Dogs and Cats in Origami

This weekend we’re having the first real hot weather of the year, in the mid to upper 80’s. It’s also the weekend of the carnival at the kids’ school. I helped out last night at the Fathers’ Club Food Tent, and will be helping out tonight and tomorrow in the games booths. These school events get more and more fun as I get to know more parents and families. There’s a great sense of community that I never felt in the old school. Plus it’s interesting, but I guess not surprising, how Establishment it is. The local cops and firemen are all out showing support. Heck some of them are parents of the school. I’m still conditioned from the days of my youth to see cops as a threat, so it feels weird to learn they’re normal, friendly guys.

I have alot of vacation time to use up this summer, and so I’m taking my first summer Friday to do some origami so I have some new models for convention. I have few things that I’m working on. First is a pair of new animals, a dog and a cat. I’d been thinking about doing a dog and cat for a while, but they’re pretty challenging subjects. There are lots of cats and dogs out there, ranging from simple and stylized to realistic and complex, capturing a wide range of moods and styles. Plus cats and dogs are very familiar to humans. It won’t do to simply have the right configuration of limbs; the model has to say something.

I found my way in to approach these subjects as a request from a friend. She had recently created a website for an animal adoption service in Queens – Timber’s Legacy ( The website logo features a dog and cat in silhouette and she asked me if I could fold them as gift for the lady who runs the service.

The idea that the animals are sitting allowed me to focus more on the overall shape and sculptural aspects rather than worrying much about the base and where the points for all the legs would come from. The dog in particular has pointy ears, and you don’t see that much in origami dogs. Once I had the dog worked out, I figured the cat would be a simple variation, but it turned out the pretty different. Not only is the head and face totally different, but the long tail required a whole new geometry and base. Finally, the body posture, neck and shoulders were different enough to have to come up with a new treatment.

I’ve been folding lots of cats and dogs the last few weeks. They’re not too complex and take less than a half hour to fold. I’m still refining the details, particularly on the cat, before I attempt to fold exhibit quality ones out of good paper.

The other thing I’ve been working on is an approach to combine polyhedra with tessellations. I came up with a successful prototype for a sixty-sided shape based on a dodecahedron. More on that soon.

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.

New Song: Is It Safe?

Ah, so back to talking about making music and art and stuff. You probably thought I’d forgotten about that. But no, I’ve been making steady progress the whole time.

First, an aside. Tonight was the spring band concert at the Kids’ school. Lizzy is in 8th grade, so this may be her last one. Certainly then end with this school. Her band director, Mr. A., is a really great guy and excellent teacher. He was Lizzy’s band director at the old school too, so we’ve known him quite a few years and under his guidance Lizzy has grown to be one of the star performers. He gave a special call out to all the graduating kids in the band, and invited Lizzy to come back for Honor Band next year and thru high school. They’re trying to get a band program going at Lizzy’s new high school, so you never know, this may not be the end. And of course, not to be overlooked, Michelle is coming along nicely on clarinet.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on Black Swan, the eight-minute epic for my next album. The bass, drums, piano and vocals are tracked and sounding really smokin’. Now it’s up to the solos and the finishing instruments. I jammed out a sax part for the rest of the song, but decided I want to work out a real horn arrangement. Probably tenor and bari. I’m also gonna add either a clav or rhythm guitar, or maybe both. This’ll give me a chance to finally plug in some of those effects boxes Martin left me and try and get a sound. Might also motivate me to go out guitar shopping.

I find it’s best to work on songs in pairs, so the other song I’ve been working on is Is It Safe to Go Outside? This was written by Martin, and I found it in a pile of demos a few weeks back. It’s not a horror story, but an ode to that feeling you get that first day of spring when the weather finally turns mild. It’s really a great song, and at first I just wanted to learn it to play on piano, but it’s really worthy of a full production recording. Martin’s demo features a click track and rhythm guitar, and then the vocals, bass, and sax form three interlocking melodies, almost like a fugue. On top of that, he has this really clever way of turning the time around every few bars.

First I learned the bass and sax parts. My piano part will feature ideas from both of these as well as the guitar. Next I added a drum part. This was fun, to create a beat that grooves and yet follows all the intricacies of the arrangement. The kick drum cleaves pretty close to the bass, while the hihat holds down the backbeat. Everything else takes off from there.

The sax part needs to be retracked because it’s out of tune. When I went to learn the part I could see why: Martin plays it on tenor and it’s really high in the range. Those high E’s and F#’s are tough. If I can’t get a good take on tenor I’ll try it on alto to see how that sounds. I may also put in a bari line for some extra bottom.

Neither song has a ready rough mix yet, but soon, soon. Meanwhile, Is It Safe has great lyrics too. Here they are.

Is It Safe to Go Outside?
by Martin Szinger

Is it safe to go outside?
Is it time to count up all the flowers growing?
Is it safe to feel the sunshine
Like a long-lost friend returning?
Is it OK to roll the windows down?
Take a ride, I want to feel the wind in my face
Blood flowing in my veins

Is it safe to go outside, you know I try to be strong
But the winter’s been too long
Is it safe to go outside, I hope the forecast isn’t wrong
You know this has to be the day

Is it safe to take myself to the park?
Blame it on my alter-ego
It’s a game of bocce for my soul
Knock ’em down and keep them rolling
What a shame it would have been
To pass you by and not to see the smile on your
Face… shine… wait…
There’s blood flowing in my veins

Is it safe to go outside, you know I try to be strong
But the winter’s been too long
Is it safe to go outside, I hope the forecast isn’t wrong
You know this has to be the day
There’s blood flowing in my veins
There’s blood flowing in my veins
There’s blood flowing in my veins

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.

Now With Style

Today was a rainy day, so I took a break from doing stuff outside to finish off a task leftover from the winter, another part of my ongoing site redesign. Remember way back when this blog was new, when blogging was the new trendy thing, and I promised to upgrade my blog’s style to be consistent with the rest of the site? Well I finally got around to it. Only took a little over five years.

The thing is, editing wordpress themes is a real pain. All I really want is a miminal, clean theme, but all the site themes are crufted up with lots of persnickety layout details that don’t do much to enhance the site. I picked a new theme for my site and the style sheet file was over 2000 lines long. This was one of simple ones mind you, and I still ended up throwing away a lot of it.

And there’s still more to go. There’s spacing issues, and I have to get into the various views, particularly the ones for individual posts, and for comments. Soon I will have gone as far is I can go with the css and will have to get into editing the php templates. Hopefully it won’t take me another five years to finish it off.

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!!!