Tim King's homepage with images and writing about technology, education, visual art and motorcycles!
Author: Timothy King
An art student who became a millwright and then a computer technician before going back to school for English & philosophy degrees. Now a computer engineering teacher, digital creative and avid motorbike rider. Neuro-atypical thinker on the ASD spectrum. My students and I explore emerging digital technologies.
Tim’s bike-hole, once a storage place for unused furniture,
now an insulated work space with two Kawis in it.
Season 1 ended with me getting my license, my first bike and getting over 5000kms of riding in, including a full month of long commutes. The original bike bucket list included getting the license and first bike. As season two began I was looking to expand. Bike bucket list 2.0:
Some of these are well beyond what I can pull off at the moment, but you never know when circumstances might change. Besides, if you’re gonna dream, might as well dream big! If I’m going to do that, retiring into my own little shop would be awesome! Custom mechanical, digital parts fabrication and finishing!
Our little town has a nice yoga studio right down by the Grand River, a 15 minute walk away. Awareness Yoga happens in a large basement studio with old stone walls and the sound of the Elora Gorge thundering away outside. I’m a firm believer in ley lines, and there is definitely a lot of energy coming out of the ground in the middle of Elora. It’s a nice spot to do yoga. I went in thinking it was some deep breathing and stretching. It is that but it’s also a lot of core strength building and I found myself sweating buckets simply following the workout. I’ve had three classes so far and find the combination of stretching and strength training intense, but combined with the mindset you’re encouraged to follow, it’s also remarkably relaxing. I don’t come out of it all worked up like I do after a hockey game. I come out of it calm and loose (though it tends to be sore the next day). Yoga looks to flexibility, core strength and mental focus, all things that should be in frequent use while riding, I can see why professional riders do it. I was lucky that my local studio does stiff guy yoga, it’s a men’s only class and I’ve got to say, it’s a really nice change from your typical guy-sports workout, and something uniquely suited to motorbike riders.
Via NBCnews: the glory of the hardcore video gamer. Not the kind of thing that’s ever going to challenge the Olympics for public attention I think.
I’ve had a lot of trouble playing video games lately. My problem seems to be around that idea of scripted experience. If I’m playing a video game I’m working through a narrative someone else created. I enjoy narratives but what irks me about video games is they pretend to have an element of choice in them when in fact they don’t. They suggest that they are the next evolution in entertainment but the interactivity they offer is so limited that it’s really just a hidden script that you follow under the illusion of choice. Gamification in general seeks to use this illusion to hook people into otherwise tedious situations.
The first step away from video gaming occurred when I found I couldn’t get into single player games anymore. Even the good ones with epic narratives felt banal. I went to multi-player games for several years hoping that the human element would create choice, but I find that these too are scripted, and worse, they force players into scripted responses to the point where you can’t tell the players from the bots. When a game is so restrictive that it makes the people in it act like machines it’s not a game I care to play.
There is a particular situation in which we’re happy to turn people into bots if the illusion of engagement is preserved. That situation also happens to be seen as quite tedious by many of its participants. Education is eager to digitize if it ensures engagement, even if that engagement mimics the dimensionless engagement found in online activity. Standardized testing feeds this thinking, producing learning outcomes that are easily quantifiable as data even as they fail to demonstrate learning. Deep contextual human activities (like learning) are lost in simplistic digital data.
Doubt is cast on an individual teachers’ ability to teach a subject. Consistency is demanded in modern education as a result of this doubt and the slippery nature of digital information encourages this by eroding the space between classrooms and lessons. This is shown as some kind of great step forward in terms of fairness, but what it really does is reduce teaching (as it has done with many other human activities) to a vapid exchange of information, incidentally what digital machines do best.
We fill in templates, teach centralized material and are encouraged to sync how we teach it. Proof of success is found in standardized test scores. There is little interest in assessing teaching or learning in any other way.
This digital infection also carries the parasitic idea of gamification, usually championed by video game evangelists who believe that the structure of gaming can overcome every obstacle. Teachers are encouraged to design student success through scripted outcomes pretty much like a video game does. If the game you’re playing is designed to have you eventually win it isn’t much of a challenge and certainly isn’t something you can be proud of, but then modern learning isn’t about challenge, it’s about engagement. The idea of gamification makes me uneasy for this very reason. When we gamify situations that aren’t games I’m afraid that we pollute complex situations with the implied success found in most gaming outcomes. If education is supposed to prepare students for the world beyond school this isn’t going to do it.
If you offer open ended, ‘real’ experience many digital natives shy away from a situation where the rules can’t be gamed for advantage. The hacking mindset implies that the system is more important than the content. Perhaps that’s why I can’t play video games anymore. It’s hard to get lost in a narrative when you’re constantly looking at ways to subvert the delivery method.
Wilful suspension of disbelief is lost in the digital age. This is the root of the pessimism and disengagement you see in many students. When education becomes another process you hack to guaranty your own success it becomes increasingly impossible to do anything useful with it.
This grew out of Scripted Lives which itself grew out of Unscripted Moments. I’m pulling at a lot of threads here. I’ve been a fan of RPGs since I got into D&D when I was 10. I love sports and would describe myself as a serious gamer. I’ve spent most of my life learning digital technology so I’d hardly call myself a tech-hater either, but watching digital technology and gamification aiming for society wide acceptance has made me very uneasy.
Steve Hoffarth has a good editorial piece in the August/September 2014 edition of Inside Motorcycles that got me thinking about scripted experience. Steve was lamenting his inability to go racing this year. He compared going on rides at a theme park and found them lacking. A scripted experience like being a passive rider on a roller coaster has nothing on the complex, non-linear and entirely participatory experience of racing. I was sitting in the garage last night working on the Concours when my wife stuck her head in the door and asked how I was doing. “I’m in my happy place,” I replied. What made it happy was that I was fixing a problem that had no instruction manual. Success wasn’t guaranteed and I had to approach it from several different angles before I could finally come up with a solution. Real satisfaction followed a resolution to a situation that could easily have ended in failure. It was an entirely unscripted situation, the kind I long for after your typically scripted day in the life of a 21st Century human. So much of our lives are scripted nowadays, from phones telling us when to be where to GPS units telling us how to get there. Brakes script themselves for us because we can’t be bothered to learn how to use them effectively, traction control leaps in at a moment’s notice to script your acceleration, vehicles will park themselves, warn you when something is behind you because you couldn’t be bothered to turn your head, and even avoid obstacles you couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to. I used to enjoy driving, now, at its best, it feels more like sitting on a roller coaster. All this scripting is a result of software. It may sound funny coming from a computer technology teacher, but that software kills it for me. If I wanted to watch machines race I wouldn’t put people in the cars at all, it’s safer that way. It’s been a long time since a driver could take a car by the scruff of its neck and drag it around a circuit. We do all this in the name of safety, but ultimately I think it’s lowest common denominator thinking; software engineers design life for the least capable people, they can sell more of it that way. There are places in mechanics where it just makes sense to incorporate computer control, especially when it amplifies an operator’s nuanced control of a vehicle rather than overwriting it. Thank goodness for fuel injection. It allows us to create responsive, linear fuelling and use less of a diminishing resource, it’s all good, as are disc brakes and other technological advances that improve rider feel. I’m certainly not anti-technology, I make my living teaching it, but I am anti-technology when it takes over human inputs instead of improving them. That kind of thinking breeds sheeple.
Traction control (many settings!), antilock brakes (many settings!), hill start control and more electronics than a moon shot – perhaps bikes aren’t the last bastion after all.
Unscripted moments are increasingly hard to come by. Perhaps that freedom we feel on a motorcycle is one of the last bastions of unscripted moments when a software engineer isn’t deciding how you’ll spend your time, or worse, spending it for you. Except they increasingly are. After I started riding last year I was astonished that this is legal. In a granny state-world where safety is all that matters, where SUVs are considered better because they’re bigger and collision avoidance systems are desirable because you shouldn’t have to pay attention while operating a vehicle, motorcycles too are succumbing to our vapid, software scripted lives.
Riding a motorcycle feels special every time I do it, but I had a couple of perfect zen moments on Wednesday that approached nirvana. After dropping off my son at day care I was trundling down an empty country road in a golden, early morning fog on my way to work.
You feel more connected to the world around you on a motorcycle because you’re vulnerable and exposed to it, and in that moment the beauty of creation came flooding in. Unimpeded by windshields or closed off in a box, the sights, smells and sounds of the world filled me with happiness. The machine and I were a single thing, gliding through the golden morning mist.
I got to work with a smile on my face that wouldn’t go away.
Later the same day I was riding home from a meeting after dark. The half moon was so bright it lit the few scudding clouds in the sky, the rest was a dome of stars. Riding through the dark countryside I would drop down into pools of ground fog, my head just above the silver mist. If you’re on two wheels you feel like you’re flying most of the time, but as I tore through that ground fog I felt like I was was truly learning to fly. From the golden fog of sunrise to the moonlit night, it was a beautiful day to be out in the world, and my motorbike delivered it to me as only two wheels can.
Night Ninja beneath a darkened sky skimming through the dark under a dome of stars
The Weather Network had an interesting poll today. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that later start times for adolescents would allow them to function better with their funky circadian rhythms. It’s a fact of our biology that our sleep patterns change during adolescence. Being a teacher I’ve been aware of this for a long time because my job isn’t to punish students but rather to develop their best expression of skill and ability. The comments on this poll are your typical internet nonsense. It makes me wonder how most people think (or don’t). The most vocal opponents (a minority in this poll) seem to think school should be about forcing students into alignment with adult expectations, however mediocre, biology be damned.
Some pretty nasty assumptions in these acerbic comments…
Is school about ‘commitment, dedication’ and the benefits you get from these values? Of course it is, but it is also seeking your best work. Unlike the ‘adult’ world where showing up and doing what you’re paid for is the expectation, school is (should be?) about excellence. I don’t want a forced effort and I’m not looking for a pass, though many of my students are. I wonder where they learn those values? There are jobs and companies that do embrace excellence, but they are a minority. If you’re working for a pay cheque (and the vast majority are), you’re an advocate of the show up on time-do what you’re paid for-and-grow up school of adulthood. For a lot of students school is the last place where they are encouraged to seek their best effort. The rest of their lives are spent venting their spleen and dragging everyone down on internet comment forums.
Top performance isn’t only a matter of effort. I hear a lot of students tell me, “I’ll put in an effort in senior years and get the grades I need to get into university.” They get to grade 12 and suddenly realize what squandering years of foundational skill building really costs. I have that Incompetence poster up in my class. It’s not meant to be cruel, it’s meant to remind students that I’m not there to waste their time or hold them in room for a certain amount of time (like most jobs they’ll have when they graduate). I’m looking for optimal skills building for each student (they’re all different). One of the reasons so many people enjoy watching professional sports is because you’re seeing people performing at their very best. A pro athlete isn’t just putting in an effort, they are maximizing their anatomy with diet, sleep and hours upon hours of training and practice. You’re seeing their excellence as the tip of a massive iceberg of commitment. The doing of unpalatable things isn’t the point, excellence is, and you don’t reach it by ignoring basic facts of biology. I worked in private business for fifteen years before I became a teacher. With very few exceptions, work involved being there on time and doing what you’re told. When I attempted to display initiative it was considered difficult to manage. One of the reasons I became a teacher is because I have the professional latitude to produce my best work. I don’t just work to a clock, I work to a higher goal. Rather than aim students at the lowered expectations of the working world, perhaps it’s time to embrace excellence. A few months ago I read an interesting article on the conflict between capitalism (read: neo-liberal devaluation of human capital) and education systems. These Weather Network poll responses are firmly in that neo-liberal mindset of reduced human capital. You’re a cog in the machine: do what you’re told, be consistent, show up on time… if that’s what education becomes then we truly are lost.
For a first trackday using an intermediary like Pro 6 Cycle gives you the support you’d need to ensure your bike is prepped well (they have tires, mechanics and other bits and pieces on hand). Pro 6 runs track days at Calabogie Motorsports Park in Eastern Ontario. It happens to be on the other side of some of the best riding roads in Ontario, and on the way to my buddy’s house in Osgoode.
A couple of hours at speed on the highway and I’m up past Gravenhurst and turning toward the Haliburton Highlands!
For me the trip is a Southern Ontario grind out and up the 400 before turning east to face some of the nicest roads in Ontario. Giving three hours for the highway part, I’d aim to meet up with Jason somewhere in the highlands and then we could ride the twisties to Calabogie. Day one would get me into the Highlands. Day two would be riding twisties. Day three would be the track day at Calabogie and Day four would be the return ride home. To prep for the track day I’d swap out coolant for distilled water at home before the trip and practice stripping the bike down (covering and disconnecting lights, removing mirrors). I’d also strip the bike back as light as possible, removing the passenger pegs for single pegs, the toolkit, any extra attachments at all. I’d get a big duffle to carry my gear for the track day (I’d carry rain gear and clothes in a separate, smaller bag). The track duffle would have to be big enough to carry track leathers, tools, a bike stand and the parts needed to prep the bike. The idea would be to get to the track and be able to open up the bag and prep the bike quickly and efficiently. The trackday bag would open up trackdays around Ontario, and once I’d experienced how the pros at Pro 6 Cycle do it, I’d be able to prep better for future days. I’m a ways away from this at the moment. Here’s a wish list of needed bits and pieces:
A Vicious Cycle Firstgear-Torrent waterproof duffel = 40l… should carry everything needed for a trackday… $84
motorcyclesuperstore.ca Alpinestars GP PRO one piece leather suit Size 50 – this one’s a bit tricky. I’m everything from a 2-4x (tall, long in the body, shorter in the leg and triangle shaped) $857 (on sale!) A full body suit is going to be a tricky proposition off the rack. There are some custom options out there, but you’re buying from the other side of the world and I imagine returning a poorly done suit would be next to impossible. That TopGearLeather site offers custom race suits for less than the off the rack retail suits (~$600), but caveat emptor (they may be awesome, I don’t know).
So I’m looking at about $2600 worth of riding kit before I even start considering the bike, and I’d want to consider the bike. I’d start with the current Ninja 650r and build up experience and certifications, but I’d eventually like to get into The Vintage Road Racing Association. The dream would be race prepping a 1980s Honda Interceptor (strip lights and extras, whittle it down the bare minimum, race prep the engine), and race it!
Racing ain’t cheap. I’d be dangerous if I had a lot of money and free time on my hands. Since the summer’s almost over and I’m back to the classroom, I’m hoping to put together (Kijiji, ebay, whatever cheap alternative I can find) the bits I need to get myself on a track next year.
If I can’t arrange the equipment, I might (make a big) ask for the Racer5 3-stage introduction program. It’s one hell of a birthday present, but if supported track days cost you about $250 a pop anyway, paying an extra hundred to rent someone else’s bike and get close instruction seems like one hell of a deal.
I tried on the Joe Rocket race suit at Royal Distributing the other day. It was a 46. It fit at the shoulders and waist/legs, but it was too short in the body. If I were proportioned properly I’d be about 5’11”, but with this long body I’m 6’3″, my inseam is only 32″. I’m hoping a 48 is a bit longer in the body, and would be a loose fit everywhere else. I wish there were more local places I could go try race suits on. If RD gets a 48 in, that might end my quest for a suit for now.