Monday, August 10, 2020

A Room of Killers II

No one appeared to be aware that everybody else trapped in the mysteriously sealed mansion was a hardened murderer. 

Ah no, there was a mistake with that statement.

To be absolutely accurate, not everyone was an serial killer of some sort, and not everyone was totally ignorant of the criminal nature of the people in the room. I was the singular exception to both of these.

Others have often commented on my problematic interest in any crime news of the macabre sort. In hindsight, perhaps they were correct. My current circumstances might have been the result of my unique knowledge and interests, but this was only my speculation. However, was it possible that I was simply an unfortunate third party randomly inserted into this artificial situation?

The immediate question was, what was the purpose of this scenario? A set of rooms totally closed off to the outside, with barely sufficient supplies to last everyone for a week.

Even if those gathered consisted entirely of ordinary people, the desperate situation would eventually give birth to the conclusion that the solution is to kill. 

Of course, if one was already a murderer, and a serial killer at that, then the thought process would be accelerated many fold.

But everyone here was a murderer, only that they were currently unadvised of this fact. This was a tinderbox to be sparked by the first sign of violence.

Judging from the current state of relative calm, nobody had come to a similar conclusion yet. At the very least, nobody has acted suspiciously, or expressed any hints that they knew anyone else's identity.

A single pindrop might change all of this in an instant.

There was only one thought in my mind: How could I survive in this room of murderers?

In this game, I had only one advantage. It wasn't any physical attribute, such as strength or speed or agility. It wasn't even a mental advantage, a difference in intellect or cunning. From what I knew of these murderers, each of them surpassed me in either athleticism or intelligence. By raw stats alone, I knew I was outmatched. But that very statement hinted at the nature of my advantage.

I knew. 

Not that I was outmatched, though that knowledge was certainly helpful in informing my decisions. It was my very knowledge of all the participants that was my strongest hand.

True, perhaps I lacked the raw intellect or cunning to fully exploit this information. But even so, I could see a clear way to exploit the existing situation to my favor. To increase my chances of survival, I had to control the narrative.

"Good morning. I am the manager of this game. As you have verified, there is no means of escaping this chamber."


Monday, December 23, 2019

Random Thoughts on Tobacco Labels and the Sugar Tax

I'm not quite sure how effective including gory graphic warnings of the various unsavory outcomes of smoking on cigarette packets is. People who smoke, I would assume, are already aware of the countless health issues associated with smoking and thus would have, at some point of time, made the conscious decision to continue smoking. Thus, including the graphic reminder would add very little to challenge their decision if they had previously found the trade-off between their health and smoking to be, if not acceptable, at least tolerable.

Of course, it may be argued that the warnings, while ineffective on the hardened smoker, could yet serve to discourage budding smokers or smokers-to-be. However, I would imagine that social pressure is one of the reasons for picking up smoking, and if so, the health warnings would do little to overcome this cause. If anything, knowing about the risk-taking behavior of young punks, the gory graphic warnings would paradoxically enhance the emasculating image of smoking.

I've said it as a joke, but possibly the graphic warnings could be replaced with alternative imagery, preferably something deeply embarrassing that nobody would want to be seen with. My first thought was something pink and frilly, but that might boost sales in the wrong demographics. A safer bet would be pictures of old wrinkly ladies or dung beetles.

I could be entirely wrong, and graphic warnings could be extremely effective. In that case, I suppose we could adopt the same tactics on the war on diabetes. Instead of a sugar tax, we simply stick pictures of diabetics on every pack of sugary drink or snack. This would surely be more effective than a "Healthier Choice" logo!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Fireworks on the New Year

Between the present, the past, and the future, he was sure he preferred the past. Perhaps all people on occasion feel the same pangs of nostalgia, and that he differed only in degree. It was thus surprising to see him at the bay on New Year's Eve, awaiting the fireworks at the knoll of the bell.

He smiled as a courtesy, but said little. When the countdown ended, fireworks rocketed through the sky and crackled with their multicoloured intensity.

It was only much later when I learned, entirely by coincidence, that the reactions within fireworks are not instantaneous; rather, it takes some time to fire. Thus, if the fireworks appear to immediately after the countdown, it could have actually been fired in advance at some known interval.

He wasn't celebrating the beginning of the new Year as we all did, but the passing of the old. But then again, perhaps we all were, simply that we didn't know it.

Friday, December 28, 2018

And We Shall Never Surrender

The slaughter was senseless, but slaughter always was. Privately I had sometimes suspected that things might have turned out better if we were a little more cowardly, or a little less determined. But we never surrendered, even in the face of utter defeat. We fought with our planes when they came from above. When the skies were lost, we fought on the ground with our tanks and our artillery. When our armies arrayed on the field were charred and ruined, we fought on in the streets with guns. To the very end, we found ourselves fighting in our homes with knives and bare hands.

Humanity never surrendered. But it was also that surrender was impossible. The aliens had no interest in anything we could offer that they could not simply just take. Their technology was boundlessly superior. Any surrender would be unconditional and entirely unfavorable. We simply had nothing to bargain with. So we fought.

As we grew more desperate, we pulled every trick we knew, even those which we had thought unthinkable to use. When nukes failed, we turned to chemical and biological weapons. But our inferior technologies offered us no advantage, and every attack was quickly neutralized. Therefore, some of us turned to mysticism, which the aliens did not know.

Necromancy, as it turned out, was always real. It was merely that the sacrifices were considered unthinkable.  We crossed that line weeks ago, and then some. For a price, an army was created to replace those we had lost. An army of the dead, manned with soldiers from wars long past. An army without number, to fight an enemy from beyond the stars.

We lost. In hindsight, was there any other outcome? The army of the dead was large, but at the same time the musket was considered advanced technology to half the army. It was at this point that we surrendered. There was nothing else we could conceivably do to win.

It was only later that I learned that necromancy saved us. We didn't win, but that was a foregone conclusion past the first few hours of the invasion. We simply didn't lose... everything. All we had fought for were some bargaining chips for a conditional surrender.

Did I mention that the aliens did not know about mysticism, in particular necromancy?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Only Silence

Turn on the television and there is music. Perhaps it's a melancholic piano score, an uplifting pop tune, or a jarring electronic track. Sometimes it's roaring applause, or a cacophony of jeers. But if there is drama, there should be music.

In her words, art imitates life. She said to listen more carefully. More carefully, not harder; the distinction was important. If I did so, then I could hear, perhaps very faintly, the music in people's lives.

Of course, I didn't hear a single thing, only silence.

She let out a laugh, then a sigh. People have no music in their lives, she mused. All that plays in the background is a dull silence. No background soundtrack, no musical accompaniment, not even a laugh track.

Most of the time anyway, she added on as an afterthought. A movie, however good it is, can't be equally riveting all the time. There has to be a build-up to the climax, and that is when the music plays.

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.