Happy Hallowe’en

Hard to believe we’re halfway to the holidays already. This year Michelle provided the design for our pumpkin, and I did the carving. Michelle has been doing alot of drawing lately, particularly working on anime-style faces.

This year I did a Star Wars-Serenity mashup Wookie Jayne. A few weeks ago it was freezing in my office one day. They were still running the AC when they should have turned on the heat. I wanted something warm to wear sitting at my desk, and I chanced upon the wookie hoodie on sale on the internet.

Fall Forward

Today is a wet, rainy day, perfect for catching up. It’s a good thing too. It’s been warm and dry the whole fall, and the grass everywhere is turning brown like California. Believe it or not we only tok our air conditioners out yesterday.

Last weekend Lizzy came home from college for a quick visit. As it happened we had planned on visiting Martin that weekend, so Lizzy took a bus and met us in Albany. It was a beautiful ride up thru the turning fall colors. The visit with Martin was pretty brief, but we managed to get in a little hiking along the escarpment in a local park and then dinner at nice German restaurant. Weiner schnitzel and potato pancakes, yum!

I also had a little time for drawing and playing with Martin’s kids. They’re all into mythology and mythical monsters right now, and so is Michelle. I’ve also been thinking of alt-tic-tac-toe variations as ideas for video games, and shared some with Charlie.

Lizzy rode home with us Saturday night, and was gone pretty much the whole day Sunday catching up with her friends. Was home again in the evening. Good news she’s enjoying college, engaged and doing well in her studies, making friends and doing stuff. Took a 6:00 AM flight back to Buffalo Monday morning.

Meanwhile Martin and I had alot to catch up on. We just published a major release of The Global Jukebox (http://theglobaljukebox.org). This one includes a major upgrade to the menu system, and integration of Choreometrics in to the app, and a lot of new content. Anna and her academic team are presenting it this weekend at a conference along new research findings.

Now we’re moving right on to the next development cycle, and we’re taking a moment to hit some purely engineering-oriented tasks. One is that we’re converting it to a single-page application, so that you can switch between the two main views, map and wheel, and keep your current song, playlist, journey or whatever. Next is we’ll be converting the whole thing to Typescript.

I’ve been converting my main project in my day job to TypeScript the last few weeks, as part of a larger effort to improve code quality and get things better organized. Coming from strongly typed languages like Java and ActionScript, it feels like coming home. Which is funny because I’ve spent the last few years making my peace with the lack of types in Javascript, and thinking of it more and more in functional programming terms. Now it feels like the best of both worlds, and kind of code you can write looks alot like say Scala.

Another thing that happened last week was I finished the manuscript for my Origami Airplanes and Spaceships book. I had been basically done for quite some time, but then when I went to print out the book for final proofreading I thought the diagrams were a but hard to read. This book is in an 8” x 8” format, where the previous on was 9” x 12”. The typical drawing was about 85% size. So went thru and pumped up the size on all the fold lines and arrows.

It’s particularly critical to distinguish between the valley folds and mountain folds. One is a straight dashed line and the other is alternating dashes and dots. I also made some minor corrections and wrote an introductory blurb to each models and a very nice introduction to the whole book. For a long time I didn’t think I had much to say, but when I sat down to do it the whole thing just flowed out from the first sentence “Since ancient times people have looked up to the sky and dreamed of flying through the air and traveling among the stars.”

Space Gallery

I’ve been super busy recently, but in a good way. We’re doing a major release for the Global Jukebox in the next few days. Tons of effort went into it. Martin did an amazing job with the Choreometrics data and views. Had a meeting today with Anaa and Gideon to discuss the future scope of work. Lots of big ideas in the offing.

Meanwhile I’ve also been hustling to complete the manuscript of my book Origami from Space. With the photos done the remaining tasks are to review the final diagrams and accompanying text. I decided to re-render the diagrams at a slightly higher resolution, since they were originally designed for a larger format then the ultimate size for the book. I want them to be as legible as possible at the correct size. This task is mostly done, but then I still need to proofread everything and write the introduction. Ah well, we’ll get there soon.

Meanwhile here’s a gallery of some of the pictures I shot a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

Running on Empty

One thing about having an old car is that random things break down that you wouldn’t expect on an ordinary car. The fuel gauge has been broken on my Mustang for some time. When it originally went I thought it would be a huge pain to get it fixed, so I just let it go. I started keeping a notebook of how many miles I put on the car, calculating how long until I needed a fillup. But apparently this is not an accurate method of tracking fuel consumption. I ran out of gas on day a couple weekends ago when I thought I had over a quarter tank left.

Luckily it was easy and pretty quick to get it towed to my local garage. Then the real fun began. My mechanic said he’d fix it but I’d have to find the the part myself. Again it’s amazing what you can find on the internet these days. I think pretty much any part for a ’67 pony is available either as a refurb or and O.E.M. So I was able to order a new gas float unit. After the part arrived I had to wait a whole week to bring the car back to my mechanic cuz it was rainy every day. Finally last Friday I got the work done, quick and easy.

Nice to know how much fuel I have again. Hope to get a few more rides in before the winter comes.

Shoot the Moon

Another milestone for my upcoming book Origami from Space. Once all the graphics for the paper had been approved by all parties my publisher asked me to submit the photos. So I printed out all the graphics and folded all the models, taking extra care. Along side I have most of the models folded at exhibit quality with non-printed paper, mostly the kind Origami Shop calls “tissue foil” or “shiny”.

I have basically a homemade mini-studio setup for photography, which is how I did the cover for my last book. I set it up and got to work.

The major limitation was the lights. I used to have a pair of really bright white halogens, originally meant for industrial use like in a shop, and I’d put frosted lexan in front of the lamp to serve as a diffuser. Some time ago the switch on of the units burned out and I was down to one.

So I filled it in with some other lights I had around, but when the publisher got the pictures he said there were some harsh shadows and bright hot spots which they didn’t like. I kinda do like this look, as it brings out the texture and shape of the models, especially for the non-printed paper. But I think they’re after breakfast-cereal-television-commercial bright.

The other limitation of my setup is the depth of field was low in some shots, so things we’re as in-focus as the could be across the z-plane. Again something I thought was cool but they didn’t go for. I figured it was time to get a new lighting kit.

It’s amazing what you can find on the internet these days. I went with pretty much the cheapest one I could find that seemed decent. It contained three tripods and light setups with diffusers and a stand to shoot against for a little over $100. Back in the days of film it would have been thousands of dollars for something like that.

The tripods were aluminum and plastic, very lightweight but fine for indoor use. And the diffusers were just cloth and a bit of wire, like an umbrella. The big innovation was the lighting units themselves, which took for compact fluorescent bulbs each, equivalent to 150 watts from a regular bulb, for a total of 1800, but with a pure white light and giving off no heat. Amazing. The huge amount of light let me dial down the aperture and open up the depth of field on my camera. Light in photography is equivalent to silence in audio recording. The level determines the absolute noise floor and dynamic range you can get.

It took a while to put the whole thing together, but the shoot when smoothly enough and the publisher seemed satisfied. I imagine I’ll have to do some pick-up shots pretty soon. Then I had to find a place to store the kit so I could set up my new synthesizer. So we had to get rid of some old junk, which led to cleaning out the wizard closet and the garage. Projects beget more projects.

Now I’m in the process of putting together a gallery of some of the pics, but first I have to upgrade my photo processing software.

The One that Goes “Bweeee”

I can’t remember a September that’s been nicer weather since we left California. Been super busy with stuff. Back into a routine with work and band rehearsal, and Michelle is off to a good start in high school. Already the weeks are flying by.

I recently bought a new synthesizer. It’s a Moog Sub 37. This is a new modern analog synthesizer from the venerable Moog corporation, based on the design of one their classic models from back in the day. The main difference being that in addition to all the analog knob-twiddly goodness, it’s fitted with a digital control module that lets you save and recall presets and communicate with a computer via MIDI and USB. And supposedly it stays in tune better.

As far as the synth itself goes it has everything you’d hope for and expect. Great rich warm sound produced by two oscillators which be either stacked or parallelized into duophonic mode. And the sweepable filters, LFO, ASDR, portemento, modulation, all routable and configurable, and even a programmable arpeggiator for the lazy.

Shopping for it was a pretty cool experience. I had had my eye on this synth for a while but wanted to play it before I bought it, and none of my local music stores had it in stock. Then my friend Rich turned me on to a place called Three Wave Music out in New Jersey. They specialize in new and used keyboards. One the way out I got go over the new Tappen Zee Bridge, which looks incredibly futuristic.

The Three Wave Music showroom had everything going back to the beginning of time. Lots of old Moogs, Oberheims, Rolands, you name it. Taurus pedals, an original 808 drum machine, a Hammond B-3 with a pair of Leslies, a wall of Keytars, even a Theremin. Amazing. I bought a used Fender Rhodes way back in 1990 or so for $125. The ones they have there are a few thousand. And while I was there I was able to get something I never even imagined — a replacement for the little knob that holds the supports for the legs into the bottom of the cabinet. I’ve been using a bolt and a washer all these years!

The guys were really nice and synth was a couple hundred dollars less than I’d seen it anywhere else, so it was a worthwhile trip. I’m really looking forward to getting a chance to learn it and use it some future records. I played with it for a while at the store but haven’t even had a chance to plug it yet in at home. The main reason being that my studio was full of photography equipment. More on that next.