Origami and computers. It wouldn't seem they have much in common.
Origami is the art of paper-folding, which has a history stretching back to the first century, around the time paper was invented in China. Today, in its classic form, it is still a quiet, meditative endeavor that demands its adherents follow strict rules - no matter how complex the model a paper-folder is making, he or she must start with a square piece of paper and make no cuts.
Computers, of course, are now at the center of our busy work and recreational lives, and there seems to be little meditative about them. Simple conversations via a modem hookup can in an instant become flaming sessions; games strive to become ever more violent; and the World Wide Web sometimes seems only slightly less brazen in its commercialism than the Olympics.
But sometimes late at night, sitting alone in front of the screen, the digital world is not so removed from one that was quieter. While unraveling the elegant layers of a game such as Myst or Cosmology of Kyoto, or while on the more arduous quest of creating a program from scratch, the rules must be followed if the end results are to be elegant.
So, it's no surprise that origami CD-ROMs have arrived, as have Web sites devoted to the ancient art. The best of the CD-ROMs is "Paper Animal Workshop," developed by a small Arizona company, KittyHawk Software. In 1994, its programmers put out one of my favorite software products ever, The Greatest Paper Airplanes.
Workshop shows you how to fold 12 animals, including a shark, turtle, lion and the best known of all origami forms, a whooping crane.
After choosing one of the animals, Workshop gives you the option of printing out the fold lines on a sheet of paper. For beginners, this is indispensable. Then with a mouse click, step by step, the folds are demonstrated in slow motion. They can be repeated, backward and forward, as many times as you want.
The only drawback is that Workshop is limited in scope. It would be nice if it moved beyond animals to other objects; also welcome would be instructions in the basic origami forms so that hobbyists could make their own creations.
Paper Animal Workshop is distributed by Strategic Alliance Partners at (310) 860-4029 and costs $24.95.
The origami sites on the Web are a bit disappointing, in that they provide little in the way of instruction or inspiration, although there are some nice photographs. As video sequences on the Web become more practical, perhaps there will be more in the way of step-by-step tutoring.
In the meantime, there is a brief history of origami at Joseph Wu's Origami Page and an amusing Origami Records page that includes such records as the largest known model from a single paper sheet - a crane made from a 23-foot square by a Japanese language class in Washington state.