Shine a Light

It’s been another busy couple of weeks.  A week ago, Buffalo NY, where alot of my family lives, got a once-in-ten-years level snowstorm, with my parents in Orchard Park getting six feet of snow.  Up in Amherst they only got a foot or so, but it complicated plans for people coming home for Thanksgiving, especially for my niece and nephew whose trains got cancelled.

In the end, everyone made it home safe and sound, and we had a very enjoyable Thanksgiving. We hosted seventeen people and Jeannie made a most excellent stuffed turkey dinner.  Spent the rest of the weekend listening to music, mainly classic live albums, and playing games like Ticket to Ride and Quirkle with Lizzy and Michelle.

I also finished some home improvement projects.  The big one was was to replace the light fixture in our kitchen ceiling, which blew out right around the end of the summer.  It was an old florescent light in the form of a square wooden box with plexiglas diffuser.  It first I I investigated the possibility of replacing just the socket and electric components.  Once it became clear that wouldn’t work, the quest for a new lamp became a full-blown research project.  We finally settled on one we liked, a broad, shallow frosted glass dome with traditional light sockets that could take modern LED bulbs.  We ordered from a local showroom, but it took several weeks to arrive, and by that I was folding like a madman in preparation for our origami conventions.

Back home again a couple weeks later, I pulled off the old fixture.  I had planned on having to paint the area that had covered because the new light is smaller.  What I didn’t count on was that the old fixture was screwed directly to the ceiling, and there was just a hole where the cup for the wiring and structural support was supposed to be.  So I had to cut a hole in the drywall, buy and install the mounting hardware to the framing of the house, put back the drywall pieces, fill in the gaps, and sand and paint it.  This added considerable time to the job, especially since the ceiling needed two coats of paint.  I ended up finally installing the new lamp Thanksgiving morning, with Jeannie urging me along so we could switch the power back on in the kitchen and she could put the turkey in the oven!

I didn’t quite match the ceiling paint, but it’s pretty close. Lizzy, who works for Sherwin Williams, was very helpful in recommending a mini roller and pan kit; I din’t know they made such a thing.  She also gave me a deck of all their color chips, so hopefully I can do a better job matching next time.

Oh, and, the week before Thanksgiving was a big one for milestones at the Innovation Lab at Consumer Reports.  Here are a couple of press releases about two projects of mine.

Origami Spiders, OrigaMIT and OUSA Holiday Tree

Busy times continue.  The week after the CoCon origami convention in Chicago was OrigaMIT.  This of course is MIT’s origami convention up in Boston, and one of the funnest ones out there, because of the size, venue, general vibe, and emphasis on origami math and theory in addition to the usual teaching models and exhibition.  And also the crowd it attracts. They haven’t had one for three years, so it’s good to be back.  I saw a bunch of origami friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

I largely reused my exhibit from Chicago.  And I taught two of the same models as in Cocon, and they were well received.  Brian Chan gave an excellent talk on how he’s using various CAD software to model constraints, which helps him come up with some very advanced and artistic crease patterns.  His new Scorpion in particular is just mind-blowing.

I ended up spending most of the evening with Beth, Brian and Adrienne, it’s just invaluable to be able to getting into deep conversations with other folders at the level.  In Chicago I started designing a new spider, which I’m calling Hallowe’en Spider.  It’s inspired by some of those classic models with multiple sunken preliminary bases grafted together, but the overall technique is more modern and well integrated.  The goal was a detailed, quasi-realistic looking spider with a fairly straightforward geometry that can be folded in half an hour or so.  I also wanted nice fat legs to make is scarier.

I came pretty close.  There’s not alot of steps, but one of them is a fairly complex sink that’s repeated four times.  At one point Saturday night I was showing Beth what I was up to, and explaining how I needed to adjust the proportions and what were some of my options.  She said, “why don’t you just pleat right here?”, and that turned out to be just the thing.

Over the next few days I finished a few more models, continuing to refine it. I folded a pair of large spiders out of 15″ paper.  One of them is for the American Museum of Natural History’s origami holiday tree.  I haven’t contributed to this in a few years, but this year the them was World of Bugs, so how could I resist?  In addition to the Spider, I folded one of my butterflies and one of my inchworms, also out of large paper.

Meanwhile back home, it’s peak leaf raking season the last couple weeks, with a couple more weeks to go.  And I finally got around to trying to replace the busted ceiling light in my kitchen with a new one I bought back in September, but was on backorder and finally arrived.  However, when I took out the old fixture I discovered it had been screwed directly to the ceiling and there was no electrical cup to hold the weight and connect to mounting hardware to for the new lamp.  So now I gotta cut a hole in the ceiling, install a cup, patch up the drywall, sand and paint it, and then I’ll be able to go ahead and install the new light fixture.  Ah, good times.

Global Jukebox Plos One Article

Over at my other project as lead software developer on The Global Jukebox, I’m happy to announce our article in the peer reviewed journal Plos One has been published:

The Global Jukebox: A public database of performing arts and culture
Anna Wood, Patrick Savage, et. al.

Standardized cross-cultural databases of the arts are critical to a balanced scientific understanding of the performing arts, and their role in other domains of human society. This paper introduces the Global Jukebox as a resource for comparative and cross-cultural study of the performing arts and culture. The Global Jukebox adds an extensive and detailed global database of the performing arts that enlarges our understanding of human cultural diversity. …

Chicago Part II – A Hit by Varèse

COCon, the Chicago Origami Convention, was in the downstairs of the hotel, where they had a reception area and series of conference rooms, adjoining the lobby via a broad spiral stair.  It was a perfect setup.  There were a handful of vendors including a friendly woman named Katy who made tiny origami art pieces composed and arranged in little glass bell jars.  Being from Chicago, she gave us great advice on places to eat.

There were ten or so artists exhibiting, so I got a whole table.  My whole exhibit fit in a shoe box in my carry-on luggage, so that was plenty of space.  There were a bunch of my “greatest hits” models, including a turtle, lizard, moose, elephant, dragon, flying saucer and retro rocket.  Also the models I taught: the Space Cat, Flying Fish, and Butterfly.  Then there were three new geometric models.  I displayed versions of these at OUSA NYC in June, but wasn’t satisfied with them so I folded newer improved versions.

First is my Hydrangea Cuboctahedron.  This is six hydrangea tessellations arranged on a sheet to then form a single-sheet polyhedron, a cube with sunken corners to resemble a cuboctahedron.  I changed the layout of the tessellations so that it would have a symmetrical lock formed from the four corners of the paper.  This went together easier and held better than that previous lock.  I also added another level to the hydrangea tessellations compared to my previous version.  I folded it from a 50cm square of marble wyndstone paper, which looks great and is super strong.  The model could be wet folded but that turned out not to be necessary.  I may still do it if the lock tends to open up over time.

The other two are Starball Variations I and II.  Both of these models are based on a dodecahedron, with extra creases to sink the vertices in such a way as to reveal a star pattern on the faces, again single-sheet polyhedra.  I use different geometries so that in one the start recedes inwards and in the other protrudes outward.  My first attempts were made from 35cm Tant paper, but that turned out to be at the limit of foldability.  I made two larger pentagons from a sheet of 70 x 50 cm marble wyndstone, and that enabled me to fold more accurately, and really understand the precreasing involved in the bottom half of the model where there layers stack up, so in the end they turned out much better.

I taught three classes, two on Saturday and one on Sunday.  They were my Flying Fish, Space Cat, and Beautiful Free Butterfly.  All the classes went really well, despite there being no diagrams and no document camera and projector.  I thought ahead and brought a pack of large paper with me, suitable for teaching.  Everyone finished the model, and I had time to help a few people who weren’t quite up to the requires skill level.  Hopefully they leveled up in my class.

I took a few other classes, including Beth Johnson’s Gorilla, and a Turkey and a Spider.  I’ve been thinking about an origami spider for a long time, so now I’m trying again to make my idea work.  Since it was a Chicago convention, there were a good number of folders I’d never met before, so it was great to meet them and see what they’re up to.  Spent alot of time just hanging out, folding, and going out to eat, mainly with Beth, Katie, and Jared N. from Oregon.  Also Eric, Wendy, Patty, Kathleen, June and a bunch of OUSA convention committee people.

Saturday night Jeannie and popped out right at sunset to go to the top of the Hancock Tower, which was once the tallest building in the world, and take in the view.  And it’s … flat.  There’s Lake Michigan in one direction, and the plains in the otter, and past the city they look more and more the same as the eye draws out to the horizon.

We also discovered Chicago style hot dogs.  These are great, served with pickles and tomatoes as well as the more common ketchup, relish and onions, with an extra large frank and bun.  Jeannie says Chicago style hot dogs and pizza are on the level of Buffalo chicken wings and beef on weck, and I’m inclined to agree.

Our flight home was on Sunday night.  By this time it had started to rain.  The trip home was smooth and uneventful.  We were able to watch the first half of the Bills game in a bar in the airport, and most of the second half on the plane.

All in all a great convention.  I hope they do it again.  It was a great time, and there’s still lots to do and see in Chicago.

Coming soon – photos! 

Chicago Part I – Beginnings

Just got back from a fantastic trip to the capitol of the Great Lakes, Chicago.  Jeannie had never been there before and I hadn’t been since the 1990’s when I used to go there for work alot, but mainly spent my time in an office park out in the suburbs.

The motivating excuse was COCon, the Chicago Origami Convention.  This is the first time for a Chicago convention, and they had it in one of the big hotels downtown.  We arrived a day early, on Thursday to play tourist in the city.  The flight out there was smooth.  We got up before daylight to get to the airport in time for our flight, and we landed mid-morning.  I slept on the plane so it felt like the start of a new day.  We grabbed a cab, checked into the hotel, and were out walking around the city before noon.

It must be said that Chicago is a great city for walking around.  And the weather was beautiful the whole time.  We were right near the waterfront at a place called Navy Pier, and there was a scenic walkway for bicycles and pedestrians.  Then into a park with a funky piece of public art called The Bean.  It’s basically a giant curved chrome blob that you can walk around and underneath and see really interesting reflections.

The main attraction for the afternoon was the Art Institute of Chicago.  It’s a world class art museum to rival the Met in New York or the one in Vienna.  It’s got a great collection, and very well presented.  Famous paintings on display included Sunday in the Park, American Gothic, Nighthawks, a Van Gogh Self Portrait, and one of the missing stained glass windows from the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo (I wonder if the plan to repatriate that someday) to give you an idea.  Also a wing full of great Asian bronze, pottery and sculptures, going from ancient to contemporary artists, ancient Greek and Roman stuff, and a wing of European art including lots of paintings and sculptures and a whole hall full of arms and armor.  On the way back to the hotel we walked thru the Honorable Richard J. Daley Plaza where they got that Picasso, across from the Cook County assessor’s office.

Walking back to the hotel along the Chicago river we came upon a plaza with some cafes, and stopped for some beers and a late lunch.  Chicago is famous for its architecture, and we were right across the river from some crazy art deco googie tower apartment buildings with parking garages spiraling up the lower half and boat docks in the basement.  In and around the river, the museums and various other places downtown I noticed a pattern on the architecture that I’m calling the Chicago motif.  It consists of a square divided into eight triangle by square cross and an “X”.  Coincidently, this is also the crease pattern of an unfolded waterbomb base.

That night we went out to dinner at a bar across the street from the hotel where they had the football game on.  I had a burger with a fired egg on top, cuz if I’m in a place with that on the menu, that’s what I’ll usually get.  Later we met my friend and colleague Ann Marie, with whom I’ve been on several zoom calls a week the whole year, but never met face to face before.  She invited us to join her and her friends at a different bar downtown where there was a hallowe’en themed burlesque show.  It was a lot of fun, with a very positive vibe, and as she put it, classy with a capital A-S-S.  Afterwards, we walked around downtown for a good hour while Ann Marie played tour guide and pointed out lots of notable things like restaurants, architecture, and historical sites.

Friday we went to another great museum, the Field Museum of Natural History.  It’s alot like the American Museum of Natural History in New York which I know well, but maybe not so large and a little bit more shiny.  Great architecture.  The star attraction was Sue the T-Rex, named after her discoverer Sue the human.  It’s the most complete Tyrannosaur skeleton every found, virtually complete.  The T-Rex is the centerpiece of a great hall of the history of life on earth, with tons of fossils and other artifacts.  There was also a short 3-D film about the discovery, unearthing and preparation of the Sue fossil, and how they analyzed and what they learned about the living creature’s life and death.   It turns out Sue was fully grown, 40 feet long, at 19 years old, and died at 29.  During his or her life he or she suffered nine broken ribs and a fractured tibia and recovered from all of those injuries.  Among the things I never knew I never wanted to know was that Sue was infected by parasite worms that burrowed holes into it’s jawbone.  

For all its attention to scientific detail the film’s CG animation was strangely inaccurate in several ways.  For one, they showed the dinosaur’s gait as having wide-set feet like a sumo wrestler, rather than more plausibly with the feet under the the body.  Second was that whenever the terrible lizard appeared, the other little dinosaurs would wait for it to get close, then turn and shreik at it before running away, rather than running off at the first whiff of trouble like real animals do.  Lastly, in a visualization of an epic battle with a Triceratops a la Disney’s Fantasia, where they conjectured the T-Rex got it’s leg injury, somehow the T-Rex almost effortlessly bites the three-horned adversary on the neck under it’s protective crest.  It’s almost as bad as that bit in Toy Story where the light fixture disappears into the ceiling.

There were also halls of taxidermy, a really nice collection of gems and minerals, and whole hall of jade and carved jade art, a bit of crossover from the day before with artifacts from various antiquated civilizations, shown here for the naturally historic rather than artistic value.

After the Field Museum we hit the Aquarium, which was right next door.  Highlights include beluga whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish, eels, tropical coral reefs, cuttlefish, a cool movie about octopus, and a whole section of tanks devoted to Great Lakes fish such as pike, walleye, perch, trout, and bass.

We walked back to the hotel along the lakeshore trail and by the time we arrived, other origami people were starting to filter in.  We spent happy hour at the bar with some friends, and then I set up my exhibit (more on that later).  We went out for dinner for authentic Chicago style deep dish pizza.  Most excellent.  Returned to the hotel for late night folding.  I mostly practiced models I would teach the following day.  

More on the convention itself next.