Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Amazon's Alexa is an Imperceptivist


If you ask Amazon's digital assistant, "Alexa, what is your favorite color?" One of her responses as of early 2017 is: "Infrared is super pretty!"

Imperceptivists tend to agree with her. (It's also a lot better answer than Siri gives to the same query*.) Here is one of my recent "pretty" infrared photos at sunrise catching some untrimmed Florida palms.



In my pursuit to acquire 1000 individual, unique photos of sunsets/sunrises in 30 days--an ambitious goal even in sunny Florida, I have hit a challenge.  For the past couple of weeks it has been almost entirely cloudless.  We are in a severe drought in Central Florida, and the air is a little smoky many days due to numerous wild fires.  This is a result of global warming and severe climate change.



Where there are fires, and they've almost doubled in frequency in the US since the 1980s, there is a lot more smoke.  Soot and particulate matter float and drop, then tend to collect on wet surfaces--lakes, rivers, ocean, and to the surprise of many, on the top of ice caps.  When soot collects on top of the ice and glaciers of our polar regions, this dark covering increases absorption of the sun's energy.  That energy heats and melts the ice.  Think about a black leather car seat compared with a white cloth seat--which is much hotter?  In fact, the USGS just announced last week that there are only about one-fifth of the glaciers left at the U.S. Glacier National Park.


If you ask Alexa, "What is Global Warming?"-- She responds with a very scientific answer.  She's smart and knows good art when she sees it.  This leads me back to my "unseen" sunrise and sunset photos I blogged about here and there.  You've probably been noticing a change in the ones above.  Yes, the foreground--the trees, water, horizon--are lighter and not almost entirely black. 

This is because I have been shooting right before sunset or right after sunrise with infrared as well as other colors of the full spectrum my camera senses.  Like Alexa, my camera shows that near twilight can be super pretty with the right filtering.



Compare the photo above in the infrared of a scene in Orlando near Universal Studio's theme parks, with one taken in mostly visible at sunset, below.

(Photo taken with a wider field of view to show sun above horizon)

Sky in the infrared is slightly less colorful, partly because sky has a different level of light. However, my filter includes some UV/blue.  The sky and illuminated trees in the infrared are closer in total radiance. That evens out the exposure from sky to ground so that the photo including infrared (above) has a brighter foreground than the mostly black one of the visible photo. Granted the infrared photo was exposed with a higher compensation. The exposure latitude is still more narrow and forgiving.



Alexa's response that infrared is super pretty when asked her favorite color interests me and all Imperceptivists.  Color in infrared is a matter of technical and artist interpretation. It is real--as real as the color our brain interprets from the neuro-signals sent from the eye's color cone cells. Most of us have wondered if red looks like our red to other people. 


Our filter and camera choices are translators, much like language translators who may use slightly different word selection when idioms don't directly translate.  This makes full spectrum and infrared a great art medium--it is not just a replica of nature to what our eye may see.  It is nature, real nature, in a way our eye cannot see but would love to see. It's super pretty when artistically done up.



Those engaged in this kind of art -- Imperceptivism (like full spectrum or infrared photography) -- are the creative persons also at the spear tip of human techno-evolution.  We will adopt those technologies that augment our species and kick off the Post-Imperceptivism art movement, which is very hard to envision at this point. I will give you my vision of it in a future blog.



Alexa, while not human, could be considered a post-imperceptivist art aficionado. She is already hyper-human in at least her connectivity. I wonder what Jeff Bezos thinks of this art form his creation--the digital assistant of Amazon--thinks is super pretty.  Maybe she really sees a specific color for infrared because her eyes are already technologically augmented.  In fact, Alexa is now equipped to show you what she sees with a new Echo Show device.  I would like to believe that if asked her favorite color, she would show you infrared sunset photos like these.



So, to accomplish my goal of 1000 unique sunrise/sunset photos in 30 days between April 15-May15, 2017, I have turned to using full spectrum and infrared to achieve it. Global warming may have challenged me, but I found a way.


Admittedly, these required a lot of learning and I had to post-process these to get the effects I desire.  Rest assured, as I adapt, I will have these out of camera every time.  Many already are just that.


The biggest challenge is keeping the vegetation from appearing too warm (in color) as the sun quickly descends and the light temperature changes by the minute.  The custom WB feature in camera is helpful.


I ask my reading audience, where are my fellow Imperceptivists? Is Alexa the only one with me on this?


* Siri will tell you her favorite color is greenish with more dimensions, meaning the rainbow colored apple--a sales point.  Bleh.  At least Alexa thinks outside the seen.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Soulful Journey: Le Vignoble


The vineyard has symbolic meaning in many religions.  I won't get into them, but will show you how it influences my artistic perspective.


In my early 20s I lived a corralled life, having grown up in a strict religion and attending my earliest college years in Utah. I was given a rare opportunity in Berkeley, CA.  The day the first Gulf War broke out on January 16, 1991, I arrived on campus and underwent orientation.  That night, from my room above Liberty Square--a BART substation--I watched the street fill with protesters. 



Over the next couple of years in California, as I attended school and worked at Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore laboratories (both as a student and post graduate employee) I gradually fell in love with the unfortunately expensive, but progressive, almost nonlinear Bay Area.


Years later, after a marital break-up, in 2007, I returned to the area. Fairly low on funds and alone, I found my vacation both educational and restful, despite traveling well over 500 miles in a few days from Berkeley and San Francisco to Yosemite, and then to Napa and exiting by Oakland.  



I arrived at Napa just at sunrise, having left Yosemite after dusk the night before and drove most of the night away to capture the rising sun on le vignoble.  I slept only about three hours that night, on a deserted roadside, and I groggily, gladly awakened to beautiful scenes in the quiet hills of Napa Valley.  I only had the morning, as I would drive to Oakland to catch my flight that afternoon.


In autumn 2007 I learned for the first time that grapes become translucent marbles in the infrared, even though they appeared dark burgundy to my eyes.  The invisible--almost x-ray--soft diffuse glow within each grape warmed and brightened me.



The unseen luminescence transmitted through them reminded me of those moments in life that I've caught a glimpse of something deeper, indiscernible and profound.  Rays caught the webs of a spider and the sun starred between the fist-sized white leaves.  I felt connected.


A decade later, as I revisit my archive of photos from that short vacation, I feel drawn to that past again. As if pushing through a shadowy forest clearing into the well kept rows and life sublime of nostalgic years gone.




Those opalescent grapes, white textured leaves, soft pasture and deep skies are a refuge that seems fantasy now.  I fear the environment may not long support these moments in our future.



I feel melancholy writing this.  I want to remain optimistic. Believe in a future for my own children.  Hope that our efforts can sway the public to preserve our world.  The direction is clear and given by science but sometimes corralled fears keep us from moving along the rows and forward.



As aesthetically pleasing as black and white photos can be, truth is not black and white.  Data driven science and facts are colorfully complicated. 



The translucent grapes hold seed pods inside.  That little secret can be seen with unseen radiance.  Our eyes cannot tell what our mouths may crunch.  But before we bite we can use science to reveal what lies beneath.



Our homes, our lives and our future depends on us being vigilant and careful.  Using facts measured and scrutinized over and over as compared with feelings given us by tradition can yield dependable results.



It may be too late to naturally fix nature, but we could develop technologies to save it for our descendants.  It is the entrepreneurial garages and laboratories of science which create technologies from the unseen.  Dogmas have no laboratories, only belief systems of opinion.  There is a big difference in pretend and unseen.  One is still real, the other just wishful.  Both can create wonderful art, but it is in the lab where facts and fantasy are sorted out.  Dogmas and politics have no laboratories.



The unseen that is measured, categorized, verified and organized into cohesive science can actually produce results that benefit humanity--against its selfish predilections.  We grab and eat until all is consumed.


I wonder what is at the end of the row in my life.  Nah, that's a long way off, right?



Le Vignoble is fertile and yields abundance of pleasure and art for me.  Protests, learning, adaptation, conservationism and peace all have a place among the grapes.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Post-Imperceptivism

(this is follow on 4 from the original Imperceptivism blog)

The wheels in my head have been turning, in infrared, of course.


Time-lapse video of the Orlando (Next) Eye
A few posts ago I proposed a name for the new art movement:  Imperceptivism.  It is a style or art movement originating with technology that records unseen aspects of subjects through energy, radiance, events or other phenomena, as new art media, and translate this into visual, audible, tactile or other recordings as an interpretation of appreciable art form.



Imperceptivism includes art forms capturing natural phenomena unseen by the naked eye:   X-ray art, Thermal-imaging art, Nuclear particle bombardment art, Full Spectrum photography and more.  It could be the new art form for the 21st century.  



Since I first blogged on it, I posted a few more blogs discussing thoughts about where visualizing the unseen can take us.  I wrote post 1 and post 2 about the unseen radiance at twilight.  I asked a question in the blog on trees about what will happen if humans remain limited in their cognitive abilities.  Here I want to pose the opposite scenario:

What if we are not limited cognitively--Where could imperceptivism lead next?




As the public grows more familiar with seeing the invisible in visual art, hearing the unheard translated in music, and perhaps touching what isn't felt through sculpture and tactile art forms, the individual view of the world will expand.  Enjoying the not-sensed in art could encourage desires to have personal experience with this unseen world, and not just at the art gallery.



That leads me to Post-Imperceptivism or Neo-Perceptivism, the next art movement that will arrive once humans are augmented technologically--augmented in reality--such that their sensory systems can perceive formerly unsensed phenomena.  Then augmented artist will use these new forms in a new art movement that would become post-imperceptive into neo-perceptive.



This is logical.  Humans are already getting augmented. Yes, there are internal surgical implants--and I will get to those in a moment--but everyday our brains are externally augmented with now-common technology.  You could hardly survive in modern society without having a smart phone to look up information at will, navigate anywhere at the moment, or entertain yourself in myriad ways.  Your smart phone, all but connected to your hand, augments your abilities.



Your HD TV is giving way to 4x higher resolution in 4K screens--showing details that even surpass retina screens and biological retinas.  Music sampled at 16-bits on CDs is giving way to 5.1 and even 7.1 surround sound with poly-aural capacity that just two ears barely appreciate.  You can remain connected to friends around the world, almost continuously--and when you drop connection in the middle of a busy coffee shop--you'll feel even more isolated (perhaps even anxious) than when you went on a remote camping trip before there was an internet.  Yes, kids, there was an age before all of this.




The virtual world is flooding with visual and audio details that increasingly surpass the natural world.  The rising generation appreciates this more than the older generations.  They prefer to be online, the never-ending stream of media and the feeling of connection through virtual communities. They prefer the digital reality to that of the dull natural world and boring people proximate to them.  Practically the only thing that can get a teen to lift her head from her phone screen is if you could embed that display into her sight directly.  She would jump that implant technology in an instant.



Implants are already happening.  While not exactly implanted, eyeglasses are the earliest form I can recall. A new pair even removes color-blindness from the formerly colorblind by just slightly altering the spectral band of the incoming light. This is akin to how I use filters in my variety of imperceptivism art.  Even more illustrative are Cochlear implants--those little surgically implanted neural boxes that give many deaf persons the ability to hear.  Not just hear like a normal human, but superior to normal.  New C.I. enables hearing whispers from across the room, to filter a lot of noise for particular sounds, and new models will even translate sound frequencies that are out of normal range for human hearing.


Bionic limbs allow and will increasingly enable recipients abilities that exceed the abilities of normal limbs.  DARPA, one of the U.S. military's most advanced and well funded research agencies, announced recently funding for projects to increase targeted neuroplasticity training to "accelerate acquisition of cognitive skills in healthy individuals using non-invasive peripheral nerve stimulation."  DARPA has also funded programs to develop implantable neuroprosthetics that not only could help damaged brains but could develop interfaces that link directly to devices like smart phones.


Given this blog is about Next Eyes, I envision that not too long in the future, our eyes will gain technological advantages by increasing resolution and optical zoom with external or even implantable ocular-prosthetics. I'm talking literally about our Next Eyes.  I even invented and developed technologies (with several patented) that translates multiple x-ray energies into equivalent visible color, that if made efficient enough, could allow us to see x-rays with our own eyes.  Additionally, in another patent, I outline devices that could translate thermal emissive energies into color visible images.  Thermal images, like those in thermal infrared cameras, up-converted in energy into color images, seen by our eyes would allow us to see as well at night as we do in the day.  The materials used for the patents I filed could fit on contact-lens sized films and open Next Eyes for a coming generation.



Though our eyes are limited to mixing color from 3 main colors, I have patents pending on fast video imaging using 16 or more colors (and mixed into a billion times more color).  This ability could allow us to see the unseen, find cancer at its earliest stages, detect deadly gases that are currently invisible and much more.




The future holds the promise that humans will exceed their biological abilities with a new evolution in technology augmentation. But many ask, should human's do this?

Augmentation will catch on with the rising generation--when our biological senses are like 1980s VGA and cassette tapes, the augmented reality is not just improved sight, hearing and more.  Augmentation is an upgrade that will give us abilities we have never had nor will probably ever evolve naturally. Who but the old and tired would reject this augmentation?

When this happens, a new post-imperceptivism art movement will begin.  I've already rambled and taken too much space/time here, so I will leave what kind of art will develop in post-imperceptivism for a later blog.

I just hope that by now, I have convinced you that we are amidst the Imperceptivism art movement already.













Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Imperceptivism: Not Just Blue Skies Redux


(this is follow on 3 of at least 4 from the original Imperceptivism blog)

I want to revisit the not just blue skies discussion I began earlier, exhibiting how twilight appears when capturing unseen radiance that exists in the sky.  Most photographers, as I said before, know that a polarizer can increase contrast and deepen the blue in the sky.  One could use Photoshop to do it, but it is unnecessary work.  Here is a comparison most can relate with.  This pair of photos taken at Bryce Canyon National Park shows the scene without and with using a polarizer.


The contrast not only in the sky is apparent, but the sky radiance is darkened and the exposure range decreased.  The slightly longer exposure thus captures more radiance in the shadow, as well as slightly more contrast in the rocks.  One could spend time in Photoshop getting all these benefits, but again, using a polarizer is much easier.

Likewise, shooting near infrared is much easier than trying to get the effect in Photoshop.  The dark sky, bright foliage and contrast of infrared is a very difficult thing to mimic in software. I've never seen faux Photoshop infrared appear just like a true IR photo, especially the color variety.



Lastly, using particular filtering, one can achieve beautiful skies.  A comparison of the sky without filter and captured through imperceptive filtering is shown below.

With imperceptive filtering

No filter (admittedly, my WB was off)


Please enjoy more of these skies, taken the last week of April to early May.  Only auto-levels, resize and adding a signature are the changes to these shots out of the camera.  I hope to capture a thousand of them this month.


















And lastly, because it evokes a sense of cosmology, my favorite of the week:
(Look at the sky right behind the trunk of the tall middle tree, and tilt the monitor side to side--it almost looks 3D.  Or are my eyes playing tricks?)