The Great Escape

This time of year always feels like Groundhog Day – go to  work, go to sleep, wake up, do it again.  It becomes so repetitive that it leaks into your mind, filling your thoughts so there is little room for anything else.  This year it’s amplified by the negativity surrounding my work.  All that combined with no riding for dark months on end and it’s hard not to get jammed.

If I time it right I can sneak out of Ontario on an above zero, dry road day.  You can still find double digital daily highs in Cincinatti and south.  A plugged in electric kit bonzai ride to Cinci and I’m out of the snowbelt.  From there it’s a less ragged ride south to New Orleans.  From Cinci I’d angle over to Memphis and follow the Mississipi down to the Big Easy…



After reading books like Todd Blubaugh’s Too Far Gone and watching Austin Vince Mondo Enduro the planet, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to get lost on the road.  Once out of the snowbelt, I’d be in no rush to be somewhere.  Without that very Western time fixation, I wouldn’t have to get wound up over deadlines.


If I’m not fixated on a destination the daily goals might not be that linear.  With local knowledge I’d hope to find things off the beaten path as I meander…





Off the top of my head, I’d leave New Orleans along the Gulf, visit Austin and then ride the Twisted Sisters in Texas Hill Country.  Austin’s also the home of the only North American MotoGP race, so if I timed my return with the race, I could be passing back through Austin on the way home in early April and catch Marc and the rest of the aliens doing their thing.  The goal on the way south would be to get familiar with Austin’s weirdness for the return stop.

After wandering Texas I’d take a run up to the Very Large Array in New Mexico and do my best Jodi Foster immitation.  New Mexico and Arizona have a pile of strange sites to see, so the wandering would get intense.  Norman Reedus did a Ride episode in New Mexico that does a good job of showing what’s on hand out there.

Even that far south the mountains can also catch you out with northern temperatures as we found out a couple of years ago in the Superstition Mountains just outside of Phoenix in early January, so not rushing and timing your rides is important when at altitude.  There are pile of old western towns and ruins in the US South West, along with some astonishing pieces of engineering.  Meandering from photo opportunity to photo opportunity would be a nice way to ease into this slow motion ride.

Tuscon is home of the Aeroplane Boneyard where thousands of retired air force planes sit in the desert.   A wander around there at sunset would be a glorious thing.  I’ve done the Phoenix area a couple of times and travelled from the north end of Arizona from Las Vegas, but haven’t travelled as far south as Tuscon.  From there I’d head across to Yuma, another famous western US location, before diving south into the Baja Penninsula.  A desert riding tour would be a pretty cool way of seeing Baja.

Mexico is a whole other world.  Most riding-the-Americas types blitz through it looking for a fast route south,but Mexico (with a final lunge into Belize) is where I’d wrap up this great escape from the never ending Canadian winter.  Some crystal caves, Mesoamerican pyramids and Belize beaches during the deep freeze and then working my way back up to Austin for early April…


Seeing the Ozarks and the Tail of the Dragon during the weeks after the race would be a nice way to wind up this great escape, getting back to the frozen north just as it’s not frozen anymore.

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Behold! The Essay-inator!

In this corner, weighing in as the inevitable future, I give you: the writing algorithm!
… and in this corner, weighing in as a lazy, nineteenth century habit that no one can shake: tedious, overly structured High School English writing!


The trick is going to be creating an algorithm that plagiarism checkers won’t catch.  That shouldn’t be too hard as they tend to look for matching text, and any good algorithm would put the pieces together in varying ways depending on the variables given.


With a proscribed structure similar to sports stories or financial reports, it should be fairly easy to get Narrative Science to modify their writing engine to accept key points and put together a five paragraph essay that perfectly follows the tediously exact, point-proof-explanation requirements of high school essay writing.


The process should go something like this:

  • student logs in to the website and enters brainstorming ideas based on a cursory reading on the subject matter (Macbeth should be covered in 20 minutes, tops)
  • thesis (an arguable statement) is generated based on ideas given (or offered, depending on how much you want to put into this)
  • supporting points are suggested.  The algorithm places them in order of importance based on the number of hits and positive previous reviews, student picks the ones that grab them
  • the algorithm finds quotes from the play and lit crit that relate to each supporting point
  • body paragraphs are constructed following point/proof/explanation around chosen quotes
  • introduction and conclusion are generated based on body paragraphs
  • student reviews the paper for vocabulary or wording that doesn’t suit their style
  • if too complicated a word is used, the student can right click and get a list of synonyms
  • the completed paper, using variable data, is unique, and presented in the vicinity of the student’s knowledge of the subject matter, working vocabulary and writing style
Behold my essay-inator!

The point and click essay is finally here!


The efficiencies here should be obvious.  A typical paper requires hours of reading, then re-reading looking for quotes, then formulation of ideas, then organization… hours and hours!  This process could have a student sit down with a Shakespearean play they’ve never seen before, and have a finished essay completed in under an hour, on their smartphone!

They are still the authors, we’ve just taken the tedium and soulless nature of high school writing and given it to a machine, which only seems fair.

***

This is written facetiously, but it does raise a couple of interesting questions.  If high school writing requires such heavy duty plagiarism checking and tends to be about the same subjects using the same formats, and marked with the same rubrics year after year, what is the point?

If these guys have come up with an algorithm that can write data driven, structurally sound pieces this well, how long will it be before someone has put together a five paragraph essay-inator?  The only thing more soulless and formulaic than financial writing or sports reporting is high school English writing.  Time to let the computers do what they do best and take this repetitive, tedious work and do it more efficiently!

Up next, mechanized marking of essays: time to take the tedium out of being an English teacher!

If this works out well, we’ll be able to have students ‘write’ essays, and have them ‘marked’ in a matter of seconds!

Now that’s progress!