Go Forth and Make: A Magical Summer Camp


Hey, Readers. This post is sticky. It’s going to be at the top of my blog for a while, goading you into action.  If you want new material, you have to scroll down.

It’s been a while since I talked to you specifically, but I have a summertime task for you  Maybe you’ll take me up on it, maybe you won’t.  But it’s important, and I’m going to give you a chance to back out — but once you begin, forever shall it dominate your destiny. More

Make Summer Camp: Origami Continuation

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This is part of the ongoing series, Make Summer Camp, which is designed to help me boost my skills as a Maker, and have a broader range of insight and depth of mindset around Making.  In that context, origami might not make much sense. Isn’t Making more about drills and 2x4s, more about welding and chicken wire.  But as I said recently on Twitter, origami is one of those ways we teach the critical skills of 2D to 3D — how to take a flat object like a sheet of paper, and produce a three-dimensional object like a dog face or a cat or a horse or a crane.  It’s easier to do this with paper than plywood, and somewhat less expensive.  And it’s one of those skills at which I need practice. So here goes.

Origami efforts

triangular box and lid

I am not happy either with the triangular box, or its lid, but it’s still easier than the hexagon box with the star-shaped lid.  Both the lid and the box are made of three sheets of origami paper apiece; both require a bit of geometrical chicanery that displeases me, e.g., “slightly fold the paper in half, but only crease it on one edge to about 2cm.” First, I have no reference sense of how much two centimeters is.  I sort of know that it’s sort of close to an inch. But I don’t know.  And, it’s a measurement dependent upon starting with a specifically-sized piece of paper, rather than ANY sized piece of paper that happens to be square.  So my sensibilities around this measure are offended.  But second, it’s not actually geometry.  A geometry proof has procedures, and procedures can be learned — you can make your hands do them with ruler and straightedge, or you can make your hands or mind do them with origami paper and a bone folder… but you can do them. This process for this box requires something other than a learned process that is repeatable; it requires knowing more than the usual order.  So I dislike it a bit.  Origami Envelope

The Seashell envelope is more fun — but again, it’s based on a specific size/shape of paper, namely the A4 European standard. I learned it from pinterest via this post on a Korean website, and I like it a lot.  There’s an envelope neatly stuffed into this, and a discreet bit of wax could make it into a sealed envelope with this elaborate shell-fold on the outside.  I like it a lot, I just wish it wasn’t dependent upon a specific size of paper.  I have to figure out some adjustments to the pattern for US Letter paper. If I do that, it demonstrates the kind of learning that I’m hoping to get from this exercise — namely, learning to produce 3D objects from 2D materials.

Even so, it’s an elegant design, and I’m looking forward to thinking of a use for it — like an invitation to a fancy party, for example.

Origami effortsThe owl is going to take a bit of time.  I think I should have used a piece of paper with a bit of a higher contrast than red to pink or pink to red.  Brown and yellow would have wound up looking more owlish.  And it doesn’t stand up on its own, which wasn’t clear from the pictures. OR maybe I made it wrong. Three times. It took me three ruined pieces of paper before I got this not-quite-right model down.  I learned the owl fold from this site (which appears to be in Denmark but is also in Spanish… Spanish?) I’m pleased enough with the big box that folds into an 4-pointed star, but I also felt like I wanted to learn some other box and container folds for the purpose of creating talismans and mojo boxes, as well as teaching kids about the importance of packaging in design work.  This kind of thing matters, and caring about what the box looks like is critical. So I also taught myself this fold for a box which has a fold-in-on-itself lid, and which I’ve seen in photographs as made out of cardstock and other beautiful papers.  It appears to hold up quite well!

Origami BoxesThis third box, as you can see, has an internal compartment which is somewhat smaller than the frame of the lid.  With this poor-quality copier paper, it’s a little flimsy, but I’ve since made one out of heavier cardstock, and it’s pretty sturdy.  I must have folded this one a dozen times while visiting family in Maine last week, because it was so satisfying to fold.

Even though I’ve folded it a dozen times, though, I don’t think I’ve actually learned this fold.  It’s a fairly complicated procedure, unfortunately, and doesn’t share much in common with the masu or measuring box.

I’m about to try folding a second origami butterfly box, which appears to be useful for containing secret messages. But I don’t like the video format of learning nearly as much as following printed directions with drawn diagrams or folding photographs. It’s much more effort to watch the video, pause, do the step, and then unpause the video.

Funny how the act of learning things from multiple sources shows us what our strengths and weaknesses are as learners.

Tai Chi Y4D134: Two tries

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That was terrible.

What’s that song about “went to bed too late, got up too soon”? Is that how it goes?  Today I feel overfull and uncomfortable from dinner.  The last two days have brought pizza back into my life after a lengthy absence—3-ish years.  It was not entirely a winning experience. The toppings, delicious.  The quantity of bread, not so much.

Last night I participated in two conversations on Twitter, in the #ctedu hashtag, and in the #makered hashtag. They’re both good discussion spaces, but it’s maybe an hour of fast-paced discussion where you’re sending things to people but not getting much analytical time.  Hmmm.  Not my favorite medium.

Anyway, today’s tai chi practice.  I have an early-morning appointment today, and I woke up too soon.  I’m stiff from not having a good practice yesterday, and feeling ‘full’ in the belly because of what I ate.  It was not a good practice.  In fact, it was such a not-good practice that you’ll notice that I’m carefully avoiding saying what I did and didn’t do in it.

One tai chi form. That’s it. The bare minimum. Like a rube or a raw beginner.

I’ll try again after my morning appointment.

Update: I did another two iterations of the form, and some qi gong.  And then push-ups.  I feel better. But I also feel done, at least for the moment.  Feels kinda lame.

Tai Chi Y4D133: Sink Wrestling


This morning I woke up to a dripping, clogged sink.  Well. Technically, the unclogging of the sink happened last night. But this morning it’s dripping, and the pipes removed to unclog, aren’t fitted back together properly.  SO there’s going to be some work on that, sometime this morning.  But there was a fair bit of wrestling with the pipes before I decided that it was beyond me. And that happened before tai chi.

Wrestling with plumbing did not make me eager to do tai chi.  I did the qi gong forms, and then two iterations of the tai chi form. I may go back to it later today.  But the truth is, even after two iterations of the form, I felt done.  IT wasn’t that I felt like my body was resisting, or that my mind was giving up.  It felt like, “this is the energy that you’re giving to this today, and any more is not going to be beneficial.”


Ok, is this a mental trap?  Or is this my body genuinely responding to the exertions of the past few days, and setting limits? I don’t know. But for the moment, two iterations of the form appears to be enough.

Tai Chi Y4D132: Complete, with dog

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This morning I did tai chi in the company of the house dog, who was quite patient with me. She watched me for a while, trying to figure out where I’d step and what my pattern was, and then, finally, determined where the edges of my practice were.

And then she sat down, and watched.

Make Summer Camp: Butterfly Origami


This post is part of the Make Summer Camp series, in which I’m practicing or working on various Maker projects as a way of developing the skills that I need to run the Design Lab. One of the skills I wanted to develop was with origami, the Japanese folding-paper techniques used to make charming but ephemeral sculptures. In some ways it’s a party trick; in others, it’s a way of getting adults and kids to engage in the world in a new way.  

Butterfly origamiI saw this one on Pinterest.  I have to say, the photographs of the butterfly origami pattern are much more interesting and cute than the actual fold in person, which is more ordinary-looking than I expected. It photographs well, but it’s not so impressive in person.

But again, the point is to grow in proficiency in origami. And that means, apparently, knowing a lot of folds more or less by heart, as well as being able to invent folds that lead to recognizable forms.   I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to invent folds. There’s a 2D-to-3D skill there that I don’t have nearly as much experience with as I’d like.

And yet. The things that I really admire about origami for kids and for teaching is that there are actual skills here. There’s a patience and precision, and a love of what I might call emergent geometry: each fold has consequences both beneficial and unfortunate; the resulting object(s) have a power and beauty all their own which is a result of how those consequences play out.  Some origami pieces can be folded in the ‘wrong’ order and ‘fixed’ later; others follow a precise sequence of steps which cannot be altered.

Magically, origami forms appear to belong to the Moon, to Venus, and to Mercury: there’s a personal love (that’s Venus) of the form which matters for quality results; the Mercurial quality is the result of the precision that the forms require in their ideal form; the Moon is the substance of the paper used, and how the chosen paper affects the final product.  For those less versed in the language of astrology and alchemy and magic, we might say that the physical properties of the paper (both the crispness or floppiness of the paper, and its printed patterns and ‘tooth’) help determine the final form, but the idealized diagrams of origami books are useless without personal interest and love of the creative work that it takes to translate those diagrams into reality.

My goal has been to learn the twenty-five folds in a basic origami tutorial guide that came packaged with seventy-five sheets of origami paper, of the kind usually called washi.  I think there’s a potential magic in origami, in that it can be used to make containers and boxes of various shapes, like the boxes I made last time.  I’ve made good progress. Even a few days after my first efforts, I can fold the following:

  1. The Japanese crane
  2. The Kabuto or samurai helmet
  3. The star-box
  4. The masu-box (also called the square box)
  5. The table
  6. The cup
  7. The hat
  8. The piano
  9. The house
  10. The butterfly (not part of my original list of twenty-five)

Still to come? Whales and airplanes and seals and birds, tulips and irises, swans, sailboats and cars.  And more boxes. Definitely boxes.

Why boxes? What’s the appeal of boxes?  Part of it is the magician in me— creating space set apart from the rest of the universe, with only a single piece of paper (or sometimes dozens of pieces of paper, for some of the more elaborate origami folds), opens opportunities for the recognition of subtle differences.  Part of it is that one of the things that designers are expected to do is package and set apart their work from the world in some fashion— and getting kids to think about how to present their work is part of a design thinking teacher’s job.

But the appeal of origami to a Maker program in general should be obvious.  First, paper is a low-cost material.  Second, origami and its related traditions of kirigami (cut paper) and pop-up book are all about teaching kids to take one (flat) material, and turn them into something 3D or sculptural.  It’s much cheaper than a 3D printer, frankly, and yet it teaches kids those all-importatn skills of taking a flat object, like for example a sheet of plywood, and turning it into something designed to be viewed in the round.  This is not easy for children, or for adults.  And yet it’s a simple way to connect kids to those concepts.

I’ve said in the past that drawing is a secret super-power for designers. But it occurs to me that thinking in terms of taking materials and moving them from parts to product is another superpower.   Origami is a way to do that with younger children, and I hope to make use of this work in the fall.

Tai Chi Y4D131: Complete

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Woke, and did both qi gong forms, and eight tai chi forms.  No push-ups during the main workout, though I did some in the middle of writing this entry; my stomach has been overly sensitive the last few days that I’ve been in Maine, and the position of being stretched out and pushing up and down has been uncomfortable. Today felt like that would be easier, and so I did. And it was.

I was able to introduce some of the elements of movement into my practice today—pushing outward, pulling inward, splitting movements.  These require a degree of tension, or at least focus.  I wasn’t able to maintain that focus for all eight iterations of the form, but I did ok.

Tai Chi Y4D130: Easily Done

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Today I didn’t want to do tai chi. But once I did the first iteration of the form, it was easy to do seven more.  That first one was the break-point, where the willingness to go one simply appeared without further ado or stress.

The biggest challenge was figuring out where to do it.  If outside, the dogs start barking.  Inside, the living room presented itself as the best option only after all other options failed: bedroom, bathroom, work room, kitchen, dining room, office.  I wandered around the house where I’m a guest for ten minutes trying to figure out where to do tai chi.

The quality of my work was … poor. I think I can say that, in this case.  I tried to add in some stronger movements, in the form of the outward thrust and the inward pull. But at the moment, I feel like “do eight” is eating a lot of my attention. I did get in about 30 minutes of exercise from doing the form.  But the deeper quality of the work still eludes me.

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