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If it isn't fourteen inches long, it isn't legal

Just wondering, as a hypothetical, if it suddenly turned out that Americans could keep their cars, their light bulbs, their coal-burning power plants, their gadgetty gadgetty gadgets, and have plenty of energy, air, water and elbow room for our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren, and all we had to do was give up our eight-and-a-half-by-eleven and start using A4, would we do it?

I mean, aside from the inherent elegance of the ISO A sizes, there are five or six billion reasons why switching to the paper that everybody else in the world uses would make money for rich people, which is, after all, the defining purpose of capitalism. And it’s not like switching from miles to meters, which would involve actually moving the cities Boston and Washington until they were the correct metric distance apart. Switching to A4 paper wouldn’t be totally cheap, but we wouldn’t need new printers, copiers, and software. We would need new filing cabinets. On the other hand, we could use our old filing cabinets to store our old typewriter ribbons. Seriously, the library that employs me has a filing cabinet filled with typewriter ribbons. After the heat death of the universe, there will be a librarian, still typing on a typewriter. Which will take A4 paper without an adapter.

Sadly, even if we switched to A4 paper, profs would still photocopy two-up with big black bars on the bottoms of pages. What’s the carbon cost of those big black bars?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


don't you need to know the square root of 2 to use that kind of paper?

Those big black bars are composed primarily of carbon. So it's not a carbon cost -- it's carbon sequestration.

Is anything stopping you, personally, from switching to A4 paper? Buy a ream or two and go to town!

Hard to see any cost savings, there. And I hardly do any business overseas these days.


You know, if we did switch to metric and move all those cities, commutes would be much shorter. Also, the time it would take to mow lawns would be decreased, increasing productivity. I think it's a clear win, there, too.


Commutes would be shorter, but the hours would be shorter, too, so it's a wash. The lawn mowing is an excellent point; not only would the grass grow more slowly but metric lawns would take less water (liters instead of gallons) and the mower would be lighter (grams instead of pounds).

But what would really be more efficient were if the lawns were in the ISO A sizes, because when the house is turned into apartments, it's easier to divide up into equal plots!


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