Monday, September 29, 2008

What I sent to Mark Udall:

I encourage you to strongly oppose the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA).

Section (e) Preventing Unjust Enrichment is not sufficient protection for the taxpayer dollar. Due to deregulation, the number of mergers and acquisitions over the past several years has been huge, and this section could exempt an unknown amount of worthless assets to be purchased by taxpayer dollars at a huge profit for the companies involved. As I understand it, this would for example exempt any assets now held by Bank of America that were acquired in the Merrill Lynch buyout.

Even were it not for this enormous loophole, I would oppose this section on the principle that the U.S. taxpayer should pay no more than market value - which may be far below the original cost of acquisition - for any assets or securities from a troubled institution. Offering to pay the original hyperinflated purchase price is simply unacceptable.

The U.S. government must restore trust in the market, and this does not mean throwing a bunch of cash at it; instead, it means that we must enact regulation that guarantees transparency by making all transaction data of public record and provides harsh punishments for the sort of fraud that caused this crisis.

Thank you,

Kris Nuttycombe

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How to fix everything.

There's a saying in the software engineering world: "You can make a system so simple that there are obviously no flaws, or so complex that there are no obvious flaws." Right now, our banking and economic systems are solidly, and obviously, in the second category. The financial crisis that we are facing today can be blamed on Wall St. bogeymen, on greed, on deregulation, on the monetary system, or a dozen other causes, but in my view, these boil down to essentially two causes: complexity, and the excessive concentration of power. It is clear that our current means of regulating our financial systems have failed, so now is the time to discuss radical new ideas. Here's mine:

Companies could be limited to having some standard maximum number of employees.

There are a few obvious effects that such a regulatory prescription would have. The first is that it would cause assets to become much less centralized, simply because on the largest scale the management of assets takes a huge amount of manpower. The influence of any given company on the economy would be naturally limited by the amount of work the employees of that company could perform. Forcing corporations to split up into modular units would cause the distribution of both capital and influence to be much broader within society and would encourage competition and efficiency.

In any large system, modularity and information hiding are the keys to limiting complexity. Placing an upper limit on the size of companies would have the effect of making our whole economy significantly more modular; if one company providing a service were to fail, there would be numerous others to take its place. It would require companies to become highly specialized, and there would be a whole industry of coordinator companies that would be born to manage interactions of cooperatives when taking on jobs too large for a single entity. With this specialization would come greater efficiency, as well; the more that any group can dedicate itself entirely to a single goal, the more effective it can be at optimizing its business practices in pursuit of that limited set of objectives.

So, how would such a scheme be implemented? The cap on company size is obviously a value that would need to be fine-tuned over time; in the near term, the caps would be set high enough that only the largest corporations would be required to break up, but over time the cap could be lowered gradually and fine-tuned based on empirical results. This is, of course, not an unprecedented idea; trustbusting goes back to the industrial revolution, but what I am proposing would go far beyond breaking up monopolists; the goal would be gradually, perhaps over a period of decades, to lower the cap to a point where companies might be able to have say five hundred or a thousand employees, or maybe even fewer depending upon the results. It would be possible to issue a waiver for the cap to a given company for a limited period of time so that it could grow sufficiently to healthily split into smaller organizations, which would enable growth by repeated cycles of diversification followed by specialization.

There are still other benefits. Smaller organizations tend to be not only more efficient, but internally more meritocratic and more readily able to adapt rapidly to change. Furthermore, relationships between management and workers in small organizations are often more personal, which can improve working conditions.

The largest problem that this system would have to cope with would of course be how to enable projects that are too large for a single company to handle to go forward. The natural solution is to allow cooperatives to form, with a caveat - that the interaction between members of the cooperative be matters of public record. This would allow regulators to monitor such cooperatives effectively, without requiring intrusive and complex auditing of a given company's internals. If such internal auditing became necessary (say because something appeared amiss among its public transactions), the limited size of the organization would greatly simplify such an effort. Today, effectively regulating a large financial institution is all but impossible given the degree of internal complexity; with a company of 500, such complexity would be all but abolished by necessity.

In software, when a system gets too big and complex, it's time to refactor. The time to refactor our economy has come.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

Writing

I've come to the conclusion that I despearately need to begin writing again, if for no other reason than to remember what it's like to articulate ideas and set them in an external form. It seems like I've been growing progressively quieter over a period of years, with less to say or perhaps with a growing conviction that little I have to say is worthy enough of note to warrent the permanence of a printed page; so much has been written, and if a thought is not unique, what need for it to persist and be shared? Yet, this conviction must of course be erroneous - the best of humanity is saved and remembered by the written word.

So, I must write, forcing myself if necessary, to exercise and strengthen my rhetorical abilities, and to share and remember the progress of my life and learning, if only ultimately with myself in a later day. In so doing I shall shake this editorial lethargy and once more find the spark of creativity within myself.

That's the hope, anyway.

I now work for Gaiam writing software with the intent of changing the world or making money or perhaps both if possible, attempting to capitalize upon the fundamental principle of the web: that connecting like-minded, interested, active people to one another can have dramatic effects; it's social networking with a purpose and within a niche. Before coming to Gaiam, I'd been interviewing with Google, but fell victim in the final interview to a breakdown of nerve and intellect. In retrospect, I attribute this breakdown to a decline in self-confidence that has taken place over the course of years - why? I suspect it is the evil fruit of a lack of creativity, a lack of persistence, a lack of productivity.

And so, I must write.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Pandora.com

Pandora.com is my new tech darling. Adaptive technology, combined with a great selection of music - this is the future.

Here's me: http://www.pandora.com/people/kris.nuttycombe

Friday, March 17, 2006

Friday, February 24, 2006

Bush's Republicans: simply irresponsible

One of the things about the Republican party that has made them so effective against the Democrats in recent years, in spite of all the mistakes that they've made, is their ability to project a unified message. Even though their message is far removed from the truth, they have managed to convince a large number of people of their positions simply by massive repetition.

I believe that the lack of a consistent message from the Democrats is the primary reason that we have failed to get the attention of the average American voter. I belive that we need a central idea, a root cause analysis, if you will, to tie together and explain why the Republican agenda is wrong for America.

Words are powerful, and I think there's a simple, common, and expressive word that we can use to unify our critical voice:

IRRESPONSIBLE.

George Bush, and the members of the Republican Party in general, are fundamentally irresponsible.

They are environmentally irresponsible, attempting to sell off our national forests, and the quality of our air and water, to corporate interests. They take an irresponsibly short term view of environmental problems (like global warming) that can have dramatic and tremendously detrimental effects in the long term.

They are socially irresponsible, neglecting our schools, our poor, our elderly, and our veterans.

They are fiscally irresponsible, and have brought us the highest debt and largest budget deficits in history.

They are diplomatically irresponsible, starting an war that has served no purpose but to create new breeding grounds for terrorists. Afghanistan was justifiable, but Iraq was sold to the American people on premises that were nothing more than cynically calculated lies.

The truth is that the republicans are being irresponsible with America in a multitude of ways, and I think that if the Democratic party can unify behind this message, we can more effectively explain to the American people why the Republican agenda is bad for America.