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Bytesmiths

The Bytesmiths Editions Newsletter September 2001

Topics

Essay: Sorrow
And The Winner Is...
Internet Woes
Recent Exhibits
This Month
Future Events
Feature Article: Software for Fine Art
Top Ten Titles

Essay: Sorrow

The events of September 11th left me, like most others, paralyzed in shock and disbelief. My thoughts and sympathies go out to the victims and their families.

But in our rush to judgement and vengeance, I hope we do not lose sight of what makes us different, as a nation of laws and order.

This has been called an "act of war," with a call for the prime suspect to be delivered "dead or alive." This is not the way a civilized nation reacts to uncivil acts.

This was not an act of war. It was a terrible, viscious crime; a crime against humanity. Should the perpetrators be pursued with all due dilligence? Of course! Should they be held accountable for their actions? Of course! Should they be punished appropriately? Of course!

But is it war? War suspends the rules of ordinary civil discourse with a special, vaguely defined and constantly changing set of rules.

In war, it is "okay" to have "collateral damage." "We had to bomb the village to save the village." In war, it is "okay" to suspend or even eliminate civil liberties, as thousands of American citizens of Japanese origin discovered over 50 years ago. In war, insurance policies universally disclaim all casualty -- should we cheat the victims and their families out of billions because of a rash statement by our minority-elected leader?

In its immediacy, war never really addresses root causes. If we hunt down and exterminate these terrorists like vermin, without addressing the abject despair that allows them to recruit suicide bombers, they will become martyrs for their cause, and a hundred will rise up for each brought down.

War means never having to say you're sorry, because the other guy made you do it. And each war plants the seeds of the next.

Now consider this terrorist act as a crime, perhaps the worst crime in history, but a criminal action non the less. In this realm, we attack the crime with the system of justice symbolized by all the flags that are today waving.

The investigators, agents, and police are NOT allowed "collateral damage" in pursuing the suspects. The suspects are given a trial, they are NOT brought back "dead or alive" based on, at best, secret evidence. The insurance companies are NOT allowed to disclaim losses due to criminal action.

But more importantly, the rational, orderly, open process of the justice system enables a more complete examination of cause and effect. Crime goes down with full employment, for example, so leaders have crime prevention as an additional incentive to keep unemployment low.

This works even on a grand scale, as the horrors of the Nuerenburg trials set the stage for the Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of Europe. Addressing the roots of terrorism is not rewarding terrorism, any more than rebuilding Europe was rewarding Hitler's exploitation of the despair in pre-war Germany.

Freedom has a price, but it should not be the price of harming even one innocent person in pursuit of vengeance. Perhaps the true price of freedom is having to bear terrible tragedies from time to time, with grace and restraint, and according to the rule of law, even when every ounce of your existence screams out for blind, bloody retribution.

I'll close with the words of a great warrior who hated war: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 16, 1953.

(I apologize for this diversion from the world of art, and I hope that even if you disagree with my point of view, you'll respect my opinion and continue to be interested in my newsletter.)


And The Winner Is...

Geoffrey Sasser has won the free print drawing this month!

Geoffry took my Digital Photography Overview class offered through West Linn/Wilsonville Community Education last February, and signed up for this newsletter at the time.

Each newsletter, I give away a signed, open-edition opaque print in an acid-free mat, ready for framing, to a random email newsletter subscriber. (Winners are ineligible to win again for a year.)


Internet Woes

As if the events of September 11 were not enough, a new Internet worm/virus was unleashed exactly one week later. This worm, dubbed "Nimda" ("admin" spelled backwards) is perhaps the most destructive unleashed to date. (Details at Wired.

Whereas July's "Code Red" worm (and variants) did little damage and only propagated through computers that run Microsoft's web server, Nimda spreads through Microsoft email software as well as through Microsoft web server software. It installs a "back door" that allows a hacker complete control over your computer.

You've been warned not to open attachments, but what is particularly troubling about Nimda is that it can infect your machine when you simply select the email containing it, even if you select it for the purpose of deleting it without viewing it.

Nimda only spreads through Microsoft software, but that doesn't mean those of us who exclusively use non-Microsoft products are unaffected. My website has been pummelled with infection attempts -- as many as hundreds per minute -- and I was forced off the Internet for nearly two days while trying to deal with it.

What I have done is "locked out" all web access from machines whose IP address starts with 63. This worm tries to infect machines with similar IP addresses, and blocking those that begin with 63 stopped 99% of the infection attempts.

If you are having trouble accessing my web site, please let me know, and I'll try to make it work for you. If you know you have a static IP address that begins with 63, I can "poke a hole" in my firewall, just for your machine. (Oh yes -- be sure you're "clean" of Nimda in such a case, or you'll hear from me! :-)

In the meantime, please practice safe computing:

  • Turn off your machine when not in use, particularly if you have an "always on" connection, like cable modem or DSL.
  • Keep up-to-date with patches and fixes, particularly if you are running Microsoft NT or variants.
  • If you don't need to have Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) running, TURN IT OFF! This is the primary way that the new breed of worms and viruses spread.
  • Consider using something other that Microsoft Outlook for your email. No other email software is so subject to virus attack. I prefer Eudora, which comes in three versions: limited/free, unlimited/free/advertisements, or unlimited/paid. Although it is still possible to get a virus through Eudora by opening attachments, it is NOT possible to get one merely by selecting a message, as seems to be the case with Microsoft Outlook.

Recent Exhibits

The summer art festival season is rapidly drawing to a close, and Carol and I are just about exhausted. I hurt my back at the beginning of the month, and doing these three shows has been painful. But we continue to have a lot of fun, especially meeting people and talking about our art.

  • August 17-19, Albany Art & Air Show, Albany Oregon. This is one to watch! In only its third year, it has the most friendly, helpful staff, the best booth neighbors, the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, fireworks, balloons, experimental aircraft, and of course, a wonderful selection of art and fine craft, and it's all free!

    Unfortunately, the festival sponsor, Wah Chang, was scheduled for a strike vote on Monday, and the public was understandably not in much of a buying mood, but in better economic times, expect to see this carefully managed festival take off.

  • August 24-26, Vancouver Wine & Jazz Festival, Vancouver, Washington. While featuring great music in a lovely setting, this festival's producer needs to decide whether to serve the public, or the festival sponsors.

    For example, individuals' water bottles were confiscated at the entrance, because Talking Rain, the event's "official" water vendor, had an exclusive contract to all water consumed on site.

    This sort of oppressive merchandising can only hurt the event in the long run, and it remains to be seen if this event can grow by serving the public, or whether it will stagnate by serving its moneyed interests.

  • August 31 - September 3, Bumbershoot, Seattle, Washington. Having never experienced Bumbershoot, we were totally unprepared for the sheer magnitude of this event. There is so much going in in so small a space that most of it was a cacophonous blur from our location.

    In addition, we suffered from bad siting. There was no space between booths, and thus no light available for my translucent prints. The entrance of the booth faced southwest, so we had the sun coming right in the front. I hung some prints from the front, and begged people to come in to see them lighted -- not an ideal situation!

    So while it was nice to be exposed to a quarter-million visitors, we probably won't return unless the organizers can assure us of siting that is more friendly to art that requires backlight.


This Month

  • September 8-30, Portland Open Studios group exhibit at the Littman and White Galleries, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon. Carol is showing a beaded lariat that took her over three days to make.
  • September 22-23 (Friday-Sunday) Village of Willamette Arts Festival, West Linn, Oregon, about 15 minutes south of Portland. In its second year, this festival features more than 50 of the best Clackamas County artisans, organized by a board experienced in running events like Art In The Perl, Portland Open Studios, and the West Linn Arts Commission.

    This is our last outdoor show of 2001, and Carol and I hope we'll get a chance to see you there!

(Our complete events schedule, with links to event websites and maps to event locations, can be seen on the Events page.


Future Events

This month brings the end of our outdoor season, but also brings the beginning of our classes and other indoor events.

  • EXHIBITS:
    • October 13, 14, 20, 21 (two weekends) Portland Open Studios, exhibit and demonstrations at our West Linn, Oregon, studio.
  • CLASSES:
    • October 2, 9, 16, 23 (four Tuesday evenings): Beginning 35mm Photography (Jan): $30. Rosemont Ridge Middle School, West Linn, Oregon.
    • October 15, 22 (two Monday evenings): Beading 1 (Carol): $20, including materials. Rosemont Ridge Middle School, West Linn, Oregon.
    • October 29, November 5 (two Monday evenings): Beading 2 (Carol): $20, including materials. Rosemont Ridge Middle School, West Linn, Oregon.
    • October 30 (Tuesday evening): Digital Photography Overview (Jan): $8. Rosemont Ridge Middle School, West Linn, Oregon.
    • November 6, 13, 20, 27 (four Tuesday evenings, plus TBD Saturday field trip): Nature Photography (Jan): $25. Rosemont Ridge Middle School, West Linn, Oregon.
    • November 7 (Wednesday evening): Digital Photography Overview (Jan): $10. Canby High School, Canby, Oregon.
    • November 14, 21, 28 (three Wednesday evenings): Beginning Digital Photography (Jan): $46, including computer lab fee. Canby High School, Canby, Oregon.
    • December 5 (Wednesday evening): So You Want a Website? (Jan): $10. Canby High School, Canby, Oregon.

For Rosemont Ridge classes, contact West Linn/Wilsonville Community Education at 503.673.7190 to sign up.

For Canby High School classes, contact Canby Community Education at 503.266.2086 to sign up.

(Our complete events schedule, with links to events and maps to their locations, can be seen on the Events page.


Feature Article: Software for Fine Art

Woa, has it really been eleven months since I promised an article on the software I use to create my art? Last October, I wrote a column about the hardware I use, together with a promise to talk about software in the near future. Time sure does fly!

While 90% of my time is spent with just a few programs, the other 10% is what makes things all come together. So while it's predictable that an artist needs image manipulation software, it is not necessarily the most important application.

Data Management

So, my most used software is: FileMaker Pro. Folks with a passing familiarity with "creative" software are generally surprised at this.

A general-purpose database is a requirement for anyone attempting to do art as a business. When I first started, I labored under the illusion that all I had to do was sell a couple big, expensive items now and then, but when I go to art festivals and shows, 90% of my sales are for items of $32 or less. This means that I have to sell a lot of them, which means I have to keep track of them, which means using a database.

But FileMaker Pro is a database that thinks it's a page layout program, which makes it all the more useful. All my open edition note cards and postcards are printed directly from FileMaker Pro, as well as the exhibit announcements you may have received via snail mail. This newsletter even comes from FileMaker Pro!

When I studied e-commerce solutions for my web site, I quickly discovered that they assumed large volume, and were relatively expensive -- $100 per month and up. I had no idea how much volume I could generate, and so used FileMaker Pro to generate my on-line Works In Print catalog dynamically. Now, when my inventory changes or I add new images, those changes can be on my website in minutes.

Thanks to FileMaker Pro, I can keep track of which images sell at which venues, and adjust my inventory when I go back to that venue. It also allows me to use "Just In Time" manufacturing techniques, assembling just the inventory that I can reasonably expect to sell. This would not be possible without a database!

However, FileMaker Pro is not without its limitations. It is not really suited to thousands of images, so I use Extensis Portfolio to keep track of my entire image library of nearly 10,000 images on over 250 CD-ROMs. Each image is keyworded and quality-rated, and so I can quickly locate all "outstanding purple flowers," for example, should someone be seeking something special.

Image Manipulation

There really is only one professional level image manipulation program: Adobe Photoshop. Yes, there are any number of wanna-be programs, but nothing has the combination of features, third-party support, and market acceptance that Photoshop has.

In particular, Photoshop's ability to combine "masks" with "layers" allows me to make huge, composite images from multiple shots, such as Crater Lake To Diamond Lake, which is a composite of eleven separate 35mm frames, taken with a telephoto lens on a special panoramic tripod head:

Photoshop's layer masks allow me to choose one image or another, or any percentage combination of the two, so I can evenly blend separate images to form one panorama.

People often ask, "Do you change the colors much?" I try not to change the colors any more than would be the case when using a super-saturated film, like Fuji Velvia, but what Photoshop allows me to do that would take many hours in the darkroom is to control contrast.

For example, in Blaming Snag, the foreground tree would be just a black silhouette using traditional photochemistry, since the scene contrast ratio when shooting directly into the sun is so high.

In the darkroom, you would traditionally control this contrast by "dodging," which means you wave a little wand with a disk on the end of it around on the tree, blocking some of the light so that it does not come out so dark.

Dodging is inexact and tedious, and really only works well for small amounts of contrast correction. When more exact and extreme contrast correction is needed, a technique called a "contrast mask" is used.

The original negative is sandwiched with a piece of black and white film, which is then exposed through the negative. The black and white film is developed into a positive image, which is once again sandwiched with the original negative.

Now, where the original scene was dark, the original negative is light, but the contrast mask is dark, resulting in lightening the final print. It's like an automated form of dodging.

Needless to say, this is tedious, and one often has to make several contrast masks with different exposure and development times in order to get the final contrast desired.

But enter Photoshop: press Command-Option-~, Command-Shift-I, and Command-M: three keystrokes set you up with a variable contrast mask! The first creates a negative contrast mask, the second inverts it to make it positive, and the last keystroke brings up the "Curves" dialog, in which you can adjust the amount of lightening as you watch.

And if that doesn't give you the control you want, you can always edit the contrast of the contrast mask, so that it affects shadows or highlights more or less. The darkroom is dead!

I could go on and on about Photoshop -- and I do so in my Photoshop class, held through Canby Community Education.

Bits & Pieces

Two major players have been slighted in this discussion: input and output. Precision graphical input and output software is among the most expensive, with "dot level" upgrades often costing four figures.

Drum scanning software is complex and production-oriented, allowing me to load up a 10"x12" area with as many bits of film I can put on it, give each image a different set of scanning parameters, then go off and let it scan, sometimes for several hours. Software that comes with inexpensive scanners tends to be overly simplistic, but for the best output, you *must* have excellent input.

Those who have economical ink jet printers usually use "driver level" software to talk to your printer -- you just press the "Print" icon, and it comes out. However, fine-art quality printers generally use specialized software called a "RIP," or "Raster Image Processor." This does exactly what your printer driver does, but with much more control, and for much larger images with more colors.

For example, a typical inexpensive six-color ink jet printer uses watered-down cyan and magenta for the extra two colors. These are easily handled by the printer driver, which simply switches to the lighter colors when an area of lighter output is printed.

But my Hexachrome printer uses orange and green inks, which require more sophisticated software to determine how to use these two new colors to reproduce the colors in the original file, thus the need for specialized RIP software.

If you'd like to hear more about this stuff, just drop me an email, or come visit during Portland Open Studios, when I'll be demonstrating many of the techniques I use.


Top Ten Titles

Here is a list of my most popular images, based on sales of over 900 prints to date in all media combined, from 25 cent postcards to huge, custom-sized framed prints of over $500.

and the most popular image this month is:

Nothing radical changes this month, with places shuffling around by a few slots. I continue to increase inventory of popular items, but continue to sell out of them at nearly every show!

Do you have a favorite image from my Top Ten Titles? Let me know what you like!


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