Shapes of Stories – Applying Vonnegut’s Tool to an Ancient Story

By: Heero Yuy


Once upon a time the Ketuvim (כְּתוּבִים‎‎) was written. In it contained three poetic books called Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. It also includes a collection of five scrolls (Megillot) that has the book of Ecclesiastes. The introduction to Ecclesiastes the author is introduced as “son of David, king in Jerusalem” or better known as Solomon.

This book is a very good candidate to analyze and discuss with Shape of Stories as used by Kurt Vonnegut. All of stories can be mapped on an axis such as the one below:

All stories have a beginning and an end filled with a mixture of good and ill fortunes. Within each story there are sub stories that follows the same principle. This is how all stories are told since the beginning of time and some get creative by jumping around on the timeline to tell slices of the story in non-chronological order (i.e. Fight Club or better yet Pulp Fiction).

The story of Ecclesiastes is told from the perspective of a King who’s done it all and seen it all and can truly profess that “there is nothing new under the Sun.” Each pursuit begins with purpose, progresses to fruition, celebrated with delight upon triumph, and ends dismissive as a useless and meaningless journey. Each chapter is a mini story and each paragraph a sub-story that follows this story arc.

For instance, the story begins where everything is meaningless in a very bottom-line upfront approach in story telling. Next the author tells the audience that:

  • Wisdom
  • Pleasures
  • Wisdom and folly
  • Toil

There is an intermission where the element of time is introduced and different elements on the spectrum of human experience in opposing pairs such as:

  • Birth and death
  • Plant and uproot
  • Kill and heal
  • Tear down and build up
  • Weep and laugh
  • Mourn and dance
  • etc, etc
  • War and peace

Before resuming his negative stream of consciousness the author also gives a hint at the idea of infinity, eternity, and God. Along with these elements the author describes beauty, happiness, satisfaction, toil, and fear.

A continuous chorus of “everything is meaningless” is song constantly throughout the dialog to drive the point home to remind the reader of this “ill journey” on the shape of the story. The “ill journey” on this journey is eternal confusion and failing to comprehend eternity to be stuck in an infinite loop of questioning in a finite world without knowing how to migrate to the next level of infinity.

Before resuming to telling the next elements of meaninglessness the author runs through yet another mini-story explaining the meaninglessness of toil, dragging down the story towards “ill journey”, and then at the end offers a solution which is to journey in life with a battle buddy and never going it alone:

“Two are better than on, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

Journey resumes and the list of meaningless continues with:

  • Advancement (Keeping up with the Jones’) [Part 1]
    • No way any normal man can keep up with a King, and no way a life can have meaning if a King cannot find meaning in it… Right?

Another intermission to remind man of eternity and “fulfill[ing] your vow to God.”

Meaningless list drags on with:

  • Riches [Part 2]
    • Can’t take money to the grave!
    • Your clout doesn’t matter worth a damn in a finite life vs. infinity

Now the entire meaning of life, major elements of it, and the toils and pleasures are all essentially worthless the author turns over a new leaf to then bring meaning back into all forsaken elements one by one. This is powerful for two reasons:

  1. He got your attention by riding the story up and down the line of good and ill fortune
  2. All your current perceptions and prejudices against all known things in life are now wiped clean
    1. You are now a clean canvas
    2. The teacher can start his lesson anew to build one up again

Each brick of the foundation is thus laid as follows (rising up from ill fortune to good fortune):

  • Wisdom
    • “A person’s wisdom brightens their face and changes its hard appearance”
      • Metaphoric for internal self image and perception
  • Obey the King
    • Basic law and order
  • A common destiny for all
    • We all die (Sorry!)
  • Wisdom is better than folly
    • “Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.”
      • People chase paper credentials and social status more so than real life wisdom (Even back in the day!!!)
  • Invest in many Ventures
    • Talks about diversification to hedge against risk
    • Observe market conditions to know when to throw down and toil, when to restrain oneself
    • Concludes with step-by-step investment strategies and the mechanics of investing
  • Remember the Creator while young
    • A troubled heart and anxious mind confuses the young
    • Message is to ponder about the infinity and see how small your daily problems are in comparison

Author after mentoring the young closes his Sales pitch by saying the hard earned truth is the most concise guide to a no non-sense life without any addition or subtraction from the principles outlined. Studying too much and reading too far into other texts in search of the distilled wisdom is a pure waste of time.

Major arcs in the story consists of a beginning where it is “ill fortune” with mini-stories of ill and good fortune and the story progresses to “good fortune” until the conclusion where it remains neutral like the glass surface of a still lake on a calm day. Stories conclude like this for only one reason and that is to leave the choice up the reader to willfully live a different life or remain the same as before even after learning of this knowledge.

The lights fade, curtains drawn, stage empty, and either the audience applauds or walks out in silence.


Market Making – Salesman and the Modern World

By: Heero Yuy


The other name that we best know for Market Makers is “Middle Man.” Someone steps in the middle to broker (make the deal happen) any particular business transaction of a service or product. Market Making is the business of these Market Makers or “Middle Man” in attempts to provide that product or service to other individuals.

A real estate agent/broker for instance makes a market for those who are looking to buy or sell a home. They do this for a set percentage (%) of the value of the Real Estate being sold and this commission is charged to the seller of the home to be split between the two respective agents (buyer and seller agents).

i.e. A 6% commission split down the middle (3%/3% for buyer/seller agent) for a house sold at $400,000 comes out to a payday of $12,000 for each realtor. On a house that’s worth $2.4 million the same 6% commission for a 3%/3% split would come out to be about $72,000 for EACH realtor!

Key take away from the above example is that the higher dollar item you buy or sell, the larger the commission. Obviously, there is a higher chance of selling more houses at $400,000 vs houses at $2.4 million. Relative success of the Market Makers depend on the volume of goods they sell at a respectable price point and the commission structure for doing the business.

In the stock market the Market Maker buys stock from clients who are looking to sell and then sells stock to clients who are looking to buy. Much of this is done by machines these days but the bid-ask spread is how a stockbroker makes a living. The difference between the buy and sell price is the commission that the stockbroker makes on top of the flat commission fee charged for a buy or sell transaction OR they have a commission per share structure. This topic is explored in many popular culture movies such as:

Bankers are simply buyers (Hedge Funds, Private Equity, Venture Capital) and sellers (Investment Banking – think IPO) of business and institutions and it’s credit and debts. For further reading on market making in the stock market please reference Max Dama on Automated Trading. Max works as a low latency algorithmic trader now at Headlands Technologies in Chicago. His piece on automated trading elegantly explains all markets and leads the reader through the history of markets from ancient Bazaars to the modern day algorithmic battlefields of Wall Street.

In inventory control they talk about market making in terms of turnover rates and throughput rates in a manufacturing or warehousing setting. All the pieces that makes the market can be machines (conveyor systems, forklifts, etc) or human operators that puts items into boxes for shipments. In the military it is about: How many rounds can you get down range, how many hits on target, and how fast can you take down the enemy force? Our entire economy depends on this life-cycle of brokering different products or services to different markets at the right price for a fee. Market Makers are essentially salesman. Apple sells phones, Tesla sells cars, celebrities through the canvas of film sell dreams.

Let’s follow that last analogy of being a salesman. Sales has a negative connotation in society because we think about used car dealers or door to door sales man when we hear the word salesman. However, people who sell enterprise software ($200k+ salary), medical devices ($150k+), high-end car ($150-300k), real estate agents ($100k+), and commercial machinery ($100k+) are also considered salesman. What other individuals can be counted in this category of salesman?

Most of us are lead to believe that we have to go to college in order to make a decent wage, then get a Masters (MBA, MS, etc), Doctorate (PhD), become a Doctor (MD) or Lawyer (JD) in order to become successful and revered in life. The product here are the varying levels of degrees/education, the pushers (advertisers and promoters) being journalists that review and rank the relative prestige of these schools, teachers who tell (sell) students this idea as the true path to financial well-being, parents who promote the ideologies of the teacher and journalist as it is well known to them, financial institutions and Federal government handing out money with interest (Student loans) to make this market happen, and then the individual student being shuffled through this assembly line(s) on his or her way to worldly success.

How important we are is gauged by our relative success in how we navigate through this multi-layered market making process and what value society assigns us for our efforts ($/hr, salary/year, etc). Teacher sells ideas and dreams, journalists sell schools and products or services related to the school finding and admissions process, financial institutions and the Government sells student loans (debt), and we as individuals buy it all up with the hope of paying off all the principal, fees, and interest associated with taking this (long) position in the educational process. The (monopolistic) market is made.

We can find salesman or Market Makers in all walks of life using the above vantage point. The priests sell salvation thru religious texts, the rapper sells music, the mechanic sells services, airlines sell tickets for individuals on travel, Sporting events sells entertainment, Social-media sells clout and social acceptance, the news and media sells fear, etc. This can ONLY happen if there is some significant financial upside for the Market Makers. If there were none then we would go back to a non-Capitalistic society that involves clubbing people on the head to eat their lunch (sarcasm).

“Anything worth doing is worth doing for a buck” – Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (1987) 

This post explains broadly the process of Market Making and Market Makers. It is crucial to understand this concept as you read future posts so that you can track who is the winner and loser of each transaction (trade) and how much risk each party takes on for doing (brokering) the deal. Knowing the background information on how markets are made will allow you to make better decisions, financially and otherwise, so that you know how to come out on top more times than getting the short-end of the stick! (Positive expected returns or Alpha)