Tuesday 2 November, 2021


Seen on a recent cycle ride on a perfect Autumn day.

When I was a kid, William Cowper’s The Poplar Field was one of my favourite poems.

And I still love the trees: they’re the Cypresses of the East Anglian landscape.

Quote of the Day

“Once you build it, who is going to augment reality? Who is in charge of that project? If I’m standing at the United States Capitol and you’re standing there, and we’re both looking at the Capitol, what are we seeing—what is the label on that building? Is it the “home of democracy,” or is it “where Donald Trump got screwed”? We’ll actually live in different realities.”

  • Nilay Patel, Editor of the Verge in an interview by Vanity Fair, talking about augmented reality spectacles.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

R. E. M. – Everybody Hurts (Live at Glastonbury 2003)


Wonderful. Wish I’d been there on the night.

Long Read of the Day

 Hey, Facebook, I Made a Metaverse 27 Years Ago

Wonderful essay by Ethan Zuckerman on the absurdity of Mark Zuckerberg latest attempt to avoid responsibility for the toxic mess that has made him a zillionaire. Sample:

So, after watching metaverses spring up and crumble for 27 years, and after building one myself, I feel fairly well equipped to offer context for what Mark Zuckerberg is trying to do with his firm’s pivot to “Meta.” In his heavily produced keynote video for Facebook Reality Labs, Zuckerberg starts by acknowledging that this is a bizarre time for the company to be launching a new product line—Facebook is under more scrutiny than ever for its ill effects on individuals and societies, and for the company’s utter unwillingness to address these issues.

But why bother with that mess? Or, as Zuckerberg put it: “Now, I know that some people will say that this isn’t a time to focus on the future. And I want to acknowledge that there are important issues to work on in the present. There always will be. So for many people, I’m just not sure there ever will be a good time to focus on the future.” Allow me to translate: Fuck you, haters.

Unmissable. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

What you need to know about COP26

(According to Leslie Hook, the FT‘s Environment reporter)

Six years ago in Paris, countries came together and all agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius. But they actually left a lot of the fine print to be figured out later, and that later is right now. So there’s a lot of nitty-gritty questions like, how do you report your emissions of your country? Like, what form do you use? Who audits that report of your emissions? Another topic is how can countries exchange carbon offsets? Trade carbon offsets, buy and sell carbon offsets between each other? What’s the framework governing that global carbon market? So we’ve got some really thorny details to be worked out in Glasgow. That’s kind of the fine print of the summit.

So basically this is the “moment of truth” for the Paris accord. Will the accord really have solid rules that mean that there’s no loopholes, everyone’s on the same playing field and that it has real teeth?

Tall order, Ne c’est pas?

Wall Street’s Tesla dilemma

The problem is — as I wrote in my Observer column on Sunday — that the company’s share price, like the Peace of God in the Bible, “passeth all understanding”. That’s mainly because it’s driven by what professionals disdainfully refer to as “retail investors” (ie schmucks like you and me) who think that Tesla, like Bitcoin, might be a good bet.

As the professionals see it, Tesla shares are trading at around 130 times the company’s future earnings, compared with 21 for the S&P 500 index. Which is daft. Time and again, big fund managers reckon that the stock simply must be at its peak, and in their world you never buy at the peak. So they don’t. But the shares keep going up and they keep missing out.

What makes things worse for them is that since December 2020 Tesla has been a member of the S&P 500 index. This sucks yet more money in to the shares through passive investment by index-tracking funds. So we’re getting to the point where fund managers will have to buy Tesla shares against their supposedly better judgement.

Does that remind you of anything?

It reminds me of the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, and of a sensible and successful fund manager, Tony Dye, who refused to buy into the madness and lost his job as a result. Shortly after he was ejected, the tech bubble burst, and the fund he had been managing survived and thrived.

Which perhaps goes to confirm the wisdom of Keynes’s famous doctrine of the 1930s: “An investor who proposes to ignore near-term market fluctuations needs greater resources for safety”.

My commonplace booklet

Eh? (See here)

I was mesmerised by this — Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu playing Chopin’s Etude in C sharp minor, Op. 10 No. 4 in the first stage of the 18th Chopin Competition — and thinking that surely the video has been speeded up. But it hasn’t.

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