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Musecon Review

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Modified Spirograph program output from Musecon class
Modified Spirograph sample output from a modified Spirograph program

I spent this last weekend attending Musecon which was held at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca, IL. MuseCon is a three day convention for makers, artists, musicians, and other creatives that provides a wide range of creative programming. For my part, Musecon began Friday afternoon with the class I was teaching on how to use the Processing programming language to create a digital spirograph and a digital harmonograph (for more, see Creating Digital Spirographs and Harmonographs with Processing).

The class went quite well and I was surprised by the number of students I had since my class was in the first block of programming – which was Friday at 1:30pm. I can’t complain about the scheduling of the class since I was the one who selected that time slot. Getting my programming done at the very start of the convention meant that I had a worry-free weekend to attend the other programs that interested me without having to carry around the electronic baggage needed for the class. This is the third year that I’ve had the opportunity to participate as a presenter in Musecon’s programming lineup and it was nice having completed my part within the first hours of the convention. If you want to read about what I did last year, check out Generative Art plus Instagram and Pinterest at Musecon.

I spent the rest of the weekend attending programming and chatting with folks I only see maybe once or twice a year. With respect to the programming I attended, my top three favorite programs were:

  • God’s Mechanics: The Religious Life of Techies
  • Physical Properties of Meteorites
  • Photography: Champagne lighting on a grape juice budget

This year the convention had as Guest of Honor Brother Guy Consolmagno. In addition to having his PhD in Planetary Science and having authored a number of excellent books, Brother Guy recently won the Carl Sagan Medal and is now President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation.

The program God’s Mechanics: The Religious Life of Techies was a presentation by Brother Guy about the subject of his book God’s Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion – which is a fascinating look at how "techies" look at and think about religion and deal with the question of God’s existence.

Musecon Guest of Honor Brother Guy Consolmagno talking about Meteorites
Musecon Guest of Honor Brother Guy Consolmagno talking about Meteorites

My second favorite program was also a presentation by Brother Guy. Physical Properties of Meteorites was an interesting look at the history of meteorites in terms of human understanding of how the solar system works. Brother Guy also discussed some of his own research and its relevance to the larger field of study. Once upon a time my interest in meteorites was keener than it is today – particular since I served as an officer and director of the Planetary Studies Foundation, which at the time had one of the top meteorite collections in the world. The overwhelming bulk of that collection had been received as a donation from the DuPont family. It was in those years that I once had the opportunity to be on a panel about meteorites with Brother Guy at a science fiction convention – though I no longer recall which one it was.

Lastly my third favorite program of the weekend was Photography: Champagne lighting on a grape juice budget which was led by Richard France, Ken Beach, Bruce Medic – all of whom are really excellent photographers whose work I admire. The theme of their program was about taking a DIY (do it yourself) approach to coming up with alternative lighting and equipment solutions. Think in terms of retasking old items or using as substitutes items that could be purchased from your local hardware store.

In closing, Musecon 2015 was a totally enjoyable weekend and one I look forward to repeating in 2016.



God’s Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense
of Religion

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Pluto and the NASA New Horizons Mission

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Pluto New Horizons Pluto-Palooza talk
Pluto New Horizons Pluto-Palooza talk

One thing consuming my time recently has been the NASA New Horizons mission to Pluto and the spacecraft’s passage through the Plutonian system on Tuesday July 14. This mission reawakened a somewhat dormant interest in planetary science. Once upon a time the majority of the talks I gave at area libraries and at science fiction conventions dealt with planetary science, particularly Mars. Over the years as passions waxed and wanned my areas of focus (as least as far as public speaking was concerned) shifted to talks about algorithmic art, astronomical art, generative art, social media, space commercialization, space development, and more recently the Processing programming language.

New Horizons is a historic mission. We’ve had robotic missions to planets, moons, comets, and asteroids. We’ve even had the first mission to a dwarf planet – that being the Dawn mission to Ceres. One thing we’ve never had is a mission to a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) because that is what Pluto is properly categorized as. In fact, this is one point that I emphasize with my audience – the real value of the New Horizons mission to Pluto is not about visiting the one unvisited planet but about being the first mission to this relatively new category of solar system object. The opportunity to study these ancient icy dwarfs of the solar system close-up is and will continue to be exceedingly rare.

One thing that I have found somewhat annoying has been a number of comments on social media expressing disappointment at the quality of images returned to Earth by New Horizons and that there are so few of them. It’s unfortunate that so many people do not understand that the New Horizons spacecraft, by design, can not simultaneously collect data and send data back to Earth. During the close encounter phase (approach, encounter, and departure phases) the spacecraft’s job has been to collect data – and rightly so. In the days after the closest approach to Pluto, the images that were being released were all taken from the day before the close encounter when the spacecraft was still over half a million kilometers from Pluto! Recall that on the 14th New Horizons actually flew past Pluto as a distance of a mere 12,500 kilometers. For reference, the geostationary satellites in orbit above the Earth are just shy of 36,000 kilometers over our heads.

I gave my Pluto – New Horizons presentation for the first time on Sunday July 19 at the Schaumburg Library for the meeting of the Chicago Society for Space Studies. I was slightly out of sorts because the laptop I use for my presentations… well that morning when I turned it on I couldn’t get past the BIOS startup screen. Fortunately I had made a backup of my presentation on a thumb drive. I hadn’t added much after making that copy so the presentation was essentially complete. I pulled out my son’s 4+ year old discarded laptop (too many blue screens of death according to him) and used that to do my presentation. (Yes I actually compartmentalize my computing life so that different computers are used for specific functions. And no, I have not yet begun to troubleshoot what’s wrong with my "presentations " computer.)

As a consequence of questions from the audience and to tighten up the story line, I deleted a number of slides from the talk while adding a few new ones. Tightening up also helped me to cut the length of my talk because as a speaker I encourage the audience to ask questions as my presentation progresses. I gave this new version of the talk at the Roden Branch of the Chicago Public Library last night. The changes I made both improved the flow and allowed me to finish right on time – even with questions from the audience. Not giving much away, the graphic below shows the 70 slides in the Pluto New Horizons talk that I gave last night.

Pluto New Horizons Pluto-Palooza talk
Slides for my Pluto New Horizons Pluto-Palooza lecture

The next presentation I’ll be giving will be at Musecon, a convention for artists, musicians, inventors, gadgeteers, makers, tinkerers, and other creative folks. My talk isn’t about Pluto though. What I’ll be doing is teaching a class on creating digital spirographs and harmonographs using the Processing programming language.

Creating Digital Spirographs and Harmonographs With Processing
Creating Digital Spirographs and Harmonographs With Processing presentation

Musecon is August 7,8.9 and is being held at Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca, Illinois. Musecon’s Guest of Honor is Brother Guy Consolmango, President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation and accomplished author. It’s been my honor to have been on a few panels with Brother Guy in the past. As I recall, one dealt with asteroids, another with Mars, and the third with planetary science missions in general. These panels were all at science fiction conventions. That’s right, there is much more to science fiction conventions than just science fiction.

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Generative Art plus Instagram and Pinterest at Musecon

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Musecon 4 Convention
Musecon 4 Convention

This weekend I’ll be attending MuseCon 4, being held at Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca, IL. Billed as a weekend-long convention for artists, musicians, inventors, gadgeteers, makers, tinkerers, and creative people of all ages, the convention is three days of a wide variety of creative workshops spanning a surprisingly broad range of creative projects – from making chain maille to programming Arduinos.

As a part of Musecon, I’ll be teaching two classes/workshops. The first workshop I’ll be giving is Generative Art and Processing. I’m going out on a limb with this one. Instead of having a canned, pre-prepared, formal presentation, I’m going to challenge the class to collectively create a generative art program. As we agree on concepts, I’ll demonstrate to the class how to go about creating the necessary code to implement our visual concepts. My objective is for students to acquire a basic understanding of generative art concepts and how the Processing programming language can be used to implement a generative art concept.

The second workshop I’ll be teaching is Instagram and Pinterest for Artists and Photographers. This is one of my standard presentations and is geared towards strategies as opposed to being a how-to tutorial. For more information about this workshop, see Instagram and Pinterest for Artists and Photographers.

Besides teaching, there are several workshops that I hope to attend. On my list are:

  • Arduino Programming
  • Digital Cameras: Best For The Price
  • Free Blinkies
  • Intro to Runes
  • Portfolio Development

My Musecon Class Schedule

Following is the time and location information for the two classes I’ll be teaching.

Program: Generative Art and Processing
Time: Saturday 1:30 PM – 2:45 PM
Room: Carlyle

Program: Instagram and Pinterest for Artists and Photographers
Time: Saturday 9:00 PM – 10:15 PM
Room: Carlyle

To learn more about Musecon visit the MuseCon 4 Convention Web Site.

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Musecon 2013 Creatives Convention

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Musecon
Musecon: August 2-4 2013 at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca, IL

Later today I’ll be leaving home to attend Musecon 3 which is being held at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca, IL. If you are not familiar with Musecon, it is a weekend-long convention of classes and hands-on workshops for artists, musicians, inventors, gadgeteers, makers, tinkerers, and creative people of all ages. Areas of programming include:

  • Basic electronic tinkering
  • Knitting, Crochet
  • Leatherworking
  • Chain Maille
  • Music, music and more music
  • Using Software
  • Paperwork
  • Beading & Jewelry
  • Working with Electroluminescent (EL) wire
  • Drama and Improvisation
  • Paint war-gaming miniatures
  • Stained Glass
  • Dancing – Swing and Khaleeji (belly)
  • Vocal workshops
  • Costuming & sewing
  • LEGOs! (for grownups too!)

Musecon has quite an eclectic line up of classes and workshops, a few of which are:

  • Build a 10″ Singing Tesla Coil Stanford
  • Build a Catapult
  • Bodhran Basics
  • Build a Blinkie
  • Irish Language 101
  • Loom Knitting
  • Belly Dance for Fun & Fitness
  • Electric Bikes Discussion
  • Lyric Writing

For my part, the programming I will most likely be attending is:

  • Arduino Programming
  • 3D Printing Discussion
  • Hacker-spaces & Maker-spaces
  • Hardbound Journal Making
  • Stand Back, I’m Going To Try Science! (taught by friend Todd Johnson)
  • Blitzkrieg recording
  • Tesla Coil Q&A
  • Working with EL Wire (or in the same time slot Throwing Up With Style – it’s not what you think – it’s a juggling class)
  • Todd and Bill Provide Endless Amusement featuring friends Bill Higgins and Todd Johnson and the book Endless Amusement, published in 1820 and containing 400 scientific demonstrations, experiments, tricks, and projects.
  • Photography: Posing & Lighting taught by photography masters Richard France and Ken Beach who happen to be scheduled at the same time as Elements of Scotch Tasting. I wonder what would happen if the two were combined into a single class? Would Richard or Ken still trust me with their cameras?

My own contribution to the weekend will be teaching the class Internet Strategies for Artists & Photographers which is basically my seminar Building an Online Presence: The Internet for Artists and Photographers which explores a variety of topics including how to create an online presence, using social media, online selling, and email marketing. Note that I will be teaching this class in September for the Barrington Cultural Arts Center in Barrington IL (details to follow).

It is not too late to attend Musecon – you can register at the door. For details, see the Musecon web site.

I’ll close with a quote on creativity from Scott Adams who wrote in his book The Dilbert Principle:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

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A Musecon Review

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Lichtenberg figure
Stylized Lichtenberg figure

I arrived at Musecon Friday evening in time to catch the opening ceremonies. In the event you are unfamiliar with Musecon, see my previous blog post: Musecon 2012 Convention. Following the opening ceremonies it was time to give my own presentation. I was surprised at the size of the audience for my presentation Building an Online Presence: The Internet for Artists and Photographers as scheduled opposite my and the other programs in the time slot was the Masters of Lightning and their amazing singing tesla coils show. Fortunately my presentation was in the last time slot of the day for that room so instead of speaking for 1 hour and 15 minutes, I wound up going for a full 2 hours. This was in part because of lively audience participation. I classify my talk as having been a success

I closed out the first evening after an extended discussion in the con suite on various photographic issues, including the alternatives for doing macro photography. I do in fact have a blog article on the subject fully written (done several months ago) – just waiting to be posted. Not sure what I’m waiting for.

The first program I attended on Saturday was 3D Printing Discussion. The 3D printing program won out over the digital photography session that was running in the same time slot. After the lunch break there was a 3D Printing Show and Tell. My principal take-away from these two sessions is that 3D printing is still very much in its infancy. It seems that much time is devoted to managing, maintaining, and improving the performance of these home built 3D printers.

3D printers
Left: one example of a 3D printer; Right: Dwayne explaining about 3D printers

And the joke of the day was What do you do with a 3D printer? You use it to make more 3D printers. In the photograph above, for the 3D printer on the right, all the parts in black and blue were created by other 3D printers. Given that my sole interest is in the printer’s output capabilities, I’ve decided that a 3D printer is not for me at this time.

My second and last presentation followed: Processing for Artists and Photographers Everyone in the audience had programming experience and many had downloaded and installed Processing prior to the start of my talk. My talk consisted of two parts. First a formal presentation that provided an overview of Processing and the principles of the creation of art via programming. Second was a walk through of several Processing sketches that I had written to illustrate the actual functioning of the language. I had to stick to the schedule on this one not only because there was another program in the room immediately after mine, but also because I wanted to attend the Workshop 88 session on Arduino for Beginners..

While I do have my own Arduino and have written some small programs for it, it has set in a box for almost a year untouched. Here was a chance to reintroduce myself to Arduino. I didn’t take the time to photograph the Arduino I was working with but this workshop proved to be time well spent.

The Arduino class was the last session I attended Saturday. I then had dinner and spent time talking with other attendees before heading for home.

I started Sunday by attending the Studio Lighting session run by Pan and Squirrel (fandom names). This session provided attendees the opportunity to work with a professional lighting setup. Most impressive was the large softbox light. A number of photographers in the audience took up the opportunity to do some shooting with the lights Pan and Squirrel so kindly provided.

Todd Johnson: Stand Back! I'm Going to Try Science
Todd Johnson: Stand Back! I’m Going to Try Science

The session that followed was aptly titled Stand Back! I’m Going to Try Science by Todd Johnson, a physicist at Fermilab. Todd’s presentation was all about the world of Lichtenberg figures and some of the adventures he has had in their creation. Note that the photo used to illustrate this post is derived from one of the Lichtenberg figures that Todd had on display. In addition to explaining the science of Lichtenberg figures, Todd also created give-away Lichtenberg’s for the audience on the spot. For more of Todd’s work, visit his Deviantart Gallery.

Next up was the session Hackerspace and Makerspace which dealt with the Chicago hacker/maker community. Dwayne of 2DKits provided a general overview and Randy spoke in more detail about Workshop 88 located in Glen Ellyn.

The final program of the day for me was Babbage’s Favorite Picture by another Fermilab physicist Bill Higgins (that’s W. Skeffington Higgins for fandom). A fascinating look at Babbage, Jacquard and his loom, Carquillat’s Jacquard Loom portrait of Jacquard, and Mr. Higgins quest to locate and view a "Jacquard Jacquard". All in all a fascinating discussion. For more on the "Jacquard Jacquard", see Portrait of Joseph-Marie Jacquard, 1839 Manufactured by Didier, Petit et Cie; Woven by Michel-Marie Carquillat (French, 1803–1884).

Favorite Quote

While I really liked the joke What do you do with a 3D printer? You use it to make more 3D printers, my favorite quote from the talks I attended is actually two quotes. First up is Todd Johnson who shared the wisdom of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg:

"A physical experiment which makes a bang is always worth more than a quiet one."

That is a hard quote to top. More sublime was a quote offered by Bill Higgins in his presentation, who quoted Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, aka Ada Lovelace:

"We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves."

What lovely imagery.

And that’s the end of my story on Musecon.

Addendum

There had been a thunderstorm on Saturday and on returning home Sunday afternoon I discovered not one but three trees down in our back yard. One was a neighbor’s tree that had crashed in our general direction taking out a good portion of one of our trees in the process. The third was our crab apple tree – which suffered the loss of one of its three main basal branches. It turns out that inside the base was an ample supply of soil, the result of carpenter ants eating away at the base of the tree. We shall see how much longer it survives. So instead of coming home to an afternoon of R and R, I came home to an extended session with pruning shears and saws.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Musecon 2012 Convention – Itasca, IL

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Experimental Image Processing Portrait
Image: An experimental self-portrait using Processing to perform image processing

Musecon, a convention in northeastern Illinois that celebrates music and the creative arts opens this Friday August 3 and runs through Sunday August 5. Musecon’s programming consists of a weekend of classes and hands-on workshops on all things creative. Musecon is being held at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca, IL. For complete information and to register, see www.musecon.org. The convention Guest of Honor is Gregg Taylor of Decoder Ring Theatre. The special guests that I am most looking forward to are the Masters of Lightning and their Musical Tesla Coils! This is a great show.

This year I will be giving two presentations for Musecon. One is an introduction to the Processing programming language and the other is an attempt to summarize the myriad of issues facing artists and photographers who are seeking to use the Internet to build their business. Following is the information on my two talks.

Title: Building an Online Presence: The Internet for Artists and Photographers
Objective: To provide artists and photographers an introduction to establishing a presence on the Internet in order to market and sell their art. For more information about this presentation, see Building an Online Presence: The Internet for Artists and Photographers
When: Friday 9:00 PM – 10:15 PM
Title: Processing for Artists and Photographers
Objective: To provide an introduction to the Processing programming language and development environment This is an updated version of the presentation that I gave at last year’s Musecon. For more information about this presentation, see Processing for Artists and Photographers
When: Saturday 3:00 PM – 4:15 PM

In addition to presenting, there are several programs that I am looking forward to attending. On my list to attend are:

  • 3D Printing Discussion
  • Arduino for Absolute Beginners
  • Build a Catapult (because you never known when you’ll need to defend your home)
  • Digital Photo Terminology & Equipment
  • f-Stop, Shutter Speed, & Focal Length – Better Photography With Your Old School Film Camera
  • Hackerspaces & Makerspaces
  • Studio Lighting Use in Photography
  • Tesla Coils!

Of special interest to me personally is Arduino for Absolute Beginners hosted by Workshop 88. I have an Arduino but have done very little with it. In fact I only assembled it to the point of being able to hook it up to my laptop and confirm that I could control it via a Processing program I had written.

One program I would like to attend but can’t since it is opposite one of my own presentations is Creative Cover Art: Contortionists Preferred. If you are curious about what other programs are being offered at Musecon, visit the
Musecon Programming Guide.

Here’s to a weekend of education and fun at Musecon.

The Illustration: Experimental Self Portrait

To illustrate this post I choose a self-portrait that I had taken in a mirror with a small pocket camera. The purpose was simply to have a photograph that I could use to test out an image processing routine that I was developing using the Processing programming language. The program takes as input a photograph and produces a new version of the picture by applying a distortion based on the brightness level of the pixels in the image. Using Processing to perform image processsing tasks is one of the topics I touch on in my presentation.

Ad Astra, Jim

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