Blog: [Blog Home] [Archives] [Search] [Contact]

Archive for May, 2013

A Week of Space Tech

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Bill Nye Science Guy at Space Tech Expo
Bill Nye Science Guy under guard at the Space Tech Expo

On May 20 I left Chicago for Long Beach CA to attend the 2nd annual Space Tech Expo. My mission: to cover the conference for Ad Astra magazine. Additionally I wanted to gather information from speakers and exhibitors that I could use to enhance my "The NewSpace Frontier" presentation. I developed this talk in April and have so far given it at three venues to a combined audience of approximately 200 people.

The Space Tech Expo did not disappoint. One of the curious things about this conference was its two-tiered approach to registration. Only the main programming track required a paid registration. The other two programming tracks and the exhibits were all accessible with a free registration.

While some of the exhibitors were companies/organizations that space enthusiasts would recognize, like ATK, Boeing, XCOR, ZERO-G, Planetary Society, and Google Lunar XPrize; most of the 140-plus exhibitors were companies whose names are not well known but whose products are crucial to the success of the companies whose names we do know.

XCOR Lynx Mockup at Space Tech Expo
XCOR Lynx Mockup at Space Tech Expo

The centerpiece of the exhibit hall was a full-scale mockup of XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft. ZERO-G held a drawing for a free seat on one of their parabolic flights. Woe was me when I didn’t win.

I spent my time camped out in the Space Tech Conference, a separate "room" on the exhibit floor that hosted the main programming track – access to which required the paid registration. Unfortunately I could not be in two places at once as the Satellite and Space Summit track had much excellent programming as well. The third programming track – Open Tech Forum – was specialized to serve industry professionals by providing exhibitors the opportunity to present technical talks on their products and relevant innovations.

Space Tech Conference programming included presentations and panel discussions on the following areas:

  • Space tourism
  • Space commerce
  • Venture funding of space startups
  • Technology transfer opportunities
  • Military perspectives on space
  • NASA Commercial Crew and Cargo Program
  • NASA Space Launch System (SLS)

In addition to the aforementioned topics, there were dedicated presentations by

  • Bas Lansdorp, founder of Mars One
  • Alan Stern, President and CEO of Golden Spike
  • Bob Richards, CEO of Moon Express
  • Alexandra Hall, Senior Director, Google Lunar XPrize

Bas Lansdorp  Mars One
Bas Lansdorp, Mars One co-founder

I was elated to see friend, fellow Chicago Society for Space Studies member, and former fellow NSS Director Richard Godwin at the expo. Richard is President and CEO of Zero Gravity Solutions and was one of the conference’s featured speakers. Of the presentations I witnessed, Richard’s presentation on his company’s work with biotechnology and the use of the microgravity environment of space to manipulate plant and animal stem cells, without using genetic modification techniques, was the most fascinating of all, and potentially the most impactful on human society.

On the last day of the conference I headed over to the Satellite and Space Summit to catch Bill Nye’s ("The Science Guy" and Planetary Society CEO) presentation Asteroids Will Kill You! Know Your Place In Space. The most memorable single item from Nye’s presentation was the observation that an asteroid impact is the only preventable natural disaster.

The conference closed with a broadcast from the Open Tech Forum of Planetary Radio Live featuring:

  • Matt Kaplan, Planetary Radio Host
  • Michelle Peters, Zero-G Director of Research and Education
  • Andrew Nelson, XCOR Chief Operating Officer
  • Bill Nye, Planetary Society CEO

The two most interesting tidbits of information came from Mr. Nelson in answer to a question from the audience. First was that the first commercial flights of the Lynx could be as early as the end of 2014 and second that XCOR has no plans at this time for a manned orbital vehicle.

XCOR Lynx Mockup Cockpit at Space Tech Expo
At the controls of the XCOR Lynx Mockup at Space Tech Expo

The Space Tech Expo will be returning to the Long Beach Convention Center next year but will be held at the start of April. I don’t know if I’ll make it or not, but I am certainly happy that I attended this year’s expo.

Ad Astra, Jim

Bookmark it:  Stumble It  Bookmark this on Delicious  Digg This  Technorati  Reddit Tweet It


Free Software Alternatives to Adobe CS6

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Adobe CS6 Alternatives
Adobe CS6 Alternatives

In 2012 Adobe released CS6. What set this release apart from previous versions was the licensing path that Adobe has chosen. For more information about the Adobe Creative Cloud model, see Adobe’s Creative Cloud FAQ.

While I have been using Photoshop since Photoshop 5, it wasn’t until CS4 was released that I bought my first full Adobe suite. Adobe Design Premium CS4 included:

  • Acrobat 9 Professional – for PDF creation
  • Dreamweaver CS4 – for web site creation
  • Fireworks CS4 – preproduction and mockup for web page creation (combines Dreamweaver and Photoshop features)
  • Flash CS4 Professional – Flash creation
  • Illustrator CS4 – for creating vector graphics and for graphic design
  • InDesign CS4 – for desktop publishing
  • Photoshop CS4 Extended – Photoshop with 3D capabilities

Of the programs that make up the Design Premium suite, Photoshop is where I live and is the application which I am most qualified to comment on. I must say that I have become increasingly disenchanted with Adobe’s approach to the software/graphics market. This has strongly influenced my decision as to whether or not to continue to upgrade my Adobe products. From one review of CS6 we have this summation:

"No creative professional will deny the need for Adobe Creative Suite, and 2012’s version, CS6, focuses on some of the toughest demands designers face in an interactive, digital, multimedia landscape."

From a corporate perspective, that is probably true. Once upon a time you could not get criticized if you bought IBM products. With the advent of the desktop computer, Microsoft became the safe buy. With respect to visual creative software, Adobe holds the corporate safe to buy crown. But I am not a corporation. Nor do I have the deep pockets that would allow me to continue to ride the Adobe Upgrade Train.

So this article is for those who are in search of an alternative to Adobe. For this article, I am only going to look at those alternatives that are free. However, I am not going to do this for every program that is a part of the Design Premium package – just those that I use.

Acrobat 9 Professional

When it comes to creating PDFs, I have never had to make use of the advanced features provided by Acrobat. Instead I have found the capabilities of OpenOffice/LibreOffice Writer’s Export to PDF function to be sufficient for my needs. I will note that Acrobat has come in quite handy when it comes to editing PDFs that I did not create.

If all you need is to create simple PDF versions of documents you’ve created then I suggest using Writer – which is available as a tool in either OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

Dreamweaver CS4

While I have experimented with using Dreamweaver as a web site creation tool, I’ve always had a certain disdain for WYSIWYG web site creation tools. Once upon a time I used NetObjects Fusion professionally. If Microsoft FrontPage was a nightmare, then Fusion was a dream. But I never opted to use Fusion for my personal web sites. I much preferred the hand-coded approach – and still do. As the focus of this article is on graphic software, I will comment no further on Dreamweaver.

Fireworks CS4

Fireworks I’ve used a couple times just to give its web page creation tools a try. As I am not engaged in web design as a full time professional pursuit, I was unwilling to devote time to learning how to use this software, preferring to create quick graphic mockups in Photoshop.

Flash CS4 Professional

I confess that I have never even opened the Flash application. I have never had an interest in using Flash to create digital art and as a web designer have deliberately avoided using Flash for the web sites I’ve done – a strategy that in hindsight appears to have been the right one to follow. So no recommendations here.

Illustrator CS4

I’ve never been much of an Illustrator user so am not really qualified to testify on its strengths and/or weaknesses. All I can say is that it has worked for me when I’ve needed it.

As to free alternative vector software it seems that Inkscape is the most popular option. It is worth noting that Draw, which is another of the software components of both OpenOffice and LibreOffice, is also used to produce vector-based art and diagrams. Draw is the one component of OpenOffice/LibreOffice that I have never used. (Note that my chief reason for migrating from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice was that I viewed OO Impress as a superior product to MS Powerpoint at that point in time). Inkscape is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.

Inkscape – inkscape.org

InDesign CS4

My use of InDesign has been minimal. For the most part the documents I create are simple enough in terms of layout that they can be created in OpenOffice/LibreOffice Writer. However, for people who need the capabilities of a desktop publishing (DTP) application then Scribus is worth a look. This free software is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms. Oh – it is amazingly enough also available for those running OS/2 Warp (my favorite operating system of all time!).

Scribus – http://www.scribus.net/canvas/Scribus

Photoshop CS4 Extended

Photoshop – the software I love to hate due to its frequent crashes and operational glitches. I must say that it seemed to me that each new version of Photoshop crashed more often than the previous version. I was able to eliminate many of the crashes with CS4 by turning off all OpenGL features – which has the unfortunate side effect of reducing Photoshop’s functionality – but I prefer losing features to losing work!

As to free alternatives to Photoshop, there are many. The oldest and most well known of the free alternatives is GIMP. My use of GIMP has been limited but fruitful. My main problem with GIMP is that I would have to learn the GIMP way of doing things. Having used Photoshop for so long, I just know how to do what I want to do without having to think about it. Migrating to new software is always painful in that time must be spent in learning both the GUI and the tools. GIMP is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.
GIMP – www.gimp.org

It is not just photographers using Photoshop, but artists as well. Photoshop’s paint brush engine is quite powerful and allows artists to create many painterly effects – serving as a challenge to Corel Painter. One of the free, open source painting software alternatives is Krita. Krita started out as KImageShop, a component of KOffice, a free open source office suite, which was available for Linux, Mac, and Windows. Calligra has apparently stopped development on KOffice (2012) which does not impact Krita. The next version of Krita, 2.7, is expected to be released next month.

Krita is available for Linux and Windows with a beta version available for Mac OS/X. Windows users note that the "highly experimental MSI installer" installs the entire Calligra Suite which includes the applications Words, Stage and Sheets, Flow, Braindump, Karbon and Krita.
Krita – krita.org

Another free open source painting program for artists is MyPaint which is available for the Linux and Windows platforms. What I find appealing is this part of the site’s description of their software: "MyPaint supports pressure or tilt sensitive graphic tablets and comes with an easy-to-use brush collection. There is a complex interface for creating your own brushes, focusing on brush dynamics (changes with speed, pressure, randomly)" Creating my own brushes is one of the Photoshop features that I regularly use so this capability is a must for me.
MyPaint – mypaint.intilinux.com

Adobe Camera Raw

While not listed as a separate product, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) played a big part in my decision to upgrade from CS to CS4. Adobe did a great job with ACR. In my opinion, it was the best modification made to what was a part of my core work flow as I do a lot of digital photography.

For photographers who are looking for a free alternative to Adobe Camera Raw, one product that is highly rated is RawTherapee which is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.

RawTherapee – rawtherapee.com

In Summary

For me, the hardest part of migrating to new software is the loss of knowledge and experience I acquired using my current software. When I started with Photoshop there really were no good alternatives out there. For my money, I prefer to stick with my CS4 software vs upgrading to CS6 or migrating to alternative solutions. However I do anticipate the arrival of a day when I judge some free alternative to my Photoshop CS4 to be of superior quality.

In closing, for artists or photographers who are just starting out and do not have a history of using Adobe products to consider and are not seeking employment that requires a knowledge of Adobe products, this is a great time to investigate the many free software options that are available to you.

Happy Computing, Jim

Bookmark it:  Stumble It  Bookmark this on Delicious  Digg This  Technorati  Reddit Tweet It


NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement Student Art Contest

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

NASA Moon Base Art
NASA Moon Base Credit: NASA

I enjoy judging art contests. I particularly enjoy judging space art contests. I concluded my most recent space art judging experience Monday evening. In this case it was judging the student art that had been submitted to the National Space Society’s Roadmap to Space Settlement Student Art Contest.

The goal of the contest was to get students to create art that could be used to illustrate the NSS Milestones to Space Settlement: An NSS Roadmap – a document that was created for the purpose of laying out for the public the major milestones that will likely have to be passed and the major barriers that will have to be overcome in order for humanity to achieve the NSS vision of "People living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity." The contest was organized and managed by Lynne Zielinski, the NSS Vice President of Public Affairs (and a member of the Chicago Society for Space Studies).

Unfortunately the contest was run on a very tight time line. The contest was announced on March 25 and the submissions deadline was April 22. Typically art contests provide much more time – both to provide time to promote the contest and to allow artists time to create their submission. However NSS wanted the contest completed in advance of their annual International Space Development Conference (May 23-27).

In spite of the limited time frame the contest received over 300 submissions. Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of these submissions were rejected since they did not meet the contest’s guidelines. Eliminating these non-qualifying submissions left the judges with 14 artworks to evaluate. This was reduced to 13 when it was discovered that one of the submissions was a fraud. The artist claimed to have created his submission using Photoshop and GIMP but the artwork was actually a NASA produced image of a lunar base! I have used that NASA image to illustrate this article. You may have previously seen this image on the NASA or Space.com web sites.

Judging art can be quite challenging at times. However, a well designed set of judging criteria that includes specific elements on which to judge the art helps. For this particular art contest, judges were expected to evaluate the art based on the following elements:

  • the art features one of the milestones listed in the Roadmap to Space Settlement
  • the milestone depicted contains sufficient evidence of accuracy
  • the art is a realistic depiction
  • the art represents more factually based science than fictional science
  • the art uses accurate perspectives
  • the art provides an uplifting, positive message of our future in space
  • the art contains a high level of detail.
  • the art appears to be created in a manner that is consistent with the method described by the artist.
  • all elements of the art appear to be created by the artist

Each judge independently graded each image after which we met to confirm the grand prize winner and to ascertain how many First Prize and Honorable Mention awards would be given out. In the end it was decided to give one First Prize and one Honorable Mention award. The Grand Prize Winner was the entry Asteroid Mining Module and the First Prize Winner was INSPIRE Life – both of which topped my list point wise. An Honorable Mention was awarded to Jupiter Orbital Space Settlement.

It is likely that this contest will be held again next year and, hopefully, I will once again be asked to participate as a judge.

Reference Links

Bookmark it:  Stumble It  Bookmark this on Delicious  Digg This  Technorati  Reddit Tweet It