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Archive for August, 2008

Algorithmic Portrait Painting Technique

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
Algorithmic John McCain Portrait
Algorithmic John McCain Portrait

The picture above is a cropped version of the initial result of my experiments into creating an algorithmic portrait painting technique. The program I’ve created samples an existing photograph at a predefined resolution. The program then uses that color information to paint a new pixelated version of the picture using roughly rectangularly shaped recursive brush strokes. I allow the program to randomly choose colors for the image background.

My development and testing of this technique has been done on a rather small scale – working with an image of just 542 by 691 pixels. My next step will be to try scaling this technique up so that I can use it to produce portraits that are thousands of pixels wide/tall. I also want to modify the routines that produce the painted background so that the colors chosen are keyed to the predominant colors of the image’s foreground subject.

Assuming that I am successful with scaling up the program to produce large pictures, I will probably experiment with it on non-portrait images that have a strong foreground – background contrast. I must say that so far this project has been fun, though at times aggravating as I struggle to produce code that creates the output that I visualize.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Is It Art?

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008
Lissajous Vase Algorithmic Art
Lissajous Vase – an example of Algorithmic Art

Whether the above illustration is art or not can be debated. There are some who argue that any image that is produced by an algorithm is not art. On the other hand there is a group of artists known as algorists who produce what is referred to as algorithmic art. No matter which side of the “Is It Art” debate you are on, I can say that I had fun creating this illustration.

A while back I wrote about my Doomed Diskettes and the task of deciding what files to keep. When I began my adventure with Processing and wrote about that beginning in Processing: Finding Beauty in Math, I made reference to a Basic program I had written some 15 years ago that produced Lissajous curves. Going back and searching through the files I had copied to my hard drive from all those diskettes that I had tossed, I found the source code for that program. Though my Basic programming skills have seriously atrophied over the years, I was able to figure out what exactly I was doing in that program and recreate the graphic drawing component in the Processing environment.

I say I had fun creating the program and the “art” it produces. Perhaps this is a result of a sense of nostalgia on my part. Prior to the advent of paint programs, like Photoshop, digital imagery was produced programmatically – primarily with a program directing a plotter. That is, the artist/author/programmer (or is that programmer/author/artist) implemented an algorithm in program code and then ran the program to produce the visual output. While the artist was not physically involved in the application of ink to paper, that application was only possible as a consequence of the artist’s mental conception of the final image and the translation of that concept into program code.

In one sense algorithmic art is conceptual in that the artist/programmer has an idea in mind of what it is they want to accomplish or say. The artist then sets about creating the instructions to produce that image in order to bring it to physical life.

Artist Sol Le Witt, who was one of the originators of conceptual art, would make large scale drawings on gallery walls. However these drawings were not actually done by him but were rather produced by others who were carrying out instructions Sol had written down. In a sense the instructions were a program and those who actually carried out the physical drawing function were nothing more than human computers – following instructions and generating output. On the subject of conceptual art, Sol Le Witt had this to say:

“When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.”

So, is it art? I suspect that art, like beauty, is most likely to be found in the eye of the beholder.

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A Space Election Year

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008
Miles O'Brien and Jim Plaxco at the 2008 International Space Development Conference
Miles O’Brien (l) and Jim Plaxco (r) at the National Space Society’s 2008 International Space Development Conference

I received my National Space Society Board of Directors election ballot in the mail yesterday. So why am I writing about this? Basically because I am one of the candidates vying for an At Large seat on the NSS board.

Of the many non-profit organizations that I’ve been involved with – whether as an officer, director, or just plain member, the National Space Society strikes me as being the most democratic. Members elect the directors and directors elect/approve the officers. The large number of directors – 32 – provides for a variety of perspectives.

To get on the ballot, candidates are either nominated by the NSS Nominations Committee or circulate petitions and receive the required number of signatures from NSS members. One thing is certain: this will be a competitive election with 17 well qualified candidates competing for just 12 At Large seats. The At Large directors serve four year terms and are voted for by the general membership. The other class of directors are the Regional directors who serve two year terms and are voted for by members that reside in the associated geographic region. In this election there are 9 candidates for 8 regions. Looking over the list of candidates, I’m pleased to say that I’ve had the opportunity to work with many of them in the past.

On the candidate list are three At Large candidates who were nominated by both the Nominations Committee and by petition. They are Jim Plaxco (that being me), Jeffrey Liss, and Ken Money. There are another 11 candidates who were nominated by the Nominations Committee but not by petition: Larry Ahearn, Dale Amon, Amara Angelica, Gary Barnhard, David Brandt-Erichsen, Anita Gale, Peter Garretson, Ed McCullough, Joe Redfield, Yvonne Spenser, and Jay Wittner. There are another 3 candidates who were nominated by petition only: Kim Elm, Anntonette Joseph, and John Strickland. In the mix of candidates we have an astronaut, a lawyer, a US Air Force officer, a science journalist, a bank vice president, some entrepreneurs and engineers, et. al. – and I haven’t covered the regional candidates.

Unfortunately the candidate statements for the 17 At Large and 9 Regional candidates are not available online. However you are welcome to read my candidate statement. I confess that I had a hard time getting my statement down under the 400 word limit.

And just what does the National Space Society’s Board do? According to the NSS Bylaws, the Board is … responsible for the overall supervision, control, direction and governance of the property, activities, and affairs of the Society, its committees and publications; shall determine its policies or changes therein; shall actively prosecute its objectives and supervise the disbursement of its funds;… and the list goes on.

So for all of you NSS members out there, please take the time to read over all the candidate statements and vote in the election. After all, these are the people who will be deciding how to best use your membership dues and donations and deciding on the National Space Society’s priorities for how best to promote human space exploration.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Space, Art, and Web Programming

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008
Algorithmic Waterfall
Algorithmic Waterfall

Space, art, and web programming – that’s what I’ve been spending all my spare time on lately for which postings to this blog have suffered.

On the subject of space exploration, I just finished reading Camp Century City Under the Ice by Walter Wager. Published in 1962, the book provides a general overview of Camp Century – a nuclear powered “city” then all of two years old. Existing below the surface of Greenland’s glacier, this base allowed for year round occupation and observation of the ice cap and polar winter.

I learned about Camp Century from a friend and decided to create a presentation using Camp Century as an analogy for a moon base. The number and nature of the challenges faced by the team from the Army Corps of Engineers that envisioned, built, and maintained Century were strikingly similar to the types of problems facing lunar base planners. The book’s author also foresaw this when he wrote:

Since Camp Century has already demonstrated that young Americans can survive in miserably isolated outposts under bitterly adverse conditions, the US scientists planning the Free World’s first lunar output will approach their immensely more complex assignment with a certain amount of confidence.

With respect to art, I’m still working my way through the Processing book I wrote about previously in Processing: Finding Beauty in Math. In fact I created the image Algorithmic Waterfall using Processing and techniques I learned from the book.

I have also been reading Painting the Digital River: How an Artist Learned to Love the Computer by James Faure Walker and published in 2006. It’s an interesting read with the author making points that I both agree and disagree with. Once I’ve finished it, I’ll post a more extensive review here.

As if space and art weren’t enough, I’ve also been busy working on the National Space Society’s web site. One of the hats I wear in life is that of chairing the National Space Society’s Web Oversight Committee and the Website Redesign Committee. We (we being our team of volunteers) recently completed the deployment of a new CSS drop down menu and, more time consuming and troublesome, the conversion of a thousand plus web pages from an ancient, no DOCTYPE, malformed version of HTML to XHTML compliant pages. The next phase is to create a new graphic design for the site and get it deployed. I’d really like to have the design portion done by the end of August and the actual deployment completed by the end of September, if not sooner.

Ad Astra, Jim

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