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Windycon Science Fiction Convention 2014

Friday, November 14th, 2014

First Human Mission to Titan Digital Painting
First Human Mission to Titan Digital Painting

Today I’m off to the Windycon Science Fiction Convention. Fortunately for me I have an active interest in a fairly broad range of subject areas: art (space art, astronomical art, SF art, and digital/new media art), computer science, astronomy, planetary science, space exploration and space development, social media, software engineering, and economics. This variety of subjects has made it possible for me to both deliver a broad array of presentations and to participate in a wide variety of panels at past science fiction conventions.

Strangely I’ve been attending science fiction conventions for 20 years but have never participated in a panel about science fiction literature. The closest I’ve come has been to be on panels that dealt with issues of economics (like interstellar trade), political organization (think space colonies and intra-galactic empires), and the impacts of technology on societies (nanotechnology and genetic engineering being examples). As to science fiction literature, my interests have always been in the hard SF genre.

Unfortunately this year’s Windycon has flushed science-related programming from the schedule. Out of approximately 120 programming items there are no programs dealing with either astronomy or space exploration or space development, or science in general. In terms of science, there is The Science of Beer and a panel on Women in Science but that is really a sociological panel wondering why there aren’t more women in the sciences and what the science fiction community should do about it. (I have a great suggestion – provide science-related programming to heighten interest in science!) There is another program with ‘science’ in the title: The Science Behind the Legends but that’s a panel about werewolves, vampires, and witches.

With respect to technology, there is the Critter Crunch and panels on Geek Culture and Magic Mirrors: Surveillance in Modern Society but that’s it. Based on a categorization of the programming, it appears that Windycon has largely turned into a costuming convention this year. And that may be what the majority of con-goers want. For me, the most interesting programming has always been that which dealt with science and technology, especially space development. Perhaps I’m that odd-ball character who actually likes a little bit of science with their SF con. In fact this is why I don’t go to Star Trek conventions. It seems that the entire focus of those conventions is the acquisition of autographs and a quest for movie/TV trivia.

Other than my own presentation and the two panels I’m on, the only programs I plan to attend are:

  • The Future of Art and Artists in Modern Times
  • Dystopias
  • Self-Publishing and You

Oops. As always seems to happen to me, even with three full days of programming, two of the panels I want to see are both at the same time: Dystopias and The Future of Art. Fortunately there are no scheduling conflicts with the Art Show Wine and cheese Reception Saturday night.

As to my own participation, following is my schedule for the con.

Gender-balanced Panels, or How I Really Tried to Get It All to Work Out

Description: Diversity on panels is a hot topic right now and some have suggested that if the Programming staff can’t get it right, the panelists should. Okay, how does that actually work? Is this anarchy? Does it successfully “right a wrong”?
Participants: R. Jackson, H. Montgomery, J. Plaxco, P. Sayre McCoy (Moderator)
Saturday 10:00, Lilac D

Computer Art Tools

Description: So many platforms, software, and peripherals to choose from. What do you use to make art on your computer?
Participants: P. Charlifu, M. Frank, J. Plaxco (Moderator), U. Vernon
Sunday 10:00, Grand Ballroom GH

Instagram and Pinterest for Artists and Photographers

Description: A tutorial presentation for artists and photographers on how to use Instagram and Pinterest to promote their work.
Presented by J. Plaxco
Sunday 1:00, Grand Ballroom GH

This Post’s Illustration: The First Human Mission to Titan

To illustrate this post I’ve used a cropped version of a digital painting I created last week. Titled The First Human Mission to Titan, it features a rocket entering Titan’s atmosphere. The rocket trail is barely perceptible in this down-sized version of the painting. I did use artistic license in the creation of this painting. Of the three offenses, I may correct one of them before actually printing the final version. As to just what those offenses are, I leave it to you to identify them.

Closing Thought For Windycon Attendees

If you are unhappy with the programming that the convention is offering this year (namely a lack of science-related programs), please let the programming staff know. Perhaps the lack of science programming is due to a lack of feedback from the attendees who like science programming.

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Windycon Science Fiction Convention 2013

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Windycon Science Fiction Convention
2013 Windycon Science Fiction Convention

Once again I’ll be attending the Windycon Science Fiction Convention, which is this coming weekend. My schedule is light this year: three panels and no presentations. That means I’ll have abundant time to attend other programming – although in the past my luck has been such that the programming I most want to see is at the same time as one of the programs I’m participating in.

Here is my programming schedule for Windycon.

Title: Digital Art: The Art for Everyone
Description: Can’t afford a Rembrandt? Don’t have room for the Moore? Well, if you have room for a computer or a laptop, you’ve got art. Art that doesn’t really physically exist (yet). Art galleries everyone with wi-fi can access. Democratic art in a way fine art never was and never will be. Hear our panelists discuss the pros and cons of art for everyone all the time.
Panelists: Brenton Harper-Murray, Robert Jackson, Steven Vincent Johnson, J. Plaxco(Moderator)
Comment This should be a most interesting panel. Computer technologies have done more to democratize art than any other technology. This extends not just to the ability to share finished works of art but also to greatly expanding the number of people involved in the creation of art. And for those people, like myself, who write their own art-creating programs, there is the ability to share source code so that what one digital artist creates can be shared with others who can then modify that art and so on down through successive generations.
With respect to the pros of digital art, they are abundant and I’m sure we’ll spend much time discussing them. As to the cons, they are few and do not detract from the value of the computer as a tool for the creation of art.
Title: Colonizing Space
Description: Will space travel ever be safe enough and cheap enough to really colonize other planets? Can a moon or Mars colony really work? Will space colonization be government sponsored or private citizens? What happens if we can’t leave Earth?
Panelists: Steve Collins, Phyllis Eisenstein, Bill Higgins (M), Jim Plaxco, Catherine Shaffer
Comment Here are my first thought answers to the questions asked.
Will space travel ever be safe enough and cheap enough? Yes – if the space industry is allowed to develop and if the natural economic incentives are allowed to operate.
Can a moon or Mars colony really work? Yes – again given the right operating environment and economic incentives.
Will space colonization be government sponsored or private citizens? The only way for space colonization to have a chance of really working is if it is freely undertaken by private citizens employing Adam Smith’s invisible hand.
And what happens if we are forever bound to the surface of the Earth? Then I fear that as a species we will one day go the way of the dinosaurs.
Title: The Future of Private Space Exploration
Description: Now that NASA is out of the space business private developers are stepping in. Can private space exploration really give us the future sf predicts? How can we help get there?
Panelists: Bill Higgins, Ross Martinek, Jim Plaxco, W. A. (Bill) Thomasson (M)
Comment This is a subject I am particularly passionate about. In fact I have articles in both the previous and next issues of Ad Astra magazine covering this subject. Plus I have a presentation on the subject of newSpace. No, you won’t find it on my lectures and presentations page because it is not related to art. My newSpace talk is a lecture I give as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies. My next venue for this talk is Nov 18 for a meeting of The Nineteenth Century Charitable Association.

I haven’t yet checked on what other programming Windycon is offering that I may have an interest in attending but if you stop by the Windycon Art Show be sure to check out my art as I will have several pieces in the show.

See you at the con.

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Duckon Science Fiction Convention Programming

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Duckon science fiction convention
Duckon Science Fiction Convention

The Duckon Science Fiction Convention is this weekend at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling IL. I’ll be participating in some rather varied programming. In fact it looks like I’ll be kept fairly busy. Most demanding will be the three solo presentations I’ll be giving.

The first of my talks will be The NewSpace Frontier – a presentation surveying the newly energized field of commercial space, or private space if you like. It is worth pointing out that this is a pro-Space presentation and not a pro-NASA presentation. What is good for NASA has frequently been bad for space development. This will be my fourth time giving this presentation since first developing it in March.

My second talk will be in the form of a tutorial for artists and photographers. Building An Online Presence provides a broad overview of a variety of challenges that face the artist or photographer who is attempting to use the Internet in order to market their art and themselves. Note that I will next be giving this talk at Musecon in August and then again in September for the Barrington Cultural Arts Center in Barrington IL.

My third talk is about myself. In The Agony & Ecstasy Of Being A Digital Artist I talk about what it’s like being a digital artist trying to make a go of it with a medium that has received a fair amount of resistance from the traditional art world. I will cover some of the unique problems that digital artists encounter both with hardware and software issues. I also talk about some of the benefits of working digitally.

In addition to my talks, I’ll be participating in a mix of panels. In the field of art, I’ll be a panelist for Artwork for Book Covers moderated by Brian Pinkerton with co-panelists Kathryn Sullivan and Steven Silver. The panel description says:

Yours versus the publishers? Does an appealing cover really sell a novel? Are readers easily allured to the handsome man, barely dressed woman or intriguing alien on your cover despite the content? Who gets the final say with the artwork, and why?

I will say that I don’t have a balanced view of these issues as all the book and magazine commissions I have done have been for non-fiction publications. Being commissioned to create an accurate representation of the Milky Way galaxy, for example, is not at all similar to being commissioned to create a strapping he-man with a voluptuous female at his side.

And for something completely different, I’ll be moderating the Alternate Energy panel and will be responsible for keeping Bill Thomasson, Doug Drummond, and Rich Lukes in line – if that is possible. The description for this panel reads:

We’ve all heard of the push to set up more wind farms for harnessing energy. However, is it worth the cost to develop it? How much time do we really have left from fossil fuel reserves?

My energy background is having previously done presentations on forms of non-terrestrial energy generation including space solar power, lunar solar power, and using lunar He3 as a fuel source for fusion reactors.

The third and final panel I’m on is The Influx of Alternate Futures moderated by long-time friend and antagonist Jeffrey Liss. Jeffrey and I are joined by Deirdre Murphy, Rebecca Frencl and Clifford Royal Johns. Our panel description reads:

With the popularity of the Hunger Games, why are dystopian futures in literature and movies so common? Does the appeal of this subject relate to the mood of today’s generation? As the American and global economies improve, will we see more hopeful endings to these futuristic stories?

I certainly hope that Hunger Games does not come up during our discussions as I have not read the books or seen the movie. I do hope that we spend time discussing the impact of government regulatory, fiscal and monetary policies on a society’s economy and how such policies can lead to a dystopian outcome. Hopefully that doesn’t sound too nerdy but after all – this is a science fiction convention.

There you have it – my Duckon weekend lineup. One thing: even though I should, I won’t be exhibiting in the art show this year. However, on Monday I will be setting up an exhibit of my art at the Greater Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau in Schaumburg IL.

I’ll close this with a curious quote 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. Now I wonder if he was talking about himself?

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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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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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Zombies and I at Windycon Science Fiction Convention

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse at Windycon Science Fiction Convention
Zombie Apocalypse at Windycon Science Fiction Convention

I received my programming schedule for the Windycon Science Fiction Convention some days ago and it is worth noting that I am not on any panels that involve zombies. Frankly I try to keep my distance from zombies but they’ll be impossible to avoid the weekend of Nov 9-11 so I had better study up on how to best avoid their clutches.

My program schedule is as follows:

Title: Has Science Fiction Offered an Improved Political Model?
Time: Saturday, 10:00 – 11:00 a.m.
Room: Lilac C
Description: Having just gone through an election cycle that lasted most of two years, have there been any political systems offered up by science fiction which offer an improvement on our current way of governance? Or are they all as flawed as what we have?
Panelists: J. Helfers, J. Plaxco, J. Liss, R. Martinek, M. Williamson (M)
Comment I look forward to arguing with Jeffrey (Liss). In fact we have a very long history of arguing. This will be fun.
Title: Living in the Post Scientific Era
Time: Saturday, 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Room: Lilac D
Description: Polls show that increasing numbers of Americans are scientifically illiterate. What does this mean for the future? For science fiction?
Panelists: J. Helfers, P. Kaldon, J. Plaxco, D. Burkhard, K. Strait
Comment As science grows in complexity, I’m not surprised that the general public is increasingly scientifically illiterate. Given that science plays an increasingly important role in our daily lives, I’m concerned about the public’s ability to make smart policy decisions via our politicians (who aren’t much better informed). I’m very curious to discover how my co-panelists feel about this.
Title: The Open Source Playground
Time: Saturday, 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Room: Lilac C
Description: When is Open Source Software better? When it is merely different? And what do I do with it?
Panelists: J. Plaxco, R. Martinek, E. Raymond (M)
Comment The presence of this panel in the programming line up came as something of a surprise to me. We probably won’t have too many zombies in the audience but considering the high correlation between geekiness and the attendees of a science fiction convention, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this panel survived the survival of the fittest process.
Title: Gender Parity on Panels: DNA or Something Else?
Time: Sunday, 12:00 noon – 1:00 p.m.
Room: Lilac C
Description: Gender parity, that is, having exactly the same number of males and females on each panel has become a hot topic lately. One panelist even suggested that he’d give up his place on a panel to any woman in the audience if the panel was "unbalanced." Is that all it takes to make "balanced" panels — the same number of XX- and XY-chromosomed individuals? What about sexual orientation representation? Minority representation? Political representation? Something we haven’t even thought of yet? Join our panelists for a spirited discussion on gender parity and what it does or does not accomplish.
Panelists: J. Plaxco, H. Montgomery, L. Zeldes, M. Mohanraj (M)
Comment Now this is one that leaves me licking my chops. For me, the principal question must be "is this person qualified to be on this panel?"

Surprisingly I am not on any space exploration or art panels this year – although there were very few options in those areas (I blame it on the zombies). When not sitting behind a table, I’m likely to be sitting in the audience for the following panels, scheduling permitting:

  • Ragz! Dress Like a Zombie – principally for inspiration for my art work.
  • Backbreaking Cover Art – the description of which "a critique of the poses used to sell us our escapism" is irresistible.
  • Subcutaneous Musculature – a great title for the topic of artistically correct anatomical representations of the human form.
  • Curiosity’s Journey: NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Rover – a presentation by my friend Bill Higgins whom I suspect is part Martian.
  • Dystopian fiction, Enough Already – simply because I’m a fan of dystopian visions and have been on similar panels in the past.

I am also planning on participating in the Windycon Art Show although I am not sure how many pieces I will bring – probably somewhere between 4 and 8.

If you’d like more information about Windycon, visit the Windycon Science Fiction Convention web site. And watch out for the zombies.

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