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Scientific American's December 1, 2023 The Most Shocking Discovery in Astrophysics Is 25 Years Old outlines the "origin story" for the concept of dark energy, a term used to refer to an apparent acceleration of the rate of metric expansion of space (i.e. the universe).

It includes the following:

They grabbed the nearest blue-and-gray sheet of IBM printout paper, flipped it over and began scribbling a plan: the telescopes to secure, the peers to recruit, the responsibilities to delegate.

I remember the big, wide line printer paper with sprocket holes on both sides and line numbers and alternating bands of shading already printed. I seem to remember green rather than blue, but I didn't work at IBM.

But I haven't a clue of what the "-and-gray" refers to. Due to it's planned obsoleteness it wasn't particularly heavily bleached or brightened with additives, but it seems it was if anything slightly yellowish, not gray. So I'd like to ask:

Question: What did a "blue-and-gray sheet of IBM printout paper" actually look like, circa 1994?

Maybe it's not even line printer paper they're talking about, but I was doing science at the time and we certainly all had stacks of it on our desk ready to go when we didn't want to turn around and get all chalky at the black board (or wanted a permanent record of our calculations).


Image source: Amazon.com TOPS Continuous Blue Bar Computer Paper, 1 Part, Heavyweight Paper, 14.88 x 11 Inches, 2700 Sheets, Blue/White

Amazon.com "TOPS Continuous Blue Bar Computer Paper, 1 Part, Heavyweight Paper, 14.88 x 11 Inches, 2700 Sheets, Blue/White" https://www.amazon.com/TOPS-Continuous-Computer-Heavyweight-Inches/dp/B003CT3T8G click for full size

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    I still have some "folded computer paper" with sprocket holes down the sides from the 1970s & 1980s. Some of it is totally white, which was better quality paper, & another type is lesser quality, off-white colored, paper with small blue numbers down the sides & a thin blue line ever 5th line. I do recall the blue barred paper, it too was a lesser quality of off-white colored paper. I can understand why some people might call it gray. I think your supposition about blue-and-gray paper is correct. It always came in handy for quick hand calculations etc.
    – Fred
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 7:23
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    I encountered many variants of lineprinter paper: blue or green lines, 'music stave' lines or solid bars, etc. FWIW, I parse 'IBM printout paper' as printout from an IBM system, not necessarily as paper sold by IBM.
    – dave
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 12:44
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    If you look at scans of the Apollo guidance computer printouts on green bar paper the non-green bars do look more gray than white by modern eyes. Ex. ibiblio.org/apollo/ScansForConversion/AP11ROPE/0001.jpg
    – Brian
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 14:41
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    A company (or government agency) could go to one of the printers of "greenbar" continuous fanfold paper and get it printed up custom. Most often you saw company logos on each page but IIRC I've seen special colors for the "greenbar" too.
    – davidbak
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 16:49
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    @Brian - Indeed, most of the lineprinter paper really did not age well, particularly if you left it out in the sun (or inside on your sun-lit desk).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 18:42

1 Answer 1

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I remember the big, wide line printer paper with sprocket holes on both sides and line numbers and alternating bands of shading already printed. I seem to remember green rather than blue, but I didn't work at IBM.

Light green was eventually the most common, but other shades were available as well.

But I haven't a clue of what the "-and-gray" refers to. Due to it's planned obsoleteness it wasn't particularly heavily bleached or brightened with additives, but it seems it was if anything slightly yellowish, not gray.

If I had to name the non green part, I would have as well used grey(ish), most definite not yellowish. This wasn't really due save of bleaching but the majority being made from recycled paper. Recycled paper ends up with a light grey base colouring. Not so much due less bleaching but remaining ink.

But yes, it was a cost cutting measure. The same way why many daily news paper had less than shiny pages. As more recycled fibres as more greyish. It wasn't until the 1990s that those papers could be produced with less gray without raising the price.

Question: What did a "blue-and-gray sheet of IBM printout paper" actually look like, circa 1994?

As you imagine. Except I would not put any emphasis on blue or a specific colour at all. I do read the paragraph is an ornamental part, increasing the entertainment value of that story, not really a highly detailed recording. Same goes for being specified as 'IBM'.

It's all about giving a certain image of clever engineers/scientists deeply engaged in developing an great idea.

Maybe it's not even line printer paper they're talking about,

Maybe, but there is a high likeliness due it being omnipresent, ready to be (re)used.

but I was doing science at the time and we certainly all had stacks of it on our desk ready to go when we didn't want to turn around and get all chalky at the black board (or wanted a permanent record of our calculations).

I guess we all did. Fan-fold paper (new or used) and punch-cards (used).

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