So why fractals?

I’m going to be honest with you about something. I honestly had no idea I’d be sitting here, having already written two fractal books and with ideas for more, across from a shelf packed with reference material. I have more books on fractals than textbooks I saved from my actual degree. In fact, I have three books that basically have the same title:

  • Chaos, Fractals, and Dynamics
  • Chaotic Dynamics and Fractals
  • Chaos, Dynamics, and Fractals

I have a fractal wish list with more than 40 books in it. If you were to list three things you know about me, “likes fractals” is one of those three.


So why do I like fractals, and more importantly, why do I still like them?

As a programmer – Creating fractals has taught me a lot about graphics formats, string management, and handling large amounts of data. I’ve learned new programming languages by trying to write fractal programs. I’ve used some of my color ramp algorithms professionally, and used fractal information as data sets. Simply put, writing fractal programs is challenging, engaging, and a great avenue for learning new things.

As a writer – Fractals can seem like an intimidating area of math. It doesn’t have quite the reputation of say calculus, but a lot of people look at fractals and go “that’s way beyond me.” As someone who owns a shelf full of fractal books, I can say that some of the problem is with how these things are presented. A formal mathematical text isn’t going to draw people in unless they’re already a professional mathematician. Writing about fractals has always presented the challenge for me (as a very technical person) to write about something complicated in an easy-to-understand way. I’m as prone to techno-babble as the next engineer, but if I actually want to get the people around me interested in what I have to say, I need to find better ways to explain it. This is a great challenge for any writer.

As an artist – I’m not a painter like my Mom, but I do like creating cool designs. Creating fractal images can be a very playful and exploratory experience. And unlike a canvas, if I screw up, I can just generate a new image. And I do have my own aesthetic. Fractal calendars have a tendency to make everything over busy, or to shy away from what I would recognize as a fractal. I like clean lines that highlight the natural beauty of the math, without imposing a lot of my own will onto it.

As a publisher – Writing fractal books has taught me more about eBook formatting, finding niche markets, evaluating royalty options and just finishing projects than anything else I’ve done. Fiction can live in a nebulous world of constant revision, whereas non-fiction can have a finite goal and a known finish point.

As a math geek – Fundamentally I just think fractals are cool. They’ve shown me different ways to look at dimension, complex numbers, even how to define a circle. And some of things you can do with the “Chaos Game” and Iterated Function Systems are just so cool. Order rising from randomness. Even more predictable things like L-Systems can always surprise you. You think a design is going to turn out one way, and it ends up looking completely different. And it’s a young area of math, there is still much to be learned and discovered. There’s real territory out there for people to make their mark.

What are you surprised to find has become a focus in your life?

1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “So why fractals?

  1. I am a software developer with a similar relationship with pattern drafting – literally drafting clothing patterns 🙂 Great combination of mathematics, design, creativity and an endless space of possible problems and solutions. 🙂

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