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2019 Year in Review

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

Youtube A Noise Reconstruction of Nighthawks
A movie still from A Noise Reconstruction of Nighthawks by Edward Hopper on Youtube at youtu.be/XlJzgvDP05U

2019 was a challenging year largely due to the pursuit of too many projects and interests. In a typical year, my time is divided between creative coding, digital art, photography, web work, developing and delivering presentations, attempting to keep up with developments in space exploration, managing Chicago Society for Space Studies, and work on other projects.

Web Work and Professional Programming

I spent a lot of hours doing web work and writing Python programs as a consultant contractor for the National Space Society. This role led to my acceptance of an offer in March to serve as the Director of Information Systems for the National Space Society. Then in September, I accepted the offer to also serve as the society’s Data Protection Officer (an EU GDPR thing).

I also took the opportunity to redesign the Chicago Society for Space Studies website – converting it from a mobile-friendly design I created using the Bootstrap framework to a mobile-friendly WordPress 5 (Gutenberg) website using a modified ElegantThemes Divi theme. Chicagospace.org is definitely the better for it and in hindsight, I am very glad that I did it.

Unfortunately, during 2019 I did barely any work at all on any of my personal websites. Looking back I was taken by surprise to see that my last blog post was last March.

Planet Earth as Art Book Project

Planet Earth as Art Book

I did make some progress on my book project Planet Earth as Art but fell far short of my objective of completing and publishing the book before mid-2019. In fact, I have spent very little time on the book over the last 6 months. I really do need to re-order my priorities so that I get this project done.

Space Haiku Book Project

space haiku word cloud
Space haiku word cloud

In 2019 I started work on a book of haiku whose theme is space exploration and space settlement. At this point I have written about 120 haiku and have created 20 odd illustrations for the book. Given that the focus of the book is on the written word, I have opted to go with all black and white illustrations, which substantially lowers the cost of the book – which means that its price will be affordable. The image above is a word cloud revealing the most frequently used words with font size keyed to how often the word appears in the haikus.

Creative Coding


Planet Earth as Art Book
Generative Art Experiment in Competing Painters

During 2019 I did next to nothing in the way of creative coding. The time that I would have normally spent creating generative art programs was replaced by time spent writing Python programs for data processing applications.

In December I did begin work on one new generative art program. The image above, titled Generative Art Experiment in Competing Painters is the first generative artwork produced by that program. The program works as a generative combinator with competing brush sets sampling multiple source images to create a single output image. The program needs much more development work to increase its versatility but I’m not sure when I’ll budget the time to make it happen.

Presentations

I did not give very many talks during 2019. However, I was credentialed as both a National Space Society Space Ambassador and as the NSS SA subject matter expert on space economics. This is in addition to my being a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, founder of the Chicago Society for Space Studies Speakers Bureau, and doing my own art and web related presentations. Unfortunately, my Artsnova Art Lectures and Presentations page is not current and I’m not sure when I’ll get to updating it.

My best attended presentation for the year was for my talk about my Planet Earth as Art book given to the Northwest Suburban Astronomy Club at Schaumburg Library.

My most enjoyable talk of the year was a presentation I gave at the 2019 International Space Development Conference (ISDC). My presentation Robotic Space Settlement presented arguments for maximizing the use of robots for space industrialization in order to minimize economic costs and development time. This was something of a contrarian presentation as the focus of the ISDC is on human space settlement.

At ISDC I was also a panelist for the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) Resources and Standards Workshop, which was a part of the Moon Architecture and Engineering programming track. This was a rather large panel which included Dr. Philip Metzger (University of Central Florida) as moderator, and as panelists Dr. Paul Van Susante (Michigan Technological University), Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis (University of Southern California), Dr. Haym Benaroya (Rutgers University), Peter Kokh (Moon Society), John C. Mankins (Moon Village Association), Dr. Marc Cohen (Astrotecture Inc.), Dr. Pascal Lee (Mars
Institute), and Dr. Margaret Race (SETI Institute).

Personal Vacation

Great Smokey Mountains National Park
Great Smokey Mountains National Park

My wife Jennifer and I visited Great Smokey Mountains National Park in the spring with a focus on hiking the park’s many trails. We were fortunate that there had been rain and snow the week preceding our visit so water levels were higher than normal. During our hikes, my photographic focus was on water. Over the course of our visit I took at least 200 photographs of water with the wishful thinking objective of publishing a photo book on the subject. Of course that book must get in line behind my other book projects.

As beautiful as the rushing waters were, the panoramic views from various high points were not to be ignored. Quite a stunning contrast from the suburbs of Chicago.

Great Smokey Mountains National Park from Andrews Bald
The view to the south east from Andrews Bald along the Forney Ridge Trail south of the Clingmans Dome Visitor Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Goals for 2020

My top goal for 2020 is to consolidate artsnova.com and jimplaxco.com into a single website. I am also going to review consolidating content from a couple of my other websites. In short, I’d like to make my life easier by focusing my attentions on fewer websites.

And of course, I really do need to finish work on my Planet Earth as Art book.

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Frank Lloyd Wright Planning and Sledgehammers Quote

Monday, January 15th, 2018

Frank Lloyd Wright Planning and Slegehammers Quote

 

Frank Lloyd Wright is quoted as having said that you can use an eraser on the drafting table or a sledgehammer on the construction site.

While I agree that planning is the smart way to go, sledgehammers can definitely be fun – I’m thinking Gallagher and his Sledge-O-Matic.

 

 

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Ad Blockers and My Art Title Generator

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

Automatic Art Title Generator

A few days ago I added an Art Title Generator to my web site. I did so as a consequence of having writer’s block on coming up with a title for a generative artwork I had created at the beginning of the week. I wrote the Python program for the generator using word dictionaries I had created for a Haiku generator I had written using Java. I added it to my web site and promoted it via some of my social media accounts.

I was surprised when I heard from a couple of people who said that it was not working. Surprised because this is a Python program running on the server and delivering to the user a complete web page with the generated artwork title clearly visible. I couldn’t imagine why these folks were not seeing the title – but were seeing the rest of the generated page.

Impossible.

I went to my son’s computer and used his browser (Chrome) to view the page. And what I saw was no title. It just wasn’t there – which was impossible. I did a view source to take a look at the code that was received by his browser – and the title was there – right where it was supposed to be. So why wasn’t it visible?

And why did the art title display in my Chrome browser but not my son’s? Then it occurred to me. I asked my son if he was using an ad blocker. He said yes. Looking at my CSS, I had used a CSS class that I had named "contentad" and used it to display quotations about art at the bottom of quite a few of my web pages. The only explanation for the invisibility of the generated art titles was that an ad blocker was looking at the name of the CSS class and saying to itself "oh, this is an advertisement so I’ll hide it from the viewer."

To test my theory, I renamed the CSS class and then updated the 102 html files on my site that used it – as well as the Python program. I went back to my son’s browser and voila – there was the art title in full view – no longer hidden by the ad blocker plugin.

To read more about my art title generator and generate a title for yourself, you can proceed to the introductory page Automatic Art Title Generator. Or if you are the impatient sort and want to see an art title right now, load the Art Title Generator.

Here’s hoping that you enjoy the algorithmically generated artwork titles.

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Earth, Islands, Moon, and Music Calendars for 2017

Friday, November 18th, 2016

2017 Calendars - Earth, Islands, Moon and Music Calendars

Last month I added four calendars to my Redbubble portfolio. Three of the four calendars involve space in that the source photography for the calendars is from space-based cameras. With respect to the images from space, image processing was performed on all the images in order to:

  • improve contrast
  • enhance color and detail
  • remove imperfections and noise

Islands of the World Calendar

Islands of the World Calendar

The first of the calendars is the Islands of the World Calendar featuring images of islands taken from my Planet Earth Satellite Imagery Collection on Redbubble. The islands in the calendar are

  • January – Andros Island, Bahamas
  • February – Maui and Kahoolawe Islands, Hawaii
  • March – Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands
  • April – Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands
  • May – Boa Vista, Cape Verde Islands
  • June – The Island of Hawaii
  • July – Isabela, Galapagos Islands
  • August – Tortuga
  • September – Faroe Islands, Denmark
  • October – Socotra Island, Yemen
  • November – Catalina and San Clemente Islands, California
  • December – Bermuda

 

Planet Earth Views from Space Calendar

Planet Earth Views from Space Calendar

Next up is the Planet Earth Views from Space Calendar which consists of images of Earth taken by a variety of manned space missions, primarily from the Apollo program.

 

Moon Views – Photographs of Our Moon Calendar

Moon Views - Photographs of Our Moon Calendar

The Moon Views – Photographs of Our Moon Calendar consists of lunar orbit photography taken by several of the Apollo missions to the Moon.

 

Synthesizer and Electronic Music Art and Photography Calendar

Synthesizer and Electronic Music Art and Photography Calendar

Lastly there is the Synthesizer and Electronic Music Art and Photography Calendar which consists of photographs I took at a synthesizer convention with some of the images having been subject to a strong dose of image processing.

 

I hope you find these calendars attractive. If you’re in need of a present (Christmas or otherwise) for someone, I hope that you consider one of these calendars as being the perfect gift.

Strangely I haven’t assembled any calendars based on my digital art. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like I will have time to create any art-based calendars between now and Christmas. But then again … maybe I will find the time.

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My Social Media Holiday

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Digital Art Prints website screenshot
Coming Soon
Digital Art Prints website screenshot

My use of social media has always been erratic because it has never been a high priority for me. That does not mean that I don’t have accounts on many platforms – I do. A number of the accounts I set up are simply for learning about that platform’s features and usability – an area of professional interest for me.

To improve my knowledge of social media, I’ve read articles, books, and taken online classes. I’ve even taught classes for artists and photographs on how to use social media. But knowing and doing are two separate things. Let me provide an example. I attended an online seminar on how to be successful at Twitter. The key take away from this class, other than the completely generic advice to post great tweets was that the teacher spent three hours a day every day engaging on Twitter. For me, that is far too high a price to pay just to be popular on Twitter. Personally, I don’t spend three hours a year using Twitter.

My periods of absence from social media are driven by two key factors. First is the availability of time. Second is the variety of platforms I have accounts on. The more accounts you have, the less time you can devote to any one of them and skipping out on one makes it easier to skip out on the others.

Social Media Platforms

The main social media platforms I have accounts on and on which I am actually at all active are:

I have left off this list the many niche social networks I am on as well as sharing platforms like Tumblr and FLickr. And of course there are the more-than-a-handful of social media platforms that have gone out of business.

It has now been several months since I have engaged on any of my social media accounts. What happened? The most striking of my absences is from Linkedin – which was in large part driven by Linkedin’s own actions – two in particular. First they made a number of platform changes that were particularly harmful to members who managed groups. In trying to make the platform more mobile-friendly, Linkedin eliminated a number of usability features. Fortunately there was a strong user backlash and Linkedin eventually restored many of those features. The second was driven by the fact that I stopped receiving group updates from Linkedin. I reported the problem to Linkedin and their response was to basically say "yeah, we made some changes to the platform and a small number of our users were adversely impacted. But because it’s a small number, it’s not a priority for us to fix it." What is small for them was critical for me. That sort of customer service led me from using Linkedin on a daily basis to being only an occasional visitor and that in light of the fact that Linkedin had a couple years ago wanted me to promote the fact that I was in the top one percent of profiles on Linkedin!

So what have I done with the time I gained by ignoring my social media accounts?

Reading is FUNdamental

Two principle areas occupied my reading time. One area was for pleasure and knowledge. The other area was for professional development. Yes, its true, following are books I read for pleasure and knowledge:

  • Business
    • Making It In America – A 12 Point Plan for Growing Your Business and Keeping Jobs At Home by John Bassett and Ellis Henican
    • Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies by Charles G. Koch
  • Space Development
    • The Business of Space: The Next Frontier of International Competition by L Brennan et al
    • Realizing Tomorrow: The Path to Private Spaceflight by Chris Dubbs
    • Crowded Orbits: Conflict and Cooperation in Space by James Clay Moltz
    • Law and Regulation of Commercial Mining of Minerals in Outer Space by Ricky Lee
    • The Twenty-First Century Commercial Space Imperative – SpringerBriefs in Space Development by Anthony Young

The books I read for professional development dealt with computing: specifically web design and programming.

Web Design

Earlier this year I decided to dig into learning the Bootstrap framework for responsive web design. I had already converted by own sites to mobile-friendly designs using the general principles of responsive web design – but I wanted to learn Bootstrap. My first tangible product was to convert the
Chicago Society for Space Studies website to a mobile friendly design using Bootstrap. Having learned Bootstrap to an acceptable level of proficiency, I was able to design and code and implement the new site in a single weekend.

I am still learning Bootstrap and am close to releasing a new web site – Digital Art Prints which will feature some of the artwork and photography that I offer for sale on a few of the POD (Print On Demand) services I have accounts with.

Python Programming

For some time I’ve been wanting to learn the Python programming language in order to create scripts for GIMP and possibly Blender. What finally pushed me over the edge was the decision to create a new web site (Digital Art Prints) and to use a Python program to construct the web pages from a database I maintain for all my art and photography. My first actual productive use of Python was to create an auto-mailer program for email distribution for Chicago Society for Space Studies. I also have a couple of other projects in mind for interactive website queries.

Presentations

I give a number of talks over the course of a year. These talks tend to fall into four distinct categories. As a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, I give talks about planetary science and planetary exploration – the most recent of which was about the New Horizons mission to Pluto. As President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, I give talks that focus on space business, space development, and space policy. For more about this, see my Chicago Society for Space Studies Speakers Bureau page. As an artist, I give talks on a number of digital art subjects and on various aspects of web use for art marketing. You can see a full list on my lectures and presentations page.

My last presentation was last Saturday (for details see Space Art Program At Elmhurst Art Museum). My next presentation will be this coming Monday for the Nineteenth Century Club and Charitable Association on the topic Globalization of the Solar System – a presentation that asks the question can the economic and technological principles that make globalization possible here on Earth work for a human civilization that is spread across the solar system?

I also completed work on a new presentation titled The Impact of Space Policy on Space Settlement and am working on a presentation about the history of lunar art and another on Earth imaging and remote sensing.

Digital Art Prints website

As I mentioned, I’ve been working on a new web site – digital-art-prints.com where I will have a portfolio of art and photography that I have made available on certain POD (Print On Demand) sites, like Redbubble and Crated for example. The design of the site, which is built using the Bootstrap framework, is complete. I’m not using a CMS (WordPress for example) for the site but am instead working on a Python program that will take the information I have for each artwork and use that information to automatically build the site’s web pages and image gallery. This will allow me to swap out web page designs very easily. I have also written a program using the Processing programming language to automatically generate all the images that the web site will need. Stay tuned as I hope to have the site up before the end of November – assuming no more computer problems.

And What About Social Media?

I certainly expect to return soon to the world of social media but probably not until after I have rolled out my Digital Art Prints website, which is my number two priority at the moment. My number one priority is putting together the next issue of Spacewatch – the quarterly e-newsletter of the Chicago Society for Space Studies.

In the event that I don’t have any more blog posts before Thanksgiving, here is wishing everyone a happy and hearty Thanksgiving.

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Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp
Knobcon 4 and The Raiders Of The Lost Arp

This weekend saw me and my camera haunting the halls of the Itasca Westin again. Last time it was because of Musecon – a convention for artists, musicians, and other creative types at which I was speaking. You can read my Musecon review for more. This time I was at the Westin to attend Knobcon, a convention dedicated to synthesizers. The Knobcon web site describes Knobcon as:

a one-of-a-kind synthesizer convention… complete with performances, workshops and vendors, Knobcon allows for a fully immersive experience. Attendees can get their hands on an incredible amount of equipment and talk directly with designers of some of today’s most innovative synthesizer products.

Although I have long been a fan of electronic music (Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, ELP, etc.), my interest has always been that of listener rather than user or producer. The convention was brought to my attention by a musician friend of mine who was coming in from out of town to attend. And why the name Knobcon you ask? I think the following picture makes the name obvious. Frankly, the last time I saw this many knobs was in the original NASA Mission Control room at Cape Canaveral.

Synthesizer knobs at Knobcon
Synthesizer Knobs at Knobcon

I spent quite a bit of time in the exhibit hall and rooms taking photographs of the wide variety of equipment on display. In addition to lots of knobs, there were cables, lots of cables. And all those blinking lights were particularly appealing to me. In addition to being a visual feast, it was quite an auditory experience as well – walking through a large room filled with synthesizers all doing their own thing.

Knobcon synthesizer exhibits
Knobcon synthesizer exhibits

Most of the photographs I took made use of my macro lens. For the most part I kept the camera in full manual mode so that I could play with aperture and exposure time. Underexposing worked particularly well for those photographs where I wanted the center of attention to be the blinking lights. At some point I will make some of these photographs available on my web site Jim Plaxco Photography.

In addition to photography, I also used my smart phone as a digital recorder to record the cacophony of human and synth sounds I heard while walking the aisles of the main exhibit hall. My thought is to use these recordings as a sound track for some short YouTube videos that will be illustrated using some of the photographs I took at Knobcon.

While not in the exhibit hall, or one of the exhibit rooms, I was attending workshops. While many of these were not relevant to my professional interests, several were really quite interesting. One that kept my attention was The Wavewrights given by Marc Doty, identified as the king of YouTube synthesizer videos (check out Marc Doty’s Automatic Gainsay Channel on YouTube). His talk on the history of electronic music instruments, of which synthesizers are the dominant instrument, was wonderful. He talked about the relevance of inventors like Thomas Edison, Alexandar Graham Bell, and Lee de Forest. A few of the instruments he talked about include the telharmonium, the pianorad (invented by Hugo Gernsback of science fiction fame), the trautonium, the theremin, and (with the coolest name) the Warbo Formant Orgel.

Gene Stopp Moog Music ELP
Gene Stopp of Moog Music

Another of the workshops I attended was one featuring Gene Stopp whom I had earlier met at the Moog exhibit in the main hall. In addition to being the Moog Music Product Manager, Gene Stopp was the synth (synthesizer) tech for Keith Emerson during the heyday of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. For me, ELP has the distinction of being the only major rock group that I have seen perform in concert three times. While Gene was supposed to be answering questions about Moog Music and the recently released Moog Emerson Modular, many of the questions dealt with his involvement with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Watch the following video to learn more about the Moog Emerson Modular.

Moog Music Inc: 50th Anniversary of the Moog Modular Synthesizer

Another program I attended was the live interview with Malcolm Cecil, who had been the keynote speaker at the Knobcon Banquet the previous evening. Malcolm Cecil is a Grammy-award winning record producer and co-creator of TONTO’s Expanding Head Band – which collaborated with numerous music acts including Weather Report, Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and many more.

Malcolm Cecil and the TONTO synthesizer
Malcolm Cecil and the TONTO synthesizer

It was the TONTO synthesizer, built by Malcolm, that was their centerpiece. TONTO is an acronym for "The Original New Timbral Orchestra", which is now owned by the National Music Centre of Calgary, Canada. You can read more about the band and the TONTO synthesizer at TONTO’s Expanding Head Band on Wikipedia.

In closing, spending the weekend looking at and listening to synthesizers (and taking pictures of them) was a different sort of experience for me. And I’m grateful to my friend Fred for cluing me in on this convention.

Synthesizer exhibit at Knobcon
Synthesizer exhibit at Knobcon

On the subject of music innovation, I’ll leave you with this quote from Edgard Varese: "Our musical alphabet must be enriched… we also need new instruments very badly… in my own works, I have always felt the need for new mediums of expression." What electronics have done for the art of music, so too has the computer done for the visual arts.

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