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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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Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp
Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp

This weekend saw me and my camera haunting the halls of the Itasca Westin again. Last time it was because of Musecon – a convention for artists, musicians, and other creative types at which I was speaking. You can read my Musecon review for more. This time I was at the Westin to attend Knobcon, a convention dedicated to synthesizers. The Knobcon web site describes Knobcon as:

a one-of-a-kind synthesizer convention… complete with performances, workshops and vendors, Knobcon allows for a fully immersive experience. Attendees can get their hands on an incredible amount of equipment and talk directly with designers of some of today’s most innovative synthesizer products.

Although I have long been a fan of electronic music (Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, ELP, etc.), my interest has always been that of listener rather than user or producer. The convention was brought to my attention by a musician friend of mine who was coming in from out of town to attend. And why the name Knobcon you ask? I think the following picture makes the name obvious. Frankly, the last time I saw this many knobs was in the original NASA Mission Control room at Cape Canaveral.

Synthesizer knobs at Knobcon
Synthesizer Knobs at Knobcon

I spent quite a bit of time in the exhibit hall and rooms taking photographs of the wide variety of equipment on display. In addition to lots of knobs, there were cables, lots of cables. And all those blinking lights were particularly appealing to me. In addition to being a visual feast, it was quite an auditory experience as well – walking through a large room filled with synthesizers all doing their own thing.

Knobcon synthesizer exhibits
Knobcon synthesizer exhibits

Most of the photographs I took made use of my macro lens. For the most part I kept the camera in full manual mode so that I could play with aperture and exposure time. Underexposing worked particularly well for those photographs where I wanted the center of attention to be the blinking lights. At some point I will make some of these photographs available on my web site Jim Plaxco Photography.

In addition to photography, I also used my smart phone as a digital recorder to record the cacophony of human and synth sounds I heard while walking the aisles of the main exhibit hall. My thought is to use these recordings as a sound track for some short YouTube videos that will be illustrated using some of the photographs I took at Knobcon.

While not in the exhibit hall, or one of the exhibit rooms, I was attending workshops. While many of these were not relevant to my professional interests, several were really quite interesting. One that kept my attention was The Wavewrights given by Marc Doty, identified as the king of YouTube synthesizer videos (check out Marc Doty’s Automatic Gainsay Channel on YouTube). His talk on the history of electronic music instruments, of which synthesizers are the dominant instrument, was wonderful. He talked about the relevance of inventors like Thomas Edison, Alexandar Graham Bell, and Lee de Forest. A few of the instruments he talked about include the telharmonium, the pianorad (invented by Hugo Gernsback of science fiction fame), the trautonium, the theremin, and (with the coolest name) the Warbo Formant Orgel.

Gene Stopp Moog Music ELP
Gene Stopp of Moog Music

Another of the workshops I attended was one featuring Gene Stopp whom I had earlier met at the Moog exhibit in the main hall. In addition to being the Moog Music Product Manager, Gene Stopp was the synth (synthesizer) tech for Keith Emerson during the heyday of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. For me, ELP has the distinction of being the only major rock group that I have seen perform in concert three times. While Gene was supposed to be answering questions about Moog Music and the recently released Moog Emerson Modular, many of the questions dealt with his involvement with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Watch the following video to learn more about the Moog Emerson Modular.

Moog Music Inc: 50th Anniversary of the Moog Modular Synthesizer

Another program I attended was the live interview with Malcolm Cecil, who had been the keynote speaker at the Knobcon Banquet the previous evening. Malcolm Cecil is a Grammy-award winning record producer and co-creator of TONTO’s Expanding Head Band – which collaborated with numerous music acts including Weather Report, Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and many more.

Malcolm Cecil and the TONTO synthesizer
Malcolm Cecil and the TONTO synthesizer

It was the TONTO synthesizer, built by Malcolm, that was their centerpiece. TONTO is an acronym for "The Original New Timbral Orchestra", which is now owned by the National Music Centre of Calgary, Canada. You can read more about the band and the TONTO synthesizer at TONTO’s Expanding Head Band on Wikipedia.

In closing, spending the weekend looking at and listening to synthesizers (and taking pictures of them) was a different sort of experience for me. And I’m grateful to my friend Fred for cluing me in on this convention.

Synthesizer exhibit at Knobcon
Synthesizer exhibit at Knobcon

On the subject of music innovation, I’ll leave you with this quote from Edgard Varese: "Our musical alphabet must be enriched… we also need new instruments very badly… in my own works, I have always felt the need for new mediums of expression." What electronics have done for the art of music, so too has the computer done for the visual arts.

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Instagram, Twenty20, and Picture Sharing/Selling

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Twenty20 Gallery Account
My Twenty20 Photo/Art Gallery

Last week I began an adventure. It started with signing up for an Instagram account back in 2013. It’s not that I was keen to share photographs of what I was doing at the moment but rather I wanted to learn about Instagram by using it. For me the most useful aspect of Instagram has been the ability to share content to Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, and Twitter (I don’t use Foursquare). The least useful aspect is that it is an app-based service – meaning it is only fully functional when accessed from either a smart phone or a tablet via the Instagram app. My major annoyance with the app itself is the frequency with which it crashes.

I recently learned of an Instagram-associated service – Twenty20.com (formerly Instacanvas) which connects to Instagram and allows people to purchase various products that feature the photographs from your Instagram account. There is an application process so evidentially not everyone is accepted into the program. I was accepted. This acceptance led me to create a Flickr account in order to take advantage of that service as well.

My Twenty20 Gallery

In configuring my Twenty20 gallery the first action I took was to turn off the feature that automatically adds all of my Instagram photographs as product art. My rationale is that I do want to continue to use my Instagram account as a way of sharing photographs that are not meant to be used as product art. I may yet change my mind on this as it does make my Instagram account content look less professional.

Regarding Twenty20 products, I was surprised by the range of products on which they will print your Instagram photos. Product options are stretched canvas, framed prints, photo prints, iPhone case, greeting cards, T-shirts, pillows, magnets, and prisms – which are 1-inch thick acrylic photo glass with the image laser etched within.

Photos that are published to Instagram are all reduced to 640 x 640 pixels. The image that Twenty20 pulls from Instagram is also 640 x 640 pixels. This left me wondering about Twenty20’s option to print at 20″ x 20″. In terms of pixels per inch, that is 32 pixels per inch. When I print my photographs or artwork, I print at 300 pixels per inch. In searching through Twenty20’s help section, I came across the following:

How is the quality of printed mobile photos?
About Our Products
Twenty20 galleries are only filled with photos from Instagram, so they are all 612 x 612 pixels and 72 DPI. (Note: I think the 612 x 612 is outdated information) They look fantastic on all of our products due to our proprietary print sizing technology which makes photos from your phone look great when enlarged. However, if you ever order a print that you don’t love for whatever reason, we offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee and will refund all the costs and pay for shipping both ways.

It is worth noting that the 640×640 pixel limitation applies only to images pulled from Instagram. Photographers do have the option of uploading larger images directly to their Twenty20 account.

Instagram Sharing Review

When posting a photograph to my Instagram account, I have the option to share that photograph with Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Twitter. Not being on Foursquare, I won’t be covering that option. Note that all of the illustrations that follow have been cropped for presentation here.

Instagram Picture Post
My post as it appears on Instagram

Instagram to Facebook

The handshake between Instagram and my Facebook account is perfect.

Instagram to Facebook
My post as it appears on Facebook

The content I post to Instagram is exactly mirrored on Facebook. Nice job.

Instagram to Flickr

When shared to my Flickr account, the picture is fine and the Instagram caption field copies to the Flickr caption field. However the tags area consists of Instagram-related tags instead of my own tags. I don’t know why this only happens with Flickr and I’m not sure if Flickr or Instagram is to blame. To fix the hashtags, I have to log on to my Flickr account, manually delete their hashtags and add in my own hashtags.

Instagram to Tumblr

When shared to my Tumblr account, my content (photograph and caption text) is perfectly mirrored on Tumblr – I don’t have to do anything. Hurrah.

Instagram to Twitter

Instagram to Twitter
My post as it appears on Twitter

In creating the tweet for my Twitter account, Twitter’s 140 character limit has to be kept in mind. If my Instagram caption is more than 140 characters, something is going to get truncated. Fortunately I’ve consistently reserved the end of my Instagram captions for the hashtags so it’s only those – and not my link – that get dropped. Of course I could have limited the length of my caption to Twitter’s 140 character limit but that would have entailed limiting the amount of content on the other four social media services. So Twitter draws the short straw and I will live with the truncation problem.

One nice thing is that in posting my Twenty20 link to Instagram, it gets picked up and pulled in by Twitter and is viewable via the Twitter View Details option. A nice feature. Unfortunately, while Twitter now does support the posting of images, my photograph does not get passed to Twitter – only a link back to the image on my Instagram account. Perhaps Instagram has just not gotten around to updating their service to reflect this newish Twitter capability.

Instagram to my Twenty20 Gallery

Instagram to Twenty20
Importing Instagram to my Twenty20 Gallery

As I have selected to not automatically add all my Instagram photos to Twenty20, I must manually add them individually. This is no loss though because Twenty20 only pulls in the image file. None of the text content is carried over and in order to have your image found via a search, you need to go in and populate the Photo Details, Tags, and Caption fields.

Here is the workflow associated with each photograph I add to my Twenty20 gallery:

  1. Open Instagram on my tablet/smartphone.
  2. Either take a photograph or grab an image from my tablet/smartphone.
  3. Enter caption text and tags.
  4. Share to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Tumblr.
  5. Press the submit button and I’m done on Instagram.
  6. Go to my computer, open my browser, and log in to my Twenty20 account.
  7. Go to the Manage Gallery option.
  8. Select Add.
  9. Select Import from Instagram.
  10. Twenty20 displays thumbnails of all my Instagram photographs. I select the image I want to add and click Done.
  11. Select that same image from my Twenty20 image gallery.
  12. Edit the Photo Details field to specify a category, add the hashtags I want to use, enter the text I want for the caption, and click Save.

And there you have it. I hope you take a moment to have a look at my site and "like" my photographs and art as that will give me a boost in the site’s search results.

Jim Plaxco’s Twenty20 Photo/Art Gallery

I will be adding new content on a fairly regular basis.

Addendum

Annoying Advertisement: I just now visited the Twenty20 site as a visitor. I must say how annoying I find it that when doing a search on the site I am presented with the same “Instacanvas is now Twenty20″ pop-up advertisement on every single search results page. Note that this only happens to visitors – not to people logged in to their account.

Twenty20
The advertisement that overlays every search results page when I search the site as a visitor

For visitors the ad takes over the screen and must be manually dismissed. Someone at Twenty20 really needs to have their head examined. I’ve reported this as a problem and am very curious to see what their response is. I’ll report here what I hear back from them.

No Search Engine Results: In using Google and Bing to search the Twenty20.com site for my content I get zero search results. Similar searches for other seller’s content yields results. I’ve opened a problem ticket with Twenty20 to find out what the problem is. It may be due to the newness of my account. Granted my account is less than a week old but I would think that is a sufficient amount of time to have been found by the search engines.

I hope you found this information useful. Please feel free to share it with others who may be interested in monetizing their Instagram photographs.

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Pinterest for Business

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Pinterest for Business
Pinterest for Business Page

At the end of 2012, Pinterest introduced a new class of accounts – Pinterest for Business. At that point in time I wasn’t even using Pinterest. Over the last year I have rather slowly added content to my Pinterest account while not pushing my Pinterest presence. It wasn’t until the end of December 2013 that I created a Pinterest for Business account.

When I signed up for the business account, the sign-up page provided the option "Already have an account? Convert here." Rather than converting my existing account into a business account, I decided to create a separate business account purely for my art business. Doing this gives me the freedom to post irrelevant content/pictures to my personal account while preserving my business account for images that pertain specifically to my art.

In setting up a business account, one of the tasks you need to perform is to verify your web site (meaning proving that you actually own your business’ domain name). Pinterest offers a few different methods for the verification process. The verification option I chose to use was to upload a small html file to my web site for Pinterest to find.

The first feature of the Pinterest business account that I took advantage of was the Pin It button. Adding a bit of Javascript to the 190+ web pages of artwork means that now when someone hovers their mouse over my art, a little Pin It button pops up – making it very easy for someone to pin my art. Pinterest then uses this as a part of the analytics data they provide for business accounts.

Pinterest describes these features as follows: "Once you’ve added the Pin It button and verified your website, you’ll be able to access your web analytics. Analytics shows you what content from your website is most popular on Pinterest. Find out how many people are Pinning from your website, seeing your Pins, and clicking your content." Now I don’t need Pinterest to tell me what’s popular on my web site – Google Analytics does that for me. What is of value to me is making it easier for people to share my art on Pinterest and having access to Pinterest analytics telling me which of my artworks are being shared on Pinterest. This is particularly useful for artists and photographers.

From a use point of view, I have seen no difference between regular Pinterest and business Pinterest. It’s basically the same interface with the same editing capabilities. So if you have a personal Pinterest account, setting up and using a Pinterest for Business account will be no challenge – assuming that you have your own domain name.

My advice: if you are an artist or a photographer or anyone whose business is reliant on images, I would definitely create a Pinterest for Business account. For help and reference purposes, I recommend that you check out the following resources:

In closing, the best thing about writing this article is that it spurred me to go on a board creation/pinning frenzy last night so that there would actually be something for you to see on my Pinterest business account page.

So visit my Artsnova Pinterest for Business Account and repin, repin, repin. Oh, and don’t forget to follow me while you’re there.

Happy New Year everyone.

Pinterest for Business

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Unincorporated Future Breaks A 20+ Year Drought

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Unincorporated Future
The Unincorporated Future by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin

I was visiting the Schaumburg Library and the cover art of the science fiction book The Unincorporated Future which was on display as a new arrival caught my eye. Picking it up and looking it over I decided to check it out. I read it and enjoyed it. The significance? This is the first science fiction novel I have read in probably 20 years.

You may say "so what", which wouldn’t surprise me at all. But when you consider that I am a regular participant at science fiction conventions and that in my younger days I was an avid reader of SF (accumulating a large collection that I still possess) you may wonder what happened? Why such a long hiatus from reading science fiction?

Frankly the time I devote to reading has for the last twenty odd years been devoted to non-fiction. With so much fascinating knowledge out there, I found it very hard to spend any time reading fiction. I also found it hard to justify spending time on fiction when there were technical books related to my profession that I wanted to read.

So what have I been reading all these years? To give you an idea, here is a list of the subject areas that I’ve spent the most time on (listed alphabetically):

  • 2D graphics software manuals
  • 3D graphics software manuals
  • Adobe Photoshop (a subject in itself)
  • algorithmic art
  • art history
  • art theory
  • artificial intelligence
  • astronomy
  • C++ programming
  • computer art
  • computer graphics
  • cosmology
  • digital photography
  • economics (my BS was in Economics)
  • general science
  • HTML/CSS programming
  • image processing
  • Java programming
  • planetary science
  • political theory
  • politics
  • SAS programming
  • search engine optimization
  • space development
  • space exploration
  • web design and development

So there you have it – the secret of my reading habits. I will say this with respect to reading computer manuals: it is remarkable how much of that knowledge acquired becomes obsolete. But that is a small price to pay because that obsolence is due to the continued advances in computing capabilities and the former is a reasonable price to pay for the latter.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Hubble’s Universe Presentation for Astronomy Day

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Hubble's Universe Presentation
Hubble’s Universe Presentation

Today is Astronomy Day, an annual celebration of all things astronomy. The very first Astronomy Day event was in 1973 and hosted by the Astronomical Association of Northern California. These simple beginnings brought forth a nation-wide celebration of astronomy. The central coordinating body for today’s Astronomy Day events is the Astronomical League.

Tonight I will be speaking at Harper College in Palatine IL as a part of the Astronomy Day activities hosted by the Northwest Suburban Astronomers and the Harper College Department of Physical Sciences. The title of my presentation is Hubble’s Universe. Over the course of my presentation I talk about the Hubble Space Telescope, how its astronomical images are created, something of the science of cosmology and Hubble’s role, and provide images of planets, nebula, and galaxies. I will be presenting in room Z121 at 7:00pm.

For information about my presentation, see Hubble’s Universe lecture page.

For more information about Astronomy Day, visit the Northwest Suburban Astronomers web site

Astronomy Day Details
Saturday April 28, 2012 starting at 6:00 pm
Programs begin on the hour at 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00

WHERE:

William Rainey Harper College, Building Z
Algonquin Road Entrance, Parking Lots 2 & 3
Palatine, IL

Ad Astra, Jim

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