Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Algorithmic Circus

TieraZon, uscomic.8bf, XnView text - all three-rings

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

I've got a new filter!

From Terry Gibbons' The Visual Index of Science Fiction Cover Art

I don't know exactly how it works, but where there's math... there's fractals! Sure, the math folks will argue with me, but like all great minds, I don't expect to be understood in this lifetime (or solar system).

How does it work? Start with some colors and some shapes, move the two sliders around and then push the "shocko-wocko" button, labelled, "OK". Actually, there's more to it than that. Like all artistic activity it requires a good eye and knowing just when to click.

Behold, Alien Gunsmoke!

Yes. It's a lot like the old western gunfight dueling with six-guns. But just as the people of the future will have to use the western gunslinging skills of the past to deal with aliens on other planets, I too will have to use the ancient, tried and true techniques of the old masters as I polish the artform of clickism in this (can you believe it?) 21st century.

Parameter files? How does one even start to list the parameters of this bold new art, much less quantify them? Every work of clickism is a total original and extremely hard to reproduce, or more accurately -- reverse engineer. Ask Da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa again. He could try. He could come close, but it would be different. He'd be able to... uh, actually Da Vinci or any of the other old masters would probably be able to reproduce their own work quite easily since everything is quite carefully planned out and controlled. But it's still hard work.

Yes, these are the Digital labours of Hercules. Fortunately I have strange new machines to do my heavy lifting, and detailed work (Leonardo got some help too, I read somewhere...), leaving me free to focus on the essential, more serious matters of looking and clicking.

Oh, of course. The filter is the circular wave distortion filter from Showfoto. You don't need to use their's though, just about every graphics program has one of these. I think they've been around for ages; they look like circular water ripples -- that is when they're used in their proper, prescribed way. (And why would anyone want to do that?) In fact, that's why I never bothered to experiment with it before. Give something a clear, coherent label, and everybody thinks they know what it is ...and what it does ...and what it's for Fractal Art

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Ashes to Ashes, Pulp to Pulp

From Frank Wu's collection of Frank R. Paul's Golden Age Sci-Fi Pulp Covers

"The sages of Calisto were super-intelligent and had become so far advanced in the Sciences that there was nothing more for them to achieve. They had then moved on to the Arts. Rega, the sociable one who had helped me repair my ship, was eager to show me their art gallery. 'Art, when it reaches perfection,' Rega said, 'is nothing more than a stunning cloud of golden dust, suggesting both the entire universe and a sub-atomic flash in the same image'. I laughed out loud when I first saw it. But now that I've been eating their secret scientific food for three months, I've come to agree with them completely."
-- (excerpted from A Student on Calisto, 1953)

Sliced up about 10 times in XnView's slicer filter (no post-processing)

"Imagine my surprise when I arrived on the spacemen's home planet only to discover I was a celebrity in their eyes and treated like some kind of king! Still, I was not fully at ease despite how well the whole ordeal had turned out. I wondered constantly, 'What will they do with me when they find out what normal Earthlings are really like and that I was escaping from jail when they captured me?'."
-- (excerpted from, From the Electric Chair to the Throne of Pluto, 1949)

Further developed with Showfoto's circular wave filter set to maximum

Every morning the same thing. Fifty or sixty gopher-sized holes - all new - would be discovered around our spaceships and equipment. Yet no one had heard or seen anything during the night. We all knew there couldn't be any animal life since there weren't even plants on Mars. That was before we'd started drillling.
-- (excerpted from Gopher Hunting on Mars, 1962)

A detail of a 4x enlargement circular waved

Professor Menkin was a likeable enough fellow; he said hello to everyone and even once gave me a lift to the spaceport on one of his days off. I guess that's what should have tipped me off: what was he doing driving out of town - and there ain't nothing out of town on Venus - when he ought to be spending his free glide credits back at the Floaterium like the rest of us? He was working for the Venusians even back then, that's what. I hear they've got his face on one of their coins now.
-- (excerpted from I Wore a Tungsten Crown, 1951)

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

"The Best Fractal Art Ever Created"

Well, it's an exciting neck and neck (sea)horse race over at the idreamincolor forum where the locals are busy buzzing and definitively storming the hive while answering this honey-dripping question: What Is the Best Fractal Art Ever Created?

Next week, rumor has it, members will reboot cerebrums to grok something less philosophically Which Is the One True Religion?

As one might imagine, there's plenty of aesthetic wrangling and mucho diversity of opinion being displayed. So far, according to OT's exclusive exit polls:

To everyone's surprise, the forum moderator's friends are doing extremely well in the balloting. So, too, and most unexpectedly, is the moderator himself.

Naturally, much of the "best" fractal art "ever created" is found exclusively at online think tanks art communities like Renderosity and DeviantArt. If you aren't a member, well, sad to report your museum experience has suddenly gone dark, and the best fractal art ever created will remain unseen behind a shadowy scrim. Your only solution: register immediately, surf around billboard-blinking-gif undressed Poser babes, through software ads, over backslapping comment litanies, near parameter tweaking festivals, and, finally, settle and soak up all the self-similar greatness in a heavily commercialized and remediated environment.

Despite pundit predictions, Ultra Fractal images are absolutely trashing competing programs. In fact, now that I think back, I don't remember seeing any competing programs in the listings. According to poll workers, most of the voters appeared to be UF users as well. A coincidence, no doubt -- and certainly one within the statistical margin of error.

Our correspondent live at campaign headquarters reports that the Fractal Universe editors and Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest judges are reaping major repeat lever pulls -- apparently proving P. T. Barnum's observation that if you select yourself as one of "the most important fractal artists in the world," there will always be suckers born every minute who will line up to proclaim you also produce the best fractal art ever created.

And this just in from the editorial desk. No doubt some of OT's recent commenters will applaud this survey as a positive, blogging landmark in finely honed fractal art critiquing. They will argue, unquestionably, if nothing else, this symposium delivers on crucial epistemological criteria like insisting that suppositions should "spring from insight" and -- more importantly for those exercising keen critical sensibilities -- empirical evidence is invariably "presented in a way that will not be perceived as an attack on those at whom it is directed."

In fact, I can feel the love all the way over here. Why it's the penultimate Über Top Twenty OF ALL TIME!!!!




Sorry. I got a little carried away there. I had to take a short break to towel myself off on the fainting couch.

I was so pumped by all the excitement because I wanted to add my thoroughly uniterated two cents to this list of lists. But then I remembered that I could not participate since the moderator had banned me from the forum after just one post. Oh woe. If I understood what gnashing of teeth was, I'd do it.

But, fortunately, I am able to still post here at Orbit Trap -- thanks to the Chinese communist overloads who allow Tim and I to front this blog as their propagandistic puppet-stooges when we aren't kept busy in the OT sweatshop dabbing toxic paint on exported and easily breakable toys.

Even so, I present my suggestions with much sheepishness. I know my entries for the best fractal art ever created pale when compared to the dispassionately selected works being critically metastasized just around the cyber-block. Nonetheless, after considerable soul searching and generator-wringing, here are my top five picks:


And after you've explored my infinity -- eat me!



I have complex recursion -- and a warmer personality than most fractal artists!



100 Layers!!  No post-processing!!



I'm sorry.  I'm only the handiwork of God.  How can I be expected to compete with Ultra Fractal?



My dimensions were too small for the BMFAC entry requirements.


I know what you're thinking. And you're right. The Big Bang's parameter files and The Creator's iterations just cannot measure up.

If only they'd used Ultra Fractal instead...


Web sites for photo credits: broccoli, frost, clouds, trees, and galaxies.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Painting With Power!

"Great art picks up where nature ends." -Marc Chagall.8bf

"One small step for a fractal artist; one giant leap for Fractal Art" -Neil Armstrong.8bf

"The aim of photoshop filters is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." -Aristotle.8bf

"What the mass media offers is not fractal art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish." -W. H. Auden.8bf

"You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough" -William Blake.8bf

"A new gadget that lasts only five minutes is worth more than an immortal work that bores everyone" -Francis Picabia.8bf

"I am become Clickism, the destroyer of worlds" -Robert Oppenheimer.8bf

"The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without photoshop filters" -Emile Zola.8bf

"Good taste is as tiring as good company" -Francis Picabia

"If we could but paint with the computer what we see with the mind." -Honore de Balzac.8bf

"When I judge art, I take my computer monitor and put it next to a God made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art." -Paul Cezanne.8bf

"Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of Ultra Fractal." -Cecil Beaton.8bf

"Well begun is half done." -Aristotle.8bf

Art is an invention of aesthetics, which in turn is an invention of philosophers... What we call art is a game. -Octavio Paz.8bf

"Photoshop filters produce ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Ultra Fractal, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time." -Jean Cocteau.8bf

"If you steal from one author it's plagiarism; if you steal from many it's synergy" -Wilson Mizner.8bf

"A fractal formula gives the image structure. An artist gives the image feeling. A photoshop filter destroys both and changes the hue." -Ragland T. Tiger.8bf

"Fractal Art is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do." -Edgar Degas.8bf

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Art Without an Audience

Fyre 1.0.1 embedded parameter file

When Orbit Trap was started, back in August of 2006, it had always been foremost in my mind that it would be a positive contribution to the fractal art world.

What does that mean?

To me it means that it would encourage the creation of exciting new artwork. "Exciting"? Exciting doesn't need to be defined; we know what excitement is when it happens.

Some of the criticism that Orbit Trap has received, and that I have personally received, has lead me to think that many people in the fractal world misunderstand the function of criticism that Orbit Trap is performing.

I believe it all comes down to the role that criticism, and critics in particular, play in the world of art. Serious, meaningful, and sustained criticism is something that has been oddly lacking in the fractal art world. Perhaps because fractal art is still a relatively new art form? Or perhaps because criticism in the fractal world has often been met with harassment and punishing consequences?

Criticism is simply commentary. The word "criticism" has acquired a negative connotation in everyday speech, but I'm using the word in it's traditional, neutral way, which simply implies any kind of feedback or discussion regardless of whether it's pleasant or unpleasant. Criticism is merely talking "about" something.

Critics are people who comment on art. They may easily appear "opinionated" because commentary is, by it's very nature, opinions. While critics have played an important, and at times, very influential role in the development of new artistic styles and types of art, I would say they are not very common, and for that reason, are a somewhat rare and unusual type of person. Most people are uncomfortable in giving criticism -- ironically, even more uncomfortable than they are in actually receiving it.

Critics like to comment about art. Why? Well, for the same reason artists like to make art: quite simply, artistic passion. Commenting on art produces new ideas and perspectives and in consequence - new possibilities. Critics are just as interested in art as artists are. The roles are different, that's all.

Critics help artists and viewers to see art differently - and in some cases to see art where people don't see it at all. Artists like Jackson Pollock, who have had an enormous influence on the art world, would probably have had much less success if they were not "interpreted" and "explained" and introduced to the larger art audience by the thoughtful writing of art critics who saw something valuable in what they were doing.

So, in the world of art, criticism persists because art persists. Critics do not "get over it" just as artists do not "get over" making art.

Art without criticism is like seeing without thinking. It's like art without an audience.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Leave a Light On

Leave a Light On

Leave a Light On (2008)

Reader Toby, in our comments section, has finally taken up the challenge to address some of the points Orbit Trap has raised about the two major fractal competitions. He also added a few additional rimshots for good measure.

I admit it’s tempting to rip right into the snark. Wouldn’t everyone savor an entire post of juicy call-and-response cleverness like this?


As a personal aside, I find your meretricious writing style quite juvenile and hardly worthy of your obvious intelligence, but that is just a matter of taste.

Ouch. What does one say to such a stinging remark?

Option One: Apologize? I’m very sorry. The next time I make my weak arguments, I promise to use a style you find more pleasing.

Option Two: Fight fire with fire? I understand, just as I’m sure you’ll understand when I tell you I find your powers of observation and deduction to be somewhat lacking.

Option Three: Go all Zen? It’s just a cheap shot, Grasshopper. Journey inward and become one with it. Then you will attain the peace that passes all understanding.

I think I’ll choose Option Three….


Fun, yes, but ultimately off the point.

Toby’s post has more branches than an arterial system. But I will limit my response to his observations on fractal competitions. Much of the rest of his lengthy screed is diversionary fog. Toby said he perused OT’s archives, but I suspect he did not dig deep enough to find the big picture. If he had, he’d know Tim and I have previously addressed most of his arguments. Perhaps that is nature’s way of letting us know it’s time for a refresher course.

I never said anything about the Benoit Mandelbrot Fractal Art Contest until its second year. I gave Damien M. Jones a free pass the first go around and chalked it up to establishing initial seed money to get the project off the ground.

But last year’s contest had identical regulations and protocols -- which were announced months before a sponsor was even named. How could the phantom sponsors thus be responsible for mandating the stipulations of the contest? Are they telepaths? And, even more astounding, what are the odds of two completely different sponsors insisting on indistinguishable arrangements?

No, there is a more logical assumption. Jones, as the resident “fractal art expert,” convinced the initial sponsors to accept his own regulations -- like exhibiting the judges’ work. The second year, with the competition established, the late-arriving sponsors simply fell in line and accepted the existing procedures. Although Jones claimed he included the judges’ work as a “hedge against insufficient quality,” BMFAC handed out nearly fifty honorable mentions last year. And yet the big prize, the exhibition in Spain, will be nearly half-filled with the work of the contest’s own judges. Face the facts. BMFAC was deliberately created, first and foremost, for the judges’ own self-promotion. Everything else is an afterthought.

Toby notes that Jones was “uncomfortable” with the BMFAC arrangement and agrees that including the work of judges is “rather unusual and not particularly desirable.” You don’t say. Isn’t that just a euphemistic way of avoiding coming right out and stating such a practice is unethical and unprofessional? Why might such collusion be universally frowned upon? Because a contest’s results look rigged rather than fairly juried? Why was Jones so uncomfortable if his actions were so reasonable and appropriate? Because people like me might raise questions about their propriety?

Even if Jones did not write the rules himself, which is improbable, he’s not off the hook. No one forced him to accept the terms of his ethics-deprived sponsors. He made his devil’s bargain freely -- knowing full well it would likely make many others uncomfortable, too. He chose what was expedient over what was correct. As a result, we are left with a contaminated competition.

Toby laments OT’s “slanted, polemical style” and claims that the entire BMFAC set up was not for “self-glorification” because the entrants’ work was “clearly separated” from the judges’ work. But such a separation, which in no way validates including the judges’ art, only occurs at the contest’s 2007 web site. There is no such separation on the 2006 BMFAC home page. Moreover, was any distinction between “winner” and “judge” made last year at the exhibition? Here is what is not in doubt. The judges stake out their 40% of the wall space first -- guaranteed and completely unjuried. The rest of the contest is then filled in around them. That’s self-glorified enough for me.

But Toby's entire point is bizarre. Does simply announcing that one is going to cheat allow one to then cheat with impunity? Being open about including the work of judges in a competition does not magically wipe away all ethical concerns. But I will grant that it is certainly arrogant.

Toby asserts that Tim and I implied that “judges and entrants [my emphasis] are a self-serving clique” and that we “failed to acknowledge that no artist’s names were known to the panel during judging.” Toby is being less than honest here. Neither Tim nor I have ever had anything ill to say about the contestants in any fractal competition. In fact, we have repeatedly made clear the selected artists are deserving of recognition and acclaim.

The 2007 BMFAC exhibiting judges are another matter entirely. Are any of them not members of the Ultra Fractal community? Certainly there is room for more aesthetic variety on the judging panel. And when you combine the UF backgrounds of the judges with the mandatory, mammoth, made-for-UF scale in the entry requirements, well....

Furthermore, how does Toby know the judges did not see the names of the entrants? The BMFAC site makes no such notation. In fact, some of the winning entries contained visible artist signatures. And were additional steps taken to ensure that judges/teachers in the Mississippi School of Anti-Fractal Art™ did not recognize the work of their own students -- some of whom were selected as winners? In truth, a strong case can be made that BMFAC's organizers consistently showed an overall laxness in preventing conflicts of interest.

Toby then ticks off the usual refrains about the Fractal Universe Calendar: it’s not a contest, including the editors is fair compensation, and the publishers rather than the editors are the final arbitrators.

If the FU Calendar was nothing more than a publishing venture, then the editors would directly solicit contributions. Instead, images are submitted and pruned by screeners. These editors are paid in part by having an image included in the final product, but are also free to add more of their own images into the initial cut. They then turn over a batch of pre-screened “finalists” to the publishers who act as judges. This is indeed a competitive process. I believe all accepted entries, including those of the editors, also receive a monetary payment.

Things go bad at the screening level. Again, we have a case of those doing the editing being “exhibited” in the calendar. That’s a fair compensation, you say? Would you still feel that way knowing that just over 40% of the selected entries for the last four years were the work of four past or current editors?

Just as 40% of the exhibition in last year's BMFAC is comprised of the work of the contest’s judges.

I don’t have to study pattern recognition theory to see what’s going on here.

Again, as with Jones and his sponsors, the FU Calendar editors willingly choose to enter into their agreement with the publishers. The editors certainly deserve to be paid for their services. But they could aspire to professional standards by declining the option of having their own work included. They don’t.

We’ve made it clear that the publisher (Avalanche) is free to do whatever it pleases. Spiral away we say. It’s their money. But the editors aren’t forced to agree to the publisher’s terms, so why express surprise, yet alone anger, that someone might question whether such conduct is proper?

Toby then concludes that “it is Damien who comes out clean here” and asserts that Jones’ decision to “cease hosting your site was a rational act of self-preservation, which he appears from the record to have done honorably and sensitively.”

If you read the email exchange carefully, you’ll notice that Jones abruptly blocks access to my web site and informs me the situation is permanent. There is no mention of me being a “security threat” until much later. Nowhere does Jones ever show that I had either the ability or the inclination to damage Fractalus -- which, as many readers know, is probably one of the most battened-down, secure servers on Earth. The suggestion that I could access files other than my own is absurd. No. Jones was trying to cover his butt. He knew how his actions would look, and he resorted to smearing me for the sake of damage control.

Such a ploy is not a new tactic on his part. Some years before, he used an identical maneuver to toss Paul N. Lee off Fractalus. Lee, too, had a record of being critical of Jones and suddenly found himself labeled a “security threat.” To my shame, I believed Jones’ explanation and said nothing at the time. I apologize openly to Lee -- here and now -- for my silence and for anything I ever said that wounded him. I was wrong not to look for the truth. What happened to Lee eventually happened to me, and I find nothing honorable or sensitive about any of it.

Toby finishes with a shot chiding us that it’s “easy to criticize when it isn’t you bearing the responsibility, isn’t it?” You think so? Toby should try moderating this blog for a month and see if he can still find his way home after the experience.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


The Persistence of Comments

In case there's anyone still following this latest comment "thread", here's the final chapter.

Toby sent us his final remarks which he said we could post if we wanted to. Unlike Ken, Toby doesn't accuse us of violating his human rights when it comes to posting his comments.

Toby writes: "in my view Damien’s decision to cease hosting your site was a rational act of self-preservation, which he appears from the record to have done honorably and sensitively"

Well, well. I think the polite term for guys like Toby is "fanboy". He's a Fractalus Fanboy.

Booting a long-time, paying client off your webserver when they criticize you on their blog isn't retaliation or intimidation or an attempt to stifle free speech? No, no. Not when Fractalus does it!

According to Toby it's "a rational act of self-preservation".

In keeping with Toby's Communist China analogy he used for us, I'd guess he'd probably say that Mao's repression of criticism and throwing dissidents into labour camps was also "a rational act of self-preservation".

Sorry Toby - and all the rest of you Fractalus Fanboys (and Fangirls). I don't think your attempts to use the comments section of Orbit Trap to prop up your glorious leader by demanding, over and over, "freedom of speech" and "alternative viewpoint" are working.

That's the current state of the Fractal Art world (in case you're wondering what all this is about). But don't worry about Orbit Trap; we're not on anyone's leash.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Read-only Moon

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Looking for Arrowheads

Made with Fyre 1.0.1. Embedded parameter file. Click, click, click, done.

I read once
about kids who would go looking
for arrowheads

I was a kid
so I went looking for arrowheads

The arrowheads
are in the ground
or just below the surface

The shaft of the arrow
is gone
and the feathers too
the guy who shot the arrow
is gone
but the stone, flint arrowhead
lives on

Flint is a stone
It doesn't know
it's an arrowhead

So it waits
the way a stone waits
stays sharp
stays covered

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