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Archive for February, 2008

Capricon Science Fiction Convention Review

Monday, February 18th, 2008
Abstract Experiment
Abstract Experiment in Rotation

I’m back from a weekend of Capricon. Unfortunately I was only able to spend Saturday morning at the con as my wife had to work and my oldest son was home sick. The only presentation I attended was Bryan Palaszewski’s Moonbases: Not For The Weak Minded Pirate. The first half was mostly devoted to discussing the Apollo lunar program and the second half dealt with moon base designs.

Following Bryan’s program I headed off to the Art Show where the first person I saw was one of my favorite ladies of SF, Lori, who was running this year’s art show. I also ran into friend and space artist Tom Peters who had some art in the show. We only had a few minutes to talk before he and his wife had to head off. I took this, my one opportunity, to walk through the art show and look at the art on display. Much of the art was small pencil drawings. The most popular themes seemed to be cats and dragons. One of the ladies working the show told me that “ninety percent of science fiction fans love cats.” In fact the only art on which I observed bids had cats, dragons, or both as the subject. Unfortunately for me I don’t do either dragons or cats. Tom had some space exploration art in the show – the only such art I saw. It seems to me that over the years space ships and astronauts have been on the decline in the local SF art shows. The only two pieces of astronomical art were my own. The most impressive piece in the show was a very large recreation of primitive cave art. It was wonderfully done and I lingered over it far longer than any other piece in the show.

Sunday was a hectic day. I arrived early so that I could begin the process of packing up my art. Fortunately I was able to get into the show area (the doors didn’t officially open till 10:00am) and got my unsold art packed up.

Programming began at 10:00am and I was on for my presentation Imaging Mars which was illustrated with my own Mars images. A good portion of my presentation was actually a tutorial on how people could access the raw Mars mission data for themselves and create their own Martian artwork.

I ran my presentation right up to the hour mark and had to make a mad dash to get to my panel on Podcasting. This panel had very much of a tutorial feel to it in that I and my fellow panelists spent most of our time discussing the how-to aspects of podcasting.

Following the end of the podcasting panel, I had one hour in which to go through the art check out process, get my art into the car, and grab a quick bite of lunch before heading off for my last presentation.

The last hour of programming for Capricon began at 2:00pm and I was surprised to see a nice sized audience for my Space Solar Power for Earth presentation wherein I explain the concept of space solar power and how it benefits both humanity and the environment. Note that the best resource for papers and studies dealing with space solar power is the NSS Space Solar Power Library.

And with that I was out the door feeling that first tickle in my throat that told me that I was probably going to come down with the same bug that caused my son to miss three days of school. Well, better to be sick after a con than before.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Pirates of the Capricon Science Fiction Convention

Friday, February 15th, 2008
Femme Fatale digital painting
Femme Fatale digital painting

I returned earlier this evening from the Capricon Science Fiction Convention which this year has pirates as its theme. Back in January I sent in three programming ideas to the Capricon folks for their consideration. Little did I suspect that they would choose to accept all three. I gave the first of my three presentations today. The Universe According to Monty Python is a presentation I created that provides an analysis of the planetary, astronomical, and cosmological statements made in Monty Python’s The Galaxy Song. It’s amazing that one can spend an entire hour explaining the meaning behind the lyrics of a two minute song.

I actually showed up at Capricon on Thursday in order to set up my art for the art show. I decided to limit myself to six works. The newest of the six is Femme Fatale which I’ve used to illustrate this entry. The difficult part was in deciding just what to bring and what to leave behind.

Saturday I am totally off the hook so can roam as I please. However it will be a busy Sunday with my giving two more presentations and sitting in on one panel. My lead off presentation is Imaging Mars in which I provide an introduction to the image processing associated with Mars mission data and an exploration of Martian geology using imagery from the Viking and Mars Global Surveyor missions to Mars. This is immediately followed by the panel Podcasting where we will discuss the technical aspects of creating and syndicating podcasts. Personally I think that podcasts may be on the way out. Given that the computer has a built in screen, that webcams are cheap, and that more and more people have high speed internet access, I predict that videocasting will grow in popularity and that audio podcasting will decline in relative terms. The one saving grace for podcasting is that those MP3 files can easily be loaded into people’s MP3 players and listened to in any kind of setting.

An hour break for lunch and then it’s off to give my presentation on Solar Power from Space for Earth which explores the idea of using a system of space-based Solar Power Satellites to meet the large increases in energy demand resulting from increasing world population and per capita energy consumption.

The Art. The piece that I have used to illustrate this post is titled Femme Fatale. It is a freehand digital painting I created using Photoshop and a custom brush I created for use with my Wacom tablet. I was quite pleased with the result and my only regret is that I decided to create this as an 11 by 14 inch painting. I now wish that I had chosen a larger size. I will be adding this piece to the Artsnova Art Gallery once I create a separate gallery to hold portraiture.

If you’re attending Capricon, be sure to check out the art show and my art.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Does Photoshop Auto Levels Reveal Mars True Colors?

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008
Viking lander view of Martian surface
Figure 1. Viking 1 Lander color view of the martian surface.
Left: Mars as NASA shows it.
Right: Mars as Hoagland and company believe it to be using Photoshop Auto Levels.

The followers of Hoagland are at it again. They are still claiming that NASA is faking the colors of Mars – giving it a reddish sky when, according to them, the martian sky is really blue.

Quoting from their article posted 01/17/2008: “NASA has deliberately altered the colors of the images to make the Martian sky appear an absurd “Technicolor red,” when in fact all the evidence clearly shows that the true color of the Martian sky is (and must be) blue – just as it is here on Earth. In fact, when we used a simple color correction tool in Photoshop called the Auto Levels tool, Mars came out looking as Carl Sagan described it after the first Viking images in 1976 – it looked like Arizona.” Note that I am not including a link to the web site as the last thing I want to do is boost their standings in the search engines.

To illustrate what they are talking about, I went to the NASA JPL Photojournal web site and downloaded the same Viking image shown in conjunction with their story – see Figure 1 above. In Photoshop I duplicated the background layer and applied the Auto Levels command to that layer. I then cropped and downsized the image for display here. The left half of Figure 1 is Mars as shown on the NASA JPL web site. The right half has had Photoshop’s auto levels applied – resulting in a lovely blue sky. But is that really what the Martian sky looks like? Hoagland and his followers would have you believe that NASA, JPL (which is staffed and managed by the California Institute of Technology) and planetary scientists around the world are all part of a vast conspiracy that does not want us to know that the martian sky is blue. And since I am here to debunk Hoagland and company’s claims, I too must be part of that conspiracy. Cool! I’ve never been part of a conspiracy before – other than that age old parental conspiracy to convince their children that there really is a Santa Claus.

What about their claim that Auto Levels is a color correction tool? From the Photoshop Help description of the Auto Levels command: “The Auto Levels command automatically adjusts the black point and white point in an image. This clips a portion of the shadows and highlights in each channel and maps the lightest and darkest pixels in each color channel to pure white (level 255) and pure black (level 0). The intermediate pixel values are redistributed proportionately. As a result, using Auto Levels increases the contrast in an image because the pixel values are expanded (as opposed to being compressed, as in lower contrast images). Because Auto Levels adjusts each color channel individually, it may remove color or introduce color casts. Auto Levels gives good results in certain images with an average distribution of pixel values that need a simple increase in contrast.

So Auto Levels is not a color correction tool but a contrast enhancement tool that in certain situations may introduce a color cast. Note the qualifications that Auto Levels can give good results in some images and that the quality of those results is purely dependent on the distribution of pixel values. Pixel values is a reference to the luminance of a pixel – how dark or bright it is.

Back to Photoshop, lets review one more time what Auto Levels does. For each of the color channels – red, green, blue – Auto Levels takes the lightest pixel value in the channel and remaps it to white, takes the darkest pixel value and remaps it to black, and then stretches out everything in between. Now the consequence of this is that the brightest red, green, and blue pixels will now combine to form white because they have all been arbitrarily set to a value of 255.

Arizona sunset digital photograph
Figure 2. Digital photograph of an Arizona sunset

Let’s take a planet Earth example. Figure 2 is a photograph of an Arizona sunset that I took. On the left is the unmodified half of the photograph and on the right is the half as altered by the Auto Levels command. Why the large difference?

Photoshop Blue Channel Histogram
Figure 3. The Photoshop histograms for the blue channel of the Arizona sunset: before and after application of the Auto Levels command.

The histogram in figure 3 reveals what happened to the image. The histogram shows the distribution of luminance values for the blue channel before and after the application of Auto Levels. As you can see Auto Levels has significantly altered the distribution of luminance in the blue channel.

Now the question is which of these two images is a more accurate reflection of reality? Since I was there taking the photograph this is an easy question to answer. Auto Levels has both lightened the image and introduced a significant blue color cast and is not an accurate reflection of the sunset that I personally witnessed.

In closing, the claim that NASA, and the rest of the planetary science community, are lying about the true color of Mars and that the Photoshop Auto Levels command provides supporting evidence is baseless and without merit.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Artsnova Digital Art Website Now Live

Saturday, February 9th, 2008
artsnova web site
The Artsnova Web Site

At long last I am finally launching the Artsnova web site. The Artsnova blog dates back to October 2006 and I have been working on developing the Artsnova web site since that time. However, it seemed that other projects always took a higher priority and my work on the site was sporadic at best.

The purpose of the Artsnova web site is to display and market my digital art. At this point I have only 18 pieces on display in four galleries. The artwork is organized into galleries based on subject.

The Abstract Gallery is not really accurately defined since it contains not only purely abstract forms but also some rather interpretive representational art.

The Nature Gallery consists of art whose theme is the natural world. Landscapes, botanicals, and life – both photographic and digitally painted – all illustrating different aspects of our natural world are to be found here.

Since childhood, I have had a strong interest in astronomy and space exploration. The Space Gallery is home to my astronomical and space art. At present, only astronomical art is on display.

The Technology Gallery features art whose subject is the technological creations of man. Whereas luddites curse technology, I praise technology for the many benefits humanity derives from it.

In the future I expect to add a Portrait Gallery to the collection. I also hope to find the time to make regular additions to the existing galleries.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Space Settlement Art Contest Winners Announced

Friday, February 1st, 2008
After the Storm
After the Storm: Grand Prize Winner
used with artist’s permission

The winners of the National Space Society Space Settlement Art Contest have just been announced. As one of the five judges for the contest, my job was to vote on the best 12 works of space art out of the 69 submitted.

My fellow judges for the contest included space artist Don Davis, my friend and fellow space artist David Robinson, the Chair of the NSS Space Settlement Calendar Committee Bart Leahy, and Loretta Hidalgo-Whitesides, Executive Director of Yuri’s Night.

There were two rounds of judging. The first round consisted of voting for the grand prize image, a best in category image for each of the contest categories: Orbital Settlement, Lunar Settlement, Martian Settlement, and Asteroid Settlement; and voting for another 7 images for inclusion in the calendar. For the second round judges were presented with the top 12 vote getting images and were asked to vote again for the one grand prize picture and the four best of category pictures.

For my part, choosing the image to receive the grand prize presented no difficulty what so ever. After the Storm by Raymond Cassel was clearly the best entry in the contest. The image was original, realistic in its depiction of dealing with the consequences of a martian dust storm, and technically well executed. Obviously my fellow judges were in agreement on this one. I asked Raymond if it would be okay with him if I used his image to illustrate this blog entry and he kindly agreed.

The winning image in the Lunar Settlement category was The Lunar Greenhouse by Jonathan Chapin. For the Orbital Settlement category, Goetz Scheuermann won with his O’Neill Style Cylinder Colony. In the Mars Settlement category, Martian Evening by Timothy Hodg won. Bryan Versteeg took the prize in the Asteroid Settlement category with his Asteroid Mining for Station Creation.

Of the four categories, choosing a winner for the Asteroid Settlement category was the hardest because the three contending images were all so good. Of course the best aspect of the contest was all the new space art that got created. You can see all the artwork that was submitted to the contest, as well as the rest of the winning images, at the Gallery for Space Settlement 2009 Calendar Art Contest. You may also want to read the press release about the contest winners.

In closing, I would like to congratulate not only the contest winners but all the artists who took the time to create and submit entries to the Space Settlement Art Contest.

Ad Astra, Jim

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