Emergency Memo: Post Peak, Nov 2014


NOTE: This memo is being sent to all staff within the board. Following the upheaval and violence over the summer, and the Federal Government applying the War Measures act on a national scale in August, the combined RCMP/Police/Military presence has restored some order. Fuel is being rationed by the Federal Government and the Provincial Government are being asked to enact emergency measures to normalize the situation and reduce chances of mass starvation and freezing as winter approaches. One of the key aspects of the plan is to normalize and enable basic rights, including the right to education. What follows is GRDSB’s plan…

The sudden, sharp rise in fossil fuel prices (here for information) have forced our board to make some dramatic policy revisions in order to match the new emergency management plan recently presented by the Ministry of Education, Province of Ontario.

A typical school bus run now costs approximately $550 in fuel costs alone, and is expected to become even more expensive, making this option economically untenable. With the various unions, we have tried to maintain the collegial relationship of previous collective bargaining agreements while working to create a sustainable public education system in our province. These changes are brought on by world-wide resource issues beyond our control, and we have to modify our approach to education in order to continue maintaining a sufficient level of service. The followings steps will ensure this:



1) Teachers are still required to attend the nearest school to them, preferably without the use of petrochemicals. Those schools with a sufficient number of local teachers will remain open while being retrofitted with sustainable energy devices. In many cases, if you can see a wind turbine or mini-hydro project being built near you, this will indicate a public school.

Note: This is a provincial and federally mandated program in order to ensure ‘energy islands’ in as many communities as possible. The lack of fossil fuels makes mega-infrastructure such as non-localized power generation unsustainable. All communities will now be responsible for generating their own power.

2) If you live out of the board area, it is suggested that you consider relocation, or contact your local board for employment opportunities. We will do everything we can with neighboring boards to ensure that teachers are able to make this transition. If you do neither, and you are no longer able to able to fulfill your contract, you will be declared surplus and released.

3) If there is no local school within walking distance of your home location you may:

a) Apply to the provincial online learning initiative. With this initiative any household with children under the age of 18 may receive free wireless high speed internet, meaning many students will take this opportunity to learn online. As an eteacher you would also qualify for sponsored high speed internet at home. You would then resume your duties by teaching remotely.

 Please click HERE to contact the board elearning conversion initiative for remote students and staff.

 b) Apply through our board for a provincial grant to open a learning centre. If you own or have access to a building that would provide a suitable environment for a micro-school, and there are enough local students you can consolidate your area students into this structure and initiate your own k-10 program. Since all schools are now k-10 schools, you would be in a very similar teaching environment to your colleagues. LCs will be developed where-ever a 10-1 student-teacher ratio can form.

Please click HERE to contact the board provincial liaison for learning centre creation.

 4) Curriculum has been revised and the law altered to reflect our new circumstances. The old standardized tests have been removed and in their place the New Ontario Diploma now exists. This diploma follows previous standards, but offers students earlier departure (students may now graduate between 15-16 years of age) while ensuring that fundamental skills are still evident. The NOD review is highlighted on the updated Ministry curriculum page. It is a two week series of literacy, numeracy, citizenship and general knowledge assessments designed to ensure that a graduating student has sufficient skills to survive in the new, post-peak-oil economy.

 Please click HERE to see the NOD initiative and the new requirements for graduation.



 Ontario curriculum will now be revised and the law changed to reflect our new reality. Students are legally required to be in a virtual or physical personal learning plan until the age of 16. During their 15th or 16th year, students may take the Literacy & Numeracy Review. A mark of 70% or higher in both of these reviews will grant them a NOD (New Ontario Diploma). NOD now takes the place of the OSSD.

 Students who fail the NOD at the end of their 16th year are assessed and presented with a Sub-NOD rating. SNOD60 would indicate a student at 60% NOD requirements. SNOD30 would indicate a student at 30% of NOD requirements.

 Young adults who have finished school at 16 may choose to return, but like ANOD students, they will be required to support their learning financially.

 Following passage of the NOD, students may choose to:

 1) WORK: the reduction in mechanization has put a premium on physical labour, and graduates will have no trouble making a living wage in the new economy. Jobs in agricultural and infrastructure labour are not only available but in great demand. One of the key reasons for reducing the graduation age was to fulfill this need. We can no longer afford to hold willing workers in public institutions until they are 18.

 2) APPRENTICESHIP: the skilled trades have made agreements with the Ministry of Education and post secondary institutions in order to encourage and maintain high skill positions. Students may choose, after completing their NODs in their 15th or 16th years to begin an apprenticeship in any one of dozens of trades. These apprenticeships often involve moving away from home. The Ministry will continue to track and support these students until they reach journeyman status (usually in their 5th year of apprenticeship). Regular reviews will ensure students are in productive, safe, learning and working environments.

 3) ANODs: students interested in pursuing academic streams may choose to complete their Advanced New Ontario Diplomas. These courses are designed to be completed by a capable student within one year. As a result, funding is only available for the 12 months following successful NOD graduation. Students taking longer will have to fund their own studies, including the costs of energy and school access.

 Graduates with ANODs will be able to apply to one of the four remaining universities in the province. Entry into these institutions is very competitive. Only students who complete ANODs on time (or early) with exceptional grades should apply. Courses in post-secondary now tend to be much more applied in nature. Universities are intent on turning out doctors, engineers and teachers rather than unused undergraduate degrees. Students who do not know their major, will find access to university very limited. Students who do not have a working plan for their academic studies will also find post secondary access challenging.

 The new streams are designed around an expected distribution of 60% NOD to the workplace, 30% apprenticeship and 10% ANOD graduates. The manual nature of post-oil food production and distribution alone requires this kind demographic.



The Federal and Provincial mandates recognize that the era of cheap energy is over, and our society needs to adapt in order to maintain and improve our technical skills and preserve the rights found in the Constitution. Public structures such as law and education can ensure that human rights are not being violated and children still have an opportunity to become educated, effective members of our brave new world.

 Children and the poor are at risk of being tyrannized as their value as manual labour has increased and the petro-chemical basis of pre-peak social justice is broken. Without a presence in every community, the weakest members of society are at risk of abuse. With this in mind, it is vital that our public education system reassert itself with the support of regionalized arms of the provincial and federal governments.

 By normalizing schools and supporting local sheriffs, we hope to rebuild a safe and fair society. Drastic times call for drastic measures. Please consider being part of the solution, it’s time to let go of the past.

 Stay warm as the weather is getting cold and ensure that your lodgings are able to withstand a non-chemically heated winter.

 Best of luck,

Your Superintendent.


 ps: as further information becomes available, and the board network comes back up under its own power, I will continue to email the latest.

Class Caps are a Low Resolution Solution to a High Resolution Problem

The updated, final copy of this can be found on Dusty World here:  https://temkblog.blogspot.com/2019/03/class-caps-are-low-resolution-solution.html  originally published, Mar 24, 2019

I’m going to do what I do best and annoy everyone by not agreeing with anyone.  I’m  so perverse, sometimes what I don’t necessarily believe what I write, but if it serves to push my thinking, then I leave it in.  Come down the rabbit hole with me to the magic land of Ontario Education where everything and nothing is data driven and very little of it makes sense… unless you’re a politician.


I’m just spitballing here, but after reading dozens of articles on the impending loggerheads between Fordnation and every public school teachers’ union in Ontario over class size caps, I thought it might be a good idea to think outside the box seeing as no one else is willing to.

Education minister Lisa Thompson seems to be getting deeper and deeper into the doublespeak as she tries to justify increasing class sizes for high school students by over twenty percent, offering up such nuggets as, it’ll make them tougher and more resilient, or, students can teach each other.  If we don’t dehumanize our kids in school, how are they ever going to make it in the world of work isn’t a great selling point when justifying this approach to parents.

On the other side the hyperbole is coming on song with teachers and unions talking about how class caps are what saves students, but as someone who has been working in a classroom in Ontario since 2004 (and not in a union office or support role out of the classroom), I’m here to tell you that caps don’t work very well at all.  All this noise about them in the media means we’re going to claim this as the hill we die on as Fordnation gleefully turns up the heat until we’re locked out or on strike.  These violent delights will have violent ends, but I sincerely hope the people and organizations involved are looking for a solution rather than a fight.

I don’t see any of this as a winnable scenario.  If the unions somehow find a way to win, all we get is the same inflexible and stratified system we currently have that produces a lot of people supporting already overfilled classrooms.  If we lose we get that system made worse.

The idea of a cap of 22 means that we’re funded at that level.  For every 22 students in the system, we get money from the Ministry to run a class.  Funding at that level means we have lots of people in support roles at school, board and ministry levels.  For every one of those people not teaching, we have a classroom with over 22 students in it to justify their existence.  I’d love to see the data on the number of teachers we have in the system that aren’t teaching, but that sort of thing doesn’t get out.  When they say we’ll have classes of 35 or 40 if the cap is raised to 28, they’re talking about how we currently have classes capped at 31 with an average cap of 22.  Lots of people in the general public haven’t wrapped their heads around this, but they should.  Bigger classes don’t help students or teachers, and we already have them.

What’s strange is that any talk of raising the caps doesn’t seem to impact the people in supporting roles and just trickles down directly to classroom teachers who are already over the average to support those jobs.  There are many people who do those supporting roles exceedingly well, but there are also a number who are doing them because they don’t like teaching in a classroom and are looking for an out.  Still others are doing jobs that require nothing teacher related, but are still getting paid as a teacher.  If you’re doing health and safety or shuffling paper in an office, I’d suggest you should be getting paid accordingly, and not as a teacher.  If we reviewed all those seconded teacher jobs and actually paid them inline with what the job was, there would be many more teachers in the system who, you know, teach.

As far as teachers in supporting roles go, those roles should be have expectations at least as stringent as the work a classroom teacher has if we’re expecting a teacher to do it.  If a support role is being used diligently (and by diligently I mean with the same rigour that your classroom teacher works while preparing hours of instruction and then delivering it in a live, dynamic and differentiated manner to 70+ students every day), then I’m all for it.  I’ve met ‘teachers’ who haven’t taught a class in Ontario in over a decade.  They’re often considered to be experts in teaching.  Some of them appear in my classroom periodically and proceed to assess me on my ability to teach, something they themselves haven’t done in years, and didn’t do for very long when they did (I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about this since 2011).

There are other supporting roles that get calcified into a permanent job.  This should never happen.  Any seconded teacher should be treated like a short term contract with specific goals to be met and then they return to the classroom.  Not only would this stop nepotism, but it would also mean more cross training and wider experiences as more people cycle through seconded opportunities.  Instead of seeing the same old seconded crew at the board, it would be fresh faces all the time.  Pushing that further, I’d like to see anyone involved in assessing teachers actually, um, teach.  VPs and principals should dip a toe in the classroom every few years  just to remember what the job is and help create a leaner, more teaching focused system.  Class sizes drop even with a higher cap if more people in the system are teaching.

All of this would require flexibility in the system and a management team that is agile, forward thinking and adaptable.  It’s totally doable.  We have the talent, we just don’t have the culture.  If changes are coming, knocking the stratified, hardened nature of support roles loose may not be a bad thing.  The only reason teachers would be wary of this is because usually change is focused on cheap, not better, and usually any changes land hardest on the people on the front line.

I assume there are ever so smart people in the Ministry and boards across the province who have been seconded from teaching who should be doing this sort of thinking, but that’s ok, I’ll take my weekend to iron it out for you all so I can be back in the classroom next week doing what I do  – ignore that link, and all of these, and these ones – all of those conferences I’ve presented at, or learning fairs I’ve attended in the summer, or additional qualifications I’ve done in the summer, or Ed-camps on weekends or competitions I’ve taken days away from my family for, that’s all volunteer work.  What I get paid to do is teach students in class every day – all that extracurricular work is done on my own time for no pay, but I think that’s what being a professional means, doing extra work to ensure my effectiveness.  Having never been paid to do the array of work I do beyond the classroom while still being in class, I can’t help but wonder about seconded teachers and what it is they do when it isn’t obviously apparent.  It always should be, otherwise they should be teaching.  For those of them that would do anything to not be teaching (and I’ve met a few), perhaps it’s time to find another industry to work in?

Here’s how we can fix this no-win mess in Ontario Education that our government and unions are walking us into:

The 28 cap is now a talking point for this government and they can’t back off it.  The 22 cap is where our unions are going to hold the hill to the last of us.  Getting rid of caps entirely isn’t going to happen, too many people have a stake in that thinking, so why not create a cap system that is actually reflective of student need in each classroom?

This government has surely realized by this point that throwing special needs students under the bus isn’t just mean spirited and hurtful, but also has terrible optics.  They need a win with the special needs community, and class caps of 28 with no other changes to the system ain’t going to do it.

How about this:  actually give Individual Education Plan (IEP) students with special needs some weight when it comes to the classes they’ll be in.  This should be data driven and transparent.  All students are considered a 1 in the low-res class cap system we have right now, but anyone who has taught a class knows that not all students = 1.  Off hand, my IEPed students can range from a 1.1 (barely needing any more than non-IEPed students), to a student I have right now that I’d rate at 4+.  Some IEPs suggest small supports that don’t ask too much of a teacher.  Other IEPs make many demands on a teacher’s time and ability to support both that one student and everyone else in the room simultaneously.  Don’t forget, every time an IEP demands extras, like one on one instruction and differentiated delivery of material, that’s an expectation that requires time spent away from everyone else both in class and in extra preparation time out of it.  The current system does nothing to acknowledge or support that.

I have an open junior high school class at the moment which is hard capped at 27, but over half of the students in this class have IEPs, and in several cases they have exceptional needs beyond what I’m able to do in a class of 27.  Using this weighted system of class capping based on where I think my time is spent in that class (I finish each period in there sweating and exhausted because I’m trying to be in four places at once), this class is the equivalent of 38.3 non-special needs students, which I think is about right.  I’d be just as frazzled and wrung out trying to serve the learning needs of 38 non-special needs students in the same circumstance.

Had I 27 students with no special needs (IEP special needs are dictated by psychological analysis by professionals, these aren’t arbitrary decisions), then I think I could manage this class effectively and be everywhere a student needs me when they need me.  If I take half of that class of 27, let’s say 14 of the most high needs students, one of whom is the most challenging student I’ve dealt with in the last ten years, the needs-adjusted cap equals 24.3 students.  In that class, two more students with lighter special needs loads would bring it to the current cap of 27.  I would find that class of say, 16 students just as difficult to manage and provide effective learning as I would the class of 27 non-special needs students.

We say students have special needs in Ontario Education and then ignore the workload that comes from it.  If the PC government wants to place 28 cap average sized classes on us, this special needs weighting would go some way toward making that a viable possibility for the teachers actually working with those students in the classroom.  In a strange way, smaller class caps would give a teacher a heads up on what’s coming.  How I approach a smaller, high-needs class would be very different to how I approach a larger, non-special needs class.  Differentiation of instruction to promote positive outcomes for everyone is the goal, isn’t it?

If done right, this system would automatically size streamed classes based on the learners in them.  I teach open level classes so get the full gamut of learning needs all at once, and suffer that lack of resolution our vague system provides now.  Academic, applied and essential classes have lower caps as student needs increase, but that wouldn’t be necessary if we had weighted students tied to their individual needs.  Most essential classes are IEP heavy and would automatically get downsized to make them more effective (smaller class sizes work more effectively with high-needs students).

A weighted IEP system that acknowledges students with special needs would make a 28 cap tenable.  Making teachers seconded from the system short term, contract specific and then getting them back to teaching would be another way to make a higher cap possible.  For jobs that aren’t at all teaching based (health and safety, office work at the board), don’t pay them as teachers because they aren’t.

Debt went up with all three parties at the helm – even
during Mike Harris’s legendarily fiscally focused years.
The liberals were doing well until the US dragged the
world into a financial crisis orchestrated by private business.
I’m OK with seeking efficiencies in Ontario education, but
not at the expense of student achievement and not while
the government is paying friends and voting themselves raises.
Is fiscal balance a high urgency goal or not?

Ontario has the highest sub-national debt load of any jurisdiction in the world.  We pay billions in debt management every year.  Creating a leaner education system focused on putting teachers in front of reasonable numbers of students would protect our excellent education reputation.   Ensuring that everyone who is paid as a teacher directly impacts the classroom would be a good way to get sag out of the system while doing our part to make Ontario more economically sustainable.  That leaner system would still be able to support those teachers in special education, student success and learning commons who enrich learning for all both with and without special needs (students can suddenly become special need because of changing circumstances, having experts in the school to assist with that is vital).

Our education system would need to be more fluid, flexible and less stratified than what we have now.  That agile system would be focused on classroom resources first and foremost.  In doing so we might be able to manage a higher cap while still retaining the excellence Ontario’s education system has become known for.

If we’re just looking for a fight, then that’s what this will turn into, but for the sake of our students and the already stretched teachers working in classrooms all over the province, I sincerely hope we’re looking for better and not to burn it down.  Lockouts, strikes and impending doom aren’t doing anyone any good.  If nothing else, consider this a search for better solutions to what I hope is a commonly shared goal:  the best possible outcome for every student in our system.


  • weight IEPed students when calculating class caps so high needs students are able to find success in classes better suited for them.  In classes with low IEP counts, higher numbers mean more students moving more efficiently through the system
  • Destratisfy seconded teaching and make these jobs short term contracts that seldom have a teacher out of the classroom for more than a year.  Set specific, high expectations for seconded teachers, encourage more teachers to cross train and experience secondment in a short term way (this would reduce burnout and improve the emotional intelligence of many classroom teachers)
  • Don’t pay teachers doing non-teaching seconded jobs as if they are teachers (health and safety, office administration, etc).  In some boards this is already the case, but not in all.  No teacher should be driving up class average sizes doing a job that isn’t teaching related.
  • Set high, specific expectations for support role teachers in schools.  Make those supporting roles contract based and short term, so more teachers experience the role.  This cross training would improve school communication and effectiveness.
  • Encourage excellence in support roles by removing people who can’t or won’t demonstrate beyond expectation work in the role.
  • Anyone who is looking to avoid teaching in a classroom at all costs should be assisted into another profession.
  • Administration should keep a toe in the water and teach a class every few years.
  • Instead of suggesting that increased caps are going to land on classrooms, look at rejigging the system to put more teachers in classrooms so increased caps don’t hurt us where the rubber hits the road.
  • Board and Ministry jobs are constantly evolving and are team based as new people come and go through existing initiatives.  This is the end of lifers in those jobs.  If you’re an Ontario teacher you’ve taught in a classroom in the past three years.

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Scripted Lives

I’ve been mulling this over on the motorcycle side of things, but the idea runs throughout modern digital life, so I’m going to open it up further here.

Being a computer technology teacher I have a passing acquaintance with software.  I’d even say I’m pretty handy with it, but I don’t really like where it’s going since it has become an integrated part of modern life.

Since we started carrying networked computers around with us we have become scripted creatures.  Our devices wake us up, tell us what we’re

Turing tests have computers imitating people in order to demonstrate intelligence. Ironically, it’s pretty much the opposite nowadays. Instead of bringing machines up to human intelligence, we’re watching human intelligence lower itself to a simpler standard.

doing, and how to get where we’re going.  They remove doubts and make memory redundant.  We no longer guess at unknown information, or watch media by accident.  We live in a walled garden of playlists and information at our fingertips, surprises seldom happen.  Technology gives us access to information and media, as well as allowing us to communicate, but it changes how we do it; the medium is indeed the message.
When we connect to The Network we are operating within a script, quite literally, all the time.  Software scripts dictate what we see, how we see it, and how we express ourselves. Complex human relationships are being reduced to scripted simplicity dictated by technological limitations rather than the full range of human ability.  This restriction has begun to redefine what people are capable of doing.

I struggle to find non-scripted moments when software isn’t dictating my responses.  You’d think this only happens when you make a choice to connect on a device, but it happens constantly in the world of action.  I can’t stop my car in heavy snow as quickly because a computer steps in to keep the wheels spinning, even when I’m making a conscious choice to lock them.  Scripts are written for the largest possible population.  We’re all being held to the outcomes of average thinking.

As Kenneth Clark states in Civilisation:
35:36: The obvious: “…our increasing reliance on machines. They have really ceased to be tools and have begun to give us directions…”

… and that was his angle on things in 1969.  Things have come a long way since.  Our brave new world of technology is levelling everyone off.  Individual ability doesn’t matter when we are all just variables in an equation.

Students experience education, entertainment and interpersonal relationships through a digital lens whose singular intent is that of continued engagement.  When your world is housed within a simplistic digital process designed to constantly get your attention you have a lot of trouble dealing with your irrelevance in the real world.

When prompted into unscripted situations where I am asking them to critically analyze a piece of media, students long for a Google search to tell them what to think.  When given a opportunity to express themselves many students will leap into the same template to organize other people’s material they copy off the internet.  When given a stochastic engineering problem with no clear, linear resolution they freeze up and long to return to scripted experience.

Technology is such an enabler, but it’s also limited by its capabilities.  If friendship is now understood through the lens of social media then it isn’t what it once was, it’s less with more people.  More isn’t necessarily better even though we’re told that it is more efficient.  If communication with a student is primarily through screens then teaching isn’t what it once was, it’s more information with less learning.  Both friendship and teaching pre-date digital communication and have deep, nuanced social histories, but we are happy to simplify them into oblivion for convenience and the illusion of efficiency.

If you ever find yourself struggling against invisible limitations, fighting to express yourself but finding it increasingly difficult, you’re up against this reductive technology.  That freedom of choice you feel when you put aside the digital and reclaim your full range of sense and capability is intoxicating.  It supercharges your mind and allows you to retain your humanity.  That I see so few people having those moments is a real cause for concern.

My son and I searching the tidal pools at Pacific Rim National Park on the edge of the world.  Carefully selected technology (a motorbike – so no digital distractions and out in the world) got us there, and then we put it all down and got lost in the world with no scripts telling us how to interact with it.  When was the last time you were unplugged?


This was such a complicated idea it spawned a number of others, including these thoughts of gamification.
The wise Skillen of the internet also shared this article on distraction prevention by a new media professor, which led to thoughts on distraction.

Motorcycle Tires and When to Change Them

I went for a ride with Jeff the motorcycle Jedi and Wayne, the parts guy from our local dealer, the other week.  It was a 250km round trip out to the shores of Lake Huron and back.  Since we were all on multi-purpose bikes we multi-purposed some of it:

Taking some winding back roads through the countryside we came across such natural wonders as deep mud holes and a lady sun bathing topless on her front lawn; it was a nice ride.

We stopped at one point and Wayne noticed the rear tire on the Tiger wasn’t doing very well.  Coming from cars I’m used to using depth gauges on tread to determine a tire’s remaining life.  Car tires burn through tread fairly evenly due to equally delivered lateral forces.   Bike tires are undergoing a whole different kind of physics.  You can expect to see fairly even tread wear on a car tire because of those lateral forces.  Bike tires tend to wear from the middle out because the crown of the tire takes the brunt of the wear, especially in flat and straight South Western Ontario.

Wayne pointed out tears down the middle of the rear tire on the Tiger that I hadn’t even thought to look for.  As you can see, the tread on the edges of the tire is still quite deep, but the wear in the centre is so deep it’s turning up the metal bands in the tires:

Those are some expensive  pieces of wire poking through…

This prompted a call to my local dealer to try and get the bike in – they told me it’s over a month wait!  I offered to remove the tires and they said they’d try and squeeze them in.  Fortunately it rained a flood the next couple of days and with some cancellations I got a call a day later saying the tires were done.

The bill was a staggering six hundred and ninety three dollars – for two motorcycle tires on rims that had been removed from the bike (so minimal shop work involved).  I’m looking over the bill now.  Looking up the Michelin Anakees I purchased online, the dealer prices aren’t crazy – about twenty bucks more than the online cost for the front and fifteen bucks more for the rear.  There is a cost associated with a local dealer keeping this sort of thing in stock and I’ve got no problem with that.  With that being the case these two tires came to a staggering five hundred bucks.  By comparison, Corvette ZR1 Michelin tires – very high tech, huge rubber for a faster than light car – cost about three hundred bucks a pop (and include road hazard warranty).  Motorcycle tires must be made out of platinum and unicorn horns – they are wickedly expensive!

The dealer prices on labour were also perfectly reasonable – about a hundred bucks to install and balance both new tires (with inner tubes).  So the lesson learned here is that motorcycle tires are wickedly expensive.  Even with perfectly reasonable labour costs at my local dealer I’m still out nearly seven hundred bucks for a set of new tires.

Fortunately the Anakees seem to be a very long wearing tire, so hopefully I won’t be looking to replace them again for a while.  They ride great – much quieter than the Metzelers that they replaced, and the grip in dry has been very trust inducing.  They might have cost me  a mint, but they look like they might be worth it.

Anakee Review:  it’s a road biased ADV tire (I’m ok with that – they feel great), it is long lasting, and it can handle light off road work, which is all I’d do on the big Tiger anyway.

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Tiger Brains

The other day I was once again going over the details on the Tiger after taking the tank of for the billionth time.  Even though the stock pipes for the vacuum controlled idle system for the electronic fuel injection hold vacuum when I test them, I can’t test that when they’re on the bike, so they might be leaking where they join.  I happened to have some fuel line in the right size, so I’ve taken out the Triumph hoses and put these clear ones on instead to isolate another possible point of failure.

Once I got them in I fired up the TUNEBOY software and figured I’d run the idle control system test since it would move the plunger up and down and with everything off I could check to see that it’s all working as it should,  except the ECU wouldn’t connect to the computer.  I’ve done dozens of TUNEBOY adjustments now and know how the bike syncs with the PC over the serial port, but it wasn’t connecting.  While trying some variations I turned the ignition on on the bike and the ECU made unfamiliar popping noise, and then none of the dash lights would come on (the running lights still do though).  The ECU no longer clicks off when the ignition is switched off either, which suggests it’s not coming on either.

The intermittent nature of this failure always made my ass twitch in terms of it being electronic rather than mechanical.  Mechanical failures tend to be more consistent and easier to diagnose, and I’ve replaced everything around the idle control system now, so unless Triumph sold me a dickey idle control motor, which seems unlikely since the first one lasted 17 years and did over seventy-six thousand hard, Canadian kilometres and survived seventeen -40°C Canadian winters.  Assuming all the new parts are working as they should, an ECU that was losing the plot is as likely a culprit as anything else I’ve been chasing, and now it seems to have popped entirely.

So what do you do when your old Triumph’s bike brain loses the plot?  Get another, I guess.  Used ones seems to be extraordinarily expensive and look to be in rough shape out of US used parts suppliers on eBay.  And for some reason they’re charging twice what European suppliers are for shipping.  With that and the fact that The States seem like they’re on the edge of a civil war, I think I’ll be looking to the dependable Germans who have COVID19 well managed for a replacement Tiger brain.  If I’m thinking that, I wonder how many other people are avoiding business with the US right now.

But before I go that far, I’m a G.D. computer engineering teacher, so I’m hardly going to let an ECU go in the bin without having a go at it first.  If this is a short or something simple, I can solve that easily enough.  If nothing else I can see how the ECU is set up architecturally, but more often than not I’m able to get electronics I have to open up working again.  Time to flex my soldering prowess.

The most frustrating part about this is that I may well have solved the idle problem with replacement hoses, or maybe I didn’t.  Maybe I chased down all of these hoses and parts for nothing and it was the ECU losing the plot all along.  Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) is a wonderful thing, but the early systems were fragile.  There a lots of posts online about early Triumph EFI headaches, and I’ve added to them.

Guy Martin does a good special called The Last Flight of the Vulcan Bomber.  They grounded the last of these nuclear bombers in 2015 because they no longer had the expertise and technology too keep them safely air worthy.  In the show Guy talks about why there are plenty of older planes like Spitfires still flying when the Vulcan has to be grounded.  He says the Spitfire was made from bicycle parts you could fabricate in a shed, so they’re relatively easy to maintain.  The Vulcan was an industrial machine with early electrical and electronic systems that were many times more complicated.  He goes on to talk about how the Vulcan looked like it came from another planet when only seven years earlier an Avro Lancaster was the state of the art.  There are performance advantages in these leaps forward, but there are also maintenance headaches that mean these early jets will never fly again.

Early fuel injected bikes are a lot like that Vulcan – they can do things earlier bikes can’t like get better mileage, not need parts changed to ride at altitude and generally require less maintenance.  I just fixed up one of the last carbureted bikes, a 1997 Honda Fireblade, over the winter.  EFI was around then, but Honda wisely went for highly evolved carburettors rather than new, fragile and poor performing EFI systems.  I rebuilt the carbs, which are a complex but highly evolved four-carb set, and the bike runs like a Swiss (or rather Japanese) watch.  The EFI on the Tiger did the job without any attention for 17 years and seventy-six thousand kilometres including two rides into the Rockies – something no carburetor could do, but when it finally broke, boy did it break.  It’s things like this that will make these first generation EFI bikes rare in the future.  Like the Vulcan, they’re so complicated and difficult to maintain when they go wrong that they’ll get retired from service where an older, simpler bike might still be fixable.




There are early Triumph EFI issues aplenty online:

Use Parts, not of the vintage I’m looking for though:

Wahay!  A new ECU is two-grand, AMERICAN!  That’s over $2500 Canadian!  The whole bike cost me three grand…

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Tech Cleaning Up Its Own Mess: how to fix misinformation in digital media

I’m having one of those intersectional moments where my recent work in AI, coding and cybersecurity have me thinking about ways we can fix the worst parts of our digital adolescence.  Media like the tweet below are wearing everyone down, but I think this is a digital media problem that digital media can help resolve:

In this case an elected official is claiming to support children with special needs while at the same time doing the doing the opposite behind the scenes, even going so far as to ignore signed contracts and cancelling support.  As I watched this misinformation I wondered why the digital system delivering it (Twitter in this case), couldn’t include links and information to clarify what I’m watching.  Doing so would help users understand when they are being misled.  Can you imagine a digital media ecosystem that actually encourages truth and accuracy instead of what we have now?

From a data management point of view, rhetoric and political spin should bump up against a scientific analysis of fact based initially on volume of data.  Facts tend to have more data behind them (proving things takes time and information).  Attacking this as a big-data computer science project, statements made by politicians could be corroborated by connecting to supporting digital information in real time.  I dream of the day when I’m watching a politician’s speech live online on any browser (this should be baked into every browser) while seeing an AI driven analytical tool that is leveraging the digital sea of information we live in to validate what is being said.

This information enrichment would do two things.  Firstly, it would create a truth-tendency over time metric that would allow voters to more accurately assess the accuracy of what politicians, news outlets and even each other are saying – a kind of digital reputation.  Secondly, having an impartial analysis of social activity in real time would mitigate and highlight fake news and help social media to resolve its terrible handling of misinformation.

There are layers and layers to digital misinformation.  As we’ve moved from lower bandwidth mediums like text through still images to video, misinformation is keeping up, often under the guise of marketing.  You can’t trust anything you see online these days:

It’s a new form of media literacy that most people are unaware of.  There are plugins attempting to battle photoshopped images and videos that should help stem that tide of misinformation.  Movement on this is fast because parsing image and video data is a more mathematically biased problem, but intentional misinformation either created or shared is also something machine learning systems can get better and better at identifying as they learn the peculiarities of why humans lie to each other.

In the case of something like Vaughan Working Families, a fake organization designed to spread misinformation by wealthy government supporters, the misinformation was fairly easily identifiable by looking into the group’s history (there is none).  That lack of data is a great starting point in training an AI big data analysis system in live response to misinformation – the truth always weighs more because of the evidence needed to support it.

We do IBM Watson chatbot coding in my grade 10 computer engineering class, and it is interesting to watch how the AI core picks up information and learns it.  As it collects more and more information, and supported by students teaching it parameters, it very quickly picks up the gist of even complex, non-linear information.  Based on that experience, I suspect a browser overlay that offers a pop up of accurate, related information in real time is now possible.

In software you have the front end that faces the user and the back end that does the heavy lifting with data.  In the cloud-based world we live in, with people sharing massive amounts of data online, an unbiased, ungameable, transparent AI driven fake news overlay would go miles in restoring the terrible history Facebook, Google, Microsoft and the rest have in interfering with democracy.  This shouldn’t be something squirrelled away and only available to journalists.  It should be a technical requirement for any browser.

With that unblinking eye watching the dodgy humans, not only would politicians be held to a higher standard, but so would everyone.  Those quiet types who happily retweet and share false information are complicit in this information virus.  If your Twitter account ends up with a red 17% accuracy tag because you regularly create and share misinformation, then I’d hope it results in less people being interested in following you, though I don’t personally have a lot of faith in people to do even that.  Left to our own devices, or worse, chasing the money, we’ve made a mess or things by letting digital conglomerates disrupt institutions that took years to evolve into pillars of civil society.  It’s time to demand that they use the same technologies they are leveraging now to fix it.

We’re obviously either too lazy and/or self interested to make a point of fact checking our social media use.  If we’re all on there sharing information, we should all make our best effort in sharing it accurately.  This could help make that happen.  It would also go a long way toward preventing the the cyber-crime epidemic we live in which thrives on this kind of hyperbole and irrational response.

There have been some attempts by charitable organizations and students to create online fact checkers, but the browser creators (Google, Microsoft, Firefox, etc), and social media giants (Facebook, Twitter, etc) don’t seem to be the ones doing it, even though they’ve gotten rich from this misinformation and damaged our ability to govern ourselves as a result.  Law can’t keep up with our technological adolescence and the data avalanche it has produced, but the technology itself is more than able.

https://www.poynter.org/ifcn/anti-misinformation-actions/We increasingly depend on people, often amateurs with little or no funding, to do our online fact checking, but the sheer volume of information, especially when driven by automated processes like bots, makes that unscalable.  This is something that professional  journalists used to do (at least I hope they used to do it, because not many are doing it now).  However, the financial pressure on those institutions due to digital disruption means they are now more than happy to take inaccurate and misleading information and share it if it makes them somewhat relevant again.  The only way to address this situation is by leveraging the same technology that caused it in the first place.

What do you say tech billionaires?  Could we redesign our digital media browsing so it encourages accurate information rather than making it irrelevant?  You might have to actually put some financial support into this since you’ve effectively dismantled many of the systems that used to protect the public from it.


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A Tim’s Top Gear Rick & Morty Themed Travel Challenge: We’re going to Windigo, Morty!

I’m a big fan of Top Gear, and I especially enjoy their travel/challenges.  I’ve always dreamed of planning one, getting people silly enough to commit to it and then making it happen.

In the summer of COVID I’m finding myself daydreaming of possible adventures, so I started poking around on the internet trying to find how far north roads go in Ontario.  Bafflingly, Ontario has never connected to its own north sea shore by road.  For a province that has thousands of kilometers of ocean shoreline, Ontario seems intent on convincing its citizens that it’s land locked.  I’d love to ride 1000kms north to the sea, but it’s not an option.  James Bay is roughly in line with Scotland, so its not like it’s in the arctic.

In the meantime, it looks like Windigo Lake north west of Thunder Bay is as far north as you can ride in Ontario on your own wheels:

…which offers us a great thematic riding challenge!  It’s time to go to Windigo (instead of Bendigo), Morty!  Here’s the inspiration in case you’re not hip to Rick & Morty:
Here’s the Top Gear style WE’RE GOIN TO WINDIGO, MORTY! Moto Travel Challenge:
  • Each participant gets a $3000 budget for a bike and any farkles that must include a safety certificate.  Ownership is by WG2W Productions, pending the bikes return to Elora within 10 days of the event, at which point ownership is signed over to the rider.  Safety and taxes should be about $400, so that leaves about $2600 for a bike and farkles
  • Insurance and ownership is managed by the event
  • All riders must have a valid Ontario M class license
  • Camping equipment is provided to each rider individually based on a sponsored selection of gear (rider’s choice)  Each rider will be provided with bear gear.
  • Each participant has to do any repair or maintenance on their own bike.  Only other competitors can assist.
  • Google maps says it’s a 27 hour ride to Windigo.  Riders can only be on the road between 7am and 7pm, so the most efficient (and luckiest) should arrive in Windigo on day three in the morning.  At 12 hours per day of possible riding, 27 hours =  2..25 days of riding.  The earliest rider with a perfectly timed ride would arrive at Windigo at 10am on day three of the event.
  • Timing for the event takes into account speed limits.  Any rider caught speeding is disqualified.
  • Any overnight stops while riding to Windigo must be wild camping following leave-no-trace rules.  Proof of camp site cleanup must be included on rider GoPro footage or a time penalty is applied.
  • The rider who gets to Windigo (getting to Windigo means arriving at the lake on your bike and dipping a toe in) as close to 27 hours of riding after leaving the start line as possible, wins!
  • Riders can choose how to use their daylight hours to ride.  In the case of a tie, the rider to get to Windigo the soonest and closest to 27 hours of riding after race start wins
  • Winner gets a We’re going to Windigo, Morty gold medal.  There will be silver and bronze finalist medals too.  Smallest displacement and oldest bikes who finish also get awards
  • Any participant who finishes this long distance riding rally and is able to ride back to the start line within a week of the competition end can keep their bike! 
…followed by 469kms of
challenging unpaved roads
to the end of all roads.
A paved odyssey…
This isn’t an easy ride.  It starts with almost 1700kms of riding on paved roads ranging from the biggest freeway you can imagine to single lane tar patched, northern frost heaved back-road.  You’ve then got almost 500kms of riding gravel up to where all roads end at Windigo.  Trying to do this on a one trick pony like a cruiser would be entertaining, but likely unsuccessful.  This is a challenge for a multi-purpose motorcycle!

The 599 highway isn’t Google car photoed once you get on the gravel, and you’re constantly dodging lakes this deep into the Canadian Shield.  The closest I could get was this photo of the Mishkeegogamang Band Office, which shows a graded gravel road out front.  Fuel stops are few and far between, some cunning planning will be required!

There are some interesting choices at the bottom end of the bike market in Ontario:

A bike that’ll handle the off-road part of this trip, though it isn’t built for the thousands of kilometres of paved road leading to the hundreds of miles of gravel fire roads.  Capable of handling the camping gear too.  Should come in on budget on the road.

Low mileage, in good shape and comes safetied, so you’d have a bit left over for farkles.  It’d chew up the pavement side of WG2W effortlessly, but that windshield might never see Windigo (Morty).

Big Honda touring bike, high miles, but it’s a Honda.  It’d be a handful on nearly a thousand kilometres of gravel, but some people like that.  Should come in under budget and ready to make miles.  The paves stuff would flash by on this and it could carry camping gear with ease!

Low miles, Kawasaki dependable, in great shape.  The Versys is short for versatile bike system, just what you’d need to get to Windigo (Morty).  The 650 is a lightweight bike that’ll handle gravel, and it has luggage and mounting points for some soft bags.  I’d probably be able to get it for $2300 certified, which gives me a bit for some soft saddle bags, then I’m off to the races!  This’d be my choice.  Might spill my extra cash on some 70/30 semi-off road tires.

There are lots of other interesting choices that you could get road ready for under three grand in Ontario.  Seeing what people choose and how they prep the bike for long distance, multi-surface, remote riding would be half the fun.  To stretch the choices there would also be trophies for the oldest bike and smallest displacement bike to finish the ride, so some people might go after those rather than the timed competition.


All bikes have GoPros to capture footage and all riders agree to provide at least 15 minutes of speaking to camera dialogue per day while in the rally.  All competitors have to document their camp build and take down.  There will be a production/sweeper vehicle with a trailer in case of any bike failures.  The vehicle will be able to provide technical support in remote areas and be designed for the gravel portion of the event as well as offer a central point for production and media management.

Competition begins when all riders have their bikes delivered to a shared garage space in Elora.

Film Schedule:
Day 1:  All bikes have arrived.  Bike familiarity and maintenance, bike paperwork taken care of, all riders and production crew doing piece to camera introducing themselves and talking about the event and prep
Day 2:  Bike familiarity and preparation, filming continues
Day 3:  Bike familiarity and preparation, finalizing ride planning, filming continues.  All bikes in park ferme at the end of the day ready for the morning’s off.
Day 4:  7am Race start in Elora.  Filmed by production vehicle crew and GoPros on bikes.
Production vehicle stopping in Thunder Bay on Day 1.
Day 5:  7am start.  Production vehicle stopping at Windigo to await arrival of riders (riders who arrive early will have a major penalty, so no one should be there until day 3)
Day 6:  Production vehicle at Windigo Lake awaiting arrivals.  End of day 6:  close of event party on Windigo
Day 7:  All rider camping gear to be taken in by the support vehicle for a lighter ride back.  Sweeping the road south to Silver Dollar (the beginning of pavement).  All competitors camping at Silver Dollar Campsite that night.  Confirm end of event with all riders.
Day 8:  Retrace/sweep route to Thunder Bay.  End of rally event in Thunder Bay.  Riders who want to keep their bikes have 3 days to return to the workspace in Elora in order to claim ownership.  Riders who want to find their own way home can do so and bikes will be transported in the trailer.
Day 9:  Production vehicle sweeps south clearing any bikes that have been parked.
Day 11:  Any bikes that have returned to the workspace in Elora have their ownership turned over to their riders.

Episodes:  45 minute edited
1)  Introducing riders, bike selection and  preparation – possibly include off-road training at SMART Adventures?
2) Rally Start:  day one on the road
3) Rally Continued:  day two on the road
4) Rally Conclusion: day three on the road and rally winners and finishers highlighted
5) where did they go missing riders review, post rally interviews while returning to Thunder Bay, final presentations in TB, sweeping up, who got to keep their bikes
Total production time:  3.75 hours of edited footage

Other opportunities:  Work with SMART Adventures out of Horseshoe Valley – include bits on how to ride off road, what riders can expect, how to manage bikes on loose surfaces.
Rough costing:
8 Competitors @ $3000 per bike = $24,000
Production Vehicle Cost (rental & gasoline):  $3000
Insurance & Paperwork costs at $1000 each competitor = $8,000
Production equipment (cameras, drone, on bike GoPros):  $5000
Production team hotels:  4 people x 2 nights Thunder Bay, 1 night on the road back, 2 nights camping in the north = $2000
Camping gear:  $1000/competitor + production crew = $10,000 (mitigated by sponsorship?)

Total rough budget:  $52,000.  Estimated budget:  $60,000   (mitigated by sponsorship)

Sponsorship opportunities:

– workshop/repair centre where bike setup takes place
– motorcycle farkle manufacturers or suppliers
– camping gear supply
– Tourism Ontario
– Northern Ontario
– motorcycle manufacturers
– competitor sponsorship
– Rick & Morty Themed prize swag

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