Caroling Caroling Near and Far

It was a busy weekend. Friday nite we continued on our quest to watch all the Lord of the Rings movies, which we began around Thanksgiving. I haven’t seen them in a couple of years, so they’re fresh again. Up to the middle of The Two Towers now. Jazz on Saturday had been moved to an earlier time slot, but is sounding better than ever after a few weeks off and a rusty start. We want to record our next practice to try and get some gigs. I’m gonna have to really learn how to play Giant Steps now. Yikes!

On Saturday nite we got our Xmas tree and all of the decorations up. This was complicated by the fact that our old tree stand was kaput, and after an hour of trying we had to face the fact it would not hold up the tree no matter what we did. So we had to run out and get another tree stand Saturday night, and even then it was hard to get the tree up straight. But we muddled through somehow. Sunday evening Jeannie and Michelle put up a lego train around it. Choo-choo!

Sunday morning I was in the city, teaching an origami session at the Museum of Natural History. It was more airplanes and spaceships, pretty much the same stuff I taught at MIT a few weeks ago. But in the meanwhile I diagrammed two more models: my Astronaut and my Space Probe. Both came in right around 25 steps.

This session was also webcast. It was my first time doing that and it went well. They provided a camera on a stand pointing down at the table, coupled to a computer running a group video chat so I could easily teach both the people in the room and the ones on the internet at the same time.

The level of folders, at least the local ones, was not at the MIT level. They were low intermediate at best, and some didn’t know alot of the basics. So a few of my models were actually pretty challenging for them. Still, we got thru four: the Astronaut, Rocketship III, UFO II and Space Pod, and all the students did well. It was a good learning experience as an author and teacher. I was wondering if these models might be too hard for a book targeted at non-expert folders. My conclusion is that some may be tough for a raw beginner, but with just a little experience most folders should not alot of fun and have much trouble.

Michelle came with me and took a class. She never misses a chance to do an origami event these days. She folded a really cool mouse, and then made about a dozen of them in rainbow colors. People are telling me now what a good folder she’s become.

This evening Lizzy and Michelle sang at a Lessons and Carols service at the church in Bronxville. It was a large group, anchored by the church choir Lizzy recently joined, and augmented by the children’s chorus from YAA, a really good organist on a great pipe organ, and a brass and timpani ensemble. Apparently today before the show was the only time all three sub-groups rehearsed together.

This is the first time I heard the choir, and I must say there are excellent, truly at a professional level. Lizzy is one of four first sopranos, and the youngest person in the choir. There are two other girls from her youth group but most are adults. They were doing very advanced and complex arrangements with all kinds of counterpoint and harmonies, lots of suspended and other non-triadic intervals, call-and-response things, interleaving voices, and they pulled it all off beautifully. Covered alot of emotional territory too, from haunting to joyous. I only know about three of the songs, but it was the best thing I’ve heard in a while. Also today I learn that unlike the Catholics, the Episcopalians still dress nicely to go to church.

Party On

Our D&D campaign has really hit its stride lately. Our duo of Orphan Witches, Joy and Emma, accompanied by Zoe, a rogue with a heart of gold, arrived at the Keep on the Borderlands and joined forces with a trio of Dwarves (because Dwarves always travel in groups whose count is a prime number). They are Grimli, son of Groin, and his kinsfolk Glumli and Chumli, of the Redshirt clan. I added them to the party since they were light on fighters, and playing NPC’s it gives me a chance to fight on the side of the good guys and provide some (grim, Dwarvish) counsel to the players. I’m having fun with the NPC’s, and am planning on having them come and go as need warrants, to help the party on various stages of their quest. The party still needs a healer, since they’ve already used up most of their stock of healing potion after the first major combat. I’m going to provide some kind of Elvish Druid I think, maybe named Elvis.

In any even the combat went really well, with Zoe mixing it up in melee combat, Lizzy summoning a dire spider and Michelle wielding both acid and frost, and even stepping up to slay a goblin with her dagger.

I’m playing under 3.5 rules, and so far it’s worked fine just substituting the 3.5 version of the monsters in the Monster Manual for the ones in the. We’ve been fighting alot of Orcs and Goblins of lately, which is confusing for me as DM because I’m also reading the Lord of the Rings on the train these days (more on that in a separate post), and in Tolkien’s world “orc” is the Elvish word for “goblin”, from the orcish word “urak” which is what they call themselves. Meanwhile in Gygax’s world, Orcs and Goblins are two distinct creatures.

Also, we’ve now got proper minis for the party and a host of monster. We’re using lego minifigs, which are a bit larger than your standard mini, so I’m thinking of redrawing our battlemap at an inch and quarter per five foot square rather than an inch.

Catching Up

I haven’t really had a chance to give a general update since the start of the school year back in early September. My deadline at work come and gone. The new rev of my product is in QA with the release slated for 11/15. It seems like I’m always in the middle of things.

It’s November now, halfway to winter break. Although the weather is starting to turn cold at night, it’s been really warm until a couple days ago. One day last week I walked up thru Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History to drop off my origami models for the holiday tree, and the temperature was in the 70’s. Now it’s in the 30’s in the mornings. Time to break out the hats and warm socks.

Jeannie and I got back to our house painting project. In the fall of 2008 into the winter we painted all three bedrooms, including the ceilings, plus touch-up in the living room, halls, kitchen and downstairs room. Last winter we didn’t do anything cuz I hurt my back. So this fall and winter we’re gonna finish the house. We did the ceilings in the upstairs hall, kitchen stairs and half the living room a couple weekends ago, and then the high part of the living room last weekend. It looks great and was not an overwhelming amount for work. We started Friday night with the taping up and edging. Saturday we did the roller work, and were done by mid-afternoon. The hardest part was the stairs because we needed the big ladder, which is hard to move around. We did the high part of the ceiling in one night. The only difficulty was that the extension handle to the roller broke midway thru, so I did a lot of trips up and down the ladder. The plan now is sometime before Christmas do the ceiling in the downstairs. Then it’s down to touching up the trim, which we’ll start after the new year.

We’ve had some time for fun in there too. Way back in September, we went to the Maker Faire when it visited NYC. Had fun playing with robots and electric hula hoops. Plus the event was at the New York Hall of Science, which I’d never been to before. Jeannie and the girls had been and love the place, and they’re right – it’s very cool. In particular there’s a really great discovery playground. It was also the first outing as a family with the new Prius. Tons of Prii in the parking lot. Don’t know if it’s just the effect of noticing when you get a new car, or maybe the Maker Faire is the kind of event that tends to attract the same kind of people that drive a Prius anyway.

We took a day trip up to a farm near New Paltz in October. Met up with Martin and family, and picked apples and pumpkins. Came home with three giant pumpkins, which have been carved into jack-o-lanterns and placed on the front stoop, where they are now serving as squirrel food. When we were done at the farm we went into town for lunch, and ended up walking around the historical district, where houses dating back to 1705 and older are still standing as a sort of park or museum. Pretty neat. The motivating excuse for the outing was to give Prius a good run on the highway. The car did not disappoint. It got 46 mpg.

Inspired by Maker Faire Jeannie finally got around to getting herself a Lego robot kit from her gambling winnings way back from our trip to Tahoe. While she was at it, she picked up a minifig of Jedi Master Yoda to hang from the rearview mirror of her car. “It’s a toy Yoda for my Toyota, see?”.

A friend lent us season one of the new Battle Star Galactica. The idea is to make it our main video entertainment for the coming winter. So far we’ve only had a chance to watch the pilot, which was excellent. I’d forgotten what a compelling actor Edward James Olmos is. I hope does some origami in this show.

Somewhere in there Jeannie and I celebrated our anniversary, Halloween (Lizzy was an aqua witch and Michelle a devil), and put on a birthday party for Lizzy. Now it’s time to make plans for camping and ski trips. Hopefully the end of the year will be a little less hectic. I know I have some vacation time that I have to use soon.

Winter Break

Well the holidays have come and gone and the tree is sitting by the curb, and it’s back to the ol’ grind in the new year.  Getting up before dark and standing out in the cold waiting for the train is what I love best about January.  But I don’t want to sound to grumpy.  I had a really nice winter break.  Got to see some friends and family and do a bunch of travelling and other things, and just as importantly, take some much needed time to rest.  Of course the vacation was too short and there were people I wanted to see but didn’t get the chance to.  Sorry John, John and Larry.

Here are a few assorted highlights:

Way back over two weeks ago, the Friday before Christmas was supposed to be the night of the kids’ big xmas concert at school, but nature had other plans.  A big snowstorm meant school was cancelled so the concert was postponed until the following day prompting all kinds of frenzied reordering of plans.  In the end the concert was a success.   Lizzy had a Flute solo (the only solo in the band) and did very well.

It was a big xmas for legos.  The kids had a lego advent calendar and they both some lego sets as presents, Jeannie set up her lego train from a few years ago around the tree, carrying presents and all.  To I got a lego Avatar Air Temple set as a gift from the office.  So we put ’em all together under the tree in a big ol’ explosion-at-the-genre-factory kind of legopalooza extravaganza.

We played a good amount of Nintendo after playing virtually none at all since last winter break.  Up to 59 stars in Super Mario Galaxy, plus played a bunch of other games at various people’s houses.

I had some good Origami time.  I finally got a chance to get back to working on my book.  I finished diagramming and laying out my Elephant II, which weighs in at 33 steps, well down from my previous pachyderm with its 57 steps.  Also closed in on my Moose, which will be about 70 steps — just the antlers to go — and am more than halfway done with my Adirondack chair.  So I now have models diagrammed, and 2 more in striking distance.  Not too far off the pace of one a month, which isn’t bad considering I did no origami at all the last month or so.  Winter has always been my big origami time, being dark and cold outside and all, so I’m optimistic that I can continue in this groove.  (Last year was a bit of an anomaly, as it was right a year ago I started a three-month marathon of working 7 day, 60+ hour weeks.  Luckily I don’t have that sort of thing on the horizon now.) 

Also my friend John Montroll asked me to fold some of his polyhedra for the cover photo of his forth coming book.  I recently bought some Canson, which as an art paper normally used for pastels, thicker than regular kami. I thought it’d be perfect for these models. So far I’ve made 4 out of 5 of them in 12″ squares, and they’ve come out quite well.  Nice look, good and very strong.

I also spent some more time on the continuing saga of fixing and upgrading my computer and music recording system.  I will talk about that in a separate post, since I’m sure you’ll want all the tedious geeky details.

Lastly we took the girls for a day trip skiing.  After staying up and sleeping late every day for more than a week, it was hard going getting up and out the door, and the mountain was the most packed I’ve ever seen it, but the snow was good and we all had a good time.  Lizzy is doing quite well.  She picked up right were she left off last year and got here groove after a run or two, and even went down a blue trail in the afternoon.  Michelle is not a big or strong, and needed some coaxing.  I spent a good deal of time with Michelle on the bunny hill, getting her used to basic sliding, turning, stopping, shifting and holding weight and skis.  I think she progressed pretty well.  I’m hoping she’ll be ready to get on a lift by the end of the season.

Lego Space Ships

One day not too long ago — I believe it was the Twelfth Day of Christmas, or may be the 11th day of Boxing Day — my kids decided it was Christmas Eve for their Littlest Pet Shop pets. They made a bunch of presents out of legos and asked me to help them make a sleigh. I noticed we had a number of funny shaped orange bricks, and I thought I could do something with them. Well, one thing led to another and I ended up making a space ship instead of a sleigh. Still the pilot was a right jolly old elf and the payload was toys for all the good little girls and boys. Jeannie then started collecting purple bricks and made a cool companion starcraft. Not sure who the pilot of that one is, I think he’s from a Stranger In a Strange Land or Mission to Mars set. Making Lego spaceships is fun because the subject is fantastic, so it’s more about how cool it looks than how realistic it is. Kinda like making dragons in origami.

Lego Cruise Ship II

You may recall how I helped Lizzy build a Lego cruise ship a few weeks ago, but she considered it “too pirate-y”. So she took it apart and built her own. Hers is white and green, a much less swashbuckling color scheme than my black and red. It’s also smaller and sleeker, although it uses the same approach to its construction. Once the basic boat was done she decked it out with a steering wheel in front, a party bar in the stern area, a sleeping cabin complete with bed inside, and lounge chairs on the upper deck. Then she added some passengers, including a princess getting married to a prince by the ship’s captain. Must’ve been inspired by a movie. At this point she apparently was no longer able to resist the allure of pirates, so the crew is looking rather motley, and they’re flying the jolly roger. As an added bonus she even made a Lego mermaid.

Lizzy had this to say about it:

“My lego boat is called The Pirate Cruise. It is beautiful and the scene for a man and a woman getting married. The woman is a princess named Felicity and the man is a prince named Benjamin, but people just call him Ben. The captain of the ship is performing the wedding. The cruise is special for the wedding cruise. There are friendly pirates on the cruise.”

Lego Cruise Ship

So as I was saying, one day last week I came home from work and Lizzy greeted me with a copy of the new Lego magazine, and showed me a contest they’re having where you can win a weeklong cruise for your family by building a Lego cruise ship. While the idea of cruise doesn’t particularly appeal to me, it seemed like a great challenge, so we spent some time over the weekend building ships out of Legos.

A few years back I gave Lizzy most of the my Legos I had from when I was younger, so we have alot of bricks, but they’re pretty random: lots of spaceship parts and some medieval and other themed pieces, plus a few sets she got as presents. Still, there always seems to a shortage of big generic bricks, and you always have to mix colors and make the best of what’s on hand.

We started by making a hull. We had made a boat once before using her house set, so we had an approach that we knew would work. But this one would be bigger and better. The boat would be scaled it for minifigs, so we started stacking on decks. Soon the ship started taking shape, but it was kind of tall and not-so-sleek compared to a real, modern cruse ship. The design of the hull makes the ship a bit wobbly in a good, authentic-feeling way. More than anything it reminds me of the boat from Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

Lizzy started to figure out where things would go: the first class cabin, the restaurant, the pool, etc., and started making furniture. Meanwhile I added a bridge and a crow’s nest, and radio and radar gear and lights and flags and stuff. I guess I got carried away.   When I was done she took one look and pronounced it “too pirate-y”.  She also said the monkey would have to go.

The pictures you see are from this incarnation of the boat, but then the crow’s nest came down and was replaced with a princess-pink forecastle. I’m sure other improvements on the way, as she want to give the whole thing a makeover. She has until the end of October to submit her entry for the contest, so I’ll be posting an update sometime soon.  Meanwhile, enjoy the gallery.

Chippy With Legos

Tonight we have a guest blogger. Elizabeth wants to talk about her new Lego project.

“I have two littlest pet shop hamsters Chippy and Chipply and I wanted them to have a place to sleep. I built them a Lego bunk bed with a canopy on the top bunk. Here are some pictures. I hope you like it. And one more thing: Chippy is my favorite Pet Shop pet. He was a birthday present from my Unlce Martin.”

Happy Valentine’s Day

Although Valentine’s Day was in the middle of last week, today was the much-coveted day off from work, which are rare nowadays since I just started a new job. Thank you George and Abe! I got caught up on my rest and had some good quality time with my kids and their legos. My daughter Lizzy (age 7) and I came up with this:

Happy Valentine’s day everyone! The squares represent chocolates, or candies of any conceivable variety. Lizzy also came up with this:

A house and yard with a swimming pool for her favorite Littlest Pet Shop pet, Chippy the Hamster. This kind of mirrors her online world these days. She’s really into WebKinz and just got a yard and swimming pool for her pet Buttercup, an alley cat.