Warping minds, one explosion at a time

Posted by Office-Bob on 12 Jun 2015 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro

You’ve probably heard of the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach?” Well, you’d better hope that isn’t the case because as of this year I am now certified by the Explosives Regulatory Division (ERD) of Natural Resources Canada (NRC) to teach the Display Fireworks and Special Effects Pyrotechnics courses as part of the national licensing program.

There have been a number of changes to the licensing program over the years, so I should explain what the program used to be and what it is now…

When I first took the Display Supervisor course the process went as follows: you spent the first half of the day in the classroom learning the theory (including things like safety distances and such) and then you’d go out into the field for a practical demonstration where students would be shown how to load display shells into mortars (the tubes from which fireworks are launched) and would get to light the fuse and send a shell into the sky. Assuming you did everything right and passed the class, you were issued a Level 1* Display Supervisor license and were automatically allowed to purchase certain product and fire Level 1 shows. Once you’d had a certain number of shows under your belt and were able to provide letters of reference showing you’d gained additional experience, you were able to apply to upgrade your license to Level 2.

The ERD overhauled the licensing system a while ago and decided that instead of allowing a complete newbie to run their own show, which might not be the best idea, they’d change the licensing program to something more graduated - so instead of being able to run a show as soon as you received your license, they changed to a graduated system where you first work as a Display Assistant for a number of shows - then, once you’ve gained experience (and letters of reference from show supervisors you’ve worked for), you can apply for your Display Supervisor license. This license is the same as the old Level 1 but under the new program they’ve broken down the additional operator capabilities into a set of endorsements as follows:
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Popularity: 4% [?]

Bright lights and late nights

Posted by Office-Bob on 07 Jun 2015 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro, FX

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s a safe bet that anyone who talks about “the glamour of the movie industry” has never actually worked in it.

I recently worked two nights on an upcoming TV show which, because of an NDA that I had to sign, I won’t go into detail about because I’m not sure if my own personal blog falls within their definition of “social media.” Here’s how each day went:

DAY 1 - call time 3:00 pm, wrap at 4:48 am the next morning.

DAY 2 - call time 3:30 pm, wrap at 6:00 am the next morning.

Considering that the money one makes on a union production is pretty damned good, especially when you factor in regular rate, overtime, double OT and meal penalties*, all things considered I’d still rather work on fireworks displays or do live theatre. Why, you ask? Well, because:
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Popularity: 4% [?]

Felines…nothing more than felines…

Posted by Office-Bob on 09 Mar 2015 | Tagged as: General Craziness

Have you ever regretted not having kids because you’re unable to enjoy being able to tell them to turn down their godawful music? Well, never fear, now there’s music for cats!

Now you can yell at your cats to turn down their crap music; they’ll ignore you just like a REAL teenager, but with less sighing and screaming things like, “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL MOM! I HATE YOU!”

For less than the cost of a cup of coffee you can show your cat how much you regret making them listen to your Nina Simone CDs by giving them something that they’ll want to listen to! Take “crazy cat lady” to A HIGHER LEVEL!

Operators are standing by…ORDER NOW!

Popularity: 4% [?]

Tomato Catch-Up

Posted by Office-Bob on 03 Feb 2015 | Tagged as: Rants, The Church of Pyro, FX

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything, for which I apologize. Life has been in a state of flux and thinking of witty things to say hasn’t exactly been high on my to-do list, but from now on I am going to try and be more regular than a well-fibered colon.

I’m still not working on a full-time basis and while that’s allowed me to take on more pyro and FX work, this whole “not having a steady paycheque” thing is getting old and I’d be happy to get back to the daily grind of sitting at a desk slaving away for a regular wage….oh my dog, did I just write that?

I don’t know what’s worse - dealing with job applications where you don’t ever hear back or dealing with recruiters who tell you they’ve got the perfect position for you but they never call you back after you start dealing with them; of the two I’d say the recruiters are the worst but of course that’s just my opinion.

Okay, that’s enough of a pity party for now.

As I mentioned earlier I’ve been able to engage in more pyro and FX work these days, including three TV shows and a TV movie, as well as a number of fireworks displays which not only included the usual suspects of Canada Day and Celebration of Light, but the Port Moody Centennial and last year’s Port Moody Days…though that had the downside of having to set up my firing control panel next to the stage where an ABBA tribute band was playing. The group was great, it’s just that I’ve never really been an ABBA fan.

I’ve also worked a few BC Lions home games and was part of the Grey Cup 2014 FX crew, and I got to be the “local license” for Motley Crue when they came to Vancouver. Other pyro gigs included a wedding, a city hall opening, a casino opening, a couple of “private” displays (so called because they’re not advertised, but as you can guess once the first shell goes off it’s difficult to keep them a secret) and a New Year’s Eve show for a client who was so secretive, the only person who knew who was paying for it was the guy in charge - and he had to sign an NDA and couldn’t even tell the rest of us. I also did some consulting work on a few plays and made some breakaway vases for another play.

Next week I head to Lake Havasu City, AZ for Western Winter Blast. there are a few seminars that look interesting this year, especially one on gas mines, and I’m hoping to come away with some new knowledge that I can put to use soon.

2015 should be interesting because I am now officially certified by the Explosives Regulatory Division as a pyrotechnics instructor and I will be teaching my first course in March. It’s being held in a town that’s about 4 hours away from here but I guess you have to start somewhere, and I’m hoping to have more courses set up soon in the Metro Vancouver area as there seems to me a lot of interest in becoming licensed. If by some chance you, Dear Reader(s), are in the Vancouver area and are interested in taking either the Display Supervisor or Special Effects Pyrotechnic courses - or both - leave your contact info in the comments and I’ll let you know who you need to contact to express interest.

That’s all for now…Stay Green!

Popularity: 7% [?]

Strangers on a Plane

Posted by Office-Bob on 25 Feb 2013 | Tagged as: General Craziness

I had just finished a week-long trip and was on my way home; the first leg of my flight was Las Vegas to Seattle, and from there I had a connecting flight to Bellingham where I’d catch a shuttle to drive me to Vancouver. It’s a long trip but still cheaper than travelling directly from Vancouver to Vegas, so there you are.

As I was settling into my aisle seat, the passenger in the middle seat showed up and I got up to let him sit down. He obviously wasn’t pleased with having the middle seat as he asked me, and then the passenger in the window seat, if we’d be willing to switch places with him. Even with the offer of cash in hand, neither of us were interested in switching places so, with no further comment, Middle Passenger took his seat.

He was young – I’m terrible at guessing ages but I figured he was in his early to mid-twenties. He was dressed in t-shirt and shorts, with a hoodie that he removed before taking his seat. He fiddled with his phone for a bit, probably texting someone to let them know he made his flight.

After takeoff, he asked me if they served alcohol on the flight. I said they did and then, guessing that he wasn’t aware of how things now worked in the air, told him that they only accepted credit or debit cards for payment. My hunch was correct as he then asked if I would be willing to buy him a drink. I agreed, because he was a very polite young man and since he couldn’t buy drinks on his own, there was very little chance of his becoming drunk and disorderly in-flight.

When the attendant came by to take drink orders he requested a Cuervo and Coke and (without being asked) handed over his ID – a Washington State driver’s license which was different in that it was printed to be read vertically, rather than horizontally as other types of ID are printed. The attendant seemed a little puzzled and asked a few questions about the DL but as it showed he was of legal age, she gave him his drink. I ordered a rum and diet Coke and paid for both, and when he started to pull out money to pay me for the drink, something made me tell him to forget it, that the drink was on me.

I can’t tell you why I paid for his drink – He had enough cash on him to try to bribe his way into a “better” (for him) seat, and I wasn’t looking for good deeds to do…but something just told me that he could use a break.

He offered his hand while thanking me; I took it, we shook, and then after we’d mixed our drinks we toasted each other. He mentioned that he’d been in Vegas for a month to visit his uncle but was now returning home to Seattle, and this was only his second time on a plane. He wasn’t terrified nor terribly at ease, but he admitted that this second time wasn’t as nerve-wracking as the first. He then made a comment indicating that he was still smarting a little from having his ID questioned, so I told him how the Washington State driver’s licenses handled under-21 drivers when I was living there, decades ago – if you were under 21 when your license photo was taken they did it as a side profile; that way ID checkers would be able to tell right away if someone was definitely 21 or if they needed to look further at things – say, the ID holder turned 21 after the license photo was taken.

We discussed various sorts of ID; I showed him my NEXUS card with its incredibly bad photo taken with a webcam (I’m not joking), and he said his last piece of ID before the Washington DL was a Department of Corrections ID card.

As I’ve mentioned before I’m not great at guessing ages but considering we’d now established that he’s recently turned 21. Since, in my opinion, it’s very unlikely that he was a corrections officer at that young an age – well, you can figure it out where my mind went.

Didn’t bother me one damned bit.

We talked about a lot of things. He asked me how long I’d been married (since 1981) and asked me how I knew she was The One; I replied that to me it was a matter of seeing how the relationship progressed until everything just felt right. He asked me other questions such as were there things I’d done in my life that I regretted, and if I found it difficult to trust people. I told him that of course I’d done things in life that I’d regretted – I don’t think there’s anyone alive who hasn’t – but that you have to just learn from your mistakes and try not to make the same mistakes twice. As far as trusting people, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt unless they’re obviously untrustworthy, and if someone breaks my trust I’m willing to give them another chance unless they show they’re completely irredeemable.

As you might imagine I was dying to hear his life story and try to understand what he’d done – or had had done to him – to make him ask these sorts of questions of a complete stranger…but if my assumption that he was recently released from some sort of correctional facility was correct then coming out and bugging him for details could be considered as hypocritical of me, since I’d been talking about trust and learning from mistakes and so on. If he wanted to unburden himself to me that was certainly his choice but to me, it was on a Need to Know basis, and I didn’t think I had the need to know.

Eventually the conversation petered out. We finished our drinks, I did a little work on my iPad while listening to some music, and he closed his eyes and slept a bit.

As we were landing he thanked me again for the drink and wished me good luck with the rest of my travel plans; since he had reached his destination I wished him good luck with his life and told him to “pay forward” the drink when he could. We shook hands again, I gathered my stuff and dashed off to make my connecting flight.

It’s very unlikely I’ll ever see David again, but whatever he does and wherever he goes, I hope he does well – and, if he does, I hope our conversation helped at least a little.

Popularity: 21% [?]

Year in Review: 2012

Posted by Office-Bob on 12 Jan 2013 | Tagged as: General Craziness, The Church of Pyro, FX

Now that enough time has elapsed that I feel like an utter jerk for neglecting my blog for so long, it’s time to look back at the past year. With the exception of the startup I’d been with since 2007 apparently going under in December (I say “apparently” because while they’ve gotten rid of everyone who was working there, the site itself is still online for now), it was a pretty good year.

  • I got to see the Mythbusters Live! tour when they came through Vancouver…although I missed out on the chance to get an Adam Savage bobblehead because I figured they’d have lots available and I’d buy one after the show, only to find they’d run out.
  • While I attended Western Winter Blast per usual in February (where I got to see my first oxygen lance), this time I flew out of Bellingham because even when adding the cost of the shuttle to/from the airport it was still over $100 cheaper than flying out of Vancouver (Hey, Canadian airline industry, are you paying attention? I’m not the only person doing this) and due to a combination of lack of sleep and coffee, and the unfamiliarity of a new/much smaller airport, I managed to screw up when trying to go through security. Despite the horror stories you hear about the TSA, the staff at BLI were very nice and helpful and even had a sense of humour, which made what could have been a major hassle into nothing more than a minor hiccup in my travels.
  • I made my reality TV debut on an episode of PYROS and I came out surprisingly (for me) well.
  • I did a consult for Metro Theatre for a production they were mounting which I’d done FX for previously – unfortunately due to scheduling issues I wasn’t able to see the show itself.
  • I had lots of pyro gigs this year, including the World Model United Nations conference in Vancouver and my first New Year’s Eve show since 2007 (which may turn into a recurring gig, huzzah!), but two shows which stand out for me were Rammstein (flamethrowers, giant cooking pots, and a foam machine painted to look like a penis – what’s not to like?) and Skrillex (bad point: backstage politicking, good point: being able to take home all of their unused pyro as it was the last stop on the tour, and they didn’t want the hassle of trying to take the product back across the border into the US). After reviewing my calendar I figured out that the total number of shows I worked on in 2012 was 12 – which I’d say is a respectable number for someone who isn’t doing pyro as a full-time gig.
  • For those of you who are into such things, here’s what a show looks like before it’s fired and here’s what it looks like as it’s being fired (Yes, Mom, I was wearing all of my safety gear and I had something to duck behind if there was a problem).
  • I also learned how useful pyro pokes are, and that I should have purchased a set long ago because not only do they make it very easy to insert e-match into tight quickmatch, or when you’re e-matching directly into a lift charge, but they’re a great way to make friends when you see someone from Team Brazil trying to use a piece of wood as a poke, and you loan him one of yours. I suppose I should add “International Relations” to my resume…
  • I created my first scripted show this year using the Cobra system; even though the show suffered from heavy rains which knocked out a bunch of product (I thought I had everything properly protected, but I obviously didn’t - but now I know for next time!), it was nice to not have to pay attention to a stopwatch and cue list while trying to push the right buttons at the right time.
  • Shows I attended but didn’t work on included John Fogerty, John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, the Chieftains, Don McLean and the Vinyl Café Christmas Concert…and while it wasn’t live I saw the latest “arena tour” of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, which has cemented my man crush on Tim Minchin.

    All in all, 2012 was a good year. 2013 looks to be okay as well – I already have 3 shows scheduled and I expect at least 3 more - but I guess we’ll see how it turns out.

    Popularity: 33% [?]

    This week’s episode of Adventures in Home Ownership…REPLACING THE SOAP DISPENSER!

    Posted by Office-Bob on 24 Sep 2012 | Tagged as: General Craziness

    That’s right, folks, not everything in my life is as exciting as blowing stuff up - sometimes I actually have to deal with the mundane stuff.

    The dispenser in question is in the kitchen and mounted in the sink, to be used for dish-washing soap (yes, I’m one of those Luddites without an automatic dishwasher, deal with it). The pump mechanism died, so I set about trying to locate a suitable replacement.

    I found a dispenser unit at IKEA, and my first hope - that I’d be able to just swap out the pump head and not have to replace the storage bottle mounted under the sink - was dashed because, of course, they’re not the same diameter.

    Unscrewing the bottle from underneath the sink should be easy enough, right? Well, no, because this thing was so old that I was only able to get the nut loosened enough to become incredibly frustrated at my inability to grow an extra set of arms, or to lengthen the ones I have a la Reed Richards.

    I learned a long time ago that when I start getting frustrated over things like this it’s better to step back and cool off. Since there were other errands that I needed to do I went ahead and did them, allowing me time to ponder the dilemma and think of an appropriate solution.

    Eventually the solution I was seeking came to me in the form of the saying, “There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved through a suitable application of high explosives a hacksaw.”

    A quick trip to my workshop and I was soon happily sawing away at the neck of the bottle housing, now available to me through the small amount of gap I’d been granted by that tiny amount of play in the mounting nut which was holding the pump neck to the bottle housing…it was small, but it was large enough for the hacksaw blade and that’s all that mattered. Of course after finally removing the old dispenser I found that the hole was just a teensy bit smaller than what was needed for the new dispenser, but that’s easy enough to fix with my Dremel and since I still had other things to do, I decided to stop there and wait until tonight to finish the job.

    Tune in again next time for another exciting episode of Adventures in Home Ownership entitled…ASSEMBLING THE CARPET CLEANER!

    Popularity: 17% [?]

    Foam, foam and deranged…

    Posted by Office-Bob on 23 May 2012 | Tagged as: The Church of Pyro

    Here we are, already most of the way through May, and I’ve once again been remiss in keeping you all up-to-date on my amazing exploits - because y’all live for this stuff, amirite*? Okay, here’s the recap:

    - Attended Western Winter Blast again. This year I got to see an oxygen lance in action, up close and personal. Boy, those suckers can burn through rock like nobody’s business. I also managed to get some good wide-angle footage of this year’s public display.

    - Did a small show for the World Model UN conference in Vancouver; that one was interesting because we had 5 large 2-driver wheels, and one of them had been put together wrong…the drivers were both pointing in the same direction, which means the wheel wouldn’t have spun. Fortunately I spotted it before the show and we were able to move it into the correct orientation.

    - My reality TV debut occurred in May with a show I did last September being included as part of an episode of PYROS. Fortunately there was enough going on elsewhere that my segment was limited to the first 10 minutes and, as a result, I didn’t come off looking too bad at all.

    - Rammstein played Rogers Arena recently, and I was the “local license”…I wondered about having an industrial metal band doing a show on Mother’s Day, but the place was packed so I guess they know best. I managed to survive being up front, just outside of the barricades, and while I’m not a fan of that sort of music I have to say the pyro was FANTASTIC - so much so that I didn’t even mind getting sprayed with foam (If you know the group you’ll know which song I’m talking about, and if you don’t you may not want to know). This was also the first time I’d used my new set of custom-fit ear plugs and they did a great job of saving my hearing.

    - I have a show in Victoria the first weekend in June, don’t know anything else about that right now.

    - I’ve volunteered to crew a show down in Marysville, WA on the June 23rd weekend; since I now have my PGI certification I want to get additional experience working on US shows.

    - I’m booked for Canada Day (was booked last July, actually) but still don’t know what show I’m working on - I hope it’s a barge show, but I’ll find out eventually.

    - As expected, I’ll be working Celebration of Light again. This will be my 13th year…good thing I’m not superstitious!

    After CoL I don’t have anything planned until Halloween, and this year’s show should be fun as I’m upgrading my firing system to include a scriptable remote…I’ll be able to program my show and have it fire without needing to stare at a stopwatch and press buttons.

    *Gotta watch out for autocorrects - I almost asked, “emirate?”

    Popularity: 26% [?]

    A Modest Proposal for Translink

    Posted by Office-Bob on 16 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: General Craziness

    Considering the current state of the world economy, people aren’t very appreciative of hearing that prices are going up, and they’re even less pleased when it’s something as crucial to their needs as travel.

    Translink wants to increase fares by 12.5 percent and, of course, the public doesn’t like the idea. Fortunately, any increases will need to be justified before they’re implemented, and consultants are being brought in to look at other ways Translink can reduce operating costs.

    “We’re not looking for savings in strings and paper clips,” (Translink Commissioner Martin) Crilly said. “We’re looking for something substantial.”

    While I’m not going to get into the wisdom (or lack thereof) in spending money on outside consultants, it seems to me that by focusing only on Translink’s bus fleet, they’re missing an opportunity to increase revenues in another area – fare evasion, which we already know costs Translink a significant amount.

    I know Translink is in the process of adding fare gates and turnstiles to SkyTrain stations, and they already have transit police looking for fare evaders, but I want to offer a proposal which I think merits consideration. It involves bringing in those who’ve been marginalized by society and, by giving them a job, helping them to help themselves while providing a tangible benefit to the community.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I propose the Urban Rehabilitation System In New Environments program, in which Translink will hire bears to patrol the transit system and look for fare evaders, which the bears would then eat.

    Consider the benefits of this plan:

  • Currently, fare evaders are issued tickets which they may or may not pay; by eliminating tickets we’ll be saving time, money, and paper.
  • If bears are allowed to eat fare evaders they won’t need to scrounge through garbage bins any more; not only will this cut down on the mess left by bears but it will send a clear message to the fare cheats that breaking the rules won’t be tolerated.
  • We can reduce expenses by reducing the number of transit police needed to patrol the system; we’ll still need them for instances of violent behavior and crowd control for big events, for example, but they’ll be able to spend their time more efficiently and in fewer numbers.
  • We won’t need to spend money on employee benefits such as transit passes for the bears to get to their new jobs, because they’ve already proven themselves adept at getting from one location to another.
  • I urge Translink to consider my proposal and have their consultants evaluate it for feasibility and cost-effectiveness.

    Popularity: 23% [?]

    Fun flies when you’re doing time.

    Posted by Office-Bob on 05 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: General Craziness, The Church of Pyro, FX

    Happy 2012, everyone! Don’t let that whole Mayan calendar thing get you down, ’cause it’s all a bunch of hooey - however, if you’re really looking for a sign of impending doom, consider the fact that Rob Schneider is getting his own TV show.

    Sheesh, and I thought reality TV was bad.

    Speaking of reality TV, it looks as if I’m going to have to lift my embargo against The Donald and watch Celebrity Apprentice because George Takei is going to be a contestant on the upcoming season. DAMN YOU, TAKEI!

    New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet; I haven’t had a NYE fireworks display since the economy tanked, although I almost had an indoor gig this year…they decided against pyro, however, so instead we went out for an early dinner and then I went to watch a show put on by a fellow pyro that I’m sort of mentoring. I loaned him my firing system, though, so I guess that sort of counts as having a show, amirite?

    In other pyro-related news:

  • I’ll once again be attending Western Winter Blast in beautiful downtown Lake Havasu City, AZ in mid-February. I’m really looking forward to getting away from the cold and wet of Greater Vancouver, even if it is only for a week. This year I’m flying from Bellingham, WA because even adding in the cost of a shuttle from Vancouver to Bellingham I’m saving around $100 over flying out of Vancouver - every bit helps.
  • I may have mentioned it before but I’m already booked for Canada Day - hell, I was booked before last August (it’s good to be popular).
  • Celebration of Light is supposed to announce the 2012 dates sometime in January; while there are never any guarantees I’m reasonably certain that I’ll be asked to crew again, though it’s going to be interesting how the logistics of not having Benson and Hedges (the two fireworks barges, which have been sold off) will work.
  • I’m both anticipating and dreading seeing myself on TV when PYROS finally airs on Discovery Canada.
  • That’s all for now…I wish each and every one of you a fantastic 2012…

    …at least until the Mayans and Rob Schneider are done screwing it up.

    Popularity: 43% [?]

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