Scouting Outing

Last weekend the girls and Jeannie went to a region Girl Scouts event and had blast meeting other kids and doing crafts and other activities. Tonight guest bloggers Lizzy and Michelle tell the story.

Hello I’m ….. Elizabeth or you can call me Lizzy. Liz works too. I also like eLizzy.

Hello this is Michelle. You can also call me Shelly.

This is hamster trio. You can call us cute. Or cuties.

Umm, this is Elizabeth talking. Laugh laugh laugh. Oh yeah. Let me tell you about the best time of my life. It’s called ….. Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson. Explosion baby! Pow zip bang bing burp! There were lots of kids there. We taught origami boxes and cootie catchers. My mom made about 600 papers and we used about 400 of them. We learned how to do a new lanyard. My best friend Isabella was there but I didn’t see because it was so big. It was fun. Goodbye!

New Song: Who Can Fool Me

Who is the greater fool, the fool or the fool who follows?

I’ve been working on a new song called “Who Can Fool Me?” It’s a defiant and bitter song, a reaction to the constant lies and manipulation coming from the media and the forces of power in our society, and how everyone seems to go along with it rather than maintaining the sovereignty of one’s own mind and judgment. Or something like that. I came up with the basic idea for the song a few years back, and refined it this fall.

The arrangement and feel of the song is tense end edgy, and takes a cue from old-time cartoon jazz, but sort of warped and twisted and blended with modern electronica. Structurally, it’s basically a C minor blues, played in a stride style, but in 7/4 time. The basic blues chords are embellished with upward chromatic harmonic movement.

The recording came together pretty quickly. It looks I’ll be done with it in less than two months, which is much better than the 3 or 4 months some of my other songs took. Admittedly those were longer songs and this one is only three minutes but still, I may be getting better at this! At this point I’m pretty much done except for two things. One is editing and mixing the vocals; I have an effects treatment in mind.

The other a synthesizer solo. I have a virtual orchestra consisting of a synth mellotron, a synth string section, and two real saxophones – a tenor and a soprano. The lead synth, combines with the 2 saxes is designed to evoke the classic horn section of a trumpet, clarinet and tenor sax, as used by for example Raymond Scott. So I want the synth to sound something like a cross between a gutbucket trumpet played with a plunger mute and wah-wah guitar on overdrive.

This gave me occasion to plug in my venerable Yamaha VL-70 wind synthesizer. It is a very cool piece of technology that produces sounds thru physical modeling. The sounds are responsive to multiple realtime continuous controls, and the unit is designed to work with a wind controller such as Yamaha’s WX-11. The combo of the WX-11 and VL-70 is very playable, and feels alot like playing a real saxophone. It’s been years since I’ve played this thing, I spent most of my last session simply getting used to the instrument, and paging thru the presets (256 of them) to see what I liked. I found several patches that fall either into the “brass” or “guitar” category, but no suitable morph of the two.

I finally settled on a muted jazz trumpet patch just to lay down a rough take to have something to listen back to on the train. Amazingly, that patch sounds almost too real. I just ran the audio out of the VL straight into protools, but next time I think I’ll capture the MIDI instead and pass it back out to render the audio like an overdub. This will enable me to do multiple passes with two different patches. Over time I’ve found it’s usually quicker to get a particular sound by blending two patches than by going nuts twiddling the knobs and programming your custom sounds. (Believe me I’m not lazy, I’ve spent plenty of time twiddling knobs!) And although the solo is fine, the part as a whole is unusable because I was seriously overplaying. I need to be much sparser, take more space and interact more with the other instruments. Usually I don’t worry too much about planning out my solos in advance, as I kind of work it out subconsciously as I’m writing and arranging. But this one needs a bit more work. Still all in all it was a successful experiment, and I feel set up to nail it the next session.

Who Can Fool Me?
John Szinger, 2004 – 2008

You can’t fool me
This time won’t be same
I see you play your game
I’ve heard it all before
This time I’m keeping score and
You can give me the runaround but

You can’t fool me
You’re pretty good at lying
I’ll give you points for trying
This time my mind’s made up
It’s rain in a paper cup and
You can try to steal my sound but

You can’t fool me
Although you make rules
But still I know what’s true
Yeah I’ve been there and back
This time I’m keeping track
You can try to lead me on but

You can’t fool me
Although you’re so much stronger
You’ve been around much longer
You want to push me ’round
I’m gonna stand my ground and
You can try to knock me down but

You can’t fool me
And now you’re playing cupid
You know I’m not that stupid
Yeah I can see right thru
I know what I have to do and
You can try to make me dance but

You can’t fool me
I don’t buy your fantasy
Leave me alone already
You fooled me once before
I’m hungry for some more and
I might even take that chance but

You can’t fool me
No, you can’t fool me
Only I can fool myself
Said I can fool myself
You can’t fool and honest man and
You can’t fool me

Bad Luck With Things With Wheels

The weather this fall has been really great. Exceptionally mild, sunny and in the 70’s quite often. It’s been getting dark earlier, and soon (probably tomorrow) I’ll have to switch to biking from skating after work, favoring the mode of exercise that has lights and brakes. And not long after that we enter the season of getting up for work in the morning while it’s dark out.

So last Sunday I went to take my Mustang for a ride, possible for the last time this season, depending on the weather. When I parked it I noticed something leaking from the engine, looks like oil or maybe gas. Grumble, grumble. Well it stopped shortly after the motor shut off, and of course it might not be a big deal to fix but you never know, and the hassle factor makes it a bit daunting. And this on the heels of fixing up my every day car.

After that I thought I’d go for a bike ride. I haven’t ridden in a couple weeks and my bike had a flat. After fretting over the Mustang I didn’t really feel like dealing with this too, so I decided to go rollerblading instead. Well as soon as I got down the road my left skate started going thump-thump-thump every time I shifted my weight to that side. About a mile later on of the wheels just tore right off! Well at least this put and end to the noise and rattle.

So I was able to fix my flat and replace the wheel on my skate with a spare old wheel I had lying around. All the wheels are pretty worn but it’s late in the season, and I thought I’d wait until the spring to put on a new set. At this point I’m thinking of getting a whole new pair of skates anyway, since my skates are original Rollerblades that date back to the early 1990’s and are pretty worn.

As for the Mustang, the path of least resistance just to leave it garaged for the winter and deal with it in the spring. But you never know, I just might get motivated sooner if the good weather holds.

Weekend in D.C.

Over the weekend we went to Washington to visit my friend John, who is an accomplished origami artist. It was a really fun trip.

But first the part about danger and adventure. About a month ago, after all our summer travels were over, I took my car into the shop for an oil change, tire rotation and new front brakes. Since that time, I’ve only driven to the train station and back, and have not taken the car about 30 mph (48 km/h). The kids had a half day of school on Friday, so we lit out for DC about 2 in the afternoon. The trip was great, the traffic smooth and light, and the weather turned from cool and cloudy to mild and sunny. But I after I got on the highway I started to notice a vibration in the front end, and as the trip went on it got worse. By the time we got off the Beltway it was pretty bad, and soon the front brakes were smoking! Luckily we made it to John’s house and there was a garage just a couple blocks away.

It turned out one of the tires was seriously worn along the outside edge, to the point where it was ready to blow out! I think the garage last month must have screwed up with the tire rotation, cuz this was not normal wear. On top of that the rear brakes were shot. So I got new back breaks and ended up getting four new tires, cuz one other tire was pretty badly worn and all of them were more than five years old in any event. Ah well, it was an expensive hassle, but I would have had to get this work done at some point, and all in all we were pretty lucky.

And it didn’t even slow us down very much. There are a lot of good restaurants in John’s neighborhood and Friday night we got Mongolian food. Saturday I got up early to deal with the car, and then we all took the train into downtown D.C. We went down the Mall to the Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial. I haven’t been there since high school, so it was interesting to see how the place had changed. For on thing they put up a slightly incongruous World War Two memorial right near the Washington Monument.

It’s also interesting how some thing haven’t changed. It’s a long walk (4 miles from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and back), and you’d think they’d have trams or bicycles or something for the tourists in this day and age of fat America. It would also come in handy for people with kids or a bad ankle, or people who don’t want to walk the whole length of the Mall twice. Also the food selection is pretty meager, just a single concession stand with bad pizza and hot dogs and soda. You’d think there’d be row of places to get lunch.

The highlight of the day was the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. This is a fantastic place and I’ve been to it every time I’ve been to Washington. It’s full of spaceships, including such legendary craft as the Apollo 11 Command Module, and of a more recent vintage Spaceship One, and storied airplanes including the original 1903 Wright Flyer plus hundreds of later models from every era of experimental, military and commercial aviation. There used to be a Space Shuttle but that’s now gone. I understand they moved it to a new museum hall out near the airport.

The kids really loved it (as Jeannie I both did at that age), and I don’t think they ever really thought to spaceships as something real before, only an idea out of movies. I grew up in the 70’s and I remember the waning days of the Apollo program, Skylab, Viking and Voyager, and the development and debut of the Space Shuttle. All that stuff was really cutting edge back then; now it seems almost nostalgic. I mean, my 41-year old classic muscle car is built of the same technology that took humanity to the moon! I read in the paper today that the US will not have manned space light capability for the next five years and will have to pay Russia to send up our astronauts like dotcom zillionares do. Sigh, yet another failure of our government.

In any event the museum was a blast and it was a great day. When we got back to John’s neighborhood the garage was still open and I picked up the car. We get Peruvian food for dinner and played Settlers of Catan after. (It seems John always wins.)

John has a grand piano. It’s been a few years since I’ve played a grand. I used to play one a lot when I lived in California and hung out at my friend David’s house. My own piano is an upright, and it’s good for what it is, but a grand has a faster, better action and much more definition in the sound, especially in the bass registers and the very high end. So it was very enjoyable to play on that.

And of course we spent a lot of time talking origami. I folded some models out of his forthcoming book, a magnum opus of polyhedra and geometric origami. He has a chapter on polygons, including a regular pentagon and a golden rectangle. His pentagon is (folded from a square) is a very accurate approximation, but the golden rectangle is mathematically exact, which is very interesting because it’s only a few steps; the golden rectangle is latent in the square. I have been searching for year for a method to fold a regular pentagon (or a 36 degree angle), and his is the best I’ve seen. But it doesn’t beat the method I’ve come to prefer, which is basically to eyeball it, because I’ve gotten good at it with practice. In any event, since the golden ratio is expressed everywhere in pentagonal symmetry, I feel intuitively that there must be a way to develop a mathematically perfect pentagon from a golden rectangle. I plan on investigating this.

We spent some time considering the Archimedean Solids and their duals. I developed and folded a Truncated Octahedron from a square sheet of paper. This a really interesting shape, composed of eight hexagons and six squares and has the property of being able to tile space. To my surprise and delight, my design mainly worked, right up until I got closing the model and locking the last face in place with it’s neighbors. This ending stuff can be tricky but is essential to a nice model. My current design wants to spring apart, but it looks like I can get make it with stiffer paper and a slight adjustment of the layout of the faces on the paper.

Back in the office today I got a demo to Flash 10 from an Adobe evangelist. It has a lot of cool new API for doing 3D. My friend Veronique turned to me and said this would be cool for my origami software. She’s totally right, but this had the effect of making me sad because I’d love to have the time to work on that project again. I started it back in the dotcom bust when I was out of work and got a lot of design work done and start on a demo, but it would take months of full time work to get to the next level with it. Ah well, with the economy going the way it is maybe I’ll get my chance. Heh!