I note that Benoît Mandelbrot has died, this is something that I find saddens me more than it should This post was automatically imported from my old sandfly.net.nz blog. It may look a little weird since it was not originally written for this format.. I never met the guy or actually read any of his works directly, only popular secondhand descriptions. But I suspect that I am not alone among my peers in having spent hours making programs to plot his set and then hours waiting for the damn thing to render.
BenoîtI am confused about the spelling of his name. Some sources use the circumflex (î), some don't. Mandelbrot had the good fortune to publish his famous book just as bitmapped computer displays were becoming common in even cheep home computers. Suddenly anyone with a few hundred dollars and a rainy weekend could have a cutting-edge mathematical shape appear sloooowly line-by-line on their TV screens. And then they could select part of that image and zoom in. And zoom in again. And again. Forever, until they got bored or their computer ran out of floating-point precision. Nobody knew what it meant, but it seemed like magic.
Anyway, this is mainly an excuse to post Jonathan Coulton's great song. It is a shame that the second verse is now out of date: