March Break Moments

Some random moments from the weekend…
Mercury & Venus at sunset – using the P610 Nikon superzoom bridge camera – I tried higher zoom shots but they didn’t come out (wobbly atmosphere, shaky, cold hands)

Fat finches on the feeder – Using the Canon Rebel T6i with the long ‘kit’ lens (55-250)

Snow flurries were just hanging in the air during a quiet Sunday morning sunrise…

Snow flakes falling… done with the Canon.

Snow falling on trees

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Think Different

A grade 8 career fair last week had my senior computer
engineering students giving hundreds of grade 8s their
first glimpse of virtual reality.

Being one of the first to set up virtual reality in our area, I’ve had the pleasure of putting hundreds of students in it for the first time.

When they first find themselves in Google’s Tiltbrush, students tend to either scribble in 3d, write in space or, on occasion, try and build something intentionally three dimensional because they’re realize where they’re working.  With a steady stream of students trying it for the first time on Thursday, this kept happening until something different occurred.

When you get a student who knows how to draw they tend to sketch quite effectively in the virtual space, though it tends to be based on 2d thinking (like they’re drawing on paper).  We had a girl who had never tried VR before but obviously knew how to sketch enter the HTC Vive virtual space, but rather than working in 2d she immediately began sculpting 3d shapes.  


This immediately caught the eye of the gifted grade 12 I had operating the system.  He got our attention and we watched her build out complex, identifiable 3d shapes.  What made it more amazing was that she was doing this without moving her head.  She was drawing in 3d but from a 2d perspective without even seeing what she was doing.  Everyone around the VR sets stopped what they were doing to watch something special.

Afterwards her teacher came up to me and said she was ASD and not very verbal.  I imagine the school system sees her as an expensive non-standard student but what we saw was a kind of genius.  Our gifted VR operator certainly thought she was exceptional, and not in a bad way.  Perhaps it requires an exceptional intelligence to recognize another exceptional intelligence.

***

POND Family day.  One of the largest sources of data
on neuro-atypical children in the world and based in
Ontario!  Our family is part of the DNA research and
our son volunteered to get fMRI’d as well.

On Saturday my family attended the POND Network’s family day at UofT.  Having kids can often act as a kind of mirror, showing you more about yourself.  Having an autistic son has made me more aware of how neuro-atypical I am (I’ve learned coping mechanisms, but they aren’t my natural state).

Where other people seem to require social interaction in order to be happy, I am very much an introvert.  There are few cases where I find people who engage rather than drain me.  I tend to go to ground after a week of teaching because I’m all peopled out.

The research presented by the Ontario Brain Institute was very interesting, and frustrating.  Google has been doing fantastic open source computing work doing the heavy lifting with sequencing genome data for neuro-atypical brains, but the process is still in its infancy.  We need much more data from more people and faster computers to narrow down the genomic complexities of neurological issues like ASD.  The current thinking is that ASD isn’t caused by one or even a few genes, but by complex interactions between hundreds of them.  Understanding this process will require many people providing data to a massive computing effort.

A moment occurred in the presentations when a parent asked how close they are to being able to give a biological rather than psychological diagnosis for ASD.  He asked because students with a physical disability will have the earth moved to be accommodated, but students with psychological disabilities are generally warehoused and ignored, especially if they aren’t problematic.  The example he gave was in education, where a school will spend tens of thousands of dollars on ramps and elevators for a student in a wheelchair to be able to access the building and integrate with their peers, but won’t offer a fraction of that to a student with a neurological issue.  This got a round of applause from the audience.

The speaker had an even better answer.  She said this is awkward because she’s a psychiatrist and the issue isn’t whether or not this is a physical or mental diagnosis but instead an indictment of the government and society in general’s stigmatization of mental illness.  It doesn’t end at mental illness though.  If you aren’t neurotypical, you aren’t accorded the same rights and access to care.  The goal should be to enable all people to reach their potential, the type of diagnosis is irrelevant.  This got a big round of applause too.

It also raised some hard questions around how we treat difference of thought.  My son has a great deal of trouble organizing and completing linear tasks, but he can make diabolically difficult lateral connections.  Having a conversation with him will force you to think laterally in ways you never had before (unless you’re too stupid or lazy to make the effort, in which case he sounds nonsensical).  I’m a pretty good lateral thinker, but the connections he makes are astonishing, yet he’s considered substandard because he’s not at the level of his peers in a loud, socially driven classroom.  He almost failed French because he wouldn’t speak it in front of the class – the kid with social anxiety and ASD wouldn’t perform like the other kids would.  He’s sat in a desk in a row in a crowded, loud classroom with neurotypicals who thrive in this environment, and then he’s told he doesn’t stack up to them.  Their accommodation is to give him access to a support room twice a week.
I often think that if the school system doesn’t destroy him, my son is going to grow up to do something exceptional precisely because he doesn’t think like everyone else.

If you look at a movie from the ’80s you’ll find that we’ve come a long way in how we treat gender and sexuality differences.  If you watch a film from the 1950s you’ll see that we’ve come a long way in how we treat racial differences, but differences in how we think are still a place of stubborn prejudice.

Last year at a Head’s meeting I suggested that neuro-atypical people should be in teaching.  They will cause it to change by offering different approaches that might improve the system as a whole.  Our head of guidance thought this was ridiculous.  Outliers shouldn’t be teaching or even in education.  Education should be about moulding students to society’s expectations.  I’ve never felt more disenfranchised by the education system than I did at that moment, and I’ve frequently felt disenfranchised by it both as a student and a teacher.  I guess people will always find a systemic reason to identify and diminish another group of people for their own benefit.

When my son was first diagnosed with ASD I was hoping for a cure, now I believe that he isn’t thinking incorrectly, just not the same as most people, and that can offer us all a social advantage.  It would be very shortsighted of us to try and stamp out that difference.  His ability to make lateral connections of thought might one day allow him to solve a problem in a way that no one else could even conceive.  This is assuming the education system doesn’t beat it out of him.  Instead of exploring his differences of thought he’s repeatedly forced to perform neurotypical tasks in a substandard way and then rebuked for it.  There is no point in his day where he’s allowed to explore his intelligence in the way that a gifted student is because his mode of thought is deemed foreign.

A good place to start would be to take away the distinction between physical and psychological diagnosis and treat all students to the same support.  That might mean breaking down the systemic, grade based process of education by introducing purely individually driven learning goals and achievements.  My son may not graduate on time because the system he is in seems designed specifically to not work with how he thinks, but he’ll get there eventually, and it would be nice if he wasn’t constantly being told he was a failure when he does.  The chances of him going on to develop his unique talents in spite rather than because of his education would be much greater if he doesn’t feel like the rest of society thinks him a loss.

Education, like socio-economic status, is an invented sense of superiority.  If you do well at something designed specifically for you, have you really done anything of value?  If you struggle to do well in a system specifically designed to work against you, are you a failure? Neurotypicals might not be able to use their customized education to grant themselves social advantage any more, but can you imagine an education system in which every student was able to minimize their weaknesses while maximizing their strengths without some shortsighted idiot judging them?  The human race would flourish in the diversity of ideas that would bloom from those graduates.  We only have to get past our prejudices to get there.

***
Austim & History – where would we be without these people?
8 Inspiring People with ASD

Putting Students into VR for the first time shows many ommonalities, and exceptionalities…

 

Ronin

Originally published on Dusty World, March, 2014.

The Google Apps for Education (GAFE) ‘Summit’ is this weekend.  I’m not there and I’m comfortable with that.  There is nothing in Google that I haven’t been able to figure out on my own and I use Google extensively, they make good products.

Last week’s Elearning Ontario Presentation

Last week I presented at elearning Ontario on how to create a diverse digital learning ecosystem.  You’d think that educators would want to get their hands on as wide a variety of tools as possible in order to not only provide the best possible digital learning support for their students but to also increase their own comfort zone in educational technology.  In the mad rush to digitize the vast majority of people want as little expertise to accompany it as possible, they would much rather find a closed ecosystem in which they can develop a false sense of mastery.

If you hyper focus on one thing you tend to get an inflated sense of your abilities.  I wouldn’t trust a mechanic who can only work on Ford brakes or a teacher who can only work out of Pearson textbooks, I’d have to assume they’ve learned by rote rather than developed mastery.  I know it’s hard work, but becoming fluent in digital tools requires some time, some curiosity and some humility and that’s ok.

A colleague showed me this last year and it has been
on my mind ever since.

The idea that you get a qualification under a single brand and have somehow become a master of digital learning is misleading.  But the limits of evangelizing a single digital learning ecosystem go well beyond questionable professional practices around branding teachers with private company logos.  There is also the question of how these technologies are mining education for profit.  

If you live within a monopolistic education technology environment you can never be sure what they are doing with the data they are managing for you ‘for free’.  That data is worth a lot of money.  Even if it’s being stripped of names, the ethics of exchanging student marketing data for a ‘free’ digital learning environment has to be questioned.  In a monopolistic situation that questioning doesn’t happen.  Only an open, fair digital learning environment allows us to demand higher standards from companies who are otherwise singularly focused on making money in any way that they can.

Wouldn’t an opensource hardware model that allows us
to teach all technology platforms be a nice idea?  The Learnbook

Some links to consider:
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2014/04/google_amends_its_terms_on_sca.html
“Google would not answer questions about whether its data-mining practices support the creation of profiles on student users.

Google also confirmed to Education Week that its general terms of service and privacy policy apply to student users of Apps for Education, a stance contrary to the company’s earlier public statements.”


http://www.osapac.org/cms/sites/default/files/Memo%20-%20Contract%20Addendums.pdf

OSAPAC has worked out a deal that doesn’t sell off Ontario Students’ data, but it’s a secret,
and each board has to implement it themselves.  The mysteries of information in the information age…

https://twitter.com/search?q=%23gafesummit&src=typd&mode=users
Tweets on this weekend’s GAFE summit in Kitchener/Waterloo… the koolaid tastes good.

ro·nin
ˈrōnən/

noun

historical
  1. 1.
    (in feudal Japan) a wandering samurai who had no lord or master.

Educational Maelstroms

 

Nice to see you’ll support pension cuts,
shame that was never on the table


I find myself in a bit of an educational maelstrom at the moment.  Government twitter trolls who like to tell me I must be enjoying my summer off instead get sharp replies about my sitting in a computer lab in Milton taking my 3rd AQ in 7 years of teaching.  When I’m done here I’ll have 4 teachables (English, history, visual arts and computer engineering).

I’ve also taught summer school four times.  Since I started teaching in 2004, my summers have been busy, and expensive.  I know there are teachers who don’t do additional training.  I also know that whenever I did training when I worked in the private sector, they paid for it.  Getting lumped in with a brand of teacher who expects more for less makes me angry, I’m not that guy.

I also attend Edcamps, self directed professional development.  I can’t recall ever seeing my private sector colleagues driving an hour out of their way on a Saturday morning to spend the day learning how to do their jobs better.  Then there are the conferences (that take a lot more of my time than just the day or two of school I miss) where I spend a lot of my own time developing educational theory and training for (I hope) the benefit of teachers and students.

I’m immensely proud of Ontario’s education system, and don’t see it as a political pawn to be used in a game that has more to do with financial shell games than anything real.  I’m a liberal who can’t vote liberal any more.  Worse, I’m a voter who doesn’t know what the point is any more, because political parties in Ontario only stand for re-election, they don’t actually stand for anything else.

I haven’t mentioned the department headship I took on with minimal notice and then was attacked for taking on in a full time capacity; working with teachers can be very tiring.  I haven’t mentioned the sixty or so hours I spend each year coaching soccer.  I can’t understand why my own government is intent on generating public hatred at my expense for their own ends.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2012/04/30/bank-bailout-ccpa.html

I’m not sure what I did wrong.  Looking at any metric you care to apply, we do more at less cost than just about any education system in the first world.  Our cost to performance ratio is excellent.

Instead we get strung up, vilified and turned on by the very government that won office by scare mongering the electorate away from the blue myopia.

Ontario will bail out poorly run businesses because they live in the ‘real world’ and are meaningful, tough, manly ways to make a living?  They drive the economy?  If that were the case, we’d still be in a destitute market that eats itself to pay 1% of the population.  If you think private business will do anything other than the least it has to while feeding itself, you’re naive, and dangerous.  The economy is like a cockroach, let it pick up the scraps, you don’t feed it steak.

Thank goodness we have higher standards in education, health care, and other services.  If we ran the province like GM, or American banks, or Blackberry, we’d be in real trouble (though we would have a small group of hospital administrators and school superintendents who were immensely wealthy).

I guess that’s where we headed, because if we’re gonna stink, we might as well all stink equally.

Into The Heart of Darkness

I’ve spent a lot of time on back roads and regional highways but have seldom ventured onto major freeways.  I’m not a fan of driving in cities, I find people to be quite idiotic and when you put a lot of them together it reaches a critical mass.  Put those same distracted idiots in giant metal boxes while you’re out in the wind and the maths just don’t work out, so I don’t do it if I can help it.

Rather than cater to this avoidance I went right into the heart of darkness yesterday: downtown Toronto.  A Grand Lodge meeting at the Royal York had me making the 240km round trip predominantly on major freeways.

First day of  HOV with one person per box, and you wonder why Toronto has traffic problems. The HOV lanes for the Pan Am Games disappear when the games go, so Torontonians can go back to their selfish, unecological ways .

Why take the bike?  Well, the Pan Am Games are on so they’ve finally gotten some sense and instituted HOV lanes (it took the Pan Am Games to make Toronto accessible to the rest of the province – go figure).  Fortunately for the selfish, environmentally oblivious Toronto commuters, the HOV lanes go away again when the games are over and Toronto is once again an hour further away for the rest of us.

Motorcycles are always high occupancy.  They are a highly efficient way of moving people compared to cars which is why they are so popular in places with less money than sense.  When things started to inevitably slow down (at eleven o’clock in the morning), the HOV lanes never did.  I’ve never gotten into Toronto so easily.  In under 90 minutes I was parked on Front Street.

Why else take the bike?  Parking a car in Toronto will punch you in the nose and take your lunch money.  Around the Royal York it’s particularly expensive, often about $40-50 for a day, unless you’re on a bike!  About 500 feet down the road from the Royal York there is free (!) parking for motorcycles.  

Free parking for two wheelers right on Front Street – you can see the Royal York off to the left.  I purchased a $23 club sandwich (!) with the money I saved not having to pay for parking.

What was the ride down like?  Well, the country bit was lovely.  It was about 20°C, sunny and not at all humid, a perfect day for a ride.  The 401 through Milton is alright, but when you get to Mississauga it starts to get silly and then goes bonkers around the airport.  In training they give you helpful advice like always ride on the inside or outside lane so you can take a blocking position, but that quickly becomes academic on the 401.

With lanes constantly appearing and disappearing and suddenly expanding out to 12 lanes you’re playing a fool’s game looking for a specific lane.  Spending your attention on what lane to ride in probably means you’re not paying as much attention as much as you should to the vehicles whipping around you at 120+km/hr.  You can’t keep a space bubble because the traffic is too thick and follows too closely, and you can’t lane split in Ontario to get out of tight spots.  If you ride defensively (and you shouldn’t if you don’t), you’ll find your ability to manage threats stressed on the four hundred series highways leading into Toronto.

The only incident was a guy in a Mazda who decided to lane change (no indicator, you see them less than 50% of the time) into me.  He had been twitch lane changing repeatedly so he was marked as a jackass on my radar.  When he turned into me I was easily able to avoid him, and then give him some stink eye and a head shake.  He hadn’t seen me (he hadn’t shoulder checked or indicated either, and he had his phone on his lap).  You always get a sheepish response from people when they make a mistake that might have cost you your life.

That much traffic is a real test of your rider-radar.  It’s a constantly evolving, high speed situation, so you’re always fluidly responding to variations, trying to make space, identifying idiots and giving yourself every chance of getting where you’re going.  If you’re prone to tunnel vision or lazy traffic responses when you ride, don’t ride past the airport in Toronto.

The Concours hanging out with two cute Italians on Front Street

From up in the saddle you have an clear view of occupants in cars.  I’d say about one in five has a smartphone on their laps and half of them are dividing at least some of their attention with it.  Ontario’s distracted driving laws have driven phone use in cars underground.  There should be more OPP officers on bikes out on the highway, they’d make a mint, as well as raising the awareness of motorcycles in the minds of drivers.  Why are there no undercover police bikes?

Bike parking on Front, right there!

The ride in and out was pretty much flawless thanks to the government prioritizing access to Toronto for the Games.  I guess the rest of Ontario’s citizens don’t rate better access to our capital.  Once the games are over and things go back to the usual I’ll be avoiding Toronto once again.

Permanent HOV lanes, the ability to safely filter in traffic and any other law that emphasizes the efficiency and agility of the motorcycle would make the Greater Toronto Area much more palatable to riders, but as it stands the mentality of Toronto commuters and the laws the government creates to support them make it a no-fly zone for me.

The Concours flirting with some Vespas. Parking for free in Toronto? Priceless!
Union Station in Toronto decked out for the Pan Am Games.
The Royal York – the grand dame of Toronto hotels, very nice indeed.
$23 club sandwich, it was good, but twenty three bucks!

Rockstars of the Digital Classroom!



Another one of those things that would have been unimaginable only a decade ago – an  international micro-conference!  Wendy Gorton of Wikispaces fame collected together teachers using digital tools in the classroom and created a virtual meeting place where they could all share their processes and practices.

Garth Holman is a teacher deep into how #edtech pushes pedagogy in Ohio.  Jessica Sullivan is living in eternal summer in Caracas, Venezuela where she is leveraging social media and digital tools to produce students who are actually digitally fluent!  Our kids should be so lucky.

That it is possible to put something together like this with little more than an internet connection and a few laptops is astonishing.  Wikis themselves are a web-specific evolution in information sharing, a crowd sourced medium for self publication.  The social power of wikis are still reverberating around the world.  Garth talked about how his students create learning content and then set it free online, my own students do something similar using wikis.  As a way of creating shared notes and interconnecting information, wikis leverage digital learning spaces in a way that many other digital tools that act like paper analogues do not.  If you’re using Google-docs to replace handouts you’re not getting what the new medium is capable of.  Many teachers use digital tools as a replacement for paper, but that doesn’t use the fluidity of digital information to best effect.

Besides exploring the limits of digital information sharing and delivery you’ve also got to consider the best digital tool for the job.  If you’re only using a single digital tool you’re probably finding it difficult.  When trying to use Google-docs to create shared notes you’ve probably run into the chaos that ensues.  Wikispaces lets you create working groups and lock out areas of a wiki so only the production team in that subject can edit.  As each student builds their own interlinked page in the wikispace, they are able to produce collaborative, supported material without stepping on each other.  Diversifying your digital learning toolbox is vital.  If you’re not picking the best tool for the job you’re going to run into organizational problems.

I’m doing a presentation at the upcoming elearning Ontario symposium on creating a sufficiently complex digital learning ecosystem.  The idea that a single system (D2L) or a single platform (GAFE) can give you a sufficiently diverse digital learning environment isn’t just simplistic, it’s also a bit monopolistic.  As a digitally fluent teacher you should be able to reach out online and find the digital tools that suit your learner’s needs best.

In addition to regularly using Wikispaces, I’m also a big fan of Prezi and blogging (platform irrelevant).  If you’re looking to leverage digital tools in learning, offering a broad ecosystem of digital tools is the first step towards a student centred, diversified learning environment.  All of the teachers above talk about how they are using Twitter in addition to a variety of other digital tools to make that happen.

Triumph ATLAK Meet Up

The day after my Kawartha Highlands Loop I made my way north into the fancy cottage country of the Muskokas looking for Triumph’s ATLAK tour Southern Ontario stop.  It says Toronto on the poster, but Torrance is over two hours and two hundred kilometres north of that.  


A chance to ride the new Tigers was very enticing so I set off with high expectations.  I’d filled up on the way in to the cottage two days earlier then done the big loop around the Kawarthas the day before.  Just after 11am I set out on hot, July Saturday with the gas gauge just above the empty bar figuring I’d fill up when I came across a gas station on the 140+kms ride up there.


From near Bobcaygeon I made my way through Kinmount and Norland on the twisty Monck Road/County Road 45.  Still no gas in sight, but I was having a good time with the light and frisky Tiger.  By the time I headed north on the 169 past Casino Rama I was astonished that I wasn’t stranded yet, and the fuel light still hadn’t made an appearance.  I was through Washago and onto Gasoline Alley on Highway 11 and still nothing, but if I ran out of gas on Gasoline Alley it would have made a good story.


I finally pulled into a Shell on the side of the highway just past noon, still with no warning light on.  The 24 litre tank took just over 22 litres, so I still had some wiggle room.  At about 460 kms on 22 litres of fuel, the Tiger, with 250lb me and two panniers with tools and rain gear in them managed over 49 miles per gallon (4.8 litres per 100kms), that’s within one mile per gallon of a Prius, and I wasn’t riding it gently.  I’m not sure how much fun driving a Prius is, but it’s never doing 0-60 in four seconds like the Tiger had been, and the Tiger isn’t a black hole of resource production in its manufacture.


I pulled into Clear Lake Brewery in Torrance, just west of Gravenhurst, at about 1:30pm.  I’d missed lunch, but wanted to get there early and get signed in.  There in lay my only mistake on this trip.  I’d foolishly assumed that Triumph turning up with a bunch of Tigers would mean an opportunity to ride them.  I’d done this with Kawasaki previously, so it didn’t seem like a crazy idea, and with details like, “Come spend a day at an event highlighting Triumph’s dynamic new ADV bikes – the class-leading Tiger 800 and technical juggernaut Tiger 1200.  Register today for an adventure of epic proportions.”  can you feel my confusion?  Surely an epic adventure implies an opportunity to ride, no?

After milling around for an hour and half in alternating patchy rain and then extreme humidity while watching Clinton Smout disappear on a variety of different Tigers, I was starting to wonder if I’d misunderstood the intent of this event.  A microphone was set up, but no one was using it.  We’d been handed out wrist bands and a swag bag of Tiger stuff, which was cool, but I was still waiting for someone to pick up that mic and start the thing.  A few people commented on my old Tiger (the oldest there by a decade, easily), but for the most part the majority of people showed up in like new, matching, name brand adventure wear on twenty grand, low mileage bikes and walked right by it.  They seemed happy to stand around talking a good ride, but that isn’t my thing.


It was the last weekend of the World Cup on a summer weekend, so the Brewery was packed with people.  Trying to get a table, let alone something to eat (evidently what our wrist bands were for) wasn’t likely without a big wait.  I finally overheard one of the organizers say, “it’s just a meet and greet with a chance to see the new Tigers and talk about riding opportunities in the area.”  The “epic adventure” was a show and tell?  After hearing this I was back at my Tiger in seconds getting packed up.

So close yet so far!

Before I left I figured I’d get some Clear Lake Brewery beer having never heard of it before, but the fridge in the entrance  was empty.  A quick trip  to the toilet and I was ready to make some tracks.  Someone had parked in front of me, but I backed the Tiger up the hill by the handlebars and saddled up.  Getting some Triumph swag and looking at the new Tigers was nice and all, but it wasn’t what I thought I was doing that day.  I’m not a big fan of sitting around talking about motorcycles, I prefer to be riding them.

On the way in I’d noticed Muskoka District Road 13 cutting south around the lakes and rocks of the Canadian Shield out of Torrance.  It was well past 3pm and I hadn’t eaten anything since that morning, but I knew steak was waiting for me at the cottage so I figured I’d just push on.  13 is a roller-coaster of a thing and a delight to ride.  Like all Ontario roads, some parts of it are so rough you’re better off on a long suspension bike just to get over it, but other parts were smooth and very entertaining.  If you’re in the area it’s well worth the ride.  There’s me talking about nice rides in the area for ya.


The highway portion of the ride was only about one exit long and I was back in Washago before I knew it.  I stopped at the massive LCBO off the highway (probably there thanks to Casino Rama being nearby) and finally got some beer, then retraced my route back out of Muskoka and across the Kawartha Lakes, this time with a full tank and no anxiety.  I ended up stopping once in Norland for a fruit filled tart and a small coffee before finishing the ride into the woods and back to the family cottage.


I’ve got no regrets in making the ride up to Torrance.  It was cool to see the new bikes but baffling to not get to ride them (unless you’re Clinton Smout).  The ride up and back was entertaining and the Tiger hat is one of my son’s favorites now, so that’s a win.  Knowing then what I know now, I’d still probably have made the trip up there anyway, but it sure would have been nice to see how Triumph Tiger state of the art had moved along in the fifteen years since my bike came off the production line.


Sometimes it’s the expectations that let you down rather than the thing itself.


Some photos from ATLAK:


The kit on hand had nice details like waterproof zips and looked like it would vent well.  None to try on though…

Toronto in a Toronto is really all of Ontario kind of way.  Torrance is over 200kms north of it…

… and from the ride back down Muskoka Regional Road 13 and home:

About to go flip the Roof’s chin and go full face down on Gasoline Alley…
Muskoka Road 13 is a treat, but a bit rough in places.
Norland for a tart and some coffee…



2003 Triumph Tiger 955i Fuel Mileage Details:
https://goo.gl/maps/5Zcv7TbTq2t
22 Litre fill up – still 2 litres in the tank.
Gas mileage is: 21.14 kilometers per liter, 4.73 liters per 100 kilometers, or 49.72 miles per gallon.
Distance traveled since last time is: 465 kilometers. ~49.72mpg…

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via IFTTT

Won’t you make my black Ninja blue?

Project: restore the original blue paint job of a 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650r.

Plan: remove the flat black-out paint job and restore the original metallic blue

Backstory:


This ’07 650r Ninja is my first bike, I got it a couple of months ago.  I was considering buying a new bike, but wanted something I could get mechanically familiar with.  I got this Ninja with low miles (still only 8k on the clock when I got it).  There was evidence it had been dropped, but the bike was in excellent mechanical condition and with the low mileage, it seemed like a good candidate for a restoration that would let me familiarize myself with motorcycle maintenance (I’ve owned many interesting cars, so I know my way around an engine bay).  
Making a black Ninja blue again
So far so good, the bike is letting me figure out the mechanics and maintenance, and works flawlessly otherwise.  The biggest effort has been trying to figure out how to strip the blacked out paint job and restore the body to the stock colour.  Here is the process to date:

How to Strip Paint Off a Motorcycle:


My first attempt was heavy handed,
but lessons learned on the front
fender paid off elsewhere
Stone chips were showing the blue paint underneath around the front fender, headlight and leading edges of the fairings.  With it looking so shabby anyway (it’s not like it’s a nice black paint job), I began with the front fender, trying to find ways to remove the black.
I tried wet sanding the black but this didn’t prove very effective.  The compound curves on the body work (’07 Ninjas are very sinuous) make sanding smoothly difficult.  The sanding block would either burn through into the

Goof Off Graffiti remover got
the worst of the black off,
then a wipe with a soft, lint
free painters cloth with some
thinner took away the haze

blue below or damage the clear coat; it was too blunt an instrument.  I eventually tried some graffiti remover  and it did the job while preserving the factory paint.  

Once I got the technique down, the
black came off leaving the blue in
good shape underneath
I initially tried wiping off the sprayed on remover with painter’s rags, but they are too smooth to work well with paint this thick.  I eventually tried tea towels with a rougher texture and they worked well with the Goof Off.  
Eventually I found that spraying a thick coat of remover on a spot on the tea towel and then wiping in small circles would remove the black paint leaving the blue underneath untouched.  This is best shown around the seat at the back of the bike.  Even the clearcoat was left intact by working in small circles, removing the black paint in small areas at a time.  The paint there is not even waxed and looks great, this part of the bike was quickly restored with no damage to the underlying paint.

Graffiti remover (I can’t speak for all of them but if they are all formulated similarly then you should get similar results) does a fine job of stripping a bad paint job off bike body work.  Work in small areas, spraying on to the rag and then applying to the paint.  The top layer of the black comes off on the first application, the blue shows through after the second.

Hidden bruises
This closeup shows just how
the black is coming off to
reveal the Ninja blue below

Of course, when someone blacks out a bike they might be doing it for aesthetic reasons, but I don’t think I’ll be assuming that any more.  It turns out the bike had been dropped pretty hard on its left side.  As I was removing the flat black it looked like I could see her hidden bruises for the first time.  The scuffs had all been sanded smooth for the black paint job, but as the extent of the injuries become clear I’ll have a better idea of what happened.  It looks like the bike went down and slid without hitting anything.  It still has its original front end and various switch gear, so this was an asphalt slide that damaged the body work.

Looking at the bottom of the main fairing, I found that one side appears to be unpainted other than the flat black while the other is blue, so this is probably a replacement fairing.
The fairing on the right
has no blue under the black

I’m about half way through stripping the black off.  I’m to the big front fairings now, and they have a lot of real estate on them.  Working in small circles, this is going to take a while.

Once I’ve got it stripped down, I’ll remove the panels, repaint them metallic blue and then paint the frame (burnt orange) while I’m in there.  The end result should be a colourful Ninja that proudly wears its stock metallic blue paint, albeit with some touch ups that make the bike even more visually interesting.

Notes:  


I picked up the Goof Off at Canadian Tire.  They had other brands there, I haven’t tried them, but if I do I’ll follow up with comments.

The factory paint job on an ’07 Kawasaki Ninja 650r:  

The Neverending Story of Rational Reductionism

Remember the first time you went away from home without your family?  I’d done scout weekends and that sort of thing, but the first extended time away was when I was heading to Air Cadet Basic Training in Trenton for two weeks in the summer of 1984.  Just before I left I saw The Neverending Story.  As a creative kid who was neck deep in Dungeons & Dragons and art, and whose dad kept telling him to stop wasting his time and take real courses that led somewhere, it resonated.


It’s been thirty-five years since fifteen year old me saw that film and an awful lot has happened in the meantime.  Having just watched it again, I’m stunned by how strange a film it is.  What I took as a high fantasy romp when I was a teen is actually a bizarrely meta (physical) narrative that would make a suicidally depressed Hamlet snort with amusement.  The film was directed by famed German director Wolfgang Petersen, and boy does das kopfkino it produces lay on the schadenfreude thick.


The film’s message, that your imagination can save you from the banality of existence, suggests that you need something more than rationality to justify your reason for being.  Or, back to Hamlet again, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  I find a great deal of comfort in recognizing the complexity of existence, though many people seem terrified of it and go to great lengths to simplify it.

The film’s thesis is that imagination allows us to withstand the pointlessness of existence and offers hope.  If you turn yourself off from the impossible it prevents you from holding despair at bay.  The scene in the film where Atreyu’s horse gives up hope and sinks into the mud of a swamp (of Sadness no less) is one of the most powerful in the film.


The quest that drives the story forward is the destruction of Fantasia, an alternate reality that exists as an expression of human creativity and imagination.  It’s being destroyed because people are losing their hopes and dreams, the very things that cause Fantasia to exist.




***



Viewing this film produced one of those strange lateral connections for me that science minded people put down to coincidence but artists thrive on.  I’ve just finished reading Michael Crichton’s Travels, an autobiographical book by the popular author where he reflects on his travels, both physical and spiritual.  As a hardening atheist (thanks to reading Dawkins’ The God Delusion) I found myself suppressing eye rolls as Crichton attempts new-age spiritualism again and again in search of something tangible beyond the science he started with as a Harvard trained medical doctor.  But Crichton’s canny speech at the end of the book offers an approach to the unknowable that I couldn’t help but agree with.


It’s worth reading Travels just go get to to the closing speech that he never gave.  It deconstructs a number of scientific prejudices that hard rationalists cling to even though they aren’t particularly logical, such as surgeries carried out to prevent a possibility of illness with no clear scientific benefit, or the long history of fake experimental results that are accepted because they support a current world view rather than the truth of things.  Hard rationalism is as susceptible to fantastic thinking as any other human endeavour.  Crichton’s final lines highlight the space he has made for human understanding beyond the limitations of rational inquiry:


“…we need the insights of the mystic every bit as much as we need the insights of the scientist. Mankind is diminished when either is missing. Carl Jung said: The nature of the psyche reaches into obscurities far beyond the scope of our understanding.”


Our rational understanding of things allows us to do many relatively mundane things in the real world, but our existence reaches deeper than that, and we ignore what we are capable of if we limit ourselves to the realms of what our remarkable but limited intellects can comprehend.  Put another way, there is understanding to be found in our being as well as in our thinking.


Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching had this covered 2500 years ago.  We’ve
forgotten a lot of that wisdom in our information age.

In addition to critiquing science’s hypocrisy, Crichton also bounces back 2500 years to Lao Tzu (who I have a weakness for) and describes how the founder of Taoism understood how our rational minds and our irrational existence must work together to bring us into a fuller understanding of our place in the universe.  It’s powerful stuff, and a reminder that there is no simple (ie: only mind-based) answers to the big questions.  It takes all that we are to even begin to attempt answer them.  In embracing our existential intelligence we also come to a more balanced understanding of our place in the world.


***

With Crichton’s angle on how we frame the impossible in my mind, I was slapped in the face by The Neverending Story’s strident attack on reductive, ‘feet on the ground’ rationality in the face of the threat of non-existence.  The brief scene between Bastion and his father is stark and cruel, but I think it points to something obvious.  It’s never mentioned how Bastion’s mother dies, but the father’s unwillingness to acknowledge it in any way suggests a shameful death, and we all know which kind of death is the most shameful and must not be spoken of.


“When a visibly sad Bastian tells his father that he’s had yet another dream about his mom, he responds that he understands, but quickly adds that they have to move on, emphasizing that they can’t let her passing stop them from getting things done. And just when you think he’ll soften up and help Bastian process his pain, Bastian’s father lays into his son for doodling in his notebook during math class.”

Considering the metaphysical message of this film and that strange dialogue between father and son, I was left hanging on the edge of tears.  My Mum was upstairs the last time I saw this film.  She’s been dead six years this time around, but that sense of loss is always surprisingly quick to surface.  Her life as an artist was frequently derailed and undervalued, and her end was, I suspect, similar to Bastion’s mom’s.  The Neverending Story suddenly took on a resonance that it didn’t have before.


The evil that is destroying the world in The Neverending Story is The Nothing.  It is quite literally non-existence.  Bastion’s father’s brusque ‘move on and keep your feet on the ground’ advice suggests (quite obviously I think) that his mother commited suicide.  The entire narrative in Neverending Story is based around Bastion trying to summon his imagination to battle this existential disaster, something that Lao Tzu and Michael Crichton would both agree can’t be done with reason alone.  The film’s only weakness is it’s reductive imagination is the answer philosophy.  Imagination is vital in bringing you to a place beyond the rational, but populating it with make believe isn’t the goal once you get there.  Imagination is what allows us to see beyond the world around us and plumb those existential mysteries.

***

From Kermit the Frog pondering Rainbow Connections to Alice looking down rabbit holes, there is a lot of art that seeks to explore the limitations of rational inquiry and how it fails to answer the big questions.  Creativity is hard enough without tying your hands up with rational absolutism, so I can appreciate why many artists lean more heavily on the hidden intelligence found in existentialism for their inspiration; there is power in our being that cannot be easily explained.  

Our ability to reach down into our selves and gain inspiration and insight makes us powerful in a way that thinking never can.  For the Bastions of Neverending Story, travelling Crichtons and other artists out there, it’s something we should never let the hard rationalists of science ever try and trivialize away as flights of fancy.  There are truths in our being that can’t be found through rational inquiry.


Imagination by itself is a fine thing, but when it’s used as a means of opening the door to existential comprehension it really comes into its own.  Crichton describes how measurement always misses the quiddity of a thing, it’s inherently reductive to say anything can be completely understood through its measurements.  A wholistic, existential understanding, along with specific, rational comprehension, is the most complete way a human being can relate and understand the world.  Crichton’s closing lines encouraging us not to ignore and belittle the irrational – something that The Neverending Story also argues, though it gets lost in imagination for imagaination’s sake.


Valuing both rational and irrational human comprehension offers us a more balanced and effective way forward, and gets us into the vicinity of answering the big questions.  The trick is not to get carried away with imagination or rationalism and end up treating either one as the answer to everything.  As in all things, balance offers more insight.










Other notes:



Atreyu: If you don’t tell me, and the Nothing keeps coming, you will die too, both of you! 

Morla, the Ancient One: Die? Now that, at least, would be *something*.


Urgl: I like that, the patient telling the doctor it’s all right. It has to hurt if it’s to heal.




I’m not the only one picking up on the weird vibe this film is giving:
http://www.dorkly.com/post/75705/reasons-the-neverending-story-is-a-psychological-horror-show
http://nerdbastards.com/2017/07/25/7-facts-you-probably-didnt-know-about-the-neverending-story/
https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/10/06/neverending-story-dad-bastian_n_8248450.html

From a 2018/the sky is falling/we’re-all-illiterate-because-of-technology point of view, the book keeper’s scorn when talking to Bastion, the pre-teen main character way back in 1983 (over two decades before smartphones) is interesting:

Koreander: The video arcade is down the street. Here we just sell small rectangular objects. They’re called books. They require a little effort on your part, and make no bee-bee-bee-bee-beeps. On your way please.




… and reminds me of the Socrates quote and that we’re most prejudiced with our own children.  It’s also a timely reminder that the tech of our time doesn’t define us any more than video arcades did in the ’80s.  I grew up in them and it didn’t make me illiterate.



The Way: https://terebess.hu/english/tao/chan.html

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COVID19 Reflections: Status Quo, Enthusiasm & the Compassionate Path

The other week Alec Couros asked for predictions on what will come of this pandemic remote learning situation.  I find myself straddling this divide.  On the one side you have the powers that be who have no interest in changing a status quo that has put them in charge.  On the other you have technology multinationals and the branded teachers who support them wanting to use this situation as an opportunity to push a more technology dependent evolution in schooling.  In between them all are working teachers who are just trying to make this work.


Six years ago I found myself in Arizona at the Education Innovation (sic) Summit at the invitation of Wikispaces (who have since evaporated).  I say sic because it had very little to do with education or innovation and a lot to do with market share and the rollout of an inflexible digital delivery system (or LMS if you prefer).  There were a couple of comments from that conference that are resonating with me during this pandemic emergency response.  I overheard a senior VP at a multi-national tech company you’d have heard of that likes to ‘certify’ and brand teachers say, “with the new common core curriculum and the charter school push, this is our moment to strike!”  You could almost hear the drool hitting the floor from the predators who filled up this ‘education innovation’ summit.  This should sound strangely familiar to Ontario educators after this past year.

An opposing moment came as a round table of Ph.Ds talked about data exhaust and tracking the vast improvements that have happened in education and learning thanks to our adoption of digital technology.  The problem is that there is no such data.  Countries that adopted digital technology in learning early on show little or no statistical change in learning outcomes.  This is what happens when we adopt digital technology primarily to reduce photocopying budgets instead of applying pedagogy to leverage new communication mediums.


In the six years since that conference I’ve watched our school systems lurch toward the stake I claimed on the digital frontier, adopting wireless and cloud based technologies and expanding general student access to edtech, but the learning outcomes are seldom different because we have done little to improve digital transliteracy.  Students who struggled before tend to actually struggle more in the poorly understood digital cesspool of conflicting mediums.  Now that I’m teaching computer technology full time I see it happening on a province-wide basis; technology isn’t the great equalizer, it’s either hugely reductive or an invitation to chaos.  Instead of adapting and engaging with new mediums and developing transliteracies around them, we’ve reduced digital technology to a cost saving measure that doesn’t actually save any money.  We don’t teach digital fluency, we just magically expect it, and in the meantime we’re buying mounds of technology that almost no one knows how to leverage effectively.


At the end of 2019 a novel virus that we’ve never seen before began spreading across the world.  Unchecked it would kill millions and overwhelm our austerity riddled medical systems.  After a year of bullying Ontario education with absurd threats of mandatory elearning courses for all, COVID19 suddenly delivered the perfect opportunity to prove that it’s possible.  What’s happening with remote learning right now isn’t designed to deliver the best possible learning outcomes using the all of the digital tools at our disposal, it’s a marketing exercise.


I’m in a position where I teach digital technology to a self selected group of students who are much more likely to be connected, have their own technology AND (most importantly!) know how to use it.  In our first week of remote learning I’ve got eyes on every one of my students and a 100% engagement rate across all classes, but to use this as proof that elearning might work is the worst kind of skulduggery.


When this all kicked off I was keen to move quickly, take initiative and demonstrate what our digital fluency could accomplish.  While the rest of the system lost initiative in two weeks of silence, I had a number of students who were already crushing what would become the radically reduced expectations that the Ministry eventually worked out.  


Three hours of remote learning per week per course?  We spend over six high bandwidth face to face hours a week in class and senior students usually drop another couple of hours in on top of that.  Three hours of remote learning is a tiny fraction of this.  How tiny?  The introduction to networking piece we usually do in a blended online LMS and F2F grade 10 class on Cisco’s Netacademy takes one week to finish – I’ve given my remote learning grade 10s an entire month to do the same thing, and many won’t manage it, in some cases because the locked down Chromebooks they were shipped won’t install the software, in other cases because of a lack of space or time, and in others because without an adult present some students just won’t do anything.  There are so many reasons why this shouldn’t work, but we keep adding more reasons on top.


If we prove this works at all (and many are having trouble reaching even that lowered target), we’ve proven that remote learning is only fractionally as effective as face to face learning, which was why so many teachers fought this government’s callous mandatory elearning push in the first place, and that’s not even getting into digital divides, equity and digital illiteracy.  In a perfect case with carefully selected students with the tech, connectivity and skills required, remote learning is 25% as effective as what we usually do.  In reality it won’t even come close to that.


***

My ‘let’s floor it and show everyone what digital fluency can do’ approach changed dramatically over the first few weeks as remote learning finally rolled out.  Colleague Diane‘s comment in the union portion of our first online staff meeting (another impossibility – our union is famously anti-tech) began a shift in my thinking; this isn’t an opportunity to push elearning, it’s an emergency response.  How we name it might sound pedantic, but it isn’t.  Names carry implications, and even though Ontario’s emergency response remote learning is pretty much entirely elearning based, it shouldn’t be, as this article from the Broadbent Institute suggests


“To roll out what has been a specialized program serving a minority of students to the majority of students in an emergency — sets up expectations against which we are poised to fail.”

“The provincial “Learn at Home” approach draws not only on a fantasy of eagerly connected students with ample resources, but also on a fantasy of home free from conflict and space constraints, supported by caregivers who can and will provide structure, motivation, and mediate learning between the teacher and their child.”


There is a lot of fantasy in how this is all unfolding.  Over the years I’ve often found myself surrounded by perfectly operational computers that were destined for landfill.  At one point I got our student success person on board and built free, Linux based computers to hand out to families in need – it was a disaster.  When you hand out unfamiliar technology that people don’t know how to use, they don’t know how to use it – how’s that for a stunning revelation?  We’ve just done logistical backflips on a system wide scale in Ontario during this remote learning crisis to do exactly that.  How bad is digital fluency in Canadian society?  Worse than you think.  The belief that ‘digital natives’ who are familiar with habitual use of technology somehow have mastery of it is just another fantasy we can’t be bothered to dispel.

The remote learning push will be what it will be, and what it ends up being will be nothing remotely close to what it could have been thanks to our wilfully oblivious approach to digital divides and transliteracy.  We’ve done what we always do: drastically simplify a complex situation for appearances, but it’s to be expected when a critical service like education is run by politics.  Handing out books to illiterate people isn’t going to prompt a lot of reading – but that’s exactly what we’re expecting with our sudden onset elearning plan.


Other pedagogically focused educators I look to when reflecting and adjusting my teaching have also emphasized the importance of re-framing this situation away from a digital technology marketing opportunity.  Zoe and Brenda have both emphasized the importance of a compassionate, considered approach rather than driving for curriculum consumption. Alanna’s blog post on social media distancing with students changed my mind about trying to recreate a classroom environment by driving for video chat access.  Knowing that my students are digitally skilled and connected, I was frustrated when I didn’t have quick pickup from my seniors, only to discover that the quiet ones had suddenly been pressed into 40+ hours a week of reduced minimum wage work and were sorry for not doing the 3 hours per class that private school Stephen, who didn’t need a job in high school and most certainly never balanced a full time reduced minimum wage job during a pandemic, has decided is appropriate.


***


https://prezi.com/t0kxvhw3m-d_/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0shareWould I like to see us adopt a coherent digital skills curriculum with specifically identified and developed skills?  Yes, I would.  I’d like us to become authors of educational technology rather than just consumers or branded representatives of multi-nationals.  I seek a nuanced, transliterative use of digital technology and an adaptive, self-aware pedagogy that leverages these new mediums of communication to maximize learning outcomes for everyone.  I’ve been advocating for a digital apprenticeship for our students and staff for over a decade and I don’t see that changing, but using an emergency situation to push that agenda is inappropriate, and what we’ve done in terms of expecting miracles from it has cast a harsh light on our myopic approach to digital transliteracy to date.

The irony of this crisis is that it has improved digital transliteracy in one of the hardest to crack bastions of the education system.  I’ve seen staff who I would never have imagined on video chats, and doing that while they’re also having to integrate unfamiliar digital tools in a live learning environment (such as it  is).  If Alec is still looking for a bright side in this, maybe this will be what comes of it; that more educators begin to understand the possibilities of digital transliteracy in learning.  Maybe then enough educators will know enough about it to create a sea change in how we approach our digital divides, because it sure ain’t coming from the top down.

Related Material:
ECOO 2011 Presentation: Dancing in the Datasphere – we cling to outdated concepts of information and communication even as a digital revolution envelops us
ECOO 2016 Presentation:  The DIY Computer Lab – differentiating technology use to raise digital fluency
2017:  The Digital Divide is Deep & Wide – access to digitally enhanced learning is about much more than just technology and connectivity
2018:  How To Resolve Poor Technical Fluency – courses that teach digital transliteracy are few and far between in Ontario classes, yet every class uses digital tools…

Digital Fluency: it kicked off Dusty World and is a recurring theme in it (because it has never been addressed)

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