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2018 Capricon Science Fiction Convention

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

2018 Capricon Science Fiction Convention
2018 Capricon Science Fiction Convention

This weekend (Feb 15 thru 18) is the 38th annual Capricon Science Fiction Convention, an event I always look forward to. As usual, I’ll be participating in the convention’s programming as both a panelist and as a panel moderator. Even though Capricon is a convention about science fiction and fantasy, my participation will not be all that different than my participation in last weekend’s NIRCON, the annual convention of the Northern Illinois Rocketry Association, where I gave a presentation on the future of human space exploration.

Given that at Capricon panelists "apply" to be on specific panels, the list of panels that I am on will give you a good idea of the types of topics I am most interested in and most qualified to discuss and debate.

How Soon Artificial General Intelligence

My lead-off panel will be How Soon Artificial General Intelligence, moderated by Bill Thomasson. The panel description asks us to answer the questions of how soon AGI (artificial general intelligence) might become a reality and how will that development affect human society. The question of how long it will be before true artificial intelligence becomes a reality is anyone’s guess. I do not believe that anyone can with any degree of accuracy answer this question. As to the impact on human society, that is an easier – and quite interesting – subject to tackle. With respect to workplace automation, AGI could be considered as being automation on steroids. Some will view this as a threat to their livelihood while others will be beneficiaries of this development.

Capture Deflect Destroy

Next I’ll be serving as moderator for the panel Capture Deflect Destroy in which the panel discusses the options we have in dealing with an identified asteroid or comet that is on a collision course with Earth. As moderator I’ll be expanding the panel’s discussion to include asteroid mining as a use of these objects. What I see as relevant areas for our discussion are background on the environmental impact of collisions, asteroid/comet detection and tracking programs, the classification of asteroid/comet families (orbital and compositional), and of course the technologies associated with altering the orbits of these bodies.

Pirates of the Asteroids: Who Owns ET Resources?

From talking about asteroids as a threat to civilization, I’ll be segueing to the panel Pirates of the Asteroids: Who Owns ET Resources? which may well be the most interesting as we debate the question of ownership and the making of territorial claims in outer space. Despite the panel’s title, taken from the title of a science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov, this is a very serious international space policy concern that must be addressed.

Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids book cover art
Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids by Isaac Asimov plot summary on Wikipedia

The framework for this discussion is The Outer Space Treaty which prohibits nations from making territorial claims in space. It was this restriction, along with the outlawing of all military activity in space, that really caused the Space Race to cool off. Our panel will also be specifically addressing the twin questions of whether or not a private company can claim ownership of space objects and, more importantly, if those companies will retain full legal ownership of any mined ET resources that they return to Earth. For a Wikipedia description of recent United States legislation that touches on this issue, see Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015 in November 2015. You may also want to read about what the tiny European nation of Luxembourg has been up to at Luxembourg aims to Contribute to the Peaceful Exploration and Sustainable Utilization of Space Resources for the Benefit of Humankind. This panel is being moderated by Pat Sayre McCoy. Pat and co-panelist Jeffrey Liss are a couple of folks I always look forward to serving on panels with.

What Are Acceptable Risks in Space Exploration?

Continuing with the theme of space exploration is the panel What Are Acceptable Risks in Space Exploration? moderated by Dr Michael Unger. In this age of the emergence of commercial space exploration, this question is particularly relevant. In his book Disturbing the Universe, Freeman Dyson made an interesting observation on this subject as it pertains to cost:

“As soon as our government takes responsibility for such as project, any serious risk of failure or loss of life becomes politically unacceptable. The costs of Island One (Gerard O’Neill’s space colony proposal) become high for the same reason that the costs of the Apollo expeditions were high. The government can afford to waste money but it cannot afford to be responsible for a disaster.”

Supporting Dyson’s observation is the fact that within the realm of NASA and space projects we have multiple examples of commercially provided goods and services successfully delivered at a fraction of the cost of their NASA/government counterparts. While our panel’s description is oriented towards the risks associated explicitly with NASA programs, I hope that our scope extends beyond that to include commercial (private) alternatives.

Science Fiction Cover Art: A History to Modern Day

Having served on both computing (AI) and space exploration panels, my final Capricon panel will be on the subject of art. The panel Science Fiction Cover Art: A History to Modern Day (moderated by friend and physicist Bill Higgins) will talk about the past and future of science fiction art with a particular focus on the publishing industry. Over the years, styles of science fiction cover art have come and gone while production methods (medium) went largely unchanged. The advent of personal computers and software tools for the creation of digital art has had a dramatic impact in this arena – and this will be a central feature of our panel’s discussion.

The Rest of The Time

When not on a panel, I look forward to being an audience member for those panels that interest me. These panels tend to be either space, science, computing, or art business related. Some of the panels that have caught my eye and which I’d like to attend include:

  • The Singularity: Mechs or Shapers?
  • Photo Color Temperature: What it is, Why it Matters
  • Computing Before Computers
  • Exobiology for Dummies
  • SETI: To Lurk or To Post?
  • Marketing Your Book
  • Science For World Progress
  • I, For One, Welcome My New Robot Overlords

Clearly Capricon offers quite a diversity of programming. For complete details about all the programs being offered at Capricon, please see the Capricon Programming Guide.

Closings Thoughts From Bruce Sterling and Robert Heinlein

I’d like to leave you with a couple of closing thoughts. First, this observation 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.

More importantly, I’d ask folks to give serious consideration to the words of science fiction great Robert Heinlein who in a speech at the 1961 World Science Fiction Convention made the following statement:

Remember this: once the human race is established on more than one planet and especially, in more than one solar system, there is no way now imaginable to kill off the human race.


The 38th annual Capricon Science Fiction Convention is being held at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling Illinois.


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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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Capricon Science Fiction Convention Review

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Capricon Science Fiction Convention
Capricon Science Fiction Convention

I spent last weekend attending the Capricon Science Fiction Convention at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling IL. While I normally participate in the convention’s art show, this year I decided to opt out. I did of course participate in the con’s programming, doing one presentation and participating in three panels.

A few months back I suggested a presentation idea to Capricon’s programming staff. Titled The Globalization of the Solar System, I described it as a lecture about the possible economics of a human civilization that spans the solar system. Specifically I wanted to address the question of whether or not the globalization we’ve seen here on Earth will be possible with a human presence that is spread across the solar system. I had originally developed the idea as a submission for the International Space Development Conference but had a change of heart once I decided to attend the Eyeo Festival instead. So as a long shot I proposed it to the folks at Capricon. I was delighted when they accepted – surprised as well since globalization and economics are not your typical topics at a science fiction convention.

I was really pleased with the size of the audience my talk attracted (far more than attended all three of the panels I participated in). Between my prepared talking points and addressing the numerous questions I received while my talk was underway, I wound up speaking for a total of 88 minutes – well over the 75 minutes I was allotted but finishing with a few minutes to spare before the start of the next program.

I am next scheduled to give my Globalization of the Solar System talk in July at the Elgin Public Library and may or may not give it at the June meeting of the Chicago Society for Space Studies.

The panel I most enjoyed and was most disappointed with was the Science Literacy for ALL panel. Granted it was a Sunday panel held at noon but I still expected that we would have attracted a substantial audience. It was the lack of a much larger audience that was my source of disappointment. Subject wise, I found this panel to be truly enjoyable because of the way in which we panelists bounced so nicely off one another and the wide ranging topics we addressed. Joining me on this panel were Henry Spencer, a fellow space enthusiast who actually works in aerospace and with whom I’ve been on numerous panels in the past. Also on the panel was Dexter Fabi. Turns out Dex, whom I’ve also been on panels with in the past, was on all three panels I was on this year. Our other panelists were the moderator Alicia Choi, Patrick O’Connor, and Kelly Strait.

Another panel was The Importance of Visual Design in Movies and TV which took some interesting twists and turns as we explored how the look of a movie or TV show affected viewers perceptions of the story. We also discussed how science fiction design has impacted our perceptions of the look of the future. My copanelists were Dexter Fabi, Jan Gephardt, Karen Ann Hollingsworth, Daniel Levin, and Lucy Synk.

Lastly there was the panel Alien Landscapes on Earth. The focus of the panel was not just on discussing alien landscapes here on Earth, but also about how such landscapes influenced the art we made (all the panelists were artists). My co-panelists were Dexter Fabi, Sandra Levy (moderator), Samantha Haney Press, Lucy Synk, and Capricon Artist Guest of Honor Eric Wilkerson.

While as a con-goer I toured the art show, prowled the dealer’s room, attended other panels, and chatted with friends in the Green Room, the two high points of the convention for me were my talk and the science literacy panel.

Illustration: Capricon Particle String.

To illustrate this post I used a custom typography. Specifically I used a particle system that assembled itself using an image mask to define the area of the individual letters in the text string, in this case "Capricon". A random starting location was selected as well as a target location inside one of the letter areas. As the system ran, particles would do a random walk within a vector field from their initial location to their final destination. The screen shot was taken once all particles had more or less arrived at their final destination.

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Capricon Science Fiction Convention – Artificial Intelligence

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Capricon Science Fiction Convention
The Capricon Science Fiction Convention: Artificial Intelligence

I am quite looking forward to next week’s Capricon Science Fiction Convention. The theme for this year’s convention is artificial intelligence, which is an area of computer science that I find fascinating. One aspect of artificial intelligence that interests me is the thought of AIs as the creators of art and music. This would represent a significant advance over today’s generative art approach.

Before getting into a discussion of the panels I hope to attend, I’d like to call attention to the panels I will be on.

Riverworlds: The Latest on Mars and Titan
A panel that I’ll be moderating on the finding of features on Mars and Titan that appear to have been produced by fluvial processes. My copanelists will be a pair of friend of mine: Bill Higgins and Jeffrey Liss.
I Shouldn’t Have Blogged That
Sometimes we speak without thinking – which is bad enough but then your only audience is those folks who are within earshot. But with blogging and social media – we all have the opportunity to look like fools to a huge number of family, friends, and strangers alike. Along with Tracy Lunquist, the panel’s moderator, Kathryn Sullivan and I will talk about how to minimize your risks and how to do damage control.

In addition to participating on two panels, the folks at Capricon graciously offered me the opportunity to do a presentation on my digital art.
The title they picked for my presentation is The Art of Jim Plaxco and has the following description:

Explore the visual possibilities of digital art which uses a variety of techniques using computer graphics software, hardware, and both film and digital photography.

I do like that description because my intent is to focus on what it means to work digitally. I’ll cover hardware, software, work flow, and methodologies and will use some of my own art as examples.

As to the panels I hope to attend, those would be:

AI and the CDC
How the Center for Disease Control is using artificial intelligence.
AI Vision: Early AI vs. Current Technology
A historical overview of human imaginings about AI.
AI’s Impact on Religion and Religion’s Impact on AI
The impact of artificial intelligence on religion and the impact of religion on artificial intelligence.
Boundaries Between Science and Pseudoscience
As a skeptic and proponent of fact-based decision making, this could be quite interesting.
Curiosity on Mars Slideshow
A presentation by my friend and fellow JPL Solar System Ambassador Bill Higgins on the Curiosity rover and what it has uncovered on Mars. Note that Curiosity won the 2012 Crunchie For Best Technology Achievement.
Cylons, Cyberman, and Borg, OH MY! AI Destroys!
Ah yes, the dark side of hi tech.
Do AIs Have Rights?
Perhaps a more interesting question is should all AIs be treated equally?
Dystopias and Why We Love Them
I’ve been on a couple of dystopia panels before and wish I had gotten on this one. It’s a topic that has always fascinated me.
Is Google Making Us Stupid? To the Internet! [Is Google Making Us Stupid?]
I guess I better Google this before providing an answer.
It’s All in the Presentation
A panel for artists that discusses various aspects of the art biz.
NASA/JPL Saturn Mission Lecture
A very cool presentation (I’ve seen earlier versions of it) by friend and fellow JPL Solar System Ambassador John Vittallo about the Cassini mission to Saturn.
Non-Traditional Publishing Options
A look at publishing Ebooks, self-publishing, Amazon, etc.
When Does a Computer Become a Robot?
I would think the answer to this is obvious: when it sprouts arms and legs and is able to fetch.
Writing Nonfiction
A panel for folks who are interested in writing nonfiction.

I’ve listed a lot of panels here but have not checked the program schedule for time conflicts and given my luck I’ll probably actually make less than half of them. I also hope to attend at least some of the convention’s art auction on Saturday night. I still have to decide on whether or not I am going to participate in the convention’s art show.

Reference Links

If you’re attending Capricon, I hope that you are able to find the time to catch my presentation The Art of Jim Plaxco.

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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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Capricon 32 Science Fiction Convention

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Beyond the Mountains Exoplanet Landscape Painting
Beyond the Mountains exoplanet landscape painting

This weekend I’ll be attending the 32nd Capricon Science Fiction Convention being held at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling, IL. The theme this year is Amazing Adventures. I’ve attended quite a few Capricon’s over the years and they’ve always been fun. In addition to participating in the con’s programming, I’ve participated in their art show for the last several years.

With respect to programming, this year I am giving one presentation – The Art of the Exploration of Space. In this talk, I give an overview of the development of space art and how that art evolved over time to reflect the realities of aerospace engineering. I pay particular attention to the means by which art is used to portray space exploration, from exploratory to educational to inspirational. I also talk about the NASA Art Program and NASA’s recognition of the emotional impact of art vs photography. I even sneak some of my own space art into the talk.

I will also be moderating the panel Goodbye, Space Shuttle where we’ll be discussing human access to space in the post-Space Shuttle era. Joining me will be Henry Spencer, all the way from Canada and a co-panelist on a number of past space panels, and Chris Gerrib, whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting.

Lastly, I will be a panelist on the Pluto Is Still a Planet in Illinois panel. Moderating will be friend and scientist Bill Higgins. My fellow panelists will be Brother Guy Consolmagno (who was actually at the 2006 IAU conference at which Pluto was relegated to dwarf planet status) and Steven Silver. One of the questions the panel is asked to answer is Why are we still so invested in the classification of this distant object? In the case of Illinois politicians, I’m betting it’s because the chuckle heads, eer elected representatives, in Springfield would prefer to deal with weighty issues like Pluto’s planetary status rather than the financial and ethical holes they’ve dug the state into.

Uncharacteristically, I have not yet decided whether or not I am going to participate in the Capricon art show. Sunday has limited programming and I am not on any panels that day. Not participating in the art show frees up my Sunday which works out exceedingly well for me as I have other commitments that day.

Looking over the programming line up, you may find me in the audience of the following panels:

  • Whither Goes the Art Show?
  • Chicon 7: The 2012 Worldcon Open Meeting
  • Civil Disobedience: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Movement
  • Dystopia Now
  • Fan Artists You Should Know
  • SF/F Music that Isn’t Filk
  • The Coming War on General Purpose Computation
  • There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow! The Disney Imagineering Panel
  • We Do It in Groups: Fandom and Social Media

You can get all your Capricon questions answered at the Capricon web site.

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I decided to use a relatively recent digital painting I created and only added to my web site today. Beyond the Mountains is a minimalist representation of an exoplanet landscape.

Bon Voyage, Jim

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