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Colorblind Assistant, can you help me? (eyes-on)

To color-blind CNET copy editor Jeff Sparkman, different shades look alike or just altogether wrong, which makes it hard to delineate colors on his monitor. Can this little program make things easier?

Well, now I know that the brightest part of the aura surrounding Olivia Newton-John in “Xanadu” is soft purple. I can sleep better now. Screenshot by Jeff Sparkman/CNET

I might have had a crush on her, but that didn't change the fact that she was wrong. My classmate Stacy mocked me for coloring a clown's lips green instead of red. I asked our kindergarten teacher to please explain to my cute but misinformed friend that she was wrong.

"Actually, Jeffrey," she said, "Stacy's right. This is green."

Thus, in short order, I learned some things:

  • I was red-green color-blind.
  • So was my maternal grandfather.
  • I may as well throw crayons away if the wrappers come off, since reading the name was the only way I could be sure what color I had.

The thing of it is, I see colors, just not always the right ones.

The main drawback of this for me (aside from never being able to work on a bomb squad, at least not more than once) is that with all the confusion I had with colors, it was hard to, you know, learn the right names for the right colors. True story: last week, I had to Google "chartreuse" when my son asked me what color it was.

When I'm drawing and I want to color, or if I'm (God forbid) wearing a shirt and tie, I have to ask whomever happens to be around to spot-check me on my color matching. Generally, I suck at it.

The other day, one of my fellow CNET copy editors was reading a review of a little program called Colorblind Assistant and mentioned it to me.

I tried it out, and it's actually kinda neat. It's a small, free program that tells you the color of whatever your cursor is on. Not just the name, but the RGB and hexadecimal values of the color, too. This is going to come in handy when I'm trying to color things on my computer. Skin tones are particularly problematic; one time Superman's face ended up being bright pink. And then chartreuse. I wish I could use it when I'm playing Draw Something. Many of my friends have been subjected to brown ferns because at the beginning, I didn't know I didn't have green.

Even just for little things, this is pretty helpful. On my IM client, "available" and "away" are (annoyingly) represented by green and red, respectively. But I just hovered my mouse over the icon next to the person's name, and Colorblind Assistant told me it was green, so I was free to bug that person with reckless abandon.

We've covered smartphone apps to help color-blind people here in the past (and yeah, I was the test subject), and a quick peek at CNET Download.com and elsewhere on the Internet yields a few other similar programs.

My dream is that this function could be built into something like Google glasses so I could actually use it out in the wild. You know, should I actually venture outside.