Winter Stable Dreams

It’s snowing so thick you can’t see the road.  I’m at the end of a semester and in full day-dreaming mode.  If I were out bike shopping this week, this is what I’d be aiming to bring back:




The naked:  I’m still smitten with the Kawasaki Z1000.  An orange one, with a tail tidy to get rid of the only ugly part of this stunning machine (the ugly plastic plate hanger off the back).  Some aero crash protectors and I’d be ready to track day with it as well.







The sporty road bike: the jewel-like Honda VFR800 still plucks a heart string.  It’s the descendant of one of my first motorbike crushes and would make for a mighty entertaining, sport focused road bike that could still swallow miles if needed.  It looks spectacular in white, but it also needs a tail tidy!





The all terrain bike is a tricky piece of work.  The temptation is just to go all in on a big adventure bike, but the main purpose for one of those is as a road riding mile-muncher.  My off road able bike needs to work on the road and keep up with traffic (something my current 250cc Kawasaki isn’t great at), but its focus should be off tarmac (unlike a big, heavy adventure bike).



A light-weight scrambler would be a the preferred choice aesthetically.  Building out my own custom from an existing, off-road focused bike would offer both the scrambler vibe while using light-weight, off-road ready tech.

The Suzuki DR-Z400S makes for a great base.  At 144 kilos (317lbs) it’s almost half the weight of BMW’s big queen of adventure bikes, and made by a manufacturer that makes bikes with one quarter the number of manufacturing mistakes.  I don’t feel reckless in the decision.

Is a Scrambler DR-Z400S possible?  I wouldn’t be the first to try.  The DR-Z400SM is a street version of the off-roader, so Suzuki has already done a less off-road focused version.  It’s an adaptable bike.

Too bad no one makes a sub 500cc off road focused, light weight Scrambler (instead they market stylish new ones or sell recycled history).  Anything north of 200kgs (441lbs) might be surprisingly capable off road, but it’ll still be a misery to pickup and all that weight means you’re going to be breaking suspension all the time.

Suzuki already has the platform on which to build a perfect modern scrambler.  C’mon, you’re almost there!

Some people want a $30k bike that can do one thing, I’d happily spend that money on a Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki that can do just about everything.

Like a Fish in Water

1) Setup Anxiety 

We just finished the final round of this year’s Cyberpatriot / CyberTitan Canadian Student Cybersecurity Competition.  To say this year has been a challenge would be a gross understatement.  We lost half our teams immediately thanks to COVID restrictions.  The cancelled teams were both the junior teams who have missed a vital year of apprenticing with the seniors as we prepare for competition.  Thanks to this break in our process we’ll be seeing a reduction in the skills we’ve systemically developed over the past three years.  

With our two senior teams we limped through two rounds of the competition mask socially distanced to mask (because no one is face to face anymore) in our nerd lab at school.

The first round was shaky, especially on our senior co-ed team where our most experienced, senior students didn’t show up mentally on competition day.  Some careful coaching and focusing got them on track for round two where both teams scored more like they’re able.

We just completed the final round of competition last Friday, and (because things weren’t already hard enough) this time it was fully remote thanks to Ontario’s systemic mishandling of COVID19.  This had me up nights worrying about connectivity and tech at home for eleven competitors on two teams in eleven different home locations.  Our student built DIY lab means I can take care of the complex setup needed to do Cyberpatriot and let the students focus on the material itself, but not this time.

The competition uses virtual images (computers simulated inside a window) that give students hands on experience with infected and compromised computers.  When you open a virtual image and start working on it a timer starts and you’ve got six straight hours to maximize points by fixing the image.  If one of your images doesn’t open or a student is having technical issues, you’re still on the clock and losing time.  Doing IT support in a live environment with harsh consequences like that is very stressful, which is why I’d been anxious.

I delivered technology to students at home and did everything I could to ensure that they had what they needed.  I said repeatedly, “don’t talk about what you’re going to do, rehearse it!”  This was finally heard (after repeating it several times – teens don’t like to practice things) and students didn’t just think they were ready for Friday, they knew.

They sent me photos of their home setups, most of which were home made/DIY computers that we either made in our lab at school or they built at home using the skills they learned at school.  That produced a level of satisfaction I hadn’t considered; this final round students were competing on technology they built themselves that they’d also done all the software setup on so they could then demonstrate advanced digital skills well beyond what Ontario’s atrophied digital skills curriculum asks.

Put another way, I’ve been presenting on Cyberpatriot/CyberTitan for several years and a number of teachers have told me they’d do it but the technical setup is too complicated.  It wasn’t for the grade 10s, 11s and 12s at home last week.  Maybe it’s time to integrate digital fluency into Ontario’s Teacher’s Colleges if we’re expecting every teacher in the province to be proficient in the medium.

2. Swimming with the Digital Fishes

I’ve talked about the power of authorship in understanding and developing a meaningful pedagogy around technology use many times, but this time we took things to a place where few dare to tread.  As we prepared for this seemingly insurmountable challenge I didn’t tighten things into rote demands for compliance, I gave these students agency, and doing so gave me a peak into a world few teachers ever get to see.

Thanks to Heidi Siwak’s suggestion, I watched My Octopus Teacher last week.  What I saw on Friday in competition is much like what Craig Foster saw when getting to know his octopus: a wild animal being brilliant in its native habitat.

When you see students operating in the restrictive, overly prescribed walled garden of your corporately provided educational technology you’re seeing (in the ones that are actually digitally fluent because most aren’t) a wild animal in a restrictive, unfamiliar and domesticated environment.  This produces a kind of reticence in the digitally fluent student that means you’re not seeing them as they really are when they operate in digital spaces.  Even teachers with digitally literate students don’t often get to see this natural behaviour, which is expressive, efficient and astonishingly rich.

One of the ways we came to terms with managing the many challenges of trying to compete in a technically challenging international cybersecurity competition while stuck at home in a lockdown was by letting the students self-select the tools they would need to do the job.  This started with making sure they were on technology that gave them the administrative privileges they needed to move freely.  Nothing we’ve ever been handed at school was that.  The other side of the equation is selecting the software we needed to be able to communicate quickly, privately and efficiently.

The students selected Discord as their communications medium of choice.  I’ve had a passing acquaintance with this software but hadn’t been on it recently.  One of my jobs as Cyberpatriot Coach is to proctor the teams and ensure compliance with the rules; I’m judge as well as coach.  Cyberpatriot’s minimum requirements for fully remote competition only asked for a single check in with competitors but considering the circumstances (worldwide health emergency, remember?) I thought a bit more contact was in order.

The teams each set up private Discord chats focused on various areas of the competition.  They couldn’t see each other, but I could quickly move between both groups and connect to live voice and video chats as well as screen sharing.  This was vital in our approach to the competition as we encourage and depend on collaborative team interaction when problem solving.  Other teams may like to do the loner hacker in a room by themselves, but we’ve never approached it that way.

One of the reasons for this is that I’m trying to raise digital skills in cybersecurity in a place where we started with nothing.  To do that senior students work with the juniors when we’re practicing for competition (teams are physically and virtually contained during competition rounds).  Collaboration isn’t just how we compete, it’s also how we learn the material.

Discord’s fluid and efficient communications environment not only allowed me to proctor the competition by easily moving between teams, it also let the teams design their own internal communications structures and then leverage them with astonishing effectiveness.  Because they are all fluent in the medium their use of it is emotive and staggeringly fast.

While we were waiting for the email from CPOC to start round three (it never arrived, I had to contact Maryland directly to get access – my best guess is it got blocked by my work email – sigh), I watched memes appear and morph in the group chat.  This was happening beneath continuous voice chats and screen shares.

Once competition began I was moving between the specialists on each team and then between the teams.  I would drop into an ongoing discussion about how to solve a problem and immediately get a, ‘hey, King’ from the people in the chat.  Discord has a little chime that goes off when you join a chat and the students are keyed to it.  There is a misconception that teens aren’t engaged online but it’s because of how we situate them in educational technology, not because they are incapable of rich, interactive online engagement.

Over the course of the six hour competition I was flitting between discussions, but Discord doesn’t just make those discussions fluid and natural, it also lets you know what’s going on in them.  At one point three students were in the senior team’s Linux chat and our two operators were both sharing their screens so that all three people could see them.  This is precisely the kind of collaboration I feared we’d lose in a fully remote environment, but Discord made it possible for us to do what we normally do in a very difficult situation.

What made this potential disaster a success was DIY technology at home on self-selected communications platforms.  We started and ended the day in a Google Meet on our board system and it managed to be both laggy and disengaging after Discord.  Students never turned on webcams in Discord but because they could quickly and easily screenshare and emote in written chat while verbally communicating, they created an immersive and powerful online communications experience.  On our stilted video chat at the end of the day I was left wondering why video chats are seen as the future.  Like telephone calls, they’re the fixation of a generation, but not the future.  If we weren’t spending all our time pressing students faces into their webcams on that limited video platform we’d be able to see how they actually swim in their digital sea and meet them there instead.

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Procedural Learning

From Dusty World in December of 2014:

You can learn anywhere, but some places are better than others

We had one of our few professional development days last week (this one on metacognitionand I had a moment of insight in spite of the circumstances.

For the better part of three hours we were sitting on too-small benches designed for children in a large, drafty, echo-y cafeteria listening to booming, static-y microphones and online videos.  It was a near perfect storm of poor environmental factors around learning for me.  I’m not a good auditory learner at the best of times, when barriers to listening are in place I quickly fall off the engagement wagon, though I try to hang on.

Why was our professional development done here?  Because we could fit two schools worth of teachers into that space.  When teachers don’t consider basic pedagogical factors in teaching each other, it makes me wonder what happens in their classrooms (also designed to fit as many bodies as possible).

What would a learning space designed for learning (rather than body count) look like?  Tech could mitigate the need for massive spaces to warehouse lots of bodies.  We’ve build this complex and expensive communications infrastructure between schools, but we still expect teachers to burn fossil fuels and gather physically for material that could have more efficiently and effectively been delivered through interactive video and shared notes.  If the advanced life-long learners aren’t going to test these possibilities, who will?

It was in this environment, rather ironically, that Jenny Donohoo, one of the presenters, clarified procedural learning for me.  She did it in the context of metacognition, but it allowed me to more accurately understand why I fell out of subjects in high school that I otherwise had a great deal of interest in.

I’d initially entered physics wanting to get into astronomy, but instead of science being a tool with which to explore the universe, I discovered that it (at least in high school in the 1980s) was a procedural course designed to chase anyone who didn’t like repetition for the sake of it out.  I greatly enjoyed computers too, but the computer science teacher approached the subject with the same procedural bent, as did most of my math teachers.  I’d like to think that things have changed since I was taking those classes, but the amount of photocopies still pouring out of those departments suggests otherwise.

I’d often find myself in a  math or science class doing procedural work with no idea why.  I’m not averse to procedural work, in fact, I have a great deal of respect for it.  You don’t spend hundreds of hours power skating with a psychotic Russian figure skating instructor in full goalie’s equipment if you don’t appreciate what drilling can do for you, but I never suffered through that for the sake of suffering through that, I did it to become a better hockey goalie.

You don’t have to look far for inspirational sports quotes.
Many encourage practice, but the goal is never practice itself.

When students are asked to do procedural work (ie: getting drilled in skills so they become second nature), the reason why they are being asked to do this difficult, repetitive thing had better be crystal clear or you’re going to run into engagement problems.  I’ll suffer through power skating, or exhausting 6am practices in a frozen arena if I know it’ll give me a better chance at peak performance in my next game.  I’ll get up early and ride a motorbike until my legs are jello if I know it will lead me to a moment of bliss on two wheels.  I won’t do these difficult things without a reason.  No one has ever described dedication as doing something for no clear reason (that would be futility).

When I look back on my experiences in mathematics, science and computer science I see teachers who want to drill students without telling them why.  They want stringent discipline without a goal.  Unless you’re some sort of masochist or really enjoy being told what to do, procedural learning for the sake of it is likely to cause a great deal of friction with your learners; it chased me right out of those subjects.

Another thing Donohoo said in that PD was, “the most useful thing you can do for your students is find ways to communicate what is going on in your mind when you are practising your discipline.”  Maybe some teachers simply enjoy solving problems and couldn’t give a care that there isn’t a greater goal in mind, but that alienates a lot of students.  If your expertise allows you to do something useful, articulating that to your students is a valuable way to engage them in your discipline.


I’ve tackled this from an individual teacher perspective, but procedural learning leaks into the classroom in other ways.  The most obvious example is the data gathering process of standardized testing.  You can take any complex skill like literacy or numeracy and by applying standardized testing to it, reduce learning to procedure.  Doing this can often result in better standardized testing scores!  No one loves procedure more than statistics gatherers.  I’m speculating, but I bet there is a high correlation between those teachers with encyclopedic, complex marks books and procedural approaches to learning.

They are usually the ones wringing their hands over engagement and classroom management.

The idea that education is something we do to students fits well with this procedural approach.  Bells ring, ten year old photocopies are handed out, teachers repeat what they’ve said before word for word, and we continue the production line.  Sometimes I’m amazed that anyone learns anything in a school.

Follow Opportunities, Not Dreams

I’m up early chasing through UK documents on their worrying lack of digital skills.  A typical UK worker falls behind many other country’s workers in basic IT skills, and I suspect the same is true of many Western countries.  When the digital economy is one of the few bright spots, Western students seem to be turning away from it (unless it’s video game design, everyone wants to be a video game designer – as long as it means playing video games and not actually learning how to code).

We can’t fill jobs in computer related fields, but less and less students are considering the pathway.

One of the prime movers in this shift away from viable employment follows an idea on bad advice I saw from a tech teacher at our school:

“Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it.”


As a general rule, parents and students are guided in school to do what makes them happy.  We fill up courses playing hockey, taking photos and give out credits for things kids are doing at home anyway.  It makes for shiny, happy, low stressed students and a great graduation rate, but none of it is really preparing students for the workplace.

We are frequently updated with the number of students from our school who have been accepted to university (only university, the rest don’t matter).  We never see any stats on how many of them finish the degrees they were accepted for.  I suspect that stat isn’t very flattering.  An even less flattering stat would be an income check at the age of thirty.  I wonder what the employment prospects for those university bound students are.  What is their quality of life trying to pay off debts larger than they’ve ever been in history?  Yet that’s where all our ‘good’ students are directed.

I dropped out of high school and became a millwright because I had smart hands and the apprenticeship fell into my lap.  When I didn’t feel like that was intellectually stressful enough I tackled university and then chased the opportunities that arose from it.  I didn’t become a teacher because it was some kind of magical calling, I became a teacher because I was chasing opportunities.

Much of the advice students get in school are from life-long academics.  People who went to school, attended university, and then immediately became employed for life at school again (sometimes the same school they graduated from!)  These people with their carefully proscribed lives don’t experience the world the way the rest of us do.  When I see them telling students to ‘do what makes you happy’ and ‘follow your dreams!’, I cringe.


My son has recently been wondering about getting a job so he can manage his own money, he’s eleven.  I told him, ‘do you know why they call it work?’  He looked at me for a moment and then said, ‘because it isn’t for fun?’  Out of the mouths of babes.  I only wish school guidance would realize that basic truth.

You can derive a great deal of satisfaction out of your work without it being some kind of romantic calling.  Few people live the lives of celebrities, playing a game or making art and wallowing in the money derived from it.  Insinuating that kids could be that person is dishonest at worst and deceiving at best, but how would you know if you’ve never had to struggle for work?  We can all find satisfying and challenging work if we push ourselves and chase opportunity.  Train yourself to better chase opportunity and you’ll find your circumstances will continue to change and improve.  One day you might find yourself in a well paid, challenging profession that you’d never have predicted for yourself.

Or, you know, maybe making a living…

Quinn Norton gives the blather some context.  Hobbies are for fun, your career
is probably not your hobby, and that’s fine, it’s how the world works.


Absurdities

 I came across this article by Yuval Noah Harari called  “Are we living in a post-truth era? Yes, but that’s because we’re a post-truth species.”  It’s not often that I’m rocked by something that I read, but this did that.  He has a particular line in it that explains the dissonance I feel with the world at the moment: 

“…truth has never been high on the agenda of Homo sapiens. If you stick to unalloyed reality, few people will follow you. False stories have an intrinsic advantage over the truth when it comes to uniting people. If you want to gauge group loyalty, requiring people to believe an absurdity is a far better test than asking them to believe the truth. “

This happens with people so often that it’s one of the main reasons I find them so taxing.  Supporting other people’s fictions isn’t something that comes naturally to me.  I understand the social advantage of forcing compliance to untruths in order to establish loyalty between people, I’m just terrible at it.

In the last post talking about how to move forward in the morass of misinformation and negativity surrounding us, I mentioned that if I wanted to give up my idealism I’d go into management.  Management is one of those jobs that demands a facility for moving in post-truth ways.

A few years ago we had a poorly planned grade 8 day happen where an unexpected influx of students from the Catholic system resulted in over fifty children in one of the groups moving around the school seeing what’s on offer.  After half a dozen groups of 25 or so students accompanied by their teacher came through our program, this horde of fifty plus unaccompanied by an adult (because the second school system in Ontario won’t acknowledge the public one) burst into my shop and proceeded to do hundreds of dollars in damage before leaving.

I was livid.  I emailed admin and guidance and said (truthfully) that this was a dangerous situation that never should have been allowed to happen.  This upset our new head of guidance who was a good friend of our new principal.  His solution was to walk up to my room (very angry that I’d made his friend cry) and demand that I apologize for saying that this dangerous situation was dangerous.  I was teaching a class at the time but he wouldn’t let me leave the hallway he’d hauled me out into until I’d apologised.  It was a brutally honest moment of human hierarchical interaction where compliance to a lie was demanded and the usual niceties that we cloak our fictions in were swept aside.

More recently, as we switched to fully remote learning again following the mid-winter break, we were told “no one saw this coming” by admin.  Other than every doctor and epidemiologist in the province?  Other than anyone who had ready a credible news story in the past week?  How big a crane do I need to suspend my disbelief?  The only people who ‘didn’t see this coming’ were the politicians who caused it, and evidently education system managers who are so focused on making the wishes of what is perhaps the most malignant minister of education in Ontario’s history a reality that they’ve lost sight of reality.

One of the reasons I like working with machines is because they are honest in a way that human beings seem to find nearly impossible.  Reality continues to exist beyond the fictions people dress themselves in and will always ultimately win.  I find aligning myself with that reality is an opportunity for enlightenment in a way that the socially lubricating, self-serving human fictions are not.

Shakespeare has Hamlet tell Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth,
Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, and that’s a good touchstone.  Reality is indeed more vast and complex than the lies we wrap each other up in.  I only wish more people would get as excited about the truth of the world as they do about the self-serving fictions we demand of each other.


In the midst of this chaos a wise colleague suggested the Netflix film, My Octopus Teacher, which tells the story of a man miserably lost in the fictions we all chose to live in finding his way back to reality.  It’s a beautiful story, and one we find hard to hold onto when we’re in the churn of Ontario COVID mis-management.

Rationalism will never have the following that reductionist demagogues find because the one is hard work while the other is slight-of-hand salesmanship, though the sleazy salesmen don’t always get it their way.  Recent North American political change suggests that even the most persuasive demagogues get chased out of office when reality makes its presence felt.  Our political system isn’t perfect, but it does tend to self correct.  After years of abuse in Ontario public services and a year’s worth of fumbling the largest public health crisis in human history, that self correction sure feels a long time coming.

In the past week I’ve read articles about how doctors in Ontario & Quebec are working out protocols to decide who lives and who dies when they run out of capacity to treat pandemic patients.  On the same day an article came up talking about how flights are up to sunny destinations because many people are giving up on doing right by others and just want to satisfy themselves, consequences be damned until they need medical help and there are no beds available then they will be the ones crying loudest.  All while Ontario is experiencing a second wave of the pandemic that makes the first look like a hiccup.

So, we’re running out of hospital capacity to treat severe cases, testing has fallen away most likely as a way to make it look like the numbers are coming down.  The politicians who have mismanaged this crisis are looking for ways to spin fictions in their favour.  I drove in to school the other day and the line for testing at our local centre stretched around the hospital.  People want to get tested but the powers that be are more interested in spinning self-serving fictions.

Meanwhile, at the peak of the worst pandemic in modern history and with the emergence of a new even more transmittable variant of COVID, what are we doing in Ontario education?  We’re preparing to go back to face to face classes next Monday.  Then we too will get to play the ‘who-gets-treatment’ game with other front line workers while interacting with and giving the highest transmitting age groups a chance to drive another spike.  That’s why I’m awake at three in the morning wondering at the hypocrisy of human beings.

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Dairy of a Disenfranchised Coder

The first blog entry I ever wrote (about 18 months ago), spoke of risk aversion in students, but began with a brief ‘why I never pursued computers’.  This one opens that up a a bit and looks at how childhood interests never seem to fade away.

In the 1980s, I became interested in computers because my father wouldn’t buy me an Intellivision game console.  The Vic 20 we got instead became our gaming system, but it was much more.  I’ve carried a sense of intellectual superiority over game consoles ever since.  The Vic could plug in cartridges and play games, but where it really took off was with the datasette.  When we got our hands on that, we suddenly had the ability to save our work.  Before I knew it, I was begging my parents to drive to the only computer store in the area whenever a new COMPUTE! magazine came out so I could type out the basic programs in there.

None of this had anything to do with school.  Our junior high school had 3 Pets in the library, but it was typically a 2 week wait to get half an hour on one.  You had no chance of gaining any kind of familiarity with them.

It started all about video games, but quickly turned to coding.  Instead of buying the latest game (Cosmic Cruncher?), I was saving the paper route money for a 3k memory expander (I kept filling up the 3.5k of working RAM with code).  With more room to move, I began modifying those COMPUTE! programs, turning a road racing game into a Star Wars trench battle or the 8 key sound synthesizer into full keyboard synthesizer.

I’d shown friends what I was doing and soon Ataris and Apples began to appear in the neighborhood.  We’d dictate code while the fastest typer would hammer away at it, then we’d proof and run it.  Hours of speculation and experimentation about how changes might affect things followed.

There was no grade 9 computer course in high school, but I quickly leapt at the grade 10 one in 1985.  By then I had a Commodore 64 at home and we’d all discovered that if you had a good recording deck, you could sound record the cassettes that software came on.  There was a thriving pirating hub in high school with what looked like homemade mixed tapes.  A teacher once took one that was being passed in class and tried to listen to it, it wasn’t pretty.

That grade 10 class used a card reader.  We laboriously spent hours penciling in our lines of code, and would receive a printout off a dot matrix printer (which sounded like a machine gun tearing through silk).  I lasted about a month at this before I became determined to get a printer of my own.  No one else in the school had one, and the only place to find one was half way across the city.  Four bus transfers and a long night of travel got me back home with the printer, only to discover it was defective.  Another six hours on the bus and I was home again with the only dot matrix printer anyone had.

I coded at home, printed out my results and got to bypass the agony of the card reader.  Others begged me for access.  It became a nice sideline and paid for itself in short order.

Our grade 10 computer teacher was a young guy who got the job because he was the only one who could maintain the card reader without it jamming up all the time, he didn’t actually know much about coding (and why would he, he only had a card reader to figure it out on).  I did well in grade 10 intro to computers but was really excited to get into senior computer science.  The astronomer dream had been dashed in grade 10 physics when I discovered, to my horror, that physics was really just lots and lots of math, which I found tedious and unimaginative.  Anything that had only one way to a single solution seemed mind numbingly dull.  I was still hoping to find my niche in computer science though.

Finally able to get onto the senior computer science lab (first gen IBM x86s!), I was stunned to learn that our computer science teacher wanted us to program… math. I found the assignments linear and the teacher, who already knew the mathletes in the class, didn’t have time for anyone else or anything other than mathematical certainty in coding; the opposite of my experimental, hacking approach to programming.  Five years of passionate self-driven learning dissipated in a cloud of frustration and disinterest over that semester.

My parents went to the teacher conference confused at how a kid who spent hours and hours of his free time coding could be such an epic failure in this class.  My weakness in maths was sighted as the problem.  I’d signed up for the grade 12 class in semester two, but withdrew immediately when it started.  The teacher seemed surprised that I’d signed up for consecutive semesters of comp-sci.  I was surprised that he remembered my name.  And so ended my love affair with coding computers.

Of course I maintained an interest in computers, mainly around gaming and hardware, and eventually went on to get some I.T. certifications and even worked in software implementation in a few places, but getting knocked out of the holy grail of computing, the place where you author how a machine thinks, put the idea of working fully in the field beyond reach, and created a sense of self doubt that a teen is only too willing to embrace.

I’m getting computer certified this summer as a teacher.  When I walk into that class in the fall I’m hoping that I can support as many different approaches to coding as there are students in the room.  The last thing I want to do is knock a keen, self directed learner out of a woefully underdeveloped field of study in secondary schools.

Bending People to the Data

.

The idea of data driven learning has become very popular.  This isn’t surprising since data is beginning to drive everything.  It becomes problematic when data is manipulated for ulterior, usually political motives rather than being understood in its own context.

It’s a complex series of events that have led us to this point.  We’re living in an age of data where we are recording much of it for the first time.  We mistakenly describe this as ‘creating information’, but we’ve always done that.  What digitization does is allow us to save that data on a massive scale and then make connections in it we couldn’t before.

We’re not creating any more information than we used to, but we are recording it now at an unprecedented rate.

We’ve been experiencing this information forever.  If I went for a ride on my motorbike in the 1950s I would have experienced roughly the same ‘data’ that I’d experience going for a ride now.  The difference now is that the go-pro on my helmet and youtube means that data is saved and shared.  We’re not creating any more information than we did before, but we’re recording it and allowing others to experience data now on an unprecedented scale.

This mass recording and access to data is a relatively new phenomenon so we should take care to contextualize it, but we don’t.  We recognize that data driven methods yield results, but in our rush to enter this brave new world of data we happily ignore what doesn’t suit our goals and take other data out of context if it serves our cause.  When politics or self-promotion drive data selection the benefits of data driven management are in doubt.  Politics and self-promotion always influence data collection and presentation.

Since it is so much easier to record and share data we’re tempted to structure our activities around data creation rather than being present in the genuine experience.  I suspect we’ll get better at this as technology becomes less invasive and allows us to capture moments with minimal interference.  The evolution from TV to analogue video to digital video is a good example of this progress.  But in the early stages of this evolution we’re still awkwardly focusing on data collection rather than genuine experience.  Selfies at the Tour de France this year are an example.  If you watch any live event where people are focused on recording rather than experiencing the moment you’ll know this is endemic.  From the World Cup to the Olympics, the focus on data collection gets in the way of being there.  This creates some interesting changes in experiential value.  You now need to share the experience live rather than relating it after the fact.  Being there is less important than your recording of being there.  Every experience is one step removed.

Education is no different.  Rather than focusing on ways to capture genuine experience in as non-invasive a way as possible, we create artificial situations that produce data for its own sake; standardized testing is a fine example.  Rather than integrating literacy assessment into genuine experience driven learning, we create an artificial testing environment that is designed to produce data.  Students and the complexities of literacy are minor components in that process.  We then base management decisions on the corrupted data that is produced from these artificial situations.

If data collection is the point of the exercise then the data you’re producing is a reflection of the data collection process more than it is a meaningful analysis of whatever it is you think you’re assessing.

Technology needs to be pushed to produce non-invasive ways of collecting genuine data.  Not only will this allow people to bask in the moment rather than ignoring first hand experience to create second rate data, but it will also serve student learning by focusing on the learning itself instead of the data gathering processes.  

We need to stop bending the people to the data and start demanding that the data find us where we are, in genuine experience.  In the meantime it is vital that we don’t blindly believe that there are absolute truths in data that is produced for its own sake with ulterior motives.

Things You Want To Do In Your 40s

Work for myself so I don’t have to work for some myopic middle manager more interested in climbing than doing the right thing?  Yeah, that’d be nice.  Work on something as hard as I can knowing that no one else can walk in on a whim and derail it?  That’d be nice too.  Challenge my technical skills and develop my diverse talents to new levels of excellence?  That’d be awesome.  Have the means to fearlessly explore technology and the world around us?  Brilliant!

$1.3 million doesn’t sound like a lot of money but it would mean a thousand bucks a week until I’m 75 years old.  Somebody better at math and competent with investments could probably figure out a more accurate, lower amount that would do the same thing.  It’s comfortably middle-class, but I don’t really dream of being rich, I dream of being free from work to pursue my passions.  If I could pull that off what would I do with my time?  It’s kind of like retirement, but I want to do it now while I’m still able to do something useful with it.  I don’t think I ever want to retire.

Mechanical Sympathy would expand and become an
income stream of its own. It would be the centre of
an online media empire!

Here’s what I’d aim at if I weren’t busy pulling the plough:

MEDIA MAKER

Writer:  I’d exercise the English degree and write, but not in a specific genre.  I’d pursue motorcycle and travel writing more aggressively.  I’d be happiest freelancing and working once or twice a month on assignment with the occasional larger travel project which would lead to a book.  Lois Pryce is a role model.  While that wasn’t happening I’d be writing fictional novels.  It would be nice to work for established publications, but developing my own brand online would allow for more control over what I’m creating.  I’ve been working in large bureaucracies for too long.

If it’s new and technically challenging I’m into it. 
Having access to that kind of kit is exciting.
I like to be surprised by what new tech can do.

Photographer:  The goal would be to have the work pay for the gear, and the gear I’m looking for is pretty technical.  I’d like to have professional quality photo and video gear on hand, as well as technically challenging tools like aerial drones, full spectrum and 360° virtual reality cameras to test limits and produce original, even experimental work.  If it’s new and technically challenging I’m into it, especially if it probably won’t work the first time.

Digital Media:  Exploring digital media has long been an interest (I teach it now).  Having access to the latest tech, not to consume but to experiment and explore, would be fantastic.  Projects would include VR environment building in CAD and simulation, as well as immersive media creation.  I’m working on a VR research project in school at the moment.  I feel like major breakthroughs are currently happening there.  What we have in ten years will make our screen use today look archaic.

TECHNOLOGIST

I got into 3d scanning last year.  The resolution isn’t
spectacular, but it’s amazing what you can do with
a simple 3d scanner on an ipad.

Mechanic:  I’ve dusted off old mechanical skills with motorcycling, along with some long unused artistic urges.  Customizing motorbikes is an elegant way to combine left brained aesthetic creativity with right brained mechanical expertise; it’s a whole brain hobby!  Having enough time, space and money on hand to chase down old bikes and see customizations through to completion would be grist for the writing and photography mill.

Digital Engineering:  I’m especially interested in micro-manufacturing using digital tools.  Multi-axis milling machines using CAD models offer new avenues into high-tech customization.  3d printers are making advances every day.  Being able to print my own fairing designs would be brilliant.  Being able to print my own designs with dragon scales would be even better.


An opportunity to borrow new technology and see what it is capable of would also be grist for writing and media creation.  If in the process I happened to get very good at producing customized parts, I’d lease the gear and get to it.  As prices fall on what was once expensive industrial grade equipment and digital management makes high tolerance production available to everyone, a new post-industrial age of customization will emerge.

Kawasaki’s H2 supercharger impeller is a thing of beauty.  The technology that built it is becoming more accessible every day.

With table top laser cutters and various other digital tools becoming commonplace, the chance to explore these technologies without safety nannies hand wringing from above would be delightful.  The home garage of the future is going to be a magical place of customized, personal manufacturing.  It would be a blast to have the time and means to explore it.

I really do enjoy teaching, but the vampiric bureaucracies that manage it make working in education feel like giving blood; you’re doing a good thing but you always come out feeling drained.  I’d happily take in apprentices on my own terms and genuinely enjoy helping them discover and develop their talents, I just wouldn’t want to do it in an institution of learning.
 
One of the things I want to do in my forties is stop others from diluting my focus and wasting my time with their own mediocre expectations.

A Quick Motorcycle Chain Switch

After previous experiences breaking and installing motorcycle chains I figured this time it would be fairly straightforward thanks to a good tool and knowing what I’m doing.  The Tiger’s chain had a pretty severe tight spot in it. When I set the tight spot to spec (40mm of slack), the loose part was wobbling around with twice that.  If I set the loose part to spec the tight part would rumble on the sprockets.  You could actually feel the difference in chain tension under acceleration as a surge.

The tool I got last time was quick to set up.  The blue 500 size chain pin pusher slotted right in out of the handle where it had been sitting since my last chain change on the Ninja over two years ago.

The Tiger chain is a 535 sized chain (wider than the Ninja’s, but the same pitch length between the links – the Ninja was a 520 chain).  
With the pin pusher piece in place I tightened the outer bolt with a 10mm ratchet and it easily pushed the pins out of the old master link with only mild force on a small ratchet.


With the old chain removed I spent some time cleaning up the sprockets, which were in great condition.  The front sprocket was packed with years of gum from chain lube and it took a while to get it all out, first with a screwdriver and afterwards wiping it up with some WD40.  With it all cleaned off it looked like a bit of rust had found its way onto the front sprocket.


The rear sprocket was only covered in chain oil remnants and cleaning it up was easily done.


If you’re not yahooing around and yanking on your chain like a madman all the time sprockets tend to last, especially big, beefy 535 wide ones; this bike has only been owned by gentlemen.  I might swap out the rear 46 tooth sprocket for a 47 tooth one to lower the revs slightly on the next chain, but that’s years down the road, and with the sprockets in good shape, it seemed silly to do a full switch now.

A master link came with the chain which is a bit off-putting because Fortnine immediately filled the screen with master links after I purchased the chain, which I took to mean I needed one.  I guess I’ll hang on to it, but if the chain I’m buying comes with it letting me know seems like the polite thing to do rather than encouraging an upsell.

The master link that came with the chain had an interesting process for installation.  I’m told this is quite common on bicycles now.  The master link pins have a threaded piece on the end of them.  You thread the long pins on the chain and then alternate tighten the bolts until they won’t go any further.



This snugs the outer piece of the master link onto the pins.  When you’re done you back off the nuts a few turns and then break them off with a pair of pliers.  It worked well.

A chain so new it’s still covered in the wax it was packaged in to stop rust.

With the new chain set to 35mm of sag top and bottom and lubricated with chain wax (preferred because it doesn’t make a gooey mess of things, sticks to the chain well and is also a lovely honey colour), it was time for a test ride.  A twenty minute ride in the setting sun up to 100kms per hour demonstrated all sorts of improvement.  The surging feeling was gone making the bike much smoother under acceleration.  In corners that surging could destabalize the bike, it doesn’t any more.  The new chain is also noticably quieter.

This time round I think the actual chain removal and installation took about 40 minutes moving slowly and deliberately.  The cleanup of the front sprocket was what took the most time, though it probably did a lot to quiet the new chain (not running through a tunnel of goop on each revolution has to be better).

While I had the tools out I finished the counteract balancing beads install I started earlier in the week by doing the back tire as well.  With beads now in the front and rear tires vibrations through the handlebars are gone and the whole bike is rattle free at speed.  I never really got to try them out on the Concours, but what little I did seemed to work, and seeing as the beads are cheaper than taking in tires to get balanced anyway, why not?  I’m glad I did.

The Tiger is now as arrow straight and smooth as it can be.  It was a joy to ride it home as the sun set on Sunday evening.

IIHTM (If I Had The Money): September in Spain & Then The Long Way Home

This is why it’s good to be friends with Austin Vince on Facebook, it makes you daydream.

What would I do if I were free of money and the time constraints it demands?  I’d be planning a month in Spain next year!

The week of the 19th to the 23rd (Monday to Friday) would be doing the Pyrenees with Austin and crew on my Triumph Tiger Explorer.

The Aragón round of MotoGP happens on the next weekend!

I’d aim to get in country with my bike in the first week of September and then have the  a couple of weeks toodling about before a week in the Pyranees with Austin Vince!  After the Austin week I’d be straight over to Aragon for the MotoGP weekend.  After a couple of days of getting organized, the long trek home would begin… the long way round!

A week riding the Pyranees with Austin Vince, and then a weekend at MotoGP Aragon!

Spain to Tokyo via Southern Europe, India, South East Asia and China, would be one hell of a ride.  A flight to L.A. would have me riding through the southern States before heading north and home in the spring.

Bike shipping to Europe?  about ~ $1000
http://canadamotoguide.com/2015/03/03/air-canadas-new-motorcycle-cargo-options/

http://www.thethinkbox.ca/2012/11/18/how-to-fly-and-store-your-motorcycle-overseas-for-touring-without-using-a-shipping-company-cheaply/

http://www.ridedot.com/faq/  

http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/get-ready/shipping-the-bike

I couldn’t find anything off-hand, but I’d guess about $2000 to fly the bike back into North America.  I could always ask Austin how he did it.


Timing of a fall Spain to Japan trip?

Southern Europe: September/October
India/South East Asia: November/December
China/Japan: January/February
Southern US:  March/April



This route is about 29,000kms with 3 air cargo bits and one hell of a ferry ride:
Toronto to Madrid
Turkey to India
Shanghai to Osaka Ferry https://www.shanghai-ferry.co.jp/english/unkou.htm
Tokyo to Los Angeles