A conversation about color, and how to see and use it.

bronwynsmomApril 1, 2009

Caramia asked me what causes golden pink light, and I didn't know, so I thought I'd start this thread so that the experts out there can weigh in. Here are some things I do know.

Color is only one thing. It's how our brains perceive the reflected light from things hitting our optic nerves. That's it. So what we are seeing is particular parts of the spectrum of colors that make up pure white light. Different substances absorb some parts of the spectrum and reflect others, and determine what we see. Light coming through trees, through glass windows, bouncing off white tables and red couches...all those things affect what we see.

Every part of the world has its own light quality, and so colors are affected by location and orientation/direction more than anything else. It has to do with the angle of the sun at different seasons and at different latitudes/longitudes, how much water is in the air, what the cloud cover does, how heavy and deep the foliage is (because tall heavy foliage reflects a lot of green into a room), how strong the sunlight is, whether the light is coming from the east or west, whether the sun is high or low in the sky....

Some people are more sensitive to some parts of the spectrum than others. I see the shades and effects of the red-to orange-to-yellow colors a little better than I see the purple-to-blue-to-green ones, and have had to train myself to see the subtleties of that part of the color wheel better. But you can train yourself to see.

Go outside and look at a cloudy sky that looks gray, and look for the color. Soon you will start to see subtle hues of purple and pink and cream and rose. Click on the link below to see John Singer Sargent portraits of women in white dresses, and white buildings on Corfu, and see all the color in the whites, and how different they are in different pictures.

Who among you can explain what makes the light in Paris pink?

Here is a link that might be useful: Sargent paintings

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Funcolors is our resident color theory expert so I am hoping she sees your post and chimes in.

I am normally not a fan of blue. In the Chicago suburbs, the color holds little or no resemblance to the way it appears in Paris.

However, this pic we took of the Seine just captivated me. I blew it up a bit and placed it in a 13" x 11" frame.

I'm very sensitive to cloudy days, both physically and mentally. They didn't bother me a bit in Paris. Just seemed normal.

The other pic is of our favorite hotel there. :)

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 1:04PM
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I painted my kitchen and my dining room the exact same color, but they look completely different because of the different light in each room. It's driving me crazy, but my husband thinks the color matches exactly. I'll be watching this thread to see what the experts have to say.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 2:28PM
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I'm just bumping up.

This is too cool a subject to have it disappear on page two.

Maybe FC or Amy will see it and weigh in.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 5:41PM
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Lori A. Sawaya

Oh wow, I'd have to say if indeed I am an expert of any kind, I am one of many here. A bundle of talent and knowledge hangs out here, I'm nothin' special. Trust me. :~D

What makes the light in Paris pink? Is that the best color question ever or what?! Too fun. Parma, those photos are beyond amazing.

I kind of think the answer is boring tho. We have a set bandwidth of light/color that we can see, approx. 400 nm to 700 nm - rounded give or take a few. Whatever mix of wavelengths come with the day are what come with the day and whatever slant to the sun a certain locale has will determine that mix of light. Different weather and air conditions notwithstanding.

Regionally in the U.S. I do think it has more to do with lattitude as opposed to longitude. I mean just *how* different is a dreary day in the northwest from a dreary day on Long Island. Once you start jumping parallels is where I think *marked* differences and distinguishable color personalities, or quality of light, are significant. Within those parallels, I think there are fair averages and general assumptions that are reasonable to make; those parallels or bands across the U.S. are a reasonable way to organize and categorize when it comes to color. According to me any way. :D

Indoors, ambiant light is from all sources bouncing around the room. It comes from a multitude of reflective surfaces and lends a low level, diffuse, omnidirectional quality of illumination to the space. While all those different sources do add up to a certain atmosphere in a room, not any one thing particular is able to influence the inherent characteristic of natural light source.

In other words, you can bathe a due north exposure in as much white paint as you want, but that due north room is never going to be anything but what it is -- cool and dim. The result will never be thought of as light and airy, it will simply be a dim room painted white. That's the kind of understanding that's useful to reach for when setting out to define expectaions and color tolerances. Obviously, room to room inherent quality of light will differ because of fenestration - or a lack of. That kind of color truth is often contrary to the standard color memes, however.

Just like there are differences room to room there are differences person to person. Some women do see an extra wavelength in the *red* area of the spectrum. And some people are highly sensitive to the vibrational energies that color contributes to our environments. Others, not so much. Doesn't mean anyone is broken or deficient in some way. Just means we're all unique, just like each square o'dirt we each call home or work is unique.

Because of that uniqueness, I think it's super important to keep egos in check and minds open when it comes to color and design -- especially in this amazing new age of color that we get to live in.

I truly believe, and I've said it before, that individuals who feel some kind of *need* to invalidate any one point of view, method, or philosophy of color, are the ones who allow more ego than knowledge and have the most to learn.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 7:48PM
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What we percieve as color is caused by the light which bounces off of certain "things". Color created by light, that is a beam focused through a transparent film behaves differently than colors prodiced from pigments which reflect or absorb light.
Also the psychometrics of color determines what you see...the shade of "aqua" which to you is green to me maybe blue.
What we perceive about a wall painted white, depends on the other things reflecting the light.
The ideal painter's studio is bathed in lots of pure north light...because it is neutral and "bright" without being glaring.
Not at all sure what you mean by "invalidate a point of view, method, or philosophy of color".
What we call color is light bounced off of a surface or a light which has been filtered to esclude certain parts of the spectrum.....as in theatrical gels, colored drapery panels and other filtering mechanisms.
color is physics....your reaction to it is something else.
Linda C

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 9:26PM
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Funcolors, I'm trying to wrap my brain around all this color confusion. To quote you:
"In other words, you can bathe a due north exposure in as much white paint as you want, but that due north room is never going to be anything but what it is -- cool and dim. The result will never be thought of as light and airy, it will simply be a dim room painted white. That's the kind of understanding that's useful to reach for when setting out to define expectaions and color tolerances."
For three days I've tried at least 8 different sample paints in my north facing LR. I wanted a creamy warmish white. I finally ended up with SW Natural Choice. It's not at all the way I wanted it! It's gray and dull. I'm exhausted after days of running back and forth for paint and the mental anguish of it all! I had to have it done today. And it is and I hate it.

How do you warm a north facing room?

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 10:32PM
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My last house was on the shore of a large lake in northern Indiana -- the house had huge tall windows toward the lakeview. I didn't use green anywhere inside, but in the summer there was SO much green -- tree leaves through the high windows and hostas and grass through the lower ones, and lots of lake and sky in between.

The quality of light there was so different than it is on my new Tennessee ridge house, where I have lots of sky, more distant trees on the next ridges, but none up close, and, most importantly no water, so no "bounce" of light.

I used a couple of the same paint colors in both houses and even though I knew intellectually they'd be different here, I'm still blown away by how much different -- especially the yellow. I hope I'll like it as much as I did there. Right now it's looking pretty intense!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 10:35PM
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Lori A. Sawaya

Oy, were going places with color that's a lot more complex than what makes the light in Paris pink! I'll do my best to explain myself as clearly as I can muster.

North light is great for artists' studios! I think instead of neutral tho, I like the word balanced better -- as in a nice, balanced mix of wavelengths. Typical midday north light is comprised mostly of wavelengths from the blue end of the spectrum. Average midday north daylight is an industry standard by which to set white points and they are used for all kinds of comparisons and calibrations. No doubt you've seen "D65" if you've ever Googled much about color. The standard of D65 is meant to simulate the qualities, the spectral distribution of average, midday north daylight.

North light doesn't *beam* into a room. It's more of a spilling, bouncing, or toppling in. A north facing room never experiences direct beams like the other exposures and that makes it special and different. It's the indrectness of north daylight in addition to its balance that makes north so appealing for a studio. It'd be a stretch for me to ever call north light "bright" but, hey, maybe somewhere to someone it is. :D

South light is considered balanced as well and it notoriously has the broadest range when it comes to *wearing* paint colors. You can do a lot with a southern exposure because of its balance and its direct exposure and brightness -- simply put, south brings the light. I find south facing rooms the easiest to fit with wall color.

Even tho south light is nicely balanced, has a nice variety in its spectral distribution, its brightness or intensity isn't as well suited for a studio. Intense daylight strips saturation from color and can cause glare, so indirect, balanced north light is a better choice.

So, if midday north light is so well balanced and used as an industry standard for setting white points, why doesn't white wall colors work in a north facing room? Well, for one, a room is three-dimensional and industry standards are meant for other things that are not. North light may be balanced, but that's not saying there's a lot of it -- or enough of it. Light paint colors need LIGHT to be seen. So while the ambiant light of a north room might be balanced, there's not enough of it to reflect all the stuff in a white wall color that needs reflected so it shows pretty and *full* and so your eyeballs can see it. What you'll end up with are walls that are suppose to look like some flavor of a yummy white but instead appear as a flat dirtied-gray, anemic, and lifeless.

I've mentioned several times before that the key to selecting the right paint color is partnering inherent light with the right nuance of color. White by nature of it being white won't have nuance to partner well with north light in order to meet your average color expectation.

So how do you "warm" a north facing room. Any room that is properly fitted with wall color will feel inviting and perceptually, not literally, warm and comfortable because the color fits the way it's suppose to. That happens when the right paint color is selected based on the inherent qualities of light. Not necessarily a rug, or a vase, or a window treatment.

I would have helped you adjust your expectations of what "warm" means for a north facing room. I would have shown you, helped you see that a "warm" environment can be constructed by methods other than by use of the colors that are universally accepted as being "warm" in color temperature.

"Invalidate any one point of view, method, or philosophy of color" is speaking to the processes of coloring environments and the actual products that are available to the consumer of color. I'm not speaking to color per se, color as radiant energy. I'm talking about how we go about coloring our environments and the color memes that so many hold up as proper examples of the right and practical ways to approach color implying that any other approach that differs is not "right" or "practical".

Whew! Now I need a Diet Coke, extra ice. :~D

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 2:55AM
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This is interesting. I have aways analyzed color differently from many people I know, seeing things that may have "too much blue" or "a yellow instead of green undertone" I often can "see" the colors that are making up the final product. To me it is plain as day, and the other person cocks his/her head and stares at me, stares at the color, stares at me... Oh well.

To weigh in at the north room thing. I have twice now used the same technique on my north light living rooms. A bright white with the palest of pinks washed over the top. I am not a pink person, but somehow this color seems to give more energy to the room without taking away the light. Like funcolors said, these rooms are inheritly dim and cool, so my goal was keep the light reflecting in the room (pale color) and to enhance that color by controlling it when it reflects in the room by warming it up a bit into the red family. The washing effect also removes the flat/dull look to many north rooms, making the color dance on the wall a bit. It is still a cool room, but somehow not dull.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 7:06AM
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This is what I had hoped for!

Funcolors, where have you been hiding? Clearly, not hiding, as other posters know about you. I particularly like your description of why the most commonly held notions about what color does are often quoted without understanding, and are contradicted by a particular set of circumstances.

Dainaadele, your pink-washed north-facing room sounds lovely. I have often used pale pink ceilings to bring life to neutral rooms with north exposures, knowing that it works, but not knowing why.

My knowledge of color comes more from experience than anything else, which is why I started this conversation. I can often describe things that I can't explain. You all are adding immeasurably to my understanding, and undoubtedly to everyone else's, too. And I'd love to hear more from posters who have had particular experiences with color that didn't do what they wanted or expected it to do...and also about happy accidents with color...???

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 10:57AM
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thanks to all these great conversations, my world now makes sense. I know now that I am not crazy. DH and I are always getting into heated discussions around color. For some reason, I see pink or grey undertones where he only sees the base color. He can never understand why I insist that something doesn't go together. Any yes, he says aqua is green and I say blue.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 10:59AM
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Well, as usual, I feel like I have more to learn than add to this topic. It is endlessly fascinating/mystifying. :-)

As for Paris, something I like to ponder, I have always thought it was the moisture in the air, combined with the low buildings and the pale stone used in so much of the architecture. Colors at sunset are due to the full spectrum light of the sun being filtered through the earth's atmosphere. I think that Paris' low buildings allow for more of that color play both early and late in the day than "tall" cities do.

What FC says about latitude also has everything do do with the quality of light in a particular locale, particularly at the beginning and end of the day. The further from the Equator one moves, the longer dawn and dusk last, due to the shallower angle of the rising or setting sun.

At the mid latitudes, demarcations between night and day are more distinct...when the sun goes down, it gets dark quite quickly. I think that the more gradual change in daylight at higher latitudes contributes to a sense of different/special light for more hours of the day. Slower building/fading of the light + lower angle/more atmosphere to filter through = magic! :-)

Remember, Paris is at the same latitude as Seattle and the northernmost tip of Maine!

When I was in Rome, the quarter I stayed in was often full of wood smoke as the local restaurants were "firing up" for the day. The buildings were low (it was a medieval neighborhood) and the light there in the mornings when I went out to do my daily shop was amazing.

I went to college in the shadow of a steel mill. Hands down, those were the best sunsets ever due to all the particulate matter in the air. Murder on the lungs....easy on the eye.

As for ego and color....that's a good one. I think there are more "rules" out there for color than for any other area of interior design. And I think that color can be so challenging that people grab on to those rules and don't want to let them go. The possibilities for color are vast and the rules just keep us inside a box. Dare I say it, the inside of that box is invariably beige. ;-)

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 11:03AM
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Funcolors, I didn't know you were available for help! I still need it! HELP ME PLEASE! I just need someone to say, paint it this color. My dh came home this morning from his trip and said "it looks fine to me." But I'm not happy. I'm very disappointed. My creamy white idea was a failure. Now I need to find a color.....

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 12:58PM
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I think we should all go to Paris and discuss this in situ over a bowl of mussels and a bottle of chablis...???

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 1:01PM
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I have a north facing room (actually the whole loft, with 10 windows), and while I'm in LA, it's not that great golden light all day long. I have exposed brick, so I painted the wood window frames a F&B yellow, which contrasts to the blue skies (and here, it's almost always blue skies). Even on a grey day, the sky looks bluer.

Chicago's nearly the same latitude as Istanbul, and yet, we don't consider them to be even close to the same atmosphere.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 1:07PM
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A field trip! Sounds like a great idea to me!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 1:08PM
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I know very little about color but I agree with others that air pollution might be an important factor in light and how color is perceived. DH and I met and lived in a major city and a few years ago went there for a walk down memory lane. We were amazed at how yellow the sky was due to pollution - that has to be a major influence in the quality of light reflected in homes.

Where we live now there is virtually no air pollution but we live with many nearby trees which I understand changes the color. I know when I was trying to find a suitable color for our north facing LR the browns that had green in them were awful. I chose a warm brown with red but no green it it and it's perfect. For months after repainting I kept saying how much I loved the color. In fact I'd like to repaint but am afraid I won't find another color I like as much. Might have to repaint with the same color. This room has many north and east facing windows.

In the also north facing den I wanted a green so mixed my own. It's a greyed sagey green which works very well I *think* because there are several windows and lots of light.

I've had a real problem with yellow and gold colors. I like yellow but have struggled to find any that are not too bright once on the wall, and I find most golds too muddy. Not sure if it's this house, my poor choices, the way I see color, or all of the above.

I love color but there are waaay too many choices so it's always a challenge for me! ;-)

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 1:34PM
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Another thing I find interesting is a person's expectation of color.

More than a few times, you will hear "I thought I found the perfect color but at 4:57 pm it looked a little peachy for about five minutes...back to the drawing board.".

Funcolors, Amy and others have used full spectrum colors like EK. When I hear conversations of those paints, it seems like the users are embracing the different nuances that they bring to a space.

Does it take a different type of person to like a color that seems to be in a constant flux or does the average user just need to be told that it's OK for paint to change color at times?

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 1:59PM
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Mmmm.mmmm...mussells and chablis....

I've been lurking over on the BM website, they have all sorts of stuff there, they even provide color advice.

But their light is not the same as the light one has in one's home. Plus color is so subjective. The only thing I am totally sure about is mussels and chablis:)

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 2:21PM
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Colour has always been a fascinating subject for me. I have been struggling with the concept of it for a long time and still don't quite get it. From what I can remember being told; We see because of the presence of light and different things absorb different amounts of light and that there are many different wavelengths. That we would see an apple as red because it is absorbing the green wavelength but not the red wavelength. That if you take black which absorbs 94.6% of light and stick it at the bottom of a card and you put white which reflects 94.6 % of light and put it at the top and spin you will see a colour gray which they call 18% gray. If you have a gray colour and use it against another colour your eyes will try to balance by seeing the complementary colour in the gray. An example of this might be; If your complementary colour was blue, your gray would tend to look yellow or warm. If your complementary colour was yellow, your gray would tend to look blue. Same goes for any colour but since gray is a neutral, I always find it more noticeable.If you have blue counters and you want to make them look less blue, then you wouldn't want to use anything that had yellow or orange because it would just make them look even bluer. Same as you wouldn't want to use gray.

My house is open concept and I have walls facing the east, north and west, the same colour used on the walls looks different in each room and at different times of the day. It took me a long time to tweak the colour. Although the colour now looks the same in every room, it is only because I have used a different tone or hue in each area to get this accomplished. During the day the walls look grayish purple and at night they look brownish, but that is because of the indoor lighting which has yet again a different wavelength than that of daylight.
This is all I can remember and if it is incorrect then please correct me and if it isn't right it is no wonder I still don't get the concept.

Thanks Linda

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 2:53PM
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When we bought our house, the bathroom trim and bottom half of the bathroom was painted yellow with a gray based wallpaper above. Even the realtor, who was overly enthusiastic, couldn't say anything nice about that room. When we met the PO, they grimaced over that room and said it was so dark and she was just trying to brighten it up. First thing I did was rip off the old wallpaper and replace it with a blue based paper, (because the plan was blue and white). I was going to repaint the trim white when I had a chance. All of a sudden the dingy room was bright and cheerful. Magic of the complementary color. I left the yellow.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 4:13PM
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Lori A. Sawaya

Funcolors, Amy and others have used full spectrum colors like EK. When I hear conversations of those paints, it seems like the users are embracing the different nuances that they bring to a space.

First let's think about how we change or create nuance. What is it. Nuance = LRV + Chromaticity. LRV is how light or dark, how much light a color can measurably reflect back into the room and how much it absorbs. Chromaticity is pureness of hue, how close is the color to a neutral gray. Two separate *parts* of color, each normally referred to as a value. LRV is light/dark value and chromaticity is grayscale value.

Changing nuance - or purposefully constructing nuance is done via the mixing colorants process. You have a choice. Go tonalist and use black, grays or go colorist and don't use black, grays but instead use chords of complements.

With full spectrum, yes, the expectation is already in place that the color is responsive to light. It has a *full spectrum* of molecules of color built in to it with which to react to, and interact with, whatever mange of wavelengths of light take up residence in a room.

The nuance of a full spectrum color is different than the nuance of a non full spectrum color because of the basic building blocks of the color. There's no way they can be equal or the same. So the quality of nuance that full spectrum color users are embracing and accepting as it changes is different.

You can produce what appears as *the same* color using different methods. Take a color chip to the paint store and one person will custom color match it one way; hand the same chip to a different person and they'll likely chose another route - a similar, but different combination of colorants to arrive at the same end game. Both will produce what is essentially *the same* color, but each will have a different timbre of nuance because of the amounts of each colorant and the precise combination of the colorants chosen at the descretion of the color mixer.

I feel it is the timbre of nuance of full spectrum color that people embrace.

Does it take a different type of person to like a color that seems to be in a constant flux or does the average user just need to be told that it's OK for paint to change color at times?

It's funny because as a retort to what full spectrum is, I've seen people respond that they don't want a schizo paint color on their walls that radically morphs their room as the light changes.

Part of establishing *expectations* is sharing the understanding that ALL wall colors respond to the light and change. The difference is that in this new age of color, you can control more aspects of how wall color responds to the unique, inherent light of your space. You can make choices custom to your tolerances and inherent lighting.

A single paint color is gonna change wall to wall, angle to angle. That's a fact, can't do anything about it. What we can do, to an extent, is choose the how, choose the degree, choose the kind of change we prefer. It's a choice. Could even look at as a *new* layer of contrast with which to create unique atmosphere. Juxtapose a highly responsive paint color to one that has the ability to stay more constant light source to light source. It's too darn much fun.

Again, FS vs. regular color is a choice, it's not a competition as far which one is real, or better, or worthy of your dollars. It's simply about options. In fact I noticed on the Devine website recently that Gretchen is talking up the constancy, the low metameric risk with which her colors are mixed. If I read it all right, she's now softly marketing the opposite of what full spectrum color is.

My thoughts are Devine's proclamations about the constancy of their colors is far easier for more people to accept than the chameleon intents of full spectrum color. Ironic because fundamentally Devine and FS are both peddling the same aspect of color, just at opposite ends of the effect. Metamerism has long been an undesirable element to coloring in general and the old guard of color can't imagine why shifting color would be a good thing -- ever. Ironic that they understand that you can *do* stuff to limit metamerism, but they don't accept the flip side that you can *want* it and purposefully use it. It's like saying you can have night but day isn't convenient for me to get my head around so it's not real.

Color lines like even keeled Devine will be considered valid and garner acceptance while suspecting criticism will continue to dog full spectrum.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 4:22PM
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O.K., that's funny about the Devine paint...which I'm slowly but surely eradicating like ivy from our house. It makes me feel *dead*, it's so opaque and unchanging (is it the high titanium dioxide content that gives it such quick coverage?). Even before I knew why, I knew I couldn't breathe with this paint on the walls. Much happier with BenMoore and EK on the walls now. If I could afford FPE or F&B I'd go with those, but these are so much better than what was there :). (IMHO, of course -- some folks love Devine, thinking of HouseVixen for example, but it just vibrates *wrong* with me)

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 5:08PM
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Just want to thank everyone who responded on this thread.

Such in depth knowledge about a subject, that the layperson typically knows little of, is so illuminating.

I've bookmarked this post.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2009 at 12:41PM
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