Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Amador v. Cole!

Andres Amador
b. 1971

Tied for Second place in Phase 1, Flight 7, with a voting score of .688.
Placed Second in Phase 2, Flight 6 of the Play-In Tournament with a voting score of .455.

Thomas Cole
1801 - 1848

Tied with John Constable in his initial Round 1 outing, in September 2012.

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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Michael5000 Enrolls in Khan Academy

So, you've probably been wondering: "Michael5000, have you just been wasting all of your free time playing 'Mini Metro'?"  And the answer is, certainly not!  I have only played Mini Metro a moderate amount, as it has continued to evolve through builds 10, 11, 12, and -- as of Wednesday evening -- build 13!

No, I've been wasting most of my free time with a computer entertainment (arguably) that is virtuous and improving (arguably)!  So improving, in fact, that many educational professionals around the world are, even as we speak, using threats and coercion to force children to play with it.  Which is to say, it's used in schools.  My friends, allow me to introduce: Khan Academy.

Khan Academy aspires to offer a free, complete package for self-paced or guided instruction across the traditional curriculum.  It is nowhere near that goal.  Stray away from math, and its content is really quite poor.  But oh, the math!  The math content is just... glorious.

If you were to boil it down to the very essentials, the two main features of the K.A. math emporium are (1) questions and problems, like the above, and (2) videos.  The questions and problems are, unlike in most free online educational tools, quite good and well thought out.  The nature of math is that you get better with practice, and there are a number of mechanisms built in to keep you chewing away at a skill until you get it right.  Of course it is also the nature of math that, if you don't know how to approach a problem, you're screwed.  That's where that orange "I'd like a hint" bar comes in very, very handy -- by ladling out hints, the interface will walk you step by step through how to work out your solution.

The most popular feature of K.A. might be the videos, in which avuncular Sal Khan -- literally avuncular, as the whole project apparently got started with him helping his nephews with their math homework -- walks you through the paces with a colorful electronic chalkboard.  There's nothing amazing about his delivery, but he is a confident and personable presence, and the young people of my acquaintance (who were the ones who hooked me up with K.A.) tell me that watching Uncle Sal (they don't call him that) do the math really helps them understand what their real-life teacher was going on about.

Aw man, math.  How come you said "entertainment"?

Because it's fun!  It's structured in a way that will be very familiar to online players of games, with lots of bells and whistles and little rewards.  There are points and badges!

And a jaunty cartoon character tips his hat to you when you "level up" on a skill!

But math is haaaaaaaaard......

Are you thinking that math is too tough a subject to ever revisit, now that you are more or less an adult?  Well, one of the marvels of K.A. is that it will meet you wherever you are.  If you find math really, really challenging, it will start you at the begining:

But it will scale up far enough to give most folks a substantial challenge:

There are a lot of specific skills make up a person's math ability, after all, and K.A. is constantly trying to figure out how to give you an appropriate level of challenge.  It maps out skills on a rectangular grid:

That's me.  After several weeks of messing around, it's figured out that I've got the really simple stuff under control, and so the top five or six rows are mostly blank -- it hasn't bothered to make me prove that I can do elementary arithmetic.  The dark blue boxes represent areas of advanced arithmetic, basic algebra, general geometry, and basic trigonometry.  That's what I've been working on to date.  The grey areas below correspond to probability and stats, advanced algebra and geometry, and the dreaded calculus.  I'll be moved on to those things when I've been proven worthy.

This still doesn't sound like fun

It's really kind of fun!  Ask Mrs.5000!  I signed her up to use as a test student, and she's nearly as hooked as I am!

You probably want some math homework

Which reminds me, I have been using K.A. not just as a dorky learning tool, but also as a dorky teaching tool.  Mostly, I use it with young people whose educational progress I am paid to encourage and enhance.  But if you want me to use it on YOU, gentle reader, just set up a K.A. account, go to your "Coaches" tab, and add this class code: "SC65SR."  And absolutely free, for no charge at all, simply because I like you -- I will assign you math homework.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

IAT "Fight for Their Right": Wright, Jansen, Geerten tot St. Jans!

The "Fight for Their Right" contests will be open only until Friday, June 26.

#1 Joseph Wright (aka Wright of Derby)
1734 - 1797

Tied for First in Phase 1, Flight 5, with a voting score of .385.

#2 Theo Jansen
born 1948

Finished Second in Phase 1, Flight 5, with a voting score of .692.
Tied for Second in Phase 2, Flight 1, with a voting score of .417.
Finished last in the Phase 2 Tiebreaker, with a voting score of .291.

#3 Geertgen tot Sint Jans
1465 - 1495

Placed Second in Phase 1, Flight 3, with a voting score of .750.
Placed Third in Phase 2, Flight 6, with a voting score of .364.

Vote for one artist only in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Wednesday Post

Learning Never Ends
A fond philatelic farewell to five more artists

Josef Albers on stamps from Germany and the United States of America.

Albers went 2-2-1 in the Infinite Art Tournament, stacking up 29 votes against 37 before leaving us on October 28, 1013.

Karel Appel on Dutch stamps.

Appel had one win and two losses in the tournament, with 18 votes in his favor and 24 against.  He exited on August 17, 2013.

Alexander Archipenko on a 1959 postcard from the Museum of Modern Art.

Went here this afternoon.  Now we're sitting in Central Park awaiting the last theatre visit for "Mark Twain Tonight."  Hope the house plans are gaily proceeding.  Love, M.

Archipenko also had one win against two losses, but with only 11 votes in his favor and 26 against.  Like Appel, he exited on August 17, 2013.

Andre Derain on postage stamps from France and, uh, Cambodia.

Derain fought two close ones, earning 12 votes against 15 but going two-and-out on September 3, 2013.

Domenichino on a 1910 postcard from Bologna.

Domenichino, who used to be high up on the consensus list of best artists ever, has the second worst voting total in the tournament to date.  Putting up only three votes versus 21, he went two-and-out on September 14, 2013

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

IAT "Fight for Their Right": Viola, Escher, di Paolo!

The Play-In Sub-Tournament is over!!!  

Or is it?

It is!  Over the past few years, we've put 96 artists through the grinder of direct democracy, and out at the other end have emerged our consensus favorites: Adams, Amador, Banksy, Benton, Bourguereau, Cartier-Bresson, Goldsworthy, Grandma Moses, Haeckel, Oudry, Rockwell, and Varo.  That's certainly not a list that any of us would have picked if it were all up to him or her, so that's cool.

So what's the catch?

There are two little pieces of outstanding business from the Play-In Sub-Tournament.  They stem from -- and it is painful to say this -- mistakes.  Errors.  Missteps.  Made by me, Michael5000.

It all started in July 2012 with the very first artist in the First Flight of Phase 1, Bill Viola.  And then it happened again in Flight 5, with Wright of Derby.  Neither of these guys did especially well.  Viola batted .333 and Wright .385, and they dropped out without making it to Phase 2.  It was only afterwards that I noticed that both of these guys are already on the main Tournament list! (Technically, Chuckdaddy noticed it.  But then he mentioned it to me, and then I noticed it.)

Well.  Could we just let them take their spots when we get to the Vs and Ws, as if nothing had happened?  After they had already lost in the Play-In Tournament?  That doesn't seem right!  But should we just give their Round 1 competitors (Marie-Louise-Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Grant Wood) a bye round? No, that doesn't sit well either. Instead,

Viola and Wright must fight for their right to enter the Tournament!

Each will compete in a three-way contest.  Their opponents will be the four remaining Play-In artists, among those who have not won their way into the main Tournament, with the highest product of Phase 1 and Phase 2 voting scores.  You can vote for one artist in each of these two rounds.  To avoid further complications, and to stack things in favor of the defendants, any pertinent ties will be resolved by seeding order, with Viola and Wright seeded first.   The winners will enter the tournament in two or three years, when we get to the end of the alphabet.

The "Fight for Their Right" contests will be open only until Friday, June 26.

#1 Bill Viola
Born 1951

Placed Sixth in Phase 1, Flight 1, with a voting score of .333.

#2 M.C. Escher
1898 - 1972

Tied for First in Phase 1, Flight 4, with a voting score of .733.
Placed Third in Phase 2, Flight 4, with a voting score of .417.

#3 Giovanni di Paolo
c. 1403-1482

Tied for Third in Phase 1, Flight 10, with a voting score of .636.
Tied for Second in Phase 2, Flight 1, with a voting score of .417.
Tied for Fourth in the Phase 2 Tiebreaker, with a voting score of .308.

Vote for one artist only in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Element of the Month: Gadolinium!

May's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 157.25 amu
Melting Point: 1312 °C
Boiling Point: 3000 °C

Gadolinium is one of the rare earth elements, although remember that real chemists don't like the category of "rare earth elements" and you must not tell them I said so. If you are talking to a real chemist, say that Gadolinium is a "lanthanide," which is also true and means almost the same thing. Gadolinium shares many of the characteristics of its brothers and sisters in the the rare earths. It is not really very rare, for instance, but is so reactive that it is thinly distributed throughout all of nature, rarely occurring in anything but a trace concentration. It never occurs naturally in its elemental state. Like with most rare earths, this shyness made it hard to pin down, and it was not identified as an element until 1886, well after our boy Mendeleev published the mother of all spreadsheets.

Needless to say, it is a silvery-grey metal.

Gadolinium has some interesting properties, the weirdest of which in my book is that it is ferromagnetic -- what you and I think of as "magnetic" -- below 68°F. The implication is that you could use it to make a refrigerator magnet that worked all winter, but automatically triggered a cleanup on the first warm day of spring. Should I patent that? It also has the trippy characteristic of being "magnetocaloric," meaning its temperature increases when it enters a magnetic field. This property can actually be exploited to create a fairly efficient refrigeration system. This might be a viable alternative to the way we currently refrigerate, except that Gadolinium is by far the MOST magnetocaloric material, and it is hard to come by. Simple economics will probably keep you from having seasonal Gadolinium magnets on your Gadolinium magnetocaloric fridge anytime soon.

It also soaks up neutrons pretty well, which makes it useful (but risky, due to its toxicity) in nuclear medicine and a good last-ditch defense in a failing nuclear reactor. It is a good alloy for Iron and Chromium if you want high-temperature workability and corrosion resistance. There are a bunch of niche applications, naturally.

The Centerfold!

Why is Gadolinium "Gadolinium"? It is ultimately named for the brainy Finnish chemist Johan Gadolin, whom a prominent open-author online encyclopedia describes as "the founder of Finnish chemistry research, as the second holder of the Chair of Chemistry at the Royal Academy of Turku." Can you imagine how that must sound to the FIRST holder of the Chemistry Chair at Turku? Ouch!

Did Gadolin discover Gadolinium? No, he discovered Yttrium. It was Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac cooked up a Gadolinium oxide around 1880, and Paul Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran who actually produced elemental Gadolinium in 1886. The win is usually given to Marignac, who also discovered Ytterbium. If that seems hard on Boisbaudran, consider that he has the discovery of Gallium, Samarium, and Dysprosium on his resume, and shouldn't be greedy.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Kossoff v. Krøyer!

Leon Kossoff
Born 1926


Peter Severin Krøyer
1851 - 1900


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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 3 Tiebreak: Caravaggio v. Dali!

1571 - 1610
  • Defeated sculptor Antonio Canova in Round 1.
  • Crushed likeable landscape specialist Canaletto Round 2.
  • Fought to a draw with Gustave Caillebotte in Round 3.

Salvador Dali
1904 - 1989
  • Savaged somebody named Charles-François Daubigny in Round 1.
  • Got away from Lucas Cranach the Elder in Round 2.
  • Fought to a tie with French landscape master Corot 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.