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History Photography Science

A Scientific Paint-By-Number Pastel Drawing Was Our First Closeup Image of Mars

January 5, 2023

Kate Mothes

All images © NASA, JPL-Caltech, and Dan Goods

Let’s rewind to 1965. Around ten years before the personal computer was invented and twenty years before the first cell phones were released to the public, this was the year that saw the first color television released to the mass market. Families would gather around the set to catch up on daily news broadcasts on one of three channels. On July 15, when NASA’s Mariner 4 probe flew within 6,118 miles of Mars as it passed the planet, it was big news, but when the image data was transmitted back to Earth, scientists didn’t have the technology to quickly render a photograph that could be televised. Taking a queue from a popular mid-century pastime, the very first representation of another planet viewed from a vantage point in space was a data-driven paint-by-number drawing.

The Mariner 4 probe was NASA’s second attempt to capture an image of the surface of Mars after a camera shroud malfunctioned on Mariner 3. Dan Goods, who presently leads a team called The Studio at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, describes how the scientists troubleshot and devised their next steps when faced with technical anomalies and errors:

After the flyby of the planet, it would take several hours for computers to process a real image. So while they were waiting, the engineers thought of different ways of taking the 1’s and 0’s from the actual data and create an image. After a few variations, it seemed most efficient to print out the digits and color over them based upon how bright each pixel was.

 

Detail of numbers on ticker tape

We now turn our focus to a scientist named Richard Grumm, who chose a more analog means of visualizing data as a failsafe if the intended image failed to transmit. He went to a local art supplies shop and requested gray chalk; the shop sent him with back to the lab with a pack of Rembrandt pastels. He and his team used the crayons to color in the 1’s and 0’s data, printed on 3-inch wide ticker tape, and determined the brightness level of the image using a key in shades of orange, brown, and yellow.

In spite of Mars’ nickname the “Red Planet,” the color scheme was coincidental. Grumm was concerned primarily with gradients and how it would appear in grayscale, since televisions were still in black-and-white. He justified the drawing to the Jet Propulsion Lab’s wary PR department—which thought the pastel drawing would be a distraction and preferred the public saw the real image—as a means to record the data in case Mariner 4’s equipment also failed. Eventually, the media found out anyway, and the pastel drawing was the first image of Mars to be broadcast on television.

In time, Mariner 4’s black-and-white photograph did come through successfully, and in comparison, Grumm’s drawing appears widened due to the width of the ticker tape. You can read more about this historic moment on Dan Goods’ blog and on the NASA website. (via Kottke)

 

Left: Color key. Right: Mariner 4 tape recorder

Richard Grumm’s team creating the drawing

Left: Richard Grumm’s team creating the drawing. Right: The pastels used to create the image

The image compiled from Mariner 4 data

 

 

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Design Science

Boldly Contrasted Maps by Spencer Schien Visualize Population Density Data

January 2, 2023

Kate Mothes

A 3D population density map of Illinois.

All images © Spencer Shien, shared with permission

It’s one thing to know that Chicago is the third largest city in the United States or that the fastest growing metropolitan areas are in the West and the South, but how can we see it? Data technologist Spencer Schien answers that question with an ongoing series of population density maps of states, rivers, and coastlines. In his work with nonprofits and NGOs, he uses R programming language to generate data visualizations that help organizations target where their services are most needed.

To compile the maps, Schien digs into the Kontur Population dataset, a publicly accessible project that layers global population numbers derived from sources like the Global Human Settlement Layer—a tool for assessing the presence of people on the planet—along with Microsoft’s Building Footprints and Facebook. He then translates statistical information about specific regions into highly contrasted maps utilizing Rayshader. The more densely populated an area is, the higher the bars rise. Atlanta, for example, is more than 137 square miles with around 4,200 people per square mile, and the map illustrates this as a mass of red amidst surroundings of more rural areas in green.

Currently based in Milwaukee where he works as the Senior Manager of Data & Analytics for City Forward Collective, Schien focuses on building the maps and other statistical visualizations using open-source tools that help to alleviate financial barriers to information. You can find more of his work on his website.

 

A 3D population density map of Ohio.

A 3D population density map of Kansas.

A 3D population density map of Wisconsin.

A 3D population density map of Virginia.

A detail of a 3D population density map of Virginia.

A 3D population density map of Pennsylvania.   A detail of a 3D population density map of Pennsylvania.

A 3D population density map of Georgia.

A 3D population density map of the Mississippi River.

A detail of a 3D population density map of the Mississippi River.

 

 



Amazing Design

A New Apple Campaign Shines a Light on the Diverse Possibilities of Accessible Tech

December 16, 2022

Kate Mothes

In an empowering new ad from Apple, accessibility features of the brand’s products take center stage. Backed by an energizing soundtrack by Australian ensemble Spinifex Gum that puts famed boxer Muhammad Ali’s 1974 “I am the greatest” speech to music, scenes emphasize the features of phones, watches, and computers that allow people with physical disabilities to access myriad creative and life pursuits: a deaf mother is alerted to her child crying, a performer uses his camera to access the stage door, and a man makes various facial expressions to edit photos. Directed by Kim Gehring, “The Greatest” is a stunningly produced campaign that evinces the powers of greater access to technology for all.

 

A still of a video with a mom and child

An animated gif of a performer walking toward the stage door

A video still of feet holding a phone

An animated gif of a person using an iPad

A video still of a phone

An animated gif of a man using his computer to edit photos

A video still of a performer in a dressing room

 

 



Art

Hundreds of Porcelain Layers Recreate 20th Century Technologies in Intricate Sculptures by Anne Butler

May 4, 2022

Grace Ebert

“Analogue” (2016). Photo by Vizz Creative. All images © Anne Butler, shared with permission

Artist Anne Butler cites the porcelain pieces that comprise her ongoing Objects of Time series as being “witness to their own history.” From her studio in Carryduff, Butler recreates 20th Century technologies like rotary telephones and typewriters through an array of techniques from casting and carving to assembly—watch her process in the video below. Brimming with texture and striking in dimension, the analog works explore cultural memory, associations to history and personal use, and the impressions these items have left on the world long after they’ve fallen from widespread use.

Butler shares with Colossal that each of the objects was an important part of her childhood and that the building process reflects its mechanics. The intricately slotted “Analogue,” which replicates her family’s phone, relied on low-tech templates to create the thin Parian porcelain sheets that, once dried, the artist interlocked into their final shape. Similarly, “Remnant” and “Shift” both layer hundreds of individual slabs into keys and sewing tools that are slightly skewed and indicative of their hand-built construction. These irregularities reference the imperfection of the humanmade in comparison to the precision that’s possible with automation.

As she expands Objects of Time, Butler plans to reproduce kitchen scales and her first SLR camera, so keep an eye on Instagram for those works. If you’re in London, you can see “Shift” at Two Temple Place between May 11 and 14, where Ruup & Form will be representing the artist in Eye of the Collector. You also might enjoy Yoonmi Nam’s worn sketchbooks. (via Lustik)

 

Detail of “Analogue” (2016). Photo by Vizz Creative

Left: “Shift” (2018). Right: “Stack” (2020). Photo by Bob Given

Detail of “Shift” (2018). Photo by Vizz Creative

Detail of “Shift” (2018). Photo by Vizz Creative

“Remnant” (2018). Photo by Vizz Creative

Detail of “Remnant” (2018). Photo by Vizz Creative

Detail of “Remnant” (2018). Photo by Vizz Creative

Detail of “Shift” (2018). Photo by Vizz Creative

 

 



Animation

Blip: A Minimal Animation about Screen Addictions Unleashes a Barrage of Pings and Notifications

December 17, 2021

Grace Ebert

We’ve all been there: spending the entire day scrolling through social, responding to texts and DMs and email, descending into internet rabbit holes, and just generally escaping the world through our devices. A quirky, 2D animation titled “Blip” by Hannah Sun weighs in on this unending screen addiction as it plunges into a visual soundscape of incessant pings, bells, and other tones. Watch the colorful commentary above, and find more of the New York City-based designer’s projects on Vimeo and Instagram.

 

 

 



History Photography

Orbital Planes: A New Photography Book by Roland Miller Documents the Final Years of NASA’s Shuttle Program

October 6, 2021

Christopher Jobson

Commander’s Console, Space Shuttle Endeavor, Orbiter Processing Facility 2, NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Fine art photographer Roland Miller (previously) has been documenting America’s space program for more than 30 years, obtaining exclusive access to the interior spaces of orbiters and rockets, as well as manufacturing, testing, and launch facilities around the United States. The Utah-based photographer has captured a singular vision of the space program with a hybrid of abstract and documentary imagery, from macro details of fabricated elements to spectacular shuttle launches at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In his newest book Orbital Planes, Miller focuses entirely on the waning years of NASA’s shuttle program, a project he embarked on starting in 2008. More than just documentation of the machine’s construction or photographs of pivotal launches, though, his work is an artistic interpretation of the shuttle program in its entirety. Miller shares:

Along with the images in the book are my accounts of interactions with the Space Shuttle program and its personnel. I approached this subject in the a hybrid style of documentary and abstract imagery to tell a more complete story. […] Orbital Planes is the result of that photography work. My hope is that Orbital Planes will give the reader their own personal view of the Space Shuttle and the technology and facilities that helped it fly.

Orbital Planes will be published in 2022, and Miller is supporting the project with a Kickstarter that includes a variety of signed prints found in the book. You can follow more of his work on Instagram.

 

ISS Airlock and Hatch, Space Shuttle Discovery, Orbiter Processing Facility 1, NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Discovery Label, Space Shuttle Discovery, Vehicle Assembly Building, NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Fuselage Flag and Wing, Space Shuttle Discovery, Vehicle Assembly Building ,NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

External Tank and SRB Frustum, Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-125, Launch Pad 39A, NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Launch Belly View, Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-133, Launch Pad 39A, NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

RSS Rolled Back, Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-133, Launch Pad 39A, NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

STATES, Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-135, Final Rollover, NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

 

 

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