Riding the Roman Empire

Across the top of the Mediterranean over two weeks.

This time of year always feels like about as far from a ride as I’ll get.  It’s in the minus twenties outside and it’s been snowing for days straight.  Time for some cost-no-object daydreaming…

If I jumped on a plane late in the evening on Friday, December 22nd at the beginning of our holiday break, it’s a long slog because there is no direct flight to Athens, but I would eventually get there on Saturday afternoon. A night in Athens and then I could begin a long ride in a warm climate across the north coast of the Mediterranean on Christmas Eve, passing through the heart of the Roman Empire on my way west to Lisbon for a flight in time to go back to work.


I have to be back at it on Monday, January 8th. There is a direct flight from Lisbon, Portugal back to Toronto on the Saturday before.  Could I get from Athens to Lisbon in thirteen days? 

It’s about four thousand kilometers through Greece, Italy, France and Spain to Portugal.  That works out to an average of just over three hundred kilometres per day which means plenty of time to stop and see things or a big day of riding followed by a day off.  Because it’s Europe there are always autostradas to make up time if needed.  It appears Athens to Lisbon is a very doable two week ride.  

Here’s a possible day by day breakdown with a couple of days off.  All the maps are highway averse, looking for local roads and the time it takes to ride them.  Should things get backed up, big highway miles could happen to make up lost time:


Here’s a link to the spreadsheet with working links to maps.

There are a couple of longer days in there, but there are also two days off completely and some short, half days of riding.  There is plenty of time to stop and soak things in en-route to our western return point.

My weapon of choice for this trip would be the new Triumph Tiger Explorer I’m crushing on, in matt cobalt blue.  Tall Tigers fit me well and this one is perhaps the best one ever made.  As a cross countries mover there is little that can beat it, and that new blue is a lovely thing.  I think I’d do a burnt orange on the engine guards and pannier logos.  I’d also redo the badges in matching orange.


The new Tiger Explorer is 24 pounds lighter than the old one, gets better mileage and has a host of advanced features that make an already good long distance bike better.  The big three that powers it would comfortably carry a passenger if I could convince anyone to do this with me.  If we’re touring two up I’d luggage it up and make sure we could carry everything with us, but if I was solo I think I could just get by with the panniers and leave the back end looking less luggage-y.

Outfitting it with luggage and a few odds and ends from the extensive options catalogue is always fun.  I only got myself into four thousand dollars of trouble there:


The solo, lighter Tiger looks a treat.
  • Expedition Aluminium Panniers – Waterproof Inner Bags Pair $160.00
  • Engine Bars – Black $364.99
  • High Rider Comfort Seat $340.00
  • Heated Passenger Seat $535.02
  • Quick Release Tank bag $131.57
  • LED Fog Lights $555.00
  • Adventure Tail Bag $295.00
  • Aluminium Radiator Guard $84.99
  • Expedition Pannier Mounting Kit $450.00
  • Expedition Panniers – Black $1,265.00

In a perfect world I’d get my Tiger shipped from my garage in my England house to the Triumph Dealer in Athens where I’d pick it up on December 23rd.  I’d drop it off at the Triumph dealer in Lisbon on January 6th and either convince my cousin to ride it back to the UK or get it shipped back.

I’ve got the kit needed to do this now, but having a look at the latest European gear, I think I’d spring for a new helmet to do this ride with.  The Roof Carbon is a piece of industrial art that gives me the benefits of a closed face when I need it and an open face when I’m in need of some wind.  The iridium face shield would make this thing look like something out of battle of the planets.


Since it’s a daydream, it ain’t cheap.  I’d fly business there and back, so flights are north of seven grand.  Getting the bike delivered wouldn’t be cheap, assuming it was waiting for me in Europe to begin with.  But hey, if you can’t daydream big, why daydream at all?


NOTES:


Sat Dec 23 to Sat Jan 6

13 full days + 1/2 a day on each end


~4000kms – 307kms / day

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360 Winter Photos from the Saddle

These are some video screen grabs from the long way home commute from work last week.  Windy and cool, but still up near ten degrees Celsius with bright, winter sunshine.  The roads were relatively sand and salt free thanks to days of rain and floods.


The Ricoh Theta 360 camera is wrapped around the mirror with a Gorilla Pod.  A 360 video clip starts it off followed by some Adobe Lightroom heavily tweaked screen grabs aimed at creating a more abstract feel.



 




All the screen grabs with various modifications can be found in this album.



If you’re looking for a motorcycle friendly camera, the Theta 360 has push button controls that are easy to use (most others have finicky wireless connections through a smartphone).  You don’t have to aim it or focus it, it just grabs everything in an instant.  The screen grabs on here are from the 1080 video the Theta made while attached to the rear view mirror.


My last ride was November 28th.  I used the same 360 camera then, but didn’t have the Gorilla Pod at that point so those ones are all hand held.











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The One That Got Away

I got into elearning early on, before there were Learning Management Systems or plug and play anything.  My first elearning class required that I code HTML in order for students to see the material.  I’d just come out of over a decade working in IT so I was one of the few people in the system who could engage with elearning early on.  I was deeply involved in virtual learning until I attempted to apply for an elearning management position.  After not getting it I was also suddenly also not an elearning teacher any more.  I moved in other directions and have developed a successful and competitive computer engineering program instead.  In the process I’ve won a couple of awards for integrating technology into teaching and my students have won all sorts of things, so I’m happy with where I’m at.

 
These days everyone is an elearning teacher.  Thanks to a virus dictating pedagogy we’re leveraging digital communications in education like never before.  This unique situation  has even led to strange advancements like Stephen Lecce actually improving Ontario education by demanding the use of video conferencing when all the other partners had done everything in their power to make it a career ender.  That it took a government intent on dismantling public education to move the powers that be in education forward says all sorts of things about how the system works.
 
I enjoy teaching and I’m proud of what my students and I have achieved in the past seven years.  That much of it has been despite the system rather than because of it makes what I do more difficult than it needs to be, but then something came up last week that messed with my pride and I couldn’t not do it.
 
I didn’t volunteer for remote teaching even though there is huge demand because I didn’t have a medical reason not to and I greatly value the hands-on learning we do in my computer technology classroom.  Until we were handed incorrectly fitting PPE and given a dual cohort schedule with twice the preparation, no time to do it and then simultaneous remote and face to face teaching all day every day I was looking forward to coming back to school.  Like many I’ve been crushed by this absurd schedule.  On top of that my classroom has a long history of HVAC issues and we were running into the thirties Celsius on the warmer days in early September.  To say I’m struggling with this quadmester with its absurd lesson preparation expectations, demands of being available simultaneously virtually and face to face all day every day, lack of online and in-school support for students with special needs and ill fitting PPE is an understatement.

 

As if on cue a job came up for an Information Technology Support Teacher for online learning.  I do this job now in our school (and beyond) voluntarily because I can’t sit by and watch my colleagues struggle with technology that I know my students and I can sort out for them.  The idea that I could be given the time and space to do technology support at 100% and on a board wide scale rather than in addition to this absurd quadmestered, cohorted teaching load was appealing.  I fired my resume and a cover letter at it that contained references from presidents and educational technology icons from across the province and got an interview.  This caused me great anxiety.  I’ve built a successful program out of a crack in the sidewalk and walking away from it would doom it (our school has just cancelled face to face computer science classes so viable 21st Century pathways aren’t high on the to-do list).  On top of that I wasn’t sure how I’d get along on the other side of the curtain in a board office job.

 

 

I didn’t get the job.  Based on an interview with no technical questions they went with someone else whose answers they liked more.  To be honest I think I dodged a bullet there.  The moment you step out of the classroom you aren’t working for students any more, you’re working for the system, and the system and I have never gotten along particularly well.  As their IT support teacher I would have improved access to tools in a platform agnostic way.  I would have found ways to make things work and improve our bandwidth with students instead of telling people to do less with the limited resources they’re handed.

 
My vision of elearning has little to do with what we can and can’t use today.  If Minister Lecce has taught me anything it’s that the powers that be in education are more interested in maintaining the status quo and seeing how little they can do with digital technology than they are in exploring the possibilities to be found in virtual learning.  A job holding that status quo has little interest for me and I argued with myself all weekend about what I’d do if I got it.  The only part that bothered me when I asked for some clarity on why this other candidate was chosen was the sweeping statement, “all the candidates had excellent technical credentials.”
 
I’d be happy to go toe to toe with anyone in our school board, our IT professionals included, on technical qualifications.  I’ve been an industry certified IT technician and network administrator since the early naughties and had worked in various IT roles for thirteen years before I became a teacher.  Since becoming a teacher I’ve picked up two computer technology AQs and multiple Cisco networking qualifications including becoming the first high school instructor (and still maybe the only one) who is qualified to teacher Cybersecurity Operations.  My qualifications also express themselves through my students’ success; we’re Skills Ontario medalists for the past four years in IT & Networking Administration and provincial champions twice, we’re also three time national finalists in CyberTitan.  I’m not sure what made the other candidates ‘excellent’ in terms of their technical qualifications, but I’d love to see our qualifications and experience in IT all lined up side by side.  There are a number of reasons why another choice might be better than me, but falsely levelling technical expertise and experience isn’t one of them.
 

 

I’m a keen amateur mechanic.  I’ve taken motorcycles out of fields and restored them to operation multiple times.  I’ve rebuilt cars and pulled engines.  I’m capable enough that I trust my mechanical skills with my life (I do my own brakes and other maintenance on machines with very thin margins for error).  I have built up a working garage space, have the right tools and know how to use them, but I’d never tell a qualified mechanic that I’m their equal.  The difference between a professional and an amateur should be fairly obvious, yet Ontario education clings to the idea that a university degree trumps any kind of skilled trade… like information technologist.  If they want to go with a status quo middle-manager who is aiming for administration then that’s their choice, but belittling my expertise in the process was annoying, though it highlighted an ongoing prejudice in the system.  Ask tech teachers why they make less on average than everyone else in the building and you’ll see that academic privilege and skilled trades devaluation is a systemic prejudice.

 
A few years ago a colleague who is handy with computers (as everyone should be, they aren’t that complicated) casually mentioned that he should go and get his qualifications as a computer technology teacher.  He has a university degree so he’s used to doing whatever he likes in the education system; it’s made by and for people like him.  I told him that he might find it difficult to generate five years of industry experience on top of professional accreditation in order to qualify for the AQ.  Just because you’re a keen amateur doesn’t mean you have the professional expertise to teach the subject, though we’re especially bad at recognizing technical skills in computing in both staff and students in education.  It’s the main reason digital skills are a bit of a disaster in Ontario education.
 
Having highlighted that academic prejudice, Ontario’s absurd additional qualifications rules also railroad professional expertise from the skilled trades side of things as well.  I had to almost produce a blood sacrifice to OISE to be accepted into the computer technology AQ because they wouldn’t accept my industry certifications and experience without putting me through a grinder.  When I got to my AQ class most of the other people in the program had no background in computers at all.  They were teachers from other technology disciplines ranging from cooking to media arts and hair dressing who were allowed to take another technology qualification because they already had one.  OISE made it sound like I was going to be dropped into a program full of Grace Hoppers and Bill Gateses, instead I found I was one of the most technically proficient people in the room.
 
These stupid little short cuts in teacher training belittle the work people put into their professions and undermine expertise in the system, but as long as they are self serving and cheapen the costs I doubt we’ll see anything change.  It’s hard to find fault with administrators belittling the hundreds of hours of training, industry qualifications and thousands of hours of work experience I’ve achieved when the system gleefully does it automatically.
 
I got into class the next day still of two minds about not getting that job until I started teaching again and remembered that what I’m doing here is the single most important thing I could be doing.  My students love what we do, I enable them to do things they didn’t think they were capable of and I end each day feeling like I’ve done something genuinely useful and fecund.  I think I only considered leaving the classroom because I’m in such physical distress from poor PPE and this absurdly scheduled school year that I grasped at it.  Any other year I’d have let it pass by so a future administrator could pad their resume.  I am still frustrated at not being able to explore future technology assisted pedagogy on a wider level, but that’s why I blog… that’ll be the next post because even though I’m overwhelmed in the classroom, I can’t let it keep operating at this poor status quo, especially when there is all this fantastic technology around to help us circumnavigate this lousy pandemic.

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Exercising the OnePlus5 Smartphone camera

Following that adage I looked for a phone with a good camera this time around.  The OnePlus5 has an excellent camera as far as hardware goes, but the software still has some catching up to do.  Fortunately OnePlus seem committed to regular updates.


Walking home on Dec 23rd, one of the darkest days of the year, I took a post-sunset shot of the Grand River thinking it wouldn’t come out at all.  Not too bad for a very low light shot.  Similarly the multi-shot night time hockey gif taken on winter solstice in full darkness.


The photo of my lovely wife and her colleagues singing was also taken in a dark room.  It was post processed in Paper Artist, my favourite on-phone photo editing app.





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Rear hub gaskets & Moto Guzzi’s MGX21 Flying Fortress

I was at Two Wheel Motorsport yesterday dropping off the Concours’ rear hub to get the inner gasket re-done.  The rear hub comes off easily enough, but the Clymer’s manual said that with the special tools required as well as how much a pain in the ass it is to evenly heat up the hub housing to remove the inner plate (you can’t use a torch, it’ll warp it), this might be one of those times when DIY is more trouble than it’s worth.


Looking at the cost I was in for nearly $200 for two tools I’d probably only ever use once, and they’re rare enough that you can’t rent them.  Between that, the heating bit (they suggest maybe using a hot plate), and the fiddly nature of the internal components which have to be shimmed just right or you end up with a very clunky drivetrain, this seemed like a good time to make use of a professional.  Two Wheel said they could do the job for about $250 taxes in.

The dangerous part about visiting your local dealer is walking through the rows of new machinery.  On my way out they had a flock of Moto Guzzis, which I have to admit I have a soft spot for after reading Melissa Hobrook Pierson‘s The Perfect Vehicle.


As I wandered down the aisle, looking at everything from modern adventure tourers to stripped down cafe styled Guzzis, a young salesman appeared.  I’d been reading about the not at all shy and retiring Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress in Motorcycle Mojo and wondered if they had one.  It just happened that they did, down the end of the row.  He pulled it out for us to have a look at…

If you’ve read anything about my time with motorbikes you’ll know that cruisers and their bagger derivatives are about as interesting to me as a plate of spam, but these recent European designed bikes, while heavy, can still actually lean into corners and are surprisingly usable.

There is nothing about the MGX-21 Flying Fortress, so named because it was inspired by the American World War II bomber (an odd choice considering said bombers probably dropped ordinance on and around the Moto Guzzi factory), that is subtle.  The enormous bat-wing fairing, acres of carbon fibre and those big opposing air cooled cylinder heads poking out of it all just in front of your knees make for an over the top look at me statement; this is a machine for extroverts.



As a big guy I find that most machines are tight in the knees and generally look too small for me.  I even look like I fill up the tall Tiger, but Guzzi’s Fortress looked and felt like it fit.  The salesman said that like so many heavy but well balanced machines, the moment you start moving the weight seems to disappear.


This big, black Guzzi makes a unique statement.  You can find similarly styled American bikes, but they don’t have this red-headed Italian’s European flair.  At nearly twenty-four grand you’re going to have to be well off or really wanting to make that statement in order to get onto one.  


No one does fashion and beauty like the Italians, and this new Guzzi, while seemingly an odd choice for the venerable Italian builder, exudes charisma and charm.  If I had my own version of Jay Leno’s garage this Lombardy beauty would be in there for those rare days when I want to put myself on a pedestal.

It certainly is.
Even if it’s not your thing, have a look.  Like an Italian Comtessa, she might be out of your league but a joy to behold.


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Pandemicky Cancellations And Alternate Means

Thanksgiving weekend in Canada was to be my last big ride of the season.  It’s been a tough year and the chance to get away from the pressure cooker of teaching in a pandemic was something I was clinging to a bit too tight.  The daring plan was to finish another exhausting week of teaching in a too small masks in classrooms that are ignoring all the pandemic rules everyone else is following, get a much needed night of sleep and then make my way up to ride the Haliburton Highlands in all their autumn glory before spending a weekend far away from the noise of pandemicky 2020 in the woods near Bobcaygeon.  The ride back would have been 274 kms of backroads less travelled.


I discovered Friday afternoon that we’d been waved off from the in-law’s cottage because we’re too much of a pandemic risk.  The irony that I can’t get away from the thing that strangles me each week because I’m getting strangled by it each week isn’t lost on me.  Instead I took the sunny and 22°C forecast and headed up to Hornings Mills and River Road for some Niagara Escarpment twisties, except I never got there because forty minutes up the road just north of 89 in Shelburne the rain started to fall.


I turned around and came home again.  Riding with purpose through rain is an enjoyable experience.  The smells and feel during a rainy ride are unique and worth pursuing, but looking for rain when you’re on yet another pointless pandemic loop over familiar roads doesn’t make much sense, so I turned around and went home again.  Autumn colours were lovely and the Tiger ran like a top though.


The fire we thought we’d have that night didn’t happen because everything was wet.  The next day opened sunny and cold, but warmed up to the point where we went for a walk in the woods nearby.

When we got home I backed the Honda out of the garage and went for a ride in the cool, clear, autumn air.


Any weekend where you can take each of your two bikes out for a ride isn’t a bad weekend.  Soon enough we’ll be buried under a blanket of snow while the second wave of the coronavirus spreads in the closed places we share, like my classroom.  


The kick in the groin here was getting dumped by family on the weekend we were aiming to be away without warning.  Nothing like your own family treating you like a plague cow to really drive home the meaning of Thanksgiving.  What really burns my ass is having to depend on them to be able to access the things I was looking for:
  • getting away from the godforsaken suburbs and into THE WILD
  • off roading with my son
  • hanging out on a hammock in the wilderness with my wife
  • having a reason to ride beyond my usually riding range
  • being comfortable while we do it

I don’t live in the right generation to own a cottage (and the generation that does isn’t sharing during a pandemic), so I need to work out a way where I can check those boxes without depending on the vagaries of other people.  My wife won’t sleep on the ground any more so camping won’t cut it, but maybe a camper might.


A Skala Conversions Ram Promaster would do the trick.  With the right sized motor and towing package, we’d be able to tow my son’s ATV and my dirtbike into the woods and find our bliss without depending on anyone else.  Some crafty engineering and smart packaging and we could be mobile and efficient without a ludicrously large camper.  A membership with the OFTR and we could enjoy off roading together in a variety of different places and glamp like rock stars.  When we just wanted to disappear into the wilderness we could do that too.

A cheaper alternative is a used camper, and there are many about.  Eight grand’ll get you a low mileage older small camper.  The Roadtrek RS Adventurous looks promising and arrives in 2021. It gets great mileage (like 20mpg) and sleeps up to four.


If I had the shop space and time I’d go grab this disco 1974 ‘RekVee’ from where it’s parked up near Perry Sound for five hundred bucks, throw it on a flatbed and bring it back, strip it down and convert it to an electric/hybrid.  The electric RV isn’t viable yet with our medieval chemical battery technology but a hybrid diesel/electric option would work.


One way or another I want to get off the depending on other people to decide access to my mental health getaways.  What’s nice about the RV option is that it works while we’re in lock down.  Ontario is a big place and socially isolating when you’ve thousands of miles of wilderness north of you and your own place to sleep is perfectly doable).  When things open up again we could take the thing to Ushuaia.

In other circumstances we’ve gotten ourselves into a hotel when the cottage politics gets too thick, but the pandemic makes that next to impossible.  I need to engineer more flexibility and capability into our escape plans so we get to be the arbiters of our own mental health excursions. 

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Stranger in a Strange Land

We attended the POND family day a couple of weeks ago and the steady, plodding nature of drug based (forget gene therapy, it’s miles away) research around ASD and the frustration expressed by some parents got me thinking about what I’d do if they suddenly could ‘fix’ ASD.


Watching my son growing up with an ASD diagnosis that I never had sheds a lot of light on how my own mind works.  When I watch him fly into a rage and begin looping I realize that he is a piece of me.  When I watch him hyper-focus and grok something completely, that’s a piece of me too.  While I’m frequently frustrated by social interaction, I’m not sure I’d be as good at some of things I excel at if I weren’t neuro-atypical, the same goes for Max.


My undiagnosed ASD has made for a strange educational history.  I dropped out of high school before finishing, an apprenticeship before finishing and college before finishing.  I was on my way to dropping out of university when I started battling my default approach of getting everything I wanted to get out of something before walking away.  The social conventions around education, especially the graduating bit, has never held much sway over me.  I only started attending them at the behest of girlfriends who suggested that the ceremony mattered.  From my point of view once I’d learned what I needed to know I was done.


I played sports throughout my childhood but the getting of the trophies was always an anti-climax; something I tried to find ways out of.  I loved the competition but found no value in the social conventions around the awards ceremonies.


Social conventions have always been difficult for me to grasp.  The natural tribalism that neurotypical people seem to thrive on is foreign, abstract and often upsetting.  Obviously definable traits that other people cling to like religion, nationality and political affiliation seem like strange abstractions to me.  Even obvious associations like gender and orientation seem like affectations.  Would life be easier if I just fell into those assumptions and social conventions like most people do?  Probably.


I have few friends but that doesn’t make me feel lonely.  That idea of loneliness and belonging is another one of those neurotypical assumptions that I find foreign.  When I started motorcycling a number of people immediately tried to get me into group rides; I don’t get them.  The whole point of motorcycling is to feel free.  How does riding in tight formation all over the place accomplish that?  Others feel power in that social affiliation and get a real rush out of publicly expressing it.  Being out in public in a big group makes them feel noticed and important, but I just don’t get it.  This has led to ongoing difficulties, especially with groups that thrive on hierarchy and social presentation (which is to say most of them).  Because I’m not bothered with the group dynamic I’m seen as an outsider and potentially disruptive to the organization.  People who get a charge out of the drama and politics of group dynamics find it easy to alienate me from a group, and tend to do so.


I generally undervalue my influence on other people because I assume they feel the same distance I do.  I’m almost pathologically unable to remember names.  This is often described in terms of introversion or shyness, but if this is what ASD feels like then it’s more like being a stranger in a strange land all the time; I’m always a foreigner.  I used to think this was because of my emigration to Canada when I was a child, and that certainly set the tone, but I’d been odd like that even before we left.  My lack of belonging is endemic.  Every so often I meet an exceptional person who is able to see me as I am and not be frustrated by it, I never forget the names of those people.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve been able to better define my strangeness and I’m trying to manage it more effectively.  I find that exhausting, but not having giant lists of friends or feeling an important part of an organization?  Not so much.


This is made doubly tiring because of the career I’ve wandered into.  Teaching is a social process, and while I love the intellectual complexity of pedagogy, technology and curriculum I’m constantly frustrated by the political and social pressures associated with it.  Whether it’s union, administration or parental social expectations, I’m often oblivious to what people expect of me and baffled by their responses.  I expect ethics and reason to dictate people’s actions, but those things aren’t guiding principles in many decisions.  Self interest hidden in socially normative ideas like class, religion or group politics are what drive many interactions between people.


I recently backed out of headship and tried to refocus on the parts of teaching I’m good at rather than trying to herd the cats.  Even when refocusing on teaching I find that I’m having a lot of trouble with social expectations.  In 2017 a student’s attendance is optional, their willingness to learn is optional and any failure seems to be entirely because I can’t teach.  Parents can pull their child out of classes for weeks at a time in the middle of a semester and I shouldn’t wreck their holiday by assuming they will keep up with class work while they’re gone.  At some point teaching has turned into daycare, which means the things I enjoy (curriculum and pedagogy) don’t matter so much any more.  For someone who doesn’t intuitively understand socially motivated change, this lack of clarity around the evolving expectations of an education system that is evolving into a social support construct is very challenging; it has been a bewildering and upsetting couple of weeks at work.


So here I am, feeling quite out of place, but that’s nothing new.  If I was suddenly told that they could cure ASD with a drug would I do it?  Would I be less stressed falling into the same political and social conventions neurotypical people seem to thrive on?  Would I be better off thinking like the majority?  Probably.  I can only speak to my own experience, but if it meant losing my ability to focus, which happens because I’m not predisposed toward social or political gamesmanship, on creative and technical expression then no, I don’t think I’d volunteer to become less of what I am.  


I’d let Max decide for himself after researching the science, but I’d hope he values his independence and uniqueness of thought as well, even if it generally annoys other people and isn’t the easiest way forward.

The only reason other people want you to think like them is so that they can manipulate you.  Why play to that?

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Bare Minimums

I’ve had a go at professionalism a number of times on Dusty World.  You might even call it a recurring theme.  Here I go again…

“Wha’dyou care?  You get paid whether we learn anything or not.”

In one simple sentence a kid in my son’s grade 10 applied math class might have just summed up everything that’s wrong with Ontario and much of the Western world these days.  For the vast majority of people work is hourly wage labour, even when they’re salaried.  They aim to do the bare minimum – as little as possible – and only what they’re explicitly told to do in order to make as much money as they possibly can.  It’s only in a world predominantly driven by this kind of thinking that a failed businessman can convince people to let him run a province like a business.


The conversations that kid hears around his home must be brutal and simplistic; take all that you can and give as little back as possible.  Capit
alism likes to play the Darwin card where it describes itself as the engine of competition that develops excellence by rewarding strength and destroying the weak.  You’re poor because you’re lazy or stupid.  You’re rich because you’re driven and smart, but that isn’t the way of things…


Teaching is a profoundly challenging profession that demands
a lot from you because you’re dealing with complex people.
If you don’t like people, you’ll struggle to do the job.

Where does professionalism stand in all of this?  When I told people about that comment at the recent ECOO Conference, the teachers there rolled their eyes.  There may be a tiny percentage of teachers who mail it in, but I can only think of one or two in my school, the rest consistently go above and beyond in order to try and reach their students in as many ways as possible.  Teaching is the kind of job that you make too difficult for yourself if you’re not dedicated to doing it as well as you can.  The most miserable teachers I know are the ones with that minimalist approach who aren’t very good at it as a result.


Learning isn’t a linear production line where you can find economic efficiencies by grossly simplifying things.  It’s a complex interaction between many people at once.  A good teacher is always going to be looking for ways to reach as many of their students as they can, partly because doing the job any other way makes it nearly impossible and partly because doing it well feels fantastic.  It’s one of the reasons that class sizes really do matter; there is only so far you can stretch before you break when you’re trying to differentiate and reach dozens of students at once.  An profession has this level of complexity, but many of them are being managed by accountants with little or no understanding of that complexity.


A recent article by the Washington Post chases down much of the success enjoyed by certain education systems (our’s included) in the world…


“We have learned a lot about why some education systems — such as Alberta, Ontario, Japan and Finland — perform better year after year than others in terms of quality and equity of student outcomes.


Among these important lessons are:

  • Education systems and schools shouldn’t be managed like business corporations… successful education systems rely on collaboration, trust, and collegial responsibility in and between schools.
  • The teaching profession shouldn’t be perceived as a technical, temporary craft that anyone with a little guidance can do. Successful education systems rely on continuous professionalization of teaching and school leadership that requires advanced academic education, solid scientific and practical knowledge, and continuous on-the-job training.”



Collegial responsibility, trust, collaboration and rational direction in management seems foreign (and probably a bit frightening) to that majority of money minimalists in the world.  Work is work, you do as little of it as possible to make as much as you can.  If you’re managing, you rip apart complexity and simplify the job at hand into something so abstract and simple that it doesn’t actually work, but you’ve maximized profit.  If you’re in business (or modern politics) you put on the blinkers and aim at the next quarter; this myopia is called called efficiency.  If you’re in a classroom this kind of management is a disaster because you leave most of the class behind.  You save a little money now to spend much more later.  Mr ‘what-d’you-care’ in my son’s math class is going to be costing us all a lot of money for years to come thanks to the values he has internalized.


The concept of professionalism can seem nebulous to the money focused minimalist majority.  It’s important to recognize that this money fixation isn’t necessarily a rich/poor distinction but an addiction shared by both extremes of the socio-economic spectrum.  The people who most idolize the wealthy are the poor and uneducated.  Even with that adoration, the gulf between rich and poor continues to expand as people struggling with money fantasize about joining their heroes in the one percent (the same people who are causing them to struggle).


How do you get wealthy?  By focusing on money beyond all else – as much as you can get while giving as little as you can, but what really matters is if you’re already minted.  That’s when you get into politics to protect your economic advantage.  Amazingly, it takes very little to convince people struggling in the system who idolize your wealth to then vote you into power.


Your place in this socio-economic spectrum largely depends on your circumstances, not on your plucky attitude.  The rich retain more and more wealth even as it moves further away from the rest of us because the system is designed to make money out of money more than it is to make money out of work.  Professionalism can act as a cure to this disease, but so few people are able to access it in a 21st Century where automation and overpopulation conspire to minimize human value that the idea of doing a job as well as you can without money as the primary goal seems antiquated.


What’s left?  Do as little as you can for as much as you can.  A 50 in grade 10 applied maths is a fantastic return on investment if you have to do almost nothing to get it.  You’ve learned your parents’ value theory well kid, they’ll define you for the rest of your life.

Watch the middle class and professionalism melt away before your eyes.  Your arms are indeed getting shorter as your pockets get deeper – unless you’re one of the ultra-rich who have gamed the system for your own benefit, and then gamed politics to convince that burgeoning majority of undereducated poor people to support your obscene wealth.

Professionalism still lurks out there in the corners, and you better hope it survives.  The professional doing the brakes on your car is (you’d better hope) doing the job to the best of her ability, not as fast as she can in order to maximize a pay cheque.  The professional nursing you in hospital is (you really hope) doing the best job he can in ensuring your care, not the cheapest one possible.  The teacher in your child’s class (you sincerely hope) is doing the very best they possibly can to reach your alienated, confused and profoundly ignorant child so that they don’t have a future dictated to them by your money myopia.


Professionalism is a way of looking past the blinkered and culturally emaciated world of money for work that the very rich and the very poor on both sides of a vanishing middle class are fixated on.  When you’re a professional you do the very best job you can and society recognizes that value by looking after you because you give back much more than you take.  In any professional practice you’re going to spend your own time and money improving your craft, that’s what makes it professional.  To the ‘training is what happens to me when I’m at work’ crowd, that grade 10 math student’s comment echoes their own experience.


The most frustrating thing is that anyone in pretty much any job could be a professional.  When I worked in an oil change shop in university, I quickly found my way into the role of service manager because I took the technical work very seriously and was always looking for ways to improve.  I read technical manuals on my own time and did more advanced work after hours in and out of the shop in order to improve my skills, and as a result had a perfect technical record.  When I was in IT it was the same thing – spending my own time and money to improve my craft.  I’ve always had trouble separating work from who I am because if the work is worth doing, it’s worth doing as well as I can.  For too many Ontarians that sounds like a sucker’s game, and that thinking has turned us all into suckers.


For the vast majority of teachers in Ontario there is no start and finish time, there are no weekends or holidays.  You’ll find teachers spending their holidays and weekends at conferences and training, and you’ll often find them working on a Sunday morning or Thursday night, marking or prepping lessons, not because they’re on the clock, but because what they’re doing matters much more than that.


I’ve gotten on planes and seen flight attendants who obviously take their jobs professionally and as a result I’ve had a wonderful flight that would have been misery otherwise.  I’ve seen mechanics who take the time to do a job right, even as their employers and customers whine about every penny they just spent to be safe in their vehicles.  I’ve seen professional drivers who take pride in their efficiency and effectiveness who you’d never see texting behind the wheel.  Professionalism should be something we’re all able to access in order to find our best selves, but to make that happen we have to get off this insane money train we’re on before it burns the world down.


Wouldn’t it be something if everyone were a professional in whatever they did, and they were respected financially for that effort by society instead of being driven to do less for less to make a tiny percentage of us pointlessly wealthy?

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Motorcycle Philosophy: Antoine Predock on Ride With Norman Reedus



Riding a motorcycle is episodic.  You experience thermoclines of temperature… the rush of cold air in a pocket, it’s exhilarating.  In life that’s a good thing too, surrender to conditions rather than mind managing everything and see what happens.


Season 2, Episode 4:  Ride With Norman Reedus (quote is from the episode)




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A Psychological/Metaphysical One-Two Punch

I’m still working my way through The Science of Well Being, an online psychology course done by Doctor Laurie Santos out of Yale.  This week she got into some neuroscience around how our minds work.  I originally experienced this during my philosophy degree thirty years ago when I was introduced to Bertand Russell’s Analysis of the Mind, which laid bare the mythology we erect around our thinking.  By the end of Russell’s book I no longer believed in a consistent sense of self because such a thing is a social construct; we don’t inhabit our own being in anything like a consistent, always-on way.  Most of our lives are run out of habitual reflex with little conscious direction.  We only experience moments of conscious direction before falling back into habit, some more than others.

Santos describes this in neuro-scientific terms in The Science of Well Being as a kind of default neurological network that lights up in our brains when we’re not consciously doing something.  The parts of the mind that activate during these non-conscious moments are the same parts that light up when we’re thinking about the past and/or future.  Amazingly, we typically spend almost half our time in this state of reverie, out of touch with the world around us.

She goes on to describe this evolutionary process that appears to be unique to our species as a cognitive achievement, but one that comes at a great emotional cost.  Research into this process has demonstrated again and again that living out of the moment makes us sad; a uniquely human melancholy that we all pay for if we want to be able to think beyond cause and effect, which has obvious benefits, though we still seem exceptionally bad at it.

Santos then explains how mediation and mindfulness can decrease the impact of that default reverie thinking process that makes us so unhappy while also providing all sorts of benefits like improved academic performance and mood.  Mindfulness brain exercises proved more effective than nutrition or even sleep in improving cognitive performance, which raises some interesting questions around how we’ve arranged school to be almost intentionally non-meditative.

People who haven’t had a lot of experience with mindfulness and meditation often fall into the belief that mediation is just wallowing in that default thinking reverie, but it isn’t that at all.  This was emphasized for me in a strange media-mix-up last week.  My son Max and I have been working our way through The Midnight Gospel on Netflix, a surrealistically animated series of podcast interviews by animator Pendleton Ward and comedian Duncan Trussell.

If you’re willing to do the mental gymnastics necessary, The Midnight Gospel will introduce you to a truly meta piece of 21st Century media.  The main character, voiced by Trussell, is a “space caster” who uses a universe simulator (he sticks his head into a giant vagina to activate it) to pop in to various realities where he interviews people.  The interviews are the podcasts re-jigged to fit this new format.

We’ve watched episodes on everything from Buddhism and karmic rebirth to Aleister Crowley style occultism to an explanation of the bizarre nature of North American death rituals in the 20th Century, so other than a complex subject being unpacked by smart people, you don’t really know what’s coming at you next.  This all happens while Yellow Submarine level psychedelic animation sometimes describes and sometimes does everything it can to distract you from what’s being said.  We got to the season finale of The Midnight Gospel not knowing what’s coming (because it makes it clear that you can’t), but looking forward to it.

The Silver Mouse is a breathtakingly personal finale where the animation suddenly clicks into gear with the story telling in the interview and amplifies it to such a degree that it left us speechless.

Duncan made this interview with his mother, Deneen Fendig, just before she passed of terminal cancer in 2013, and it describes her coming to peace with her mortality through meditation.  Duncan had always struggled with the idea of mediation, and Deneen’s honest, unpretentious guided meditation practice not only worked for him in the interview, but it also resonated with me on many levels.

https://strawd0gs.blogspot.com/2017/11/suicide-how-to-steer-past-staring-into.html

The animation begins with Duncan as a young man and his mother as an older woman, but through the course of the episode she grows old and dies, only be reborn by Duncan himself so they can continue their conversation.  As she grows up, Duncan grows into an old man and dies himself; it’s a beautiful representation of the circle of life, carefully crafted and delivered.  For a man who lost his mother in difficult circumstances at around the same time Duncan lost his mum, it rocked me.  I’m in tears now as I write this.  I wish I could have had this conversation with my mum before she passed, but mental illness took her away from me long before she died.

Deneen’s wisdom in finding her way to a meditative awareness of not only her own being, but also to a sense of how it hangs in the firmament of the universe was told humbly, honestly and without pretense.  That she found a tangible way of escaping the non-present ruminating mind wandering we all tend to fall back into was also inspiring.  She doesn’t hang a lot of superstitious nonsense around the radical sense of self awareness that she uncovers in herself.  Many people seem to cling to belief when facing the end that comes for us all, but not Deneen.  Her bravery is inspiring and underscored for me the fact that we don’t have to believe in miracles and other historical fictions to realize our place in the universe and find peace in the face of death.

Between the psychology and science of The Science of Well Being course and the magical realism and stark emotional honesty of The Midnight Gospel, it has been a rich week of media empowered reflection that puts everything else that’s going on in perspective.  To top it all off, Max and I got to watch a spectacular, once in a lifetime lightning storm blow over us the other day.  My life feels unexpectedly rich at the moment.

photos.app.goo.gl/smqSdUzvn8E2ePc49

Notes:

Science of Well Being, Mind Control:  www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being/lecture/58VUO/mind-control

The Midnight Gospels:  Mouse of Silver:
original podcast:  www.duncantrussell.com/episodes/2016/7/18/my-mom-part-2
Netflix animated series:  www.netflix.com/title/80987903


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