Marzipan update – now with context menu!

It may seem trivial, but I unlocked an achievement on Marzipan: I added a menu. I’ve been wanting to have a few “quality of life” improvements for a while now, but so far I had been hiding under the duvet of “I really don’t want to touch the UI/Qt code more than I strictly have to”.

My experience with graphical toolkits in general has never been great. It’s really out of my comfort zone; I tend to find that the tutorials on the Internet don’t have anything between an equivalent of “Hello, World!” and an equivalent of “here’s some advanced quantum mechanics” (I do suck at physics in general as well); I kind of have the impression that my use cases are dead simple and should just Be Available As Is and that For Sure I Don’t Need To Read All That Documentation. (Yeah, yeah, I may be somewhat guilty here.) And I get upset and impatient, and generally speaking it’s not a good experience – neither for myself nor for anyone else in the room. (My apologies to my husband!)

But when you’re the only coder and the only user of a project, at some point biting the bullet gets inevitable. Consequently, in the last pull request, I did a fair amount of refactoring. When I started my coding session, everything was contained in a QWindow, in which I was painting an image directly on the QBackingStore. I then read a bunch of stuff about menus, which made me update my QWindow to a QMainWindow – for which the QBackingStore seems less trivially accessible, so I modified that. But then, the refresh was only working when resizing the window, which kind of sucked (and I’m still not entirely sure why). So I put a QWidget inside my QMainWindow as a main widget, and that allowed me to have both the refresh and the menu – yay! I needed to tinker a bit more to get back the keyboard control (move them from the QWidget to the QMainWindow), and now it’s all nice and shiny.

The undo/redo function itself is basically storing the fractal parameters in a couple of stacks and re-computing on undo/redo – nothing fancy (and my memory management is utter shit – read “nonexistent”, I really need to fix that – and I don’t handle storing the orbits properly yet, but one thing at a time.)

As a result: I do have at least half-functional Undo/Redo, and more importantly, I have a reasonable base for future UI/QoL development: I hope that the major hurdle of figuring out how things might fit together is behind me, and I’m a bit less scared of it.

I can’t say I’m happy with that session, because I still have the impression that I tried to put stuff together while having no idea what I’m doing, and while having the impression that I’m not actually learning anything in the process, but this may actually be better than I think. We’ll see πŸ™‚

Some more Marzipan bitmap fun

I did track down my zoom/scaling issue that I was mentioning in the previous post, and I improved the distance map for my bitmap orbit coloring. I’m still not 100% happy with it – I need to think a bit more about what I want to do there exactly, but it’s still enough that I spent a couple of hours yesterday playing with Marzipan as a “fractal generating software” and having fun with it, and not only as a “software project I’m working on”. Granted, the “UI” is still mostly “let me change the color palette and recompile”, but I was having too much fun making pretty images to dig into making the UI usable πŸ™‚

So – here are a few pictures from my last “creative” session πŸ™‚

Purple explosion

For “Purple explosion,” the seed bitmap is a bunch of rectangles of the same size put randomly on the canvas.

Rainbow equation

“Rainbow equation” is dedicated to Matthias, who was the one mentioning I should put the set equation in the image. And it’s rainbow because why the hell not πŸ™‚

Lace flowers

“Lace flowers” uses one of the brushes from GIMP (Manju’s Flower – Large) as its base. I quite like this one, except for the fact that my processing of the flower should be smoother so that the end result is also smoother. That’s how I learn πŸ˜‰

Tux funnel

For “Tux funnel”, I used as a base the Tux Mono drawing by gg3po, Iwan Gabovitch, GPL licensed, via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the things that amuses me is the ephemeral quality of what I do here. Choosing to save a picture (and that’s still somewhat of an ordeal) is the only way to keep a trace of what I’m doing. I cannot get back to an image and try to “keep it, but improve it”: since I don’t have my settings and I don’t remember where I zoom, any new attempt will be a new image. I even didn’t keep my seed bitmaps so far – so reproducing an image would really be hopeless. And I quite like it that way.

Marzipan – bitmap orbits (and some bugs)

I worked a bit on Marzipan this week-end, and started playing with bitmap orbits. The idea is the same as for point orbits and line orbits: we look at the iterations of the escaping points, and we look at the distance on the plane between the complex numbers represented by these iterations and a given set on the same plane.

Since my creativity was apparently all used up by trying to make the algorithm work instead of trying to find a nice bitmap to play with, I simply have the name of my project somewhere on an image, as black&white. I pre-compute a distance map to that bitmap (in a very approximate and most probably buggy way right now – something’s not quite right there, but good enough for a first approximation) and I use that distance map to display the points I’m interested in when rendering the fractal.

The very annoying thing is that I do have a bug on the zooming algorithm – things tend to flip and/or to go to weird places. I haven’t been able to track it down yet: it must be said that I’m typically hopeless at handling 2D grids and scaling factors without breaking a neuron or two, and that on top of that, as mentioned previously, I’m probably making my own life miserable by using a non-standard window manager. I’ll probably need to go to KDE or something to debug this thing properly (sigh :/)

Still, in the meantime, I’m not unhappy with the results πŸ™‚

Marzipan progress

Today I added a couple of features to Marzipan, my fractal generator, so I’m going to show a few images of what I worked on πŸ™‚

First, I refactored the orbit trap coloring to be able to expand it with other types of orbit traps; then I added the implementation for line orbit traps. Turns out, adding random line and point orbit traps is pretty fun, and can yield pretty results!

A mix of line and point trap orbits

The other thing that I did was to add “multi-color palettes”: instead of giving a “beginning color” and an “end-color”, I can now pass a set of colors that will get used over the value interval. Which means, I can get much more colorful (and hence incredibly more eye-hurting) images!

Yay, rainbows!

And, well, I can also combine these two approaches to get NEON RAINBOWS!


Finally, I also played a bit with the ratios of the image that I generate – the goal is to not distort the general shape of the bulbs when zooming in the image. This is still pretty unsatisfactory, I need to make that work better (and to understand exactly how the size of the Qt window interacts with my window manager, because I’m probably making my life more complicated than it strictly needs to be there).

I had a lot of fun today implementing all of that, and then losing myself into finding fun colorings and fun trap orbits and all that kind of things. Now, the issue is that if I have more colors, I have more leeway to generate REALLY UGLY IMAGES, and I may need to develop a bit of taste if I want to continue doing pretty stuff πŸ˜‰

Now what crossed my mind today:

  • I believe I have a bug, either in the multi-color palette or in the orbit trap coloring – I’ve seen suspicious things when zooming on certain parts (colors changing whereas they should not have), so I’ll need to track it and fix it. I also made performance worse when playing with multiple orbits for laziness reasons, I’ll need to fix that too.
  • I have some more things that I want to experiment with on orbit traps – I think there’s some prettiness I haven’t explored yet and I want to do that.
  • I should really start thinking about getting a better UI. I want a have better UI, I don’t want to code the better UI πŸ˜›
  • I should at least add a proper way to save an image instead of relying on getting them from the place where I dump them before displaying them – that would be helpful.
  • I should also find a way to import/export “settings” so that a given image can be reproduced – right now it’s very ephemeral. Which is not necessarily a bad thing πŸ˜‰
  • I can probably improve the performance of the “increasing the number of iterations” operation, and I should do that.
  • The “image ratio” thing is still very fuzzy and I need to think a bit more about what I want and how to do it.

Smooth coloring of Mandelbrot

I got half nerd-sniped (by my dad, as it quite often happens) after my blog post on my fractal renderer – “but… your continuous coloring, there… how does it work?”. I had implemented it 8 months ago without really asking myself the question, so after answering “eh, some magic”, I finally got curious for real, and I started digging a bit more into it.

Starting from the Wikipedia article footnotes, I ended up on a couple of articles: Renormalizing the Mandelbrot Escape and Smooth Escape Iteration Counts, as well as smooth iteration count for generalized Mandelbrot sets, that mostly allowed me to piece together some understanding of it. I will admit that my own understanding is still a bit messy/sloppy – my aim here is to try to give some understanding somewhere between “apply this function and you get smooth coloring” and “spectral analysis of eigenvalues in Hilbert spaces” (it’s APPARENTLY related; I’m pretty sure I’ve known at SOME point what this group of words meant, but right now it’s barely a fuzzy concept. Math: if you don’t use it you lose it 😦 ).

Mandelbrot set and discrete coloring

Before talking about continuous coloring, let me set a few concepts and notations so that we’re on the same page.

We iterate, from a point c = x + y\mathrm{i} (where (x,y) are coordinates on the plane), the sequence z = z^2 + c, where z is a starting constant, typically 0, and we look at the points for which this sequence diverges to infinity or does not. The points for which the sequence does not diverge to infinity (i.e., the sequence is bounded) are part of the Mandelbrot set.

Counting to infinity is, however, a bit long. The first thing we can do is – if we know early that the sequence goes to infinity, we can stop counting: the sequence diverges. We happen to know that, for z = z^2 + c, the sequence diverges as soon as its magnitude |z| > R (or equivalently, x^2 + y^2 > R). (Note that the minimum value for this to work is R = 2.) So we can iterate on every point and, as soon as its magnitude reaches 2, conclude that the point is not in the Mandelbrot set. This process gives another information: the iteration at which this condition is met – which is an indication about how fast the sequence diverges.

That only solves a part of the problem – because by definition, the points for which the sequence is bounded will never stop the process in that model. So the second thing we do is to consider that if a sequence has not diverged after a given, fixed number of iterations, then probably it won’t.

Finally, for every possible number of iterations, we define a color (in a way that eventually makes the result pretty/interesting); we also define a color for points whose sequence does not diverge (and that are considered in the set); and we color each point according to that.

Now the thing with this approach is that the number of iterations tend to gather in “bands” – as in the following picture.

Discrete coloring bands

Smooth coloring

The bands come from the fact that two neighboring pixels “tend to” have the same number of iterations, and hence the same color. If the range of possible values is smooth, and if two neighboring points end up not being associated to the exact same value, and if the palette maps them to different colors, then the coloring should be smooth – even with a fairly reduced palette.

The idea is that we want to represent whether a sequence “barely” reached the escape radius or whether it could have done so almost on the previous iteration, so far it is from the threshold. Ideally, we represent that by a function that goes from 0 to 1, we get a nice smooth range, and that yields a nice smooth coloring.

Now many sources go from this statement to “and now, like a rabbit out of the hat, take \log(\log(z)) and we’re done”. Some of them mumble something about “deriving it from Douady-Hubbard potential“, but it’s not really satisfying either. I gave a quick look to that, and I may revisit the topic eventually, but right now the maths go wayyyy over my head 😦

Still, the main question I had was “well, if we’re only interested in mapping ‘the space between the bands’, why not just drop a linear operator on that and be done?”. My reasoning was as follows: we know that at iteration i, we’re above the radius of convergence R, and we were not in the previous iteration, that means that we can bound it. If z_{i-1} and z_i are the values of z at escape iteration i, we have, by definition of i, |z_i| > R and |z_{i-1}| \leq R. To bound z_i from the above, we write |z_i| = |z_{i-1}^2 + c| (by definition of z), which is less than |z_{i-1}|^2 + |c| (by triangular inequality), which is in turn less than R^2 + |c|.

Hence, our “escape margin” |z| - R is between 0 and r^2 + |c|, and we want to map that to something between 0 and 1, so let’s just divide those two things, define my fractional iteration count as \displaystyle i + 1 - \frac{|z| - R}{r^2 + |c|} and we’re done, right?

Hmmm. It DOES look smooth-er. It’s not… smooth. I have two guesses here. First: the triangular inequality is a bit too rough for my estimate. Second: it may be that I’m generally speaking missing something somewhere. Maybe a bit of both.

Now that’s where the “magic” happens. I’ve read enough on the topic to have some inkling that there’s actual, proper math behind that makes it work, but I’m not able to understand, let alone explain it in simple terms πŸ˜‰

The fractional iteration count that makes things work is \displaystyle i + 1 - \frac{\ln \ln |z|}{\ln 2}. The best intuition/simplified explanation I’ve seen for this comes from Renormalizing the Mandelbrot Escape, where they have the following quote:

The following simplified and very insightful explanation is provided by Earl L. Hinrichs:
“Ignoring the +C in the usual formula, the orbit point grows by Z := Z^2. So we have the progression Z, Z^2, Z^4, Z^8, Z^16, etc. Iteration counting amounts to assigning an integer to these values. Ignoring a multiplier, the log of this sequence is: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16. The log-log is 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 which matches the integer value from the iteration counting. So the appropriate generalization of the discrete iteration counting to a continuous function would be the double log.”

Smooth coloring

So, there. I’m going to leave the topic there for now – that was quite fun to dig into, but I do need more advanced math if I want to dig deeper. It might happen – who knows – but not now πŸ™‚

New year Marzipan

Around a year ago, I started playing with a small fractal generator that I called Marzipan (because, well, Mandelbrot – basically marzipan, right). Okay, in all fairness, I re-used that name from a previous small fractal generator that I had coded in Javascript several years ago πŸ™‚

It’s primarily (for now) a renderer of colored Mandelbrot sets. The Mandelbrot set is fairly well-known:

Mandelbrot set

This image is a made on a 2D plane whose upper-left coordinate is at (-2, -1) and lower-end coordinate is at (1, 1). For each point (x, y) of this plane, we consider the complex number z = x + yi, we do some operations (called iterations) repeatedly on z, and we see what is the result. If z grows larger and larger (if the sequence of operations diverges), the point z is not in the Mandelbrot set, and we color it grey. If it does not, or if we give up before seeing that it diverges, the point z in in the Mandelbrot set, and we color it black. The longer we wait before deciding that a point is in the set, the more precise the boundary is (because we have “more chances” that it diverges if it is going to diverge).

And it’s technically possible to zoom as much as you want on the border of the set and to get “interesting” results at infinite amount of zoom – every little part of the border has an infinite amount of detail.

Now one of the reason why Mandelbrot (and other similar computation) renderings are quite popular is that they’re colorful and pretty. In particular, I have a fair amount of screen wallpaper coming from Blatte’s Backgrounds, that contain some of this kind of images. The connection between my set above and the colorful images I linked is not a priori obvious.

Enter: coloring algorithms. The idea is to try to represent graphically how the points outside of the set diverge. The first algorithm I implemented was a escape time algorithm: if the point diverges after 5 iterations, color it in a given color, after 6, in an other color, after 50, in yet another color, and so on. And the fastest way to generate a color palette is to just generate it randomly (and to affect one color to each possible number of iterations), which can yield… fairly ugly images πŸ˜‰

Random coloring of the escape time

A variation of that approach is to affect to each number of iteration a color that is “proportional” (for instance, more or less saturated) to the number of points that actually reach that number of iterations.

Histogram coloring of the escape time

Then the next idea is to go from “discrete coloring” to “continuous coloring” – right now, we have bands of colors that may have some aesthetic quality, but that may not work for what one has in mind in the end. To achieve that, we add a “continuous” component to our iteration computation (so that it’s not integer anymore) and we map it to the color palette.

Continuous coloring of the escape time

The other coloring algorithm that I started exploring today is coloring by orbit traps. Instead of considering when the iteration escape, we look at how it escapes, and we try to represent that. The first idea is to take an arbitrary, “interesting” point (from an aesthetic point of view, and mostly found by trial and error at this stage), and to look at how close the iterations of the escaping points come to this fixed point). The colored values are the distances to this point. (And the image at the beginning of this post is a (low) zoom from this one πŸ™‚ ) Note: on this one I also tweaked the palette computation to get more contrast. That was fun πŸ™‚

Coloring of the distance to an orbit point (-0.25 + 0.5i)

Generally speaking, this project is also for me a nice visual sandbox to play around – on top of practicing my C++, my goal is to generate pretty images, but that typically requires a fair amount of “quality of life” updates:

  • a very basic set of command-line options so that I could generate images without hard-coding all the values
  • quicker than I would have thought: a minimal Qt UI that allows me to zoom and increase/decrease the number of iterations – and right now I kind of feel the need to expand that UI so that it’s… actually useable (being able to change parameters on the UI, re-scaling the window to fit the ratio of the rendered input, that sort of things)
  • yesterday, I sped up the rendering by… well, adding threads πŸ˜› (via the QtConcurrent library).

Generally speaking, it’s a fun project – and it’s actually something I can go back to quite quickly (once I go over the shock of “urgh C++” – I actually DO like C++, but I did AoC in Go, and it’s a fairly different language) and implement a thing or two here or there, which is nice. For instance, a few months ago, I went “given my current code, can I add support for Julia sets within 10 minutes before going to bed?” and the answer was yes:

Julia set for z = -0.4+0.6i