Pannier Thoughts: Motorbike Repair Kit Gear

Having never had on-bike storage before, or a bike designed to cover big distances, I’m thinking about what I could leave in the bottom of the panniers to keep us on the road. 

Here’s the short list so far:




A bike specific multi-tool, this BikeMaster metric device covers a lot of bases in terms of general usefulness.

$16.18 from canadasmotorcycle.ca
300g







Puncture Repair Kit.  Many moons ago I used to do this at Canadian Tire, so plugging a tire is nothing new, and if I’ve got the bits I need on the road I’ll be able to get us going again in short order.

$~20 from Canadian Tire
200g






Yukon Steel Multitool.  I use a generic one at work all the time.  They work well and I don’t need a fancy brand to somehow validate my handiness.

$30 from Canadian Tire
325g



I’m also going to grab a lightweight nylon tarp.  You can get tough, camping ready ones that only weigh about 500 grams and fold up into the size of an envelope.  Along with a little roll of duct tape, small hand pump, some nylon string and a mini wd40 can, I’d have a very light and small collection of handy bits and pieces that would keep us moving if we ran into a problem.

Binary Thinking

More notes from Phoenix, along with some editorializing:

Education is an analogue, non-linear, complex, biological process because we are non-linear, complex, biological organisms.  Data and the technology that produces it are none of those things.  Data might point to a vanishingly small piece of this complex puzzle, but it will never explain, justify or encompass education, no matter what vested interests might tell you.

We are such chameleons. The dominant thinking of our time actually changes how we see ourselves. When the social norm was religiously defined we saw ourselves as angels and demons. When industrialization occurred we described ourselves in terms of the machines we were creating. In the information age we define ourselves in terms of digital data. It’s important to remember that we are none of these things, but rather the creator of all of them, and therefor greater than them all.

Digital technology is turning our thinking binary.  How do you feel today? A) good B) bad By participating in this data gathering process you have reduced your complex mental state to an absurdity.  Every question is reductive, every piece of data a feathery abstraction of a deeper, more complex meaning. Every time education acts on this reductive logic it becomes less a form of human expression and more an act of compliance with digitally limited technology. There is a branch of thinking that suggests that this is simply because technology hasn’t become fast and vast enough to manage the data, but even at its best digital technology will always be limited to how it works. Even at near infinite speeds with infinite amounts of data you’re still reducing reality to ones and zeroes, which it isn’t.

If digital technology forces reductive binary thinking then any cost savings realized from it will come at the cost of our ability to express ourselves in all the ways that we can.
 
This is a transitional thought, it led to this line of thinking:
Rigour doesn’t exist in data or the statistics derived from it, rigour exists at the limits of human expression. It is never dictated by the limits of hardware or software.

What do I mean by rigour? Thorough and careful – digital data is neither. It is accurate, but only in a very specific sense. We take that fine accuracy and direct it at a far larger array of cause and effect than it could possibly represent, mainly because recognizing the limits of data doesn’t suit the people peddling it. Statistics never encompass the truths they claim to.

Mastery is the result of genuine experience. No one ever gained mastery from taking a test.

If genuine experience is what drives leaning, why do we keep inventing abstractions like testing to drive it?

The answer to that one is obvious: it’s cheaper and easier to manage if we grossly simplify learning to the point of abstraction. Of course, that kind of hypocrisy and self-serving nonsense provokes awkward questions:

If learning is for the learner, why do we do most of what we do in education for everyone else involved?  Is education motivated by politics or pedagogy?
The easiest most self-serving way for ‘educators’ to dehumanize students is by reducing them to data. This becomes more self-evident when you realize that most data collected from education is focused on the system rather than improving student learning.

Ronin

Originally published on Dusty World, March, 2014.

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

Last week’s Elearning Ontario Presentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

ro·nin
ˈrōnən/

noun

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

Motorcycle Reading: Red Tape & White Knuckles by Lois Pryce

I read Lois on the Loose a couple of months back so I put Red Tape and White Knuckles on Kindle for a read over the Christmas holidays.  Lois’s ride through the Americas was a great read, so Red Tape had a lot to live up to.

If you enjoy well edited, lean writing that is almost pathological in its honesty you’ll love Lois’s writing style.  She holds nothing back as she describes her long and arduous route from England to Cape Town.  Her vulnerability riding a motorbike colours the entire trip, making this very much a motorcycle focused read.

Now that I’ve read both books I often find myself wondering how the people she ends up travelling with find her depictions of them.  She is relentless in her assessment of how people deal with the challenges of adventure travel, and it isn’t always (usually?) flattering.

Lois is equally honest with her own fears and abilities while navigating Africa’s byzantine politics and sometime apocalyptic landscape.  Her doubts creep in throughout this difficult ride, but she also explains how she recovers which is a wonderful insight into resiliency.

You’d think that the physical aspects of trying to cross Africa on a motorcycle would be what slows her down, but just when you think that the Sahara Desert will be the ultimate challenge you’re scared to death of what will happen next in the Congo.  People are, by far, the most dangerous thing Lois encounters, though they are also often the saving grace.

Like Lois on the Loose before it, Red Tape & White Knuckles has some can’t-put-it-down moments (especially awkward when you’re supposed to be getting off a plane).  And like her previous trip this one leaves you feeling like you’ve been on an epic journey where the beginning feels like a distant memory as you finish.  Like the best journeys, this one feels like it changes you.

It’s better if it’s a tiger…


Toward the end of the novel Lois has an interesting talk with her husband Austin.  Lois’s atheism comes up a number of times during her trip through religion soaked Africa, and her discussion at the end about Austin (also an atheist) praying for her safety was enlightening.  It got me thinking about what being an atheist means.

I’d also describe myself as an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I’m lacking in imagination or meaning in my life.  If Life of Pi teaches you anything, it’s that you shouldn’t miss the better story or the resiliency offered by an empowered emotional approach to challenging circumstances.

Lois contrasts the dead eyes and mercantile nature of the Congolese with the gentle kindness she finds elsewhere. There is such a thing as being too much of a realist, of allowing the world around you to dictate your reaction to it.  We’re powerful creatures able to create our own responses to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

On our recent trip south I found myself putting on my lucky socks before I loaded up my son and all our gear to go for a ride in the Superstition Mountains (I know, right?).  Do I really believe these socks are lucky?  No, not if I dwell on it, but I like these socks, they make me feel like I’ve got my best kit on, they put my mind at ease, make me feel like I’m ready to do a difficult thing well.  That confidence has real world value.  Same with that lucky hockey stick, or my lovely motorcycle.  Am I superstitious?  No, I wouldn’t say I am because I spent most of my young adult life learning that things like fate or luck don’t exist, but I recognize the value of empowering myself with positive thinking.

If Austin found some peace in fraught times worrying about Lois in Africa then this isn’t a repudiation of atheism and reason, it’s an acceptance of the power of hope.  These tentative forays into the psychology of adventure riding suggest an untapped opportunity.  Lois’s honesty allows her unpack the complex psychology around dealing with fear, nurturing resiliency and developing an effective mental approach to the challenges of travelling off the beaten path.  I get the sense that she shies away from this kind of philosophizing, but I hope she doesn’t in the future.  If her purpose is to get more people out and about, this would aid in that.

Unfortunately this brings me to the end of Lois’s current works.  Fortunately she’s working on another novel due out soon about her riding around Iran

Around Georgian Bay

Everyone’s busy this weekend so, and to quote Freddie Mercury, I’m going to take a long ride on my motorbike.  Time for my first circumnavigation of a Great Lake, I’ll start small with Georgian Bay.  From Elora I’ll strike north to Tobermory.  There is a 1:30 ferry to Manitoulin Island, that’s the only must get to (gotta get there an hour before departure, so 12:30pm in Tobermory).

I’m aiming for Little Current to overnight.  We stopped there last summer and it seems a lovely spot to spend the night, and The Hawberry Motel looks the part.   That’ll put me 340kms and a two hour ferry ride into an 873km circumnavigation.

Sunday morning I’m on the winding road up to Espanola and then over to Sudbury before the long ride south.  It might seem like a stretch but the ride south includes some time on the 400, so I’ll get to see how the Concours manages highway riding while making some time down the other side of the bay.  Once I get back south of the Bay I’ll cut over to the coast and follow it around before heading south out of Wasaga Beach for the final push home.

This ride is the longest I’ve yet done, and it also includes a ferry ride.  I’m pretty revved up about it!  Friday night will be the pre-flight checks then on the road Saturday morning.  My buddy Jeff has said he’ll do the first leg with me up to Tobermory, so I’ll also get to do some miles in formation.  Another box checked.

Here are the posts from the trip:
Part 1: To the North
Part 2: An informed ride
Part 3: Highway Miles
Part 4: The Kit
Part 5: Media from the Trip

The Concours is sorted and doing regular duty commuting me to work, time to stretch her legs…

LINKS

The Ferry

The Hawberry Motel

The Map

The Trip Itself

Watching The Sun Rise: Reflections on life and teaching in 2012/13

Stephen Hurley at VoicEd asked for a reflection as the year ends, so I’ll give it a whirl.  This is going to be tricky to do without spiraling into Nietzsche’s abyss.

This past school year started with the worst summer of my adult life.  I’m still recovering from my mother’s suicide and I probably shouldn’t have resumed teaching in the fall, but I did out of shear stubbornness.  Rather than trying to deal with this nightmare in a quiet year I got to do it during one of the most turbulent political periods in Ontario education.  You need only look over Dusty World in the fall to see the white water political ride education in general and my board in particular went through.

In a few short weeks, as OSSTF swung from a confrontational stance with the Liberal government that I supported by volunteering on our district executive and attending many rallies, I found myself suddenly muzzled by an organization that I realized I have very little in common with.  Rather than standing up for what is right, they would rather do what is expedient.  I’ve never been good at bending a knee to bullying, even if it does serve a political end.  It’s half a year later and our OLRB complaint against OSSTF for misrepresentation is still awaiting an outcome.  Being an idealist I find this very upsetting.  It seems any organization is politically self interested before it can stand for anything else.

It’s easy to forget that teachers are people, and the job is a deeply personal one.  This past year has had a number of strange confluences both personal and professional for me.  As my school and board tried to leverage the suicide of Amanda Todd to address bullying I couldn’t help but feel that this was manipulating misery for some kind of administrative end.  The contrite, ‘suicide is bad, don’t bully someone into it’ struck me as simplistic.  That cyber-bullying got selected by the media as the cause of her suicide (which a number of anti-technology teachers immediately trumpeted as proof that we should back off on it) was doubly frustrating.  That Amanda, like my mother, suffered from years of mental illness tends to be ignored because dealing with something as complicated as mental illness is more than most organizations, no matter how well intentioned, are willing or able to do.  That provincial and federal governments have basically bowed out of caring for the mentally ill has put a great deal of stress on already over stressed families.  If we’re going to address mental illness it better not be on a poster stuck up in a high school.  This trivializes a very complex issue.  Suicide is never a simple result of bullying, it’s the most profound, existential decision you’re ever going to make.  It deserves more than a soundbite.

Between the fractured politics in education and my own personal baggage 2012/13 has been a difficult year to manage.  As the storm subsided and we began our two years of government mandated contract, the school trundled on and extracurriculars resumed, kind of.  In a subdued second semester I began to get some closure with my Mum and tried to find ways to get back on my feet again.  The first semester was like watching a horse with a broken leg that didn’t have the sense to lay down.  At the end of second semester I’m able to stand without it hurting so much.

With some perspective on a year that felt like nastiness was crowding in all around me, I’m able to see the good that happened too.  My wonderful wife has done backflips to help me through this, all while battling the same political nonsense and working on her Masters.  My spectacular son continues to astonish me with how deep he is getting, even as the education system continues to wring its hands over how not-normal he is.  I got a new principal who knows what she’s doing and who appreciates the work I do.  I’ve been able to develop my professional interests both as a department head, teacher and online PLN presence.  My board has been developing a real 21st Century presence in educational technology and I feel like I’ve played an important part in arguing for that.  The year has been very professionally satisfying, if you ignore the Ministry, the union and the media… which is probably good advice.

Even with a nasty political infection, education in Ontario has been able to produce outstanding results, and I’ve been able to develop my professional self in satisfying and challenging ways.  No year is ever going to be without challenges, and the challenges of this year have been mighty, but that I’m able to find intense intellectual satisfaction in my profession is a great help when dealing with all the slings and arrows life can throw your way.

Stay On Target

Stay on target… stay on target!

You want to talk about extracurriculars?  About how teachers should do them for the love of their job?  How they should sacrifice their own family lives so that they can ‘save the children!’ The politics around this are thick, and they do a great job of hiding the real problem.

Education isn’t about extracurriculars, extracurriculars are about education.  Royan Lee, the education ninja, asked the question that got right to this during TVO’s The Agenda, last week.  He then blogged about it, which might help all those people so tied up in the politics that they’ve lost the plot.

We’re not in education to enrich those students wealthy enough to enjoy extracurriculars.  I didn’t do a lot of extracurriculars in school – I had to go to work every day after school from the age of 10 onwards.  If you think you’re saving the kids by coaching basketball after school, you’re only saving the ones that can afford it.  The fact that extracurriculars usually cost money (bus costs, equipment, etc) many families can’t manage further underlines this unfairness.

Education should offer everyone equal opportunity.  It should be the most liberal of social exercises; opportunity for all, regardless of socio-economic status.  There is an inherent classism in extracurriculars, but I’m sure all those passionate teachers who are rushing to pick up ECs again don’t want to think about that, they just want to win a few games and demonstrate their ‘passion’.

The teacher as evangelist isn’t helpful in any of this. The martyr teacher only wants to emotionally show how much they care.  As a parent, this isn’t what I want from my son’s teachers.  Passion is great, but if that’s all you’ve got, then quite frankly, you’re creepy, and ineffective.  I’m looking for my son’s teachers to be professionals who are always looking to improve their practice.  If they are so thick as to believe that doing extracurriculars doesn’t impact their ability to maximize classroom learning then they have already demonstrated a lack of understanding around the use of limited resources in a time sensitive environment.  Zoe mentioned this in the Agenda show, but was quickly shot down by edu-babble around ‘best practices’.  There are no ‘best practices’.  Teaching is a constant development of a very complicated process.  When I see teachers throwing out edu-babble to simplify our work and support political motives, it strikes me as a professional failure.

The Spicy Learning Blog

Royan’s blog post raises the question of what is so special about ECs.  If the list to the left are what make ECs so valuable to students, why aren’t these things happening in classrooms?  The target of education should be learning.  If ECs offer advantages, why aren’t they being integrated everywhere?

As I said in the comments of his great post, the education ship is rusty and running poorly.  It’s covered in barnacles like extracurriculars, standardized testing, reduced professional development, government and union politics, social opinion, poor teacher standards and weak administrative development.  While Royan is asking why we don’t fix the ship, the other teachers on the show instead go on at length about how important the barnacles are.

Extra curriculars shouldn’t be extra.  We shouldn’t be waiting until after school to offer this enriched learning environment to the few students who can or will take advantage of it.  We need to fix the damn boat, not get wrapped up in the union/government politics.

If that Agenda episode showed me anything, it’s that teachers are just as caught up in the politics of distraction as the media, government and public are.  Stop crying about what the rich kids are missing out on and integrate what makes extracurriculars so fantastic into a public school system everyone can benefit from.


Thank goodness Royan Skywalker got his proton torpedoes on target.

Caution, Fear & Risk Aversion in Students

The first ever post on Dusty World from way back in 2010!

.

Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.
Bertrand Russell

… but we don’t set up schools to nurture a love of learning, we set them up like 19th Century factories.

 

I’m teaching a grade 12 class on computer science. If my computer science teacher knew I was doing this he would roll over in his grave. I haven’t coded since the ’80s, I’m a technician. I got knocked off coding by that same computer science teacher who could only approach coding from a mathematical/logical direction. My hackering/tinkering/non-linear approach to generating code depended on a natural fluency with syntax and a willingness to break things in order to come up with something new. I never cared about solving for x, I was always about the why.
 
So here I am in a class full of students who my old compsci teacher would have adored:  math wizes who have learned how to learn so well that they can’t do anything else.
 
Lisa Simpson (during a teacher’s strike): I can’t take this anymore! Please, mom! Grade me! Grade me! Validate me!!!
 
That’s at the bottom of it all. These A students are so trained to the system, so inured, that they can’t possibly get unplugged from the Matrix. The idea of learning for sheer curiosity’s sake has been beaten out of them by a dozen years of positive reinforcement enforced by their spectacularly successful student careers.
 
When I suggest we take a left turn instead of doing more pointless actionscript programming that no one else on the planet except Ontario Elearning finds valuable and go after C++, which none of them have any experience in, only one is even willing to try it. The rest are paralyzed by fear of failure, or even worse, not being able to demonstrate consistent mastery because that’s how you get that high average. You only get perfect if you’re already ahead of the material. You can’t get low marks at the beginning, continually improve (and actually learn something), and end with an A+.  Those early failures that produced learning are considered failures and factored into your grades; we penalize learning in the classroom. There has been some change in this, formative/summative and such, but the vast majority of grading still follows the broken example above. Learning is a non-linear process, experimentation, failure, reassessment, reattempt, fail in a new, more interesting way… but we train students to think it’s an inbuilt ability which you either have or struggle with. How we grade them enforces this.
 
Even the one student willing to self-direct his learning and take on a challenging new language (one that his university uses extensively and we’re pushing him toward with no experience whatsoever) sent me an email anguishing over his grades if he cannot demonstrate fluency in C++ in the 5 weeks we have left. I’ve approached this a number of ways. Firstly, by working with him to set attainable goals (this still freaks him out, he can’t see the grades for the learning trees in setting the goals to a reasonable level so feels his marks will suffer). Secondly, I’ve gotten him into a course of study that leads him through the beginnings of C++ in a clearly defined and logical fashion. The end result should be a working familiarity with a language he’s never seen before demonstrated by some basic scripts that show him coming to terms with the material. Thirdly, I told him to forget the numbers. He is putting hours in on this, not because he has to but because he wants to. The end result is irrelevant, he is directing his own learning – a dead art in an education system designed to force conformity in order to keep costs down while appearing academically credible. He’s doing something no one else is willing or able to do. He’s also learning something that will immediately assist him in university next year. How is any of this not 100%?
 
I only wish I could overcome the caution and apathy born of risk aversion in the other students and set them free. We feed them a steady diet of caution then wonder why they aren’t willing to take risks in learning.
 
I’m not the guardian of knowledge, I shouldn’t even get to decide how they learn, I should do everything I can to ensure that they do though.


Update:  I just ran into this student at the Grad ceremony a couple of weeks ago.  He’s in his first year at Waterloo U doing computer science (a wickedly difficult course to get into).  It was nice to hear that the C++ really payed off in a way that the actionscript stuff never would.  He’s finding it difficult, but he’s seeing success, and his greatest advantage?  Taking a run at the programming language they use at university before he got there, errors and all.

The Week After New Years: Take 2

If it’s a seven grand proposition to get over to California and rent a bike to ride the Pacific Coast Highway, how cheaply could I do something else?

As if by magic, this popped up across the road from work this week.  If they’re asking between five and six grand, it would be a straight trade for the commuter car I drive to work in the winter. This type of motorcycle transportation system has a cargo carrying capacity of over 3000lbs, so it would comfortably carry a bike or two.  

Tiger to scale
in that van.


The Tiger, a fairly substantial adventure bike, is about 89 inches long, 34 inches wide at the handlebars and 55 inches tall.  The cargo area in this kind of van is 124 inches long, 53 inches wide at the narrowest point of the rear wheel arches and about 53 inches tall.  With the windshield removed, even two tall adventure bikes would fit in the back of this thing with only a bit of handlebar overlap.  Two six hundred pound bikes would barely dent half the load capacity of the van.  It would barely feel a single bike at all.

With the Tiger (and maybe a Super Tenere) loaded in the back, we could make the great escape south on the week after New Years.

It’s an all day trip to Knoxville.


If we left on New Year’s day we could be in Pigeon Forge on the edge of the Smokey mountains that night.

Monday morning we could hit one of a number of local motorcycle friendly routes.  There are so many choices that other than a freak snow storm, we’d be on excellent riding roads, making miles in January.




Best Western Toni has a sale!

Pigeon Forge is nestled right in the middle of it all and their winter temperatures feel downright spring-like compared to what we have up here – hovering around 9°C on average.  It’s cool, but no cooler than riding in the mountains around Phoenix was last New Years.  On warm days we might get right up into the high teens Celsius.  It’s a bit of a chance, but the reward would be getting some beautiful winter rides in while the north is under a blanket of snow.

Compared to the Californian coast, you can get fantastic hotel deals down Knoxville way.  The Best Western in Pigeon Forge has a $74 Canadian a night deal on, and it’s a 4+ star reviewed place with indoor pools and hot tubs and included breakfast; the perfect launching point for a series of rides.

Lots of pretty roads around Pigeon Forge

Being a regular winter work week for most people, the roads would be empty.  The Tail of the Dragon is only 54 twisty miles down the 321 from Pigeon Forge, and at that time of the year it’ll be anything but packed.  The Dragon is just one of many excellent motorcycling roads in the Great Smokey Mountains area.

After exploring the Smokey Mountains from Monday to Thursday, we’d get a good night’s sleep and make the drive back back north into the frozen darkness on Friday (giving us a spare day or two in case of weather).  The costs aren’t anything like trying to get out to California.  With no airfare or motorcycle rental, the most expensive bits aren’t there.  On top of that I’d get to ride a bike I love instead of getting on a rental I’m ambivalent about.

Compared to the seven grand California week, this one comes out to about sixteen hundred bucks depending on how getting my hands on a cargo van goes.  There is more of a chance of weather getting in the way but if it holds out it’s a dramatically cheaper way to ride some fantastic roads in the middle of winter.

Maybe I could get Enterprise Rent-a-van to sponsor the trip…

Cost breakdown:
– swapping out the Mazda2 for a van, I think I can about break even there.  I only use the Mazda for the 10 minute commute to work in the winter – the van could easily do the same thing for not much more in gas because the commute is so short.
– gas down and back (assuming 15mpg) ~1500 miles = 100 gallons of gas ~380 litres @ $1 a litre = ~$400Cdn in gas for the van (gas is cheaper in the States).
– Food & toll costs on the commute, say $100 each way: $200US ($250Cdn)
– Hotel for the week (Sunday night to Friday morning) in Pigeon Forge: $411Cdn
– Daily bike gas & food costs: say $100US ($150Cdn) per day, so for Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu it’d be about $600Cdn

All totalled up, that’s 2 days of travel and four days on two wheels in Tennessee for about $1600 Canadian dollars.  That’s $5400 cheaper than the same amount of time away in California, and with six less airports.

the end of comments in a flattening media-hierarchy

Oh, the incivility!

Recently the Toronto Star turned off online comments on their website.  I beat them to it by about a year.  I was recently asked why I would do that.  Don’t I want people to interact with my online content?

I sure do!  And if they want to they can share my blog and then comment on it to their heart’s content.  What do I possibly get out of running a comments section on a blog?  Nothing!  If you ask for a login no one bothers to do it, if you allow open, anonymous comments you get buried in advertising and nastiness, the typical by-products of human interaction.

With the advent of pervasive social media the idea of needing a comments section within your online content has had its day.  Anyone reading online content has their own social media presence of some sort nowadays.  They are more than welcome to leverage that in order to comment on my content.  In doing so they share my content.  It’s the least they can do if it prompted them to have an opinion on it that they want to share.

We’ve moved from stratified, traditional, paper based media delivery though early adopter online media delivery to a more mature, everyone-has-a-presence-online media delivery system (nicely explained in this essay lambasting education’s inability to free the essay from its millennium of bondage).   Embedded comment sections are a hold-over from an earlier internet where online readers tended not to have their own online presence.

Digital technology is forcing an increasingly flat media-scape.  Millennials spend almost no time in traditional media.  They could barely pay attention to Star Wars in the theatre when I was there last week.  I’ve stopped showing videos in class because asking Millennials to watch media simultaneously is alien to them and frustrating for me.  In a world where people distrust and often ignore the patronizing nature of traditional media it’s best not to fight the flow.

If you’re determined to hang on to the comment section in your online content you’re swimming against the current.  You’re assuming that your content is somehow more established, more authentic, more valuable.  You are belittling your visitors’ online presence by making them work in yours.  It’s ultimately about you refusing to surrender control of your content in an increasingly democratic communication medium.  That idea of control is a holdover from traditional, paper-based media hierarchies, it isn’t surprising that a newspaper struggled with this.  You’ve got to let it all go Neo.

If you want insipid examples of human nastiness and stupidity you’ll find them online, especially in anonymous, internal comment sections.  I’d long stopped reading The Star’s comment section for this very reason.  I also tend to blacklist those brave (often conservative) souls on twitter and other social media who hide behind anonymous or fake user names.  They feel very brave and are usually overly aggressive in their anonymity.

What’s funnier are those people who create social media presences based on their real self and then proceed to advertise their ignorance to the world.  If someone is going to confuse Twitter with texting there isn’t much we can do for their employment prospects.  People who are nasty online tend to get bitten though.   It’s a self correcting process and it’s happening less and less because we’re getting better at it.

This flattening media-scape isn’t just hurting traditional media, it’s also snapping at people who don’t realize that their reach has changed.  Democratizing media means empowering people who have no experience with publication, and make no mistake, every time you post on social media you’re publishing to the entire planet.  People in Timbuktu can read your tweets if they are so inclined.

There will come a point when there have been enough cautionary tales and social experience with self-publication that people will learn best practices and the vast majority will realize just how empowered and potentially dangerous we’ve all become in our flat new world.

In the meantime, if people want to comment on my content they’re welcome to share away, but I’m not providing a comments section because it belittles my reader’s own online presence and dilutes my material with mean and often irrelevant comments.