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Windycon 2017 – Dystopians Unite

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Windycon Science Fiction Convention

I’ll be attending the 2017 Windycon Science Fiction Convention this weekend. This year’s theme is Dystopia. I must say that I find dystopian SF appealing, particularly those novels whose focus is on the systems that either arise or exist in those worlds. And my favorite? None other than the classic dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell.

As usual I’ll be participating in the convention’s programming. The five panels I will be on deal with space, artificial intelligence, and economics – all areas that I am keenly interested in. The only thing missing is art.

My first panel will be NASA Tech Not Just For Astronauts Anymore for which I will be serving as moderator. Along with my two co-panelists, we’ll be talking about technologies that are commonplace today but were once the domain of high technology, especially space technology. We’ll also be taking a look at the new technologies being developed – not just at NASA but within the larger aerospace industry.

In keeping with the dystopian theme of the convention, I’ll next be moderating the panel Not Too Big to Fail in which we’ll discuss how an economy and trade will work in a post-apocalyptic world. Other than being forced to barter for goods and services, what could or would people use for currency? Will there be more than one currency within a society – hearkening back to ancient Egypt where grain was used internally as currency but gold was used externally for trade. For that matter, how closely would a currency in such a society mirror the role it plays in today’s world? Drop in and find out.

Jumping back to space, I’ve also been asked to moderate the panel Tiny Homes Prep For Living in Space?. The question our panel has been tasked with answering is this: Is the current trend of people buying tiny homes good preparation for living in off world habitats? I have no idea what roads this panel will travel down in our pursuit of an answer. Given the open-ended nature of the question, we certainly will have a lot of territory to explore.

My Saturday morning wakeup call will be to serve on a panel in which we are tasked with addressing the monumental issue of The Future of Civilization. Yes, if you want to learn the fate of all humanity you will need to attend our panel. As a science and technology optimistic, we should have a bright future – if we are allowed to pursue and achieve that future. But then there is always Murphy’s Law to contend with and as everyone should know – Murphy is devilishly clever.

While Elon Musk is a hero of mine when it comes to commercial space (I even got to meet and speak with him at a space conference some years back), I do not share his extremely pessimistic views regarding artificial intelligence. In a recent interview, Musk stated:"Once there is awareness, people will be extremely afraid, as they should be.. AI is a fundamental risk to the future of human civilization…" I’ll be curious to see how my copanelists on the Measure of Sentience panel feel. Most provocatively, we panelists are expected to address the issues of AI rights and whether or not an AI should be considered as the equal of a human being. Quite coincidentally, Saudia Arabia has just granted citizenship to a female robot named Sophia. You can read about it in the following stories:

A publicity stunt? Most certainly – though the Saudis now have to deal with the backlash over their decision to give more rights to a robot (really just a machine made to look like a woman) than they give to their female citizens. But there may well come a day when we truly create an intelligent self-aware machine entity. In those circumstances, what will our response be?

So here’s to an exciting, interesting, and stimulating weekend at the Windycon Science Fiction Convention.

 

 

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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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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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The 2011 Windycon Science Fiction Convention

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Madame Machine
Madame Machine digital painting

November means that it’s time for the Windycon Science Fiction Convention. In addition to participating in the con’s programming, I will also have some art in the convention’s art show. Even though the art show set up is tomorrow, I have yet to decide which pieces I will show. Off the table is my astronaut art, which is available for purchase locally only through Paper Crown Art Gallery.

Friday night (11/11/11) at 9:00pm I’ll be attending the Art Show Wine and Cheese Reception. This is a great opportunity for convention goers to nibble on various cheeses, drink some wine, and talk with the artists whose art is in the show. Note that this is the only time that food and drink are allowed in the art show.

On Saturday at 11:00am I’ll be moderating the panel Online Portfolios. The panel is described in the program book as follows:

Should you use a photo hosting site like Flickr? Or would an artistic community like Deviant Art be better? Are there benefits for using a paid service over a free service? Join us while we discuss the pros and cons of the different options.

Joining me will be co-panelists Lucy Ayyat and Deb Kosiba. Anyone interested in exhibiting their art or photography online should attend this panel.

At 3:00 I’ll be doing a space exploration panel. My co-panelists for the Not Dead Yet: NASA’s Upcoming Missions, Despite Public Belief There Will Be No More will be friend Christian Ready, friend and fellow National Space Society director Jeffrey Liss, friend and fellow member of the Chicago Society for Space Studies Bill Higgins. This promises to be a very interesting panel and one that I am really looking forward to. There is sure to be lively debate on the future of NASA given the budget deficit and national debt crisis.

At 5:00pm on Saturday I’ll be doing a combination presentation and tutorial. Titled Processing for Artists and Photographers, I’ll be explaining what Processing is (an open source digital creativity platform designed to be a programming platform friendly to non-programmers) and demonstrating a number of different programs that I’ve written.

The Illustration

The artwork that I am using to illustrate this post is a tightly cropped version of Madame Machine (the original is 11 by 14 inches). If you’re familiar with the classic science fiction film Metropolis, you will know that in the movie the Man-Machine assumes the guise of the fair Maria. Thus, outwardly, the Man-Machine becomes a She-Machine. This is one of the works of art that I will be bringing to the Windycon Art Show, most appropriate for a science fiction convention. Unfortunately I have not added this art to my web site yet.

Reference Links

See you at the con. Jim

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