I Love New York In June

Well it’s summertime and the living is easy. The last few weeks the weather has been really pleasant. Since I expanded my patio last fall I’ve started working outside for an hour or so in the afternoons to work on my tan at the same time. I made a shade screen out of cardstock for my laptop that slides onto the edges of the lid. Practical origami skills. I usually go out after I’m done working out (which is usually lunchtime), and I’ve found it’s usually the best part of my workday for deep concentration. I’ve had a run of increasing good workouts since the springtime, and have gone up in weight and distance on my various exercises. Been getting out on my bike too. This week, however, it’s turned brutally hot (96 degrees today) so getting a walk in the early morning, and going outside to move the sprinkler from time to time is enough.

Work has been pretty interesting lately. We’re gearing up for a big new product launch at the end of the summer, a new electronic musical instrument with wifi network capabilities. The project involves hardware and software. As the cloud architect, I’ve been reaching across into our client codebase to work stuff like analytics integration and authentication. Our backend is in Firebase, which works well if your client is a mobile app or web site. And indeed all my end-to-end prototypes so far have run on that stack.

But our clients also include embedded hardware devices and also desktop applications. I’ve been learning our application tech stack built in C++ and JUCE. It’s set up to compile to Mac OS, Windows, iOS or Android. Only problem is, there’s only Firebase SDK for the mobile platforms, even in C++. Of course the Firebase SDK ultimately sends http requests over a REST API, which is documented. So we’ve put some REST libraries into our JUCE app, and got things working that way. Now I’m taking the building blocks and assembling them into reusable components for use in any future app.

In music world, I bought a new synthesizer from Josh, the piano player in my jazz group. It’s a Nord Stage 3, their current flagship product. It’s pretty cool because it combines a digital stage piano, a dedicated organ simulator, and a synthesizer/sampler unit. All the controls are laid out in a gigantic spread, but it’s very readable, and because each knob or button has a single purpose, there’s no menus to scroll thru, and it’s very friendly to live performance. And it has great sounds and a great-feeling weighted keyboard. Plus it’s red!

I have the the 76-key model, and Josh sold it to me because he’s moving up to the 88-key version. Of course that’s a good deal more expensive, and I’m happy with the deal we worked out. In any event the 76-key version is more portable, in case I ever start gigging again. I did my full piano practice on it the other day to put it thru it’s paces. It’s funny, I only missed the really high and low keys on a couple songs, and they’re all written by piano players: Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Donald Fagen. There’s one Keith Emerson song – Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression – that literally uses every single key. Luckily, it’s not to hard to adjust the voicings to fit in the available range. And hey, it’s still three keys more than I have on my Fender Rhodes.

Now I have an old keyboard I want to get rid of. It’s a nice enough keyboard, a Privia PX-5S, with great sounds and layering, and its own performance-oriented array of knobs and sliders. It’s just that the new board is a serious upgrade. While I’m at it I have an old soprano sax I want to unload as well. I hope I can sell them, or at least give them to a good home.

The new jazz group as been coming along, lots of fun, good chemistry. We do a mix of jazz standards, jazz interpretations of pop and rock tunes, some funk/fusion stuff, and a bunch of my originals. Now that the pandemic is pretty much over, I’m thinking it’s time to get some gigs.

In my recording studio, I was kind of stuck for a while on my song Lift Off. It’s basically a bebop number with some twisting melodies and chord progressions. This being a computer jazz record, I sequenced the drums in midi, but for some reason the groove wasn’t really happening. I worked on different ways to embellish the arrangement with synths and things, but as they say, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing…

So I bought a couple books on jazz drumming, and began to work thru them. One is The Art of Bop Drumming by John Riley. In addition to writing out alot of patterns, it gives some good theory about how to play, how to swing, what to listen for when you practice, and how to balance and control the sound. So I adjusted my midi drum pattern following the advice in the book as best I could, lots of subtle changes to the patterns and accents, adding some hi-hat behind the ride cymbal on the backbeat. And it made a huge difference! I mean it still sounds like a sequencer, but it grooves now! It still remains to flesh out the arrangement with accents in the comps, and this includes the other instruments too. But now it’s a matter of closing the distance to get the sound I want.

I was telling Steve, my drummer about all this, and he was giving me advice on things like how to mic a drum kit, and offered to lay down a human drum track to my song. That would change everything, but he’s a really good drummer and he’s set up for recording in his home, so I figured let’s go for it and see how it turns out.

Last topic for this post: this weekend was the Origami USA 2021 Convention. I was a member of the OUSA web and convention committees this year, on account of me having built a new scheduling tool for classes that integrates with our web application, replacing an old offline tool. I built the convention class schedule with the new tool too. So it’s satisfying to be able to say all my hard work has paid off, and everyone else’s too. I must say, before I got involved, I had no idea how much work went into one of these conventions.

This year’s convention was completely virtual and online. Classes were via zoom. We had something like 140 classes being taught in eleven parallel tracks. There was also a virtual hospitality space provided by an app called Gather, and an online exhibition. Of course it’s not as satisfying as the real thing, but I did get the sense of being able to hang with my origami friends, talk about origami and do some folding together.

I taught two classes, which is my favorite part. To run the zooms, there is a tech manager, a host and a Q&A manager (all OUSA volunteers) in addition to class teacher. Jeannie is tech volunteer, doing three five-hour teaching blocks.

I had my phone on a tripod over my shoulder with the camera pointing down at the paper as it’s folded, and my laptop facing me, to speak into. I taught my Martian and Flying Saucer from my recent Air and Space kit book, and Gladys the Platypus, a previously undiagrammed model that I submitted to this year’s annual collection. Both classes went quite well, although for the Platypus we just barely finished in time.

Because I spent so much time writing software and attending committee meetings, I didn’t do as much actual folding this year as I would have liked, so I had very little new stuff to put into the exhibition. I spent a good deal of time this spring work on a single model, but it’s really complex I never quite got it finished. It’s a single-sheet polyhedron, a half-sunken cuboctahedron with an embedded hydrangea tessellation on each square face. Making the grid of hydrangeas was large effort by itself, but the collapsing the model into its 3-D form was something else again. The issue was that there’s just a ton of layers that need to be managed, and they all tend to make the model want to spring apart.

I kept at it, facet by facet, working out the inner hidden geometry. Saturday morning of the convention I finally got it to close. But I wasn’t fully satisfied, so I unfolded it and cut off two corners from the sheet, making the square into a hexagon. This substantially reduced the inner bulk, and made the final close much nicer. Unfortunately, by this time the paper had gotten pretty worn from handling, so it’s not the tightest lock ever. Nothing a bit of tape or glue (gasp!) can’t take care of. Still, it works, and so we can declare victory! It looks great as long as you don’t turn it over.

And now I feel I’ve gotten my origami energy active again to get back into folding. I have several half-finished books, and lots of designs in my head waiting to be worked out. A few people told me they love my work and would really digging seeing a book on this or that theme. That’s pretty motivating.

Freeze This Moment a Little Bit Longer

A week ago was Michelle’s high school graduation. Of course we’re very proud parents, but at the same time it’s the end of an era for raising kids.

The ceremony was outdoors, and it was a very hot day. Lizzy came into town for the weekend to help celebrate, even though we only had two tickets to the event so she stayed home. We all went out to dinner afterwards, at a fancy place in Hastings on the river. While we were waiting for our table, we enjoyed drinks at the adjacent waterfront park, and sat for a spell on the Michael Brecker memorial bench. I had to explain to Lizzy who Michael Brecker was. The food was very yummy, plus some fancy drinks, and then game night once we were back home. Michelle started her new job the very next day. Ah, gainful employment.

She got a new laptop computer as a graduation present from her grandfather to use in college. It’s a Windows PC. She wanted that for gamins, and because she’s going to engineering school. Jeannie is staunchly a Macintosh person, and I haven’t used Windows as my main OS in years, so she’s kind on her own.

Last Sunday Lizzy and went to the beach in Long Island. It worked well cuz Jeannie and Michelle aren’t big beach people. We talked pretty much the whole time. I haven’t really had big one on on conversation with her in a couple years, and her life has changed alot, so it’s interesting to hear her perspective on things.

We’ve lived in our house for almost twenty years, and it’s gotten to the point where all our closets and storage spaces are full of old stuff, alot of it obsolete or no longer of any use to us, and we literally have run out of space to put new things away. So this summer we’ve started a project to get rid of our old useless stuff. We’ve done this periodically, but not since before the pandemic. It’s sort of a big undertaking, cuz everything must be evaluated as to whether it’s worth keeping or not, and then if it’s trash or something we can donate. Once you start opening doors, drawers and bookshelves, there’s alot of places to look. Lizzy helped out by going thru her old room, which has become Jeannie’s office, and getting rid of some clothes, books, cosmetics and other things. She discovered all kinds of artifacts from her childhood along the way.

This last weekend we finally got the Mustang out on the road again, and did alot of yardwork, pretty so we’re pretty much caught up for the time being. The last few weekends there was alot of trimming, weeding and edging, but it was also hard to find the time because we’ve been traveling and having graduations, and then the weather has been either rainy or super hot alot of the time. At last a temperate weekend.

Saturday night we made a fire in our backyard fire pit and listened to music from a playlist Jeannie made. Very enjoyable.

Rainy Days and Saturdays

It’s June! We just got done with a three-day weekend which was very nice and relaxing. It actually rained most of the weekend. It started 3 or 4 in the afternoon on Friday and didn’t stop until Monday morning. It also got cold. We had to turn on the heat one morning, after unexpectedly having to install our air conditioners the weekend before. Michelle has a job this summer working at our local beach, but her first two days of work were cancelled. Ah well, she’s making great progress on her video game.

After a week’s worth of tweaking and adjustment, I think we’re pretty much there with the OUSA convention schedule. Now it’s time so try and fold a few new models. Just over three weeks to go.

Martin came down for a visit this weekend. I haven’s seen him since we made a brief visit to his house last summer, and that was the only time since the start of the pandemic. It was good to catch up. Martin lost his job a couple months ago, after his employer of ten years went under. As luck would have it, my company was hiring around that time, so he interviewed there. It’s a pretty cool company and I’m enjoying being there more than any place in the last seven or so years (excepting The Global Jukebox). We make electronic musical instruments and apps. I’m leading our internet and cloud group with the vision of creating an ecosystem of networked instruments and shared songs. The corporate overlords seemed to like Martin well enough, but unfortunately took a long time to extend him an offer, and then it was a lowball bid. Meanwhile Martin had interviewed at a different place that makes videogames and toy racing cars, and he accepted an offer from them.

We also spent alot of time just jamming, which was alot of fun. Over the course of the pandemic I put together a binder of charts from the last ten years’ worth of rock bands, and we just browsed thru that. It was great fun; it’s been a long time since I did that sort of thing. I also played him a the last two of my work-in-progress songs to complete my computer jazz album. One of them is still in the writing and tracking phase, but the other, Lift Off, is largely done, although I felt the sound wasn’t really happening. After I played it for Martin and got his impressions, I got some ideas for how to finish it and make it shine. Mostly it involves layering and pumping up the sounds of the backing instruments to make it fuller, and abandoning the classic bebop sounds I was originally going for in favor of something more electric and aggressive. It still swings hard though. And I ordered some books on jazz drumming to try a get some ideas to spiff up the drum part.

Monday the sun came out and I was able to do some yardwork. Trimming the hedges was the last remaining task on the spring cycle. And we even had a barbecue Monday evening. Only thing we didn’t have a chance to do is take the Mustang out for a ride. A well, hopefully this week.