a box for the next four months.  I wonder what it would cost to set up a series of self-storage nodes across the southern US to enable year round riding.  With some clever placement I’d be able to fly in and access a wide variety of riding opportunities all year ’round.

Looking at companies that provide self storage I like the look of Cubesmart.  They get great reviews, offer good sized storage units with electricity and lighting and look to be well maintained.  They also offer parking and other services that would make picking up and dropping off a bike easy.  Storage with the same company means I’ll also get looked after better.  Setting up all three nodes in the south near airports means I could fly in and be on two wheels in no time.

WEST COAST NODE: a storage unit in San Francisco

The Cubesmart I’d aim for is in Freemont, about 40 minutes from the Airport.  $140US a month gets you a 90 square foot storage area that could easily swallow a bike or two and some gear.  

There are dozens of best rides around the city, so this makes for a target rich centre for motorbiking. A winter ride doing the PCH north of SanFran and through the mountains back to the city would be a lovely idea…

If San Francisco were my West Coast base I’d have access too all of California and could still reach out to the South West even in the winter months.  That’d be the nicest time to ride the deserts anyway.

EAST COAST NODE: a storage unit near Knoxville, TN

Cubesmart has a 10×10 foot storage unit just north of Knoxville for under ninety bucks US a month (about half what San Francisco is?).   It’s about an eleven hour drive from where I am now out of the snow and into the Smokey Mountains, or a couple of hours by plane.

I could proceed south to the Tail of the Dragon and further on into Georgia, the Atlantic coast and Florida or west towards New Orleans.

The run south into the Smokey Mountains is a quick one:

Austin, Texas and the lone MotoGP appearance left in North America is only a couple of long days west.  Then again, Austin would make another good network node…

Central/South West Node: a storage unit near Austin, TX

There’a another Cubesmart less than 20 minutes away from the Austin airport.  Like the Knoxville one it’s less than a hundred bucks a month for secure, lit and electrified storage (which will be handy for getting the bikes ready to go).  

Circuit of the Americas where North America’s last MotoGP race is held is only twenty minutes awayThe Twisted Sisters, one of the best roads to ride in North America, are only an hour away

Outfitting Each Node

I’d build up a package to keep with the bikes in each storage depot.  A duffel bag with basic tools, fluids, an extension cord and a battery jumper just in case I have to give things a spark to get them going.  I’d make a point of putting the bikes away well, but you never know how long it might be until someone is back to exercise them, so having the kit on hand would be helpful, especially if I’m getting there at 4am after a red-eye for some much-needed two wheeled therapy. 

Licensing bikes in Ontario for riding elsewhere would be a stupid idea as Ontario is one of the worst places to own a motorcycle.  If I could find a reasonable place to make a residence (like BC or Alberta), I could license a number of bikes and leave them scattered around North America.  If I hadn’t been there in a while all I’d need to bring along is maybe a new plate sticker if needed.

Off hand, my 3 remote stables would look like this:

West Coast
Kawasaki Z1000R:  my favourite super naked motorbike.  With a look like something out of Pacific Rim it would keep up with the image conscious West Coast.  As a canyon carver little comes close.   It’s a bit extreme, but isn’t that what riding the West Coast calls for?

I’d have an SW-Mototech EVO cargo bag that would let me turn the big Zed (and the Suzuki below) into a tourer for those longer trips.

East Coast

With the Tail of the Dragon right around the corner, Knoxville calls for a bike that can handle the corners but can also cover distances if I wanted to ride to the Florida Keys or New Orleans.  Most sports bikes look small under me, but not the mighty Hayabusa.  It isn’t as skinny and dynamic as a sports bike, but it’s still more than able to handle twisties while also being a surprisingly capable distance muncher.  BIKE Magazine just took one across the USA.

For long distance reach and also the chance to ride into the desert when needed, I’d go for the new Triumph Tiger for the Austin depot.  A good two up machine that’ll do everything well, it also has good cool weather capabilities for riding in mountains in the winter.

That’s three very different machines for each storage point down south.  Swapping machines between depots would also be a cool idea, so riding the Triumph to San Francisco and then riding the big Zed back to Austin if I felt like changing up the options.  Setting up each bike drop would also make for a good end of season ride down south.


California Dreaming

The snow is blowing sideways in the dark, only visible as it passes through the dull orange of the sodium parking lot lights.  The car crunches to a stop in knee deep drifts.  I shut it off and the cold immediately begins to creep in through the cracks.  Grabbing the duffel bag on the seat next to me I make a mad dash for the monorail entrance at the end of the long term parking lot, the car is already being buried in snow.  A big Boeing thunders overhead, lights invisible in the swirling darkness.

Image result for snow at night airport

The monorail slips silently through the night into the terminal.  The airport is dead, barely a soul in sight.  With a printed e-ticket I walk straight to security and US customs and pass through quickly.  Two hours later the Airbus is thundering down the runway and I’m watching snow vortex off the wings as we slip into the night.  Its a five hour and forty minute red-eye flight ahead of the coming dawn; we land in San Francisco at 4am local time.

With no luggage to wait on I’m out of the airport in minutes and in one of many waiting cabs heading to Freemont.  It’s a foggy nine degree night as the cab quickly makes its way down empty streets to the storage lockup.  Sunrise is beginning to hint in the east as I unlock the roll up door to reveal a covered motorbike in the shadows.  The bike underneath gleams black and green in the predawn light as I pull the blanket off.  If I was tired before, I’m less so now.

I transfer a few clothes from the duffel to the hangover soft panniers and belt them to the bike.  I give it the once over and make sure everything is ready to fly.  With the key in the ignition I turn it and watch LEDs play across the dash.  The breeze outside smells of sea salt and the fog is beginning to lift; I feel like I’ve landed on another planet.

Image result for pacific coast highway north of san franciscoThe big Zed fires up on the touch of the starter so I roll it forward out of the container and let it settle down into an idle.  I check everything again and make sure the panniers are secure on the back.

While the bike warms up I change out of travel clothes and leave them in the duffel hanging on the wall.  A few minutes later I’m in boots, riding pants and leather jacket and feeling warm in the cool morning air.  It’s mid-winter here too, but a Northern Californian mid-winter is a very different thing from Ontario.  The forecast is calling for fifteen degree days, no nights under five and mostly crisp, sunny weather.  This would be ideal fall riding weather back home and this Canadian riding gear is built for cool days like these.

 The PCH is calling so I throw on my helmet and saddle up as the sky brightens.  The 880 is still quiet as Oakland is just beginning to wake up around me.  I’m through Oakland and over the Bay Bridge before rush hour builds.  Traffic is just beginning to build in town as I roll through San Francisco and out through The Presidio and onto the Golden Gate Bridge.

I pull into the Shoreline Coffee Shop in Mill Valley just north of the bridge for a big plate of eggs and bacon and some good coffee; it’s just past 7am.  I’ve got six days ahead of me to explore the coast and mountain roads around here before I’ve got to go back to the land of ice and snow.

Image result for pacific coast highway north of san francisco

from Blogger

Infecting The System

If the internet is the nervous system for a new global
culture, should it be artificially limited by human
self interest?

Cory Doctorow ended a harrowing editorial on artificially limited computing in WIRED this month with the observation that the internet isn’t simply an information medium but has, in fact, become the nervous system of the Twenty First Century.

Doctorow begins by questioning why we shackle computers with controls that users can’t overpower, and in many cases don’t even know exist.  He uses the example of the Sony rootkit, that would install viral software on machines whenever a consumer would run one of their music CDs.  The idea was to curb pirating, the result was creating a blind spot in millions of customer’s machines that immediately got exploited by hackers.

Whenever we build a computer that is subservient to anything other than the user, we’re creating blind spots that hackers can exploit.  Whenever our software or hardware is artificially limited to satisfy human values, whether they be government or business or even educationally motivated, we are creating a machine that is flawed.

There is a simple honesty to computing that I find very appealing.  When we’re building a circuit or working with a computer or coding, students will often say that they didn’t change anything but got a different output, or that they did everything exactly right and it doesn’t work.  The subtext is always that computer is up to something.  Whatever the computer is up to, you put it up to it.  Computers don’t make mistakes, humans do.  This is why it’s vital that computers are not controlled by remote interests.  When remote interests dictate computer outputs, you end up with confused users who start to blame the machine.

… because someone programmed HAL to kill.
Machines don’t make mistakes, unless people tell them to.

I’ve long said that computers are merely a tool, but many people see them as intelligent entities with hidden agendas.  If we allow institutions to hard code their interests into our computers then we are intentionally allowing our flaws to infect one of the most honest expressions of human ingenuity.  We’re also creating that confusion around computers as entities with evil intent (we provide the intent).

What goes for our personal devices also goes for our networks.  Unless we are going to continually battle for net neutrality and efficiency over self interest, we’re going to find ourselves with hobbled machines on near sighted networks, seeing only what vested interests want us to see.  In that environment computers and the internet can very quickly move from democratizing force to Orwellian control.  Keeping computers free of human influence is vital to human well being.

I’ve been uneasy about the nature of the modern internet as distraction engine as well as the branding of edtech.  Both examples reek of the infected human influence that Doctorow refers to in his editorial.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if we, as a species, were on the verge of building a more perfect machine that allows us to move beyond our short-sighted selves, but instead of building that wonder we infect it with our own shortcomings and end up using it to create a kind of subservience never before imagined?

I see it every day in machines so locked down that they barely function as computers, with limitations on virtually everything they do.  This is done for ease of management, to satisfy legal paranoia and, ultimately, to ease the burden of digitally illiterate educators, but this approach has me watching whole generations growing up in an increasingly technology driven world having no idea what is is or how it works.  As a computer technology teacher this is difficult to swallow.

The only restriction on a computer should be the laws of physics and the state of the art.  Efficiency and user empowerment should be the machine’s and our only focus.  Everything should be up to the user otherwise these magical machines aren’t empowering us, they’re being used to create dangerous fictions.  Is it difficult to teach students how to use computers like this?  Perhaps, but at least we’d be teaching them a genuine understanding of what digital technology is, and how to wield that power responsibly.  All we’re doing now in education is feeding the infection.

Complete Connie

Thanks to the kindness of CoG, some much needed bits and pieces from Murphs Kits, parts from my local Kawi dealer Two Wheel Motorsport and an awesome Givi box and windshield from A Vicious Cycle, the Connie is finally back on her feet!

The parts I needed consisted of your basic filters and fluids, some clutch lever bits, a number of rusty connectors, a speedo gear housing (the cable got replaced too), and replacement levers for the rusted out old ones.  At a CoG suggestion I looked at Murph’s and found a full set of stainless replacement fasteners.  The bike was missing a number of them and the rest were in various states of disrepair.  I now have a pile of spares and new ones on the bike.  They look great and the whole deluxe set was less than seventy bucks.  Murph also had stainless replacement clutch and brake levers for only twenty bucks each, so I picked those up too.

The nicest surprise was the Concours Owners Group (best membership fee I’ve ever paid for!).  When asking about aftermarket options for the master cylinder covers I broke getting rusted bolts out, one of the moderators offered to mail me up a spare set from Florida in exchange for an adult beverage at some future time.  If you own a Connie, COG is a must do.  I get the sense that even if you don’t have a Concours, COG is still something special.

With everything back together she hummed around our cul-de-sac in fine form.  No leaks, controls feel sharp, I think she’s ready for a run at a safety.  If she passes I’m going to semi-retire the Ninja and put it up for sale and spend the rest of the season seeing what the Connie can do.  Once the snow closes in I’ll break it down again and do the body work so next spring it looks as good as it runs.

Carrying Ninja

Getting a hard case with a back rest.  The goal:  

  • To be able to carry the basics and keep them dry while out and about.
  • To offer a backrest to make it easier for my passenger.

  • FZ-series Monorack is designed to add a Givi Monokey or Monolock topcase to your existing tailsection. Rugged black finish.
  • All hardware needed to mount the Givi rack is included. Installs quickly using simple hand tools. No welding or cutting of existing frame or body parts required. Tough black enamel finish with some gray fittings or hardware as applicable.
  • Select a Monolock(M5M) or Monokey(M5) top case mounting plate that will be used on the FZ445 when ordering for the related products. No Plate is included you need to add it to the cart.

    The Givi FZ445 toprack may be used alone or with the Givi PLX445 side rack (for PLX sidecases ONLY).


  • Designed for scooters and low-powered motorcycles.
  • Capacity of 30 liters, enough to hold a full face helmet.
  • It comes with a universal plate and mounting kit.
  • Maximum load capacity of 3 kg.

  • Note: Notice the body of the case does not change colour. It is just the lid section that will have the colour change.


  • Turn your E300 Tour Case into a comfortable rest spot for your passenger with this Givi E103 Backrest.
  • Made of thick polyurethane, this backrest will hold up in the elements and provide comfort to all motorcycle and scooter passengers.
  • Sold each.
  • Long lasting material.

  • $45

    Items Quantity Price Subtotal

    Givi-E300 Monolock Case, 30 Liter
    $CAD 98.99 $CAD 98.99

    Givi-Backrest for E300 Monolock Case
    $CAD 44.99 $CAD 44.99

    Givi-Topcase Rack (Kawasaki Ninja 650R / ER6F, ’06-’08)
    $CAD 79.99 $CAD 79.99
    Rebate Coupon: 
    Total : $CAD 223.97

    Horse Power

    This is Butch, he’s kind of a jerk.

    While in Arizona we went out horseback riding for a couple of hours.  I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was a kid (almost forty years ago – back then they were tiny prehistoric horses).  I got Butch, who liked to eat a lot and thought it a good idea to stick his nose up the horse in front’s ass to get it back to the paddock early for lunch.  He managed to piss off half a dozen horses doing this.

    I ended up with mighty sore knees because I kept weight on the stirrups for the entire ride.  Partly because it was suggested and partly because it took weight off the horse’s back.

    Working with an animal is a very different process than inhabiting a machine.  I imagine that developing a longer term relationship with the creature eases the guilt I was feeling over using the animal.  If I knew that Butch enjoyed taking people out and going for a walk I’d have been a lot happier with bothering him with it.  His habit of rushing the other horses suggested that he wasn’t enjoying hauling my heaviness around though.

    How different is riding a horse from asking a taxi to drive you somewhere?  In both cases you’re paying an organization to provide an animal that will transport you (one a horse, the other a machine assisted human).  In the case of the taxi driver you can at least communicate with them and get a sense of their willingness to do the work.  You can probably do that with the horse too, but the non-verbal communication takes longer to figure out.

    I don’t worry about my largeness (6’3″ 240lbs) hurting a motorcycle but it was on my mind with the horse, even though they gave me one of the biggest ones they had.  My animal empathy is overdeveloped, no doubt, but even with a machine I still sympathize with its situation, it’s one of the reasons I take care of mine so diligently.  With an animal I’m unfamiliar with I’m not clear on our relationship.  If the animal doesn’t want to be there it sours the experience.  Put another way, I’ve never met a motorcycle that wasn’t eager to be ridden – it’s their purpose.  We might have domesticated horses but their reason for being isn’t to carry people around.

    While machines may have their problems they have also offered us an opportunity to stop using many animals as chattel for our own ends.

    I enjoyed the horse ride and I’d do it again, but it would be nice to better understand the horse and their situation.  Knowing that a horse was excited to see me and go out would go a long way toward enjoying the ride more in the same way that taking out an excited dog for a walk is a positive process.  Two days before our rental horse ride I took a rental motorcycle out for the day and didn’t have anything like the same moral quandary, though perhaps I should have.

    It’s wonderfully quiet out on a horse in the desert.


    Mechanical Empathy & Human Expression

    I’ve enjoyed machines since I was a child.  My father is a mechanic and engineer and his fearless approach to maintaining, repairing and operating machines amazed and intrigued me.  With that fascination I always found it easy to empathize with machines, not necessarily in the anthropomorphic give them a name and talk to them kind of way many people do, but to suggest a machine has personality expressed in how it operates isn’t strange to me.

    In the last post I talked about how a MotoGP rider was a much larger piece of the equation than a Formula 1 driver is.  That expression of skill through machinery is what interests me about motorsport, the high tech frills are just that, frills.  What I want to do this morning (it’s 5am and the world is silent and dark, the people are all asleep and the mental static is at a minimum) is to unpack what machines are and why they are worthy of empathy.

    Machines are our thoughts given substance.  When I get on the Ninja and go for a ride I’m experiencing a confluence of thinking, dozens of engineers and designers who pieced together a rolling sculpture that best expresses their ideas of efficiency, beauty and inter-connectivity.  You seldom get to experience the mind of another person is so intimate a way as you do when operating a machine that they have created.  It’s little wonder that many engineers and designers feel that the mechanical devices they produce are like their children.

    You can approach this from a couple of interesting reads.  Matt Crawford’s Shop Class As Soulcraft focuses on the understanding you develop from laying hands on your machine yourself.  As a treatise on the value of hands-on mechanical experience and the development of that mechanical sympathy Guy Martin mentions above, it is priceless.

    Melissa Holbrook-Pierson’s The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing comes at it from the riding experience and how motorcycles in particular can reach into you and animate you in a way that many other machines cannot.

    A deeply personal look
    at how motorcycling
    can emotionally
    charge you

    There is a virtue in motorcycles that is also why so many people don’t partake of them.  They demand so many inputs from the rider that they make driving a car seem like running a washing machine; merely the operation of an appliance.  This is so endemic to driving a car that every opportunity to interact with the vehicle is being diminished, from manual transmissions to parking.  In a few years many will flock to self driven vehicles and become forever passengers.  The vast majority of people have little interest in how a machine works or how to express themselves through it – perhaps because they have nothing to express.

    That motorcycles are so demanding is a virtue from the point of view of a mechanical empath.  The more interaction you have with the machine, the more possible it is to inhabit it with human expression.  There is something pure in the mechanical simplicity of the motorcycle, it is bare, naked, not covered in sheet metal designed to conceal and contrive; its function is obvious.

    That this naked machine demands so much from its rider creates a giddy kind of connection in those willing and able to make it.  This machine connects to your hands, feet and whole body.  It demands inputs from every one of your limbs as well as your entire mass.  Being naked on the road, the rider’s mind isn’t isolated from their activity and is as engaged as their physical body.  Inhabiting a machine this completely is an intoxifying experience.

    The thrill of inhabiting a machine isn’t limited to motorcycles, though they are one of the purest expressions I’ve found.  The satisfaction in fixing, maintaining or operating any machine well offers some degree of satisfaction.  In inhabiting the machine it empowers us, giving us abilities that would seem magical to non-technological people.  We can cover ground at great speed, communicate across the world with the push of a button, fly, even slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the sky, but not if we don’t inhabit the machines that enable us.

    When machines serve humans instead of enabling them

    If we remove ourselves from this equation machines become limitations rather than a means of expression.  The thought of a human being interacting with a responsive, demanding and complex machine offers us a future that is bursting with opportunity for growth.  The alternative is stagnation and ignorance.  You can guess which approach appeals to a consumerist culture intent on selling to as many people as possible.

    That a machine should place demands on us isn’t a bad thing, especially if it leads to a nuanced awareness of our own limitations.  The machine that can overextend you, challenge you, stress you, is a machine that can teach you something.  We fool ourselves into stagnation when we design machines that do more and ask less from us.

    When I see human expression through a machine, the machine becomes a magnifying glass for their achievement, how can that not deserve empathy?  The only time it wouldn’t is when the human is a pointless addition to the equation. When this happens machines become oppressive rather than enabling forces in our lives.

    Instructional Leadership: the comeback

    Our new admin just arranged our first head’s retreat.  As a forum for clarifying what the department heads in the school want, I’d call it a resounding success.  Toward the end of the day we had a small group discussion on instructional leadership.  The idea was to define it and clarify what we need to do it.

    I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with leadership and leaders.  Much of my time in air cadets as a teen was spent studying leadership techniques.  My experiences there suggest I’m an atypical team member.  At one point we were playing a massive capture the flag game in the woods at Camp Borden.  My Flight Sergeant picked out myself and a few other NCOs.  We were told to locate the flag and harass the enemy, that’s it.  The vast majority of our flight were younger cadets in their first exercise.  The Flight Sergeant kept them all with him and they moved in a large group (like locusts), capturing everyone they saw by sheer force of numbers.

    I eventually found the flag after working loosely with the other rangers, but mainly on my own.  I had someone relay back to the large group where the flag was and we ended up winning with this very unorthodox approach.  The other team did what was normally done – everyone had similar jobs in squads.  Afterwards my Flight Sergeant said, “I knew if I kept the keeners in the big group they wouldn’t enjoy it, so I set you all loose and looked after the young ones.”

    That lesson in differentiating how you lead has always stuck with me, but my focus when leadership lands on me (I seldom go seeking it) goes beyond catering to helplessness.  I want self determination and personal empowerment in my team, and I expect team members to acknowledge that empowerment with engagement.  I don’t want them to ever feel like they are being dictated to, or are being forced to accept ideas that run contrary to their own best practices.  The leadership structure should exist to empower and encourage self determination in the professionals it manages.

    It’s a tough, results orientated  job (like pro baseball),
    and you’ve got to find ways to handle the pressure.
    Leading people who do this everyday is a challenge.
    Talking down to them doesn’t work.

    Of course, this assumes that you’re dealing with professionals.  If you’ve got teachers who aren’t willing or able to be competent professionals then I would be looking to teacher training and board hiring practices to weed them, not detuning the entire educational leadership apparatus to cater to a tiny percentage of incompetents. 

    In discussing leadership with other department heads at my school I was struck with just how different their idea of leadership is from my own.  I not only step lightly around teachers who don’t like or need to be told what to think, but I also expect competence when it comes to internal communication.  After saying this I was told by another head (in front of many others) that my department has terrible communication.  She said we need to have many meetings where I drill home information, but I should also present it in a way that makes them accept it.  My job isn’t just to inform, it’s to indoctrinate.

    Absolutist thinking feels lazy to me, the result of trying to
    look for an easy way out of a complex situation.

    I couldn’t imagine criticizing another leader like this, let alone in front of a large number of colleagues.  I became angry at her ignorant and callous disregard for my place in this group, so I walked away rather than firing back.  That someone would have this approach to management in my building makes me uneasy (it also explains why the iconoclastic tech teachers in my department would take great pleasure in telling her exactly what she wouldn’t want to hear just to make her angry).  It took me a few days to realize that those comments say much more about her approach to management than it does about the colleagues I speak for at heads.

    I was having Costanza moments after this altercation.
    Instead of not being able to think of something
    I tend to be overly vicious in my comebacks. 
    Walking away is a learned response.

    In my mind a micro manager is the worst kind of leader.  They constantly interfere and demand consistency with inane details rather than focusing on a goal; they want conformity to process rather than results orientated flexibility.  Some people need that kind of micromanagement but I’m not interested in managing them, or being one, or having much to do with that process.  If you want to alienate the most capable people in your organization, this is a great way to do it.

    Another head who had overheard all of this had a chat with me and went back with this idea, “leaders should also include outliers who question and prompt revision in leadership practices.”   The head with whom I seem diametrically opposed thought this a ridiculous idea.  Leadership is about forcing compliance.  Meetings are about beating down resistance and creating that compliance.  Ever hear teachers complain about meetings and wonder why they are so negative about them?  I don’t, anymore.

    True Colors helps clarify your social approach to leadership.
    I’m a strong green/bit of blue – I’ve got no sense of gold…

    There are many different types of leaders all with their own strengths and weaknesses.  My thing is exploring the edges, and I look for highly capable people to share that project with.  If experimentation with pedagogy or learning tools is your thing, then I’m your department head.  It’s why technological change and the social upheaval it causes interest me.

    My ideal department is staffed with people who need me to support them without constantly questioning them as they improve the state of the art of teaching.  Put me in an administrative role where I’m supposed to enforce conformity and I’m a disaster.  If that’s what we’re looking for in instructional leadership, I’m ready to step down immediately.  You’re also going to find it difficult to get me into lockstep with everyone around me whether I’m a leader or a follower.

    Consensus building is something that I’m terrible at but greatly admire.  Those leaders who can create a sense of direction in a group without alienating anyone are magic.  Whereas I get passionately angry about the asinine people I’m supposed to direct, these patient consensus builders are able to gently take them in hand and find a way through to them. I can appreciate the efficiency they bring to group work and admire them for a skill I lack.

    The bureaucratic pencil pusher who holds the-way-it’s-always-been as sacred is the antithesis of everything I consider important, but those people play a vital role in creating consistency and order in an organization.  As leaders I can’t really see the value in them, but I’m sure a consensus builder somewhere could help me with that.

    A good bit of reflection here, I think.  I’m no longer angry about the altercation we had and I’m trying to see the value of diverse voices in leadership positions.  If the goal is all of us in lockstep as we produce the same narrow goals in the same way then I’m in the wrong place.  I only hope that people higher up the org-chart recognize the value of diversification in instructional leadership or, as an outlier, I’m in real trouble.