Monday, January 4, 2010

"Betty" wraps up at over 3,000 lines

As of January 2, "Betty" has topped 3,000 lines.

As the song goes, what a long, strange trip it's been. My first draft of "Betty" appeared Nov. 24, as an 11-line parody of a bad poet's bad poem. That inspired Ray Heinrich to do his own parody, which (after reformatting) clocked in at 70 lines. That in turn inspired me, and I was off combing the web for more colours, finding and incorporating (among other sites) Wikipedia's colour list and the X11 list. (References are in the "Acknowledgements" article.) By Nov. 27 the poem was up to to 168 lines.

Early in December I discovered David Mundie's 1995 Dictionary of Color, which led me to Jaffer's MIT site and John Foster's 2007 update, and the poem exploded. I also began "Betty's Appendix," which gives the RGB values in hexadecimal form for all the colours mentioned.

By Dec. 10, the line count was up to 1,488, too big for usenet, so I began "The Betty Blog" as a place to post the work. By Dec. 20 it had reached 1,789. By Dec. 23, when "Betty" was finally blogged, it was up to 1,907, and I was still searching for more colours, hoping to get it over 2,000 by New Year's.

On Christmas Eve I found Chirag Mehta's "Name that Colour" website. That in turn brought me to the Resene site. Resene is a paint company based in New Zealand (which explains the Maori-language colour names), which displays its entire catalog, complete with hex values, on line.

Inspired even more by that coup, I searched a few other paint companies and related sites like Pantone. Hoever, none of them gave hex values, -- and by that point I wanted hex values in the Appendix for all the colours -- which meant they weren't much use to me. By a stroke of luck, though, I discovered an amazing tool, Colorzilla: a free add-on to Mozilla's Firefox browser that will give the numerical values for the colour of any part of the screen. That made it possible to use specialty sites like California Paint's "Heritage Colours of America" collection.

It also helped that I'd been given the week off between Christmas and New Year's. Aside from Christmas Day, which traditionally goes to the extended family, the entire week was spent in a frantic effort to get Betty up to the maximum number of lines possible.

Not that quantity was the only consideration. I'd made a decision, early on, that "Betty" had to be readable: it had to sound like a poem, not like reading a dictionary. Every line had to be interesting. For that reason I decided to not use any colour names starting with "dark," "light," "bright," "pale," etc. The one exception I made was "deep": first because the dictionaries had given me some interesting variants (Deep Water, Deep Reverie, Deep Space); second, because I really wanted to get a Deep Purple reference in there.

Finally, on New Year's Eve, I called a halt to the process, and did a new line count. "Betty" had reached an amazing 2,898 lines! That meant one more on-line scramble over the weekend, which resulted in adding roughly 125 lines more.

I've still to do a final line count. There are also one or two colours I'd like to get in (and some lines I'm still not happy with), so this "final" may not be the actual final. However, as of Jan. 3 "Betty" is essentially done.

I hope you enjoy the result.


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