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<   No. 1287   2006-08-05   >

Comic #1287

1 Dwalin: King Dworin's folk have bin muddered! {translation: King Dworin's people have been murdered!}
2 Dwalin: Yon halls oonce rang wi' the soond of a hoondred thoosand anvils and the songs of a mullion dwarves! {translation: These halls once rang with the sound of a hundred thousand anvils and the songs of a million dwarves!}
3 Dwalin: Who would do sooch a thung?! {translation: Who would do such a thing?!}
4 Kyros: The neighbours?

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Wow, I really didn't do my homework when I named the dwarf character Dwalin. It would have been nice here to have the king of the secret dwarven kingdom have a name based on the Lord of Moria from Lord of the Rings, except beginning with "Dw-" to fit in with my running joke that all dwarf names start with "Dw-". Unfortunately, that dwarf's name is Balin. And in fact his brother really is named Dwalin.

So instead I based the Lord of the Sikkret Dwarven Kingdom's name on Thorin, the king of Durin's folk and organiser of the original expedition in The Hobbit which kicks off the whole ring shemozzle. Which gives me the name Dworin.

And yes, that works out to one anvil per ten dwarves. I figure that's about the right ratio for dwarves.

2016-01-23 Rerun commentary: I wonder what the right ratio of anvils to modern day humans is. Estimating this number is a Fermi problem, so let's give it a go!

Anvils are used by blacksmiths, farriers, and metalworkers. And also musicians, ranging from classical to soundtracks to popular. Although, wikily, "In practice modern orchestras commonly substitute a steel bar or other suitable steel structure that is easier to tune than an actual anvil". So let's discount musical anvils.

So how many blacksmiths, farriers, and metalworkers are there in a modern society? All of the following numbers are my estimates, without looking anything up (as per a classic Fermi problem), so some are bound to be more or less incorrect, but hopefully I can get close to the right order of magnitude at the end.

Let's say 10% of the population is rural, and maybe 10% of them have horses. That's 1% of the population own a horse. (That sounds like a lot, to a city dweller in a highly urbanised country like me, but never mind.) Most people might own one or two horses, a few people might own a lot. On average, 2 horses per owner. So the number of horses is about 2% of the number of humans.

Horses need shoeing... I have no idea whatsoever. Let's say a handful of times a year: three. So the number of times a horse, any horse, needs shoeing each year is roughly 6% of the human population.

A farrier can shoe... again no idea, but let's estimate maybe two hours to shoe a horse, including overheads like travel time and administrative and logistical stuff like buying raw materials. So, on average 4 horses in a working day? Times 5 days a week for roughly 50 weeks = 1000 horses a year. So you need one farrier per 0.006% of the population. Given a million people, this comes to roughly 60 farriers.

General purpose blacksmiths and artistic metalworkers probably less than double that number. So we're probably looking at somewhere in the realm of 50 to 100 people per million population who need to use an anvil. Some might share an anvil, some might have two. So it seems a reasonable estimate for the number of anvils in a modern society roughly 50 to 100 per million people.

Australia's population is (now this I'm looking up) a bit over 23 million. So according to my Fermi estimate, Australia should have about one to two thousand anvils. The USA, with a population of 320 million should have roughly 15 to 30 thousand anvils.

If anyone actually knows how many anvils are out there, I'd love to know.

EDIT: Of course, this is exactly the sort of annotation which generates bucketloads of comments from readers.

Firstly, horses should ideally be re-shod every four to six weeks. A reader says that in practice this often stretches to every two months, making it six times a year - double my estimate.

A few people pointed out that there are more anvils floating around. Movie props. Decorative items for people who like a rustic, country feel. Anvils that used to be used but are now sitting rusting in someone's barn. Props for Renaissance Faires and the SCA, and so on.

A reader looked up how many blacksmiths are in the USA and found a number of 500. He didn't find a number for farriers, but did discover that "find a farrier" listings had a ratio of about 25 farriers per blacksmith, so estimates about 12,500 farriers in the USA. My estimate was 60 per million population, times 320, equals 19,200. That's actually pretty good for a Fermi estimate, being less than double.

One reader took another tack, searching for how many anvils are currently being offered for sale on eBay. Since he's German, he searched for "Amboss" and found about 200 hits (on actual anvils, not just books about anvils or the like). By estimating what fraction of all anvils are currently for sale, compared to the German-speaking population of the world, he arrives at an estimate of roughly one anvil per hundred people. Which is an order of magnitude higher than my estimate (one anvil per 1000-200 people).

The whole point of a Fermi estimate is that it's an exercise in making estimates absolutely blind - you don't do any research, and have to rely completely on your own knowledge and intuition. So that's why I didn't take even the simplest steps of trying a few Google searches when writing this annotation originally.

I knew I'd get things wrong, but that was okay. Thanks to everyone who wrote, though!

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