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Windycon 2017 – Dystopians Unite

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Windycon Science Fiction Convention

I’ll be attending the 2017 Windycon Science Fiction Convention this weekend. This year’s theme is Dystopia. I must say that I find dystopian SF appealing, particularly those novels whose focus is on the systems that either arise or exist in those worlds. And my favorite? None other than the classic dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell.

As usual I’ll be participating in the convention’s programming. The five panels I will be on deal with space, artificial intelligence, and economics – all areas that I am keenly interested in. The only thing missing is art.

My first panel will be NASA Tech Not Just For Astronauts Anymore for which I will be serving as moderator. Along with my two co-panelists, we’ll be talking about technologies that are commonplace today but were once the domain of high technology, especially space technology. We’ll also be taking a look at the new technologies being developed – not just at NASA but within the larger aerospace industry.

In keeping with the dystopian theme of the convention, I’ll next be moderating the panel Not Too Big to Fail in which we’ll discuss how an economy and trade will work in a post-apocalyptic world. Other than being forced to barter for goods and services, what could or would people use for currency? Will there be more than one currency within a society – hearkening back to ancient Egypt where grain was used internally as currency but gold was used externally for trade. For that matter, how closely would a currency in such a society mirror the role it plays in today’s world? Drop in and find out.

Jumping back to space, I’ve also been asked to moderate the panel Tiny Homes Prep For Living in Space?. The question our panel has been tasked with answering is this: Is the current trend of people buying tiny homes good preparation for living in off world habitats? I have no idea what roads this panel will travel down in our pursuit of an answer. Given the open-ended nature of the question, we certainly will have a lot of territory to explore.

My Saturday morning wakeup call will be to serve on a panel in which we are tasked with addressing the monumental issue of The Future of Civilization. Yes, if you want to learn the fate of all humanity you will need to attend our panel. As a science and technology optimistic, we should have a bright future – if we are allowed to pursue and achieve that future. But then there is always Murphy’s Law to contend with and as everyone should know – Murphy is devilishly clever.

While Elon Musk is a hero of mine when it comes to commercial space (I even got to meet and speak with him at a space conference some years back), I do not share his extremely pessimistic views regarding artificial intelligence. In a recent interview, Musk stated:"Once there is awareness, people will be extremely afraid, as they should be.. AI is a fundamental risk to the future of human civilization…" I’ll be curious to see how my copanelists on the Measure of Sentience panel feel. Most provocatively, we panelists are expected to address the issues of AI rights and whether or not an AI should be considered as the equal of a human being. Quite coincidentally, Saudia Arabia has just granted citizenship to a female robot named Sophia. You can read about it in the following stories:

A publicity stunt? Most certainly – though the Saudis now have to deal with the backlash over their decision to give more rights to a robot (really just a machine made to look like a woman) than they give to their female citizens. But there may well come a day when we truly create an intelligent self-aware machine entity. In those circumstances, what will our response be?

So here’s to an exciting, interesting, and stimulating weekend at the Windycon Science Fiction Convention.

 

 

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SEA (Self Employment in the Arts) conference

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

SEA Self Employment in the Arts conference 2017
SEA Self Employment in the Arts conference 2017

This weekend I will be both attending and participating in programming at the SEA (Self Employment in the Arts) conference for artists which is being held at the Hilton Hotel in Lisle, Illinois. The first SEA Conference was held at Columbia College in Chicago in 2000 and has been growing since then. The conference is currently hosted by North Central College, Naperville IL.

The focus of the SEA conference is on helping artists, particularly emerging visual, performing, literary, and media artists, succeed by providing relevant programming as well as providing networking opportunities. With more than 60 speakers, the lineup of programs, presentations, panels, roundtable discussions, workshops, and one-on-one mentoring is really impressive. And yes, portfolio reviews are a part of the conference.

For students, the conference also features the SEA Juried College Art Competition, which is open to all college students. There is also an Idea Pitch Competition open to those students who either have a creative business or an idea for one. The Idea Pitch Competition has over $3,000 in prizes for competition winners.

There are multiple parallel programming tracks with the track blocks divided into sessions based on time. The good news is that with the number of concurrent programs going on, attendees will have no problem identifying a program they want to attend. The bad news is that there will be many times when there are two or more programs you want to attend and will be forced to choose just one.

The presentation I’m leaning towards attending during Session 1 is The Art of Networking by Brandy Sales where she shares her insights into networking and how those insights have helped her art business.

During Session 2 I would have loved to attend the workshop LICENSING KNOW-HOW – Creating Profits from Art + Design as that is an area I would like to learn more about. Unfortunately I will be a panelist on the Marketing your Creative Talent or Business panel which is at the same time. The panel consists of Larry Brown, Lauren Ramsey, Jessica Segal, and myself. Our discussion will be addressing the various marketing strategies that we have used and the role changing technology plays in marketing. For my part, my area of expertise is in the online aspects – although I hope to have the opportunity to comment on some other devices that have worked for me.

During Session 3 I’m looking forward to attending the panel Which Way to Go: Paths to Publication which addresses the multiple issues associated with getting your book published. This is very relevant for me since I have not one but two books in the works. In fact the first book, which is a portfolio of my algorithmic art, is largely done – and has been for some time. However, identifying who and how to publish the book has been a stumbling block. I initially thought I would go with Blurb or Lulu but quickly came to the conclusion that those options, though the easiest, were not the best. This session will be led by Jennifer McCord and Robin Strachan and I look forward to peppering them with questions.

Friday’s conference dinner will feature a keynote address by Tom Varano whose topic is Live Life with Passion.

Session 4 begins after dinner and is sponsored by Illinois State University. This session consists of a total of 17 roundtables for artists to choose from. Subjects of interest to me include publishing, crowdfunding, social media, and artist management. Unfortunately I’ll be missing them since I will be leading the roundtable discussion on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – an increasingly important aspect of being "found" online.

Friday evening concludes with a variety of entertainment choices for the attendees. A drum circle, dancing, and comedy are all attractive options but not as appealing to me as the Electroskip demonstration which features dancers wearing motion sensors used to generate sound. Wearable computing and interactive digital art have long been a subject of interest to me and I have previously given presentations that have the audience creating art on-screen via their vocalizations.

Saturday starts early with an 8:00am breakfast and is followed by Session 5. I would have liked to attend the Selling Yourself and Your Art panel discussion. For many artists, myself included, selling (marketing, the act of talking up, etc.) our art can be a challenge – not that we don’t know what to say or how to do it but considered from the emotional angle that turns the artist from creator into something of a used car salesman – if you get my meaning. Leading this session is Dr. Sean Flanigan from Colorado Mesa University.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend that session since I’ve been slated to provide one-on-one consulting during that time. People sign up for the opportunity to ask me questions about web design, technical writing, HTML, SEO, and digital photography.

For Session 6, I am undecided on whether to attend Gallery Chat or Trademark. Gallery Chat is a workshop led by Chris Cosnowski that teaches artists how to improve their odds of getting accepted into juried art competitions. Trademark looks at the risks and legal issues associated with trademark law and is led by Elizabeth Russell and Russell Law.

The keynote address for the luncheon is by Gene Weygandt whose topic is Go into the Arts, I’m not kidding.

For Session 7 I would have loved to attend the Freelance in the Visual Arts panel discussion featuring Catherine Borzym, Elaine Luther, John McDavitt, and Tim Plum. The panel is slated to address legal issues, getting your first client, building your client base, and other related issues. For my part I’ll be leading a roundtable discussion on Print on Demand (POD). Specifically I’ll be looking at issues associated with platforms, commissions, marketing, and the steps involved in evaluating the many print on demand offerings available.

I’ll close with a quotation from Pablo Picasso that is prominently displayed on the 2017 SEA Self Employment in the Arts conference web site: "Action is the foundational key to all success." So what are you waiting for?

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2017 Capricon Science Fiction Convention

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Illustration from Planet Earth As Art When Seen From Space presentation
Illustration from Planet Earth As Art When Seen From Space presentation

I’ll be spending the next few days at the Capricon Science Fiction Convention at the Westin in Wheeling IL and once again I’ll be participating in the convention’s programming. The highlight for me will be my presentation on Saturday Planet Earth As Art When Seen From Space My presentation begins with a brief overview of image processing and the techniques I use to process satellite images. Then I dive in to a diverse selection of images I’ve processed – most of which are from the Landsat 8 program.

One point: the most challenging and aggravating part of putting together this presentation was not working with the images but trying to identify the names of the geographical features in the image. In terms of naming geographical features, particularly extended features, I give Google Earth a solid F. To identify feature names I had to resort to quite a variety of online resources. On the bright side, the quest to locate geographic feature names was quite the learning experience and led me to a number of resources that I had no idea existed.

While I greatly enjoy the opportunity (and honor) of doing solo presentations at the conventions I attend, I usually find that being a participant on a panel is more interesting because of the dialogs that occur between panelists. At this year’s Capricon I’ll be participating in three utterly unrelated panel discussions.

On Friday I’ll be serving as the moderator for the panel Science Fiction Art – Classic vs New Mediums. Joining me on the panel are Meg Frank, Brian Babendererde, and Carol Metzger. Our objective is to answer the question of what makes art classic versus contemporary? We’ll also explore how the artist’s medium affects the "feel" of the artwork and how the advent of digital art has changed the way we view art.

On Saturday, I will once again be on a panel about scientific literacy. Titled Science Literacy for ALL 2.0 moderator Alicia Choi has the challenging task of moderating Pat Sayre McCoy, Richard Garfinkle, Carol F Metzger, and myself while we debate/explore the meaning of science literacy and it’s importance in today’s society. This panel is a continuation of the panel we did at the 2016 Capricon. And for my money, that was the best panel I participated in that year. This year though I think I’m going to argue against an emphasis on scientific literacy and for an emphasis on the development and promotion of critical thinking skills and critical reasoning.

Also on Saturday, I’ll be putting on my military thinking helmet and exploring the subject Mighty Space Fleets of War – in which Chris Gerrib will lead his staff of armchair generals J.A. Sutherland, Joseph Stockman, and myself on an exploration of the design of future space battleships and their armaments. Of particular interest to me is the question "why would they fight" as this plays into economics and my own presentation The Globalization of the Solar System, a talk I gave at a number of venues in 2016 as a representative of the Chicago Society for Space Studies.

Outside of the programs I am participating in, some of the other programs at Capricon that I would like to attend include:

  • Is Art School Worth it? – whose title says it all.
  • Do We Live in a Petri Dish? – addressing the age old question of are we just the specimens in some grand experiment.
  • Separating Art from the Artist – explores how an artist’s personality affects how you view their art.
  • The Future of Publishing – discussing the future of Self-publishing, e-books, Kickstarter, etc.
  • The Future’s So Bright…Or Is It? – a discussion of dystopias – a fascinating subject for me and a subject area for which I been a SF panelist at past cons.
  • Art in the BEFORE TIMES – a discussion of how art was made in the pre-digital age.
  • Improve Your Photography Using Histograms – where Jay Kreibich will share his perspectives on the use of histograms in image processing.

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I’ve used an image of the Bissagos Islands, an archipelago off the coast of the west African nation of Guinea-Bissau. This is one of the images I use in my presentation. Some of the remote sensing images I’ve processed are available as merchandise on Redbubble in my Planet Earth Satellite Imagery gallery.

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My Social Media Holiday

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Digital Art Prints website screenshot
Coming Soon
Digital Art Prints website screenshot

My use of social media has always been erratic because it has never been a high priority for me. That does not mean that I don’t have accounts on many platforms – I do. A number of the accounts I set up are simply for learning about that platform’s features and usability – an area of professional interest for me.

To improve my knowledge of social media, I’ve read articles, books, and taken online classes. I’ve even taught classes for artists and photographs on how to use social media. But knowing and doing are two separate things. Let me provide an example. I attended an online seminar on how to be successful at Twitter. The key take away from this class, other than the completely generic advice to post great tweets was that the teacher spent three hours a day every day engaging on Twitter. For me, that is far too high a price to pay just to be popular on Twitter. Personally, I don’t spend three hours a year using Twitter.

My periods of absence from social media are driven by two key factors. First is the availability of time. Second is the variety of platforms I have accounts on. The more accounts you have, the less time you can devote to any one of them and skipping out on one makes it easier to skip out on the others.

Social Media Platforms

The main social media platforms I have accounts on and on which I am actually at all active are:

I have left off this list the many niche social networks I am on as well as sharing platforms like Tumblr and FLickr. And of course there are the more-than-a-handful of social media platforms that have gone out of business.

It has now been several months since I have engaged on any of my social media accounts. What happened? The most striking of my absences is from Linkedin – which was in large part driven by Linkedin’s own actions – two in particular. First they made a number of platform changes that were particularly harmful to members who managed groups. In trying to make the platform more mobile-friendly, Linkedin eliminated a number of usability features. Fortunately there was a strong user backlash and Linkedin eventually restored many of those features. The second was driven by the fact that I stopped receiving group updates from Linkedin. I reported the problem to Linkedin and their response was to basically say "yeah, we made some changes to the platform and a small number of our users were adversely impacted. But because it’s a small number, it’s not a priority for us to fix it." What is small for them was critical for me. That sort of customer service led me from using Linkedin on a daily basis to being only an occasional visitor and that in light of the fact that Linkedin had a couple years ago wanted me to promote the fact that I was in the top one percent of profiles on Linkedin!

So what have I done with the time I gained by ignoring my social media accounts?

Reading is FUNdamental

Two principle areas occupied my reading time. One area was for pleasure and knowledge. The other area was for professional development. Yes, its true, following are books I read for pleasure and knowledge:

  • Business
    • Making It In America – A 12 Point Plan for Growing Your Business and Keeping Jobs At Home by John Bassett and Ellis Henican
    • Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies by Charles G. Koch
  • Space Development
    • The Business of Space: The Next Frontier of International Competition by L Brennan et al
    • Realizing Tomorrow: The Path to Private Spaceflight by Chris Dubbs
    • Crowded Orbits: Conflict and Cooperation in Space by James Clay Moltz
    • Law and Regulation of Commercial Mining of Minerals in Outer Space by Ricky Lee
    • The Twenty-First Century Commercial Space Imperative – SpringerBriefs in Space Development by Anthony Young

The books I read for professional development dealt with computing: specifically web design and programming.

Web Design

Earlier this year I decided to dig into learning the Bootstrap framework for responsive web design. I had already converted by own sites to mobile-friendly designs using the general principles of responsive web design – but I wanted to learn Bootstrap. My first tangible product was to convert the
Chicago Society for Space Studies website to a mobile friendly design using Bootstrap. Having learned Bootstrap to an acceptable level of proficiency, I was able to design and code and implement the new site in a single weekend.

I am still learning Bootstrap and am close to releasing a new web site – Digital Art Prints which will feature some of the artwork and photography that I offer for sale on a few of the POD (Print On Demand) services I have accounts with.

Python Programming

For some time I’ve been wanting to learn the Python programming language in order to create scripts for GIMP and possibly Blender. What finally pushed me over the edge was the decision to create a new web site (Digital Art Prints) and to use a Python program to construct the web pages from a database I maintain for all my art and photography. My first actual productive use of Python was to create an auto-mailer program for email distribution for Chicago Society for Space Studies. I also have a couple of other projects in mind for interactive website queries.

Presentations

I give a number of talks over the course of a year. These talks tend to fall into four distinct categories. As a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, I give talks about planetary science and planetary exploration – the most recent of which was about the New Horizons mission to Pluto. As President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, I give talks that focus on space business, space development, and space policy. For more about this, see my Chicago Society for Space Studies Speakers Bureau page. As an artist, I give talks on a number of digital art subjects and on various aspects of web use for art marketing. You can see a full list on my lectures and presentations page.

My last presentation was last Saturday (for details see Space Art Program At Elmhurst Art Museum). My next presentation will be this coming Monday for the Nineteenth Century Club and Charitable Association on the topic Globalization of the Solar System – a presentation that asks the question can the economic and technological principles that make globalization possible here on Earth work for a human civilization that is spread across the solar system?

I also completed work on a new presentation titled The Impact of Space Policy on Space Settlement and am working on a presentation about the history of lunar art and another on Earth imaging and remote sensing.

Digital Art Prints website

As I mentioned, I’ve been working on a new web site – digital-art-prints.com where I will have a portfolio of art and photography that I have made available on certain POD (Print On Demand) sites, like Redbubble and Crated for example. The design of the site, which is built using the Bootstrap framework, is complete. I’m not using a CMS (WordPress for example) for the site but am instead working on a Python program that will take the information I have for each artwork and use that information to automatically build the site’s web pages and image gallery. This will allow me to swap out web page designs very easily. I have also written a program using the Processing programming language to automatically generate all the images that the web site will need. Stay tuned as I hope to have the site up before the end of November – assuming no more computer problems.

And What About Social Media?

I certainly expect to return soon to the world of social media but probably not until after I have rolled out my Digital Art Prints website, which is my number two priority at the moment. My number one priority is putting together the next issue of Spacewatch – the quarterly e-newsletter of the Chicago Society for Space Studies.

In the event that I don’t have any more blog posts before Thanksgiving, here is wishing everyone a happy and hearty Thanksgiving.

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Space Art Program At Elmhurst Art Museum

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Space Art and the Exploration of Space Program
Space Art and the Exploration of Space

This Saturday October 29 I’ll be giving my presentation Space Art and the Exploration of Space at the Elmhurst Art Museum in Elmhurst IL. It will actually be a somewhat modified version of my normal presentation because of the why of why I was asked to speak. I was contacted by a representative of the Elmhurst Art Museum after she read about the Bigelow Aerospace BEAM inflatable module on the International Space Station. She was looking for a way to connect ISS/BEAM with the museum’s BLOW UP: Inflatable Contemporary Art exhibit.

Unfortunately inflatable space art is not a "thing". However I was taken up on my offer to give my presentation about space art – which would be modified to include artist impressions of inflatable space architecture – an idea that is much older than you might think.

Many may remember TransHab, a NASA effort from the 90’s to develop an inflatable habitat for the International Space Station. While the project was canceled, all was not lost because Bigelow Aerospace had the foresight to purchase the rights to the patents developed as a part of that NASA project. This lead to the Genesis I, Genesis II, and now the BEAM inflatable modules – which makes very real the prospect for the commercial availability of private, inflatable space stations. Thank you Robert Bigelow for your vision.

Others may remember the Goodyear inflatable space station prototype from 1961. Much earlier references to inflatable space structures are to be found in the imaginations of science fiction authors. For example, from 1939 is the story Misfit by Robert Heinlein where he writes about covering an asteroid valley with a tarp-like roof and inflating.

So if you are in the area and are up for a presentation on space art, I invite you to attend my talk. Note that while there is no charge for my program, you do have to purchase a museum admission to get in. Museum admission is $8 for adults and $7 for seniors, but admission is free to all students and anyone under 18. For more about the Elmhurst Art Museum, visit the Elmhurst Art Museum web site. To learn more about my presentation, see Art and the Exploration of Space.

Program Description at Elmhurst Art Museum Programs
Saturday, October 29, 2016 – 1:00pm
Space Art and the Exploration of Space
Jim Plaxco, President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, will be giving a lecture which explores the development and evolution of space art from its beginnings in science fiction to its use as a tool to illustrate and promote space exploration. His lecture will demonstrate the large role that inflatables have played in the exploration of space as well as the creation of space art.

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Space Globalization for Astronomy Day 2016

Friday, May 13th, 2016

The Globalization of the Solar System Presentation
The Globalization of the Solar System Presentation

Saturday May 14 I will be speaking at an Astronomy Day event being held at Harper College in Palatine IL. The event is sponsored by Northwest Suburban Astronomers and the Harper College Department of Physical Sciences. This astronomy day event will consist of displays, presentations, hands-on activities for kids, and, weather permitting, telescopic observations of the night sky.

My part in the evening’s activities will be to give my presentation The Globalization of the Solar System which addresses the question of whether or not the economics of globalization can take place with human settlements spread across the solar system. I am speaking at Astronomy Day in my role as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, a non-profit promoting space exploration and space development via educational outreach. For more about my space exploration presentations, see Chicago Society for Space Studies Speakers Bureau – Jim Plaxco.

And yes, I have given art related presentations at past astronomy day events, at both this venue and others. My most popular such art talk is The Art of Astronomy which is a historical overview of the development of astronomical art. The take-away from this presentation is that astronomical art has relied more on technological advancement than any other traditional art form (clearly new media art, aka digital art, aka computer art, have all been entirely dependent on technological innovation).

In addition to my own presentation, the Harper College – Northwest Suburban Astronomers Astronomy Day event has the following program items:

  • Things that Go Boom in the Night
  • Craft Projects for Children
  • Einstein Destroys Vulcan!
  • Discovering Our Solar System
  • Pluto Revealed
  • Black Holes
  • T Coronae Borealis: A Recurring Nova
  • The Possibility of Life on Mars and Venus
  • Astro Trivia
  • Eclipse Mania: Observing the 2017 Total Solar
  • Cosmic Time

Astronomy Day activities begin at 5:30pm and are held in Building Z on the Harper College college. For complete details, see the Northwest Suburban Astronomers Astronomy Day page.

Astronomy Day 2016, Harper College, Palatine IL
Astronomy Day 2016, Harper College, Palatine IL

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