They came, they saw, they squeaked

World domination just wasn’t a realistic goal for the squiggle people.

Download parameter file squeaked01.loo

Sure, the entire voyage had been financed on conquering new lands. But the frenzy of excitement at the first sight of land…

Weeks later they were still running down the beach and tasting every new fruit they found. The ship’s log hadn’t been updated. The captain was last seen chasing a butterfly into the woods.

Eventually they had a meeting, for 5 minutes, while gathered under a tree to get out of the rain. They all began cheering, “Burn the ship!” and tore off in every direction.

Years later, a second expedition arrived. They set to work building houses and looking for commercially promising resources.

After several executions and the depletion of their funds, they returned to the old country and never came back.

The squiggles reached the other side of the continent, built rafts and floated out to sea, tired but optimistic.

Little remains today of this first discovery of the Americas except at the location where it is thought the squiggles may have departed from. Here, scratched into a cliff face is a single word that is believed to say, “boring.”

November 15, 2005

I like Christmas junk

Imagine an ICBM silo. Imagine a Christmas tree. Now, with your mental graphics program, start to morph them together and stop half way.

Download parameter file xmas01.loo

Well, you don’t get this image, although it has a Christmassy look to it also.

I saw this cheesy, singing, 8-inch, ornamental Christmas tree for sale. You press the red button on the base and the top two-thirds of the tree starts to rise up, in missile silo fashion, revealing a miniature revolving Santa and reindeer underneath.

Syrupy music plays for a short time and is drowned out by a squeaky, child’s voice exclaiming, “I LOVE YOU SANTA!!!!!! I LOVE YOU SANTA CLAUS!!!!”

More cheap music while Santa and the deer go once more around the tree. “I LOVE YOU SANTA!!!!!! I LOVE YOU SANTA CLAUS!!!!”

A blast of music, the sled grinds to a halt. Down comes the evergreen cone and the hidden party is silent and camouflaged waiting to be launched by the red button.

There are a few questions: What sort of freak designed something like this? I would like to have listened in on the production meetings. Why do I like it? Have they finally figured out how to market to the nutcase segment of society? Should I then expect even better stuff next year?

I remember a scene in one of the Planet of the Apes movies where the mutants were having a “church” service. There was a big silver cone, a nuclear warhead, set up in front for everyone to worship. They sang hymns like “Oh Bomb!”

I think Santa and his nuclear Christmas tree would fit in well in any atomic shrine. A little bigger, perhaps, and add a flashing light and siren to it. Yikes, maybe I’m the kind of freak who designs things like this…


November 14, 2005

Autumn in fractal land

With the last of the leaves, goes the memory of summer.
    -Shakespeare, Hamlet IV

Download parameter file spiral11.xpf

The sun, upper right quadrant. Just a distant glow, and in it’s departing wake comes night and wind.

What are the seasons really? Are there just four? Maybe two?

Summer is the time of cold-seeking. Winter is the time of heat-seeking. In between is something different. But isn’t spring just fall in reverse?

Winter comes in stages, like the approach of a large city as you drive down the highway.

Eventually there’s a windy day, the trees are bare.

Leaves exist only for sunshine and in them is color and sugar, the beach toys of summer.

Like a president on a jet or a general in a helicopter, winter arrives from the air.

November 14, 2005

Square machine

I love the paintings by Chirico, or whatever his name is, the Italian surrealist painter. Why are there so few artists like him?

Download parameter file cubic.xpf

Sometimes the first edge detection filter in Xaos produces a chalkboard like style on dark backgrounds. It then takes on this handmade look. When the subject matter is square-ish, the result is a blueprint, drafting table-like image.

This is what is so exciting about fractals: the fractal structure is just the beginning, not the end of the process. There’s so many ways to color it or otherwise process it that fractal art can become a strange way of drawing and very creative.

The sudden change of the palette makes something interesting out of something dull. A simple, repetitive image can be instantly reborn as something carefully drawn with a flawless eye for detail.

I think there are two kinds of fractal images: “faces” and “fingerprints.” The big fractal images that show the whole formula are like faces. But zoom in, and there is the new microscopic world of the fractal fingerprint.

The fingerprints are often not immediately recognizable as a fractal. They probably won’t have self-similarity. They may even be some glitch-like structure made by the in or out-coloring pattern.

Maybe that’s what this is.

November 11, 2005

The humble Mandelbrot

I used to think it was cliche and juvenile, but after three and a half years I’ve never tired of seeing new variations of the classic mandelbrot man.

Download parameter file brot02.xpf

Maybe it’s the shape: well balanced, curved, pointed, detailed edges, solid spaceous center.

Also, for reasons beyond my mathematical capabilities to explain, the mandelbrot guy appears in various places with slightly different characteristics.

He reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock. Also a Geography professor I used to know with a big paunch who wore his pants halfway up his stomach.

But you know, why does everyone assume it’s a man?

Well, on second thought, let’s not go there. It could just be that since it’s named after the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, that it got its gender that way.

Back to the math. The inside of the mandelbrot is uh, the inside part. It’s separate from the outside part. Well, forget the math…

I’ve used the squares in-coloring method here and the biomorphs out-coloring method. It’s the plain mandelbrot equation, although I don’t actually know what that is. It’s your base model without any options. The shortest formula you can have, I think.

If you’ve got the Xaos program, try this parameter file out and just keep pushing the “P” key, the random palette key, and you’ll see how versatile the old mandelbrot man is as a design element.

That’s all I really did to get this nicely colored image. I got a couple more and had a hard time choosing which one to use.

I’m sure someone’s used this shape to make jewellry. I guess you couldn’t really copyright or patent it, though. I wonder if anyone’s ever had one engraved on a tombstone?

Well, there you have it. Say hello to old fat boy, the pig with two tails and a pencil in his head. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of him around as fractals take to the stratosphere and shower the world with wonder.

November 10, 2005

Zippy, the happy fractal giant

Aw shucks, everybody loves Zippy.

Download parameter file zippy.xpf

Where does he come from, and what does he do?

He just walks around whistling a cheerful tune and smiling at everyone he meets.

You’re in the kitchen, working away, you hear a noise, turn around… it’s Zippy! He’s just popping in to say hello and get back on his way.

I know you’re all familiar with the theme song to the Australian TV show, Skippy the kangaroo. Try singing this: “Zippy, Zippy. Zippy the fractal…” Darn, it doesn’t work.

That’s okay. Zippy will write his own theme song. He’s the Uncle Remus of fractal land.

But you know, and maybe I’m paranoid, or just mean spirited, but I’m not sure Zippy is always a nice guy. Sometimes I see stuff smashed or whole trees uprooted and thrown hundreds of feet away.

It’s got to be Zippy. Who else can do that? Sure, maybe a tornado, but I think I would have noticed a tornado if there was one.

I’ve never actually seen him do anything bad, he’s always smiling, but maybe it’s just a facade. Who can be happy all the time?

I’d like to follow him around sometime and see what’s on that face when no one’s looking.

Maybe he’s anxious about not really having a job or something meaningful to do other than wander about grinning all day. That’s probably it. I’ll bet he thinks we laugh at him behind his back and think he’s stupid or something. Then he goes out into the bush and explodes in a fit of rage.

On the other hand, I’ve got to hand it to him, for a guy you never see working, he’s always well fed and smartly dressed. He’s got a place to live and keeps himself in good shape.

Kinda makes you wonder why we’re all slaving away trying to make ends meet. Maybe we ought to just pack up and leave this worthless toil and join Zippy on the open road.

November 9, 2005

Die Fractelung

Supposed to be German. I think it’s close enough.

Download parameter file shadow.xpf

Once upon a time, back in university, down a remote and rarely used hallway was an art gallery. It was always closed when I walked past it. The whole campus was generally in a state of semi-hibernation.

Twice in the four years I was there, it was open. I always went in (no charge) and looked around.

There was a display made up of old photographs blown up and put onto laminated styrofoam sign-board material. The photos were grainy and of low quality, the kind I like.

I don’t know who was behind the exhibit because there wasn’t really any artwork around, just this photo display that could have been set up in a shopping mall. But I used to browse through the library on a Saturday night for fun, so I wasn’t going to leave just yet.

The photos were of turn of the century Wagnerian stage sets with titles like, “Klingor’s Keep” and “Tristan and Isolde” or something like that.

I’ve never seen an opera by Wagner, but these stage sets done by some famous designer and recorded in these decaying black and white photos were spectacular.

I couldn’t take anything from the gallery with me, so I did the next best thing and went to the library and searched for anything they might have.

I found a couple really good ones, framed them and put them up in residence. There’s not much to these stage sets since they’re designed to be empty really, and used for an opera.

Anyhow this fractal image jumped out at me when I first came across it in Xaos. I especially like the little doorway nook and the luminous curtains at the bottom and the glowing mesh to the right of the door.

Surely this is the fabled mountain, the forge of the universe, where pounding hammers, sparks, soot and smoke, has poured forth continually since time began to tick.

Anyhow, it’s an odd image for a fractal, and that’s saying a lot since fractals are generally unusual. A good rule of thumb is to expect the unexpected.

November 8, 2005

Radio, live transmission

It’s a detail of a detail. The pattern reminded me of the speaker covers on a portable radio or the metal mesh of an old fashioned satellite dish. Can satellite dishes be old-fashioned?

Download parameter file radio.xpf

Or maybe a tiny part of a towering antenna. Far from the ground, alone in the air.

The sun sets. Moonlight reflects on the mesh and the antenna merges with the endless night sky.

Still and empty, electrified and alive, silent transmission.

Named with numbers and secret signs, made by math and radiating lines, anonymous tree of technology.

Routine maintenance, a single truck with hard-hat priest, performing the technical ritual.

Still the same reliable radio, the perfect echo, adding nothing.

Relaying, repeating, no heartbeat, no breathing.

Corroded with age and growing with beauty, humming the symphonies of the glowing cities.


November 7, 2005

What hath Xaos wrought?

I checked the spelling on that last word and it’s correct. I was sure some of those letters had to go since they’re clearly vestigial.

Download parameter file spiral30.xpf

If you try out the parameter file, I suggest you start by just pressing the random palette hotkey “P” a few times to see what radical transformations the palette can make.

Color is such a mysterious thing. I can always tell when it’s just right, but I can’t do anything to improve it when it’s wrong.

That’s the beauty of the Xaos fractal program: it harnesses the power of computing to present you with endless color choices. Imagine an enormous box of pencil crayons with a high-bypass turbojet engine strapped to them.

Yeah, now you understand.

Some people make their own color palettes or whatever they call them. They do it color by color and sometimes by candlelight. That’s admirable and lends a gentle human touch to a technology-laden artform. But the random palette algorithm in Xaos will leave them choking and crawling in the dust.

Remember the guy who died with a hammer in his hand? He almost beat the tunnelling machine, digging faster by hand until he had a heart attack.

Don’t fight the machine. Drive it.

November 6, 2005


It used to really bug me to see an image on a fractal site and hear how the artist really liked it because it looked like something real, like a flower or animal. It bothered me because fractals don’t have to impersonate or represent “real things” to have artistic value.

Download parameter file ice.xpf

But here I am, doing the same thing, so forget all that.

First the serious stuff. It’s a plain mandelbrot; default plane, “mu”; edge detection, although it doesn’t look like it; iteration outcoloring; iterations lowered from 170 to 70.

None of that explains this arctic snow drift formed from sea ice, broken and pushed up. Or the blowing snow and ice crystals that swirl about and merge into the starry sky…

If you’ve never experienced winter, and most people on earth haven’t, think of it as a sand dune and ignore the bit about blowing crystals.

Strangely enough, the file size of this image is large (115k) for the sort of stuff that I usually make. But I think it’s because of the large number of colored pieces that make up the dark blue sky.

It doesn’t look like it, but it has 96 colors in it. It also has a huge blank area, which should have greatly reduced the file size. But who cares, except me and other people out there who still have dialup. The big file size is worth it though, because I really like how it looks like a snowdrift.

I think it would make a nice Christmas card. It’s just a snow drift and a clear night sky. Leave the inside blank and don’t print Merry Christmas or Happy New Year on it and you could use it all winter, even for birthdays.

I like blank cards. But some people think they’re cheap. So I always write something really meaningful and special inside to make up for that. Five for a buck at the dollar store, envelopes included.

November 5, 2005