The first indication that I had a problem with color vision was during a physical exam for my first job out of college. My eye doctor completed the exam and filled out the form that I had to return to Burroughs Corp. “Vision: 20/20 with corrective lenses. Colorblind” Whaaaaat?
“You exhibit symptoms of colorblindness, primarily red-green.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you don’t see certain colors well enough to distinguish them from other colors.”
“How can you tell?”
“Those slides I had you look at, they had numbers in them. You didn’t see them. There are better tests, but this should suffice for a pre-employment physical.”
Those slides being the things that look like mutant strains of bacteria growing in a petri dish. I could see plenty of colors, what could the dish know? Now I was worried that I would lose my job because of a condition that I never knew I had?
Apparently, I was still fit for duty. I got the job.
It turns out all employees working at one of their manufacturing plants had to take that test. I was going to be a programmer-analyst, it didn’t matter what colors I saw; the text on the monitor was a single dreary shade of green. Other employees could not be colorblind because the equipment they operated used different color lights to indicate stuff.
I am reminded every day that I would stink at a job like that. I arrive at work about the time that the main doors to the building unlock. Most people entering the building glance at the card reader on the wall and instantly know whether or not they have to swipe their card. There’s an LED. If it’s red, the doors are locked. If I’m not lucky enough to follow one of those folks in, I have to go swipe my card. Oh, sometimes I go up and yank on the locked door, but usually, I swipe the card.
The first definitive measure of how much/little color I see came early in the PC era. If you’re old enough to remember when computer monitors went through the CGA-EGA-VGA transition, this will make sense to you. If not, you might have to spend some time on Google or just mutter “yeah, yeah whatever grandpa…”
When we made the serious investment in an EGA Graphics card and monitor (about $500), I couldn’t wait to see the difference. I opened a color image and kept zooming in to see the fine color gradations. I stopped at about 800%, when each pixel was about ¼” square. My wife asked me if that was as far as it went. I told her no, I had stopped because I had zoomed into the point where all the pixels were the same color. She pointed (literally) to the many different colors still discernable and said” “I guess this is as good a monitor as you’ll ever need.”
Perhaps the funniest color mistake I made was in buying a tie. Back in the early ‘80s, I had a Tattersall dress shirt that I loved. The lines in the shirt were red and blue. I mostly wore that shirt with a solid gray suit or a solid khaki suit. One day, while shopping at lunch, I spied the perfect tie. It had wide gray and khaki stripes. Each wide stripe was bordered by a thin blue line within two narrow red lines. It was like they made that tie just for me.
As I was checking out, the saleswoman looked at me and asked:
“Are you planning to wear this tie with that suit?”
“Yes! It’s perfect because I only wear this shirt with this suit and with a khaki one and this tie will go with both!”
She looked at me funny and said: “OK then” and rang up the sale.
I told my wife about my great find. She sounded skeptical. When I got home and showed her the tie, she pointed out that the “gray” stripes were, in fact, lavender.
I wore it anyway. I look adorable in lavender.
A nearly very costly color error on my part happened about 10 years ago at work. I was responsible for our network equipment, aided by technicians from an outside firm. Those guys would come in about once a month and apply updates and fix any problems we had. One day, the tech went into our server room and quickly returned to my office.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the drives?”
“The dead drives. Two of your servers have dead drives in the storage array. You are running without RAID protection.”
“How do you know the drives are dead?”
“The LEDs are red.”
I am getting some help these days from technology. First, I have a color App for my iPhone. Using the camera, I can point to a shirt/tie/sock and be given the precise color. There are many of these, I use ColorDetect.
The other benefit technology is providing is from companies that recognize that about 8% of males are colorblind. Many companies are adding colorblind options to their software and websites. Trello, the organizer I talked about a few posts ago allows you to identify related tasks using labels. The labels are color-coded but they have a colorblind mode which adds stripes. The labels kind of look like that tie I bought, but at least I can quickly identify them.