So ‘The Pok’ (my son) and I went to go see the new Star Wars flick – The Force Awakens this morning at 6am at the IMAX in Sydney. And in one word it is – AWESOME! There are no spoilers in this post.

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Our film adventure had been building for a couple of months now where we have watched the multiple trailers on YouTube about a million times. He received a new generation X-Wing and TIE Fighter to fit in action figures for his birthday. So when we the tickets were released, I went straight for the jugular and ordered them for the biggest screen in Sydney on the opening day. There was no way that I was going without my boy, who even managed to go to bed early so I could wake him up at 5am to trundle off down to the theatre.

He dressed up as a Stormtrooper (his shirt and jacket combo – and the his white sneakers are “stormtrooper” shoes), and I donned my Boba Fett t-shirt. We loaded up on portable breakfast, a couple muesli bars and some drinks. There would be no popcorn for this viewing.

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I am no movie critic, so my review is going to be punchy and concise. JJ Abrams nails it, in terms of cinematography, pace, and sense of fun. It looks like Star Wars, feels like Star Wars, and it looks real – not like a polished video game. There are some shocks to the plot, and a lot more to be revealed in episodes VIII and IX. The star of the film has to be Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and he is bad@ss. I felt giddy like a kid again watching X-Wings blowing up TIE Fighters, and now want more. Some of the sections of the film were too scary for a 5 year old child, so he ended up sitting on my lap for the last two thirds of the film. My only criticism is that a lot has happened between Return of the Jedi and the Force Awakens, but it wasn’t fully explained. I guess I will have to read the books and comics to find out.

How do the Films Rank (my humble opinion)

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. The Force Awakens
  4. Return of the Jedi
  5. Revenge of the Sith
  6. Attack of the Clones
  7. … um E.T.
  8. The Phantom Menace

All in all, this closet geek was happy and can’t wait to watch it again and again.

In my last post about my son’s birthday party preparations I wrote about the construction of lightsabers. That was a surefire opportunity rev up the 4/5 years into bashing each other for hours with what they thought were laser swords. But I could not rest on my laurels – R2-D2 had to attend this party. I asked myself what would be the best way to do that in a fun and interactive way with the kids without taking a year to construct a droid, but also not have it look like crap. The answer:

R2-D2 Keg Mode

Or more correctly, an R2-D2 that functions as a drink dispenser for the kids to keep hydrated with. Here is the end result, and I got quite a reaction from the kids and parents. While it took considerably longer than the construction of the lightsabers, this was definitely more fun.

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I gave myself three weeks to build this, and most of the work was done at night after work in the garage. I looked on the internet to see if anyone else had done something similar, but alas my plans are original. While it was not quite to the same standard as the little guy below, I tried to get my Artoo as accurate as possible in its construct.

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Raw Materials

I put some thought about what was needed, and in the end the construct would come down to three main components:

  • I would make his legs out of construction grade pine. Strong enough to support 10L+ of drinking water plus the weight of my “keg” droid.
  • His body would be formed from what he is commonly criticised as looking like – a “bullet” waste bin (domed lid with cylindrical body).
  • A water bladder to store the drinks.

He would need to be painted and decorated to add the features. This would all be through paper, card, and a bit of art material – as well as a whole heap of concentration and improvisation. But he had to look as real as possible.

The Legs and Body

So I constructed his legs out of a couple of 4 by 2 pieces of wood. The mitre and saw came into good use again. From the two pieces of wood came his legs and feet. I went on feel this time in terms of proportions instead of direct measurements. And of course the dimensions would have to line up with the size of the body.

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The off-cut would end up forming the feet. No rollers on this droid though (or rockets embedded in the legs).

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The bullet bin itself was sourced from my local hardware store. I knew exactly what I was after, but surprisingly it was not easy to find (there are a lot of square bins out there). The domed lid would form Artoo’s head, but obviously the colours were wrong – he needed a paint job. But to prepare the paint job I needed to rough up the smooth surface of the lid to grip the paint. The rest of the body needed a good clean with soapy water.

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I quickly sized up the proportions of the legs and did a bit more trimming of the legs with the saw. You will also notice the cross-bar piece of wood, this would form the support of Artoo’s body as the attachment of the body to the legs was going to be a couple of screws through the plastic into the wood – maybe not strong enough to support 10+kg worth of load. My son, “The Pok”, wanted to help me do the building but he had no idea what I was doing until I sized him up. I asked him “What do you think we are building?”

He paused and then realised with a massive grin on his face, “Daddy, are we building Artoo?” – you bet.

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After the main bit of cutting was completed, I wanted to kick over to the fun but toxic bit – paint time. I set up a little paint box in the corner of the garage and had purchased a couple of cans of acrylic spray paint. I ended up putting on three coats of white paint for the body and 3 coats of grey paint for the domed head. This was three nights of drying as well – hence why it took me a few weeks to pull together – a lot of elapsed time.

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On the nights that I was not applying the paint, I continued with the construction of the legs. The next step was to trim the feet, which were generally trapezoid in shape. Again the mitre proved its value with the pre-defined angles coming into use. The initial angle from the base of the leg into the foot would then be overlaid with a second steeper angle where the real cut would be made.

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Once the feet were trimmed I was able to then start with the join. There were a couple of ways I could of done this, but I chose a simple gang nail plate that I bashed into the wood via a mallet.

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The next step was to get the legs together against the supporting cross-bar. With the aid of four “L” brackets and their screws, I joined the legs and cross-bars together.

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Now we are talking! Artoo, we are beginning to see you.

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Now that the leg construct was coming together, the first reassembly of the painted body was needed. My son and I began to get excited on first viewing – Artoo was shaping up quite well.

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A quick test for fit by inserting the body was required to take in any further adjustments on the legs or cross-bar. I ended up having to shave of 25mm off the cross-bar to have the legs more closely aligned to the body.

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I removed the body after this so that I could spray the legs with multiple coats of white paint. The wood didn’t take to the spray paint as well as the plastic body of the bin.

Detailing the Droid

Here is where the fun, and most of the time came in. Artoo is a droid with much detail on both his head and body. To be accurate, I needed to detail the construction of Artoo with more decoration. Rather than settling for paint markings directly onto the droid, I detailed paper and card with blue, white, and silver pens to represent his arms and hatches. But first I started with the eye which has seen the full history of Star Wars and never had its memory erased.

I took a multi-layered approach with some 12mm foam card where I carved the back end of it to be more circular in line with the dome. The black card was then detailed further to represent a faux reflection of the glass eye itself. The shinyness of the glass eye was done via a transparency sheet over the top of the black foam card. To top it all off I placed the final bit of blue card to represent the top plate.

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A bit tricky, but I think it achieved the effect. You can see the first set of markings on his dome placed on as well. I am not entirely happy with this detail as it was quite hard putting flat paper on a spherical surface. My patience with geometry was well out of the window at this stage.

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The remain detail on his body was probably more time consuming just trying to get right the proportions of all the hatches and his arms. In the end, I landed on it, with a bit of eye judgement and the eye and dome as a reference point. I also used copious images from the internet to see as much detail as possible. This is definitely beginning to look like the droid that I was looking for.

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The Bladder

Now here is where I had a major decision to make. Do I put the water valve in the centre of Artoo for symmetry, or put it off to the side? Given that it was a kids birthday party and I didn’t want to create a “urinating” Artoo, I decided to offset the water bladder and valve. But first I needed to cut a hole out for the valve. To protect the paint and the detailing on the body, I put a plastic contact sheet over the patch for the valve before I made the cut.

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I thought that the cut hole for the valve was going to be difficult, but in the end the scalpel blade cut through the plastic body like butter (or should I say as easy as a lightsaber). Inserting the bladder through the hole, the valve fit perfectly.

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Looking inside Artoo’s body, you can see the 10L water bladder. You can also see the screws from the inside attaching the body to the legs. I sourced the bladder from a camping shop and had to be careful to get one that was safe for drinking use.

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With the final bit of detailing done, Artoo was ready to roll and meet the 5 year olds. I was quite chuffed with the result, but being the perfectionist I would like to finish him off with the rounded detail on the top of his legs. That may come at a later date.

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Our Artoo is now available for weddings, funerals, baptisms, and BBQs. And we now have a droid sitting at home looking at us as we go about our business.

Only 6 more sleeps to go before we see him in action again on the big screen. Next year, it will have to be a BB-8 lolly tub.

Nothing to say, just the photo.

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Nothing to say, just the photo.

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My Mum was taking care of my son, ‘The Pok’, at home yesterday as he was sick and I was unable to take the day off work. Mum enjoys spending time with him and showing him things on YouTube sometimes. As she recounted the story of one video it prompted me to write this post. In the 30+ years since I was a child the changes in technology have been astronomical. Things that were cutting edge are now obsolete and for ‘The Pok’ and ‘Kiki’ they will only see this stuff being done in a museum.

1 – Winding an Audio Cassette Tape

This was what prompted the post. When ‘The Pok’ saw the video he was totally confused. He did not even know what he was looking at, and more importantly why the person had a pen stuck inside the hole of one of the reels. The two of them will never know about waiting up late at night to record the radio when your favourite songs were being played (and cursing when some silly DJ would voice over the intro of the song). Nor will they ever know how important someone with a dual cassette deck player was – the beginnings of media piracy.

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2 – Use a Sony Walkman

My generation was the first to truly experience personal and mobile audio – via a Sony Walkman. Yes it was a machine that played audio cassette tapes, but it was also a personal machine that allowed me to escape in my own personal world of music. So when my parents were playing some daft music on the car radio as we drove on long car trips, I could listen to my own personal playlist. The Walkman came in all sorts of models, with a multitude of buttons appearing on the more expensive models. You were a lucky kid if yours was a Walkman Sport with radio, and MEGABASS. My favourite model was the first I ever received – and it was quite a basic model, with two advantages being ultra compact and light. It wasn’t fancy, just black and small but I loved it. Apple has a lot to thank Sony for, particularly for not taking their technology to the digital hard drive phase. The evolution of the Walkman was cassette, compact disc, and then mini-disc (which was great technology, but ultimately short lived). Some elements of this technology have lived on though, just have a look at the plethora of headphones that you can purchase for absurd prices.

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3 – Need to look up a paper TV guide

I still can’t believe this, that to find out what was on the five television channels you had to buy either the newspaper or a special magazine like TV Week in Australia. By the time my kids are all grown up, media will be on-demand and you will interrogate any number of devices to tell you what is available. You probably won’t even type in what you are searching for, as the voice recognition software is already mature enough for the big electronic companies to be embedding it in everything – ‘ask Google’?

TV_Week_Magazine

BTW – Kate Jackson was my favourite Angel, not Farah Fawcett. And I thought the 6 Million Dollar Man was a legend. I can’t remember a single episode of Starsky and Hutch but I do remember the car.

4 – “Tape” a TV show

VHS players and tapes exploded during my teenage years. This was a pivotal point in media technology, and so much so that when I speak to my wife about recording a show from cable TV I often say that I am going to tape it. My kids will never “Tape” anything. Tapes are pretty much a thing of the past, and in most respects this is brilliant. I can remember what would happen when the VHS player went on the blink and would develop and appetite for said tape. Or when one of your brothers taped over something you recorded to watch later, with the ensuing sibling conflict. Hard drives will soon be replaced in their entirety by solid state media, and no doubt that by the time my two reach adulthood that a new technology will be used to store their favourite media.

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5 – Wait till a scheduled time to watch a show

Other than live sport and new TV shows or films, the concept of watching media to a schedule is almost obsolete. The same could be said with radio, where streaming and subscription services cater for what you want when you want it. Not only is on-demand now the way it will work, but the predictive software that analyses you audio and visual tastes will be able to prompt you to listen to other similar music or shows. With all of this, the only thing holding up the business models of the past is archaic and corrupt legislation – where lobbyists cajole politicians to favour their outdated media empires. Anyone for Netflix or Tidal?

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Writing this post made me thing of a plethora of other things in this field. I think there may be a second post of things that my kids will never know.

Nothing to say just the photo.

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As I wrote previously, I turned my son ‘The Pok’ into a first rate Star Wars nerd. So when his 5th birthday came up, you can guess what he asked for – a Star Wars party. We were a little stumped as to what we should do for his party. Games, costumes, decorations, themed food, and well… all of the above. The first thing that came to mind that ticked off two items on the list was toy lightsabers for the kids. I have to admit that this idea was not original, but I thought that I would bring it to life in the most perfect way.

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First I had to source the blades, and foam pool noodles were the trick. I went to Kmart to grab six of them. In doing so I whacked some poor young woman three times while navigating the aisles (after the third time she thought that either I was annoying or trying a very bad pickup routine – the former was the truth). I grabbed two of each of the major colours seen in the films; blue, green, and red. Grab the hollow ones if you can, the solid ones hurt a bit if you get properly whacked.

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The tools required were:

  • Measuring tape
  • Scissors
  • Coping saw (not essential and can be swapped for a Stanley knife)
  • Permanent marker
  • Electrical tape to represent the lightsaber hilt (different widths and colours – but make sure that you have a grey colour on hand)
  • Some sticker dots (again not essential but adds to the detail)
  • Mitre guide on horse (not essential if not using the coping saw)

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The six noodles would end up making 12 lightsabers. First we had to measure the halfway point so we could do some cutting. The Pok was obviously getting frustrated with my perfectionism. The noodles I bought where exactly 1500mm so a cut at 750mm would do the trick.

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Then the noodle was cut in half using the guide and saw. The ends that were cut would end up being the hilt part of the lightsaber (so that the hilt could cover up any rough sawing and pen marks).

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Now I had to measure the hilt, so from the edge that I cut I measured in 200mm. I came to this measurement as a good length for little 5 year old hands to be able to double grip the lightsaber. This length also offered enough room for detailing the laser sword’s hilt.

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I wrapped the first band of electrical tape was around the noodle at the 200mm marker – which represents the emitting part of the hilt.

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Then I wrapped the end in tape to top and tail the hilt of laser sword.

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Filling in the gap with additional cuts of electrical tape allowed me to detail the hilt. I decided to be creative here and use varying cuts and colours of electrical tape to make a unique design for each lightsaber. A finishing touch was for the placement of one or more sticker dots representing the buttons to activate the blade (yes I am a perfectionist).

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The end result was a collection of unique toy lightsabers for each child attending the party to could grab and play with, and at the end of the party take home along with their goody bag.

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The Pok loved them, and as the birthday boy he received an extra special one with additional custom detail and some unique colours.

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Kiki simply thought that her Daddy had just made up the largest ice lolly she has ever seen (then proceeded to try and whack her brother).

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This was relatively cheap, a few dollars per noodle along with the cost of the electrical tape and a Saturday afternoon. The key was to make them unique. But watch out for; the kids fighting over the colours, little people ganging up on the parents, and a couple of bruised child egos from being left wanting in their fencing skills. As I was making them, my wife asked me “should we organise any games?” No need with these things, give them to the kids and let them whack each other for a few hours.

Last point – as a father yours must be red and of a b@d@ss design.

Nothing to say just the photo.

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Sydney Harbour is without a doubt beautiful. Us Sydneysiders are quite lucky to have at the heart of our city this maritime masterpiece. Multiple levels of government have been making quite a bit of effort over the last few years to make the harbour foreshore accessible to people. I think that there is also a master plan to connect a continuous stretch of foreshore from Woolloomooloo (East of the Opera House – and yes I spelt that suburb correctly) all the way through to Balmain. So when the plans to redevelop the Western maritime shoreline of the Sydney CBD began, the opportunity to redefine the shoreline and reconnect a previously inaccessible strip of land arose. This part of my city is named Barangaroo.

Barangaroo was the name of the wife of one of Australia’s most famous indigenous Australians – Bennelong. She was a powerful woman from the Aboriginal clan of Cammeraygal, being a key figure in the local community.

After decades of construction and harbour reclamation, the original shape of the shoreline had been lost to the square shape of concrete docks. The plan to introduce a public park on the Barangoo shoreline was opened up to a design competition, and the winning design was a beautiful landscape proposal that returns the shape of the original shoreline. The driving force for the introduction of this park was Australia’s greatest Prime Minister from the few decades – Paul Keating. And we can now enjoy the fruits of the labour of the architects, landscapers, and builders who gave us this new park – and cycleway too :-)

C’mon, you knew that I would throw my two wheel endeavours into this.

So we took off on our bikes as a family, me riding alongside the Pok on his bike and my wife riding her bike with our Chariot trailer in tow shuttling Kiki. The distance from our place to the Barangaroo headland is just shy of 6km, a big distance for my little guy. But the reward was this:

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The shoreline has been recreated with large hewn sandstone blocks. The stone that submerges with the tide has already taken to the green aquatic colours. There are two tracks the follow the shoreline. One which is composed of compacted earth for walkers, and a second asphalted path for two wheel steeds and runners. The views out over the harbour are great, and uninterrupted out to the inner West and the ANZAC Bridge.

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The sandstone blocks are quite large, but not off-limits to walk on. Though the blocks do make you feel kinda small, but at the same time Balmain seems strangely within arms reach.

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At the Northern most point of the headline was the opportune time for a refuelling pit-stop.

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This gave me a chance to explore the park a bit more while the kids snacked. I rode up the hill to get a better view of the landscape of the park. The trees that have been planted have not matured yet, so hopefully in a few more years the shade will be more prominent.

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My little Kiki was asleep the whole way to the park until we stopped. She was pleasantly surprised when we she woke up.

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The view from the headland to the Sydney Harbour Bridge is pretty spectacular too, and the elevation provides a unique perspective. The short climb is fun to ride up.

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The old maritime control tower which directed shipping is still in place and presides over the entire park.

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Some of the sculpture pieces are pretty cool. This mini “stonehenge” from sandstone blocks was the site of a little game of hide and seek between The Pok, Kiki, and myself.

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And I can never get enough of taking photos of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but it is the colours in the stone that are a highlight to me.

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We took the opportunity to have a few race sprints between The Pok and myself. My little man is turning into a bit of a speed demon on the wheels, hitting over 20kph in a burst of speed. Not bad for a five year old. But all that energy output lead to more refueling for the boy – a hot chocolate did the trick.

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All up a great family ride and what turned out to be the longest ride that my little man has done – 13km! He loved it as did my wife and little girl. And we are lucky to have a new addition to our harbour front.

Nothing to say just the photo.

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