Counterintuitive

December 12, 2010

Always have liked that word.  Something that is counterintuitive is unexpected, surprising. Counterintuitive results may even seem illogical at first.  A counterintuitive conclusion calls out for examination.

Where exactly is this leading? To something relevant, of course. International Paper Company has sponsored a new website based upon a seemingly counterintuitive argument.  The website is GoPaperGrowTrees.com and the argument goes something like this: choosing and using paper actually benefits forests and the environment.

Poor Richard can hear what may of you are thinking . . . “sheer propaganda from wealthy timber barons bent on despoiling America’s valuable natural resources.”

Admittedly, the source of the argument lends a certain tinge to it’s credibility. Poor Richard, having earned his livelihood (for better and lately for worse) in and around the timber and paper industry, may also be considered a suspicious source.  Yet the argument stands on its own, despite the advocates involved.  It’s born of simple economics and goes something like this:

  1. Forestry is an agricultural business.  This is certainly true in the US and the website supplies the data to prove it.
  2. The amount of a product supplied is directly related to the demand for that product. This is basic economics. Remember the S&D graph in Econ 101?  The price of the product is determined by the intersection of the supply and demand curves.
  3. There is competition for the resources needed for production.  In this case, the competing interest is development.  Most of the timberland lost in the US during the last 20 years was forestland that was eliminated for development. The value of the land resource was greater when developed for commercial or residential use than when employed in agricultural production of timber.
  4. If the demand for forest related products (specifically paper) remains low, prices will not provide an incentive for continued forest management, additional forest lands will be lost, and fewer remaining forests will be managed either for environmental or agricultural benefit.
  5. Finally (and conversely), an increase in the demand for (and price of) print and paper will preserve forest lands and help to insure the best economic and environmental outcomes.

Multiple factors have driven the decrease in the demand for paper and print during the last 3 years.  Foremost among these are the availability of competing technologies (like blogs on the internet), the perception that the cost of print outweighs any benefit it has over competing forms of communication, and the propensity to simply cut the larger identifiable costs when under economic stress.

It would be interesting to be able to measure the actual effect that environmental objections have had on demand.  While Poor Richard suspects that this would be difficult to quantify, there is no doubt that the green objection has made a great excuse for the denigration of print and the diminution of demand for print on paper.  (I still don’t believe that people are really freaking out about printing their emails).

Go Paper Grow Trees LogoWill this signal a return to the good old days of print on paper? Probably not, but it’s still a very effective (if counterintuitive) argument for valuable products that really shouldn’t be as outmoded as popular environmental mantras would make them.   Click on the logo, visit the site, watch the video and let me know what you think. Or better yet, order something printed on paper from the printshop behind the red awnings on Poplar Street.

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But can you read on the darned thing?

January 24, 2010

Poor Richard has a confession to make. On weekend mornings he indulges in anachronous activities. That’s right. In his comfortable chair, with a cup of rich, black coffee at his left hand, he reads the newspaper. Not the new-fangled, online version at http://www.newsblip.com; Poor Richard reads the old fashioned black, white and read all over edition.

The bias towards paper is certainly predictable. Print on paper has been my livelihood for the last decade and some. But there is also a practical aspect to this antiquated predilection. At 50, Poor Richard finds the newspaper easy on his eyes.

My fishwrapper of choice is The Macon Telegraph.  The Telegraph, like other local papers in communities of our size, has struggled mightily with the changes of recent years. They have downsized, printing is no longer done in-house.  They’ve been bought and sold by newspaper chains in the throes of the struggle to reinvent an industry considered by some to be irrelevant. Through it all, they’ve done a remarkably good job of covering regional news and integrating very relevant stories and commentary from sister papers and the wire services.

iphone

Lot's of cool features, but can you really read on it?

The story that caught my attention this morning was a report from Stacey Burling of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The headline reads: Convention for neurosurgeons takes paperless to another level. (Yes, you can click on the link and read this online, too).

The gist of the story has to do with a decision made by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons to dispense with paper programs and proceedings at their next convention. Instead they’re going to give each attendee their own iPod Touch, pre-loaded with all of the programs, summaries, and even advertising that they would presumably have received on paper  at previous assemblages.

To quote the article:

Doctors will be able to use the iPods for messaging and for interacting with presenters during meetings. . . . Not only will the iPods encourage community building, but they will save a lot of paper.

The “green” reference, reiterated later in the article, was certainly as predictable as Poor Richard’s reaction to it.  I suspect that the driving force behind the initiative was much more economic than environmental. Some poor printer lost a good project (500,000 sheets to quote the article). The conventioneers are charged $100 each for the iPods. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons saves money.

Here’s the pertinent question: Is the decision practical?

When Poor Richard went searching for the online reference to the article cited above, he was assailed by unwanted audio that burst suddenly from the miniscule speakers of his Powerbook when the Philadelphia Inquirer business page was opened. That’s an annoyance. Poor Richard suspects that trying to read technical papers on the screen of an iPod will go beyond annoyance for many of the convention attendees.

Despite my confession of Luddite tendencies (see QR . . . U Ready?), Poor Richard is no technophobe. In fact, I am the happy owner of an iPhone. A gift from my children at Christmas a year ago, it has become pretty near close to indispensable. That means I could do without it if I had to, but wouldn’t voluntarily throw it in the river. I have some great “apps,” too. One of them tells me what’s on TV. Another can read QR barcodes.

I have also installed a book reader called Stanza, mainly because I am intrigued with the idea of dowloading public domain titles. Did you know that you can get the complete works of Mark Twain from Project Gutenberg? I downloaded Twain’s Innocents Abroad to my iPhone, with great anticipation, opened the ebook, and began to read. That’s where the fun stopped.

It’s not that the type is illegible.  The screen background is bright white and you can adjust the type size for ease of reading. But, the experience is lacking. In Middle Georgia jargon, “somethin just ain’t quite right here.”  First, regardless of the type size, you just can’t fit enough words on the page.  Flipping between pages is touchy . . . I seem to have no difficulty getting electronically misplaced, but a lot of trouble getting relocated.  And the feel of the read is just totally  . . . umh, strange.

There’s also something about the way we read electronically that is very different. Perhaps it’s because of the massive volume of information, or the hyperlinks, or Poor Richard’s propensity to get perpetually sidetracked; it seems nearly impossible to read online for understanding. Online reading seems almost self-conditioned for scanning and browsing. Indicative of this is the market for textbooks about computers and programming. All of the information needed to learn xhtml or javascript or php is available online, but the market for paper books on these subjects is still very viable.

For Poor Richard, and perhaps for my generation, reading in-depth requires a book: a real book, not a Kindle or an iPhone.  And I suspect (and hope) that the iPods distributed at the Surgeons’ convention will indeed create a “community building” environment, bolstered by some shared frustration at the limitations of the electronic documentation they receive.

Most of us will continue to embrace new technology for the advantages it offers. Poor Richard wouldn’t want to go back to the 10 pound car phone and Franklin Planner he used in the 1980s, but I also won’t give up my morning paper until it is pried forcibly from my fingers.

Anachronistically yours!


Just how green can you get?

January 2, 2009

Green frog

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against environmentalism. Poor Richard is just as worried about what we’ve done to the planet as the rest of you. And I’m really concerned when it’s 40 degrees on January 1st and 75 on the 2nd. But I think we’re taking the “green movement” a little too far. Right now, I’m remembering the lyrics to an old B.B. King blues song:

I gave you a brand new Ford
and you said “i want a Cadillac”
I bought you a ten dollar dinner
and you said “thanks for the snack”!
I let you live in my penthouse
you said it was just a shack!
I gave you seven children
and now you wanna to give ’em back!

In “How Blue Can you Get?,” B.B. has gone to the extremes for his woman . . . but nothing he can do is good enough for her. ‘Scuse me, but I think we’re taking the environmental thing just a little too far, too. I discovered a new font on the web the other day. It’s called Spranq Eco Sans. Here’s an example:

Spranq Eco Sans

Spranq Eco Sans

You will note that the font has holes in it . . . small holes that can’t be seen when the type is small (below the blue line); but are visible in the large type.  Created by a (very clever) Dutch advertising agency, Spranq, the Eco Sans font is purported to use up to 20% less ink.  I’m not really sure how serious Spranq’s initiative was intended to be, but here’s what they say:

The Ecofont is developed by SPRANQ, based on a hunch of Colin Willems.

With the Ecofont SPRANQ hopes to increase environmental awareness. Some ideas are:
End-users: print only when necessary, use a modern, efficient printer and use unbleached paper.
Graphic designers: use modern color separation techniques to avoid unnecessary wastage in ink. In paper choice, take the environment into account.
• (Offset) printers: avoid modern laser techniques that make ink indivisible from the paper. Keep an eye on innovations, such as plant-based ink.
Printer manufacturers: invest in environment-conscious innovation.

Poor Richard is convinced that the Eco font is fulfilling its purpose.  It’s getting Spranq a lot of attention. As to the company’s stated intent, I can’t resist a barely guarded response:

  1. Print only when necessary.  Also, you should only use a bare minimum of toilet paper . . . only as much as is necessary. Staples and Office Depot don’t carry much in the way of unbleached paper, but AlphaGraphics can cut some kraft paper down for you if you would like to run it through your laser printers (or use it in your bathroom).
  2. Graphic designers, does this mean that you can’t use 300% saturation for blacks any more (C=70, M=70,Y=60,K=100)? More about paper in following paragraphs.
  3. Offset printers aren’t concerned with laser technologies, but there are no laser/toner/inkjet technologies that do not make the ink indivisible from the paper. Soy based inks don’t dry very well. Also, the dot gain is excessive . . . rendering the holes in the Eco Sans font completely useless.
  4. Printer manufacturers — I’ll leave this one alone. I’d rather talk about the paper manufacturers.

For some time, AlphaGraphics, Inc. has been championing a chain of custody initiative. It’s called FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).  FSC is involved in the certification of timberlands worldwide for best management practices. All well and good. In the U.S., their stated goal is:

to coordinate the development of forest management standards throughout the different biogeographic regions of the U.S., to provide public information about certification and FSC, and to work with certification organizations to promote FSC certification in the U.S.  (Source: fscus.org).

Laudable goals. Great marketing. But completely unnecessary in the U.S. For 15 years prior to diving in to a small printing business, Poor Richard was employed in the lumber industry. At one time Poor Richard was actually a board member for the  Southern Forest Products Association. From this viewpoint, I can state without reservation that the U.S. timber industry is not the problem.

In 1994, the American Forest and Paper Association started a Sustainable Forestry Initiative setting Best Management Practices and goals  for American forests:

a set of forestry principles that would meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. These principles call for a land stewardship ethic which integrates the reforestation, nurturing, and harvesting of trees for useful products with the conservation of soil, air and water resources, wildlife and fish habitat, and forest aesthetics.

Weyerhaeuser Corporation, now defunct, was involved in sustainable forest initiatives decades before the SFI.  I will never forget a visit to Mt. Saint Helens in the early 1990s, about 10 years after the eruption. Weyerhaeuser owned most of the timberlands approaching the mountain. They had replanted almost all of the timber that was destroyed by the volcano.  They managed the timber they owned in South Georgia in much the same way, as did Union Camp and many other timber companies and private landowners.

Here’s the point:  We need to get real about our environmental concerns and about what we actually do (not just what we say we do).

On the AF&PA website, I found the following:

Nevertheless, despite its collective strengths, the industry is under intense cost pressure from foreign competitors. Many foreign competitors are not incurring government regulatory program costs comparable to those in the United States. The industry continues to look for the most efficient and cost-effective ways to improve environmental performance. This means that we will continue to press for regulatory approaches that are cost effective, performance-based and take business cycles into account.

Let’s take this to the microcosm — a small printshop in Macon, GA. AlphaGraphics buys FSC and SFI certified papers. We buy from American mills as much as possible. Most of the remaining  American made papers do  have some recycled content. We can and do buy a recycled gloss paper from Appleton Papers called Utopia.

But, we also buy an inexpensive gloss text that is imported by our distributors. Some of it comes from China. Why do we buy this stuff? Because we have to. Paper is a significant cost component in most printed products (duh?). Without an economically priced paper option, we would not be able to sell color printing. The FSC certification sound great and it’s a great marketing tool . . . but it doesn’t apply in China. The fiber in this stuff may come from waste paper imported from the U.S. or from the rain forests of Myanmar (Burma). Who knows?

It wasn’t always this way.  In days of yore, before the U.S. abdicated our manufacturing crown (regulated and free traded it away), it was possible to buy a variety of domestic papers:  in different colors, in different grades, at different price points. Now, many of the remaining U.S. mills are owned by overseas companies and the selection has been reduced to “white ” or “natural” (see Poor Richard’s post “If Counterfeiters are dinosaurs, can printers be far behind?”).

I’m banging the drum again. What the AF&PA advocates is practical, not idealistic. It’s time we get beyond the nonsense of “green” marketing and get back to the critical issue of how we control our own destiny. Selling green is meaningless. Doing green is not.  Doing green and competing is even better.

We’ve got our priorities wrong. Like B.B.’s ungrateful lover, we’re dissatisfied with what we don’t have and didn’t earn. Perhaps we also want to regulate the impractical.  The U.S. did very well with Fords and ten dollar dinners. We still can. It’s time to make the most of what we have. We have done it responsibly before . We can manufacture things responsibly again. It’s time to get back to work.

Here’s B.B. King, for your listening pleasure:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “BB King — “How Blue Can You Get”“, posted with vodpod