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2017 Capricon Science Fiction Convention

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Illustration from Planet Earth As Art When Seen From Space presentation
Illustration from Planet Earth As Art When Seen From Space presentation

I’ll be spending the next few days at the Capricon Science Fiction Convention at the Westin in Wheeling IL and once again I’ll be participating in the convention’s programming. The highlight for me will be my presentation on Saturday Planet Earth As Art When Seen From Space My presentation begins with a brief overview of image processing and the techniques I use to process satellite images. Then I dive in to a diverse selection of images I’ve processed – most of which are from the Landsat 8 program.

One point: the most challenging and aggravating part of putting together this presentation was not working with the images but trying to identify the names of the geographical features in the image. In terms of naming geographical features, particularly extended features, I give Google Earth a solid F. To identify feature names I had to resort to quite a variety of online resources. On the bright side, the quest to locate geographic feature names was quite the learning experience and led me to a number of resources that I had no idea existed.

While I greatly enjoy the opportunity (and honor) of doing solo presentations at the conventions I attend, I usually find that being a participant on a panel is more interesting because of the dialogs that occur between panelists. At this year’s Capricon I’ll be participating in three utterly unrelated panel discussions.

On Friday I’ll be serving as the moderator for the panel Science Fiction Art – Classic vs New Mediums. Joining me on the panel are Meg Frank, Brian Babendererde, and Carol Metzger. Our objective is to answer the question of what makes art classic versus contemporary? We’ll also explore how the artist’s medium affects the "feel" of the artwork and how the advent of digital art has changed the way we view art.

On Saturday, I will once again be on a panel about scientific literacy. Titled Science Literacy for ALL 2.0 moderator Alicia Choi has the challenging task of moderating Pat Sayre McCoy, Richard Garfinkle, Carol F Metzger, and myself while we debate/explore the meaning of science literacy and it’s importance in today’s society. This panel is a continuation of the panel we did at the 2016 Capricon. And for my money, that was the best panel I participated in that year. This year though I think I’m going to argue against an emphasis on scientific literacy and for an emphasis on the development and promotion of critical thinking skills and critical reasoning.

Also on Saturday, I’ll be putting on my military thinking helmet and exploring the subject Mighty Space Fleets of War – in which Chris Gerrib will lead his staff of armchair generals J.A. Sutherland, Joseph Stockman, and myself on an exploration of the design of future space battleships and their armaments. Of particular interest to me is the question "why would they fight" as this plays into economics and my own presentation The Globalization of the Solar System, a talk I gave at a number of venues in 2016 as a representative of the Chicago Society for Space Studies.

Outside of the programs I am participating in, some of the other programs at Capricon that I would like to attend include:

  • Is Art School Worth it? – whose title says it all.
  • Do We Live in a Petri Dish? – addressing the age old question of are we just the specimens in some grand experiment.
  • Separating Art from the Artist – explores how an artist’s personality affects how you view their art.
  • The Future of Publishing – discussing the future of Self-publishing, e-books, Kickstarter, etc.
  • The Future’s So Bright…Or Is It? – a discussion of dystopias – a fascinating subject for me and a subject area for which I been a SF panelist at past cons.
  • Art in the BEFORE TIMES – a discussion of how art was made in the pre-digital age.
  • Improve Your Photography Using Histograms – where Jay Kreibich will share his perspectives on the use of histograms in image processing.

The Illustration

To illustrate this post I’ve used an image of the Bissagos Islands, an archipelago off the coast of the west African nation of Guinea-Bissau. This is one of the images I use in my presentation. Some of the remote sensing images I’ve processed are available as merchandise on Redbubble in my Planet Earth Satellite Imagery gallery.

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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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Space Art Program At Elmhurst Art Museum

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Space Art and the Exploration of Space Program
Space Art and the Exploration of Space

This Saturday October 29 I’ll be giving my presentation Space Art and the Exploration of Space at the Elmhurst Art Museum in Elmhurst IL. It will actually be a somewhat modified version of my normal presentation because of the why of why I was asked to speak. I was contacted by a representative of the Elmhurst Art Museum after she read about the Bigelow Aerospace BEAM inflatable module on the International Space Station. She was looking for a way to connect ISS/BEAM with the museum’s BLOW UP: Inflatable Contemporary Art exhibit.

Unfortunately inflatable space art is not a "thing". However I was taken up on my offer to give my presentation about space art – which would be modified to include artist impressions of inflatable space architecture – an idea that is much older than you might think.

Many may remember TransHab, a NASA effort from the 90’s to develop an inflatable habitat for the International Space Station. While the project was canceled, all was not lost because Bigelow Aerospace had the foresight to purchase the rights to the patents developed as a part of that NASA project. This lead to the Genesis I, Genesis II, and now the BEAM inflatable modules – which makes very real the prospect for the commercial availability of private, inflatable space stations. Thank you Robert Bigelow for your vision.

Others may remember the Goodyear inflatable space station prototype from 1961. Much earlier references to inflatable space structures are to be found in the imaginations of science fiction authors. For example, from 1939 is the story Misfit by Robert Heinlein where he writes about covering an asteroid valley with a tarp-like roof and inflating.

So if you are in the area and are up for a presentation on space art, I invite you to attend my talk. Note that while there is no charge for my program, you do have to purchase a museum admission to get in. Museum admission is $8 for adults and $7 for seniors, but admission is free to all students and anyone under 18. For more about the Elmhurst Art Museum, visit the Elmhurst Art Museum web site. To learn more about my presentation, see Art and the Exploration of Space.

Program Description at Elmhurst Art Museum Programs
Saturday, October 29, 2016 – 1:00pm
Space Art and the Exploration of Space
Jim Plaxco, President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, will be giving a lecture which explores the development and evolution of space art from its beginnings in science fiction to its use as a tool to illustrate and promote space exploration. His lecture will demonstrate the large role that inflatables have played in the exploration of space as well as the creation of space art.

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Space Globalization for Astronomy Day 2016

Friday, May 13th, 2016

The Globalization of the Solar System Presentation
The Globalization of the Solar System Presentation

Saturday May 14 I will be speaking at an Astronomy Day event being held at Harper College in Palatine IL. The event is sponsored by Northwest Suburban Astronomers and the Harper College Department of Physical Sciences. This astronomy day event will consist of displays, presentations, hands-on activities for kids, and, weather permitting, telescopic observations of the night sky.

My part in the evening’s activities will be to give my presentation The Globalization of the Solar System which addresses the question of whether or not the economics of globalization can take place with human settlements spread across the solar system. I am speaking at Astronomy Day in my role as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, a non-profit promoting space exploration and space development via educational outreach. For more about my space exploration presentations, see Chicago Society for Space Studies Speakers Bureau – Jim Plaxco.

And yes, I have given art related presentations at past astronomy day events, at both this venue and others. My most popular such art talk is The Art of Astronomy which is a historical overview of the development of astronomical art. The take-away from this presentation is that astronomical art has relied more on technological advancement than any other traditional art form (clearly new media art, aka digital art, aka computer art, have all been entirely dependent on technological innovation).

In addition to my own presentation, the Harper College – Northwest Suburban Astronomers Astronomy Day event has the following program items:

  • Things that Go Boom in the Night
  • Craft Projects for Children
  • Einstein Destroys Vulcan!
  • Discovering Our Solar System
  • Pluto Revealed
  • Black Holes
  • T Coronae Borealis: A Recurring Nova
  • The Possibility of Life on Mars and Venus
  • Astro Trivia
  • Eclipse Mania: Observing the 2017 Total Solar
  • Cosmic Time

Astronomy Day activities begin at 5:30pm and are held in Building Z on the Harper College college. For complete details, see the Northwest Suburban Astronomers Astronomy Day page.

Astronomy Day 2016, Harper College, Palatine IL
Astronomy Day 2016, Harper College, Palatine IL

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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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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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