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Me or Picasso: John William Godward

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As school winds down and temperatures range from the 60s to the high 80s (at least in Maryland), we could probably all benefit from "The Sweet Siesta of a Summer Day." This 1891 painting by John William Godward is exemplary of the style and subject matter of his extensive body of work. Due to various factors, not much is known about this English Victorian classicist, but I've done my best to track down the most interesting Godward information.

1. John William Godward's first foray into the working world was a job at his father's prosperous insurance firm. He then received architecture training from William Hoff Wonter, but ultimately pursued a career in painting.

2. The Godward family disapproved of John's decision to become an artist; when he moved to Italy in 1912 with one of his models, the family cut all ties with him. They even went so far as to cut him out of all the family pictures. Today, no known images of Godward exist.

3. Classical scholarship was more widespread during his time, so Godward meticulously researched details to ensure his works bore the stamp of authenticity. His studio was filled with marble and ancient statues to create an environment of Graeco-Roman inspiration. Godward was admired for his archaeologically exact renderings of marble surfaces and for his depictions of the flowing movement of classical clothing; he became known as the master "classical tunic gown" painter.

4. Though both Godward and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, of whom Godward was a protégé, were praised for their accurate and realistic depictions of marble, flowers, and other surroundings of the classical world, their paintings depicted an idealized and romanticized view. They were criticized for painting "Victorians in togas," instead of historically accurate paintings.

5. Three years after returning to England, Godward committed suicide at age 61. Supposedly, he wrote in his suicide note that "the world was not big enough" for both him and a Picasso. His family, ashamed of his suicide, burned all his papers.

6. One of Godward's most well-known paintings, "Dolce far Niente" (1904), is in Andrew Lloyd Webber's collection.

A larger version of "The Sweet Siesta of a Summer Day" is available here. A high-resolution version is also available, though it will take longer to load.

The Art Renewal Center has a large gallery of John William Godward's work, as well as the text of the biography J.W. Godward: The Eclipse of Classicism by Vern Grosvenor Swanson.

"˜Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday and Thursday.

If you liked this post, you may also like the "˜Feel Art Again' posts on Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (part 1 and part 2) and Sir Edward Poynter.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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