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Archive for June, 2013

Duckon Science Fiction Convention Programming

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Duckon science fiction convention
Duckon Science Fiction Convention

The Duckon Science Fiction Convention is this weekend at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling IL. I’ll be participating in some rather varied programming. In fact it looks like I’ll be kept fairly busy. Most demanding will be the three solo presentations I’ll be giving.

The first of my talks will be The NewSpace Frontier – a presentation surveying the newly energized field of commercial space, or private space if you like. It is worth pointing out that this is a pro-Space presentation and not a pro-NASA presentation. What is good for NASA has frequently been bad for space development. This will be my fourth time giving this presentation since first developing it in March.

My second talk will be in the form of a tutorial for artists and photographers. Building An Online Presence provides a broad overview of a variety of challenges that face the artist or photographer who is attempting to use the Internet in order to market their art and themselves. Note that I will next be giving this talk at Musecon in August and then again in September for the Barrington Cultural Arts Center in Barrington IL.

My third talk is about myself. In The Agony & Ecstasy Of Being A Digital Artist I talk about what it’s like being a digital artist trying to make a go of it with a medium that has received a fair amount of resistance from the traditional art world. I will cover some of the unique problems that digital artists encounter both with hardware and software issues. I also talk about some of the benefits of working digitally.

In addition to my talks, I’ll be participating in a mix of panels. In the field of art, I’ll be a panelist for Artwork for Book Covers moderated by Brian Pinkerton with co-panelists Kathryn Sullivan and Steven Silver. The panel description says:

Yours versus the publishers? Does an appealing cover really sell a novel? Are readers easily allured to the handsome man, barely dressed woman or intriguing alien on your cover despite the content? Who gets the final say with the artwork, and why?

I will say that I don’t have a balanced view of these issues as all the book and magazine commissions I have done have been for non-fiction publications. Being commissioned to create an accurate representation of the Milky Way galaxy, for example, is not at all similar to being commissioned to create a strapping he-man with a voluptuous female at his side.

And for something completely different, I’ll be moderating the Alternate Energy panel and will be responsible for keeping Bill Thomasson, Doug Drummond, and Rich Lukes in line – if that is possible. The description for this panel reads:

We’ve all heard of the push to set up more wind farms for harnessing energy. However, is it worth the cost to develop it? How much time do we really have left from fossil fuel reserves?

My energy background is having previously done presentations on forms of non-terrestrial energy generation including space solar power, lunar solar power, and using lunar He3 as a fuel source for fusion reactors.

The third and final panel I’m on is The Influx of Alternate Futures moderated by long-time friend and antagonist Jeffrey Liss. Jeffrey and I are joined by Deirdre Murphy, Rebecca Frencl and Clifford Royal Johns. Our panel description reads:

With the popularity of the Hunger Games, why are dystopian futures in literature and movies so common? Does the appeal of this subject relate to the mood of today’s generation? As the American and global economies improve, will we see more hopeful endings to these futuristic stories?

I certainly hope that Hunger Games does not come up during our discussions as I have not read the books or seen the movie. I do hope that we spend time discussing the impact of government regulatory, fiscal and monetary policies on a society’s economy and how such policies can lead to a dystopian outcome. Hopefully that doesn’t sound too nerdy but after all – this is a science fiction convention.

There you have it – my Duckon weekend lineup. One thing: even though I should, I won’t be exhibiting in the art show this year. However, on Monday I will be setting up an exhibit of my art at the Greater Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau in Schaumburg IL.

I’ll close this with a curious quote from science fiction author Bruce Sterling: Designers talk and think a lot like science fiction writers do, except in a much less melodramatic and histrionic way. Now I wonder if he was talking about himself?

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Processing.js and Animated Ellipses on Artsnova

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Processing Oscillating Ellipses Painting
Screen shot: Processing Oscillating Ellipses Painting

I’ve just started using Processing.js along with Processing 2 as a consequence of enrolling in the Coursera class Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps One of the components of the course is using Processing in javascript mode in order to create sketches that can be run in web browsers. Because of this, I’ve decided to add the Processing.js sketches I create to my Artsnova web site.

In a previous blog post – A Simple Android Processing Painting Sketch – I wrote about the difficulties I encountered in getting the Processing 2 Android development environment up and running on my computer. In writing about the bug that prevented the Add Mode tool from working correctly on the Windows version of Processing, I went on to explain how I was able to manually install the Processing Android library. That same bug also prevented the Add Mode tool from adding the Processing.js javascript library. While I didn’t mention it in that post (since my overriding concern was getting Processing’s Android development capability up and running) I also added the Javascript mode by downloading the Processing.js library from here:

and following the steps as I had done with the Android library to complete the process.

The first sketch I’ve done is Processing Oscillating Ellipses Animated Painting – which is quite a mouth full but does accurately describe what the sketch is all about. The program itself is rather straight forward and incorporates animation and interactivity. The picture I’ve used to illustrate this post is a screen capture from the program in action. The sketch has been tested and verified to work in the Windows versions of both Firefox 21 and Internet Explorer 9.

Right now I have no idea where this is going to lead. While my use here of Processing.js will be for purely aesthetic and artistic purposes, I see more significant value in Processing.js’ ability to create interactive data visualizations. As we enter the age of "big data" and as our need to interpret information becomes increasingly important, the capacity of tools like Processing.js to allow us to visually explore that data is far more important to society than its artistic and gaming capabilities.

Show me the sketch: Processing Oscillating Ellipses Animated Painting sketch

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Northwest Cultural Council Artists’ Reception

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Artist Reception Arlington Green West Wing
Artist Reception Arlington Green – west wing

Yesterday I attended a Northwest Cultural Council Artists’ Reception at the Arlington Green Executive Center in Arlington Heights IL. The site is one of the locations that participates in the Northwest Cultural Council’s Corporate Gallery program. I should point out that I am one of the artists participating in this program and will have a new exhibition opening in a week at the Greater Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau in Schaumburg IL.

Artist Reception Arlington Green
Artist Reception Arlington Green

This artist’s reception was hosted for the one artist and two photographers whose work is now on display at Arlington Green. The artist is Barbara Burt of Warrenville IL who is a paper artist. The two photographers are Jennifer Styrsky of La Grange Park IL and Gary Swiontek of Arlington Heights IL.

As I looked through the art and photographs exhibited I was looking for ideas. Something that would give me a creative "ah-ha". While I very much enjoyed many of the works being exhibited, I unfortunately did not have the "ah-ha" moment that I was looking for.

Artist Reception Arlington Green East Wing
Artist Reception Arlington Green – east wing

I spent some time indulging in the free food and drink and speaking with the three artists/photographers. I also spoke with Kathy Umlauf, the executive director of the Northwest Cultural Council. Sensing that my son was getting antsy (I had exercised parental power in making him come along with me), I cut my stay short and we headed off on the next leg of our journey – a visit to the local Barnes and Noble to catch up on news of the art world.

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A Simple Android Processing Painting Sketch

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Processing Android Painting App
Processing Android Painting App

The Coursera class Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps started this week and it’s been quite a challenging week. Not because of the course content. The challenge has been getting Processing to work in Android development mode in conjunction with the Android SDK and my Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 tablet. The class forums are besieged with posts from people trying to get all these parts to work together. It took some doing but I did get everything working and wrote my first Android app – a simple painting program. The illustration above is a screen shot of the app in action. The app also plays music while drawing – as opposed to playing continuously.

My Processing Android Installation

I am developing using the just released version of Processing (PROCESSING 2.0 (REV 0218) – 3 June 2013) on a Windows 7 platform and using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 as my Android tablet. This is relevant because the path to success depends on your particular mix of operating system, Processing version, and Android tablet type. Here are the steps I took to get everything working for my development environment.

1 – Install Processing 2.0, Revision 0218

Installing the 32-bit version of Processing went off without a hitch. I started Processing and created a couple of test sketches to insure that this piece worked.

2 – Use Processing’s Add Mode tool to add the Android and Javascript operating modes.

Abject failure. It turns out that this new release of Processing has a bug in it such that this tool may or may not work. The Add Mode step is necessary if you want to use Processing to develop apps.

2b – Manually add the Android mode

I manually downloaded the Processing Android development library from
The big question was where to unzip it. The instructions said ‘in the modes directory’ but I had more than one. I tried adding it to the ‘canned’ locations people were recommending but those didn’t work for me. If I had done it right Processing would have recognized the library’s existence and added it to its modes options list.

The reason the canned solutions did not work for me is because I had specified my own directory for Processing to use as its Sketchbook library. When I did this, Processing automatically (and without telling me) created a modes subdirectory in that directory. That is the modes directory in which Processing will look for the libraries. So if you’re a Processing user and want to know where your modes directory is, go to File -> Preferences and look at the entry for the Sketchbook location to see where this is on your computer.

At this point, Processing now had an Android mode but when I tried to use it, Processing told me that it didn’t know where my Android SDK was. Note that at this point I had not even installed it.

3 – Install the Android SDK

I installed the Android SDK and next using the SDK Manager downloaded and installed a variety of packages. I then restarted Processing and upon entering Android mode told Processing where I had installed the Android SDK. Processing stores this path in your preferences.txt file, in my case as:
android.sdk.path=C:\Program Files (x86)\Android\android-sdk

I now tried to run a sketch in emulator mode (Sketch -> Run in Emulator) but bailed after staring at a "Waiting for device to become available" message forever. What to do?

3b – Re-Install the Android SDK

I uninstalling the Android SDK and started over from scratch. Only this time I used the instructions found here:
on how to install the Android SDK. Note that the installation of the SDK takes a long time to complete so be sure to have something to do to keep yourself occupied while the install runs its course.

At the conclusion of this process, I had an Android SDK with the following packages installed:

  • Tools:
    • Android SDK Tools
    • Android SDK Platform-tools
    • Android SDK Build-tools
  • Android 4.2.2 (API 17)
    • Documentation for Android SDK
    • SDK Platform
    • Samples for SDK
    • ARM EABI v7a System Image
    • Google APIs
    • Sources for Android SDK
  • Android 2.3.3 (API 10) SDK Platform
  • Extras: Android Support Library
  • Extras: Google USB Driver

I went back to Processing and again tried to run a sketch in Emulator mode. Success! But be forewarned – the emulator is slow to get going. The first time I bailed as I was still getting the "Waiting for device to become available" message. It turns out I was just not being patient enough. The second time the emulator window finally showed up and after waiting some more, my sketch started running in the emulator.

4 – Running the Sketch on my Tablet

Now it was time to try and run my sketch on my Android tablet (Sketch ->Run on device). The first thing I did was go into my tablet’s settings and set the Developer Options -> USB Debugging to ‘checked’. I plugged my tablet into my laptop and in Processing hit the Run button. Note that Processing defaults to running your app on the attached device. After going through the compilation stage I was once again seeing my old friend: "Waiting for device to become available". Now what? I was patient but realized that my patience was not going to pay off when the message "Lost connection with device while launching. Try again." showed up.

One step in the troubleshooting process was to make sure that the AndroidManifest.xml file for my sketch contained the following line: "android:debuggable=”true”" in the application section – it did.

Going back through documentation I saw that there was one thing I had neglected to do.

5 – Install Device Drivers for my Galaxy Tab Tablet

The reason Processing couldn’t talk to my tablet was that I’m using Windows and if you are on the Windows OS you need to download and install USB drivers from your tablet’s manufacturer that can then be used by the Android SDK (ADB). I found the information on this part of the process here:

So it was off to find the downloads page for my tablet on the Samsung web site. You won’t find any reference to USB drivers there but you will find the Kies software package that runs on your PC and gives you the ability to manage your tablet. For example, this is the software you would use to install firmware updates on your tablet.

The Samsung Kies install takes some time to complete. In fact it is even slower than the Android SDK installation process. Additionally, on starting up Kies it told me that a newer version was available! So I had to go through a time-consuming update. I was told by a Samsung rep that the Kies software that people download from the Samsung web site is not kept up to date so everyone downloading Samsung Kies will encounter this need to update.

Getting the Samsung Kies software to talk to my Galaxy tablet required some troubleshooting which involved Kies reinstalling its drivers and rebooting. Having gotten Kies to connect with my tablet, I took the opportunity to update my tablet’s firmware.

At this point, rather than continue with the installation instructions previously referenced, I gambled. I started Processing and tried to run a sketch without completing the steps about installing the USB drivers.

Success! Processing connected to my tablet, downloaded the sketch, and the next thing I know I’m finger painting.

My Processing Android App Plans

Now that I’ve gone through all this pain to write and run Android apps, what am I going to do with this capability? That’s a good question. According to the Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps course outline, the topics that will be covered are:

  • Week 1: Introduction: sonic painter
  • Week 2: Interactive D/VJ app
  • Week 3: Music player and sensor controlled visualiser
  • Week 4: Game with physical modelling and synthesis
  • Week 5: APIs accessing and processing social media data
  • Week 6: Music machine

Obviously I’m going to write apps that satisfy the course requirements. But beyond that I have no plans for developing Android apps. Rather I am primarily interested in using this class as a source of new ideas for digital creativity. But who knows – by the end of the course I may have a different perspective.

Happy computing, Jim

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