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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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Dust Storm on Planet Dune Science Fiction Art

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Dust Storm on Planet Dune
Cropped version of Dust Storm on Planet Dune

To ring in the new year, my first work of art for 2016 wound up being a work of astronomical art with a science fiction setting. Titled Dust Storm on Planet Dune, it depicts the science fiction planet Arrakis, from the Hugo and Nebula award winning novel Dune by Frank Herbert. The scene is that of Dune experiencing a global dust storm, not unlike the global dust storms that Mars regularly experiences.

In this case I did not set out to create Arrakis but rather simply a desert planet. As I worked on the piece my thoughts drifted to Herbert’s Dune novel which I first read many years ago. It was at this point that I decided to create the planet with a specific objective in mind.

Initially planet Dune was set against a nice solid darkish blue backdrop – thinking that might make for an interesting alternative to the standard starfield background. But the more I looked at it the more I felt the need to add those stars to the scene. So after completing work on the planet, I went back and added in a starfield for the background.

My next consideration was whether or not to convert the planet into a crescent planet – with some fraction in light and some fraction in darkness. You may be surprised to learn that when I create a planet, I always create the entire hemisphere. I then use a masking technique to play with the positioning of the terminator (the line that divides the day side from the night side). Having a completed planet gives me the freedom to fully experiment with the terminator’s placement, altering the amount and orientation of the day/night sides. In this case I decided to go with the hemisphere facing the viewer as being fully lit so as to fully communicate the global nature of the desert surface.

At this time, prints of Dust Storm on Planet Dune are only available on Redbubble and Crated. Follow the links below to see the product offerings that are available on each site.

"Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic."
Frank Herbert, author of Dune.

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From Mensa Halloweem to Windycon Science Fiction Convention

Friday, November 13th, 2015

Ant Colony Landscape
Ant Colony Landscape

This last Halloween weekend I had the opportunity to give two presentations at a Chicago regional Mensa convention dubbed Halloweem, held at the Westin in Wheeling IL. The two presentations I gave were

It was a very enjoyable experience for me, made all the better by the inquisitiveness of the audience. The only downside was that I over indulged in the convention’s great food offerings. Also speaking at the convention was Kent Nebergall. Kent and I are both members of the Chicago Society for Space Studies Speakers Bureau. Curiously neither of us were giving space exploration presentations at the convention.

Shortly I’ll be leaving for the Windycon Science Fiction Convention being held at Westin Lombard Yorktown Center in Lombard IL. While I won’t be giving any presentations this year, I will be participating in some panels. The panels are:

  • Space Seconds which is a panel covering space missions that were not the first of their kind, but the second.
  • Pluto Update is a panel addressing the findings of the New Horizons mission to Pluto.
  • Autographing was to be an autographing session that I am forced to cancel as my book on algorithmic art is not yet available.
  • Why Social Media Sucks takes a look at the world of social media, both from a operational perspective as well as a communicational perspective.
  • Art Media is a panel that I’ll be moderating on how artists decide on their artistic media and the strengths and weaknesses of each media.

As noted above, I originally agreed to do an autograph session at a time when I thought that I would have print copies of my book The Beauty of Algorithmic Art available. However, in searching for a publishing platform I wound up discarding my original two finalists (Blurb and Lulu). I have investigated several additional vendors and am currently focusing on Bookbaby and IngramSpark.

In addition to participating in the panels identified above, I will also have several artworks in the convention’s art show.

This Post’s Illustration

While working on a program to implement an ant colony simulation, I discovered that I had a program that did a nice job of simulating natural media painting. The landscape image Ant Colony Landscape is the result of an initial test of a program where the ants sample an underlying photograph and paint their trail. I must point out that this output was generated during an early stage of the program’s development. Coding was done using the Processing framework. The motto of the story is that sometimes algorithms can take you to surprising destinations. For more information about ant colony optimization, see the Wikipedia entry on ant colony optimization algorithms.

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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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