Sunday, September 13, 2009

Strange Map

A couple of years back I did a bit of a survey of what pencils were available in my little corner of the world. Earlier this year I thought I might update that survey, but then I thought, “Nah”. The concept kept nagging away at me, and eventually I weakened and decided I’d do a survey of local mechanical pencil retailers. After some consideration, it became obvious to me that my retail experiences mostly occur in a fairly small well defined geographical area. It’s a roughly rectangular area, about 10km long north-south and about 4km wide east-west. The northern and southern borders are set by large retail shopping precincts, the eastern border is the sea, and to the west a motorway and commercial/wholesale zone tends to cut me off from the more westerly suburbia. At the end of the day, it’s got to be a pretty unusual item if it can’t be found within the borders of my retail rectangle.

So, over the past three or four months, as I have conducted my usual shopping and other travels around I have taken a couple of minutes to survey the retail outlets that would normally be expected to sell mechanical pencils. In total, they comprised 6 x large Office Supplies stores, 4 x large Discount type general retailers, 10 x Bookstores / Stationers and 2 x Art Supplies / Specialist stores. In each store I noted (i) the top two brands for sale, as determined by retail frontage and positioning, and (ii) the total number of different models of mechanical pencils for sale. A change in lead size counts as a different model, thus a store offering Pentel P205 and P207 would count as 2 models.

My original idea was to do some sort of statistical analysis on the results. So, I could tell you facts like
- Staedtler was the leading brand in 7 stores and the second brand in 1 store.
- Bic was the leading brand in 3 stores and the second in 4.
- The most common second brand was “generic/housebrand”.
- The average number of different pencil models per store was 4.7, with a range of 0 to 12, a mode of 2 and median of 4.
- Astonishingly, one store had no mechanical pencils at all, and another kept all theirs hidden in drawers behind the counter.

I could also draw all sorts of graphs and diagrams like

(click for hi-res)

Well that’s all fine, but you know, I’m a big fan of the blog Strange Maps, and a bit of a map-nut. Strange Maps shows how people draw all sorts of weird and wonderful maps about all sorts of crazy things, like the geographical distribution of various hot-dog relishes within a certain US state. Well, I’ve taken my survey results and made myself a country! My mythical country has a basis in real life. Its shape and geography is loosely based on my retail rectangle, and the frequency and prominence of mechanical pencil related features do reflect their retail presence and general location. So, I hereby present my own Strange Map, a map of the Pencilate of Lumographica.(click for hi-res)

The Pencilate was originally founded many centuries ago as a far flung colony of the German pencil-barons. Today the Pencilate is ruled by the 14th Pencilator, a scion of the House of Staedtler, who governs from the imposing castle Staedtler near the southern border with the friendly but aloof Separatists of the Peninsular. The Generic Hills form the main part of the northern boundary, across which are the rich but moderately populated Cowlands of the North. The western boundary is formed mainly by hills, mountains and the small but intense wasteland area known as ‘The Nothing’. The Plains of Papermate and the Bic River form the main central part of the Pencilate. One interesting feature is the Hidden River - the outlet of Lake Lamy to the sea is by an underground, hence hidden, river.

So, in case you don’t get the concept, The Nothing is the store without mechanical pencils, the Hidden River is the one with them all hidden behind the counter. Yes, in real life the nothing is a swampy no-go zone, the outlet of the lake is underground, and the aforementioned stores were nearby. The Plains of Papermate is an area dominated by Papermate retailers, and is a large central valley in real life. Staedtler was the main brand down south and just north of them three retailers had Uni as their main or secondary brand. There really is a castle, and the coast has a lot of abandoned old military fortifications.

I will leave you to decide whether this is proof of madness, or the creative out-pouring of a fertile imaginative mind. But hey, I do live in the land of the Lord of the Rings, and visit Hobbiton, Mt Doom and other such places, so maybe it’s not all that crazy. Maybe I just have to expand the whole concept and story line of the Pencilate, get hold of Peter Jackson


Henrik said...

Well, well, well…ingenious on the edge of madness. The pencilate! I think you’ve just earned your own James Cook award! You have set foot on new land and entertained your readers brilliantly. Posts like these makes it a pleasure to read your blog – thanks.

Techniclick said...

All hail the Pencilator!
This is outstanding. Excellent job sir.

tim (m) said...

This is priceless work Dave, really, well done Sir.

Anonymous said...

I can't stop laughing. The best laugh I've had all year!

Anonymous said...

Sorry for being stalkerish, I thought I recognized something :D

Kiwi-d said...

Ahhh, well, you've sprung me. I don't really hide it, there are dozens of clues and even photos of my location on this blog...but then I don;t explicitly advertise it either. No offence, but I'll probably delete these comments in a little while. You are of course welcome to continue this off-blog via the contact on my Profile.

2nd_astronaut said...

In reality, I think castle-wise Faber-Castell is clearly ahead of Staedtler: