Dogs, designs, and a farewell

There is an old joke about the difference between cats’ and dogs’ relationships with their owners: to a dog, their owner is God, while to a cat, the cat is God. To our 14-year-old black lab, Meg, every human being she ever met was a God, and they all preached the same theology: “And God stretched out his hand, and threw the ball across the room. And it was very, very good!”

We have had at least one, sometimes two, dogs our entire married life, Diane and I. She had a dog even when we began dating, and it was clear from the get-go that this was going to be a doggie relationship; it was clear that to Diane, if one of the two beings vying for her affections had to go, the four-legged one was going to be the one that got to stay and climb up on the bed. Over the ensuing 25 years, I have enjoyed all our dogs, even the Evil One named Siri (because, after all, who can’t resist being a deity, even if the mortal beings are disobedient?), but Meg was especially sweet, even when she was being terrorized by her younger “sister”, the Evil One (“sister” in quotes because she was not a genetic sister; the Evil One came to us as a stray and deployed her feminine wiles to seduce us all before she unveiled her true colors).

But Meg was always pure, innocent, and happy, and when, at the age of 10, Siri passed quietly in her sleep, Meg finally had the run of the house and the undivided attentions of us all, especially of Diane. She was always obedient and friendly to a fault. Siri had possessed the uncanny ability to detect the exact moment when she could snatch something from the counter unawares (and then sneak off to the far corner of the yard where she could devour it in peace; no dummy, that one), but Meg knew what was off-limits and never betrayed her owner’s trust. Except for bananas. Even the world’s most perfect dog has her weaknesses, and an unguarded banana or portion thereof, left on the counter, was considered by her to be fair game. In the grand scheme of things, it was a small and tolerable weakness; would that we humans’ failings were so trivial.

Eventually, though, gravity and age proved a greater impetus for obedience than mere doggie will-power ever could, and Meg could no longer get her paws up on the counter, no matter what good things proclaimed themselves to her nose as being just out of her reach. That happy nose received its own rewards, though, on the regular walks that Diane took her around the circuit of our neighborhood, where she could keep up on the goings-on of every other dog on the street. We can only imagine the pleasures that reside in the accumulation of dried piddle at every corner, but to this (and probably any) dog, it was ecstasy incarnate.

As time went on, the ailments piled up: knees to be realigned, growths to be removed, arthritis to be treated (and that powerful nose became her main weapon in the battle called Hiding the Tramidol in Something Edible), and more. Eventually, strange, unidentifiable things happened (“something neurological”, said the vet), and the morning came when she could barely stagger to her feet and could not make it over the sill of the door, which prompted one more trip to the vet.

This morning she lay on a thick cushioned blanket and Diane held her head and fed her treats and bits of her old favorite, banana, as the needle slid into her hind leg. Presently, Meg closed her eyes and lay down her head, and went to wherever dogs go after a full and happy life. She was 14-1/2 years old.

There’s not much origami in any of that, but it made me think of an old design I had come up with back in the days when our doggie tally was still in the single digits, and so I pulled it out, cut a square of hanji, and made myself a small reminder of our recently departed. This one won’t steal bananas off the counter, chase balls, or any of that truly fun stuff, but it will remind us of a pure heart, a happy disposition, and the sweet, unadulterated joy that we rarely find in two-legged beings but seemed genetically programmed into those four.


Meg 1997–2011

The Two Cultures

In early 2010, I was invited to give a talk at a conference organized by philosopher Rob Pennock at Michigan State University, celebrating the 50th anniversary of a famous lecture by British novelist C. P. Snow, titled “The Two Cultures.” In this lecture, and a subsequent book, Snow bemoaned the widening gulf between the sciences and the humanities. Pennock’s conference brought together a range of thinkers and philosophers, or, as he put it, “20 prominent scholars who have thought about the importance of Snow’s work in the context of higher education and culture today or who exemplify his ideal of bridging the two cultures.” Whooie, heady stuff.

As is not uncommon when I receive such invitations, my first reaction was something like, “are you sure you have the right Robert Lang? I’m the one who folds paper thingies.” I might have added (but didn’t), “and I’ve never heard of ‘The Two Cultures.’” But he assured me that yes, he really was looking for me, and that he thought that the connections between origami and mathematics (on which I lecture fairly regularly) would serve as a perfect example of a bridge between the two cultures of arts and science. And, as there were several months until the conference itself, I figured that I could read up on this essay and then find some way to relate it to origami. A considerable sweetener for me for attending was the distinguished company, which included both Pennock and philospher Barbara Forrest, two personal heroes of mine for their roles in the Kitzmiller vs Dover trial about whether creationism could be legally taught as science (verdict: no).

And so, in May, 2010, I headed to East Lansing, where I spent a most enjoyable day and half giving my lecture and listening to other lectures on a wide range of topics on science, culture, philosophy (sample: “The epistemological gulf between the empirical disciplines and supernaturalism” — which, despite the scariness of the title, turned out to be fascinating), and teaching. Professor Pennock had suggested that the conference would produce a book, and so all of us who gave lectures would be expected to write essays for the book, and he rather broadly hinted that if I were to create a special origami figure somehow representative of Snow or his writings, it might find a prominent place in said book (and dare I hope: the cover?).

Alas, said book never came together. Although I and several others submitted our essays, enough people dawdled that the 50th anniversary came and went, and then the 51st anniversary…and eventually, it was officially cancelled. I was disappointed, of course, not least because I was looking forward to having my essay rub elbows with those of the aforementioned Pennock and Forrest (and others), but also because I’d come up with a just dandy rendition of The Great One Himself, C. P. Snow, who was anything but a dandy, and had a face absolutely made for origami.

As it turns out, I’ll be able to recycle portions of my essay for an upcoming publication (which I will write more about later), but the origami Mr. Snow will go no further than my website. I’ll post an image here, though, and the crease pattern is linked from its entry in the gallery, if anyone would like to give it a go.

C. P. Snow, from a single uncut square of Korean hanji.

The Fold: Hexabox

My newest installment for OrigamiUSA’s The Fold is up:

It’s a rotationally symmetric, solid-flanged shape based on a cool idea of Jeannine Mosely’s. Looks like this:

Hexabox: a 3-D solid folded from a hexagon with easily found reference points.

I’ve used this basic notion for a lot of geometric solids, including several inspired by Southwestern pottery. Most of the curved ones require their creases to be scored from printout or mechanically. This polyhedral form has all of its folds straight and all of its reference points constructible by folding. Details are at the link (though you need to be a member of OrigamiUSA to see the article); I’ll eventually post the CP on this site.

The Haverhill Fritillary

Some figures take hours or days of careful design; others are quick doodles based on exploration of an idea. My latest posting is one of the latter. It started out as just a technical puzzle: “can I add A to B?” But it turned out to have a nice and relatively novel folding sequence, so it will probably end up in a publication somewhere, someday. Meanwhile, enjoy the finished product:

The inspiration is, I hope, fairly obvious. Lots of remarkable wildlife in that little patch on the Merrimack River. There’s good paper not too far from there, also.