Monday, May 04, 2009

Odds and Ends #2

Fractalus Agonistes?

Fractalus: Too Big to Fail?

[Photograph seen on]

Have you been keeping up with fractal art current events? Let's see...

Speak, Damien

Damien M. Jones, Fractalus overlord and co-director of the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest (BMFAC), emerges from his cyber-cave to clarify why various sites and pages (like two BMFAC repositories) hosted by his server have recently gone missing. Here, from the Ultra Fractal Mailing List, Jones explains that

Nearly two months ago, my host upgraded their power grid to bring online a massive generator to provide continuous power even in the event of a major power outage. Normally this is a good thing, but my server decided to use this as an opportunity for the hard drive to begin to fail. It has been slowly becoming more and more corrupted. The first drive affected was the database drive; a non-essential table was corrupted and the database shut down, and I have backups of all of that data. This meant that any web sites relying on the database (my personal gallery and the contest web sites) were offline. This week, the corruption spread to the drive from which DNS is handled, and that effectively shut down all sites and services.

Good to know. This certainly explains the erratic service, but....

...why didn't Fredrik Slijkerman reference this technical difficulty when he recently announced moving the Ultra Fractal site from Fractalus to a server in the Netherlands? In fact, why would Slijkerman go to the considerable bother of moving the UF site if he was only facing an outage of a few days?

And, don't hard drives fail for the usual reasons, like age, heat, vibration, static electricity, power surges, and so on. What was the correlation between adding the generator and the breakdown of the drive -- other than Jones coyly alluding to an "opportunity" for the drive to begin malfunctioning? After all, such installations do not normally cause corruption. If there's some fairly rare connection between activating a generator and producing a power surge, for example, then why not just make that plain?

Then again, one could point out that all of these service interruptions have roots in the fact that Jones owns his own dedicated server precisely because he wants to have total control over everything, including the DNS settings for all web addresses on Fractalus. As a result, he's free to spin any story he chooses. Since no one else is involved, who's going to question whatever explanation he provides?

But let's be grateful for tiny mercies -- like having him say anything at all -- especially considering the near-total shroud of silence blanketing BMFAC for going on two years. So, while Jones is in a conversational mood, here are a few other questions for him:

-- Is BMFAC dead in the water or will it be afloat again in the near future? And will the format be the same with exhibitors and judges hung side by side? Or will you instead run the competition like -- you know -- a standard art contest? After all, you said you would in a "conversation" we had on the Xenodreamers YahooGroup in October of 2007:

ME: You said on Orbit Trap that people were unhappy that the judges' work was included (not a dead issue to everyone, is it?), but that the sponsors insisted so that the contest would not run the risk of having "insufficient quality." Knowing that people were unhappy, why chance the same hazard again this year? The question has become moot anyway. Now that you and the panel members passed out a whopping 71 awards honoring quality this year, doesn't that mean you can comfortably scrap including the judges' work (40% of the exhibition, by the way) next year and keep the contest strictly for the contestants?

YOU: Actually, yes.

--Why was there virtually zero publicity about the 2007 BMFAC exhibition -- including on your own self-hosted BMFAC main site (still missing in action as of this writing)? I know of only two web references to the 2007 BMFAC exhibition: an obscure page here and Orbit Trap (and I had to write that second one myself eight months after the show closed). Would you mind pointing OT's readers to other web pages celebrating the last exhibition? Maybe I just missed them.

That's all of the questions I have for Jones at the moment. Readers, though, should feel free to leave others for him in the comments.

O Fractal Universe Calendar Where Art Thou?

Last year:

Submissions Announcement: March 15th
Submissions Deadline: May 10th

This year:


The main Fractal Universe Calendar (FUC) site contains no information (yet) on submissions for the 2011 edition. Yet, last year's deadline is less than a week away. Which makes one wonder:

--Will there be FUC contest this year?

--Will it be run as an art competition or will submissions be solicited directly from artists -- instead of the current mutant mishmash of both?

--Will work by the editor(s) again be automatically included as a form of payment, and will the editor(s) again be allowed, after initial screening, to submit additional work on to the publisher-judges?

--If a contest framework is again used, will the final publishers/judges identify themselves?

--Would Avalanche Publishing like another round of pesky letters and bad publicity posts from certain, unmentioned bloggers?

Of course, Tim and I asked these same questions to multiple people in multiple ways last year and received no reply whatsoever. I guess I won't bet the fractal farm that this year will be any different.

And speaking of contests...

The Fractalforums and UltrafractalWiki Spring 2009 Fractal Art Competition

Should we be glad that a new fractal art competition has sprung to life? Tim has written eloquently on OT about the emotional and aesthetic hazards of art contests and cogently noted that

The death of contests is good because contests take artists with talent and creativity and turn them into approval addicts. After just a few contests most artists already start to exhibit the symptoms of mental degeneration that accompany similar dependency disorders: restlessness; anxiety attacks; obsessive grooming; checking their mail every five minutes.

I have to agree. I've seen this derangement syndrome pop up plenty over the years in the fractal (non)community. That being said...

At least there are no editors or judges here muscling in their own work. Voting is open to any registered member.

And, although any contest with "Ultrafractalwiki" in its title creates instantaneous trepidation of (yet another) fractal art competition that privileges Ultra Fractal, the FractalForum mods insist that "UF is NOT required!" Moreover, this contest allows art to be "wild" -- meaning "anything is allowed, photography, paintings, buildings and so on." Such open-ended criteria is certainly an upgrade from the swirly spirals of FUC and the "tame" art of BMFAC that must not stray too far from the fenced-in pens of accepted fractal-ness (meaning: adhere strictly to the judges' UF-based aesthetic).

I have only one concern. I tend to distrust the results of art contests where the people rule. I prefer contests where dispassionate judges -- preferably well qualified and never included in the final exhibition/production -- render an admittedly subjective verdict. Fractalbook, however, seems to have more trust in its community members than I do. Invariably, these vote-by-members contests turn into popularity-centered "Hot Lists" plagued by vote spamming drives. I'm never sure if the "winners" are the best artists or merely the most efficient-at-cyber-smoozing marketers.

The case of the Museum of Computer Art's (MOCA) annual "Donnie" contest seems to illustrate this complex. Early on, the "Donnie" was run in an open voting format for one year, and the result was a fiasco. The vote stuffing became so fierce that the director had to step in and "adjust" the tallies to better insure a fair representation. But, for me anyway, the damage had already been done, and I felt that particular contest had been impossibly compromised. After that lone incursion into open voting, the "Donnie" self-corrected, returned to using a judging panel, and is generally considered to be a rigorously juried and first-rate digital art competition.

But maybe the FractalForum folks can avoid the pervasive pitfalls of creating a fractal art version of The People's Choice Awards. This particular board does seem to be a lively place with plenty of shared information, thoughtful discussions, and, of course, a heap of fractal art to see...

...even if an occasional member appears to have an aggressive dislike of a certain, unmentioned blog.



Did I speak too quickly and hopefully about the FractalForum competition?

On May 3, on the Ultra Fractal Mailing List, Dave Makin posted the following:

For anyone wanting to vote on the contest entries at
all you need is an account there, log in and then rate the images in the contest galleries.

Makin went on to outline the merits of the FractalForum and touched on the many fractal programs discussed (including custom software) and the variety of topics covered. All done very respectfully, of course.

And then, less than 48 hours later, the FractalForum has over 20 new members.

How do I know? I'm a member. I looked.

I'm guessing that's probably a record influx in such a short time frame.

All of which makes me feel like writing the following letter:

Dear FractalForum Mods,

What do you really want? You're holding a double-edged sword here. One end says publicity like this is good. More people show up and join the forum. Maybe they'll like what they see, stick around, become active participants, and contribute to the life of the community you're building.

But there's always the other end of the sword. Maybe they all swooped in to swamp the contest voting to ensue victories for UF artists and images. In that case, your fresh contest becomes -- as the young girl in Signs who cannot ever finish a glass of water says -- "contaminated."

And, if that's the case, your out-of-the-blue new members are squatters. They don't care about the well-being of your community. They've joined strictly to push their private agenda.

And, Mods, you could quickly end up with a repeat of an incident that rocked quarters of Renderosity. Some years back, when Renderosity still had its Hot Lists (of "best" images decided by **V**s -- that is, member voting), several fractal artists began playing with Terragen and started posting in the Terragen gallery. Before you could say vote spamming, those fractal Terragen noobs zoomed straight to the top of the Terragen Hot List -- much to the ire of many longstanding Terragen artists.

A similar situation could be brewing here. Your forum members in good standing could suddenly find their hard work and friendly community beset by a cyber locust plague who will decide for all of you that only crops made with their chosen software are worth eating.

I explained above why allowing a public vote in contests can easily lead to this predicament. I hope I'm wrong about vote spamming in this case. But if I'm right, Mods, then you have a decision to make. And it has long term implications for the kind of home you want to build -- and for the kind of behavior you expect from people who come knocking at your door.

P.S. One more thing. Looking over the list of FractalForum members, I saw several who have multiple IDs but identical IP addresses. Is some protocol in place to prevent such people from voting twice?

Thanks for hearing me out.

Your blogging bud,



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home