miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
[personal profile] miriam_e
In 1985 I received my latest issue of Scientific American (I'd been buying it every month since I was about 12 years old, back in the early '60s). I was excited by the beautiful image on the cover that illustrated the subject of AK Dewdney's latest Computer Recreations column. One of my favorite regular parts of Scientific American. I didn't realise that this issue would change my life. It would introduce me to the Mandelbrot set -- a mind-bending geometrical shape which, unlike circles, rectangles, triangles, etc, had a finite area enclosed by an infinitely long perimeter. Let that sink in for a moment.

The shape extends less than 2 units in any direction from the center of the plane (0,0) but the boundary that encloses this finite area has infinite length. It manages this seemingly impossible feat by having an edge that is infinitely wrinkled. You can zoom in on any part of the edge and it displays more and more detail the further you go, deeper, deeper... forever. It is a fractal.

However the article was less about this than about the extraordinary, scintillating beauty of the shapes to be found and the ease with which they can be created.

To this day I have never found a more accessible and easy to understand description of how to generate your own mandelbrot set and how to embark on your own journeys deep within it.

I remember feverishly making notes during work that day (I must have been a much worse employee than usual), then on closing time rushing home, eager to try out my rudimentary program on my computer. At less than 1 MHz speed, my lovely little computer was thousands of times slower than even a cheap, crappy computer from nowadays, and the images took overnight to grow on my screen. I was over the moon.

I want to digitise many of the documents that had great impact on me while growing up. This one is now done and uploaded to my website:
http://miriam-english.org/files/Dewdney_Mandelbrot/Dewdney_Mandelbrot.html

I don't know if Mr Dewdney's wonderful columns are collected in book form. I certainly hope so, because I'd love to buy it. If I'm able to find it online (probably on Amazon) I'll link to it below.

Edit: The article I so painstakingly digitised [groan] is available for free download from Scientific American at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/blog/File/Dewdney_Mandelbrot.pdf

Edit 2: I found it. A K Dewdney's book The Armchair Universe is a collection of his columns from Scientific American. Unfortunately it is only available in dead-tree format, not ebook. A pity.
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miriam_e: from my drawing MoonGirl (Default)
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