Perfect Moments on 2 Wheels

Lexus has this ad about being in the perfect moment:


 
Other than the narrative (I find that I’m lost in moments like this, not narrating them in my head), I like the idea. I was editing footage from riding last week and had trouble finding a frame where I didn’t have a perfect moment look on my face:
 
 
Even pausing during the high speed sections of that video shows a series of very content micro-expressions.  You might find a perfect moment once in every blue moon in your Lexus, but I find them almost constantly when out on the bike.  I’m starting to get the idea behind the ‘you never see a bike in a therapist’s parking lot‘ saying.
 

The real question is: what is it about riding a motorcycle that causes this kind of continuous immersion in the perfect moment? (redundant perhaps, every moment is perfect isn’t it?)

When I ride well I find myself immersed in what I’m doing I lose myself in it.  It’s only when conscious thought arises that my corners aren’t carved perfectly and my gears are wrong.  Some of this has to do with the fact that I’m still relatively new to motorbiking and very conscious of improving my process, but the majority has to do with the immersive nature of riding a motorcycle.

I even look happy parking the bike at work!

Being in the wind means you are enveloped by the world you’re passing through.  Your senses are alive to sounds, smells and the panorama around you.  You aren’t seeing the world through a letterbox wind shield and smelling recirculated A/C.  The sensual nature of riding, the wind tugging at your clothes, the sun on your back, goes a long way to making you the ride rather than you doing a ride.

If the sensual side of it isn’t enough (and it’s often overwhelming, ask any biker who has felt the temperature drop and smelt the ozone as they’ve ridden into a thunderstorm), there is always the mechanical intimacy of riding a motorcycle to make you forget concious thought and become one with the moment.

Unlike the hand on the wheel, one foot on the gas approach to driving, the motorcyclist is changing gears with their left toe, rear braking with their right, operating the clutch and indicators (and sometimes horn, lights and choke) with their left hand and twisting the throttle and applying the front brakes with the right.  On top of that they are using both arms to counter-steer into corners and their whole bodies to manage those turns.  Motorcycling is a viable and complex form of exercise for both the mind and body.

So what we have here is a mode of transport that is physically taxing, mentally demanding and sensual.  On top of all that, if you do it badly it can very quickly become fatal.  You very quickly want to be able to fall into the zone when riding.  Peak performance and awareness it fosters isn’t nice to have but a necessity when operating a motorbike.  Fortunately, getting to that state is fantastically rewarding.  There are a lot of ways to get there but seat time seems to be the magic ingredient.

In a cruel twist, this morning I got the bike out for the short commute to work.  The rain had stopped and the smell of water soaked plants filled the humid air, but my up-until-now bullet proof old Concours wouldn’t start, it had a dead battery!  Maybe I left the ignition on?  Maybe some water got into things?  Maybe something broke?  Suddenly that string of contented moments I was looking forward to became a morose push back into the garage after changing out of my gear.  My commute turned from fifteen minutes of bliss to the tedium of driving.  The bike is a wonderful form of therapy, except for when it doesn’t work.

In The Crowds: Scripted Experiences

I’m just back from my first trip to California.  Having visited it so many times virtually, I was surprised at how different the place is from how it frames itself.  Like a movie set, Southern California has a face that looks good while hiding a lot of things that don’t work.

My favourite parts of California were the real bits: the coast, Joshua Tree Park, Mount Palomar.  It got dodgy for me the minute we wandered into the invented places, strangely also the most crowded places.

We’re all victims of our own childhood.  My parents spent ours taking us camping.  When we went to The States we visited family and hung out on the beach.  In Florida we went to the Kennedy Space Centre, but never Disneyworld.  This might have had as much to do with how much disposable income we had as it did with our interests.

Going to California for the first time, my wife, who has fond memories of attending Disneyworld as a kid, wanted to show me Disneyland.  I’ve had a long personal history with Disney.  It was what we watched as a family on Sunday nights on TV growing up.  The first film I ever saw was Jungle Book.  Being an animator at Disney was a long time dream.  I’m anything but a Disney hater, but I’ve never had an interest in going to their theme parks.

Going on Christmas Day with thousands of giddy people in mouse ears felt like attending some kind of cult meeting.  I don’t do well in crowds and this particularly day is one of the busiest the park has.  I enjoyed various aspects of the park, but at the end of a hot, sweaty, crowded day, what it did most was clarify for me the difference between a shallow, scripted experience and a genuine one that offers depth of narrative.

I used to enjoy amusement park rides, but nowadays if I want a thrill I’ll scare myself for real on a motorcycle rather than sitting like a lab mouse in a centrifuge.  I prefer a situation where my own skill dictates the quality of the physical experience.  This also ensures that the experience will be mine instead of what is spoon fed to me.  Two people on a rollercoaster walk away with the same cookie cutter experience.  Two people riding motorbikes on a mountain road do not.

My son isn’t a fan of rides either, so we tended toward shows and entertainment rather than lining up to strap into spinning things.  The Star Wars tour, Pirates of the Caribbean and various stage shows all offered a focus on entertainment rather than vacuous adrenaline.  Disneyland tends to focus on immersion in the Disney ethos, so you can easily go to the park and not once get on a spinny ride.  Having said that, we didn’t go on ‘It’s a Small World‘ because it would have taken two hours of lining up to see just how small the world is.

People get in their vehicles and sit in traffic to get to Disney World, where they line up to get into the park, and then line up to get on this ride where they then sit in traffic.  Some people’s idea of fun is completely foreign to me.

Strangely, I’m more than happy to shift into a more passive mode and follow a narrative on the screen.  Experiences that use digital technology to create interactive, sensory experiences are quite interesting to me.  In our time in California we also went to Universal and did the Minion Mayhem ride, which is a great example of advanced digital media being used to create an experience, it feels like a roller coaster with a plot.  Pirates of The Caribbean also was remarkably immersive with complex robotic tableaus that told a story.  Star Tours was a nice mix of both, with a smartly done interactive line up that leads to a digitally immersive ride; I can get lost in narratives like those.

Now that I’m back in school I can’t help but consider these ‘amusement park’ experiences in terms of learning.  There is such a strong emphasis on engagement at all cost that many classrooms have taken on the giddy quality of the spiny ride, complete with lineups to get on the digital tools needed.  Any experience that comes out of it tends to be scrambled if retained at all, and the idea of patiently building deeper understanding doesn’t have a chance.  The hook becomes the reason for the lesson rather than anything you can immerse yourself in and take away afterwards.

I’ve heard students talk about how they ‘did’ a rollercoaster – as though their interaction with it somehow affected the outcome.  The rollercoaster did them, they didn’t do the rollercoaster.  When students talk about video games designed to deliver you to a conclusion I feel the same way – the game played you, you didn’t play the game.  When failure is never an option, you never get to succeed at anything.  It’s the difference between real and not real experience.  I’m willing to bet that, if surveyed, the majority of students would feel that their education was something that was done to them rather than anything they had a say in the outcome of.

When I think of those millions who press their way through Disney to see concrete starfish plastered on walls when real ones are only a few miles away at the beach, I wonder what it is we’re aiming at in terms of engagement.  Giving people what they want is often pointless when what they want is empty.

 

A State of Constant Surprise

On the bike I tend to pay very close attention to people piloting the boxes around me, mainly because they can quite easily hurt me.  That close attention has shown me that a surprising number of drivers (anecdotally more than half) are in a constant state of surprise.  They jump when they notice someone walking down the sidewalk, they start when a light changes in front of them; they are permanently startled by everything around them.

These jumpy people must be exhausted when they get out of the car.  I wonder if they are equally surprised by everything when they go for a walk.  Perhaps their subconscious is just continually reminding them that this driving thing is a bit more than they can manage.  Next time you’re riding or driving try to consciously register how often you’re surprised by events around you.  It’ll say something about how well you’re doing it.

When I started driving I found that my mind wandered and I wasn’t always paying attention to what I was doing.  After an accident (not entirely my fault, but I could have avoided it had I been paying better attention) I made a promise to myself to make driving the priority in my mind when I’m at the wheel.  I developed a relaxed, alert driving style that allowed me to take in what was around me while also being able to respond to it quickly and smoothly.  When I did something wrong or found myself in a bad situation, I’d consciously review it and ask myself how it got like that and try think of alternatives for the next time.  It took me a long time, some advanced driving courses and some track time to get me where I wanted to be in terms of driving, but I don’t look surprised or start at everything I see like a rabbit in a field.  I suspect most people are lost in thought when driving matters interrupt them, and if something bad happens embarrassment forces them to ignore it rather than critically review it.

Most drivers behind the wheel.  Being freaked out is not the
same thing as being alert or responsive.

If you don’t make a conscious effort to develop a skill it atrophies.  Practice by itself isn’t improvement.  In many cases it’s just reinforcing bad habits, which is what I see every day when I’m closely watching the habitual people around me with years behind the wheel driving in a constant state of shock and awe.

When you consider that the last time most drivers made an effort to learn how to drive was when they needed to get a license, many of them are not only trapped in bad habits but have also forgotten what little they did pick up years ago.  Bafflingly, insurance companies award these ‘expert’ drivers with lower rates.  There is nothing expert about them.

People often say that riding a motorcycle on the street is a dangerous business and they aren’t wrong.  Getting hit by a startled rabbit in a three ton metal box is gonna hurt no matter how startled they are.  The trick is to see the rabbits and give them enough space to drive badly, it’s all they know how to do.

Spring has Sprung (kind of): the first 2019 Motorcycle Photography

With winter reluctantly letting go of our necks, I’ve been able to sneak the odd ride in amidst the ongoing ice rain and snow.  I recently got a Ricoh Theta V.  This has the same camera and resolution as the previous (and much cheaper) Theta S, but has much better in camera processing that allows it to take 4k video and make photos without as much lag.  What that means for the ongoing on-bike photography experiment is that I’m able to capture photos faster and catch moments that might have been missed before.  I mainly focus on still photos doing this, but I’ll eventually get around to taking some 4k video as well.


For the past month or so I’ve been able to sneak out between wintery blasts and catch some early on-bike shots using the mounting rig I built last year (a flexible octopus gripping tripod and an extended threaded rod that allows me to place the camera further away from the bike).  Here are some shots from the ThetaV:

Perhaps telling, I thought I’d grabbed the ThetaV but realized after I has the ThetaSC.  No real difference in photo or lens quality.  For on-bike shooting I’d suggest the cheaper and lighter SC, unless you’re big into 4k video.






Photos in this set run from March 24th to April 13th. Even last weekend I was still seeing patches of snow in ditches, though last Saturday was the first time I got back from a ride and didn’t have to wash all the salt and crud off the bike before putting it away.  It’s still fleece and leathers season if you’re riding in Canada in early spring.


As always, Photoshop and Lightroom do a good job of picking out details that can often be quite dark when they come off the Theta.  I typically screen grab images at about 1080p after framing them in the Ricoh software, which lets you move around within the image and find the best angle.  I’ve been able to collect higher resolution images off a 4k monitor.  The software for the Theta is very screen focused.  It’d be nice to have a maximum resolution option for print.


In addition to the photos, I’ve got some more digitally abstracted shots that head more into art than photography.  I still think this is a great way to catch the dynamics and immediacy of riding.  I’d love to be able to test the process in more extreme riding conditions, like at a track day.


 


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ECOO 2013 Presentation: Harness your nerdist ways

Still thinking about ECOO in a couple of weeks.  I’ve already taken a run at it on Dusty World once.  There is a lot in this, I’m still curious to see how it will unfold.

lanyrd.com/2013/ecoo13/schpzd/

We live in a time of profound change. The very definition of who and where we are is constantly changing. Never before in history have people been as connected to so many different people and places as they are now. Trends suggest it will only intensify. Are we doomed to a half existence in many places, constantly distracted, unable to complete a thought? Or will the person on the other side of this technological adolescence be multi-dimensional in ways we can’t currently imagine?

Come with me on an examination of recent history and future trends. How can we integrate or separate technology to better facilitate learning? How can we prepare students for the strange world they are about to graduate into? How can we survive and thrive in these times of profound change ourselves?

What started this line of thinking was a post in Dusty World in the spring called Digital House of Mirrors.  In that post I was trying to describe how digital technology is changing our sense of self:
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“Our selves are being stretched and amplified in ways they never have before.  Nick Carr’s The Shallows puts us on a pretty stark trajectory towards idiocy with what is happening to us.  The digitization of the self stretches us flat, making continuity of thought impossible and turning us all into distracted, simplistic cogs in a consumerist machine designed to turn us all into the lowest common denominator; none of us any smarter than our smartphones.”

www.robinsloan.com/epic/
Way back in 2006 a student showed me the video above.  That it was made so long ago is quite prescient.  They didn’t have the future exactly right, but they come surprisingly close in many ways.  The part that stuck with me the most is this quote:
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“At it’s best, edited for the most savvy readers, EPIC is a summary of the world, deeper, broader, and more nuanced than anything ever available before. But at it’s worst, and for too many, EPIC is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow, and sensational.”

If that doesn’t describe the experience of most ‘digital natives’ online, then I don’t know what does.  This is exactly the kind of habitual ignorance I find in technology use.  Children who have been immersed in digital technology have only learned to do what pleases them and know nothing about the technology itself, they aren’t generally literate.  They are like self-taught readers who have memorized a single comic book.
Whereas digital immigrant ignorance arises out of fear or pride, though they do still have some sense of what they don’t know.  The digital native is blissfully ignorant of what they don’t know, though they spend most of their lives now in that virtual world they know nothing about.

That technology could retard our ability to think is a dangerous consideration that a number of people are concerned about.  I don’t doubt that digital tools can enhance us as human beings, I’m writing this and you’re able to read it entirely due to digital technology.  Digital tech lets people work around authoritarian governments and democratize media.

I occasionally see people who are able to harness technology as a personal amplifier, but for far too many it is a source of distraction, habitual time wasting and a net loss for them.

A book I half read a while back was The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick.  I wasn’t able to get through the self help bit at the back, but the first half was an interesting autobiography of a guy immersed in technology to such a degree that it derailed him.  His philosophical change allowed him to regain control of his career and put what he describes as his nerdist ways to productive use.   Rather than spending eight hours a day playing World of Warcraft, Chris chose to focus his nerdly powers of concentration on productive activities.  He describes a nerd as someone who is able to hyper focus on minutia that fascinates them.  He broke his habitual use of technology by demanding that his fixations serve him instead of the other way around.  If it can work for a nerd (and we’re all nerds according to that definition) then it’ll work for everyone.

Is always on exhausting or exhilerating?  Is it functionally better to be connected?  What is the golden ratio for communicating f2f or remotely?  How could technology itself assist us in optimizing our presence both physically and virtually?  How can we highlight ineffective use of technology, analyze it and resolve it?

I suspect this is going to become a timeline.  With a bit of perspective I might be able to make some reasonably accurate predictions about where we going, because this is one big weird rabbit hole we’re all going down together and a lot of people are getting lost in it.

The followup post analyzing the ECOO13 conference can be found HERE.

Post Election Rants (best of facebook)

10:12am, May 6: ‎61.4% voter turnout. Positive tax returns should be automatically applied to the national debt if voters can’t bother to do this simple thing.
11:15am, May 6: Wow, the conservatives even won our student vote. The future’s so bright, I’ve got to start building a post apocalyptic shelter!
Responses:
… the mob that elects politicians is only interested in their own affairs, they are incapable of looking at the greater good. We’re at the pinnacle of mob run society (call it democracy if you want to). In a thousand years, assuming there is anyone around to write about it, democratic capitalism will be described as the engine that (hopefully almost) destroyed human civilization.
Any society based on self interest and greed is doomed, it’s just a matter of time.
Nature never rewards mindless voracity, it seeks balance.
***
In response to “it’s better than if the NDP or Libs won it”
Go for a walking tour of Northern Alberta, you might think differently. Ask anyone one internationally connected how Canada’s reputation has dropped, especially over environmental misdirection.

Somehow, in the past 24 hours, 24% of Canadians have implicitly endorsed Parliamentary contempt. Perhaps we should just chuck the system entirely, if the ruling party ignores it, and the opposition parties are worse… Canadian democracy’s a sham!

Ive got to stop reading factual, science based books on climate change (www.tvo.org/TVOsites/WebObjects/TvoMicrosite.woa?b%3F9078791267844400000). No one else will care until it’s too late, they all want cheap gas and business as usual. Our business as usual is making slaves of our grand children. We’re not even intent on trying to find a way out, the majority just want things to stay the same.

Any aliens monitoring facebook? I”m ready to go back to the mothership!

***
May 3rd, 10:53pm: After another epic failure of the first past the post system in representing actual voter interest, think we have any chance of seeing a fair and representative system with King Stephen? I wouldn’t hold your breath. Can’t wait to see the voter turnout next time around. We’ve got to have one of the only democratic systems that actually encourages voter apathy.
More Responses (to it’s pretty much business as usual with a stable government, so why worry):

One in four people just voted for parliamentary contempt. In one riding a complete turd burger who openly lied to everyone got re-elected (nice one Oda). One in four Canadians have open contempt for our governmental system and support a party that does too (and now has a majority). If our democracy’s based on parliament, then it’s a sham.

Canada won’t become a dictatorship, but it will continue to be a shifty, lying international presence that says one thing, does another and makes slaves of future generations in the process.

Oh, and more than one in three Canadians couldn’t be bothered to vote at all. It’s not really a democracy, is it? It’s more like gangs of roving political interest groups in-fighting and self aggrandizing themselves (I say that about all of the parties).

Student Driven Curriculum

One of the nice things about teaching computer technology is that you tend to get a lot of fanboys in the class.  They’re already giddy about the subject and keen to explore it (something sadly missing from many English students).  I’m hoping to harness that experience and energy this semester in senior computer engineering.

Ontario Comp-Tech, everything from programming to robotics!

Last summer I took my final, senior computer technology AQ, and we did a fair bit of focusing on curriculum expectations.  Those expectations are so broad that finding a teacher who is an expert in all of them would be pretty much impossible.  Fortunately for me I love being taught by my students (I’m as giddy and curious about comp-tech as they are).

Rather than present yet another linear, teacher-centric semester plan, we’re going to have a con-fab and talk about how to address the curriculum expectations.  They are trapped in the prehistoric tree sap of Ontario Ministry of Education documents which, at best, make for dry, inaccessible reading for students.  To make it accessible I summarized the key points in a prezi.  When the semester starts tomorrow we’re going to self organize around what we need and how we’re going to reach the remarkably diverse goals of the computer technology curriculum.

Hopefully the prezi format will make the goals of the course more accessible and allow us to plan out an approach that gets to all the expectations while allowing students to self direct their learning – a vital skill in an engineer.

There are threads in the course that run through the many diverse fields found in the curriculum document.  The design process is one of those keys to engineering that will serve us well while we plan out how to approach our learning.


The engineering design process is basically a forced feed-back loop that self corrects, leading to a solution.  It would work on everything from essay design to project management – it also leads to successful engineering projects.

If it works for NASA, it’ll work for us!

In our case we’re going to apply it to the curriculum of our courses.  Based on the time we have, access to equipment and experience in the class, we’re going to create a customized, student driven curriculum plan that (I hope) will also encourage student buy in.

I want to make our lab into a maker space, so my focus is going to be on facilitating equipment in order to feed hands on engineering projects.  As long as students are effectively exploring computer technology and expanding both their interests and the breadth of their knowledge, then I’m happy with the process.  My role will be to amplify their learning rather than direct it, and I hope to start that process with a self directed semester plan that we generate together next week.

While I’m at it, I’ll also get some feedback on my expansion plans to computer technology.  Who better to ask than my target audience?


Competitive Urges: Skills Canada National Finals in Edmonton, 2018

I’ve hesitated to post this because I get the sense that competition is generally sneered upon in Ontario classrooms these days.  With earnest people saying everyone is a genius and anyone with the urge to pick up a tool is a craftsperson, something like Skills Canada might seem like a cruel and unusual way to show that as obviously incorrect.
 
I’ve always had a competitive streak and think there is real value in both winning and losing, but losing really bothers me (hence, competitive streak).  This was written on a long flight back from Edmonton as I struggled with failure.  Contrary to popular belief, I consider this to be a good thing.
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Can you feel the heat?  Skills Canada Nationals is a pressure cooker of excellence!


I was in a foul mood when I started writing this, but by the end I’d thought my way out of the frustration, which is the most I can ask from a reflection…


I’m at a loss to explain how we can be so dominant in provincial competition and then fumble Nationals.  Two times now we’ve taken the time and expense to come out to Skills Canada Nationals and have come up short.  In the latest case I could not have possibly arranged things any better.  From coop to employment opportunities to multiple in-class opportunities and supports, my current candidate had every tool possibly on hand to achieve success, but we haven’t.  This is the worst possible time to ask me (on the plane, flying home, empty handed), but I’m feeling tired, frustrated and struggling to understand why I’d go through this again.

4am wake up for a 10am departure – moving hundreds of
people, many of them with hundreds of pounds of tools
is a logistical challenge.

A consistent issue with leaving our small town to come to nationals is circumstantial.  In our first go around, the social pressure around missing high school prom proved such a distraction that my candidate arrived with a pocket full of angry texts and little chance to focus on preparing for the coming battle.  In this year’s case, a sports injury in a pointless local game the week before the competition led to a week away in wheelchairs and on crutches.  In both cases small town life conspired to produce the kind of static that knocked capable technicians off a medal.   But maybe there is more to it than that.


I don’t think the competition is particularly technically challenging.  There is nothing asked that my competitors aren’t directed to and encouraged to get a handle on.  This has worked so well provincially that we’ve medalled the past three years (two golds and a bronze), but at Nationals both times the wheels have fallen off the cart.  That we can do so differently at two near identical competitions suggests that our issue is psychological, not technical.

Team Ontario is a monster!

So, what about Nationals is so overwhelming?  The assumption (I think) is that Nationals will be next level, but Ontario provincials have many more competitors from many more schools.  Getting out of Ontario is by far the most difficult part, and we’ve managed it twice.  The people we face at Nationals aren’t IT unicorns; they’re kids, all with less experience in competition.  In some cases they only had to show up to get to Nationals because there were barely any provincial competitors.   I’d assumed that our previous ‘blind’ Nationals experience (where we placed 4th anyway), had prepared us for this one.  My candidate was more experienced, more focused (barring sports injuries and school plays) and had been given many more opportunities to develop their IT skills than our first go around, yet subjectively we’ve underachieved.  Our best hope now, prior to knowing the scoring, is a tie with our last attempt, but I fear that might be too much to hope for.

Got the kit…

Last year we blew provincials and didn’t go through.  I lay the blame for that entirely at my own feet.  The change to a Toronto based venue meant a cruel and unusual commute that made us exhausted and late; we didn’t have a hope of peak performing (yet we still managed a medal).  This year we did back flips arranging hotels and finding ways to minimize the financial burden on our competitors in order to ensure our best shot, and that worked.  Leading up to Nationals I made sure everything was taken care of and any possible need was filled prior to sitting down to compete.


Expectations are perhaps the killer here.  Our first time around I took Nationals to be a reconnaissance.  We’d already over achieved to such a degree at Provincials that I was just happy to be there.  Sure, a medal would have been nice, but understanding the contest was my real goal.  That we came so close to getting a medal had me convinced we were moving in the right direction.  This time around my previous champion gave a detailed rundown of what to expect on Nationals and we didn’t go in blind, yet we have failed to capitalize on that information.  This could mean it was bad information, but I doubt that.  It could also mean we simply didn’t make the time to make use of that information because my two competitors have an unhealthy competitiveness between them.   We have underperformed, yet the competition was described as too easy, and we knew what was coming.  How are we bottom half?  With the medal ceremony behind us, I’m left wondering where we are, and, as a coach, I don’t like the feeling – the lack of understanding feels like a failure on my part.


This might sound like whinging or poor sportsmanship, but I didn’t spend all the time and money and stress to not place again.  This isn’t even a case of gold or die, just knowing we were there or thereabouts would have met my expectations; I don’t think that’s an absurdly challenging goal.  If we didn’t want to be competitive, why did we compete?

Pre-contest huddle.

One of the more surprising aspects of this trip was just how different my competitor was.  On our first go I had what looked like an Eastern European rock star who had the swagger to go with it.  He had the technical chops, but his cockiness also meant he’d tackle problems aggressively and with some verve; he wasn’t intimidated by anyone or anything.  I suspect that fourth place finish was as much the result of that fearlessness as it was his technical skill.


This time around I had an anxious perfectionist who I couldn’t read very well and (I fear) I didn’t coach as effectively as I could have.  Maybe, in this case, a less acerbic approach might have served us better, but my approach to coaching and teaching has always been to encourage an independent and experiential approach to the challenges of technology.  I give students the gears if they make a silly mistake, but never penalize them for it.  The ones who stick around end up resilient, self-aware and technically superior.  I don’t baby students and hand them answers, I’d rather see them struggle to a solution themselves.  The result is a technician who might not know all the answers, but damn well knows how to find them.

Like herding cats…



Except at Nationals.


This time around I had a university bound, academically strong student for whom this was just one of many feathers in his hat.  This is his second national final in an ICT related field in as many weeks.  At the CyberTitan National Competition, on our first go at it, we placed as high as I’d hoped we would and that trip was (I think) a great success.  My expectations here were actually similar this week, to finish in the top half, but we’ve failed to do that.  There were only 7 competitors in the national IT & Networking final – three provinces and all the territories failed to produce candidates who could meet national standards – so finishing in the top half would have meant a medal.


My first national finalist was a college bound kid who had been on the verge of failing in the years before and found his way out of that mess though finding his genius in info-tech.  He ended up going to college for IT and considers his Skills experience a vital piece of his career (as he should).  I never once heard my first champion say, ‘it’s just IT’ when someone asked him what competition he was in, but I heard that too many times this week.  Downplaying the field of study (I fear) when competing at the national level in it was a reflection of the doubt that plagued this medal run.  At one point I heard, “I don’t understand why I’m here with all these people” (meaning experts in their skilled trade).  I thought it might have been false modesty, but it in retrospect it was doubt, which is a disaster when you’re in a pressure cooker like Skills Nationals.  Maybe I should have identified that and talked about it earlier, but if years of straight ‘A’s in computer and software technology courses, multiple provincial medals, full time summer employment as a  network technician, a top five finish in the related cybersecurity contest nationally, detailed notes from all the competitors who came before and a coop in IT wasn’t enough to instill some confidence, I fear nothing will.  I don’t think this result was a deficit of technical skill.

Watching mastery across such a wide range of skills
never gets old.  If you get a chance, go to Skills Nationals.

This year in electronics we took a giant step backwards, to the point of me wondering if we were ever moving in the right direction.  My competitor was crushed by our poor result and this prompted me to chase down her judges and request some clarification on our results.  She’d actually ended up in the medals on the two toughest categories (building circuits), which helped restore some confidence.  Then we got clarification on what we missed, which has shed such a bright light on what we need to do that I can’t believe we won’t be contenders next year.  Her response to all of this was stubborn anger.  I can work with that.  One of the judges encouraged her to hang in there saying, ‘it’s the failures that toughen you up and eventually make you a champion.’  It’s that kind of thing that makes me want to do the hours and hours of volunteer work it takes to build up to winning provincials again and perhaps going through another exhausting and potentially hope crushing week at nationals.


Maybe one of the things I need to be doing when I’m looking for candidates to take on this overwhelming challenge is to look for the tenacious scrappers who can’t, won’t and don’t stop.  Maybe that was missing this year.  A student following in his brother’s footsteps for whom things had fallen into place, winning medals even when he claims the whole thing was a disaster was suddenly doubtful of his place in the competition.  I don’t know what to do with that.  Maybe that judge is right – it’s overcoming the setbacks that make you commit to the competition and fight with conviction.  Win or lose, if we left everything on the competition floor I’d be happy with the result, but something stopped us from doing that this time.  Perhaps it was the injury, perhaps it was nerves, perhaps I’m just the wrong coach for a this particular student, which is a shame for us both.


I didn’t do well in school.  You can count the number of ‘A’s I got on one hand.  Things generally have never come easily to me, I have had to fight for them.  I dropped out of college, out of an apprenticeship and struggled to get into and through University.  I’m good at many things, but I don’t think I’ve ever been a natural at anything.  The things I’m good at are the result of determination and stubborn disregard for failure.  It’s that kind of tenacious student that I’m best able to help because I can identify with them.  I find the honour roll perfectionists alien and don’t always know how to work with them to bring out their best.  Perhaps the best thing I could have done here was to send another teacher instead.  If I could go back and rerun this week over and over again Groundhog Day style, that would be one of the variations I’d try.


I’m most effective helping the stubborn, scrappy student I have much more in common with attain their mastery than I am trying to aim an honour roll kid at gold.  Those scrappy students also play to my love of underdogs.  As I said earlier, perhaps expectations are what make this so difficult to take.  This time I thought I’d brought a howitzer to a knife fight.  As fixated as I am in this moment on failing to medal again, in less fraught moments I’m more about a good struggle than I am about winning – but it’d sure be nice, just once, to sit on this long road home with something tangible to show for it.

***

A week after we got back we had an interview with the local paper.  When asked what I thought something like Skills Canada does for a student I immediately went to the degree of resilience it develops.  I truly believe that competition is good for us all, and that competition has to involve winning and losing.  At the opening ceremony the MC asked the audience of hundreds of competitors who was going to win a medal, they all started cheering – the unspoken disappointment was left hanging in the air, you can’t all be winners.  More people come home disappointed after Skills Nationals than satisfied.  That’s no bad thing.  My goal as a coach is to find ways to help competitors put their best foot forward.  This year has taught me a lot about how I can better do that.

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Plugs, Calipers and Frozen Feet

The spark plug (bottom right) is easy to get to once
you remove the distributor caps mounted to the frame.

Yesterday began with a spark plug change on the Concours.  There are two (for lack of a better term) distributor caps (CoG got me sorted, they’re coils!) in the shape of cylinders attached to the frame under the fuel tank.  Removing these makes for a fairly straightforward spark plug swap.  Someone had been in here before as one of the distributors wasn’t properly attached to the frame (the rear bolt was seized).  With the unit removed it was relatively easy to free everything up in the vice.

I used to be pretty good at gapping plugs by eye, but I hadn’t done it in a while.  I got better as I worked through the plugs and the last one only needed a minor adjustment.  The plugs all came out without issue and the new ones went in by hand and then got torqued to spec (14Nm).

The two middle plugs are tucked in behind the radiator and don’t collect much road cruft.  The two on the outside have a tougher life.   Other than being filthy, the plugs didn’t show any internal issues.

With the plugs sorted and the under tank electrics cleaned and seated properly, I turned my attention to the rear brake caliper.  I’ve got a replacement metal brake line, so the old rusty rubber one is going in the spares bin.  The caliper came apart quite easily.  The rear brake on the Concours has always been excellent, but was starting to whine as the pads got thin.  With nothing seized and the main bits just needing a good cleaning, I think this will go back together nicely with new pads and brake lines.  I’d meant to order a caliper rebuild kit from Canada’s Motorcycle, but my order got mixed up with a bearing puller I didn’t need.  At least now I can tell you how good their return process is.

follow-up:  I requested a return on January 24th and got a shipping label in a reply email a day latter (which I thought was good).  I sent it off that day.  I just got a confirmation email today (Feb 3 – 10 days later) saying it will be another 3-6 days before I see a refund… and I’m charged seven bucks for returning it.  Compared to motorcycle-superstore.com’s over the top customer service (immediate, free returns, what can we do to prevent this happening in the future?), I’m left thinking twice about shopping on canadasmotorcycle.ca.


While I’m waiting on the rear caliper rebuild kit I can do the fronts, which is what I’m aiming to get done today.  It’s officially frickin cold outside (-20°C overnight, -12°C now), and even with the thick rubber mats I’ve got down in the garage and the heater going, I still ended up with foot cramps from the cold at the end of three hours in there yesterday.  Winter in Canada can get pretty tedious.  This is one of those days.  If someone called and said they could fly me somewhere warm to ride a bike next weekend, I’d be in heaven.

The two cylindrical distributor caps (COILS! bottom middle &
top right with the spark plug wires coming out of them)
are held down by two bolts.  Once removed from the
frame spark plug access is straight forward.
A longer view of the spark plug.


Get off the Bus and Drive

The transition from institutionalized, single platform education technology to a decentralized model is in full swing at our school.  I’m getting blow back from various teachers who want things to remain as they’ve always been.  I don’t think they mean ditto machines, facsimiles and telegrams, but they might.  There is always a tendency to fight advances in technology, it’s difficult to change ingrained habits.

The difference between this and previous technological shifts is that we’ve institutionalized helplessness into educational digital technology.  We’ve convinced teachers that computers are an appliance and networking is a utility.  We treat internet access the same way we treat electricity or water delivery; it’s off loaded to a bureaucracy who guarantees delivery.  As the old guard retires and their traditional thinking around passive technology use fades, we are left with whole generations of teachers who have been taught to do nothing except sit on the institutionally provided bus and go where it takes them.  Complaining about it is about all they can do.

Any decision making about educational technology has long been taken from teachers.  Digital learning tools are seen as remotely operated apparatus that should be dropped the moment they don’t perform as expected.

When I suggest that teachers can get off the #edtech bus and drive their own educational technology they get anxious; driving a car takes a lot of effort compared to sitting on the bus.  You not only have to drive it, but you’ve got to look after it too, make sure it has gas, service it, take ownership of it.  The reward is much finer control over how you travel on your journey.

If you want to get where you’re going (making education relevant and useful to your students?) driving your technology will get you there much sooner.  You’ll get to decide what vehicle to take, what options to put on it, and even how you want various technologies to enhance your teaching.  Diversification of technology is vital to a better understanding of what it is and how to use it effectively. Digital technology isn’t one app or one platform, it is a sea change in how we access and share information.

Driving your own technology usage does take a lot more effort than sitting on the #edtech bus, though it’s just a different kind of effort.  All that energy you used to expend on worrying when the bus would show up?  or why it’s so old and dilapidated?  You can now spend deciding what to get, what options you want and how you want to implement it.  You get to decide what, when and how your students are using technology to enhance their learning; you get to actually control your digital learning environment.

That last bit is perhaps the most enjoyable part of driving your own technology use; being able to control your #edtech environment is a key factor in customizing 21st Century learning to suit your students.

If we treated classrooms the way we treat digital learning environments, all rooms would be exactly the same, with the same seating plans, the same chalk boards and the same size.  Those classrooms would also be years out of date, and the teacher couldn’t move a table or chair if they wanted to, because they’d all be nailed to the floor.  If you dare to ask why the furniture is nailed to the floor you’d be reprimanded with a fear based diatribe on how not keeping everything locked down and the same is potentially dangerous to your students and staff.

A Digital Skills Continuum: Differentiation of technology is a key to technical fluency!

If you’re teaching using technology you’re also teaching technology, and it would behove you to know what’s under the hood.  Being ignorant of the machinery you’re operating makes you a very bad driver indeed.  You don’t necessarily need to be a full-on mechanic, but a tinkerer’s mindset allows you to understand and look after your own needs in terms of the technology you use.

There are going to be some crashes with all these new drivers coming onto the road, but each collision will result in a learning experience.  I only hope that teachers who are inexperienced are willing to look past the messiness of their own learning to the possibilities opening up to them in a digital world.  At some point we’ll tip over and teachers will accept that competence in technology isn’t someone else’s job but an integral part of their profession in the twenty-first century, just as it has become a basic fluency in so many other professions.