Mastery Learning, Digitally Empowering Idiocy & Being Humble Before the Task

I ended up presenting on what mastery learning is and what mastery might look like in digital realms at ECOO13 last week .   

HERE is the prezi.

Developing digital mastery in a digital world

The Humble Egotist: A teacher who encourages learning…

In untangling what digital mastery might look like I had to back up and describe mastery learning in general.  This ended up clarifying my ideas around the process of learning itself.  As much as we’d like to think we impart learning as teachers, the process itself is very much internal to the learner.  Teachers aren’t nearly as central to the process as they like to think they are.

I started studying instructional technique when I was still a teen in air cadets and through coaching sports.  That progressed into technology instruction in business and then language instruction in Japan.  Finally getting my B.Ed. years later was just the latest in an ongoing personal journey to understand learning.

I’m self taught in so many things that I have trouble remembering being taught.  I’ve dropped out of every kind of education you can imagine, and finished some too.  I have real trouble with authority for the sake of authority and I’ve always found a strong element of that in teaching.  There is no doubt that a teacher can be an important influence in a young person’s growth (I have several who were, we all do), but those people were never magical because they taught me something, they were magical because they enabled me to learn something.  No one else has ever been the architect of my learning, it has always failed or succeeded because of how I tackled it.  A good teacher looked at me and figured out how to enable my tendencies toward learning something effectively.  A bad teacher would sabotage my learning, usually because my hero worship wasn’t up to their standards.

Teaching is a tricky business.  It takes a lot of self confidence to do the job, but it also takes a lot of humility to get out of the way and let people learn.  Self confidence and humility seldom co-exist comfortably in the same person.  The urge to sage on the stage is strong in a lot of teachers, they really enjoy the attention and the social status (no matter how staged it is).

Not unless you do it you don’t,
learning isn’t downloaded,
it isn’t given, it isn’t easy

But learning is an internal process, you can’t have learning implanted in you (this was one of the reasons it seems so magical in The Matrix), as the learner you have to be the active agent, learning is hard work.   We confuse this with a lot of edu-babble about engagement and over-focus on how entertaining a teacher can be but this ignores the essential issue.  If a student doesn’t want to learn then they won’t.  The value of learning should be self evident.  It takes a colossal amount of work by the education system to assume responsibility for learning and hide the truth that students are the real agents of their learning.

During the ECOO presentation I described a good teacher as an awesome roadie, you can’t even tell they are there until they adjust or fix something to better enable the show.  The learner is the one on stage doing the learning, a good teacher, like a good roadie, makes the show run smoothly but they aren’t the main act.

I see far too many full period lectures with sages on stages.  Those people retire and are immediately back in the classroom because they miss the audience, they miss being in a socially constructed place where people have to listen to them.  They don’t do much in the way of encouraging learning, but boy do they talk a lot, and they have no idea that students live in an information rich world and don’t have to wait for the slow drip of a teacher’s talk to learn a fact.

This isn’t to say that the flipped classroom is the obvious way to manage this.  Learners have to internalize their own learning, but students who are many miles away from what they need to be broken out of their habitual patterns if they are going to learn something new.  Sometimes this takes a teacher who is the centre of focus in a classroom.

How do you manage a room full of digitally super charged ids?

This is especially true when educators attempt to integrate digital devices into learning.  Digital devices slavishly satisfy the desires of their users no matter how asinine or repetitive.  An idiot on a digital device becomes an empowered idiot.  A teacher can be a vital influence in breaking that destructive, repetitive cycle, but not if they are as habitual and limited in their use of digital tools as their students.  Being humble before the task of learning gets even harder in a digital environment where every stupid urge is moments away from being satisfied. The teacher cannot facilitate student learning in an environment that they themselves are also oppressed by.

One of the key pressure points in learning is breaking someone out of
habitual use in technology (the pink bit), but that’s impossible if the
teacher is as habitual and illiterate as the student is…

If you’ve ever seen how many students (and  teachers) treat school computer labs you know what I’m talking about.  Rather than selecting the tool for the job, a teacher with low digital fluency will ask students to use computers as an analogue for something else.  The computer is treated like a book, or a paper and pen.  Booking a lab for this purpose is akin to renting a car to drive to the end of your street.  You’re not using the technology for it’s capabilities, you’re using it to exacerbate your own habits.

That’s assuming the teacher didn’t book the lab as a digital babysitter while they get marking done (or so they could just surf the net in the same way as their students).  In those classes I’m having to replace vandalized computers and students may as well be at home doing whatever they do there online.  This damages digital fluency for everyone in the room by actually encouraging habitual usage, and it’s expensive.

Trying to focus on learning is difficult in the hyper-personally empowering digital realm.

Developing mastery of any kind isn’t a focus in education, trying to do it now with digital narcissism at every fingertip is even more difficult.  Classes are set with 50% credits and minimal expectations around attendance in order to facilitate pass rates.  In terms of digital mastery, administration seems to think this is about device access, but it’s more about people, self-discipline and work habits.  Digital mastery falls back on the habits of the learner.  A strong, self-directed learner is empowered by a digital environment,  a weak, dependent one is impoverished by it.  For the strong it empowers their ability to learn, for the weak it offers them a constant stream of distractions so that they can stay in the most base, trivial, superficial and habitual parts of their minds.

 If we practiced mastery learning across education then digital mastery would follow.  If we took teaching digital fluency seriously (in both staff and students) we would have a chance at using technology to create amplified learners who are able to access information and self direct their learning at a rate unseen before.

Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t dropping the digital football just to keep the traditional power structures in play.

note:  this is the 4th re-write of this post, it’s an ongoing attempt to figure out some big ideas, I’m still not happy with it but I’m going to let it lie and move on.  I suspect I’ll be trying to clarify the ideas in here in future posts.

ASD Heroes and Where To Find Them

Seeing a neuro-atypical hero who resembles yourself is jarring.
Seeing one that defies toxic masculine stereotypes is thrilling,

bad probably for business.  People prefer reductive stereotypes.

Throughout my life I’ve been kindly described by friends and family as ‘marching to the beat of a different drummer’. In less supportive circumstances I’ve met people who take an immediate and intense dislike to that difference.  When I was younger this often involved a gathering of like minded people and me getting a beating.  It persists into adulthood and frustrates many of my attempts at socializing.


As an adolescent I tried to harness the anger I was feeling in those beatings and express it physically but just couldn’t. The thought of hurting someone else while I was in a rage was something I couldn’t bring myself to do. I recall several instances when a part of me was impassionately observing my assailants. The look of sheer, savage joy on their faces was utterly foreign to me; it’s something I couldn’t begin to emulate.  Knowing that this kind of viciousness is pretty common in human beings is one of the reasons I’m so cautious with them.  I’ve yet, at nearly fifty years old, laid knuckles on anyone else in anger, it just isn’t in me though I’ve often wished it were – it would make being male much easier.  I suspect my gender dysphoria is at least in part due to this sense of alienation with what most consider to be appropriate male behaviour.


Being the bottom feeder it is, media is only happy to capitalize on this base, stereotypically reductive male behaviour.  Unless your hero is an aggressive sociopath he isn’t a real man.  You’d be hard pressed to find any male hero that isn’t written into this bizarre little box and then used as a dimensionless plot device to drive adrenaline fueled violence.  For men looking for another way of being male that isn’t founded on this mythology, there isn’t much out there.  For a neuro-atypical male the opportunity to see heroes that in any way reflect my experience is pretty much a zero game, I never see anyone like myself on film.


Last weekend we went to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the latest Harry Potter film. I’d almost been talked out of seeing it by CBC’s movie critic Eli Glasner, who seemed to dislike every aspect of the film, but especially the main character, Newt Scamander, who he described as awkward and unlikeable. I don’t disagree with Glasner’s analysis of the plot, I think JK(Rowling – the author) tried to fit too much into one film and it gets a bit jumbled (I’d love to see an edited version that cleans up the plot), but when it comes to Eddie Redmayne’s character Newt I was annoyed at Glasner’s neurotypically prejudiced response to his complex, non-typical heroism. Fortunately, I’m not the only one:

(at 9:12 on): “Newt exhibits the characteristics of someone on the autism spectrum. He’s awkward in social settings. He doesn’t like being touched. He feels intense empathy for others but has trouble connecting to people and making friends… careful viewers will notice his aversion to direct eye contact…. Newt’s social anxieties are not framed in the stereotypical ways we’ve come to expect from Hollywood.”

That description of what ASD can feel like certainly resonates with me.  What a stark difference it is to every other male hero you see in film.  Newt’s neuro-atypicality allows JK to avoid the toxic masculine stereo-trap while also presenting a viable alternative hero.  Many examples are shown in the video above of the kind of sociopathic, violent movie hero we show our boys in film.  The majority pick this up quickly and then weaponize it socially as shown in Ontario’s recent boys’ private school scandal or pretty much any sports locker room.  Fantastic Beasts has managed to side step the stereotypically male hero, but avoidance may also be its downfall.

I’m glad we didn’t let Glasner talk us out of seeing Fantastic Beasts.  His dislike of the main character is in tune with criticism found all over especially North American reviews and another reminder of how hard it is to find a male movie hero who isn’t toxically reductive.

Fantastic Beasts goes well beyond toxic masculinity by actually showing us a nuanced, non-stereotypical ASD hero, which is quite frankly astonishing, and perhaps unique. The instinctive dislike of him by most people (as evidenced in pretty much every movie review you’ll read) reflects my own experience and will be why the franchise fails.  It will become yet another reminder to those on the ASD spectrum, or any male that doesn’t want to put on the toxic masculinity society expects of them,of  just how peripheral they are.  Reductive toxic male stereotypes are the only ones that sell.

We’re surrounded by toxic masculine heroes that trivialize what being male could mean to all men while at the same time encouraging gender driven violence.  Fantastic Beasts’ ASD hero sidesteps this trap and breaks these conventions.  It’s a shame that it won’t sell to the North American public because it doesn’t pander to their prejudices.  Fortunately, it’s doing better on the rest of the planet.

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Bike Hole

No room for a car, but a bike…
A long Canadian winter approaches.  Rather than look longingly out into an unusable, uninsulated garage full of junk I’m getting my home reno on and finishing it.

It’s supposed to be a single car garage, but with the vent system intrusions and everything else in there I couldn’t even fit a Mazda2 into it.  It’s turned into more of a shed than a garage.

Since getting the Ninja I’ve been working on it in the garage.  It was fine over the summer, but with frost on the ground the floor is nasty cold and the wind seems to push the cold through the unfinished walls.

Unfinished, cold and messy…

Step one was to figure out how to finish it.  Rather than dry walling it like the house side of it is, I’m going with wood panels so I can mount shelves where I want them rather than only where studs are available.

It cost under $300 for the paneling, insulation, paint and hardware to do it, not bad for what will be a warm garage at the end.  I’m also going to look at some rubber garage flooring for parts of it, so that will push it over $300, but still a bargain considering I’ll get a huge work space out of it.

Saturday afternoon, halfway there…


This past weekend with lows in the -4c at night, I started on it, stripping the shelving off the walls and removing the home made bench at the back.  With all of the stuff under a tarp on the driveway (in the rain), I insulated and hung the board.  

By the end of Sunday I had the three unfinished walls insulated and the board up.  The only slow down was not looking up as I moved down the wall putting up the board.  As I went up the ladder I drilled my head into the garage door hardware hanging from the ceilling.  Head wounds bleed a lot, especially when you get a jagged cut from a rough metal hanger.

I took Monday off (head hurting), and went back at it again Tuesday after work, putting on an unfinished can of primer.  I’ll finish the priming this week and paint it next weekend.  Last night when I was doing the priming a single, small space heater made it comfortable in there, it was below zero outside.

The end result will be warm and finished with better lighting and twice the workbench area, more shelving and better organization, so the gardening equipment doesn’t take over again.  I’m still thinking about what to put on the walls…

 

Free Range Computing

Originally published on Dusty World in October of 2013:

I’d initially gone into teaching computer technology with pi in the sky (sic) daydreams of students working entirely on open source hardware and software that they have assembled and coded themselves, free from the evil influences of corporations.  After attending ECOO this year I’m less on the hippy open source bandwagon and more on the inclusivity bandwagon.  It isn’t an educator’s job to ignore corporate technology, but it is their responsibility not to indoctrinate students in only one particular company’s technology because it is easier or cheaper for them.  Student digital fluency has to drive technology access, not corporate carrots or teacher laziness.

I’ve noticed a real move toward the branding of education (and teachers) by technology interests.  This is almost always done to ensure their own monopolistic dominance rather than offering students the widest range of technology experience.  In order to indoctrinate students in a single means of access (in order to later capture them as consumers), many boards are locking students into company specific technology, usually because some kind of discount being offered.  Selling out student technological fluency in order to appear more cost effective isn’t very pedagogically sound.

Would you trust the literacy teacher who only uses one publishing company and brandishes the logo like a qualification?   Does this not call a balanced approach to their discipline into question?  How can the same thing not be said for Google Certified or Apple Distinguished?

It’s one thing to get a professional certification from an platform agnostic professional organization that has no interested in monetizing you, it’s another to brand yourself with the name of a profit driven company that is intent on turning you and your students into revenue streams while limiting access to alternatives.

My knee jerk reaction to this is what had me storming off into the woods and getting all back to nature with open source hardware and software:

***

Raspberry Pi, almost fits in your wallet!

I’ve been thinking about the open source technology classroom I wish I could run.  Engineering based rather than brand based hardware with accessible, open software.  Hardware that could run free, crowd-sourced software.

Raspberry Pi is an obvious starting point.  As a way of showing students the basics of computing cheaply (it’ll run a full GUI OS with internet for about thirty bucks per student), it’s something that they can use to get familiar with how software and hardware work with each other.

I wish they’d come up with a Raspberry Pi à la mode, a 1 ghz 2 core unit with a gig of ram, hdmi and 2 usb 3.0 ports.  They can toss the video in and separate audio 3.5 jack out (hdmi has audio built in anyway).  If they could pull that off and keep it close to the same size I’d think twice about stepping up from the Pi.

***

It’s beyond the Pi that open source hasn’t developed enough high level hardware to take on more advanced learning environments, though having students build digital tools from a variety of components has its own value.

There are plenty of software options, but ready made agnostic hardware is thin on the ground.  This is when I started to think about systems that, while branded and corporately developed, might be focused on access to a variety of technology rather than the tyranny of one:

***

In the meantime, from the Pi how do you create a free range system that lets students experience a variety of operating systems and software?  The recent nano-desktop round of computers offer some interesting options.

Intel NUC

The NUC (next unit of computing) by Intel is an engineering platform that crams an astonishing amount of processing power into a package the size of a paperback novel.  With an i5 processor and up to 16 gigs (!) of ram, this thing is a monster.  It would handily outperform any desktop in our school right now.

If we could get a NUC sorted out in some kind of student-proof Otterbox type enclosure we’d have a tough, durable, wickedly fast, open computer that would offer students a totally customizable platform for just over $400.  Presumably we could whittle that down to cost (maybe ~$300?).

Having a dock in labs that would allow students to plug their own PCs (personal again!) in would be one means of accessing the box.  Offering a plug in touch screen peripheral that could do the job of a screen/mouse/keyboard would be another avenue that would create a very powerful laptop/tablet option.  Pica-projectors would be another way to produce screens out of thin air, and they are rapidly becoming smaller and less energy consuming.

The nicest thing about the NUC is that it could work with pretty much any operating system you could want.  Students could come to class with a paperback sized computer that could boot into Apple OSx, the Windows flavour of your choice or any of a number of Linux distros (including Chromium).  You wouldn’t have Mac labs, or Windows labs, you’d have whatever you wanted/needed to boot into.

A truly agnostic hardware platform that would offer you access to any software on any operating system.

Foxconn Nano PC

Another (cheaper) option is the Foxconn Nano PC, which retails for substantially less (only $219 retail vs. the $420 NUC).  The Foxconn unit runs on an AMD processor (not Apple friendly) but offers strong graphics performance from its (Canadian!) graphics subsidiary ATI.

It would still run any flavor of Windows or Linux you could throw at it (including Chromium) and is as svelte as the Intel option.  Education purchasing could probably get these down into the $150 range.

***

The real goal would be to create opensourceedtech.org and have educators themselves crowdsource an open, upgradeable, accessible hardware system that is designed to teach students about technology in all its various forms.

The chance to develop personalized learning technology would take us away from the ignorance and learned helplessness we peddle today in education and offer all technology companies a level playing field on which to ply their wares.  Our students would experience a wide range of operating environments and software as well as being aware of how hardware impacts those systems.

Thoughts on mastery learning in digital spaces (from my ECOO13 presentation)

Imagine high school graduates who have worked on a variety of operating systems that they have installed and maintained themselves.

Imagine graduates who understand how memory, processor and storage work with software because they’ve experienced hands on changes in this hardware.

Imagine graduates who are able to problem solve and resolve their own technological problems because the breadth of their familiarity with technology is such that any new digital tool they lay their hands on isn’t a mystery to them.

Imagine students and educators who go to the tool they need to get the job done instead of having the tool dictate the job.

Imagine students who have enough familiarity with code that they can appreciate the complexity of the world we’re living instead of being baffled by it.

I was having doubts about putting corporate logos on my office windows, but I don’t any more.  Instead of taking down the Google stickers I’ve added Apple, Microsoft, Linux, Toshiba, Dell, Asus, IBM, Lenovo, Arduino, Raspberry Pi and will continue to add others.  The point isn’t to run off into the woods and live in vegan austerity on open source hardware, it’s to make all technology available to students so they can appreciate the astonishing variety of systems we’re immersed in, and not be made helpless by it.

2017 Update:  Building your #edtech on shifting ground.  Not much has changed in terms of corporate control of digital learning in four years since this was first written.

Sidecar for my Side Kick

Side cars are cool!

I’ve been thinking about getting a second bike, one that lets me do some distance with my son (and wife if I can convince her).  I’d initially wanted to get a Royal Enfield with a side car so we could Harry Potter it up.

Like a fish in water.

All together that’s about a $12,000 new piece of kit.  I love the classic looks but with a 500cc engine, the RE wouldn’t be brisk, though it would be frugal.

Something that might fit better happens to be for sale in Guelph just south of us with an asking price of $5000.  I didn’t know anything about XS1100s, though the sidecar was done by Old Vintage Cranks so it’ll be done properly.

Looking into the XS Eleven, I found some interesting history.  A monster bike in its day, it was known as a fast, heavy machine that you needed a sledge hammer to roll over in corners.  Since it’s with sidecar I’m not so worried about laying it down.  It would certainly have the pickup needed to move a sidecar rig and would have enough grunt to manage all three of us.  At less than half the price of the Royal Enfield (though with less of the classic look I like and over 70k on it), it has some appeal.

As a second bike I’m hoping for something very different from the Ninja which I’d still like to hang on to because I’m not finished learning from it yet.  A big, classic Yamaha with side car is about as far from an ’07 650r Ninja as you’re going to get.

guelph.kijiji.ca/c-cars-vehicles-motorcycles-touring-xs1100-yamaha-special-with-sidecar-W0QQAdIdZ529601037


…bike is vintage & in great shape needs nothing for cert, sidecar is new cost $5500 to purchase & have installed by OVC the sidecar pros! comes with gel pak in newly recovered seat,, am/ fm/ USB for ipod or iphone cd sounds fine on the highway.

ECOO 2013 Cometh

Last year I was getting primed for ECOO 2012 by constructing a process for transitioning from school provided, generic educational technology to a bring-your-own-device learning situation.  The idea was to assist this evolution toward personalized technology following some sort of pedagogical imperative rather than what appears to be a financially motivated top down drive to minimize school purchased tech.

Digital technology is intensely personal because it interacts with our
most personal selves, our minds…

Critically examining how we make use of technology has always been at the core of my teaching.  As I transitioned from academically focused English to technology orientated computer engineering my willingness to look for easy answers in educational technology has dried up.

Since the last ECOO a couple of events have made me question the branded nature of #edtech.  It began with the Google Education Summit in Kitchener in the spring, and then culminated with the Pearson Summit a week later.  As educators it is incumbent upon us to be technologically agnostic, this is getting more and more difficult as cash strapped teachers and boards look for financial advantage courtesy of corporate offers.  I’ve been battling my own understanding of this all year.

Can you imagine if your chalk board had a ‘courtesy of Crayola’ sign in the top corner?  Or the paper you hand out to students had a ‘brought to you by Hilroy’ on it?  Yet we don’t think twice about branding the digital technology.  A student can’t get on to a school machine without getting Delled, BenQed, Microsoft’d, Jinged and Googled, and we actually enjoy that branding, we encourage it.

In only a few weeks I’m talking about our digital selves at ECOO 13.  I’m excited about going to ECOO, doing Minds On Media for the first time (nurture your inner hacker, I’ll show you how to code a microcontroller and become your own I.T. support!)  My worry is that I’m finding edtech increasingly owned, controlled and not focused on developing student (and educator) fluency.

I’m still being haunted by Matt Crawford’s Shopclass as Soulcraft.  Crawford’s description of the consumer as a victim of their own technological ignorance resonates:

“Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political.”

The scattered, distracted 21st Century human being seems more a victim of digital technology than empowered by it.  When I realize that the ‘I’m tech-savvy’ high school student doesn’t know what a disk partition or an IP address is, or how to boot to external media, I realize that what little expertise they’ve gained is almost entirely at the hands of commercial or political persuasion, and teachers are no different.  This kind of fluency doesn’t suit corporate interests who would rather be able to sell you on marketing rather than engineering.  The kind of ignorance this brews is staggering.

I want to produce a constructive solution to hard pedagogical questions around technology use.  I’m finding this increasingly difficult as edu-tech becomes a managed, mainstream expectation rather than an experimental, fringe element.  The urge to simplify with dictated systems that encourage ignorance has me wondering how education will prevent rather than produce more dysfunctional digital natives.

The perfect platform for teaching students effective use of technology is an open source system that they build from scratch and have to maintain themselves.  The more you do for them, the less necessary fluency becomes.  Technology literacy is a 21st Century fluency that we should be teaching curriculum wide, much like literacy or numeracy.

That ideal technology learning platform is agnostic, varied and offers redundancy and resilience.  Students should never be in a position where the network technology is broken, but the hands on technology shouldn’t be done for them.  What I’m seeing in educational technology is completely backwards; everything is locked down and done for students, and it seldom works.  This is a recipe for ignorance and about as far from pedagogically useful as we can get.

There is precious little open source software used in education, mostly because it demands competence and

Don’t you wish there were a shared,open source
option for educational technology
?  There is,

but there is no money in it and it requires
competence.

responsibility.  Buying a corporate system offers you turn key technology.  We could offer cheap, debranded technology with open source, shared development software, but we don’t because we’d rather be consumers than makers.  This is a result of teacher indifference as much as anything else.  Basic fluencies should be attended to and you’d have to be obtuse to think that effective use of digital tools isn’t going to be as important as literacy and numeracy in the 21st Century.

I’m still not sure where I’m going with ECOO13…

The Perfect Fall Ride

Originally posted on Tim’s Motorcycle Diaries back in the Ninja days of September, 2013

Other riders I know are talking about putting their bikes away already, I just can’t bring myself to do it.  Riding in the cool autumn air as the leaves turn around you?  How on earth can you put a bike away with that going on outside?

Today I was off work for a periodontist torture session, so when the day broke sunny and cool I jumped out for a ride before the terror was to begin.  Rather than ride the barren agricultural desert of Centre Wellington again I made a point of aiming for some of my favorite geography.

The route!  Elora, up the Grand River to Shelburne, a short jog up to Horning’s Mills and then down one of my favorite roads to Mansfield, south on Airport Road to the Forks of the Credit, through Erin and over to Guelph

The road north east out of Fergus through Belfountain is nicely winding as it follows the Grand River.  The twists continued through Grand Valley where the road drops right down next to the river.  North to Shelbourne takes you through a science fiction landscape of massive windmills.  The blast down 89 into Shelbourne had me looking at the fuel light so I pulled in for gas and then stopped for a coffee.

I’m bad at looking after myself when I get going, I tend to push on rather than take the time to stay warm and charged up.  After a quick coffee I saddled up again and pushed on up 124 to Horning’s Mills.  Located in a river valley north of Shelbourne, Horning’s Mills has the feel of a place that time forgot.

Nothing says Shelburne like an old
Buick LeSabre!

I have a theory that when the geography rises up around you and blocks you off, all the the psychic static from those anxious, frustrated people in the GTA is deflected away; River Road out of Horning’s Mills feels wonderfully isolated and far from the world.

We’re probably still a week or two away from the fall colours, but the ride was gorgeous. It was getting on toward noon and the sun had finally warmed everything up.  In keeping with my look after yourself on a ride theme I brought a fleece sweater that I put on coming out of Fergus and three pairs of gloves, to try and find the perfect set for the cold air.  I ended up switching to the winter leather gloves after the warm up coffee and was glad for them.

With the first colours in the trees, crisp, cool air and a road that was very un-Ontario like in its bendiness, the warm and eager Ninja thrummed down the road with an urgency that washed away every care.

River Road between Horning’s Mills and Mansfield

The ride south on Airport Road, usually a quick road with big elevation changes, was horrible.  There was some kind of grey hair convention going on, and combined with the construction, the ride was a disaster.  Rather than trying to pass every pensioner in a beige Camry in Ontario, I ducked right through Mono Cliffs and over to Highway 10.  While not as geographically exciting, Highway 10 did offer two lanes, and even though trucks were determined to drive side by each in them, I was able to flit through Orangeville and south to the last bit of interesting road on my trek.

The Forks of the Credit is a short bit of winding road that follows the young Credit River as it flows out of the Niagara Escarpment.  Once again construction ground things to a halt, but the crazy 180° hairpin and constantly twisting pavement reminded me of how a road can talk to you, especially through two wheels.

Forks of the Credit

By this point I was getting pressed for time to get back to Guelph for my torture session so I opened up the Ninja and hit Highway 24 through Erin and south to Highway 7 past Rockwood before ducking in to Guelph just south of the University for a quick lunch and then the blood letting.

The ride did a couple of things for me.  Taking longer trips I’m finding the Ninja remarkably easy to sit on for extended periods.  The seat is comfortable, the handlebars fall to hand and the bike is a joy to ride, it really wants to go.  What’s getting me are the pegs.  Being as swept back and high as they are, my knees don’t enjoy being folded up like that for long periods.  I find myself standing up on the pegs and resting my legs on the front frame sliders just to try and work out the kinks.  That 14° lean angle I could live with, but the 74° bend in the knees just isn’t working for me.  Being long in the torso I also get a chest full of wind even with a larger, aftermarket windshield on the Ninja.

Having said that I covered about 230kms in between four and five hours with a few stops here and there, so it’s not a show stopper.  There are other bikes that would fit me better, but I’d miss the Ninja’s friskiness and eagerness to connect and become a single entity.  I’m afraid that something that would fit me better would be heavy and dull by comparison.

If you’re thinking about putting your bike away, wait until the end is nigh and the snow is about to fly.  You never know when that perfect autumn day is going to suddenly appear in front of you and give you a ride that you can keep in the back of your head all winter long.  Yesterday’s ride, complete with sore knees, wind burn and cold hands was a revelation.

Ergo-Cycle

cycle-ergo.com/


Looking at a better fit of bike (at 6″3′ I’m a bit of a giant on the ’07 Ninja 650r), I came across Cycle-Ergo, an online simulator that shows you the shape of any number of bikes and how your frame sits on it.  This is an interesting exercise even if you aren’t looking for a new bike.


The FAQ explains that the basic rider model isn’t perfect, but

does show you lean angles and other ergonomic considerations in riding.  The feet on the floor option should be taken lightly (the FAQ explains there are too many factors – rider weight, thigh size, seat shape,etc – that can change it), but it still gives you a rough idea.  

If you want to be a lean into it sport rider, then this will show you just how uncomfortable you’ll be looking cool.  If you are looking for a long distance multi-purpose (as I am),then this will show me which bike offers me the most natural/classic riding position.


There are a lot of options in the menus to the right, so be sure to play with them.  After you put in the rider height and inseam you can modify various parameters of the stock bike (handlebar locations etc).  It also shows you variations in angle due to seat position.  At the riding school they encouraged me to sit as close to the tank as possible, so I tend to sit forward in the seat.  

I looked up my current Ninja (an ’07 650r).  The bike feels too small for me, and it looks it in the diagram.  

I don’t find the wrist position overly uncomfortable, even though I am at quite a forward lean angle.  What I do find uncomfortable are how high the pegs are and how bent my legs are on it.  At 75° it’s one of the most extreme angles I found in the knees.


My feet are flat on the floor with bent knees.  The low seat means I can stand up at a light with inches of light beneath me.  It’s a short bike I have to fold myself onto.  When at speed I’m catching a lot of wind in the face, even with the aftermarket windshield on it.  I have to lay on the tank to get out of the blast.


One of the bikes I’m considering is the Triumph Tiger 800xc.  The seat height on this bike is much (much) higher than the Ninja, and the steering seems to be closer and higher, offering a less stretched forward lean.


Unlike the backward bent legs on the Ninja, the Tiger offers me a more neutral almost 90° leg angle as well.  It looks like it might be a promising fit.


The Kawasaki KLR650 is also short listed as a possible contender.  It too has a tall, upright stance with a more neutral riding position.  At half the price of the (nicer) Triumph I’d also be much less worried about dropping it, which would certainly happen at some point if I’m exploring less paved roads.


As a bike I’ve actually sat on, I have to say this looks pretty close to accurate.




I ran the simulator with a number of other bikes just to see what various styles looked like.  The vague body shape reminds you that this is a rough simulation, but if you’re considering buying a bike why not compare it to what you’re on now or what you think would be your preferred style of riding.


I wish I’d have known about this tool when I was first looking for a bike, it would have given me some stats to consider.


The Ducati all-rounder adventure bike – the seat is supposed to be horrible


I’ve always thought Gixers were cool… painfully cool


Living out my Mad Max fantasies on an Interceptor… worse lean, better on the knees than the Ninja




I was considering this bike last year, but the blandness described  in reviews put me off


I’ve sat on one of these too – it felt small, it looks small in the picture, but classy!


Another rider at work has one of these, loves it, nice riding position!


The simulator lets you put a passenger on too – this is the Tiger with Max on the back

Here is what I’d look like if Ewan McGregor was my best friend…

The Norfolk Motorcycle Museum

We drove past the entrance twice.  Finally, up a gravel drive we found the entrance to the Norfolk Motorcycle Museum.  This was an impromtu stop between various tourist related day trips.  I’d seen the sign and wanted to go for a wander.  No one else wanted to come in with me, so they stayed in the rental car while I wandered into a warehouse full of bikes.

One of the things you notice in England is just how divergent the technology is, and this museum was no different.  The bikes were odd, different, not a cruiser in sight, no Harleys.  It was decidedly un-North American.

Many of them I couldn’t identify at all, some were so old as to be virtually steam powered.  You know you’re far from the familiar when you don’t even recognize some of the manufacturers.

The building was a working restoration shop with a big warehouse space behind.  Bikes in various states of repair were lined up at the entrance, the finished machines were perched up on a two layer rack that ran through the whole warehouse.

You can poke around the bikes and the father/son duo who run the museum are happy to talk about any of the examples on display.

I had to rush the walkabout because the family was waiting outside, it would have been nice to wander around for an hour taking some good closeups.

If you’re ever in the vicinity of North Walsham in Norfolk, England, drop by the museum.  It’s a strange trip down someone else’s memory lane.

Like what you see?  Many of the restorations are available to buy.

Mainly British bikes, but some others can be found
in the rows

A mighty Vincent!

“Made in England” – getting harder and harder
to find made in not the far East any more

Many parts in the process of being cleaned up…

Ghost In The Machine

Watching how people drive cars is a study in their true nature.  In a car, much like being online, people feel anonymous and powerful.  They are less fearful of physical response and more likely to be adversarial, aggressive and greedy.  After driving a couple of thousand miles in the past week down and up the crowded east coast of North America I’ve a clearer idea of just how confused we are in this era of human/machine symbiosis.

Internet Disinhibition

Last night as we pulled into a parking lot after a long day of driving, a man backed out of his parking spot without so much as a shoulder check and almost t-boned us.  When we yelled for him to watch out he became incensed and started screaming back about how it was our fault that he almost ran into us.

This was an interesting reaction.  Had he walked into someone on the street he probably would have apologized and backed off, but in his car he immediately went on the offensive, like a small dog barking at someone from behind its owner’s legs.

People do this online all the time, it’s called flaming or trolling.  They shoot their mouths off without fear of consequence.  Technically this is called the Online Disinhibition Effect; an abandonment of social restrictions and inhibitions because people feel insulated by their anonymity online.  They experience the same false sense of empowerment while driving.

There seems to be a dishinhibition effect whenever people identify themselves through technology.  This is very odd because human beings are almost always the weakest link in any vehicle being driven or computer being operated.  That they hide their inferiority in the power the machine is truly perverse.

We drove miles out of our way to get off the crowded,
angry interstates

Driving out of Virginia Beach on the worst designed freeway I’ve ever been on we were stuck in stop and go traffic for the better part of an hour while people blasted up the clearly marked merging lane to pull in at the front of the line.  Their behavior was what was causing the slowdown, though they were the ones most angered by it.

The police ended up pulling up to the front and ticketing people who were driving up the shoulder to further slow down the flow of traffic.  People weren’t just making use of  the merging lane, they were pulling out into it to pass everyone else and further compress traffic.  In their cars these people are immediately willing, in front of a large audience of their peers, to ignore everyone’s best interests in order to serve their own ends.  I recently saw a link to self-driven cars and how they will be arriving soon; they can’t arrive soon enough.  Human beings aren’t capable of acting in everyone’s best interests, machines are.

I’m about to return to the classroom and teach students how to make effective use of technology in their lives, but there is virtually no examination of the effects on human psychology by these technologies.  I see it every day when students do inappropriate things online and are then astonished that they are reprimanded for it – they are used to online spaces being a free-for-all, the wild west.  Where they actually are is in a virtual place that is recording their every action.

Whether it’s on the road or online we increasingly identify our selves and our abilities through the machines that enhance us, but the motive power of a car or the communication reach of online tools are not ours to claim, we are merely the ghosts that inhabit and direct these machines, and many people do so poorly without any idea of what they are, how they actually work, and (as a result) how to make them work to best effect.

Humility, civil interaction and a clear sense of our limits seem to be the first victims of our increasingly virtual sense of self.  That so many of us, especially younger people, are wallowing in these delusions does not bode well for the future.  Technology should offer us insight into our selves, instead we are using it to hide our deficiencies.