October 31, 2006
Me in tubes

Today I went into work dressed as "the Internet" in the form of a series of tubes. The homemade costume was made of 12 cardboard mailing tubes I bought off eBay, web page printouts from 12 of the most popular sites that printed well, and a phony ID badge bearing the name and photo of Sen. Ted Stevens, the senior Senator from Alaska who popularized the term during a rambling 11-minute address.

Inspiration

I've never been all that interested in Halloween. Sure, I like candy, but I can't ever remember dressing up as anything more sophisticated than the lame last-minute "sheet with eye-holes cut out" ghost back through elementary school. After seeing promotions many weeks in advance about Halloween at Amazon I was inspired to do something geeky. (Secondarily I was inspired by Jeff Bezos's photo of himself as Austin Powers on his Amazon public profile.)

The Reaction

Amazon's a company that employs a lot of geeky engineer-types, but as a retailer we employ a lot of people who aren't hardcore computer nerds. Take our security guards, for example. The first three I saw in the building jokingly backed away when they saw a man walking up to them with 12 cylinders strapped to his person. I guess "suicide bomber" is a more obvious Halloween costume idea than "Internet inside joke."

Reactions were pretty much polarized. Several Amazonians, including two I met in the elevator of my apartment building, recognized the reference immediately. Others had to be prompted by the fake Stevens badge I made. My boss didn't get the joke at all; we made a quick trip to YouTube and found this representative sample and one of many techno remixes of it. Two other coworkers cracked up immediately upon seeing the tubes, incredulous that someone would dredge up a four-month-old Internet in-joke for Halloween.

My favorite incorrect answer: no, I didn't dress up as a pan flute.

I left the tubes at work so that our DBA, an aficionado both of American politics and of Internet jokes, can enjoy them tomorrow when he returns from vacation. Below, a look at how the costume came to be.

Tube Acquisition

After seeing this inspiring YTMND site (sound) I was considering getting tubes from DHL: they provide free mailing supplies with the expectation that you'll use them to ship with DHL. Unfortunately, their idea of a "tube" is actually a triangular prism. No good. Sen. Stevens never said anything about prisms.

Do not buy tubes at Office Depot. Although they sell high-quality mailing tubes, made of white cardboard with end caps, they're expensive at $5.99 for two.

I planned to use at least 12 tubes in my project, and $36 plus tax would have been a bit much. That took me to eBay where a box of 12 fiberboard mailing tubes with plugs cost me about $20 shipped. These things have a pretty drab appearance but they're really sturdy.

Other Materials

At a local Lowe's I picked up a small ball of twine to tie the tubes together. I had planned to use the twine to tie the tubes to my person, but it proved impractical: either I'd have a loose harness that would come undone too easily or I'd have a harness that I wouldn't be able to put on and take off easily.

The nearby Fred Meyer proved more useful: for a couple of bucks I got eight 10-inch bungee cords that I could latch onto holes poked near the top of the tubes.

Putting it Together

I visited my friend Mike at UW to borrow his color laser printer. Going down the Alexa list of the top 500 web sites in the US, I printed every site that would render properly on paper without logging in. The sites I printed, in no particular order: IMDb, CNN, Craigslist, AOL, MySpace, Amazon, Google, eBay, Microsoft, the New York Times, Wikipedia, and Yahoo! Sites like Facebook (a really spartan log-in page) and ESPN (way too much Flash) didn't make the cut. Only later did I realize the irony of omitting YouTube from the list of sites printed on tubes. Sorry, YouTube!

The actual assembly took only a couple of hours' work. I affixed the printouts to the tubes with packing tape, wrote the site names repeatedly on the bottom part of the tube, tied each of the tubes to its neighbor with twine, and punched small holes in four of the 12 tubes. Six tubes would be in front of me and six tubes would be behind.

Success!

For a costume that cost me about $25 in materials and two hours of labor, I'm very satisfied with the results. The whole thing remained intact all day and I took it off only when going to the bathroom and when eating lunch. It's even possible to code while wearing a series of tubes, but it's not very comfortable.

I'll post some more pictures that a coworker took: one of them shows me in full tubes attire examining a co-worker's large Rubik's Cube outfit. (His outfit actually spun, albeit only in one dimension.)