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Google does fractals in HTML5

Take a break with Julia and Mandelbrot

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Fractals. They're porn for techies. Well, truth be told, porn is porn for techies. But fractals aren't far behind.

Fractals are far more interesting, at least in the long run. And you can look at fractals at the office without worrying if the boss will walk by.

If you're a techie, it's time you visited Google Labs project that uses the browser to render fractal images describing various Julia and Mandelbrot sets.

According to a blog post from Google software engineer Daniel Wolf, the fractal renderer is coded in HTML5 using the Google Maps API to allow you to zoom in and out on a fractal image and pan around the image as well.

Google Mandelbrot Set 1

The images described by the Julia and Mandelbrot sets, which you can play around with here, are calculated using JavaScript, and you can change the color palette to mess around with how the fractals are painted.

Google Mandelbrot Set 2

"Generating these images requires heavy computation resources," explains Wolf in his blog post. "Modern browsers have optimized JavaScript execution up to the point where it is now possible to render in a browser fractals like Julia sets almost instantly."

Google Julia Set 1

Wolf says that rendering each fractal image in the browser takes millions of floating point operations, and uses the Web Workers API, which allows for the JavaScript processing to spawn multiple and parallel rendering calculations to speed up the painting of each fractal image. The Web Workers API can also spread the rendering work over multiple cores and threads in a machine.

The images in this story were rendered on a single-socket workstation with a 2.27 GHz Xeon E5507 processor, 6 GB of memory, and an AMD FirePro V4800 graphics card. This machine is rated at a 7.0 on the Windows experience index, and it is running Windows 7 Professional 64-Bit and Google Chrome 9.0.597.84. As best as I can figure, the Google browser fractal generator is not using OpenGL and doing calculations on that graphics card. It didn't matter. They rendered in about a second.

And once again, raise a coffee mug to Benoit Mandelbrot, who used computers to render fractal images and popularized them and who died back in October.

Now get back to work. ®

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