Notifications Off

While away in the States recently I turned off notifications in the various apps on my phone to save on data, and then turned off notifications entirely when I got home, I found I was enjoying the silence.

In that silence I started thinking about operant conditioning and just how wired to our personal devices we’ve become.  Digital distraction is a cultural phenomenon with people wringing their hands over rising vehicle accident rates and people falling into open manhole covers.  We tend to forget that looking at a screen when we should be doing something else is a choice.  We’d rather play the victim than accept that kind of responsibility.

The dreaded notification is at the core of this idea of being victimized by digital distraction.  There is a simple fix though: turn them off.  Your social media is all still waiting there for you, the only thing you’re missing is immediacy, but that urge to respond quickly points to a deluded sense of self importance; despite what you think, most people aren’t pouring over their social media waiting for you to post something.

I didn’t get data while I was away, I figured I’d get by with wifi when I could find it.  This quieted the noise even more, making me wonder why I’d want a device constantly demanding my attention in the first place.  

The lack of data made me very conscious of the urge to post as events are happening.  You see this all the time at sports events.  A game winning goal gets scored and instead of cheering people are taking bad photos and spending time putting them online.  It happens in concerts too.  People spend bucket loads of money and time getting to these events only to view them through a smartphone screen, or ignore it entirely while they create social media posts.

You get this urge when you’re in the middle of something fantastic to want to share it immediately like a live news broadcast, but your social media audience isn’t watching a show, they come and go.  Audiences on social media aren’t like audiences on broadcast media, they are never all in the same place at the same time.  That sense of urgency is you misunderstanding how social media is different from broadcast media.  Sure, take a picture, but if you don’t post it in the next 30 seconds your ratings aren’t going to drop.  Your production team isn’t going to be out of a job.

Social media is inherently addictive.  It is designed to provide an
unconditioned stimulus response.  It doesn’t take long to tie the
notification to that initial, unconditioned response.

Our approach to smartphone use needs to evolve.  Having a general purpose, networked computer in your pocket shouldn’t mean you’re on the social media hook 24/7.  A good first step is to try and view your social media use from a more accurate perspective, don’t get sucked into a false sense of immediacy with it.  Enjoy being where you are, maybe snap a picture to share later when you’ve got a quiet moment.  Whatever you do don’t miss what you’re doing because you’re viewing it through a smartphone screen, or ignoring it while you’re making social media updates about it.  In spite of what you might think, you’re not a media personality, even if you do have 1000 friends on Facebook.

A good first step is to turn off notifications.  It’ll all still be there waiting for you, but you won’t be a Pavlovian experiment in distraction when you interact with it.  This will probably upset mobile service providers who are making a mint from over-priced travel packages designed to keep you ‘connected’.  You’ll probably also find your interactions take on a more nuanced and thoughtful appearance; something else it would be nice to see more of on social media.

Metacognition Missteps

What Mr. Cleese is so eloquently describing above is the Dunning-Kruger Effect, something that didn’t receive a moment of notice in the metacognitive PD we recently received.  Metacognition is often seen as a way to encourage student directed learning, and I’m generally a fan of the idea, but this bias deserves some consideration, especially if we’re trying to improve student learning.
In trying to break this down I came up with the Venn diagram to the right in hopes of understanding what should be a process toward enlightenment rather than a barrier to it.

There is a degree of stupidity so intense that it is self-consuming.  People trapped in that tend to reinforce their own ignorance and simply can’t hear alternative points of view, even if they are self evident.  These people tend to wallow in limited, habitual action.  If you want to see it happening watch most digital natives on a computer.  In that kind of stupidity you’re going to be hard pressed to learn anything, let alone expect any kind of accurate self assessment.

Ignorance is bliss, you’re going to be happy if you think you know everything.  Anyone who lives in an Earth centred universe and thinks their species the darling of creation is that kind of certain-happy.  People like this make a point of surrounding themselves with like minded people.

If you can begin to take in evidence from around you, certain self-evident truths will begin to make you question your beliefs.  That would get you out of the stupid vortex and into ignorance.  The more you realize you don’t know, the more rapidly you’re able to move toward knowledge.  Humility is a vital component in this process, and where metacognition could begin to help.

In the realm of knowledge you may know many things but your experience with them is limited, so while you know theory you are unable to successfully interact with it in reality – this is one of the reasons I enjoy teaching tech so much (reality doesn’t coddle you in your learning).  You’ve read about riding a bicycle but you’ve never done the deed.  The final step is to do as well as know, only then do you graduate from talking head to doer.

Metacognition is a valuable tool in creating the kind of self-aware humility that can move you from ignorance to knowledge, but applying it too early will push you in the wrong direction.  At the early stages of learning you are incapable of knowing what you don’t know, so you’ll think you’re better at something than you are.  This appears especially true in mind based, academic work because your math equation doesn’t burst into flames when you do it wrong.

At no point did our metacognitive training suggest that there was a threshold where you should (carefully) begin to implement self-analysis of learning, rather, it was suggested that we do this continually and throughout, which appears to be just what you shouldn’t do if you want to get somewhere with it.

I like the DIY motive here, but getting to “learning to self correct” is a tricky step
that can push you the wrong way if you do it too soon.

 

California Snapshots

I went to California for the first time over the mid-winter break.  I was out there on a family trip so I didn’t have many opportunities to ride, but while there I made a point of trying to understand California biking culture.  When you can ride year round biking becomes much less of a niche means of transport.

Here are some snap shots and thoughts from the trip:

LANE SPLITTING or FILTERING

This is something that is a real no-no up here in the safety North.  Talking to a cabbie about it, he said you need to be really careful about changing lanes.  If you hit a filtering biker while changing lanes in a cage you’re likely to take the blame.

Riders in California expect cars to not crowd the gaps between lanes and will make them aware of it if they do.  I saw a guy on a sports bike revving the snot out of it to move an SUV out of his way while he was filtering.

At first lane splitting looked like a dangerous thing to do, but if it makes cage drivers more aware of bikers and offers a real advantage to getting through the attrocious L.A. traffic for riders, then I’m coming around.




LOS ANGELES IS BROKEN

From the moment we landed at the most disorganized airport I’ve ever been to (LAX) and the subsequent traffic chaos all around L.A., I’ve come to the conclusion that the place is broken.

Rides at Disney world appear to mimic the hell that is driving
in LA with remarkable accuracy – do people do this for fun?


The roads in the rest of California were lovely, but around L.A. they make Ontario’s frost heaved slabs look smooth.  With virtually no public transit infrastructure and a fanatical car culture, L.A. is the kind of place you can expect to spend half of your life sitting in traffic.

On a coach trip out to Universal Studios I was able to look down into the cars sitting in traffic.  At any one time more than 90% of the drivers had a smartphone out on their laps.  We saw many accidents in the L.A. area – every single one was an unexplained rear-end collision.  I can explain those ‘accidents’.

L.A.’s car culture has become L.A.’s distracted driving culture.  I’d rather drive in Tokyo or London than L.A. any day of the week.  They say Toronto’s commute is now worse than L.A.’s, but Toronto (GTA ~6 million) is a tiny burg compared to Los Angeles (>18 million).  The dozens of highways that bisect L.A. aren’t up to handling the full on assault of those millions of thumb texters behind the wheel.


  
L.A. STUNTING

While sitting in traffic (behind another unexplained rear end collision) we had a group of sports bike riders doing their thing on the access road next to the highway.  The group must have been almost one hundred big and were all revving, wheelying and otherwise stunting themselves silly on a sunny new year’s day.



It was fun to watch them while we crawled along interminably in the never ending freeway traffic.  The bikes were all very customized with both paint and go-faster bits, and their riders looked like they were having a riot.


You might frown at their antics, but when you consider the alternative is to sit in the cavalcade of metal boxes on the freeway, texting before you run into someone, I’m not sure if they don’t have the right idea.



I thought they were more entertaining than any of the very serious pirates we saw filtering by on their Harleys on the highway.





MULHOLLAND DRIVE

Is one of those icons of Southern California, so I made a point of making the drive down it.  It’s a very long stretch of road that eventually turns into the Mulholland highway and goes all the way to the ocean.

We started at the beginning right out of Studio City in Burbank and the road was terrible!  I guess rich people don’t live on this bit.  You’d need an ADV bike to make any time on tarmac this bad.  For a place that doesn’t get much frost, I’m not sure how their roads can be this rough.

Fortunately, once you get past the first bit the pavement improves dramatically (rich people live here).  The ride is fantastic and the road (named after the engineer who built it) is a testament to imaginative road design over challenging terrain.  We turned off on the 405 and headed to the airport to fly home to freezing Ontario, but Mulholland deserves a look if you’re in Southern California, just grit your teeth on the opening stretch.




PALOMAR MOUNTAIN

I’ve had a poster of the Hale telescope on Mount Palomar on my wall since I was a kid.  The chance to see it in the flesh was one of the highlights of this trip for me.  The trip up the mountain, from sea level to five and half thousand feet, looked pretty epic too.

I, unfortunately, had to do the road in a rented RAV4, which felt like a double decker bus loaded with lead.  The happier people at the top had a variety of two wheel conveyances to get them there, with sports bikes being the clear favourite – not a cruiser in sight.

The guys hanging out at Mother’s Kitchen (great veggie food!) were an all ages sports bike party, with Keith Code look-a-likes and younger riders all chatting amiably about their machines and the road.

Bikes ranged from super sports and even sport tourers like the Interceptor to light-weight nakeds.

It was a cool day in late December when we went up the mountain.  The temperature dropped from high teens to about twelve degrees at the summit – all sunny though.  The riders didn’t seem cold.  Riding up that insanely wiggly 20+ miles of mountain road would be an aerobic workout of the first order.

The observatory itself is completely free to the public, offers parking and a museum with crazy-cheap merchandise (if astronomy hoodies are your thing).  You could spend a perfect day riding up and around Palomar mountain before going for a walk around one of the biggest mirrors in the world.

With a variety of roads, a state park, the observatory and that lovely little restaurant, Palomar mountain just outside of San Diego is a great destination for any biker, and a must see for those bikers with the astronomy bug.

A few days after our trip up there it snowed, but for most years this is the exception rather than the rule.


PRICES IN A YEAR ROUND BIKING CULTURE

While in La Jolla (just north of San Diego), I checked out some of the local bike shops.  The prices are heart stoppingly low if you’re used to Canadian numbers.  You might find a one piece leather suit up here for $600 on the bottom end, but down there the same level of kit is half the price.  Out of curiosity, I wondered what it would cost to outfit myself to ride with all new kit down here.  At Cycle Gear in San Diego it ended up being a shade over $300 for a new helmet, gloves, boots, riding pants and jacket… unreal!


SUMMARY

If you like to ride, California offers some fantastic roads (not in the L.A. area) that beg to be explored.  We also hit Joshua Tree National Park on our travels and it is other wordly!  There are few straight lines, even riding the hilly highways around San Diego would feel special to someone from table-flat Ontario.  There is a vibrant, large biking culture that shows through in the shear variation you see.  I can’t wait to go back and experience the place as it was meant to be experienced, on two wheels.

Bike Bag: Tesseract Dream Motorcycle Accessory

It’s as crazy as it looks, and
utterly fantastic!

I’m sitting on the beach in Lajoya California as a I write this. It’s a comfortable 18° Celsius and I’m missing my bike. I can always rent something down here, but the road I just did begs a bike I’m familiar with; I was watching the guys in their worn leathers and sports bikes with envy.

The road to the Palomar observatory is a knee down roller coaster that takes you five thousand feet up to one of the biggest mirrors in the world. It’s a road that makes me wish my Ninja was here instead of a rental bike that doesn’t feel familiar and is, quite frankly, designed for looks rather than athletics; virtually all rental choices are cruiser or retro based.

After watching Interstellar I started reading about tesseracts and multi-dimensional mechanics. The first thing I’d create with my new-found multi-dimensional engineering skills would be the Bike Bag™!  You press the zipper up against a wall and roll your bike and gear in.

The idea’s been around for a while.

 Once you zip it up you can roll up the zipper and put it in your pocket.  When you get where you’re going you put the zipper up on a wall again and when you unzip it there is your bike and gear ready to go.  A carry on bag and an airline ticket and I’d be ready to ride pretty much anywhere I landed.


I’d have been able to tackle the road up to the big eye in the sky with something other than cautious optimism with my preferred road weapon.


The Shiny New Kawasaki Versys

I’ve always had a soft spot for the ugly-duckling Kawasaki Versys.  I’ve even suggested that it be the first bike to ride coast to coast to coast in Canada when the Dempster Highway is finished.  The Versys points to a time when bikes weren’t styled and marketed to a genre.

The new Versys is no ugly duckling, and I’m looking forward to throwing a leg over it at shows this winter.  I’m also hoping that Kawasaki Canada will put this bike out there as a viable alternative to other light-weight / multi-purpose bikes.  An adventure bike doesn’t need to be some off-road inspired, knobby tired monster, and the Versys could be that swiss-army knife of a bike.

My first experience with the 650 Versys was less than stellar.  I suspect a lot of that had to do with how much the Versys felt like my Ninja.  I’m not looking for hard suspension and a purely road focused bike with the Versys, I’m looking for something more flexible.  I’m hoping that the new bike offers the kind of clearance, suspension travel and all-round usefulness that the old one lacked.  That it offers much more leg room and a less road bike inspired stance is a great start.

The adventure bike-set seems to have a lock on the all-purpose motorcycle at the moment, but there was a time when multi-purpose motorbikes weren’t duck-billed monsters.  The Kawasaki Versys could reinvent that pre-adventure bike ideal of a multi-purpose machine without the big nose.

ECOOs1: Nerd Machismo & Other Barriers That Prevent Technology Learning

Nerdismo works like any other kind of machismo,
insecure boys belittle others and make the most
of what little they know to establish a social
space they can control.

I attended an excellent talk by Anne Shillolo on how to engage girls in technology at the ECOO Conference this year.

I’ve been struggling for a number of years to convince girls to hang in there in senior computer classes.  In the grade nine introduction course I have a number of girls who are often front runners in terms of skills and ability to learn tech, but they all drift away in the senior grades.

Anne covered the systemic and social issues around this in great detail during her presentation.  Hopefully those issues will begin to resolve themselves now that many tech companies are conscious of the problem.  As much as I’d like to I can’t model being a woman in technology, but there are some other angles I can pursue.

In grade nine, especially in semester one, you tend not to get a lot of attitude because they are all fairly terrified to be in high school for the first time and are cautious.  As students become acclimatized to their new school they look for where they are strongest and tend to establish dominance in those areas; the jocks own the gym, the drama kids rule the stage, etc.  I was dismissively told by a university professor once that tribalism is dead as a theory of human socialization, but that guy was an idiot.  In the world of high school (and pretty much everywhere else, including online) tribalism is alive and well.  Computer society is more tribalistic than most.

In the senior grades the (mostly male) computer geeks do to computer lab what the jocks do to the gymnasium, they establish dominance.  I’ve seen a number of girls begin a senior computer studies course only to bail after the first week because of all the posturing.  The most frustrating was a coding prodigy whose parents were both programmers who vanished to take an alternate course online where she didn’t have to put up with the drama.  This nerdismo ends up damaging the field of computer studies in all sorts of ways, not the least of which is choking it of sections in high school because the vast majority of students feel ostracized by the culture of the students in the room.

Anne’s girls missing out on technology presentation led me to consider just how insular computer culture can be.  The idea of barriers to learning mathematics, sciences and technology came up in Anne’s presentation.  As someone who wanted to be an astronomer before he almost failed grade 10 physics (and did fail grade 11), I know that it takes a fair amount of effort by the alpha-nerds of the world to shake otherwise interested right-brained kids out of ‘their’ fields of study.  From the science teachers who seemed to take great joy in pointing out that this wasn’t my thing to the computer science teacher who watched me drown in mathematical abstraction with an absent smile on his face when all I wanted to do was tinker with code, I’ve experienced those barriers first hand.

As a non-linear/tactile/intuitive/experimental thinker I was intentionally bludgeoned by numbers until I couldn’t care less about computers.  Watching the tribe of like-minded students (many of whom were good friends) form around those teachers and pass beyond that semi-permeable membrane into the math/science/tech wonderland scarred me.

My tactile nature eventually paid off when I got back into computers (years later – scars heal) through information technology, but I’ve never forgotten how those left brained mathletes made me doubt myself and turn away from the computer technology I loved.  I went from being the first kid in our school to publish code and own his own printer to going to college for art (and dropping out) because that was what I thought was left to me.  There was certainly nothing like code.org leading a charge for greater accessibility in learning coding (Anne showed this in her presentation):


I can’t help but wonder how many kids we shake out of technology because they don’t approach it in an orthodox manner, or don’t fit the stereotype of what we think a person in tech is.  It might be slowly changing, but the gateway to learning technology is guarded by your stereotypical computer geek, and they are as fierce about guarding it as any athlete in a locker room. 

When I see teachers putting students in silos because of this kind of thinking, or worse, punishing students who don’t follow their discipline in the same way that they do, I can’t help but remember that I was once that kid who ended up dropping out and walking away.

Everyone can learn coding and computers.  Anyone who says, “I’m no good at that stuff” (including all the teachers I hear say it daily) are responding to the barriers that surround it.  Exclusivity driven by arrogance has defined how many people see the computer field.  Digital technology is so big now that any kind of thinker and doer can survive and thrive in the field, but we need the traditional computer experts to tone down the nerdismo.

The people who build the digital world we inhabit have as much swagger as a professional athlete does nowadays, and it starts in high school with insecure boys chasing everyone who isn’t like them out of the lab.  Until we take steps to open up technology to more diverse learners it’ll continue to chase the girls and atypical thinkers out of this left brained, male dominated industry.


Perhaps I can convince more girls and alternative thinkers to keep learning technology into senior high school by not being an arrogant git, but I’m also fighting this well established conception of what a computer geek is.  Until I can tone down the nerdismo in the classroom, I fear that preconceptions and the aggressive nerdismo in the computer lab will dictate who takes my courses.  The field of computer studies would greatly benefit from an influx of creative/alternative thinkers, but until the geeks loosen their grip, nothing will change.

Collegiality vs Teamwork and Digital Technologies

We re-aligned our computer courses last year.  Our school formerly was one of the few with a Computer Studies Department, with computer science and computer technology courses all existing under a single banner.  Last year the department was dissolved and computer science was put under the Mathematics Department while computer technology was re-integrated with the Technology Department.

I transitioned from Computer Studies Head to a co-head of Technology, but I’m finding working in such a diverse (we cover everything from metal work to food school to digital design) department challenging.  With so many horses pulling in so many directions, I can’t help but feel that digital technologies tends to be a second thought.  Rather than feel excluded I’ve been finding ways to develop a stronger digital technologies continuum.

The computer lab has always been next to the design lab, though run by different departments.  Now that we’re on the same team so to speak, I’ve been re-thinking how digital technologies, always minimally represented in terms of classes, should work within the school.  We’ve been developing an integrated digital technologies curriculum in order to facilitate that.

With the dissolution of Computer Studies the realigning of our school’s digital technologies was inevitable.  No longer is Technology Design the lone digitally focused technology course in the department.  Combined with Computer Technology, our digital technology courses can now offer a continuum of learning across a wide variety of digital platforms.

I initially felt that dissolving the computer department was going to be bad for the discipline, but now I’m feeling a new synergy.


By drawing together our digitally focused technology courses under the many common threads they share we’re able to offer 9-12 curriculum in a wider variety of areas.  For students in a rural area where digital-tech doesn’t have the social impact it has in more urban settings this is a big deal.

The first step was to diversify our high-tech offerings.  I argued successfully at Heads for Tech-Design to offer Robotics (our tech design teacher has a background in it).  I also argued successfully for a Software Engineering option that would allow students interested in the field to experience industry standard practices around software development rather than the mathematics focus offered by computer science.


From the junior grades students get a wide variety of choice in 11 & 12 around what aspects of digital technology they want to pursue.  And even if the student isn’t going into a tech-focused profession, they are at least able to develop the kind of digital fluency that will be handy in any 21st Century workplace.  Of course, digital-tech doesn’t end at the workplace.  If we’re going to graduate citizens capable of communicating in the 21st Century, they need to have digital fluency.

I always felt isolated as the head of computers with only a part time comp-sci teacher who wasn’t interested in collaborating.  Now that I’m the co-head of tech, or perhaps Head of Digital Technologies fits better, I’m able to empower our tech-design as well as my own computer-tech fields and build a more complete set of options for our students to benefit from.

Change isn’t always easy, but in this case I feel like it’s led to a good place where teamwork and a common goal has replaced cold, distant collegiality.

A 9-12 Digital Technologies Continuum with a healthy variety of choice that will develop graduates ready to take on the challenges of the 21st Century:


The layout is so helpful I’ve expanded it out to the Technology Department as a whole:

Old Motorbike Electrics



Turns out the Concours didn’t need a new bulb, it just needed some more electrical connection cleaning.  After replacing the bulb that wasn’t blown I finally took off the fairing only to discover that, like all the other electrical gremlins, it was a matter of dirty connectors.

After cleaning up the wiring harness, suddenly all the lights work again.  I posted what happened on the COG discussions and got this pearl:

As usually happens in a case like this, you immediately see the good advice repeated. Only a couple of nights later I was reading Performance Bike Magazine. They do a bit each month on what to look for in finding an older model sport bike, in this case the thirteen year old Honda VTR1000 SP2. In the article they suggest that cleaning and protecting all electrical contacts on a bike that old is a good winter-time activity.  If it’s true for well cared for sports bikes half as old, it’s even truer for my field-found Connie.


As WillyP states above, bikes aren’t built to keep out the elements, even the most covered bike is virtually naked compared to a car. Even in the case of a well cared for, covered sports bike, cleaning the electrical contacts is a worthwhile off-season ritual. In the case of a field-found Concours, it’s where I should have started in the first place.  A breakdown and electrical cleaning is my go-to next time around.

As a project bike the Concours continues to teach lessons even as it becomes more and more roadworthy.

Dream Stable (this week)

This changes on a moment to moment basis, but in this moment, here is what I wish was looking back at me when I opened the door to the iron horse stable:

1) An outfit fit for my son and I:  A Royal Enfield Bullet Classic with a Rocket Sidecar.

500cc Bullet Classic: $6350
Sportmax Rocket sidecar: $3500+~$1200 installation

The whole outfit would cost about ~$11,000 new… I found a used outfit for $8000, might find another for less.



2) A scooter for my wife: Vespa 946

It’s a dream list so I’ll go for the fantastically expensive Vespa, though Honda makes some mighty nice alternatives for one third the price.

The Vespa?  $9999 for a year old new one (!?!)

(the similarly spec-ed Honda PCX150 comes in at $3899).  I’ve found clean, used scooters for about $1000.





3) State of the art Hyper-bike:  

This has always been a Hayabusa, though I’d chuck it all in for the new Ninja H2R.

Hayabusa:  $14999

Ninja H2R:  ???



4) A Light Weight, Swiss-Army Knife dual purpose bike:

The Suzuki DR-Z400S: $7299

Over 100lbs lighter than a KLR, a super capable, light weight enduro machine that can manage weight, still has good power, but follows the Austin Vince minimalist ethos: nimble, efficient, ultra-capable off road.  Found a used one in good nick for about $4000.


5) A matching off-road bike for my son:

Not sure of the spec on this one.  It would have to be the one he feels most comfortable on because he’s a cautious fellow.

~$2-3000 new – there seem to be a lot of used ones about for ~$1000



I’d be looking at about $50,000 in new (dream) gear.  On a budget I think I could pick up (used) the two dirt bikes for $5000, a hyperbike for $7000, a scooter for $1500 and an outfit for $3-5000.  So $16-18500 for a more realistic dream stable…

Inclusivity is what I’m aiming for with this collection.  We three could go for a putter on scooter and outfit.  My son and I could go off roading together.  Only the Hayabusa really smacks of selfishness.

Of course this will all change again next week, so I’m not holding my breath.

Dodging a Bullet: Assumptions of Safety & Extreme Defensive Riding

We had a tough week at work.  A colleague, the kind of guy who you assume will outlast you because he does everything right, was killed last weekend in a motor vehicle ‘accident’.  I put accident in quotes because it’s not really an accident when the other driver blows through a stop sign while speeding and kills you and your wife (and himself).

You’d be right to say I’m a bit angry about this, but I’m also rather desperately looking for a reason for it.  That things can happen for no reason bothers me, but they do.  They did nothing wrong.  They were driving home after dropping their son off at university.  They were driving in an SUV with a five star safety rating.  I want there to be a reason (the guy who hit them was drunk, distracted, somehow incompetent), but I fear there is none; there is no reason why they are dead other than the most basic one: motor vehicles are inherently dangerous and a number of people who operate them aren’t able to do so well enough to ensure your safety.

If we are going to let pretty much anyone strap themselves into a metal box powered by exploding gases and shoot themselves down roads at high speed, we have to accept that there is an inherent risk, no matter how capable they may be, of death.  Whenever you get into any kind of motor vehicle you accept this risk, or you don’t get into the vehicle.  

It’s generally understood that getting on a motorbike makes this calculus so obvious that people can’t help but tell you (over and over) how dangerous it is.  Those same people will go out and buy five star rated SUVs thinking they’ve beaten the odds.  Those big vehicles mean you’ll always come out of a minor incident, and if you find yourself in a lot of minor incidents then I suppose they make sense.  Better to spend the money on a bigger vehicle rather than making efforts to reduce your inability.  Driver training courses are significantly cheaper than operating a large vehicle, but pride prevents most people from considering them.  We end up in an arms race with the most distracted, incapable drivers operating larger and larger vehicles for their own safety.

I’ve been trying to suss out government safety statistics.  I have a feeling that people who have taken motorcycle safety training have fewer accidents than the general public.  The kind of defensive driving presented to new motorcycle riders is foreign to most drivers in cages who don’t respect the dangerous position they are placing themselves in.  I suspect that there would be way fewer accidents if everyone had to ride a motorbike for the first year of their license.  Exposure gives you a healthy respect for the dangerous mechanics of operating a motor vehicle at high speed.

Were I in my mini-van with my wife and son, I would have probably driven into this disaster just as that colleague of mine did.  Were I on my motorbike, I’d approach that intersection with the same everyone-is-trying-to-kill-me attitude that I’ve adopted since my initial motorbike training course.  On a bike I’d have sworn at the idiot who ran the stop sign after braking hard to avoid him.  In an insulated motor vehicle, remote from the world around me, I’d have assumed I was safely following the laws of the road until it didn’t matter any more.

Followup:  just to make things weirder, this past week I died in a car accident (same name, similar age, lived about 100kms west of me) and a guy who started teaching at the same time I did and is a year younger than me also passed.  Maybe this is just what getting older feels like, you see others around you dropping out of life and can’t help but wonder why you’re still here.