My life isn't all robots and research! When I'm not in the lab, I like to take it easy with my hobbies. I probably have too many hobbies, but I blame it on so many different things being so darn interesting! On this page, you'll find a brief overview of some of my pastimes.


I have a small home machine shop, including a bench lathe, vertical milling machine, drill press, and bandsaw. Sometimes, I this equipment gets used to build parts for my robotics research. The university has a decent student machine shop, but when I work on things at home, I have the luxury of being able to spend several hours setting up a job, and then being able to leave it all set up for several days.
I must have cleaned my shop before I took these photos, as normally there's more evidence of the machines actually being used (i.e., swarf and chips in the pans). In the back right corner, you can see my tool grinder. I keep it hidden away back there (and have a curtain now, too) so that abraisive dust from wheels won't land on my machines' running surfaces.
Like many other hobby machinists, I make improvements on my machines. For instance, this is a photo of the venerable 4x6 import bandsaw that I own. The stands that ship with the saws are terrible, so I made this wooden one on casters so that I can wheel it under my work bench. If you look closely, you can see that I've replaced the stock blade guides with a homemade set that I machined that are a lot more accurate.
Finally, this is my work bench. In this photo, you can see my mill in pieces. That's because I modified the mill's head to improve the machine's stiffness. You can just make out the top of my bandsaw tucked in under the bench.

Finally, I also like to melt and cast metal for projects. This is a photo of my aluminum furnace from my previous setup. It's actually built into an IKEA garbage pail using refractory cement. That's a homemade propane burner feeding it at its base, and you can see the crucible of (about a litre) of molten aluminum just about ready to pour into a mold. I don't have this setup currently, as I am planning to switch to an electrical furnace. It will take a little longer, but it will be quieter and cheaper to run. Working with molten metal is inherently dangerous! Educate yourself and exercise extreme caution if you get involved with this hobby!

Camping & Fishing

I love spending time outdoors, especially camping and fishing. This is a picture of my lovely wife and me (and our border collie/aussie, Hershey) at Dry Island Buffalo Jump in central Alberta. It's hard to get a herding dog to sit still for a photo!

Since moving to BC, I've rekindled my interest in fishing, too. Salmon fishing during the spawning runs was a new experience for me, and it definitely is great fun. I release most of what I catch, but keeping a few salmon for the dinner table is a nice bonus!

Electronics & Amateur Radio

I'm also a licensed amateur radio operator (advanced + 5 WPM Morse code). My current callsign is VA7PK, but I was VE6PKR and VE3VTJ when I lived in Alberta and Ontario, respectively. I enjoy building my own equipment, including antennas. Here you can see my Field Day station from a few years ago. Field Day is an international event where amateurs set up their stations in the field and try to contact as many other stations as possible in a 30-hour period. It takes place on the fourth full weekend in June, every year. For someone like me, Field Day is great, because it allows me to combine my radio and camping interests!

I'm also interested in electronics outside of radio, including microcontrollers, embedded systems and analog circuitry. I get to hone these skills both as a hobby and when working on my research. For example, I designed and constructed the controller boards in the eleven mobile robots that I built for my doctoral research. You can see a photo of one of the motor driver boards to the left. That large chip is a PIC microcontroller that manages all of the robot's low-level tasks, including sensor sampling and motor speed control.