Back in the USA

Just finished the Origami USA convention in New York City.  It was a really great time this year.  I felt like last year it was good just to be back again after the pandemic, but this year I was drawn into getting deeper into different creative ideas I was seeing in other folders’ work and in connecting and talking with people.  Also it was good to see attendance was up, including lots of first timers and lots of kids.  Maybe a few will stick around in the years to come and become the next generation’s leading origami artists.

I felt good about my new work this year.  Last fall I invented my Halloween Spider, and after attempting to teach it in the springtime I reworked the folding sequence to eliminate the “sink of doom”, which made it a good deal easier to teach and to fold.  I practice folded quite a few of them in the last couple weeks to see how it works in different kinds of paper, and to get a feel for the details of sculpting and finishing.

I also finished my big new polyhedron idea, a Stellated Icosahedron that also featured sunken stars.  It was the third in my series of icosahedron variations folded from a hexagon. Although I conceptualized it first, on my trip to Bogota in February, it turned out to be the hardest to fold by far.  I finally got a model completed a couple weeks ago, but then I attempted to wetfold it and it ended up looking not very nice, so I started over.  By the final attempt I finally knew how it would go together without experimenting, so was able to do some precision precreasing to help it along.  I used a fairly large sheet of Elephant Hide, about 19″ square before cutting.  I did a second, smaller one out of a sheet of Skytone paper, about 15″, which was also very nice but a bit more delicate.

In addition to Jeannie and Michelle, we had a houseguest this year: our friend Madonna, who we got to know in Bogota.  She won the OUSA Convention teaching award this year, but that only included three nights in the hotel.  So she stayed with us Thursday and Friday.  Madonna is mainly into tessellations, often out of a grid of triangles on a hexagon sheet.  This doesn’t overlap much with what I do, but is nevertheless quite interesting and beautiful.  Almost as soon as she arrived at our place, she noticed our fridge magnets which are a combination of hexagons, triangles and rhombi, and set about the rearrange them to demonstrate some patterns that were in her mind.  We hung out folding late into the night and exchanging ideas. She gifted me lots of skytone paper, which is one of my new favorites.  It’s alot like Elephant hide but thinner, and comes in great marbled pastel colors.

The convention itself was great.  We arrived Friday afternoon and started seeing alot of our origami friends as they trickled in.  I set up my exhibit, which had a bunch of new stuff as I mentioned.  I chose some classic models to set off the new stuff, including more polyhedra and insects, some animals from my Sculptures book, and a few spacecraft.  We mainly just hung out and folded Friday night, and went out to dinner.  John Montroll was there, with lots of new diagrams, and it was good to catch up.  

Paul Frasco and Ryan Dong folded the world’s largest origami swan out of an eighteen-foot square of paper, certified for the Guinness Book of World Records.  One cool thing was that Paul built an armature of out PCV pipe to support the model’s weight.  He assembled it as the model was being finished, and it looked totally improvised.  But it was pretty clear he had an adaptable plan that would fit to the proportions of the folded paper without having to know the dimensions ahead of time.  Very smart. Once the swan was stood up, it was fifteen feet long and ten feet tall, and looked like a dinosaur in a museum exhibit.  Very impressive.

Saturday we got there early since Madonna was teaching a class first session.  I took a class for someone else’s Spider, a box pleated model with a clever asymmetrical development to form the legs.  I taught my first class in the afternoon, my Foxy Fox from the Sculptures book.  The class was very full and had one or two too many kids who were a little too talkative and weren’t paying enough attention, so that made it challenging. Still the class was a success and everyone folded a nice fox.  

I had agreed to teach this class because there was a call from the convention committee that there weren’t enough mammals being taught, and I knew this one would work well in a single period class.  I haven’t really checked in with the models from this book in a while, so it was fun to revisit.  Kind of makes me want to do a new version with new improvements and refinements I’ve incorporated over time as my style and skills have evolved.  Same with my Loon, which I taught to my friend Kathleen.

Sunday at lunchtime I ran the paper airplane competition.  I’d never done this before and had  some help from Paul Frasco and Steve Rollin, who had participated in the past.  It was pretty intense!  There were contests for distance, accuracy and time aloft.  The distance winner went over fifty feet, and the time winner over three seconds.  In the target contest, the fist and third place winners were separated by only one half of an inch!

Sunday afternoon I taught my Halloween Spider.  There were only ten or so people in the class, which made it much more relaxed.  Also I had a document camera giving a close-up view of the folding in progress, projected on a giant screen.  There were a bunch of kids in this class too, but they were all already virtuoso folders and followed along without any difficulty.  The time I spent practicing paid off because we got done with time to spare, and had time to focus on the sculpting at the end.  Also, I folded mine from a sheet of tissue foil I bought at the source, so it came out looking great.  There was a new line of high-end tissue foil this year in all kinds of color combinations, in 10″ and 20″ sheets, so I bought a ton of it.

Sunday a bunch of us including John and Madonna and Marc Kirschenbaum went out for Indian food for dinner.  When we returned it was time for the giant folding competition.  Marc was running it and I helped judge for awards.  I feel like people get better at it every year, even though everyone underestimates how much a giant sheet of paper tends to behave like it’s cloth.

Monday we decided not to go into the city until noon, so I got a chance to work out in the morning.  I had lunch at Ray’s Famous Original Pizza next door to the conference hotel, which I presume is not the same as either Ray’s Famous or Ray’s Original, which were both down in Greenwich Village when I first moved there in the early 90’s.  I’d heard that Famous Ray and Original Ray had settled their feud some time ago and joined forces to become a chain. Anyway, great genuine New York pizza.  

That afternoon I gave my lecture on single-sheet polyhedra.  When I gave it at CFC in the winter, the interest was mainly on the mathematical and geometric aspects of it.  Here the crowd was a little different, and in discussion afterwards tended toward the craft and ornamental side. Still, quite well recieved.

Throughout the weekend there was alot of free folding in the hospitality area.  Jeannie and Michelle both took classes and learned some nice new modular ornamental things, and Michelle folded one of John Montroll’s complex insects, a dragonfly.  Also, I met Taro and some of the people from Taro’s Origami Studio.  I’ve been looking for a publisher to work with for my next book, and it turns out they’re getting into publishing and are looking for authors, so that might just work out.  Also Michelle is looking for work this summer and they sometimes contract out piecework folding models, so that might just work out too.  Now she describes herself as the world’s first origami nepo baby.

We had the banquet Monday night, and then it was time for goodbyes, and now here we are again back to the normal routine.  Ah well, the next big convention is in the fall, so that gives my time to fold some new models and hopefully make some progress on the publishing front.

Party Like It’s 1999

Had another great weekend.  Continued excellent weather, and for once no big yardwork chores.  All caught up for now; next comes weeding under the hedges.  Saturday we had a barbecue and Nick and Lisa Martin and Kathleen and the kids came over, it was a great time.  

I debuted my summer playlist, as is tradition.  This year the theme was eighty-one favorite songs form the nineties.  This follows from last year’s seventy-seven songs from the seventies and eighty songs from the eighties the year before that.  I must say the 90s seems to have alot more random song and genres from bands the came and went but have not endured so much as bands from the 70s and 80s.  Also not alot in the way of new and interesting jazz.  Maybe it’s because I worked at MTV in the 90s, or maybe it reflects deeper changes in the music industry, technology and popular culture.  Or maybe it’s just that I went thru alot of changes in the 90’s.  I started as a college student, moved across the country several times and lived in three different cities, went to from zero to sky-high to dotcom crash in my career, and ended as a new parent.

Sunday I did a bunch of stuff including take the Mustang for an evening ride due the the long hours of daylight this time of year.  Also switched up my workout to Sunday Tuesday and Thursday this week, since the origami convention starts Friday.

Monday went biking on the Ocean Pathway at Jones Beach.  Nick came out to meet us since he lives nearby.  I did fifteen miles, out to Giglo Beach and back.  Jennie and Michelle made it as far as Tobay Beach.  It felt much easier than last year, when it was only my second or so ride of the season.  I’m up to about ten already this year.  Going for twenty miles next time.  Unfortunately, due to getting a late start and other complications we didn’t go swimming in the ocean.  Ah well, next time.

Lots of origami nowadays too.  I re-folded my stellated icosahedron after ruining the last one my wet-folding.  Just the closing up to go.  Also practicing my spider.  I revised the folding sequence to eliminate the sink of doom and make it teachable, focusing now on the sculpting, especially the legs.  Fun fun fun.

Eighty-One Favorite Nineties Songs

They Might Be Giants – Flood/Birdhouse in Your Soul
Sinéad O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
Jane’s Addiction – Been Caught Stealing
The Sundays – Here’s Where the Story Ends
Black Box – Everybody Everybody
Nine Inch Nails – Head Like a Hole
Digital Underground – The Humpty Dance

Bonnie Raitt – Something to Talk About
Tuck & Patti – Dream
Blues Traveller – Onslaught
Rush – Roll the Bones
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Suck My Kiss
The Sugarcubes – Hit
Right Said Fred – I’m Too Sexy
Liz Phair – Flower
Prince + the NPG – Gett Off

Alice in Chains – Them Bones
King’s X – Black Flag
Snow – Informer
Barenaked Ladies – My Box Set
Neil Young – One of These Days
Nirvana – Come as You Are
Ice Cube – It Was a Good Day
10,000 Maniacs – Candy Everybody Wants
En Vogue – My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)
Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back
House Of Pain – Jump Around
Megadeath – Sweating Bullets
Ozric Tentacles – Yog-Bar-Og

Sheryl Crow – Solidify
Fishbone – Servitude
Ace Of Base – The Sign
Sting – She’s too Good for Me
Donald Fagan – Snowbound
Frank Zappa – G-Spot Tornado (The Yellow Shark)
Billy Joel – River of Dreams
Phish – Rift
US3 – Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)

Soundgarden – The Day I Tried to Live
The Offspring – Self Esteem
The Revels – Comanche
Soul Coughing – Is Chicago Is Not Chicago
Material – Black Lights (Hallucination Engine)
Dead Can Dance – How Fortunate the Man with None
Seal – Kiss from a Rose
Steely Dan – Book of Liars
King Crimson – VROOOM
The Bobs – Spontaneous Human Combustion
Herbie Hancock – Dis is Da Drum
Beastie Boys – Sure Shot
Animaniacs – All The Words in the English Language

No Doubt – Spiderwebs
Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know
Everclear – Santa Monica
Weezer – Say It Ain’t So
The Beatles – Free as a Bird
Macarena – Los Del Rio (Bayside Boys Remix)
White Zombie – More Human Than Human
Annie Lennox – Something So Right
Medeski Martin and Wood – Friday Afternoon in the Universe

Beck – Devil’s Haircut
Wallflowers – One Headlight
Geggy Tah – Whoever You Are
Know Your Chicken – Cibo Matto
Cake – The Distance
Sneaker Pimps – 6 Underground
Space – The Female of the Species
The Beaux Hunks – Powerhouse
Michael Brecker – African Skies
Oasis – Don’t Look Back in Anger
Johnny Cash – My Wave

Might Mighty Bosstones – The Impression That I Get
Steve & Edyie – Black Hole Sun (Loungapalooza)
Chumbawamba – Tubthumping
Foo Fighters – Everlong
The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony
Sarah McLachlan – Building a Mystery
Smash Mouth – Walking on the Sun
Ben Folds Five – The Battle of Who Could Care Less

Cher – Believe
Fastball – The Way
The Seatbelts – Tank
Brian Setzer Orchestra – Switchblade 327

Weird Al – The Saga Begins

New Song – A Plague of Frogs

The concept for my new song is a battle on the planet Mars between the humans and an alien invader from another solar system.  It’s sort of a mash up of By Tor and the Snow Dog by Rush and I.G.Y. by Donald Fagen.

I’ve been working on this one a while.  In fact I started it during the sessions for Elixr, two albums ago.  And the intro riff has its origins in a piece I did called Futbol Anthem, way back when I worked for an ad agency in the ’90s.

It’s very much an in-the-studio creation, and it takes advantage of ProTools’s ability to make arrangements you’d probably never do with a live group, with shifting meters, stacked synth and drum layers, etc.  Still, the goal is to make a song that’s enjoyable to listen to for the whole nine-plus minutes, an entertaining ride, sorta like a movie for the ears. 

My friend Dazza agreed to do the guitar solo.  In solo section in the middle, the sax represents the humans and the earth, while the guitar represents the aliens on Mars.  They battle it out, trading riffs and building intensity, something like a boss fight in a video game.  Then on to a big unison riff section.

But we’re still recording all that, so for now here are the lyrics.  Enjoy!

A Plague of Frogs (International Space Year)

Peace on Earth – war on Mars!
Epic conflict among the stars
Space invaders from afar
Challenge the humans to keep the red planet ours

Cosmic war – a plague of frogs!
Now descend the Tobes of Zog
Encroaching frozen dessert canyons
Entrenched so they evade our scanners
Vile scourge of the solar system
Even our best star lasers missed ’em
Space ranger battle scarred
Earth needs a new hero to win back dusty crimson Mars

(solo – sax vs. moog)

Peace on Mars – and love on Venus
Humanity at last victorious
Vanquished foes warp back to their home world
The frogs of Zog retreat with their tails curled
Our spaceships free for more peaceful uses
Our scientists can again court their muses
Peace on Earth and victory
But victory is temporary

Humanity in victory
But victory is temporary
Yeah victory is temporary
Oh victory is temporary yeah

– jfs

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

New York in June continues.  The weather remains amazing for the most part, as if California has come to us.  In fact, last week we experienced the effects of forest fires hundreds of miles away in Canada, as the wind blew the smoke high into the atmosphere above us.  The sky turned overcast and brownish and hazy, and the next day it got more intense, and everything had an orange tint and smelled like a campfire.  Luckily the day after that the wind changed and it blew away, and we were back to blue skies for the weekend.

The Origami USA convention is coming up in just a couple weeks.  It was my job to put together the class schedule.  We had almost 150 classes that had to be fit into three days, with many constraints on time, availability, class size, use of document cameras and projectors, etc.  So that kept me busy Monday night and Tuesday.  It went smoother than last year.  I’m using scheduling software that I’d purpose-built in the OUSA web site, and like so much one-off business software, is more clunky than one would hope.  However this year we’re starting to grasp the essence of the problem, and we’re refining it to make the workflows smoother and faster.  So the schedule got approved and published on time.  On to the next thing.

The Global Jukebox is submitting a grant application to the National Endowment for the Humanities for part 2 of a multi-year project to create an interactive experience within the jukebox on The Roots of American Music.  In addition to new content and visualizations, it includes a brand-new mobile experience built on our existing web application framework.  So I was busy helping Kiki get some materials together for the grant application.

Meanwhile at the CR Innovation Lab, we’re getting to planning for an upcoming product launch, setting up a program for deploy pipelines, unit testing, e2e and integration testing, QA, and infrastructure availability and scaling.  We also have a bunch of new team members, so everything is a bit hectic these days.  I went into the city for a set of onsite meetings, however some of them got cancelled to due people calling in remotely because of the smoke condition.  Unfortunately, the conference room chairs there are singularly awful and triggered some fairly severe pain in my back and leg.  Ah well, I was back to normal after a couple days.

Friday night Jeannie and I went to see Kurt Elling at the Village Vanguard.  Before the show we went out a fantastic dinner at a Persian restaurant, with shish kabobs and fancy rice.  We walked around the city from midtown to Greenwich Village.  Great night for people watching and taking in the city.

Kurt Elling is one of my favorite jazz singers around today.  He has a great voice and sense of phrasing and style, and always picks really interesting material and treats it in a fresh and fascinating way.  The Village Vanguard is of course one of the classic jazz clubs in New York City.  What I didn’t know is the Vanguard has an in-house big band that was started back in the 1960’s by Mel Lewis and Thad Jones, and plays every Monday night.  So the show was Kurt backed by the Village Vanguard Orchestra, doing big band arrangements of his songs.  Wow, totally amazing.  (The Vanguard is a very small club, so the fact that the band fit on the stage was pretty amazing before they even played note one.)  

One thing Kurt likes to do is add lyrics over rarely covered jazz songs.  He did this for several tunes, including Continuum by Jaco Pastorius, and the second movement of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.  They’re great lyrics that add new depth to song, clever, thoughtful, playful and even profound, but because they’re so unexpected it can take you a minute to figure out what songs he’s doing.  Another highlight of the show was the sax solo during the Coltrane number.  The tenor play at the end of the sax section was a really old guy who looked like Mark Twain.  Half the set he was slumped in his chair and looked like he might fall asleep at a moment’s notice.  But when he stood up, he roared to life and delivered a high-intensity solo worthy of a Trane number.

Saturday morning I listened to two Joco albums: the first one that begins with Donna Lee, and The Birthday Concert which featured the Word of Mouth Big Band including Michael Brecker.  Great stuff.

Saturday afternoon we went out to a barbecue at Cousin Mary’s.  My two nieces Katie and Valerie both graduated from college.  On the car ride down, we listened to Kurt Elling’s latest album Super Blue, which is sorta jazz-adjacent soul funk fusion.  Totally blew me away.  Some of the songs sound like they could be Steely Dan.  And the album before that has the studio cut of Continuum, among others.

Sunday we went for another bike ride.  Jeannie got a new bike, a Trek mountain bike, very nice.  And she passed her old bike on to Michelle, so now everyone has a bike that fits them comfortably and they like to ride.  We went back to the Empire State Trail, this time starting in Elmsford and going up to Thornwood.  They both did ten miles, and I did fifteen, and new personal best for the season for everyone.  I was thinking of getting a new bike too, but my 26-year-old Trek 850 is still going strong.  It was a pretty high-end bike at the time, very light, with an aluminum frame, handlebars and rims, and 21 gears.  (I bought it from Palo Alto bicycles, because at the time Jeannie and I were sharing a car, and she had a longer commute than I did.  Above the bike shop was a small startup called Google, but that’s a story for another time…)

I finally completed the spring yardwork cycle but trimming the branches from the neighbor’s willow tree that hangs down into our yard.  Hopefully a week or two off from that, then the it starts over with weeding and edging.

As mentioned previously, the Origami USA convention is less than two weeks away, and doing origami has finally risen to the top of my todo list.  In fact, now is the time of year when I tend to stay up late folding like a madman.  In fact, I just destroyed a super complex model I’ve been working on since Bogota by trying to wetfold it!  Ah well, at least I have the pattern worked out now.

Yet the universe won’t leave me alone, and in addition to the predictable demands of work and all that, random tasks pop up at inconvenient times.  Jeannie borrowed my car the other day, and came home with a flat tire, so I had to get that fixed.  Then it was supposed to rain and cool off, but the weathermen lied!  So around five o’clock I put in the air conditioner.  It’s a new AC that’s supposed to be much quieter and more powerful than the old one, but it was a major pain to install.  Ah well, now it’s in and I’m enjoying the cool zone.


Moving into summer.  I can’t remember a more pleasant May for fine weather.  June brought the hot weather, up into the 90’s.  We thought of putting in the AC, but it only lasted two days.  Now we’re back to another long run of perfectly pleasant days in the mid-seventies.

Been busy doing our best version of living the suburban legend.  Last weekend was the Memorial Day holiday and a three-day weekend.  Saturday we went for a hike up Mt. Hook. Sunday I went for a bike ride thru Nature Study Woods, then we went to a barbecue on Long Island hosted by Nick and Lisa.

This weekend Jeannie and Michelle and I did another rail trail ride, this time 13 miles for me and 9 for them.  I got an app for my phone that tracks me distance, time and elevation change when I go for a ride, and shows it on a map.

I’ve been giving my old mustang some TLC.  Over the last few weekends I washed, waxed, and buffed the whole thing, something I hadn’t done since before the pandemic.  Then the weekend I cleaned the glass and interior, and polished everything up.  Now it just gleams!

Summer is the season for endless yard work.  Over the past couple weekends I trimmed our big hedge row, then the two giant forsythia shrubs and some of our evergreens.  Next weekend is trimming back the willow boughs hanging into our yard from our neighbor’s tree.  Then maybe we’ll have a break and can do just mowing and watering.  Or maybe something else will have grown in by then.

I bought a new oven in the springtime at an auction at my job.  It’s been sitting in my garage, but this weekend finally schlepped it up the stairs, hooked up the gas supply and hauled out the old one.  Glad that job is done with.  Michelle has already baked a batch of cookies and declared the new oven to be much more accurate and superior in every way.  Only problem is it doesn’t quite back up all the way to the wall because they’ve changed oven design over the years, and there’s no empty space in the back of the oven to accommodate the spot where the gas pipe comes up out of the floor.  So now we have to call a contractor to see if wee can get that taken care of. 

A bunch of things still in-progress.  I’ve been working on a summer playlist of 90’s songs.  Continuing in my home studio with my song A Plague of Frogs.  And, increasing in importance daily, the annual Origami USA convention is coming up at the end of June, so I’ve been folding new stuff, planning my exhibit, signing up to teach classes, and helping the convention committee with the class schedule.  More on all this as it unfolds.