What a Long Strange Trip

I was upstate last week on a visit to Buffalo with a dual purpose. One was to visit my parents and the other to drop of Lizzy for her college orientation. She’s going to UB, entering the business school. Jeannie and myself are UB alumni, along with lots of friends we haven’t seen in a while. It’s getting to the point where thirty years doesn’t seem like a long time ago. I’ve been re-connecting with quite a few people this year, mainly over facebook but in person this spring with my former college roommate Rich, and now on this trip with Danny, who just happened to be in town visiting his parents the same weekend as me.

Danny is literally my oldest friend. He grew up four houses down from the house I lived in until I was ten years old. He’s also one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. We were entering freshmen in the UB honors program together. Danny is responsible for Jeannie and I meeting. His roommate Todd went to Jeannie’s high school, and they had a party one night and Jeannie showed up and we got to talking. After college Danny moved to D.C. while I moved to New York and then California. So there was alot of catching up to do. Danny has has a very interesting career working for the State Department in the foreign service. He’s been all over the world: Egypt, Russia, Brazil, and most recently Afghanistan. I was pretty itinerant for a number of years, but I can’t imagine the level of commitment one must have for this lifestyle. Even now he’s loving learning languages and cultures, passionate about the mission, grateful to be able to do some good in the world. It’s good to know he’s doing well.

We also saw the movie Dunkirk when we were up there. It was very visual, not like a typical Chris Nolan movie. Almost like a tone poem of a war picture. It was also basically a single extended action sequence, like the opening of Saving Private Ryan drawn out to fill the whole movie.

There was a classic car show in my parents’ neighborhood. Over 400 cars they said. Lots of American muscle, Mustangs, GTOs, Cameroes from the 60’s and 70’s. Lots of rebuilt hot rods, and all kinds of more exotic stuff going back to the 30’s. There was a whole parking lot full of Corvettes. Apparently they have this show every year and it was begun by a guy at a local garage who specializes in fixing up classic cars. I wish I’ve know cuz I could’ve gotten his card and talked to him about restoring the Mustang.

Lastly we went to a party at Larry and Jackie’s for their son Joey’s high school graduation. He’ll be entering UB in the fall as well, living in the same dorm as Lizzy. Big wheel keeps on spinning around.

Now back to crazy busy situation at work.

Novemborigami

Things have been going by fast around here. Hallowe’en came and went – we did our pumpkins in magic marker this year, and Lizzy birthday – went out for Japanese Hibachi steak house yum, as well as the clocks shifting, the much-ballyhooed election and a major deadline at work. I put in a few late nights and then took off the following Friday.

More fun: the windshield cracked on Lizzy’s car on her way to school one day so we had to get it replaced. Then it leaked in a rainstorm and we had to get it replaced again. Then Jeannie drove into a curb pulling over for a cop car and and banged up the bumper worse than it was before. Luckily I hadn’t gotten around to fixing that yet. Oy!

In the meantime if October was musical gig month, November has been origami convention month. I went to two conventions in two weeks. The first was OrigaMIT at MIT in Boston. It was alot of fun as always. The second was Origami Heaven at Stony Brook University on Long Island.

As usual I taught a bunch of classes. Since it’s the fall I taught my American Turkey out of my book Origami Animal Sculpture. Actually the American Museum of Natural History asked me for a model again this year for the origami Christmas tree, and the one they wanted was my Turkey, so that was the original motivation to dust it off.

This is a pretty complex model, about 100 steps in the book, with a color change and detailed feet with toes and a fan tail and wattle on the neck and everything. The model always gets compliments, but it’s hard to fold well. In particular it’s hard to get it to balance and stand on two feet. It takes a bit of finesse and you have to use the right kind of paper. In fact I folded a beautiful rust-orange one for the AMNH but the paper was too soft. Ah well. I ended up giving them one out of my OrigaMIT exhibit folded out of shiny paper from origami shop, because Talo was up at MIT and I knew I wouldn’t have time to go down the the museum this week.

Anyway I brought paper with me for the students to use, to insure they’d have a good experience. The class at MIT was quite full, but we got thru it all in the time allotted, and they all did quite well. This guy Zev Eisenberg even folded tiny turkey out of a 3” square. Finished size just over an inch. Then he put it in scene as larger-than-life monster to attack a tiny pirate ship he’d folded.

There’s a sequence in the middle that’s a bit tricky, but it went just fine in the class. I realize I’ve gotten better at explaining complicated origami moves over time. It’s been a few years since I designed this model and my style has developed since then, so I began to think about a more refined approach. I tried a few variations in the design that didn’t work but served to remind me about why I went the way I did.

The other class I taught at MIT was my Flowerball Evolution. This was essentially the same thing I taught at OUSA last June. This class was much smaller and included two sisters maybe 8 and 12 years old, excellent folders. The CPs for this class were published in the collection, and Jason Ku also published a limited edition volume of his own works that includes lots of his better-know models such as the Nazgul. Other highlights included Rebecca Gieseking’s vases and bowls, Wan Park in from Hawaii doing dollar folds, and Hugo Akitaya giving a paper on software he wrote for his thesis that converts CP’s to full-on Yoshizawa-Randlett diagrams

Even though the convention is one day, going up to Boston kills most of the weekend cuz we drive up Friday nite and come home Sunday morning. Still the energy level remained up even though it’s getting colder and darker every day. I even moved my workout from Tuesday and Thursday morning to Monday Wednesday Friday to accommodate the travel.

The next weekend we went to Stony Brook on Long Island for Origami Heaven. This was my first time going to this one although Srikant has been asking me for years. It’s not as technical or academic as the MIT one, nor quite as large, but it has alot of OUSA folks from NYC and was alot of fun. It was at the hotel on the Stony Brook campus and at lunchtime Jeannie and I took a long walk around. Lizzy applied there for college so it was good to see the campus.

I taught my Turkey again, and this time I made a few improvements to it, particularly smoothing out the troublesome middle section and also improving the landmarks and geometry or the tail. Still not totally satisfied but it’s getting there. Someday hopefully I’ll published a revised diagrams for it. There weren’t that many classes so in the afternoon I added one and taught my Adirondack Moose.

In the evening there was a dinner and free folding and a raffle and silent action. Jeannie got a bunch of tickets and we won a few sheets of really nice fine paper as well as the new book and Akira Yoshizawa, widely considered the godfather of modern origami. It’s a beautiful coffee-table book published by my publisher Tuttle. Very nicely done.

The other major thing going on right now is I’m shopping for a new piano. However this post is already kinda long so I’ll save that for another time.

Turn Turn Turn

Life continues as we turn the corner towards fall. Vacations are over and another school year has started.

We often go the beach at Ocean City MD over Labor Day weekend, but this year there was a hurricane barreling up the coast from Carolina, and the weather report was for heavy rains and gale-force winds, so we ended up cancelling the trip. Still we had a nice relaxing weekend, and went out to dinner on the water on Long Island Sound. Lizzy got to work a couple more days at the pool and ended the summer with some extra cash, and got to practice driving too. Michelle got to go the Renaissance Fair with her Aunt and cousins, and afterward we had them all over for one last barbecue.

I spent some of my found time dusting off Elixr, my long-neglected three-quarters completed third Buzzy Tonic album. Been tracking the bass part for what will probably be the last song, Leave the City Behind. I have other songs that I haven’t even begun to track, but I’ll probably save them for a future record. Hopefully I can finish this one by the end of the year. After that, seeing as I now have a working rock band and a real live jazz band too, I want to figure out a way to record some of my songs with real musicians.

But for now I’m going back and listening and mixing, adding the occasional part to round out an arrangement. I’ve been putting autotune on the vocals too. (Shhh, Don’t tell anyone!) Autotune has come a long way since the days of Believe, and the default mode makes it easy to manipulate while still sounding natural. It basically brings it about halfway to true pitch, so there’s still room for tremolo and tonal effects, everything sounds a bit more in tune, kinda like quantizing my midi piano parts for tighter phrasing. So far I have four new mixes out of the eight finished tunes. So watch this space for some new mixes soon.

Now the kids are back in school again. Lizzy is a Senior and Michelle 8th grade; both are really excited. Lizzy is driving to school now (!). I had been thinking of getting her an old jalopy of a car since her commute is so long by train. Then thru a lucky turn of events we got a much nicer car then we originally planned. Only problem with is was the bumper had had a close encounter with a garage door and repainted the wrong color. Today I sprayed it with the correct matching shade and now you can hardly even tell. Other random good news: Jeanne got promotion at work, and a raise big enough to cover the hike in our car insurance.

The last couple weeks at work have been pretty mellow for me. I took a couple Fridays off, and alot of people were gone a whole week, and then at the end of August our management was all out in Vegas for the year’s most important trade show. And as a former trade show exhibit designer, let me tell you we had a very cool booth! The software engineers had all been scrambling like mad to get a sufficiently stable and polished demo of the new UI out for the show. Apparently it’s a hit. Then last week we got to catch our breath, and do some refactoring, bug fixes, and planning.

Now we’re at the top of another big long run of work. The goal is to have a fully functional new UI by the end of the year. Google will no longer support Flex and Flash in chrome, so we need to retire our old one. When we were told this back at the beginning of the summer I thought it was well nigh impossible, but we’ve made alot of really good progress over the summer, and it looks pretty doable from here. Meanwhile we’re also rearchitecting the backend of our product to be modular, distributed and scalable, and to be able to handle a million computers in our system.

Functional Programming in Scala

Lots stuff going on these days. I mainly finished the spring cycle of work on the cars, washing and waxing and getting ‘em into the shop for routine maintenance. The only thing remaining is to get the Mustang in for an oil change and the fluids topped off. Also started mowing the lawn a week ago. All our flowers are doing really nicely and the trees are all a-blossoming. The weather has been getting up into the 70’s fairly consistently, although we’ve had our share of rainy days. Ah, spring at last.

I’ve been taking a Scala course from Coursera, taught by Martin Odersky, the language’s inventor. This is after having read a Scala book over the last few months. It’s in the second week of the class now and it’s pretty intense. The lectures and books are easy enough to understand, and in fact very illuminating and even deep. But when it comes time to the assignments it feels like starting over, between the overhead of getting set up, the strong functional programming paradigm, and the language’s wacky syntax. It’s more than just learning a new language, it’s a new way of thinking. I did some Lisp in the 90’s but now I have to unlearn all my Java knowledge. Right now the focus is on using recursive functions in place of loops. Hopefully I’m far enough the learning curve that it should get easier soon. Either that or my Java code will start getting confused.

Forward Yardage

It hasn’t really been warm outside yet, but this weekend was finally nice enough to start in on the spring things. I scraped away all the debris and filled in the craters in my yard made by logs falling out of the sky when they cut down my elm tree over the winter. Then I covered the dirt with the blue stuff so new grass will grow. Today’s rainy so I guess that’s good news for the grass. The town told us they’d come pull up the stump with two weeks; that was three weeks ago. I also expanded the flowerbed in the back corner of my yard to run the length of my neighbor’s garage and rearranged the edging stones. This means one less awkward corner that I have to get the lawnmower into.

I also got my Mustang on the road for the first time over the season. It started right up and ran like a charm, all systems look good.

Reminder: my band THE RELIX are playing this coming Saturday at Vintage Lounge in White Plains. Lots of great new material and the sound is tighter and better than ever. Show starts at 8:30. Playing three sets. Hope to see you there.

Toot Toot!

I couple weeks ago I finally got around to putting a new horn knob on my Mustang (I got the part last summer). The old one was yellowed and cracked on one side from years of sitting in the sun. While I was at it, I tightened up the screws that that hold the horn assembly in place. It’s a good thing too; today I took the Mustang out and had to use the horn three times!

Shine On

We’re just back to work from a long weekend, which started cold and stormy but ended mild and beautiful. We finally got to eat outside and break in our new patio furniture yesterday.

We went out to see a friend’s band, the Vintage Kings, play at a local bar. They were good and did some good stuff – Van Morrison, Chicago, Roadhouse Blues, and then strangely, Beastie Boys. I’m really digging not needing a sitter anymore, being able to go out spontaneously on a Saturday night. When we got home around 2 AM it had stopped raining and we saw a couple coyotes walking down the street right past our house. I had no idea we had coyotes in this neighborhood. They must’ve come from the Nature Study Woods.

I got in a couple good piano practices. Feel like I’m getting really solid, and working up a bunch of new tunes. More on that later, when I’m ready to share and updated set list. Meanwhile I got the horns done for Black Swan, a tenor and a bari. I stayed up late two nights in a row. It came out pretty awesome. I think the song is mostly done except for synth solo and some rhythm guitar. Another couple weeks.

Since I started looking into restoring the Mustang it occurred to me I should take some pictures of it to send to prospective restorers. Then it occurred to me I might as well wax it to make it look its best, like I do to my other cars in the springtime. The paint on the roof and trunk is really dead, but it’s been a few years, and I figure hey, you never know, it might help.

Well, I did a couple weeks ago, and it came out pretty amazing. Not showroom-new, but a huge improvement and what it had been. In fact it was so good I gave it a second coat this weekend. Had to wait for a day with no rain. The first coat took over four hours, including washing the car and doing all the little fussy bits like the fake vents on the sides, as well as rubbing out the large dead spots. The second coat went on alot easier and took only an hour. So now I feel a lot better about the car and the shape its in. Makes getting the resto done seem a bit less urgent and alot more fun.

Mister Blue Sky

Sun is shining in the sky, there ain’t a cloud in sight. Don’t you know it’s a beautiful day, hey-ey-ey?

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous the last week or so. I’ve been trying to spend as much time outside as possible. Trying to work from home more and take a long break in the middle of the day to do stuff and then come back an sit in front of the computer in the evening. It feels like just a few weeks ago it was still winter and now it’s no jacket required.

Last weekend we went to a fancy party for the parents of the kids’ school. It was a fun time, more than last year, mainly because we know more other parents now. Jeannie really rocked a new pair of really-high-heels she bought to stay ahead of Lizzy, combined with a new little-black-dress. Woo-hoo!

Also last weekend we went upstate to visit Martin and meet my new niece Abbie. She’s a very mellow baby. They’re doing great. My folks were over too. We all had alot of fun. Martin’s been making great progress on making improvements to his new house.

We’ve been making progress here too. Last week I tuned up the kids’ bikes and washed and waxed Jeannie’s car. It rained that night and the next morning the water was all beaded up on the paintjob. Michelle said “Ooh, that looks like a computer background.” I didn’t know exactly what she meant, but Lizzy snapped a picture of it an shaw’nuff if was her desktop background that night.

I also took the Mustang to a couple of local body shops. Neither of them wanted to touch the car because they specialize mainly in collisions, although they all agreed its a great car in great shape. It’s true you really don’t see may of them here in the northeast, although there’s a guy in my neighborhood who has a Model-A Ford, and another guy who has a banana colored Ferrari. Anyway, they say I want to go restoration not just a paintjob, that I want to “do it right”. I was a bit surprised; mainly the paint is dead on the roof and trunk, and there are a couple of minor dings and a tiny rust spot on one fender. I figured they could take care of that. They made the point that you don’t know if there’s more hidden rust, plus they’d want to re-align the doors and all, and in any event they’d want to take off all the chrome etc., and start with new primer on the whole car. Of course this won’t be cheap, but I’ll end up with a show-quality car and the money I put in will increase the car’s value by even more. This was never my ambition, but I guess it’s all or nothing, so I’m considering it. But I’m also considering just letting it be. If I go all-in, then if the engine every goes I’m already committed to fixing that.

The thing is, neither one knows a guy who does restorations. They both recommend I look away from the NYC area where the cost of labor ought to be cheaper. So this is back to being a research project. We’ll see if I get anywhere.

Oh, and Michelle spilled water on my computer and we had to take it apart and dry it out. Now the wifi doesn’t work and the fan sounds like the world’s tiniest jet engine.

Next up: the patio project!!!

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.

The Big Five-Oh

I just got back from a trip upstate to visit family. The big event was that my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. This was a big occasion that we’ve been looking forward to. Luckily they’re both still active and healthy, and they threw a big party that brought out lots of friends and relations I haven’t seen in a long time.

My brother Jim and his family came up from New Mexico with their monster truck and an RV trailer on an epic road trip. We all met up in Albany at my brother Martin’s house for the 4th of July. Martin’s in-laws were having a big ol’ barbeque picnic. Unfortunately, the power steering on Jim’s truck blew out when they arrived, but at least they had their trailer set up and were in a safe place. We all met up in Buffalo by Friday for the party the next day. It was great to see all my nephews and niece together with my kids. And, like I said, lots of cousins came out from Toronto, Ottawa, Chicago, and all over. It was great to see everyone. Really nice.

My folks hired a violinist and pianist, who were really good at Hungarian, German, Austrian, etc. music, plus a few jazz standards thrown in for good measure. It was perfect for the occasion. There was dancing and everything. My Mum was in high spirits and even extemporaneously sang a number.

I also saw my friend Mark C., who was the best man at my wedding, who I’ve lost touch with over the years and then remade contact. He’s also the best drummer I’ve ever worked with, in Infinigon, Event Horizon, and a few other groups. I wish he lived around here. He’s been in a metal band and a world beat party band the last few years, doing the summer festival circuit. He’s sporting a way-cool Zappa-esque goatee these days. It was great to catch up.

I gave the toast at my Mum and Dad’s party. I wrote a draft out ahead of time, and then paraphrased it (mainly to shortening it to fit the mood of the moment). This method has worked for me as well as an outline or bullet points, and one can always fall back on the text if winging it seems to be losing the thread at delivery time. So I thought I’d present my toast here, for my Mum and Dad.

A Toast

Mum and Dad, we’re here celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary. And it’s good to be here. A lot of people don’t make it to fifty, so you deserve to celebrate. And we here all deserve to celebrate too, having known you and seen your enduring love affect our lives. Thank you everyone for coming, family and lifelong friends, to help celebrate, some of you from a long way away.

Let me take a moment to express how, as a product of your love, how much you’ve meant to me. Dad, I want you to know how my admiration for you has deepened over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever known a more principled man. In my youth I mainly saw the uncompromising aspect of it, but over time I’ve come to appreciate the values and the strength behind it. You’ve given me a lot to live up to and to look up to. Your intelligence and vast practical knowledge have been in inspiration too. You speak and read several languages. You know how to build or fix pretty much anything. You’ve had a successful career as an engineer, and have been lucky enough to enjoy a long retirement. All your sons have gone on to careers in engineering, although in the field of software rather than machinery, some of us despite our efforts to do something else. Your passion for precise thinking has been an example that served me well. Another passion of yours is a love of nature and the outdoors. You’ve always kept the most wonderful fruit trees and vegetable garden.

Mum, my love and admiration for knows no bounds. Your nurturing, your industriousness, your fantastic cooking, your humor. Your commitment to education has been a big factor in my own success in life. But the thing I appreciate most is your creative side, and the creativity you fostered in me. Your love of music has certainly rubbed off on me. Growing up our house was always full of music, particularly classical music. Playing music is one of my great joys in life. You are an expert in needlepoint, sewing, and cross-stitch, and your work is beautiful and at a masterful level. My other artistic passion is origami, and I also credit this to you. Your example of patient dedication has been an inspiration.

Together you make a great team, and so have prospered and mellowed over time and grown in love and commitment. So we find ourselves here today. Like I said, It’s good to be here. All the family and lifelong friends, everyone who’s shared in their lives, now you’re to help make this a special day. Please join me in a toast to my Mum and Dad, Frank and Eva. Cheers!