Monday, 28 November 2011

Poker isn't chess.

I have long assumed that the average German doesn't understand (and perhaps doesn't want to understand) how perilous their situation is. Bundeskanzlerin Merkel understands the depth of the crisis. And I was pretty sure the smart people in Germany do, too. But having read Nil's blog entry "Poker against Mrs. Merkel", I'm now not so sure they understand how close to collapse Germany's banks are. Don't worry if you haven't read Nil's article. It's isn't right, anyway. It isn't even wrong. It's simply so far off base that it's irrelevant.

It all started so innocuously. Portuguese, Irish and Spanish growth was kicked off by a regime of low interest rates in the eurozone, caused by the fragile state of the German, French and Italian economies (which really extended over most of the last two decades - in fact since reunification in the German case).

Seeing this growth, European financial institutions (primarily pension funds and banks) pumped money into these economies, so they could take part in the growth, and get their share of the gravy (to a large extent in housing, through mortgage lending). When those bubbles burst, investors were in a bad situation. They found themselves holding bonds that were unlikely to be paid off (most of these bonds were in mortgage lenders - banks). The biggest group of such bondholders were German financial institutions, and they came up with a plan that they took to Bundeskanzlerin Merkel, a plan that they hoped would save their bacon. Here was their plan:

Preamble 1. It would be a Bad Thing for the eurozone if any eurozone bank went bust. It would cause a crisis of confidence in the euro.

Preamble 2. Those banks (such as Anglo-Irish Bank in Ireland, or Caja de Ahorros Castilla La Mancha in Spain) are about to go bust, taking a large chunk of our profits with them, and possibly inducing a banking crisis in Germany, just as the shaky German recovery is finally gaining pace.

Rather than let them go bust, why don't we make this deal:

1. We lend these banks bucketloads of money that they could otherwise not get on the open market, saving them from bankruptcy, and protecting the euro from a crisis of confidence.

2. You guarantee our loans by getting the Irish, Portuguese and Spanish governments to nationalize the bad banks, so that their citizens become liable to pay back the debt.

ReichsBundeskanzlerin Merkel thought about this proposal for a while and said, okay but you know, I've got a problem as well. Our Greek province is short of cash to pay its minions, and nobody will lend them any money. If you'll agree to fund Greece on the same basis, we'll agree to turn these bad bank bonds you own into sovereign debt.

"It's a deal!" squealed the German bankers, delightedly.

For a while everybody thought that it was the greatest idea since the atomic theory, and all the smartypants German bankers thought themselves too smart for their pants, lending money to stupid PIGS at high interest rates, so they'd have the money to pay the German bankers back what they'd lent them earlier at high interest rates! But then the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in.

First, the Greeks looked at those smart German bankers and thought "what stupid bankers they are! We already can't pay our debts, so they want us to take on more debt! If we can't pay our small debt, what makes them think we're going to pay a bigger one back?" So the Greeks thanked the Germans for their cash, widened the letter-box a little in case the Germans wanted to shovel some more money into it, and carried on with their original plan, which was to default on their sovereign debt.

"But, but...", spluttered the Germans, "you can't do that!", because they never dreamt of anybody doing such a thing, even though Greece is a serial defaulter and has a history of default.

Meanwhile the Irish and Portuguese were muttering to themselves about why they'd been asked to shoulder the private debt of stupid bankers addicted to gambling who'd put their savings (sorry, their customers' savings) on the wrong horse. The poor French, who'd agreed to go along with this whole sorry mess in the hope that Merkel knew what she was doing, refrained from telling her "I told you so", and instead just kept patting Ireland and Portugal on the head, saying "good boy, good boy". Ireland and Portugal are looking enviously at Greece.

Meantime, the Germans carry on pouring good money after bad in the hope that if they pour enough in, they can pay themselves back. When put baldly like this, it is obvious that it won't be paid back, and in fact it's a lot worse than this, because linked to this banking crisis is a general economic crisis.

Germans don't seem to realize how perilous their own situation is.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


My most fun WoW session in a long time happened last night, less than half an hour before the weekly server reset, when the dungeon-finder put me into Zul'Aman with a random group. Fewer than 30 minutes to complete the dungeon and collect 140 valor points. What was our motivation? I suppose our main motivation was to collect the 140 VPs. That's why I'd queued. A second motivation was just to test ourselves, to see if we could beat that clock.

In fact we failed to do so, but I haven't been so pumped up and excited by WoW in ages! We were playing as if every death mattered, because it did: it could cause a wipe which might end our hopes of completing the dungeon in time. I've not been so alive in WoW for a long time! Fear! Tingling nerves! Exhilaration!

In one sense, the 140 jujubes didn't matter. I'd happily take a loss of 140 emblems of whatever, just to get another shot at that fun.

In another sense, the 140 VPs did matter. It was the end of the WoW week and the reset meant that I would never get the chance to win those particular 140 again. Would we have been so pumped up if it had been, say, a Thursday server reset for some hot-fix, knowing that we would still be able to get our full quota of VPs during the remainder of the week if we failed this particular time? I don't think so. I mean, we can try a timed run any time of the week, and I don't think it would be so thrilling as this one was. I think it was the fact that our VPs were in jeopardy that caused the extra frisson of excitement.

This goes back to Nils' perfect death-penalty, which is something that you greatly fear happening, but don't suffer much if it actually does happen. We greatly feared the permanent loss of the chance to get our full quota of VPs for the week and were greatly motivated by that. But in the end, their loss was not terrible, because we had not owned them in the first place. We had not mentally accounted these VPs as ours, since we had not yet won them, and we knew at the outset that our chances of doing so were not 100%.

Friday, 11 February 2011

A solution to the problem of wiping in instances.

It seems that a lot of people hate wiping in instance, to such an extent that they drop group immediately it happens. They aren't in the instances for the adventure, they're in it for the "phat lewtz". Well, here's a solution that will please them. I visited the cathedral in Stormwind today. Looking for Shaina Fuller, the first-aid trainer. She was busy with another student, so I sat down at a nearby bench to wait my turn. Bored, my eyes wandered around the room. Lying there on the ground beneath the seat in front of me was a scrap of vellum. I picked it up. It was memo, between the heads of two organizations I'd never heard of before. Well, I read it, and I was amazed by its content. I quickly stuffed it in my pocket and ran out into the sunshine, unsure what to do about it. I think the best thing to do is bring it into the public domain, so below is a transcription of the memo.

From: Dr. Van Howzen, CEO Azeroth Health Service Executive.
To: Professor Gashweld, Chief Surgeon, Royal College of Physicians
Re: Centres of Excellence

Dear Tiberius,

As you know, the Alliance Trauma Association of Doctors established a centre of excellence in Theramore several years ago, and has shown an excellent record in patient treatment and outcomes. As a result of this success, the Azeroth Health Service Executive has been created to streamline the delivery of health-care throughout Azeroth. Our most urgent task is to improve health service productivity, and to that end we have developed a vision for change. Let me re-iterate our mission statement:
"The Azeroth Health Service Executive aims to provide high quality and equitable care for all its patients, in a safe and secure environment, and to achieve excellence in clinical practice, teaching, training and research".

I now turn to the treatment of trauma injury in instances. Heretofore, trauma injury in dungeons has been dealt with solely by general health practitioners. It is the practice of all instance groups to have one or more dedicated General Practitioners accompany the group and provide immediate emergency support. This has several problems.

  • It puts GPs at risk, as they are dependant on the rest of the group for protection from injury while they are treating patients, usually in the middle of dangerous encounters. This has led on more than one occasion to GPs suffering from exactly the same kinds of trauma that they are trying to prevent. Studies by ATAD have consistently shown over several years that over 95% of all GPs suffer at least one injury per instance.
  • In the event of the death of the GP, it is common for the whole party to succumb to their injuries. Studies by your own organization, the RCP, have shown this to be the case in 72% of all encounters where all GPs die.
  • In many cases, the trauma is so great that the GP's mana-pool is completely exhausted before the end of the encounter. Once again, it is common for the whole party, including the GP, to succumb to their injuries (see Surgeon General Cogspin's report in last month's Journal of the Azeroth College of Surgeons). A common response to this is for GPs on the spot to allow some patients to die in order to conserve their mana. Such patients could be saved.
  • In other cases, parties find themselves breezing through instances without much injury, leaving their accompanying GPS with little to do. The productivity of these GPs is greatly reduced.
  • It reduces instance group productivity to have to wait until a GP becomes available and willing to undertake such hazardous activity.
  • GPs have to be knowledgeable about a wide range of injury vectors including blunt and sharp force trauma, burns, poison, frostbite, and various forms of magically induced injury, both physical and mental. It is inherent in being a General Practitioner that one is not a specialist in any field. Therefore the best specialized knowledge and techniques are unavailable to instance parties.
  • The only medical technologies and equipment available is that which the GP is capable of carrying personally. This greatly limits the quality of the healthcare delivered.

To address these problems, we plan to create centres of excellence in which specialist doctors can provide high quality and equitable care for patients in a safe and secure environment. No doctor need be forced to accompany adventurers into dangerous environments. Instead they will be able to perform their work in one of our centres, where they are safe from attack, where they have the backup of other specialists (including an almost limitless mana pool), where they have access to the latest technology, and where they can achieve excellence in clinical practice, teaching, training and research.

With medical practitioners now working in our centres of excellence instead of in dark and dangerous dungeons, we must next address how primary healthcare will be delivered to patients in instances. We must rapidly bring injured patients out of these instances and into our hospitals. We pondered several schemes (for instance Gryphon Master Talonaxe of the Society of Flight Masters was approached to discuss the feasibility of an air ambulance service, and we discussed with Zaphod Boombox the provision of goblin rocket packs to adventurers), before finally deciding on the Automatic Remote Supervision and Extraction service. A.R.S.E. is composed of two parts: a supervision service and an extraction service.

1. Supervision. The supervision service monitors the health of adventurers, automatically and remotely. We did consider installing eyes of Kilrogg in all instances but they would have to be manually monitored, and the cost would have been prohibitive; and of course there is always a worry when relying on warlock thaumaturgy. Instead, we asked High Tinker Mekkatorque to advise, and he has commissioned an automatic monitoring device from the Gnomeregan Institute of Engineering. This is a small robust, waterproof device that adventurers will carry in their back pocket, and that will continually transmit health indices to an automatic monitoring station in Ironforge. Clinical trials are already underway in our Theramore centre of excellence and the results are promising. Gelbin tells me that the Institute has provided monitoring coverage over the whole of Dun Morogh and Theramore for our trials, and intends to complete coverage of the Eastern Kingdoms by the end of the fourth quarter of this year, provided funding is made available. Signal coverage will be extended to the rest of Kalimdor next year and to Northrend the following year. We hope to provide a separate service in Outlands in three years' time.

2. Extraction. Archmage Rhonin of the Kirin Tor has been approached to extend the teleportation facilities that are currently provided in instances to allow adventurers to be teleported to a new triage centre in Dalaran. This will have portals to all our centres of excellence so that patients can be triaged quickly and delivered efficiently to the centre which can best treat their injuries. Rhonin and Gelbin have set up a committee to examine how monitoring signals from the A.R.S.E monitor can be delivered early to the Dalaran triage centre, possibly by aggregating such signals in the Ironforge Monitoring Centre and sending them through a dedicated repeater portal.

The nerve centre of the whole operation will be in Gnomeregan. Gelbin tells me that stage two of Operation:Gnomeregan is on schedule and the capital city should be fully ready by the time we begin the build-out. The day-to-day operation will be fully automatic: when the health of an adventurer carrying an A.R.S.E. monitor falls below a preassigned level (settable by the adventurer), such adventurers will be automatically teleported out of the instance to our triage centre, where depending on the type and seriousness of their injuries they will be assigned to a destination centre of excellence and put in its portal queue. At the same time, a fully healed adventurer will be teleported back to the instance in their place. This solution will make party wipes a thing of the past: it will be almost impossible to die in instances, thanks to the excellence of the health care solution that the Azeroth HSE will deliver. Instances will finally become as safe as houses for everyone.

I trust you are in agreement with this plan; I am sure all adventurers will welcome it. I will be in touch again once funding has been secured.

Yours truly,
Gustaf Van Howzen

Well, what to make of this! It is an answer to the problem of wiping, that much is certain. For those people who hate adventuring, surely this is a great solution. Perhaps even better though, why wouldn't the powers that be just hand over the "phat lewtz" without making them go to the trouble of running the instances? The broken "I win" button must be fixed!