Grand Designs

Getting used to the new piano and it’s, well, pretty profound really.

First of all it was epic watching three guys get it up the stairs. In this age of technology it’s still a matter of strength and balance. They ought to make it an Olympic event.

It took a couple of days for me to get used to it being in my living
room. Once we got the rest of the furniture and things that go on the furniture back in place it felt much better. The seating area is actually improved now. The couch and chairs are in an “L” with one end where the old piano used to be.

Of course this has triggered a cycle of rearranging everything. It started with getting some old kiddie videos off a shelf, and moved onto retiring some old origami and deploying some newer stuff. We have two more opportunities to rearrange the furniture coming up: once when the Christmas tree goes in and again when it goes out. But for now the piano is basically at the top of the stairs where the Christmas tree has gone in other years. Only problem is the shelf where I keep my sheet music is across the room. And I need a place to put my drink when I’m playing. (Obviously no drinks on the new piano. As a matter fact Thelonious Monk got banned for life from Birdland for putting his drink on their brand-new grand. So you know it’s pretty serious.)

As for playing – the first thing you notice is the sound is sooooo much nicer. So clear and pure. Every note has a voice and all the voices blend. The first day I didn’t play anything bluesy or jazzy or dissonant, just alot of triads and open chords. Next morning I spent a half hour just playing different voicings of D major, listening the sound interact with the room. Much better action dynamic range too, and different sounds at different dynamic levels and in different octaves all have their own character. Alot to explore in the upper and lower ends of the range. It’s gonna change my whole playing style.

Yesterday I did my first real practice. It felt like I had super speed. Some Keith Emerson passages I’ve been muddling thru for years just flew right out. But even while the action is faster the keys are heavier too. A few hour later typing on the computer it felt like I’ve been lifting weights with my fingers. Gonna take a while to get used to that.

Naturally the kids are totally infatuated. I gave them a lesson or two and now they’re playing Heart and Soul together, and each learning some different songs and patterns and things. Downloading chords from the internet and working the song out. I wonder how long that’ll last. It’d be nice to see them get somewhere.

I’m adding a few new songs to my repertoire, notably some standards starting with Body and Soul. Looking thru the sheet music took out of the old piano bench I found a hand-written exercise of ii-V-I’s on the cycle of fifths that I wrote out exactly 25 years ago. A time-travel gift from my past self. You can do a million things with this idea. So I’ve put it into my warmup.

Tree Time

I used to have a champion Elm tree growing in my front yard. It was a great tree, the best, the tallest in my end of the block, over 100 years old. A couple years ago it succumbed to Dutch Elm disease and had to be cut down, leaving a giant crater. I finally got around to planting a new tree over the weekend. It’s a Japanese maple, very nice. Not so very big yet, but give it a few years. Obviously it’s a different kind of tree and will never get as mighty as an Elm, but still it ought to fill out the front yard quite beautifully. While I was at it I also re-graded and re-seeded the lawn. Luckily my neighbor across the street had pile of dirt he’s looking to get rid of, so I grabbed a few wheelbarrow’s worth.

And, wouldn’t you believe it, Lizzy already banged up the bumper on her car, on the opposite corner from where I painted it. Ah well.

Lawn Guyland

Hey guess what? I bought a new lawnmower. It’s electric. My old mower is only 3 or maybe 5 seasons old, but it seems like it always needs to get it fixed, the carburetor, the air filter, throttle, always something. Lately it’s been extra loud, and then it started making a rattling noise, and finally the muffler, which was cracked, fell off. I called the place where I go to get it fixed, but they no longer have their mechanic, so S.O.L.

I figured it’s already, they must make a decent battery powered lawnmower. They have electric cars nowadays for Pete’s sake. No more hassling with gas and oil and engines. So I looked around online first and then picked one up at Lowe’s. They don’t have Lowe’s near us but they do out on Lawn Guyland, and we were on our way to a barbecue over at Nick’s house. So that totally worked out. The thing cuts great and runs like a dream. The brand is Kobold, and it runs on a 40 volt battery system, good and powerful for this application. It’s lightweight and maneuverable and quiet like a house fan; you can talk over it while it’s running. Easy to charge, easy to start. It also throws alot less cut grass around so cleanup is easier. Better in every respect. Woo-hoo!!!

If anyone out there wants a used lawnmower, I’m selling my old one for $50. Runs great, but no muffler.

Super Winter

January was very, very cold. Some people have told me it was the coldest on records in 20 years. It was down to 3 or 5 degrees a lot of mornings, and even on warm days it only got into the teens. It takes a lot of energy to endure the extreme cold and by the end it feels like a miracle to survive. Luckily no on in the family got sick, although pleanty of people were out at the office.

Last week two of the guys in our band called in sick for practice, the lead singer and one of the guitarists. So Mike the bassist and I split the vocals. Some of our songs worked better as a quartet than others, so toward the end of session we just started calling songs to jam. I called two from the Infinigon days that went over so well we added them to our set. One is Burnin’ for You by Blue Öyster Cult. The other is Money by Pink Floyd. I had heard Mike jamming on the opening riff to warm up once before so I knew he knew it.

February came and started with a really warm weekend. It was up into the 40’s on Saturday and the 50’s on Sunday. Everything melted, and I even started up my Mustang and let it idle in the driveway for 20 minutes or so. I thought of taking for a drive, but the roads were all full of slush and salt, so I waited.

Today it’s heavy snow again. Already to 6” or so since I woke up. And in the middle of if the tree people finally showed up to take the logs off our yard and cur down the stunp. They’re at it now with a giant truck-crane-claw and a chainsaw. I’ll bet the lawn underneath is totally trashed but at this rate it’ll be quite a while before I can see it.

Patio Project

Last week was Michelle’s birthday. She’s ten years old now, getting bigger and more helpful and sweeter than ever. She made her own birthday cake from scratch, including pink and purple layers inside and decorated frosting with writing and artwork on top. She’s been getting into watching youtube videos of cake and cupcake decorating ideas, so Jeannie got her a cake decorating kit and helped her out.

Michelle asked for a bike for her birthday, and I got her a nice shiny red one. Twenty-one gears and nice components. Her first ever new bike after a series of hand-me-downs from her big sister. I got my own bike a for my tenth birthday too. It must be the age where the older sibling has stopped growing and wants to keep their bike.

We got a new picnic table for our patio on the same trip. Our old one, a cheap plastic thing, got pretty beat up in some storm a year or two ago, to the point where on leg was practically falling off. I had been going ‘round and ‘round on what the replacement should be. I’d seen a few nice sets around, but they’re crazy expensive. I was considering making my own, so it would the right dimensions and construction, not to mention more economical, but the labor required was trumped by the patio itself. Then I realized I don’t need new chairs, just the table. Old chairs are cheap plastic too, but they’re great: stylish and well-nigh indestructible. We found a new table that matched them quite well. It’s larger, with room for six, and it’s aluminum, so it’s light and well-nigh indestructible too. And it has a perforated top so it won’t blow over in a heavy wind. We got a matching canopy while we were at it, and the whole backyard scene is quite nice now. Looking forward to the summer.

The patio itself is coming up on ten years old. I built it with the help of my father when Michelle was a baby. It took us a week, after I’d done the design and prep work on my own. It was a pretty big project, and I’m glad he helped me out. It’s made of bluesstone put together in a pattern over a bed of sand and gravel. The stones are rectangles ranging from 1’ x 1’ to 2’ x’ 3’.

Designing it was fun, like solving a tessellation puzzle. I followed the style of people’s patios around here, and the stones go together according to rules. First, they only come together in 3-way intersections, never 4. Second, two stones of the same shape/size should not be adjacent and line up. Third, no seam between stones should run in a straight line the whole way through. Lastly, I preferred putting big stones (2’ x 2’ or 2’ x 3’) in the corners. You can see that these rules generate a strong, stable structure that resists slipping or sliding. Of course these rules can generate a large set of patio layouts, so there’s still some art to creating the best one.

When my dad was here a few weeks ago, he observed that the patio is still “doing well”, but close inspection revealed that was not exactly the case. When we made it we leveled the ground in the back yard, taking dirt of the high spot and filling in the low spot. Over the years the low spot had sunk again, so the whole thing needed to be leveled up. Basically this involves lifting the stones one by one and putting sand under them until they’re back up to true. The small ones are pretty easy to handle but the big ones are quite heavy and require special care. I used eight bags (400 lbs.) of sand, with the lowest stones being raised over and inch. It took me four sessions of a few hours each. Now the whole thing is nice and level again, and should stay that way a few years.

Fast Cars and Rock’n’Roll

Sounds like an exciting title for a post, eh? But no, this might be the most tedious one yet. The springtime random task agenda continues. I got some repairs done on my Mustang last week. I’m hoping to get around to getting the body restored this spring, but first I had to deal with a weird and rather nasty problem. The first time I took it out this season there was a little drippage coming from under the dashboard on the passenger side. Last time I took is out it turned into a pretty good leak, and it was radiator fluid, all over the floor mat! The leak was in the heat exchanger. My mechanic told me he’d have to take apart the whole dashboard to fix it, which was a really major job. But since I don’t drive the car in the winter I don’t run the heater. So we decided a much easier fix was to reroute the radiator hose to bypass the heat exchanger. Problem solved, fast and (relatively) cheap. He also recommended a body shop, so now I have two places to go for an estimate.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking about upgrading some of my furniture to replace the hand-me-down stuff I’ve had since college. A new sofabed downstairs for next time we have houseguests, maybe some end tables, that kind of thing. After all, they say living well is the best revenge, although I’m not sure who my vanquished nemesis is, which is probably not good. Somehow this led to the realization that our house is full again, to the point were we can’t even put things away, so before we can do anything we need to get rid of a few loads of accumulated stuff.

I sifted the thru the game closet and found some minor long-lost treasures: a bunch of wind-up balsa wood airplane kits. Michelle and I had fun putting them together and trying to get them to fly. Next I got rid of a shelf’s worth of old programming books. It’s amazing how books, CD’s, and even videos have become basically obsolete these days, because they’ve become virtualized. At least for some kinds like reference and pulp fiction; I’m sure glad I never got Game of Thrones as printouts. Instant future trash.

But for other kinds it’s still very much worth having the book. The three main categories for me are sheet music, origami books, and comic books, but I suppose it goes for any book where the layout and graphics are more important than the text itself and a bigger page works better than a tiny screen. I also sorted thru my pile of old Origami USA Convention Annual Collections. These are spiral bound and easy to take apart. I got rid of more than half the pages but also came across a lot of great stuff, some of which I want to fold, and some of which gives me new ideas for a subject or an approach.

As far as the CD collection goes, that was what motivated this whole thing in the first place. Most of the music I buy these days still is on CD. You can get pretty much album for $5 or so. But my shelf space is finite, and for the last year or more they’ve been piling up on the stereo, in my studio, and on the dining room table. Somewhere along the line I got in the habit or ripping CD’s and playing the mp3’s rather then playing them directly thru the stereo, so over time a good number of them have become ripped. So I finally sorted thru all the CD’s and put my favorites on the shelf, and put the rest in a box, which I put in the closet, completing the circle of clutter.

Maybe or maybe not an interesting data point, these are the bands for whom I have ten or more records: The Beatles, John Coltrane, Billy Joel (these are Jeannie’s), King Crimson, Led Zeppelin (they only ever had nine albums back in the day, but have since put out a few more), Steely Dan (they only had seven), Rush, and Neil Young. I guess you could say that these are my favorite bands who were also prolific and enduring.

Along the way found quite a few records I haven’t listened too in a while and ripped them for my commute. Now I’m enjoying rediscovering a lot of favorite music. I’m listening alphabetically and I’m up to Jeff Beck. Such great stuff I might just stay with it a while, but next up is Walter Becker.

Back to posting stuff about origami and/or making music soon, I promise.

Riders on the Storm

We had exactly a week of pleasant weather a week ago, and now its been back to cold and rainy every day for a week once again.

My next-door neighbor put in a new driveway. It looks really nice, but it sidles up right against the property line, and is edged with stone blocks that make it a good deal higher than his old driveway. I was concerned about the possibility of the watershed patterns changing, creating the potential for flooding on the side of my house, where I re-concreted the foundation a few years back and re-graded the earth. But seven days of solid rain have pretty much shown it’s not going to be a problem. Still, it motivated me to do a bit of landscaping on the shrubs on that side of the house.

I finished a few longstanding tasks. For the first time in a while there’s no big pressure to get stuff done. Even work is at an even keel these days. Summer’s coming soon.

We finished the project of painting the trim in the house: all the baseboards, door frames and window frames. Started back in February, the whole thing took eight sessions. Now everything is clean and shiny. Starting the fall we’ll paint the doors that need it.

Jeannie helped me put a new hard drive in my computer. I bought the drive last December but I’ve been too busy to get around to it. Then once we got into it, what was supposed to be a simple task took three days because of difficulties doing the backups.

Got my Origami e-book done. Hooray! Look for announcements about its availability soon.

Been continuing to get to know the Pilot Hoban. Lots and lots of buttons for the heater and the radio. Last week for the first time we took it further than the train station or kids’ school. Had fun with XM radio working my way thru a zillion station. They have about 20 rock stations, cracked into subgenres like petroleum distillates, but apparently no prog station and no steely station. I noticed an Elvis station and a Grateful Dead station. I want a combination of the two. “Fire – fire on the mountain, where you can be lonely, uh-uh-huh, yeah-eah!”

We watched The Blues Brothers movie with the kids, since Lizzy had done the song Soul Man in honor band, and I’d played her some of the Blues Brothers records. She was surprised it wasn’t a documentary. Michelle was upset that Jake and the rest of the band ended up in jail since it was Elwood was doing all the driving and Jake was just in the passenger seat. And besides, the light was yellow in the first place!

Spring Break

Another mainly rainy week. We’ve been on spring break, such as it is. Took a few days off of work because the kids were off school. Manly catching up on our rest and doing odd jobs. Last Wednesday I worked at home and the kids did art all day. Thursday the rain stopped and I got a bunch of yardwork done. Turned over the garden, laid down cedar mulch under the hedges. Pretty much done with the spring cycle.

We finally retired El Jeppo last week and replaced it with a shiny Pilot in a very attractive shade of blue. Yes, our quest is at an end and good riddance to the whole ordeal. On the way back from negotiating the deal I was say to Jeannie it would have been nice to get a better trade-in price. But then back windshield wiper stopped working and I remembered why I needed to get rid of the old bucket o’ blots, and considered it was probably a fair deal. We named the new car Hoban after the famous starship pilot Hoban Washburne.

Last Friday I took the kids into the city for a visit to the Guggenheim museum. It’s been years since I’d been there, before I moved to California. Lizzy has been getting into abstract and impressionistic art. This was the perfect exhibit for her. It was all about the birth of Modernism, 1910-1918, plus a side exhibit on the Bauhaus. Lots a Picasso, Mondrian, Kandinsky and others all in one place. Modern art’s greatest hits. It’s been a while since I checked in with this stuff and it struck me how deeply the language of modernism has come to permeate every day pop culture, media and industrial design, to the point where it’s almost invisible. It’s always interesting to image a time an place where ideas we now just accept were new and radical and challenging. Plus the gallery itself is a most excellent space, with it’s snail-shell spiral main hall.

Jeannie has been making Lego robots to solve a Rubik’s cube. More on that later.

Like a Lion Fighting an Angry Ram in a Wet Cardboard Box

Feeling the first hints of early spring. The weather has been more mild lately. Traded snow any bitter cold for rain and heavy winds. Cold comfort for change.

Work has been busy; big deadline looming at the end of March. Jeannie has been having dental work the last few weeks and has a few weeks more to go. We’ve begun researching cars. Lizzy got accepted into honor band for middle school, which starts this week.

We’ve been painting again. This time it’s the baseboards, door frames and trim. We’ve done two sessions two weekends in a row. The downstairs is done, and the stairway (huge amount of work) and the kitchen and living room. Still to go are the hall, bedrooms and bathrooms, plus some window frames and doors. Most of time is laying down tape. Hope to be done all this by the end of March so we can concentrate on outdoor stuff when spring come in April.

Again With the Turkeys

Let’s see … a few things. Yesterday was our big deadline at work, the release of v2.2 of out software. We almost made it, but our QA guy was hung up by our server going down all the time the last few days. Meanwhile the last bunch o’ weeks of working extra hours while trying to keep everything else going have caught up to me and I was kinda under the weather yesterday. I’ve been watching some Galactica to unwind a few nights over the last few weeks, TV as a sedative. Everyone says BSG is awesome, but I’m not so sure. For one thing, it’s very dark, gloomy and humorless. Not very entertaining in the sense of providing entertainment. Second, EJO is great as Adama, but the only character with any personality in the whole show is Starbuck. Everyone else is just in the situation, and pretty dark and gloomy and humorless about it. Third the pacing is very slow, like a soap opera. A lot of inconsequential stuff happens every episode, and some of it moves the Big Plot forward a degree or two. Lastly, the genius scientist and his imaginary Cylon girlfriend are just too much! Still the thing is strangely compelling, and I expect I’ll be making my way thru the series just to see what happens.

The big thing we accomplished around the house last week was to paint the ceilings downstairs. They kinda did a crappy job when they built the house and it always bothered me, but it sometimes takes a while to get around to things. It’s a big room that includes my studio and our family room and Jeannie’s office (the size of all 3 bedrooms plus the hall and bathrooms and part of the kitchen), and it was a big job. We started Friday night and did most of the rest Saturday night, and finished Sunday afternoon. It’s the only way to fit in a big job like that. And of course that’s probably part of the reason I’m so burnt out right now. Still, we’ve been meaning to get around to it for a long time, and it’s much better than it was before. Cross another item off our hydra-headed todo list.

But you came here to read about turkeys, and by that I mean origami turkeys. In between everything else, I taught my Turkey at the Origami USA Special Sessions Saturday at the museum. I get a lot of great feedback on this model. I taught it last spring, but decided to it again this fall because of the tie-in with Thanksgiving. And I’m happy to say it went over quite well. It was a good group and they all did great at the model. Including one kid about Lizzy’s age. Wow.

I hadn’t folded the model in about a year couldn’t really remember how it went. It’s a pretty complex model (probably over 100 steps once I diagram it). As luck would have it, Friday at work our servers crapped out so I had some downtime and was able to fold a few attempts and get as far as the base. When I taught the class they were all advanced folders and got the idea of free-form sculpting the details from the base, so that wasn’t a problem. Still it’s good to work it out and take it to the next level. Absolutely necessary for diagramming for a book. Along the way I got some of the previously improvised parts a bit more formalized too, particularly in the tail, so I feel a lot better about this model then I did before. The only thing left to work out now is the head. Now if I can only find the right paper I can make an exhibit quality version.

I had some time a the end of my session so I taught my Walrus. (I usually bring whatever new models I have to these things to see what people think of them, and there were some requests to teach this one.) This is the kind of model I really like. It’s only 20 or 30 steps, but communicates so much, and not being so hard, a much wider range of people respond to it. This one will definitely get into my book. The slate is already pretty full for my first book and most of the diagrams are drawn, but I guess there’s the potential for a follow up. I only wish diagramming didn’t take so long. Recently people have been sending me email asking to make youtube videos teaching my models. I guess I should be grateful they ask, but I have to tell them no. Boy, why doesn’t some one volunteer to help diagram for my book? I guess that’s why we need diagramming software. And so the circle of futility is complete.

Here’s a crease pattern for the Turkey Base. Probably not enough detail to figure out how to fold the final model, but enough for the basic layout. Hint: it’s a modified bird base.