Scale Matters vs. The Invisible Hand

Bear Stearns, the Macs, AIG… all were Too Big To Let Fail.

So, the question that has been bouncing about in my brain for a few months now is… if they’re Too Big To Fail, are they just Too Big?

I’m a fan of capitalism. I think that Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand is a primarily benevolent force. But I also believe that time and time again, Scale Matters.

You shouldn’t fear that radiation will cause a preying mantis to grow to 50 feet tall and begin smashing buildings, because Scale Matters, and the exoskeleton structure just doesn’t work at those sizes.

I was going to say something about spider-web (strongest natural fiber in the world) not scaling up, but maybe it will.

Wal-Mart succeeds so spectacularly because Scale Matters.

So… does Smith’s Invisible Hand formula become unstable when certain elements producing the Hand become oversized?

I feel like some mathematics need to be brought to bear on these large companies. When the numbers get large enough to threaten systemic failure, does the Hand need a nudge from regulation? In addition to Monopoly laws, do we need Size laws?

Size Laws would be complicated to be sure. A Bear Stearns-type failure might be more “impactful” than a WalMart-type failure, even if they had comparable sums of money involved.

Or is the press just Chicken Little-ing because folks who report on P/E ratios all day long are hungry for the Big Story? Is the government stepping in and preventing a severe but manageable correction (handleable by the Hand) to prevent folks from panicking in an election year?

I don’t have enough data to form a confident opinion. But it seems on the face that Too Big To Fail is To Big To Be.

Uncle Grampa’s Hoo Dilly Titles

For those of you who don’t know, I do a show at a local theater in Atlanta (Dad’s Garage Theater) called Uncle Grampa’s Hoo-Dilly Storytime.

The premise is that a monkey, a robot, a man in lederhosen, their butler and a guest character1 all get together in the Hoo Dilly house2 to act out an improvised story for the kids, with copious amounts of audience participation. The title for the episode’s story is taken from a spinning wheel with four potential titles on it. A kid spins the wheel, so if the story doesn’t work out, it is that child’s fault. Or so we say backstage.

We usually make up the titles in the green room before the show. But one of the cast members, in preparation for our opening on September 27, started throwing out title ideas via email, and I responded with same:

Sneakers The Crime Solving Dog
Once Upon A Time in Cleveland
The Princess and the Peanut
Ol’ Uncle Crabby Gets a Unicorn
Mouse Trouble
Once Upon a Time In Space
Oh no, it’s Vikings!
Bizz Buzz in Hive Five!

The Hopscotch Bandits
The Princess of Candy
The Super Duper Spies and the Mystery of The Whatzitcalledagain
Four Days Before Christmas
The Snow Day and the Yeti
Pony Loses His Saddle
Monster School
Disaster! The Musical

Got any ideas? Put ’em in the comments.

1 New to the cast this year will be a donkey and a duck.
2 Left to the man in lederhosen by his Uncle Grampa, who is played by a former president of the United States.

Contrarian the Barbarian

So, I guess there was some sort of stock market hoo-ha recently.

The biggest drop since 2001 yesterday? Is that what it said?

I checked my portfolio, it didn’t move yesterday.

Today, it’s made a bigger single day jump (up) in I don’t know how many months (years?).

Strange times.

In related news, it seems that Bank of America is going through a lot of trouble to get me back as a customer. I ditched them as a bank years ago, after they bought out my NationsBank account. A couple years ago, they bought out my Motley Fool credit card from MBNA. And now they’re buying the company that has one of my 401(k) accounts. I try to get out, but they keep pulling me back in.

In other financially-related news, I just got a kick-ass performance review. I performed, if you catch my drift. The drift of doing well in my job, not that other thing. Perv.

The Week That Was

Grading on the curve, it’s been a pretty good week so far.

I was in Juarez from Monday – Wednesday with nothing much to do, which means my area of responsibility in the product was working just fine. So, they let me come back early.

I signed up for an 8:45 flight out of El Paso on Wednesday morning, but got bumped. Which turned out to be okay, on account of a $400 travel voucher and First Class seat on the 1:00pm flight. I had my laptop, internet access, some books, a DVD player and the first season of My Name Is Earl, all of which served to pass a comfortable few hours in the airport.

I got home at bedtime, so I read RocketBoy some Learn-To-Read Magic Schoolbus books he got from the Scholastic book club at school, which he’s very excited about.

RocketBoy is not interested in being taught to read; He just wants to pick it up on his own. When we’re reading a book, he’ll suddenly become interested in a certain word on the page and want to know what it says. But if you try and teach him a random word you think he might like to know, he’ll get frustrated and say “Just READ it.”

One thing he thinks is high-larious is the word “Good”. He knows if he covers up the “d”, he gets “Goo”. And if he covers up the second “o”, he gets “Go.” That’s funny to him for some reason, and occasionally he tries it with other words with less-hilarious results.

Speaking of books (as I’m wont to do), I’ve gotten in several this week that I’m looking forward to reading. Two from PaperBackSwap, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and The Code Book: The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary, Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography, and one pre-ordered from Amazon: Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.

Oddly enough, the description of Anathem doesn’t pique my interest, but it’s Stephenson, and it’s gotten good reviews, so I’m putting my faith in the man.

Last night, we went to Oak Grove Elementary Family Night at Chik-fil-a, which was nothing short of a madhouse. I’m not a big fan of their food, but they have good milkshakes. We also got to meet the mother of RocketBoy’s favored Kindergarten friend, R__.

The play area was too crazy for us to let Scout venture into, so she was frustrated at being held back. One kid came out of the mess with a bloody nose, so I don’t feel too overprotective here1.

Some parent-y stuff

Book Log – Electricity: A Novel

Electricity: A Novel by Victoria Glendinning

Fooled, I was, by the title and cover of this book. I envisioned it as a Difference Engine/Baroque Cycle Trilogy bit of historical fiction with a female protagonist. Really, it’s a Romance novel that half-heartedly uses electricity as metaphor.

To be sure, there’s some presumably well-researched realism in the early days of electricity as the husband of our lovely protagonist is an electrical engineer hired to electrify the manor of a handsome, rich gentleman. You can guess where that’s going.

I read the first two-thirds in fits and spurts, then set it aside for months and months when more attractive fare appeared on my bookshelf. The last third has almost nothing to do with electricity, and instead delves into the mystic/medium scene for a while.

Ho hum.

It is small and portable (fits in my obligatory factory lab coat), so I threw it in the bag for my trip to Juarez to knock it out in my many, many spare moments I have here. And thus I have.

An Open Letter to Wired

Dear Wired,

Had Wired been around when Alexander Graham Bell asked Watson to join him from the other room via electrical current, would you have called it a flop because the sound quality was poor and he should have read Shakespeare instead?

Give Esquire a break. An E-Ink cover is brutally cool, regardless of the simplicity of the animation.

My guess? Either you’re in a snit because you, the technology magazine, didn’t do it first, or you’re bitter that you can’t get dates with the people who write for Esquire.

Just sayin’.


ETA: Now THIS is the future. A flat sheet of plastic that is a book, or a newspaper, or a magazine, or whatever. Screw the Amazon Kindle.

Book Log – A Long Way Down

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

A book about four people who are thinking of killing themselves by jumping off a roof didn’t really strike my fancy.

But, Nick Hornby has a limited oeuvre just now… 5 novels (one of them young adult), some non-fiction focused on English Football1 and music, and of course the delightful Believer articles on reading. So, sooner or later, I’m was going to have to give A Long Way Down a try, since it seemed unlikely that he was going to go off rambling about football or music too much in it.

The book popped up as available on, so I dropped a credit on it. As a bonus, whoever had it last left a hand drawn index-card-as-bookmark in it. So it had that going for it.

If High Fidelity, About a Boy, and How To Be Good tie for first place, then A Long Way Down comes in a not very distant and very readable second. But I think it only keeps from being a distant second by the presence of one of the four main characters, Jess, the crazy teenage girl; She’s got enough Quirk to her to keep the story going and interesting. The other characters are fine, but would probably fall flat without Jess stirring things up.

Then again, that’s not unreasonable considering they’re all suicidal.

1 I tried to read Fever Pitch. I really did. But it defeated me.

Steppin’ Out

We dipped our toe in the water of Dragon*Con this past weekend, RocketBoy and I did. Which is to say we went to the parade, mostly.

RocketBoy was plenty excited that there would be costumes, and demanded to wear one about 10 minutes before it was time to leave. We threw on his Super Why cape and I made a quick yellow mask out of some spare felt.

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