Duck Quacks Don’t Echo

Back in May this year television production company Magnum Media contacted me to ask me whether I would be interested in being one of their experts on their TV series “Duck Quacks Don’t Echo”.

If you are not from the UK: It’s a factual quiz show with Lee Mack, a comedian1, which aims to investigate and replicate interesting scientific studies.

They were looking for a pencil and graphite expert to discuss the abilities of the pencil and the history of the pencil and they gave me some details of what was supposed to happen on the show. It would have been great to take part, but I’m certainly not an expert, also not a professional (not even semi-professional) in any sense of the word, so I replied that I am only an enthusiastic pencil user, but would be very interested in taking part.

I haven’t heard  from them since, but this week the episode they asked me to take part in was broadcasted – and they got a proper pencil expert: The technical manager of Derwent, Barbara Murray, who is also a chair of the UK Coloured Pencil Society.

The pencil expert (Image © Sky 1)

The pencil expert (Image © Sky 1)

There were a few things to learn:

In Ireland they call sharpening a pencil pairing a pencil. Irish comedian Jason Byrne also mentioned something about pencil pairing on New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t get that. Maybe someone can explain what is going on with pencil pairing in Ireland on New Year’s Eve.

There was some talk about that there’s no lead in pencil leads. I think David would have been quite upset about the kind of things they said.

Emma Bunton, of Spice Girls fame, then presented her fact (the show is about checking whether these fact, presented by the guests, are true or not): a normal sized pencil can write for 20 miles.

In an effort to keep this blog post short I will spare you my thoughts on this topic. The fact was checked with with a custom made device similar to a football pitch line marker.

The device that measured the pencil line length (Image © Sky 1)

The device that measured the pencil line length (Image © Sky 1)

They then ran a pencil lead down (HB). The lead was removed from the wood and no sharpening (except the initial point) took place. I want to add that it did look as if the lead was repeatedly covering the same paper again and again, which, in my opinion, will have prolonged the life of the lead as graphite coated paper wouldn’t be as abrasive as pure paper. After 10 hours of ‘walking with the machine’ the lead was used up. It survived 24.31 miles.

The lead being worn down and measured (Image © Sky 1)

The lead being worn down and measured (Image © Sky 1)

Their estimate was that the pencil will be able to write between 20 and 25 miles. This was based on a pencil lead having 1.25 g of weight with 0.00032 g of lead being used per metre of writing. If you do the calculation that should be 3906 metres, just under 2.5 miles,  so I assume there was just a 0 missing in the figures for grammes used per metre.

Lead usage (Image © Sky 1)

Lead usage (Image © Sky 1)

Unfortunately the pencil fact, one of three fact presented in the show, was voted least popular fact. The audience found the fact that 10 rubber bands can hold the weight of a person and the fact that men prefer to inflict pain to themselves rather than be bored more interesting.


The screenshots in this blog post has been taken from Episode One of the Third Season of the UK version of Duck Quacks Don’t Echo. I believe that the use of the screenshot shown in this blog post falls under “fair dealing” as described by the UK Copyright service.

  1. from Southport, not far from where I live and where I bought my Norcom notebook. People from Southport are ‘Sandgrounders’. []
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…and even more cedar wood

…after beard oil, wood hangers and coffee – this time in Lidl (in the UK):

Currently on offer: so called “Anti-Moth protectors”. Advertised as untreated cedar pieces which emit a subtle, pleasant fragrance, providing natural protection without chemicals.

ORDEX Anti-Moth protectors (Image © Lidl)

ORDEX Anti-Moth protectors (Image © Lidl)

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Deutschland 83 5

After The Game: Another TV series about cold war spies. Sean told me about this one. It’s called Deutschland 83 and its current IMDB rating is 8.5.

As the name suggests it takes place in 1983. Here’s a Castell 9000 in B you can see in episode 4, used by Professor Tischbier (Alexander Beyer) from the East German Secret Service.

A Castell 9000 in B (Image © UF Fiction)

A Castell 9000 in B (Image © UF Fiction)

Faber-Castell pencils from 1983 – sounds familiar, you might remember this previous blog post about the Castell 9000 pencils for their 222nd anniversary – that anniversary was in 1983.

Here’s a comparison of the modern Castell 9000, as seen in Deutschland 83 – with the water-based varnish side facing the camera, and the actual Castell 9000 from 1983. The green got even darker, the thick line on the end of the pencils changed from gold to silver/grey and the text printed on the pencils has changed.

Castell 9000, 1983 and now

Castell 9000, now (top) and 1983 (bottom)

The screenshot in this blog post has been taken from Episode Four of Deutschland 83. I believe that the use of the screenshot shown in this blog post falls under “fair dealing” as described by the UK Copyright service.

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Rustico Field Leather Notebook 1


Last week I got the Rustico Field Notebook I ‘ordered’ from Massdrop in July.

When I saw the notebook I couldn’t resist – the Rustico notebooks, which are made in Utah, are just beautiful. I decided to get the buckskin version. I assume it will darken after a while – a few years ago I bought a briefcase from Wolf Leder, which got much darker / more yellow over the years.


I paid $28.80 (~£18.50; €25.30), which included two packs with three Field Notes each. I think I should have only gotten one pack of three Field Notes …and am trying to sort this out for nine days now. Despite having had several emails sent backwards and forwards I still don’t know if I should send the additional Field Notes back and where to. You can see that communication with Massdrop isn’t great, but the prices are fantastic – especially if you are from outside the USA. I didn’t have to pay customs / fees on any of my orders so far.

This wasn’t the first item I got from Massdrop1 – and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The only disadvantage is that you usually have to wait quite a while before you get your items – in this case it took four weeks.


Update: Massdrop has told me that I should have only received one pack of three Field Notes and that I should send the other one back.

Price: July 2015

Exchange rates: August 2015

I’d like to thank Michael (from – currently offline) for the California Field Notes shown in these pictures. He sent them three years ago and I still haven’t used them up – but I certainly enjoy using them regularly.

The Massdrop link contains a friend invitation code.

  1. The Pebble watch shown in on of the previous blog posts was from them, too, and was just a bit more than half the UK price. []
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Different kinds of Noris

A Chinese Noris

The Noris got another good spot on the BBC’s programme. Again on the Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School programme. This time in the final episode, where it was used to write Chinese characters.

Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School (Image © BBC)

Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School (Image © BBC)

A Work Noris

Then something else happened: after more than ten years I got the first Noris from my employer! We usually get Lyreco pencils in the stationery cupboard at work, but last week and this week I did another task in another part of my employer’s organisation1 – and there was a box of Noris pencils in the stationery basket. Maybe the good stuff (the Noris pencils) is usually reserved for management and special occasions? We did get all the good stuff on the day: they did provide tea, coffee, biscuits, even Snickers etc2, so if they give us expensive food, why not expensive pencils, too? I wish we had Noris pencils all year round at work…


A School Noris

…and finally – more Back to School offers. This time in Sainsbury’s. Five Noris pencils for £1.12. Not as good as the Staples offer I mentioned recently, but at Sainsbury’s you don’t have to take five HBs, you can also take the ‘graded’ pack.

The screenshots in this blog post has been taken from Episode Three of Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School, a documentary on the BCC. I believe that the use of the screenshot shown in this blog post falls under “fair dealing” as described by the UK Copyright service.

  1. In case you are familiar with the UK Higher Education sector: I was doing clearing. []
  2. and there must have been a serious Snickers thief. Every day at least three shoe box sized baskets of Snickers, Mars and KitKat disappeared. I guess everyone would have had to eat at least five bars to make so much food disappear. []
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