Saturday, May 5, 2007

A report after 32 hours into the effort

We were fortunate to have an excellent pencil sharpener at hand in the Library. We heartily recommend the Royal P40. The best feature is the little light labeled "SHARPENED." As soon as we saw that light flicker, our pencil was declared SHARPENED and thrust back into action.

As reflected in the chart below, we measured the pencil before each sharpening, and sometimes after. We used a borrowed Vernier caliper that measures to one-thousandth of an inch, though we general measured only to a tenth or a hundredth of an inch. Eventually, we realized that sharpening often didn't measurably decrease the length but only tapered the wood and the lead. The reduction in length comes as the lead itself wears away. We've sharpened the pencil 32 times in 32 hours, exactly once per hour--not by design; it just worked out that way.

Click here to see the raw data. Note the sudden drop in overall length of the pencil toward the end, before the decreases become regular once again. That's when the ferrule and eraser came off!

As of this posting, the latest measurement is 3.26 inches. The pencil started out at 6.65 inches minus the ferrule (That measurement actually comes from an identical pencil with the ferrule removed), so the total decrease is just about 3.4 inches. Over 32 hours, that averages out to a decrease of .11 inches per hour. So a 6.65-inch pencil would take 60.5 hours to wear away. That means we're only a little over half-way done!

Now, another factor is the changing ergonomic situation. That's a fancy way of saying that it's harder to write with a pencil stub. On the other hand, there are two simple answers to that:

ANSWER 1: Switch to a second pencil
Hang on, this is not a cop-out. Think about it. We simply need to wear away 3.26 more inches of lead. If we do it in a second, easier-to-handle pencil, that's still the equivalent of using up the original pencil.

ANSWER 2: The Bi-Conderoga
Stub + Ferrule + A pencil with the ferrule removed + Stabilizing Tape = A more manageable pencil.

We couldn't expect to wear away the whole length, because we need to have something to hang onto to insert the pencil into Royal P40! We're still figuring out how much we more we could wear away, but at most it would be 2 inches. Our current estimate of our total words written, having worn away 3.4 inches of pencil, is 29,000 words. So wearing away two more inches would give us 17,000 words, lifting our total OVER the target of 45,000 words.

To be continued ... We're going to sleep on all this and form our strategy tomorrow.

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