Paper and Pencil
Paper and Pencil is an essay by Alan Krigman (used with permission) published in March 1972.
The current information revolution has emphasized the importance of low-cost easy-to-use memories for recording, computing and data handling. The PAPER (Passive Accumulation Permanent/Erasable Raster) and PENCIL (Plotter, Encoder/Notator for Ciphers, Icons and Letters) system meets these requirements and provides a flexible format from which information is retrieved by optical character recognition.
Paper is a modular storage medium, implemented in fibrous sheets typically 0.128 mm thick. Contents are nonvolatile and readout is nondestructive.
The memory module is the PAGE (Planar Addressable Graphics Element), which may be obtained in an unstructured configuration or with ruled columns or rows. The rules facilitate orderly information transfers. The standard page measures 21.59 by 27.94 cm although reams of other sizes are in common use. Bulk storage is accomplished with multiple pieces arranged in a stack and bonded along one edge to form a BOOK (Bound Organization Of Knowledge).
The pencil is a solid state data entry instrument whose active element is a carbonaceous rod or LEAD (Local Entry Access Device). This is commonly encased in a wooden tube of circular or hexagonal outer cross section. General-purpose leads are black, although a rainbow of other colors is available. Yellow is the unofficial Eberhard Faber standard for the wood jacket, but green is a standard option.
Pencils must be calibrated before initial use, and recalibrated periodically to compensate for wear. Special-purpose SHARPENERS, SHaping ARrangement for Pointing ENds of ERsatz Styli) are available for this operation, but knives, files, and teeth may also be employed. Further calibration details are beyond the scope of the discussion.
Self calibrating mechanical pencils are also on the market in which a lead is fed to the point of data entry by a screw. These pencils are expensive and tend to disappear regularly but they can be used repeatedly so economic justification is sometimes possible.
In use the pencil is grasped above the calibrated tip with the thumb and first two fingers of either hand. The upper side of the pencil is allowed to rest on the side of the hand between the thumb and index finger. A slight force is applied to hold the tip against the paper, and the pencil is moved to trace out characters at the desired addresses. Line intensity and width are affected by applied forces, speed of pencil movement, lead hardness, and paper quality.
An ERASER (ERror And Superfluous Entry Remover) may be affixed to the pencil shaft, for deleting data. In use, the erase is brought into contact with the paper, and is rubbed back and forth over the addresses to be cleared.
Erasers are subject to rapid wear and fatigue failure, and may therefore be missing from pencils having full write capabilities. Replacement caps and peripheral erase blocks can be obtained for such cases.
In principle paper may be erased and re-written indefinitely. However remnant writing and pink noise generated by the erasing process may exhaust ability to accept new information. In some instances erasure also ruptures the storage medium rendering it of marginal future value.
An alternative means of data removal, crossing-out, involves inserting deletion lines or scribbles over unwanted information. It is usually possible to recover crossed-out data which is very helpful if a user decides that his first idea wasn't so bad after all.
A page is often removed from service after use as a scratchpad or if all information is to be deleted. Several procedures are available for this task.
In some work, old data are traditionally preserved. For this a macro or gross crossing-out operation is suggested, in which the pencil is used to draw diagonal or wavy lines across the page. The later generally imply a high degree of data worthlessness or operator frustration. A drawback of macro crossing-out is that excessive writing force is frequently applied causing a broken lead and a subsequent need for recalibration.
Applications involving confidential information may require positive destruction of spent paper. Local and central shredders and incinerators have been devised for this purpose. The local systems offer high security, but equipment redundancy in multiple installations may be expensive. In centralized systems buffer, transporter units, or locked trash bins, are placed at satellite locations to receive paper. These units are collected periodically by sanitary engineers, and transferred to a central point for contents destruction. Information can sometimes be retrieved from a buffer/transporter by agile poking around at the input channel. However this practice is dangerous, and can lead to serious recriminations.
The most common means of page disposal is simply to toss paper into a wastebasket or onto the floor. Depending on how badly the unwanted information is unwanted a page may be left intact, crumpled up, or torn to BITS (BIlaterally Torn Segments). The latter is discouraged when the floor is used for disposal, considering the well-documented proclivity for vengeance in building maintenance personnel.