Mitch Waite

Computer book author, publisher, web designer, and entrepreneur

1991 – Fractal Creations

Motorcycles, Meditation, and Mind-Bending?

In 1968, at 22, I found myself in the throes of Haight-Ashbury’s iconic era, attempting to be a true hippy grappling with life’s purpose amid political tumult, which included the looming threat of being drafted for the Vietnam war. Despite being a lackluster student, my passions for art, electronics, and music kept me afloat. I spent my days roaming the coasts of Marin County on my Honda 160 motorcycle, a symbol of my restless spirit, until I crossed paths with a biker group that introduced me to smoking weed, opening the door to a whirlwind of adventure and motorcycle racing.

As the world around me seemed to unravel, adding to the stress of being called in for the Vietnam draft, I sought solace in mindfulness, meditation, and Zen. I immersed myself in the transformative tales of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, aspiring to carve out a unique identity. Yet, karma seemed to be holding me back; I stumbled at every significant juncture with employment, from selling ice cream to cleaning toilets. That is until I met a woman in San Francisco’s North Beach—older, wiser, gorgeous, and intriguing; she brought new dimensions to my life, including the profound experiences under the influence of Owsley’s LSD. These psychedelic journeys were mind-altering and life-changing, granting me humbling insights into nature’s vast, intricate tapestry. The visuals I encountered were indescribably complex and beautiful and are still with me today, which takes us to this book.

Digital Dreams and Fractal Scenes

Fast forward to 1990: I had transformed into a writer and publisher, and still wondering how long this journey might last. It was during this period that I discovered fractals on my IBM PC screen—beautiful patterns that echoed the vivid visions from my LSD experiences. These mesmerizing designs captivated my attention and felt deeply familiar, drawing me into their intricate depths, reminiscent of the insights once revealed by psychedelics. I allowed this connection between past experiences and current interests to shape my path forward, merging my journey with my professional pursuits in publishing.

Infinite Journey: A Dive into Fractals, Created with DALLE Video Maker from OpenAI and Invideo.io
https://ai.invideo.io/watch/9wPiXFp9P-4

Artificial Intelligence Makes a Fractal Movie

To see how far we have come in the 33 years since we published this book, click on the fractal movie below. It was made with the new AI, using a video generation service that lets you type a prompt, and it builds the video. I entered this: Make a video that shows a fractal as it is zoomed in and reveals its self-similar nature. Include soothing background music, do not add voice or text, and keep it 2 minutes long.

FRACTINT

In early 1990, The Waite Group, catering to progerammers, was coming off the success of publishing our first book, Master C.  We were now looking for something unusual that was NOT about programming but a topic that offered the power and fulfillment found in coding. Could the confluence of art, math, and computers be such an area of intrigue? Were fractals compelling enough for people to buy a book about them? Then, I stumbled on FRACTINT, and my confidence increased.

FRACTINT is an open-source freeware program I discovered on AOL’s Compuserve. It was a collaborative effort crafted by over 30 developers who belonged to an ensemble known as the Stone Soup Group. For those unfamiliar with the tale of “Stone Soup,” you can learn there story at the end of this page. But first, what is a fractal?

What is a Fractal, and Why Should I Care

A fractal is a complex geometric shape that can be split into parts, each a more miniature copy of the whole, demonstrating self-similarity. This characteristic is visually captivating but also mathematically significant. Check the photos below of some fractals created by Fractint. 

In computer science, fractals are used in various ways, including algorithm design for data compression and signal processing, due to their repetitive patterns. They’re also employed in computer graphics to create highly detailed and natural-looking landscapes, clouds, mountains, and other textures in virtual environments. Beyond computer science, fractals have applications in various industries, such as telecommunications (for antenna design), medicine (for modeling bodily structures like blood vessels), and meteorology (for analyzing weather patterns). Their unique properties allow for more efficient and realistic modeling of complex, real-world phenomena.

Chasing the Peacocks Tail: From Feathers to Fractals

When I was eight, birds fascinated me, particularly their eggs, flight, and feathers. My best friend and I spent hours after school at the local zoo, which had an incredible amount of birdlife, some in cages and some not. The most fascinating birds to me were the peacocks. I wondered why nature had created such a fantastic set of tail feathers. My friend and I would chase the peacocks, and if we stepped on one of the trailing feathers, it would gently pull out, giving us a peacock feather we could show off to friends. I was mostly fascinated by the pattern inside the peacock feather. It looked so perfect and symmetrical.

As I grew older, my fascination with the beauty of nature transformed into a passion for understanding the underlying principles that create such intricate designs. One day, I would learn that there is computational beauty in nature. This revelation came to life through the exploration of fractals. Fractals, like the mesmerizing patterns in peacock feathers, exhibit an astonishing blend of symmetry and complexity. The recursive nature of fractals mirrors the repetitive motifs in the natural world, from the spirals of shells to the branching of trees and, indeed, the iridescent eyes of peacock feathers.

In the book Fractal Creations, the authors tried to capture the same awe and wonder I felt as a child, marveling at the peacock’s display. The mathematical elegance of fractals allows them to express the intricate and seemingly perfect patterns nature so effortlessly creates. Just as I once turned peacock feathers into mobiles, I now, using FRACTINT, transform mathematical equations into visual representations of beauty, connecting my childhood fascination with birds to my current artistic endeavors.

What Would a Techie Want in a Fractal Book?

The big question was how do we determine what a typical reader wants to know about Fractals. I decided to entrust this decision to the authors, Tim and Mark. They both wanted to have a chapter that explained what a fractal was to beginners, a chapter on mastering the INT  Table of Contents program and then a number of chapters each devoted to a specific fractal type. Here are just some of the types (note the intriguing names): Mandelbrot Set, Julia Set, Cantor Set, Sierpinski Triangle (or Sierpinski Gasket), Sierpinski Carpet, Koch Snowflake, Dragon Curve, Barnsley Fern, Lorenz Attractor, Apollonian Gasket, Menger Sponge, Peano Curve, Hilbert Curve.

3D Glasses in a Book? And a Poster?

Once the manuscript for the book was done, and production started, I began to have second thoughts about how this book would be received, worried it might be a failure, because it was so different. 

An extended debate ensued with members of the editorial group. And then I did something that I looked back on now that was extremely bold, and felt almost foolish at the time. Most entrepreneurs would’ve said back off, shorten the book, don’t use any color, etc. I decided to do the opposite and add more paraphernalia to make the book stand out. I asked the office to put together a poster that we could fold up and put inside the book. I also asked them to create some fractals in 3-D, so we could include 3-D glasses. And then of course we had to put FRACTINT on a disc and put that in the back of the book. The result was a very expensive product, so we set the cover price to $35. 

While the company moved on and worked on the next books, Fractal Creations came out and was a huge success. We got all kinds of credit for breaking the resistance that book stores had to weird computer topics and cleared the shevles for more unusal Waite Group Books.

Watch a Fractal Being Born

Since the book Fractal Creations came out, the use of fractals has grown considerably. Watching this video is a great way to visualize a fractal being created. Click or tap on the image below. 

Fractals have significantly impacted art and movies by providing a way to create visually stunning and intricate patterns that mimic the complexity found in nature. Here are a few examples:

Art

– Digital Art combines fractal software and nature-inspired patterns, reflecting the structured chaos in works like Jackson Pollock’s abstract creations.

– The Mandelbrot Set, discovered by Benoit Mandelbrot in the 1970s, revolutionized fractal art with intricate patterns highlighted with vibrant colors to illustrate infinite complexity.

Movies

– “Frozen” (2013) integrated fractal algorithms for lifelike snow and ice visuals, enhancing scenes with naturalistic snowflakes and ice effects.

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) introduced fractal-generated alien terrains, setting a new visual complexity and realism standard.

– “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) used fractals to craft detailed, otherworldly landscapes and cosmic phenomena, adding depth to its fantastical universe.

The Stone Soup Group

“Stone Soup” is a folk tale highlighting cooperation and sharing. A traveler convinces villagers to each contribute to a communal pot of soup started with just a stone and water. As villagers add ingredients, a decadent meal is created and enjoyed by all. The story illustrates that collaboration brings greater good, with the stone symbolizing the catalyst for unity.

My mind was sufficiently blown from playing with the Fractint program, so I contacted  one of the Stone Soup founders, Tim Wegner, to see if he was interested in Waite Group publishing a book about Fractint. Tim was a talented programmer and a good communicator (these traits often don’t occur when working with software developers). Mark Peterson was a consummate programmer who developed the high-speed integer algorithm Fractint, a free user-supported program for generating fractals. After speaking with his Stone Soup Group, Tim permitted us to publish Fractal Creations featuring Fractint, with Tim and Mark serving as authors. Thus began an exciting journey where I thought as hard as possible to make 

Fractal Creations stand out among the technorati.

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