Party on the Patio

As sometimes happens, I’m in the middle of a number of things, all of which are at a point where there’s obstacles to moving forward.

Fall is here, the days are getting shorter and nights are turning colder. Soon the season for biking and rollerblading will be over. We ran the heat for the first time yesterday morning. Jeannie is back to commuting into the city, at least for the next few weeks. Michelle has started school. Last week she attended classes online; this week she’s going into the the school. She’s pretty happy and excited about that. I’m picking her up in the afternoons, since we don’t want her taking the bus or train under the current circumstances. I have the house to myself in the daytime for the first time since March. I’ve started getting up early again.

I narrowed down the number of songs I’m actively recording to three. They’re all coming along. This is the most satisfying thing I’m doing at the moment. Mostly it just takes time, but it’s fun to spend time on it. Doing creative work of any kind means a certain amount of thinking and exploring, which to an outsider can look an awful lot like doing nothing, and of course there’s always has the risk of coming up empty, or with an unsatisfactory result. So one must keep trying or move on to something else. Then, once in a while and idea comes together and way forward is clear, at least until the next obstacle.

For Why Not Zed? the chords and song structure came together pretty quickly and I’ve laid down a basic track with midi bass and drums. I’m practicing the bass and guitar parts to lay down fairly soon. It’s a fairly heavy, rocking uptempo number. I originally envisioned it as something like They Might Be Giants might come up with, but it’s leaning more toward Crimso Astronomy Domine with a pop-punk edge.

Heavy Water is also coming along nicely. I have the song structure, the piano part, a synth bass, and a sketch of the melody, which will weave between the sax and synthesizer. Also practicing the bass guitar part, which I’m gonna lay down at the same time as Why Not Zed?

Autumn Eyes (a.k.a. Wolf Whisper) is further along. The main thing it needs is the sax part, which I’m gonna record when I do the sax for Heavy Water. I took my midi drum part and sliced up up so I can control the level of the different elements of the drum kit, but the drums are pretty minimal on this one. I’m thinking of recording some live drums on it too, to get sounds I can’t get from a drum machine, like brushes.

Plague of Frogs and the others are on the back burner for now. I’ll continue to work on the arrangements while I track these three.

I’m improving playing the drums. I can do a roll now, although there’s room for greater speed and evenness. Working on that and a handful of other rudiments. I can play more and more beats with more solidity and consistency at different tempos. Working on solid kick drum and building up endurance, especially for double and triple hits. In addition to the grooves I’m reading out of books, I’m putting together a few in 5/8 and 7/8 time with different feels.

And – this is potentially exciting – I’ve put together a new jazz group. I think I mentioned I started playing back in July at Lagond, with Mike O. and Rich F. and a new version of the old jazz circle. I haven’t played with them for over a year, so it’s good to be back and nice the group is finding it’s sound and seems to be hitting pretty strong. We’re doing an interesting mix of material, some of which is new to me.

But that’s just a rehearsal band. So in addition, back in August I hooked up with a piano player named Steve, who was looking to get together and jam. I invited Ken on bass and Steve on drums (it seems there’s always two guys with the same name) and we had a quartet. In addition to jazz standards we’re doing some fusion things like Metheny, Joco, Michael Brecker, Chick Corea and Weather Report. Well dig prog rock too. We’ve gotten together three or four times. So far it’s pretty fun, sounds good, and it seems like everyone is on the same wavelength. Too early to really tell, but it may have legs. Or wings. On the downside, the piano player seems to have to travel alot for his job, so that may make it hard to get a weekly thing going.

Alas, the original-oriented rock group remains grounded for want of a guitar player, even though Ken and Steve are into it.

In other news, my origami book got to be far enough along that I’ve begun looking into publishing options. I have diagrams and page layouts done for nine models, and was working on the table of contents and planning out how many photos I’d need and of what models. The book was looking to be around sixty to sixty-four pages. I reached out to my friend John M and Marc K, who have a lot more experience publishing than I do, and they both had some good advice.

The main thing is I’ve decided to bring my book up to 120 to 128 pages or so, because that seems to be more commercially viable sweet spot. This of course means adding more models. In addition to the nine I already completed, I have five more diagrammed and ready to go; I just need to do the page layouts. Then I have three of four more designed and partially diagrammed, and another five or so that are partially designed but not yet fully worked out or diagrammed. So we’re looking at a few months at least. In the meantime I’ve decided I’m going to take some of the models and put them together in groups, essentially like a chapter of the book, and sell them as digital downloads on the Origami USA web site. So watch this space for that.

Speaking of the OUSA web site, I’ve signed on to create a new scheduling app for conventions and such, and began actively working on it in July. I’ve been working with Robert L., our webmaster, to get up to speed. The level of software to install and configure is pretty heavy. There’s Drupal, Drush, CiviCRM, PHP, a bunch of custom scripts, and whole host of other technologies on the stack. I’m the first person Robert ever tried to onboard, so we worked our thru issue after issue until I finally have the whole web site running on my local machine. Whew, it only took about six weeks.

Now I’m starting in the actual design and development. So far that’s been reading the existing code, the Drupal User’s Guide and Developer’s Guide and discussing thins with Robert. I’ve never written a Drupal module before, and the requirements are only partly clear. Ah fun.

Elsewhere in software development, the Global Jukebox proceeds apace. We’re looking to do another push to live in a few weeks, so it’ll be all shiny for the school kids using the classroom module. I recently put in a new piece of UX/UI to browse the new world taxonomy. It’s called the New Wheel, and unlike the Old Wheel, which radiates out from the center, but became too dense wit the introduction of the new Taxonomy, this one winds inward like the tumblers on a combination lock. It’s built entirely out of javascript, svgs and css and features cool animations. Very informative, intuitive and beautiful, plus the code itself is really quite good if I say so myself. After my last job at that chaotic startup, it’s so nice to able to have control over the codebase and actually write high-quality, well thought-out and well structured code.

Now we’re in the long tail of of random little bug fixes and usability issues, plus we want to get in a couple more minor features. I spent the last few days tweaking icons and going back’n’forth with Anna and Kiki about what everything things looks good and communicates the right idea.

Meanwhile Martin’s been looking at the backend, where our creaky old django/python app is in danger of being made obsolete due a pressing need to upgrade to a newer version of linux on our servers, in order to fix a timekeeping issue. Long story, big headache. Anyway he’s been doing alot and we’ll get there.

And lastly, the topic that was the point of this whole post, the Patio Project. Well this is actually Patio Project part II. Back when Michelle was a baby and our house was new I built a stone path around the side of the house and patio in the back yard. My dad came down and helped me with the patio part. It’s made of bluestone flagstones on a bed of compacted sand over crushed stone. It took us five days if I recall, and one of those days was making a concrete step.

Well now I want to enlarge the patio to go deeper into the yard, so I’m adding an extension of 4′ x 20′. There have been a few delays getting going on this project. I first started thinking seriously about it last summer, but it was too hot to work on it then. The fall came and went I was too busy with other stuff. Then I figured I’d do it in the spring, but then it was the pandemic and the lockdown, and suddenly building supplies were scarce and I was sick for a month anyway. Then it was summer and too hot again. But at least I made a plan and figured out what materials I’d need.

Shortly after Labor Day looked up the place where I got the stones and other supplies for the original patio. But they’re out of business, and the lot is now a parking lot for school busses. So this weekend I researched where else I might get stones and sand and all that. I found three places within a reasonable distance and sent them each an email describing the project, listing the materials I think I need, and asking for a quote. Two of them got back to me and were both helpful, although one forgot to actually attach the quote to his reply.

In any event, it looks like it’s on! Hopefully this week I’ll go to one of these places and pick out the actual stones and arrange the delivery. I figure it’ll be three or four full days of work on my own, all though I’m more likely to break it into several sessions of a few hours each spread out over a few weeks. I figure I should get done pretty easily by the end of October.

Everything is Green and Submarine

Sometimes we like to sit around the house and listen to music. I’ve been trying to educate Michelle on classic rock. Right now we’re in a Pink Floyd phase. Last year she got into Yes after hearing it in some anime, and now we’re all digging Floyd. I’m kinda envious that she can discover all this great music for the first time. There was a time in tenth grade or so when Pink Floyd was my favorite band, along with Rush, Zeppelin and the Doors. Of course I’ve discovered tons of great music since then, but it’s nice to check in with your faves once in a while.

We listened to Meddle and Wish You Were Here a few weeks back, then Dark Side of the Moon this weekend, and later on watched Live at Pompeii. The movie opens and ends with Echoes, which is such a great song, up there with the all time best full-album side track in classic or prog rock. It also has a bunch of other great early stuff like Careful With That Axe Eugene, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, One of These Days, and Saucerful of Secrets all performed live. They really had a special sound and an original take on music before they took over FM radio. Michelle says her favorite song is Mademoiselle Nobs.

Unfortunately our DVD is the directors cut from 1999 or so, and the amazing long slow zoom that opens the film is intercut with bad CG and stock footage of outer space and planets. Luckily the original version of the film is available as a bonus feature, so we watched the first and last chapter (Echoes Part I and II) agin the next might. Now everyone the family has the song stuck in our heads. Jeannie reminded me that Pink Floyd was the first concert we saw together, up in Toronto, after we’d been dating only a few weeks. They open and closed their live show with echoes that tour. It was the first time she heard it and it stuck with her.

In the home studio I’m in the middle of five songs right now on both the jazz and the rock side.

Winter Wolf Whisper is a jazz quasi-ballad I did with my last group. Lots of moody jazz chords and a strong, undulating melody. I have the drums, piano and electric bass laid down. When we did this live Jay played upright bass, and the electric changes the sound and character of the piece. But I’m digging it. It still needs the sax and maybe some synths, and some tweaks the drums. I’m thinking of recording a second drum track using my new acoustic drums. But I’m trying to do songs in pairs, so …

Heavy Water is a jazz fusion number that I wrote recently but never played with a group. Now I’m making it more studio-centric, and envisioning the sound as maybe sorta Steely/APP/Daft Punk with shades of 70s’ Herbie. It has a slow piano introduction and then mostly grooves on two sets of four chord changes in a loop. Right now I have the piano intro tracked, and map of the rest of the song with a synth bass outlining the chords and a midi drum part. I’m working on filling in the drum part to get a better sense of of the rise and fall of the dynamics and where the different sections fit. I might add another two choruses.

Plague of Frogs is my ten-minute prog magnum opus on the next rock album. I have the intro and main verse up the start of the jam section, with midi bass, drums, piano and synth. I’ve been working on the drums in the main section to get a sense of the groove and make it come alive. Next are the transitions from the intro and out of the section. This one will take a while.

Why Not Zed? and All of the Above are two short, simple uptempo songs for which I have the lyrics, chords and melody. I am writing them on guitar to keep things from getting too complicated. Next step is to get them so I can sing and play thru, then flesh out the arrangements.

Meanwhile, the computer that’s a the heart of my recording studio has been undergoing some upgrades with Jeannie’s help. A year ago or maybe more, the screen started glitching out from time to time. We got a replacement computer of the same kind before the screen gave out completely. But then the hard drive in the replacement computer started acting up, causing unpredictable crashes. We replaced the graphics card in the original computer and I started using it again, until we had a new problem where the screen goes black from time to time. So we replaced the hard drive in the replacement computer with an SSD that’s twice the size. Now it runs faster and quieter and has tons of free space. So we’re gonna replace the backlight controller in the original computer and upgrade to an SSD as well. Then I’ll have two fully functioning computers for my recording studio, although Jeannie wants to take one and put it in her office.

The Summer of George

We just got back from a mini vacation upstate. One can’t really do big traveling in these pandemic times. We couldn’t do camping this summer, and we couldn’t go down to Ocean City, things we do almost every year. So instead we planned a trip that was sort of a morph of the two. A few days of lakes and woods and mountains, and a bit of a beach resort, albeit on a lake. It was fun to get a break from our daily routine, and good for the soul.

The first day we drove up to visit Martin and his family, whom we hadn’t seen since Xmas. Good to say they’re all doing well. Charlie is getting good at origami. They have alot more ducks and chickens than they used to. We basically hung out on his porch and talked the whole time. Martin had just finished reading a book on prog rock called The Show That Never Ends, and by coincidence Jeannie and I were listening to Pink Floyd and Supertramp on the the car ride up, so there was some fun discussion around that.

We spent the next couple day at Lake George in the Adirondacks. Lake George village is a tiny town on the edge of a lake in the middle of a vast forest. And although it seems pretty dense locally, there’s only a handful of hotels, and it attracts people regionally rather than from further away. Walking around, the density of people is more than I’d seen in a long time, but the main drag is only one street, a few blocks long and it was easy to maintain distance.

We stayed at hotel called the Georgean which was like a mini resort. The rooms were like a motel and opened directly to the outside, so we felt a bit safer over that. Down by the lake’s edge was a area with a swimming pool and an outdoor bar with food, overlooking the lake, so we were able to eat outside and enjoy the view. The food was really good; we all had burgers and fancy drinks.

The hotel also has a little strip of private beach. Jeannie and I noticed they had sailboats that you can rent, so the next morning we went down to do just that. Only problem was there was no wind. So instead we got some kayaks, which was lot of fun too. In the afternoon we went around the opposite side of the lake and took a hike up to a ridge with some great views. It was a beautiful day to spend outside.

That evening we ate in the fancy restaurant attached to the Marriot across the street. All the places had a long wait for a table so we walked around town and spotted chainsaw bears. This place had outdoor seating too, and it started to get cold at night for the first time since the spring. They had a fun drink: a Manhattan with bacon and maple sugar. Yummy.

Next morning we got up and it was raining. We went out to breakfast and headed home since there was nothing to do outdoors. On the ride home we listened to Pink Floyd The Wall, an album that I haven’t heard since the 1980’s because it was just so overplayed. I must say it stands the test of time pretty well, and in some sense is surely a masterpiece with alot of great songs. David Gilmour’s guitar solos are just out of this world. On the downside, it’s a concept album about wallowing in self-pity. Roger Waters’ shrieking and quavering vocals are not exactly pleasant to listen to, sort of the polar opposite of someone like, say, Billie Holiday bringing beauty to dark emotional territory. Luckily he only does about half the singing.

Being a double album, it’s also kinda long. Sides 2 and 3 definitely drag on. (I think just about the only double album I can listen to straight through is Songs in the Key of Life.) There’s probably a great 3-sides of music in there, and someone should just cut out the all connecting bits and semi-songs where it’s just Roger and a piano or a synth and some sound effects. While they’re at it, they should edit Animals down to 22 minutes or so and put that on side four.

Since we got home earlier then expected I read that prog rock book that night. Over all pretty interesting, except the author made some pretty obvious errors describing the ELP album Brain Salad Surgery. Ah well.

Now we’re coming down to the end of summer. I must the weather in August has been really nice, especially compared to the heat of July. Lots of mornings in the 70’s and afternoons in the low to mid 80’s. Enough rain that I didn’t even have to water the lawn. Everything has been growing like crazy and I did lots of extra trimming in the yard the last few weeks. Now the days are getting shorter and the nights cooler. Michelle starts school next week.

There’s stuff going on these days with music and origami, and the Global Jukebox, but I’ll save that for another post. Also coming soon: the patio expansion project.