Leave the City Behind

I just got back from a great but fast trip up to the Adirondack mountains. I love it up there and don’t get to visit as often as I’d like. It was my good friend Mark’s fiftieth birthday and his wife Kelly was having a surprise party. I’ve known Mark from high school and college and the early days of my career in multimedia in NYC in the 90’s. So our friends Seth and Cathy and Jeannie and me went up to Seth’s place Friday night and then onto Placid the next morning. A whole weekend of catching up, sitting by the fire sipping whiskey, going out to breakfast, all very nice. It turns out we’re all turning 50 this year. We also had the first snowfall of the year, which was beautiful but not so nice for driving.

The party itself was great. It was also release of the first CD by Mark’s band Crackin’ Foxy. They do banjo-oriented old-timey jazz with tight vocal harmonies, sort of Django Reinhart meets the Andrews Sisters, with an eclectic mix of covers and originals. Great stuff. The party was at the house across the street from Mark. These are old TB cure houses, and they have great flowing floor plans with lots of windows. Both Mark and his neighbor’s are very nicely restored and modernized. Mark’s friends seem largely to be Bohemian expats from NYC and elsewhere. Only problem is it can be hard to make a living up there, so many have to leave after a few years. In fact Mark’s neighbor’s house is for sale. Jeannie and I are toying with the idea of buying and airb’n’b’ing it for a few years until we’re ready to retire. Only problem with that plan is the winters up there are brutal and I don’t really like the cold.

GJB and TypeScript

We had a pretty major release of The Global Jukebox back in October. Since then we’ve been busy planning new features, and taking some time to up the architecture. One thing we did was to combine the different views and pages into a single-page application. The the two main views are the Map and Wheel. To switch between the two required a full page reload, but now it happens within the page so you can continue in your song, playlist or journey. Very nice.

The next thing is we converted the site to Typescript. We’ve been getting into Typescript in my day job. I must say it’s a big improvement over Javascript, and it feels like coming home to a real programming language. I’ve been getting into alot of functional programming in JS the last year two, and for the first time I really feel like Javascript is becoming a really cool language. I also made a whole new build and deploy pipeline in Node and Gulp. This has been on our todo list for a long time. It’s nice to be making everything more solid.

It’s funny, things have been following a similar trajectory with my day job. It was extremely chaotic in the time approaching our last major release at the end of the summer. Since then the focus has shifted towards getting things done in a more mature and organized way. We started migrating to Typescript in the fall, and we’ve finally moved to GIT as well, and the company is getting a bit more disciplined about sprint planning. This is all stuff I’ve been advocating for for a long time. So things are improving, although I’m still being told more often than I’d like that we don’t have the time to fix things properly. Ah well.

On Composing Interactive Music

A blast from the past – a web site called Audiokinetic Blog found an old essay of mine and asked me if I’d like to dust it off for them to repost. I wrote a new intro and they added some cool artwork. Audiokinetic are makers of interactive audio tools. I haven’t had a chance to play with them but they sound like they’re pretty cool. Ah life is too short.


Thanksgiving and New Origami

Back to work after a very nice Thanksgiving break. Lizzy was home from college, which was very nice. And Thanksgiving day was very nice too, relaxing and spending time with family. Even though I had health problems the first part of the year I feel like there’s alot to be thankful for in life right now. But at the same time I’m starting to feel like life is short. My life is almost certainly half over and I’m running out of time to do the things I want to do.

I did get around to some longstanding projects. For one, on Thanksgiving eve I folded not one but two new origami models. One is the Monoplane, which has been in my mind for a long time, but somehow never got completed for my airplanes and spaceships book. My method for folding now involves alot of thinking the folding thru in my imagination so I don’t have to spend as much time experimenting. I started thinking about this one again a few days ago and finally saw it in my mind’s eye.

As I developed that base I realized it would also work for a Flying Fish. Flying Fish are really cool creatures found in tropical waters and as the name implies they really do fly. It’s really amazing to see. Of course the name is no guarantee. Flying Foxes and Flying Squirrels don’t really fly, and meanwhile birds and bats don’t have the word ‘flying’ in their name.

So it’s nice to have a couple new models, something new to teach. Now that the book is done I can spend my origami time on the creative side, and I hope to create a few more this winter.

I also finally got back to working on long neglected, almost compete my Buzzy Tonic album Elixr, and on converting the Global Jukebox to Typescript. More on those in a future post.

In the Court of the Crimson King

I saw King Crimson Saturday night at the Beacon Theatre in NYC. It was by far the best KC show I’ve seen and this is my fourth one. Just blown away.

One thing that made it a special night is my friends Rich and John were in town to see the show too. Rich was my old college roommate and guitar player for Infingon, and John was the bass player, and also plays violin and several other instruments. Both are still active in music. Rich was the one who originally turned us all on to Crimson back in the day. As Infingon went on we played more an more prog. Our setlist included two Crimson numbers – Great Deceiver and 21st Century Schizoid Man, as well as material from Yes, Rush, ELP, Genesis, UK, Supertramp, Blue Oyster Cult, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Doors, U2, The Police and a handful of others. So it was a great reunion for us.

This tour Crimso was in their so-called seven-headed-monster configuration, even though it’s been expanded now to eight musicians. The most dramatic addition to the lineup was the return of Mel Collins. Mel played every sax and flute they make, but spent most of his time sqwonking on the bari in the altisimo register. Fripp played mellotron as well as guitar, and with another synth player gave their sound alot more range and color. Tony Levin back on bass and stick. Three(!) drummers arrayed across the front of the stage did lots of exciting things with big unison, counterpoint, tonal/rhythmic zones and passing the beat around. Jacco Jascszyk on vocal and guitar had really strong interpretations of Greg Lake and John Wetton songs, and even one from Adrian Belew, literally a unifying voice across a vastly diverse set.

The group was unbelievably tight, yet loose, and had a great sound. Like with Mahavishnu I’m amazed at how good a group this large, loud, and dissonant/arrhythmic can sound. You could really hear everything and there was alot going on. I think live sound reinforcement has really evolved for one thing, and an acoustically good venue helps too. And of course the level of musicianship is out of this world.

The song selection was everything you’d hope for. The show was two sets, three hours. The first set opened with a triple drum solo. Then they did a host songs from In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard, and Islands, all updated interpretations, and some instrumental jams. Toward the end of the set they did Epitaph, then Starless off of Red, and finished with Indiscipline. Jascszyk sung a melody to replace Belew’s rap, very effective.

The second set opened with another triple drum solo, and some more instrumentals and deep cuts from the pre-Wetton era. They did Moonchild right into The Court of the Crimson King, basically the second side of that record. Wow. Followed by Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two, then Easy Money, really jamming out. Totally amazing. Each song was opened up, 10 or 15 minutes long. The encore was a roaring rendition of 21st Century Schizoid Man, again opened up for solos. Just unbelievable. Totally satisfying.

After the show we went out to a diner to continue to catch up.

OrigaMIT ‘17

Last weekend I went up to Boston for the OrigaMIT convention. It seems to get a little bigger every year and is always a lot of fun. This year I only taught one class. It was my Oliphaunt, an elephant with extra tusks and a castle on its back. I taught it last June at OUSA and it was very popular, particularly for a supercomplex model. It was popular at MIT too and the class was full. Everyone finished with a fair to really excellent done model. I ran out of 15” foil, since I passed a supply of it around at the start of the class. It’s my go-to paper for experimenting with ideas at this level of complexity, so I need to replenish my stash.

In the week leading up to the convention I began folding an Oliphant out of a sheet of 22” or paper I made by laminating a really nice textured paper I bought a while ago to sheet of gold foil. The textured paper is soft almost like cloth, and has a red and gold pattern, very Indian looking, very beautiful. The foil is for added stiffness and sculptability. I got most of the way through folding it, up to finishing stage, and ran out of time. However I did manage to finish off a mostly-done Oliphaunt out of marble Wyndstone paper that was originally intended for the June convention. That provided something new and nice for my exhibit, along with a selection of airplanes and spaceships from the photoshoot for my book.

When I was setting up my exhibit, at the table next to mine was some kid’s display that featured a whole bunch of models from my book, the Fox, Bear, Narwhal, Turtle, Turkey and a few others, all really nicely folded. It’s a really nice feeling when you’re able to reach people thru your creativity.

There were some interesting lectures. Tom Hull, Erik Demaine and Jason Ku have all been up to some cool stuff. Erik is obsessed with making weird cryptic fonts. Erik and Jason have been working on an origami file format, which is pretty intriguing. It’s something like my proposed OrgamiXML format, but in json a probably bit more in-depth. The intention is to support interoperability between existing origami software packages including Tomahiro’s Origamizer and Robert’s TreeMaker. I really want to check it out and see if I can bring it into Foldinator. It’s been a long time since I worked on Foldinator and at this point I probably ought to start over again in javascript.

There was good hanging out my origami friends, catching up. Someone has always just got back from a convention is some faraway place. Michelle came along this year, telling people about her school robotics club how she’s learning to program. There were a few people there who are also into robots. Now she’s setting her sights on the idea of trying to get into MIT.

Birds of Fire

Lots going on on the music front these days.

First of all Gus, our drummer for LEFT HOOK, has fallen ill. We all wish him a speedy and full recovery, but sadly he’s not gonna be doing much drumming for a little while. We know a few other guys who play drums, and we’ve been having them sit in to see what kind of chemistry we can gin up. We had Dan from HSQ in a couple weeks ago and it went really well. Unfortunately he just started a new job and can’t commit to a second band right now, even as a sub. Meanwhile Ken and I have been looking forward to adding new songs to the set again, but it looks like we’re a long way away from our next gig.

OTOH here’s some good news: the jazz originals group, the Haven Street Quintet, has found a recording studio. Our friend Robert K has a studio in a building behind his house up in Katonah, a former garage or carriage house. It’s pretty much perfect for our needs, which is to record the group live. It’s a professional level studio with a nice live room, big enough for the whole group but still cozy. There’s a beautiful 7′ Steinway B grand piano, a nice bench of mics and preamps, and a proTools rig compatible with mine. (The plan is for Jay and I to mix it at my house.)

In rehearsal we’ve been sharpening our songs. At this point it looks like we’re going to record two of Gary’s songs, one of Jay’s and three of mine. This is about half our songs. At first we were thinking of trying to do one album side, maybe four or five tunes. Then Robert suggested as long as we’re going thru the trouble of setting everything up, we might as well play the whole day and evening. Now I’m thinking of getting a seventh song studio-ready and try and do a whole album in one shot. I must say the energy of the group has been very focused. We’re continuing to hone the compositions and find new things to bring out in the improvisation.

The evening Jay and I went to check out Robert’s studio we went on to see a jazz show: Christian McBride and his trio doing a tribute to legendary jazz bassist Ray Brown at the Ridgefield playhouse. I used to work in Ridgefield but haven’t been there in years and had never seen a show at the playhouse. Turns out it’s a great venue. The music itself was fantastic, mainly standards, very swinging and accessible, but at the same time full of hip and advanced ideas and and surprising mood shifts. The piano player in particular was amazing.

Then this last weekend we saw another show. As it happened it was the night of Lizzy’s 18th birthday. My little girl all grown up. Wow. We were in a celebrating mood.

This one was John McLaughlin at the Capital Theatre in Port Chester. I saw McLaughlin with Chick Corea last winter at the Blue Note, and he was great. I must say the Capitol is one of my favorite places to see a show, great sound and great vibe, and this night was a good one cuz I went with Jay and Gary and Jeannie.

The show itself was totally mind blowing. The opening act was Jimmy Herring, another jazz fusion veteran, whose band included a guy on Hammond organ and Clavinet and another on Fender Rhodes and violin. Great stuff, nice and funky. Next McLaughlin came on with his band, a quartet. The drummer did some tabla-style vocalizing, and the set was pretty Mahavishnuesque. This is McLaughlin’s last US tour so you got the sense it was special for the group.

Then for a third set both groups came out at once and did a whole set of Mahavishnu songs, strange modes, out meters and all. It really brought me back to when I listened heavily to that kind of music. We even used to do some Mahavishnu material in my old grup Event Horizon.

I must say the live performance sounded even better than the records. I always love it when a band has two drummers. It’s so hypnotic when they’re locked in to a groove, and there’s plenty of space for creative soloing. Even more amazing is I’ve never seen a group like this work with two bass players. They sometimes played the same part, sometimes one laid out, and sometimes two completely different parts. At one point they were dual soloing. Amazing.

All the soloists were superb and there was plenty of room to stretch out. The clav player was super groovy outta this world, and violin player great, and I usually don’t like jazz violins. Lots of group dynamics. They really built up a feeling of cosmic vibes. By the end the light show and everything was full on trippy. It was a long show, four hours of music. Wow.

Happy Hallowe’en

Hard to believe we’re halfway to the holidays already. This year Michelle provided the design for our pumpkin, and I did the carving. Michelle has been doing alot of drawing lately, particularly working on anime-style faces.

This year I did a Star Wars-Serenity mashup Wookie Jayne. A few weeks ago it was freezing in my office one day. They were still running the AC when they should have turned on the heat. I wanted something warm to wear sitting at my desk, and I chanced upon the wookie hoodie on sale on the internet.

Fall Forward

Today is a wet, rainy day, perfect for catching up. It’s a good thing too. It’s been warm and dry the whole fall, and the grass everywhere is turning brown like California. Believe it or not we only tok our air conditioners out yesterday.

Last weekend Lizzy came home from college for a quick visit. As it happened we had planned on visiting Martin that weekend, so Lizzy took a bus and met us in Albany. It was a beautiful ride up thru the turning fall colors. The visit with Martin was pretty brief, but we managed to get in a little hiking along the escarpment in a local park and then dinner at nice German restaurant. Weiner schnitzel and potato pancakes, yum!

I also had a little time for drawing and playing with Martin’s kids. They’re all into mythology and mythical monsters right now, and so is Michelle. I’ve also been thinking of alt-tic-tac-toe variations as ideas for video games, and shared some with Charlie.

Lizzy rode home with us Saturday night, and was gone pretty much the whole day Sunday catching up with her friends. Was home again in the evening. Good news she’s enjoying college, engaged and doing well in her studies, making friends and doing stuff. Took a 6:00 AM flight back to Buffalo Monday morning.

Meanwhile Martin and I had alot to catch up on. We just published a major release of The Global Jukebox (http://theglobaljukebox.org). This one includes a major upgrade to the menu system, and integration of Choreometrics in to the app, and a lot of new content. Anna and her academic team are presenting it this weekend at a conference along new research findings.

Now we’re moving right on to the next development cycle, and we’re taking a moment to hit some purely engineering-oriented tasks. One is that we’re converting it to a single-page application, so that you can switch between the two main views, map and wheel, and keep your current song, playlist, journey or whatever. Next is we’ll be converting the whole thing to Typescript.

I’ve been converting my main project in my day job to TypeScript the last few weeks, as part of a larger effort to improve code quality and get things better organized. Coming from strongly typed languages like Java and ActionScript, it feels like coming home. Which is funny because I’ve spent the last few years making my peace with the lack of types in Javascript, and thinking of it more and more in functional programming terms. Now it feels like the best of both worlds, and kind of code you can write looks alot like say Scala.

Another thing that happened last week was I finished the manuscript for my Origami Airplanes and Spaceships book. I had been basically done for quite some time, but then when I went to print out the book for final proofreading I thought the diagrams were a but hard to read. This book is in an 8” x 8” format, where the previous on was 9” x 12”. The typical drawing was about 85% size. So went thru and pumped up the size on all the fold lines and arrows.

It’s particularly critical to distinguish between the valley folds and mountain folds. One is a straight dashed line and the other is alternating dashes and dots. I also made some minor corrections and wrote an introductory blurb to each models and a very nice introduction to the whole book. For a long time I didn’t think I had much to say, but when I sat down to do it the whole thing just flowed out from the first sentence “Since ancient times people have looked up to the sky and dreamed of flying through the air and traveling among the stars.”

Space Gallery

I’ve been super busy recently, but in a good way. We’re doing a major release for the Global Jukebox in the next few days. Tons of effort went into it. Martin did an amazing job with the Choreometrics data and views. Had a meeting today with Anaa and Gideon to discuss the future scope of work. Lots of big ideas in the offing.

Meanwhile I’ve also been hustling to complete the manuscript of my book Origami from Space. With the photos done the remaining tasks are to review the final diagrams and accompanying text. I decided to re-render the diagrams at a slightly higher resolution, since they were originally designed for a larger format then the ultimate size for the book. I want them to be as legible as possible at the correct size. This task is mostly done, but then I still need to proofread everything and write the introduction. Ah well, we’ll get there soon.

Meanwhile here’s a gallery of some of the pictures I shot a few weeks ago. Enjoy!