First There is a Mountain

We’re back home again and busy with work and other things.  Seems like everything is happening all at once.

First it’s finally ski season.  A week ago we went skiing again up at Catamount.  They have night skiing, which is perfect for us.  It starts at 3pm so you don’t have to get up super early to get there, instead we can get all our chores done Saturday morning and then go.  When we arrive alot of the day skiers are leaving, so it’s easy to get a good parking spot and the lifts and slope get less and less crowded the longer you stay.  You have a few hours of daylight to ski in – now the days are getting longer faster – then you can go in and take a break with a cup of cocoa and come out again for the night session.

A week ago the conditions were warm and icy, but we figured we might not get another shot so we went for it.  After a while found that Mountain View was a pretty good trail and we stayed on that.  We quit after ten runs and met our fried Seth for dinner.

This last weekend it started to snow Saturday morning, just a dusting, but it made us feel hopeful, so we figured we’d go up again and try our luck.  At first it was pretty icy, but snow started falling until there was fresh powder everywhere.  There was a magical moment where suddenly everything was beautiful and the skis felt great and you could really get a good groove going and the mountain was comin’ ’round.  So we stayed out there almost until they closed, a total of eighteen runs. Walter’s Way was the favorite run.

This was three times skiing this season, tying our record last year. We’re still hoping to do an overnight trip a bit further north in two weeks, with bigger mountains and more snow.

In other news, I’ve been working out some new origami ideas since I’ve gotten back from my trip.  I’ve never really explored the icosahedron geometry, even though I mentioned it in my talk.  It’s much easier than the dodecahedron; you can use a triangle grid in a hexagon sheet.  I have two variations I’m working on.  One is a dimpled icosahedron.  It looks kinda like a soccer ball with a pattern of hexagons and pentagons, but the pentagons are dented in.  The other is a stellated icosahedron, where each triangular face of the base shape is replaced with a pyramid.  I did a study of this pattern embedded on a dome back in Bogota, and the design approach causes a set of really cool looking sunken star shapes to emerged between the facets.  Now I’m expanding the pattern to a full sheet so I can close the bottom and the full solid shape.  I have the crease patterns all worked out.  Now it’s just a matter of practicing and perfecting the lock, and then finding some suitable sheets of paper for the final models.  

Next, the Global Jukebox project has sprung back to life.  Anna made a deal to license a bunch of Alan Lomax’s recordings, and now she has a budget again, which injects lots of new energy.  However, I now have a full time day job again, so I can only commit so much time.  I brought Martin in as a subcontractor/partner so we can share the workload.  So far it’s going great.  It’s fun having a collaborator, and new ideas and all.  For onboarding I had him go thru the test script and he spotted alot of minor issues in neglected corners.  We upgraded all our processes including document sharing, getting full-stack local dev environments spun up, and using branches and pull requests in git.  Now we’re all ramped up and the real meat of the work begins.  We have a full year’s roadmap ahead, so more on this as we publish new releases.

Lastly, I’ve gotten back to the home studio recording project the last few weeks.  I’m tracking the vocals for two songs, In the Purple Circus and A Plague of Frogs.  Both have rather challenging parts that use a large range, with big interval jumps, and have some tricky phrasing too, and need to be delivered with some gusto and drama.  I didn’t really think about how it would be to sing them when I wrote the lyrics and melodies.  So I have to work them up.  Also, right now I’m getting over a cold so my voice is not at its strongest. The high notes are a bit thin and scratchy and low notes note always in tune..  Ah well, it’s good to rehearse.  Each session I get a little surer and more expressive.

And … it’s snowing here tonight, and it looks like will be the first real snowfall of the season down here.  That means mo’ better snow up away from the coast.  If there’s no rain the next few days we’ll probably go back to Catamount again this weekend.

CFC3 in Bogota, Part III

By the third day of the conference I was deep into a bunch of origami ideas, folding silently at me desk while listening to the other speakers.  Most of these ideas centered on icosahedron geometry developed from a triangle grid: stellated and dimpled icosahedra, that kind of thing. This is of course perfectly acceptable behavior at an origami event, provided the rustling of your paper isn’t so loud as to be disruptive.  One session on freeform creative folding led me into another new and interesting direction somewhere in the crossover zone between abstract and figurative.

The conference ended mid afternoon and we had a few free hours before the next event, so Jeannie and decided to check out the Museo del Oro, which was right in the neighborhood.  Oro is Spanish for gold, and the museum features an amazing collection of gold art and artifacts, mainly from the pre-Colombian era.  The region was historically rich in gold, and gave rise to the legend of El Dorado.  Interestingly, most of the people we met identified as indigenous or mestizo, saying thing things like “when the Spanish arrived they took all our gold, and burned all our paper.”  The pieces in the museum were just amazing in terms of craft and artistry, and full of religious and cosmological imagery and significance.  Some were ancient, going back to prehistoric times.  It’s a bit like how in Europe everything has an older, Roman layer; here it’s pre-Spanish.

Back at the hotel, the first post-convention activity was the Autobus de Fiesta, or Party Bus.  Basically the bus drove around while everyone salsa danced and drank shots of Ouzo the came from a cardboard box pored into a half gourd shell you wore on string around your neck.  After an hour or so we climbed up into the foothills to a spot with a scenic overlook of the city, where local twentysomethings on motorcycles came to smooch with their dates.  There were also some food stands serving things like grilled meat and empanadas.  When we got back, a bunch of our local friends invited to come along to the local salsa bar, where the drinking and dancing continued late into the night.  Beers were like fifty cents each, so I bought everyone a round.  Someone bought a bottle of rum. An attractive woman was teaching me dance steps.  

The music everywhere was great, and fascinating to northern ears, and evoked a pleasant and relaxed mood.  Their broad term for all latin music is salsa.  The music we heard encompassed a variety of genres, including reggae, dub, modern electronic pop, traditional Cuban and samba, what I think of as salsa, and a variety of other Caribbean and South American styles.  But just as all North American music from big band swing to modern alternative rock emphasizes the backbeat, everything down there has the clave pattern.  Indeed, one of the songs I knew on the party bus was Informer by the famous Canadian rapper Snow (from his record 12″ of Snow), but remixed with a salsa beat.

Monday morning Jeannie and didn’t feel like getting up to get on the bus by 8am for the tour de jour, so we slept in late and did our own thing that day.  The main event was going up to Monserrate, a monastery up in the mountains at the edge of town.  You have to take a gondola to get there, and it’s above 10,000 feet (3 kilometers) elevation.  It’s full of beautiful architecture and gardens and views of the city, and fun to walk around.  For lunch we split a plate of grilled meats – three kinds of sausages, chicken, and two kinds of beef.  The stations of the cross there was a great piece of environmental art, situated along a winding mountain path so that you’re walking uphill the whole time, and due to the elevation, every time you got to the next station you had to stop and catch your breath.

That night a bunch of us went out to a fancy dinner at one of the nice restaurants in town.  Their specialty was – you guessed it – grilled meats.  The was a moment of confusion when we looked at the menu and the prices were shown as $60 for a steak.  Did that mean $60 US, or $60.000 pesos (about $12 US)?  It turned out the prices were in pesos.  They also served something I had seen my entire time in South America – a salad!  The man I was sitting next to, Eduardo, came from Buenos Aires, and his flight was twice as long as mine!

Tuesday was our last day in Colombia, and we did a tour with the group.  It was a two-hour bus ride out into the mountains, and everyone continued to talk about origami and other things, and we got to see a bit of the countryside.  We stopped for breakfast at a coffee and pastry shop in some little village, very picturesque.  The main event was a national park with a hike to a high elevation lake in a natural bowl formation.  The lake is bright green due to algae that grows in it, but the algae is quite a way beneath the surface, and no one knows now deep it actually is.  Various theories have been advanced for the lake’s formation, including a meteor impact, a volcano, and my favorite, a solid gold meteor that opened up a portal to another to another dimension if you can swim deep enough.  Apparently the whole region is rich in copper and gold, and ancient kings used to put on golden apparel and wade into the lake, where they’d shed the garments and emerged renewed and purified.  This too became part of the El Dorado legend.

We had lunch at a place in a little town on the shores of a man-made lake, much larger and still quite high up in the mountains, a reservoir for a hydroelectric plant.  The town was very quaint and charming, and apparently was something like a vacation resort.  It was originally designed for villagers who were going to be flooded out of their homes to have a place to relocate to.  But the story goes that the villagers didn’t want to relocate, and holed up in the church as an act of resistance, whereupon the government blew up the church.  I guess that means there’s a blown-up, very likely haunted church at the bottom of the lake.  

Anyway, lunch was again mainly grilled meats and empanadas, but this time I got the soup, the very same dish depicted on my chocolate wrapper a few days before.  Yummy!

The bus finally made it back to the hotel sometime after dark, and it was basically time to say our goodbyes and head off to the airport.  I should thank Maria, who is the head of the Bogota local origami group, and was the main organizer fo everything in Bogota, our hostess and tour guide, who made sure everyone was safe and well oriented and having good time.  Mucho gracias, Maria!  Thanks to Ilan as well, the leader of the CFC organization and the conference talks and panels.  He has a long term vision for what origami can become and how to use CFC to help it get there.  Thanks also to Jorge, Gerardo, Diego, Matt, Madonna, Leyla, John, Jared, James, and the rest of the conference volunteers, presenters, and attendees.  I really hope to get back to an origami convention in Bogota again someday.

Before we got off the bus, Maria told everyone who was going to the next day’s tour an hour early, because there were protests scheduled and these often turn into riots.  I guess this is what the U.S. government warned us against.  Ah well, good thing we were leaving.  

The flight home was uneventful.  It was an overnight flight, and again we were able to take advantage of the sky lounge to sip some whiskey before boarding, and get some good rest on the plane.  I found out later that the very next day the airport terminal at JFK where we landed at caught fire, and they were turning back flights from around the world as far away as New Zealand.  Good think that didn’t happen to us.  

Nevertheless, I feel like the pandemic may finally be over and the world returning to normal, at least for travel.

Also, I’ve updated by CFC artist profile here.  Includes free diagrams!

CFC3 in Bogota, Part II

The conference started on a Friday so we flew down on a Thursday.  As a very tall person, I can’t fly coach on long flights, so it’s been a lifelong side quest to get upgrades on our seats.  This time we got full-on first class because the price was pretty reasonable.  I can’t stand the whole process of going thru airports and security and everything, it’s all very stressful.  But as a perk we got to go into the sky lounge and chill while we waited for our flight with a nice free lunch and well-stocked bar to take the edge off one’s anxiety.  As I mentioned I was up late the night before working on my presentation, so I slept on the flight.  Flying to Bogota from New York is about that same time and distance as California or western Europe, but in a perpendicular dimension.  It was strange getting off the plane and the time zone *not* to have shifted.  Instead we had travelled almost due south, and we just a few degrees from the equator.

Getting thru immigration was smooth and fast, and the cab ride to our hotel too.  Bogota is a big city, around eight million people, about the same as New York City.  Getting around by taxis and buses was fine.  It’s also at almost 9,000 feet elevation, which you tended to notice after going up a few flights of stairs, at least the first couple of days.

Our hotel was a youth hostel next door to the main conference hotel.  It had a fun, friendly and funky vibe, with a restaurant and bar in the lobby full of reggae and salsa music, and the cheerful comings and goings of backpacking twentysomething gringos alone or in small groups.

Some of our friends had already arrived, and we took a cab to meet them at a bar in the neighborhood.  When we got out of the cab I wasn’t sure I was in the right place, but I heard my friend Matt, who had come outside to meet me, call me name.  Matt is originally from Connecticut, but has lived in Mexico for ten or fifteen years, and so is fluent in both English and Spanish, as were a good fraction of the group.  Ilan, an Israeli and the conference organizer was there, and a handful of people from the local origami group, who were happy to tell us what’s good on the menu and anything else we wanted to know.  At the end of the night we decided to walk back to the hotel with our local guides.  It seemed as safe as New York or any other big city.

Friday morning we had a really good breakfast at the hotel, with eggs and sausage and some kind of cornmeal muffin, and fresh juice (jugo) and amazing coffee.  

The conference was Bogota Universidad, a short walk from the hotel.  Walking around the neighborhood helped us get oriented.   Our hotel was situated right at the eastern edge of the city, and the university campus wound up into the foothills.  Very charming.  The conference itself was at the Japan Center, and the first order of business was to set up my exhibit for the exhibition.  Since my talk was on single-sheet polyhedra, I brought along a number of this.  Also some animals, insects and spaceships.

The talks covered an interesting variety of topics.  There was one on indigenous papermaking in Mexico, another was a panel discussion on how to make it as professional origami artist, another on what is art, anyway? and another on one artist’s specific system of tessellations.  One thing I found interesting was that, in contrast to European conferences where English tends to be the Lingua Franca, everything here was bilingual.  A number of the speakers presented in Spanish and someone translated into English; others presented in English with a Spanish translator.  Some presenters fluent in both languages presented first in one then repeated their speech in the other.  This was actually great for improving my comprehension of Spanish.

These conferences tend to be pretty social and for lunch we walked down to the hill to the edge of the campus where there was a square with a bunch of restaurants.  Along the way we happened to stop in front of a stationary store and I bought a wooden pencil.  I had brought one with me but it rolled under the seat of the plane as we were landing.  I’ve found a dull pencil works best for marking up a sheet of paper on the reverse side while prefolding, since it won’t leave a mark on the side of the paper that shows.  As typically happens at origami conventions, I had a bunch of new ideas for things I wanted to fold.  Lunch was hamburguesas con queso azul o americano, most excellent.

I gave my talk at the end of the first day, and it went over extremely well.  I think most people were not aware of the single-sheet polyhedron technique, and were blown away by the great results one can achieve with it, including stellated, sunken and dimpled forms, color-changes and combining tessellations with polyhedra.  I was super impressed with Jorge, my translator, for conjuring technical mathematical terms such as dodecaedro estrellado.

At the end of the day it was happy hour in Bogota, and the walk back the hotel was full of drum circles, pan flutes and guitars, and street vendors of food and drink.  That night was the conference banquet at the hotel.  The meal featured a thick tasty soup and a variety of meats.  Of course everyone pulled out their packs of paper and started folding and showing one another the things they were working on.

The second day started with another fine breakfast, then a pleasant walk up the hill to the Japan Center and more talks.  To honest I can’t remember what they all were, but it was a good mix of art, commerce, deep dives into various technical and aesthetic aspects of origami design, roundtable discussions, and the like.  I remember in one panel saying how modernism is over a hundred years old and it’s time to move past that and embrace all forms, high and low from every corner, and the 21st century pop art can be seen as the new global folk art.  That seemed to resonate.  I also learned that empanadas stuffed with egg, sausage and beans is the ultimate lunchtime power food.

In the afternoon we took a bus uptown into the suburbs, to the French school, where the local folder’s group was holding their weekly meetup, and we were to join forces in a one-day mini convention.  There was a break in the early evening, and Jeannie and I decided we needed some more cash for the remainder of the trip.  A 50,000 peso note (styled $50.000 down there) is like their twenty-dollar bill, although it’s worth closer to $10 US.  Even though the neighborhood looked pretty posh, they’d warned us gringos not to wander around at night, just in case.  With Jorge as our guide a small troupe of us set out and ended up at the local supermercado.  I was amazed at the variety of fresh fruits I didn’t even recognize, although some seemed in the family of pineapples, mangoes and papayas.  In addition to getting cash, everyone got some random thing.  Jared got a bottle of rum, and the Polish couple got some Pepsis.  

Back at the French school, we did a group activity folding a Jet chocolate wrapper.  The wrapper comes with a mini-poster of something Colombian, often an animal, and the challenge is to fold what’s depicted.  Mine was a dish of food, a sort of stew of meat and potatoes and corn, and I was told it was a local peasant dish, very popular.  After doing a little research, I was already almost of out time, so I decided to try and fold a beet.  I didn’t win any prize.

They had dinner (hamberguasas y empanadas) and drinks at the venue.  A beer was like fifty cents.  Hola!  Amazing how the same basic palette of ingredients scales from street carts to fine dining.  

Before the convention Jorge had reached out to me about learning to fold my Stellated Octahedron with Color Change.  I had time to look up the crease pattern, but I’d never made diagrams.  So together we puzzled it out, and I’m amazed he hung in there and did a decent job at a very complex model.  After that I went around socializing a learning other people’s models. It’s amazing that, for me at least, face-to-face teaching is still the best way of communicating origami ideas, even in this twenty-first century age of telecommunication.  Part of it is that folding is tactile as well as visual.  In another group activity, people stood up and briefly explained a favorite paper of theirs, and what kind of folding it’s good for.  That’s interesting to listen to, but you don’t know anything until they pass a sheet around and can touch and bend it.

My friend Matt accompanied us on the cab ride back to the hotel, which was good since he had an account for whatever their uber is down there, and speaks Spanish.  He made small talk with the driver the whole trip.  I contributed a random phrase here and there like, “Si, yo soy un hombre muy grande.”

CFC3 in Bogota, Part I

You might be wondering if I’ve forgotten about my blog, since it’s been a while since I’ve posted and update.  But I have a good reason.  I’ve been off traveling and adventuring.

I just got back from an amazing trip to South America, and an international origami conference.  The conference was CFC3, in Bogota, Colombia.  CFC is short for Conference for Creators, and as the name implies, is an international organization for origami artists and creators.

At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to go.  I’d never been to South America before, and it seemed like a big leap.  Plus I don’t really know alot of Spanish.  And the US state department even has a warning against traveling to Colombia.

In the end it all worked out and I’m really glad we went.  The conference was fantastic, the people were really friendly, Bogota is a great city and Colombia a really cool country.  The food the music and everything was tons of fun.

I decided if I was going to accept the invitation to go, I should give a presentation.  I chose for my topic Single-Sheet Polyhedra in Origami.  This is an area where I have done a good amount of deep, original work, and I don’t see alot of other folders using this technique.  Indeed alot of origami people mistake my polyhedra for modulars!  It was time to raise awareness.

Here’s a link to the slides for my presentation:

More on that at later in the story.  For now, suffice to say I was up late several nights in a row the days before we departed.  I put the outline of the talk together in an evening.  The text is mostly prompts, since I detest when people read their slides, and I knew pretty much what I wanted to say.  The thing that took forever was getting together all the photographs and crease patterns.  I spent a couple evenings gathering together models and taking pictures, then cropping and color/contrast balancing them.  I’m glad I bought a new phone with a better camera last fall, it made the whole process more convenient.

The other thing I did was study Spanish for a month using Duolingo, which is a great app.  I’m no great Spanish speaker, but I’d describe my level as “tourist functional”, i.e. I can manage airports, taxicabs, hotels and restaurants, and a bit of small talk.  I’ve studied German, French and Hungarian for other trips, and Spanish felt surprisingly easy.  I guess cuz it’s pretty close to English, and I’ve been hearing it all my life anyway.  

The only thing I wish is that we could’ve linked the trip up with a few days on the beach in a place like Aruba, but it turns out that while we were able to get convenient and affordable flights from New York to Bogota and back, getting around Colombia is not as easy because the country is very mountainous.  We couldn’t hook up anything without major expense, layovers and detours.  Ah well.