Mo’ Origami

There’s an origami convention coming up Chicago next month, so I’ve been getting organized about folding some new models for the convention.  Having to do an exhibition is a great motivator.  I’ve also been busy at work, transitioning from a part-time consulting gig to a full time staff position as Lead Engineer of Consumer Reports’ new Innovation Lab. I’ll be building an R&D software engineering team to create prototypes and products around consumer’s digital privacy and data rights.  More on that as the situation comes into being, but soon, having Fridays off will be a thing of the past.

So last Friday I spent a good chunk of the day organizing my origami studio.  Since the start of the pandemic there have not been alot of in-person conventions and exhibits, so I’m really just getting back into it.  I have lots of boxes of half-folded experiments and ideas.  I want to take the best and perfect them and fold them at an exhibit-quality level.  Some of the stuff is pretty complex and ambitious.

While I was at it, I threw out lots of old models.  One has to do this every few years, but it’s always funny because the stuff I’m getting rid of was once some of my best work.  Michael LaFosse told me not too long ago that if the model has a face, like a human or an animal, he can’t bear to tear it up or crumple it.  Instead he unfolds it first, then throws away an unfolded sheet of paper.  I found myself doing that a few times.

I registered to teach classes at the Chicago convention.  I signed up to teach two classes, and am thinking of adding a third.  Among the models I’m teaching is my Space Cat, which I designed at the beginning of the summer, right around the time my jazz and funk band Spacecats decided on its name.  The model is a variation on my Sophie the Cat, restyled with a sleek, atomic age midcentury modern look.  Very hip.

And, it looks like the Origami MIT convention is back this year, after three years off!

Back into the Fold

I recently folded a bunch of new origami models for an upcoming exhibition in Chicago.  These were well-known designs, but it felt good to get back into folding some exhibit-quality works.   As is my practice these days, I folded two of each, so as to have one to keep.  Sort of a warm-up for some upcoming conventions I’ll be attending this fall, where I’ll be exhibiting some new work.

Before I put them in the mail, I figured I’d photograph them.  This led to a round of experimentation with different cameras.  For many years I’ve had a digital snapshot camera with a zoom lens and macro mode.  I also have a pretty nice digital SLR with lots of controls, capable of taking amazing pictures.  

The SLR is very accurate, and lets you control everything, but it’s painstaking.  It also has various automatic modes that give you less control but are less fussy.  I also have a full lighting kit but, it’s a major effort to set everything up.  In fact, I have a big backlog of unphotographed work since the start of the pandemic for this very reason.

Without lots of light, there’s a three-way struggle between exposure time, exposure level, and depth of the focus field.  The photos tend to be dark, or require a tripod to keep still while the shutter is open.  And there’s some weird auto-color balance feature that makes all the colors strange if you have just a few colors in your view, as is often the case with this kind of subject matter.

What I’m really after is a workflow that’s quick and easy.   I want to be able to put a big sheet of paper on my kitchen table, lay down some origami, and be good to go with the available light.  So I tried the camera on my cel phone, and on Jeannie’s phone, which is much newer.  These cameras are not as accurate, but in fact much better!  It’s like have a mic with a nice warm compressor for recording musical instruments.  They’re always in focus, and do a really good job with color balance and exposure level under a pretty wide range, and require alot less tweaking in post.  Jeannie’s phone in particular seems to bring out textural detail with extra fine-scale contrast, and in addition to a good zoom has a wide-angle mode that lets you get super close to the subject.

In the end, each camera has its pros and cons, and gives a slightly different image in terms of exposure, color balance, focus, sharpness, and contrast.  Definitely a worthwhile study.  I suppose the digital SLR is still the best if you have the patience.  I’ll use it again next time I do a “real” photo shoot.  The digital snapshot camera is okay but kind of old and has been surpassed by newer technology.  The phones are the clear winner in terms of convenience and picture quality combined.  So now I’m thinking of getting a new phone just to use for taking pictures.

While I’m at it, I’m thinking about getting a new computer.  Like my phone, my computer is getting pretty old, and won’t run alot of newer apps.  OTOH, there are some old apps that are essential to my work, so there needs to be a plan on how to replace those.  Critical among these are Adobe creative suite: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and the venerable Flash/Flex.  The amount of money Adobe charges for a yearly subscription (you can’t just buy it) is ridiculous.  And of course Flash and Flex are long dead.

So I figured I’d check out Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher, the not-a-total-rip-off alternative.  So far so good.  Affinity Photo seems to work just as well as Photoshop for what I do, which runs the gamut from cropping and tweaking pictures taken on my phone, to serous, multi-element, mutli-layer, effects-laden, composed image and text graphics for things like album covers or strategy game artwork.  I haven’t tried Publisher yet but it seems like a cromulent replacement for InDesign, which I use mainly for page layout for my origami books and diagrams, and the occasional poster for a rock or jazz gig.

The main question is whether Affinity Designer is a reasonable app for doing origami diagrams. I had been using Flash for many years, but Flash is well past the end of its life, and it may be time to move on.  People in the origami community have been migrating from Illustrator to Affinity over the last few years, but the consensus seems to be that it’s cumbersome and there’s a steep learning curve.  Ah well, better than nothing.  Last night I modeled a square sheet of paper with a crease thru the diagonal.  It took a little while to figure out all the tools, but there’s enough control over everything that it can be made perfect.  So that’s hopeful.  Whether one can move quickly thru a series of steps remains to be seen. 

I’ll also have to build up a new library of dashed lines, arrows, and other symbols.  I guess I’ll reach out to my friends and see where they’re all at with this.

As for the automation stuff that I used to in Flash, the Foldinator project remains a perpetual work-in-progress, and last time I checked in with it, I decided to basically start over using javascript, and build on the libraries of people like Robby Kraft and Jason Ku.  

Los Endos

We ended the summer on a chill note for the long weekend.  We’ve been doing alot of traveling the last few weeks, including our recent tour of Cape Cod and Boston, followed by a trip up to Buffalo a week ago to take Michelle to school.  

This was our third trip up to Buffalo this summer (Jeannie’s fourth).  We got a car for Michelle this semester, so she and Jeannie drove her car and I followed in mine.  The move-in went smoothly and Michelle’s new dorm is quite nice.  She’s in a suite with three friends from last year.  Very much echoing the pattern of Lizzy four years ago.  

Lizzy met us on campus and gave us all a ride in her new car, and took us thru the Delta Sonic car wash.  I’d forgotten how much of a thing Delta Sonic is up there.  It’s a fun ride but maybe could use an animatronic Johnny Depp in a pirate outfit at the end. Afterwards we went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant that used to be a Denny’s where I worked as a dishwasher for a couple weeks as a teenager.  

I also spent a bunch of time talking with parents, which is nice.  One day I went for a walk around the lake with my dad, and he told me a bunch of stories about how his first few years living in Canada, how he decided to go to college at age 25, and what it took to apply and what happened when he got in.  It turned out him and a German fellow named Siegfried got the two highest scores in English on the entrance exam, despite both of them being non-native speakers (English is actually my dad’s third language).  When the professor asked him how could this be, my dad said, “Well, I studied.” Also something about the French being salty about the Concorde many years later.

Back home, we caught a show at the Blue Note last week, with Jeff Tain Watts on the drums and Daryl Jones on bass with members of the Rolling Stones touring band doing a tribute to Charlie Watts, mainly jazz and blues interpretations of Stones songs.  Many were more enjoyable than the actual Rolling Stones versions to me.  The great Randy Brecker was the special guest on trumpet.  I haven’t seen him play in many years, probably since the Return of the Brecker Brothers in the 1990’s.  He’s looking old and rotund and when he came up on stage maybe even not sure what he was doing there.  But when he put the horn to his lips, he’s one of those guys who just lifted the whole band to another level.  It’s like have Kate Blanchett in your movie playing and elf queen.

So after all that running around we decided to mainly stay at home over Labor Day and catch up on random tasks.  We went on one day trip, out to Fire Island, condensing a whole beach weekend into a single day.  It was cool in the morning, so we parked near the beach and went on a nature trail swamp walk up to an historic light house and climbed up to the top, which gave us an excellent view of Long Island and the ocean.  The next leg of the walk took us to a quaint little town called Kismet, which feels like a real-life Hobbiton.  It’s full of little beach cottages but has no roads, only sidewalks, because it’s only accessible by foot, bicycle or ferry.  We had an excellent lunch of seafood and frozen drinks and lingered a while.  When we got back the beach the weather had warmed up so we hung out and went for a swim in the ocean.  The threat of sharks was gone, but there were some dead jellyfish floating around.  I got stung by one, just a little on my arm.  After that it was time to go.

For some reason I’ve been listening recently to alot early 90’s alternative metal and ska bands like Fishbone, No Doubt, Mr. Bungle, De La Soul, Soul Coughing, Cibbo Matto, and Soundgarden.  Not all the same genre I know, but there does seem to be some kind of center of gravity there.