Sunday, July 08, 2018

An Appraisal of Two Magical Artifacts

I was recently tasked to appraise two magical artifacts. In particular, I was requested to make the assessment purely on the economic benefits and effects of the items, without taking into consideration any innate value (for example, as a curiosity or object of study) the items could possess. In other words, I was asked whether these magical artifacts would serve as good investments capable of reaping decent monetary dividends.

The first item was a small cloth purse with exotic runes woven into the fabric. It was not difficult to cross-reference the runes and thus to identify the artifact; this was a pouch of lesser reward, and it had the wondrous ability of conjuring a single silver coin, weighing about an ounce, each day.

The second item was a refined necromantic ritual which was capable of reanimating a skeleton from a corpse. The skeleton, once magically animated, would be able to execute simple commands autonomously without the need for food, drink, or rest. Based on the text of the tome, the skeleton would be free of decay without requiring further maintenance of any sort. Unfortunately, the ritual depended on several rare components, but it was possible to source for them. The question was simply whether it was economic to do so.

Both magical artifacts attracted much interest. Both promised to generate income forever, and thus seemed to be attractive investments. In particular, the necromantic ritual could potentially be used to replace all simple human labor! These seemed like no-brainers.

I remained unconvinced. The important consideration was the return on investment, which depended on the pricing of the magical items. While it was true that given enough time, both artifacts would generate a positive return, this ignored the opportunity cost of investment. In order words, it might be more profitable to invest in other financial instruments if the magic artifacts were simply too expensive. 

I proceeded to make an assessment on a fair pricing for both the items. First, to be competitive with other investments, the artifacts would have to yield at least an annual return of 3%, otherwise I would easily be better off parking my money in, for example, government securities. The next step would be to estimate the annual return each artifact would generate.

For the pouch of lesser reward, this calculation was simple. A single silver coin a day would fetch about 15 USD, give or take. Thus, over a year the pouch would generate 5475 USD. Based on this, the pouch could cost at most 182,500 USD; if it were any more expensive, it would be a poor investment.

For the necromantic ritual, the annual return would have to be based on the cost of simple labor which the skeleton would replace. A conservative estimate for a sweatshop worker's wages is 1 USD an hour. Compounded over a year, a skeleton would replace 8760 USD worth of wages. At this rate, each ritual could not cost more than 292,000 USD, otherwise foreign labor would be more competitive.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Two Heads are Better than One

Here's a little bit of wisdom for today- Two heads are better than one.

And here's another- there are no two-headed giants in the world. Not anywhere outside of natural history museums, anyway. Two-headedness simply did not provide any evolutionary advantage over one-headedness. What is interesting is that the adage originates from the village of Triskelion, where three-headed ogres reside.

Rather than describing the benefits of cooperating, the original meaning of the saying instead alludes to the unique advantages of three-headedness (and indirectly, why two-headedness does not). For those unfamiliar with three-headed ogres, three-headed ogres are large humanoids with three heads, but otherwise have one body (if oversized) and the same pairs of appendages as any other humanoid. Each head of the ogre sustains an individual mind thinking independently of the other two. The question everyone is asking is, with three heads and one body, what dictates how the body acts?

The answer is somewhat complicated, but it goes like this: Each day, two of the three heads are randomly selected to serve as proposers, where the selected heads would individually propose actions to undertake. The remaining head would act as an arbiter, and would choose which action to adopt at any point of time. In this fashion, the actions of the three-headed ogre evolve from a fused consensus of its three heads.

The advantage of this three-headed decision process is a moderation of excessive or reckless behaviors. Implicitly, any action must be supported by at least two heads. Indeed, two heads prove to be better than one.

What about our now extinct two-headed giants? We might speculate that with only two heads, it would be impossible to resolve disagreement between the two, or that one head would naturally be dominant. Without any surviving members of the species, it is difficult to make any supported conclusions.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Story of Happily Ever After

However long ago it happened, we all know the ending, simply because we're living in it. Ever after is the strongest magic there is, casting an absolute ray of happiness onto all of posterity.

Their posterity, that is. Almost always is it "they" rather than "everyone", for the simple reason that it is almost impossible to satisfy everyone all at once. Of course, in some tales it does read "everyone" rather than "they", this being achieved by horrific means. Whether it is better to be rendered extinct or to be merely subject to eternal misery is, quite frankly, an academic question.

While their descendants of royal stock wallow in unearned merry, an unfortunate few are cursed with bitter misfortune for the crime of having the wrong ancestors. The inequity of the situation is obvious.

Now, I ask you, my fellows of ill adversity, how can the situation be salvaged, if not reversed? Again, I repeat, ever after is the strongest magic there is. Greater forces have tried and succeeded only in adding to the ranks of the miserable. But perhaps the ending is not set in stone. Perhaps the threads of fate cannot be cut with brute force, but must instead rewoven with guile?

I offer this hypothesis: We know that magic cannot conjure something out of nothing. Thus, their happiness must come from somewhere- our misery. The exact amounts of each are perfectly balanced on some mystic scale invisible to us.

Now, there is a limit to how happy a person can be, and similarly a limit to how unhappy a person can be. Herein lies my proposal: to change the numbers on both sides of the scale. Of course, it will be difficult to limit their numbers. In any case, the other approach is more feasible.

Yes, I do not deny it. Misery loves company.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Thoughts on the Uber-Grab Merger


Anyone who was under the impression that the pre-merger situation was the norm must have been painfully unaware of how unsustainable the situation was. In the first place, both Uber and Grab have been running prodigious losses (to the order of hundreds of millions per year), obviously as part of a strategy for acquiring market dominance. The endgame was always to become a monopoly, and then to extract profits.

It's far too late to cry of monopoly now. The public didn't when the prices where low, even as Uber-Grab used investor money to subsidize drivers and riders. Nobody cares about anti-competitive behavior when it makes fares cheaper.

Halting the merger or other steps to impose competition might prevent price gorging, but the inevitable fact is that prices will rise. Eventually, at least. Nobody will like it, but no company is in the business of losing money.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Not Just an Uncle


At the void deck, the old uncle sat with one leg propped on the stone stool. He wasn't playing chess nor checkers, and he wasn't eating winter melon seeds nor sipping kopi out of a plastic bag. He just sat there, almost motionlessly staring into the distance. I then caught a fleeting glint in his eyes-  then I knew. This was no mere old uncle that partook in the decadent activities typical of his generation. No, this was a supreme martial arts expert secretly practicing and honing his skills in public. 

The question was, whether he knew that I knew. I detected no killing aura on him, but true experts are known to be able to hide their auras.  Then again, perhaps he didn't mind being discovered, and that this was some sort of game to him.

As I walked past him, he flashed a toothy grin. "Walk carefully, the ground is slippery." he called out from behind me.  Was this a threat? I didn't know. I did the only thing I could- I walked faster. Stride by stride, I distanced myself from the void deck, yet I could still an immense pressure from behind me. 

A few seconds later, the old uncle flashed past me on his electric scooter, his few strands of hair flowing majestically against the wind.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

An Investigation into a Missing Kingdom


Contained within this letter is a summary of my investigations into the missing kingdom; a more detailed report will follow upon my return to court. Regrettably, even after a search of several months, I have failed to discover any physical traces of the missing kingdom. All that remains is an almost impassable thicket of bramble and thorns. While the notion of magic is implausible, I cannot offer any other explanation as to how an entire realm and its people could have vanished overnight.

Though I did not manage to find anyone hailing from the lost kingdom, I did encounter a few merchants that claimed to have visited that land. Though traders have a tendency to spin a yarn and embellish their tales, I was eventually able to piece together an element common to their stories. In the years before the kingdom's sudden disappearance, there was a sudden and great increase in demand for thread and yarn of all types. At the same time, imports of spindles and spinning wheels were forbidden, and any such device found smuggled into the kingdom was immediately burned on sight.

I surmise that there was some element of madness to the rulers of the kingdom; what else would drive them to deprive their people? In the long run, this would certainly have driven their realm to ruin. But overnight? That requires a malice that is more intentional. Indeed, that suits the information that we already have on hand.

It was recorded in the log of our diplomats that sixteen years ago, a great banquet was held in the vanished kingdom to celebrate the christening of a newborn princess. The log notes that six seats were intentionally left empty at the banquet table, yet no noble or diplomat was absent. At first glance, this could simply be a contingency for the odd forgotten guest. Those more attuned to the customs of the other lands would quickly realize that there never was any forgotten guest; those six seats were reserved for six other pagan spirits.

My most educated speculation is that these pagan spirits are to blame of the disappearance of the kingdom. Perhaps they were spurred into action by some dark ritual of a maddening king. Whatever it is, the truth might never come to light. What is clear is that there seems to be little benefit to further investigations into this matter; my fear is that we would provoke the same forces if we are to continue with our inquiry. In any case, there is no urgent and pressing need to survey the area. While our own nation is always in need for more territory, at our current rates of expansion I expect it would take about a hundred years before such a survey is necessary.




Monday, July 31, 2017

A Sound in the Night

You should be concerned whenever you feel a chill upon your spine, and yet search around to find nothing that could have triggered it. And if the sense of dread increases further, get out. Perhaps not too suddenly and quickly, but quickly enough. 

A silly notion, you might say, to be flustered over nothing. Nothing but foolish fear, to be dispelled and ignored. But is it really so? A fear is simply an evolved reaction to a stimulus, very often a dangerous one. Our ancestors that feared things that ought to be feared survived. 

And those who did not fear did not live to pass on their bravery. 

Now, reason might tell us what is the source and cause of the fear, and its danger. But sometimes reason fails to adequately identify or understand. Nonetheless, deep in our bones, we know that something is amiss. 

Rather than cowardice, fear is an ancestral danger sense. To ignore it would be folly.