Russian Ruble Proves Currencies Change

Feel sorry for the Russians, if not Russia. The Russian Ruble has collapsed as abruptly as it did just before the USSR collapsed. This time is different though. And it can only happen there. Or not. Personal finance can’t ignore global finance; but people can always control themselves by controlling how they live. It is our strength.

Fracking is a big issue. And yet, fracking is merely the fulcrum used by many for a variety of economic agendas. Fracking is worrisome to those near it because of the environmental hazards. The Russians are probably cursing it because fracking caused their crisis, at least partly.

Fracking isn’t something to do for the fun of it. It’s done to extract more oil and gas from wells that were losing their productivity. It’s like Red Bull for oil wells, but on a lot bigger scale. Neither is sustainable, but the short term rush is addictive. Fracking has produced so much oil in places like North Dakota that there’s an oil glut. Yay! say the fans of fracking who argue for American energy independence. Normally, OPEC, and particularly Saudi Arabia, would cut back on their production to keep the supply down and prices high. They like high prices. They don’t, however, like losing revenue.

Saudi Arabia decided to keep pumping oil. If they produced enough that the price dropped enough, then it might drive the frackers out of business. Yay! say the opponents of fracking. As long as Saudi Arabia has a lower cost of production, they’ll eventually win. In the meantime, the price of gasoline has dropped to mutli-year lows. Yay! say any cash-conscious American filling the tank – except maybe those whose jobs are at risk.

The battle may be between North Dakota et al and Saudi Arabia etc., but one of the casualties is Russia. Russia isn’t the only casualty. Every country that relies on oil revenue for a large part of its national revenue is hurt if their production costs are more than Saudi Arabia’s and North Dakota’s. That’s a lot of countries. Making a lot of money from something in demand is great, but not diversified. Russia, Venezuela, and Iran aren’t directly involved in the conflict, but they do rely on selling oil. Well, as long as they have stable economies they’ll be okay. Oops.

Russia is largely Putin. Just like oil, Russia has been relying on a singular strong central figure. The adventure into the Ukraine may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the costs and sanctions that followed stifled Russia’s economy. Its reliance on a very few key figures meant Russia was a riskier investment. With the costs and sanctions, the expenses went up. With the oil war, the income went down. The Russian economy is now bad enough that the Russian Bank had to raise interest rates to 17% to convince Russians to keep their money in rubles. Yay! say people who have money to invest and who expect interest rates to exceed inflation. Maybe that will work. Maybe people will remember back about 100 years to another bond crisis in Russia.

“The Russian Ruble Is In Free Fall” – Slate

In less than a year, the Russian Ruble has fallen to 50% of its value in US Dollars. People with foreign debt effectively owe twice as much money. That sounds like a rich person’s problem, but if you’re an auto mechanic in Moscow working on Jeeps your parts prices just doubled. Borrowing from your local bank will be tough when you have to pay high interest rates. If your income growth is greater than the interest rate, great! If not, as is true for many, then individuals ride a downward spiral.

Back when I was an aerospace engineer for Boeing I spent ten days in the Ukraine soon after the Wall fell. We were there trying to find commercial uses for Soviet military rockets. (Ah, my days on Sea Launch, a real bit of seemingly sci-fi few know about.)

The days were busy, but a few times I had a chance to walk through the neighborhood. One walk alone would be sufficient for a book. Every time though, I encountered the same thing: a long line of sidewalk stores. Don’t think Parisian. Every store was a cardboard box about one foot wide, long, and tall. All were tended by someone sitting behind it. The typical fare was simple: one fish, one root vegetable, one loaf of bread. The river was near. There must have been gardens. I wondered if there was a flour allotment. The government had so little cash that they had to turn out the eternal flame honoring their war dead. The people who had so little cash, did whatever they could. They were resourceful. I don’t know if they were successful.

Russians are stocking up, probably trading old stories for insights rather than entertainment, and adapting. Russians are used to hard times, for good or bad.

We assume that only happens over there, somewhere else, to someone who hasn’t “figured it out.” As part of compiling the daily news feed for Pretending Not To Panic I’ve come across enough data to confirm that, we in the US are in a bubble.

Pretending Not To Panic news for those of us who are eager and anxious about the future

Pretending Not To Panic
news for those of us who are eager and anxious about the future

It may not be a financial bubble, though that’s possible too. The US Dollar seems steady, and it is, because no other currency is. The major currencies; the Euro, the Yen, the Yuan, all have uncertainties. The investment community doesn’t like uncertainties. The EU doesn’t seem stable, so why should their currency. The Yen has Japan’s aging demographic imbalance to worry about. The Yuan is tied to China’s impressive growth, but the growth may be ephemeral. The US looks good because everyone else looks far less good.

The US isn’t as reliant on one commodity, good, or service. Our debts are large, but so is our productivity. The fact that we have so many disparate voices also demonstrates that for any situation we have lots of potential solutions.

My worry is that too many Americans assume it can’t happen here. We assume the US Dollar will always be there, solid and sound. That is not normal. Personal finance is personal, and people respond differently to crisis. Even rocket scientists can find themselves sitting behind a foot-tall cardboard box selling a fish, a potato, and a biscuit. Some Russians may be doing the same thing in the Spring. It’s one reason I lived frugally before I had to, and will continue to do so after I no longer need to.

My book on frugality

My book on frugality

Our adaptability is our strength, especially when we watch what’s going on so we know how we might have to adapt.

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Windy Whidbey Lemonade

Whidbey Island was hit by a wind storm last night. The entire West Coast was hit by storms. The storm that hit the Seattle area knocked out power to over 150,000 people. My power is still out, which is why I worked from Langley’s co-works office, which is why I got to hear lots of stories. Trees uprooted, roads blocked, roofs leaking, fences falling, and instead of complaining the common theme was that things worked out well. If coping involves turning lemons into lemonade, then we can write a cookbook of lemonade recipes.

We hear about gusts to 45 frequently, but the only areas that get that are out on the coast, along the Straits, in the Gorge, and in the mountains. The forecast was for gusts to 75 mph. That was storm 3 in three days. At one point the National Weather Service issued 14 bulletins for the area. First there was rain, then wind, then wind and rain coinciding with high tides, then ground saturated from the rain weakening the trees hold on soil, and soil’s hold on soil. The storms are past but the landslide danger continues. I even think I felt a rumble the other night, but won’t be able to check that slope until there’s a low tide in the daytime, probably in the spring.

On my pre-dawn drive into work today the branches on the road were so thick that I had a hard time seeing the pavement. I didn’t notice the road closed cones until after I’d driven over a powerline and was stopped by a tree that blocked the road from ditch to ditch. I lost track of the down trees that protruded onto the road, and was impressed with the work of the road crews who had chopped just enough to create a series of one lane gaps. (Someone get those people reflective gloves to go with the reflective vests. It was hard to tell whether they were waving me through or back.)

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Not the worst. Just the first place I could safely park.

The commute took two or three times as long as usual.

As I got to the office, I was happy for two reasons: 1) the power was on, 2) I could have any parking space I wanted. As I tidied up my first parking attempt after missing the white line, another pickup drove up. Out came the crew from The Braeburn, the restaurant downstairs. Of course a forest of trees on the road and a web of wires would be a great excuse to stay home, but it was also a good reason for a walk through the woods before dawn, to be picked up by another member of the crew, to meet another member of the crew. I had a breakfast with me, but had to order a side of bacon to celebrate our commuting accomplishments.

People deride Facebook, but as usual, it turned into a communal information exchange. Who has power? What are the road conditions? Does anyone need help? What stories do people have to tell?

  • Lemons: The chicken coop blew over. Lemonade: The coop was strong enough that it just needs to be tipped up. The chickens are fine. (Imagine that, things with feathers doing fine in the wind.)
  • Lemons: A tree smashed through a roof. Lemonade: The roof was the carport, not the house; and the car wasn’t in the carport; and the owner wasn’t in the car – but probably would’ve been if not delayed by a meeting.
  • Lemons: The power is out with no estimate of when it will be fixed. Lemonade: Finally an excuse to ignore the electronics and spend time with friends, wine, games, candles, books, and wine.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iR8nso60cQ
  • Lemons: I lost about a third of my fence. Lemonade: It fell away from the propane tank and the fruit trees; and one section just needs to be tilted back up and cemented in place, and my other repair job from last season actually survived. (Lemonade for the deer: Easy access to Tom’s garden – for a while.)

Last night I was going to teach a class on Modern Self-Publishing. The winds were already rising, but wouldn’t hit their main strength until about two-thirds of the way through the class. As I got to the door, I found it locked. Miscommunications happen. I waited outside in case any students showed up. Island time is a notion that includes not committing to an event, and showing up hoping there will be enough room. I waited a while, but no one showed. As a result, I got home about three hours early. Today, circular apologies were made for miscommunications, and I just laughed. Yes, it would’ve been nice to teach to a packed room, but that didn’t happen. Considering the weather though, it all worked out for the best. If the class happened according to schedule, we would’ve had to quit because the power was out before the scheduled end. By getting home when I did, I had a clear drive home, was able to fill the gas tank, take a walk (very blustery down at the beach with salt spray coating my face), take a shower, make a drink, make some popcorn, and watch part of a show. When the power went out I reached for a book and a second cocktail, and then slid onto the futon to sleep. I was glad class hadn’t happened.

Someone was nice enough to ask about my situation and my skill set today. After a quick summary, I told them about the class. I teach because I am passionate about people and ideas, but also because I need the money. He took that aspect and my story about being glad class was cancelled and inspired this blog by saying I was good at making lemonade.

I am impressed with how well so many of us are at doing the same thing. The people who have less appreciate what they have that much more. You lose power, you’re grateful for candles. You lose a carport, you’re grateful you didn’t lose the car. You lose the coop, you’re grateful you didn’t lose the chickens.

The Great Recession means many people lost money. Climate change means many people are missing familiar environments. Social unrest means people are aware of what they could lose.

People are more likely to be frugal from respect. Fragile environments are recognized for their ephemeral nature. Compassion is appreciated.

Whidbey got windy and people made lemonade, but Whidbey is not the only place that happens. The world is full of lemonade stands. Drink up.

Lemons: wind storm Lemonade: calm waters the following day

Lemons: wind storm
Lemonade: calm waters the following day

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Wish List 2014

The more I understand my fundamental wants, the less sense my wish list makes. We should give gifts to each other every day, but buying that many things is impractical for anyone who has to spend time earning a living. That’s one reason Christmas and the holidays are popular. Even if you aren’t religious, you can enjoy getting and receiving gifts because it is such a rare event. When I was asked to put together a wish list I created a surprise. Almost everything I asked for didn’t require shopping as much as rummaging, and a lot of it couldn’t be wrapped in a bow or fit under the tree. Norman Rockwell couldn’t paint the goodies. The malls and big box stores won’t notice my lack of participation. Simple gifts given sincerely can be gifts that are remembered every day.

Before listing wishes, wants, and needs I want to reinforce the reality that gifts are always welcome, not because it is the thought that counts, but because it is the feeling that counts. If someone cared to give a gift, the response is always thank you, regardless. But, hey, this is my wish list, so here’s a bit of what I wish for.

There are plenty of things and stuff that I want. A new car would be a first. An ocean wherry, or even a sailboat would be firsts and fun. How about a new computer? This MacBook is old and my less-than-a-year-old Chromebook is acting aged. The next things that come to mind: a new roof, new windows, the fireplace replaced with a woodstove, the weathered south wall framing replaced with new wood, the broken kitchen appliances replaced with something from this century. My wishes quickly turn to the practical and pragmatic because, given my financial condition, even if I won the lottery I would find great relief from undeferred tens of thousands of dollars of deferred maintenance. The things I want are too expensive to be gifts for almost everyone I know.

My real wish list is much more realistic, but unconventional enough that I enjoy watching the reactions of people trying to adopt a new perspective.

An eternal favorite is food, and drink, and etc. I enjoy cooking. It is probably my prime entertainment. What I create wouldn’t show up on the Food Network, but I like my cooking. If you shopping for gifts for a foodie you know the appreciated things are more likely to come from a grocery store or herb shop than a gadget store. Wine is nice.; especially, if it came from Whidbey. Whiskey is nicer. Scotch is very nice. Homebrewed anything is best. (And those of you in the upper left hand corner of the map know that a gram can be a present too.) Cheese, more cheese please. Make Wallace and Grommit proud. Hey look, people are growing organic cheese on the island. Local salmon makes sense. Now, there’s even local beef.

There’s one of the problems. I like local, which isn’t much of a help to anyone on the mainland. Localvores may shift the old-style economy, but not as much during Christmas.

Having gone through decluttering voluntarily and by necessity, more stuff isn’t the answer. The fun part, however, comes from finding someone who is trying to declutter something that just happens to be something I want, and vice versa. Finding homes for a couple of floor cushions, a couple of healthy houseplants, an old Roomba that needs a battery, things that are worth something but that didn’t sell at the carport sale. I give something away and get space for a gift. Maybe it gets filled with something I want and need. (If you want to help an artist declutter, buy some of their older art. Photos and books available.)

Is it too early or too late to mention I have cards for sale?

Is it too early or too late to mention I have cards for sale?

I hate waste. It is one of the few times I use that four letter word. That’s all the more reason to pass along the leftovers. Leftovers can be anything. I’m still finishing soup made from Thanksgiving leftovers. (The turkey stock was a very tasty gift.) Too much firewood to store, too many apples to keep, too much soil to dump, too many seeds to plant. If you’re above the poverty level you probably have some excess, unless you are an ultra-minimalist, in which case I applaud you. It is a relief to know that there’s less going into the landfill.

Help is one of the finest gifts. Help someone fix something and that gift can be remembered every day. Help tackle some invasive weed like blackberries and the plants may thank you too.

Every time I mow my lawn I thank my neighbor who gave a lawnmower he found for free on craigslist. I was mowing the lawn with a push reel mower, the type powered by lunch. My lawn is small, but he didn’t like watching me fight the spring growth that gets ahead of us during the storms. He picked up and delivered the lawnmower, found the one piece that had to be replaced, gave me the mower for free, provided all the links to the manuals, and even suggested a fix that would probably be required in a year or so. He was right.  The gift didn’t come on Christmas, and I won’t be mowing the lawn for weeks, but the value of that gift is refreshed every time I make my lawn suburban proper.

The simple gifts are sincerely received, even when the giver doesn’t know they gave a gift. I thank you for your gift. You’re read this far into this post. You have given your time. I thank you for your time. Time is precious.

The only thing more precious than time is emotions. One of the downsides of writing is there is rarely an opportunity to see if a reader receives an emotion. This post is not overly emotional. If I crafted it better, and took hours, I might be able to dive into our common cores. My goal was to write about my wish list, not make you weep. We all carry a gift there, though. Emotions like love and caring, given as nouns and verbs, can’t be wrapped in bows, aren’t bought in the stores, and have few advertisements for them; but, they always have a place on my wish list for me, and my wish list for all of us.

Now, after this storms stops I’ll be able to get to making some wreaths from my property’s herbs and maybe I’ll make a few extra cookies (without the extra special herb for those cookies going out of state.)

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Scrooge V Cratchit

It’s the holiday season, the time for celebration, rituals, and traditions. On my list every year is a string of movies that wait for long nights and twinkly lights. The classic that was written in six weeks to pay some bills, wasn’t initially a financial success, then was  discovered, popularized, and now elevated to iconic is Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Scrooge and humbug resonate through the collective memories. As I’ve been working seven days a week, a comment was made about Scrooge’s lesson. Such a great emphasis is placed on Scrooge, the wealthy and greedy boss, that many seem to forget the other character working seven days a week, but for different reasons. Bob Cratchit worked because he had to. He worked to keep his job, his source of income, and take care of his household. Two stories in parallel, repeated several times every year, and yet the one is far more memorable than the other.

I usually only watch on incarnation of A Christmas Carol, but this year I’ll watch two. The Muppet Christmas Carol, because I finally have it on DVD. And, Scrooged, because Netflix added it to their streaming list this year. I’m already smiling.
Light the lamp, not the rat!” – Rizzo (not an original Dickens character)
Watch the birdie!” – The Ghost of Christmas Present (but Dickens’ character never whacked Scrooge with a toaster

The terms weren’t used then but, the tension in the story comes from wealth and its inequitable distribution. Wealth wasn’t bad. There are positive wealthy characters and negative wealthy characters. Charity and philanthropy are central to two men asking for donations. Scrooge and Marley sit on the opposite side, though Marley does it from the very far other side because he is dead, and Scrooge only represents greed for his most recent decades before his revelation.

A sign of a good story is being drawn to know more about the other characters’ back stories. If the three ghosts visited Bob Cractchit, what would he see in his past, present, and future? For every Scrooge there were dozens or hundreds of Cratchits. Dickens wrote about dark times for England. Eventually, the country reformed and took better care of more people. The country had its own Scrooge moment.

Scrooge is greed and selfishness. Cratchit is frugal and compassion. Remember the philanthropists. They prove that wealth does not equal greed, but can lead to it. Remember many of the characters in Dickens’ other novels. Poverty can create selfishness, but doesn’t have to.

Hard work, however, is common. The reason and goal of the hard work distinguishes the difference. Is the work barely enough to pay the bills? Is the work targeted at a well-defined, quantitative goal? Is the work itself the goal? In which case it could be a noble endeavour. Or, is the work solely for the accumulation of excess beyond all needs, wants, and uses?

It is harder to enjoy the holidays when every day is a work day. I’m already behind on my baking. The only decorations out so far are one mug and some kitchen towels. I’ve got great plans, but the bills must be paid.

Many of the traditions were paint in Victorian white are luxuries. To many they are unreasonable goals, and yet credit cards fill as people try to match the ideal.

I’m keeping in mind the Cratchit household. My life has never been as hard as theirs. My situation requires significant improvement, but to me that merely emphasizes how many millions in the US, and how many billions in the world, are struggling with far less while witnessing grandiose displays. And yet, almost everyone will find some way to celebrate. Eventually I’ll get the lights up. I hope to start making wreaths from my property’s herbs. The cards may be emails this year. (Of course, now that I think of it, maybe you and I should buy some of my cards. Winter Resilience - from Twelve Months at Lake Valhalla) I’ve already sung a few carols on a walk through town.

(Okay, now I’m thinking I should go out and dig into the storage boxes if lights after I post this. Ho. Ho.)

There’s plenty of time left in the season. As a Christmas Carol inevitably gets in front of you, take a look at the story that isn’t Scrooge. Take a look at the rest of the people. Regardless of their condition and situation, each would probably find at least some small way to celebrate; especially, as Scrooge eventually provided, the day off with pay.

At the beginning, it was Scrooge V Cratchit. After the revelation, it was Scrooge & Cratchit (or so the entrepreneurial romanticist in me likes to think.)

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Giving Thanks For The Basics

Last week was Thanksgiving, at least in the US. It was our annual day to eat and drink and socialize, with some ritual thanking going on. Rituals remind us to do the things we know we should do every day. Today I’ve been giving thanks more than usual because of events in friends’ lives and in the community.

Happy Thanksgiving. Prepare to eat! Without much effort I could’ve committed to feasts from mid-Wednesday through to Friday. I’m big enough already. Two celebrations would be more than enough. Wednesday evening there was a private community event. That may sound like a contradiction, but at some level every community has some element of privacy. Friends rented a small, local, progressive hall for a potluck and a few dozen friends. Hours were spent preparing the room and the food. Sadly, I did very little because of work. Eating would take an hour or so. Socializing took longer. It was all good. The hosts inserted a ceremony between the preparing and the serving. Everyone was asked to stand in a circle and, if they felt like it and without pressure, say what they gave thanks for. Amongst the heartfelt emotional responses I included thanks that the power was on.

Within 24 hours the power was off, first for a few, then for many.

Fortunately, and because we locals know that the power tends to go off in the Salish Sea’s worst month for weather also known as November, the Thanksgiving Day meal was cooked on time and nicely done while the power was on.

The rains hit. The wind hit. Then the rains stopped. The wind continued. Then the snow came through. The snow quit falling, but the temperature sunk. The power crews were busy with branches, ice, and wires. (Thank you PSE.) Most of us resorted to intentionally courting cabin fever rather than having our vehicles dance the tango with the power poles.

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photo credit – Russell Sparkman, Fusion Spark Media

Mondays happen, and I had to drive to the co-works for some chores. The roads were icy enough on the way home that my truck swayed to the right, then swung to the left, then back, and then again, and then I cheered. I’d steered through ice that wouldn’t respond to 4WD. No one was coming the other way. I hadn’t interrupted anyone’s power, and therefore heat, in freezing weather.

I was thankful. I was thankful for the truck, and everyone who made it. I was thankful for the tires that somehow found some traction. I was more aware of the cautious UPS driver who pulled the big brown van to the side of the road rather than get stuck and block a side street. I was aware of the school buses that had to travel the same road, and had done so safely. I was thankful to get home safely, too. There, I was thankful for leftovers, the gas station that stayed open, and for a well-stocked pantry.

With the start of December I launched my new blog, Pretending not to Panic. PNTP logo 111214Launches can go unnoticed, but not this one. I’ve been pleased with the response. Within the first few days traffic was nice and growing; though, more valuable were the several people who passed along their worries, situations, and coping mechanisms. The people most thankful for having a home were the ones that almost lost theirs. The ones most thankful for having healthcare were the ones who were in poor health. The ones most thankful for a paycheck were the ones who knew that money was a necessity in the short term regardless of how we may philosophize about it for the long term. As one entrepreneur put it, “The people who can offer the most, frequently understand the urgency the least.” (paraphrased)

This morning was the first when I didn’t worry about slipping on the way to the mailbox (empty) or the pipes freezing. Birds visiting the emptied planter outside my office window are no longer fluffed and puffed. People are wearing shorts as they walk errands. A bit of sunshine and 40 degrees (F) is easier to be thankful for after days with freezing temperatures, wind chills below 10 (F), intermittent power, and the eventual end of the turkey and stuffing. (It was so sad to see that last saved bit of pumpkin pie sprout a few white dots.)

We are thankful most when we have experienced loss. Appreciating what we have before we lose it is not a natural human talent; but as we learn to appreciate the basics of life: air, water, food, health, safety, and each other, we can be overwhelmed with things to be thankful for every day. I’m thankful that I haven’t lost hope in the possibility that we can appreciate the basics of life.

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What A Difference A Half Teaspoon Makes

Bogie and Bacall, but let’s treat them with more respect, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. Real people that were classic iconic Hollywood stars, people who people watched to mimic their actions, attitudes, and appearance. One small aspect of their screen characters was the way they handled alcohol and tobacco. Vices became stylish props that encouraged millions to drink and smoke. In the black and white era of movies, Prohibition was only recently repealed, and cigarettes were about to be labeled as something to prohibit. Marijuana’s icons are Cheech and Chong, Jay and Silent Bob, the Dude; role models that reflect stoner culture from when marijuana was prohibited. I watch trends. One trend I’m watching is how marijuana use will be defined and matured in the media. In the meantime, I’ll have a cup of tea.

My culinary cannabis experiment continues. This is not a quick process. Anyone who has compiled a cookbook, even just one for personal use, knows that testing recipes and variations is more than just a single trial and error. Getting the ingredients, process, cookware, and presentation correct means each recipe takes several tries and days, weeks, or months of work. Progress is slow.

With marijuana’s prohibition lifted, why, how, and when we use marijuana begins to mature from barely covert adolescence to something more refined and eventually to a part of normal society. Go into a pot shop and the paraphernalia continues to represent stoner culture: bongs, garish colors, and am emphasis on celebrating the plant. If the same was true of liquor stores we’d probably see a still, bottles of moonshine, and pictures of potatoes, grapes, and anything else that eventually becomes liquor. Just like wine aficionados eagerly seek specific vintages of cabernets instead of grape alcohol, eventually cannabis connoisseurs may seek particular harvests of blackberry kush.

My experiments are slow and methodical because I revert to my engineer training. First was an eighth of teaspoon, then a quarter, now a half of a teaspoon – and the last of the first gram. And yet, that won’t be the last because the frugal part of me just drinks the water and saves the rest of the bud for experimenting with popcorn. I’ll be at this for a long while, I hope.

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The marijuana industry has an amazing multi-billion dollar infrastructure, most of which is illegal. The states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use didn’t make the switch automatically. Legal hoops were set in place and entrepreneurs had to jump through them. At least at my local shop, prices are above black market (so I’m told) but will probably come down quickly. The first shops opened when there was barely any legal, registered, and inspected product. Now that more growers have licenses the supply will go up and the prices will go down. Demand, while it may spike from novelty initially, is probably already set for the majority of the population. My kitchen tests will get cheaper.

Marijuana is an interesting trend. Most of the time when I track a trend, it is from a distance. I tracked Starbucks, but didn’t drink coffee. I tracked Pixar, but don’t have kids. I track biotech, and hope I never have to use it. (Details in my book, Dream. Invest. Live. Dream Invest Live cover) Marijuana, however, is something that has enormous potential because of its recreational and medical applications, its wide appeal, and the transition it will undergo culturally and commercially.

Currently, the operations are large enough to overwhelm the individual entrepreneurs but small enough to be dismissed by national corporations. As more states legalize marijuana, and as the finances turn from cash to conventional processes, the small operators will probably find themselves unable to compete with the larger operations, or guarding a niche, or being bought out. I hope at least a few become successful enough quickly enough to be pure investment plays. There are stocks, but they are as speculative as early computer and internet companies. Great risk, great reward, and allow me to repeat the part about the great risk. Though I am intrigued about the stockholders meetings. Starbucks gave away coffee. Pixar gave away posters. Just a hint, you know.

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Tonight’s tea is a half teaspoon of Blackberry Kush from Emerald City Organics. Thanks to the site Leafly.com, I know how Blackberry Kush DSC_5120 measures up for flavor, wine pairings, and medical effects – both good and bad. It is nice to see a site that has taken that step beyond stoner culture and presents useful information without a lot of wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

The culinary results so far are not dramatic. Sorry folks, but I don’t want a beer to have dramatic effects, either. I’m not hunting for drama. I’m hunting for a no-calorie way to relieve stress and help me sleep.

Correlation is not causation, but I have been sleeping better. The teas aren’t supposed to be very strong unless some other solvent like fat or alcohol are included because the active compounds don’t react with simply getting wet. The buttered popcorn that follows, however, has had a welcome effect. I smile. My head and neck muscles relax. It is amazing to see how tight they are. The first time they started to relax I thought I was having a headache. I wasn’t. It was just the ache you feel in a muscle that’s been working under strain for too long. Skip the drama. I didn’t get stupidly euphoric. I didn’t sink into cowering anxiety. The only anxiety I had was from listening to other people’s stories.

In the foodie world there’s a term called plating. It has nothing to do with electrostatic depositions. How are the elements of the meal presented to be best appreciated and enjoyed? That’s another part of the experiment. It is happening on a personal level. Buttered popcorn is not always optimal. It is happening on a societal level. What is a socially acceptable way to relax: smoking, drinking, or maybe something our adaptable species has yet to create.

In the meantime, my cup of tea brewed from about half a teaspoon is about half gone. It is easier to move my neck. My face is relaxing. I certainly don’t have the charisma of Humphrey Bogart, so someone else will have to popularize the maturation of this new industry, and I’ll be watching – and maybe a bit more mellow than before.

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Pretending Not To Panic Launch

Incredible. The news is incredible. Every day news splashes across my screen that is incredibly apocalyptic, in a bad way; and incredibly revolutionary, in a good way. Because of my eclectic interests, and because I have eclectic clients, I witness extreme pessimism and extreme optimism every day. The forces in motion in today’s world are stupendous and can only be ignored at the risk of being totally inundated by change. I’ve launched a blog that pulls together some of that news, the worrisome and the hopeful, the “news for those of us who are eager and anxious about the future.” You are welcome to attend because we are all in this together.

Pretending Not To Panic

If you want to know more about the news, go to the site. If you want to know more about why, read on.

Look at the graphic that’s helped inaugurate the site. It is me, covering my eyes, but peeking out between a gap in my fingers. PNTP logo 111214The majority of people are working from the philosophy of, “See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.” They take that so far that they, “See nothing. Hear nothing. Speak nothing.”; except for what’s part of the common conventional wisdom, even if its source is an authority that is only serving its self-centered agenda. The antithesis is to see everything, hear everything, and speak about everything; which is an overwhelming way to live and a way to overwhelm everyone around you. To maintain sanity, it is necessary to consider only a slice of what’s happening; to filter out some, but not all; to know what to look for, and what not to be distracted by.

Pretending Not To Panic may be many things, at one point it was a screenplay and could be again, but this blog incarnation of it is my perusal of the news regarding the big topics and the big solutions. Ironically, the topics and solutions may be global, but best represented by individual’s actions. As resources allow, I hope to create a community for discussions that’s moderated to keep the trolls in control.

These are the times when we first have the capacity and the necessity for being aware of the global situation and the global solutions. Our society and civilization is global, and thinking nationally is anachronistic. This is also the time when debate is becoming secondary to action, in spite of the antiquated processes of our institutions. Financial inequality, climate change, social injustice, technological acceleration can not be ignored or stopped, but eventually they can be altered. We, as a species, are amazing at adapting. It is our greatest strength. I suspect we will adapt, and will do so for the good of the rest of the planet; but in case we can’t, I’m pretending not to panic.

 
PS As much as I’d do this as an altruistic action, my personal situation strongly suggests that I allow visitors the opportunity to compensate me for my efforts. Tips are appreciated. I’m also creating some ways you too can tell the world that you are pretending not to panic. T-shirts, etc. may seem silly, but then again, they are a way to inspire discussions, and hopefully, action.

 

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Unused And Necessary Obamacare

It was with a great sigh of relief when I signed up for Washington State’s version of Obamacare last year. I wasn’t looking for a change in my health insurance. Despite the high cost I kept paying my original premiums, even as they’ve tripled over the years, and even when I couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage. The mortgage issue is resolved, I think. The health care issue is resolved, I thought. I was wrong. A year’s worth of experience and it looks like the process starts over again, maybe a notch further along the process. In the meantime, I’ve spent thousands of dollars, received no benefits, and will continue the practice.

At its basic minimum, Obamacare does nothing except exact a financial cost every month. Insurance is like that. Obamacare is not health care. Obamacare is health insurance. Having Obamacare does not mean free health care just like having car insurance does not mean you never have to fill the tank or repair the exhaust. With the right coverage, everything can be paid for, but those are premium plans; and premium plans are outside the reach of people who need assistance getting insurance.

The main consequence of Obamacare has been for Washington State to pay about 40% of my premium. I am grateful. The remaining cost is about the amount I spend on food, about the amount I should put away for taxes, or about the amount that could go to monthly doctor visits.

I have health insurance, and haven’t seen a doctor in years. To afford health insurance, even with the aid of government, I have to sign up for very high deductibles. Of course, if I go to the doctor and they pronounce me healthy, then the coverage actually covers a bit of that cost. But, if I go to the doctor and I’m not healthy (a very likely scenario considering I’m under a lot of stress and working so hard I have little time for exercise) then the insurance may or may not cover part of the cost of tests and treatments. If however, they decide not to pay the bill due to a technicality, then I am responsible for expenses I can’t afford.

I note this, not to gripe in public, but to clear up misconceptions about what people are required to sign up for. Insurance is not care. Insurance is money sent to an organization that pools the money to redistribute it to those in need who are qualified, according to the insurance company. Profits and inefficiencies will happen.

Washington State is one of the better places for subsidized health care, from what I hear of other states. The web site worked better than most. The people answer the phone, eventually, and have always resolved to fix the issue completely. I’m impressed. I’m also practiced with calling them. Even though I haven’t filed a claim, there has been an online glitch, a missed invoice, or a confusing announcement almost every month. A system that should be automated has enough flaws, and I’m only talking about my experience, that I’ve had to pay over the phone for the last few months. Neither the paper nor electronic invoices reach me, and the web site’s username and password system has such bizarre constraints that even with writing things down, the system kicks me out or sends me in loops through the Update Username and Password Required process.

Evidently one of the things I included in last year’s post was a description of some of the insurance plans in plain English. That post has had traffic almost every day since then. It is one of my most popular posts. I enjoy writing and would like to think the post is popular because of my style, but that post was a simple chronology without attempts at literary merit.

The news I received today is that the process is not something that is only done once. Signing up is an annual event. The system should be able to remember everything I input last year, but the system doesn’t even Remember Me when I check it at the log in screen.

Millions more people have health care now. That is something to celebrate. Lives have undoubtedly been saved. Friends tell me that their kids’ prescriptions can be filled. When everything works then the world is a better place.

I am an extreme independent moderate. I am passionate about the need for compromise and the fact that no organization or party represents people as well as people can represent themselves. That’s why I pay attention to both sides of Obamacare. For me, it is an expense, and if I had to be treated for a major illness or injury, the insurance could cover the majority of the cost. Unfortunately, the rest of the cost would very likely be sufficient to bankrupt me. And yet, I am glad Obamacare was passed and would consider it foolhardy to revoke it.

We The People contribute more to society when we are healthy.

My costs, while they may never benefit me directly, benefit others. I see my monthly health care premium as a contribution to a charity. Unfortunately, that contribution is channeled through inefficient profit centers, but that is today’s compromise. I’ll continue to pay for my health care, be glad for the monthly rebate – and look forward to being wealthy enough to be able to afford insurance, care, and a healthy lifestyle that minimizes the need for both. It could happen. We even got Obamacare passed, so anything can happen.

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Three Hundred Days Of Chromebook

Chromebooks are the new beginning. Or rather, the idea of a Chromebook is the new beginning. Just like many people xerox things without owning a Xerox, put things in the fridge without owning a Frigidaire, or Google things without using Google (oh wait, that hasn’t happened, yet), the Chromebook is the first step into a new world of computing that is making many machines anachronisms. Sorry, Microsoft. Sorry, Apple. With the pace of change, Chromebooks may sweep away most new PCs and laptops, and get swept away themselves. Sorry, Google.

After months of research and hoping my MacBook didn’t die, I finally bought a Chromebook, thanks to a Christmas gift certificate. Rather than wait until the anniversary to post a one year report, I decided to step in as people are stepping into the shopping season and produce my almost 300 day report.

The short version: I doubt I could’ve run my business without it for the last 9 months.

The flip side of the short version: I got what I paid for.

For those of you who are just finding out about Chromebooks, skip a lot of the advertising. Chromebooks are inherently simple. Effectively you are using a piece of hardware that is primarily a keyboard, a monitor, and just enough electronic guts to communicate with the web. Yes, they can be equipped with as much power as a conventional laptop, but the basic idea is that everything can happen on the web, and will. Get used to it.

I’m not quite used to it. But, I’m learning. This HP 13 inch Chromebook is not much more than a terminal to the Internet. Granted, with the hardware in this laptop, and no Internet, I’d probably still be in possession of more computing power than almost all of the computers in the Apollo Program. As I use it now, which is how I usually use it, the keyboard is taking my finger motions, transmitting them to some simple input algorithm, sending them along to the Internet, while the machine also displays them on the screen. The details are far more sophisticated, but the effect is simple and essential.

Conventional PC and Mac laptops do the same thing, but they are also incredibly powerful and autonomous. A Chromebook without the Internet can do many things, but a PC or a Mac without the Internet can do amazing things. My jobs do not require amazing computing. They require effective communication, and that can be achieved with words, numbers, audio, and video; things that a Chromebook can readily provide.

My Chromebook is used every day because I work every day. Hours of use. Almost daily travel, sometimes by bicycle. It does almost everything I need done. But, it doesn’t do everything.

Maybe it could do everything, but I have yet to find pragmatic and free solutions for graphics processing, significant word processing, audio and video processing, and storage. When I need to edit a photo, proofread a client’s manuscript, prepare a video for YouTube, or archive my work, I use the Mac. Almost everything else happens on the Chromebook.

Chromebooks are fast, because they are simple. Chromebooks are more casual, because everything can be stored somewhere else. Chromebooks are more convenient, because the loss of one isn’t the loss of data and the machine can be replaced cheaply.

Chromebooks, are not, however, a panacea.

300 days of usage have produced a list of gripes that persist. Better user education, me, would clear up some of the issues, but some are undoubtedly fundamental. Here’s a disorganized list.

  • Disruptively sensitive mousepad
    • The mousepad is so sensitive that menu picks are picked accidentally. I’ve lost hours of work because the mousepad was trying to be hyper-useful.
  • Screen irregularities
    • This is probably a result of the bicycle commuting, but too often the screen becomes a harlequin pattern as something reconnects or adjusts. Very disconcerting.
  • Chrome OS not installed
    • The strangest error message was when it told me the operating system wasn’t installed. A little while later it forgot it told me that.
  • Working offline doesn’t save files
    • Supposedly, the minimal storage is accessible for offline editing. That sounds awesome and simple and efficient. Except that I have yet to get it to work. There’s probably a bit that has to be flipped but it is hiding, and should be more accessible.
  • Necessary to download Drive files to reformat them so Drive can read them
    • This is just bizarre. Chromebooks encourage the use of online storage, which for Google is Drive. But, sometimes the Google apps won’t let me save to Drive directly, either for format or whatever reasons. But, if I download the file to the Chromebook, or a USB drive, or an SD card, I can then upload it correctly. Not efficient.
  • Basic file information is unavailable, file size, format, etc.
    • File sizes shouldn’t matter in the world of cheap storage. Users don’t need to know the details of their files. Not. Let’s assume I know something about computers after using them for almost forty years. I can make good use of the file type, size, creation dates, and specific location. There is work out there that is lost. There are files in my Drive that I don’t understand.
  • Download means Save As? No. Download should mean download. So, download but don’t, you know, download it; just download it to the same place it was but with a different name.
    • This may just be a Drive or Google Apps thing, but, saving a file as a different format requires a download command. Then, upload back again. Not efficient.
  • Google Drive doesn’t update quickly enough for other Google apps.
    • Computers are quick, but the Internet is large. It can take minutes for the creation of move of a file in one folder is recognized in another application. Again, a Drive issue, but Chrome is built for Drive, and moving files around shouldn’t cost me or my clients more money.
  • Good battery life.
    • Ah, but all laptops are getting to the point that they last all day, almost – and don’t try to include the evening.
  • Chromebook incompatibilities restrict, though probably not for long.
    • Chromebooks do so much, but like early Macs, everyone else’s applications may not be compatible yet. This is an issue with video conferencing. Google Hangouts work fine, but few other options exist.
    • Connecting to the Internet old-style, through a cable, required the purchase of a USB adapter.
  • Clicking on Drive brings up Drive sometimes. Other times it just brings up files that are already open.
    • I’m finally getting trained on this one. If I click on the Drive button and nothing else is open, I get the list of files stored online. If a text document is open, I get it. If a spreadsheet is open I might get it. If I want to get to my files, I can click on files instead of Drive, but that emphasizes the text files and adds a step. To get around all of it I bookmark Drive and ignore the Drive icon.
  • Chrome must reload pages if there are too many tabs.
    • Chrome, the browser can handle lots of tabs, but clicking on the tab shows that the site probably has to be reloaded, and might not reload the most recent version of the site.
  • So light, lifting the lid lifts the computer.
    • Because Chromebooks are so simple, they have very few components and are very light. This is very nice for a bicycle commuter. They are so light, however, that simple things like lifting the lid lift the entire computer rather than opening it.
  • Camera green light, hack or fail
    • Conspiracy theorists enjoy this one. Without being in a Hangout or while communicating with anyone, the little green camera light turned on for several seconds, and then turned off. Cue the Twilight Zone music.

Another version of the summary: If I lost this machine, I would replace it with another, but probably not by HP. Some of the hardware issues are not related to Chromebook but to the manufacturer. I would also be far less anxious than if I lost my Mac. There is a freedom to not storing my files on a chip in a piece of plastic that I can readily drop.

PCs and Macs aren’t going away. Their power is needed, but it will be needed by fewer people every year. The Internet’s power grows. The need to contain that power in a box diminishes.

I do not, however, expect Chromebook’s reign to last long.

Chromebooks got rid of almost all of the fancy electronic components. They are simple, cheap, and light. The biggest things they have remaining are the keyboard and monitor. The most important internal components are wi-fi and rudimentary processing hardware. A smartphone contains many of the same elements, but smaller. The technology exists to project the display and to project the keyboard, and do a lot more as well. Supposedly, by this time next year there will be a smartphone that includes a projector. If it includes two, then something the size of a smartphone can dramatically undercut Chromebook’s size, weight, cost, and utility. The pace of change is accelerating. Chromebooks are racing our way, and may get passed even more rapidly. Investors in MSFT, AAPL, GOOG, and MVIS take note (for divergent reasons.)

Stay tuned. (And shop around.)


PS I’d like to give you the technical and brand specifications for this Chromebook, but I can’t find them. If there’s an “About This Chromebook” section in the Settings, I can’t find it. – Oh, wait. Let me flip this over. Nope. I can tell it is an HP, and that it met a lot of certifications, but I can’t tell you how to buy another one. The marketing department might be upset about that.

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Weeks End Evenings

Have a nice weekend.” The person behind the cash register was more sincere than you may expect because this is an island and the small towns are our rural equivalent of the big city. It’s Friday night, after I post this blog, if there’s enough time, I’ll work on creating an online store for some merchandise that will be available in time for the holidays. “Have a nice weekend.” I like the thought, but for me and many people I know, the weeks never end. And yet this week, which isn’t over yet, is like so many, sprinkled with tidbits that prove progress is being made.

It’s Friday night, and I’d like to release the next episode in Cooking With Cannabis – What Can You Do With A Gram, but that won’t happen until later, if at all. I definitely have an incentive to continue. Maybe it will help butter my popcorn later.

I look forward to telling you about a service I’ll be providing publicly, but it’s at the virtual version of the real world “Coming Soon” sign. As if I needed another project. I don’t need another project, but I do need a project that can reach more people. Fortunately, I’ve already seen demand rising as people stumble across it online. It isn’t passive income, but it has the potential to be much more than an hourly wage. And, it uses skills that I’ve been recognized for. Optimism persists!

In the world of finance:
Geron made news by selling off the last of their treatments. The market said, hurray!, and drove up the price of GERN almost 20% on ten times normal volume. I won’t complain about a 20% increase, or the interest from Johnson & Johnson in the treatment; but, I am also saddened that Geron, which had such independent promise for years, is reduced to celebrating the sale of some control of one of its last remaining assets. It may be just what they need, but at one time it looked like they wouldn’t need anyone. The more they sell, the lower the ultimate profit potential. The treatment, however, is as promising as ever and has great potential for more than just blood disorders.

GigOptix made news by not buying someone else’s assets. GigOptix is a tiny conglomerate. That may be an oxymoron, but the company has been buying even tinier high tech electronics firms. That much merger and acquisition action complicates the finances. I hope that isn’t their main intent. As a strategy, it has a lot in common with Cisco, which is now a $131,000,000,000 firm. GigOptix is a $40,000,000 firm. There’s another example of a stock that could grow 3,000 fold; but, I don’t expect it and suspect management doesn’t either. Their most recent acquisition attempt failed. I’m glad because I’d rather hear that management was working more on execution than acquisition. Maybe they’ll only do half as well. How about 1,500-fold? Or 150-fold, or 15-fold?

MicroVision didn’t have any news. But, with the holidays approaching, a lot of us are watching. Even a small announcement may move MVIS.

There was Dendreon news, but I already wrote about that sad story. Ah, DNDN, we had such a grand future, potentially.

That isn’t enough to fill a week, but entrepreneurs know the early phases of projects have many inefficiencies. Contractors and consultants know that having many clients is better than having none, but that inefficiencies are inevitable as attention shifts focus throughout the day and week and month and –  . Besides helping to establish a substantial museum, I’m also helping someone reinvent computer programming, helping an organization go through a major transformation, helping numerous people pursue numerous publishing projects, publicizing the work of highly specialized aerospace experts, jokingly help people enjoy real estate by writing light articles about living in Seattle, and somehow finding time to give talks, prepare presentations, advertise classes (Modern Self-Publishing and Social Media For Authors), support my book and art

Scatchet Sunset - from Twelve Months at Cultus Bay

Scatchet Sunset – from Twelve Months at Cultus Bay

sales, and every day calculate if I’ve made enough to A) pay my bills, and B) pay my taxes. Somehow A) is happening. B), well, I’m working on that.

“Working on that” is why the week never ends. Hard work succeeds, but it ramped more quickly before. Now, I know of many people working every day. They may even see a blog as a luxury they can’t afford to write or read just as I see anyone taking two days off every week as living in luxury.

I’m glad I live in America. Few countries allow as many opportunities. Few cultures are based on a common understanding that some people will work this hard.

I’m also sure there are places that are better. Many countries provide more basic services such as health care. Most countries make it easier to take time off.

Ironically, I’m working so hard to pay my bills and my taxes; but, two of my major bills are health care and taxes. Working so hard can make health care costs rise. Paying taxes was easier and less stressful when I had a higher net worth; but the higher taxes are stress inducing which reflects back into potential health care costs.

With all of that in mind, with the 6/7th’s of a week’s progress behind me, I think I’ll listen to myself, celebrate the accomplishments so far, look forward to passive or nearly passive income possibilities, and postpone an hour or two of work tonight. I’ll try to squeeze it in to tomorrow’s schedule. For tonight, I think I’ll call a dear friend, then make myself some herb-infused popcorn, and see if I can have a nice weekend – at least during the evenings.

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