Is Our Only Choice Less?

Doesn’t matter how experienced you are
in unprecedented times…

This reflection might come out as a firehose of frustration, but this year in Ontario’s public education system has been one for the ages.  After a springtime of flat footed confusion nothing seems to have happened in the summer as the government kept moving the goalposts on what school openings would look like.  School boards have been left to scramble.  We start tomorrow and I have no idea how it’s going to go.  Some people are hanging on so tight their fingers are going to break while others have already taken a big step back.  My magic powers are bloody-mindedness and empathy.  I’m not particularly brilliant or erudite, but I can take a hit and always get back up again, and I care, which is good because we’ve been pummelled senseless in the past few weeks by chaos and the attendant system think that has arisen to try and control it.


The metaphors are flying thick and fast this year as we struggle to launch Ontario’s public school system.  Tens of thousands of adults are trying to put new processes in place to protect millions of children after the provincial government offered little in the way of central organization and then played shell games with funding all summer.  Most recently they’ve paused everything else while half finished plans to open public schools continue to roll out.

While the premier mocked our union president for having an English degree the rest of us were doing his job for him: creating a plan that will (hopefully) protect staff and students from an ongoing pandemic we still don’t really understand.  Will it work?  Worldwide school reopenings, especially if they aren’t centrally organized and properly funded, cause large spikes in this easily spreadable contagion.  Some countries have managed it by pooling resources and working with all their partners closely to leverage everything at their disposal.  Partnership and teamwork aren’t something Doug Ford’s government comprehends so we’re attempting to open schools in Ontario in the least successful manner possible.

With the meta-framework of Ontario’s public education system being held hostage by a government intent on privatizing it, it’s a wonder the system works locally it all.  It has certainly struggled.  With the COVID19 pandemic piled on top I can say, hand on heart, that this has been one of the worst years to teach in Ontario in its history, but we persevere because education matters.  The only people telling you otherwise want to use and abuse you.

At the local level setting up for this school year has been like running a marathon where they keep changing the course and making it longer, while handing you bricks to carry; it feels like running a marathon no one wants to see you finish.  I know what I’m being asked to do is for the common good, but at some point (which we may have already passed), so much will be piled on that the basic functionality of the classroom (teaching, remember?) won’t be any better than in remote/elearning.

After six months of lockdown everyone is longing for face to face interaction.  I’m feeling it too, but in the drive to do that we’ve lost the plot.  When we started back we were told not to worry about curriculum and just make sure the kids are OK.  I understand the sentiment but the places that do that are called daycares and I didn’t spend tens of thousands of dollars and years of my life to become qualified to work in day care.  Public education is one of the most powerful human being enhancers we’ve created.  Along with publicly funded healthcare it’s the beacon a society sends out to show that it is enlightened.  When our citizens are healthy and educated our country benefits in every way.  This isn’t anything as shady as economics which thrives on disempowerment and privilege, though health and education powers our economy too.  Strong public services that maximize our citizens’ potential is what civilization means.  All the other things (art, technology, medicine, economics) grow in this fertile soil.  We so often get this backwards.

The pandemic has cast a harsh light on the many social mechanisms that cause inequity and in the past decade Ontario has constantly chased economic gain while cutting the public systems that enable it.  Since 2010 Ontario police have experienced double digit pay raises, they are the only public service to see this kind of funding.  Meanwhile defund the police has become a cry to action during the pandemic because police are the hand of systemic racism and inequality in Canada.

Our board has since relaxed the hangout and chill stance and is encouraging curriculum and skills development but any teacher worth their salt knows how Maslow would feel about this.

Knowing that basic needs have to be met before we go after the higher cognitive functioning needed to learn effectively is probably why people at the board office were pushing for a relationship focused quadmester.  Schools have always tried to fill that gap between how poorly a society treats its disenfranchised citizens and the privilege others benefit from, but COVID19 has widened that breach to such a point that it’s impossible for a headless, underfunded public education system to come close to crossing that bridge in this crisis.  I’m starting to feel that the people in charge want to fill that gap with our bodies.

We’ve been buried in wordy presentations and piles of emails dictating our new normal which isn’t normal at all.  Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it you can expect it to change.  Admin are as exhausted as everyone else as we all madly dance to this insane tune.  While the onslaught of instructions, signs and rules continues from on high I’m actually expected to be face to face with students (but not really, we’re all socially distanced and behind masks) all day every day.  While that’s going on I’m also supposed to be monitoring and running elearning for the other cohort because our board’s solution to massive class sizes was to have every teacher being in two places at once.

There are stories of classrooms stuffed full of students in Ontario this fall during a pandemic.  Since the Ministry left it to each board to decide how they would proceed, each has gone in a different direction.  Each plan has its own benefits and disadvantages based on no central planning and inconsistent funding support.  In our board they’ve cut any class over twenty students into two cohorts.  The students who are bussed come in in the morning and the walking students come in in the afternoon, but while I’m face to face with my half classes I’m also supposed to be providing material and managing elearning for the other half.

This approach has the benefit of not overloading classrooms with bodies and so takes steps to mitigate the health risks we’re all facing, but it has its own problems.  I’m now trying to be in two places at once.  They given me a teacher who was on prep to oversee the online work, but this teacher is unqualified to teach my subject, knows little about it and isn’t expected to do anything tangible.  What it comes down to is make-work because we’re not trusted to help the school function without being over scheduled and micromanaged into the ground.  I understand the impulse as a few people will use not being in class as an excuse to do as little as possible, but the vast majority would be able to fill these gaps much more effectively using their own initiative, as I’ve already seen many teachers do.  But initiative, like differentiation, is dead in our micro-managed pandemic classrooms.

Our prep time was also cut in this format where we’re teaching face to face (kinda) all day, so now another teacher is coming in to cover us while we take our prep, except that teacher isn’t qualified to teach my subject either.  They aren’t even tech qualified so students can’t keep doing hands on work when face to face (which is the whole point of being face to face) unless I let my prep go and just stay in the room, which was what admin suggested our entire tech department do.  So, downloading work onto classroom teachers with no prep time and twice the planning is the solution – it’s actually the answer to every question:  download anything that comes up onto the already crushed classroom teacher.  One of my grade 9 parents won’t provide internet when she isn’t home so her son can’t do elearning even though they have all the tools.  The solution was for me to print out a special course of study for this one student on paper to study computer technology on paper, which he then takes home… during a contact tracing pandemic.  Don’t expect flexibility this semester, but do expect absurdity.  They’ll tell you all decisions are based on reducing the risk of transmission, but that one wasn’t.

This situation raised another point:  because students are only in half days, parents working in essential jobs all day are stuck trying to decide how to make that work.  We’re a high school and we’re all having to grow up quickly in this ongoing crisis, so I’d hope that a high school age student could provide some self direction and work from home, but not in every case.  A system response that honours equity and tries to help those families that need the extra support would be to direct those students in need to a socially distanced resource for the afternoon when they can’t elearn at home, but our spec-ed resource room has been cut and the experts in there are all teaching instead.  It’s important to treat everyone the same in an emergency.  Our split day schedule assumes that all students have connectivity and technology at home – it’s a system predicated on privilege that ignores home circumstances.  While all this is going on we’ve been getting PD about how unfair systemic privilege is.

I had a plan in May, Ontario still doesn’t
really have one in September.

Looking at how messy some of the other reopenings are in the province I think our board has done an exceptional job with no direction and inconsistent funding, but the two hidden mechanisms that make it work are downloading extra work on classroom teachers and assuming privilege in terms of the digital divide.  We took drastic steps to get  technology and connectivity out to students in the spring but that has since been returned (kinda) and that capacity has dried up.  I dreamt that we’d be building capacity and reducing the digital divide over the summer because you would have to be oblivious to this situation to think we won’t be fully remote learning again at some point, but none of that has happened in the chaos of a mismanaged face to face reopening.

We’re unable to climb Maslow’s hierarchy and do our jobs (developing students’ cognitive skills at the top of the pyramid, remember?).  In the case of such a catastrophic failure of Ontario’s political responsibility to its citizens perhaps all that is left to us is to make sure the kids are ok, as long as we’re all happy living in a less literate and numerate future.  Part of this new < normal is ensuring that you as an educator are still functional physically and mentally.  The ECOO Virtual Conference a few weeks ago kept emphasizing this advice which is inline with what you get from an airline when you get on a plane (remember when we used to do that?).

This past week I’ve been putting my lab together solo because students can’t come in to help me as they usually do.  Even my own son, who is well within my bubble, isn’t allowed to come in and help.  The thick blanket of rules we’re buried under are as much about managing liability as they are about medical safety.  I’ve also been running all over the building helping dozens of teachers, including the many new ones, get their rooms sorted and operational from a digital perspective, all with the usual lack of acknowledgement from administration, though they’re sure to thank everyone at the board office who have been busy making two hour powerpoint presentations that are contrary to our inequitable school opening plan.  A lot of that technical support has also included emotional support because my reflex when I see someone drowning in panic is try and help.

A fine example of this over management was to order all teacher desks to the front of the classrooms.  This was done (presumably) to facilitate better management of people coming and going from the room, but since that isn’t happening much and our face to face class sizes are smaller anyway, I have to wonder which curriculum expert who hasn’t been in teaching in a decade made that decision.  The digital projectors in most rooms are plumbed in to where the teacher desk is so this dictate meant that dozens of rooms were suddenly disconnected from a vital teaching resource.

Another baffling choice in the chaos has been to cancel student safety agreements for science and technology classes.  The board has always vigorously demanded absolute compliance with these documents.  When you’re working on dangerous equipment with legally not responsible teenagers with undeveloped frontal lobes that prevent them from forecasting the results of their poor choices, a signed legal agreement with their legally responsible adult parents or guardians puts everyone on the same page in terms of safety expectations.  These are common sense safety expectations, but common sense and teenagers don’t often occupy the same room, so it’s important to have their parents aware of the weight of this responsibility.  It’s also vital for liability.  When a student ignores the agreement they and their parents have signed and an accident results, it produces a better outcome for everyone, except it’s been cancelled during the pandemic because they don’t want us using paper.  Then in our last staff meeting (which is really a litany of what to do with little collegiality or interactivity) we were told that using paper is fine.  Do try to keep up.

I’m usually able to reflect my way out of a negative place with these blog posts, but I’m still in darkness here.  I’m terrified of bringing home a virus that could be fatal to my partner.  I’m worried about my students’ well being and frustrated that climbing Maslow’s hierarchy is simply a bridge too far this year.  I’m also frustrated by the provincial system’s inability to show any vision or organization in helping us succeed in this crisis.  Finally, my own board’s efforts, while exceptional in terms of what else I’ve seen in the province, are inconsistent, undifferentiated and predicated on assumptions about the digital divide that we’ve already shown to be untrue. 

There are glimmers of hope in the chaos.  I’ve seen cunning and cheap solutions to common technology problems that could expand the functionality of our laptops by turning them into document cameras, and I’ve seen local teachers jump on it and make it happen  (I hope to have these churning out next week).

I also keep finding myself in other people’s ewaste that could be turned into remote learning tools, but being buried under two simultaneous classes a day all day, and having one of my senior sections cancelled by our previous principal, I don’t have the time or the senior student expertise to make this happen.  So much could happen if we depended on teacher initiative and expertise instead of spoon feeding them hours of powerpoint and pages of step by step instructions.  I fully expect to be told to sit in a French class next semester to cover someone else’s prep (I don’t parlez the francais).  Such is the resolution everyone is running at, when it runs at all.

Give me a little latitude and I could perform (bigger) miracles, even in this monstrous circus, but latitude and professional trust was the first victim of this pandemic.  Given a minimal budget and some space I could all but resolve the digital divide in our board and prepare us for fully remote learning that seems inevitable, but they’d rather me just follow the plethora of signs.  Whoever is making those signs seems to have infinite resources.

I just got handed this cart of old netbooks that were headed for ewaste.  With a Linux install they would provide dozens of students with remote learning devices they could keep in a pandemic.  With more latitude I’d be picking up #edtech from RCTO’s Computers For Schools and providing desktops and portable devices for staff and students (as I did in the spring and all summer) across the board.  Give me even more latitude and I’d be in touch with Google’s Loon to see if we couldn’t provide local free school internet to all students who attend a school regardless of the urban/rural digital divide.  But initiative and individual responsibility and expertise are atrophied by a panicked system operating in a pandemic.

Alanna’s been channelling Simon Sinek.  Perspective helps:

from Blogger

Track Day Planning

I’m pretty keen to go do a track day, and I have a buddy who is the same.  The Grand Bend Motorplex does motorcycle open lapping on its track.   I found GBM through  The upcoming SOAR racing event at Grand Bend offers open motorcycle lapping prior to their weekend events.  That might be a good time for two nØØbs to go as there will be experienced track day people on hand to help us fumble through the technical inspection.

I figured it would be a show up on what you rode here on and go on the track, as you would with a car, but bikes seem a bit more involved.  Here is the list of motorcycle specific technical requirements:

  • Is your kickstand secured? Your spring return isn’t enough on a racetrack. Use a plastic strap tie or duct tape to secure your kickstand in the up and locked position before you come to tech. 
  • Tape over your speedometer. It’s the rule.
  • Make sure your throttle returns quickly and positively. We want to see it snap back when you release the grip. 
  • Change your antifreeze for straight water. If your bike puts antifreeze on the surface, it shuts the entire track down and may result in suspension. Antifreeze is 100 times worse than water on asphalt (It’s like wet ice). Swap it out for water before you proceed to tech. 
  • Tape over or remove lights, signal and mirrors. They all shatter and they all puncture tires. 
  • Brakes: Make sure they’re properly functioning, front and back, with no leaks, because we’ll check. 
  • Chain: Check your drivechain adjustment. Too tight or too loose means breakage. Refer to manufacturer’s specification. Also, check your master link. A rivet style link is preferred, but a standard ‘slip on’ while suffice if you put a dab of silicone on the key to secure it. 
  • Now that you’ve ensured your brake lines don’t leak, check the rest of the bike. Your engine and suspension components must also be leak free. 
  • Overall track worthiness: These are the small things that can lead to disaster. Loose lines can snag. If it can flop around, it can be snagged and lead to a crash. 
  • Body: All body parts must be secured or removed. 
  • Mechanical: Check your fasteners and ensure they’re secured at recommended torque. 
  • Tires: Properly inflated, with structural integrity intact (sidewall, tread, steel-belts, bulges).
Most of that is common sense/maintenance, but there are a couple of bits that will require some thought.  Tying up the kickstand is all well and good, but that means you’re bringing a rear stand to keep the bike upright.  Swapping out the antifreeze also means you need to bring some distilled water.  Some tools, disposable gloves and fluids would probably be a good idea too.  Suddenly the back of the bike I want to ride to the track day is looking like a hardware store.  You wouldn’t want to ride an hour and a half to a track to find out you don’t have what you need to go around it.  Short of asking for a pit crew to accompany you in a four wheeler, riding solo to a track day seems difficult if not impossible.
Of course, this leads you down the road to a trailer, which then begs the question, why use your road bike for track days when you can pick up an older sport bike for not much, not have to pay for road insurance on it and spec it out specifically for track days.  Stripped of lights and needless accessories like rear foot pegs and indicators, you’d be ready to ride as soon as you roll it off the trailer, and the machine would be tailored for the track.
I’ve been to several racing schools, but the one time I really got into it was while living in Akita, Japan.  Kyowa Race track was a small carting track deep in the mountains south east of the city.  Kazutoyo, a student of mine, was an avid racer (he came to Canada for a summer to participate in a Mosport racing mechanics program).  We’d go up there half a dozen times in the summer and spend the day hauling the carts around that bendy circuit as quickly as we could.
The vehicle of choice for the carts and the paraphernalia that went with them was a cargo van.  We’d be able to fit three people, the tools, the disassembled cart and spare tires and other odds and ends all in the van and head to the track.  Riding around at break neck speeds was awesome, but I have fond memories of all the fettling that when on in the pits too; it’s all part of the race experience.
Ford Canada’s handy Transit Van Builder got me all set with a customized utility van that could carry two bikes and gear with ease… things I’d do if I were rich!

Now that I’m thinking about doing a track day on two wheels I’m tempted to imitate those Japanese carting guys and get what I need to make a track day possible.  I’ve been wishing for a trailer several times this summer to haul lumber.  Having one on hand and a vehicle to haul it would be handy for more than just track days.  

Or just win the lottery and get the full on racing support van.

If Mechanical Sympathy were to go full on into racing, I’d grab that 1000cc VFR from Angus (in my Transit race van) and prep it for racing.  Stripping off all the lights and extras and minimizing it down to a race bike.  I’d be a dangerous man if I had more money.

In the meantime I’m still trying to look for ways to ride my Ninja to the track and do some laps without dragging along someone in a cage to support the activity.

Motorcycle track day primer: a good explanation of track days.
Beginner’s Guide to Track Days in Ontario: a great checklist on how to approach track days – renting a bike is what I’m now looking into…

Around The Bay: Part 2, an Informed ride

Putting on the miles and building muscle memory.

A couple of recent articles informed my circumnavigation of Georgian Bay.

Bike magazine’s resident lawyer had a great piece on the dangers of the over educated novice rider.  He made the poignant observation that people who haven’t had a lot of seat time but have over-thought riding to the nth degree often have much nastier crashes than less trained but more experienced riders.  Sometimes the best thing to do is instinctively grab as much brake as you can instead of overthinking an impending disaster.  Perhaps riding is more of an art than a science, informed by experience, not training.

As a teacher I found this critical assessment of instruction over experience to be both interesting and probably accurate.  There is a lot of anxiety over motorcycle riding from the general public  I was determined to get some saddle time and learn the hard way rather than in theory.  The over-focus on training and gear tries to mitigate this fear, and it helps to a degree, but if fear is what drives you, I’d suggest that motorcycling isn’t what you should be doing.

The second piece was Neil Graham’s editorial in this month’s Cycle Canada.  Neil is getting back to form after an agonizing winter back injury.  After everyone else had moved on Neil stayed out on track until it became kind of boring and he relaxed into the ride.  In his case it was track riding on the edge, but it still spoke to the teaching of muscle memory, something that became evident in the previous Bike piece as well.

On my way out of Southern Ontario I was intentionally trying to untense muscles, especially the ones I subconsciously tense when I’m riding.  Yoga probably helps with this, but I was able to sense and untense muscles in my legs and backside while riding.  Being loose and heavy on the bike allowed me to ride further without fatigue.  It also allowed me to respond to issues quickly and lightly.  Being able to free your mind from the demands of your body and put yourself into a state of relaxation also opens up a state of heightened awareness.

Riding into my driveway on Sunday afternoon I was exhausted but elated and felt like I was coming out of some deep meditation.  My mind was full of the 900 kms I’d seen, smelled and felt, and the soreness became something that I’d worked through; the second wind was a real endorphin rush.  After the three hundred plus kilometre stretch down the backside of Georgian Bay I suddenly found myself operating beyond the soreness of the long ride.  Coming off the very demanding highway ride to quiet back roads probably helped too.

If you’re able to find a state of intense focus while performing a strenuous mental and physical activity like riding a motorcycle, you tend to be able to find that state much more easily when you’re not on the bike and things are easier.  Being able to focus and perform while under duress makes entering that state of intense awareness in other circumstances that much easier.

I guess I found that moment beyond the thinking and training where I relaxed into the saddle and became the ride.  If long distance riding can do that, I suspect I’m eventually going to want to do the deed and get my iron butt.


People who think they are invincible, then suddenly realize they aren’t and quit
Is the person who ignores danger with delusions of invincibility brave, or stupid?
The kind of intelligent insight you expect from Quora
An insightful examination of what motorcycling is.
An idiotic infographic that focuses on the people who choose to ride more than riding
See the top link – deluded thrill seekers are a part of the motorcycle community, the stupid part.
Another idiotic infographic that focuses on obvious truth (doing dangerous things is dangerous!), but so is obesity, smoking and getting older
The safest thing to do is exercise in a rubber box, never take any risks in anything and kill yourself before you get old (getting old is going to kill you!)

Failing Forward

Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.  – C.S. Lewis

Four years ago I decided to show what we know in the information technology focused computer engineering course I teach at Centre Wellington DHS.  The Skills Canada I.T. and Networking Administration contest seemed custom tailored to do that for us.  That first year we took two competitors down to Guelph and finished second and third to an urban(e) high school in the regional competition.  We took what we learned from that first round and applied again the next year, this time winning our way through to the provincial competition for the first time.  Had we not known the competition by failing at it the first time, we never would never have been able to re-orientate ourselves and get out of the regional battle. 

That first student we sent to provincials was a polymath, gifted at pretty much everything, but once again we were unprepared and we ended up finishing fourth overall.  Like mechanics and other stochastic skills, I.T. is experiential.  You can be the sharpest person in the room, but the more experienced technician will usually figure it out first because the problems aren’t always obvious and linear; instinct based on experience plays a surprisingly large part in analyzing problems.  Still, fourth in the province wasn’t bad for our second go at it.   Our competitor came back and debriefed on the provincial competition just as our previous students had with the regional competition.
Our third go at it had two competitors having to face off challengers regionally.  They finished 1-2 and we were off to provincials again.  Our second run at the big competition showed just how much the scope of the competition could change year to year.  We once again finished in the top ten, but didn’t medal.  As before, our competitor came back and did a thorough debrief, helping the next candidate (the one who’d finished second regionally) get ready in more detail than ever before.  The old adage goes: I was able to reach so high because I stood on the backs of giants.  In our case this is completely true.  Had those previous students not leapt into the breach and shown us the way, we would never have seen the steady improvement that we did.

We just got back from provincial competition once again.  We gold medalled in I.T. and then finished top three in all technology competitions combined – meaning we didn’t just beat other competitors, we also got a near perfect score in the process.  The first thing Zach, our gold medalist, did when he found out he won was shout out to the people who came before him, thanking them for the doing all that dangerous reconnaissance blind.
We’re off to Moncton next month to compete in Skills Canada at the national level.  Ontario’s is the biggest provincial skills program with the toughest competition, and we scored highly, but it’s our first time nationally.  I didn’t consider changing our approach.  Our goal is to go there and learn.  Zach has benefited from the failures of previous students, and now it’s his turn to go first and pave the way. 
Can a small town school compete against massive, urban
school boards?  Yes, yes we can.

At first glance it might look like those previous students failed, but they didn’t, they were part of something bigger than themselves that has succeeded.  I know some people look at competitions like Skills Canada and wring their hands over how harsh it is on tender adolescent egos, but our failures made us better and our approach meant we were resilient in the face of those failures.  Even when we were sending different individuals year on year there was a team feeling as new competitors read over the notes, advice and encouragement of now long graduated students (all of whom are enjoying post-secondary computer focused success).  In many cases current competitors connected with grads through social media in order to further develop this mentorship.

The education system has focused relentlessly on student success.  A big part of that push is to mitigate failure wherever possible.  When failure is removed from learning you can’t develop nonlinear, experiential skill-sets or take risks on new challenges because those things in particular demand failure in order to learn.  You also can’t learn to fail forward or consider your learning to be a part of something larger than yourself.  No fail learning is remarkably selfish on a number of levels, damaging not only a student’s ability to learn stochastic skills, but also weakening their resiliency, resolve and humility before a task.

The concept of no-fail learning is very academic in origin, no real-world learning process would consider such an approach viable.  It’s unfortunately ironic that one of my best teaching experiences and a unique learning opportunity for many students has to happen outside of the classroom, where the many benefits of failure are still allowed to happen.

A couple of years ago I realized were were on a multi-year trajectory, so I started putting up posters in the classroom for each competitor so that new students would realize they are part of a dynasty!
Our school mascot is a falcon… geddit?  For the less sports focused among us, a predatory bird doesn’t really jive with what we’re doing.

what’s in your digital toolbox?



This week we’re off to the On The Rise elearning Ontario conference in Mississauga.

I’m presenting Tuesday on how to avoid the pitfalls of a single online learning environment by building a diverse online digital learning ecosystem.



I’m aiming to outline what I’ve used and how in the classroom, then I’m hoping we can crowdsource what other people have used and create a wiki of current, useful digital learning tools with explanations written by the teachers who have made them work.










Here’s the PREZI of the presentation:

What’s In Your eteacher Digital Toolbox?  Prezi of the presentation.

The crowdsourced links to diverse digital tools that our presentation assembled for your enjoyment…

Any Day on Two Wheels is a Good Day

Almost three hours into an interminable visit to the local walk-in clinic last Friday night I’m told that I’m over a hundred degrees, in terrible shape, but it’s just a virus and I have to suffer through it.  I should go home, rest and feel better, except I can’t because this is the Haliburton Birthday Weekend.  We’re on the hook for a hotel that won’t cancel a long weekend booking, even under a doctor’s advice.

I go home, sleep poorly and take lots of pills.  The next morning I’m shaky and either sweating or freezing cold, so a perfect day to go for a three hundred plus kilometer ride across the province.  The original plan was to leave early and take my time picking off must-ride roads in the south end of the Haliburton Highlands before finally arriving at our hotel near the town of Haliburton.  That didn’t happen.  Instead, I followed my wife and son in the car on the shortest possible route.  We stopped frequently and a sunny, relatively warm day meant it wasn’t as miserable as it could have been.  We all fell into our room after five o’clock and collapsed.

I could have driven up in the car, but the whole point of the weekend was to ride the Highlands, so bike it was.  Sunday morning dawned overcast with heavy clouds.  The rain held off until I saddled up after a late but brilliant breakfast at the Mill Pond in Canarvon.  I was doped up on fever and flu medication and as good as I was going to get.  The plan was to wind up Highway 35 to 60 and then into Algonquin Park.  If the weather was atrocious or I fell apart physically I could always turn around, but if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it; turning around isn’t in my nature.

I’d originally planned to stop often and use the new camera, but needs must and I was on a mission to complete that fucking loop.  The backup plan was to use the Ricoh Theta 360 camera on the fly.  It’s a push button affair that is easier to use than a satnav.  Hit power, press the shutter button, put it away.  The tank bag that came with the Tiger has a handy little pouch at the front that fits the camera perfectly.  I’d never tried using the Ricoh by hand like that before, but it seemed like a good idea when my time on task was at a premium.  Since it takes in everything at once you don’t need to worry about aiming or focusing it either.

Heading north out of Canarvon the rain closed in immediately.   On the upside, it was chasing away a lot of the holiday traffic, though this is Canada, so what you’re looking at above was pretty typical for this ride… on a long weekend.

Highway 35 dodges and weaves around lakes and Canadian shield as it works its way up to meet 60.  If you’re not blasting through the dynamited, rocky skeleton of Canadian Shield, you’re winding your way around muskeg, never ending trees or scenic lake shores.  And it does all of this while being a bendy roller-coaster of a road.

The gas station in Canarvon was shut down, so I suddenly found myself running onto empty as I powered north into the big Canadian empty.  Fortunately, I came across a Shell station at the intersection with 60 and filled up.

By that point the rain was more steady than not, so I stepped into the rain suit and wove my way into Algonquin Park.  Suddenly the roads were full of people with GTA tagged SUVs all driving around aimlessly looking confounded by all the trees.  Throughout the entire loop Algonquin was the only time I was stuck in traffic.  I pulled in to the Visitor’s Centre and had a coffee, stretched my legs and soaked up the ambience.  The lady at the counter was nice enough to give me ten cents off on my coffee because I didn’t have change.

Fifteen minutes of crying babies and screaming kids and I was longing for the wind and silence of the road again.  The Visitor’s Centre was near the half way point in the loop, and with a coffee in me (my first caffeine in days) I was ready to go all the way.  The weather was occasional spotty rain, so it wasn’t as terrible as it could have been.  I was warm and dry in the rain suit and the drugs had beaten back the fever, so on I went.

I’d never been out the East Gate though I’ve been to Algonquin since I was a relatively new, ten year old immigrant to Canada.  It feels older than the West Gate, looking more like a toll booth than an art deco entrance to one of the biggest and most famous parks in the country.  Once out of the park traffic evaporated and I was once again alone in the woods.   I’d originally planned to head all the way over to the 503 for a wiggly ride south, but 127 cut off some kilometers and I was already feeling the hours in the saddle.  It was an empty trek down the 127 to Maynooth, albeit with some pretty scenery.

The rain came and went and I got so used to riding on twisty roads that it became second nature.  What would have been a ride to road where I live was just another road in Haliburton.  The Tiger spent very little time on the crown of its new Michelins.  I pulled up in Maynooth for a stretch before starting the final leg of the loop back over to Haliburton Village.

Strangely, and for the first time since the trip began, the roads dried up and the sun started poking through.  Up until now I’d been on local highways; fast, sweeping roads that, while curvy, were designed for higher speeds.  Out of Maynooth I took Peterson Road and got to enjoy my first local road with lots of technical, tight radius turns and elevation changes.  Peterson and Elephant Lake Roads were dry and a lovely change from the wet highways I’d been on before.

On a short straight between the twists on Peterson Road out of Maynooth.
Those 41 winding kilometres to Pusey flash past in no time!

The local traffic was apparently very familiar with bikers making time through the area with several trucks pulling over and waving me through; some country hospitality on a long ride.  

The pavement continued to dry and the Tiger got friskier and friskier as I rode on to Pusey and then Wilberforce.  I was lucky to see another vehicle in either direction on this busy long weekend – just my kind of road trip.  No matter how sick I’m feeling there is nothing like a winding road and a motorbike to put a spring in my step.  For the first time on this ride I wasn’t carefully monitoring my health and the weather, I was just enjoying being out in the world on two wheels.

The sun battled with clouds all the way under Algonquin Park and I soon found myself lining up for an approach back toward Haliburton, this time from the east.  Once again I elected to cut some extra miles out, forgoing a ride to Gooderham for the joys of the 118.

Swooping through the lake of the woods while leaning the ever eager Tiger around lakes, trees and rocky outcroppings had me in nirvana; it was like riding through a Group of Seven painting.  


By this point the drugs were wearing off, I’m starting to wilt and the deed is almost done.  The last few miles into Haliburton turn ominous as dark clouds fill the horizon and  the temperature drops.  I steel myself for the final push.


As the sky fills in and the rain starts to fall again, my goal is in sight.  I pass through the small town of Haliburton like a ghost and pull up just as house keeping has cleaned our room (the family is out at the pool).  Ten minutes later I’ve taken another round of drugs and I’m in a whirlpool tub getting the heat back into me.
The logic I followed doing this was:  any day on a motorcycle is a good day.  Even with a fever and a nasty virus I had a great ride and a real sense of satisfaction in completing my birthday loop of the Haliburton Highlands.  It would have been nice to do it without feeling like I’d been turned inside out, but hey, any day on a motorcycle is a good day.
The ride:  a 270 km loop through Algonquin Park and back around to the town of Haliburton.  All told I was on the road for about four and half hours, including a gas stop, a coffee at the Algonquin Visitor’s Centre and a leg stretch in Maynooth.


The camera: a Ricoh Theta SC.  It takes two hemispherical photos in both directions and then stitches them together, which makes the camera disappear in any photos it takes – which is pretty freaky.  

Having all hardware buttons, you don’t have to futz around with a smartphone to interface with it like you do with the Fly360.  As a camera to use while photographing a motorcycle ride it doesn’t come much easier than this.  It’ll do video and save it in 360 format so you can look around in the video on a smartphone.  It does the same thing with photos.  

The photos in this piece were opened in the Ricoh software and then screen captured.  That’s how I cropped images to show various things.   The original, unedited photos are pretty funky (see below), but look good with some judicious cropping.

Where we stayed:  The Pinestone Resort just south of Haliburton.  The prices are reasonable and you get a nice room.  The facilities are good with golf on site (if you care about that sort of thing) and a salt water pool and sauna.  The onsite restaurant had us waiting 90 minutes (in my case for a French onion soup and salad) and isn’t cheap.  Eating elsewhere might be a good idea, especially on a busy weekend, but anything else is at least a ten minute drive away in town.  We stayed there last summer on our ride back from The Thousand Islands and it was good – they seemed to have trouble handling the traffic on a long weekend this time around though.

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Motorcycle Handling & Chassis Design

Tony Foale’s brilliant engineering manual, Motorcycle Handling & Chassis Design, gives you an inside, technical look at how motorbikes operate.  It also gives you some idea of just how precarious the act of piloting a motorcycle is.  Much is said about how free people feel when riding and the physics behind flying on two wheels makes it that much more magical.
That first time you roll on the throttle and your feet leave the ground not to come back down again for miles, you get that sensation of flight.  Your senses are alive on a motorbike as the world makes itself felt in many different ways.
The naked exposure you feel when riding is obvious.  What is less obvious are the hidden forces at work that allow you to do crazy things like hang sideways while cornering.
Anyone who has seen a racing motorcycle suddenly hit the ground can speak to how suddenly these balancing forces can fall out of sync.  Foale’s book is full of helpful diagrams that clarify some pretty arcane physics.

Cornering on a bike is one of the most complex and misunderstood aspects of riding.  Keith Code does a good job of explaining this in Twist of the Wrist.  Foale’s approach is more interested in the mechanics of the machine and how it handles the forces working on it.

From a rider’s perspective, corning is a balancing act, but from the suspension’s perspective things get a lot heavier when you’re bending into a corner.


Compared to a car, motorcycles have very different dynamics that often surprise riders when they are testing the extremes of two wheeled dynamics.  Reading Foale’s book (though he pitches pretty hard) is worth it even if you’re only getting a sense of just how differently the ‘integrated system’ that is a motorcycle works.

Foale also gets into the geometry of the motorcycle.  From wheelbase and centre of gravity to more complex issues like how suspension height changes those fundamental forces.  Of course, in a corner a the suspension is severely compressed, changing the bike’s responses in dramatic ways.  You get a real sense of how connected and complicated the physics of riding is after reading this book.
The copy I read was the 2002 version, but he still managed to work some of the newer computer based analysis of motorcycle physics.  Static pressure and its role on aerodynamics is a relatively new aspect of motorcycle theory, but Foale covers it.

You can find the latest version of this technical manual online from Foale’s website, but you can get a good idea of what it’s all about from Google Books.  I’m curious enough about changes and updates that I think I’m going to spring for the new PDF ebook.


Expensive Aerodynamic Games

Those people paid to watch very highly paid drivers parade
around lap after lap and throw fits if anyone upsets the tedium.

I just watched the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix.  I used to be a huge Schumie fan and watched F1 religiously, but I’ve wandered away since I starting two wheeling.  It was an historic race with Max Verstappen being the first Dutch driver and youngest ever driver to win a GP race, but it was tedious.  Sky Sports’ announcers tried to rev it up with one of the few attempted passes, which was then followed up by Sebastien Vettel complaining about an attempted pass.  Daniel Ricardo, the driver who attempted the pass said after the race, “I know no one tries to pass any more in Formula One, but I did, and it didn’t work.”

When you’re working the air around a car that hard,you make
a lot of turbulence, which makes it hard to pass.  If you clip
another car with wings on it like this, you’ve probably just
done a million dollars in carbon fibre damage.  No wonder

they all drive around worried at being passed.

Having not seen a grand prix in a few years, I was surprised at how complex the wings have become.  The new normal isn’t a front chin wing and a rear spoiler, it’s layers upon layers of carbon fibre.  Thanks to complex 3d modelling the wings now consider wind flowing over them in all dimensions, so the wings have become these origami type pieces of industrial art.  You can only imagine what it costs when one gets clipped by a wheel.

The upside of all this aerodynamic black magic are cars that can corner like they’re on rails because they have tons of carefully managed air pushing them into the pavement.  The downside is all that down-force creates huge turbulence, making passing next to impossible.  MotoGP doesn’t produce passing stats, but based on any criteria I can imagine passing is orders of magnitude greater in MotoGP.

MotoGP has played with aerodynamics before, but because motorcycles change their angle of attack (they lean) when they corner, it isn’t a relatively static shape that is always facing the oncoming wind blast.  As a result the benefits of consistent down-force while cornering aren’t there for motorbike wings, but that isn’t stopping MotoGP from pushing deep into it this season.

The vestigial wings on MotoGP bikes don’t do much to glue the bike to the ground in corners (the main purpose of F1 wings), but they do provide some stability while under acceleration (keeping the front wheel from rising).  Turning a wing sideways makes it fairly useless, so acceleration is the only place it’s facing the wind properly.  Even with these modest wings, riders are complaining that the amount of turbulence coming off machines has increased, making passing more difficult.  Between that and worries about wings clipping people in an off, there are obvious dynamic concerns around winglets.

Another problem with aerodynamics is that they’re incredibly expensive.  You can only go so far with computer simulations before you wind up in a wind tunnel testing your designs, and wind tunnels aren’t cheap.  Developing aerodynamics mean many models and constant refinement.  That the end results aren’t that significant begs the question: why do it?

What I’d like to see is MotoGP ban wings.  The aerodynamic costs limit other manufacturers from considering entering the fray.  A strong multi-manufacturer competition is a big part of MotoGP’s success.  That they create turbulence that makes following bikes unstable at speed and reduce chances of passing is another strike against them.  The aesthetic argument that they turn the simplistically elegant racing motorbike into a warty toad also rings true; winglets aren’t pretty.

I love the high tech nature of Formula1, but aerodynamics have made the cars fantastically expensive with no real benefit beyond the race track.  Improvements to engines, transmissions and safety have a clear connection to the evolution of automobiles in general, but massive wings and tons of down force don’t.  Watching a film like Rush reminds me of a time when drivers drove.  Today’s races are more like a Moon shot, and the drivers astronauts.  In the last race Hamilton couldn’t compete because he couldn’t get his car to reboot, and Vettel is probably still upset that his carbon fibre wings might have been touched.  If I wanted to watch people who can’t work computers I’d go to work, I hardly want to watch it in an F1 race.  If I wanted to watch people worried about how perfect their cars looked, I’d go to a concour d’elegance.

A Formula 1 with physically smaller cars and reasonable down-force limits could still explore the technical boundaries of driving on four wheels while encouraging something that looks less like a parade lap and more like racing.  Without the wings dripping off them and huge turbulence, passing could become a part of an F1 race again, perhaps so much so that drivers don’t complain about a single attempted pass.  If F1 wanted to explore a more functional aspect of aerodynamics they should limit the massive wings but allow small, adaptive aerodynamics.  That’s something that would once again be relevant to the evolution of the automobile.

I can only hope MotoGP doesn’t follow F1 down this evolutionary dead end of aerodynamic inflation.  A bike festooned with wings wouldn’t just be ugly, it would be irrelevant.

Can you imagine if the wings knocked each other, or got locked together?  I like my bike racing frenetic, fast and side by side.


Four abreast heading into the first corner?  The beginning of another frantic pass-fest in MotoGP.

F1 overtaking stats

Canadian/Ontario Summer Nature Photography

Photography from around Ontario, Canada over the past ten years. Includes wildlife in Algonquin Park, time at the family cottage near Bobcaygeon and photos everywhere from Tobermory to Ottawa.

Older photos taken with the long gone Fujifilm 9100s superzoom camera, the up until early 2017 Olympus Pen mini-SLR and most recent photos with the latest Canon T6i (I have no preference for cameras. A good photographer can take a good picture with just about any camera, especially any higher quality SLR. Any underwater shots were taken with an ancient but still working Fujifilm waterproof point and shoot.

Algonquin Park moose.

Garter snake in the Haliburton woods.

Freezing the wings on a hummingbird.
Bass in Bass Lake near Bobcaygeon, ON.

Flowerpot Island boat trips off the tip of the Bruce Peninsula near Tobermory, ON.

Summer time camp fire on Bass Lake.

A Canadian childhood.

The ferry in Tobermory.

Belted kingfisher over Bass Lake, ON.

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Dr Who on 2 Wheels

Being an English immigrant to Canada in the ’70s, I’ve brought my childhood Dr. Who fandom with me.  Last year Triumph made a surprise appearance in “Bells of St John” episode of Doctor Who meaning I could geek out while enjoying my cool new hobby too.

Here are some screen shots from Bells, and then a video in which Jenna says after shooting, “I wanna bike, I wanna motorbike!”  Very cool.






Apparently Jenna wasn’t kidding about wanting a motorbike as she is the one riding in Day of The Doctor, the 50th anniversary special that came out this fall.  Here are some screen shots from that one:


She’s on the bike this time.  I couldn’t find anything online about whether or not she’s gotten into biking or not.  I guess I’ll have to wait until she’s on Top Gear, they’ll get it out of her!

There has been a lot of talk about this in the UK press:$21382079.htm

Jenna’s Tumbler also has some great images: