Ladder Theory — Ladder Fallacy

That’s too expensive for only Hozon.

— Everyone

There are four levels of NBTHK papers: Hozon, Tokubetsu Hozon, Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo. This four level ranking system unfortunately means that people end up with four slots in their head for placing an object’s importance and desirability. 

This mistake takes its lead from the fact that it’s easy to grasp and remember four simple categories than it is to remember the vast and complex web of smiths, time periods, schools, their associations with each other, their place in history, as well as the myriad of individual qualities that make an item desirable.

All of that complexity is often boiled down into the thinking that an item with a particular paper should fall into a defined pricing range based on the paper.

This puts the cart (paper) in front of the horse (item). 

My complaints about this mentality were bounced back in my face by Robert Hughes with two words that really grasped the problem well. He just said: Ladder Theory. And that crystallized it all for me.

Bear with me. This is long and rambling.

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The Engineering Triangle

This may have gotten its start in project management… we have a similar thing in software development that says, On Time, Stable, Cheap, “Pick Two.”

It talks about the necessary tradeoffs when building software. Executive level management pushes down and demands very high quality (bug-free) software, with a full set of features, delivered on time and under budget. This is a virtual impossibility as these constraints are usually chosen as independent variables but they affect each other.

In order for a piece of software to be stable you need an indefinite timeline as finding and solving bugs is not a problem you can put on a calendar and say “at this point we’re finished.” This puts it in conflict with the desire to be on time. You can solve that with a huge investment in testing and bug squashing resources, but that will inflate the budget. So if you want it delivered quickly and cheaply, by necessity it ends up not being very stable.

That’s about what you can get in reality.

This matter of tradeoffs applies to swords and collecting.

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Shizu and Yamato Shizu

Kaneuji is a smith of the Tegai school in Yamato and he was immensely skilled. He moved from Yamato to Kamakura (Soshu) and further honed his skills under Masamune, and came to emulate his style. After this, he moved to Shizu in Mino province and the school he left behind formed the basis for the Mino tradition. Because of his movements and style changes he is addressed by no less than four names which makes for some confusion.

These are:

  1. Kaneuji – 包氏
  2. Yamato Shizu – 大和志津
  3. Kaneuji – 兼氏
  4. Shizu – 志津

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Bitcoin

So, there’s this thing, you don’t know anything about it but you’re a gambling man and you’re pretty smart. So you buy it. You’re buying it because you’re going to sell it later to someone else who doesn’t want to buy it now at $X, however that guy later will buy it for $X + $Y and that $Y is going to be your profit. This will take six months. You think this is reasonable. 

To the bold go the spoils. Don’t worry about studying or knowing what you’re doing. Just jump in. 

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Sashikomi

There are two main types of sword polish available currently. It’s likely the case that neither are the original style of polishing a sword nor is that even something that we should be thinking about. 

The goal of polishing is primarily functional: remove rust and chips, and make the edge fine. The more you used your sword to fight the more frequently you would have to polish it as a result. The concept of artistic polishing that enhances the beauty of the sword is something that comes with the goal of preserving the sword and appreciating it for something more than a simple tool of war. 

When I started collecting a long time ago now, there were people who fervently supported the idea of sashikomi polish in all cases in the mistaken idea that it is somehow more authentic or better for appreciating swords. As with many things, taking an imbalanced viewpoint can bring you to the wrong conclusion.

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