Renting a Motorhome, and Other Bad Vacation Ideas

When you think of a family vacation in a motor home, what comes to mind?

Joyous cruising with happy children playing board games, with lots of leg room and a fully stocked fridge close at hand?

That's the image we had envisioned when we rented a motor home a few years back to take our family camping (yes I know... a motor home isn't exactly roughing it) in Near-Northern Ontario, about 5 hours north of Toronto, Ontario Canada. (Can you tell I'm getting more International readers?)

Image: WeDiscoverCanada.ca - Who we SHOULD
have consulted before renting.
We rented a big one, since our older kids were joining us, paid the deposit and waited for the big day. We were told we could pick up the beast at 9 in the morning.

Here's a very important bit of advice...  If you are going to rent a motor home, do it from a large reputable firm, or one that was recommended to you by someone you trust.  The company we rented from did not fit into either category.

When we showed up to get our vehicle, it wasn't there.

The owner's son had given it to a group of his friends to take to Daytona.

That is Daytona. As in races. And week-long parties. And kegs of beer.

The friends had promised to have it back in time.

I suppose drinking all that beer made them bad at keeping promises.

They were late.

They pulled in at around 1 pm.

If this group of young gentlemen had been a group of grannies, we could have likely topped up the tank, got in and driven off in a spic and span coach.

Instead, what drove up could only be described as a portable frat house that had just been to Daytona for a week.

Faced with the prospect of losing our holiday, or waiting till they cleaned up the unit enough for us to take it, we opted for the latter. This holiday was important to us.  I sent my wife on ahead in the car, and my sons and I decided to wait.

Ninety minutes later, it was mostly done, with one small issue.

These monster motor homes have very large tanks that hold "grey water" until you can get the vehicle to a dumping station.  For those of you who missed my post Grandma's House, Hockey and Sh*t Disturbers, "grey water" is what is produced when you flush the toilet.

Given the volume of beer consumed on the Daytona trip, the toilets had been flushed. A lot.

The grey water tanks were full and it would take at least an hour to get them drained.

We could take the unit as is, and they would give us a discount for our troubles.

Given that we had already chewed through most of the first day of our holiday, we elected to take this option.

What this meant is that we started our vacation inheriting a motor home tired and abused, shined up but still dirty, and full of someone else's sh*t.

Much like the situation new leaders can find themselves in when they move into a new organization.


You Don't Whack a Gnat with a Bat!

Every summer, the air vents in our office do something particularly strange...

They act as a superhighway for hoards of extremely tiny flies, which make up for their diminutive size by stretching the boundaries of annoying to a whole new level.

MUCH bigger than life Gnat Image: Wikipedia
They are gnats, and I found a picture of one on Wikipedia in order to see what one really looked like.  In reality, they are much like small specks that suddenly appear in your peripheral vision screaming "I'm about to fly up your nose!!"

I don't know about you, but I have trouble ignoring a kamikaze bug, no matter how small.

Dealing with these flying vermin typically involves one of two methods... the one handed scrunch (it works better if you are a trained Ninja), or the two handed clap of death. (if you don't kill them, at least they're now deaf).  To an observer on the other side of the room, either of these methods make you look like someone who has lost their collective marbles... waving your hands wildly in the air and clapping at nothing.

If there are enough gnats, then one can be tempted to use something more lethal than bare hands... like a baseball bat.  I would personally not recommend it.  Not only would the gnats get off undamaged (unlike the furniture in your office), the person watching from across the room would likely call the authorities.

A baseball bat you see, is an overly complex and highly inefficient solution to the problem.

Much like much of the technology solutions IT departments tend to implement.


Work / Life Balance - and other Fallacies

There is much information available today on work / life balance.  I've tried for years to achieve it, and came to the conclusion that sitting in the middle of this continuum is a grand exercise in futility.

The problem for me is that there are so many more facets who I am and what I do than what I do at my work and what I do when I'm not at work.

So being the introvert who over-processes most every conundrum that comes my way, I've come up with a model for a balanced life that has worked for me for a number of years.

I got the idea from a fun, but very unreliable automobile.

Years ago, I acquired an Austin Mini (not the new sexy ones made by BMW, but the original Mr. Bean variety).  The car was affordable, but came with a particular temperament that required me to be under the hood (or bonnet) on a regular basis.

Not my Mini, but you get the idea...
It was a very simple car, and so my marginal mechanical skills were sufficient to keep it going. It was also the most poorly designed car from the point of view that the distributor (the part of the engine that decided which spark plug would fire when) worked best when dry and sheltered from the elements.  The engineers must not have been thinking well that day since this bit of the engine was positioned pointing out to the front, right where all the rain would come through the radiator grill.

It was a mystery to me why a car would be designed this way, especially when it came from a country where it rained more than it didn't.  This design of the engine ensured that when it was raining, the engine misfired terribly, and sometimes I would limp home running on two of the four cylinders.

When the distributor was dry and all the cylinders were firing, the little engine ran as smooth as silk. Which gets me to the point of this post.


Feeding your inner geekness. You are welcome.

Occasionally, my geekness escapes.  I'm normally good at containing it, but when I see something like the interactive web site below I just can't help it.

What if you could put everything (well a lot of things) in the universe next to each other to see the relative size of things... from Quantum foam (the smallest) to the measurable Universe (the largest)?

Carey and Michael Huang have figured out an elegant way to do so.

Here's the YouTube video showing their creation in action:


Here's a link to the full interactive version:

Visit Carey and Michael's site www.htwins.net for more of these wonderful tools.

Here's to your inner geek!


Blowing Up the IT Department.

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Aaron Peterson.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It's not everyday you get the opportunity to blow up your organization.  Metaphorically anyway.

At an offsite strategy meeting recently, I was given such an opportunity.

The opportunity didn't come out of the blue.  It was a long time in the making.

But everyone in the room knew it had to happen.

We'd spent the better part of the year imagining great and wondrous things that we wanted to do.

We set some lofty objectives.

We knew the things that needed to happen in order for us to accomplish them.

But one thing was very clear.

IT needed to change.

And I wasn't upset in the least... in fact, I was thrilled.


Gramma's House, Hockey and Sh*t Disturbers

When I was a kid, i loved visiting my Grandma, up to a point.

My grandmother fit every stereotypical thing you could say about Grammas. There was lots of love, us kids were the most important thing in the world, there was a ton of food, and she had lived in her house for ever.

Now in those days, the idea of modernizing houses (especially in rural areas) didn't mean a 70" LCD with satellite.  It meant indoor plumbing... as in toilets.  My grandmother's house was of the vintage where things like electricity, running water, and toilets weren't available as options when it was built.

Which meant for a number of visits, when nature called, it called you out to the little house in the backyard, best known for being cold, dark, and odorous... just the kind of place where Shelob, the giant spider from Lord of the Rings would hide out waiting for prey, or at least a million or so of her smaller (but just as deadly) relations.

To my imaginative over active 8 year old mind, this meant that I would do ANYTHING (or in this case refrain from doing anything) that would require me to visit Shelob's house of horrors.

You can imagine my relief when my grandmother's house finally got modernized.

Perhaps your grandmother lived in a town or a city (or you are too young to share this childhood trauma), but you suffered the same trepidation when you went to the cottage or camping.  To those of us in the survivors of childhood outhouse trauma support group I say "God Bless indoor plumbing!"

Which gets me to my next point.


Canadian schools behind in online learning. Should we care?

I'm a news junkie.

When the news is about technology enabled education, I take notice.

Last week, the Globe and Mail published an article entitled "Canadian schools falling behind in online learning, report says".  It described the loss of leadership in online learning, web enabled learning and distance education.

Kate Hammer's article laid out a lot of facts, but it had a significant gap... To me, it seemed to describe the delivery of education using technology as a separate and distinct process from the classroom delivered experience.

I just had to comment.

I suggest you read the article (link is here), then read the comment I submitted (which earned 15 likes and 4 replies).

Some people disagreed with me, but that's fine with me. I don't claim to have the right opinion, but I certainly have an opinion, and love the dialog.

Building the Perfect Computer for Today's Student.

It's that time again.

We get to buy several hundred computers for our school.

At our school we are in the enviable position of having a pen-based tablet computer for every student and teacher.  It's been like this for 12 years.

Image: MS Office Imagebank
The students use the computers to get their assignments, do their assignments, and submit their assignments.

They work them harder than any business person I've ever met. When one manufacturer told us they simulate extreme use by opening and closing the lid 30 times a day, we laughed.

That typically happens by noon for our students.

The machines starts at 7:00 am when the student checks their messages for the day, and is shoved into their backpack several times, and generally is shut off after homework (or Facebook if we are being honest) after 10:00 pm.

In cowboy terminology "They's rode hard, and put away wet!".

Ours are leased on a two year cycle.  Even with accidental breakage warranty, on-site warranty repair, and a cupboard full of loaners, the computers are OLD at the end of the two years.
Extreme Damage

For most of them, they are like the ax that has been in your family for five generations... it's only had 2 new heads and 5 new handles (but it's the same ax).

The point is... when you implement a 1:1 computer program in a school, and if you expect them to actually use them, then these things will break.

After all, even with the rigorous use, it is still kids using them.  Kids can be, well, a bit goofy - particularly 14 year old boys.

We've seen computers kicked by horses, computers that have been retrieved from the bottom of a pool, computers that have had all the keys removed (purposely), computers with strange liquids and food stuff inside, computers used as baseball bats, and in the case of the picture above, a computer that argued with an SUV, and lost.  The bag was left in the driveway.  Why you ask?  Before you get too judgmental, remember how your brain was working in your teenage years.

If you put computers in your classroom, you need to make the commitment to keeping them running. One of the most important things you can do is get the student back to class as quickly as possible when their computer breaks.  In our model, no computer = inability to participate in class or do homework.