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Benoit Mandelbrot Dies At 85 131

Beetle B. writes "Benoit Mandelbrot has passed away at the age of 85. I first learned of the Mandelbrot set while reading Arthur C. Clarke's The Ghost From The Grand Banks. Soon after, I got hold of the best fractal generation software of the day — Fractint — and ran it for long periods of time on my XT, exploring the beautiful world that Mandelbrot, among others, had opened up for me. That it was only on a 4-color CGA did not deter me!"
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Benoit Mandelbrot Dies At 85

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  • by Mikkeles ( 698461 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @11:45AM (#33917884)

    to the Hausdorf Dimension!

    • The keep splitting themselves into even fractionally dimensioned smaller pieces

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by fractoid ( 1076465 )
        Little fleas have lesser fleas upon their backs to bite 'em.
        And lesser fleas have smaller fleas, so on ad infinitum.
      • If reincarnation is true, he'll come back as twins.

        Fractals are addictive. Like SWINTH for the Commode64, watching a fire, or Hypnotoad.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 16, 2010 @01:19PM (#33918538)

      Good luck using Google Maps to zoom in on his graveyard.

  • Dead? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarkKnightRadick ( 268025 ) <> on Saturday October 16, 2010 @11:45AM (#33917886) Homepage Journal

    I didn't know he was still alive. So much for assumptions.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 16, 2010 @11:48AM (#33917920)

    You can use your browser to zoom into it infinitely revealing more patterns.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @11:57AM (#33917992)
    His presentation [].
    • I saw a similar presentation he gave in 2007. We need more people like him.

    • I'm surprised.

      I listened to that TED podcast a few weeks ago, I found it really interesting, but I was driving at the time, and once getting home it had completely slipped my mind to read more in to it.

      His presentation was excellent, and it didn't occur to me that he was nearly that old.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RDW ( 41497 )

      Thanks! More years ago than I care to remember (about the same time I was playing around with Fractint from a covermount floppy of some magazine) the great man came to our university to give a talk. Stupidly I didn't join the queue early enough and got stuck in an overflow room (the maths guys hosting his visit hadn't calculated the demand correctly). Still cool to hear him talk, though. I remember the Genesis Device got a mention: [] []

  • Testimony (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kale77in ( 703316 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @11:58AM (#33917998) Homepage
    I was in year nine (mid-high-school) in country Australia, when my grandmother gave me a subscription to Scientific American; on the front of one of the first issues was a Mandelbrot set. I put the pseudocode into Atari Basic on my trusty 800XL (1.86kHz), and it produced a 40x40 graph of the set in just on 6 hours. It's been one of my standard learn-a-new-language exercises ever since, and the single thing I love the most about mathematics.
    • by Mojo66 ( 1131579 )
      Yeah I read the same issue ("Spektrum der Wissenschaft" here in Germany) and quickly wrote a programm for my Apple ][, only to be surprised of how slow it was. Later, I re-wrote the same program in 6502 Assembler using Merlin, and it took about 5 minutes to fill the 280x192 screen. Then I rewrote the program to directly print the Mandelbrot set on an Epson 800 printer in ESC/P on 15 DIN A4 sheets, spanning 1x1m. The program ran for 1 week on a Saturn 3.5 MHz accelerator card.
      • by Nethead ( 1563 )

        Yep, that's how I learned Asm on the C64. Kept moving parts of the BASIC code to machine. I leaned a lot about optimization that way, stuff that has stayed with me for decades.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by butlerm ( 3112 )

      I put the pseudocode into Atari Basic on my trusty 800XL (1.86kHz)

      I think you mean something megahertz. A one kilohertz computer wouldn't be good for much of anything. The Apple II, C-64, Atari 400/800, etc. all ran 1 Mhz 6502 CPUs at approximately 1 Mhz, somewhat more than that in the Atari case.

      • When I was ten my first computer was a ZX81 and in SLOW mode (w/ no screen flicker on each keystroke) it ran at 800 kHz. It executed BASIC code about as fast as you could read it. Seriously- I remember figuring this out and realizing I was FORCED to learn ASM on the Z-80. Then I learned it and was AMAZED that I could make an ASM loop run 65536 times in less than a second, but I couldn't think of anything cool to do in the loop body.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mikael ( 484 )

      I remember those days - reading his book on the "Fractal complexity of nature" was a real inspiration. It was strange to realize that snowflakes, ice crystallisation, mountain terrain, the outlines of coastlines, branching of trees and lightning, aggregation of soot particles, growth of coral and seashells, periodicity of landslides and earthquakes could all be modelled by fractals.

      Some of those simulations could be done within seconds on an Atari(XL) or other home computer. Others took hours like the Mande

  • but the first thing I thought was, "damn, that one Jonathan Coulton song is going to be really confusing whenever he performs it now." Seriously, though, it's sad that he's dead but I'm happy to reflect that he had the kind of full, accomplished life for which we all hope.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Burpmaster ( 598437 )

      I feel a little bad about this but the first thing I thought was, "damn, that one Jonathan Coulton song is going to be really confusing whenever he performs it now."

      Can't be worse than immediately thinking "I must post the best yo dawg joke ever." You know, he put the Mandelbrot Set in the Mandelbrot Set, so we can explore it while we explore it.

      From this day forward, this recursive meme ought to be associated with Mandelbrot. After all, he put something inside itself infinitely many times long before Xzibit did so once.

  • Is there anything better than Fractint now? I too played with it for ages on a clunky old IBM PC with clicky keyboard and Windows 2 (although Fractint ran in DOS though, I think, and necessitated misc tweaking with graphics drivers to make it work, you kids don't know how lucky you are...)

    • Re:Fractint (Score:5, Informative)

      by paskie ( 539112 ) < minus city> on Saturday October 16, 2010 @12:23PM (#33918188) Homepage
      The best I know is GNU XaoS. It can do real-time zooming (it did fine even on my old P133!) and features plenty of settings and fractal equations. I know there are perhaps better programs nowadays that let you easily write custom equations, scripts for 3D fractals and whatnot, but AFAIK none is free and/or supports Linux well.
      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        Doesn't Xaos use a limited precision though, creating a rather hard limit on how far one can zoom in, even though performance and resources may not necessarily be getting taxed?
        • I used to think this was a big deal, but I decided not to bother with arbitrary precision recently just because it sacrifices performance too much at ordinary zoom levels (unless you aren't lazy). FRACTINT implemented it adaptively, but it was still like hitting a wall.

          The thing is, there's fundamentally nothing you can see at a high zoom level that doesn't look very similar to features visible somewhere at lower magnification. After you zoom in a dozen times, the floating point arithmetic bugs are suddenl
    • by dserpell ( 22147 )

      Is there anything better than Fractint now? I too played with it for ages on a clunky old IBM PC with clicky keyboard and Windows 2 (although Fractint ran in DOS though, I think, and necessitated misc tweaking with graphics drivers to make it work, you kids don't know how lucky you are...)

      You have the open-source "xaos" [] for a fast interactive fractal exploring and "Fraqtive", [] for a beautiful view generator. Also, there are new versions of fractint, but the UI is really outdated. Wikipedia has a list with a few more, at []

    • I just looked around the Ubuntu repositories for nostalgia's sake and found Fraqtive ( It looks pretty slick, uses multiple cores and SSE instructions to get you there faster, Win/Mac/Linux.

      The last 3 minutes of exploring would have taken weeks on my Apple II.

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      Not exactly interactive, but still quite nice concept: []

    • KaiRo made a SeaMonkey extension Mandelbrot explorer. Probably works in FF as well.

    • Personally, I like Gnofract 4D. [] It's quick, has a nice point 'n click interface and it's easy to save images for later use or sharing. I use if on Fedora 13, but there are Windows and Mac versions as well.
  • least he is now that he's dead. Right now he's no-longer alive and teaching math at Yale. Thanks for all those bad-ass fucking fractals! []
  • Poor guy. Those of us with our $150 or $300 Commodores and Ataris ran the fractals in gorgeous 16 or 128 colors. Perfect example of how cheaper products can be better than those $100 PCs or $3000 Apples.

    I got bored with fractals quickly. The odd shapes they generated were pretty, but I found the graphix demos generated by pirate groups to be far more interesting.

  • by dln385 ( 1451209 )
    Benoit Mandelbrot practically invented a new field of mathematics that we now use for everything from measuring the size of forests to identifying cancer in its early stages. He was the best of mathematicians.

    Eight months ago he gave a ted talk describing his work []. If you want to explore fractals for yourself, I recommend GNU XaoS [] for all platforms.
  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @12:39PM (#33918268) Homepage

    I first learned of the Mandelbrot set while watching one of Clarke documentaries, Fractals: the colours of infinity - very nicely done; very inspiring(*), as was the performance (despite its shortness) of Benoit Mandelbrot himself.

    Now both gone :/

    (*)perhaps too inspiring - I still wait for something like that fractal compression of parrot picture.

  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @12:43PM (#33918300) Homepage Journal

    if you look closer, you'll realize that he didn't die, it's just he became too big for us to see.

    • 1: No, look he's over there.
      2: Where?
      1: Between this and that.
      2: OK, between this and that. There's a thing between this and that.
      1: Yes, look between this and that other thing.
      2: OK, there's something there is that him?
      1: No, look between this and that. Keep looking...

      • >begs the question

        You know, I have given up on this one. Not only is it too late to save it, it is a horrible translation in the first place. Nowadays I prefer to use the Latin: petitio principii. After all we Latin for other logical fallacies, like ad hominem and non sequitur

        As for "whom" I don't care one way or the other. "intensive purposes" is just horrible, though. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard.

        • well, look at the rest of that comment. Did it make any sense at all from top to bottom?

          Thus, of-course, it's "intensive purposes" and "begs question", where there was no begging of any question obviously.

  • by JohannesJ ( 952576 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @12:45PM (#33918316)
    In school we had to plot Mandelbrots. Now Mandelbrot has a plot of his own.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 16, 2010 @12:51PM (#33918348)

    rss takes another victim...

  • An Inspiration (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hoover ( 3292 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @01:04PM (#33918430)

    I think those pictures he came up with first inspired an entire generation of would-be computer scientists, maths geeks, physicists and Scientific American readers. How such a simple iteration could render those fascinating patterns even on a 2d grid, remains to this day one of the big mysteries. R.I.P. Benoit, I hope you'll finally be able to make sense of the fractal nature of things from up / down there!

  • I'll miss the guy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by line-bundle ( 235965 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @01:07PM (#33918450) Homepage Journal

    I met the guy personally at least 4 times in the last 5 years. He was great to get along with and not aloof at all for all his successes.

    I'm currently following up on is work in finance (stable distributions).

    May he RIP, and may his family consider him resting.

  • by seandoyle44 ( 1835628 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @01:13PM (#33918502)
    I remember the Scientific American with the Mandelbrot set on the cover - it was a huge influence on my life. I was working as a research assistant at the Federal Reserve Board in DC and was losing interest in mathematical modeling as a way to understand anything in the real world. Most of the models I was dealing with were linear or mostly linear. When I read the article at first I thought it was some cheap trick or approximation... but gradually I realized it was different than anything I had seen before. So - being a rational, optimizing actor I then left the field of economics .. the most utility-maximizing decision I ever made :-) Since then I've always viewed fractals as a gateway drug to more complex models of the universe. So many processes unfold over time; fractals are just one of the ways to get a glimpse of what might be going on. Thanks Dr. Mandelbrot!
    • by lpaul55 ( 137990 ) *

      I heard Mandelbrot talk at IBM a few years ago. He was concerned about the increase in volatility of the financial markets - this was before 2008 - and I wonder what his last thoughts were on the subject of economics.

  • Mandelbrot Set (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dirkson ( 1085087 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @01:18PM (#33918534)
    He gave us order out of chaos; he gave us hope where there was none. And his geometry succeeds where others fail. Mandelbrot's in heaven.
    • by lennier ( 44736 )

      You're a Rorshach test on fire. You're a day-glo pterodactyl. You're a heart-shaped box of strings and wire and one bad-ass f*ing fractal.

  • ... that was not merely limited to single or even double precision?
    • Yes, KPT Fraxplorer in the KPT5 suite of Photoshop plug-ins implements 1024-bit math to zoom in far deeper than double-precision allows.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by spitzak ( 4019 )

        He asked for "real time".

        I would suspect the switch from hardware doubles to software arbitrary-precision produces many orders of magnitude of slowdown so the answer is no.

  • Math and youth (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ortholattice ( 175065 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @01:26PM (#33918586)
    Defying the notion that mathematicians are over the hill at age 30, Mandelbrot made his fractal breakthroughs when he was in his 50s. It gives the rest of us some hope. :)
  • I spent many hours exploring fractals with that software. Though I had a little better graphics (EGA). Fond memories.

  • by farrellj ( 563 ) * on Saturday October 16, 2010 @01:46PM (#33918710) Homepage Journal

    I, too, used Fract386, which became Fractint....I worked at a computer store in Toronto, and we used to sell so many NEC Multi-Sync monitors with ATI's VGA Wonder card based upon showing Fractint on it!

    Through someone on I met on LJ, I was able to get a "autographed mandelbrot", basically a color print out of part of the Mandelbrot set, autographed by the now, late, great Benoit Mandelbrot. Although I never got to meet him, he discovery has given much beauty to my life.


  • by KingAlanI ( 1270538 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @01:49PM (#33918730) Homepage Journal

    Fractals were how this non-artist got his art credit in high school with style. :)

  • by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @02:17PM (#33918934) Journal

    Many of the people who have discovered things great and small that astonish and delight are still living. It's not too late to look them up on the internet and personally thank them.

  • My feelings at his passing are both too real and too complex to explain in plane terms.
  • Seen it all (Score:5, Funny)

    by dgriff ( 1263092 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:35PM (#33919378)

    ran it for long periods of time [...] exploring the beautiful world

    Yeah, but when you've seen one part of the Mandelbrot set, you've seen it all.

  • Zooming into a Mandelbox, with weird music: []
  • My first program... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by curious.corn ( 167387 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @06:11PM (#33920264)

    ... back in uni - gwbasic I think - was a Mandelbrot set renderer. We were just starting with Mathematical Analysis and the first real struggles with imaginary numbers, sequences, series and limits. I guess messing around with it cost me an exam session, but it was way much more fun than rote theorems (later Profs were good, not that first class though ;( )


  • CG procedurals (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @06:36PM (#33920434)

    A few years ago it was popular to make CG images of starships with a procedural/fractal nebula in the background. I used to make comments like: "The Enterprise is investigating the Mandelbrot Nebula", but nobody I know of ever got it.

  • At least for me... I first read something about him, in my freshman year in college, in the book Caos, by James Gleick []. To this day I remember him with the utmost consideration. I hope he had a happy life. I'll never forget his work... He was one of the great scientists of our time.
  • He was a great man in every sense of the word. Despite his enormous accomplishments and being a historical figure, he still took time to address his emails personally and answered every reasonable request. I was his assistant of sorts during a period in Cambridge, MA, and one time he got this request from a person asking him to write to his HS math teacher because this teacher had inspired him to go into math. Well Prof Mandelbrot wrote him a beautiful letter that still chokes me up when I remember it. A
  • His good counsel... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MikeYoung ( 1923198 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:05AM (#33923196)
    A sad day for me and for others who admired his inveterate quirkiness and his uncanny ability to "think outside the box." I never met Dr. Mandelbrot, but we had about a dozen phone conversations over the past 15 years. He liked my research and appreciated that his work on cotton prices inspired me to challenge conventional wisdom in my field of real estate. In our last conversation, after mentioning that I was updating some old work, I asked him whether to employ newer technology or simply to extend the earlier work with the same technology used back in 1995. As was often the case, he related a story. This time it concerned a mentor whom he described as a genius and aviation pioneer who received little recognition for his work. Why? Well, it seemed that this man never was satisfied with his aircraft designs, always knowing that he could do something better. As a consequence of his endless quest for perfection, the man never saw his airplane fly. Dr. Mandelbrot's advice to me was "Just get the plane to fly. Then, others will know what can be refined." I will miss his sage counsel.
  • Every since the publication of "The Fractal Geometry of Nature", my views of our Universe have been transformed.

    And in case you haven't noticed, the title here is a paraphrase of a title of a chapter of a story (or film) of another Great that, too, is no longer with us. Let's see if you recognize it.

    It is sad that brilliant minds die. But it happens. And may you fall into an infinite trench of Fractal wonders.

    Mandelbrot has inspired many, and has inspired me to create Gravity Set Fractals.

    http:// []

  • A manderbrot set renderer I happened to write a few years ago in dc(1) []:


    The output of the program [] in case you don't feel like running it yourself.

  • by gfody ( 514448 )
    Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.
  • I don't think you can fully appreciate the deep beauty of the Mandelbrot set until you've coded your own program to render it. Sure, once you've done it, use someone else's implementation -- it's sure to be faster, more flexible and have a nicer UI. But writing your own makes you understand the underlying maths.

    I wrote mine in Basic on a BBC Micro. I'd leave it overnight to render a full screen 320x256, 4bpp.

    Now it's a piece of cake in Processing or Processing.js, and renders pretty much instantly:
    http://pr []

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