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Processing (Bush + Obama) = BushBama

Saturday, May 26th, 2012


Last night I was working on creating some image processing routines with Processing. My focus was on using convolution matrices to implement a number of effects. With respect to image processing, a convolution matrix is useful for a variety of effects, like edge detection, blurring, sharpening, and embossing.

I had also written some methods/routines/functions (take your pick) that added or subtracted fixed color values from every pixel in an image. I had also written image AND and OR routines so that I could perform either a logical AND or a logical OR between every pixel in the source photograph and every pixel in the image created by one of the other filter effects I had written.

This got me to thinking. I thought it might be cute to see what happened if I were to ‘add’ two images together. I thought adding two faces together would be nice so I went to Google Image Search and searched on the keyword ‘portrait’. The first photo that showed up in my search was a White House portrait of Barack Obama. It instantly occurred to me that there was only one suitable matching photograph to use for the addition operation: an official White House portrait of George Bush.

I had to use Photoshop to insure that the two faces lined up reasonably well and that the images were of the same dimensions (I didn’t feel like writing a scaling function right then). I then ran the two portraits through my program and obtained the results shown above. Note that this is a slightly scaled down version of the original as the original was too large to display in this space.

Question: realistically – will I ever use this image addition routine to do ‘real’ work? I seriously doubt it. Call me a geek but I just happen to enjoy writing code. Anyway it’s time to put the keyboard aside and head out to the Schaumburg Prairie Arts Festival. Hopefully the rain will stay away.

Ad Astra, Jim

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From Capricon to Floral Photography

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

The Flyers of Fomalhaut b Digital Art Painting
The Flyers of Fomalhaut b Digital Painting

Part 1: The Capricon Science Fiction Convention

This year Capricon was a short affair for me. While the con ran Thursday thru Sunday, I only attended Friday and Saturday and then only until 6:30pm as I had made plans to attend the opening of a photo exhibition at the Prairie Arts Center in Schaumburg. And because I was not returning on Sunday I did not participate in the art show. On Saturday I did make sure to go through the art show and was happy to see work exhibited by a couple of my friends. What I found disturbing though was the fairly large number of empty display bays in the show. In my experience the Capricon Art Show generally has little, if any, unused space. Unfortunately I had to leave before the start of the art auction so have no idea how well that went.

With respect to programming, my only job Friday was as a panelist on Pluto Is Still a Planet in Illinois with Bill Higgins (Fermilab physicist) moderating and copanelists Brother Guy Consolmagno (Vatican Observatory) and Steven Silver (Capricon Fan Guest of Honor). This was a really good panel given that Brother Guy was a part of the IAU meeting at which the Pluto vote was made and Steven was a friend of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto. If you were at Capricon and missed this panel – it was definitely your loss.

I arrived back at the con Saturday morning shortly before I was scheduled to give my presentation The Art of the Exploration of Space. I especially liked that I had 75 minutes to speak as this allowed me to go at a leisurely pace and engage in conversation with the audience as I went along. This was immediately followed by my moderating a panel at the opposite end of the convention on Goodbye, Space Shuttle. My copanelists were Henry Spencer, Chris Gerrib, and Kent Nebergall. Kent had the misfortune of being in the audience of my space art presentation whereupon I drafted him for the Space Shuttle panel as I knew that he would have valuable insights to contribute.

I next attended The Coming War on General Purpose Computation presentation by Cory Doctorow, the author guest of honor. It was a fascinating presentation. While I agreed with Doctorow on SOPA and other aspects of attempts to stamp out the theft of intellectual property, I came away dissatisfied that he offered no remedy for the authors, artists, and musicians who are having their work stolen. I was also somewhat surprised by his stance towards Facebook in that he seemed to believe that people should not be given the choice of sharing their information on social networks. I viewed this as being inconsistent with what I would characterize as a free and open internet perspective.

The last panel I attended was the most boring panel I have ever attended at any science fiction convention. Now with a title like Civil Disobedience: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Movement you would expect there to be an invigorating debate between the panelists and between the panelists and the audience. However, this panel was run by the brown shirts. No audience participation was allowed. There was a short period at the end where 5 people were identified and allowed to ask one question each with no follow up or commentary by the questioners permitted. In short, this panel was a total waste of time for the audience.

In summary, I’d say that the best things about Capricon were:

  • The accidental meetings
  • The conversations in the halls
  • The food in the green room
  • Prowling the Dealers Room
  • Checking out the art show
  • How well my The Art of the Exploration of Space presentation went and the ensuing conversations
  • Being on the Pluto panel with Brother Guy Consolmagno, Bill, and Steven
  • Friday lunch in the Green Room with Brother Guy, Bill Higgins, and Henry Spencer
  • Drafting Kent Nebergall to serve on the Space Shuttle panel.

Only one more year until Capricon 33!

Part 2: The Photography Exhibition at the Prairie Art Center, Schaumburg IL

Departing Capricon, I swung by home to grab a bite to eat and then headed over to the Prairie Art Center to take in a photography exhibition that was opening that night in the Herb Aigner Gallery. Titled Flowers in Our Soul, the show is devoted to artistic photographs of flowers and consists of 27 separate works. The photographers that I identified as having work on display in the show are Maria Aiello, Mary Angelini, Debbie Beller, Cindy Brumm, Susan Couch, Randee Lawrence, and Karie Strangeway. I had the opportunity to speak with several of them about their work. I was also curious to learn whether they printed their own work or used an outside service. If you would like to see the show, it runs through the end of February. See Prairie Center for the Arts, Schaumburg IL.

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I decided to use a piece of science fiction art that I just added to my web site. Titled The Flyers of Fomalhaut b, it is an imagining of what the life of exoplanet Fomalhaut b is like (note: not only is there no evidence of life on this planet, there is some question as to whether or not the planet even exists). Fomalhaut b appears to be a Jupiter-like planet that is about three times more massive than Jupiter and which orbits the star Fomalhaut once every 872 years. By comparison Pluto takes 248 years to complete an orbit of the Sun.

For more about this digital painting, see The Flyers of Fomalhaut b.

Until next time, Ad Astra, Jim

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Disappointment with Chicago Artists Coalition

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Chicago Artists Coalition
Screen shot of Chicago Artists Coalition email

Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I opened an email blast from the Chicago Artists Coalition (CAC) and discovered that it contained three photographs taken from my web site. The three photos are part of a set of seven that I had taken at the Chicago Art Open Preview and Benefit Party at River East Art Center on April 20 and used to illustrate an article on my web site – Chicago Art Open Preview and Benefit Party at River East Art Center. For a view of the article in question, see this CAC email screen shot. Of the four photos shown in the screen shot, the group photo in the upper left (deliberately blurred) is not mine while the other three photos are.

Not only was I not asked if the photographs could be used but I was not given credit either. One would think that an organization representing artists would know better than to use copyrighted material without first getting permission. As a rule I’m pretty open about allowing non-profits to use my art at no cost. In fact if I had been asked by the Chicago Artists Coalition, I would have gladly said yes to letting them use the photographs. I used to be a member of this organization but did not renew as their dues continued to increase and their charge to artist members to have art shown on the CAC web site is far too expensive.

The Value of Metadata

As a rule, before posting any image to the Internet, I try to make sure that I have filled in the authorship-related fields in the image’s metadata. This consists of the Title, Author, Author Title, Description Writer, Description (if any), Copyright Status, Copyright Notice, and Copyright URL. In the case of the photographs in question, I did fill in the metadata fields. Saving the images from the CAC email to my hard drive, I opened them in Photoshop and looked at the metadata. Yep – my copyright notice was still present. (See Photoshop Metadata Illustration)

Of course there is nothing to stop someone from either removing or altering the contents of the metadata fields. For an informative article on this subject, see Why Photoshop doesn’t provide secure metadata

Watermarking Images

In the case of these particular photographs, because of their relatively small size (430 by 322) I did not bother to watermark the images. Typically I will place a textual statement on the image that is of the following format:
Picture Title – Copyright Symbol – Year – Jim Plaxco –

This watermark is semi-transparent with placement depending on the size of the image. For smaller images I locate the watermark along the bottom margin. For larger images I shift the watermark up so that it is more prominent.

Finding Your Images

A relatively new tool available for publishers of images is a search engine called TinEye. TinEye is a reverse image search tool. The user either uploads an image to TinEye or provides the URL for an image on the net. TinEye then searches its database for images that resemble the image you’ve provided and returns their URL.

Unfortunately TinEye’s database is not comprehensive. In the past I found one of my images being used by a city government (from Brazil of all places) by typing into Google the filename of my original image. Can’t say that I have tried that approach lately. And of course there is always the google image search if you have lots of time on your hands.

In Conclusion

All I can say is to be vigilant and don’t be surprised if your art or photographs show up in unlikely places. It is worth noting that copyrights are far more likely to be violated by your average Joe than by your average corporation.

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Photography at Navy Pier

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Windy schooner off Navy Pier
Windy schooner off Navy Pier

I took a photo excursion to Chicago’s Navy Pier last Thursday. It was a beautiful day for it and there were surprisingly few people there. I had brought along several model release forms just in case I happened upon a person that I wanted to photograph. However, no such opportunity presented itself.

One of my first stops was to take a ride on the ferris wheel. It cost $6.00 for the ride. The slow movement of the ferris wheel and partially open sides made possible some decent photos of the Chicago skyline. Unfortunately the backs and much of the sides were enclosed in plexiglass making photos at most angles impossible.

A while later the Windy, a 150 foot 4 masted schooner, came into dock which presented a nice photo op. I stopped by their ticket booth to get details. A one hour cruise was departing at 5:00pm which fit my schedule nicely. I came close to buying a ticket but one look to the east convinced me otherwise. It was a clear day and the Sun was about 35 degrees up in the sky. My principal purpose for taking the cruise was to get photos of the Chicago skyline from a different vantage point. However, given the clear sky and position of the Sun the pictures would not have turned out very good so I took a pass.

I continued to meander about taking photos, including a couple of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. By the time I started heading back in from the end of the pier, the Windy was starting her next cruise. It didn’t take long before she had her sails up. Fortunately I had brought along my telephoto lens so even though she was some distance away when she raised her sails, I was still able to get some decent shots. I used one of those shots to illustrate this post.

I also headed up to Olive Park to get some photographs of the John Hancock Building and points north. The sun position was pretty bad by then being low in the sky but still clearing all but the tallest buildings. However from where I was, the Sun lined up nicely with Huron Street and created a nice reflection in that sliver of Lake Michigan that lies between Olive Park and Lake Shore Drive.

Afterwards, I went to Charlie’s Ale House for dinner but got tired of waiting for someone to show up and seat me. A couple waitresses at the end of the bar looked up a few times before returning to chatting. Given how empty the place was they certainly couldn’t attribute their lack of service to being too busy. Obviously they rake in enough cash to not be concerned about the loss of a customer. I headed over to Carnelli’s Deli and grabbed a sandwich and drink instead. They took my order and made my sandwich in far less time than I had spent waiting at Charlie’s. Plus they were a good deal cheaper.

After eating I wondered around the Crystal Gardens. I took a few photographs of plants and the few flowers there. It was then time to head over to the IMAX theater to meet my friends and take in the Hubble 3D movie. For more about that part of my excursion, read Hubble 3D IMAX Movie.

By the time we got out of the restaurant, Navy Pier had been closed for over 90 minutes. I only got to take a few pictures before being directed by security to leave. In total I took over 150 photographs. In the days of film, I would have been far more judicious in the number of photographs I took. But this is the age of digital photography so I shoot away.

For me, the hardest part of photography these days is not taking the photograph. Rather, it is going through all the photographs afterwards: deciding which to delete and what to do with those I keep.

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Schaumburg Prairie Arts Festival

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Schaumburg Prairie Arts Festival
Schaumburg Prairie Arts Festival

Saturday the kids and I attended the Schaumburg Prairie Arts Festival. It was beautiful weather for an outdoor fair. This is the 22nd year for this annual juried fine art festival. Over 150 artists and artisans participated in this year’s festival.

My prime motivation for attending was to see what other artists were up to. I confess to having largely ignored the artists specializing in sculpture, blown glass, jewelry, and pottery. My focus was on the work of the photographers and painters.

With respect to photography, one thing was evident: digital photography has become the dominant form of photography. Photographic works came in three basic forms. The first form was what I would call pure photography which consists of photographs with no apparent digital manipulation. The second category would be photographs in which various types of digital manipulation were evident – at least to someone experienced in such matters. The third category would be photographs that had been digitally altered to resemble paintings – a path most frequently taken by those working with Adobe Photoshop or Corel Painter.

I have no personal bias either for or against any of the three aforementioned categories. Rather, the only thing that matters to me is the end product. If someone can take a well composed photograph and skillfully manipulate it to create a convincing painting that is superior to the original photograph, then kudos to that photographer-artist. After all, the final image is what counts.

There were a number of traditional painters present at the art fair as well but for the most part their work, mostly executed on large canvases, was uninspiring. I found this to be particularly true of the abstract artists – though there were a few whose work was inspired.

Thinking back, one thing I don’t recall seeing were any purely digital paintings. Nor were there any artists whose work was the result of a 3D render. Being a fan of space art and astronomy, I was also disappointed to see no space art nor any astronomical art. The closest was a digital photograph of the Aurora Borealis.

Speaking of space art, the reason I am writing this entry so late (oops make that early) is because I spent Memorial Day and this evening (now yesterday) preparing artwork for the Space Art Show at the International Space Development Conference in Orlando Florida. I also created a 13 x 19 inch congratulatory space art card for Peter Kokh, the recipient of the National Space Society’s 2009 Gerard K. O’Neill Award For Space Settlement Advocacy. I do hope that Peter enjoys the card/artwork.

Until next time, Ad Astra

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Hiking Moraine Hills State Park

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009
Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird at Moraine Hills State Park, IL

The family and I spent Saturday hiking around Moraine Hills State Park, IL. This was our first visit to the park and we spent most of our time on the trails in the vicinity of Lake Defiance. It was an overcast day with light rain on and off but even so the trails had a fair share of hikers and bikers. This early in the year, the only thing green at the park is the grass.

Lake Defiance and the surrounding terrain were formed by the Wisconsin glacier which covered the area some 15,000 years ago. The park’s name, Moraine Hills, is a direct reference to the glacial process that created the terrain and lakes. About half the park’s 1700 acres is wetlands and lakes. Because of its diversity of habitats, Moraine Hills is well known for the abundance and variety of birds present. For example, the photograph of the Red-winged Blackbird used to illustrate this post.

For photographers interested in marshlands and birds, Moraine Hills State Park, located just east of McHenry IL, is an excellent destination. I don’t know why I didn’t visit before now. I do hope to have the opportunity to revisit the park in the coming month at which time I will concentrate on hiking the trails that run through the marshes. I must confess that on this trip I didn’t even take a dozen photographs. The sky was basically a flat gray and the only thing not brown was the grass. I expect that my next visit will be both greener and bluer.

The Photograph

The photograph used to illustrate this post was taken with a Nikon D50 fitted with a Nikon ED AF Nikkor 80-200mm lens. I brought the photograph into Photoshop and performed some digital manipulation on the picture leaving the blackbird untouched. I then shrunk and closely cropped the image to fit the web page.

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