Monday, January 24, 2011

Happy birthday, bathtub boys!

Happy birthday to me! By way of a present to myself we decided that today would be the day we re-introduce Augustus and Snowdon to each other. They've been living in separate pens for three months since the nasty fighting that began when they hit puberty. You may remember they began fighting only two days before their scheduled neutering at the vet's, and have had to be separated since then.

"Give them three months apart before reintroducing them," we were told, so since October each one has occupied a different pen in the living room, side by side but separated by bars. It's been a daily rota of pen-swapping so they both get equal time out of their cages and we've made sure that they've always been able to see and smell each other.

For most of those three months Augustus would still nip at Snowdon through the bars given the chance but suddenly that changed about two weeks ago and they began to groom each other and lie close to each other.

So today being the three-month mark (and coincidentally my birthday) we decided to begin the reintroduction process by putting them in the bathtub together. Stressful? Oh yes! Snowdon sat and cowered and refuse to eat snacks while Augustus ate anything put in front of him and kept trying to leap out of the bathtub in homage to Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.

I think another couple of days of bathtub-panic and maybe a little ride on the washing machine together during a spin cycle (in a box of course) and they might be ready to hang out together in the living room. There's no way I'm going to leave them together unaccompanied for a while, though!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beware the Shredder

Yeah. Lesson learned.

Fire is dangerous which is why insurance companies listen to your request for fire-juggling insurance and say, "" But they have no problem covering you for using a portable paper-shredder. Hey, it's just office equipment. Like a water-cooler without the risk of drowning. Or a stapler without the projectile range.

So I occasionally use one.

In one particular routine I use origami folds to transform a spectator's signed $20 bill into a magnificent, crisp new $5 bill. By way of compensation and to guarantee that I am able to leave the venue unbruised I go on to offer the spectator an additional $15.

However, simply handing the cash over would be anticlimactic so instead I place it in an envelope and shuffle it among five more. A woman is brought on stage from the audience to help select which of the six envelopes the first spectator gets to take home with him. To randomize the process and to guarantee that I'm not influencing her choice, she rolls a pair of dice on the table top and one by one eliminates five of the envelopes.

Which is where the shredder comes in.

With each roll of the dice she takes the eliminated envelope and sticks it into the paper shredder behind her on stage. If all goes according to plan, in spite of five envelopes having been shoved through a device that cuts them into tiny strips, the person who kindly lent me $20 at the start goes home with their money. It works. Most of the time.

I should know better than to trust technology, however. A little over a week ago I was performing this for a company Christmas event (I know, I know, it's January, but this kind of thing is becoming more common) and the woman who came up to help me on stage was wearing a wonderful airy chiffon dress with a matching long scarf thingy. I don't actually know what chiffon is, but if I had to create a word to describe the material her dress was made of, it would be that.

As there was no table behind me on stage I had placed the waste paper basket and portable shredder on the floor and when the woman went to destroy envelope number two, she leaned over the shredder from the top. As if in slow motion I could see the end of her scarf moving closer and closer to the slot with the turning blades... right through the gap with a horrible noise.

Even as I leapt across the stage and through the machine into reverse I could see the headlines: "Christmas Party Ends in Carnage", with a head-shot of the delightful woman in her younger days, before either being strangulated or cut messily into easily-recyclable ribbons.

Fortunately -- miraculously -- her scarf was so thin and pliable that it appeared to have been undamaged by its passage through to the Dark Side of the Bin. It took a good five minutes for my heart-rate to slow to something close to normal.

Lucky. Lucky. Lucky me.

Really lucky.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New gig!

A spot of good news - starting this Friday I will be the resident house magician at the Westhills/Signal Hill branch of Earl's Restaurant in Calgary. For those of you who don't know Earl's - good, good food and a lively atmosphere.

If you're going out for a meal, come in and say hello. I'll be there most Fridays and Saturdays from 5-8pm!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sleights of Mind

Authors and neurobiologists (and magicians) Stephen L Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde have been busy. On top of their research, their conjuring and organizing the Magic of Consciousness Symposium (featuring lectures by Mac King, Teller, Apollo Robins, James Randi and others) they’ve now published the results of their work – ‘Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about our Everyday Deceptions’. It’s in the public library. Get it out and read it.

It starts off a little inauspiciously with discussions of optical illusions and black art (here we go again, I thought; how could this possibly be of use to me?) but it rapidly moved on to some fascinating and very practical work on the neuroscience behind misdirection (think you’re good at multitasking? No, you’re not. You suck.), straight-line versus curved line visual tracking, and change blindness. Remember Derren Brown’s experiments swapping people in the middle of a conversation? That’s the stuff. Not only did he get away with swapping people of similar appearance, but managed to swap (with no one noticing) men for women, tall for short, black for white and so on…with the hapless interlocutor not noticing at all!

They even touch on time misdirection. Juan Tamariz (these guys got to work with many of the big names in magic) performed a trick which culminated in a selected card appearing in a spectator’s pocket – a spectator who was sitting in the audience and had not even come up on stage. How? By loading it waaaay earlier in the evening under the guise of helping the spectator (along with a dozen others) improve their handling of a silly and unimpressive trick he’d thrown into the mix. Unmemorable, and therefore slipped right under the radar.

And there's more. Way more. Honestly, it's worth reading twice.

Even if you don’t take the time to read the book, go to the website:, and specifically go to their Youtube videos shot at the Magic of Consciousness Symposium and check out the lectures given by the above-listed big names:

Is the book fun? Undoubtedly. Is it useful? Absolutely. You won’t use every element they discuss, but it might well have you rethinking your approach to certain tricks. As Marlo used to say, ‘Magic happens in the mind of the spectator’. This book helps crack the door a little wider into that mind.