Lasers and things.

In the school year of 1985 – 1986 I was in grade 8 at Pierre Laporte Junior High in what used to be North York, Ontario.

Active Surplus was a dealer down on Queen Street West between University and Spadina that sold new electronic components along with used surplus electronic equipment.

Active Surplus had just received a bunch of Pioneer Video Laser Disc players from New Way Sales. New Way Sales was a video game distributor that had been located up on Rexdale Blvd. New Way Sales was owned by brothers Paul and Jerry Janda.

The laser disc players had been removed from a bunch of Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace, Astron Belt, and other laser disc based arcade games that had been scrapped when they reached the end of their useful life.

Active Surplus was selling these for $50 a piece. I grabbed 10 of them. Bob Becker drove his cube van down and we loaded them into the van and drove them up to the base and brought them into the house.

I would eventually get 3 of these players working, but the rest I scrapped.

In reality I had bought these players for one reason, and that was for the laser tubes and the optics. Making them work for playing movies was never the goal.

The fact that I did get three of the players working probably indicated that I wasn’t quite as dumb as some people made me out to be.

Radio Electronics was a magazine that I used to buy from Coles bookstore downtown. Popular Electronics was the other. These two magazines were the primary source of my electronics education.

Both of these magazines always had projects to build. One project was a made from scratch power supply that would strike and arc in a 5mW helium neon laser tube, and then drop the current and voltage down to a safe level once the arc was established.

Each of these Pioneer laser disc players came with a 5mW Toshiba helium-neon laser tube, a collimator lens, two surface reflecting mirrors, and two surface reflecting mirrors mounted on voice coils.

The two surface reflecting mirrors mounted on voice coils were the tangential and radial correction mirrors.

Tangential / Radial tracking mirrors.

The manner in which these two mirrors were mounted allowed them to scan in an x-y pattern with one mirror moving the beam in a horizontal direction and the other mirror moving the beam in a vertical direction.

Because they were moving a laser beam around, a tiny bit of movement of these mirrors would cause a significant amount of deflection of the beam.

The voice coil on these mirrors was 8 ohms. 8 ohms was the perfect impedence for just about any power amplifier at the time.

I built a small dual channel amplifier with 25 watts per channel. 25 watts was enough power to make the mirrors move fast enough, but not enough power to overheat the voice coils.

I could feed audio into the amplifier and have the laser project odd patterns on the wall to the beat of the music. I could feed the output of a function generator and have the laser generate shapes on the wall based on the type of waveform, the amplitude of the waveform, and the frequency of the waveform.

And I could also feed the x-y voltages from a Vectrex video game console into the amplifier and I could play video games on the wall.

Vectrex was an interesting game console from around 1982. It displayed graphics by actually drawing lines on the monitor tube as opposed to how conventional video games draw images. I won’t get too detailed, but think of games like Asteroids, Omega Race, Tempest, Major Havoc, Armor Attack, Space Fury, etc. These games had a very unique look due to the way the CPU drew the images on the screen. The Vectrex console drew x-y graphics as opposed to raster graphics.

Mr. Jonathan Bowles was my grade 8 science teacher.

The first couple of times that I had taken the laser to school and set it up in science class and just bounced the beam around the room he was more than impressed. But once I got the Vectrex interfaced with the laser, he was astonished. I could set the laser up in the cafeteria / auditorium of the school and project the Vectrex images on the screen.

The first time Mr. Bowles had talked to my father about the laser, Richard blew up at me at home.

“Why the fuck did you take that to school?”

“Do you know how much fucking trouble you’re going to get me into?”

“Why can’t you just be quiet in school, do the fucking work the teachers tell you to, and stop showing the fuck off, what is wrong with you?”

“Tell your teachers that I work during the day and to stop bothering me at work, I don’t have the time for their bullshit.”

The next science class, Mr. Bowles asked me if my father had spoken to me.

I asked about what.

Mr. Bowles said that my father seemed quite pleased that I was taking an interest in science.

By this time in my life I was begining to notice that my father would often say one thing at home, and then something completely different to other people.

As per my father’s instructions, I stopped taking my laser to school for science class.

Mr. Bowles had told me once that this laser was something that I should enter into the National Science Fair in Ottawa, and that he’d be happy to talk to my father about this.

I pleaded with Mr. Bowles to never call my father again, that my father was upset about the last phone call and that my father said that none of my teachers had better interrupt him at work,

Mrs. Donskov, my grade 7 music teacher from Elia Junior High had made somewhat a similar mistake. She saw that I could keep rhythm fairly well, and she suggested that I take up bass guitar. When she called Richard to suggest a local music shop that could finance a guitar if money was tight, he exploded.

So, Mrs. Donskov did the next best thing, she arranged for me to be able to take one of the school’s bass guitars and an amplifier home to practice on the weekends. She’d even go so far as to drop the guitar and amp off on Friday and pick it up on Monday. When Richard saw me carrying the guitar and Mrs. Donskov carrying the amplifier towards our house on Canadian Forces Base Downsview, he blew up. He threatened to have her arrested by the military police if she ever though of doing something stupid like this again.

Mrs. Donskov suggested that maybe my father could set me up with drum lessons from a local teacher. Nope.

And then there was Mr. Ford, my grade 8 music teacher from Pierre Laporte. This time Mr. Ford was convinced that I had a knack for sequencing music on the new MIDI control system.

Looking back, I know a few things about my father that help me to understand what his issues were.

The first issue that he had was his grade school education.

When I examined my father for Federal Court in the summer of 2013, I asked him what school he attended as a child. He put down St. John School, Fort McMurray, Alberta. I have yet to receive confirmation, but the school Richard named also shows up on a list of schools covered under the Indian Residential settlement program. The particular school my father attended is listed as inelligable for receving settlement funds solely due to the fact the school was only the Indian Day Program and it did not have the the residential component.

Richard was half Swampy Cree and half Irish. This made him a half-breed under government definition. And yes, that was the actual legal definition for people like my father. The federal government didn’t start using small “m” metis to describe people like my father until the late ’60s and early ’70s. The Indian Day Program was leaps and bounds behind the standard public school. The Indian Day Program was only meant to teach the kids that attended the absolute basics as the government of Canada didn’t think that these kids were going to become much more than farm labourers or manual labourers.

Was Richard’s experience in the Indian Day Program the reason why he despised my school teachers so much?

I think Richard’s experience in school as a child is what poisoned him towards my teachers and my counsellors.

Cost was another issue that my father often had.

As long as a program didn’t cost him anything, or cost him very little, he was all for it.

I could join Sea Cadets in 1984, because the Canadian Armed Forces basically picked up all of the costs associated with cadets. My uniform was free, my boots were free, parade night and weekend trips to CFB Borden were free. It didn’t cost him a single nickle.

A trip to Ottawa to enter my laser into the National Science Fair ? That would cost a lot of money. There’d be the cost of the hotel room. The cost of food. The cost of this, the cost of that.

Get me a computer capable of working with MIDI? Again, that would cost money, so that was out of the question.

Buy me a bass guitar and an amplifier and lessons? Christ, forget the lessons, just buy me a guitar and amplifier? Again, this would cost money so the answer would be no.

Paid professional drum lessons? Nope.

And as he told his buddy Jacque Choquette, the only reason that Richard kept my brother and I is so that he could control the costs.

Yes, it is true that Richard did get my brother and I season passes for Canada’s Wonderland for the 1983 season and the 1984 season. But these passes were $29.95 at the time for unlimited visits.

Canada’s Wonderland served, as my brother would say, Richard’s discount babysitting service.

Richard, or Sue, would drop me and my brother off at 08:00 just about every weekend and weekday that we weren’t in school with the exception of the summer we spent in Edmonton in ’84.

We’d each be given $10 for the day.

Let me tell you, $10 doesn’t go very far in an overpriced amusement park.

Richard or Sue would pick us up at 22:00 just after the park closed. We’d have to wait in the passenger drop off / pick up area.

The novelty of Canada’s Wonderland wore off for me really fucking quick. I used to find corners of that park where I could hide and go to sleep in order to pass the time.

It got so bad that I used to pray that I would get kidnapped and then Richard would have to explain to the police why he was dropping his kids off unattended at the park all day long.

This is one of the reasons I had to do a double take when I read Richard’s statement that he had given to the CFNIS in 2011. He claimed that the school wanted to go on a trip to Canada’s Wonderland, but that he didn’t want me to go because I had been bad, and that the school had threatened him that not letting me go could be considred “child abuse”. Fucking seriosuly? This is the guy who used Canada’s Wonderland like a “discount babysitting service”. So yeah, there definately was something wrong with Richard.

What exactly that problem is, I don’t think we will ever know.

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