Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Moholy-Nagy v. Mondrian!

László Moholy-Nagy
1895 - 1946
Hungarian; worked in Germany and U.S.


Piet Mondrian
1872 - 1944


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, May 22, 2015

At the Movies: "Ex Machina"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Ex Machina
Alex Garner, 2015.

imbd: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 91% Fresh

Ex Machina asks a question that is pretty familiar in science fiction: how would an human-made artificial intelligence react to its self-awareness? What would it think of its highly successful but conspicuously flawed creator species? The answer to these questions is often implicit in a fictional world: in Terminator, Skynet decides not to play well with its makers; in Next-Generation Star Trek, Data is a core member of the ship's company. In Ex Machina, the question of an artificial intelligence's relationship with humanity is front and center.

Now, there are plenty of smart folks who think that the "singularity event" at which artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence is right around the bend. They are, I think, kidding themselves. Given current technology and our understanding of how cognition works, I think a safe estimate for when we will see the development of real artificial consciousness is: never.

Whether or not a sentient android is a realistic concept, however, it's a concept that science fiction can use to think about how we treat people who are not like us. "What happens to me if I fail your test?" asks Ex Machina's artificially intelligent entity.  The machine certainly feels conscious -- or has the capacity of claiming to feel conscious, anyway -- and it is pretty anxious about what its human makers will do if they decide its consciousness is not "real," or not real enough. Humans may never find themselves in the position of making exactly this decision, but this kind of decision gets made all the time.  Individually or collectively, we continually make judgements as to whether other people (or groups, or nations) are sincere. Are their beliefs legitimate? Are their priorities worthy of respect? Are their values close enough to our own that we can "do business with them"? The social value of a movie like Ex Machina is that it makes us rethink our obligations to people who will be affected by our judgements of them.

But of course, you don't go to the movies for a lesson in tolerance. You go to the movies to be to transported into a elaborately crafted alternative reality! Fortunately, Ex Machina delivers on the entertainment front. It's an action-adventure with very little "action" per se; much of the drama and suspense comes from trying to figure out what the characters are up to.  Much of what they say are clearly half-truths in the service of personal agendas, but we have to constantly revise our notions of what exactly their agendas are. By the end of their week long "adventure," some characters will clearly be better off than others, but whether that is because they have acted more "intelligently," or more intentionally, is up for debate. It's stylish, a bit unsettling, and a lot of fun to watch.

Plot: It's a bit like The Tempest, actually. Our Prospero is Nathan, a wealthy but world-weary software tycoon, and his island is an enormously isolated mountain compound. He has the place tricked out in sleek, spartan luxury, and thoroughly wired for the security and surveillance apparatus that comprise his Ariel and his Caliban. He invites a young and apparently rather naive employee named Caleb out to the compound for a week. Caleb will become a sort of Fernando, manipulated by a scheming Prospero into an infatuation with his beautiful daughter Miranda. In Ex Machina, though, the beautiful daughter is an android named Ana. Caleb is asked to subject Ana to the "Turing test" -- to interact with her in order to decide whether she possesses genuine intelligence and self-consciousness.

In Shakespeare, Fernando and Miranda are happily paired up by the final curtain, and Prospero is poised to reclaim the Dutchy of Milan. Maybe things will end equally well for Caleb, Ana, and Nathan in Ex Machina! Or maybe not. I'll never tell.

Visuals: Ana the robot is largely transparent -- literally, at least -- and this is a striking visual image. Otherwise, most of the film's visual identity comes from its location, the disturbingly clean interiors of Nathan's empty modernist mansion. It's an appropriately sterile environment for the social and technical experiment that takes place there.

Dialogue: It's a really strong screenplay!  Nathan talks like an arrogant, intelligent man who hasn't had to deal with contradiction in many years, and Caleb talks like a deferential, intelligent man who doesn't contradict people very often. Ana talks like... well, what does she talk like, anyway?

Prognosis: Some people have a blanket dislike of science fiction, and some people don't much like dialog-driven films. Ex Machina isn't for those folks, but most others should find it pretty interesting stuff.

Michael 5000's imdb rating: 8.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Third Round: Homer v. Hodler!

Winslow Homer
1836 - 1910

Ferdinand Hodler
1853 - 1918
  • Defeated Hans Hofmann in Round 1.
  • Tied with David Hockney in Round 2. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!
  • Outpolled big name Francisco Goya in a second try at Round 2.
  • Lost to Andō Hiroshige in Round 3.


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Wednesday Post

Tales from an American Roadtrip, part 2
She sings just like she used to.

The Horseshoe Falls

Traveled with John Shirley and family as far as Niagara Falls. They left at 9 AM for Missouri, and I have been seeing the place by tour, Maid of the Mist boat and on foot.

Have to spend an hour or two in Schnectady on way back.


Have to be at work Tuesday

The Memorial Buildings are wholly a Hoosier creation, constructed of native limestone and sandstone.  Two low buildings connected by a cloister make up a unit with the Memorial Court in the center.

The sinks of Popo Agie River, where the stream disappears under the mountain side, is Wyoming's Geological Wonders.

Dear Mrs. Jones:

I'm having a great time here in Lander with JoAnne.  She sings just like she used to.  I've been here almost three weeks.  Be leaving here Thursday.  See you. 

Love, Ruth

San Antonio, Texas

The garden is full of rustic bridges, winding walks and gleaming pools edged by rainbow-hued flowers. The Sunken Garden offers a unique setting for outdoor entertainment.

Hi Guys;

Having a wonderful time the weather is beautiful. See you soon.

Jerry & Elaine

6828 N.E. Union Ave.
Portland 11, Oregon



Telephones and radios in all rooms – With or 
without electric kitchens – Tile showers and 
tubs – wall-to-wall carpets – lounge and party 
room – sample room – conference room – 50 
Beautyrest units. Butler 5-4515

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Martin v. Martini!

John Martin
1789 - 1854

Beat Italian sculptor Marino Marini in Round 1.

Simone Martini
c.1284 - 1344

Defeated Masaccio in Round 1.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The New Monday Quiz XVI

1. After they died in 1416, the guys who made this illustration were forgotten for about 400 years.  Since then, their reputation has been steadily on the rise, and they are highly regarded by most modern observers, including the voters of the Infinite Art Tournament.  Who were they?

2. A military retreat over perhaps 9000 kilometers of difficult terrain in 1934 and 1935 established the reputation of the man who would later become the Chairman of the Communist Party of China. What is this event usually called?

3. What language is this written in?  (note: you may assume, for the purposes of this one specific question, that I am not being tricksy.)

4. Its 27 chapters lay out rules of sacrifice, a code of purity and cleanliness, and laws of religious, social, and sexual behavior. What book are we talking about here?

5. What phenomenon would this diagram explain, if the circles were properly labelled?

[Yow!  I messed up this question and good!  It is still answerable, of course, but it doesn't fit the letter of the week.  -10:30 PDT]

6. This symbiotic "composite organism" has been memorably described as "fungi that have discovered agriculture." What's the word for this strange but very common stuff?

7. "Certainly it hurts. The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts." Name the movie.

8. They all have hundreds of millions alveoli, which gives them a large surface area -- generally more than fifty square meters -- where gas exchange can occur. What do you call yours?

9. I covered up the name of this country's capital, because I didn't want it to be too easy for you.  What country is this?

10. Who said "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!"

New Monday Quiz Answers

The New Monday Quiz XIII

1. The dude with the turban might be a self-portrait of Jan van Eyck.
2. "Meaningless! Meaningless!" -- better known as "Vanity! Vanity!" -- is from Ecclesiastes 1:2.
3. The stamp is from Estonia.
4. Medea, Electra, and The Trojan Women: Euripides.
5. Duke Ellington.
6. The E-elements are Erbium, Europium, and Einsteinium.
7. The map shows church attendance in England: we don't usually see maps of just England.
8. Independent in 2002: East Timor."
9. The Elephant Man.  I've never seen it.
10. Edmonton is the Northernmost Western Hemisphere city of its size.

Out of three contestants, Mrs.5000 had the strongest showing with 8/10.

The New Monday Quiz XIV

1. Copper is used in electrical stuff a lot!
2. "Buck" is apparently in Call of the Wild.  Never read it.
3. The lovely Coelacanth.
4. Jimmy Carter ordered Operation Eagle Claw.
5. Mary Cassatt painted that particular woman with a pearl necklace.
6. A catalyst!
7. That's Cool Hand Luke eating too many eggs.
8. The word Χριστός is usually rendered as "Christ."
9. The map of Croatia is helpfully in the shape of a "C".
10. That's the Comedy of Errors.

Mrs.5000 got it again, the big show-off.  I probably mutter answers in my sleep.  Morgan, DrSchnell, and gS49 all got a highly respectable 9/10.

The New Monday Quiz XV

1. This time it's a map of Surinam.
2. Element #34 is Selenium.
3. Faransiiska, as every schoolboy knows, is Somali for "France."  As every Somali schoolboy knows, anyway.
4. The Suez Crisis was bad for British prestige, all right.
5. Striped rock is usually sedimentary rock.
6. Synecdoche!
7. Sketches of Spain.
8. A lot of medieval learning was Scholasticism.
9. Ooh, I like that painting.  John Singer Sargent.
10. The bit about entropy is the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Ooh, it's a good old-fashioned blowout! Christine M. takes top marks on a challenging quiz about which there was considerable back-channel kvetching!