May 30, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Alphabet changes color of communication

Lee Freedman has waited a long time, but he thinks the moment is finally right to spring on the world the color alphabet he invented as a 19-year-old at Mardi Gras in 1972.

For 35 years, between stints as a doctor, a real estate agent and a pizza maker at the Woodstock concert in 1994, Freedman has been working on Kromofons--an innovative alphabet in which the 26 English letters are represented solely by individual colors--waiting for technology to catch up with him.

And now, thanks to the Internet, the ubiquity of color monitors, Microsoft Word plug-ins and his being able to launch a Kromofons-based e-mail system, Freedman thinks he is finally ready.

Imagine getting an e-mail whose text is not the familiar black letters on a white background, but instead a series of colored rectangles.

That's how Kmail, the Kromofons e-mail system, works. Using a translation key, Kmail recipients can piece together what a message says, letter by letter, word by word.

That's how it would work at the beginning, and Kmail is largely the Trojan horse that could help people learn to adopt Kromofons and be able to read the new alphabet. Freedman's hope is that after not too much exposure to Kromofons, either in a Kmail message, or in some other form, you would begin to be able to read the alphabet the way you would with normal letters. And once that happens, he predicts, a whole new world of communications can open up, as words can be embedded in images just about anywhere.

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It may seem confusing, but it's actually very simple, in concept at least. The letter "a" is represented by a bright yellow, "b" is a light blue, "c" a pale pink, "d" is grey, "e" is orange and so on.

The system presents some problems because the colors of some letters are similar to the colors of others. So the first few times a person looks at the translation key, it can be confusing, but the more time spent with it, the more it begins to make sense.

That confusion would most likely plague adults, of course. Kids are more likely to catch on much faster.

"Children really pick this up very quickly," said Tony Janson, the co-author of History of Art, who has spent a significant amount of time learning and thinking about Kromofons. "They start using the colors for different shapes and writing messages to each other, and they have a blast with it."

James Bennett, the dean of interactive media at the International Academy of Design and Technology, in Tampa, Fla., agrees.

"Children are going to learn a lot quicker, because they're little sponges," Bennett said. "Kids will (say), 'Yeah, this is cool,' and they will learn stuff just because it's cool."

For Freedman, Kromofons--for which he has applied for a patent--is much more than a kid's toy.

He sees Kromofons as nothing less than something that can change the way people think.

Freedman pointed out that for the entire history of the written word, humans have been reading in black and white. Now, he argued, people will begin to read in color, both in static words and animated phrases.

"That's going to change the way you think," Freedman said, "because knowledge that's coming in is going to be processed differently."

CONTINUED: Applications for the alphabet…
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...but is it practical?
It's an interesting idea, but its use away from the computer seems pretty limited, since it would require you to have a set of 26 crayons/markers/pens available anytime you wanted to write a note, and switch implements constantly. Or you could have a multi-color click pen the size of your arm.
Posted by treads0322 (3 comments )
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Not Practical
It is completely impractical.
I see this being of use to help teach kids to learn the regular alphabet somehow, but there are so many reasons that our current, simple letters are more useful and versatile.
As someone with an art degree and is well-versed in colors I can verify that most of the people I know don't make a ton of distinction between the colors they view. Most people lump all shades and varients of color into the basic color palette you'd find in a box of 12 crayons.

And even if you actually know both systems, is reading colors faster? Are there any real advantages?
Posted by Fireweaver (105 comments )
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And for Color Blind People
I guess were not going to be able to read any more.
Posted by ac5501 (39 comments )
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And other languages?
Indeed, like 5-8% of males, I'm red-green colorblind, so I can't distinguish many letters.

And what about to colors for Russian? And Japanese? Sorry folks, this is a solution looking for a problem. Remember Esperanto?
Posted by mjconver (211 comments )
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..or if you have synesthesia?
So, what if you already see letters & numbers as colours, and your colours don't match this new alphabet?
The comment about dropping acid might have a bit of truth to it. While synesthesia is a bona fide neurological condition, it can also occur with LSD usage.
Posted by Dogaroo (1 comment )
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Sounds like someone who had too much fun in the 60's
I've been in technology for decades, marketing even before that (helping my parents with a PR company during high school) and having studied linguistics. I don't see any special need for what he describes and he certainly didn't give any real examples of "a new way to think" in the article. Meanwhile, what's ADD have to do with it? I have it and the relationship doesn't make sense.

I just think he's someone who thought up a fun idea while in an altered state and, as with most brownie eaters, thinks the idea was much more clever than it is.
Posted by ithinktfiam (4 comments )
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35 years and he reinvents english
What a waste!
Posted by wildchild_plasma_gyro (296 comments )
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Color blindness, and monitor age, and sun fade?
I hope this guy enjoys his 15 minutes of fame. In addition to this being unreadable by the color blind (a large percentage of men), what happens when his color words are projected or presented on a monitor with color registration that doesn't match the original machine? I statment like "Buy this product" could be read as "Your mother..." (you get the picture). In print, colors fade when exposed to sunlight. Other comments have also noted that this is designed for English only. Because US Federal disability rules already prohibit color from carrying meaning in software development (if that software is to comply with the ADA/accessibility provisions), I don't see how they will make an exception for an alphabet that is entirely based on color.
Posted by HikingStick (4 comments )
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Try writing using 20+ color pens!
Hahaha, this article makes me laugh! I just cant write on the paper handling too many pens!
Posted by hacksider (4 comments )
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What color is "This idea sucks"?
"the color alphabet he invented as a 19-year-old at Mardi Gras in 1972"

Dropped a little acid, did we? That explains a lot....
Posted by Get_Bent (534 comments )
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This has to be the funniest response to a C-NET story I have ever read. Thanks for making my day.
Posted by whereami804 (1 comment )
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A mind is a terrible thing to waste
His time could have been better spent on something useful. All this is going to do is create more conspiracy theories, ie. decipher Van Gogh Starry Night and its really telling us how the world will end.
Posted by TucsonAlexAZ (53 comments )
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Black & white writing is so passe
"Freedman pointed out that for the entire history of the written word, humans have been reading in black and white."

As this is a problem why? Unless the only way you "write" is with a color-coded keyboard on a computer, there is no workable application for this that people would adopt enmasse. Why on earth does he think this will someday become prevalent?
Posted by TotallyMadeUpName (170 comments )
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But how will this affect Second Life
Well, this story has replaced Second Life as the "Stupidest Thing Covered by Cnet".

Posted by sovapid (3 comments )
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That was a funny comment. You made me laugh out loud, thanks!
Posted by Louis610 (3 comments )
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Best comment on CNET for a long time (NT)
NT means no text
Posted by Siegfried Schtauffen (269 comments )
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Esparantorrific idea!
Great comments! Let's see...color blindness, wavering monitors, fading from the sun acid in New Orleans, inventor has ADD, Second Life, 26 colored pens, conspiracy theories...thanks for the laughs!
Posted by Louis610 (3 comments )
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What about case and about special characters
26 lower case letters
26 UPPER case letters
30 special characters !@#$%^&*()_+-={}[]\|:";'?,./

You would need 82 different colours. You may be able to reduce that by making the capitals a different size. Then you could reduce it further by adding a shape to the colours. square for the first half of the alphabet and round for the second half. Indeed, if you made all the letters different shapes, you could reduce that to just one colour.

Oh yeah, we did that already.
Posted by Burnsie001 (30 comments )
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will it be faster?
I'm really interested to find out if you'd be able to process blocks of color faster than you would symbols. colors seem easier to recognize and process... i.e. reading a sign from a distance. i might not be able to make out a letter, but i'd be able to make out a color.
Posted by derfdricks (1 comment )
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A solution looking for a problem
This is what comes out once the basic human needs of shelter, nourishment and reproduction have been satisfied.
Posted by A. N. Alias (4 comments )
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From the Inventor
I love the comments, what use is it ?

We (KromoSapiens) have been using it in stain glass, art, jewelry, fashion, signs, rugs, furniture, even body painting at Mardi Gras, Fantasy Fest, and on Ozzfest for years.

And spreading it by word of mouth.
We just weren't ready to tell the world,
until there were easy tools for its use.

I am also very colorblind myself.
That is why it works.
It needed a colorblind eye.

So, the next time you look at a comic book,
check out the backgrounds,
when you see a billboard with large blocks of color, in the design,
or even the 4 color squares at the bottom of
some very popular TV shows,

you have to now wonder,
am I missing something ?

Something that may have been there
for a long time already.

May I suggest a few more uses for those that think it such a lame idea. There are places that letters just don't seem to fit right and colors are already being used.

Automotive Pinstriping, for that matter NASCAR car-ads are hard to read in letters at 200+ miles but colors ? Balloons for your next party, Floral Pattern Landscaping, Hot Air Balloons, Light Shows for concerts, Laser painting of the clouds, and my all time favorite - Read my Lips(tick) !

I am sure if you look around you at this very moment you will see Kromofons in use, you just did not notice it before.

So before you dismiss an idea, that in 5 minutes you could not have given much thought to. Try opening your mind just a little. After all, that is the purpose of the exercise to begin with.

Oh, and as far as the punctuation goes, we are not getting rid of any thing, we are adding to the possibilities. Use the current punctuation as you see fit, or create new forms of punctuation, or expression, by shaping the words, sentences and even the entire page.

The standard alphabet as we know it had no punctuation for about the first 400 years of its use. In fact, there were times when it was written in a continuus flow - right to left, then left to right, then right to left.

And we have not even begun the discussion of its impact on Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Cartoons, and Animation in general, let alone the new mediums of expression that KF can spring firth by combining it with these other mediums.

Open your mind. Try actually reading it, and you will find it WILL CHANGE the way that you think, not what you think about, but the WAY that you think.

And wait until your first dream, in it.

I guess that is it for now.

Thanks for listening,
Posted by kromofons (3 comments )
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If you were to change the colors around that corresponded to the letters, this would make a great encryption system. As long as the other party had the "key" to the color codes, I would think it would be very difficult to crack by a third party.

Interesting Stuff Kromofons.
Posted by rakeonrake (8 comments )
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my daughter already has colours asigned to days and months, and I know lots of people have colours attached in their perception to letters and numbers too. how will this work with them?
Posted by mwh1950 (1 comment )
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The Effect of Kromofons on Synaesthesia
Unknown exactly, fMRI studies are needed.

Unknown as a group, as it is so uniquely individualized. No two people report the same synth effects.

For the individuals we have encountered so far, they had little trouble making the dimensional shift from shape to color.

After almost every University Lecture on Kromofons, at different schools, and in different disciplines, I am always amazed at the number of students who report the most amazing combination of sensual perceptions. In Med School, we are taught that it is extremely rare, if it is mentioned at all.

But I can tell you from anectdotal evidence that it is running about 1 in 30. That is not rare at all !

There is a wonderful book by the Russian Psychologist Dr Luria, called The Mnemenist (sp??)

The effect KROMOFONS will have on your daughter ? That is yet to be determined, but you are encouraged to contact me directly here at the Kromofons Interdimensional Research Institute, we would be happy to follow up and send you what ever materials you may need that we can develop to help her reading skills, or just for entertainment and personal use.

BUT, it is clear that it WILL have a most definite effect !

Her age and reading level would be good to know as well.

Sorry I can't give you a better answer. One thing we can theorize, it will do her no harm, and in fact may aid in concentration skills.

But, let's explore together.

Posted by kromofons (3 comments )
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