Foolscap. Elephant. Demy. Quarto. Monarch.
You'd never guess in a million years. It's paper. Paper sizes in fact. You'd think that there would be a few standards for paper, and you'd be right. More or less. There are about half a dozen for the medium; more than you'd think likely. But then when you start looking at all of the media together it gets downright crazy.
Consider something simple. You want to print a picture on a piece of paper. OK. You can do that. Use a digital camera. Oh wait. What's the aspect ratio of the picture taken by a digital camera? Well, that depends on the megapixels available which is limited by economics and technology of it's most crucial device, the CCD. Well let's say we get 1600 x 1200. OK that's an aspect ratio of 1.333.
Hey but first I want to download it to my PC and look at it on the screen. Well, as I look at it, my screen is a little different. It's 1280 x 800. Hmm. That's 1.666. Does my computer screen make me look fat? Well, I understand. The screen manufacturers are limited by their most costly tech which is the LCD. And let's not forget the screen refresh rate. That plays a role too.
Well I'd like to put the picture in a frame and hang it on the wall. What size should I choose? 5 x 7 or 8 x 10? How come these have the smaller number first?The smaller one has an aspect ratio of 1.4 and the larger has an aspect ratio of 1.25. This is starting to get complicated, and I'm just talking picture frames. Well, I'll go with the big one. And of course these ratios are holdovers from the era of film emulsion photography and the physics of lenses and mirrors.
Now it's time to send this to the printer. I wonder what the technology is in there. It might be an ink jet or it might be a laser. If it's an ink jet, the pixel size is determined by the ability to squirt ink of a certain consistency through a hole of a certain diameter a certain depth into paper of a certain absorbency. If it's toner tech, it depends on the ability of a laser to scan an electrostatic drum that rotates three times through different colors of toner. The drum is the expensive piece in that, and where the modulated laser hits a pixel spot on the drum, it makes that spot magnetic, the toner sticks to it and then is smashed and melted into the paper. Obviously the size of the print depends on the size of the drum. Fortunately they can do it for all kinds of paper sizes...
Human beings have been making paper for centuries in all parts of
the world. It's a miracle that we've decided on 90 degree angles. Well,
no it's not, I just don't know that story. But clearly it's going to
be a long time before any or all of these standards are coagulated. Or
maybe they just shouldn't be.
I think I'd like to go to the nearby paper company and ask for a ream of foolscap. You know how many sheets in a ream don't you?