Fotoz 2023, Part 4

Well this project has dragged on a while, but is finally done.  The last batch includes our trip California last fall, including the SF Bay Area, the Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, and the PCOC Origami Conference.  All in it was twenty galleries, by far the most for a single year.  Ah well this year will probably be less traveling.  Can’t wait to get back to doing other things tomorrow.  Enjoy!

High Speed on Ice

The lift to our mood wore off after a few days after returning from our trip to the warm and sunny climes, and I was feeling really ready to be done with winter.  Then last Tuesday we got six inches of snow at home and started leaning into winter.  We decided to do a mini-vacation trip upstate.  It began with a day of skiing at Gore mountain in the Adirondacks.  Jeannie and I drove up the night before and stayed in a hotel in Lake George.  On the drive up we listened to the Queen album Live Killers, which I don’t think I ever listened to the whole way thru before, and is totally amazing.  Unfortunately, the weather turned snowy and slippery the further north we got, so I couldn’t listen as closely as I’d have liked.

It was an amazing day of skiing.  The morning was just perfect, with fresh snow on a well-groomed base, and a gentle snow falling on off throughout the day.  Probably some of the best skiing I’ve had in years.  And because it was a Friday, the mountain was alot less crowded than last time we were there.  We skied the first half of the day on the North Slope, with long beautiful trails winding thru the trees.  Unfortunately, it began to get windy, and some trip up the lift were a little unpleasant.  We skied all the way down to the base then went up to the summit via the gondola, another trail and another lift.  The top was kinda windy and icy, but once we got partway down the skiing was great again.  We ended up the day on another part of the mountain with mainly blue and green trails, because we were getting too tired for the big hills but wanted to keep on going.  Jeannie had a ski tracking app, and we skied over 10 miles in 12 runs, meaning the average run was close to a mile, and some a good deal longer.

That night we drove up to the high peaks area to visit our good friends Mark and Kelly. Saturday we went ice staking in the speed skating oval at the Olympic Village in Lake Placid.  It was a beautiful experience, skating outdoors surrounded by mountains.  The track is a quarter mile around, and Jeannie did 14 laps and I did 18.  That’s three-and-a-half and four-and-a-half miles respectively.  Needless to say, after all this our legs were pretty tired.  Afterwards we went to a bar for poutine and cocktails, then walked around Lake Placid.  Out on Mirror lake, there was tobogganing, dogsleds, ice skating and several hockey games going on.  Fun scene. 

Spent alot of time just talking and hanging out.  Mark showed me his new guitar effects setup, but didn’t get around to playing it.  On the way home Sunday, we stopped by Martin’s house for a visit.  Spent our time there just talking and hanging out too.  Martin showed me his new custom-made combination guitar/sax/sheet music/stage monitor stand.  Got home late last night, and today we were all tired out.  Now back to work, but hoping to get a couple more ski trips in before the end of the winter.

Work and Playa

Been trying to get thru the winter.  The snow we had earlier all melted and it reverted to grey and gloomy.  In the years we’ve had solar power, we never generated less electricity than this last January, and it was an extra long month, with five Mondays.  At least we’re supposed to get snow again tonight, so hopefully that means more skiing soon.

The last week of January I went into the city several times for work.  One day it was a field trip to the Spy Museum in Manhattan, which was fun and somewhat germane to our group, as there was cool exhibits on cryptography, the early development of computers, and various modern privacy and security issues.  Plus a James Bond car!  Afterwards we went out a bar to say goodbye to our colleague Chris who is leaving us to work on privacy at Google.  In the conversation I learned that ten out of twelve people care and know more about Star Wars than the Roman Empire.  Strange times we live in.  The next day was an all-day planning, strategy and team-building session in a space down near Union Square.  Lots of fun but exhausting by the end.  

Then on Saturday Jeannie and I took off for a winter getaway down to Cancún, Mexico.  Compared to the last few trips we’ve taken, this one was pretty mellow, and mainly involved a circuit between the beach, the bar, the pool and various restaurants.  We stayed at a resort hotel right on the beach, in a place called the Hotel Zone.  They upgraded our room, a mini-suite with a little sitting area looking out over ocean, to one on the corner so the view was more than 180 degrees.  We ended up ordering breakfast in the room most every day so we could enjoy it.  The middle day of the trip we took a tour to Chichén Itzá, former site of an ancient Mayan city and now home to a complex of ruins that include the famous stepped pyramid, one of the seven wonders of the world.  Also, I must say we’ve now had ten flights in the last year and half, free of any hassles, delays or complications.  The more our luck holds, the more my general anxiety about airports and flying is reduced.  

On the plane I read a book called The Swerve, which was about a particular book from ancient Rome, and the circumstances under which it was written, lost, rediscovered in the 14th century, copied and entered a place of influence in Renaissance thought and subsequently into the modern, scientific age.  The book, On the Nature of Things, was an epic poem that espoused a worldview of rationalism, apathetic gods, mind-body unity, the goal of seeking pleasure in life rather than suffering, atomic theory, evolution by natural selection, and a bunch of other ideas heretical to the medieval church.  Sounds like the kind of thing Neil Peart might have written, but in Latin

This is actually the third book I’ve read this year that cuts thru the Renaissance.  The first one focused mainly on art and architecture, and masters of the era in that realm, particularly in Florence and Rome.  The second one was about Columbus, Cabot and Vespucci, the circumstances that gave rise to their epic voyages of discovery, and their immediate consequences in the new world and the old.  All of these stories are connected, and it’s interesting too see how different writers pull together threads from all the things going on to craft a journey about a specific thing.  Next I want to find a book on the Copernican revolution and its antecedents.  In the explorers book, there was a bit on Vespucci crossing the equator and naming the constellation the Southern Cross.  The North Star had disappeared, and the sky was spinning the opposite way.  It must have been a mind-blowing realization that the Earth was indeed a sphere, and not just that but a sphere floating in space.  As a complement to all this, I’ve also been reading the Discworld series.  I can’t believe it took me all these years to get turned on it it.  Great fun!

One night at the resort, the Freddy Mercury biopic movie was on TV.  Since I’ve been home I’ve been doing a deep dive into Queen’s music.  They’re a band I’ve always admired, and I own three of their albums, but they have quite a few I’ve never listened to the whole way thru.  It’s just amazing the depth of their talent.  Freddy Mercury was a great rock piano player, and Brian May and Roger Taylor were great singers, in addition to being widely regard as among the greatest of all time at their main role in the group. Everyone in the band was a great songwriter and they all played multiple instruments.  They wrote and played in so many styles, yet pulled it all together into a unified sound.  Plus, they really pushed the expressive limits of what you could do with the electronics and studio technology of the day.  Every album is very solid, really imaginative and enjoyable, and contains at least one or two all-time smash hits.  I’ve gotten up to News of the World, which is about the midpoint of their discography.

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.

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.

Dream of Californication

Just got back from a trip to PCOC, the Pacific Coast Origami Conference in San Francisco, and along with it a fantastic vacation in California.  Last time we visited the Bay Area was almost fourteen years ago.  Oh oh, what I want to know is, where does the time go?

Jeannie and I flew out from New York on Friday night.  Last few times we flew I’ve felt pretty anxious about the whole airport thing, but this time I’ve been so busy with work the last couple months, it was actually a big relief to be hanging around waiting for our flight.  

We stayed the first couple of days at a hotel on the peninsula that we knew from previous trips. It was a cute place with a courtyard and giant pots of succulent plants.  Saturday we met up with my friend Dazza, who lives in Oakland.  He took us to a park near his home with a lake and a very cool botanical garden with all kinds of plants you don’t see back east, and in the middle of that a bonsai garden with carefully grown miniature trees, some of them hundreds of years old.  We went back to his place, in a condo complex with all kinds of fun amenities, then out to eat at a really good oriental place with yummy dishes featuring great big rice noodle.  I must say, Oakland has become trendy and quite nice since we lived in the bay area in the ’90s, much like Brooklyn.  Or maybe I just never had been to the nice parts of Oakland before.

That afternoon we helped Dazza out on a very special beer run.  He had ordered several cases of a Polish porter, that apparently is very hard to get, from a wine shop in San Mateo back on the peninsula.  So we gave him a lift out there to pick it up.  After that we took Dazza for a drive around our old haunts in Silicon Valley in Palo Alto and Redwood City.  We went for a hike up to the radio telescope in Parcel B at Stanford, and then a drive-by tour of the office park where Interval Research Corporation used to be, right near the HP campus.  Strangely, there’s now camper vans and RVs parked all along Page Mill Road and El Camino Real.  One of the most rich and prosperous places in the history of the world full of people living in their vans.  At the end we went back to our hotel and Dazza shared a few porter ales with us and we talked on into the night.

Sunday Jeannie and I went up Skyline Road to Sky Londa intending to go for a hike at Windy Hill for a hike.  But as the day unfolded it turned rainy.  We did a short wet hike up to the summit the view obscured by clouds, and not the long winding one we had in mind.  Apparently it was the first rain of the fall.  The day before we noticed all the hillsides were yellow with dry grass, a hue you don’t see in the landscapes at home.  Since we were already up in the mountains, we thought we’d cross over and see the ocean, where it was not raining.  But, being the first rain of the season, there was an accident up ahead (apparently a very bad one, judging from the number of ambulances and fire trucks that passed us), so the road was closed and we had to turn around.  There’s only a few roads over the coastal mountains, so we went up to the next one twenty miles away, but it was backed up with traffic too.  So we decided instead to light out for our next destination, Lake Tahoe up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, one of our favorite places in California.  It was raining pretty heavy for most of the trip, all the way past Sacramento and a ways up into the mountains.  In case you’ve never been there, the Sierras are way bigger than anything on the east coast.  The pass over the mountains is above 7,000 feet, and the mountaintops are well over 10,000.

We stayed at a really charming hotel right on the beach, and since it was off season they upgraded us to a suite with a fireplace and view of the lake.  Very nice.  There was a restaurant in walking distance out on a pier with a view of the sunset over the lake.  We were still kinda on east coast time, so next morning we watched the sun come up over the lake from our hotel room.  We took a walk on the beach, where I found a massive pinecone from a ponderosa pine, which must have just fallen and washed up on the shore.  The main activity of the day was to hike up to Eagle Lake in the Desolation Wilderness Area, above Emerald Bay.  This is beautiful forest and mountains with great views.   It was a pretty big hike, over 3 hours, and 800 feet vertical, about 5 miles of very rocky terrain.  Afterwards we went into town to the area of the base of the Heavenly gondola, right near the Nevada border, which is all built up compared to last time we were there.  That evening we went to the casino, but the scene there was beat.

Next day we drove to Yosemite National Park, another one of our favorite places in California.  This was another long drive thru the mountains.  We took the back way thru Nevada, past Lake Mead where Kamasi Washington did one of his album covers.  The last half of the trip was into Yosemite via Tioga Pass, which gets above 10,000 feet.  We stopped at a scenic overlook where you could see Half Dome far away.  We have a picture from that spot with the kids when they were 10 and 7 or so, last time we passed that way.  After alot more driving thru winding mountain roads we arrived at Mariposa Grove, home of the giant sequoia redwoods.  These are the larges trees in the world, and grow over 300 feet tall and over 30 feet across at the base.  They’re thousands of years old.

We had expected to get lunch there, but instead things were under construction and there was no food, the road was closed, the parking was two miles away and the tram wasn’t running.  I guess it’s good that they’re redoing access to the area with an eye toward forest conservation, but it added 4 miles and several hundred vertical feet to the hike.  By the time we reached the area where the parking lot used to be, Jeannie was pretty tired and had to sit down for a while.  Luckily, we met some kind fellow travelers who shared some trail mix with us, and our energy rebounded.  We got to talking and the dude was a Consumer Reports super fan, and was asking me about the auctions they have for the used cars they test, and if I could get him in on it.  The redwoods themselves were amazing and the whole glade had spiritual vibe that reminded me of La Familia Cathedral in Barcelona.  The kind of thing you just can’t capture in photographs.  Overall the hike was about 4 hours, 6 miles and over 600 feet vertical, but not nearly as stony. 

We were staying at the Yosemite Valle Lodge, and the was another hour drive back the way we came (Yosemite is huge).  This is the first time we stayed in the park in a building with solid walls and running water.  By the time we got there it was dark.  Had excellent cocktails and steak and wine at the bar and restaurant there. The breakfast place had for some reason computerized kiosks where you order food instead of telling a person what you want.  However, some food was not on the menu, so when I wanted a banana they just gave me one cuz no one could figure out how much it cost or how to pay for it.  I can hardly wait for the fad of having computers everywhere in situations where human interaction works perfectly well breaks and starts to recede.

Anyway, the main hike that day was up the valley towards Vernal Falls and Nevada falls. Interestingly, the first mile or two of the trail was paved, which made it faster.  Last time we were here it was pretty natural, dirt with some stony sections.  The middle part was still like this.  The last part before the falls was a huge uplift that was mainly stairs made of hewn and stacked up natural rock, a serious Cirith Ungol vibe, but in a beautiful forest, not an orc-infested wasteland.  Naturally, going down was harder than going up.  This was the longest hike yet, over 7 miles and nearly 1400 feet vertical.  

Next day we left the mountains and drove back to San Francisco.  This was the most adventuresome drive yet, another long and windy one, with one memorable section descending several thousand feet in just a few miles.  Had to go like ten miles per hours thru endless switchbacks.  I feel like this may be where they filmed the opening scene of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.  We made it safely back across the central valley and thru the Livermore Pass (the windmills have grown quite a bit in the last twenty years) and finally over the bay.  We made another attempt to get out to the ocean and this time we were successful.  We went out to Half Moon bay, where we found a burrito place and got our lunch to go, and ate yummy California burritos on the beach.  We walked around a while and stuck our toes in the Pacific, then drove up the US 1 coastal highway thru Pacifica to San Francisco.  We dropped off our rental car and checked into the hotel for the origami convention, and immediately met some friends in the lobby.

But that’s a whole ‘nuther adventure.

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.

Reach the Beach

We spent Labor Day weekend out on the beach in Maryland.  It was a chill and fun time.  I was feeling kind of tired and ill the day before we left, but Jeannie did most of the driving, so I got some extra rest on the ride, and was basically alright by the next morning. We did spend a good amount of time just hanging out in the hotel room sipping our coffee, or later on  in the day a beer, watching and listening to the ocean, which was nice and relaxing.

Saturday we went out to Assateague Island, where we did the classic Swamp Walk.  There were a few wildlife encounters we’d never seen before, including a pair of giant horseshoe crabs swimming along the shore of the bay, and a good-sized ray, as well as some gar and the usual crabs and fish and birds and wild ponies.  

One new thing we did this year was to bring our bikes, so after the hike we took a ride all around the whole national seashore.  It was a good day for it, not too hot, and we were able to get around to all the different places alot more conveniently than walking or by car, and explore a little more.  We checked out the various campgrounds cuz that’s something we’ve always been interested in doing, and concluded that the bay side would be alot easier than the ocean side.  We’ve been doing enough biking this summer that an eight or ten mile ride on (very) flat terrain felt easy and breezy. We ended the afternoon with a trip to the beach, then back to the hotel.  That evening we went out to dinner on the boardwalk and met up with our friend Terry, who just happened to be in OC the same time as us.

They allow bicycles on the boardwalk before noon, so the next morning we rode from our hotel up around 30th street down the whole length of the boardwalk.  The boardwalk is abut three miles long, and it’s always fund to see how its character develops as you get further downtown.  We took it at a leisurely pace, and when we got the end, we we explored a little bit around the inlet and harbor.  Another eight or ten mile ride.  By the end it was getting pretty hot.  We spent the afternoon on the beach in front of our hotel.  We went out into the water a few times, but didn’t get out past the breakers to do much actual swimming.  The waves were pretty rough and there were warnings up about severe rip tides and undertow.  We saw the lifeguards jump into action a few times.  Indeed it was a challenge to just to keep your balance in waist-deep water.

I usually don’t miss my kids when they’re not around, but as the weekend went on, a strange nostalgia for the time of my kids growing up times emerged.  We used to go Ocean City almost every summer from the time Michelle was four to Lizzy was in high school, and we’ve gone back only a few times in the years since.  So in my mind it’s sort of an end-of-the-summer happy place, just before back-to-school time.  It’s funny how some things never really leave your mind.  Those years coincided with the years I worked at MTV, and memories of old programming and business problems that was thinking heavily about back then began washing up into my consciousness like dead jellyfish on the beach.

The last day we went out for breakfast rather then lounging in our room, then went down to the boardwalk one more time and ended up in an arcade playing skee-ball and old pinball and video games. The ride home took a long time because of the traffic, but was pleasant enough because we there was fun an interesting stuff on the radio, mainly a countdown of (somebody’s idea of) the top forty albums in 1983, skewed heavily to AOR and hair bands.  In fact there was alot of classic rock in the air the whole weekend, and the band we kept hearing over and over, surprisingly, was Styx.

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.

Fire and Rain

We went for a camping trip this weekend up in Mongaup Pond in the Catskills, with Martin and his family.  We haven’t really done a camping trip since before the pandemic, so it felt really good to be back.  We went up on Friday.  The whole packing and loading in went smoothly, except that we forgot to pack lawn chairs, so we stopped at a Target on the way.  And traffic was really heavy. What’s normally a two-hour trip took almost four hours. Anyway we got there and got set up and the weather was fine.  Grilled some meat and drinks some beers and stayed up talking around the fire into the night.

Martin’s kids are at and age where they’re lots of fun to hang out with.  They were into pulling a prank where they’d jump out of the woods and attempt to scare you and tell you you’re being mugged. First time they tried it, Alley and Matthew set it up with a story about how the woods were full of robbers and muggers, and we were walking on the sketchy trail.  I was confused, but when they sprung the trap it was hilarious.  The second time they actually got me, and I hollered out in shock and surprise. They’re also pretty helpful and can build a campfire and keep it going.

In the morning we hung out and had coffee and Martin and I played guitars.  Surprisingly, we don’t know that many of the same songs, so mostly we were showing each other different tunes. Today I put more time and focus into my guitar practice than I usually do.  In the afternoon we went down to the pond and the kids swam, and later went for some walks or maybe light hikes.  We felt a drop of rain in the afternoon and so set up the shelter just in case.

In the evening, when were just about the start making supper, the skies turned dark and ominous, the thunder began to rumble. Soon it began to rain.  Right at the start, I made a good fire, put on alot of wood, and Jeannie put tinfoil on the grate to keep it dry.  It poured for a good hour, and we sat under the shelter and played an epic game of Fluxx.  The rain finally subsided, and we started thinking about cooking again, and that it would be getting dark soon. But the respite didn’t last and soon it was pouring once more. We had heard from the park rangers it was going to continue rain much of the night. Kathleen and Martin decided it would be better to break camp, and Jeannie agreed.  We did our best to stay dry as we packed down, but finally we had to take down the tent and the shelter, and it became futile.  Ah well, at least the car was fairly organized with the wet stuff all being in one place.  And we could run the heat together with the air conditioning on the drive home to dry out. 

Amazingly, the fire was still burning strong as we finally pulled out of the campsite.  It was probably the worst rains storm I can remember on a camping trip, which was a bit funny, because before we left the forecast was for a thirty percent chance of scattered thundershowers.  When we got out of the park and had cel phone service, we learned there was a tornado warning for the sight that night, so it’s just as well we didn’t try and ride it out.  It rained most of the way home too.  We got home Saturday night and Michelle was surprised to see us and that we threw in the towel.  “I wasn’t even aware it was an option,” she said.

We got what we wanted out of the trip.  It was a great time despite the rain. It would have been nice if it lasted longer, but we would’ve just gotten up Sunday morning and packed in the rain then. Sunday we put all the wet stuff out in the driveway, the shelter, the tent and the tarps. Also we didn’t cook alot of the food we brought so we had steak yesterday for dinner and we’ll have burgers tomorrow.