May Happenings

Spring continues in fits of rain and storms amidst a nice day here and there.  I’ve been trying to shake off a cold for the last week.  It feels strange having a cold when it’s eighty-five degrees outside.  Now it seems I’m finally mostly better.  I had a good workout today and hope to get back on my bike tomorrow, and get caught up on the yardwork over the next few days.

Still been doing stuff.  Last weekend Jeannie and I took a fun day to go into the city.  We started with a stroll thru Central Park, and it was a lovely day for it, sunny if a bit brisk and breezy.  The main attraction of the afternoon was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I haven’t been to since before the pandemic.  Spent most of our time in the Ancient Greek and Roman collections, as well as the Middle East and Asia, the modern wing, and of course the musical instruments and arms and armor galleries.  Afterwards we crossed thru the park again and had dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant, in part to celebrate Jeannie’s recent promotion at her job!

That evening we saw Kamasi Washington at the Beacon Theater.  He put on a great show.  His sound continues to evolve, now incorporating a DJ and some dancers into his large, sci-fi band.  It’s a great sound with two drummers, a standup bass with effects, piano and synth, trombone, vocalist, and Kamasi’s tenor sax over everything.  Lots of big extended-jam pieces with great rises in energy.  Lots of fun.

Then I was back in the city Thursday and Friday for an onsite for my job, with a bunch of people coming in from out of town including my friend Annmarie from Chicago and Sukhi from D.C..  Thursday night we all went out to dinner and afterwards ended up at the rooftop bar of the Harvard Club (my boss Ginny is an alum) until closing time.  Lots of fun, much more open and enjoyable than your typical work social function.  Sincerely good people.  Or maybe it’s just that since we all mainly work remote, it just feels like a special occasion when we get together.  In any event Friday I gave a demo of my current R&D project, which integrating the Data Rights Protocol into Permission Slip, our privacy app.  Been making good progress and this is a key milestone for wider adoption of the protocol among industry partners.

Friday Lizzy came home for a visit with her boyfriend Josh.  They came up from Philly, where they did a little trip see a ball game and some museums and the zoo.  Saturday her grandparents came up for a visit and we had the first barbecue of the season.  Again it was a bit chilly our, so I made a fire in our firepit, which was very nice. 

The mixing of the Spacecats record is nearly complete, and I must say it sounds quite good.  Gavin came by for a mixing session a couple weeks ago, so I got the benefits of his ears and skills.  Now I’m basically up to final mastering.  The next step is to come up with an album cover, and then I can get CD’s made and get it place on the streaming services.  The band wants to try and do a group picture, but unfortunately some of our our out of town the next few weeks, so it may be a while before we can get that together.  Ah well, I can work on an illustration and  rest of the text and graphics in the meantime.

Origami Coast to Coast

Okay so, still trying to catch up with the story.  Before I dive in, I will say it’s the darkest time of year nowadays, and on top of that they changed the clocks last week, so I feel like it starts getting dark around two or three in the afternoon, and it’s a challenge to keep your energy level up and balanced.

Anyway, we got home from California two weeks ago Monday morning, and Monday night I finished my supply of elephants for AMNH.  Jeannie was working in the city the next day, so she hand delivered them to the the museum.  Since I’d given away all my recently folded elephants, including the golden one from my PCOC exhibit, I made one more during the week, this one from a 50cm square of red wyndstone paper.  Friday evening we were off to Boston to another origami event the OrigaMIT conference.  Our friend Adrienne, who we were hanging out with in San Francisco, recently moved back to Brooklyn from Texas, so we gave her a ride.  She was staying with our other friend Brian, so we got hang out with him a bit Friday night.  In addition to origami, Brian is into robots, 3-D printers, insect photography, anime and a bunch of other things, so his house is full of fascinating stuff.

The OrigaMIT convention is a one-day event that starts early Saturday.  It’s usually in the student center, but that’s closed this year, so it was in the engineering building.  It was fun to see a part of MIT campus I hadn’t been to before (been mostly to the student center and the Media Lab back in the day).  Brian showed us some robots he built for his thesis project that mimicked the movement of snails.  To get there we went down a hallway called the Infinite Corridor, but the name is an exaggeration; it’s just really really long.

In the morning I set up my exhibition, which had its own room this year.  I gave my talk on Single-Sheet polyhedra for the fourth time at four different conventions.  After this I’ll retire and think of a new topic, or at least wait a few years until I have an update to give.  The talk went over well and the discussion at the end was interesting, with a different audience wanting know about different things.  A group of us went to lunch we got to for a walk thru the far side of the campus and around Cambridge.  In the afternoon I taught my Octopus and Cuttlefish.  There was no document camera in the room, so I improvised a stand for my phone and hooked it up the the room’s projector.  This worked great for ten minutes or so until my phone went to sleep and I couldn’t get it to connect again after it woke up.  So I finished the old fashioned way, folding a model out of large paper and holding it up for everyone to see after each step. 

After that I went back the exhibit area, which was also the vendor area.  I ended spending a couple hours talking to Michael and Richard of Origamido.  Michael was fascinated by the single-sheet polyhedra thing so I gave him a short, personalized version of my talk.  Richard told us about a cool sculpture garden he knows of, not far from where I live.  Origamido paper, as you may know, is handmade by Michael and Richard in small batches for the purpose doing advanced origami, and widely considered the best in the world.  For many years I did not buy much of it because it’s very thin, which is not useful for my style of folding.  However, they’re now making thicker papers, including some duo-color ones made by laminating two sheets together, so I just had to buy a bunch.  I want to fold a bunch of photo-worthy models I’ve designed over the last few years, to update my web site and for my next book.

We drove home Saturday night, and Sunday we were not yet accustomed to the new clock situation.  It’s getting to the point were every time we have a nice day it might be the last one until next April.  It’s already too cold in the mornings for a big bike ride, so it looks like that’ll have to wait until the springtime to pick that up again.  I decided to take the mustang out, possibly for the last time of the season, and we combined it with a light hike around the sculpture garden Richard had told us about.  It’s at the Pepsi corporate headquarters in Purchase, NY, and indeed is a very pleasant stroll around some well manicured lawns and gardens, featuring an array of so-so to really impressive outdoor sculptures.

Finally this last weekend Lizzy was home for a quick visit after attending a conference for her work in Philadelphia; it was very nice to see her, and good that she’s doing well.  Then there was one last origami event, a Special Folding Session at the American Museum of Natural History on Sunday.  I taught my Octopus and Cuttlefish one more time, and this time the group was small enough I could just show them across the table.  More than half my class was extremely talented kids, with the youngest ones being in the fourth grade.  One kid in middle school brought a copy of my book and asked me to sign it, and said he was my greatest fan.  He seemed know know alot about my models and could fold many of them.  After my class was over I went outside for a walk around Central Park at lunchtime, from the Belvedere thru the Ramble over the Bow Bridge and back up past Strawberry Field.  I hadn’t been there in many years, so it was fun getting reacquainted with a place I used to know well.

Now finally we have no travel plans coming up, and no events or concerts or anything.  I’m looking forward a few weeks of cozying up against the cold and dark and making progress on some random tasks.  Of course random tasks can turn into a slog, with the darkness and all, but I’m carrying on. I’ll let all y’all know when there’s news about any big updates.

Summer Time

And the livin’ is easy.  Moving right on from the OUSA convention to the next adventure, with barely time to put down our bags.  We just got back from a trip up to Buffalo to visit family and friends.  Drank some beer, grilled some steaks and dogs and burgers, took some walks in the park, watched some fireworks.  Very languid, very relaxing.  I feel like it’s been one continuous spell of focus and getting things done since the new year, so it was a welcome stretching out of time.

On the trip up we stopped by Watkins Glen and hiked the trail up the canyon overlooking the river and rapids and waterfalls.  Very scenic, very impressive.  The next day we got together for a fancy dinner at a restaurant downtown with Lizzy, and with Larry and Jackie and three of their kids and Timothy’s girlfriend.  A great time, lots of catching up and storytelling.  After dinner we went to the bar around the corner where Lizzy plays trivia, and continued, and after that even lingered in the parking lot as everyone tried to get in one last story about camping and bears.  On the third Martin and his family came down and stayed for the fourth.  Beers, birthday cake, hanging out, rollerblading, fireworks.  Did I mention it was languid and relaxing?

On the way up there my car started having problems with the air conditioner.  This seemed to fix itself, but then there was a leak in the power steering.  On top of this, the car seems to have mysteriously acquired some scratches sometime in the last few weeks.  Ah well, I guess it’s getting to be kind of old.

Saturday we went to the Pleasantville Music Festival, a local outdoor rock show a few towns up from us.  We’ve been meaning to go and check it out for years.  It was a fun time, and the venue was very well run.  The festival featured a beer tent and food and a bunch of pretty good if rather low-imagination pop-punk bands on the secondary stage.  On the main stage we saw the Allman-Betts band, an Allman Brothers tribute band by two of the sons of members of the original group.  They played about half originals and half Allman Brothers classics, all very good.  There were some old guys in the band on Hammond organ and slide guitar, that were probably the glue holding the thing together.

The headliner was They Might Be Giants.  I haven’t seen them live in probably twenty years, last time being at a bandshell in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.  They put on a great show, having fun and mixing it up.  Their new songs sound great, and there’s always a twist on their classic hits.  The current touring lineup has a horn section of a trombone, tenor sax and trumpet, all also doubling on other horns such as the euphonium, bari sax and pocket trumpet.  Each of the them had an excellent featured solo.  The trumpet player in particular was amazing, and used to be part of Conon O’Brien’s TV show band.

Also this weekend we got back to doing bike rides.  Sunday I went for sixteen miles, and the girls for ten along the local trail.  On the return half of the ride, suddenly the sky opened up and we got drenched in the pouring rain.  Nothing for it but to keep on riding.  By the end of the trip the sun was coming out again.  We got home, only a ten-minute car ride away, and it hadn’t rained here at all.

While I was upstate, I came up with an album cover for my upcoming record Plutonium Dirigible, and a new web page to go with it, with the latest links to all the songs, as well as the lyrics and stories about writing and recording the various songs.  This led to an update of my whole music site, which will be finished soon.   Enjoy.

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.  

Stepping Out

It feels like just a few short weeks ago that spring arrived, and now it feels like full-on summertime. It was hot over the weekend, up in the 90’s, and we put in our air conditioners.

We just got back from a road trip to pick Michelle up from college, and Jeannie and I took a mini-vacation along the way. On the way up to Buffalo, we stopped in Ithaca. The motivation was to see Joe Jackson, playing with his band at a theater there in town. The show was great. Joe’s songs are always great and the band was really hot. Joe did a solo spot of four or five songs with him just singing and playing piano. The theater was this really cool old art-deco venue, very ornate, good sound.

The next day we spent pretty much the whole day hiking around lake Cayuga and some waterfalls. Very relaxing, beautiful scenery and a beautiful day for it. Went out to dinner that night at a Mexican place across the street from the place we went the night before. Ithaca is a cute little college town with a downtown district maybe four five blocks long. Our hotel was on the outskirts of town, with a trial to a waterfall right out the door.

Next day we spent to morning at the Corning Museum of Glass. We must have driven past it a hundred times over the years, but the kids were never interested. When I told them we were going to check it out, at first they thought I was joking. In any event, it’s vary cool, with a whole big gallery space, in which the pieces range from pretty cool to totally amazing. Another section is all about glass technology, including things like modern forming and shaping techniques, and applications such as telescope mirrors, space shuttle windows, car windshields and computer touchscreens. A third section is about the history of glass, with artifacts from all over the world, going back to the time of ancient Egypt. There was also an interactive area where you could watch live demos of blowing glass, other sculptural techniques, and breaking glass too. There was even a thing where you could blow your own glass bowl or ornament, but we found out about that too late. Now we’ll have to come back another time.

We arrived in Buffalo in the afternoon and went to visit Lizzy. Unfortunately, on the way there she texted us that she’d just tested positive for covid. I had brought up her bicycle because she wanted to ride it this summer. So we handed it off in her driveway, keeping a safe distance. Her hanging out with us was right out, so that was that. Next day she said she’s feeling better, so that’s good news.

Then we went up to the UB campus to pack a carload of Michelle’s stuff to store at my parent’s house. Next morning we came back to get the rest of her things, then back to my parents for a barbecue. We hit the road home later that afternoon. Now we’re back to three in the house again.

In other news, my blog here has been having repeated outages, and the tech support has been just useless and miserable, so I’m in the process of dropping my web host and moving to a new service provider. You can preview it at:

Right now it’s just a few test posts, and I’m working on customizing the visual theme. Hopefully that won’t take too long, and then I can go ahead and do the migration. So watch this space.

Hello City

Spring continues to warm and grow. All the trees around here are budding and flowering. Lots of lovely sunny weather, and some heavy rainy days as well. Project dirt is nearing completion. I’m up to fifty-four wheelbarrow loads, getting to final low spots in the front yard. There’s grass coming already in on the areas I filled in earlier on.

I’ve been into Manhattan not once but twice last week. The first was a trip to the MoMA, keeping with our tradition of spring break museum outings. I haven’t been to the MoMA in years. Parts of the joint are kinda funky these days, with the main floor being filled with stacked up furniture taken from around the museum as a pandemic precaution, in lieu of an actual exhibit, and the nearby galleries filled with things of dubious artistic merit, such as jars of bodily fluids. The upper floors were better, with lots of impressionist, early modernist, and classic modern art. I seem to recall there used to be an extensive industrial design collection, but it appears that it’s been scaled back a good amount. The famous Ferrari was not on display. Still, most of what there was to see was pretty cool, and it was an enjoyable day out of the house, and stepping back into a hopefully soon-to-be post-pandemic world.

My other trip was for a lunch with the Association for Cultural Equity gang, to celebrate the recent launch of the Global Jukebox 2.1, as well as the new Alan Lomax Digital Archive. This was most excellent. It was great to see Anna and Kiki face to face again, and meet her current grad fellows and some ACE board members. It was a beautiful day in Greenwich Village and they picked a place with great food and drinks, and breezily open to the outside. Afterwards I walked around my old neighborhood for a while, seeing how things had changed. Driving into the city on a weekday in daytime remains a strange and epic adventure, not to be repeated too often.

Now that my song Mo’bility is in the can, I’ve turned my attention back to Lift Off. I’ve come to the conclusion that on the computer it’s never going to sound the way it does in my head, which is alot like classic bebop recorded live by great players full of extroverted virtuosity and expressive spontaneity. So it’s time to get a bit more creative about the sound and the arrangement. First thing is to see if I can put together a really smokin’ sax part from the takes I did, or if I need to keep on woodshedding. Meanwhile I’ve begun working on the last song for the record Bluezebub (The Devil You Don’t Know). It’s a sort of Crimso Mahavishnu Mancini supernatural spy jazz vibe, in 5/4 time, with an uptempo middle section and unison riff break in there somewhere too.

In the spirit of new awakenings, I’ve started to get back into doing origami again. A little over a year ago I took an awesome trip to Spain for CFC2, the second Conference for Creators in origami. I folded a bunch of new stuff for the exhibition, and met alot of great folders from Europe, and good number of old friends too. When I got home I was really fired up to do some new stuff. But then the pandemic happened, and all the conventions were cancelled, and anyway I was busy writing software for OUSA. I sort of lost my creative fire and didn’t really fold anything for a year.

Then a week ago was Fold Fest, sponsored by Origami USA. It was an online event, and the first one I attended since OUSA’s Un-Convention last June. I attended a few classes and connected wit some friends and had a good time. And a bunch of ideas I’ve been working on in the back of my head for a while came to the fore. So I’ve been folding like a madman in my spare time the last week or so. Hopefully I’ll have something to show soon. For now let’s just say I’m combining flowers, tessellations and single-sheet polyhedra. Meanwhile, it makes the time go by faster when you’re stuck in boring meetings.

Well I Never Been to Spain, Parts I & III

I just got back from a fantastic trip to Spain to attend an origami conference, the CFC or Conference for Creators in Zaragoza. I took Jeannie with me, and along the way we spend a few days in Barcelona, a beautiful city.

We flew out on the redeye Tuesday night and landed in Barcelona Wednesday morning. The first thing we wanted to see was the famous Basílica de la Sagrada Família designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí. It was a nice walk from our hotel.

La Sagrada Família is well nigh indescribable. It’s been under construction for over 130 years and still not finished. Giant, ambitious, architecture as high art, at once deeply traditional and fiercely, playfully radical. Completely mind blowing. I mean, we’ve seen some of great European cathedrals, and I get to whole thing with the totality of symbolism, faith and grace made stone. But this takes it to whole ‘nuther level. For one thing it’s huge. When it’s finished it will be the tallest building in the city and the tallest church in the world. The outside is a riot of sculpture and symbolism and crazy spires and multiple, conflicting styles. So busy it almost makes you queasy. Inside is a maybe the largest room I’ve ever been in, and even though there’s alot going on visually it’s minimalistic compared to the façades, grandly ordered and strangely tranquil, like being a forest of giant redwoods made of stone. I could go on but words really do not convey the experience.

We walked down to the marina district near our hotel, where lots of yachts were parked, and got our first close up look at the Mediterranean Sea. There was a sort of boardwalk there where lots of people came to jog and bike and just hang out. We watched the sun go down and then headed back to the hotel for dinner of yummy Spanish food.

Next day we got up and had breakfast in the hotel. It seems Spain is big on thinly sliced smoked ham and thick sliced meaty bacon, and also lots of fish and seafood. And I gotta say the bacon, with farm fresh eggs, is totally awesome for breakfast. Also local cheeses and of course cappuccino and croissants.

Our first destination Thursday was the Picasso Museum. On the walk over we passed thru a really cool park full of gardens and fountains and statues and a sort of grand structure like an open air art deco temple. I also noticed they have giant ducks in Spain that we don’t have at home.

The Picasso Museum itself was really cool. It’s in a old neighborhood of winding street too narrow for cars, although that doesn’t stop all of them. The building used to be some sort of old palace or mansion for some noble; parts of it are hundreds of years old and it’s been modified at least a few time over the centuries. The bottom level is full of interlocking courtyards and long, vaulted concourses. The galleries are all upstairs. Most of it was plain white walls, but one room was kept in it’s original (?) condition, so ornately rococo it looked like it belonged in Schloss Schönbrunn.

Picasso went to art school in Barcelona, and the museum has alot of his early work. He was a master of the realist style and did quite a few landscapes and portraits, and dabbled in a few different takes on surrealism before he really came into the style he’s famous for. So it was cool to see that development unfold. I also noticed in some photographs he had a crooked nose, and I wonder if his whole style grew out of an inability to be at peace with that. His antigeometric faces began with just a bit of asymmetry around the nose and eyes, and took off from there.

We wandered around the city some more, and made our way to the beach, which was not too far. I stuck my hand in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, and Jeannie got her feet wet.

There was a tram nearby the went over the harbor and up to Montjuïc, a hill in the heart of the city and a meter higher than the Gaudi basilica. Up on top was nice views of the city and place for lunch, chicken croquets and local beer. Lots of food prepared with tomatoes too. Jeannie had a memory the the Olympic diving pool from the ’92 games was up there somewhere so we hiked around to try and find it, but didn’t know exactly were to look.

Later on, back at the beach we had dinner at at Barcelona’s idea of an American style beach bar. I had a burger that of course had bacon and fried egg on top. Jeannie got a seafood dish, a plate of fried whole prawns, heads and all. Maybe it was just the drink menu that was American style, with things like Long Island Iced Tea and Cosmopolitans.

In the evening we got on the train to take us to the origami conference in Zaragoza. It’s about 4 hours away by car, but the train goes 300 km/hr, so it’s only about an hour and half.

Monday morning were on the train again, coming back from Zaragoza, and on to a monastery called Montserrat, in the mountains outside of town. The train to Montserrat was part of the local subway system, although it was mostly above ground once it got out of the city center. At the base of the mountain we transferred to a cog railroad that took us halfway up the mountain to where the monastery is.

The mountains themselves are really weird looking, all puffy and cartoonish with lots of bizarre peaks and mounds, cliff faces and deeply cleft valleys. Close up the stone is unusual, soft sandstone full of rocks ranging from pebbles to good sized stones, so it almost looks like concrete. The range is not long, but it’s pretty high, a dramatic local upthrust.

The monastery is nestled right in the side of the mountain. There’s a whole complex there with a beautiful gothic church, a courtyard, shops and restaurants, an art museum with some really cool stuff including a bunch of medieval religious art, presumably from the monastery’s past, and alot of famous painters and sculptors, spanning from classical to modern, mostly Spanish but also French, Italian, Dutch and others.

From there you can take the funicular up to the top of the mountain. We hiked along the trails to the various peaks. To the south you can see Barcelona and the sea. To the north the snow-capped Pyrenees near the French border. To the east it’s hills and to the west high plains and desert. There’s even a shrine to Sant Joan up there.

There’s also some interesting plants and birds. There’s a very distinctive black and white bird I’ve never seen before. About the size of a crow, but much prettier. There’s also a variety of cyprus tree that grows around there, tall and thin and very dense so it looks like it’s been pruned. They tend to grow in clumps or rows. Almost certainly the inspiration for Guidi’s Nativity Façade. There’s also palm trees (not so much on the mountaintop, but all over town), and pine trees and cacti and other succulents. In fact it’s alot like California. Even the weather is similar, very mild and often foggy.

Then we caught the same set of trains in reverse order and were back in Barcelona. Our hotel the first leg of the trip was out near the beach, but this time were in the middle of downtown, right near one of the main train stations. We were pretty tired by the time we got back to the hotel, but luckily there was a row of restaurants right across the street. We found a great Lebanese place that serves shawarma and things like that.

I didn’t have a problem with the language. I didn’t really study up on Spanish like I did with German and Hungarian for the last trip. Still I was able to read the signs and understand a bit of conversation. Alot of people spoke english, but when they didn’t I found I could still communicate well enough to order food and that kind of thing. However I found myself wanting to say “danke” instead of “gracias” all the time.

Tuesday was the last day of the trip. We spent the morning walking around the neighborhood. Right next to our hotel was another funky park, and past that another picturesque old neighborhood. We made our way to Montjuïc from the opposite side, happened upon some castle, and past that the big Catalonia art museum. Spain seems to have alot of great artists and holds them in high regard. Although we didn’t have time to go inside, the grounds around it were pretty impressive, as was the architecture.

Then it was back the airport and home. Cold and rainy New York City.

Bunny Hop and Duck Walk

Happy Easter everyone! Been busy as usual. Lots going on. Busy at work writing lots and lots of code. April came and is almost gone in a flash. Spring is here.

We didn’t have much of a spring break this year, just a couple days off. Lizzy came home for a long weekend, and we all went out to Queens for Easter Sunday with the family. Mary’s were there and Denis and his whole family were in town too. Very nice time.

Today we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I haven’t been there in four years and they had a special exhibit on rock’n’ roll musical instruments. Very cool. The first thing you see is Chuck Berry’s guitar from Johnny B. Goode. A couple rooms later you’re in a room with Jimmy Page’s Les Paul that he used on all the Led Zeppelin songs, Jimi Hendrix’s Flying V, and Eddie Van Halen’s original Frankenstrat. A couple rooms after that it’s Keith Emerson’s live rig with the Hammond organs complete with knives stuck in the keys, and his original monster Moog. I’d seen that rig close up once before when I saw Keith Emerson Band and you could go up to stage at intermission. It’s nice to see it even more up close and check out all the customization. Lot and lots of other famous historical instruments: Clarence Cleomon’s sax, the Born to Run semi-Telecaster, the synth and echoplex used on Fly Like and Eagle, a mellotron, the Stairway to Heaven Gibson doublenck, the Theremin from Whole Lotta Love, Ringo’s drums and George’s 12-string Rick, and on and on. So many iconic instruments I recognized. Totally amazing.

While we were there we took in a bunch of other halls of the museum, including the historical musical instruments collection, the arms and armor, the Greco Roman, Mid-Eastern and East Asian art, and even a bit of modern and classical paintings. Lots and lots of cool stuff. Good to take a break from the day-to-day and expand your consciousness and creativity a bit.

With my little rock band it’s all drama these days. After one rehearsal our new drummer decided not to join after all, and so we had to arrange another round of auditions in a hurry. We got a new new drummer now, Adrian, who seems like a nice guy and is a very good player. Which is a good thing, because we have one more rehearsal before the start of a string of ten or so gigs that run thru July. The first one is at Rudy’s in Hartsdale on Friday night, May 3. So come out if you can.

We have a few jazz gigs coming up too. The first is Saturday May 10 at the Green Growler in Croton, and it should be really good. We’ll be debuting three new originals.

A couple weeks ago I went to the music store to get new reeds, and while I was there I picked up a copy of the John Coltrane Omnibook. If you’re a sax player you know the original Charlie Parker Omnibook is an all-time classic music text; it’s a transcription of lot and lots of Charlie Parker solos. I studied in high school, it took maybe two years to work my thru from start to finish. Now they’ve expanded the series and made a bunch of books out of the solos of a bunch of great players.

Compared to Bird, Trane’s work is just astoundingly diverse in terms of mood, style and what kind of ideas he was into with harmonic development at any given time. The book is also about twice as thick as Bird’s. Still a common thread runs thru it all from his early bluesy stuff, his work with Miles, the sheets of sound era and the later, really out-there stuff.

There’s something really magical about sight reading. The first song in the book is Acknowledgment, the opening movement to A Love Supreme, which is basically a concept album built out of a 3-note riff. It’s a record I’ve listened to a million times but never tried to figure out by ear. So it was really something to read it down and let it flow thru you, straight from your eyes to your fingers without much mind in between, just being a channel. Then it comes back to you thru your ears and it hits you; you’re just floored hearing the whole thing exactly as is sounds. I never knew I could play that! You can look at it and all his secrets are right there. And then with a bit of practice you can pick them out and work them into your playing. Which is nice because as I said we have a few jazz gigs coming up, and will be heading into the studio sometime soon.

Stormy Monday

We’re still waiting for spring to arrive in earnest. The weather has been mainly cold and windy. I did get the Mustang out and on the road last weekend, but I didn’t take it on the highway yet cuz once I was out a realized I ought to check the tires before I get it up to high speed. Last Friday it was actually warm and sunny in the afternoon, and I went out to lunch in the neighborhood with friends at work. But then Saturday it turned cold and windy again, and Sunday was gusty and ominous the whole day.

Yesterday I went into the city to teach origami at the Museum of Natural History. I hadn’t done it in a while and it was alot of fun. A kid in my class brought a copy of my book, and after we folded my Flying Fish, we went on to do the Giant Squid, one of the more complicated models in the book. Kid is only in fourth grade and is already a very advanced folder, with great technique. I haven’t folded much of anything the last couple months, so it’s good to start thinking about getting something new together for the convention in June.

Michelle came with me and took a class in the morning, doing crystal/snowflakes, and we toured the museum in the afternoon. I always love the dinosaur halls on the top floor. This time there was a special exhibit of a cast/reconstruction of some gigantic sauropod a hundred and twenty-two feet long! Unbelievable.

Today we awoke to a tempestuous downpour with widespread flooding, making the morning commute a cold, wet mess. You couldn’t drive faster than 20 mph and lot of local roads were closed, so there were detours and traffic jams. Everyone was like an hour late. The pond is in effect in our neighbor’s backyard.

Work continues on completing the Haven Street record and getting CD’s made. I created artwork for the album cover. After rehearsal last week we decided to get some photos of the neighborhood around our rehearsal studio, since it’s a funky industrial zone with some character. I got a shot of a street sign, which turned out to be a great cover image. Then for the back and inside I got some more shots, mainly of sky, but it was a cloudy day with a moody tone, and over that a crazy crisscross of telephone poles and wires, and some treetops still clinging to last winter. Perfect backdrop for text and images. On the inside I dropped in some of the pictures of us from the recording session, and on the back all the song names and other info. The whole thing hangs together nicely. All that remains is to finalize it in the format to deliver to the CD dup house. I think I may need to put a barcode on there too.

In any event, the whole thing will be available soon. Meanwhile you can get a preview on SoundCloud at: