The Persistence of Sierpinski

The smaller you look, the larger you see.

There are two modes I apply when working with fractals or graphic software in general. One is to keep a close eye on what does what, and when I find a good combination of effects, write down the sequence like a script: scripting mode. In fact, in the graphics programs the GIMP, and probably Photoshop too, there are scripting capabilities that create new, composite filters from the combination of individual ones.

The other mode is to idly add effects and just click on things and see what happens: improvise mode. This tends to produce things that are usually unreproducible because you can’t quite remember what you did and what you undid and what you did after the undid. Doing this for a while is a great way to collect experience that will later allow you to build “scripts”. I often move into improvise mode after a lot of careful scripting goes nowhere.

And then I often go into scripting mode after a lot of senseless and semi-random clicking produces a nice effect and I really wish I could do it again. Sometimes you just get lost, and like the location of some buried treasure you may have found during a storm, you’re unable to find your way back. I think I said once, that some filters make mountains and some filters make dust. Hasn’t everyone who works in the digital medium made an image and in the process of perfecting it, lost the whole thing, just like the proverbial fish that got away?

Maybe I should stop using a graphics program that only has one level of undo.

Tim Hodkinson

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March 14, 2007

Ten Filters that Shook the World

Well, it’s actually just one, but with such power, such awesome, earth-quaking power.

Ilyich the Toad’s multi-crystal.8bf is a fairly standard distortion, multi-faceted, lens filter. We’ve all seen variations of this all over the place.

I’ve always thought stuff like this was just more cheap digital tricks, and for a while I was beginning to think I was losing my objectivity by using it so much. But there’s something strange and intriguing to this gimmicky thing.

The DNA of seeing.

The what? The way we see things. We are at home in the housefly’s eyes, so to speak. One fragment at a time is about all we can really handle. It is a picture of pictures.

That’s why 3D rendering is so hard: our eyes are always seeing more than one thing -straight ahead, and peripheral.

We see a series of fragments, but they’re stitched together by very sophisticated software in our brains to give the impression that we’re looking at a single smooth image; a sort of mental panoramic photo making.

We see the object in front of our eyes and we see, vaguely, the area or objects around it. Ilyich’s filter I think reproduces this natural way of seeing, although it probably wasn’t his intention. It looks fragmented at first, naturally, but with several hours or days of practice…

That’s why I thought I’d done something to my mind. But no, the effect is real and I think it adds an interesting quality to many images. There’s a depth or movement-quality to them. The images of a flip-book, simulating animation, poured onto a page. Like I said, I thought the filter was just another multi-lens variation when I first tried it out, along with a lot of other ones, but now I find it’s quite creative.

The Absinthe Drinkers (of Alpha Centauri)

Sometimes I like to look all over the image and focus on the “micro-images” in it. I’ve made a lot of junk, but like any other tool or instrument, one discovers it’s potential by testing it out and trying to concentrate on it’s greater talents.

The border is a nice touch. A careful eye will soon see that he’s chopped off the bottom and put it on the top and similarly switched the left and right sides. So simple, but it generally makes for a more appealling image.

One of the things that’s really surprised me is how it can often produce something “interesting” out of an image that isn’t worth keeping around, or an image that is “nice” but nothing special. I’ve always got lots of those.

Tim Hodkinson

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February 26, 2007

Baba Yaga and the Sierpinski Roundabout

Some filters make mountains, and some filters make dust. More about Illyich the Toad’s multicrystal.8bf.

I start with a fractal, and then smash it up. I smash some more. Not much fractal left now. If I smash further? Less fractal stuff right?

No. This is where the filter gets pretty weird. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… and fractal to fractal. Busted and fractal have the same Latin root. See the Sierpinski Triangles appearing?

Original Inkblot Kaos Image

I start with a fractal and by apparently destroying it (ie. filtering) and moving further away from something you would call fractal imagery, and closer towards something like just plain digital imagery, I instead end up with a fractal again.

Which brings me to Baba Yaga. She’s one of those characters from folktales who’s an evil, child-eating witch. Being a Russian folktale, it’s a little different from the Western European or British kind. Actually, it’s rather surreal.

Baba Yaga’s house walks around on four (or two) big chicken legs. That alone is pretty scary, but of course Baba Yaga is in there too, which makes it doubly scary. So naturally, if you ever find yourself in her house, which seems to happen a lot to people in these folktales, you want to get out of there and just start running. This is where the silly folktale gets seriously terrifying.

Apparently Baba Yaga casts a spell on anyone who escapes that confuses them, and as they run away, no matter how hard they try, they always end up running right back to her house! You don’t think that’s scary?


Original Inkblot Kaos Image (.ink parameter files)

So you see, no matter how hard I try to distort the fractal with multicrystal (and choke the fractal life out of it), I always end up creating a thousand Sierpinski triangles. There’s probably some Edgar Allan Poe story like this.

If I knew more about how these photoshop filters and other programming things worked, I’d say there’s something deeply Sierpinski-ish in there, or the algorithm (programmer’s magic spell) does something which creates the Serpienski triple recursive pattern.

Anyhow, if I ever see anything remotely like a chicken leg in there, I’m never going to go near that filter again.

Tim Hodkinson

February 19, 2007

Oracle of Evil

Orwellian, 1984, Mouthpiece of Baal, Howling Telescreen. My latest fractal Rorshach test.

It looks a bit like an old “Victrola”. They were one of the earliest record players, before electricity was widely available, and relied on a hand-cranked mechanism that turned the record after it was wound up. The sound was amplified mechanically (not electronic) by the large megaphone-like cone that was directly connected to the primitive, hollow needle.

Original Tierazon Image, Parameter file

RCA Victor made the Victrola and was also a recording company whose logo was a dog looking into the amplifying cone of a record player. So realistic were the RCA Victor recordings, according to the logo, that the dog was completely convinced that he was hearing “His Master’s Voice”, as the slogan stated.

His master’s voice. The Snake.

February 11, 2007

Coaches and Artists

I dislike the “artist” label. Maybe it dislikes me, too.

Original from Tierazon 2.7

To me, the word, “artist” conjures up the image of someone who works hard and approaches their “work” with discipline and dedication. They are the subject of biographies and documentaries; art emanates from them. That doesn’t describe me.

I’m more of a scavenger, a graphic entrepreneur, someone who finds, compiles, edits, and presents. Maybe a talent scout or agent or coach. I am the coach for a small team of digital machines.

I never touch the canvas, and I don’t know where the paints are kept; ask one of the artists. I suppose I could try doing something myself, but I feel more comfortable taking the mis-directed talents of algorithms and pointing them in the right direction.

A coach works with other people’s talent. You could call the coach a different kind of artist; coaching does require some artistic ability, of sorts. I don’t know. I just prefer to call a coach, a coach.

An artist will often work for days on a single image, painstakingly working, and reworking, every detail. A coach unlocks the room and turns the lights on.


Because art is produced, we call the person associated with it, an artist. But the title doesn’t always fit. There are some who deserve that title. As for me, like any coach, I’m just excited whenever the team scores a goal. It’s never my name that gets mentioned in the newspaper, but that’s okay. They only put my name in the paper if I hit someone.

Of course, none of the players on my team can write their name, so I put my own name on the artwork, as their coach. It’s simpler that way, for legal reasons. I always give them credit when I can.

Tierazon parameter files

I told the team: “Tierazon gets the ball and passes it to Overlapper, who sends it to Inverse Intensity. After that it’s Renaissance for that nice edge effect and off to First Stop Randomville or Holding a Cake to the Sun, depending on how things go, for the cool colors and grainy effect. If you find yourselves short, Color Cos or Emboss Coming Out All Over will get it to the net. Multicrystal’s getting a little worn out and will be sitting out this game. Don’t freak out if it doesn’t work the first time. Tierazon’s got a formula parser and can start a million plays if you need him to. You’re all first-class players, but I should tell you that I’ve downloaded some new talent and I can’t keep everybody. So now is not the time to start slacking-off.”

They tell me I’m the best coach they ever had, but I’m not so sure that’s what they say about me behind my back.

Tim Hodkinson

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February 7, 2007

One-eyed Madonna

Alright, it’s not historically accurate. Traditionally, I think, Mary has always been portrayed with two eyes. None of the Bible accounts mention how many eyes Mary had. Da Vinci’s Madonna had two eyes. Of course, if Da Vinci was such an expert, the Last Supper wouldn’t have been painted with table and chairs.

I took a break from Inkblot Kaos and decided to try out Tierazon again. After trying out the formula parser in Inkblot Kaos, I had the confidence to use the one in Tierazon, something I’d never done before.

“z*c-c^z+c” I don’t know if there’s any procedure or method that helps to create interesting fractal formulas. Perhaps there’s a way to add an extra eye to this image. I’m always stunned by the amount of work that can be accomplished by even a short formula.

There’s still this magical quality to fractals. Stick a few letters and numbers together, wave the fractal wand, and things appear. Add a few photoshop filters to the process and soon it’s weird scenes inside the goldmine, as Art Linkletter would say.

Tierazon 2.7 parameter file

This is a weird scene, isn’t it?
Tim Hodkinson

January 31, 2007

The Wells of Abraham

I saw a documentary on Middle Eastern wells. A well is a big deal there. Everything happens because of water.

Some of them are quite old, even supposedly dating back to the days of Abraham. A well is so important that there are men who dive down into these narrow tunnels and remove debris when they’re plugged. It’s the ultimate claustrophobic experience.

Abraham named his children and he named his wells. Political deals were associated with wells. From the well flowed water, and from the water grew a city. Beersheba flowed out of a well.

In the desert, life is a plug and the well is the socket. Sheep, goats, men; they all orbit the well. Our eyes see the stars, and by them you can navigate the sea, but your feet travel from well to well, in the desert.

There were many tribes and clans, but they all drank water. If a well can be dug, and water can be found, then a well can be plugged, and the strangers move on.

In the Australian movie, Mad Max, they coveted the stockpiles of gasoline that ran their cars. In Abraham’s day they coveted the wells that watered their camels and livestock.

Inkblot Kaos parameter files

To find water, to dig a well that has water, is to re-write the land, to redraw the map. Water runs like a cable, deep below the ground. Every well is a node, a network in a world that ebbs and flows according to the water protocol.

You dial-up, there’s a handshake. When they connected, they washed their guests feet. No ID? Wrong password? Your sheep will not drink at this well.

Tim Hodkinson

January 22, 2007

I spent my future building a star

We worked as a team. A huge team of scientists and builders like me.

No one had built a star before. We were going to be the first.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? We know now. We built very special pins and we saw things that no one had ever seen before. The scientists knew how to make these pins. They were needed to help build the star.

It took years of work. When it was finished we all crowded together to get a look. The most important scientist was there. He turned the switch. We had made the very first star.

We’re all retired now. We still like to talk about the old days when we built the star. Especially when our grandchildren visit. We wish they’d visit more often. We tell them how we built the star.

“The star that makes the electricity for our houses Grandpa? Did you make that star?”

“No, not that one. We made the other star. The star that kills.”

Inkblot Kaos parameter files

January 15, 2007

How Green was my Cubicle

I read somewhere, or heard from someone, that study carrols were invented in monasteries. A study carrol (did I spell it wrong?) is a one-person table that is walled on all sides except the one you sit at. The prototypical cubicle.

No, it wasn’t the first. The first cubicle was the small cave preferred by sages. I saw a documentary about a place in northern India, an area that is rugged and remote and home to real old-fashioned sages along with smugglers and some very paranoid tribespeople.

I saw this guy sitting in his little cave, thinking, or something, and I thought: he works in a cubicle. He met with some tourists who were told not to wander around or disturb the locals, and he highly recommended that they not return home, but rather get themselves a cave like he has.

In my six short years of normal working I worked for 4 months in a cubicle; nicely padded; color-matched to the chair and carpet; nice, solid desk. You stand up, and all around you are busy people on the phone or frowning in front of a computer. Sit down, and you’re back to being Robinson Crusoe.

Dilbert makes it sound as if there’s something second-rate to cubicles or that they’re some cruel substitute for an office. To me it was a mini-castle. Until I got fired. It took a while to adjust to the working world after being in university for what boils down to about six, or seven and a half years. The fact that the cubicle was so appealing to me ws perhaps a sign.

Original image from Inkblot Kaos before being processed with multi-crystal.8bf and some of Andrew’s filters and India Ink.

I went on to work in warehouses. Like the playwright, Arthur Miller. One time, during the Depression when Arthur Miller was working in an auto parts warehouse, he had to climb up to the top of a shelf (25+ ft) and from there marvelled at the panoramic view.

It was December, and I was working in a dollar store (cheap plastic junk) warehouse picking orders. Someone wanted water pistols and they were up on the top shelf because it was summer merchandise. The place being what it was, I just climbed up by stepping on boxes and pulling myself up when I could reach the next metal support.

I got to the top and naturally took a look around before looking for the water pistols (which were probably a mistake on the order). The heat in those high altitudes was surprising, and looking out at the tops of all those giant shelves, instead of the bottoms, was actually somewhat exhilirating. And I wondered, how come no one wants to work in a place like this?

January 7, 2007

The marriage of Sputnik

The first Radio Satelite. 1957, or around then. Whatever happened to Sputnik?

No longer a celebrity, and not too shiny anymore, he slides through space, without destination or purpose. His simple senseless beeping, once the scherzo of a great Superpower symphony, is now just a sign he’s still alive.

Years pass, decades pass. Then one night, while orbitting, forgotten, worthless, abandoned, obsolete, junked… he hears a voice, a song in space.

“Glowing, glowing, my heart is glowing.” Sings the distant satelite.

Sputnik finds himself drawn to the soothing song and sets off in search of her.

Begone, crude space-can!

Not her father, it’s her guardian that confronts Sputnik. Jamming her signals and chasing off all suitors, the old guardian secretly plots to marry her himself.

Beset by a web of intrigue woven by her guardian and unable to approach, Sputnik despairs, but cannot forget her voice.

“Sputnik!” she cries. She appears, dressed in leopard skin and blushing rather profusely.

Her older brother, calling long distance on a cheap phone card, disapproves of Sputnik and his lack of current employment.

Mother is happy with anyone because she knows of the Guardian’s evil schemes. She calls Sputnik a Russian Prince.

The Guardian is incensed and argues violently that Sputnik is a theif and has fled Earth to avoid prison.

At last, they are married, and go to live on a mountain on Pluto broadcasting with joy.


January 2, 2007