The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

28 February 2006

Blinded by the white

Were there an Organization of Paper-Exporting Countries to control the price of paper, 42nd and Treadmill would truly be reamed: we go through tons of the stuff.

In one year we use more than two tons of copy paper alone. We'd been buying it, half a dozen 10-ream cases a time, maybe more, from one of the Big Names; it was decidedly ordinary stuff, rated at 84 brightness, which I always understood to mean that 84 percent of the light at a wavelength of 457 nm is reflected by the paper surface.

Aside: That wavelength is in the blue range, but the eyes see it as an enhancement of white; this is the principle behind Cheer's Blue-Magic Whitener, which once motivated Allan Sherman to ask: "What does that Blue-Magic Whitener do? Does it make blue things white, or make white things blue?"

Another vendor got into the picture and offered us paper at 92 brightness, a difference easily visible even to my old eyes. I have no idea if we were paying extra for it. Some months later I was told that we were going back to the old vendor; I popped a box open, and what do I see? A claim of 104 brightness.

Now 104 is theoretically possible, if you dump some fluorescent material into your paper mix. But that wasn't the case here: this was simply a switch to a different rating scale, and the new 104 stuff was, I judged, mostly indistinguishable from the old 92 stuff. I have no idea if we're paying extra for it.

Posted at 1:23 PM to General Disinterest


Recently I had a customer to pounce on me as I walked in the door. This very bright, energetic young guy (mid 30s) had just read about a great new concept that was going to save them a bundle: The Paperless Office. I could hardly control my laughter as I gave him a history lesson. We were talking about that while he was still in diapers. Let's see, the big players were ... Wang, Olivetti, some little upstart named IBM, maybe Sperry, and a whole slew of microfiche companies. The technology and the players have changed, but the dream remains the same.

Posted by: Winston at 6:08 AM on 1 March 2006