Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SpaceX and the Race to Credibility

Yesterday SpaceX, Elon Musk's private space company successfully launched a Falcon 1 rocket, carrying a observational satellite into orbit for the Malaysian government. While private rocket launches are nothing new, the launch was a critical one for SpaceX. This is only the second Falcon 1 rocket that has successfully launched to orbit of the five which have ever lit the candle. Flight 3 nearly made it to orbit, but due to a minor miscalculation the rocket collided with itself mid-separation, causing it to tumble off course. Getting to space is after all, rocket science.

While getting to orbit in only four launches is impressive for a startup, the rate of failure leading up to that launch had spectators and potential customers nervous. When you are looking forking over at least seven figures per launch, a 25% success rate isn't exactly the kind of thing which inspires confidence. That's why this latest launch was so important for SpaceX. By successfully launching to orbit with a paying payload, the Falcon 1 now stands with a 40% success rate and a satisfied paying customer in its resume. For a space launch company of any size, this success rate is vital, because it is a direct manifestation of the companies credibility. It is doubly vital for a young company like SpaceX, which has set lofty goals for itself and has attracted high profile contracts such as servicing the International Space Station.

In order to meet those goals, SpaceX needs to prove that it is capable of consistent reliable launches. SpaceX needs more launches like the one yesterday.

Continue Reading

Monday, July 13, 2009

Please excuse the Debris

Apologies for the code vomit above. I'm not sure precisely what I did, but I'm sure its my fault. On the positive side of things, the blog now has expandable article views!
Continue Reading

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Art School on the Cheap: Professional Skills Without the Pricetag

Before I get started in on this I want to be very clear: I'm not trying to sell you on any of these products. Rather I'm recommending them as someone who went to art school and came out finding my education lacking. These were some resources which helped me fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge.

Its no secret that art school is expensive. In fact, I would wager that cost is the number one limiting factor preventing young artists from pursuing their passion after they graduate high school. This is tragic, especially because of all the great resources which are now available for those interested in getting a art education without having to shell out the obscene amounts of dosh previously required. Here I'll try to list out some of the ones I've found useful, along with their rough price ranges. Its worth keeping in mind that I'm approaching this from the perspective of someone in the animation and game art industry, so my tips may be skewed.

Cartoon Smart:
CartoonSmart.com is a great resource for those looking to get started in Web animation, as well as a number of other subjects.  The site offers affordable video tutorials on a wide range of topics.  The tutorials are friendly, accessible, and packed with information, making this a resource well worth the money.

The ten-ton gorilla of the Internet art education world, Gnomon is a education resource for professional artists by professional artists. Originally just a series of professional classes held in Hollywood for visual effects and concept artists, Gnomon has expanded out to be come a multi-headed hydra offering a wide range of products and classes. The Gnomon Workshops are the bread and butter of their offerings, giving several hours of professional tutorials in the $60-80 range. Now that might seem steep, but when you consider these are in-depth tutorials from some of the industry leaders, the price is worth it. If that's to rich for your blood, Gnomon also offers Gnomonology which provides shorter format tutorial nuggets in the $15 range. For more intensive training at a steeper price tag, Gnomon also offers multi-week online classes for the tune of $1K-$2K at Gnomon Online. While definitely one of the priciest resources, Gnomon is definitely professional grade training presented in a great ala-carte style.

Online Art Communities:
By far one of the cheapest ways to learn is to get in the habit of posting to art communities. Basic accounts are almost always free, and they offer aspiring artists the chance to share their work and get critiques. DeviantArt.com is by far one of the most popular, with a wide ranging user base across all skill levels making it a ideal place for beginners.  However, for those serious about getting honest, constructive criticism that will help them grow, its best to start looking to more professionally oriented communities.  ConceptArt.org is one such site, with a active and highly knowledgeable community dedicated to helping each other perfect their skills.  

There are an amazing number of great instructional books that can help teach you various aspects of art.  Despite what you might assume, none of them have ever been written by Chris Hart.  Here is a list of books that I do recommend (I own them) for the learning artist:

Launching the Imagination by Mary Stewart
The Vilppu Drawing Manual by Glenn Vilppu
Composition Photo Workshop by Blue Fier
Vanishing Point by John Cheeseman-Meyer (yes that's really his name)
Anatomy for the Artist by Sarah Simblet
Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Peck
Force by Michael D. Mattesi
Bold Visions by Gary Tonge
Digital Character Design and Painting by Don Seegmiller
Creating Characters with Personailty bt Tom Bancroft
Facial Expressions by Mark Simon
The Dynamic drawing series by Burne Hogarth
The Virtual Pose series by someone, I don't know who.

ImagineFX Magazine:
I could have included this in with the books, however it's a magazine and just too awesome to be lumped in with everything else.  ImagineFX is a art magazine printed in the UK, but is readily available in US bookstores in the computer/art section.   It offers great articles with science fiction and fantasy artists, as well as providing excellent art tutorials and product reviews.  Normally I have very little patience for magazines, but this is one of the few exceptions I have to it.  Each issue comes with a disc packed with freebies and video tutorials, making the magazine well worth its slightly elevated price tag.

Graphics Tablet:
A graphics tablet is a indispensable part of a modern digital artists arsenal.  It allows you to draw straight into your favorite graphics program of choice without the hassle of trying to use a mouse.   Even artists more interested in traditional art should at least look into dabbling in digital art, as it allows you to freely experiment and try out ideas without the material investment normally required. Yes, I know it seems like a big commitment, but at today's prices for a entry-level tablet, it should be well within the means of most young artists.

Scanner or Digital Camera:
Like the tablet, a scanner or digital camera can go a long way.  Not only does it allow you to save and share your artwork, it allows you to non-destructively experiment with it digitally, and even use it as the basis for amazing pieces of digital art. While a scanner is preferable for capturing a high quality digital version of your art, it can be a big investment for young artists.  A digital camera can be a good substitute, although its always best to take pictures of your artwork in a well-lit area and at as high a quality as possible.  Digital cameras also allow you to capture your own reference images, which is a added bonus.

The Internet:
I'm not going to even try to start listing out the thousands of awesome resources available to artists for free today on the Net.  There's too many to do justice to, and frankly half the fun is finding them for yourself.  There are endless blogs providing tutorials, stock photography sites offering free reference material, and any number of specialized communities (it's the Internet, after all).  So go and explore!

That pretty much wraps it up.  If you have anything to add to this, please feel free to add a comment.

Continue Reading

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Google and the Soft Monopoly

Google is taking over the world, or at least the Internet. We've suspected this for a while, so it really shouldn't come as a shock. Yet unlike previous companies which have tried to do this, such as Googles nemesis Microsoft, we don't seem too concerned about it. Quite to the contrary, we tend to welcome Googles juggernaut rampage to conquer every segment of functionality on the Net.

Take Googles announcement today that it will be releasing a free operating system based on its Chrome Internet browser some time in 2010. This is from a company which already has established itself as the dominant player in searches, email, maps, video, advertising, and is considered a strong contender in fields such as group collaboration, phone services, and even mobile computing. This is the same Google which is sponsoring a race to the Moon and regularly invests millions of dollars a year in a broad spectrum of startups. The same Google which recently introduced the concept of Google Wave, which may have the ability to revolutionize communications in a way Twitter can only dream about. Google isn't just a 500 pound gorilla on the Internet, it is THE 500 pound gorilla. Now, had any other company with this kind of omnipresence announced its intention to expand into yet another market, there would be panic and fleeing of the populace to the hills. Instead, the overwhelming consensus seems to be one of eager anticipation, bordering on celebration. So why does Google get treated so differently?

My guess, for what it's worth, is that Google has mastered the art of the Soft Monopoly. A Soft Monopoly is everywhere because people genuinely want it everywhere. It's helpful, useful, and generous, and doesn't go throwing its weight around to get what it wants. Instead, it convinces everyone else that they want what it wants because what Google wants makes things better for everyone. With only a few exceptions, everything Google has tackled has made the Internet a better place for everyone, which wins you a lot of friends. With such populist support, how could a Soft Monopoly do anything but expand? Whereas Microsoft and Apple have consistently tried to dictate what their customers could and could not do, Google has taken the opposite path. Their logic, I suspect is that the more seamlessly and effortlessly Google can fit itself into the experience its customers dictate, the more positively Google will be viewed. For Google this means offering a lot of high quality services for free. In doing so they become a ubiquitous part of the fabric of the Net, so when you need a professional solution, the answer comes naturally.

So should we be surprised Google is creating a free open source operating system? No, it's a natural behavior for a Soft Monopoly like Google. By leaping into another market with a free disruptive product, Google expands their potential to be helpful in all sorts of new ways. For a Soft Monopoly, helpfulness is directly related to future profit, so Google is right on its game plan. Right now Google seems content to constrain its monopoly to the realm of bits and bytes. So until your Google Groceries get delivered to your Google Apartment door by a Google Grocerybot, I think the world is safe for the time being.

Continue Reading

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Upcoming Posts

I've come to two realizations over the past week. One: I love writing articles, and two: I have more things to write about than time currently allows. So therefore, I'm going to just jot down a bunch of the topics for posts I plan to write and release soon.
  • Tools for open source invention of real world things
  • Community vs. Content on the Hypergrid
  • How to capitalize on the lack of content in the open Metaverse
  • Modular systems for third world empowerment and infrastructure
  • How computer vision will revolutionize machinima
  • Can radio be crowd sourced?
  • Funding the Metaverse explosion
  • Bringing the talent from SL to the open Metaverse
  • Rapid game design prototyping system
  • The Encyclopedia of Stuff
  • Mapping material flows and artificial metabolisms
  • Citizen journalism through social multimedia mash up tools
  • Planning infrastructure through modular evolution
  • Hybrids in the skies
  • Air deployable emergency aid systems
  • Meshing social media and consulting
  • Can flash mob tactics be applied to the freelance job market?
For now that's all of the ones I can think keep track of that I need to write about. Looks like I need to get cracking!

Continue Reading