May 14, 2015: Roll Another Number

When I returned home from work a couple of days ago, my wife Gretta immediately wanted to have a word with me.

"Have you completely lost your mind?", she cried out. I looked at her, not understanding what had made her so angry. "This afternoon I wanted to listen to some music", she continued, "and in my search for a CD by Véronique Sanson, I have found these eight copies of the same CD in your collection..."

"I have listened to all eight of them and to me they all sounded exactly the same. So, can you tell me why you bought this CD over and over again?"

I knew it would not be easy to convince her of the necessity to have so many variations, but I decided to give it a try.

"Oh no, these CDs are all different. Take a look at each of them carefully and you'll see that they all have a different number embossed in the transparent hub...".

"In the transparent what?", my wife interrupted me, "could you please explain to me what this nonsense is all about?"

I saw that she was getting furious and therefore it would be the best not to try to explain it any further, hoping the storm was going to lay down soon.  

Meanwhile my friend Dr. Albert Weinstein who has free access to our house, had joined us and had taken place in his favorite armchair close to the fireplace. When my wife noticed his presence, she turned to him. "Mon cher docteur (she always calls him like that), what is your opinion on this matter? Can you tell me what all this number business is about?"

Al took a deep breath before he started his explanation.

"Well", he began, "this number simply indicates the minute of the hour on which the press that had a built-in clock, was started on each working day. A working day always started at 07.00 but because of preparatory work, the exact time the press was switched on could vary from 07.00 up to 07.59, although it seldom occurred the pressing process started later than 07.30. This minute number was subsequently embossed on each CD that was manufactured during that day and can either be printed with a large or small font. The top of the font can be oriented either towards the center or towards the edge of the disc and the number is either readable from the label side or from the data side. This means that for this CD alone a total of 60 (minutes) * 2 (fonts) * 2 (orientation) * 2 (readable from label/data side) = 480 variations are possible. By the way, if there is no number present, it means that the press was started between 07.00 and 07.01 because there was no preparatory work to be done on that day."

My wife was listening very carefully and I could see that her anger was slowly melting away.

"Furthermore," Al continued, "after the IFPI code was introduced in 1996, the month and year were printed next to the catalog number and because this particular CD is still in print, an additional 20 (years) * 12 (months) * 2 (mirror/no mirror band) = 480 IFPI variations must be taken into account."

"You forgot the 'w' embossing on the old-style variations", I added.

"Oh yes, of course, and since this 'w' is optional, there could be 960 old-style and 480 new-style variations out there, or roughly speaking it means for this particular CD about 1,500 variations are possible and collecting them all could be a life-filling occupation."

"Do you also know what this 'w' emblem stands for", my wife wanted to know, who had calmed down in the mean time, impressed as she was with Al's expert explanation.

"Ah Lady Gretta, as I have already told you many times, I was a chief engineer with the RSA company and used to visit the pressing plant quite a lot in those days. And every day I was present this emblem was additionally embossed at the opposite side of the starting minute number."

"You don't mean to say that this 'w' refers to your...". I halted, because I was too astonished to finish my sentence.

Al gave me one of his famous smiles and I saw a twinkle in his eye.

"Well", he said, "if you pour me a large brandy, I will tell you all you want to know about this 'w'".