Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Month to Month Resolutions: February 2012

Hey!  It's the 1503rd Post!

Are you staying up tonight to see in the new month?  No? 

Well, today is the day of reckoning for my inaugural month-to-month goals!  And also time to lay out the "programme," as our British cousins say, for February.  I intend to keep things fairly mellow for now.  Obviously, I will make a new chart for the clipboard.  Clipboards make things happen, in my experience.

Categories and Goals for February 2012

Weighing-in: My January goal was to weigh in every morning.  I only missed two days, so that's pretty good.  (The weight I'm putting over in the sidebar, incidentally, is a weekly median.  It's a little up from this time last year, but I'm weighing myself right out of bed now instead of after a morning workout, so I don't think there's been any particular gain.  Still, the ultimate hope is to shed another 10-15 in the fullness of time, but before the wasting effects of old age set in.)
  • February Goal: Same as for January: simply to weigh myself and record my weight every morning, just like they say you aren't supposed to. 
Push-ups: My January goal of doing a number of push-ups equal to the date was no problem, although I started breaking them into two sets on the 25th.
  • February Goal: To do a number of push-ups equal to the date -- twice.  Once in the morning, and once in the evening.  With Jenners standing on the small of my back.
Cola: I hit my January goal, no more than two units per day per week, without any trouble.  Now we'll step it up a notch!
  • February Goal: To consume no more than twelve units of cola per week.  
Veggies: This one has been the biggest game-changer of the batch.  I have been eating a lot of veggies -- a "unit" turns out to be, basically, a meal-sized portion of vegetables -- and to my surprise, it feels great!  We shall step it up a modest notch.
  • February Goal: To consume no fewer than four units per week, nor, no fewer than nine units per "fortnight" (as our British cousins say).  
Gym: I did not achieve my goal of going to the gym twice in January.  That makes having the gym membership ridiculous, so I have to cancel my membership.
  • February Goal: Discuss with Mrs.5000 whether it would be possible to rig a pull-up bar somewhere in the house.  Keep an eye open for little dumbbells at estate sales.
Paper Mail Sent: I didn't send any mail at all until the 24th or so, and then easily caught up to my 1/day average.  I sent 41 pieces of personal mail, plus probably two or three today.
  • February Goal: Again, an average of at least one item per day over the course of the month.  
That Other Blog: Michael Reads the Bible.  I didn't write either of the two posts I was supposed to write in January.  So I have to write them in February.
  • February Goal: No fewer than four posts over the course of the month.
Garden: There was no goal in this category in January.  Despite that, I did more than 15 minutes of yardwork!
  • February Goal: At least two days of sustained (2+ hours) yardwork! 
Music: There was no goal in this category in January.
  • February Goal #1: At least three sessions of 30+ minutes playing the guitar.
  • February Goal #2: At least three sessions of 15+ minutes playing brass instruments.

Footnote 1: For weekly (and fortnightly) goals, the first week of February is the week beginning Monday, January 30.
Footnote 2: Leap Day is exempt from all goals and resolutions, as it exists outside of real time.
Footnote 3: I was just kidding about Jenners standing on the small of my back.

As I said in January: I trust, Gentle Reader, that I have your blessing and support in these endeavors.  And of course, in your capacity as a Reader of this blog, you have the right to suggest additional goals or to deride the existing ones if you would like me to self-improve in a way more to your liking.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: Othello (San Francisco Ballet, 2002)

The Ballet: Othello.
Directed by: Lar Lubovitch.  San Francisco Ballet, Music by Elliot Goldenthal.

Genre & Setting: This is a pretty major disclaimer: I don't get ballet.  I admire the athleticism and disciplined body movement involved, certainly, but I could get that plus a compelling narrative at a basketball game.  Putting stylized dance in the service of storytelling -- well, I can't just say it's a bad idea, because a huge variety of cultures have been doing it since time immemorial.  But the stock scoff about writing about music is that it's like "dancing about architecture," the implication being that you can't really dance effectively about architecture.  And if you can't dance about architecture, how can you dance about intrigue and deceit within the Venetian military, know what I'm sayin'?

So, the genre is: ballet.  And the setting is a spartan stage but with plenty of nifty lighting effects and use of projected images against the background.  Lots of flowy costumes and the like create an atmosphere that must be fairly enchanting when viewed in person.

The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: There is a man recognizable as Othello and a woman recognizable as Desdemona and a slick little bastard recognizable as Iago, plus another guy and a couple more people I didn't recognize.  I'm not especially familiar with Othello.  So what happens is, the men and the women dance with each other and with a large chorus in various configurations and at various emotional pitches for about an hour and a half.  We can tell that a scarf, or maybe a handkerchief, is a significant item; it changes hands several times.  Then, just as the clock is about to run out, Othello sudden kills Desdemona, then kills himself.  Curtain.

The Adaptation: I do not doubt that the San Francisco Ballet danced with consummate skill and grace, although I wouldn't necessarily notice if they didn't.  The musical score was effective and very dramatic, blending elements of minimalism and cinematic romanticism and occasional volleys of arresting percussion.  Yet one missed the Shakespearean language.

Clocks In At: An hour and a half.

Pros: The dancin'.

Cons: If you're looking for actual Shakespearean content, all you are going to find here is a crude miming of key plot points from the play.

Prognosis: If you like ballet, you might well enjoy Lar Lubovitch's Othello!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Bellotto v. Bellows

Bernardo Bellotto
1721 - 1780
Venetian; worked internationally


George Bellows
1882 - 1925


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, January 27, 2012

Flag Friday XXXX

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.

Western Sahara

Parsons: Without comment, he gives it a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: The star-and-crescent is a nice touch that overcomes the monotony of the red/green/black/white school somewhat.

Grade: B+


Parsons: Without comment, he gives it a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Well, it's hard to say much about a tricolor this late in the alphabet.  It's a perfectly respectable flag, in a set of colors that I do not happen to find very inspiring.

Grade: B


Parsons: "Serbians will have a chance to change this flag when Montenegro secedes from Yugoslavia. I suggest they take it."  They did!


Parsons: With "graven images" and "bad colours," but being "original," it gets a "D+", 45/100. Interesting layout doesn't redeem the bad colours on this one," says Parsons.

Michael5000:   It's certainly original, but the interesting colors don't redeem the bad layout on this one.

Grade: D+


Parsons: " Features a hawk sitting on a toilet," says Parsons. It has a "bad shape," is "too busy," and makes [him] nauseous. "D", 40/100.

Michael5000: The line about a hawk sitting on a toilet is kind of unfortunate, because it's fairly apt.  It's actually a representation of the Zimbabwe Bird, an artistic motif found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.  But once you've got Parson's one-liner in your head, it's kind of hard to get it back out.

Otherwise, we're looking at an intense but harmonious range of colors laid out in an aggressive, symetrical design. 

I kind of like it!

Grade: B+

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Hometown5000 Trove of December 2011

Shortly after I began to re-succumb to the charms of the 33 1/3 vinyl album, I happened into the city library of Hometown5000, the only building -- to date -- to have my name carved on its edifice.  And there, for 50 cents a pop, were vinyl LPs!  Fortunately, I only had two dollars with me, so I was limited to four.  Except, I might have taken five.  By accident.

The first pick was this solid 1963 recording of the Fourth Beethoven Piano Concerto, featuring an uncannily young Van Cliburn.

It is of course an excellent recording, and comes with slavish liner notes with sentences like "Mysticism alone can be a closed circle."  Great stuff.

Then we've got this groooOOooOOooovy 1967 recording of The Baroque Art of Telemann.

It looks more like a Jimi Hendrix album cover than a Georg Philipp Telemann cover, no?  The design is by Jules Halfant, who didn't do covers for Hendrix -- he was on a different label -- but who did design a lot of rock covers and was clearly comfortable in the psychodelic mode.  [Clue that the artist was seconded from the rock music division: the six-peg cello.]

It's interesting to listen to Telemann played in 1967, because that was a time when music of the Baroque period -- which is to say, the stuff before Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven -- was being rediscovered and rehabilitated after more than a century during which it had been very rarely performed.  These days, musicians who play Baroque music tend to specialize in the period and try to reproduce a dry, crisp, precise sound that we think is the way the composers intended it to be played.  In 1967, though, this was still a pretty new idea, so on this record you get Telemann being played as if he were Mozart -- nothing dramatic, but it seems a bit lush if you listen to a lot of classical music.

But we can top that: a recording of Vivaldi concerti from 1953!  With a woodcut design that reminds me of my grandmother!  Or just of grandmothers in general!

If the 1967 Telemann seems a little lush, this Vivaldi record is played like a full-blown Romantic symphony.  It might as well be Leopold Stokowski conducting something like, well, like anything I guess (Stokowski was famous for taking any piece of music in the repertoire and turning the emotional fervor up to a torrid level.)  Treating Vivaldi like Tchaikovsky is a perfectly legitimate interpretation of the notes on the page, actually, but it sounds really odd to a modern classicalhead.

This one, also, is played with a fine Romantic intensity.  But then, it's a piece of fine, intense Romanticism.  And wowie-zowie, it is one freaking awesome performance.  Worth every penny of its 50 cents, plus a reasonable chunk of the turntable.

Like the label says, "Incomparable HIGH FIDELITY."

But you can't go out and just buy up no-risk classical gems.  Where's the sport in that?  No, the true music lover must take risks!  Otherwise, how can you grow?  So I picked up this one too.

Hey, it could have been awesome!  Mustard blazers, baby!  Regrettably, it's not especially great.  Turns out that the Salem Singers are still around and active, though, 43 years after this album was recorded!  Presumably there's been some turnover of personnel, but still.  They've put out a dozen or so records over the years, and would be happy to sell you some of the newer ones from their website.  Or, you can come by Castle5000, and I'll put this older one on the hi-fi and we can have drinks.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Wednesday Quiz was accused of corrupting an entire generation


The Wednesday Quiz, in its third incarnation, is basically the same old weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!  

Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

It is very possible that answers will come out over the weekend.

1. Decades after his first book became a massive best-seller, he wrote this:
I was accused by Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, a well-known New York clergyman and author who supported the Vietnam War, of corrupting an entire generation. In a sermon widely reported in the press, Reverend Peale blamed me for all the lack of patriotism, lack of responsibility, and lack of discipline of the young people who opposed the war. All these failings, he said, were due to my having told their parents to give them "instant gratification" as babies.
Who is he?

2. He built one of the first and, while it lasted, most powerful multinational corporations in history through efficient and disciplined business practice, skillful risk management, aggressive aquisition of rivals, and dirty tricks. He is generally regarded as the richest person of all time, but always tithed ten percent to his church and made massive contributions to educational and public health causes, especially those that would benefit African-Americans.  Who was he?

3. What's the pink part on this map?

4. We talk about it all the time, seldom pausing to reflect that it refers to "any of a group of complex organic macromolecules that contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and usually sulfur and are composed of one or more chains of amino acids."

5. He's the guy credited with designing the green part of this map, although you shouldn't knock Calvert Vaux's share of the work.

6. It can mean a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless, or a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths, or a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake.

7. The anti-Semitic Wagner is said to have worn gloves that he would throw away after conducting the music of this composer -- a life-long practicing Lutheran -- and the Nazis banned performance of his work. After a century or so of being criticized as too musically conservative, he is now generally considered one of the major composers of the nineteenth century.

8. When she dies, her husband says
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
9. What's this here language?

10. It comes between three Books of John and the Book of Revelation.


Put your answers in the comments, unless you adhere to a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 2: Balla v. Balthus

Giacomo Balla
Defeated Hans Baldung in Round 1


Defeated Michelangelo's buddy Fra Bartolommeo in Round 1.


[It's Balla v. Fra Bartolommeo in the M5K personal tourney.]


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

Monday, January 23, 2012

Introducing… The "Infinite Art Tournament!"

This blog, formerly the Life & Times of Michael5000, was renamed (or “rebranded” in the parlance of our times) in December, and is now called Infinite Art Tournament. Many readers have already noticed the change. Longtime reader Chuckdaddy sure did!
I am very opposed to the name change. You can't change the name to a sub-category?!? Unless you plan to make every post about the art tournament, this makes no sense…. Have you never seen an outline? 
Although art plays a significant role in this blog, it is, again, one of many categories. Why would an Art Tournament blog be writing about elements and geography?
To which I cleverly retorted:
You can definitely change a name to a sub-category. There's even a word for it: "synecdoche," the part representing the whole. And, an Art Tournament Blog would be writing about elements and geography because it's infinite, of course. Encompassing all of life's rich banquet with the same sort of reverent/irreverent enthusiasm that would put the canon of great artists into a tournament bracket.
Experimental Masthead #1
Chuckdaddy was unconvinced. But I’m really fond of the new name. In my own mind, at least – and at the end of the day, I’m the only one who knows the account password – it represents the kind of reverent/irreverent stance towards art, and by extension towards all of knowledge and experience, that I try to embody in what I choose to write about. Not buying it? No worries. I’ve got several more reasons for the name change.

Several more reasons for the name change.

1. Although I realize that blogging is very 2004 ("my money's on blogs not even being around in 8 or 9 years," writes reader dhkendall, as if blogs were around now), I persist in hoping that a few more readers might be lured in to occasionally peruse my groovy, groovy content. “Infinite Art Tournament” seems like it might catch the attention of the target demographic, whatever that is.

2. Which is to say, it seems like the name “Infinite Art Tournament” might have the potential to attract people who might be interested in Art, and curious about what an “Art Tournament” might be.

3. Although I have previously affirmed – and hereby reaffirm! – prior use and claim on the name “Michael5000,” changing the name of the blog nevertheless eliminates a minor but perennial source of confusion for fans of Houston-area rapper Michael “5000” Watts. No, really! I don’t think anybody is likely to conflate the two of us, but neither do I wish to, as they say, get all up in Mr. Watts’ grill.

Experimental Masthead #2
4. It’s a way of marking the end of the Quizzes, which have been the marquee feature of the blog for most of its lifespan, and of the Flag Friday business, which has been with us for two years. You know those are ending soon, right? You’re braced, right?

5. Let’s say I needed to cut back on the amount of material I post. Let’s say I decided to stop writing for the blog altogether. What would be a better name for the rump blog (so to speak) that consisted entirely of The Infinite Art Tournament? The Life & Times of Michael5000? Or Infinite Art Tournament?

6. Even at this late date in human evolution, ampersands are still a pain in the butt within html code.

7. Because longtime reader katenben, designer of the 2010-2011 L&TM5K masthead, made a new masthead for IAT before I, having been struggling with the above prototypes, EVEN HAD TIME TO ASK HER IF SHE WOULD. Or offered her any money to do so! Awesome! So, today’s unveiling of the new masthead marks the full transition to the new name.

Michael5000 Shows Jenners a Thing or Twenty-two

When I resolved to do daily sets of push-ups to match the date this month, there were some skeptics!  Or at least one.  It was regular IAT(fL&TM5K) reader Jenners.  She said the following, which I am only distorting a little bit by taking it out of context:
I can't imagine you doing 22 push-ups by Jan. 22. Can you do a vlog...?
IS SHE RIGHT?!?  Is it even possible that I could do 22 push-ups on January 22?  Or would a vlog instead reveal my shame and humiliation?  Let's find out* in this little video I took yesterday, January 22!

* For those of you who do not wish to watch video of a middle-aged dude doing push-ups, the answer is yeah, I can.  I am not nearly the wuss that Jenners apparently thinks I am.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Giovanni Bellini v. Bellmer

Giovanni Bellini
c.1434 - 1516


Hans Bellmer
1902 - 1975
Polish; worked in France


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

Friday, January 20, 2012

Introducing… "The Infinite Art Tournament!"

In a recent comment, regular IAT(fL&TM5K) reader dhkendell remarked:
I must have missed the post where he [meaning me, Michael5000] said that 1000 artists will be considered. In fact, I think I missed where he explains this whole thing altogether!
Well, truth be told, dhkendell didn’t “miss” it so much as I “didn’t post” it. For if there is one thing I’ve learned after five years of blogging – although only after five years of blogging – is that it’s not good to make a big fuss about a massive, years-long new enterprise until you are quite certain that (1) you yourself are actually interested in it and that (2) at least three or four other people can be persuaded to play along. Those criteria having been met to my satisfaction, I hereby announce that

I’m going to run a big goofy art appreciation exercise in the guise of a tournament! It’s going to be called “The Infinite Art Tournament!” In fact, it has already started!

Here’s how it will work!

1. I have a list of artists deemed by some, or by somebody, to be more or less “great.” I would rather not divulge where I got this list, but I freely admit that it is (a) conservative, (b) subjective (of course), and (c) slightly dated.

2. Every weekend, I post two paintings apiece by two artists off this list, proceeding in dogged alphabetical order.

3. You vote.  Along with your fellow IAT(fL&TM5K) readers, you look at the paintings (and, if it floats your boat, do further research or activate your prior knowledge) and vote on which artist you prefer.

4. Winning artists move on into the second round, etc. In eight or nine years, in theory, those of us still alive will witness the crowning of the greatest artist of all time!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why?
A: Because it amuses me. Because I hope that it might amuse others. Because art, and knowledge and appreciation of art, leads to a modestly enhanced experience of life. Because it’s refreshing to approach Art History, with its reasonable but sometimes tedious preoccupation with schools, regions, and centuries, from the randomizing flight path of alphabetical order.

Q: How do you pick the paintings?
A: Well, there is a system that makes the first image, shall we say, “automatic.” I don’t choose it myself. I do select the second image myself, and try to represent the artist’s overall shtick (as the Art Historians say) as best I can from a brief reconnaissance. If there’s a third image, it’s semi-automatic; I choose it myself from a very limited list. We’ll worry about fourth images when we get there.  Update: fourth images are "automatic."

Q: What if there’s a tie?
A: I have a plan, but haven’t had to put it in action yet. This project is what you might call “emergent,” which is a very professional way of saying “we’re making it up as we go.”

Q: Doesn’t being the artist that comes first on the page give that artist an unfair advantage/disadvantage?
A: Perhaps.

Q: Do YOU vote, Michael5000?
A: Oh, hells yeah! I usually wait a week, though, in order to be an less obtrusive MC. You may have noticed that I’m also keeping separate track as if I was the only one voting, but that’s very incidental to the real tournament.  Update: I stopped keeping separate track of my own votes, as it felt out of the spirit of the thing.

Q: What if a whole bunch of new people started showing up just to vote in the tournament?
A: That would be cool.

Q: What if nobody voted?
A: Than I’d probably stop.

Q: When’s the deadline for voting?
A: Any given pair if artists will be up for at least one month. After a month – generally well, well after a month – I will come by and tally up votes in order to get the post for the next round ready. When I do that? That’s the deadline.

Q: This is silly! / pointless! / shallow! / methodologically flawed!
A: No shit, Sherlock.

Q: Do you really intend to see this thing through?
A: As long as it’s fun to me and to a modest quorum, and I’m able to do it, I imagine I’ll keep pushing it along.  I'm like that.

Q: I sure hope H.R. Giger makes his way into this tournament. Actually, that makes me wonder whether ANY of my favorite artists, (who tend to be commercial/fantasy artists yet are more appealing that the majority of what we've seen on here so far) will make it into the tournament. Artists like Luis Royo, Brom, Dorian Cleavenger, Michael Whelan, Sorayama, Brian Froud, Boris Vallejo, Frank Frazetta, or even pin-up artists like Olivia and those that are harder to classify, like Mark Ryden. Is it truly the infinite art contest? Royo is one of my absolute favorites - I'd put him up against a scribbler any day of the week.

A: I can tell you that not a single one of the artists you mention are among the 1000 in the big, big bracket. (Indeed, it is not an infinite art tournament, only an (anticipated) eight-year art tournament. I exaggerate for effect and for the life-metaphor.) Regrets, in a way, although your complaint is probably more with the dynamics of culture than with what I'm up to in this particular long-term stunt. I hope you'll stay in the voting pool; I'm always interested in what you have to say.

…oh, wait, 

that last one wasn’t a “Frequently Asked” Question so much as a question that reader Voron X posed in December, and the answer I gave him. He makes a really good point. I have pondered, and continue to ponder, the idea of the Infinite Art Tournament hosting an Alternative Infinite Art Tournament. The only problem is… how would I assemble, or where would I find, the list?  I'm open to suggestions!


Additional Clarifications and Conversation

Anonymous said...

First, this is like comparing apples and oranges. Second, one must possess imagination to appreciate [Artist X]. His work in person is stunning. He is known for his sensuous brush strokes...which is underserved by a computer monitor. My vote is resounding for [Artist X], although I'm not at all surprised that most chose [Artist Y]. How did these two even come to be compared?? Were you flipping through an art collection book arranged in alphabetical order?

Michael5000 said...

Hi, Anonymous!

First, yes, it is much like comparing apples and oranges. They are different things, but in that they are both similarly sized tree fruits, they are much, much more similar to each other than they are to almost all other things. On this basis, it is very reasonable to compare them, as in fact people do all the time. I used to prefer oranges, myself, but apples have been growing on me lately.

Second, as you well know, one must possess imagination to appreciate any work of art; your boy has no monopoly on this.

Obviously, a computer monitor is a limitation for this kind of exercise -- especially for the sculpters -- but we ARE on the internets, so we sort of have to live with the medium.

These two came to be compared because they are bracketed against each other in the tournament which, yes, is seeded by alphabetical order.

Now, polls are long closed on this one and [Artist Y] is already out there duking it out with [Artist Z] in Round 2. You can support [Artist X] in the loser's bracket in a couple of months, if you want, but you'll have to give yourself a handle for the purpose; I'm not going to count purely anonymous votes in the tally.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Michael5000 Teaches Himself Hindi!*

Michael5000 is chatting casually with his co-worker, a young Hindi-speaking woman.

Michael5000: I've been reading a detective novel from India.  I'm learning some Hindi words, but I don't think they are very nice Hindi words.

Co-Worker: What do you mean, 'not very nice'?

Michael5000: The characters are all gangsters, so I think they are mostly swearing at each other.

Co-Worker (amused, encouraging): Oh, really?  Let's hear an example!

Michael5000: "Chutwa."  "Matachod."  "Ryundi."

Co-Worker: [gasp!]


* See also "Teach Yourself Urdu!" (April 2011)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Wednesday Quiz's topics include the laws of sacrifice


The Wednesday Quiz, in its third incarnation, is basically the same old weekly game of knowledge, intuition, inductive reasoning, and willingness to risk public embarrassment in a friendly and moderately supportive environment!!  

Traditionally, it is a closed-book quiz.

It is very possible that answers will come out over the weekend.

1. Rolling Stone says they are the 73rd "Greatest [rock, presumably] Artists of All Time."  This is apparently evidenced on albums such as The Bends, OK Computer, and Kid A.

2. Shakespeare's plays probably retailed for 6 pence each when they were first printed in this format.

3. His college professor told him not to go into Physics because there weren't any problems left to solve -- so of course he went and founded quantum theory (although some people think he was more like Einstein's co-pilot). He's got a constant named after him! h!

4. The actor is Marlon Brando. What's the movie?

5. This is information about a language test. What language is it in?

6. Shah Jahan built its most impressive monuments, but it reached its peak of power under Aurangzeb.  In 1700, it encompassed about a quarter of the world's population, but by 1804 it existed only as a formality, and in 1857 its last vestiges were eliminated.  What was this political entity?

7. Its topics include the laws of sacrifice, the rules of the priesthood, how to avoid and purge uncleanliness, and other assorted rules on behavior.

8. It's the pink one over to the east.

9. The main character of The Grapes of Wrath, he's also the title character of songs by Woodie Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen.

10. Who wrote The Remains of the Day, The Unconsoled, When We Were Orphans, and Never Let Me Go?


Don't bother with the Wednesday Quiz; there aren't really any problems left to solve in it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Element of the Month: Iridium!

January's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 192.217  amu
Melting Point: 2466 °C
Boiling Point: 4428 °C

Iridium is among the Elements with the coolest names.  It is, however, very, very rare! Wikipedia will even tell you, in fact, that there are only three Elements (Rhenium, Ruthenium, and Rhodium) that are less common in the Earth's crust.   Naturally you won't fall for that old line, though: you are a savvy IAT(fL&TM5K) reader and know all about naturally-occurring Neptunium.  But the point is, there's not a whole lot of Iridium strewn about.  There's only about 1/40th as much of it as there is Gold, if that gives you a point of reference. There is only about a tenth as much of it as there is of Platinum.  Platinum is the Element that Iridium tends to hang out with most. In fact, Iridium was first discovered, along with Osmium, in the weird sludge that always seemed to be left over if you did a really good job of smelting your Platinum.

It's pretty impressive stuff, Iridium. It is very, very dense, and has one of the highest melting points of all the elements (2466°C, as compared with a relatively wussy 1668°C for big-shot Titanium). Machine parts made out of Iridium can remain functional at extremely high temperatures, and it is the most corrosion resistant of all the metals. You would think that engineers would be all over it, right? But there's a hitch! In addition to being so damn rare, it is also hella difficult to work with. Think about it: You want to make Iridium machine parts that would be resistant to the greatest extremes of heat. Great! So, you make your mould, then you melt down the Iridium, and -- d'oh! So that's why one of its uses is in cruciables used to melt other metals with high, but not quite as high, melting points. It is also used, as you might expect, in alloys for specialized things that you really, really want to hold up well to corrosion and wear, like jet engine parts and casings around plutonium fuel capsules and stuff like that.

The Centerfold!

An Iridium wedding band is unconventional, but practical if your spouse is
frequently subjected to corrosion or extremely high temperatures. 
Now, it's thought that there might be a lot more Iridium down in the Earth's interior than there up here on the crust. I was not able to check this out in person, but it seems reasonable enough. Iridium is a very heavy element -- #77! -- and some settling was bound to occur in shipping.  And if that doesn't get your futuristic mining fantasies going,  consider this: there is 500 times as much Iridium in your average meteorite than there is here on Crustal Earth.

There's actually a tie-in from this last little fact to the well-known hypothesis that a meteor impact caused the great age of extinctions after the dinosaurs. Wherever you go in the world, there's apparently this thin layer, right between your Cretacious and your Tertiary sedimentary rocks, that has way, way, way more Iridium than it ought to. This evidence is consistent with a scenario in which the Cretacious era was going along all fine and dandy, tra-la-la, and suddenly pow! there was a big, brief, sudden infusion of Iridium over the entire planet at the same time that the global environment changed so extensively that it would effect geology: the sedimentary rocks formed afterwards would be dramatically different. Wow! A nervous glance up at the sky would be appropriate at this point.

Like with a lot of the rare Elements, the price point for Iridium tends to flit all over the place. Without many sellers (the human community, in the average year, extracts from the planet a quantity of Iridium equal only to the mass of a blue whale's tongue) and without many buyers (see "hard to work with," above), the market is ripe for gaming by people in suits, and also for hoarding by users of Iridium who wish to protect themselves from gaming of the market by people in suits.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy MLK Day!

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2012

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 1: Beckmann v. Bellini

Max Beckmann
1884 - 1950
German; worked in Netherlands and U.S.


Gentile Bellini
c.1429 - 1507


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

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flag Friday XXXIX

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.


Parsons: "I like the frowning sun," says Parsons -- a poetic line, it strikes me -- but he still tags Uruguay for "graven images" and assigns a "B-", 65/100.

Michael5000: It's been two years since I covered Argentina in this series, perhaps a bit uncharitably in retrospect.  Uruguay, just across the bay, has the same white, blue, and "Sun of May," but configured differently.  The multitude of stripes risks the kind of clown-pants effect I complained of in the last installment, but ten stripes is better than thirteen and blue a little more subdued than red.  Too, Uruguay's blue is much bolder than Argentina's; I usually feel that sky blue is a problematic choice for a piece of fabric that is going to be set off against the, um, sky.

The Sun of May, originally a symbol representing an Incan God, was adopted as a symbol of independence from Spain in the early 1800s.  On a conceptual level, it niggles at me just a little bit that, well, what is an Incan symbol doing way the hell out in Uruguay?  It seems kind of like, I don't know, Nigeria putting the Sphinx on its flag.  Or a new flag for Maryland featuring the Space Needle.  But, that's nobody's business but the Uruguayans.

Grade: B-


Parsons: It has "too many stars" and is "too busy," getting a "C", 56/100.

Michael5000: Uh-oh, I just dissed sky-blue on flags, and here we are in Uzbekistan, which has an awesome flag with a sky-blue field.  Does it have too many stars?  Yeah, sure.  But it has red stripelets, a nice piece of innovation that add some heat to the otherwise cool color palette.  That flash of red also provides elements of visibility and uniqueness, which is good on a flag.

Is it too busy?  Let's ask the crowd!

Nah, they seem to like it.  Like almost all of the post-Soviet states, Uzbekistan did a good job with flag design.

Grade: B+


Parsons: It has "good colours" but is "too busy" and "has too many stars."  Parsons gives it a "C+", 60/100.

Michael5000: This is it, the occasion for us to learn the answer to the question we've all been asking ourselves since Vanuatu became independent in 1980!  To wit, "What the hell is that posthorn-looking dealie?"  Turns out it's a boar's tusk.  Boar's tusks are apparently considered a good luck charm locally.  Well, O.K., that's a pretty reasonable and sew-able flag symbol.  But inside the boar's tusk?  That's apparently two leaves of the namele fern, with 39 fronds to represent the 39 members of Vanuatu's legislative assembly.  Whoa, what?!?  That's not only way too much detail on a flag emblem, but symbolizing the number of your legislators on a flag is a terrible precident!  I mean, what if the United States heard about it?  You'd end up with a 535-star flag, that's what.

Otherwise, it's pretty nice.  I like the use of black, particularly the black stripelets.

Grade: B

Vatican -- Listed out of sequence, here.


Parsons: With "good colours," it gets a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000:   It's been a long time since we talked about the Colombia-Ecuador-Venezuela business, so the serious student of flagginess will wish to refresh his or her memory.  Meanwhile, the flag of Venezuela in particular seems to be interestingly flexible.  Like a lot of Latin American flags we have looked at, for instance, there is a simple design (seen above) for the general-use civil flag, but the state flag is a dressed-up version with a coat of arms.

Both of these are a relatively new eight-star version introduced by President Hugo Chávez in 2006.  Like everything Mr. Chávez says, does, or is in any way connected with, the eight-star flag is of course a point of much controversy.  There was, for a while anyway, a bit of a resistance movement keeping the older seven-star version in use.  This has calmed down as far as I can tell, and the eight-star Venezuelan flag seems to be a  fait accompli, but I'd bet my eyeteeth that there are plenty of irritated holdouts.

Grade (civil flag, eight stars): B


Parsons: It's "simple," but "not quite as nice as Somalia."  "A", 85/100.

Michael5000: It's very visible, although not perhaps especially easy on the eyes.  It's interesting that such a -- take your pick -- simple/boring design choice as a star in the middle of a background is so distinctive.  Its closest peers are China and Somalia, and you're not going to confuse it with either one of those.

Grade: B