Riffing on Books and Life – Arts & Sciences Literary Blog by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey

17Jul/16

Why Women in Tech and Science Know Well About Pulling off the Impossible!

Dr. Mark Ryman lecturing on the Dawn Mission at JPL, July 14, 2016

Dr. Mark Rayman lecturing on the Dawn Mission at JPL, Thursday July 14, 2016

Dr. Marc Rayman, Chief Engineer and Mission Director of NASA's Dawn Mission told an audience at JPL last Thursday night: "NASA's motto is  'If it isn't impossible, it isn't worth doing.' "

I think this will be my new motto, too. It seems to be a pretty good description of my life!

I remember one of the first space scientist lectures I attended after moving to Pasadena. It was at Caltech, and it was celebrating all the scientists who worked on the various missions over the many years leading up to the Curiosity Mission to Mars. One of the speakers explained to us about the earliest space scientists: "You need to remember that they had no mentors, no role models! There was no such thing a a spaceship or space travel before they built the first one."  Turns out many of them had been driven and "ideaized" by sci-fi! I love it!

When I finish my Light 2.0 interactive multimedia novel, I really want to write something that draws the parallels between these scientist starting off to invent space travel, and the life of a woman in tech and science - who typically has no role models or mentors simply by the fact of her gender. I'm starting here.

In college (BA Film Undergraduate) I was once hired to record the live performance of a 300 voice choir, with soloists and musicians and a pianist, in San Francisco's Civic Center Auditorium. Before that the most I had ever recorded on location was a band and a small school choir with a Nagra recorder hooked up to a film camera.

There were no mentors or advisors for me to turn to. On concert day, the director of the project simply pointed to a box of gear and told me where to set up my mixing station and whom to talk to if I wanted to tap into the auditorium's PA. When I opened the very large crate, I had no idea what half the items in it even were. I skipped the PA tap because, truthfully, I didn't  know what that meant. I will save the details for some essay in the future, but, I will share here that somehow with the help of my little sister whom I had dragged along with me and who was furious because she knew that neither of us knew what we were doing, I pulled it off.

I put all that equipment together, remembered pictures in my sound books about mic placement, circumvented the PA, taught myself how to solder, mixed a 16-channel recording of a live performance, and a few weeks later got a call from the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in San Francisco (the performance I recorded was of a choir composed of choirs of every religion from all over San Francisco) thanking me for the outstanding recording I had created of the day's performance. To this day I can't believe I pulled it off!

For years when people asked me how I learned so much about sound in college (I wound up building an Academy Award winning sound post-production studio for producer Saul Zaentz after I completed my undergraduate degree in film), I used to tell them how I apprenticed with the staff engineer at my university. For years I did not know why I gave that as my standard answer. For it was a lie. I am going to speculate today, because I am thinking more deeply about these things now, that I said it because I figured it would give me more credibility than telling people I taught myself. Especially because I was a girl, and was always struggling to be taken seriously. That and the fact that the truth somehow embarrassed and humiliated (and hurt?) me.

The truth being that when I asked him if he would mentor me, he said no. Not only that, but when I went back to him, after learning he had a daughter, and posed the question to him differently, persuasively: "How would you feel if you knew your daughter, like me, some day went to some man and asked for help so she could get a leg up in the world and he said no?" - Unmoved, he still said no.

And yet for years I told people that I went to him with that question, and he agreed to mentor me and that was how I came to know all about sound engineering. When in truth I learned by doing my Workstudy in the sound lab of the university for 20 hours a week. And by engineering and mixing the soundtracks of all my peer's college movies. And by reading every sound recording and physics of sound book I could get my hands on. And by listening to sound. Everywhere.

So, yeah, I kinda know what it has been like for these scientists, inventing things that have never existed before, pulling off feats and expeditions of great complexity - each usually for the first time. But one big difference is that they have each other. Maybe no mentors of people who have gone before, but each other. Most of us women who have been raised in this patriarchal society have pulled off the things we have done for the most part on our own. I hope that will change one day.

 

P.S. If you would like to learn about the Dawn Mission to Vespa and Ceres (exoplanets in our solar system that were thought to be actual planets until the mid 1800s, but which are actually planetary bodies whose growth was stunted by other solar system happenings before they could become full-fledged planets), check out the video of Dr. Rayman's wonderful, and curiously amusing, lecture here: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/lectures_archive.php?year=2016&month=7

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2Jul/16

Reading James Baldwin

I decided to read James Baldwin. Everything he wrote, from start to finish. Even if it takes the rest of my life.

photo: Reading Baldwin

Reading Baldwin

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2Jul/16

Terry Bailey Lecture on Texture and Texture Mapping for Architecture Students at Glendale College, May 2016

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31Jan/16

Terry Bailey to Lecture on Convergence of Art-Science-Technology at Glendale, CA, Community College Feb 23, 2016

Terry Bailey Science-Art Lecture at Glendale College

Terry Bailey Science-Art-Technology Lecture at Glendale College, Glendale, CA February 23, 2016

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26Dec/15

Self Driving Cars: the Emperor’s New Clothes Tale of Early 21st Century?

Image Self Driving Car

Self Driving Car

Yes, I am going out on a limb here. And if my words find any traction beyond my little corner of the Internet, surely there will be many people coming down hard on me. For there is BIG money behind this self driving car movement. Google is getting the most publicity for their efforts, but there are dozens of other companies staking their venture money (Tesla, Uber . . .) and their future reputations (Apple) in this zone.

Why am I dubious? Everyone KNOWS that Google and Apple and all the other Silicon Valley brainiacs can pull off just about anything, right? Who am I to doubt?

Well, I guess I’d say who I am is a woman who has a little more historical experience than some of the 20 and 30-something wunderkinds of San Fran, also a person who seems to have a bit more of a handle on the grey areas between the 1s and 0s logic of computer circuits. For starters.

Let me begin with something I tweeted recently (@TerryMediabench). It was in response to a tweet I read about how the Tesla Company was “discovering” (via accidents, I think it was) that human drivers cannot be counted on to be alert in all self-driving car emergencies when human intervention is called for.

Elon Musk Admits Humans Can’t Be Trusted with Tesla’s Autopilot Feature: http://www.technologyreview.com/view/543241/elon-musk-admits-humans-cant-be-trusted-with-teslas-autopilot-feature/

Here is what I responded on Twitter:

Triple A warned YEARS ago that speed control too dangerous due to drivers' attn lapses. I suggest you read history #Tesla #Musk & #Google

I remembered the AAA warning vividly because it was sent to me by a friend who knew that I trekked up to San Francisco (hometown) from Los Angeles (climate of choice) on a regular basis and made frequent use of my car’s cruise control on the straight and boring Highway 5 that connects the two metropolitan areas. I took the warning seriously and have not used cruise control since.

If humans can’t be counted on to take back their car’s speed control in an emergency, while they are still doing the steering and managing every other automobile function, how can they possibly be expected to pay the necessary attention in any other car emergency situation after the car has taken over ALL driving functions? Let’s get real here.

And now let’s add the element of time to this scenario:

Emergency, in most cases, refers to something that is occurring in the space of very limited time. Like milliseconds. So try to imagine this driver having time to take back car control after putting down her/his phone, video game, nail file, harmonica, _______________ (fill in your preferred human auto-car personal activity), when the car suddenly cries out “Alert! human intervention needed. Now!”

Clearly, the auto-car coders were not aware of the Triple A cruise control warning history. What other history and human illogic are they missing-ignoring as they push forward with total confidence that they can not only pull off fully self driving cars, but do it in the next few years, as so many are touting?

I’m just getting started here.

Back later.

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10Dec/15

Trumbo and Hollywood’s Romance With An All Male Mythology

Poster of Movie Trumbo 2015

Poster of Movie Trumbo 2015

It can be difficult for a feminist woman to look back at the sexism and gender inequality of history. It is even more difficult when one observes that history being told through the lens of a sexist and still unequal present. Trumbo throws us back to the days when the movie industry was dominated by men, the good women - like Trumbo's wife Cleo - were mere obedient and martyred sidekicks, and the bad women, like Helen Mirrin's portrayed Hedda Hopper, were shrews.

But times have changed, right? No, not much it seems. As the credits rolled, I read one male credit after another: writer, director, production designer, cinematographer, editor, composer, casting . . . . Yes, in 2015, just as in Trumbo's 1950s, and for most of history since, all the lead people who made this film were men. I found it particularly interesting that even the couple of filmmaking roles often reserved for women (casting and costumes) in this movie were done by men.

It goes deeper. In 2015, as in so many of the movies and plays of US history, the roles for women were still the obedient wife (Cleo) and evil witch (Hedda Hopper). You might ask, "Wasn't it just reflecting history?" As a matter of fact, one critic even referred to this movie as "educational." But, no, this movie did not reflect history, it is a Hollywood male rewrite of history. While Hedda Hopper udoubtedly played a role in the ambushing of Hollywood creatives by the Sen. Eugene McCarthy and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's communist witch hunt of the 1940s-60s, it was a minor role; those who are "educated" by this movie will come away believing that gossip columnist Hopper spearheaded the entire movement. Ultimately Trumbo serves to perpetuate the heroic male, witchy woman and martyred ingenue mythology that our society has managed to make a reality; feminist historians, anthropologists, and sociologists take note.

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25Oct/15

Digital Painting – A Tale of Digital Artist Bert Monroy and Me

October 2015 - iPhone and Coffee. Digital painting by Terry Bailey

October 2015 - iPhone and Coffee. Digital painting by Terry Bailey

A couple of weeks ago I attended a presentation by Digital Painter Bert Monroy. Bert wrote the first book I ever saw and used about computer art. It was a tips and tricks book for Photoshop 1.0! I loved that book. Bert demonstrated how to paint photo-realistically in Photoshop. I devoured every tutorial (how to paint glass, metal, chrome, etc.) and his book set me off with a thirst for experimenting with painting in the computer. I was still in college - art grad school - at the time and already knew that I had the computer bug and would somehow be a computer artist and digital storyteller. This was around 1990!

25 years have gone by and it was fascinating to see the different paths our art has taken. Like Bert, I was originally fascinated by how I could create all the objects in a digital painting on a separate layer - this allowed me to move things around and change / edit objects very easily because everything was always a separate piece on its own layer in the master file. I did not flatten (meld all the layers) the file until I was ready to make a print version, and always kept the master file with its layers intact, too. But, over the years, I grew tired of having such huge files as layers went from a few to a few hundred in a painting (the more advanced computers became, the more layers - larger file size - we could work with). I also began to notice that once a painting was finished, I never went back to its layered file like I had thought I would. Eventually, I gave up that layering technique. Really the last painting I painted all on layers was Digital Olympia (which I will link to here when I have a minute). That was a 60 inch wide digital painting printed on a huge piece of water color paper and displayed so far only once at the Digital Eclectic group show at the Art Institute of Hollywood around 2010. It was very high resolution, and had to be printed that large to see the details I had painted into it - like all the facets on the stones in the model's ruby necklace.

I still use layers - but for different purposes now: for instance, I might paint the shadow of a face on a layer above it, or I might apply an effect to one layer and then meld that layer with another. But today, I have developed different digital techniques, and I treat my digital canvas more as a canvas: I commit most of my art moves to one layer, and if I don't like it, I undo it or start again.

Bert Monroy, meanwhile, demonstrated the other night how he has taken layer work to the ultimate. His files are HUGE, he still paints every object on a separate layer, and he showed us one painting that had 70,000 layers. Ayee! What he now has to do, just to keep track of everything, and to make the size manageable even with our way more powerful computers, is to create each object in a separate file. So, for instance, in a city scene, one lamppost will be in its own file, and contain hundreds or thousands of layers. Rather than flattening one big layered file at the end, when he is ready to print, he actually has to assemble a printer version from all the separate files. Wow. Yes, our process paths have definitely diverged.

I admire his work still - but I see it as more "constructivist" to my "painterly." If you go to his website, you will see billboard sized paintings at extremely high resolution. Zoom into them and you realize that what he has done is to capture all the minute detail of his objects thanks to the ability to paint at such high resolution today. He builds a digital painting like an architect and contractor construct an elaborate building. I, on the other hand, have abandoned that construction aspect of creating digital paintings and turned to a more painterly approach - one that makes use of all the digital options that are not available when painting in oil on canvas. For me now the purpose of painting is more about the meaning, the feeling, the ambience, the composition, than the construction.

This is not to demean Bert's constructivist technique at all - what strikes me is that the world of digital art has actually grown quite sophisticated over the last 20-30 years, yet the public and art critics still think of it as a new thing! There is an entire history of style, technique, evolution that really should be documented - but I don't think much of that is being done. Bert is touring for Adobe Software, not the Metropolitan Museum. Most of us working in this world have been so passionate about our working that we have spent little time making it public; there is also, of course, the fact that there was so much prejudice about digital (computer) art in the early days that many of us kinda pulled out of the mainstream art world - they didn't want us in their club, so some of us retreated and just worked making art (an in my case, writing interactive multimedia books and composing music, too). I am posting this art and story so at least I have made an effort to document more of digital art's history.

You can find Bert's amazing work at bertmonroy.com.

The painting I am posting here is one I painted this month for my Calendar Month Series in Bert's honor (it's on one layer): October 2015 - iPhone and Coffee.

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13Sep/15

Landed in New Studio!

View from New Studio Windows

View from New Studio Windows

I once heard a woman say that no woman would have a second child if our minds were able to remember the pain and process of childbirth. Well, I think moving is kind of like that. I am in the last throes of a move, and really looking forward to getting back on track with the creation and publishing of my upcoming interactive multimedia iBook, Light 2.0 (see mediabench.com), plus related music performances and art shows. And, of course, back to my RiffingOnBooks blog.

When most people talk about the pain of moving, they are not referring to what a new media artist goes through! Not only did I move my living space, but my multimedia studio space as well - with all its computer gear, music gear, art gear, writing space and files, and the accompanying supplies and work. I am happy to report that the move is almost complete.

Of course, I set up my computer system first. Still have to hook up all the music gear. And this morning I had space to practice my guitar for the first time. Feeling rusty. But I love my new place and look forward to many hours of creation to be spent here.

Outside one of the rooms' windows is a giant oak tree, which makes me happy because I love looking out to nature, but also because it reminds me of my roots in Northern California - where oak trees are abundant. My cat, Salomé is also in cat heaven with unlimited squirrels to keep an eye on all day!

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24Jul/15

We Heart You, Too, Pluto

I Heart Pluto, Terry Bailey, July 15, 2015

I Heart Pluto, Terry Bailey, July 15, 2015

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30Jun/15

New Theory: Consciousness has less control than we believed

Consciousness

Consciousness

Pretty cool theory to ponder: consciousness is just a conduit, not an actor. Link.

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