Thursday, January 2, 2020

I, Pedant

Tam linked to ASM826's post about whether the new decade has begun or not, but included this tasty tidbit:
It's an interesting article, but entirely focused on computers and graphic displays.  Being pedantic as I am, I have to point out that Magenta is a real thing, and has been for almost two centuries.  The early decades of the 19th Century saw the Industrial Revolution really take off in Europe, spreading from England to France and Germany, not to mention jumping the Pond to these shores.  The Industrial Revolution ran on steam power, and steam ran on coal.  Tons and tons of coal were burned, resulting in big heaps of coal ash.

Coal ash is pretty nasty stuff, and so people started poking around looking for what you could do with it (other than piling it up in huge nasty heaps).  In 1834 the German scientist Friedlieb Runge isolated a substance from coal tar that was able to create beautiful colors.  This substance was ultimately named Aniline and in 1860 a couple of British chemists created an artificial red-purple dye.  They named it "Magenta" after the (then) recent battle between the French and the Austrians.

Image de la Wik
The field of Industrial Chemicals (chemical fabrication in ton lots) really got going as the cotton industry looked around for colorful and cheap dyes, and Magenta was kind of the first really successful dye.  A German company was founded to produce the raw ingredients for the dye trade, the Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik (BASF, the Baden Aniline and Soda Factory) company.  You might have heard of them, because they're still around and bigger than ever.  We used BASF floppy disks, Back In The Day.

So Magenta was a real thing, and has been for 170 years.  Your brain isn't just making it up.

OK, I'll stop being (quite so) pedantic now ...


pjk said...

Of course you mean "dye" note die - (pedantry alert ended).

Borepatch said...

pjk, thanks. Updated.

Beans said...

Coal tar dyes were the first really inexpensive colorfast dyes made. And the first real good blues and blacks. Which fired up both the weaving and fabric printing industries and help bring down the cost of commercially produced threads and fabrics, making the material cost of clothing low enough that normal people could afford larger wardrobes. Though really cheap, like even poor people have closets full of clothes, didn't come around until the 1960's and '70's. (Seriously. Think about your grandparents. 1 or 2 or maybe 3 suitcases of cloths was all the clothes even a middle-class person would own. Upper MC? Maybe a steamer trunk and 2-3 suitcases. Seriously. Your average 'poor' person today has access to so much clothing it's ridiculous.)

From a waste product of coal fires came pretty much the whole modern chemical industry and the modern clothing industry.

Isn't the meeting of science and human imagination neat?

Robert Wood said...

In a similar vein of discovering chemical compounds from coal tar, read "Mauve" by Simon Garfield. Talks about the discovery of the colour mauve by William Perkins and how it helped to revolutionise the garment industry.

ASM826 said...

If you think that's odd, consider this article. There's evidence that people don't "see" a color until they are trained to do so.

Divemedic said...

The article was not focused on computers. (Going from memory, so if I am off by a bit, please excuse me- my college course on anatomy of the eye was a long time ago) The human eye has two types of receptors for detecting light: rods and cones. There are about 130 million of these receptors on your retina. There are 1.5 million nerve fibers in the optic nerve. That means that the eye itself does some processing of the signal before sending it to the brain.

Rods simply detect the presence or absence of light. They are quite sensitive, but they do not have much resolution. Rods are mostly concentrated around the edges of your eye, which is why your night vision works better if you don't look directly at what you area trying to see.

Clustered in the center are the cones. Cones also have high resolution and reach subtype reacts to a different wavelength of light. There are three subtypes of cones: red, blue, and green. When the cones in a particular part of the retina are struck by photons, the wavelength of that light is interpreted by the brain.

That is where color blindness comes from- the signal from some people's red and green cones get confused, and the brain can't tell the difference. In other cases, it is the yellow that is missed. When the cones sense light, but no cone is stimulated, the brain knows that the light isn't red, green, or blue, so assumes that it must be another color, which it displays as yellow.

Pachydermis2 said...

Coal tar residues also were the basis for the first antibiotics (sulfa). These were discovered by a German company, Bayer, that you may have heard of. Post WWI Bayer, BASF and others were merged into the IG Farben conglomerate. Post WWII when it became clear that there were....uh...some serious labor force issues for Farben, the megacorp was broken up and BASF regained independence.


Tam said...


" but entirely focused on computers and graphic displays"


Divemedic has a good thumbnail.

Pedantically yours,