New Lyric – Head Downtown

Almost finished my new song.  This will be the eighth of nine for my forthcoming album.  I’m in the mixing phase now, so look for the audio track coming soon.  Meanwhile, here’s the lyric.  One fun thing about it is that pretty much all the verbs are also names of body parts, except in the bridge where they’re names of different kinds of furniture.  Enjoy!

Head Downtown

Head downtown
Nose around
Eye the sights
Mouth the sounds
Mind the street
Face the heat
Woah, chin up bloodhound

You can arm all your friends
So they can shoulder the burdens
Yeah hand ’em a handle
Palm the trigger
Elbow your way in
Finger the big figure
It’s a backhanded deal
But don’t knuckle under
Just thumb a ride crosstown

Now, seat yourself
In the lap of luxury
Chair that meeting
But couch your greetings
Table the motion
Even bed that woman, yeah
There’s something ahead
And something afoot
So don’t stick your neck out just yet

You can hamstring the competition
Try an’ boot ’em off of your position
Yeah kneecap ’em all yeah
Well that’s just fine
But for now you better toe the line
Else you’re like to foot the bill
So whoa just heel, yeah
Leg it back uptown

Take heart droog
You can stomach some bad news
But you better back off that tack
Go tail some new rabbit jack
Yeah head downtown
Oh head downtown, yeah
Head downtown

– JFS 11/23

Tinsel Town

The new year is off to a start.  Everything is going okay I guess.  I’m getting things done and having some fun, but everything feels very slow and tiring.  This is natural because it’s the wintertime, and there’s still lots of cold and dark.  The days are starting to get longer, but there’s been lots of rainstorms and wintry mix.  We’ve finally stared to get some snow.  First time last week, but it all melted after a few days, and now last night into today.  Hoping we can finally go skiing this weekend.  We’ve been going ice skating as a local alternative, a good way to move the body when you can’t do much outside.

Working out has been actually been going well.  Often it can be really tough in the winter, but I’ve add weight to my workout at the start of the year, and so far so good.  I’ll probably put on a few more pounds again soon.  Meanwhile I’ve dropped some body weight, which is also counter to the usual wintertime trend.

Of course winter break is over and it’s been back to work the last couple weeks, so getting anything else done requires planning around that to have a few hours of focus time on the weekend or at night.  Just as I was getting into the rhythm of being able to do what I want when I feel like it.  Ah well.

I’m trying to migrate my web site to a new host, but there’s just a ton of picky details to attend to.  We wanted to get this done by the new year but had to let is slide.  Next sub-project is migrating my blog.  So soon you may be reading this at a new url, at least temporarily.

And I finished my new song Head Downtown.  More on that in another post.

This last weekend we had a sort of make-up xmas, since Jeannie was down with Covid on Xmas day.  Lots of good food, games, more legos, music and movies.  Mary and Lou came over along with the niblings.  And the Bills are in the playoffs, which is pretty exciting.

Visions of Sugarplums

We had a very nice and relaxing holidays this year.  Well mostly anyway.  Michelle came home mid-week after her finals, and started baking the cookies the next day. So far so good. Thursday I went into the city for an Innovation Lab holiday lunch. That was lots of fun and it was good to see my colleagues face to face. Ben, Ginny and I spent alot of time hanging around talking afterwards. 

Lizzy was supposed to come home Thursday, but got into a fender bender pulling out of her driveway leaving Buffalo.  She flew home the next day.  Jeannie was delighted to see her. That evening we went out to dinner and played legos.  I finished my Porco Rosso fake lego airplane.  The design was kinda structurally unsound, so I had to improvise some reinforcements. Later we watched the Charlie Brown, Grinch and Rudolph specials.

Unfortunately, Jeannie came down with Covid the day before Christmas eve.  The three of us tested negative and went to the family Xmas party on Long Island, this year moving into a new generation of cousins as hosts, at Megan and JJ’s house.  Good to see everyone and catch up.  They have a bar in their house, and JJ is into different kinds of rum.  He’s also into different kinds of alternative and independent music, and wants to help me get set up on Bandcamp.

Xmas eve Jeanne was mostly sitting around or in bed napping. Lizzy was exiled to the sofa bed in the family room so Jeannie could isolate in her office, which was also Lizzy’s old bedroom. The girls did the last of the shopping and Michelle baked while I did the household stuff and we all did the wrapping. Listened to a bunch of Xmas music, best of which was Ella Fitzgerald.

Xmas day just the four of us; we had to un-invite Mary’s and Jeannie’s folks.  We all slept in.  Lots of legos, I got a pirate ship, Michelle got a zen garden, and Jeannie got an a-frame camp house. Lots of other gifts too.  My new favorite game is Ticket to Ride: San Francisco.  By afternoon Jeannie was feeling better, and supervised as the girls made Xmas dinner.  Roast beast, very nice.

Boxing day morning Jeannie was over Covid but still testing positive. The three of us tested negative and decided to go up to my parents in Buffalo b/c Lizzy had to work the next day anyway. Martin and Kathleen and their kids were there too.  Lizzy rented a car and went back to her apartment.  She came back at dinner time with her boyfriend Josh.  After dinner we opened gifts and facetimed in Jeannie.  Afterwards we drank some wine, sat around and talked and played games.

Wednesday was very mellow.  I talked to my mum awhile and took a walk around the lake in the morning and went shopping with Martin and Kathleen in the afternoon. In the evening Lizzy and Josh came by again and we all got pizza.  Thursday Michelle and I went home.  On the car ride we listened to a bunch of new music including Hozier and Noah Kahan, both of whom I liked alot.  I turned Michelle on to the new Peter Gabriel record I/O, and some classic records including Chicago and Bowie.  This led to me figuring out Lady Stardust on piano, a forgotten gem.  I tried to listen to Cortez the Killer but Neil Young is still boycotting Spotify.  

We got home in time for a four-day weekend.  Unfortunately, Michelle came down ill, though not as bad a Jeannie.  I tested positive for Covid too, although I never had any symptoms.  So we didn’t get to see any friends, but it was relaxing to hang around, build legos, work on my song, play games and watch movies, and things like that.  I’ve been reading alot.  Before Xmas I read Geddy Lee’s autobiography My Effin’ Life, and Howl’s Moving Castle, which I like better than the movie.  I’m in the middle of two other books now, recommended by Martin.  One is about Columbus, John Cabot and Amerigo Vespucci, and the whole discovery of the new world thing.  The other is the first of the Discworld series, which is alot of fun, sort of halfway between The Princess Bride and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

A Season of Darkness

It’s been a few weeks since my last post.  Nothing really exciting going on.  Been getting ready for the holidays.  Put up our tree, sent out our Christmas cards.  We saw the new Miyazaki movie.  It was amazing but he’s totally lost his mind.  Lizzy was home for a visit for a couple weeks ago with her new boyfriend.  They saw my origami elephants at the tree in the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.  Both girls will be home for the holidays soon.  I’ve been trying to wind down work for the year, and been thinking about old friends I miss, and how I’d like to make the time to see people.  Luckily, the plan for the end of the year is pretty laid back, so it looks like there’ll be some time for that.

It feels like it’s been dark all the time the last few weeks.  Only a few hours of tepid daylight before the sun sets in the mid-afternoon. At least the weather has been mainly pretty mild, even warm, and there’s been a handful of sunny days mixed in with the cloudiness and rain.  Been trying the get psyched up for skiing, but it’s not time yet. 

We did go ice skating the other day, which was lots of fun, and good exercise.  I haven’t been on my ice skates in years, and neither has Jeannie.  It’s good to know our skates still fit and we remember how to skate.  We’ll have to do that again soon, hopefully when it’s less crowded.  It seemed like I spent all my time maneuvering around a kid who fell over in front of me, pretty much every lap around the rink.

Even though my energy level has been up and down, my strength is up these days.  Usually the winter is a difficult time for weightlifting, but it’s been really solid since we got back from California.  My elbow, shoulder and back all feel great, and I just went up in weight on my last few sets of exercises, and I’m going to up on the rest in the new year.  

I’ve been trying to lean in to the season by getting more sleep, and although I must say I’ve never been good at going to be early, I find it easier these days. But try as I might, I remain very busy at work right up to the end of the week, which makes it hard to slack off too much. We’re into a new planning season, and things are always in motion.  I compare myself to water seeking its natural level as I slosh around to the most needful tasks from day to day. Good news, I may have just gotten approval to add another engineer to my team.

And, just in time for the holidays, The Global Jukebox 3.0.1 is now live.  This release was basically a hardening of 3.0, with numerous bug fixes and usability enhancements, an a beautiful new splash screen when you enter the app.

I’ve also been working on a new song, called Head Downtown, and there may a Spacecats record in the offing.  More on that next.

New Recording – A Plague of Frogs

I had a very nice Thanksgiving weekend.  Michelle came home for a visit, and we all went out to Long Island Thanksgiving day, and the rest of the time played some games and watched some movies and slept in every day day caught up on a bunch of random tasks. Among them…

I finally finished the song that could not be finished is finished.  A Plague of Frogs is probably to most complicated song I’ve attempted to record, arrange and produce, in the terms of number of interlocking themes, changes in sound and tone, overall length, and sheer number of tracks and layers.  In the end I made it a battle between sax vs. synth rather than sax vs. guitar, and I really leaned in to the bloopy, buzzy sound of the synthesizer to create an alien vibe.  After I did the synth solo I had to put it aside for a while.  I was in a phase of listening to heavily layered 80’s records like So, Synchronicity and Power Windows and had a bunch more ideas to further develop the arrangement.  But then I got to a place where the build up in the middle section was satisfying, and after that there was nowhere else to go.  I found myself sculpting the sound by taking things away rather than continuing to add more parts, and once that realization hit it was pretty quick to finish up the song and get to a good mixdown.  The rest of the kitchen sink will have to wait for other songs.  

So here it is.

I hope you enjoy!

Pacific Coast Origami Convention 2023

Been to two back-to-back origami conventions.  Catching up with my blog now, picking up the story where we left off…

The 2023 Pacific Coast Origami Convention (PCOC) was at a big fancy hotel right near Union Square.  This conference was supposed to happen in the fall of 2021 but got delayed due to a resurgence of COVID, so we were all really looking forward to it after all this time.

We arrived Thursday evening and ran into a bunch of origami friends in the lobby, including Maria from Bogota, Colombia. Jeannie and took the cable car down to Fisherman’s Wharf and had dinner Pier 39, right on the bay near the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz where the sea lions hang out.  Total tourist stuff, lots of fun.  We got back to the hotel for the first of several late-night folding sessions.  I practiced my Halloween Spider, which I was teaching the next day, and made a small but important improvement to the folding sequence.

First thing Friday was the exhibit setup.  I brought a shoebox full of models in my backpack, which I’d been carrying around the whole trip.  Luckily everything survived being bumped around for a week and was in good shape.  It was a good assortment of animals, spaceships, and single-sheet polyhedra, including most of my newly folded stuff and things I was teaching.  I had a nice, new large elephant folded out of a golden-yellow paper, because I’ve been folding elephants lately to donate to OUSA’s annual holiday tree.

My Halloween Spider class was full and it was among the more complex models I’ve ever attempted to teach, despite my aim to design a relatively simple and easy spider.  The class went over really well, and everyone finished.  I had a document camera to show a close-up view of my work in progress on a projector, and that helped alot.  One kid folded tiny one out to 3″ paper.  Very impressive.

We found a Japanese restaurant near the hotel that served udon and sushi.  Several other groups from the convention were there, and I was able to borrow some paper to fold with, and made an Octopus and Cuttlefish for model menu.

That afternoon I took Jared’s class, a Sea Lion.  We kinda ran out of time toward the end and didn’t really get to do a proper job of the sculpting and shaping.  Too bad, because his version of the model looked pretty nice.  During the class I was able to fold my own California Sea Lion, a new model which I’d only folded once before, two years ago, so I could submit diagrams of it to the convention collection of 2021.  I found out later there was a table or California themed models in the exhibit space, so I put it there.

That evening there was a reception with drinks and food, very yummy, followed by some activities.  I won a copy of Tomoko Fuse’s book Origami Art, and later on she signed it for me.  Tomoko Fuse is one of the world’s great origami artists from Japan, so it was great to meet her.  The book signing was in the shopping area, and Paper Tree was the vendor, so I bought lots of cool papers.  From there we all went into the hospitality area for more folding, which ran well into the night. At one point I went out with some friends on a beer run.  When I returned, Jeannie had brought down the last remaining beers that Dazza had gifted us to share with our table.  

Saturday morning I decided that the golden elephant in my exhibit didn’t really go well color-wise with the others I’d folded for the museum, and anyway it was nice enough that I kind of wanted to keep it.  So I began folding a new elephant in my hotel room.  It was the nicest one yet, made of a 50cm square of whitish marble wyndstone, a.k.a. elephant hide that I’d brought with me.  I folded as far as I could before making it 3-d, then stuck it in the book to finish when I got home.  

That morning my first class was Peter Engel, who was explaining a system of bird designs he came up with for a commission for a sculpture in a corporate lobby.  After that was Tomoko teaching a spiral shell made out of four sheets of paper. I also took a class to fold the Columbus Cube, a cube variation with a sunken corner.  It was a modular but an interesting shape, and during the class I worked out how I could fold it from a single sheet.

At lunchtime Jeannie and I walked to Japantown to visit our friend Linda’s store Paper Tree, one the finest origami shops in America.  I was happy to see they had my Animal Sculptures book for sale there and prominently displayed.  Also lots of paper, other books, and display cases of folded origami, many by Robert Lang.  He’d just done a gallery opening there the night before the convention.  I bought a cool little metal model of a Japanese temple that you can assemble.  We went to a place called Bullet Train Sushi for lunch.  The food was really good, and it was delivered by little trolleys in the shape of the Japanese bullet train that ran the length of the counter.

That afternoon I taught Octopus and Cuttlefish.  This class was full and went over really well too, and gave me a chance to plug my book.  After that I hung around the exhibit for a while, and the hospitality area, talking to other artists.  Saturday night was the banquet, followed by more activities including Chocogami, run by my friend Maria, where you fold a model of a thing depicted in the wrapper of a chocolate bar from Colombia.  This time I got a shark, and it came out pretty well.  It seemed like alot of people asked my to sign their copy of my book at this convention.  Maybe I’m a hit out on the west coast, or maybe I just don’t get out there very often.  In any event, my book is now on its second printing, which is quite gratifying.

Sunday I slept in and then hung around the exhibit and hospitality.  At lunchtime Jeannie and I took a walk to Salesforce Park, the High Anxiety hotel, and the Embarcadero, all together in the same neighborhood.  It was a beautiful day and great to see some of San Francisco and the bay.

After lunch I did my polyhedron talk.  Again it was very well attended, and Tomoko Peter Engle both attended.  At the end there was time for questions, and I got into a great discussion with Peter about single sheet polyhedra and the whole philosophy behind it.  This discussion carried out into the hallway after the class was over.  I’d never met Peter before; he never comes to New York.  It turns out he’s a big fan of my work, particularly my animals.  This was a great compliment to me, because I consider Peter one of the original masters, and his book Angelfish to Zen was a big influence on me early on, in particular the way it connects origami to art, design and philosophy.

Later in the afternoon I took Goran’s class.  He’s doing really interesting stuff with pleating and curved folding.  I also won a book at the silent auction.  It’s an older book in Italian, about folding boats.  I went thru a phase of designing boats after I’d done airplanes and spaceships, and one of the models on the cover reminded me of one of my own designs.

By Sunday evening I was pretty tired.  Lots of our friends were going out to dinner but Jeannie and had dinner at the hotel, because after that we had to catch a cab to the airport.  Before I left I gave my golden elephant to Maria for her collection for the Bogota origami group.  The flight home was a redeye, and I was able to get some sleep.  We landed in NYC as the sun was coming up, and when I got home I went straight to work.  By Tuesday I’d caught up on my rest and was back to normal.  Only a few short days until the next event.  More on that next post.

The Global Jukebox 3.0 is Live!

With all the craziness going on around these days, I’m very happy to announce The Global Jukebox 3.0 is live. You can see it at:

It’s a big release with alot of new stuff. One is that the whole map interface has changed. This we necessitated by mapbox, whose map software we use, sunsetting their old api and introducing an all-new, completely different one. Our map is very complex with lot of data, lots of layers, and different kinds of visualizations, animations and styles on top of it, so this involved a pretty deep restructuring of the code. The original goal was feature parity, but as we got into it, we realized the new api offered affordances with should take advantage of. First was the the map tile load much quicker, and panning and zooming around the map are much smoother, so a bunch of tricks we had to compensate for the shortcomings of the old map could just be thrown out. Another is the new map api supports 3-D projection, with one possible mode being a globe instead of a flat map. We redesigned the visual experience to take advantage of that. The fully zoomed back view allows you to model an atmosphere and background starfield, and even make the Earth turn, so that was fun. Zoomed in, it resembles the previous flat map, but with a great, seamless zoom-in transition. At the end we redesigned the app’s landing page to show off the globe and freshen up the design style.

The other big new feature the introduction of routes, that allow for a unique url for every app state. This in turn allows for sharing links, moving and forward back thru the app, generating a spiderable sitemap so all our songs, cultures, journeys, etc., will show up when google for those things. It turns out the app states are numerous, and sometimes deep and complicated, with lots of edge cases and corner cases. Previously this had been a single page app, so this work required us the think thru all the various states and how they can stack and compound and transition from one to the another. Additionally, the whole app is basically built out of bespoke javascript, so we couldn’t just drop in a framework and retrofit around it. We built our own, of course following best practices for good design patterns.

Martin and I have working the last six month or so on this, with Martin mainly doing the routes and me mainly doing the map. It was a big lift, and I must say he is a great partner to work with. Compared to a lot of software engineers I’ve worked with, I care alot about code quality, not just for it’s own sake, but for extensibility, readability, correct logic, names and abstractions, and very low bug rate. And Martin was right there with me, reasoning things thru, puzzling out thorny problems as the arose, and being patient and meticulous with quality control and attention to detail. I guess it helps that we learned to program computers together as kids, and have similar attitudes and sensibilities as to what make good software and what make a software project worth doing.

And of course I must acknowledge our project director Anna Lomax Wood, without whom none of this would be possible. Her deep knowledge of world folk music and cultural anthropology, her intelligence and positive attitude are all big guiding lights. It’s an honor and a privilege to work her. Kudos too to Kiki who, although has been pretty light-touch on this project recently, has contributed in numerous way including project management, organization, visual and UX design, devops, creating and formatting content, metadata, audio assets, and generally running things over at the Association of Cultural Equity.

Next up, The Global Jukebox 3.1. Stay tuned!

Cadence and Cascade

Over the last month I’ve been really busy with our product launch at work.  The name of the project is Permission Slip, and at its heart is an app that acts as an agent for people excising their online privacy rights.  

The main app is on ios, with a brand-new version now on android, and a backend made in python/django and postgres.  The main development was contracted out to an external software house in Canada.  There’s been some churn over there, and we’re on the third round of managers and engineers. I’ve been doing tech leadership with the team, which coming to the end meant lots of code reviews, acquiring credentials for all the different systems, coordinating with the product and marketing teams, and with apple and google, and doing develops, CI/CD, setting up pipelines from github to our deploy servers. Lots of extra drama about goggle ad tags, goggle auth keys, and back’n’forth with legal over the privacy policy.  And oh yeah, building the web site.  

Building the web site was actually kinda cool and fun, if not for the deadline pressure. Got to learn about QR codes, and do some nice responsive mobile layout in CSS.  By the end of the last week we were in QA, fixing bugs to the very last minute.  We did a pre-launch deploy of the web site and backend, and submitted the app to the apple and google stores.  Everything came together and went fine and there were no bugs or glitches.  Monday we got approved and for sale on google (the ios app already was released) and updated the web site with the goggle links.  We were live, and could take a deep breath of relief.

Tuesday morning our app went live with the “true launch”.  The marketing push included an article in the Washington Post, and on NPR.  Around 11:30 in the morning the app is getting slow due to heavy and we start investigating.

The app had previously gone thru a beta phase, then a soft launch last winter, and we had about 12,000 users.  In about six hours we had over 20,000 new users.  Two days later we were above 50,000.  That was our goal for the whole year.  Over the weekend we passed 100,000.

Being deployed on the cloud, we scaled up our app dynos and added workers, and migrated the DB to a container with 4x the ram.  Investigating, we discovered that the database was the critical bottleneck.  We looked at what are the heaviest queries in terms of both invoked the most often and most expensive to run, and began optimizing the code there and pushing new changes on the backend into production.  Amazingly, all this actually worked, and within a few hours the mischief was managed and things were trending back to normal.  It took until after midnight to get all the loose ends tidied up.  A long day that started with panic, but ended with a big victory.  Being more popular than expected by an order of magnitude is a good problem to have.

Over the next few days we reviewed all the patches we made, and deeper, more robust fixes where necessary.  We were able to deploy and roll back the commits one at a time to really understand the performance impact.  I’m certainly glad now I spent time upfront to develop a deploy pipeline integrated with our code repo; it really paid off.  A few months ago the devs were just deploying from their local dev environments, that would’ve been a huge disaster.  I’m also happy about having in metrics and analytics in place that gave use info we could use and respond to with code changes in real time.  Most of all, I’m very impresses with how everyone on the team came together in problem solving mode and got it done quickly and effectively.

You should know that my job is running a software R&D group within the company.  We have a peer group, that’s more directly tasked with commercialization and productization of R&D projects, and indeed they worked closely with us on the marketing and other things.  But they lost a few key people in the tech and leadership areas in the last few months, so we had to do what was necessary on our own.  And, like I said, we made twice the target number of new users for the year in just three days.  Happily, now our corporate enterprise department wants to migrate our app into their infrastructure, so down the road my team won’t have to worry about devOps and can get back to doing R&D.

That was just one adventure last week.  The second was that it was time to make the class schedule for the upcoming Pacific Coast Origami Conference, happening in San Francisco at the end of October.  This has actually gotten fairly routine.  The tool that Robert Land and I build it working and stable, with the latest round of improvements making it easier to match teachers that want A/V equipment to classrooms that have it.  Also this convention is alot smaller than the OUSA New York Convention in June.  Still the work is over a weekend and tends to be late and night, and there’s always some last minute changes, shuffling, and special considerations to be accommodated.  Anyway, we got it completed without any problems.

Also over the weekend we took a trip up to Buffalo to visit my parents and my kids. It was a pretty quick trip, we drove up Friday night and home Sunday night.  Saturday we visited Michelle on campus, saw her new apartment, which is quite nice, walked around the campus and later went out to dinner at Pizza Plant at Canal Side.  Pizza Plant used to be one of our favorite places when Jeannie and I were dating.  It’s nice that they’re still around and their food is yummy.  Sunday we watched the Bills game with my parents, which for some strange reason was being played in England, where they have an entirely different game called football, and was on at nine in the morning.  After that Lizzy came over for dinner and we all enjoyed and nice afternoon.  And wouldn’t you know, it was rainy on the drive up and home again.

In other news, we’re closing in on the release date for The Global Jukebox 3.0, and I’ve turned the corner from tacking to mixing on my song A Plague of Frogs.  Today I layered up a nice fat, 80’s style synth sound for the part called “Synth 1”, using an analog lead sound, synth brass and strings.

Super Blue

Lest all y’all think life these days is all going to see bands and fun trips to beaches and mountains, I’ve actually been busy with the software thing this whole time too.  A couple of big project milestones in my day job.  Firstly one of my projects, the Data Rights Protocol, has reached version 0.9 and we’re entering the initial deployment phase, which involves passing live data end-to-end among consortium members to implement actionable consumer data rights requests. Meanwhile, we also put up a new web site where you can learn all about it at:

Second, another project of mine, Permission Slip, is going live with version 2.0 of our this week, including an all-new android version of the app. And there’s a new web site for this one too:

Finally, we’re getting very close to releasing version 3.0 of the Global Jukebox.  This is a major rev I’ve been working on for months with Martin.  One big new features is an all-new map visualization that starts with a spinning globe, and is much more powerful, flexible and performant than the old one.  The other big thing is the app now has routes to express the app state as a unique url.  Each of these was a big lift, and we’re now in the final phases of QA and tweaking the styles and messaging on the landing page.  So watch this space for an announcement sometime soon.  But for now you can get a sneak peak on our staging site at:

In the world outside of work, it’s been one of the rainiest Septembers I’ve ever experienced. Three out of the last four weeks it’s rained some or most or even all of the weekend, were’ talking epic, heavy, ark-building rains here, to the point where I’ve only gotten out on my bike one Sunday the whole month for a big ride, and not at all for a weekday evening in the last two weeks.  The days are getting shorter faster, so soon the opportunity for a ride after work will be gone.  

As luck would have it, we did go out to see another concert last weekend.  It was Superblue, a funk-fueled collaboration between Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter, at Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village.  Poisson Rouge turned out to be a pretty nice club, although the waiters were kinda disorganized and incredibly slow.  The band itself was great.  The opening act was the horn section from the main group, backed by a different rhythm section.  They were really fun, funky and entertaining.  At one point the trumpet player switched to tuba and the trombone player to beatboxing, leaving just the sax player.  They did a Stevie Wonder medley which was just mind blowing.

The main act was most excellent too.  Charlie Hunter plays a guitar with extra strings and an octave effect so it functions as both the bass and the guitar for the group.  Needless to say his technique is innovative and incredible, but he spent most of his time in the pocket, just groovin’ and grinnin’.  Kurt himself was great, picking diverse source material such as “Naughty Number Nine” from Schoolhouse Rock, delivering them with powerful, soulful phrasing, and interjecting philosophical soliloquies a la Elwood Blues. 

Just yesterday we were supposed to see yet another shoe, Tuck and Patti at the Irridium, but it got cancelled due to the weather.  There were such heavy rains and flooding in New York City that the seals in the Central Park Zoo escaped their enclosure and were were freely swimming/sliding around the whole zoo.  I guess they went back on their own without having to be rounded up.

Leave the City Behind

Just got back from a great camping adventure up in the Adirondacks. Michelle went back up to school on Friday, and less than hour later Jeannie and lit out for Saranac Lake.  We met up with our friends Mark and Kelly.  The plan was to go camping on Fern Island in Lower Saranac Lake. The site is accessible only by boat, so we were going to paddle out there on canoes, bringing everything we need with us.  This is a whole level more compact and lightweight than car camping, so apart from our tent, sleeping bags and warm clothes, we only brought a minimal amount of cooking stuff and food.  

Unfortunately, it was raining most of the drive up, and after looking like it was clearing up, began raining again on our arrival.  So we decided to bag it the first night and instead went to Lake Placid to see a movie.  The Barbie Movie was the best thing playing, so that was our choice.  It was fun and entertaining, especially the part where Ken gets all patriarchy happy.  I think it completes a trilogy with Toy Story and The Lego Movie, although I’m not sure what the higher level meta-point is of three of them take together.

Saturday morning the weather started to clear up, so we decided to go for it.  Mark and Kelly have a pair of small, lightweight canoes, almost like open-top kayaks.  In addition, we borrowed a larger two-man canoe from Mark’s friend and neighbor Morgan, who had been our D&D party over the winter.  It was a super nice canoe, made of kevlar, light enough to lift with one hand.  We loaded up all three boats with our camping kit and a big load of firewood, and were off. Mark and paddled the bigger boat with most of the stuff.  It was about two miles to the island, about forty-five minutes of paddling.  We started in a small bay but the last part was in open water, and the wind started to come up, the rain clouds blowing by overhead and even a few drops of rain.

But by the time we got to the island the rain had basically stopped. We unloaded and set up out stuff. There was a fireplace and a picnic table and a latrine there.  The island was hilly and rocky, so it was a bit of a challenge to find two relatively flat places to set up our tents.  Mark and Kelly had really compact folding chairs and and generally everything about their kit was a bit more efficient then ours, being optimized for canoe rather than car camping.

After that it was peaceful and beautiful.  We took a hike to the other side of the island (we were the only people there) and looked the lake and more islands over there.  We built a fire and cooked dinner and sat around watching the fire and the water, talking about life the universe and everything well into the night.  The next day it was basically the same thing, and the sun even came out!  We spotted some wildlife on the island including a giant toad, some newts, a loon up close, and heard an eagle in the trees.

Mid afternoon it was time to go, since Jeannie and I had to drive back to New York City.  So we packed down our stuff and loaded it onto the big canoe.  Mark came along with us in one of the smaller boats so he could restock the firewood supply; he and Kelly were staying another two nights.  Jeannie was a little nervous in the big canoe with all our stuff, because a couple summers ago we were canoeing up there and we capsized after a power boat passed us and swamped us with its wake.  But she did fine, and I generally steered our bow into the wake of any passing boat to avoid side-to-side rocking, and she got more comfortable handling the waves and being out in the water with motorboats around.

We stopped for dinner on the way home at Lake George, at a restaurant overlooking the lake and the marina.  Nice end to a great weekend.