Royan’s Delemma

This post originally published on Dusty World, Thursday, 18 July 2013

Royan Lee’s Spicy Learning Blog (it’s in my list of favourites on the side of Dusty World), asks some hard questions as digital technology matures and reaches mass appeal…

“How are we going to do this, folks? How will we foster critical mindsets of what it means to check that I Agree button, especially in regards to students that are in our charge but not our own children?”


My response…

There is something about mass adoption that shifts a market from focusing on literate early adopters to the willfully ignorant masses.  When the herd finally adopts a technology it becomes a race to reach the widest range of people (including the lowest denominator).

When they started manufacturing automobiles in the early 1900s each one was hand crafted, almost unique and required either your own personal mechanic or you were the mechanic.  As automobiles became more popular, the landscape changed, systems became synchronized, the car became a cookie cuttered piece of mass assembly designed in more complicated ways to ask less of the driver – the only sense of individuality was found in the frantic marketing.  The technology itself matured into operator simplicity in order to get even the most incompetent people behind the wheel.

saganquoteSound familiar Microsoft?  Google?  Apple?  Fanboy/girlism is one of the clearest signs that we’ve moved past the early adopter stance on digital technology and are now catering to the main stream (I say that in the most derogatory way possible) where marketing dictates sales because the majority of people have no idea how the technology works.  It’s in this environment that giant legal documents creep in to user agreements and business finds more insidious ways to make use of the ignorant consumer.

If you look at owner’s manuals from long ago they were full of technological information on how the product worked (so you could fix it).  Nowadays you get legalese and idiot diagrams designed to hide the inner workings.  The machines themselves are even put together intentionally to prevent you from repairing them.

http://thebikeshed.cc/2013/12/10/christians-exesor/
Most mechanical sub cultures survive and thrive on a hands-on ethos. Shed Built motorbikes in the current custom scene are a badge of pride.

The only real way to save yourself from the vapid consumerism and accompanying ignorance that drives mass adoption is through the hacking ethos of maker culture; this has never died.  Cars are being stamped out for the unwashed masses by multi-nationals but there has always been a thriving underground of maker/hackers who ignore the rules designed for the ignorant and come to relate to the technology in a direct, more complete way.

If you want to save yourself and your students from this ignorant, consumerist relationship with technology then find their inner hacker!  Get into the nuts and bolts and bend technology to your will.  Using your hands and your head to get inside the machines sold to us frees you from the consumerist trap.  Freedom is only a hack away!

 

Some reading to save your mind:
www.matthewbcrawford.com/  a brilliant, modern attack on consumerist thinking and the power of your hands to save you

… and the follow up:  www.matthewbcrawford.com/new-page-1-1/
I used to have links to the maker manifesto here but evidently it’s been turned into a book and isn’t available online any more.  That says something about the current state of the maker movement…

Don’t give up!  Just don’t follow the road more travelled, even if it’s paved for you by people determined to monetize you…

MediaSmarts: Battling Consumerism




Bikers & Motorcyclists

Bikers

 The other week I posted a discussion on the Concours Owners Group asking how to pass a large group of bikers on the road.  That discussion sparked an angry rebuttal condemning me for mocking the happy pirate look that a large portion of the (especially) North American motorcycle community identifies with.  Personally, I’d say people can dress however they want and ride whatever they want, but I get the sense that the pirate types don’t feel that way.  On COG I was trying to be funny, but with an edge.  On the Georgian Bay circumnavigation I ran into some corporately attired Harley riders who wanted to point out how much unlike them I looked.  It felt like hazing with the intent of getting me to look like a proper biker.  Nothing will get my back up faster than someone telling me I have conform to their standard, especially when it’s a stupid standard.  The irony wasn’t lost on me that these rebels without a clue whose look is predicated on nonconformity were uncomfortable with a motorcyclist not in proper uniform.

 One of the reasons I make a point of reading British biking magazines is because they are free of (and willing to make fun of) this dominant North American biking culture.  They don’t worship Harley Davidson as the one and only motor company, and they try to look at the breadth of motorbiking rather than forcing a single version of it down everyone’s throats.  Had I the boat load of money that they cost I would happily buy an HD V-Rod (not considered a ‘real’ Harley by purists because it’s liquid cooled).  It’s a fine machine and I’d get one for that reason, but I don’t think I’d ever buy a motorcycle because of the manufacturer alone, I’m not that politically driven.

When I first started riding I was shiny and new about it and told one of my colleagues who rode that I was just starting out.  He asked me what I got and when I told him a Ninja he put his nose in the air and said, “hmm, isn’t that like riding tupperware?”  Just recently I told him I was thinking about getting a dual sport.  He said, “why would you want that?  It’d be like riding a toolbox!”  In the biker ethos there is only one kind of bike with a single aesthetic. If you don’t conform expect criticism.

In talking to other motorcyclists I’ve noticed a consensus that the cruiser crowd tends to be holier-than-thou, not returning a wave or giving you the gears at a stop for not conforming to the dress code.  Motorcyclists tend to be iconoclasts.  They have to be or they’d be doing what everyone else does – riding around in the biggest cage they could afford.  Yet the act of riding isn’t enough for some.  There are also social expectations that these rebellious non-conformists expect all riders to conform to.

At the end of the day I’m a fan of two wheeling.  I’d call myself a motorcyclist.  I get as excited about looking at historical Harleys as I do at racing tupperware or riding toolboxes.  I only wish more bikers would be less critical of anything other than their singular view of the sport.  I refuse to conform to their nonconformity.

Motorbike Dreams

The first motorcycle dream I had was barely remembered, but I woke up pulling hard on the brake with my hand instead of using my foot.  I’ve had driving dreams for years, but I can clearly remember that first time I woke up aware of operating a bike in my dreams.  I can’t remember the context, but it was nice to know my subconscious was working over the details of riding as much as my conscious mind was.

The other day while home from work sick with the flu I woke up from a much more complex dream.  In it I was trapped in a parking lot after trying all sorts of vehicular attempts to drive past customs in order to leave (I’d just been to The States, so perhaps that’s why I had borders on my mind).

I found the Concours sitting on some shipping containers at the back of the lot and suddenly I’m riding it like a trials bike, jumping down from one container to the next until I get down and am able to escape from the parking lot.  Cars couldn’t get me out of there but my bike could!

Strangely, I can’t recall dreaming about the Ninja, though I spent a lot of time turning it blue again.  Maybe the soul of the machine isn’t in the finish.  I’ve spent a lot more time deep inside the Connie getting it road worthy, perhaps that time has endeared it to me.  In any case, I feel a kinship to the Connie that I haven’t with the Ninja, which makes me look forward to the end of the cold even more.

I was originally thinking about where to get Kawasaki stickers once I’ve got it refinished, but now I’m thinking of finding some Corellian Engineering Corporation stickers and doing the Concours up in full Millennium Falcon style.

From the documentary:  Why We Ride



The Tyranny of Collaboration

I was talking to a digital native the other day in English class about Shakespeare.  This particular Millennial is a top 5%er who will go on to do great things.  She was wondering who the people who wrote Shakespeare were.  I was surprised at the question as I’ve always thought one person wrote Shakespeare.  I even have trouble with the classist conspiracy types who think an actor couldn’t be that smart so a noble must have done it.  Having read a lot of Shakespeare (all of it actually) over decades, I know his voice, and it isn’t a voice by committee; that kind of brilliance doesn’t happen around a meeting table.

I thought it interesting that the Millennial mind assumes collaboration, infecting her own generation’s constant interaction across history.  The internet has turned the digital natives who live in it into a hive mind.  They can’t form an opinion without socializing or turning to the internet for information. Their waking lives are awash in constant communication.  They describe moments ‘trapped’ in their own mind when they are unplugged as boring.

The modern mind is open in a way that someone from 20 years ago, let alone 400 years ago, would find alarming. Our marvellous information revolution has not only made our data public, it is also changing what we think we are individually capable of.  Needless to say, if we start thinking that individual genius can’t happen in the quiet of our own minds, it won’t.

A smart, capable digital native can’t conceive of a single mind being capable of producing great works, they must be the result of never ending communication and collaboration.  A couple of centuries from now people who have been immersed in digital communications for generations will wander around The Van Gogh Museum or read Macbeth and think that people from back then must have been mental giants to do these things alone, that or they’ll reinvent history as each age does, in its own image, seeing collaboration and minds peeled open under a barrage of constant communication where none were.

Education hops on the back of this communication revolution (flood?) and has integrated collaboration into just about every aspect of learning.  Leveraging technology to find new and exciting ways of collaborating is one of the pillars of early Twenty-First Century education.  Students have lost the idea of personal mind-space thanks to current communications habits.  The classroom, one of the last places where a student might find privacy in their own heads has been crushed under the weight of expectations from this social shift.  Much of this is shrouded in talk of engagement and preparing students for the modern world.  I just hope that preparation has real advantages for the student in terms of personal development.  I’m starting to doubt that.

Brainstorming about the advantages of deep thinking in your own head – from an ENG3u class two years ago…



We Live in the Future! Motorcycle Gadgetry

This nice bit of graphic design caught my eye.  The Tomtom GPS system is uniquely suited to motorcycling.  It’s waterproof, bar mounted and offers some smart software that is motorbiking specific – like find the windiest route between here and there.

A weatherproof GPS that could be easily accessed with a gloved hand while on the bike is a prudent safety decision.  Instead of trying to look at maps on the tankbag I could be using the corner of my eye to follow a route.  I’m a fan! 

As if the Tomtom wasn’t enough, I then came across the 360Fly.  I’ve been GoPro fixated since they first came out, and tried other action cameras, but this is something else.

The 360Fly isn’t just an action camera, it’s an immersive video recorder, making 360° video that you can pan through as you watch it.  There is no cropping with this camera, it’s like you can turn your head within the recording!  The video becomes a complete record of what happens instead of just what the camera is pointed at.

I can’t wait to try this on a motorcycle!

Lessons From Skills Canada

Originally published April, 2012 on Dusty World (and the precursor to many more Skills Ontario posts)…

Friday I chaired the video creation Skills Canada regional competition in Guelph.  Ours was a competitive division with five teams who had to film, edit and post-produce a pre-planned thirty second ad in four hours.  Only three teams could place and only the top team could move on to the provincial competition.

Some observations stood out:

  • The hard deadlines came as a shock to many of the students, who aren’t used to them any more (we don’t really require hard deadlines in class any more)
  • The competitive nature of the competition concerned a number of the teams, who couldn’t comprehend being allowed to lose in school (we don’t really integrate competitive winning and losing in class any more)
  • The sense of satisfaction that resulted from getting a quality piece of work done in the time given surprised many of the students (we don’t really allow students to develop a sense of satisfaction from completing work on time – on the contrary, a number of students recently told me at parent teacher interviews that they are sick and tired of knocking themselves out to complete work by deadlines only to see slack and idle students hand in the same thing whenever they get around to it).
  • At the rewards ceremony many of the students were at a loss as to how to act when they’d won (stony faced and blankly indifferent were the norm, broken up by the odd grin).  They were also unable to recognize what losing gracefully looked like.
  • In the automotive technology section the announcer said, “congratulations gentlemen” only to realize that one of the gold medallist was female (from our school!) and back pedal.   If we’re going to break the gender assumptions around skilled trades, it starts here (and is).
  • Skills Canada has reinforced for me (yet again) that media arts isn’t an arts course so much as it’s a technical skills course that includes artistic input (like carpentry).  We just got rather brutally cut for new students while being administered by the fine arts department, I think in great part because what we’re teaching is being administered by a department that doesn’t know how to present us or what to do with us.
Skills Canada is a wonderful program that empowers students to embrace their passions in the skilled trades.  Often looked down upon by the academically prejudiced teachers (all university grads deeply ingrained in academia), many of these students with smart hands and kinesthetically focused minds look like failures to the pen & paper classroom teacher.
Our school is fortunate to have a busy and wide ranging technology department with many course options.  Those hands-smart, kinesthetic thinkers must suffer in smaller schools full of class rooms and little else.
Having participated in Skills Canada for two years now, I’m a fan.  I plan to encourage our computer engineering students to put their names in for the IT competition, and our media arts students to jump into the crucible, they come out tempered by the experience.
As one of the grade 12s said at the end of the day, “I was put off by the competition and now I’m sorry I never tried this before.  It was a great experience, and a great challenge.  I wish I had a chance to do it again, now that I’ve tried it, I want to do it again better.”  That is the greatest lesson of competition, it clarifies how you can improve in no uncertain terms, and then offers you another chance to show what you know.  Of course, as a senior he won’t be here next year.
I’ve got to find ways to get younger students involved in taking this risk, the rewards are great, and by grade 12 they’ll be weathered veterans who can take a competitive run at the medal stand.  Nothing they do in class helps prepare them for the world they are about to walk out into more.

ECOO 2016 Reflections: maker spaces and iteration

The maker movement isn’t a fad to
engage students.  The people who
believe in it live it.

Back from the 2016 ECOO Conference, I’ve let things mull over for a couple of days before reflecting:  

On maker spaces…

Last year’s conference was very excited about Maker Spaces, and that focus seems to have died down.  To develop meaningful maker spaces means believing in and adopting the thinking behind it.  The people behind the maker movement believe in it passionately, they live it. Education’s ADD means that making was never going to go that far in the classroom.  The moment I heard teachers complaining about the extra work makerspaces created I knew it was doomed.  Most teachers aren’t curious about how things work and don’t want to play with reality, they’re concerned about delivering curriculum.  

I suspect many maker spaces in classrooms have become either dusty corners or play areas.  It was nice to see the monolithic educational system flirt with something as energetic and anarchistic as the maker movement though, even if it was only for a short while.

On Iteration…

This came up a several times in the conference.  A couple of years ago Jaime Cassup gave an impassioned keynote on the value of iteration.  His argument, based on the software industry’s approach to building code, was to fail early and fail often.

This time around Jesse Brown brought it up again, citing Edison’s, I didn’t fail a thousand times, I found a thousand ways that didn’t work quote.  He then (strangely) went on to compare his being let go as a radio broadcaster and lucking in to a tech startup as an example of iteration, which it isn’t.  Doing one thing and then stumbling into something completely unrelated when it ends isn’t iteration.

In education this misunderstanding is rampant.  Good students learn to do what they’re told as efficiently as possible in order to succeed in the classroom (‘lower level’ students are much more willing to take risks – they’re not as invested in the system).  A misunderstanding of iteration is what we use to justify and even encourage failure.   It has become another way to let digital natives’ video-game driven process of learning have its way, but it isn’t very efficient.

There is iteration in the engineering process, but it’s never
a fail early, fail often approach. If you don’t know why you
failed then you shouldn’t be rushing off to fail again.

The other week I gave my grade 12 computer engineers detailed explanations of how to build a network cable, a video showing it being done and then posted wiring diagrams showing the proper order.  The most capable students followed engineering process (a directed iterative process, rather than a random one) and produced working network cables more and more quickly.  The end result was no real cost for me (all my ends and wires were made into functional cables).

The majority of the students, perhaps because they live in our brave new Google world of fail often and fail early, or because people keep misquoting Edison at them, didn’t read the instructions (who does any more, right?) and just started throwing ends on cables, crimping them badly and producing failure after failure.  This is great though because they’re engaged, right?

When I got angry at them they were belligerent in return.  How dare I stifle their creativity!  Unfortunately, I’m not assessing their creativity.  They are trying and that’s all I should be asking for!  I’m not grading them on engagement either.  I have been brandishing the engineering process throughout their careers in computer technology, but these video-game driven iterators think their die early, die often approach in games is perfectly transferable to the real world.  Bafflelingly, many educators are gee-whizzing themselves into this mindset as well.  You’ll quickly find that you run out of budget if you do.

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Autumn Colours Motorcycle Photography

On bike photos courtesy of a Ricoh Theta V on a flexible tripod attached to the rear view mirror of my trusty Triumph Tiger 955iThe route was from my home in Elora up through Beaver Valley to the shores of Georgian Bay before coming back through Duntroon and up the Noisy River out of Creemore before heading back down the Grand River home.  The interesting bits were tracing the Niagara Escarpment, the only vaguely interesting roads anywhere near me.


If you want a primer on how to take on-bike photos like this, you can find it here.  It has also been published on Adventure Motorcycle Rider here.

That time I got stuck behind a blockade of Polaris Slingshots on the Noisy River Road…

Google Photos Album here.

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Architect of the Future

I just read @banana29‘s “Emergence of Web3.0” blog on the immediate future of the web.  Web3.0, if Alanna is on her game (and I know she is), looks like the next step in managing our data meltdown.

Last year ended with me in a dark and questioning place about the effects of digital media on how people think.  I’ve done my due diligence, and read The Shallows by Nick Carr.   Carr puts forward a compelling, well researched and accurate account of just what the internet is doing to people in the early 21st Century.  I see it in school every day with the digital zombies.  What is to become of the poor human too stupid to pass the are-you-human capcha?  The Shallows points us to our failure to manage the digital revolution we’ve begun.

I’ve decided to start off the new year by going to the opposite side of the digital Armageddon/digital paradise debate; I’ve just started Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near on the advice of a Quora member who describes The Singularity as the opposite of The Shallows.  Kurzweil begins the book with some math and an explanation of how exponential growth works.  In the process he suggests a different growth pattern than the one most people would intuitively follow.

If Kurzweil is right, and I suspect he is closer than many futurist speculators, then we are about to hit a period of accelerated growth similar to that of the industrial revolution.  Our floundering in data is much the same as the mid-nineteenth century’s floundering in early industrialization.  Like Dickins, Carr points to the perils of new technology and how it’s making us worse, and there is no doubt that, for the vast majority, it is making them worse at this early stage digitization.

Just as children were pressed into dangerous factory work and pollution killed millions in early industrialization, so our first steps into digitization have zombified much of the populace, making them less than what they were before.  Our heavy-handed, pre-digital habits have been hugely amplified by networked efficiencies and have hurt many digital natives in the process.  What used to be slow moving, linear marketing in the pre-digital age has become an unending avalanche of brain numbing, tedious attention grabbing on the nascent world wide web.

Sharing music on a mixed tape used to be a benign bit of theft between friends, of no real damage.  Take that idea of sharing music and digitize it, and suddenly you’ve crippled a major industry that only existed in the first place because live music was industrialized into sell-able media.  Digitization creates efficiencies that would seem completely foreign and unbelievable in previous contexts.

Having friends over to watch a movie, or going out to a movie together that happened before home video, suddenly turns into video sharing online, and stuns another media empire.  They struggled against VCRs, then got knocked flat by torrents, but at no point did they think it wasn’t OK to charge me $6 to see Star Wars in the theatre each of nine times, then $40 for the VHS, then another $40 for the DVD, then another $40 for the bluray (it’s not done yet, they’re going to resell it to me in 3D next).

Suddenly police states (like Egypt, Libya or San Francisco) can’t create silence and obedience out of fear, and dictators around the world are faced with a slippery new medium for communication that is not centrally administrated and controlled.  Dictators around the world (from media companies to Gaddafi) fear their loss of control over the signal.

We’ve always shared media, we’re a social species and love to share art that represents our stories and culture.  Digitization brought that back after a century of industrialized, centralization of culture that trivialized and often eradicated memes that weren’t attractive to enough people.  This subtle and persistent destruction of variation culturally bankrupted us by the end of the 20th Century.  To many, watching that monster die doesn’t bring on any waves of despair, and will usher in a renaissance of creativity.

Web2.0 pushed social media, allowing common interests and individual ideas to flourish regardless of geography.  No matter how trivial or insignificant your interest, you are always able to find a critical mass of people online who you can share your fascination with.  This has corrosively weakened the century of industrialized, forced shared interests we’ve all been required to live with.

Digitization is re-animating the idea of a more unique sense of the self.  You no longer have to be a brand name junkie based on massive, global industrial interests telling you what you should like.  Advertising is agonizing over this now, as are those massive, global interests.

Into this maelstrom of early digitization comes Carr, accurately describing how the early internet is a new medium, infected by the old industrial interests whose heavy handed marketing has created whole generations of attention deficit zombies.  When you combine the heavy handed tactics of pre-digital business with the near frictionless and always on nature of digital media, you get a recipe for Ritalin.

Like the soot covered, pollution infected children of the industrial revolution, the screen caged digital child is being treated roughly, but to expect that the early days of a revolution will be like the later days is not historically reasonable; though that shouldn’t stop us from fighting against the dehumanization of children caused by our current mistakes.

Those soot covered child-laborers prompted society to develop public education systems that eventually produced stunning break-throughs in all eras of human endeavor.  In fact, that initial failure of industrialization eventually produced a more educated and capable population thanks to the public education it caused.  We won’t see soot covered digital children forever.

The digital world we will eventually develop will have as much in common with 2012, as 1970 did with 1870.  And if you believe Kurzweil, the exponential growth curve will develop information technology and artificial intelligence so advanced that it begins self-recursion, drastically increasing capabilities.  No longer limited to biological evolution, Kurzweil forsees a  rate of growth that makes the industrial revolution look positively anemic.  It won’t take one hundred years for us to see as much change as industrialization did in a century.

This will happen less soon but more quickly than people suspect, such is the nature of exponential growth.  In the process we will  be abused by old habits on new technology less and less as more of us become more  capable.  Web2.0 and social media are a huge step in this direction.  We’ll beat back the manipulators and make the technology serve us rather than having economic interests overpowering us with their own heavy handedness.

If this seems like a lost cause, it isn’t; you can’t let something like The Shallows scare you off inevitable change.  You’re living in a transformative time, and these are the moments when the people who can see the truth of things to come become architects of the future.