Friday, August 19, 2011

Between the Folds

Independent Lens: Between the FoldsRecently I watched Between the Folds, an amazing documentary about the math of origami.  In it there are interviews of brilliant artists, physicists, and mathematicians who share an interest in the interrelationship of science and art.

Michael LaFosse makes paper for most of the leading folders in the world and is one of the only people who folds his own paper.  He talks in the documentary about the difference between additive and subtractive art.  Painting is additive, made by adding paint to paper.  In contrast, sculpture is based on taking things away from the material.  Origami is unique, he says, because you are just changing the shape, neither adding nor subtracting material.

An interesting debate about origami occurs between of Eric Joisel (French) and Robert Lang (American).  Joisel's style is emotional.  He says that origami involves [for him] "breathing life into the paper"--and his characters' individual personalities come to life in his folds.  Lang's art, by contrast, is incredibly detailed and he bases his patterns on mathematical algorithms.  His origami constructions are very precise.  Interestingly, he names his art by opus number--the same way music is named.  I find the work of Joiesel and Lang equally fascinating.

Their debate moves throughout the origami world.  Young artists are finding new ways to make incredibly technical work, with hundreds of steps.  Joisel, however, worries that if too much energy goes into technicality, not enough will go into emotions.  Lang sees benefits in the more technical work and uses the example of Chopin’s etudes, pieces originally used primarily for learning technique, as a counter to Joisel's claim.  In Chopin's case, his etudes are incredibly soft and musical.  In fact, my favorite definition of etude is "a musical composition featuring a specific point of technique but performed because of its artistic merit."

One of my favorite  parts of the documentary is about Vincent Floderer and the French origami movement, Le Crimp.  Their idea is to crumple paper rather than fold it, creating hundreds of small creases and elasticity in the paper.  In the film, Floderer uses the crumple technique to create a a very realistic mushroom.

Eric Demaine, another origami enthusiast, is a very young professor at M.I.T.  He is a computational geomitrist.  Demaine, formerly a homeschooler, went to college at the age of twelve and finished grad school at twenty-two.  He was then hired by M.I.T on the spot.  Demaine is fascinated by the idea of origami as a lab for mathematics.  One of the questions he explores is what shapes can be created by folding a single piece of paper into a flat plane and then cutting one straight line across the folds.  What he has found (and proven with his father) is that you can create any shape with this process.  In the documentary, he cuts out a swan by this method.

Demaine is also interested in the practical applications of origami.  For instance, the process for folding airbags is based on an algorithm from origami.  Robert Lang has even designed and built a collapsible satellite lens that could fit inside a rocket.

The movie is fascinating.  I highly recommend it.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Diabetes and Bugs

Over the weekend, I took my grandparents to visit the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore.  My grandfather has Type II Diabetes, so we thought it might be especially interesting to visit the Diabetes exhibit on the second floor.  We enjoyed it a lot and it was great to see Grandpa smile.

The exhibit was primarily about Type II diabetes but there was also information about Type I diabetes, which my uncle has.  Most people who are diagnosed with Type I diabetes are young.  Their pancreases have stopped producing insulin and they therefore need to inject insulin into their bodies throughout the day.  Type II diabetes is usually diagnosed in older adults and results when their cells fail to use insulin effectively.  In other words, their bodies have become insulin resistant.

People who have Type I diabetes must take insulin regularly since their bodies cannot produce it.  Some people with Type II take insulin, but many people only take medications that make their bodies more
sensitive to the the insulin their bodies naturally produce.

A significant way both Type I diabetics and Type II diabetics can take care of themselves is by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.  These actions can help prevent the long-term consequences of diabetes, which can include cardiovascular problems, nerve damage and amputations, kidney damage, and blindness.

One of the central points of the museum exhibit was to explain the impact of diabetes on patients.  I felt the number of special effects and graphics detracted from that goal.  For example, there was an arcade game contraption which was supposed to teach how difficult it is to balance insulin and glucose.  Unfortunately, the instructions did not really explain how the process worked.  On top of that, the game did not work much of the time.

The exhibit talked a lot about how difficult it is to develop treatments (and perhaps one day a cure) for diabetes.  The FDA will not approve a medicine that hurts 1 in 10,000 people.  Therefore, any drug that helps many but can hurt particular individuals cannot be released.  I have mixed feelings about the process.  The FDA should protect people from harm, but if the drug has a potential to help others, it might still have a use.  My father pointed out (and I agree) that the exhibit seemed to be sponsored by pharmaceutical corporations who were trying to convince people that manufacturing new and expensive drugs is the only appropriate way to combat diabetes.

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While we were at the science museum, I watched a demonstration of common ways of cooking insects.  At the end, the chef served samples of a cricket stir-fry (which was excellent).  Surprisingly enough, the taste and texture of crickets is similar to the taste and texture of sunflower seeds.  They also have similar nutritive properties.  For dessert, I had a chocolate-chip mealworm cookie which was unbelievably good.  Despite my recommendations, my grandparents decided not to sample the bugs.


Monday, August 15, 2011

My Blog


I am a homeschooler starting my seventh grade year.  I live right outside the District of Columbia.  This blog will be a record made by me of my high school years.  My goal is to write regularly.  I plan to write about what I am doing in school as well as things like field trips and what I am reading.