Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Of psychics and volcanoes

As I write this blogpost, I am at the foothills of New Year’s, that time of year when all good soothsayers are called upon to say some sooth about the upcoming year. But, should we pay any attention to the sooth that they say?

In this post, I am not considering those pundits who predict stuff based on some sort of discernible trend. I am not thinking along the lines of predictions about sports, politics, or economics. I just want to consider psychics who predict events that don't lend themselves to prediction by careful analysis.

So, I started by setting the rules for the experiment. I first would decide on a topic where a lot of psychics might be making predictions. The topic should be considered by scientists to be “tough to make precise predictions about”. The topic should be verifiable by a trusted source. I would then look for predictions that prognosticators made about the year 2014, and limit my experiment to the first 20 psychics that Google found for me.

Note that I decided on the rules of the test before I went to research what psychics had to say. In this way, I avoided cherry picking the results.

I decided ahead of time that I should not worry about predictions that are made about likely events. Finding one a psychic out of 20 who correctly predicted a single coin toss is not very impressive. Ten of the 20 psychics should be able to guess that correctly. I’m looking for predictions that are tough enough that you would expect that none of the 20 guessers would be correct by chance.

After a little pondering, I decided I would look for predictions about volcanic eruptions. I found a reliable source for information: the Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Project. They seem to have done a pretty thorough job of documenting all the volcanic eruptions. There database has just over 3,200 eruptions from the past century alone.

One note… I should define the term VEI (Volcanic Explositity Index). This is a measure of the amount of material that is ejected from a volcano during an eruption. The numbers go logarithmically from 0 to 8. The rank 0 means “effusive”, 1 means “gentle”, 2 means “explosive”, 3 means “catastrophic”, and so on. In the past century, the largest volcanic eruption was Mount Pinatubo in 1991, with a VEI of 6. There were 8 eruptions with a VEI of 5, and 61 with a VEI of 4.

I went googling on variations of the search “psychic predictions 2014 volcano”.

The results were pretty conclusive. I found 31 predictions that the 20 psychics made about volcanic events for the year 2014. I did not find a single prediction that was both correct and unlikely to have been stumbled on by chance.

My firm conclusion: psychics that Google says are popular have a perfectly lousy track record when it comes to predictions about volcanoes in 2014. This has been fairly well demonstrated.

Since I picked the topic more or less "at random", and since the results were completely unequivocal, it is my expectation that similar topics for predictions would reveal similar results. Until proven otherwise, I will make the bold statement that psychics do poorly at predictions that lack some sort of trending information that could serve as a basis for intelligent guessing.

Here are the details...

Tara Greene

[1] Major EARTHQUAKES worldwide, very high, 8+ on Richter scale and Volcano explosions- in usual places, In Indonesia, China, India, Central America- Guatemala. In California and up West coast- Washington State.

[2] Another blackout of flying because of Volcanic explosions in mid to late April 2014 in to May.

(The square brackets are mine. I am keeping a running count of specific predictions. Tara had two.)

She predicted that volcanoes will erupt in all the usual places? I hardly think this is much of a prediction. But she did mention some places that she said will have either major earthquakes or eruptions. Here is a list of the number of eruptions that each of these areas had:

Indonesia: 7, China: 0, India: 0, Central America – Guatemala: 0, California and west US coast: 0.

Granted, she said either earthquakes or volcanoes, but I am just looking at volcanic eruptions. I’m gonna call that prediction false.

Blackout in April or May? No. There were three volcanic eruptions in April and May, in Japan, Australia, and Alaska. None caused any issue with travel.

Tara is zero for two.

Betsey Lewis

[3] Major Earth Changes: … Extreme weather will continue worldwide--drought, flash floods, huge waves, volcanic activity, hurricanes, tornadoes, fierce winds. No place will be untouched.

[4] Italy's Mount Etna will see a huge eruption and Rome could shake. I see structures falling in Rome--large earthquake.

Earthquakes and Volcanic Activity: ... Watch for Mt. Etna in Italy and many volcanoes to suddenly erupt.

Extreme number of volcanic eruptions?  There have been 3220 volcanic eruptions since 1914. That’s about 32 per year. There were 34 in 2014, so this was hardly a banner year for volcanoes.

Mount Etna? The most recent eruptions of this volcano were from Jan 2011 to Feb 2012. Nothing in 2014, sorry.

For those keeping track at home, we have zero correct predictions out of four.


[5] A huge earthquake and volcano eruption in Peru.

[6] A huge earthquake and volcanic eruption in Hawaii.

[7] Mt. St. Helen's erupting.

Peru had one class 1 eruption, hardly worth calling “huge”.

There were no volcanic events in Hawaii in 2014.

Mount Saint Helens has had no volcanic activity since 2008.

The count is now zero out of seven.

Jeanne Mayell

On Dec. 12, 2014, Jeanne Mayell reflected on her previous predictions, calling out the incredible number of her predictions that came true. The bold type is her indication of a correct prediction, “within a few months”. This was a prediction she made for April of 2014, which according to this webpage, she made “in 2013”:

[8] Volcanic eruption, smoke ash everywhere on an island. (lava flows in Hawaii threatening a town, volcanic eruption in Cape Verde)

She further predicts eruptions for the month of July, stating that this prediction was made January 9 of 2014: 

[9] Volcanic eruption somewhere (lava flows in Hawaii threatening town, Cape Verde volcanic eruption causes evacuations)

Another prediction was for an earthquake. She claims that she nailed this one, except that it wasn't a rural town in Italy, and was a volcanic explosion instead of an earthquake.

[10] Wash tub, Italian rural town, earthquake (Not Italian, but Cape Verde volcanic explosion)

She claims lots of correct predictions, but how did she really do?

She predicted a volcanic eruption on an island?  I would hazard to guess that this happens in pretty much every period of a few months. Not such a daring prediction, if you ask me!

How about those lava flows in Hawaii? Didn't happen.

Eruption on Cape Verde Islands? Close… There was an eruption of a volcano on the Cape Verde Islands on November 23. This is something of an odd event, since there have been only three volcanic events in the Cape Verde Islands in the past century. If she got that prediction correct, then I would be suitably impressed. But, her original prediction was for April. She was six months off. On this page she states: “Note that visions can be off by a few months.” I’m sorry… six is more than a few.

And her claim that the Cape Verde volcano fulfills her prediction about the Italian earthquake? I find this preposterous.

Even if we grant her that the Cape Verde prediction was “close enough”, do we know that this prediction was actually made prior to 2014? I managed to find one independent report of such a prediction. It was posted in the International Business Times in January of 2014. It gives a truncated version of the prediction: Volcanic eruption, smoke ash everywhere on an island. This event was predicted to occur in April of 2014.

I am not trying to imply that she lied about her prediction, just that the timing of her prediction is yet to be verified. There may be some independent evidence of the timing of her prediction of the Cape Verde volcanic eruption, but until that shows up, I’m gonna call her prediction not only false, but also not verified.

So, she made an insipid prediction, made a prediction about Hawaii that failed, and missed her own time window on a prediction about Cape Verde.

Joseph Tittel

[11] Again causing many new quakes and the eruption of three big volcanoes in 2014. [12] One causing major complications for people traveling in that area of the globe.

[12] Three ring of fire volcanoes erupt.

Three big volcanoes? I’m not sure what “big” means, but there were four eruptions rated at 3 VEI or larger: Japan, Kamchatka, north of Australia, and Indonesia. Close, but no cigar. Tittel didn’t say “three or four volcanoes”, he said three.

Might this just be an educated guess? Quite possibly. In the prior ten years, there were four years that had 2, 3, or 4 big eruptions. So, you could call his prediction “close, but not very daring”.

There were no volcanic events in 2014 that caused “major complications for people traveling in that area of the globe”. But, I guess if you consider people wanting to travel to the actual volcano, then almost all of the eruptions would constitute a major complication.

How about the claim of “three ring of fire volcanoes”? The “ring of fire” encompasses all the volcanoes at the edge of the Pacific. All four of the big eruptions in 2014 were on the Pacific rim.

Sorry. No valid predictions here, and we are still looking for a correct and significant prediction.

Blair Robertson

[13] I predict considerable volcanic activity around the Pacific Rim in 2014, causing scientific alarm.

This is a vague prediction. Most volcanoes are around the Pacific Rim, and as I said before, the year 2014 was not remarkable for volcanic activity.

Elizabeth Good

[14] Good …. thinks Iceland will be in the news this year (possibly with a big volcano eruption) [15] as will North Korea (which will make a lot of noise but do no damage).

[16] Volcano eruption and a disaster in China. "It feels to me like something involving large numbers of people, possibly a large public disaster, such as a train wreck with a significant release of toxic material, affecting many," according to psychic Elizabeth Good.

Was there an eruption in Iceland? Yes, at Barbarbunga. But this first prediction was hardly gutsy. Iceland has had at least one volcanic eruption in 33 of the last 100 years. She had a 1 in 3 chance of getting this one right.

How about North Korea? Nope. She got that wrong. The prediction of North Korea was very gutsy, though. North Korea has not had a volcanic eruption in recorded history.

She also predicted a Chinese volcanic eruption. Sorry… the most recent eruption in China was in 1951. Another gutsy and incorrect prediction.

So, the only volcanic prediction that Good has gotten correct was a fairly safe bet.

Heather Zais

[17] Earth changes or calamities continue: earthquakes, eruptions, lava, volcanos and floods. Waves and high tides and seas. Ships may need rescue. Build new ones or refurbish.

Once again, 2014 was not abnormal.


[18] There could also be volcanic eruptions that would cause the fires to be an issue, so look to volcanic activity this year in a major way.

Major way? No way.

Green Wood Horse

[19] With fire energies running strong this year, we can expect some significant volcanic activity and some devastating fires come summer. International tensions and conflicts will persist, as will events involving fire-related calamities, volcanoes, explosions, air and sea accidents, wind disasters such as Katrina, as well as environmental challenges related to air, oil and water.

Significant volcanic activity? If "significant" means "more than zero", then this is an obvious prediction. If it means "considerably more than usual", then nope.

So far, that brings us up to zero predictions that could be considered correct and significant.

Lisa Caza

[20] And weather-wise – unfortunately we will need to expect much of the same that we saw in 2013. I continue on with my concerns about the volcano eruptions – both 2013 and 2014 we have seen and will see a huge number never seen before.

Huge number? Nope.

Before It’s News

[21] Yet another pope! Anytime between now and January 31st [April 16, 2014], the world could see a new Pope, because of the supposed plot to end corrupt Vatican powers. Also, during this upset and confusion, a volcano in Italy will produce some steam. Psychics expect this to happen in the winter while it is still snowing.

Italian volcano?  Nope. This prediction is notable in that Italy often does have volcanic events. Mount Etna had eruptions during seven of the ten years between 2004 and 2013. Not only was this an incorrect prediction, but he (or she) lost while betting with the odds.

Incidentally, this psychic's time window hasn't elapsed yet, but as of December 29, Pope Francis is still in the Vatican.

Patricia McLaine

[22] The NEW YEAR promises to start out with a BANG, with a possible MAJOR EARTHQUAKE and/or VOLCANIC ERUPTION as yet another force of destruction on our planet rumbles back to life: [23] ICELAND? MOUNT RAINIER? YELLOWSTONE? The NEW MADRID FAULT?  Prepare to be frightened and amazed.

You gotta love those capital letters! So much excitement!

Did we get a major eruption in the start of the year?  The largest volcanic eruption of the year was on Feb 13th. This was a major eruption, with a VEI of 4. Only 61 of these have occurred in the last century. But I don’t think I would quite call this the start of the year. 

If Patricia had been specific (like "in the first quarter of the year"), then she might have gotten a point for this one. But she left it vague, with "The new year promises to start out..." I take that to mean the first week or two of the year. Sorry. If you want a prediction to pass scientific muster, you can't be vague.

There was an eruption in one of the places that she mentioned. It was in Iceland, but that didn't occur until August 29th. And as I said before, Icelandic volcanic eruptions are not that uncommon. As for the other locations, neither Mt. Ranier or Yellowstone had any volcanic activity.

I'm still looking for that excellent prediction.

Chuck Bezio

[24] Italy Volcano erupts in July

[25] Greece Volcano eruption in Dec.

Unlike Patricia, Chuck provided some great predictions. They are precise, giving both a month and a location. He should be commended, since this makes the predictions actually predictions. Unfortunately both of his great predictions were wrong..

Psychic Science

[26] Jul 17 2014 17:52 PT       A big earthquake in California with volcanic eruption afterwards

Nope. Nothing in California in 2014.

Grassy Knoll Institute

[27] A major U.S. volcanic eruption will occur. It will erupt with almost no warning time. Everything in its eruption path will be incinerated.

In the US, there were two small eruptions during 2014. Both were of Mount Pavlof, off the Alaskan peninsula. But saying that there will be volcanic activity somewhere in the US is a pretty safe bet. Of the last 100 years, 94 of them have had volcanic activity in the US.

I may have lost count somewhere along the line, but I think my count is up to zero now.

Barbara DeLong

[28] 2014 is going to be a year of shifting and change for not only us as individuals but the planet as well. There are going to be above average storms of all types as well as an increase in natural disasters such as earth quakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

Above average? Nope.

Stargazer Phillipines

[29] A volcano eruption

OMG! No!!!! 

Come on. Really? This is a pretty worthless prediction.

The score currently stands at zero for the psychics and 29 for the skeptics.


[30] Papua, New Guinea will experience a major volcanic eruption this year.

There was a volcanic eruption of VEI 2 at Manam, off the coast of Papau, New Guinea.  This could hardly be called a major eruption. There was another eruption at Rabaul, with a VEI of 3. I wouldn't really call that major, either. My interpretation of "major" is VEI greater than 4.

But even if VEI of 3 is considered major, this is Papau New Guinea. There are six volcanoes in Papau New Guinea that are more or less active. If my count is correct, there have been 50 eruptions between them in the past century. Six of the past ten years have had eruptions. So, you basically have even odds if you guess that there will be an eruption of a volcano in this country in any year.

So, this prediction fails if “major” is taken to mean “VEI > 3”, or is not significant if a VEI of 3 is considered major.

Nancy Bradley

[31] Either 6 pt. or better earthquakes, flooding, tornadoes, draught, explosions or volcanic earth eruptions will affect the following countries and places: Japan, Mexico (BAHA in particular,) the Philippines, Columbia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Mideast, Nicaragua, Fiji, Peru, No. and So. Korea, Canada, Australia, the Cayman Islands, many of the small islands, Pakistan, Africa, Russia, Taiwan, Turkey, Greece, Guam, England, China, Spain Venezuela, Indonesia, New Zealand, El Salvador, Ecuador, Chili, Iran, Argentina, Panama, and New Guinea for just some. In THE U.S, California heavy hit, Eureka area, near San Francisco, San Simeon, Southern Ca,

Wow. Some sort of major natural disaster will occur in some place that regularly has earthquakes, flooding, tornadoes, and volcanic eruptions? Go figger. I’m not even going to bother with this vague and obvious prediction.

So... that ends the contest. It may take me a while to tally the results, but I think that the folks in the bleachers who were rooting for the psychics might be a bit disappointed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What color are your blue jeans?

The language of color can be silly at times.

Flat paint is not flat. 

I know this will probably rock the very foundation of your belief system, but glossy paint is a whole lot flatter than flat paint. The very thing that makes a flat paint look un-glossy is the fact that the surface is very far from being smooth.

Cool colors are hotter than warm colors. 

If a color is reddish, we say it is warm. A warm light fixture might have a color temperature of 3500 K. If a color is bluish, we call it cool. A cool light fixture might have a color temperature of 6000 K. The color temperature scale is based on saying that the color looks like the color of a solid object that has been warmed up to that temperature, in degrees kelvin. 

We call all kinds of things red that aren't red.

People with red hair are called "gingers". Now tell me, what color is ginger? And this so-called "red" hair is really orange. Am I the only person to ever notice this? Oh... and the breast of the robin red-breast is also orange. Thanks, Mom. I'm still in therapy over that one.

By the way, the pigment responsible for gingers is only found in humans. No kidding. I red that on the internet, so it must be true.

Red shirt and "red" hair

Red roan horse? Red marmoset? Red fox? Red kangaroo? Red elephant? Red squirrel? Red bat? Gimme a break. Cardinals are red. There ain't no such thing as a red mammal.

Well, maybe some mammals are red

(I threw in that red elephant thing just to see if you were paying attention. Every elephant that I have ever seen for sale is white.)

Apples and tomatoes can be red, but red onions?  Red cabbage??!?  These are both some shade of purple. Maybe a reddish shade of purple, but I'm gonna call them purple. And I hate to say it, but most of the white cabbage I have seen is actually more of a green color.

Speaking of fruits and vegetables...

It has always bothered me that carrots are oranger than oranges.

Mommy: "What color is that shirt, Johnny?" 
Johnny: "It's carrot." 
Mommy: "Oh, you silly boy. Carrot isn't a color name." 
Johnny: "I thought orange was a fruit"

Which food deserves to be called an orange?

Did'ja know that the original carrots were purple? They had the purple bred right outa them. Goodbye anthocyanins.

Before I forget, most oranges that I buy in the grocery store have been artificially ripened with ethylene to make them go from a greenish-orange to a richer orange color.

Thank you for the appropriately-named blueberries, but how about blackberries?? And how about them red and black plums? I'm gonna need a glass of red wine (which is purple) to get through this. Or white wine, maybe. ...which is amber colored, or something.

What about dog breeds?  

You might not have heard of a kerry blue terrier, but do you think it's blue?  Guess's not. Neither is a blue heeler, or a Texas blue lacy.
I'll have a blue hound dog, without you...

How about the greyhound? Most of the greyhounds that I chum around with are some shade of tan or brown. I guess some are gray. Or grey, if they are British.

Is a golden retriever really golden? And speaking of which...  

All that's golden doesn't glitter.

There is just a plethora of things that we call "gold" that lack that metallic luster that lustrous metallic gold has. Goldfinches, golden retrievers, golden delicious apples, a sunset, and Goldie Hawn. Not to mention Goldilocks.

Gold isn't really a color name... it's a goniochromic effect

(I am happy to say, though, that brown bears and black bears have proper names--"Mama Bear" and "Papa Bear". But of course, the red panda is neither red, nor a bear.)

Human skin is neither white nor black.

Come on now. Is my skin really white? And my good friend Barack... I would say that his skin is brown. I don't dare mention Native Americans. I have never been green with envy that I am not a blue-blood.

Look... up in the sky!

If someone says "all the colors of the rainbow", are they aware that they have excluded pink, brown, gray, black, and white? Not to mention periwinkle, tangerine, lavender, mauve, and chartreuse.

Technically, the sky isn't "blue", it's more of a cyan. But I am sure that my wife will argue with me on that one. She'll probably say that it's aquamarine or azure or cerulean. Or flooberskullion.

How about a blue moon? Yeah, right. If a calendar month has two full moons (which happens maybe once a year), then the second one is called a blue moon. It's not blue, though.

Not a blue dog, but he does have a blue cape

All I can say is that our language is pretty messed up when it comes to color.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The man who invented a color

An article from the BBC recently caught my eye. It promised to be a good read, since it combined a number of my avocations: color, history of science, and patents. The article is entitled "Yves Klein: The man who invented a colour". It did prove to be an interesting read, but my fact-checking proved a bit more interesting, and ultimately shows a error in the article.

Yves Klein in a creative moment

Prior art

Yves Klein invented the color blue??? I know that the claim in the article is just plain bogus. Why? Because I patented the color blue, long before Yves Klein picked up a paintbrush. The patent was granted to me just over 100 years ago. Frankly, the article ticks me off just a bit. They will be hearing from my attorneys.

The original patent on the color blue

Ok... so I am kidding. I wasn't living in New York when this was filed for in 1909. The picture above may contain certain clever Photoshop elements.

Allowing for a bit of artistic license

The title of the BBC article has a little bit of a hyperbole, but an excusable one. Maybe it's just artistic license on the part of the author. Here's the thing: you can't patent a color.

Lemme 'splain. A "color" is an abstract thing... Light which is made up of a great deal of wavelengths enters the eyeball where it is converted into three signals that pass into the brain. We could think of these signals as being hue, value, and chroma. The thing is, until the light enters the eye, all we have is light at a bunch of wavelengths. It isn't "color" until somewhere inside the head.

It's just a combination of wavelengths of light until someone sees it

I am, of course, taking this pretty literally. But, we are talking about patents here. Patents are legal documents and they must be taken literally. On many occasions, I have spent literally hours locked in a room with patent attorneys, quibbling over the exact definitions of a handful of words. It all depends on what the definition of "is" is.

But let's take a definition of color that is closer to the colloquial meaning. If Monsieur Klein was actually granted a patent, a claim might have started out something like this: "A collection of wavelengths of light, wherein said wavelengths of light consist at least in part of wavelengths of light within the visible spectrum, predominantly in the range from 400 nanometers to 500 nanometers, and wherein said collection of wavelengths may be assembled so as to impart a sensation on a human observer, wherein said sensation ..." 

Could this actually be patented? Would a patent examiner grant allowance on a claim like this?

I readily admit that I am not an authority on French patent law from 1960, but I will turn to US patent law, which I also readily admit to not being an authority on. (Note that I reserve the right to pretend to be an expert on whatever subject I care to espouse expertise in.)  The US PTO website says that it is permissible to patent "any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof". Since a collection of wavelengths of light does not fit in any of those categories, a "color", defined in those terms, cannot be patented.

An authority on French patent clams

Beyond the fact that a color is not permissible material for a patent, in order to be patentable, an invention must be useful, novel, and not obvious. It seems to me that it might be tough to convince a patent examiner that a collection of wavelengths of light that has a certain property is not obvious. Yves would have needed to convince the examiner that someone of "ordinary skill in the art" would not have thought of that particular collection of wavelengths of light.

So, unless French patent law is considerably different from the US, Yves didn't patent a collection of wavelengths of light, but maybe he invented a composition of matter that has a unique color? Or perhaps a clever process for creating that splendiferous color? 

If I had actually bothered to read the BBC article, I would have found that this was indeed the case: "As early as 1956, while on holiday in Nice, he experimented with a polymer binder to preserve the luminescence and powdery texture of raw yet unstable ultramarine pigment. He would eventually patent his formula as International Klein Blue (IKB) in 1960."

This interpretation is echoed in Philip Ball's book "Bright Earth, Art and the Invention of Color" (p. 248). 

Searching through the patent database

Or so the article and book claim!!!

I spent considerable time with the search engine on the Espacenet website. Not familiar with this website? "Espacenet offers free access to more than 80 million patent documents worldwide, containing information about inventions and technical developments from 1836 to today." This is my go-to website whenever I am looking for some casual reading. 

Two patents from Yves Klein came up in the time period around 1960:

These two patents were both filed in 1960. They may actually be different stages of the same patent, or they may be the same patent, but with different sets of claims. Espacenet offers a machine-generated translation of the second French patent:

"... it consists in coating partly or wholly the body of a or more subjects or models of one or more suitable to the skin colors and to apply, under the direction of a master of works with the benefit of hindsight, the said subjects or on a suitable support or vice versa, Suitable blanks and in that in one or more successive stages or simultaneously, in order to obtain colored marks on said medium." 

In other words, Klein has a patent on a human paintbrush.

Yves made a big splash in the art world around 1960 by splashing unclothed women with blue paint and having them roll on a canvas. If you are not offended by nudity presented in an artful way, French speech, string music, or the color ultramarine, then I suggest you search for "Yves Klein Anthropométrie" on YouTube.


So, I am afraid that I must disagree with the columnist Alastair Cooke of the BBC and with the author Philip Ball. Yves Klein did not have a patent on the color blue, ultramarine, a paint composition, or a process for creating that paint.

Resolution of the conundrum

How did this loathsome rumor about Yves Klein patenting a color start?

The confusion lies in a misunderstanding of a unique French creation, the Soleau envelope. This is a sealed envelope which an inventor sends to a department of the French government. The inventor thus provides proof that he or she thought of a given idea some time before the date that the envelope was delivered.

Note that the envelope is sealed, and stays that way unless a lawsuit comes about. No one at the French patent office peeks into the envelope. And in particular, no one in the French patent office goes through the exercise of deciding whether there is anything novel about whatever happens to be in the sealed envelope. Also, the Soleau envelope does not grant any rights of exclusivity to the one who files. The only legal right offered by the envelope is that the filing party is allowed to continue using the invention even if someone else patents the invention at a later date.

Yves Klein filed a Soleau envelope on May 19, 1960. This envelope contained a formula for making a paint containing ultramarine that preserved the rich color of the raw pigment. The binder called "Rhodopas M" has a good adhesive strength so you could get a good pigment load. It also has a low index of refraction so that the paint has a color closer to the color of the raw pigment.

So, technically, Yves Klein did not patent his shade of Klein Blue, or even a formula for making Klein Blue. I can only surmise why he did not file for a patent, since as we have seen, he was no stranger to the French patent office. Perhaps the paint formulation was not all that novel, since Rhodopas M was already commercially available as a binder? Perhaps Yves didn't file because the real creative work was done by a fellow by the name of Eduoard Adam?  I can only surmise.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Measuring fluorescent inks

People email me questions fairly reguarly. If I am in a good mood, I actually read the emails. Once in a while, I actually respond. On rare occasions, I actually try to answer the questions. The following is one actual interchange between me and an adoring fan... I took out all of the embarrassing stuff. 

The question


A recent question came up for which I didn't have an answer. I immediately thought of you so here goes. Do you have any experience with reading florescent colors? I’m not really sure what types of devices might be out there (if any) for reading those really wild colors used in some printing and certainly more and more in fabrics.

I’m not sure how a profile would even be put together because the standard tools (100% maximum colors) don’t seem to apply. 

Do you know of any devices out there targeted toward florescent colors?



The response

Dear Mike,

This is a very difficult question. Well... the question is easy, but the answer is hard!

I have three different answers:

1. Scientific answer

The characterization of a fluorescent color is not a one-dimensional spectrum, but a two-dimensional one. You illuminate the same with a "monochromator", illuminating it at one wavelength at a time. For each wavelength in, you measure a full spectrum out. This gives you what is called a Donaldson matrix. From this you can predict the CIELAB value for any type of illumination possible.

You pretty much have to build your own spectro if you want to do this. I am sure you could do a decent job of $50K if you had a metrologist to help you. NIST has one and Avian has one. The equipment pretty much needs a technician in a lab to run it, it takes tens of minutes to make a measurement, and you probably have to write special software to interpret the results.
Clearly this is not a good production solution!!

2. Industry answer to a narrower problem

The print industry has faced a similar problem, but limited to one fluorescent pigment. Paper manufacturers currently add stilbene to virtually all paper. It's a cheap way to make paper that is whiter than white, or even just not dingy. Stilbene absorbs UV light and re-emits it in the blue region so as to undo the natural yellow or brown color of paper.

The standards groups huddled together and came out with a solution that is to standardize the UV content in viewing booths and in spectros. Coincidentally, I recently blogged on that topic.
This handles one fluorescent whitener. It was not intended for DayGlo orange or neon green.

3. Perhaps a practical solution

The color of a fluorescent sample will vary depending on the spectrum that it is illuminated with. It will look different under daylight versus incandescent lighting. But, so long as you restrict yourself to one illumination spectrum, there might not be a problem. If the printer and print buyer can agree that they will visually evaluate under a specific illumination and that they will measure with an instrument that has that same illumination, then everything should work.

[Note: Instruments have settings for different illuminants, such as D50, A, F11... This does not change the illumination, just the calculation afterwards. I blogged about that recently, too.]

The tough part (you would think) would be to find a viewing booth that uses the same illumination as a spectro. But actually, that's not so hard because of #2. Theoretically, you should be able to use a relatively new viewing booth (one that complies with the M1 condition in ISO 3664:2009), and a relatively new spectro (one which also complies with the M1 condition, but in ISO 13655:2009). All the stuff with then provide D50 illumination.

In practice, this may not be as easy as it sounds. One issue is that the instruments and viewing booths may simulate D50 in such a way as to have the correct numbers on paper with FWAs - on stilbene - but with somewhat different spectra.

I would suggest sticking just to one make and model of spectro, and one make and model of viewing booth. Unfortunately, I can't tell you which viewing booth and spectro will agree with each other. The vendors don't readily share this information.

I think at the very least, the practical solution might be to do away with any visual matching, and rely completely on measurement. You would measure a color with one of the M1 instruments (XRite eXact, Konica Minolta FD-7, Techkon SpectroDens, or Barbieri SpectroPad) and set that as the standard numbers and instrument.

The other part of you question has to do with profiling... That's a big "yikes"!  I am going to guess that almost all the fluorescent colors are well outside the gamut of all proofing devices, so, what good does it do to proof it?!? The best you could possibly do is use a softproof, and adjust something or other. I think you would scale the spectra of the whole profile to make sure that there are no points where the spectra goes above 100%.



After I answered this email, I contacted DayGlo to see what they do for quality control. Here is what they said:

Visual light source is Daylight North Illumination (D65).
We measure the Color with a X-Rite Color i5 colorimeter.
We record the L*, a*, b*, DEcmc and De* for each color.
The measurements are done on the primary color test.
These can be either drawdowns or prints depending on the product.

So... they chose the practical solution.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How many D65's are there in a 2 degree observer?

The wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from. Today's rant on the topic is aimed at the various ways to calculate CIELAB values. You may have thought that a CIELAB is a CIELAB is a CIELAB, but there are at least eleventy-two different ways to combine the "illuminant" and the "observer", each giving you somewhat different values for L*, a*, and b*. 

This may seem dumb. After all, an object has a single color and that's it, right? (And by the way, that color is whatever my wife says it is. She just told me to find her peachy-pink scarf. Hilarity ensued.) But it's not as simple as that. The color of an object is subtly dependent on two things: the light that is shining on it, and, yes, it does depend on size.

Nine different delicious ways to prepare SeaLab


When I ask a simple question like "what color is a banana?" the answer is obvious to any five-year old. It's yellow. Under normal conditions, the banana will retain this color, but put on deep red sunglasses (or equivalently, look at the banana under red light), and the banana looks red. Put on blue sunglasses and the banana suddenly looks like the kind of banana that my wife would expect me to eat.

Colorful lighting can enhance the look of food

The depraved idea that an object has a specific color independent of the illumination is built right into our language. One should really ask "what color does the banana appear under a such-and-such lighting?"  The reason we think of an object having a color apart from the effect of the light shining on it is that the eye and brain have conspired to make us believe in color constancy.

How is this trick accomplished?  First, the eye and brain together do a remarkably good job of auto-ranging. If I am reading a magazine as I walk from indoors to outdoors, I may blink a few times, but it never occurs to me that the intensity of light hitting my eye just changed by many orders of magnitude.

This auto-ranging is performed separately for each set of cones in the eye, which is an important little detail needed to preserve color constancy. When I go from warm incandescent light to cool fluorescent light, the relative amount of light at the blue end changes by almost a factor of ten. Do you notice that? Huh?  And why didn't you notice it? Auto-ranging, my friend.

Here's an example of the conspiracy which has become famously known as the "Jennifer Aniston has way different RGB values for her skin tone from picture to picture" effect. Someone wrote a blog post about the color of her forehead. Something about how the eye/brain tries to get us to not see the glaring difference in color. The blog post went viral, so now everyone is talking about the "Jennifer Aniston has way different RGB values for her skin tone from picture to picture" effect. 

The reason that these pictures of my heartthrob all appear "normal", is a devious trick in the brain that goes beyond the auto-ranging feature. Somehow or other, the lower levels of the brain have this concept of white point. Everything that we perceive is not thought of in absolute terms, but rather, in relative terms to some color that we have decided is "white". The brain somehow has established a different white point for each of the six gorgeous pictures.

Here is another cute trick to illustrate this devious trick. Go to your recycle bin and pull out a newspaper, or some similar paper. Look at it for a while, against a dark background. What color do you perceive the paper to be? I am guessing that you see white.

Now, unbeknowst to your eye and brain, set a piece of printer paper or a glossy magazine next to the newspaper. As quick as you can say "John the Math guy is a genius", the newspaper will take on a dingy tone. A new white point! That lower visual system is a tricky little critter, I tell you!

So, part of the process of computing a CIELAB value is to factor in the illumination in kinda the same way as the eye.

Object size

This is totally non-obvious, but objects change color as their size changes. Or, to be more specific, objects change color depending on the angular size of the object. Well, actually, to be even more specific, the spectral response of the eye depends upon the position on the retina. The area of the retina that collects light from within 2 degrees of "dead on" has one spectral response. Once you are talking about objects extending to 10 degrees, the spectral response changes slightly.

How big is 2 degrees and 10 degrees? At arm's length, 2 degrees is about the size of your thumb, and 10 degrees is about the width of your fist.

Rule of thumb: If you can smell his breath,
the beautiful stripes are likely to be subtending an arc of at least 10 degrees

Going from spectrum to CIELAB

Now, on to explain how the computation of CIELAB values are computed in order to take into account all these crazy effects.

The first step is to measure the spectrum with the spectrophotometer. This is just reflectance as a function of wavelength -- what percentage of 570 nm (yellow-green) light will reflect from the sample?  This by itself has nothing to do with the light source; nothing to do with either the light source of the spectro or the light source that has been specified for the CIELAB values.

One possible confusion... The spectrum of the sample is not D50 or D65 or F11 or illuminant A. It has been sanitized to remove all traces of the illumination. When you flip the switch on your spectro to make it report D75 instead of F3, you don't change the light that hits the sample.

Once you have the spectrum, the next step is to apply the spectral curve of the light source... D65 for example. The purpose of this is to simulate how much light at each wavelength is available to reflect. For example, if your light source is incandescent (illuminant A), then the amount of light at the blue end is much smaller than at the red end. The spectral curve for illuminant A will dampen down the blue end. The calculation that goes on inside the spectro accomplishes this by applying one of the standard illuminants from CIE 15, ASTM 308, or ISO 13655.

This monarch is blissfully unaware of all the math that goes into color

The third step is to apply one of the sets of curves that approximate the spectral response of human eye. These are the tristimulus functions. This will reduce that spectrum of 15 or 31 or 36 numbers down to three (X, Y, and Z) which represent the responses of the three cones in the eye. Here, we have two choices: the 2 degree (thumb-sized or smaller) or the 10 degree observer (fist-sized or bigger).

(For the persnickety reader, I should admit something. The XYZ curves are not actually the spectral response of the three cones. Those responses are called LMS. It's pretty simple arithmetic to go between the two, but the exact values of the constants weren't known back in 1931 when the 2 degree observer became a standard.)

At this point, we have approximated the signal that travels along the optic nerve to the brain. The next step is to approximate the math that the lower level of the brain does. We translate the XYZ values into L*a*b* values to get this.

Well, sorta. There is some further math that the brain does. At the cognitive level, we don't think in terms of a* and b*, but rather in terms of chroma and hue. So, to get numbers that intuitively make sense, we convert from L*a*b* to LC*h. (This conversion can go either way - they represent the same information.)

Usage notes

So, we got us a couple of plethoras full of combinations of ways to multiply stuff together to convert the spectrum of a sample to a color value. How is a color metrologist to decide which delightful combination to choose?

Steve Carrel demonstrates the proper usage of CIE standard illuminants

Here is a list of the illuminants that are mentioned in ISO 15-4:2004. The silly four digit numbers like 2856 and 6800, are called correlated color temperature. A smaller number refers to a warmer (redder) color, a higher number refers to a cooler temperature (bluer). The silly two digit numbers are abbreviations of the four digit numbers; D65 actually means D 6500 K.

    Illuminant A - 2856 K, kinda looks like an incandescent light bulb.

    Illuminant B - 4900 K, deprecated, which means "not recommended anymore".

    Illuminant C - 6800 K, kinda like daylight, but in the shade.

    Illuminants - daylight simulations D50, D55, D65, D76.

    Illuminants FL1, FL2, ... FL6 - standard fluorescent lights.
    Illuminants  FL7, FL8, and FL9 - broad band fluorescent lights.
    Illuminants FL10, FL11, FL12 - narrow band fluorescent lights.

I am not an arithmetician, but I count 18 different illuminants.

There are two "observers", the 2 degree and the 10 degree, that have been defined. That brings us to a total of 36 combinations.

There is a general recommendation from color scientists to use D65 for computing CIELAB values, but the choice is industry specific. The graphic arts community (of which I am a card carrying member) has chosen D50 to be its standard illuminant. Why? Maybe D50 was taken as a compromise between theoretical daylight (D65) and theoretical living room light (A). Personally, I think the D50 lobby bribed someone on the standards committee, but I can't prove anything.

Similarly, the standard in the graphic arts for the XYZ function is the 2 degree observer. Why? Areas of constant color in the Victoria's Secret catalog are usually pretty small. Well, unless the colors are banners and background, in which case, who cares about the color?

So, if you are doing printing, then the ISO Technical Committee 130 has decided on D50/2 (simulation of the color under D50 lighting, with a colored area being about the size of your thumb).

But what about packaging printing?

Imagine that Jamal is standing in front of that big screen TV box at Best Buy. He is making that spur of the moment decision about spending three month's salary on that TV that's going to make him not care whether the Packers win. The color of that box darn well better look good. And the colors probably subtend an arc greater than 2 degrees. Oh... and the lighting in the store? Probably not D50.

So, a good case could be made that the color of this package should be computed with the 10 degree observer and probably with one of the F illuminants. Ideally, it would be computed with the F illuminant that is in the store. This is what contracts are for. If I was Mr. Sony, I would specify that Big Screen Package Printing use the 10 degree observer for their color computation.

But, yet again...

When it comes down to it, it generally doesn't make a huge difference if you specify D50/2 or D65/10. It's a much bigger deal to make sure that everyone has agreed on which combination is to be used.