Archive for November 16th, 2008


Build A Robot In Your Basement

November 16, 2008

My five-year-old is going to a birthday costume party next weekend. In a weird coincidence, he and I have been working on a robot suit in the workshop for the past week or so. He wanted Iron Man’s first armour, so we’ve been making it. Now he has a reason to wear it. That photo shows it in progress; I’ll post a full-on shot once he’s geared up next weekend for the party.

Here are the ten secrets to building the perfect robot suit, whether for you or for a smaller person.

  1. Don’t use large amounts of tinfoil. It won’t look good. It wrinkles and crinkles, and looks like tinfoil. Go buy a couple of cans of silver Tremclad, or metallic Krylon, or my favourite, bumper touchup paint. It sprays on easily, looks like real metal, and dries quickly.
  2. Use cardboard boxes. Trying to use real metal or plastic for the body won’t work as well. If you spray cardboard with the above-mentioned paints, you get a real metallic look.
  3. Use a glue gun, duct tape and electrician’s tape. Don’t mess around with staples or white glue. A hot glue gun is key to making this work.
  4. Scrounge around for junk electronics in your home. This costume you see up there has the dead hard drive from my old laptop glued on the front, along with a blank CD and the front of a headlamp from my bicycle light. An old TV antenna is waiting to be attached to the back. Old calculators, keyboards, loose wires, telephone keypads, whatever … if you want to get inventive, flashlights and digital readouts running on batteries are a nice touch.
  5. Bulk up the suit with whatever else you can find. The back of this costume has a jet pack made out of the plastic packaging from a Lego Bionicle, with the caps from two cans of bug spray underneath as jets, all sprayed silver.
  6. The head should be another cardboard box with a lot of air vents, and some clear plastic gels for the eyes. For this costume, I needed my son’s face to be kept free, so I sprayed a plastic army helmet from the dollar store silver and glued the taillight from my bike, which blinks red in a KITT/Cylon pattern, on top.
  7. The secret ingredient: dryer ducts. I bought a 10-foot length of silver foil dryer duct at Wal-Mart for eight bucks, and after cutting two 14-inch lengths for the arms, I have enough left over for a couple of other suits.
  8. For kids, don’t try to do legs. My boy will wear a grey turtleneck and grey track pants, and that’s good enough. For adults, use some more of the dryer duct (if it fits), or cut smaller boxes to fit over your thighs, shins and over top of your boots for a clunky Bender look.
  9. Spray an old pair of rubber boots with the paint. It won’t stay on all day, but they will look cool.
  10. The perfect touch: an old vacuum hose, sprayed silver or black, running from the front of the torso to the back, or from the torso to the headpiece.

Ultimately, with kids or with adults, the suit has to be light, cheap (because it won’t survive more than a few days) and easy to move around in. Plus you have to make sure it can be worn into the bathroom, if you know what I’m saying.

Building a robot is extremely satisfying, especially when it’s done with crap you already had lying around.


We Do Everything Bigger in Canada

November 16, 2008

This fish swims in our waters. Seriously. This is a news photo from this summer, showing (left to right) Stu Love, Zeb Hogan, and an unidentified fishing guide holding a white sturgeon caught in Canada’s Fraser River on August 24, 2008. The Fraser is a big, powerful waterway in British Columbia, and it’s where some of Canada’s best fishing is to be found.

I don’t fish. But I’m big on the natural world, and it’s one of the things I like best about living in Canada. For instance: I live in a medium-sized city, about the size of Albany, New York, or Cambridge, U.K. I live within walking distance of Wal-Mart, a major hospital, six fast-food places, city hall and the movie theatre. But I also live on the Trans-Canada Trail, which means I often come home to find a fox in my yard or a hawk on my garage. And the raccoons are a regular nuisance.

Part of my childhood was spent in Canada’s north, where it’s really remote, and bears and moose are regular visitors to the town. I loved that, too.

This giant fish you see up there, though, is a new one on me. Apparently they were almost extinct, until a conscious effort was made to bring their numbers back up.

I wish more people would take the effort to protect our world. Too many of us want the government to step in, and that’s fine; while the government (of my country and of yours, too) has a role to play, so does industry, but largely, the effort has to come from us. Everyone has to pitch in.

Like I said, I don’t fish. But my great-grandchildren might, and they might want to fish for that monster up there. I’d like fish like that to still be around.

P.S. our bears are 28 feet tall, and we have earthworms the size of cobras.


Confessions of a Shopping Mall Santa, Part 2

November 16, 2008

(This is the second in a series that will appear occasionally, leading up to Christmas. The first part is here.)

The biggest problem with being a mall Santa in a downtown shopping centre is the people who spend their days there.

I’m not talking about the shoppers and the employees. I mean the people who park their asses in the food court five minutes after the mall opens and stay all day, nursing cups of coffee and carrying on with whatever they’re not supposed to be doing. This mall was like that. Back then, people could still smoke indoors in Ontario, so the food court was a grey-clouded wasteland of empty lives, its regulars sitting at orange molded plastic tables and chairs, arguing, sneaking booze into their Pepsi cans, dealing drugs on a very small scale and all in all just hiding from life.

Some of them would occasionally wander, or stagger, past Santa’s Workshop. For the most part, they treated me as an interesting diversion, and with good humour. Once in a while, one of the hookers would come sit on my knee and flirt a bit, and I would stay in character, and everyone would have a good laugh. It has been my experience, after all, that people at that low end of our food chain tend to be the most genuine, and good company on a limited scale.

One morning, during the first week on the job, a couple turned up at Santa’s Workshop with their little boy. It was about 10:30 a.m., and Mom and Dad were completely smashed. The reek of liquor was like a plasma in the air around them; it was clear they were still going from the night before, or maybe the week before.

And they had this cute little guy with them. Maybe four years old, big dark eyes, scrabbly hair, dirty clothes … and a winning smile. The elf and the photographer greeted this little family; Mom and Dad said no to the $10 photo package and shoved the kid at me. “Just tell him you want the free fucken colouring book,” the mother growled.

The kid crawled onto my knee. Mom and Dad stayed back a bit, but I could still smell them. My elf, a high school girl, was visible distressed. “So, what can Santa bring you for Christmas?” I asked my new young friend, knowing the odds were good that he wouldn’t have a Christmas tree at all, and if he did the only thing under it December 25 would be a passed-out friend of his loser parents.

“Can you bring my mom a nice ring?” this kid asked.

I was taken aback. “Don’t you want some nice toys?”

“Yeah, but my mom needs a ring,” he said again.

Well, there’s the spirit of Christmas, I thought. I’ve already told you how the spirit had filled me up when I started doing this, and now it was clear I wasn’t alone. I wanted to rush down to the department store on the main floor and buy every toy on the shelf for this kid. I wanted to bring him home with me to play with my own son, who was about that age. I just wanted him to have a real Christmas.

But before I could say anything, his mother staggered up, laughing. “He isn’t even the real Santa Claus!” she shouted. And she grabbed my beard, and she yanked.

Now, remember that I glued that puppy on. With spirit gum, which doesn’t come off easily. So when she pulled it hurt, almost as much as if she had pulled my real beard. I yelped, an Irish-accented Santa yelp, still in character. The beard didn’t come off. Mom stumbled backward. And this wonderful little boy looked up at me, beaming, and said “He is! He is the real Santa Claus!”

And I was.

I still wonder what happened to that kid. He’d be in his late teens now, or maybe even 20. I can imagine that he didn’t have much of a childhood, and I hope he’s okay, but I spent a lot of time reporting in the courts and I know where kids like that end up.

But wherever he is, I hope he has at least a slight memory of the year he met the real Santa Claus.


Lost Beatles Song

November 16, 2008
The Beatles in 1867

The Beatles in 1967

Paul McCartney says it’s time to release Carnival of Light, the legendary lost psychedelic jam the band recorded in 1967 but immediately sealed up tight and put in a vault.

The track, which is reportedly not at all melodic and consists of whoops, shrieks and wild sounds, was an experiment for the foursome, who wanted to create something that didn’t rely on their harmonies and catchy hooks.

“It was a kind of uncomposed, free-for-all melange of sound that went on,” George Martin once said. “It was not considered worthy of issuing as a normal piece of Beatles music at the time and was put away.”

McCartney wants this out as proof that he’s always been more experimental than people give him credit for. As he tells The Guardian, he isn’t just the master tunesmith people know and love; he’s also a sonic maniac who has released several albums of what-the-fuckness under the name The Fireman.

I didn’t know that, and I know all kinds of stupid useless information. Now I have to go look it up. Okay, here’s a fan-made video set to one of the Fireman’s songs

Hmm. Not my cup of tea, but I admire McCartney for doing something new (and not tooting his own horn about it). I’ve always been of the opinion that some singers should just quietly stop and do something different after a while (hello, Rod Stewart). But it’s encouraging to see one of rock’s legends still likes to expand into new musical territories.