Space Heads

Sasquatch, UFO’s, Bermuda Triangle, and now –Space Heads.

What am I talking about? Imagine that outer space is something like the ocean: mostly empty but “infected” with life. We don’t expect to find something. We don’t expect to get a cold. But we’re not surprised when it happens. Probability says, it’s going to happen, instinct says, not today.

Space Heads, the micro-plankton of the space: floating, primitive …collectible.

An extra z here, a cos instead of a tan over there. Change the + to a ^ and you’ve got a new Space Head. Or just some new space.

Tiera-zon 2.7 parameter files (.zar) “”

There’s fractals and then there’s the other stuff, hard to categorize or describe: Floating; unconnected but associated; head-like. Space Heads.

They are primitive because they are basic and close to the trunk of the tree, unlike ourselves, complex creatures, who form the distant tip of a limb. It’s no surprise to find them represented in the fossil record; ancient, the earliest of iterations, almost timeless, drifting in time.

Haven’t fractal generators changed the world? Before, there was the wilderness -the natural world, and there were the cities -the places of human design. But now there is a new place, half-natural, half-human, neither of those, transcending both.

On the frontier, few things are labelled and nothing is categorized. The question, “What is it?” has not yet occurred. We look, we wander, we forget what brought us here.

December 24, 2006

Flames over Tokyo

It’s never been my intention to talk about war and depressing stuff like that, but I like this image and all I can think of when I look at it is the B-29 fire-bombing campaign that took place over Japan in the spring of 1945.

I read the diary of an allied soldier who was a prisoner of the Japanese working in a coal mine in Japan during WW2. The entries were very routine and written every day without exception for the duration of the war from Dec. ’41 to Aug. ’45.

My Grandfather had been part of this group of 2,000 Canadian soldiers, just like the author of the diary had. They went to Hong Kong in November of ’41 and fought from Dec. 8th until Dec. 25th when the British colony surrendered.

Although my Grandfather’s been dead for almost 15 years, I joined a veteran’s organization whose purpose is to comemorate their memory as well as look after the interests of those surviving Canadian veterans who fought in the Battle of Hong Kong. I wanted to get some understanding of what the veterans went through so I could relate to them better, and I thought reading the diary’s exhaustive, day to day account would do that.

Can someone like me really understand these war experiences? Possibly not, or at the most, only in a limited way.

(With regards to the image above, this is the original image from Inkblot Kaos from which it was made, with the help of Illyich the Toad’s multi-crystal.8bf and Martijn W. van der Lee’s, Ink Rubber.8bf (“inkrubbr.8bf”) which tinted it.)

The guy who wrote the diary was very methodical and disciplined. He never missed a day, even if there was nothing really to write about. He soon fell into a routine of writing two sentences a day about his experiences as a POW working as slave labour in a Japanese coal mine. It became a ritual.

Until the spring of ’45 when the regular entries abruptly stopped.

I knew he hadn’t died. He survived and came back to Canada after the war like my Grandfather did. But camp life for the author was turned upside down and it seemed to have something to do with a sudden change of events in Japan associated with Allied bombing.

The war ended and the author left Japan in September of 45. While enroute by train to board an American ship homeward, he saw the ruins of Nagasaki, destroyed only a month previously by the second atomic bomb.

So what had happened that caused this man to stop writing in his diary for a whole month? What was going on that had such a profound effect on the behaviour of the prison camp guards that he thought they’d kill him for the slightest reason such as possessing a diary?

I found out by reading a book called Flames over Tokyo by E. Bartlett Kerr. The catastrophic events were the B-29 incendiary bombing campaign that literally burned up most of Japan’s major cities in spring of 1945. Most people know about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but few, including myself, know much about the fire-bombing campaign that went on all over Japan and was actually much more destructive, although less “glamourous” to write about than the atomic attacks.

To make a long blog posting short… back in the 40’s most of the buildings in Japanese cities (even large parts of the national capital, Tokyo) were made mostly of wood. European cities had much more brick and concrete construction which made the strategy of fire-bombing less appealing, but for Japan this was it’s achilles heel.

Add to all this the brand-new B-29 (“SuperFortress”) with increased bomb load and extended range of operation, and then the newly designed incendiary bombs, in clusters, made with “jellied” gasoline (napalm), designed and tested to puncture a roof and several floors of a wooden Japanese building and squirt on impact…

Once the fires got going, some of the flight crews in the next wave of bombers said they could actually smell the fires -and burning flesh. They weren’t flying at 30,000 feet like the new “pressurized” B-29 was capable of. They were flying at a few thousand feet, at night, to maximise accuracy and minimize losses. Less like flying, and more like driving, through Tokyo.

Well, so what? War is pretty awful and destructive all the time isn’t it? Yeah, but in these cases huge chunks of the city were obliterated (and the people in them). Not just a few isolated, industrial areas or strategic targets, but something like 40, 50 or 60 per cent of the whole city. In a few Japanese cities, upwards of 90% of the urban area was burnt to the ground after only two or three bombing missions.

The war that had so far been foreign and far-away, all of a sudden came home.

December 17, 2006

The Varieties of Deadly Experience

Forest of Knives

I remember back during the last few years of the Vietnam war, in the early 70s, reading an article in the magazine that came with the weekend edition of the newspaper, about the various booby-traps the enemy was using against US soldiers.

I was 7 or 8 at the time and living on the edge of a small pulp and paper town up in Northwestern Ontario (sparsley inhabited wilderness). Me and my brothers spent most of our time out in the bush making forts and hiking around, so we were fascinated with the eleborate mechanisms the NVA and VC were making with sticks and other natural materials.

Sharpened bamboo covered with pig manure was a common ingredient in most constructions, as was the occasional venomous snake tied to a stick. It was all pretty exotic for someone growing up in a world of spruce trees. The only threat to my well-being was having my favorite TV show pre-empted by a football game.

The magazine article was part of a series, and the next week featured the high-tech booby-traps of the American forces. They weren’t quite as interesting; all of them were more or less variations on the theme of explosives blowing pieces of steel around. None of them were hand-crafted, and in the full-colored drawings they just looked like little plastic boxes. I gave them second-place in the creative design category.

What caught my attention, and still does to this day, was how to set up a series of claymore anti-personnel mines so the enemy soldiers would actually jump on them, or at least run towards them, just before they exploded. That made the little plastic boxes more interesting. I remember me and my brothers having quite a few arguements trying to second-guess the enemy’s response, and therefore where to place the second (third, fourth…) anti-personnel mine if our living room was ever infiltrated.

It’s like a well thought out chess manoever, but with different equipment. For instance, you hear a big bang, you turn away from it or move away. It’s human nature to minimize injuries. So the second one goes over where you would run to get away from the first. The third is placed in the same way.

Later on we applied this technique to kill houseflys. Imagine a housefly sitting on a table. You move forward and try to hit it by smacking your hand down on the table. It rarely works because the fly sees the hand coming and flys up and away.

So what you do is take your hands and clap them together above the fly, or above the place the fly is when your hands start to move. The fly jumps up when your hands start to move, and literally flys up into your hands. If he he’d just stayed where he was on the table, nothing would have happened to him.

The fly is faster, and you can’t compete with his speed and agility, but you’re smarter and you know where he’s going. The slow hand gets the fast fly.

December 8, 2006

Visual Encryption

Smashing with style

Digital Dynamite

Filter of Frenzy

Ripped-off beyond recognition and left for dead

“No, your Honour; I didn’t do anything. I just took the dog for a walk until it was dead.”

Together, me and the filter formed a third personality, which neither of us could talk any sense to.

Art grows out of the barrel of a photoshop filter.

The smaller they get, the more I see.

Every chop is different. And I try to choose the best one. But they all look good.

The author called it “Slice” which to me suggests something simple and restrained like the careful preparation of a sample for a microscope slide. Perhaps he never conceived of this “Feast of Knives” effect, or if he had, would have been unable to imagine anyone finding a use for something like that.

I keep thinking, just one more chop and we’ll turn the corner; one more chop and the effect will take a quantum leap and start forming new wonders. Deep down in it’s algorithmic DNA some gene, so far only weakly expressed, will become like a crystal, suddenly bringing order and magnificence to the supersaturated solution. But no. Like everything else, it moves onward to its logical conclusion, and returns to dust.

December 2, 2006

I stepped off on Saturn

You know, post-processing can really mangle a decent, law-abiding fractal image and make it an almost unrecognizable, but strangely delightful, wreck. Some will never walk straight again.

But when you start with an image that is almost entirely a product of the program’s filtering effect, and not quite a “fractal” image to start with, the results strain the already stretched categories of visual taxonomy, sowing the seeds of an impending visual collision, or shall we say, “Collisual” – intriguing arrangement of debris.

These were all originally made in Tierazon 2.7. Here’s a clean one that hasn’t had anything done to it. In fact it’s the original image the above one was made from.

Download parameter file “shift06.zar”

Same one – Antialiased 4:1

They’re alive. I should explain that.

This is rather Twilight-zonish, although I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation: The images keep changing.

When you see something interesting and zoom in on it, it’s gone when you get there. I think it’s because the image is created by a moire effect and the resolution of the image changes the resulting pattern of circles.

In fact, I wanted to call this series of images, “Monsieur Moire and the hypno-dots from the Atom Ray”, but it just didn’t have the same zip as stepping off on Saturn.

Well, that’s just the beginning. The really freaky thing is when you antialias one of these things (as you can see above). The resulting algorithmicolated picture transforms into something quite different; the dots are in different places and the colors have changed too.

In an image viewer, when looking at the thumbnail, you see yet another variation of the image. What you see in fact, is a new image and you can’t go by the thumbnail to find what you’re looking for. In a strange and maybe existential way, the thumbnail is not the image and doesn’t even pretend to be.

I’ve never seen anything like it. That’s why I say they’re alive, growing, changing, mutating, plotting, scheming…

Perhaps they are “fractal” after all, as far as self similarity and endless resolution goes. What you see depends on how close you are to it and at what size you make it. Or maybe that has nothing to do with fractals.

They started off in Tierazon. Then they met me. And my machine. But their fractal identity can still be traced through their dental records.

Maybe all this is in my head.

November 24, 2006

Postcards from Shangri-La

Would you expect this from someone named “Ilyich the Toad”?

Once again, I’ve dug up a new and amazing Photoshop filter and I want to share the wonder…

But it’s got a dirty name.

I tried renaming it, but you can’t do that with Photoshop filters. Or at least I don’t know how. But everytime I go to use it, which is like 200 times a day, I click on Ilyich’s favorite nic name for this filter.

At first it seemed evil. The Toad connection didn’t help either. Now I’m just curious to know why he gave it such a name.

It’s one of those chop-up/multi-lens distortion effects. It doesn’t alter the color and has only two sliders, but it can be extremely creative.

After using it for a couple hours, you will have trouble readjusting to the non-chopped, real world. Unless you’re a house fly. I think this is what the world looks like to a house fly.

The Missiles of Shangri-La

That’s what I thought of the moment I made this… Can I still call it a fractal? Maybe I’ve gone too far. I’m the first to admit it.

“Kurtz got off the boat. He quit the whole scene.”

Maybe I’ll just refer to it as “Crystal.8bf”. Couldn’t he have called it “Betty’s Crystal”?

While I’m on the topic of unique labelling for menus and parameters, I ought to mention another interesting set of filters I’ve found by someone called “Kangaroo”. One filter has four sliders for adjustment, labelled: “does something” “not sure” “can’t say” and “I forgot”. Another has three sliders named: “don’t know” “don’t care” and “leave me alone”.

Sometimes when it’s late and I’ve been on the computer too long, I start to give senseless names to images when I’m saving them, like “Fuludoo” or “Fugunoofoo”. So maybe Ilyich and Kangaroo just ran out of names.

Using the sliders allows one to fragment and repeat the image in interesting ways. Instead of creating a single distorted image, you can create a series of images that are clear but have a distorted arrangement.

Go ahead, pet the fractal, he won’t bite

Honey, where are the kids? Didn’t you tell them they could go swimming?

“His mind is rational, but his soul is insane”

What started off as a cheap and gimmicky effect began to become a powerful artistic tool once I began to see what it did best and began to combine it with the India Ink filter by Flaming Pear. On its own, the crystal filter looks too fake like a cheap digital trick. But treated with the patterns of India Ink, it jumps into a whole new category of creative effects.

I think that’s one of the secrets to digital creativity: synergy -digital recombination -frankensteining. Or to put it another way: harmonizing -taking hydrogen and oxygen and making water.

November 18, 2006

One more time…

What is art?

There’s an old black and white movie that spends two hours depicting a jury sitting around a table in a room, deliberating the verdict of a murder trial.

Now I could also be wrong about this too, but I think it all starts when Jimmy Stewart, who’s the only one of the twelve jurors who hasn’t quite made up his mind to sentence the young man on trial to death, decides he wants to go over things… one more time.

In doing so, everyone realizes that they’re not looking at the facts of the case at all, but rather have made up their minds to punish the accused for no other reason than they’re all just really angry at someone else in their personal lives who they can’t punish.

With the question, “Can I just go through it one more time?” the neatly rolled up guilty verdict (and resulting death sentence) starts to unravel until it finally comes completely undone, and the whole jury agrees the man is innocent and they themselves are just “12 Angry Men.”

And so it is, sometimes, with these apparently simple and obvious things like art.

Another allegory or analogy: Einstein (remember, don’t take my word for all this) would apparently spend days working on a solution to some deep, fundamental physics problem that he wasn’t satisfied with and then throw all his calculations and papers away and start over again.

You can do that with physics because everything is derived from first principles (laws, or something) and any physics problem can be solved (if you know how) by applying the handful of first principles to the complexities of any situation.

Einstein would start all over because he thought he would stumble on the answer if he could start from the beginning and go over it… one more time.

So, like Einstein at his desk, and Jimmy Stewart in the jury room, I don’t feel quite satisfied with my current understanding of things, and although I can’t really see an obvious mistake in any of it, I just want to go over it again, one more time.

So, one more time…

What is art?

November 6, 2006

Life is not

Life is not for the rich and famous
for the successful applicant and the olympic few
Life is in the eye and the mind and the hand
It needs no permission,
or conditions
to be.

We can all be like Sindbad
and set off on voyages with nothing but today
We do not need to own the ocean
it is enough that we are here

November 1, 2006

“Better” than Pollock?

Back twenty years ago in high school English class I read or studied, or something, Julius Caesar by George Bernard Shaw.

Shaw, as he is called by those who are familiar with him, was something new for us high school students. We were quite familiar with Shakespeare as the school curriculum included one of his plays every year, like some sort of literary vitamin pill.

There are a lot of great literary things to be found in Shakespeare. Like dill pickles, it’s an aquired taste, and five plays in five years wasn’t enough for me. I came to view Shakespeare’s lofty reputation as an exaggeration, the “official playright” of an imperial nation wanting to present themselves as the possessors of an old and well established, and uniquely English, culture of arts and letters.

The year before Shaw’s Julius Caesar, we had been chained to our desks and deprived of the necessities of life until we finished reading, or pretending to read, Anthony and Cleopatra by that great playright, “the Bard.”

In introducing Shaw’s play, the teacher kept repeating (you have to do that a lot in high school English classes) how this play by Shaw presents some of the historical events found in Anthony and Cleopatra in a more historically accurate context.

Oh yes. I opened the book and saw the many scholarly primary sources that Shaw had exhaustively studied in order to begin writing his definitive play about Julius Caesar. It was shameless name dropping of classical historians. I didn’t like this guy any more than Shakespeare.

Jumping to the back of the book, where the publishers add in all sorts of extra stuff, like commentary and analysis of the play by eminent authorities, I began to see the old bearded Shaw in shockingly different light.

“Better Than Shakespeare?” was the title of an essay about Shaw’s play written by the Shaw himself! Wasn’t it blasphemy to consider someone else greater than Shakespeare? And then to say it about yourself, that was even worse, assuming of course there was even space below such already depraved behaviour to sink even further.

All of a sudden I liked Shaw. He’s Irish (the teacher repeated that a lot too) and apparently back then, maybe even now too, he was something of an outsider and not supposed to knock revered English writers off their marble pedestals.

To some of the English it was an embarrasment to have the historical absurdities of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra pointed out, and particulary by an Irishman. But then Shaw went one painful step further and corrected Shakespeare’s mistakes by writing his own revised version of the events in his own play, Julius Caesar. Perhaps Shaw was thinking we could now throw Shakespeare’s old play away and use his new and improved one in it’s place?

I really didn’t like Shaw’s play much. Too “didactic” or teachy. You’d think it was intentionally written for a high school English class to study. But I liked his irreverent sense of humour. He should of stuck to making fun of the establishment instead of trying to become one of them.

October 23, 2006

The Robot’s Renaissance

Although most labels in the art world have a number of interpretations, I define algorithmic art as artwork made with algorithms. An algorithm is a series of instructions.

Usually these instructions are computer commands and algorithmic art is made with computers. But it’s the “mechanical” component that makes algorithmic art special and the machine doesn’t necesarily have to be a computer.

Fractal art is a type of algorithimic art. The algorithms are primarily the fractal formulas but also the other programming components which contribute to appearance of the generated image.

Although purists would say true algorithmic art has no human modifications to it or any other human contibution (except creating the algorithm or operating the machine, of course), such a strict approach rarely works.

A small amount of human guidance yields enormous profits in the creation of algorithmic art. In fractal art this guidance comes in the form of adjusting coloring effects or choosing what part of the image to display, or adding layers, or any other arbitrary decisions that interrupt or alter the process of image generation.

Although randomly chosen parameter settings could theoretically reproduce all the adjustments made by a skilled fractal artist, I have never seen any examples of such mechanically made fractal art (ie. having a skilled appearance).

So algorithmic art (if you accept my non-purist definition) is primarily a collaboration between artists and machines. The more decisions the artist makes, the less mechanical the artwork is. The less involved the artist is with the process, then the more mechanical it is.

The machine becomes just another tool when complex layering and coloring are involved, similar to a brush in the hand of a painter… Digital brush, Digital canvas –Digital da Vinci.

But when the machine is elevated to the lofty status of “Giver of Art”, “Oh, Silicon One”… It’s every graphic utterance received with rejoicing and exultation… The artist reduced to a selfless slave, a lever pulling worm toiling in the shadow of The Great Mechanical Meta-Marvelous Master of Algorithmic Awe-Wonder

Well, that’s different.

I need to clean out my browser bookmarks. I accidently clicked on some old thing anonymously titled Main Menu, Algorithmic Art.

Richard Nixon once said that the reason people go to hear politicians speak is not to find out what they’re going to do if they get elected, but to find out, “What makes this guy tick?” We’re all curious about people and why they do what they do.

Honestly, I could never figure out what this guy saw in his own work. Why the excitement?

He’s got a pen or marker attached to a drafting plotter that draws the results of some algorithm. It’s nowhere near as interesting as even a simple mandelbrot formula would be. Has he never heard of fractals?

This second visit to his website, after a space of about a year, left me with a different impression. I think I know what makes this guy tick, now.

Look at the presentation of his, uh, simple images: Artwork framed alongside -and giving equal space to- the binary code of the algorithm that made them. The 0’s and 1’s starting and ending with a short strip of gold leaf!

I was touched by his reverence for the machine and I felt ashamed of the insulting things I had once thought about his work.

He’s not ashamed of the mechanical roots of his artwork. In fact, he seems to see it as something to be admired, as if binary code could almost be beautiful all on it’s own. Just like some architects who allow a building’s stuctural components, like iron girders and concrete pillars, to be exposed as elements of style, having their own massive and mechanical, primitive charm.

October 15, 2006