Installing LED lighting on the ZG1K Rat Bike

The mighty ZG1K modified Concours is just about done.  I’ve been plumbing the depths of the wiring loom working out how to integrate LED headlights and indicators into a 1994 electrical harness based on much less efficient bulbs.  Jumping into the future like that freaked out the existing flasher relay that manages how quickly they blink.  

If you’re running big, old, inefficient bulbs, you get a nice steady indicator and hazard flash because those bulbs are heavy loads on the circuit.  The LEDs barely use anything at all by comparison, so suddenly the indicator relay is flashing so quickly it looks like a strobe light.

There are various ways to address this, but I think the easiest is to get an adjustable flasher relay (ten bucks on Amazon).  It plugs directly into the harness and can be adjusted for an indicator as quick or slow as you like.

I’ve still got to wire up the horn and headlights, but the bike is close to finished wiring wise.  I hope to be out later in the week checking off the other details and making sure everything is ready to go.  It has always been a quick bike, but now it’s a ninety pound lighter quick bike.  I’m looking forward to seeing what it can do when it’s finally road ready.

The ZG1K started out as a café racer conversion, but the muscular feel of the big-4 Kawasaki engine and the heavy duty frame made it look like more of a drag racer than a café racer.  Once I’d stripped it down I went with what I had.  If it had been a light weight single or twin engined machine then the café racer angle would have worked.  Had that been the case I would have gone with a finished, painted look, but once I started down the muscle bike route I started thinking it’d look better as a Mad Max themed post apocalypse rat bike.  Seeing Fury Road was how it got renamed the ZG1K Fury.

Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t short on motorcycle inspiration.  The art direction in that film is amazing.

The paint on the bike wasn’t too bad (it was rattle can but nicely finished and badged), but I ended up taking a sander to the tank one day and liked the result with the Kawasaki decal half sanded off; it felt much more radioactive that way.


With the old style round headlight but running LEDS and the stainless steel, drilled mounts I made for it, the bike looks old fashioned and rough but with weirdly futuristic details.  The rear lights look like they come out of Battlestar Galactica, but then the rest of the body panels (only where they are needed to cover up plumbing or electronics) are finished in some cut aluminum from the heat-shield that fell off my Mazda a couple of years ago.  Once committed to the rough look, I went looking for ways to stay consistent to it.  Ironically, the least ratty thing about the bike are the refinished and painted rims I had done before these whole thing started with a carb failure.  They never went on the original bike while it was on the road and they are by far the most perfect feature on this one that aims for imperfection.

Technical and aesthetic ideas for the custom bike were collected on a Pinterest board:



Once I’ve got everything together it’ll be a review of all the main systems to make sure everything it tight and works well.  I’ll bleed the brakes, make sure the engine is tight and dependable and then see how often I can get out on the thing.




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A Teacher Response to Nam Kiwanuka’s No more extensions: It’s time to cancel the school year

In response to: www.tvo.org/article/no-more-extensions-its-time-to-cancel-the-school-year


Nam Kiwanuka’s opinion piece on on TVO about why it’s time to cancel the school year highlights many of the problems with technology integration in Ontario’s education system.  As a computer engineering teacher in the system I’ve been continually frustrated by Ontario’s lack of focus on developing digital transliteracy in our education system.  There are no clear expectations around staff using digital tools and little to no PD around developing fluency in them.  Student digital transliteracy is at best sporadic and usually based in if they happen to luck out and get one of the minority of teachers who have personally decided to make themselves literate in 21st Century communications mediums.


Here are some of my reflexive responses to Nam’s article:


“When the government announced its plans for e-learning, I was excited.”


I was not excited, I was frustrated that weeks had gone by with no direction.  I was frustrated that at a Ministry level we evidently had no emergency planning in place at all since it looked like it was being made up on the spot.  I was frustrated that at a board level we had no idea what digital infrastructure our staff or students had at home.  That mismanagement aside, I was worried about what was about to happen.  I’ve taught elearning for over a decade and I’m well aware of the challenges involved in it.  It came as no surprise that this mandatory elearning government was going to move aggressively in that direction and I knew how unprepared the vast majority of staff and students were to make the move.



“the technology that is being used is problematic. Some of the links the teacher sends work only on certain platforms. So if you’re using a Mac, surprise (!) — you need a PC to access the video. Teachers also send scanned documents that need to be printed, filled in, and then uploaded to Google classroom. So you don’t just need computers and Wi-Fi: you need printers, too.”


There was little or no direction on how teachers should be rolling out remote learning.  Other than teachers themselves successfully re-framing this as emergency remote learning instead of elearning (because this is much more than just elearning), we were left in the dark.  With the vaguest of directions in terms of hours of work expected (which brutally ignores how students with special needs are supposed to address the work load) and many staff without the necessary tools let alone the skills needed to use them, the best that can be said about emergency remote learning is that it has cast a bright light on our digitally illiterate system.


There are digitally transliterate teachers and organizations who have for years advocated for a coherent development of these skills.  The platform dependent work Nam describes above is a great example of digital illiteracy, though I have to admire the teachers in question for trying.  It’s like watching someone who can’t read and write scrawl out chicken scratch on a page that no one else can make sense of.


Gary Stager’s principles for teaching online recognizes the limitations of the medium (and the situation) and offers clear and simple steps to making online learning work, but nothing like this was shared with teachers in Ontario.  The two weeks of silence following March Break were followed by an announcement that teachers will take it from here.  What we were taking and where we were taking it never came up.


“What kids are missing during this pandemic is not homework. What they’re missing are daily interactions with their teachers and their friends.”


The frustration here is that we are actually at a point where our technology could have done this for us, but we’re not literate enough to use it effectively.  There are a number of reasons why we can’t leverage technology in education to meet this need.


Firstly there is the digital divide in socio-economic terms.  If you fire up your video sharing and get 17 of your 28 students on there I suspect most remote learning teachers at the moment would be giddy with that participation rate, but that’s only about 60% of your students.  A number of them won’t have a device that can do it, the bandwidth to see it or the technical skill needed to put all those pieces together, which itself is predicated on access to technology they can’t afford or haven’t prioritized at home.


Let’s say we level the playing field in terms of access.  School boards across the province have done back-flips (with no direction or support from the Ministry as near as I can tell) trying to get tech out into student’s hands.  A number of years ago I worked with our student success teacher getting refurbished computers out to families in need, but it was a disaster.  If you hand people who can’t read a pile of books it doesn’t help them read any faster.  All that effort is yet another cart before the horse example of Ontario education’s backwards approach to technology integration.


The second key piece in this is that we haven’t developed the digital transliteracy in our system to make remote digital learning a possibility.  Complex tools like video chats require infrastructure and knowledge and familiarity to work.  Our board doesn’t enable video chat in our Google apps for Education system for students, so expecting familiarity with it isn’t reasonable.  It was difficult enough getting staff up and running on it.  The teachers trying to meet that important psychological need Nam mentions are taking huge risks, possibly to their careers, by going cowboy with this.


For those of us comfortable in digital mediums video chat seems like a no brainer, but it depends on complex digital transliteracy and if you don’t have it, you can’t effectively make use of it.  In that familiarity lies a hidden third layer that everyone is struggling with.  Zoom bombing is another example of digital illiteracy at work and highlights the cybersecurity and privacy considerations that our system is truly oblivious to, even as we drive people into digital spaces.  Zoom was a rushed, unencrypted communications tool that used toys to hook people into using it.  A digitally transliterate user could set passwords and lock out Zoom bombing, but oblivious users didn’t and a company unfocused on cybersecurity exacerbated the situation.


For all its problems, Zoom does address one glaring issue that many other video chats don’t.  The backgrounds you can put into Zoom would mitigate one of the major privacy concerns highlighted so well in this blog post by Alanna King.  If a government run school system requires you to video in during remote learning, what are you expected to share?  Video chats often show more detail than we’d like.  We’ve all seen just how unprepared adults have been to use video sharing tools when working remotely (digital transliteracy is remarkably poor in the general population – which is probably why education is so slow to develop it), but when a government requires minors to show the insides of their homes and themselves remotely it should sound a lot of alarm bells.


A tech-fluent teacher was trying to set up video with his students in the opening weeks of remote learning and wanted to post the videos on YouTube.  He was going to show student work on the video in a kind of lecture format.  Using digital communications to replicate classroom experiences is one of the biggest failures in education.  It shows just how stuck we are in our way of approaching learning, but that aside, are you, as a parent, comfortable with your child’s work being published on YouTube?  Are you comfortable with Google making advertising revenue from it?  In other cases I’ve seen teachers record video chats with students and publish them on YouTube.  The same questions apply, but now they include, are you comfortable with your child and your home life being published on the internet without your say so or oversight?  Are you comfortable with Google making advertising revenue from that?


We have the technology to close the gap Nam’s kids are feeling during this pandemic, but we haven’t developed the technical skills or clarified the social expectations needed to do this effectively with adults, let alone children.  That all of this technology is trotted out by tax dodging multi-national technology corporations whose main intent is to monetize your attention is just another layer we haven’t bothered to wade through.


“While it’s the right thing to keep schools closed, learning from home is not working for all Ontario students, and that’s why the government needs to follow other jurisdictions, such as New Brunswick, and cancel the rest of the school year.”


I had mixed feelings about this.  I’ve hurt myself trying to make this work.  My digital expertise is abused and ignored variously and inconsistently because I suspect it has never been valued by the system.  I’ve agitated for supports for students and staff based on this complex and evolving situation even as the system has stumbled from one inconsistency to another.  My self-selected group of digitally transliterate students are the tiny minority who volunteer to take my optional courses (I teach less than 10% of the students in my school).  I don’t have the digital transliteracy issues other teachers are battling with, but then the mental health and socio-economic problems became apparent.  Students passing out at work and clocking 50+ hour work weeks while being expected to produce hours of school work seemed cruel and inhuman. Seeing my own family bending under the stress of this ongoing crisis means I can’t do my job as effectively as I usually do as well.


Nam mentions elsewhere the lack of report cards and missed days of school this year.  I can’t help but feel that this remote learning caper is just the latest cat and mouse game being played by a government that is still very much intent on dismantling public education so it can sell it off to friends and family in the private sector.  Whether it’s driving for elearning contracts with multi-nationals or just crippling our classrooms to the point where private schools seem like a viable option, I’m exhausted by this intentional mismanagement.  Maybe pulling the plug on the whole thing is the right way out, but if it is you can bet that Lecce the cat isn’t done playing with us yet.  And I hate the idea of giving up.  Perhaps, as Nam said, this time could be better spent training and enabling our atrophied digital transliteracy instead of stressing families.



“When a board’s solution to a lack of Wi-Fi access to is to advise its students to access it via a school parking lot, maybe that should be reason enough to rethink our government’s e-learning approach.”


Even something as straightforward as this is a roll of the dice.  Our board turned it off.  Other boards have opened it up to the public.  Even with something as clear as connectivity we have no central direction or organization.  That sitting in a school parking lot is the best we can do says a great deal about how we approach the digital divide.


“We’ve also made assumptions about teachers. We assume that all teachers are tech literate and have set-ups at home to manage this work.”


Which isn’t remotely true.  I stumbled across this OECD computer skills survey a few years ago and was flabbergasted at how poor digital transliteracy is in our population.  Being at the top of that chart meant you could do simple things like take dates from an email and make an online calendar entry from them.  It wasn’t even coding or IT know-how, just simple computer use, and most people are staggeringly ignorant of it.  Teachers follow the rest of society in this regard.


I’m currently talking to other teachers in my school who are trying to navigate remote digital learning with 80+ students on a Chromebook with a 14″ screen.  My digital fluency has led me to get the tools I need to interact in digital spaces effectively, but for many others it isn’t a priority and they don’t have the tools let alone the digital transliteracy to make this work.  When the system was doing back-flips to get tech out to kids who don’t know how to use it, few efforts  were being made to do the same for staff.


Of interest in that survey, it turns out that younger  people do have marginally better computer skills, but only slightly.  One of the reasons we’ve done next to nothing in developing digital transliteracy in our schools is the asinine myth of the digital native – the idea that if a child is born in a time when a technology is in use, they’ll magically know how to use it – you know, like we all knew how to drive because cars existed in our childhood.  This kind of nonsense has been used as an excuse to do nothing for decades now.  I teach computer technology and I can tell you that students are as habitual in their use of technology as anyone else.  They might be cocky and comfortable with laying hands on tech, but move them out of their very narrow comfort zone of familiar hardware and software and they are as lost as any eighty year old.



This crisis has shown me things I never thought I’d see:  proudly digitally illiterate teachers participating in video staff meetings and kids performing feats of endurance for atrophied student minimum wages while being called heroes by the guy who reduced their minimum wage.


After the year we’ve had (and I won’t even get into how our family has had to fight cancer and limp along on partial salaries for months on end waiting for anyone to help us), I think I’m ready to put it down, I only wish this government would too, but I know they won’t.


I said it in response to Alex Couros on Twitter and I’ll say it again.  Maybe the best thing that will come of this is that we’ll start to recognize what literacy is in 2020 and begin to integrate technical and media digital transliteracy into our curriculum for all students and teachers.  Given time, we could develop a system that is resilient and able to respond to a challenge like remote learning effectively and quickly – completely unlike how this has gone down.



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Bleeding Edges

Originally  posted on Dusty World in 2014…
One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed computers is because I tackle them like an engineering problem to be solved.  I’m less interested in using them as an appliance than I am as an experimental tool.  My interest in machines generally leans this way: what is the machine capable of rather than its typical operational parameters.

One of the frustrations in teaching with technology is that I have to retreat from that edge and use computers in typical way.  I once asked our food school chef why he didn’t want to take over the cafeteria and produce lunches for the whole school.  He said it would turn an exploration of food preparation into a production line; I know exactly what he means.

I’m proud of the lab we build from scratch each semester.  Using old, discarded parts and Betas of Windows and Linux, we cobble together a full, working lab of 26 desktops, most with multiple monitors and operating systems that allow students to experiment with computers instead of just using them.  But just when it’s about to get interesting we have to back off because we need to use these computers to access our Google online services and use them like chromebooks.  It’s not possible to use our computers as experimental sandboxes and an appliance at the same time, any more than it’s possible to use your top-fuel dragster as your daily commuter.

I don’t get budget to build my lab, it’s all done from handouts and leftovers.  With bits and pieces always rare, and inexperienced students not following direction and grounding themselves properly, we have a lot of static-fried components each semester.  Those errors are important learning experiences, but they aren’t free in the same way that a spelling error is.  The machines we cobble together end up being quite valuable because we’re so light on parts.  What I could do if we didn’t have IT forced on us through board budgets and could select our own bits and pieces.

When we shift from building and experimenting to using we lose the advantage I thought we were creating.  We start being able to build just about anything but end up aiming for the beige mini-van because students have no background in supporting their own technology, and constantly swapping out parts isn’t possible due to the lack of availability.  We end up running the machines as plain old desktops because I can feed them into your typical edtech: Google Classrooms, shared documents and web access; that’s what edtech has become, a pathway to online services.  Anything else is considered to be expensive and irrelevant.

In this land of online=edtech I find myself looking for opportunities to exercise my talents (as do many of my strongest students).  This week a colleague lost the file system and partitions on her USB memory stick (including all her marks).  I spent an enjoyable hour looking up the latest in data recovery tools and restoring her data (I started with Recuva and ended up having to use testdisk and Photorec to rebuild the master boot record and partition tables before being able to access the lost files).  It felt good to dig deeply into my field and experience my own trial and error process rather than the surface skimming I seemed doomed to repeat in the classroom.

That surface skimming is, to a great extent, dictated by the expectations of education.  The system and especially the students trained by it expect computers to be appliances, maintained by other people, with software installed and networking taken care of.  Many people drive cars like that now, though you couldn’t have fifty years ago.  We find ourselves in an age of consumers, trained to expect technology that serves them with no expectation of how it works.

Like our school chef, I hesitate to put students in a position where they are responsible for looking after our education technology.  In addition to reducing an experimental learning opportunity into a simplistic production line, students have also been trained out of the approach needed to perform this role.  They aren’t just missing the experience and skills needed, they are also missing the mindset.  Being trained to consume technology puts you in a passive, minimal relationship with it.  Rather than understanding what you’re using, you’re barely understanding what you’re told to do with it.

I’m going to try and break out of the build a lab and then use it mindset I’ve got going on right now and push for continual development.  Part of the problem is having to share that lab with grade 9s who are just getting into technology and seniors who could do so much more with it.  Maybe next semester I can seek to separate the two.






As Different As Different Can Be

The wall-o-carbs that blast
the Concours to warp speeds.

I’m looking to expand my riding experience so a second bike had to be as different from the Concours ZG1000 that I have as possible.  The Connie is a 999cc, sport touring heavy weight with shaft drive, full fairings and an inline four cylinder with a row of carburetors that create astonishing power.  It’s a blast to ride on the road.

The KLX I rode home today is a rev-happy 250cc single cylinder bike that weighs an astonishing 370lbs less than the Concours.  Everything the Concours does well the KLX doesn’t and vice-versa, which was kinda the point.

Having never ridden a fairingless bike before I was surprised at the wind blast from the very naked KLX.  It could get to 100km/hr with some judicious gearing and a willing throttle hand.  If I squeezed the Concours that hard I’d be travelling well over 100mph while vaulting over the horizon.

A very different riding experience, and I haven’t even taken
it off road yet!

What else is different about the KLX?  Knobby tires offer some weird feed back.  The KLX comes with some fairly serious off-road tires which make a kind of slapping sensation on pavement.  They almost feel like whiskers, picking up seams and other details in the pavement with surprising detail.  It makes me wonder how nuanced the feel is on dirt. Once I got used to the change in feel it wasn’t a problem to make full use of the 250ccs.  The KLX pulls away from traffic lights in town with aplomb.

The tallness of the KLX makes cornering nothing like the Concours.  Where the Concours (and the Ninja before it), tuck in and conquer corners in a buttoned down way the KLX feels like you’re on a ladder.  Tall rims and seat, long suspension and a clear view ahead conspire to give you an unobstructed view of the road.  Again, once I developed some confidence in the bike’s strange geometry managing corners, I had no trouble rolling on throttle through turns and getting things more settled on the floaty suspension.

A two Kawi garage

 

The skinniness of the KLX is also a shock after straddling the wide and heavy Concours.  You feel like there is nothing around you and virtually nothing under you.

Looking down, the wasp waisted KLX is barely there.  Strangely, it has a less cramped riding position in spite of it being a skinny, 370lb (!) lighter bike.  With more relaxed knees and taller bars it feels like a good fit; it’s funny how such a small bike can feel so big.

I’m hoping to have the paperwork in order by the weekend then it’ll be time to see how the KLX handles what it was build for.  Taking it out on some trails is imminent!

 

Motorcycle Diaries: Win Your 2020 Dream Ride

Motorcycle Diaries is a website that shares rides from people from around the world.  I’ve posted a number of Ontario specific rides on there.  They currently have a 2020 Dream Ride contest going on until April 30th, so here’s my pitch.


My Moto-Bio:

I didn’t come to motorcycling until later in life. When I was very young, maybe six years old?  I was at my grandparent’s house in Sheringham, Norfolk in England one spring Saturday morning in 1975 when a group of vintage vehicles passed by on what was probably a rally.  I was the little blond kid standing on the railings by the side of the road waving at them as they thundered by, and many of them made a point of smiling and waving back, including a guy on a Triumph Speed Twin.  It was one of those flashbulb moments you never forget.  Nothing looked cooler than that bike and rider thrumming through the receding sea mist in the cool morning air.

Years later after immigrating to Canada, I was finally old enough to start considering driving and I immediately gravitated towards motorcycles, but my mother was strangely insistent that I not do that.   Even though we weren’t well off my parents dug deep to help get me a car instead.  I got deep into cars owning a wide variety of vehicles, learning how to repair them and even pursuing performance driving courses and cart racing while living in Japan, but that bike itch was always there.

After my mum’s suicide I discovered that my great aunt, with whom she shared a name, was an avid rider who was killed in a motorcycle accident a few years before I was born.  I also discovered that my mum’s dad, who I was very close with growing up in Norfolk, was also an avid motorcyclist up until the death of his sister, which must have rocked the family since no one had even mentioned her to me.  I’ve never understood how an accident like that (an army truck accidentally pulled out into her, killing her instantly) warranted this kind of silence, but my mum’s side of the family has always been… interesting.

Despite being a major part of the previous generation’s lives, motorcycling had evidently became a taboo subject that left me ignorant to a deleted great aunt who I now feel a great affinity for and a love of my granddad’s, who I thought I knew well.


I’ve been riding now since 2014 and I’m on my seventh bike.  I’ve taken multiple advanced off road training courses and done some long, international trips, including a trip to the last MotoGP race at Indianapolis that had us ripping down the back straight of the historic Brick Yard on our own bikes – mine being an $800 field find I’d restored in my garage.

I’ve made a point of expanding my familiarity with different bikes by renting them and riding in places ranging from Pacific tsunami zones to the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, usually with my son on the back.  We’ve had some great adventures.  I’ve also made a point of becoming mechanically proficient with motorcycles, having just finished my latest restoration.

That’s my bio.  Here’s the dream ride:

In discovering my family history around motorcycling I also connected my grandfather’s rather incredible Second World War tour of duty to riding where, among other things, he served in the RAF’s motorbike stunt team.


Bill served as an MP in the RAF and travelled with the British Expeditionary Force to France in 1939 in order to repel the oncoming Nazi war machine.  When it all went wrong, Bill ended up trapped in occupied France for a number of weeks after Dunkirk before eventually finding his way back to the UK just in time to catch planes that fell out of the sky during the Battle of Britain.  He then went on to fight in Africa for several years, but it’s his time in France during the ‘Phoney War‘ during the disastrous Battle of France and the allied retreat that is the basis for my dream ride.

After some exhaustive research I discovered Bill’s path through France from the autumn of 1939 to the spring of 1940.  My dream ride would be to follow in my granddad’s footsteps on a period motorcycle through Northern France in the springtime, just as Bill did.





From letters to my grandmother and military records, I discovered that Bill was attached to RAF Squadron 73 who operated across Normandy and up to near the Belgian border over the winter of the Phoney War before being chased south under fire around Paris and through Ruaudin and Saint Nazaire before he finally found a boat back to Plymouth out of Brest, nearly two months after Dunkirk.  In the process he failed to get to the Lancastria with the rest of his squadron, the majority of whom died on it as it was sunk by dive bombers in Saint-Nazaire.


Being able to follow Bill’s chaotic retreat with his squadron through France while finding evidence of the great conflict and seeing things he saw between moments of terror and heartache, and doing it on an RAF Norton H16 or a period Triumph Speed Twin would be a heart wrenching and mind blowing experience that would connect me back to a forgotten piece of family history on a number of levels.


What a dream ride that would be.

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Autumn in the Canadian Woods








Autumn colours and mushrooms in the wet Kawartha Highlands woods.


All photos taken with the Olympus EPL-3 micro four thirds camera in October of 2014.


These are the typical settings for the macro shots below:


E-PL3
f/5.6   1/20   42 mm   ISO400

Long shutter night shots with flaming sticks and flashlights!

The ruins of a truck deep in the woods, this is the engine.

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Digital Amplification of the Mega Self

I’ve finished Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, and I’ve been ruminating on it for a couple of weeks.  Crawford makes a number of educational criticisms in this philosophical treatise that attempts to free us from Enlightenment thinking gone mad.  This post is on how digital economics amplify and feed off our sense of self.

Crawford’s historical argument is that the Enlightenment rejection of authority has been amplified by neo-liberal values and digitization, turning what was once an early scientific rejection of church authority (rationality vs. superstition) into a sort of hyper-individualism that rejects obvious facts about reality in favour of opinion.  In our modern world opinions have the weight of truth, the irony being that the Enlightenment push to free people from authority has enabled individualism to such a degree that it is now ushering in a new era of superstition.

This person-on-a-pedestal is happily embraced by modern marketing which will go to ridiculous lengths to emphasize just how individual you can be if you all buy the same thing.  The modern, insulated self is also coddled by digital media designed to cater to your every whim.  Whole worlds are made where people feel they are accomplished because they followed the script of a game.  Ask any student, they self-identify with their social standing in game play, yet their greatest achievements don’t actually exist.  The scripted interactions in gaming lead many people to believe that they’ve done something other follow a process they were supposed to complete.  You can never win a video game, you can only finish it, like a book.

Crawford uses the example of Disney’s original cartoons in comparison to the modern Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to emphasize this change in how we (teach our children to) approach reality.  The original cartoons emphasized the tension between what we want and what reality demands with characters battling the elements, often with machines that don’t work as they’re supposed to.

The modern Disney playhouse teaches children an almost deified version of technology.  The machines are psychic, performing their functions perfectly before you even are aware that you need them.  Any problems are resolved by the machines, there is never a question of them not working.  Classic Mickey can often be seen repairing broken machines, modern Mickey is permanently happy as the machines resolve every problem that might arise, it almost plays like an Apple ad.  Digital environments designed to cater to your every whim… sounds like the perfect twenty-first century learning environment.


Gamification in education tends to play much like Mickey’s Clubhouse, offering an experience so safe that it’s virtually (pun intended) meaningless.  When you can’t fail, you can’t succeed.  When you’re following a script instead of self-directing your learning, you’re not really learning.  I’m a massive fan of simulation, even digital simulation, but gamification isn’t that.  In my simulations students often fail.  If they didn’t, it wouldn’t be a worthwhile simulation.  What I hope the simulation does is give them the space away from worldly cost concerns to experiment and try more radical approaches.

When I was a younger man I played paintball a fair bit.  When I played, I often tried to live out silly movie fantasies.  I wouldn’t have done this with real bullets, but in paintball it isn’t for real, right?  One time I left my gun behind and ran straight to the other team’s flag, grabbing it and legging it while they were all standing around getting their defence set up.  I didn’t even get hit because no one was ready.  Another time I tried to do the Arnold-Terminator thing, walking down a road, slowly taking aim and shooting people and ignoring the fact that they might get me back.  I shot six people before someone calmed down enough to get me. When they play paintball, most people run and hide like it’s real.  They do the same thing in video games, camping or hiding even though the entire thing is bogus.  If simulation becomes real in the mind of the user, it ceases to have the same effectiveness as a learning tool; just ask Kirk.

Pedagogically, educational technology suffers from much of the same marketing creep as Mickey’s Clubhouse.  It often tries to do too much, but it’s also infected with attention grabbing nature of the digital economy it’s derived from.  The software we use in education is derived from platforms designed to ensnare attention for as long as possible in order to make money from it.  In an economy where nobody makes anything, the only value people have is as consumers.

Crawford goes into detail about how we don’t have a digital technology attention issue, we have a digital economics issue.  Machines are designed to keep user attention because the economy that profits from it made them that way.  We build machines to ensnare user attention (familiarity helps this, it’s why education is ‘given’ tech ‘for free’).

We children of the Enlightenment, having freed our minds from superstition and social authority by amplifying individuality, ushered in scientific and industrial revolutions.  The Enlightenment championed democracy rather than the mystical divine right of kings, but something insidious latched on to that democratic push.  Democracy became democratic-capitalism and now we’re saddled with an economic system that is happy to make use of the individualism championed in the Enlightenment.

Digital technologies latch on to our already amplified sense of self, multiplying it and allowing us to exist beyond the constraints of the real world (at least until there is an internet or power failure).  As long as that comforting digital blanket is wrapped around our minds we are free to believe whatever we want (the internet will provide proof).

If you feel like there is something wrong with how we’re doing things, Crawford’s challenging book will give you the philosophical latitude to do an end-run around this mental trap that’s been centuries in the making.


Pandemic Reflections from Week 3: Maslow’s Hierarchy, the end of differentiation and labour abuse

Emergency remote teaching during this COVID19 pandemic is turning out to be quite unsustainable.  I staggered to the end of last week feeling stretched to the point of breaking by the endless administrative push to make arbitrary and pedagogically suspect Ministry of Education remote learning expectations happen.


Three hours per class per week might have sounded like a reasonable though random expectation when it was dreamed up a few weeks ago, but it raises a lot of questions.  Here are some from me in no particular order:




1) Basic Needs Have to Come Before Curriculum


How can we set an arbitrary time limit on acceptable work when we’re ignoring basic needs?


Trauma causes a disruption in the foundations need to bring students to learning.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs came about in the 1950s.  Abraham Maslow, the psychiatrist who invented the concept, uses it to show how complex human thinking, like learning, can’t happen without basic needs being met.


The current emergency situation has damaged our ability to mitigate the shortcomings students may be experiencing while trying to learn at home.  Those students who counted on our school’s breakfast program to be fed aren’t being at the moment.  Those students who depended on our developed one on one special education support services in school aren’t getting them at the moment.  Even students who may have enjoyed physiological security before the pandemic shutdown might now be experiencing scarcity for the first time as parents are suddenly laid off.


With all of that under consideration, dropping blanketed, mandated hourly expectations on all students regardless of their circumstances is callous to an inconceivable degree.  Where is the compassion?


The ‘this isn’t elearning or even remote learning, it’s emergency response learning” doesn’t seem to have registered with the people who run things, though it certainly has with all the front line education workers in Ontario who are trying to force this square peg into an infinite variety of unique, never before seen student learning circumstances.


I was so wound up about this on Thursday night after a week of communicating with students and parents in various states of crisis that I was up at midnight trying to think my way out of it on Prezi:



That we’ve also piled transliteracy expectations that many staff and students don’t have on top of a decline in the basic needs required to learn makes the circumstances even more untenable.  There are no skills based requirements and next to no mandatory professional development for teachers in becoming digitally transliterate.  It only happens with our students when they’re lucky enough to get a teacher who spends their own time and money on developing that critical 20th Century literacy.


A coherent, skills based, mandatory approach to digital transliteracy should be a priority when we return.  How this is all going down could be significantly different if we were approaching this with digitally transliterate and enabled staff and students.  We certainly wouldn’t have wasted the first three weeks trying to find out if our staff and students even have ICT technology at home before moving into remote learning using tools most of them don’t know how to use effectively.




2) Why is differentiation always the first thing to die when the system decides to act unilaterally?


Three hours for one student isn’t three hours for another. Are teachers being expected to design individual work for the dozens upon dozens of students they are trying to direct through remote learning?


Let’s say Maslow’s basic needs were somehow addressed and we ensured that every student in Ontario has food, shelter and the other basic needs required to climb the hierarchy to a point where they can focus on learning.  We didn’t come close to addressing it when times were good (actually, the government in charge is actively working against it), so doing it during a pandemic emergency seems even more unlikely, but let’s say we manage it.  Let’s say we also suddenly have staff and students who are digitally transliterate (again we’re miles away from this, but let’s pretend).  Even in that perfect Ontario the three hours per week per course per week expectation would be startlingly insensitive to how students learn.  Wouldn’t it be great if people were all the same?  It’s so hard to manage otherwise!  It might have been easy to trot out a suggestion like that, but 3 hours of work is different for pretty much every student, and trying to assess that through atrophied and inconsistent digital technologies is nearly impossible, even for a digitally transliterate teacher.

I have one gifted, ASD student who had to back off on the third year university equivalent artificial intelligence project she was working on remotely because she doesn’t have the mathematics foundations needed to comprehend it (she was worried this would hurt her average – it won’t).  I have another gifted ASD student whose anxiety has been triggered by this pandemic to such a degree that he’s unable to do anything (he’s also worried about it hurting his average – it won’t, though that’s me, not system-think).  That’s happening with two students with similar IEPs!*

* IEPs are individual education plans that all special education students have, though I think every student should have one since they’re all special and many less fortunate students don’t have parents with the resources to weather the IEP process even when they should have one.  In Ontario even our spec-ed support is predicated on privilege.  We had to put out thousands in testing to get my son’s ASD diagnosis accepted.  If you can’t afford that, you can’t access the support.


Now think about the other three dozen IEPs I’m juggling, but because I’m not an insensitive jerk I treat every student like they have an IEP because you never know what’s happening in a student’s life.  Trauma like divorce, a death in the family or parental loss of income can negative influence a student’s learning at any time.  Like the kid whose dad emailed me this week in response to my contacting them about a lack of  weekly engagement (we’re required to pester people every week if they’re not engaged).  His grandmother just passed from the pandemic, but this interfered with our systemic 3hr/course/week mandate and the systemic response we’ve built to force, um, I mean support it.


I have over 60 students this semester.  Others have over 90!  But bigger class sizes are coming because we’re about to agree to a contract under duress that further deteriorates learning environments by cutting funding and forcing more kids into each class – evidently the pandemic emergency means it’s ok for our government to force (another) illegal contract on us using this emergency as the excuse, but I digress.


Am I supposed to custom design 3 hours of work for each one of my remote learners?  Or just throw what three hours of work would look like for a fictitious ‘average’ student (there are no average students in a pandemic) at everyone?  Even if it might take some of them 10 hours?  Even if some of them can’t do it at all in these circumstances?


Three hours per course per week is the worst kind of reductionist system-think.  The project work I set up for my students is based on self reporting, but still has expected outcomes because the way this is going, we’ll be asked to assign grades to work, and if I don’t have that work then a student’s grade will suffer.  The people who set this as a requirement shouldn’t be working in education.


OSSTF has suggested pass fail, which is a step in the right direction.  I’m going to take it a step further, grades or pass/fail.  No one is going to have this situation diminish their grades, period.  It would be nice if the Ministry mandated that, but if no one making the big bucks can make a compassionate decision that acknowledges the mess that this is, I will.





3) and what about the labour abuse?


If a student is working absurd hours, why are they still being held to arbitrary expectations around time spent in class?  Why is no one looking to labour abuse with Ontario’s students?

It’s the ministry of work now.
Labour sounded too dignified.

The education system didn’t just passively let this student labour abuse happen, it caused it to happen when it suspended classes.  I’m happen to be teaching three graduating classes this semester.  I’m hearing from many of them that they are working more than forty hours per week, in several cases over 50 hours per week in their ‘heroic’ emergency services wage slave jobs.  I had one fifteen year old tell me he just came off a 44 hour work week and was sorry he couldn’t do the remote learning because he kept falling asleep while attempting it.  I’m supposed to put ‘does not meet expectations’ in his work for week three of remote learning because he’s less than three hours on the clock.  I’m also supposed to bother him and his parents (who have been laid off during the pandemic shutdown) every week asking why he isn’t meeting remote learning expectations.


Students in Ontario make an even more miserable minimum wage than the Fordnation reduced adult minimum wage.  He likes to call them heroes, but he won’t pay them any more to be heroes during an emergency.   He just offered a smaller professional group that doesn’t grapple with minimum wage a raise, but not the kids who we took out of school in order to protect them (or at least not be liable for them) so they could go and work in much more COVID-spreadable minimum wage jobs.  Step one would be to realize we didn’t shut down schools to protect students, we did it to protect system liability.  Step two would be to ensure all students are rewarded for their ‘heroic’ efforts.  I think a $20/hour minimum student wage during the pandemic for critical service work is a start.  Step three would be to forgive any student working more than the 28 hour a week student limit.  I don’t imagine any of those things will happen though.  I’m left wondering if many of these students are still being paid student minimum wage, because over 28 hours a week they should at least be making adult minimum wage.  Betcha they aren’t.  If that isn’t the very definition of child labour abuse, I don’t know what is.  It’s shameful.


***



Being asked to deal with student learning difficulties, socio-economic status and even their psychological challenges isn’t new for me as a teacher, but being expected to be their main point of contact through remote learning for all of these things isn’t just overwhelming, it’s emotionally exhausting.  I’m occasionally reduced to tears of frustration by the school system, but last week was a new peak – not that teacher burnout is on anyone’s radar.


When a colleague finally forwarded an inactive student to admin for support the other week the first thing they were asked to do was contact them in more ways.  I’m sure everyone who isn’t trying to communicate on a strict weekly schedule of expectations with a many classes of students through the limited bandwidth of phones and online communications is very busy having meetings (I was dragged into no less than 4 last week and I’m a front line teacher), but those of us in the trenches would appreciate some immediate pickup rather than an attempt to off load even more onto us.


While I’m spending my own money on technology, heating, electricity, internet, telephone and burning through more sanity than I should in order to ‘be the education system’ for the sixth week in a row, I’m told that we now have a tentative contract because students need stability at a time like this.  I’m not sure why they didn’t need stability last year, or why I had to take another strike day pay cut in the face in order to end up agreeing to what was being offered then anyway, but that looks like how it’s going to go.  After a year of outright abuse which has included illegal bargaining (good faith bargaining is protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms, and there has been little of that this year) and repeatedly demeaning our profession, this government (when they aren’t making up fictitious stories about supporting students in remote learning) are going to use this pandemic to increase class sizes and cut learning supports.  We haven’t heard the details yet.  I’m sure we’ll get a very streamlined process designed to force compliance.  It’s hard to work in a system where trust has been compromised in so many places.  I just have to remember what’s most important: don’t let it hurt the kids, though at some point I’ll have taken so many bullets that I don’t think I won’t be able to take any more.



It hasn’t been a great week three in remote learning during a pandemic.




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Moto Anime: Bakuon!!

I’ve written about motorcycle related Japanese anime before, it’s a whole sub genre of media from a country that is a motorcycle producing superpower with its own unique moto-culture.  You name the anime and there is probably a rider on the team who works in motorcycles somehow.  But there is one motorcycle anime where bikes aren’t worked in, they’re the main subject.  Bakuon!! tells the story of a group of high school girls who meet over a shared love of the sport.

Bakuon is Japanese onomatopoeia for the roar of a motorcycle’s exhaust (the Japanese have some pretty funny word sounds).   In the opening of the show each of the main characters bond over their shared love of riding.  The experienced riders mentor the younger ones as they get their licenses and begin riding together, but don’t assume this is a why so serious coming of age story.  Bakuon!! is edgy and laugh out loud funny.  Even non-riders would find this an accessible and funny thing to watch, but it’ll challenge you.  Bakuon!! is shamelessly Japanese.  If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese humour, which can feel very foreign to gaijin, this show might seem offensive.  All I can suggest is to maybe stow your Western superiority complex away and see if you can wrap your head around it.


Hane Chan is the character you follow into the story.  She’s not really the main character, it’s an ensemble,  but as a new rider trying to get her license you get to discover the joy of riding with her.  She also tends to explain to outsiders what craziness is going on in the group.  Her initial interest is sparked by her first day trying to ride her bicycle up the hill to her new school, and her actual interest in motorcycles is minimal, until she experiences riding for the first time:


How edgy is the humour?  At the riding school where Hane is getting her license she begins a conversation with the bike they lend her (as you do) who speaks to her with an older woman’s voice. At one point Hane asks why the bike has such a masculine name when it has a woman’s voice.  The bike tells her that because it’s a practice bike at the academy it has had all the go-faster technology removed from it, so it was castrated.  When Hane discovers she’s been riding a trans-gendered bike she just nods and goes about her day, as you do.  You might find this foreign in a Western mindset, but the lack of judgement around gender is refreshing.

An even edgier moment happens when the girls take a long trip up to Hokkaido.  When they reach the end of Japan they come across one of the teachers from their school who is attempting to commit suicide by jumping into the ocean because she’s just broken up with another boyfriend.  She failed comedically (the point isn’t a cliff and she falls onto rocks five feet below).  The girls take her back to their hotel where the teacher proceeds to get drunk and attempt to molest them.  At this point your appropriateness meter is probably pegged, but, as they do in all circumstances, the girls back each other up and get out of the situation themselves.  After that moment of girl-power the show signs off with them cleaning their bikes with their swim suits on.  Trying to keep up with the twists and turns in Bakuon!! is part of the challenge.

The humour in the show is unrelenting.  Each of the girls is smitten by a specific Japanese manufacturer (though Ducati sneaks in there too, but not without a lot of ribbing), and they’re constantly giving each other a hard time over it.  At another point Suzunoki Rin, who tells a dramatic backstory about her accident prone father, has to explain how she has a Suzuki brand on her butt.  Physical humour operates on a different plane in Japanese culture.

In another episode Onsa, the Yamaha or nothing rider accidentally licks Rin’s drool (they both fall asleep on a train – it happens) and catches a Suzuki germ that makes her only like Suzukis.  This kind of brand fixation is a constant source of material in the show.  The only time it gets turned up even higher is when they make any reference to non-Japanese brands, who are all evidently incapable of making something that won’t blow up on you regularly.  Considering the hard time they give each other, the shots at other manufacturers (like my beloved Triumph) comes across as funny rather than nasty.  If you’re ever feeling hard done by when watching the show, at least you’re not a bicyclist. They’re relentless with the Tour de France types.


If you like motorcycles you’ll love Bakuon!!  If you like anime you’ll enjoy this show for its humour and a style that takes some interesting risks, like showing most men in the show without a face.  Yes, it can get edgy, but that tends to be a Western cultural dissonance thing more than any negative intent by the show.  The girls all play off each other for maximum comedic effect and the writing is willing to take unexpected turns to chase down a laugh, as it should.

As an anime with motorcycles but also about motorcycles, Bakuon!! offers you a deep dive into Japanese assumptions around riding that anyone on two wheels would find enlightening.  As a Japanese school girl anime it also breaks a lot of stereotypes.  A group of girls who ride makes this a feminist statement.  The girls are very self sufficient and never look to men or even adults for solutions.  The most skilled rider in the show is the untouchable club sempai (mentor) Raimu Kawasaki who always wears her helmet and never speaks, Top Gear Stig style.  At one point she lifts up her big Ninja effortlessly and frequently performs riding stunts that defy belief.  She was sitting in the school clubhouse alone when the girls show up and was evidently in the club when the school’s current principal was at the school, she might not even be human!  I can’t help but feel that she’s presenting some autistic tendencies, further stretching the show’s reach.

That Bakuon!! is also a comedy busts another malecentric stereotype.  If you can get your Japanese school girl mindset on (and everyone should), this’ll amuse and entertain.  You should give it a watch.







You can watch Bakuon!! on Crunchyroll online.


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Tiger Tales in a Never Ending Winter

It’s been an icy, crappy spring, but it looks like the end is nigh!

Tiger tales on a wintery April Weekend.  Last year at this time  Max and I were out doing a 300km+ run to Blue Mountain in some fresh Ontario spring air.  It was cold, and even flurried in places, but it was doable on dry roads with winter well behind us.

After another round of freezing rain last night we were up to ten degrees today.  Over the next few days it looks like riding season will start officially.  The Tiger is at my local mechanic getting saftied.  I should be on the road and ready to go by Wednesday, the day everything starts to get better.  In the meantime, while waiting for the ice age to end, I’ve been playing with some digital imaging:

Tigertester by timking17 on Sketchfab – a 3d model of the Tiger

Soon enough I’ll be able to stop looking at it and starting to ride it!

Variations on a garage photo:

 

 

 

3d printed Triumph logo
I backed the Tiger out while trying to get the carbs sorted on the Concours – 2 hours later is was a white out out here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3d printed Triumph logo

 

Triumph logo 3d printed

 

Dremel 3d printer doing the business
I scanned the Tiger with a Structure Sensor and then printed the 3d model on the Dremel 3d printer – not just a model of a bike, but an exact scale model of my bike!