Still In the Middle of Things

Let’s see… Sorry if this post is a boring one, all work and no play. But you can skip it if you want.

Michelle’s room is basically done. Very nice pale yellow. It’s been really humid all weekend so we’re giving the paint a while to dry before we put everything back.

Made progress on my new origami page. Will have something to show soon.

Made progress on my Moose diagrams. Almost there.

Made progress on my new song, Who Can Fool Me. Rewrote the lyric last week and re-tracked the vocals last night. I had some weird noise in my system that made it impossible to record cleanly. Rebooted my system and it went away. I filled out the arrangement some. I added some mellotron-style synth strings. Still to tweak the arrangement a bit, but it’s getting there. I experimented with a double-time arpeggio voice in the second half of the song to keep the energy level rising throughout. Has potential, but isn’t there yet. Also still have to add some horns and the solo synth, which will sound something like a wah-wah guitar or gutbucket trumpet.

Did not get a chance to finish the Rollercoaster of Cheese Flash animation with the girls.

But Lizzy is becoming a stronger chess player all the time. I’m playing against her with all my pawns, king, queen, a knight, a bishop and sometimes a rook.

Happy Autumn, Part II

More works in progress:

I’ve started work on a new song, “Who Can Fool Me?” Sort of an angry and defiant song, inspired as a response to how people in authority use lies and manipulation to maintain their power: the government, corporations, the media, etc. It’s basically a jazz blues in C minor, played in a stride style. But it’s dressed up by a 7/8 time and lots of chromatic harmonic movement for a sort of tense, edgy feeling. It’s coming together relatively quickly, which is nice. Got the arrangement worked out, got rhythm section down, and a MIDI sketch of a horns and strings, and did first pass at the vocals last night. I will do one more pass at that as I am still finalizing the lyrics.

Work on my origami book continues. I’m close to being done with diagramming my moose. This is a long one, over 60 steps so far. It’ll probably end up just a few short of 70. This one will present some new challenges when I do the page layout, since the size and shape of the individual step drawing very greatly, I’ll need to expand my palette of layout templates. I’m folding a moose as I do the diagrams. I had folded my previous mooses out of Wyndstone Marble paper, but that is no longer available in the United States. So I’ve been searching for some new and different kinds of origami paper recently. For this one I ended up using a piece of paper called Tant that I ordered from Nicolas Terry in France. It’s working out very nicely. Very strong and reasonably thin, very workable, and it comes in largish (35cm) sheets. I would love to be able to get the stuff even larger (like 50cm). Anyway, you check out Nicolas’s origami shop and order the stuff here.

Another project I’ve decided to start on this fall is to redesign the origami section of my web site. I’ve been wanting to do this since the summer. I had a big burst of creativity last May and June, and came up with eight new models in that period, and since then of course I’ve decided to so a book. The big problem with this is my web site is really old. Parts of it date back to 1995, which is truly ancient in internet time. I’ve added on it over the years, but the core is flat html. So the origami galleries don’t scale well, and every time I add a new model it’s a fair amount of hand coding. I want to completely redo it, with a more modern looking, CMS-backed, Javacript-driven front end. Maybe something like this. BTW, Giang Dihn is my favorite origami artist out there right now. His stuff is so lyrical and flowing, so beautiful.

But that’s a rather large endeavor, beginning with researching available code libraries and seeing how they fit in with my design concept. So it will have to wait. Meanwhile I’m overhauling the current set of pages on last time. I swear this is it. The most labor-intensive part of this is I have to photograph all my models and bring them into photoshop to size the images. This is something I’ll need to do anyway for my book. But the more I do it, the higher my standards get, and I’m starting to realize I need a better camera or better lighting setup, or maybe just need to become a better photographer. Ah well another bridge I’ll cross when I get there. For this rev I’ll just use the pictures I have.

Lastly, I spent some time last weekend with the girls on the movie Rollercoaster of Cheese, their little timeline animation project. Created the soundtrack by editing together and layering 3 takes of our the voiceover. Showed them how to use Audacity, a simple but reasonably powerful audio editor for the PC. Brought the soundtrack into Flash. The next and last step is the actually animation, using the library of drawing they built up.

This led to us exploring some old multimedia pieces I have on my web site. So here’s some shockwave stuff from a few years ago. Enjoy!

Happy Autumn, Part I

Today was the Equinox, and I’m into the fall groove over here. Getting caught up on some little things and starting in on a bunch of projects. Getting around to everything in the inevitable rotation of activities.

The weather has been really nice this September. Soon we should have a whole lot of ripe figs. Meanwhile I’ve been enjoying skating as always, and going for bike rides on our local trails in the Nature Study Woods. Mountain biking is fun, and in another month or so I’ll have to switch from skating to biking after work cuz it’ll be dark out, so I’ve started biking once a week after doing almost no biking the whole summer. The NSW is a nice place, with woods and lakes and horses and swans all kinds of birds and critters. The only real problem with the place is the trails are kind of eroded and need some work. Some of the hills are too hard to go up, not because they are steep but because they are so rocky.

I’ve also been taking my old Mustang out for a ride now and again. It started making a noise a little while ago in the engine, like the lifters were clacking. I remember from when I lived in California and used to drive that car every day, that when that happened I just needed to top of the oil. So I checked the oil but the dipstick said full. So I didn’t quite know what to, and just sort of worried and figured I’d get it checked out in the spring. I’ll probably only drive it once or twice more this fall. Yesterday before I drove it I topped off the oil anyway, and shawnuff the noise mostly went away after a few minutes. Damn dipstick, I guess it must be reading off. Well what do you expect for an old car. I’m still gonna get it checked out in the spring, but still I’m relieved about that.

A couple weeks ago I finally decided to do something about my downstairs stereo, so I could listen to tunes while I work out. My old CD player died a couple years ago, and I had been using an old discman as a replacement, but it had problems with the jack or the cables and one side never sounded right and would drop out from time to time. I didn’t know if the problem was in the CD player, the receiver, the speakers or the cabling somewhere. So as an experiment I repatched the system to use my DVD deck as the CD player, using its extra audio out. Works like a charm and sounds great. I’ve been listening to Steely Dan’s Alive in America for 2 or three weeks now every time I work out.

Now on to what are the works in progress.

Our major home improvement project this fall is to paint all the bedrooms. A much easier job than tiling, for sure, and also this year I don’t have to do all kinds of concrete work, so I’m grateful for that. In any event, it’s September and we figured we’d better get started. Got colors picked out for the girls rooms and everything. We decided to do Michelle’s room first. We were all set to paint the walls, but when I was doing the prep work I noticed some spots that needed spackling, which necessitated painting the ceiling too. So got that done over the weekend, and the wall are coming next.

Girls First Flash Animation

Here’s an little animation from Lizzy and Michelle. I’ve started teaching the girls Flash, with the idea of using it as a way to introduce them to programming. I was about Lizzy’s age when I first started programming computers. Of course back in those days if you wanted to do anything at all with a computer you had to write a program first. These were TRS-80’s and the language was BASIC, and we’d type in the source code for simple games like Lunar Lander out of a manual and then watch it run. Now computers, languages and platforms are about a zillion times more complicated, and it’s hard to know where to start. I figured Flash is good cuz they can start with the drawing and animation tools, and then get into simple frame scripts, and go from there they can take it as afar as they want, up to a full on Object Oriented language and web application development platform. Not that they will necessarily want to grow up to be software developers, but right now they mainly use computers for watching DVD’s, playing games, and surfing the net, so it’d be good for them to have some basic understanding of how things work, as well as developing some logical problem-solving skills.

So we’re up to playing with the drawing and animation tools. Here’s a first effort, called “Squishy Cheese”. The project is actually from a little while ago, but there is renewed interest, and they’re working on a follow-up. The new one will have thematic content and an attempt at narrative. This one is more, stream of consciousness and impressionistic.

Origami Book Start

If you’ll recall, I decided back in June on the last day of the Origami USA annual convention to write an origami book of my original models. How’s it going, you might ask. Well I’m glad you asked. It’s off to a good start.

I’ve competed diagrams for three models in the last two months. Two of them, the Hot Air Balloon and the Loon, are all-new. The third, the Canoe, is an update of a model that I’d already diagrammed. The update is nontrivial because I’m now using a new process and a new style. I really want to get my diagramming up to the next level. There’s really no point in doing a book unless it’s excellent.

My old way of working was to use Flash to generate the steps and then animate them into a sfw for publication on the web. This was a pretty good way to share diagrams without having to worry too much about people ripping them off. It’s really hard to make printouts from a sfw. On top of that, I’ve been submitting a model every year to the OUSA annual collection, and to generate this document I would just export the frames from Flash and paste them into a Word document.

This approach was not very flexible, and had some drawbacks. Foremost, the diagrams were designed to look good on a computer screen not a printed page. I used various shades of light and dark grey instead of black and white. I drew them so one step would fill the screen, where in print the diagram for a step is less than 2 inches square. So I ran thru a series of experiments to get things to look better in print. The colors (now just simple black and white and 30 percent grey), the line weights for edges and creases, the line weights and dash lengths for mountain and valley folds, and sizes of the arrows all underwent some serious scrutiny. I’ve been checking my collection of origami books for all the various stylistic choices to see which ones I want to follow. Also I’ve started using zoomed-in drawings for details, which is something I’ve not really done before. I’ve started breaking down complex steps into series of simpler steps, which is tedious but worth it. I made a lot of test printouts to see how things look in actual size. I need to take my diagrams and print them out on different printers.

The other thing I did was to start using some real page layout software. I’m using InDesign from Adobe, and it’s very well-suited to my needs. I can import the steps as eps images and freely mix graphics and text areas, and build flexible templates. The whole app is designed with professional print designers in mind, the modern day descendant of Aldus PageMaker. I’m sure it can do way more powerful stuff, but for these common tasks it’s really a breeze. I export the diagram to an eps to print, and it’s perfect fidelity. I’m treating each model as a document, but when the time comes to layout the book, I can import them into a master document that encapsulates the whole book. Meanwhile, this fall I’m going to get a 3-ring binder (how anachronistic!) so I can make a physical prototype of the book, and pop in the models as they get diagrammed.

I had figured the book will take about two years, with the first year concentrating mainly on diagramming and the second on assembling the book and getting it published. Well if I can get 3 models done every 2 months, that’ll be 18 diagrams this year, which is more than halfway but still leaves a good way to go. I’m estimating somewhere between 20 and 30 models total, and I haven’t tackled any of the really complex ones yet. I have about a dozen models already diagrammed, although I’ve changed the designs for about half of them, and they’ll all need to be redone for styles. So hopefully as fall comes and turns to winter I’ll be able to pick up the pace a bit.

Here’s a screen grab of one of my pages. There’s a space at the top of each model for a picture and a blurb about the subject, folding process, or whatever info is appropriate.

Summer’s End, and More Fun With Chess

We finished the summer with a long weekend on the beach, swimming in the ocean every day, going out to seafood dinners on the boardwalk and the bay, as well as doing the rides on the amusement pier, hiking with the wild ponies on the national seashore (where we saw the washed-up exoskeleton of the largest horseshoe crab ever, a good two feet long! Pics coming soon, I promise.), and even a day in the water park (awesome!). Heard alot of classic rock and dance music on the various sound systems at these places. Interestingly, I think every song I hears was from an American band, except one by Andy Gibb (does he count as American, British or Australian?) and one by Yes. The weather and the waves were great; I taught the kids to boogie board. Finally have a decent tan. It was a great way to end the summer. Now it’s back to work, back to school, end of summer vacation season.

I’ve gotten into playing chess with Lizzy again, after she read a post about it on my blog from last summer. We’ve been playing a game or two pretty much every day for the last week or two. She’s excited about it because there’s going to be a chess club at her school this fall. I usually play with a handicap: all my pawns but just the queen, king and sometimes one bishop. It’s a pretty balanced match and she can beat me sometimes if I’m not concentrating and I make a careless mistake, which is not too uncommon. She’s definitely getting better, and is learning to plan and execute tactical attacks and trades, put up some pre-emptive defenses, and just generally make plays that make sense. For my part, I’m exploring how much you can do offensively with pawns and your king, which is pretty interesting. Some of the games are pretty exciting.