Friday, October 27, 2006

What Will We Become? (Happy Hallowe'en!)

Oct. 27, DarkSyde published a Science Friday diary interviewing me and displaying three possible options I depicted for humanity's future... based, of course, on the relative wisdom of our actions today.

Unfortunately the large image option was not available... so here they are, larger, with DS's captions.

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Hypatia II, 2150 AD. She lives in a virtual and a real world integrated as one, with all the information of every library on earth in her head. The body is remade and maintained by nanobots, unless seriously injured beyond repair, she will live a thousand years. The large artificial eyes and the sensors on her occipital region detect all types of radiation and sound as well as a future version of the Internet, all processed by an enhanced visual cortex. IOW, when she looks at the forest behind her, information about the species and ecology is overlaid on to her vision along with acoustical ultrasound imagery.

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Robo-sapien 3000 AD is an AI/Human hybrid built for deep space. His/Her 'skin' is an advanced living carbon composite which can feed directly off of everything from starlight to radiation. The immense processing 'brain pac' features a stand alone IQ of over 800 and is linked to a larger collective stretching across the solar system. Robo is shown here working on a superconducting mesh encircling the planet Jupiter which produces antimatter. This image was done in a few minutes using computer graphic techniques.

(DS and I must have got our wires crossed here... it took more than a few minutes.)

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Five million years in the future. After the hypothetical fall of humanity, post-humans have radiated into many open econiches left by an extinction event of their own making. These post-humans are brutes; expensive brains have been downsized. They're also being herded by another recently evolved critter: That thing about to pounce is the hypothetical future descendant of the common rat. This piece was done using odds and bits inspired from other illos around the Internet.

I couldn't figure out how to make "Ratty's" fur look white in such a dark image, else he'd be descended from lab rats...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bringing the Marble to Life

Though Alexander the Great's occupation -- conqueror -- is very much out of fashion these days, he still has many fans, who wonder what he looked like. The only form of portrait durable enough to last the 2,300 years since his time is sculpture; a
bust found in Pergamum, Turkey, is held by many to be the most accurate existing likeness, possibly carven by the great sculptor Lysippos (the only sculptor Alexander would permit to portray him, or so the story goes). It's been used to good effect on at least one book cover:

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In the decades and then centuries subsequent, renditions of Alexander grew increasingly more idealized and less realistic. To me the Pergamum head is the only one extant that looks like a real person.

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So I thought... could I transform it digitally into something that looks like a photo? Alexander was said to be fair-haired, of ruddy complexion, and -- according to some sources, at least -- odd-eyed, with one blue and one brown. That was enough information for me.

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Second Term Panic of 2006

Thomas Nast was America's first great cartoonist, to whom all subsequent cartoonists owe a great debt. On August 20, 2006, Daily Kos frontpager Georgia10, in a story delightfully entitled Embracing Our Inner Jackass, showed a Nast cartoon which cemented the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party.

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Georgia wrote:


It wouldn't take much photoshopping to alter Nast's "Third Term Panic" of 1874 to a "Second Term Panic" of 2006. Swap "Caesarism" with the threat of an imperial presidency. Add some more reality into the pit, like Iraq, Afghanistan, deficits and death. All that's missing from today's political picture is that little jackass...

Well, that sounded like a challenge to me -- though more in terms of speed photoshopping than ideas or images. On DKos, comments get added and stories scroll down fast. I arrived late at the party anyway, and the more comments there are, the less the recently-arrived ones get read -- so my desecration of Nast's carefully-crosshatched work didn't garner the attention I would have liked it to.

Notice how some things have not changed at all since his time.

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Incidentally, the head on the giraffe is that of Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of Daily Kos. If you look carefully at the original, you'll see that the animal in sheep's clothing is actually a donkey. A wolf seemed more appropriate to my intention, so he underwent a species change.
Hypatia Lives

Aug 4, 2006 -- Science Friday: The Great Library

She was brilliant, she was accomplished, she became a philosopher and lecturer in a man's world... and during the struggle between nascent Christianity and established Paganism, she was beaten and slashed to death by a mob armed with abalone shells and bits of tile. In time the library she called home -- the centre of knowledge in the ancient world -- was also destroyed, by fire. Today, as some Christians are still trying to sabotage science, the story is still relevant.

I used an image of the interior done by South African graphic designer Stefan Viljoen using Moray
and PovRay software, which he did based on a reconstruction in Carl Sagan's classic Cosmos. Then I added Hypatia herself, using a contemporary portrait on wood which I particularly like:

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-- with body, clothes and scrolls added.

I wanted to create an image that would look like the typical first photo you often see in a magazine profile of an extraordinary person: shown alone in her natural habitat, posing as requested but looking very slightly discomfited, as if thinking, 'Why the big deal? This is just my life.'



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Things We're Doing to This Earth

Some Science Friday enviro-illos that need no comment beyond DarkSyde's captions.

July 7, 2006 : Science Friday: Bleach Beach

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July 14, 2006 : Science Friday: Oil & Water

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Left: The easy to find, large reserves of oil have been developed, but demand continues to grow. Right: As demand increases world-wide, and global production peaks, oil becomes more and more and expensive, and energy companies will find it profitable and necessary to resort to smaller, harder to recover reserves.


June 30, 2006 : Science Friday: Slippery When Wet

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Greenland's evolving outlet glaciers: The right glacier moves faster because of greater lubrication and instability provided by the growing melt-water over which it rides.

Okay, I'll make this one comment: they're melting twice as fast now as they were just five years ago.

If It Qax Like A...

March 17, 2006 : Science Friday: What Dreams May Come

Would I like to draw a Qax? DarkSyde asked me. Sure! I wrote back. I just need one little detail: what in heck is a Qax?


"One of the most imaginative aliens ever dreamed up are the Qax from Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence. Qax biology is based around chemical hyper-cycles embedded in convection cells. A Qax is millions of such cells arranged on the sea surface in a branching pattern covering several miles. Each cell is as wide as a coffee can lid, languidly bubbling like chocolate with nested eddies down to the microscopic level; they're highly organized, living storms."

Okay! Got it!

I constructed the critturs out of multiples of an actual photo of a convection cell, framed in a hex grid.

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On a simmering ocean world, under an oversized blue-white star, the tendrils of one Qax reach out to the limb of another in the distance. The bluish sunlight is filtered and scattered to a pinkish orange by a dense blanket of CO2 spiked generously with hydrocarbon and sulfur compounds. Undersea volcanoes light up the horizon and belch more toxic gas into the air.
Extraterrestrial Intelligence

March 10, 2006 : Science Friday: Is There Anybody Out There?


Why haven't we discovered other intelligent species, in a universe so vast? DarkSyde gives an overview of the theories, and I illustrate that which we have not spotted.

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A partially open Dyson Sphere around a blue-white super-giant star.
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A black hole is embedded in a grid of super-conducting struts powering alien projects and life-forms unknown. Both structures could be used for power generation and habitation. The effects of either might be observable with current earth-based devices. None so far have been found.

Incidentally, don't just stay here and look at the pictures -- click on these links and go read DarkSyde's writing. It has the rare quality, in the science-popularization world, of being not only clear and incisive, but evocative and moving -- truly beautiful.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How My Art Got Onto the Front Page of DailyKos

It all started on Nov. 26, 2005, when Daily Kos "Science Friday" author DarkSyde announced that he and others would be putting together a book of science essays as a fundraiser for YearlyKos, the first annual convention for the Daily Kos community. He put out a call for help of various types, including artwork, and this proposed scene caught my eye:
A primeval earth around 4 billion plus years ago--this is a biggie and could be considered for the cover, would need to show a lifeless reddish-blue ocean and craggy lifeless beach, with a single over-sized moon in a smoky, yellowish sky.

Was it possible to create this scene digitally, I wondered, so as to make it look like a photograph?

So I got out my terrain-generating software, my water-generating software, a number of photos gleaned off the net, and my trusty copy of Corel PhotoPaint.

The final image, after innumerable revisions ("There should be at least one volcano. -DS" "Make the moon bigger. -DS" "Can you add some mist over the water? -DS") --

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I also offered to do the cover design:

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This led to my getting roped into helping with interior graphic design, editing, proofreading, and two more illos.

In the chapter "Cosmic Seasons," DarkSyde described how the world and the universe would look if time were speeded up by increments. He asked me for a night city scene, with headlights forming red and white streaks. I pointed out that this effect is easy to get photographically, and so there must be any number of such photos on the web -- which there were. However I did agree to speed up a
serene Caribbean scene to 10,000 times faster than normal. One thing I've come to realize about my computer art: I like to depict the impossible -- to make visible sights that cannot be seen in any way but the imagination.


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A day a second. The rising sun forms bands, tinted reddish near the horizon, marking its seasonal march—the moon a fainter silver band beside. Sky, water and tree branches blur from time-elapsed movement.

The book had its political aspects, particularly decrying the fundamentalist Christian "intelligent design" movement and its campaign to replace science with biblical teachings in the classroom. No fan of creationism myself, I did this collage/cartoon for a chapter written by Pastordan of DKos and Street Prophets fame:

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You can buy Kosmos: You Are Here here.

I've never seen a work that evokes the sheer wonder of nature and universe as powerfully as this one. That's what inspired me.

Anyway, ever since then, whenever DarkSyde needs some sort of illustration he can't otherwise scare up for a DKos post -- especially if he needs it quick -- he emails me.

Sometimes he wants graphs:

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Sometimes maps:

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Sometimes simple diagrams --

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Or not-so-simple diagrams --

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The best of them you'll see, if you haven't already, in subsequent posts.