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Author Topic: Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest 2009  (Read 13728 times)
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cruelanimal
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« Reply #15 on: August 09, 2009, 06:56:57 PM »

Dave,

You seem unwilling to admit that the simplest solution here is to reduce the required file sizes for the competition.  That one easy step nullifies all of your work-around rationalizations -- like learning forbearance, or obtaining an advanced degree in programming, or purchasing UF and upgrading to at least your own hardware.  Thomas’ observation about Apophysis’ limitations may indeed be no one’s fault but nonetheless cannot be denied and just bolsters my line of reasoning.  No amount of patience will allow some artists using some computers and some programs to be able to enter this competition – and there’s absolutely no reason for this state of affairs.  High quality fine art prints can be made from significantly smaller image sizes, and how many gallery shows have you attended where all the art work is scaled to plasma TV dimensions?  Relaxing the file size stipulations would allow the contest to show a more representative diversity of all fractal art and schools.  So, what convincing reason do the contest directors and sponsors have for setting the images sizes beyond the reach of so many fractal artists?

And you are still avoiding my question about whether you think having two authors of commercial software serve as judges creates a serious financial conflict of interest. So, given your dodge of that ticklish issue, let me rephrase your final question back to you.  If you had to select between making BMFAC an invitational exhibition and leaving it as a corrupt competition, which would you choose?

***

Thomas,

I respectfully submit that you seem to think, as do some other critics of Orbit Trap, that rudely insulting me, or ridiculing my art, or portraying me as a whining conspiracy theorist, or other similar personal attacks constitute a reasonable discourse that somehow addresses my contentions.  But many people, including old “drama queens” like me, just find such a rhetorical strategy to be, well, childish.

Best,

Terry
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David Makin
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« Reply #16 on: August 09, 2009, 10:21:36 PM »

This is my final response on the issue:

1. I believe using the largest image format possible is the best for showing off fractal art so I think the requirement of 8000*6000 is an *absolute minimum* - to my mind for top quality prints it's actually only good enough for say 20" by 15" prints and I think 40" prints would be better.

2. As I said previously given that the alternative to the contest as it exists would basically have been no contest and images being chosen *by the folks who were asked to do so* then I see no problem with the contest as it stands.

3. Two points really - if you don't like the contest then don't enter it (but don't knock those who choose to do so) and if you want what you consider to be a "fair" contest then organise one yourself.

4. With respect to rendering flame fractals, basically for each pixel on the fractal (2D or 3D) you need an accumulated colour and a hit count - use 16 bits for R,G,B each and 16 bits for the hit count (all unsigned). When a pxel is hit retreive the values for that pixel from your buffer, multiply the R,G,B by the current hit count and add to those the new R,G,B, add one to the hit count and then divide the R,G,B totals by that then store the new values. This requires 8 bytes per pixel which even at 12,000 by 9000 pixels is less than 1.5GB (and a max. hit count of 65535 should be plenty even for 3D).
« Last Edit: August 10, 2009, 12:35:56 AM by David Makin » Logged

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cruelanimal
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« Reply #17 on: August 10, 2009, 07:30:01 AM »

Dave,

Since you’ve given your final response, let’s recap your four summation points.

1. You say that fractal prints must be immense to show interesting detail, that 8000x6000 is an “absolute minimum,” and that 40” prints “would be better.”  I respectfully disagree.  Fractal art in a gallery is like any other art in a gallery.  Photographs displayed in galleries traditionally don’t need to be the size of football fields, and don’t photographs have plenty of detail?  I have been having professional prints made for years, including 36” prints of earlier images of mine that were sized at 3200x2400, so I know from experience that high quality reproductions can be made at significantly smaller sizes than BMFAC requires.  The only logical reason the entry sizes are so extreme is to weed out some artists and programs and to privilege other artists and make a particular program more lucrative.

2. You say, in answer to my question last post, that you have “no problem with the contest as it stands now.”  So, evidently, you prefer a corrupt contest with self-evident financial conflicts of interest over an invitational exhibition.  Personally, I’d rather have a fair contest or none at all.  And, just for the record, some of those BMFAC judges, those kindly “folks who were asked to do” the choosing, they also altruistically chose their own work to comprise nearly half of both previous exhibitions before the first contest entries even arrived.

3. You say you have two points here, but I count three.  They are: a) Don’t Enter, b) Shut Up, and c) Do It Yourself.  What is it you think I want?  To win this contest that I believe is currently unethical?  No, I want to see it run fairly -- with no bias, special privileges, or financial gain for its judges.  Whether I enter or not won’t change how it is handled.  Neither will keeping quiet.  And, let’s be clear, I have never criticized any of BMFAC’s contestants or winners.  My complaints have strictly been with its management: the directors, judges, and sponsors.  And do I have to actually do a thing myself before I can criticize it?  Before I complain about unfair taxes, do I have to provide the IRS with a copy of a fair tax code that I personally wrote?  Or do my own cataract surgery on my right eye rather that critique the botched job the eye surgeon previously did on my left eye?  That’s absurd.

4. Thanks for the tech support here, Dave.  But do I really have to do all of this stuff? Just to enter a flame fractal at the mammoth image sizes BMFAC requires?  It sure sounds mighty complicated. I really wish I was a programmer like you, instead of just a lowly artist and drama queen.  And you've left me a little confused.  Are these directions for rendering flames in Ultra Fractal?  You weren’t exactly clear.  So, I guess first I’ll have to buy UF, a program made by one of this year’s BMFAC judges.  Right?  And then I’ll have to figure out how to use the software.  Right?  But the deadline for the contest will be here before you know it.  I'm feeling stressed.  I don't think I have enough time to master new tools.  Maybe I better take one of those UF classes, taught by another BMFAC judge, at the Visual Arts Academy.  But, man.  Listen.  This is getting kind of expensive.  Wouldn’t it just be easier for the contest director to lower the size restrictions to more reasonable levels?  At least then I could compete in the contest without having to spend money to help finance several of the contest judges’ commercial ventures. 

This is my final response to you as well.

Best,

Terry
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xenodreambuie
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« Reply #18 on: August 10, 2009, 07:58:18 AM »

Terry,

your concern about potential conflict of interest regarding vendors as judges raises a valid point that I haven't seen addressed yet. Let's put it in context.

1. Yes, two judges sell fractal software. No, they don't make a lot of money from it. If money were a driving force we would do something else.

2. Each judge is only one of ten and has only minor influence on the outcome. Which is as it should be, as vendors should not have a major role here.

3. As UF and XD are already major players, they are likely to be represented in the exhibition anyway. One or two more or
less images from either program makes little difference to perceptions that may later lead to a sale. Which leads to the next point...

4. Do you really think it's in a vendor's interest to give undue weight to art that is comparatively weak in technical, artistic or novelty aspects, to promote their software? I should speak only for myself here, in saying that I prefer quality to quantity and would rather see one great example than four ordinary ones. I also believe that the exhibition is primarily about the artists and diversity of fractals, rather than about the software. I would however be surprised if Frederik thought otherwise.

5. Another point is that we know the software's strengths and weaknesses inside out, and have seen a gazillion fractal and other pictures over the years. Again speaking for myself, I want to be genuinely wowed, and I will take points off for anything that bugs or bores me, regardless of the software used.

Far from seeing it as a golden opportunity, my first concern before accepting the offer was to check that the process wouldn't be more onerous than necessary, because there are dozens of things I'd rather do. It takes a while to do a conscientious job of evaluating hundreds of entries. I can confirm there is no form of remuneration for judging. It feels somewhere between an honour and a service. If the exhibition indirectly contributes to a few sales I'll never know, but I could sure use a new pair of shoes.

All things considered, in practice any conflict of interest would seem to have negligible effect. Colossal corruption? I don't think so. I do understand the principle, and if the sponsors or conference organizers were persuaded from a careful consideration of the facts that it was an unacceptable conflict of interest, of course I would resign as a judge.

On the size issue, 2GB is very cheap now. Apophysis can handle the required size, but it is a compromise involving oversampling and render time. I seem to recall reading that it can do striped render to disk, which is inefficient with the standard random iteration method, hence even longer render time, but it does allow larger sizes than fit in memory. Are people who want smaller sizes fussy about how much antialiasing they can do? Apophysis can certainly be used for the contest, the point is not to leave it too late to render, if you are going to do a mammoth out of core render.

XD doesn't yet do internal oversampling, and can manage up to about 13000x10000 in 2GB, which gives some oversampling potential for 8000x6000 but none for the 12000 size. However, with continuous tone printing (eg Lambda) at 300 dpi for poster size, it's less important than for smaller prints, and hasn't stopped people before. Supporting 3GB is somewhere in my to do list and involves checking some old graphics libraries for inadequate pointer arithmetic.

Regards,
Garth

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Regards, Garth
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cruelanimal
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« Reply #19 on: August 14, 2009, 05:01:45 AM »

Garth,

It’s good to hear from you.  We go back a ways to when I was a beta-tester for the earliest iterations of Xenodream.  I do appreciate you coming forward to address the conflict of interest issue.  To date, you are the only BMFAC judge to do so since the competition began in 2006.

Your main points seem to be that you and Frederik are qualified to be judges because “we know the software’s weaknesses inside out,” any money made from selling software will be insignificant, and that including vendors as judges “will have a minor influence.”  In short, although you admit that you might benefit financially, even if minimally, your claim is that your presence as a judge will have little overall effect, and that I should just trust you.

The way any competition earns trust is by being proactive and showing that it is aware of potential abuses by putting visible policies in place to keep any potential improprieties from occurring.  These steps have become standard practice in art competitions.  Any competition that deliberately foregoes such policies immediately arouses suspicion and appears less trustworthy.

Obviously, I feel you are qualified to be a judge.  But you and Frederik clearly do have conflicts of interest in that both of you could receive financial gain as a direct result of the competition.  It is irrelevant whether you two make a pittance or a fortune because the principle is what matters here.  Even if you both make nothing, conflicts of interests are often about the appearance of impropriety.

You don’t have to take my word for it.   Here is what the International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies had to say in a comprehensive 2002 report entitled “Conflict of Interest Policies in Arts and Culture Funding Agencies”:

“Conflicts of interest arise when a person making a decision is faced with more than one interest against which to judge their best course of action. The conflict typically of most concern is that between a person’s personal interests and their professional interests.”

[...]

“Indeed, as many of the policies cited later in this report recognise, the mere perception that a conflict of interest might exist is enough to make such a conflict an issue for concern -- whether or not it is ‘real’, or whether or not it tempts an individual to act inappropriately.”


In short, it does not matter whether I think you are honest and would never act inappropriately.  What matters is the recognition that a conflict of interest exists.  That perception alone is enough to contaminate the competition’s integrity and to erode public trust.

The survey goes on to point out that conflicts of interest become a concern when “people in the arts who are appointed to decision-making bodies” (like judges of an art contest) might gain financially or personally from rendering services and notes that

“An obvious type of gain is financial, but other types of gain are equally relevant, such as the ability to gain prestige, wield power or advance a career.”

Both you and Frederik, as authors of commercial software, have self-evident opportunities for financial gain by serving as BMFAC judges.  It is inevitable that the competition will have entries made using both Xenodream and Ultra Fractal.  A reasonable person might further conclude that chances to procure personal gain for both of you are also substantial.  Therefore, I repeat the charge I made on Orbit Trap last week that both you and Frederik should resign from the selection panel immediately.

For more information, you can read the IFACCA survey I reference here in a .pdf file:

http://www.ifacca.org/media/files/conflictofinterestanalysis4.pdf

~/~

I would like to take this opportunity to address several other remarks you make.

“I can confirm there is no form of remuneration for judging.”

I personally believe contest judges should be paid for their time and effort.  One reason BMFAC is fishy is that it has no entry fee.  Many artists, including me, generally despise such fees, but they are a necessary evil.  Such fees are used to pay judges and screeners and to cover the administrative costs of running a contest (like publicity and printing images, for example.)  Most significantly, entry fees do not create conflicts of interest; in fact, their presence makes abuses and inappropriate behavior less likely.

I do have a question, though.  Could you clarify what you mean by “remuneration?”  Are you saying BMFAC’s judges will receive no money?  Or are you saying all of the judges receive no compensation at all -- compensation like having their own art work included in the 2009 exhibition?  I’ve already said on OT that I’m taking on good faith that no BMFAC judges will have work hanging in this year’s show.  But some of OT’s more paranoid readers have written to me pointing out that the 2009 rules only say the judges are excluded from participating in “the contest.”  Nothing whatsoever is said about the judges not being a part of this year’s exhibition. 

Moreover, one of those nervous emailers wonders why Rick Spix is on the UF Mailing List saying things like

“As to having work in the shows, it seems like a good way to pay those folks for a good many hours spent doing the judging thing.”

when the issue is presumably dead and the general assumption from the posted rules is that the BMFAC judges will not be recompensed by displaying their own art in this year’s exhibition?

You could quell these rumors by stating categorically that no art by a BMFAC judge will be displayed this go around.  Better yet, to be more convincing, the director should come forward and make a public statement clarifying this matter.

“Do you really think it's in a vendor's interest to give undue weight to art that is comparatively weak in technical, artistic or novelty aspects, to promote their software?”

You should never have been put into a situation where you had to make this decision in the first place -- either by the contest director or by yourself.  The reason should be obvious.  There is a clear conflict of interest at stake.

“I do understand the principle, and if the sponsors or conference organizers were persuaded from a careful consideration of the facts that it was an unacceptable conflict of interest, of course I would resign as a judge.”

If you understand the principle, then, once you have considered the facts, the decision is yours to make and yours alone.  I think, especially after how all three competitions have been run so far, we can assume it is highly unlikely the BMFAC sponsors and organizers will be persuaded to keep conflicts of interest in check.

I always enjoy talking with you.

Best,

Terry

P.S.  Parts of this response are taken directly from a more comprehensive post on Orbit Trap specifically addressing the issue of conflicts of interest.  It can be read here:

http://orbittrap.blogspot.com/2009/08/conflicts-of-interest-in-benoit.html

Mods: Although I understand how to use the quoting feature, I have not done so because the type is rendered small enough to strain my getting-older-by-the-minute eyes.
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David Makin
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« Reply #20 on: August 14, 2009, 02:44:35 PM »

Since this is discussing something I didn't address myself previously:

Yes there is a *potential* conflict of interest and obviously a perceived conflict of interest in the eyes of some.

However this problem only exists if either the judges have no conscience or integrity in the first instance or if the person perceiving a conflict of interest has no faith in their fellow humans in the second instance.

Personally I have trust in the conscience/integrity of all the panel.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2009, 03:30:13 PM by David Makin » Logged

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« Reply #21 on: August 17, 2009, 01:29:43 PM »

Dave,

having trust in a panel is an easy answer. However, I have to disagree with this position, as the whole point of conflict of interest issues is not to rely on integrity. For a contest, anyone of questionable integrity or clearly lacking in credibility should not be a judge anyway. More generally, whether the context is awarding financial contracts or judging contests, a series of questions may be asked. First, people are expected to declare any personal conflicts of interest. Then there may be consideration given to whether the interests have a material or other effect on the outcome, and whether the person should participate or be party to any discussions, and whether or not they should have a vote. The exact approach depends on the kind of organization. In many contexts it is standard for the person to step aside from the entire process. Both objective and perceived conflicts of interest have to be considered.

Terry,

While I'm not in a position to give an official statement, I was told that a maximum of 25 contest entries will be the only exhibits, so I would be surprised if that is not the case. I assume that Rick was speaking hypothetically or referring to past contests.

I'd like to clarify a few points on the way.

First, I think you've misstated the summary: my claim did not include that you should just trust me, it was that since I did not regard the financial outcome or the overall effect as significant, trust was not a factor. However, obviously if one does not accept my assertion, it would be a factor.

The second is where you say "could receive financial gain as a direct result of the competition." I think indirect is the correct term, as there is no sales presence or even advertising at the exhibition or contest website, and no deals being done. A closer analogy might be product placement, which is totally indirect. The implication of direct financial gain covers a range of possibilities, none of which apply here. Calling it indirect still makes your point, without misrepresentation.

The third is the subsequent statement "A reasonable person might further conclude that chances to procure personal gain for both of you are also substantial." This has some ambiguity, as syntactically it qualifies the chances as substantial, while conveying a suggestion that the gain is substantial. There is also the ambiguity between the two meanings of substantial, "having substance" and "huge". Thus, readers could take away an impression anywhere between "a tangible chance of making some gain" and "could make a fortune". I only mention this because on a first quick reading I got the latter sense and had to read it again for the presumably intended meaning. I just want to add that a reasonable person could only conclude that either of us could make a large amount of money from this contest if they are totally out of touch with market realities.

Although I've argued that the actual conflict of interest is not significant, I accept that perceived conflict is an issue. It is an honor to be selected as a judge, but that's not a big motivator for me so it mostly amounts to a service (ok, with some pleasure in assessing the merits and voting for the best.) However, if people perceive a conflict of interest, it devalues the service. There are always a few people who are "wrong, somewhere on the internet," so satisfying everyone can't be my goal. Nor can it be a popularity contest, or a vote of confidence in integrity, because that isn't the question.

I have come to the conclusion that there is likely to be sufficient perception of conflict of interest that I should resign as a judge. I have no regrets except for the resulting inconvenience, and apologize to anyone who may be disappointed with my decision.

It's possible that I may get around to producing a contest entry, but I had no prior plans to do so and this was not a factor.

Regards,
Garth
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