Sunday, February 17, 2013

OBJECT #19: Paper Models

    This is the paper ship model that comes with the “Mapping the World with Art” curriculum.  I found it as a free download from an obscure online source.  I printed the pattern on white card stock and used toothpicks for the masts.  It measures only about 4 inches high (10 cm).
    I tried doing this project last fall with a group of students ages 11-14.  It was a bit tedious for most of them.  I think I was the only one who ended up actually finishing my ship.  Part of the problem may have been that they were doing it while in a group situation.  It they had been doing it as an at-home project they might have been less distracted.
    I have a love/hate relationship with paper models.  I am childishly mesmerized by the fact that mere paper can be shaped and glued into incredible 3D shapes.  Paper models can become an addiction.   The Canon company has a website with amazing downloadable patterns.  They have buildings, animals, vehicles, famous statues, cartoon characters, dioramas, and much more.  What has stopped me from downloading and assembling dozens of them is that “hate” part.  My first experience with the downside of paper models occurred years ago when I built Dover’s cut-and-assemble carousel model.  My daughter was in love with carousel horses.  I made a large wooden cut-out for her wall (sensibly durable for a 5-year old), then felt compelled to make the paper carousel (stupidly delicate for a 5-year old).  I can’t remember how it met its final end.  What I do remember is how hard I had to work to delay that ultimate demise.  The most amazing part of its survival is that I don’t think it was eaten by the guinea pigs.

    I have several paper automata (little gizmos that move when you turn a crank).  Two of them are silly pirates, one of whom wobbles back and forth on paper crutches.  Behind the pirates lurks a paper Egyptian tomb with a mummy who pops out of a sarcophagus, making the attending priest shiver with fear.  I was so taken with this one that I tried to make a larger wooden version.  I discovered how tricky it is to scale up a design, adding not just size but weight to the pieces.  I had to make many modifications.  The end result was okay, but didn’t run quite as smoothly as the paper model.

         The biggest paper automata I have is a cartoon version of St. George and his dragon.  (He has to share the mantel with part of my skull collection.)  The motion is quite complex.  The horse rears, the knight raises and lowers his sword, and the dragon snaps his jaws.  I believe this one is still in print, but I think is only available from UK sites.  I am tempted to upscale this, but I think I’ll wait until I get some of my other automata ideas done first. 

    If you like paper models and have not yet discovered paper automata, go to and type in “paper automata.” 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

OBJECT #18: Brain book ends

    Brain anatomy seems to be a theme I can’t get away from.  The download-able brain hemisphere hat on my website has become the most popular free download item on my site.  It’s been used at science fairs from San Diego, CA, to Cambridge, England.  School teachers have used it in their classrooms then posted the pictures on their blogs.  An international publishing company discovered it and asked me to design a hat that was half brain/half elephant, for one of their advertising campaigns.  A neuroscientist emailed me about getting some printed to use as “microgifts” for his interns.  And, most recently, a brain imaging company in Boston had me do a mouse pad design using a modified version of the brain hat.

    This set of brain book ends was given to me by a former student who is now a young adult.  When she saw this item she said it just screamed my name, so she had to get it for me.  So now I have brain hemispheres between which I can keep all my books about brain hemispheres.  Works out nicely.

    I had to consult one of these books recently to do some fact checking for the left hemisphere brain mouse pad project.   According to this fairly scholarly book, the hemispheres are not quite as dissimilar as most popular science articles would have you believe, although language does seem to be solidly on the left side for about 90 percent of the population.  To date, there are no good theories as to why this should be so.  It just is.  (The same for handedness.  Why most people are right handed is a complete mystery.)  The unlucky 10 percent, whose brains have decided to use the right side for language, will almost certainly have issues with language processing, though in most cases the problems are mild enough that the affected persons can overcome the problems or learn to work around them.  (Many people who have this condition are unaware of it.)

    The left side of the brain has two special areas that the right side does not have--areas devoted to processing words.   Both areas bear the names of the people who discovered their significance.  Broca’s area is where we construct sentences before (or as) we say them.  Wernicke’s area is where we process the language that we hear, turning sounds into meaningful ideas.  These two areas connect to other areas of the brain, also.  No part of the brain functions independently from the others.

    This is the right hemisphere brain mouse pad.  The right hemisphere is usually non-verbal.  It is the center for creativity, music, and art.  It sees relationships between things, and understands “the whole picture.”  It is from the right hemisphere that those “Eureka!” moments come.