The Color Strata

Color Names, Common And Less So, Compared

I’m an incorrigible data hound.  So, once the tempting aroma of XKCD’s color name survey results tickled my nose, I had no choice – but to run to the dining room, stand up on my hind legs, and yank that statistical top sirloin off the table!  Om nom nom yum yum yum!

For those unfamiliar, XKCD is the popular webcomic, and on its sister blog, author Randall Munroe announced his survey as follows:

I’d like your help for a color name survey!  The survey shows you colors, and you type a name (word or phrase) you might use for that color.  The names can be as broad or specific as you want.

XKCD's Color Map

XKCD's Color Map

During the next two months, over 200,000 people named more than 5,000,000 random hues.  Soon thereafter, Randall delivered a frequently side-splitting analysis of the results, artfully punctuated by his wonderful Color Map (pictured right): an illustration detailing the territorial dominance of each name in fully-saturated RGB space.  The kicker was that the magnanimous Munroe made the individual survey responses – possibly the largest body of such information in existence – publicly available for anyone to use.  Kudos for freeing the data, dude!

Now, deep in the cockles of my drama queen heart, there’s always been a little shrine for the colors with the charismatic, less-spoken names.  Could periwinkle roll off the tongue more adorably?  Maroon?  Aye, there be pirates about!  And yeah, burgundy and chartreuse do sound a bit boozy, but they’re hella more fun at parties than “dark red” and “yellow-green.”

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Season Creep

Winter, Summer, And Lord Stanley's Cup



Hooray!  It’s the first of June, and long gone are winter cold and spring gloom.  We’re footloose and parka-free, baby birds chirp with glee, green lawns and mowers duel endlessly, and he intercepts the puck at mid-ice, shakes a defender, speeds over the blue line, fades right, jigs left, cocks his stick, lets loose with a slapshot, and scores!  Goal!!!

What in tarnation?  They’re still playing ice hockey?!?!

You betchya, as illustrated by the following graph, which shows the calendar dates of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals for each season from 1927 to present:

Dates of the Stanley Cup Finals, 1927-2010

Dates of the Stanley Cup Finals, 1927-2010

After hanging back for nearly forty years in the chilly territory of April, the finals skate past the May 1st center line in 1965 and dart offsides during the ’92 playoffs.  Since then, they’ve lingered there, ending latest on the warm June 24th evening that capped 1995’s lockout-delayed season, three days past the official beginning of summer!

Now, call me a hopeless nostalgic, but remove something far enough from its natural state – say from a frozen pond to a climate-controlled ice rink in the summertime – and gone is the gravitas that made it interesting in the first place.  Hockey playoffs in June have the same emotional pull as the World Series – played indoors, on Astroturf, in February.

On the other hand, the NHL’s still solvent, so maybe, on balance, the late season is a draw?  Does the average person find hockey irresistible when dressed in Bermuda shorts and a tank top?  God, it’s hot… and that ice looks so cold and refreshing… come to mama, so she can belly-flop onto the rink like an octopus?

Next thing you know, the National Hockey League will be doling out teams to cities where it never snows, and naming them after those “warm-weather” animals… like sharks and panthers!  Hey hoser, how silly would that be, eh?

Seeing Carbon Dioxide

A Greenhouse Gas Visualization

This past Halloween, we approached a curious jack-o’-lantern with the solitary number 350 carved into its flesh.  A bright-eyed man emerged from the tiny home behind it.  My kids yelled “trick-or-treat!”  He dropped some candy in their buckets.  And then, I asked the question that he’d obviously been waiting for:

Industrial emissions.

Industrial emissions.

What’s with the 350 pumpkin?  Is that your house number?

After a brief dramatic pause, the man spoke passionately of greenhouse gasses and global warming, the well-intended but woefully-inadequate Kyoto Protocol, and that we must swiftly reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to a level that scientists have determined will spare the planet:

350 parts per million!

We thanked “350 Guy” for the information and candy and continued on our way.

Later, to avoid another such embarrassing intellectual faux pas, I began to bone up on my climatology.  Now, for example, I know that the fraction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from a pre-Industrial 280 parts per million (ppm) to around 390 ppm today.

Some straightforward calculations reveal that this additional 110 ppm of CO2 amounts to a mass of 564,000 metric megatons and volume of 437,000,000 gigaliters – the shocking equivalent, per capita, of one bubble of pure carbon dioxide, 163 feet in diameter, for each man, woman, and child on the face of this earth (*):

The Per-Capita Bubble Of Industrial Carbon Dioxide.  Click to see it bigger!

The Per-Capita Bubble Of Excess Industrial-Age Carbon Dioxide. Click to see it bigger!

That’s 6.8 billion enormous spheres of greenhouse gas, each large enough to swallow the entire 129-foot length of a Boeing 737-800 airliner with room to spare.

On that note, please allow 350 Guy and Yours Truly to announce a collaborative effort – our Fall 2010 line of giant-CO2-bubble jack-o’-lanterns – coming in five months to a front porch near you!

Introducing The Glass Frisbee

A Giant Surplus Camera Lens

The faint diesel rumble, pitter-patter of delivery-man-sized feet, and thud of corrugated on concrete?  They could mean only one thing: my order from the Surplus Shed had arrived.  Aflutter, I tore to the front porch, shredded the box like a Kindergartner on Christmas morning, and, out of the scraps, hoisted my new lens towards the heavens!

You know the angelic “ahhhhhhh” chorus sound that plays whenever someone “sees the light” in the movies?  It rose to a crescendo in the background.

Because, like a first kiss, nothing can completely prepare a photographer for his or her initial encounter with a gigantic disc of aluminum and precision-ground optical glass:

A New Lens!

A New Lens!

That’s all 5.3 pounds of it, standing on edge, seven inches across and two inches deep, next to a twelve-ounce soda can and a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens for the sake of scale.  Oooooh, baby.

Side View

Side View

Owing to its pancake shape – the opposite of the typical long-and-slender lens – it soon became known as the Glass Frisbee.

I bought the Frisbee for its incredible combination of 200mm focal length and f/1.3 aperture, which I’ll use to push the limits of narrow depth of field.  By the laws of physics, once shoehorned onto my large-format 4×5 monorail camera, it’s the optical equivalent of a 50mm f/0.35 lens on a full-frame SLR.  From there, I begin an epic journey into a dreamy portrait-esque frontier, with triple the background blur of any currently-available off-the-shelf photographic system!  All theoretically, at this point, of course.

In the meantime, the Frisbee will help with a handful of other projects.  When I’m feeling Evil, it’ll focus the Death Ray.  My respectable, gentlemanly side shall enjoy a Cyclopean monocle of remarkable refinement.  And, should the situation become particularly funky, as it does from time to time, well, damn yo, the Frisbee’s got it covered.

Accessorize with three feet of decorative gold chain, and the Frisbee transforms into a lens necklace mega-medallion that’d make Flavor Flav proud:

The Flavor Flav-style Lens Necklace

The Flavor Flav-style Lens Necklace

Blingetty blangetty blong, playuh!

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That Xkcd, He’s Good People

Check out the detailed results of his excellent online color survey, and don’t miss the lists of color names most popular with women versus men!

Spoiler: It’s one of the rare blog posts that includes both an in-depth discussion of the RGB colorspace and the word “penis!”