Jazz and the Mountains

Just got back from a nice vacation to the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Adirondack mountains.  I feel like I’ve been in one long run of deep focus between work and music and other things, so it was a welcome break.

Jeannie and I drove up to Montreal on Monday, which also happened to be Canada day. We arrived mid-afternoon and our hotel was right downtown where the jazz fest was, so we just walked out into the street to enjoy things.  The festival is centered around their big performing arts center call Place des Arts, which is on the level of Lincoln Center here in New York.  The streets around it are closed to cars and become a big public party space with several outdoor concert stages, and lots of vendors for food, libations and merch.  Several other clubs, bars, theaters and other venues host concerts as well.  We found a Canadian Asian fusion place for dinner in view of one of the stages.  I had a Bloody Ceaser with dinner because, when in Rome …

The main act that night was Robert Glasper, who is sort of a jazz-soul-hiphop crossover guy, somewhat comparable to Kamasi, except he sings and plays keyboards, and his band consists of him, a bass, drums and a DJ.  The music was generally groovy and soulful, with some songs featuring modern and minimalist ideas juxtaposed against the main groove.  The band were excellent improvisors, individual and collectively, going beyond just taking solos to build moods and structures and atmospheres. It was cool to see the DJ as an integral part of the sound too.

The next day we lounged around the hotel in the morning and got breakfast, then went for a big walk in the scenic downtown dominated by old stone buildings, and finally out to the waterfront.  The weather was beautiful, sunny and not too hot.  We checked out a science museum on a pier with lots of interactive hands-on exhibit.  We got lunch at a cafe nearby: poutine, shrimp and avocado salad, and some Molsons.  We bought some souvenirs including a stone sculpture of an Inukshuk in the shape of a human figure.  If it can be carved from a single stone, it seems like it might also be a good subject for an origami model too.

That evening the big musical attraction was Joshua Redmond with a new group in one of the theaters in the Place des Arts.  The band were excellent and featured a vocalist in addition to the rhythm section.  She and Joshua on sax did really cool tight harmony sections together a few times.  The theme of the new record they were touring for had to do with the concept place so most of the songs had the name of a place in the title, including some standards like a mashup of John Coltrane’s Alabama with Stars Fell on Alabama, and a surprising way-out jazz version of Hotel California.  I’ve seen Joshua a few times at clubs in New York, but this performance was a whole ‘nuther level.  There was also a really excellent light show in the theater, which enhanced the sound and mood alot.

After that we took more acts on the outdoor stages, including the Low Down Brass Band, whom we heard on our first trip to Montreal six years ago.  Wow, how the time flies!

Next morning we took another walk around the city, looking for baked good to bring back to the States for our friends Mark and Kelly in the Adirondacks.  I also picked up a nice-looking (and, it turned out, lovely-tasting) bottle of whiskey at the duty free shop.  We arrived in the high peaks area mid-afternoon, and when for a hike at a place called High Falls Gorge on the Ausable River near Mount Whiteface. 

The next day was the Fourth of July.  Out main adventure in the morning was a bike ride up a rail trail from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid.  It was twenty-two miles round trip, my best distance so far of the season, although we took a fairly leisurely pace, and stopped for a while at the turnaround point.  This was Jeannie’s fifth or sixth big bike ride of the year.  In the evening we went to a party hosted by Mark’s friend Cory, at a very nice summer cottage on a nearby lake.  Cory happens to be a passionate cocktail mixologist, and has the best home-bar I’ve ever seen made in a former woodshed.  He was very into mixing drinks for everyone using a whole array of bespoke elixirs, infusions, spirits and spices.  Like a master chef for drinks.  Huzzah!

Mark and I talked at length about improvisational music and the challenges of breaking out of genre boxes and other expectations to explore new frontiers.  In addition to his main group Crackin’ Foxy, Mark has been exploring the world of looper jams using pedal and an electric guitar.  He played me lots of interesting loop-based stuff from the classical world, including stuff featuring cello and clarinet.

After the party we headed back into to town to try and catch the fireworks show, but we were too late.  We ended up at a local bar called the Watering Hole, which I hadn’t been to in many years, and used to be kinda run down but is now very nice indeed.  They had a live band doing funk soul party music featuring a trombone player.  Alot of fun.

Friday we went for a canoe ride on some nearby lakes.  Not quite as epic as some canoe rides of seasons past, but we were out on the water for over two hours.  That evening we drove out to a concert venue near Lake Champlain to see Nate Wood doing a project called Four.  Nate is a one-man band and quite astounding.  He plays drum with one hand and both feet, and also guitar or bass with his other hand (using mainly tap technique), all augmented with some keyboards played in interstitial free moments.  The amazing thing is not just that he can do all this at once, but that it actually sounds musical and cool!  The songs are basically structured improv jams with a sort of prog-rock-meets-jazz-fusion sound.  My kind of weird!

Saturday we drove to a weekend of catching up on chores and things including doing yardwork in the ninety-degree heat.  Jeannie and I did another bike ride Sunday morning.  I did sixteen miles with an average pace of 14mph, a personal best for speed this season so far.  Today Jeannie took off for an IT Admin conference in Pennsylvania; she’ll be back Friday.

Another Sunny June

Summer has arrived in earnest.  I’m still busy with work and projects, but have been making time for some low-key relaxation and enjoyment.  This is important because I feel like I’ve been working since February on the same set of things, and while I’ve been making progress and getting things done, I’ve also been getting weary of the grind.

Michelle is home from school for the summer.  Today she started her new summer job, an internship for her study in civil engineering.  She’s very excited.  The work is mainly inspecting, reporting on and supporting repairs on train bridges in The Bronx.  It’s the kind of work where she needs safety boots and a laptop computer with AutoCad. Apparently steel-toed boots in women’s sizes are hard to find at shoe stores around here so she had to order them over the internet. The company provides the computer and software.  Rock on!

Meanwhile, Lizzy has enrolled in grad school to get her Master’s degree in Business.  This is a mainly online program she can do while continuing at her day job. A year ago she told me she had no interest in grad school.  I think she changed her mind because her boyfriend is pursuing a medical degree, but she says it’s to open up her carreer options going forward.  Either way, rock on!

In my own little scene, things are grinding along as I’ve said.  Things are getting done, but everything is harder and taking longer than one would hope.  My day job has entered an unusually chaotic phase, and I was temped to write in my weekly status update today “EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE!!!” but instead wrote “repeated build failures; we are working with the enterprise team to resolve the issue,” which is really just the tip of the iceberg.   We’ve hired a new in-house engineer who will start in July, which should help things going forward.  Meanwhile the MVP for my more R&D-ish project moves ahead one obstacle at a time, when I have to time to work on it.

The Global Jukebox is approaching the release of version 3.1.0.  We’re in the final testing and bug fixing phase.  So stay tuned to this channel for future announcements.

The new album by my jazz group Spacecats has been mixed and mastered and ready to publish for a few weeks now.  All that remains is the album cover.  I put together a cover featuring images of the band members taken from video stills.  We all agreed the quality was not the best, so at rehearsal a week ago we took a bunch of new pics of the group as a whole, both playing music and posed at various spots around the studio.  I’ve gone thru the images and narrowed it down to a handful of semifinalists.  The next step is to drop them into to composition, see how they look, and play around with them until I get somewhere cool.

The OUSA convention is drawing near.  I’ve dusted off my list of ideas for models and begun folding, starting with creating exhibit-quality versions of models I’ve already done, then moving on to explore new territory.  This year the convention isn’t until late July, so I have a whole extra month to get it together.  I also need to decide what I’m going to teach.  Probably one of them will be my Spacecat, a variation on another cat, Sophie.  I’ve recently refined the Spacecat, changing the proportions and folding sequence, and the final model looks better.  Trying to work thru the final sculpting now and looking for the right paper.

I’ve been working out and biking alot, but it’s been a bit uneven as my energy level hasn’t always been the best I’m working thru so weird random pain in my shoulder.  I seem to be mainly over it and back up to full weights on everything the last week or two.  I still haven’t taken a ride with Jeannie on our local rail trail, but hope to this weekend.  I’ve been doing the local loop of my neighborhood (about 4 miles with hills and traffic) about three times a week, and have done the Nature Study woods (longer, no cars, some bumpy trail-ish hills) twice now.  We’ve only done one two hikes this spring too.  Need to get our into nature more.

We did do some fun things the last few weeks, and at least the major spring yardwork cycle got done, although next weekend starts a new round.  Memorial Day weekend I went to a Mets game with Jeannie and Michelle and Mary and Lou and their kids.  I don’t care that much about baseball but it was a fun hang, and our seats were in the shade.  Amazingly, the Mets rallied in the bottom of the ninth for a come-from-behind victory!  We’ve also been doing a bunch of barbecues and hanging out by the firepit in the backyard, listening to playlists from summers past.

Last weekend Jeannie and took a mini-vacation to wild and exotic Connecticut.  We went to Mystic, where they have the Seaport Museum featuring tall ships and lots of stuff related to ships and shipbuilding in the Age of Sail, including things like a blacksmith, cooper, printer and other 19th century shops, crafts and industries.  They’re also actively restoring several historic sailing ships.  There’s also an aquarium there, with penguins, sea lions, beluga whales, and all kinds of fish and even octopus.  After that we went out to sushi for lunch.  There’a cute little downtown a bunch or restaurants and shops, including a great seafood place.  There’s also an 80-foot sailboat parked right there, a three-masted schooner, so we did a two-hour sunset cruise of the sound out beyond the river.  The harbor is actually up the river a little bit, so first we had to navigate the channel out to sea.  We crossed past a swinging train bridge that seems like the perfect focal point for an action set piece in some adventure film.  There’s a train coming and there’s a tall ship coming, and the hero and the villain are fighting up in the control room, trying to gain control of the switch to swing the bridge open or closed.

Everything Under the Sun is in Tune

Been busy.  Spring is finally coming.  We had a few nice days in a row.  The grass is starting to grow and the trees are turning green and other colors with fuzz.  Over the weekend I got my Mustang out on the road, finished off some much-needed yard cleanup from a recent bout of storms, and best of all, got on my bike and went for a ride, ending that awkward time of year between the end of ski season and the start of biking season.

The weekend before we went upstate for the big solar eclipse.  I’d never seen one in totality before.  Jeannie and I drove up to Buffalo on Saturday, and noticed the traffic was fairly heavy one we got on the country roads the last hour of the trip.  Excitement was in the air.  Saturday night we hung out Lizzy and Michelle and Lizzy’s boyfriend Josh, and Larry and Jackie joined us later at the bar.  The place had a tap wall with like a dozen different beers.  Lots of fun.  The waitress commented that it was unusually crowded because of people coming into town for the eclipse.  

Larry and Jackie had driven down to Tennessee for the last eclipse, and Larry told me it was a life-changing experience.  He didn’t seem that different to me, so I asked how it had changed him.  He told me he it made him really want to see another eclipse.  And indeed they drove out to Ohio for this one to try and get out from under the clouds.

Sunday Jeannie and Michelle and I decided to go to Chestnut Ridge Park, which is near my parent’s house, to see the famous Eternal Flame, something we had never done despite my parents having lived there for the last thirty years.  It was still stick and mud season up in Buffalo, no sign on anything turning green yet.  I think every other person coming into town for the weekend had the same idea, and the trail was pretty crowded, to the point where we had to queue up to climb over rocks in the last part.  Still it was pretty cool to see, a jet of natural gas burning in a little cave behind a waterfall.  Weird.

Sunday afternoon Martin and Kathleen arrived with the kids and their dog.  My mum made a big family dinner for everyone, and my dad brought out the wine.  Very lovely evening.  Monday I slept in.  I’d been feeling tired the end of the last week and it was good to catch up on my rest.  I spent to whole morning hanging out and talking with Martin.  After lunch we all went for a long walk in the park near my parents’ house.  It felt like a low-key fourth of July.  People had brought lawn chairs and drinks and even some telescopes to watch the big event.  We got back to my parents’ house as the skies were darkening, and watched the totality from their lawn.

It had been mainly sunny in the morning, and grew increasingly cloudy as the totality got closer.  Still there were enough breaks in the cloud for good viewing, if not very sustained.  We had some obsidian discs from Mexico that were meant for viewing the sun, and they somehow made the sun visible behind the clouds.  I think it actually only liked like it was getting cloudier; as the eclipse progressed the sky was getting darker because of that.

When the moment of totality arrived, it suddenly became nighttime.  It was like somebody pulled the house lights down on the whole world.  The temperature dropped, birds and dogs made lots of noise, and there was a ring of pink near the horizon.  We even saw a few stars.  Looking at the sun, there are a few moments when the clouds parted and you could see the corona, all dancing shimmering silver gold tendrils.  Amazing.  Life altering, even.  Then a few minutes later the diamond ring appeared and just as abruptly as is descended, the night vanished.  It was back to tepid daylight, which returned to full strength over the next hour or so.  And wouldn’t you know it, it was bright sunshine the rest of the day, not a cloud in sight.

We dove home Tuesday, and again there was heavy traffic, particularly at the rest stops on the way.  I’m happy to say we found some good places for lunch on the trip.  For many years the only really quick and convenient option McDonalds.  Their food was never that great but seems to have steadily declined in quality over the years.  on the way up we discovered a new place, the Old Bat Factory in Hancock.  They had a deli with sandwiches and wraps, very yummy.  On the way back home there’s a seasonal roadside barbecue stand in Appalachin.  Pulled pork and all that.

And, back in the music studio, I’ve edited together mixes of nine out of ten of the songs for the new Spacecats record.  I know I said I’d tell you all about it, but I think I’ll save the story for next time, when I have some tracks ready to share.

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.