A ‘Colourful’ Message


This is a post I’ve temporarily placed due to all the hullabaloo about the  xkcd colour survey. Please note that I am writing this purely from the point of view of an architect/designer  who has dealt with colour schedules and graphic presentations for many years. It is not about the X and y chromosome controversy Randall faced.

And the following is from the perspective of colour ‘verbalizing’ vs. colour ‘perceiving.’

Just so you know, I’ve been a big fan of  that site for a long time. But I will still question the accuracy when certain conclusions of colour and gender are claimed on softer-data without a background in neuroscience or genetic sex studies.

Another blow in the girl-boy stereotypification by the Doghouse Diaries.(click to enlarge) And you wonder why so many engineers later turn up on the 'Shrink for Men' site after hooking up with BPD/NPD women? When you think 'all women are the same' you end up with the manipulative ones, 'cause you can't decipher the good-hearted ones. Oh, the naivete of geeky men!

Perhaps it’s best for techno-geeks to not give stereotypical qualities to ‘girl’ and ‘boy’  and ‘girl-brains’ and ‘boy-brains’ without a more balanced-across-the-population-cross-section study, though I do understand that the mistake here was made by the DD strip, which was not even scientifically based. If you are stereotyping for fun, then great, and I certainly enjoy the humour – but remember that  non-mushy girls (like myself who have more technical brains and are not too sappy even though we may look quite feminine) are really SO underrepresented in our world that we are really sick and tired of the giggly, vacuous, hyper-materialistic cosmo-girl types representing ‘womanhood’ to the media  or even how girls and boys view ‘colour’. Although, compared to the enforcement of cliches by the D – Diaries, at least the xkcd survey debunked some of the gender-polarity differences. Let me give here my two cents based on a discussion on colour and gender with a real neuroscientist. And why you cannot base ‘expressions and perceptions of color’ solely based on the X and Y chromosome but more on ‘brain – wiring’ and the ‘language-function’, regardless if you are a boy or a girl. Because ‘conclusions’ drawn like that only succeed in leaving out women with technical brains in its quest for girl-boy generalizations.

While the xkcd comparison lessens the gender divide, some stereotypical color names still pop up in the written results by the author (not shown in this graphic), attributing cliched ‘blush’, ‘buttery’ adjectives for women and men ‘stoically’ choosing more ‘macho’ adjectives though these were from the survey. The ‘girly colour-naming’ in his write-up are doing more rounds in countless male sites now than the above graphic. But since the participants included a far larger no. of male geeks, can ‘visual color perception’ be measured on the same barometer as color ‘naming’? Data by those who for instance named various bluish shades as ‘blue’ without naming a variation were not considered. Isn’t there a difference between ‘perceiving differences’ of hue vs. ‘naming’?

Having worked in the design industry for 10 years, the ‘color survey’ Randall Munroe has done is truly a HUGE and very detailed amount of work  (if you see his actual survey on his site.) Of course, all types cannot be accommodated when results are based on averages and/or extremes. I had a fascinating talk on this survey with a social cognitive psychology grad and a Harvard neuroscientist – and we started concluding that the ‘naming’ of colors (and the differences you find amidst the way men and women name) is quite different than actual ‘perception’. And this has to do more with brain wiring and the LANGUAGE-expression vs. hue-saturation PERCEPTION. So while a man (and women with-‘male’-aspie-type-brains, or INTJ on the Briggs-Meyers, like myself) DO see the shade difference, we don’t use the effeminate adjectives like ‘blush’, ‘dusty’ , ‘buttery’etc. to name the shade. We’ll just put them under a ‘red category.’ Similarly women (the more ‘expressive’ types) and gay men – and I do have many dear gay designer friends – will be more creative in the NAMING of the colors – even though the latter have a Y chromosome– although both the more systematizing men and women AND the more verbalizing men and women might or might not be seeing equal variations of the shades and hues. If this survey had been done by 50,000 gay designer men (XY) and 50,000 technical-brained-geek-girls (XX), the results might have been quite something different! And a result that would have put the DD cartoon to shame.

Hence language and hue perception cannot be measured on the same barometer as true ‘color  recognition by the brain’. Basing colour ‘perception and naming’  by individuals also purely on their X or Y chromosome is reductionist if this is seen from a brain scientist’s point of view. Women whose brains are wired more like mathematical men’s even if they have XX will not be as ‘effeminate’ in their expression much like men who do see the hue differences but don’t use too many sappy adjectives. So the ‘non-sappy girl’ (or women who might think in more technical terms and spend less time obsessing about matching-designer-purses) have been dismissed off as ‘noise’ in the rush to prove that ‘women name colours in flowery ways’ (blush, dusk, buttery etc.) and ‘men give macho names’ (penis, gay, wtf. etc.) Oh, the reductionism! But on the other hand, which probably also explains why the readers who are largely geeks – both male and females in the survey results had more equality than the DD strip (which makes me sigh at the latter’s stereotypification).

Since the paint industry is a HUGE one, I wondered what would happen if a similar laborious and exhaustive survey is done in the design and construction industry….since I’ve often pondered on the paradox of choice. And since I’ve seen more women to be ‘sensitive’ to color with their moods. (Or who knows – they might be women with mood swings.) The way that works I find amongst architects and interior designers is: when we choose a color – we generalize the shade when we name it but are completely anal about the NUMBER that each paint company designates for a shade and specify it on our drawings. Then I realized that’s exactly what I do too due to my abnormally high brain systematization quotient (brain-maleness if Simon Baron-Cohen’s tests are taken into consideration). I like naming colors by their number rather than inventing mushy adjectives.

In the architectural world too we all say that we’ll give the numbers to the painting contractor and the flowery names to the lady of the house/ museum curator et al. That’s how we reach a middle ground and everyone is happy. A painting contractor and/or site engineer will understand BM06754 much better than ‘morning pink’ (as a hypothetical example) Or – as in the survey, the RGB values under the shades.

Conclusion: At the end numbers and not ‘words’ turn out to be the most accurate description to depict shades. Regardless of sex or gender-based perception of color. Or color blindness. (Because believe it or not, there are quite a few color-blind architects and interior designers too.) Also when I color plans and  elevations in Photoshop I always make a note of the RGB number for the shade that is being used for consistency. And numbering comes out as the objective resolution. When a client’s wife argues that was not the shade she wanted, we say – but m’am you did pick up BM 03356 and not BM 03357 so that’s what we gave you  ; -) And if the complaints continue – we politely do Rhet Butler’s closing line. You can’t please all the people all the time, as they say….

But regardless of errors in the survey, one of the best results Randall has provided is this uber-geek range of colour names on the screen for colour-blind people, which had been one of his tertiary aims of the survey (and because of which he unfortunately ended up with the x, y question.) With this map and the color pick, you can confidently select shades without having to refer to numbers. Ok – it’s been done before but when you have the cult-leader-of-geekdom do it, it just has far more accessibility. Cheers to that! (P.S. I am not colour blind, but have a couple of friends who are.)

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The geek-guy version of the stereotypification of ‘women’. Darn! Hilarious. And no – all women are not like this.

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(2) The ‘search’ for the rare women who combine beauty, ethics, intellect and femininity with feminism – Racqueting on a grass court

(3) Sex & the Starchitect (A look at how ‘sexiness’ is sadly seen only as the domain of the male architect.)

(4) Thoughts on the relativity of happiness….This too shall pass.

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“Hello World!”

‘HELLO WORLD” is the greeting automatically generated when you create your own blog-site on WordPress.  My first instinct was to rewrite a new heading as it asks you to. After all, this is my virgin entry (not on the web, but on my very own personal ‘blog’.) Then, on second thoughts, why not leave it as it is and use those words as an inspiration?  How would an alien visiting our planet say ”hello” to the world? Or better still, the Eye (or perhaps several pairs of eyes) that reside and fly high above and gaze upon this blue planet? Do those ‘celestial’ entities look down on us from the blackened vacuum of space and holler ‘Hello World’?

Sorry those who believe in some bearded Michelangelo-esque Almighty Father whizzing around afloat a bunch of fluffy clouds surrounded by winged angels and gazing down upon us with benevolent eyes. Alas, I do not believe in the politics of religion. Nor in the presence of a bearded grandpa watching us from above. Or for that matter, any other variations of godly grandpas with or without beards be they white, yellow, blue or black and strangely are supposed to resemble flying humans in robes from past centuries. Hmmm… Today, the  ‘flying men in capes’ are referred to for what they are: fictional comic-book superheroes. In the ancient world, flying men were given quite a different name and degree of blind reverence. Wars were fought for these unseen fliers….”my hero-god is better than your hero-god.” Translation: My Superman (or Spiderman) is better than your Batman, you idiot! Believe in him or I kill ya!   I wish works of fiction were recognized for what they were: fabulous tales by imaginative, judgmental writers and madmen from an ancient world. What still baffles me is how even today billions believe in the ‘powers’ of ancient comic-book superheroes controlling or helping us from above. And gazing upon us from starry abodes.

All right, back to those REAL sentinels in the sky :

My reference to the “eyes in space”, of course, is to two amazing man-made flying objects – which I shall name later – orbiting around our planet thanks to some of the most brilliant brains of the world. There are several of these objects, unheard, unseen (except sometimes as a tiny moving star across the night sky.) And it is to these that we owe much of what we take so much for granted today in our everyday lives. Television, cell phones, GPS trackers, weather charts, road maps and of course, the internet…..and the list goes on.

I wonder what most people think of when the names of the above inventions pop up? I do not know. To each their own. After all, to say how profoundly these services distract and complicate but far more extensively enhance, secure and inform our lives would be an understatement. We have methods of information, knowledge and communication available today which even a generation  back might have felt like science fiction. So the thought which pops in my mind often is that these  ‘luxuries’ are possible only because of those silent, orbiting bodies in space watching over us, those elaborate contraptions that some of the best and brightest geeks of the world have conceptualized, designed and built  : Satellites.

There are many of  Sputnik’s descendants gallivanting around. But the ‘two’ in particular that I refer to above are amongst my favorites : The Landsat 7  and the Aster Terra Satellite. I call these two the ‘aerial artists.’ Why?  Take a look at the images they made possible. Earth as Art indeed.


(Images courtesy of USGS National Center for EROS and NASA Landsat Project Science Office. Click for larger views – absolutely worth it!)

RED : Utah’s Green River flows south across the Tavaputs Plateau before entering Desolation Canyon. The Canyon slices through the Roan & Book Cliffs which resemble long staircase like escarpments. Nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon, Desolation Canyon is one of the largest unprotected wilderness areas of the American West. (Landsat 7 data, USGS & NASA)

BLUE : The astounding textures in this ‘study in blues’ is but the the steep-sided volcanic cones along the Chilean-Argentinian border. Of the nearly 18000 volcanoes scattered across this region, 28 are active. (Aster data, USGS & NASA)

YELLOW : Namib-Naukluft National Park is an ecological preserve in Namibia’s vast Namib Desert. Coastal winds create the tallest sand dunes in the world here, with some dunes reaching 980 feet (300 meters) in height.(Landsat data, USGS & NASA)

These  images were taken by the Landsat 7 satellite and the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) aboard the Terra Satellite. They were created by the USGS National Center for EROS to introduce the general public to the Landsat Program, which is administered jointly by USGS and NASA.  To create these vivid RGB composites various combinations of the eight Landsat 7 spectral bands were selected. The result, as evident, creates a  remarkable intensity of color,  texture and detail.

Ever since I was a little girl Astronomy has always fascinated me. That and airplanes, rockets, forests, mountains, art, puzzles. And Lego. Thoughts of flying across space in lightning speed, peering onto our fascinating planet from above, zipping from over clouds to under the oceans – if only I could fly! And I have flown (my first Cessna in 2006) and squealed in the exhilaration of flight, but let’s admit it – which gipsy-geek has not been sucked into the sheer delight of navigating the world from the confines of a screen through Google Earth?

But before there was Google Earth, there were satellites and a particularly engrossing course we took in my graduate program: Geographic Information Systems. It was here that my love for Landsat & Terra images were consolidated. Besides the intense technical structure of the course, I would get lost in the breathtaking beauty of the images these satellites captured. Although most of our work involved more prosaic sites, it was still exciting to think that the ‘cameramen’ were the same.

On a summer afternoon I had once laboriously printed a series of these images on transparent plastic sheets which I then proceeded to stick on the glass of  my bedroom windows. It only seemed fair that the sun’s rays should cast unconventional colored patterns on the walls and floor of my little bedroom as  they filtered  through this custom-made glass-art. My ‘space-age’ version of Tiffany’s stained glass windows. I collected an entire series of  ‘satellite art’ the way some people collect baseball cards. The science behind it would leave me pondering for hours. It had taken countless hours and years of calculations, mathematics, physics and mechanical-electrical-aerospace-engineering to present the earth for what it was: A work of unfathomable art – stained by chaos, blood, fire, water, stone, silence, peace, paradoxes and immeasurable beauty. Except the last could now be ‘measured.’ And captured through lenses from miles above.

I still recall, my GIS instructor – a strict, brilliant-yet-poetic Russian-Canadian lady – who during her first class, after jotting down several numbers and calculations on the screen, announced that the way to comprehend the science of satellite imagery was to first understand the message in Antoine de St. Exupery’s book Le Petit Prince.  In fact she passed on to the students copies of the book and asked us to find out which  common  thread of thought connected GIS to the views of a fictional cartoon. That  the science of Landsat and Terra satellite imagery and its techniques and  applications would be best understood by those who could decipher the line: ”Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” *

The essential is invisible to the eyes. And it is but satellite technology and RGB composites that reveal the truth  and magnificent beauty of our mysterious hidden landscapes. Years later, whenever I take a breather from prosaic routine to marvel at these images and many more taken by our L & T “dynamic duo” in space, I know what she meant.

Pictures – captivating, stunning, breathless. It is easy to see why, when confronted by such intense beauty, a sense of wonder can arise in the viewer. That there is some “higher power” behind this creation. There certainly is – the power of intricate geographic, ecological, geological and evolutionary systems. And the incredible power of the human mind and in particular certain remarkable brains which created these “contraptions” that could capture through images those parts of the world that were almost impossible to access by mortal eyes. And,  with the ability of remote-sensing devices, to actually “see” energy in wavelengths not visible to the human eye. “Hello World” indeed! If your friendly neighborhood  Terra & Landsat 7 could holler a greeting from outer space, that’s what it probably would be….

Ocean Sand

A satellite image of the sands and seaweed in..? (Guess where! ) The image was taken by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus (ETM+) instrument aboard the Landsat 7 satellite. Tides and ocean currents in these tropical islands sculpted the sand and seaweed beds into these multicolored, fluted patterns in much the same way that winds sculpted the vast sand dunes in the Sahara Desert.

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Sidetracked Alert! An interesting read if this has piqued your interest in color theory – both modern and ancient, Goethe’s ‘Zur Farbenlehre‘ :  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_Colours and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color

* ”Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see well. The essential is invisible to the eyes.”

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Want more images? A short video I made with GIS images set to a Chopin nocturne. Here : https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/random-acts-of-planet-earth/


One of my favorite scientists, Carl Sagan’s take on the ‘science of Sports’:  https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/billions-of-stars-billions-of-sports-fans/