The Anonyvore

We have been talking to our eldest child about the differences between herbivores and carnivores, but from a brief look into things, it seems there are a whole stack of different -vores. There’s the insectivore (eats only insects), piscivore (eats fish), fungivore (eats fungi), and even folivore (eats leaves). Of course, humans seem to fall into the category of omnivore (eating everything), except of course when they don’t.

It appears that the proportion of the US adult population that is vegetarian is of the order of 3% (according to a 2009 online survey). A similar survey in Australia found that around 2% of the population was vegetarian. Of course, there are a range of different types of vegetarian diet followed within that population, so not everyone there is following exactly the same rules.

While vegetarianism is perhaps the most well-known type of human variance from “true omnivore”, there is a lot of diversity out there. For instance, there are also people who are pollotarians (eat anything but meat from mammals), pescetarians (eat anything but meat from mammals or poultry) and freegans (eat anything that’s been discarded by someone else). People are able to construct a variety of viable diets around a set of self-imposed rules. There’s probably also a large section of the population following a diet consisting of anything but peas and Brussels sprouts.

However, I’ve discovered that I’m none of the above. I’m your typical omnivore, but I really don’t eat anything looks like the animal it came from. If it’s meat, it needs to be anonymous meat. There doesn’t seem to be a name for this, so I propose “anonyvore”.

I used to think that I just didn’t like shellfish. I don’t want to crack open the carapace of a crab and suck out its fresh. I don’t want to peel a prawn. I don’t want to open an oyster and slurp down its contents. It really just revolts me.

But then, on a trip to Spain, we visited the pretty town of Segovia. Sitting around the Plaza Mayor for lunch, I ordered from one of the restaurants the local delicacy – roast suckling pig. The pork leg that arrived on my plate still had the trotter, and I discovered that this one additional detail made eating the meat close to impossible.

I realised that it wasn’t just crustaceans! It was food that was so honest about its origins that the diner knew exactly which limb they were eating. I’d be happier if my food lied.

When I was a kid, my mum would disguise the foods that I didn’t want to eat within foods that I did want to eat. You know the sort of thing I mean – the “meat” loaf that was more vegetable than animal protein. I’ve gradually come to respect this. There’s merit in ticking the box marked “I don’t know”. I don’t know if ignorance is bliss, but it sure tastes better.

Thoughts on a Tech Bubble

I have been trying to get to grips with the meaning of investment “bubbles” for a couple of years now (for instance in this blog post about tulip mania). I first started to look into this during the local property boom when I was also studying finance. However, there’s increasing talk online of whether we are now in some sort of tech bubble, akin to what happened around the years 1999-2000 and resulted in the dot-com crash.

I wouldn’t say that I have a mature position yet on bubbles, but I think I know enough to say that we’re not in a tech bubble. At least, not yet.

One problem with a test for a bubble is that it is difficult to know for sure that you’re in one until after they’re over. For one sure sign of a bubble is that it ends in a crash – the bubble pops. At this point, prices of the investments in question drop quickly, and many people lose a fortune.

Other signs of a bubble, such as speculative investors (people investing because they expect prices to go up due to investor behavior not necessarily due to increase in underlying worth) or dodgy investments are present in most markets most of the time, and shouldn’t be a concern of themselves. You would hope that in a market there are a variety of positions being taken on investments for a variety of reasons, and that new investments can be introduced into a market if there is a demand for them.

Also, many markets are naturally cyclical, with regular booms following busts over time. Just because a market is hot doesn’t mean it’s in a bubble, although it probably means prices are higher than otherwise warranted, in which case you’re unlikely to pick up a bargain. But people investing for the long-term with diversification across different markets can typically ride-out a cyclical decline.

That said, the first reason I don’t believe we are in a tech bubble is that currently a decline in the value of tech start-ups wouldn’t result in the average punter losing a fortune, because the average punter is not able to invest in tech start-ups. We’re not in a situation, like back in 2000, where an ordinary investor can invest in the latest crazy tech stock on the NASDAQ. It is really VCs and Angels who are taking the risks right now. So, we can’t yet experience the sort of widespread disaster that characterizes a crash.

The other reason I don’t think even the keen anticipation for the Facebook IPO could make this a bubble is that a bubble is a description of a market and not a single investment. You can’t really talk of a 13 Pearl St Essendon bubble or an Enron bubble (even while their stock did crash and wipe many people out). We would need to see average people investing in a variety of new tech companies for there to be a bubble in the tech market.

But there may be signs that this could yet occur. Services like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have sprung up that allow everyday people to pledge or commit money to a cause, which might be to bring a product or service to market. If causes start to take on more investment characteristics, this begins to look like a means for early stage investment in tech companies.

If I start to hear about people extending the mortgages on their homes to put funds into Kickstarter projects, I will be worried that we’re in a bubble, but I’m not worried yet.