The “Folders” – Episode Two of My Afternoon at The Institute for Figuring with Margaret Wertheim and Other New Acquaintances

Learning to Fold at Institute for Figuring animation
Learning to Fold at Institute for Figuring

On first meeting, Margaret Wertheim impresses me as one who could keep a noncommittal face when confronted with surprising news – a demeanor useful to a poker player. Unlike can’t-keep-any-emotion-off-her-face me, who would make a terrible poker player were it not for the fact that I learned early in life to stay sober during a game.

Upon hearing me disclose that I do not fold, origami or otherwise (heck, I’d be hard pressed to fold a bedsheet to pass muster by anyone older than the age of five) Margaret’s reaction is a quick nod of acknowledgement, rather than the dismay or disappointment I might have expected. She immediately resumes the setting up that she apparently had been doing before I arrived.

I use the time to browse the art in the gallery’s collection, since she does not appear to need my assistance at this stage.

As I peruse, workshop participants begin to arrive in ones and twos. At some point we are all gathered around the table that appears to be our primary work-space-to-be. It is piled high with small pieces of heavyweight paper in 2”x3” business card shape and size. The gallery walls are lined with art sculptures made from these cards as well as other folded art objects and even some crocheted pieces.

Summoning my nerve I ask a few of the others if they fold.

“Oh yes,” effuses one of the two men in the room, “I’m just the driver, but my girlfriend folds every night.”

Mental note to self, “Okay, maybe the driver boyfriend will help me not be the lowliest folder of them all.”

A young woman to my right assures me that she is so enamored with spatial relationships and math that folding should be a breeze for her. Or, something to that effect.

Wouldn’t you know?

A mother and her 12 year old son are already seated and folding together. Where did they come from? Apparently the son had been there in another room for some other purpose, but decided to pop into our group and fold for a while before leaving.

Shown up by a folding 12 year old. Now I have a sense of how my computer illiterate friends feel. . . . continues Continue reading The “Folders” – Episode Two of My Afternoon at The Institute for Figuring with Margaret Wertheim and Other New Acquaintances


“Do You Fold?” – Episode One of My Afternoon at The Institute for Figuring in L.A. with Physicist Margaret Wertheim and Other New Acquaintances

Institute For Figuring - Colorful Doorway
Institute For Figuring – Colorful Doorway

I’d no idea what to expect when I entered the Institute For Figuring (as in mathematical) after locating it in-between The Chinese Unity Association of Greater Los Angeles and The Empress Pavilion, in the midst of Los Angeles’ Chinatown.  I was a little nervous. But if we don’t try those nerve rattling things in the world, life would be pretty boring. At least that is what I have told myself for as long as I can remember. And probably why, when anyone asks what is my favorite quote of all time, I always cite Eleanor Roosevelt’s:

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face . . . we must do that which we think we cannot.”

I was a bit early, and there did not appear to be anyone else in the building. Gallery I guess I should call it. A gallery of very colorful and visually enticing mathematically conceived paper art and needlework. More about that in a bit.  Then Margaret Wertheim was suddenly standing in front of me.

It was a little awkward. Here was this physicist I had heard speak about amateur  physicists, and a book she had written about these outsiders with homegrown theories of the universe, Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons and Alternative Theories of Everything,  at a Caltech Skeptics meeting, what? a year or two prior, and me, an artist, writer, new media, whatever it is I am . . . And we are standing in this empty gallery, except for all the vivid trigonometrical art on the walls. And I am wondering just how early I am and should I have stopped in one of the plentiful neighborhood restaurants for some chicken wings rather than barging in ahead of the appointed workshop start time.

Nor did I have much idea what this Institute for Figuring was about, since it was my best artist friend Joe up in San Francisco who went online and found out about it after I told him about the interesting lecture by the rarity, a woman, scientist at Caltech. And it was Joe who told me I needed to go to scout out this “fascinating sounding place.”

Joe is better at thinking to look things up than I am. You might remember from my last post that it was he who checked out the identity of the group who hacked this blog of mine last month. I just stared at their stupid signature and my way gone web site blog and wept.  But Joe headed for an Internet search engine and emailed back to let me know it was an infamous middle eastern hacking group. (Not to be too hard on myself – I did manage to get the site back up and harden coded it against future jerk black hat hackers.)

After her Caltech lecture, it had not occurred to me to look up Margaret Wertheim, either. But Joe did – and called to let me know not only about this Institute, but about a fascinating art project she was doing with her twin sister, Christine Wertheim, involving the crocheting of the entire underwater coral reef.

And when I finally took Joe’s advice and looked up the Institute for Figuring online, I saw they were having a Saturday, open to the public, workshop in origami business card folding and animating.

It was Joe then who had said, “Well, of course you will go, it sounds right up your alley!”

Whichever alley he was referring to I am not quite sure, because I have had zero experience with origami in my life. Continue reading “Do You Fold?” – Episode One of My Afternoon at The Institute for Figuring in L.A. with Physicist Margaret Wertheim and Other New Acquaintances


On De-Celebrating Black Hat Hackers and Celebrating Graffiti Artists

art by Lady Pink
art by Lady Pink


Hi all – my blog is back up and carefully backed up so if any more infamous black hat hackers try to take it down, getting it back up won’t be such an issue.

On the temp blog I set-up while I regathered my three years of this riffingonbooks blog, I posted:

“Hello. If you are looking at this you are seeing me in the process of reloading my blog site.

I was hacked. By a well know cyber crime group. But I won’t mention their name as I will not give them any more publicity than they deserve – which is none.

They left their “signature” on my site. It was boring. And lazy. Like 12 point Arial type.

I have taught some of the best graffiti artists in Los Angeles. Now THEY know how to make signatures!

What I taught them was to make productive use of their art skills and brains. So now they make movies and art and websites, and earn livings doing it – as well as have personally fulfilling lives with their art both in jobs and on their own time.

I wish that cybercriminals who do things like take down websites could learn to do something useful, something that would move the world forward in a positive direction with the brains I know they have – as evidenced by their ability to take down a website.”


This entry was posted in Riffing On Life on June 25, 2013.”

I’d love to post some of my students’ (from the past, of course) graffiti art, but since I don’t have any on hand, I did a little research and found the “signature art” of one of the few known women grafitti artists, Lady Pink.

Above is one of her images. Beautiful. She is a legend who made a name for herself in the 1980s as one of the only females capable of competing with men in the graffiti subculture. You can see more of her work at: (or just click the pix) She was born in Ecuador but apparently lives in New York now.

I was remembering just now one of my tagging artist students, M-. I had okayed for her to use her tagging skills on a poster project in class. But the day we were to all work on it, she, unusually, was very late. Turned out she had been stopped by the Metro Police for carrying paint spray cans in her backpack! He made her dispose of them, so we had to improvise our art tools that day.

Another of my tagging / graffiti artist students was not sure what to do with his art skills when he started college. I had him in an animation class, and it occurred to me that he would be really good with type and animating it! He was. But one day he came to class with a video he had shot and edited. I was blown away. He had no background in video, it was just his intuitive genius and over the top excellent art skills that had been behind him producing a film the caliber of a film student graduate. (I know a little about the skills needed to produce an excellent film as I obtained a film degree before moving over to computer new media). Later R- switched from WEB and Interactive Media (the department I ran and taught in) to filmmaking with my blessing. He was a born film artist.

It’s great to be back. I’ll return to our science and art discussions soon.