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The Colours of the Rainbow


Little did I know when I started the annual discussion with my (art degree) wife about colours that I would start a whole feud off about the subject. This blog entry is a TAD technical but hopefully not enough to put you off – if you think the 3 basic colours are red, yellow and blue then you really DO owe it to yourself to spend a moment to read on.

The basis of the argument is this… artistic people are (were – not checked with any youngsters) taught that red, yellow and blue are the “primary” colours – that is the very basics of colour in some folk’s eyes.  I realised this when a “poll” on Facebook came up with several responses indicating that many believed red, blue and yellow to be the primary colours -  I guess a little like Christians insisting that theirs is the one “true” god. I will ignore the odd reply claiming that various impractical combinations of colour are the true “primary colours… I could not believe some replies.

Well, Facebook is REALLY not the place to discuss this because it is primarily oriented to quick information bites… and really, developing any logical argument is almost impossible.

So here is my attempt, no doubt flawed, to set the record straight.

Red, yellow and Blue are NOT, I repeat NOT any kind of “primary” or indivisible colours. They form what is called a (not THE) set of “subtractive” primaries – indicating that if you are mixing paints – then these are the only three colours you need. This is actually quite wrong but works most of the time – ask any artist. Go to a desert island with some paper, a brush, red, yellow and blue inks and you’ll be fine. Well, actually you won’t – you have to cheat and take black with you.

Why is this all wrong? Well first of all, the only TRUE (if there is such a thing) gauge of colours is the human eye – without which, who is to say what ANY colour is.

So – here are some arguments – red, yellow and blue make any colour – well they may do that with paint but try doing that with equally bright torches – you might find that a little more difficult.

The fact is that what some call primaries (in the simplest sense) depends on what you are doing – if you are ADDING colours- i.e. one spotlight adding to another – then the three colours you COULD consider primary are red, green and blue.  Things are different when you mix paints and “subtract” colours.

Ask any television – the ONLY colours that any modern television has access to are red, green and blue ( no, REALLY – get up there and take a close look at your TV or any kind of colour monitor – there are ONLY three colours) – and from that they can present just about any shade of white, any colour and black, grey, solver, gold, – you name it.. i.e. a “complete” set of colours. Many TV manufacturers claim a range of millions of colours – all from nothing more than red, green and blue.

Compare that to the artist on their desert island with their red, yellow and blue.   White is  easy – just don’t deposit any paint – but try black – mix all three? Good luck with that. No – they have to cheat and use black paint.

But even WITHIN that “subtractive world” – the colours red, green and blue are by no means indivisible. How about magenta, cyan and yellow?  Ask yourself, what colour inks do we buy for our home printers? Red, yellow and blue, Oh hell, NO.  Magenta and yellow can INDEED create RED. Those three colours as you will find in almost any modern printer can create almost ANY colour – but they STILL have to cheat and superimpose BLACK ink to get a true black.  This is not technical – just go grab those colours and have a play.

But this is all part of a discussion differentiating ADDITIVE colours and SUBTRACTIVE colours -  let’s get back to basics – the EYE.

The EYE is the sole arbiter of colour – if it were not for our eyes who would be to say what LIME GREEN is – and even then that is only an agreed standard between us – if we ALL saw the SAME colours in the SAME way then there would be no such diversity of “favourite” colours! There are indeed in folk lore and possibly science, women with extra sensors who can see colours the rest of us can’t imagine.

The fact is that the eye, the very core of our colour sense, has two mechanisms for detecting light –the RODS – which detect brilliance (intensity) and the cones which detect colour (frequency). How the brain handles that is a WAY more complex issue – but for those who think it is somehow magical and so not relevant, consider this – computers are now able, given the signals that reach the brain, as observed on ridiculously fast brain scanners, able to take a stab at showing what someone can SEE or even what image they are THINKING of. If you think that is sci-fi – you need to re-think. It is real though early days due to the resolution limits of scanners.

Colour is in fact nothing more than a frequency or range of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation – we don’t talk about the colour of X-rays or ultra-violet or other high frequency sources as we can’t see them – they are “out of range” (high). Similarly we don’t talk about the colour of microwaves or radio waves or other lower frequency signals as we can’t process them either – we can only talk of the colours of the rainbow as that is all our eyes can handle – a very narrow range of frequencies – and they do this with the CONES – which are sensitive to three bands of colour – which just happen to be more or less RED, GREEN and BLUE.  Many photographs of galaxies you see have been enhanced using frequencies we can’t see to give a more “meaningful” and interesting image.

That’s it – we interpret the rest. If someone shines red light and green light on a piece of paper, our eyes pick up both of those bands of radiation and agree this is “YELLOW” though in fact, yellow is indeed a frequency range of it’s own whereas red and green light falling on paper is a MIX – like two different tones – unlike sound-  where we would hear those individual tones – our eyes decide that this is in fact one colour. All of this information is freely available on the web – just avoid anything that mentions the word “alien”. Yet we treat this false yellow as almost the same as “real” yellow. See the image below. It is NOT yellow.

Now – of course it is no-where NEAR that simple and this is why what you see on a camera – is nothing like what you “see” in real life. 

Like a camera – we can pick up intensity and we can pick up colour. But there the similarity ends.  Take a piece of white paper with a black dot and stare at it for a while… shut your eyes. What do you see -  a black rectangle with a white dot in it?  Look at a negative image for a while – stare at it – close your eyes, do you see a full-colour positive image? Yes.

This can be explained relatively easily.

Take a camera and point it to the same white sheet with a black dot. Take as many pictures as you like and they will always be the same – the white sheet with the black dot. Sounds good – but then – take a sunset and see if you can get the details in the grass and buildings while simultaneously seeing the full sunset – you CANNOT with a camera without using a very PLEASANY but unreal technique called HDR.  But your eyes can… or can they?

Eyes have something cameras do not – pixel-level desensitisation.  That is, the smallest point of light you can see – individual sensor cells – can handle massive ranges of light and dark that cameras can’t handle and this goes WAY beyond a simple iris which can be made larger and smaller to make the eye more or less sensitive to light.   As well as that, the actual individual sensors can “de-sensitise” or become more sensitive as needed. This helps us handle visually a wide range of intensity – but of course also ensures we see something that is not actually anywhere near reality.

Hence we we can (kind of) see all the detail in the horizon from the sunset to the landscape below… NOT because of the iris in our eyes but because parts of our eyes can re-organise sensitivity as required.

If you accept this – then everything else falls into place and also explains why our eyes are prone to so many optical illusions which cameras are not (there are other brain-related reasons here but that is beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say that the brain is able to further process vision to “see” patterns that might not be there.  From a survival perspective, the ability to pick out potential predators from “noise” is very important – but now that we live in cities we are cursed with an eye-brain interface that, rather than give up on recognising patterns when there are none – will do it’s  DAMNDEST to find order in the disorder and will often fire back ghosts and all sorts of inappropriate images which in realty are random noise of darkness or something visual that is new and un-known. There are many “trick” images out there which prove this point. Ever looked in the dark and THOUGHT you saw something? Ever listened to white noise (the sea or general random noise) and THOUGHT you heard something recognisable – we do this all the time.

But I digress.   With three basic centres of visual frequency range pickup which MORE OR LESS are around the green, red and blue frequency areas, the eye-brain combination is able to make some assumptions – green and red looks like yellow, green and blue looks like cyan, blue and red looks like purple.

Now that last one is a WHOLE other discussion… look at the rainbow – between green and red you will see yellow. Between green and blue you will see cyan – but hang on…. red is at one end, blue is at the other – there’s no bloody purple in the middle!!!!!!  Consider that a research project 🙂

For those who REALLY are not up to speed, gold and silver are not colours – they are states of reflectivity – take a CLOSE look at silver – what COLOURS do you see. Black is not really a colour – it is the absence of any colour (or the absorption of all colours in the case of paper) – and white too is not any colour – it is certainly NOT in the rainbow – it is an effect the eye acknowledges when presented with a wide range of colours (white paper reflects all visual colours – hence the reason when presented only with orange light – it looks orange – etc).

Take three torches of the right brilliance – one red, one green, one blue. From a distance if one shines all three at you – you WILL see WHITE.  Again check out your TV – it absolutely does NOT (currently) produce white – take a close look – you will see tiny red, green and blue elements – move back – they look odd – look back further still and they look WHITE. Red, green and blue elements can “kind of” present you with any colour you can imagine – just by varying proportions. Turn them all off and you have black – unless your screen reflects your surroundings.

How do I know this? If you’ve ever bought LED TAPE – it is a narrow tape of sets of red, green and blue LEDS – by varying intensity you can not only produce pretty much any colour but also any shade of white from COLD to really WARM. I spent weeks getting to grips with this and the various colour models. Some technical folk use RGB as the base for producing colour but possibly more intuitive are other models which allow you to pick a colour – but then blend it from pure at one end to white at the other end.  With more and more people using coloured lighting at home, this is important.


Look at the image above – look at that yellow – that’s a nice yellow isn’t it. NO IT IS NOT – it is green and red – take a CLOSE look at your screen. Same with the CYAN colour. The colour ranges are merely frequencies of electromagnetic radiation with blue at the shorter (higher frequency) end and red at the slightly slower end…enough of being technical – it is all out there if you are interested. In that image above – the only TRUE colours are red, green and blue.

That is the reality – somewhat more complex than the simple 3-paint-colours-makes-anything that seems to be the takeaway from art school. But all the richer for it… everything I’ve discussed here can be EASILY tested without ANY special equipment or cost – just an open mind. Looking at the bigger picture often helps gain a better understanding of the many subsets within.

Now back to aliens… colours are one thing… what the brain DOES with that information is another. Your brain is NOT at the end of a wire with the neat, simple colour image being fired at it.  Far more important to the animal brain (sometimes) is movement – so what the brain actually gets is a series of packages and one of them is totally devoted to MOVEMENT, another colour etc.… so depending on what is most important at the time, you can ponder the beauty of subtle colours – or you can get the hell out there because you’re about to be run over by a car.

There was a time when this was all mystical but as I mentioned above, today we are on the edge of a future where computers will read the messages the brain processes – and extract images from that – depending on your viewpoint that is either a terrifying future – or a beautiful vindication of science – personally I think it is somewhere in the middle but I am dying to see where we go next. What to me is more important is that we are now able to have a fairly comprehensive view of light and how humans and some animals process it.

Just as red, yellow and blue is a very limited subset of reality, my explanation here might well prove to be a limited subset but at least I hope to have widened things out a little. Out there are many examples…

A Grand Summer

Not been doing a lot of updating of this blog because of course, we’re over in Spain for the summer.  BBQ season is over as far as the countryside is  concerned – we had our last country BBQ  at the end of May in the area you see below – just outside of Huescar (Andalusia). It is now starting to get very dry and such events could trigger forest fires – hence no more forest BBQs – of course that’s only the countryside.

BBQ Area

Here in Galera we’re getting temperatures up towards 30c with very few clouds and Maureen and I have been working on all sorts of things at home including a new upstairs ceiling after we discovered a worrying crack appearing in the bedroom ceiling.  This of course was most likely to do with one or more of the may earthquakes we get – now to keep that in perspective I have neither felt nor heard an earthquake in the years we’ve been coming up here but it doesn’t take much movement to cause damage over time and we think this is what has happened.

Never mind, all fixed now, we’re working on the hot tub (heater issues) and putting new doors on our own BBQ. Anyway, it is all documented on the Spanish blog above.  For those looking for my technical blog it is here.

Generally, still unhappy about the direction the UK is taking with Brexit but by now there’s nothing that can be done about that other than moan. As for the recent terrorist attacks – I have the same view I’ve always had – as long as we continue to allow the breeding grounds to exist, the problem will not go away. I think we should be looking at this less as terrorism and more the result of brainwashing-induced mental illness. How do you tackle someone who has no regard for their own life? I wish I had a solution.

Simba the cat is once again in trouble – he’s developed an obsessive need to nibble at himself – we can’t let him out as there are too many dogs in the area but that is about to change and I’m hoping that getting out and about will help him relax – right now he’s covered in a purple dye that is supposed to help – that may be the case but he looks awfully silly in purple.

Making new friends along the way, lots coming up in the coming month or so – check out the bedrock site for more info.

Hours to go

Hexham to Galera tripLess than 24 hours to go and we start our long trip to Spain. Very roughly the image describes our planned route – from the Northeast, stopping over at a friend’s place, 24 hour ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao, then a couple of hours drive before another stopover before heading down to Galera.

Quite a trip armed with three cats and a car-full of “stuff”. But we’ve done it before so it’s not entirely new.

With rain and 13c max temperatures forecast for Hexham area for the coming week now is a great time to clear off. 

Galera on the other hand is forecast to have a constant 26c maximum for the coming week – that will do us just fine – great weather for fixing hosepipes and upgrading the solar panel.

Had a great winter here in the UK thanks to our friends – without which it would have been pretty miserable (the weather in the Northeast is always miserable) – looking forward to getting together with our friends in Spain for a great summer.

To potential PlusNet customers

Last update 11/04/2017

Early in 2016, having used PlusNet for normal broadband and seeing their offer of fibre broadband in Bellingham, Northumberland, we signed up for the 80 Mb fibre service.

The PlusNet modem was supplied and initially we managed to get up to 78Mb downloads and 19Mb uploads – not quiet the headline figure – but very close.

Soon after however, we started to experience drop-outs. The modem would disconnect and reconnect a minute or so later. This would happen every day either once or several times – perhaps with gaps of 2-3 days without issue.

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Newcastle Maker Faire

Maker Faire Newcastle 2017What a great day. Newcastle has an annual Maker Faire and it is on this weekend – and what a faire it is.

I headed off first thing to get some parking and was pleased to find that Newcastle College had some cheap parking – £4 for the day. I arrived 45 minutes to early, thankfully the security guard was a chatty type who wanted to know what all the fuss was about so we filled in time while waiting for my friend Aidan to turn up.

We got talking about cars as that was his thing and so by the time Aidan turned up in his Tesla, the guy was itching to see it and up to his armpits in questions.

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The Edinburgh Weekend

This weekend we went up to Edinburgh with our friends Karen and Dave.  Friday afternoon we drove up to Edinburgh and stopped in a little apartment in the city centre.

Of course, being Edinburgh, it poured rain most of the time..


We spent the evening wandering around town after the obligatory trip to (House of Fraser) Jenners and ended up in a very nice Indian Restaurant just behind Princes Street…

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Life in Northumberland

home made humidifierNo exciting photos right now, mainly because we’ve not seen sunshine in the Northeast of England for a while now, just the usual suicide-inducing damp, cold weather.

Having said that, we’ve not had snow or anything – there is no chance of it being a white Christmas for example.  I’ve been buried away in my workshop now for some time, taking advantage of the bad weather to get stuck into some new learning.

On the right you’ll see my new toy – a home-made-from-scratch ultra-sound humidifier. The idea came to me one morning as she was griping about the room being dry. Inside the £2.99 B&M glass-with-wooden-stopper case is a £4.99 high intensity ultrasonic steamer from China, which when fed 24v (supply came with the unit) generates one hell of a lot of cold steam due to silent ultrasound vibration. Then follows an aluminium tube from B&Q, a 25mm processor fan (£1 from China) and a little convertor to take 24v down to around 3v (£ from China). The 5v fan forces air into the container and hence lots of very fine steam out. I dropped the voltage (to the fan) to reduce noise to virtually zero. Right now it is running flawlessly and I’m waiting to see how long it takes and how much water it takes to make an effective change to the room humidity – which, run by radiators and fire – tends to get a little dry at times.

The whole thing is on a Sonoff controller hooked back to my house system which knows how dry or otherwise the room is and controls accordingly. At least that’s the plan. How well it will survive cats sniffing, running dry and other daily challenges remains to be seen. Also needs a protective shield to stop the fan getting damp and make it look more presentable.  It did occur to me that a somewhat more powerful version of this would be ideal for the pergola in the height of Spanish summer. We have misters but they provide rather large water droplets whereas this is REALLY fine stuff. Could be nice for compensating for the blisteringly dry heat in August.

Other than that, Maureen is doing her usual Christmas stuff, I’m focussed on my blog which is just about to tip 6,000 signed up visitors and needs lots of attention. Some day if the sun ever gets out we’ll get around to some outdoor activities.

Life as Usual in Bellingham

Van Morrison at the Playhouse

Life is pretty much back to normal here, I’ve still not opened up some of the packing stuff I brought back from Spain and my office is a tip but everything is working. Last weekend we went up to see Van Morrison at the Playhouse in Edinburgh and the following morning popped in to see an old friend Nigel Duncan who lives just outside the city before returning that afternoon to Northumberland.

West Woodburn

This weekend we’ve just had a lovely stop-over with some friends in East Woodburn. They have a place in Spain and whenever we go visit they do the most wonderful tapas – we had a great night.

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Can it get worse? Of course it can

Hard to believe we’ve only been back in the UK for just over 3 weeks. It seems like a lifetime.

When we left Spain the worst thing we had to worry about was Brexit – the end of Great Britain – now – there is Trump – racist, sexist, makes things up on the spot… there are many terms to describe him but the thing that worries me the most is how FAR this guy is from the people who think he will be their saviour.

Mostly white people who really think he would give two hoots about them ,the BIG thing that separates him from them is the silver spoon. While claiming to be all things to all (mostly white male) people – he has lived a life vastly, vastly removed from those who have the most faith in him.  That and the fact that this man will have his finger on the nuclear trigger. Thank heavens Americans only put presidents in place for 4 years – I should imagine anyone with a clean email record – maybe the nearest office cleaner would be a good competitor. But we have 4 years to go as the mighty dollar and the mighty pound slowly sink into the west.

I always said political correctness had gone too far but for 2 great nations to swing so far in the opposite direction.. I can only say, for once that I’m glad I’m a white male and even that won’t help much.

They always said the yellow race would rule the world – they didn’t say it would be our fault.

Counting the days to get back to our little hole in Spain, far away from it all.

The Return

And so we start our long journey back to the UK. We left Galera first thing Wednesday and spent most of the day driving up through Spain. We arrived at our hotel Palicio Urgoiti in Bilbao in time for dinner.

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