Endless Space

On same day as the Google interview I had a meeting with my publisher about the new origami book. Long story short, the new concept is a go. A kit book aimed at low to intermediate folders rather than intermediate to advanced. We’re also looking at adding custom paper for the models. I figure this is cool as long as the models work on their own and the paper is just an enhancement, as with John Montroll’s new DC Comics superheroes book.

So I’ve been continuing to make new designs. I’ve perfected two more in the last two days. One I’m calling the Space Pod. It’s based on the frog base and is only twelve steps or so. The other is the Space Probe. It’s a simplification of my Radio Satellite, down from 60 or more steps to maybe 20 or 25. It’s funny cuz it follows the same general pattern, with solar panels and a radar dish and a boom antenna, but with an 8×8 grid instead of 16×16 so the proportions are different, and instead of developing the radar dish from the center, which requires pulling out alot of layers, I use a corner, which in the old version I didn’t know what to do with anyway. This brings me up to ten models, with six more to go from a list of 10 or so ideas I have right now. Hopefully another tomorrow!

Endless Summer Slacking

I just got back from a fun and relaxing camping trip. Perfect weather, lots of jamming on guitars, canoeing, swimming in the lake, cooking of fire, just great. Back home again now, doing all kinds of stuff. Since Labor Day is late this year it feels like we get an extra week of summer. Still one more week until the kids go back to school.

Some happy news! Gus back playing the drums again and the Left Hook is back in full swing. We’ve had a couple rehearsals at my house now, with him on his electronic kit. Good to have the group jamming once more. Going back to the studio and real drums next week. In our hiatus the rest of band spent our time working on arrangements and vocal harmonies, so the level of playing is increasing. We also added five or six new songs to the set. We’re actively working on bookings gigs now. We have a bunch of irons in the fire, and one confirmed date – our triumphant return to the Fisherman’s Net in October. More on that as the time grows near.

I’ve integrated the bench press into my workout. This enabled me to drop some other exercises so the total length of the workout remains the same. I’ve been going up in weight rather conservatively, but I’m up to 200 pounds now, in two sets of eight reps each. I can feel it more in my elbows and my ribs than anywhere else. I’m also up to 8 pullups.

Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago I got a call from Google, trying to recruit me as a software engineer. I passed level one with the recruiter, and it was onto level two, a tech interview over the phone. They sent me a packet with stuff to prepare. Man that company has alot of attitude, alot of hubris, but not very, um, mature. Seem to take it for granted you’ll be absolutely gobsmacked knocked out that they want to talk to you. Selling points include “we have an ice cream truck on the 8th floor of our office!” Then on the topic of how to dress they say “dress however you feel comfortable, but remember hygiene is important.”

They had some advice on what you’d need to know, so I spent a week studying up on all kinds of stuff I haven’t really used much since college: directed and undirected graphs, binary search trees, heaps and stacks and hashes, matrix math, sorting algorithms, big-O notation, and a bunch of more general stuff on Java language and systems architecture. Google must be hiring alot right now because twice that week I came across someone’s post for a Google tech interview cheat sheet. I made my own notes, but they’re so dense it wouldn’t make sense to anyone but me. In the process I came across a good approach for representing the state of a piece of folded paper if ever get back to working on Foldinator.

The day before the camping trip the interview came, and they didn’t ask me about any of that stuff. Instead the topic was serialization/deserialization. The format is they ask you to write a program off the top of your head, and as you go they put in more requirements. I did well, solved the problem and had a good discussion and all. But was I knock-your-socks-off awesome enough for Google? I guess we’ll see; they’re supposed to let me know in a week or so if I advance to round three. It sounds like that’s more of the same, but on site and with five back-to-back sessions in a row.

Web Site Evolution

Like the legendary cobbler with worn out shoes, it seems like I’m never able to find the time to work on my own web site. Indeed zingman.com is now twenty years old, and some pages go back to the beginning. Over time I’ve added various bits of php, css, sql, javascript, and wordpress, but I’ve resisted doing a full-on rebuild in an all-new framework and technology stack for several reasons, including that it’s a large time investment, the technologies keep changing, and it’s not really necessary anyway, at least right now. I am thinking of making everything responsive for mobile devices, but there’s alot of pages in there. So I upgrade things on an as-needed basis, always making things more automated, and growing closer to the vision step-by-step. Meanwhile everything runs extremely light and fast.

Over the spring I managed to complete a fairly major upgrade cycle for styles and page layouts, with everything finally in a stack of hand-built php templates and modules. In the last couple weeks I’ve started another round of work. This one is to put all the image links into popups. Better user experience, less clicking back’n’forth. I used lightbox for this; it’s one of the simplest javascript plugins out there for this purpose, and so far seems to work just fine. Have to do a little tweaking of the styles, but that’s about it. So feel free to click around to different pages and check it out.

Next step is go thru the origami pages and add support for multiple images for each module. This will involve refactoring some of my templates to handle photosets of different lengths, so I want to give it a bit of thought before I plow on ahead. Check back here in a week or so.

Simpler Space

You’re probably wondering, hey John wazzup with your origami? Have you finished the Metallic Lokta Flowerball yet? Well I’ll tell ya. It’s about three quarters done and sitting on my table. I got distracted by a conversation with my publisher and I’m back to folding spaceships and airplanes again. He’s encouraging me to shift the focus to a simple-to-intermediate book, with the intention of having a smash hit that sells alot of copies. I like the sound of selling lots of books, but on the downside I’d have to let go of the more complex ones, some of which are my favorites, and maybe put them in another book down the line or find some other outlet to publish them. On the plus side those models are a real pain to diagram anyway.

In any event I’d need to come up with some simpler models, ideally under 30 steps. First I looked at my UFO, which is about 50 steps and admittedly fairly difficult to fold. I taught it to a fan one late-night folding session at Centerfold and it took about an hour. I came up with a new Flying Saucer that uses traditional 22.5 degree geometry instead of 15 degrees, and has a much simpler way to develop the center dome. It’s takes 10 or 15 minutes to fold and is probably about 20 or 25 steps. Score one!

Then I looked at my Rocket Ship, which is about 55 or 60 steps, including lots of prefolding. I came up with a kick-ass substitute rocket, an evolution of my Retro Rocket, which about 18 steps. I’m calling it Rocket Ship III.

I was on a roll, so just came up with another model I’m calling Rocket Plane. It’s based loosely on a plane I saw at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in the experimental hangar. Three for three here. Woo-hoo!

Next I took a look at my Biplane. This is one of faves at the moment, having taught it at two conventions, but at 50 steps it’s probably too complex. In any event it’s hard to make it look good unless you use foil paper or wetfold it. So I came up with a model I’m calling the Monoplane. It’s got alot of the same look and feel, but without the bottom wing, and without the accompanying complexity. I can probably take this idea and make two or three cool planes out of it, maybe even a helicoptor.

Lastly I took a look at my Zeppelin. This is one of my hardest models, and would probably be at the end of the book, close to 100 steps. I did come up with a vastly simplified design that has it own cool look. It’s based on 8ths rather 12ths for the geometry, and has 18 rather than 32 facets in the main part, and has far less prefolding. As an added bonus there’s enough paper at bottom to give the gondola some thrusters, although I haven’t decided if this is the way I want to go. Also I still am working out how to close up the tail nicely; don’t wanna hafta make ‘em wetfold to make the model work. Can it fit in 30 steps? I dunno, but Imma try.

Still a couple others to consider, notably my Radio Satellite. I’ll bet I can make some kind of Space Probe that looks just as cool but not so complex. All in all it’s a really good exercise.

More Summer

Travelling is mainly done for now, and we’re into the long back stretch of summertime. The fun continues with a new adventure every week. Last weekend my parents were in town for a visit, which was really great, barbeque and storytelling. Then this weekend Jeannie and I went up to Connecticut to visit a friend and splash in his pool and ride in his motorboat and go tubin’ on the Connecticut River. Wicked fun.

In between I took the girls out to the beach, Jones Beach on Long Island – on a Monday. Last few years I was only ever able to go on the weekend, but this time there was no one there, totally awesome.

I also bought a new weight set. About a year ago I added some tricep and lat exercises to my workout, as well as pullups, and my arms and shoulders have never felt better. But only I have dumbbells for weights and I’ve gone as far as I can go without a bench press. I looked online and went to several sporting goods stores but couldn’t find a good bench press rack. It was important to get a rack with a safety bar cuz I don’t have a spotter. Then I went craigslist to look for weights, figuring used weights are just as good but alot cheaper, and found this guy in Queens who deals in new and used gym equipment. Went to get a stack of weights and got a rack and bar while I was at it. Bada-bing bada-boom!

Origami Flowerball

Inspired by Meenakshi Mukerji’s work in modulars, I set out to make a single sheet flower-ball while I was in Ohio for the Centerfold convention. I began with a simple pentagonal flower, which on it’s own is a nice, low-intermediate model, and you can fold a bunch of them and make a nice arrangement. From there I folded a cluster of six flowers from a single sheet, which formed a hemisphere. I spent the rest of the convention doing the prefolding for a full ball.

Once I was well into it I realized I already had something similar, my Penfractal Dodecahedron Tessellation, which was an evolution my Penfractal Tessellation. I always though the dodecahedron needed something, and the flower idea turned out to be just the thing to bring it to life. The main change to the design was to add a course of pleats between the main pentagonal faces. This gave me enough extra paper to separate the flowers from one another and puff them up to be 3-d.

I folded it from a ~15” (35cm) sheet of “Grainy” paper I got the Brian Webb’s Origami Shop. This turned out to be a great, high-performance paper for a demanding model. Grainy is tough like Elephant Hide, but a soft like money. Very workable and holds its shape very well. I didn’t have to wetfold the piece.

The only thing I don’t like about the model is it’s made from a square, although the model uses pentagonal geometry. This means that the tabs at the bottom are all different. You can’t see them anyway, but I’m thinking of making another larger one from a 50cm pentagon. While I’m at it, I’ll make the pleats a bit deeper to try and get more separation between the flowers. I don’t have Grainy paper that large, so I’ll probably use Metallic Lokta. If that works out, next up will be a Lizard Ball!

Summer Travel VI – Ohio

I just got back from the biggest trip yet this summer. I drove deep into the heart of flyover country, to Columbus, Ohio, for the Center Fold origami conference. My travelling companion was my twelve-year-old daughter Michelle. We both had a great time.

We lit out from NYC early Friday morning. Got over the GWB before rush hour really hit, and out on I-80 for a good 500 miles. Clear sailing, mountains and plains and woods and farms the whole way. Got into Columbus late afternoon, registered for the convention and started hanging out with origami people. Since this was a different convention it was a different crowd of usual suspects, some familiar faces, some new. John M. and Steve R. and Beth J. and Brian W. were there. Beth wasn’t in New York this year and had some new stuff, so it was good to see her. Brian was running the Origami Shop live, selling paper and books and stuff with his wife. I also met John Scully, the head of the Ohio Paperfolders group and main organizer of the convention.

The exhibit space was nice, with round tables and white tablecloths rather than rectangular and black like in NYC. I brought a bunch of stuff cuz I didn’t know what to expect, but it looked really great.

After dinner at a really good barbecue place we settled into folding for the evening. Brian taught Michelle the classic Hydrangea. Michelle got really into it, and suddenly she was off and running, folding model after model with every more recursions. Next day she took a course for a modular flower ball, taught by Meenakshi Mukerji, and suddenly was capable of folding complex modulars. She did a 12- and 30-unit version, and later on did some other modular flower things.

I taught several courses. The first was intermediate and complex spacecraft. I had diagrammed the bulk of my Radio Satellite and SpaceX Dragon since the June convention, although both diagrams only went up to the 3-D phase; the first 35 out of 50 steps or so. So I taught the ending part by demonstration and it went quite well. I didn’t have time to formally teach the Dragon, but a few people folded that too from the diagrams and I helped them finish it off.

The next class was animals from my book Origami Animal sculpture. This was a intermediate class, and there was a broad range of folding ability, but everyone got thru it alright. I had printed out five of the models from my book, although once they started folding it, I realized on of them was not the version I used in the book!

My third class was Sunday morning. I taught intermediate and complex airplanes, including my Jet Airliner and Biplane. People seem to really like my new models, so I’m quite happy about that.

Michelle took Erik Gjerde’s class on his Dragon Helix Tessellation. She did quite well at it and was really excited and proud to have mastered such and advanced model. Michelle really leveled up as a folder and is into some really good stuff now. She told me several times she had a really good time at the convention.

Meanwhile I was inspired by Meenakshi’s work, and began thinking of making a flower-ball out of a single sheet rather then a modular. I spent most of my free folding time on this. First I made a single flower, then a cluster of six that has the form of half a dodecahedron, and then bought some paper from Brian to begin a full dodecahedron. I got most of the prefolding done by the end of the convention.

The last night there was a pizza and beer party in the courtyard of the hotel. All in all it was a great time. Very laid back and relaxed. I hope to get back there again sometime soon.

Next day we drove down to Dayton to see the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Seeing this place has been on my bucket list for a long time, and it did not disappoint. It’s a huge collection of (mainly American military) historical aircraft, going all the way back to Wright flyers over a hundred years old. Lots of stuff from WWII and the Cold War, as well a whole hangar of experimental planes, including lots of early supersonic ones. The highlight for me was the XB-70 Valkyrie. This a giant and extremely weird-looking hypersonic plane from the 1960’s with a top speed of Mach 3, or over 2000 mph. Only two were ever built and one exploded, so this is the only one in existence. There was also a whole hangar of presidential aircraft including Air Force One, the 707 that severed Kennedy thru Clinton. Cool stuff!

Summer Travel III – V

Lots of travel this time of year. We just got back from a cruise with Jeannie’s family. It was her mother and father’s 50th wedding anniversary and they wanted to take all the kids and grandkids. We’re very happy for them and feel quite lucky both sets of our parents have made it this far.

Rewinding a bit, the weekend after Buffalo we went up to Albany to visit with Martin. He’s building a massive deck out back of his house, and it was about half done the day we were out there. We left Lizzy to stay a spell and help out Kathleen, but were all reuinted the following weekend. We went camping with Martin, Kathleen and their kids, Nick and Lisa and their kids, and a whole bunch of Nick’s extended family. I think we had eight campsites. I always feel like camping is a lot of work, especially the preparation, but then once we get there it’s always such great fun. Hiking, making fires, sleeping in tents, good food and drink, and all that. This year it rained both nights. Not enough to stop us from doing stuff and having fun, but everything was wet when packed up, so we had to roll it out to dry after we got home.

Of course camping isn’t for everyone. Some people are more cruise people. I’ll admit I’m not one of them. I had my doubts beforehand. I didn’t want to be stuck on a boat with nothing to do and/or seasick the whole time. But all was well and it was a great time.

It was a 4 day cruise, which was enough for me, and we had a cabin with a balcony, which was nice. The ship itself was really neat. It’s the Carnival Splendor, which is the 46th largest cruise ship in the world today (it was in the top ten when it was new just 8 years ago) and about as big as can be and still fit thru the Panama Canal. It’s 950 feet long and 16 or 18 stories high above the waterline. Taking off from NY harbor it barely fit under the Verrazano Bridge. Less then 20 feet to spare! Everything inside the boat was a bit smaller than normal, but very efficiently designed so you didn’t mind. I had less than inch clearance under most doorways, and very little shoulder room.

Once we were away there wasn’t much to see other than the sea. We saw dolphins twice. Once was first thing in the morning, six or so of ’em playing in the ship’s wake, which was delightful, and later there were dozens of ’em, but not as close. We saw whales too, one evening watching the sun go down, and some lovely sunsets. But it was mostly overcast so not much in the way of stars. The port of call was St. John New Brunswick, a nothing-ish town that was a cross between St. Catherine and Seattle in tone. We took a hike and saw the local gorge, where the famous Bay of Fundy tides ran upriver and created interesting whirlpools. We had lobster rolls for lunch at a pub, saw a little whaling museum, and the kids got souvenirs. The terrain itself was interesting and weather was much colder in the bay of Fundy than near home. All in all quite charming.

On the boat there were lots of bars and restaurants, pools and hot tubs, movies and even a casino. Even though there were thousands of people it didn’t feel cramped. The food was really, really good, and there was lots of it in all varieties, from buffets to big dinner banquets. The whole thing really well run, very impressive. Lizzy got into playing the various trivia contests they had, and won a golden “ship on a stick” trophy. The main attraction, of course was just hanging out with the family. Alot like camping, but less forest, more ocean, and less work. It’s great to see all the nieces and nephews for an extended spell. They had a great time all together. All but two are now into middle school and high school, and becoming such interesting people. Of course Denis and Sylvia, who’ve have been on lots of cruises, had a great time too. This was the way they wanted to celebrate.

Next up: Ohio!

College Art

This is the time of year when I usually organize my studio, throw out a bunch of old origami, and find a place to put my new origami paper. This year along the way I found a cache of art that I made in college. Having recently visited my Alma Mater, and recalling times there penniless and free, I thought I’d give it a look. Some were graphic design projects for classes, along with album covers and posters for my band, T-shirt designs (Campus Crusade for Cthulhu, UBCon ’90) and things like that. Others were from a drawing course I took, still life subjects, human figures, landscapes and architecture. Some were pretty good, so I wound up photographing a few of them. I might publish a gallery of them eventually. Meanwhile, here’s one, a 10-minute-or-so sketch looking out the window of the Bethune building (which is apparently no longer owned by the university) into the back parking lot on a cold, overcast winter day. You can see the tower of Hayes Hall in the distance thru the trees.

Posted in Art

Summer Travel II

Just got back from a trip upstate to visit family and friends. Saw my parents and my brother Martin and his family. Had some BBQ and took in the fireworks show at the local park on the 4th. Saw Denis and Sara, whose pool is broken, and then Larry and Jackie, who are on their way to Vegas and San Francisco to celebrate their anniversary. Nick and Lisa and their kids were in town too, so we all went up to Niagara Falls together. I haven’t done the falls in a few years, although I grew up near there and know the place well. We used to ride our bikes up there before I could drive. Anyway, we did the Maid of the Mist and trekked all the way out to Terrapin point, and ended up at the bar there. Great day for it.

Next day we went on a tour of SUNY at Buffalo. Lizzy is going into 11th grade in the fall, and so is Nick’s oldest son so it’s time to start looking at colleges. Jeannie, Nick and I all attended UB a long time ago, and Jeannie and I met and fell in love there, so the tour brought back alot of memories as well as alot of comments on everything that’s changed with the campus since that time. Lizzy seemed favorably impressed by the whole thing, and is starting to think more about what she wants to do with her life and what it’ll take to get there.