Virtual Possibilities

I was asked the other day what virtual reality could do beyond the obvious entertainment it provides. A bit of online research shows VR moving in a number of directions beneficial to education.  

Below is a list that covers everything from currently available software to academic research and emerging uses.  It isn’t even remotely complete.


VR for physio therapy

Phantom Limb Pain Recovery

When I worked in Japan I did a lot of work with a local doctor who was researching therapeutic muscle stimulation in patients recovering from paralysis.  A lot of that physiotherapy was very hard work for both the patients and the people working with them.  VR would offer a way to produce more natural, targeted and full range interaction without the tedium and limitation of repetitive exercise.

The CBC piece above is talking about how amputees with phantom limb syndrome use VR to reconnect the neural pathways that used to operate the missing part.  Body confusion over the missing part appears to be the cause of phantom pains in missing limbs.  The immersive nature of VR allows patients to exercise those neurons and reduce instances of false pain responses.

Physical Therapy VR Research
If you’ve ever immersed yourself in VR you quickly become aware of how elsewhere you feel.  I’ve felt vertigo while standing on a cliff in Google Earth.  As a tool for balance and movement it has obvious immediate applications.

A Home-made VR Motion Sensor and Data Collection Tool
Currently, my senior computer engineering students are designing an Arduino based virtual reality movement sensor that will collect data on a user’s movements while immersed.  They are programming a Java based back end in computer science to collect the data streaming from the ultrasonic sensor in order to create data-sets of movement while immersed.  This data could be used to measure the depth of immersion the user is experiencing.  More immersed people tend to physically interact more with the virtual environment – that physical interaction can be used to collect data.

Analysis of the data means they might be able to produce accurate information on how well a user is playing a game, how effectively an athlete is following a VR training regimen or perhaps if a patient recovering from an injury is making the right motions in physio.  It should be able to isolate and describe the physical limitations of a user in VR.  Unlike previous digital experiences through the window of a monitor, VR offers immediate physical feedback that we’re going to record.

Digital interaction is going to be much less sedentary in the future.

VR and Autism

Floreo Autism Therapy
Founded by two dads of kids with autism, Floreo explores VR as a therapy.  I like their approach: autism isn’t seen as a defect but a difference that we can support with therapies designed to allow these different thinking kids to survive and thrive with everyone else.

Austism Speaks on Virtual Reality 

Autism Speaks is a science focused advocacy group that is encouraging a seed change in how society views the spectrum of atypical autism related thinking.  

In this article they are funding research into a VR based social cognition training in order for autistic people to function more effectively with others.  The complexities of autism means they need to proceed carefully with data collection.  VR’s unique sense of immersion means they can simulate social situations (and the anxiety that arises from them) more accurately and produce responses that reflect it.  The data collected from this specifically targeted research is vital to creating tools to help people with autism practice social skills more effectively.

Having kids who are already comfortable with VR means that when this therapy is ready they won’t have to get familiar with the technology before they benefit from the therapeutic value of the program.

Sensitivity Training for Neurotypicals
We’re currently using a 360 camera to create a VR based tour of our school.  In it students get to move around the building looking where they want in order to begin to get a sense of where everything is.  Editing 4k 360° video is a challenge – I have to use the best VR PC we have to do it (when it isn’t running VR), but we’ll get there.

In the meantime, I came across this immersive video made by the UK’s National Autistic Society.  Designed in collaboration with autistic people, it gives you some idea of how overwhelming the world can be when an autistic child has a panic attack.  It’s overwhelming watching it on the screen.  Watching it in VR I was in tears…

If you’re not in VR and haven’t done 360° video before, you can move the point of view around with your mouse as you watch.  As a way of trying to explain to others how it feels to have a panic attack when you’re autistic, it’s a powerful tool.

Using VR to Teach Autistic Teens How to Drive
Another ready-now application for VR is in vehicle operation.  High performance operators such as racers use it to learn tracks.  Heavy equipment operators are using it to train people on expensive industrial machines before they ever get into the cab for the first time.  Pilots have to log flight time in a simulator as part of becoming qualified on a new plane.  As a way to get people familiar with a complex machine it’s cheap and effective.

In this case VR is being used to ease the anxiety of learning to drive in teens with autism.  Every high school in our board has driving instruction starting in their parking lots.  They should all be adopting this first step in order to ease anxiety before putting any kid behind the wheel for the first time.

General education links

The Virtual Reality Society
Based out of the UK, this group offers a great resource site to get your feet wet in VR.  They are also very interested in how VR can be used in teaching and learning and a lot of their links will take you emerging uses of this technology.

That Tim King Guy

There’s this guy in Canada who jumped into this early and has his students building VR kits for other schools.  He’s out and about often demonstrating the technology in his school, his board and his province to anyone who will listen.  He and his students have put hundreds of people through their first experience with VR.

His interest is in the engineering that creates the immersive VR experience.  It takes astonishing amounts of computing power to produce 3d immersive simulations.  Astonishing amounts of computing power are what got his attention in the first place.

Education isn’t  usually responsive to emerging technologies but this guy’s MO is to explore new technologies, and this one is going take immersive simulation (something he’s always been interested in) to unforeseen levels.

VR and Mathematics
Experiential algebra in VR.  The benefits of visualizing mathematics in 3d are obvious.  This is one of many academic papers on the subject.
Geometry is another obvious use for 3d data visualization.  This is another academic paper on using VR in teaching geometry.

VR and Chemistry
Chemistry is one of those hands on teaching environments that have a lot of safety oversight.  Using VR to familiarize students with the safety needs of the lab could drastically reduce damage costs.  The safety training applications school-wide in technology and science are obvious.

These guys used Unity just like my software engineering course does – this is something that capable high school students could render.  Perhaps we will next semester.
Drop into a chemistry lab and explore.
Data visualization is a huge part of VR.  Chemistry researchers are already envisioning how it could be used to better understand advanced chemical interactions.
An academic paper on how immersive simulation can advance the learning of chemistry.

A trip through the body.  You can observe infections happening at a microscopic level.  It has my twelve year old talking about viral nucleocapsids – I have no idea what he’s talking about.

Gender and Virtual Reality
There has been a lot of talk about gender in schools this year.  The immersive nature of VR means empathy can go from difficult to access to something approaching a lived experience.  Having a red neck experience the looks of distrust aimed at a black man or a misogynist spend an hour as a woman would go a long way toward addressing inequity.  It’s hard to hate or belittle someone when you’ve spent some time in their shoes.


Does VR have any value beyond entertainment?  It’s an explosive new area of technological growth and we’ve barely begun to explore what it can do.  Even so, there are already hundreds of immediately useful educationally focused VR apps, and more come on line every day.

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Motorcycle Insurance

I’ve been frustrated with motorcycle insurance and the blanket approach it takes to covering a bike, even one you’re not riding.  When I’m paying the same for a new car as I am for a seven year old bike that I use for only a few thousand kilometres a year, usually in very good road conditions, it strikes me as unfair.  The car does about five times as many kilometres and can do much more damage in a crash.  It also has to drive through snow storms and the other perils of winter driving while my bike sits in the garage undergoing a full maintenance overhaul.

Maintained to within an inch of its life and spending
the most dangerous driving time of the year in a garage.

Speaking of maintenance, the bike sees a heck of a lot more of it that the car does, especially in the winter.  The bike is checked before each ride and sees weekly maintenance and checks on a larger scale.  The bike is a cherished tool of self expression, the car is an appliance.

When I called up the insurance company I’ve been with for over twenty years and asked for a quote they said they wouldn’t even consider me, but told me to come back in a few years.  Nice, eh?

I finally got in touch with RidersPlus, who specialize in bikes.  It wasn’t cheap, but they got me sorted out quickly.  My first bike isn’t a big cc monster, I tried to be 

One of these things is not like
the other, though both are the
same in the eyes of insurance

sensible with my first ride and only considered mid-displacement machines.  Having insured a lot of cars, I knew what could happen between a Mustang and a Crown Vic, yet in motorcycle terms these two vehicles would be considered equal simply because they have the same displacement.  

I was on the verge of getting a KLR (a big, single cylinder on/off road bike) when I came across the Ninja.  It has almost identical displacement though almost nothing else in common with the KLR.  One is a sport bike for the road, the other is an all terrain bike that rides on the road when needed.  The Ninja is fast and agile, the KLR sturdy and stable.  With such different intentions and abilities, I expected the Ninja to be a much more expensive option, but was shocked to be quoted the same price.

What is at the bottom of my insurance despair is that a second bike costs me pretty much the same as the first. At the Toronto Motorcycle Show last weekend I stopped by RidersPlus again and had a chat.  The guy there confirmed that your insurance does in fact drop quite significantly over the first few years of riding and by my forth or fifth year I’d be able to insure two bikes for basically what I’m paying for one now.

Honda CB500X, a nice fit, multi-purpose
machine that is easy on insurance

In the short term if I want to minimize insurance costs while I’m learning to ride, a low displacement bike is the key.  I sat on the Honda CB500X at the show.  A nice, tall bike that could handle a wider range of duties than the road focused Ninja.  I’d be giving up a bit of power, but even a 500cc bike still has a much better power to weight ratio than most cars.

Another option is to dig up an older enduro bike, like the Suzuki DRZ-400.  This would be a go-anywhere bike that I’d get used and not worry about tipping over occasionally.  Being an even lower cc bike, it would be even cheaper on insurance.


Some interesting Stats-Canada vehicle collision statistics – very easy to look through.  It shows a downward trend in accidents, injuries and deaths over the past twenty years.  Glad to see my insurance is coming down with it.

Forbes Article: The most dangerous time to drive – A Saturday in August in an urban environment.  It turns out the most dangerous places to drive are where there are a lot of other people – places most bikers avoid like the plague.

Forks of the Credit

What does the double hair pin at Forks of the Credit look like on a sunny Sunday in May?
… and I missed the first ten that went by right to left!

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon on May 25th and I’ve got an afternoon on the Ninja.  Rather than do a pointless local loop I aim at The Forks and head east.  It’s a nice ride on relatively interesting roads across Wellington County, Hillsburgh and Erin to Belfountain.  When I get there I realize that I’ve just walked into a mecca of bike culture in Southern Ontario.

The parking lot of the local ice cream and coffee shop is covered in motorcycles of all description, from Harleys to Ducatis and everything in between.  I hang a left and head onto seven of the best kilometres in Ontario.  On the ride down I’ve timed it perfectly, no one is in front of me and I lean the bike more than I ever have before.  Suddenly timely gear changes are vital to balancing the bike and the tires get some wear on the sides.  

I’ve been coming up to The Forks since I got my driver’s license in the 1980s, but this is the first time I’ve done it on two wheels (except for once in an Escort GT, but that wasn’t intentional).  On my way back I get stuck behind a guy in a Prius (a Prius?  Really?) and decide to pull over at the hairpin to get some media.  An OPP cruiser slows as he sees me on the side of the road but I give him a wave and when he realizes I’m taking pictures and not hurt he gives me a wave back and continues on his way.

Forks of the Credit, from
Belfountain to Highway 10

That train of bikes in the opening video was actually ten bikes longer, I’d already put the phone away when they started and didn’t get it out and recording until halfway through the two wheeled parade.

Watching the cars lumber around the hairpin is a stark contrast to the bikes as they weave through the 180° hairpin.  At one point I thought one of the cars was going to have to back up to make it.

Back in Belfountain (where I got married sixteen years ago), I have a cup’o’tea and wander around looking at the bikes.  There is a constant stream of people coming and going, all ages, genders and interests.  The leather clad Harley guys are there, adventure types in their Aerostich, the sport bike crowd in their leathers, the touring riders on their Goldwings with pillions in tow, and even some cafe racers in their vintage gear.  It’s a cross section of Ontario motorbiking culture.

That’s me on the right.

After my wander I do The Forks once more, this time I’m clear both ways.  I pass back through Belfountain and a whole new flock of bikes have flown in.  My blood is pumping now and I get home fifteen minutes faster than I got here.

Pictures from The Forks of the Credit on May 25th, 2014.

COVID19 Rapid Restoration: Fireblade for the first time since Obama was President

The Fireblade project has come together nicely thanks to the strangeness we all find ourselves in with the COVID19 pandemic.  With a suddenly extended March Break, I was able to sort out the fairings, get the LED indicators wired up and finalize all the plumbing for fuel delivery.  It was all fiddly, last minute stuff, but with the time in hand it was easy to sort.  The adjustable indicator relay got wet when I cleaned up the bike which prevented the LEDs from flashing, so it got waterproofed and sealed.  The first ride was enlightening…

360° Video from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

That’s the first time it’s been running since Obama was in office.  It’s a very different thing from other bikes I’ve owned.  I’m a big guy and 50 years old, but the yoga helps with the flexibility needed to ride this machine.  The foot pegs are significantly higher than anything I’ve owned before, and I’m leaning forward over the gas tank in a much more prone position than on the Tiger.  I was very conscious of the clip-on handlebars and the lack of leverage you have when cornering – steering on an adventure bike is much easier because you’ve got big, wide bars that offer a lot of pull.  The Fireblade was so much harder to turn (the weight of leaning forward doesn’t help) that I actually thought the steering was obstructed, but it wasn’t, it’s just a lack of leverage.

After the first ride I thought, ‘this thing is virtually unrideable!’  But as I was working out the details and getting used to it the riding position started to make a different kind of sense; I think this bike can teach me things.  The centre of gravity is so low, and the bike is so much lighter (over 40 kilos!) than my Triumph Tiger, while producing thirty more horsepower, that it’s a significantly different riding experience.  I wouldn’t want to go touring with it, but for an athletic afternoon out on nearby twisty roads, it’s the instrument of choice.

The inline four cylinder 918cc engine makes a glorious noise when you crack the throttle, and the ‘Blade is responsive in a way that makes any other bike I’ve ridden feel heavy – that’s something I could get used to.  On subsequent rides I got my legs into the cutouts on the tank and once locked in place the whole thing suddenly clicked.  It’ll take all the core work I’ve got to work with it, but this machine expects you to take riding as a sport rather than a leisure activity.

So far I’m at $1200 for the bike delivered, $250 in taxes and registration, $280 for a replacement carburetor which I cannibalized with the one I had to create a working one (if anyone needs late 90s CBR900 carb parts, get in touch), and another $200 in parts that included the shop manual, oil and filters and the LED lights.  All in I think I’m at about $2000 on the road and running like it’s new again.  Looking up CBR900RRs online, a one a year older model with three times the kilometres is on for $2800.  Low mileage mint ones are going for $6-7000.  I think I could sell it in a year for a thousand more than I put into it.

When the pandemic happened here just before March Break I took home the Structure Sensor 3d scanner and did some scans, which is what you’re looking at here…

It’s very satisfying to bring the ‘Blade back to life.  Now that the mechanicals are in order I’m thinking about racing stripes.  Amazon has some well reviewed ones on for a good price, I’ll give them a go rather than painting them on.

Unfortunately I’m stuck for getting the bike safetied and registered on the road because everything is closed at the moment.  I’ll spend the time making sure everything is order and looking to the aesthetic details and hopefully I’ll be able to put the bike on the road when we put society back in motion again in May.

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Learning Goals & Success Criteria

Learning Goals & Success Criteria

This past week we had a department heads visioning day.  One of the focuses (from the Ministry through the Board) was a concerted focus on clearly articulating learning goals and success criteria.  This goal/criteria approach has a lot of traction in current educational thinking.  Clearly stating the point of a lesson allows for greater focus for the teacher and greater fairness in instruction for the student.  In the ideal classroom clearly articulated learning goals along with specific criteria that demonstrate success allow everyone to work to a commonly understood end.

Learning goals and success criteria offer a trendy sense of student centered equality and transparency with no chance of nasty teachers changing up goals to suit their own megalomania.  In the process of establishing these learning goals and success criteria, teaching becomes a linear, reductive process that anyone with the right flowchart could follow.

There has been an ongoing attempt to simplify teaching in order to more efficiently (read: cheaply) manage it.  This is often hidden in business terminology like data driven analysis or goal orientated production.  The urge to simplify teaching offers some real financial payoffs.  If teaching is something that can be reduced to piece work we can drastically reduce professional expectations (and what we pay for them).  This cynicism is what I approached this latest PD with.  Do the powers that be want me to do this for the good of my students or for the good of the system?  The two things are often not mutually compatible.

Like many other previous educational fads LG/SC seems to have come from elementary classrooms.  In a grade two class where you need to provide structure around early student learning in order to show them the way this might have a credible place.  With sixteen year olds on the verge of moving beyond the classroom, clearly articulated goals and criteria could as easily obstruct the purpose of the lesson as it does help students.  In complex learning environments the teacher can often use the process of self-directed discovery to empower student learning.  If we are working in a lab on an experiment, clearly articulating the goal and success criteria to get you there reduces the complex process of scientific experimentation to a series of if/then statements.  In a room where experienced students are working with advanced ideas, learning goals seem like a simplistic step backwards.

In the working world you don’t often find yourself with clearly articulated goals and criteria.  Workplaces and even post secondary education are complex environments in which self directed learning, organization and initiative are valued more than your ability to follow clearly articulated goals, assuming you’re given any goals at all.  Asking high school teachers to focus on this means of ‘student success’ is like asking capable bicycle riders to put training wheels on in order to not fall over so much.  The intent might be to offer them a greater sense of safety and focus, but the result is a capable rider not being able to test their limits on the bike.

Schools already do a great job of atrophying initiative, creativity, self-direction and differentiation of learning in students.  That a new system hopes to close that off even more is worrying.  Where is there space for initiative, self directed learning or differentiation in classroom focused on listed goals and criteria?  Clearly articulated goals might help those who have no idea why they are in school, but they limit everyone else, especially at a secondary level, and even more so in non-deterministic learning situations.

I teach computer engineering and like many technology classes the students are asked to work in a stochastic, non-deterministic learning process.  As we push learners into more advanced learning situations clear goals become a detriment to their learning, much like any other expectation.  Rather than being able to discover direction through research and experimentation, the goal orientated classroom is barren and linear.  Perhaps it works for academic subjects but it never has in my experience, and the academic teachers it does work for aren’t teachers anyone brags about.  If education is about discovery and engagement then ideas like goals and success criteria need to be handled very lightly, not suggested as a school wide success strategy by class room reviewers.

Many of the heads at our meeting weren’t interested in picking up another one year fad from the Board, though they didn’t articulate why other than simply being tired of them.  For me this latest educational focus raises some fundamental questions about education.  Are we teaching students to learn or are we teaching them curriculum material?  Since those two things often conflict with teach other, it would be good to hear what our overall goal is.  I’m all for learning to learn, and to do that you can’t be trying to reduce learning to a flowchart of actions.  Learning is a fantastic and fantastically complicated process, and teaching someone how to do it goes back to the old adage about teaching a person to fish as opposed to giving them a fish.

Learning goals and success criteria fit nicely into the data driven educational management paradigm.  I have a number of concerns about driving education by the numbers.  Data (statistics) might offer some insight, but to drive education policy based upon them seems a cart before the horse approach.  I’d much rather follow a vision than my own tail (the stats from last year).  Following the numbers smacks of the kind of self-justifying business think I and others have railed against.

Teacher Intent


Teacher intent: pure evil? If so,
learning goals can save you from

Teacher intent is probably the most important piece of this puzzle.  A teacher who doesn’t know what they are doing or is doing it maliciously is the kind of teacher that needs learning goals and success criteria in order to be fair to their students; goals and clearly stated criteria stop that kind of teacher from doing damage.  Anyone teaching from a place that needs learning goals and success criteria in order to be fair to their students shouldn’t be teaching.  A powerful learning environment is safe enough that students can be humble without feeling inferior and a teacher can let compassion rather than megalomania direct their ego when they are trusted with that most fragile of vessels, an ignorant human being.

In Ontario we’ve done everything possible in the past year to damage teacher intent.  From governments to media to political parties to ministry to boards and unions; teacher intent has taken a beating from pretty much everyone.  Into this low place we’re delivered the latest silver bullet in education that seems designed to replace teacher intent entirely with data driven, linear, flow chart orientated goal setting.

Is teaching an art or a flowchart?  Is it a complex human endeavor or a business process?  I know many education managers and their financial overlords would like to turn what we do into (data driven) piece work, but that will result in an Americanization of our education system that will cause a plunge in quality much like they have experienced south of the border.  Simplifying education hurts everyone.

Teacher intent is the elephant in every room whenever I hear anyone talk about teaching and learning. Politicians love to take it out and abuse it for their own shabby ends, the general public only remembers their worst experiences in school and belittle teachers for it, and unions refuse to even consider teacher intent because it would call into question the competence of their own members.  Meanwhile, many teachers question it in themselves and in their colleagues.

If your teachers are caring, careful, professionals who approach each lesson with the intention of maximizing their student’s potential,  you’re going to have a positive learning environment.  Making teachers write that intent on the board won’t stop bad teachers from being unfair, and good teachers will find it limiting.  How often have you started a lesson only to have to make an abrupt change because student understanding or mood isn’t where you need it?  If you’ve already written up what you’re doing it makes what should be a graceful, responsive changes into an awkward situation in which you’ve emphasized student ignorance.

The mindset a teacher enters a classroom is pivotal to successful learning in that classroom.  A teacher who is resilient, mentally agile, even handed and humble before their own power is the most powerful thing a student could hope for in learning.  That teacher happily bounces out that door to do extracurriculars, works with colleagues beyond their own classroom and encourages personal growth rather than data collection in their students.  They aren’t trapped in myopic data collection, they don’t see people as data, they see them as people.  A happy, capable teacher is a wonder.

Rather than frankly examining, understanding and improving teacher intent we get professionally developed toward systematic, process orientated teaching practices that feed data into the education machine.

Students aren’t the only bricks in the wall.

The Diversifying Consumer VR Landscape

One of our student built PCs immersing a UGDSB
in To The Beat: a student built VR game.

We started exploring virtual reality almost two years ago in my senior computer technology classes.  In that time we’ve completed a Ministry of Education research grant, presented at several conferences and built over a dozen VR sets for other schools in our board.  VR checks a lot of boxes for me:

  • it’s technically demanding in both hardware and software so it challenges my students with real world problems they wouldn’t otherwise get to see
  • it’s a new medium that has yet to be defined, so there are no established rules or right ways to do things. You can’t ask for much more as a media creator and teacher.
  • it’s rapidly evolving and because we early adopted we are playing a part in that evolution
With all that going for it, I’ve enjoyed the past could of years working out how best to get it to work, and we’re not remotely done.

In October Microsoft blundered into VR with their fall Creator’s Update.  Up until that point Microsoft had been quietly developing its very expensive Hololens (we tried it last year at the 2016 ECOO conference) while others went to market.  We settled on the HTC Vive as the best of the first wave of classroom ready fully immersive VR systems.  I’ve since put hundreds of people through their first experience with it and 99.9% of them come out of it amazed.  It never gets old watching someone experience VR for the first time.

Last year building our Vive VR kits meant building a reasonably strong spec desktop computer (a fairly simple ask for my seniors) and then installing the SteamVR drivers and updating all the firmware on the Vive before installing software.  After that we had stable, ready to roll systems that knocked out astonishing VR experiences.  Headaches were few and once up and running the systems have performed flawlessly, which isn’t always the way with emerging technology.

This year Microsoft added all sorts of VR ready software to this Creators Update which has made our fall roll-out of seven VR sets for other schools a massive headache.  What once took ten minutes of installing mature, stable SteamVR drivers is now an hours long odyssey of trying to untangle immature Windows 10 VR kits that try and run the Vive as a Microsoft Mixed Reality headset (which it isn’t).  I’m sure this is no accident.  If Microsoft can destabilize HTC’s market dominance with the Vive by making the running of it a misery on Windows, then they would (and did).

My frustrated seniors and I were doing multiple re-installs and trying all sorts of driver voodoo to get things working.  Microsoft’s sudden interest has borked our VR installs on non-Microsoft gear, but guess what works?  Microsoft’s new Mixed Reality headsets.  Coincidence?  Probably not.

Having a dedicated VR pilot
at home lets me test all sorts
of software and systems!

We got a Lenovo Explorer last week when it was on sale at the suggestion of a very VR experienced teacher in our board.  It’s pretty lousy using the Microsoft mixed reality software (there is barely anything there and the drivers are immature), but running it on STEAM has been reasonably problem free (the odd tracking issue with the handsets but otherwise OK).

Today I tried out Space Pirate Trainer, probably the most demanding interactive title we’ve tried, on the Lenovo Explorer using Windows Mixed Reality and it works a treat.  That’s a $400 kit doing what an $800 HTC Vive kit with external sensors does almost as well with much less set up.  It’ll only get better as those Microsoft drivers mature.

As it stands now we build a VR ready desktop for about $1400 and then get the enterprise version of the Vive for another $1500.  For three hundred bucks less we could buy the equivalent Samsung Microsoft Mixed Reality Headset and compatible laptop.  That’d be a kit that is mobile (laptop and no external sensors means easy transport and setup), and similar in resolution.

It bothers me that Microsoft has used its operating system monopoly to elbow out an existing system, but it’s also a step down the evolutionary chain by not having the external sensors of the older Vive system.  That’s what you get for not being first in with an emerging technology, you get to edge them out with an evolved product.

With all the driver headaches some of my students (and myself) had moments when we wondered why we’re doing this to ourselves.  I finally said, “hey, if you wanted it easy you’d stick to the established technology that everyone else uses.  If we want to work with emerging tech, we’ve got to be ready for a fight.”

The fight continues, and Microsoft’s one-two punch of a simpler but effective platform and aggressive monopolistic software has got me thinking about moving on to a better solution.  Sometimes doing what the Sith Lord wants is the best way forward.


Lenovo’s Explorer Microsoft Mixed Reality Headset.HTC’s Vive: up until recently our go-to VR headset.

Microsoft Mixed Reality.  
And for Canada.

It’s already gotten more diverse than it was when we presented this at ECOO last month.

Microsoft is pretty cagey about the specs for Mixed Reality.  They say any typical laptop or desktop can do the business, but our school’s Dell i5 laptop wasn’t sufficient.  If your ‘typical’ desktop costs north of $1500 and your ‘typical’ laptop costs beyond two grand, then yeah, you’re ready to experience mixed reality.  They also require Bluetooth which most desktops don’t have, so add that in there too… and the controllers need AA batteries, which the Vive doesn’t.  

Curious to see if your typical PC can do it?  Here’s the link to check your hardware.

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Scrambling Versys Thoughts

Some home-made Versys diagrams of what a high/scrambler
type exhaust might look like – it looks good!  I have to wonder
why Kawasaki never did this with the bike…

A more all round capable Versys…

The asymmetrical nature of the rear shock (only visible from the right side of the bike) means that, aesthetically, a high pipe might look balanced running up the left/empty side.

The pipes and muffler are all usually mounted at the bottom – not ideal for off roading where soft exhaust components can get pounded flat.  Having them wrap around the left hand side of the bike and finish up under the rear frame means a protected exhaust.  I’ve always wanted to try custom exhaust building, this might be my chance.

Pipes and muffler out of the way mean more ground clearance even with a steel skid plate installed.

At five kilos lighter and with a four horsepower bump, the Akropovic tail pipe for the ER6 motor (what the Versys has a version of) would lower weight while offering a gain in power.  The titanium tail pipe would also look good while not taking up too much space under the rear fender.

Creating a custom metal heat shield around the pipe would protect from burns while also protecting the pipe.  Most scrambler style/high exhaust pipe use this as an excuse to decorate.  The ER6 parallel twin is a very efficient and cool running engine.  Even the exhausts don’t get nuclear hot.  With some careful routing and smart use of heat shields, this should be doable.

The new exhaust might upend the fueling, so this would be an ideal opportunity to try out a Power Commander and get into computerized fueling control for the first time.

The next step would be to find some scramblery tires.  A road focused tire with some off road capability would do the trick.  Fortunately, Pirelli’s MT-60 dual sport tire not only gives the Versys some real off road capability, but it also improves road handling over the stock tires.  They come in Versys stock sizes (120/70-R17 fronts and 160/60-R17 rears) and cost about five hundred bucks for the pair online.

At under four hundred pounds the Versys is already a light machine.  The goal would be to make changes that don’t add significantly to the weight.  This light weight, multi-purpose Versys makes for an interesting Swiss-Army knife of a bike.

You’d be hard pressed to find a
more neutral riding position.
A 1 inch seat rise only makes it
more relaxed and usable.

A taller rider online said that increasing his seat height made the bike an ideal long distance tool.  A number of places seem to offer that very modification.

The stock windshield is a bit weedy as well.  I got a Givi windshield for the Concours and think it a great piece of kit.  The Givi item for the Versys is slightly taller than stock (not a problem, I’ll look over it anyway), but looks good.

The only other thing I would add is a top box, allowing for carrying smaller items while keeping the bike as narrow as possible.  I installed a Givi topbox on the Ninja and it worked well without being too bulky.  It also allowed my pillion a place to rest against.

I’ve found well used (’07, 80+k kms) Versys for $2800, and much less used (’09, <10k) Versys for $4500 online.  If I can unload the KLX for $2500, my son’s little Yamaha for $600 and the XS1100 for $1000, that’ll give me about $4000 to put into a relatively new, dependable, fuel injected bike that I can then begin modifying!

The mods listed here are as follows:
Custom pipe         =  tbd – most of this would be diy
Akropovic exhaust   = ~$500
Power Commander     = ~$400
Pirelli MT-60 tires = ~$500
Custom seat rebuild = ~$700
Givi windshield     = ~$180
Givi topbox & hw    = ~$400
                      $2680 + diy exhaust piping            
Twisted Throttle’s Versys ADV makes me want to add to this.

More Versatile Versys Links

My local Triumph dealer and stealing a late November ride

I keep thinking I’m at the end of the riding season but opportunities are continually arising.  After a fairly miserable trip to the doctor I found myself free on an unseasonably warm late November day.  My usual M.O. is to head into the country and find twisty roads.  Less people+twisty roads = happiness!  This time I did the opposite.  I was curious where my local Triumph dealer was now that I own one.  It turns out it’s 136kms away, so not exactly local.  Getting there involved a blast down the highway, something else I don’t frequent.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve been on a major highway since the Lobo Loco Rally in August.  I live in the country and avoid population centres and the highways that connect them.  People are tedious.  People in traffic are doubly so.

The Tiger almost ended up here last March
until I made a desperate plea to the previous
owner on the eve of him trading it in.  It
finally showed up at the dealership it was
almost sold to for a quick visit.

Inglis Cycle is located in the east end of London, Ontario.  I hadn’t been around there since attending the air show in the late 1980s; it’s much more developed now.  After a blast down the 401 at warp speeds I worked my way through an awful lot of traffic lights before finding the dealership behind an abandoned factory.  With their parking lot cut up and the neighborhood looking like a demilitarized zone I cautiously went inside.

I was met by one of the Inglis brothers and he gave me a quick, low pressure introduction.  Walking into a dealer you sometimes get the sense that they’re only interested in you if you’ve got money to spend that day.  Inglis Cycle was welcoming and relaxed.  I felt like I could wander around and look at the bikes on display without any tension, so I did but I was only really there for one particular brand, the one I can’t find at home…


The Street Triple is a pretty thing, but I still think I’d go Z1000 if I were to get a naked bike.




I really like Triumph.  I consider them an example of what Britain is capable of when it doesn’t get all bound up in socialist nonsense or historical classism.  Freed from all that cultural weight the new Triumph is a competitive global manufacturer.

After a wander around the Triumphs on display I came back to the Triumph Tiger Explorer which is a nice piece of kit.  As an all purpose machine it’ll do everything from swallowing highway miles to light off road work.  I’ve thrown my leg over enough bikes to be aware of how silly I look on typically sized machines; the big Tiger fits.

The Street Triple is a lovely looking thing but too small.  Were I to do the naked bike thing it’d be on the more substantial Kawasaki Z1000.  The other classically styled Triumphs are also things of beauty but I don’t think I’d fit on any of them.

I wrapped up the visit with a trip to the accessories department where they had your typical assortment of dealer-type motorcycle gear and a sad lack of the lovely gear Triumph sells online.  I ended up picking up an Inglis Cycle Triumph t-shirt, but it was a pretty low rent printed t-shirt compared to the bling on Triumph Canada.  It’s a shame as I was ready to drop a bit of coin on a nice bit of Triumph wear.

I headed north through heavy lunch-time traffic out of London getting stopped twice by people wanting to know what kind of bike I was riding (it says Triumph Tiger on it).  Score another one for the increasingly unique old Tiger 955i with its Lucifer Orange paint and stripes.

Once clear of the flotsam I was able to burn down some country roads in June-like temperatures, though all the trees were bare.  I’d seen a comely sign for St Mary’s when we were riding back from the Lake Huron navigation so that was my lunch destination.

 I’d looked up Little Red’s Pub the day before (highest rated place to eat in town) and was aiming there for lunch.  As luck would have it there was a parking spot right out front and a front window table waiting for me.  I had a lovely fish and chip lunch (hand made fries, a good bit of halibut) and a good stretch before getting back on the Tiger for the long ride home.

St Mary’s is as pretty as its sign.

Since that day the temperature has plunged (below freezing as a high every day) and it has snowed multiple times.  This time the end really has come.  The batteries are out of the bikes and down in the warm basement on trickle charge.  This time of year with its increasing gloom and lousy weather makes that first ride of the spring feel so very far away.

via Blogger

ECOO16: the DIY approach protects you from the tyranny of technology

The perils of presenting last; you’ve got other things on
your mind instead of what you planned to present,

but it helped!

By the time I got to my presentation in the last slot on Friday I was brain full, exhausted and not entirely sure I would be coherent.  After a rambling review of what got me to the DIY lab concept I finally got rolling on the building and operation of your own classroom computer lab.  I hadn’t intended to, but a moment from my time as a high school dropout was on my mind as I began the presentation.  Vocalizing the story helped connect several ideas that explained where the DIY technology idea came from.

Being handy I ended up working at a Canadian Tire for a couple of months as the tire change guy before I started apprenticing as a millwright.  One day early on I was watching one of the mechanics diagnosing a Renault Fuego.  As he moved around under this unfamiliar car he burned his arm on the exhaust pipe.  In a fit of rage he threw his spanner across the shop and then stormed off, shouting that he was going to make the customer buy a new exhaust system (the car was in with carburetor issues).  The customer, having no idea what happens under the hood of her car, reluctantly accepted the ‘fact’ that she needed a very expensive exhaust system replacement.  This moment stayed with me because it not only taught me what ignorance can cost you, but also made me question the veracity of ‘professionals’.

My father is an industrial heavy machinery mechanic and told me, even as my technology got increasingly complicated (bicycle to car, Meccano to early computers), that if something was built by people he could figure out how it worked.  I’d internalized that idea from an early age.  My second bicycle was home made, after buying early software I started writing my own.  We spent cold hours on the driveway replacing head gaskets and tuning carburetors.  I came to the point where I’d never shrug off the complexity of technology and trust it to someone else.

This doesn’t mean I’m an expert at everything, but I always have a look under the hood and grasp the basics before I use a technology, whether it’s smartphones, the internet or a motorcycle.  Since cars became dependable enough the vast majority of the public have lost any interest in their inner workings, but that wasn’t always the case.  Early adopters of automobiles were their own mechanics.  The maker movement is a step back towards that kind of technical familiarity, but it takes a special breed to maintain that level of curiosity and ownership of knowledge.

The difference between digital technology and automotive technology is that the digital stuff insinuates itself into your relationships and becomes a 24/7 part of your life.  It affects your thinking rather than your muscles.  Not knowing how a car works might occasionally inconvenience you and cost some money, but not understanding digital technology when you spend hours a day socializing through it or (worse) teaching with it, is a disaster waiting to happen.  It isn’t a disaster for tech driven multinationals who live off your data though.  They will happily convert your and your students’ ignorance into profit.

This growing ignorance is what prompted the do-it-yourself classroom computer lab.  Handing students turnkey digital tools like Chromebooks might suit Google’s market penetration strategy, but it doesn’t teach students about the tools they are using.  Some teachers have said that they are teaching their curriculum and not technology but if you’re going to use it you should, as a teacher, understand it, otherwise it will make decisions for you.  That is neither professional nor desirable.  If you can’t be bothered to understand it, don’t use it – but you risk quickly becoming irrelevant.

I’m in the strange situation of teaching the technology that the vast majority of Canadians use but no one wants to understand.  A general understanding of how digital technology works is vital if you’re going to have it participating in your life all day every day, and especially if you’re going to teach and learn with it.  You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to have some conception of how this potentially invasive thing works.

ICTC posts Canadian statistics in digital technology
jobs each month.  Yet Geography is a mandatory course
while computer technology is an afterthought.

I look at Ontario curriculum and fail to understand how digital technological literacy isn’t a fundamental requirement.  The vast majority of Canada’s population uses personal, digital technology and in many cases that use is almost continuous, yet very few people understand how it works.

We’re graduating students into a millennial unemployment rate of over 14%, but it drops to 6% if they are information-communication technology focused.  Even if they aren’t specializing in technology, every graduate we produce is going to use ICT/computers in their job in some capacity or another.

The DIY lab I presented might be a bridge too far for many teachers, but for digital technology teachers or anyone whose curriculum depends implicitly on digital technologies (business tech, media arts) I think it should be a requirement.  The teachers presenting this technology to their students owe it to them to develop a deeper understanding of the tools they are using.  For everyone else (teachers and students), an understanding of what’s under the hood should be an essential requirement otherwise they are teaching and learning in ignorance, which isn’t helping anyone.

It turns out that walking in to the presentation unfocused allowed me to laterally connect a lot of the foundational ideas around this do-it-yourself philosophy of educational technology use.


from Blogger

In 2017 not much has changed:  The Digital Divide is Deep & Wide