An Impressively Redefined Life – Paul Schell

Today Paul Schell died. Most people will have to do research to learn who he was. Most people will identify him by his job as Mayor of Seattle. On Whidbey he’s as well known for caring about a small town called Langley, a place he moved to and helped shape. Langley, WA July 2013Live and stay active long enough and be known for many things. We get chances every day to redefine ourselves. The people that impress me the most are the ones that take those opportunities and try to make those changes positive.

I’ve lived in or near Langley for nine years. I’ve actually known about and visited Langley since 1980, but it wasn’t until 2005 that I moved to Whidbey Island. Now I live near the southern tip. The county seat is thirty miles up the road. The biggest, and really only, city is about ten miles farther north. (It’s a big island.) World travelers know about the island from two tourist towns: Coupeville and Langley. They’re both good places. (A friend and I have produced videos of both: Langley, Coupeville.) For my first two official years I settled in Langley because, while as nice as Coupeville, Langley had the right mix of businesses that made it possible to live car-free. It was almost as if someone, or some group, had decided to design a place with a grocery, not a supermarket; a theater, not a multi-plex; more than enough bookstores; multiple real theaters for plays within a few blocks; and an awareness of the value of gardens, parks, and architecture.

I also moved out after two years on the advice of someone with many more years in the town. Move to Langley for two years. Get to know an amazing community of engaged people. Then, if you don’t like living in a fish bowl, get out of town. I’ve lived about ten miles out of Langley since then. Sweet as it looks, any small town is a opportunity for the authentic and enthusiastic inquiry into a person’s well-being even if there’s nothing to say and the only person to say it to is a stranger; e.g. gossip. As a single guy I heard too many stories about me, sometimes based on nothing more than someone picking my house to park their car in front of.

I don’t know the extent of Paul’s influence. Most of it was quiet, or at least not grabbing headlines. But as I became more familiar with the town, his name would come up about this initiative, or that contribution. Sadly, I was unexpectedly the one to deliver the news of his death to someone he mentored. Her reaction was immediate and heartfelt. No one I knew treated the news lightly. He obviously hadn’t just retired to Langley.

Transitions are more common because change is less unavoidable. Decades ago it was possible to move somewhere so remote that the news wouldn’t reach, but that doesn’t happen anymore.

Through layoffs, retirements, and friends passing I’m witnessing many people dealing with transitions. Transitions aren’t easy; especially, when identities are challenged. In America, identity and job title are synonymous. I had two major transitions: retiring from engineering in 1998, and getting divorced in 2005. Married engineer is a respectable label, and one that is easy to add into an introduction or into a conversation. Unmarried unengineer doesn’t work, not even for spellcheck; and it only defines the negatives. Eventually I stumbled into a variety of labels that I velcro to myself depending on the situation: consultant, writer, artist, dancer. Consultant is handy in any business setting because it is vague enough to be easily engaged with or passed over without judgment. Writer and artist are handy titles because people have so low expectations of them. If a writer is sober and ontime they are exceeding expectations. Dancer is handy is there’s music playing because, well, come on, it’s fun dancing with a partner.

Without knowing if anyone is writing Paul’s biography, I know that I am impressed with anyone who can move from being the mayor of a major city of near-enough to one million people to being an advocate and enthusiast for a town of near-enough to one thousand people without a publicly apparent problem with ego.

Paul’s passing affected me more than I expected because it was sudden and because I wonder what is going to happen to small towns like Langley as generations shift. Sustaining Small Town Charity comes to mind with renewed emphasis. Small towns are losing young people to big cities because of jobs and culture. Langley certainly has culture but the volume tends to be low and done by 10pm. Langley has jobs but they tend to pay minimum wage and rely on the seasonal tourist traffic. I cheer one response which is Fusion Spark Media’s Kickstarter campaign to bring people and non-tourism jobs to the entire island. Such initiatives are necessary, and are more likely to rely on local businesses and individuals than municipal institutions. A small tax base can result in small efforts which aren’t enough.

We are living longer. A life with a career ended after thirty years can fit in yet another career with time left over. The re- part of retirement is more re-definition, a chance to do something different now that you have decades of experience and hopefully wisdom. Oh, if I was starting out again . . . Well, most of us will. Look at what Paul did with his.

Hey, there’s an idea. Come to Langley and look at what Paul did with his. And not just Paul. Look at what a community can do. Langley isn’t pristine. Anyone who spends more than a week in any place can soon hear the intrigues, meet the range of characters, find the gold and the tarnish. Even so, impressive things happen.

And not just Langley, and not just small towns. As a wave of transitions wash across the country, millions will wonder what to do next whether by choice or necessity. There is plenty of work to do, and amazing people becoming available to do it – or at least to continue on the work of others. An amazing opportunity to respect those who came before, to define new roles in life, and to welcome others to join in. Oh yes, and there will be dancing.

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Repair The Fourth R

A lawnmower, a weed whacker, a convection/microwave, and a big hurking battery. Meet four of the items that fell into disrepair when I couldn’t pay the mortgage. They are also four steps I’m taking in my recovery, thanks to a man who fixes the bits of the world that he can touch with his hands. He is why I think we’re missing a fourth R: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – and Repair.

Guess who ate 100 feet of fishing line.

Guess who ate 100 feet of fishing line.

Recycling. It is much more common now, but we continue to make jokes about it, and too often the item at hand doesn’t seem to fit into only one category. Trash happens. Go check to Pacific Plastic Gyre for proof. Go check Midway Journey to see that it isn’t just a nuisance. (And go check my long neglected plans for a oceanic plastic harvester.)

Reuse. Reuse could include repair, but for those who’ve stepped beyond just recycling, reuse usually means repurposing or buying second hand. A truck tire rim becomes a fire pit. One person’s worn dress shirt becomes someone else’s garden work shirt. Much more energy efficient than tossing out the old, though the first owner may have just spent money and energy buying something new.

Reduce. Minimalists unite! Whether by choice or necessity, minimalists discard or refuse to buy whenever possible. Stuff can own you, and the more stuff you own the more of your life is spent tending your stuff. The dusting alone is a deterrent. The less you have, the more freedom you gain; which for some means Tiny Houses under 200 square feet or nomadic lifestyles about boats or RVs.

I’m not an extremist. My recycling probably takes up more volume than my garbage because empty plastic juice jugs take up a lot of space, and with composting my garbage is typically one grocery bag per week. Most of my stuff was bought new years ago, but also bought for quality, so only after years of financial turmoil am I seeing the need to replace things. During those last few years, much of what I’ve acquired has been lightly used find from the thrift store or presented as gifts by friends. Reduce has happened by necessity as I sold a few thousands of dollars worth of stuff, most of which I haven’t missed.

Without any grand plan, I’ve been a minimalist for decades. When my first house went on the market, prospective buyers thought it was vacated even though I hadn’t moved anything out. Cleaning up is so much easier when there’s less to clean. Now, my house is a palatial 840 square feet, which has one empty room and lots of empty drawers. And still it can take days to find something that I know must be around here somewhere.

Now that I’m clearing the financial hurdle of a modified mortgage, I’m noticing how much work there is, how many plans want to be undammed, and how many things have been abandoned in place waiting for the next step. Would I get to stay, have to move into another house, have to move into an apartment, or become some sort of digital nomad? The lawnmower became balky. The weed whacker refused to whack weeds. The microwave became fickle and the convection oven started to smoke. The big hurking battery, which I use in place of a generator when the power goes out, couldn’t hold a charge. They aren’t the only things waiting for a new wire, a cleaning, or a new part of two; but fixing those four things made a statement that I’ll be taking care of the yard, working more in the kitchen, and settling in even if the power does trip off here a bit more than normal (something for island rather than urban life).

Here’s where I get to proclaim my great repair skills. Notice there isn’t much more in this paragraph.

Here’s where I get to thank a member of an important minority: an honest repairman. There’s a guy in town who does good work; and who prefers not to be named because he’s already in such demand that the work could get in the way of important things like bicycling and fishing. Repairs that could me a week with a low chance of success are things he can do in an hour. A few bucks here, he cleans the contacts better than I could. A few more bucks, he untangles the fishing line that wound itself around a motor. Point me to a spare part. Show me that the problem was more with the user than the machine. Four items are steered clear of the dump, while he makes enough for bait, I spend a lot less than buying new, we don’t have to mine the planet for some more stuff, and work gets done around my house.

These are the sorts of repairs I’m willing to pay for when I have to because of finances, but also when I have more than enough. The thrill of a new tool isn’t as gratifying as the ease of using a familiar and trusty tool. I spent enough time researching those items the first time. Even with more than enough money, I don’t want to spend yet more precious time just for the sake of digging through packaging, juggling little accessory parts, and trying to decide if it is worth it to decipher the user’s manual.

One of the sad parts of the last few years has been watching things fade and fail without being able to do much about it. Amplify that by the tens of millions in worse financial conditions than me and realize how much potential lies dormant and diminishing for the lack of just a bit more money. I believe that extends to our institutions that have experienced austerity measures even while other organizations are given budgets based on borrowing. Much more good is waiting to be done.

The engineer in me is humbled by anyone with such repair skills. I learned how to be an aerospace engineer. Aerodynamics, flight mechanics, orbital dynamics, all very useful things; but not much good when poking inside an electric mower choked with wire. But as I walked away from his shop I gave myself some credit. What he does for electrical things I do for people’s plans, choices, and even their web sites. Often enough, a problem that can cause days or weeks of consternation can be solved in an hour or a few because of a different combination of experience and perspective. Each of us can do that for someone. There are plenty of problems out there. Maybe by passing along our various talents we can repair quite a lot.

One of my favorite Will Rogers quotes leads to a personal corollary.
You know everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” – Will Rogers
Everyone is equally brilliant, only on different subjects.” – Tom Trimbath

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The Recovery Begins

My recovery begins. My modified mortgage is official, I think. Celebrations were held, mostly by others. Life is improving, slowly – and that’s the way pivotal good news happens, slowly and incrementally (unless I hit the lottery jackpot.) Welcome to a new phase of personal finance.

I’m reasonably confident that my modified mortgage is official. I have the signed paperwork that proves that someone signed paperwork. There are doubts. The paperwork’s arrival was followed by an unofficial set of emails from the lawyers and mediators who hadn’t been informed. I’d contacted the mortgage servicer, but it looks like they hadn’t contacted their lawyer. I contacted my counselor, who was happy to hear the news and then launch back into a day of probably a dozen other cases. In a day or two the USPS delivered a mortgage statement, that was obviously out-of-date I hope, because it was for tens of thousands of dollars. It probably went out before one part of the mortgage servicer had contacted the other part of the mortgage servicer. Looks like I’ll send them yet another cashier’s check to the same address via return receipt, signature required, certified mail. It costs about $7, but it is worth it.

I thank my friends for the celebrations. As a friend mentioned earlier, it is obvious that the ordeal has left me emotionally numbed. Considering the more dire emotional possibilities, numb isn’t very bad, but it is certainly a measure of the struggle. My friends, however, have shouted, danced, high-fived, and celebrated for me. I’ve vicariously enjoyed my proxied exuberance. Yet another thing that friends are good for.

Life is improving slowly; but the changes are few and not very apparent. Money, time, socializing, and emotions are all in flux; but there’s less of the great release that many expect. I’m managing to keep my house, my home, by working seven days a week, taking about one day off every two months. My next vacation: Labor Day. The modified mortgage is calculated to match the income I make from my business. They had no reason to dial it back from that; so, the workload continues. Money is time, at least for most of what I do for my business. Most of my projects pay by the hour. An hour off equals money not made, and work that must be made up eventually. My time sheets have almost recovered from taking off the Fourth of July. Socializing is kicking in, yeah, partly because it is summer, partly because I have good news to share, and partly because I am determined to find time for my friends in my life. My emotions are, as my friend said, numbed; but, people continue to comment on my smile and say that I’m looking more relaxed. I’m so relaxed that I’m now aware of the tension I’ve been carrying where it was such a part of every moment that it was hard to discern before.

Bad news arrives quickly. Good news takes its time. The economic crashes of 2001 and 2008 were abrupt relative to the market’s recovery. The Dow and the S&P 500 have set records, but the NASDAQ has yet to reach its 2000 high. For the people who’ve found work, the recovery may have taken months. For many, years. For too many the recovery has yet to arrive.

As I type, almost a million acres of Washington and Oregon are on fire. The fires came on as quickly as lightning. We’re able to watch it happen over the last couple of days, and within a few days the worst should be over. The worst fires should be over. The recovery will be measured in months and years as people rebuild houses, rearrange lives, and regain a sense of security.

The people affected by Katrina and Sandy continue to recover. Life improves, but not as quickly as it was impacted.

Recovering from a personal financial upset is not instantaneous. Even if I hit the jackpot, so much maintenance was deferred that many things have to be repaired or replaced. I doubt that everything in the house could be fixed in time for winter. The plastic sheeting on the bedroom window will remain, probably be replaced this winter at least once, and hopefully allow for a simple window fix next year. It has a long list above it.

Yet, recovery does happen; and even simple steps are more welcome than they would be otherwise. An expert handyman in town hates watching things go to the dump, so for ~$30/hour he’ll try to fix things. Thanks to him I’ve already regained the use of my electric lawnmower and my convection/microwave oven. These aren’t the sort of events that anyone notices or holds parties for, but taking these first few steps to regaining some sense of sustainability has cheered me more than finding the mortgage notice in the mail.

My financial recovery will take years, especially as I pay down accumulated credit card debt (for the first time in my life.)

My emotional recovery is happening much more quickly, even if I appeared numbed; or maybe especially because I appeared that way. Each day that I wake up and remind myself that I don’t have to fear the mail or the phone is a day when I start with higher hopes. A compounding of that interest of each day is leading to an easier smile, a straighter back, and a few more relaxed muscles.

For the last few years I’ve chronicled what it was like to lose money, identity, and security. Now I get to chronicle the subsequent recovery (and I’ll include a caveat because I don’t take such things for guaranteed or granted.) I look forward to reporting good news.

In the meantime, the world is presenting me with signs of life. Now that I know I get to stay, an amaryllis in my furniture-free bedroom (I sold furniture to pay bills) took a few sips of water. Within a day the last remaining leaf was joined by two new sprouts, eager to grow and hopefully flower. I think I’ll need to get a bigger pot. Life wants to recover and thrive.

The new growth may be hard to see. That's the way recoveries happen.

The new growth may be hard to see. That’s the way recoveries happen.

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My Officially Modified Mortgage

It’s official – I think. The paperwork from the mortgage servicer came back signed and stamped. Let me check for the third or fourth time. Yep. Signatures have been applied. Okay, what’s next? Ah, wait a minute. I skipped a step or three. Wasn’t there supposed to be a cork involved? Allow me to start over.

My house, my home.

My house, though humble, my home.

Step 1) Stop paying the mortgage (for a very good reason.)
Step 2) Successfully go through an emotionally and mentally tortuous process for 19 months (numerous posts through this blog, check the tag “mortgage”).
Step 3) Get a mortgage that is half the monthly payment with a much higher principal.
Step 4) Celebrate.

I’m working on Step 4. The news hasn’t sunk in. I saw the envelope. Opened it and found the document. Acknowledged the milestone. And thought about what is next.

Such a subdued reaction felt very weird, so I told a friend. To paraphrase their response, the mortgage company (actually a mortgage servicer) numbed me down. Now I get to recover. So, he gave it a shout. That’s what friends are for. Another one high-fived me, danced in her seat, and said “That’s fantastic!” about five times. Another wrapped me in hugs and smiles. Okay, okay, it is beginning to sink in.

I took the rest of the day off. It’s evening and I’m making a steak dinner with roasted veggies and a nice red wine. It is a ritual meal I’ve planned for months. The feeling is beginning to sink in, with maybe a bit of help from the wine.

My brain went to the long list of things to do around the house. Some subdued portion woke up and gave the logical part of my brain a dope slap and said think about that later. Instead, imagine what I don’t have to do anymore and what I get to do instead of have to do.

What I don’t have to do:

  • Worry about notices taped to the door, nor any footstep that could be delivering the note.Notice of Default May 21, 2013
  • Deciphering fake notices from unknown agents pretending to be official bank notices.
  • Screening all my home calls because answering could kick off anxiety attacks that took days to recover from.
  • Treating the mail box as a booby-trap, because it could contain terrible news.
  • Drawing up my courage to open the mail, then scan, copy, email, and mail it if it came from an official source.
  • Wonder what seemingly bureaucratic arcane process is under way that I may have to respond to without understanding.
  • And most important, I don’t have to put off the things I want to do.

What I get to do:

  • Undam my Dammed Plans; dozens of plans put on hold because I didn’t know if I was going to have to move within 17 days – for the last 16 months.
  • Keep working as hard as I’ve been working to make the money to make the payments.
  • Pull together my financial records now that I know what I owe, and maybe embark upon the Nine Step Program
    New Road Map Foundation

    New Road Map Foundation

    yet again.

  • Commit to living on Whidbey, at least as long as any other resident. Almost all of my work is virtual, so any move could have been to any place reached by the Internet.
  • Relax.
  • Know that my house is my home.
  • Restock the pantry.
  • Restock the wine “cellar”.
  • Thank everyone who supported me through this trial.

DSCN5589Help others navigate their way through their trials.
For now, I think I’ll work on that mood by emptying a bit of that wine cellar and enjoying a view that varies every night – for many nights to come.



PS Thanks again to Parkview Services, an organization that (as I understand it) works with the state of Washington to help homeowners stay in their homes for no fee (at least I was never charged for any of their services.) Special thanks to my counselor, Ivy, who had to deal with my style of handling paperwork.

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Saying Yes To Startup Dreams

A friend called up with a new idea. It will probably only cost a bit of time and effort – and who knows where it will go? I’m honored to be included. New ideas are what we need, and they need a bit of energy and enthusiasm to get them started. Of course, I’d be happy to help. The possibility of getting paid to help is even more enticing. Mega-corps, world-changing charities, political shifts, and awesome art have all been spawned by such simple phone calls. My love of people and ideas, and my background in technology and business mean I get a lot of such simple calls. I have to say No a lot, but it feels so good to say Yes.

Lately, saying Yes has been emotionally supportive, but only occasionally financially so. The most initiative making the most progress has been the Virtual Museum for the History of Computing in Learning and Education (HCLE). I’m helping Liza Loop build her online museum, a museum that will eventually require a reasonably large staff, but that for now is mostly Liza, me, and a few volunteers. We few, we happy few. Almost all of the rest of the projects are inching along, slowly growing while waiting for the right funds or people to clear their immediate hurdle. A variety of blogs, retail businesses, services, inventions, philanthropies, and a lot of innovative ideas that don’t fit into clear categories are sources of optimism and conversation, but not much else – for now.

Why spend so much time on ideas that don’t pay? My passion is for people and ideas; and, I think the world needs new ideas or a refreshing of some resourceful old ideas. Working on ideas for no pay can be fun, but only when there’s enough money from something else to cover the bills.

A friend called up with an idea for a blog that will be a series of video interviews. Dawn Griffin has a book about personal transformation coming out this autumn, and wanted to start a public conversation about people who have stepped beyond their limiting beliefs. She was nice enough to invite me to be the first interviewee, an honor; which is possibly helped along by the fact that I am somewhat comfortable working through technical glitches and fluid artistic concepts.

Besides, it was fun talking to Dawn. She even suggested that I may get to be an interviewer (paid?) if the idea catches on. If you want to see how far video blogs can go, check out vlogbrothers, myharto, or vsauce on YouTube. Each had a simple idea that had a bumpy start that matured through persistence into something awesome.

I know dozens of entrepreneurs who understand enthusiasm and potential. The ones I deal with usually have already taken the steps to realize that they can’t do it all on their own. I’m happy to help. It is a joy to see fresh ideas unbesmirched by dismal assaults of pessimism. Many ideas have succeeded because their proponents didn’t know the conventional wisdom that predicted their failure. Making movies on computers? Pixar can never succeed. Selling coffee as if was some premium product? Starbucks is just silly. Making and selling grain-less granola or home-made biscotti? Primal Island and Biscotti Journey haven’t a chance in the world of super-mega-markets – except they might. Whether they hire me or not, I’m happy to hear about their plans.

Yet, here I sit, wondering if my Backup Plans will establish themselves into an enjoyable, sustainable, long term lifestyle. Why persist?

Businesses grow, if they are tended and have some good luck. Mine has grown and provided me some enthusiasm, though revenues have yet to reach that critical threshold that provides some ease as well as paying the bills.

Portfolios grow, if they are tended and have some good luck. Mine has been languishing, yet my semi-annual review provided me with a bit of confidence again. Reflecting on my pre-2008 performance provides me with a lot of confidence (see my book, Dream. Invest. Live.Dream. Invest. Live. for data and details.).

Enthusiasm and confidence don’t pay bills, but persistence provides the energy and time to allow very good things to happen.

I invest in small companies and plan to sell their stocks when they are large companies. Every large company was small originally. Some have had extraordinary IPOs, but I avoid those. I invest in the small companies with big ideas that are hard to evaluate because their main assets are enthusiasm and confidence. If they can demonstrate persistence, so can I (though a few like GERN and MVIS are testing that.) That is the basis of my version of LTBH, Long Term Buy and Hold. Finding an investment early enough that others have overlooked it, which also means it is usually undervalued, i.e. cheap; and then holding until its value makes my life easier to live.

There is an oversupply of good ideas in the world. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the resources go to old ideas, entrenched companies and concepts, and institutions that have forgotten how to change. I may not have much money, but I invest it where I think it needs to go while honestly acknowledging that I hope to make a large profit. I have as much time in a day as anyone; so I am glad when I can spend it furthering one of my ideas or a friend’s idea. Inevitably, money and time are constrained to the point that I have to say No; but at least I know that up until that point I got to say Yes. If I generate the money that allows for ease, then I get to say Yes more often. Someone saying Yes is what turns idealistic dreams into fascinating realities. Why wouldn’t I want to do that?

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Weed Changes Whidbey

Today I walked into a store in Washington, bought a mood-altering drug that was recently illegal, and knew I could enjoy it if I treated it with respect. Its legalization has led to the undermining of criminal drug organizations and, despite its stigma, is part of normal society for many. There was even a reasonably good supply. As of a few years ago, I can buy Kentucky Bourbon in the grocery store. I almost bought some marijuana at the small strip mall nearby, but the plant that is healthier to ingest, less processed, has fewer calories, won’t break if I drop it, and is more useful in cooking hadn’t arrived at the new store on the island: Whidbey Island Cannabis Company.DSCN5462 Instead while I type this post, I’m enjoying an icy bourbon and soda on this hot summer day. Regardless of me and my actions, a world is changing.

Think there’s no stigma against alcohol? To many it is a guilty pleasure that must be prefaced with assurances that the drinker is not an alcoholic. Even in the open and liberal and libertarian society that is my neighborhood, considerable levels of guilt are dealt. The Prohibition against alcohol was repealed in 1933 in most, but not all of the US. Since then there have been enough drunk driver deaths and other abuses that there is considerable reason for caution; but the levels of violence, criminal activity, and hypocrisy that existed during Prohibition were far worse.

Marijuana’s stigma is different. The hype against marijuana was more political and ideological than medical. The legality is far fresher. Only Colorado and Washington State have made recreational marijuana use legal. That means at least two states allow a dramatic lowering of the hypocrisy barrier. Today’s twitter traffic had a chorus of alarmist hyperbole that had little or no substantiating data; especially, when compared to the amount of scientific and usage data. Yet, positive data aside, hyperbole fuels negativity and stigmas are reinforced. It will be interesting to see if marijuana’s stigma subsides faster than alcohol’s.

I didn’t plan to drop by the store today. According to my calendar I had meetings and work in the morning, and another set in the afternoon. But, a cancelled meeting in the morning opened up some time, and the history buff in me wanted to witness the historic event. The day Prohibition was repealed is splashed around with videos of parties and public celebrations. Marijuana’s celebration would probably be much more mellow, but historic in any case. Why pass up the opportunity to greet history? Besides, I knew the person opening the store and wanted to see how well it worked for her. I probably wouldn’t buy any because I have enough bills to pay, and yet . . .

Washington State only authorized 25 stores to open. This could get much more interesting. Fewer places opening. Fewer places to buy. Fewer places to line up. How long a line could we get on our island; especially, when all of Seattle only had one store opening, too? I might get to witness a media circus.

I planned to bicycle to the shop, but a flat tire and a time crunch meant I drove. Well, if there was a crowd I’d take advantage of the fact that a half-mile walk from a parking spot wouldn’t be an issue. Besides, I could bogart some wi-fi from the parking lot and get some work done first.

There wasn’t a line. An hour’s work later, there still wasn’t a line. I walked up to one of Whidbey’s less appealing strip malls, that did have the appeal of meeting all of the community boundary conditions of distances from schools, parks, and churches.  (The strip mall does have a good Mexican restaurant and karate dojo.) DSCN5461There was an open door, and there was one of my fellow bloggers, Sean, who writes for @CurbedSeattle. We talked a few days earlier. Neither of us planned to buy, but we wanted to watch. Wold CNN actually make it to the island?

It was still an hour before opening, but the door was open. Why not walk in? The room was empty except for one poster on the wall, a ribbon barrier, and a sign that said “Line Forms Here.” The counter was empty. The store looked empty. There were echoes. The guy running the place came up to his side of the counter and stood for a chat. Yes, they planned to open on time. Yes, the media came and went – much earlier in the morning. No, they had nothing to sell. Oops. That explained the empty counter. Everything about opening the store happened so quickly that they barely had time to get the walls put up. They only thing they had to pass out were state pamphlets.

Talk about stigmas - the web site is hosted by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute

Talk about stigmas – the web site is hosted by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute

Evidently, Washington State was simultaneously cautious and abrupt. Of the 300 licensees, 25 were given ten days notice that they’d be the ones to open first. As I understand it, the State would arrange the deliveries and define the prices. Only a few growers and processors were legally authorized, so only about 400 pounds to 500 pounds were harvested, and only about 22 pounds were properly inspected. 25 stores were going to open with only 22 pounds of product. Imagine running a store like that.

Sean and I settled into spots on the sidewalk just to see what would happen, at least for a while. If there was a line, the two guys who hadn’t planned to buy anything (at least not on the first day) were it. People drove up, got out, heard the news, and usually pleasantly shrugged and drove away. (Except for one very agitated woman who was so upset she almost got into a wreck as she spun off to Seattle, hoping to get some there.) After about thirty minutes we had a line of four. If we were a circus, we were a mellow and small one. Jokes were involved.

About two dozen people dropped by while we waited. It became obvious that people who had experience with marijuana didn’t stress out about it. Maybe it is an island thing, but hey, they’d come back later. Few if any had no experience. Those with decades of experience, including one man who’d been advocating for this since 1965, took this slight delay as just that. Whidbey is rural. Things grow here. They possibly already had a supply and just wanted to be part of the event.

And yet, it wasn’t a non-event. The legalization of marijuana is having a similar affect on the drug cartels that the repeal of Prohibition had on the Capone-era mob wars. As the legal product becomes more available, there’s less demand for the illegal product; the prices of both drop, consumers and producers who had been criminals could now be tax-paying citizens, and the violence and hypocrisy diminish. As a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, I am excited about the prospect of the government turning an expense into income, and people finding a safe and possibly healthy alternative to alcohol while also finding less violence in their neighborhood.

The world is changing. People are hunting for solutions and challenging assumptions. The search for solutions is one reason for the positive hype. People want to try something new, or at least know that they have more rather than fewer options. Something similar is happening with BitCoins. BitCoins generate a lot of news, conceivably are a viable alternative currency; but, there’s very little real activity. I’ve opened my business to accepting BitCoins weeks ago and have yet to receive even an inquiry. Marijuana legalization is big headlines, yet the total number of purchasers is small. Maybe BitCoins will become a currency as large as a moderate nation, but that’s a long way off. Maybe marijuana will become as pervasive as alcohol, but this bud’s for you will continue to mean beer, not weed for a while.

The world is changing because a few people in a few places are willing to ask key questions and act on the answers. Thanks to all who have done so.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it is time to enjoy another government regulated product for which some hold a stigma – a steak; after which it would be nice to learn that I’d won the lottery jackpot, which is another stigma-prone government regulated product.DSCN5471DSCN5466

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Stress Socks It To Myself


Yes, socks + sandals.

I did a silly thing. I put on my socks. That’s how I tweaked my back. That’s how I know I’ve been carrying too much stress for too long. A bit of stress is good. A lot of stress is bad. For my sake and our sake, I hope this level of stress is temporary. Beneath furrowed brows, clenched jaws, and hunched shoulders are crowds of people ready for a break – hopefully in a good way.

Conventional wisdom loves cause and effect. Back pain? Something physical must be damaged. In my case, I know I have a compressed disk. Sometime during July 1988 I managed to compress a disk either through severe dehydration or physical impact. It was either running a marathon without sufficient water. (I became so thirsty that I inadvertently drank from a bucket being used to wash sweaty runners.) That could shrink a disk. I was also probably dehydrated on my climb up Mt. Rainier, though dropping into that crevasse probably didn’t help. And then there was the karate class where I was dropped on my head. (Go ahead, insert your joke into the Comments section. I might allow it to be posted.) July 1988 was an interesting month, and it certainly wasn’t dull.

Fortunately, there are other versions of conventional wisdom. Some of the more systemic approaches ask less about the immediate cause and more about the underlying aspects of an individual’s life.

It may sound silly at first, but there’s an analogy in personal finance, the concept of the gazinga. A gazinga is something a person feels compelled to buy repeatedly. The cause of someone being unable to save money may be that they feel compelled to buy yet another flashlight, or yet another tea pot, or yet another pair of shoes. The simple answer is to say, quit spending that money. The more effective question is, what do you hope to gain that the last flashlight, tea pot, or pair of shoes didn’t provide? It may be that there’s a need to be prepared for every power outage, even if they’re uncommon and there are already more flashlights than people or rooms in the house. It may be that a tea pot is a reminder of quieter and simpler times. But the other tea pots can be reminders, too. Shoes may attract attention, which isn’t being found other ways. Rather than saying don’t spend, understand what it would take to feel secure, or peaceful, or appreciated; all of which may not take any money.

A friend posted a video in 2012 that changed my perception of my back pain by his description of his back pain; which he posted as part of a video.

He hurt his back, by doing too much, because he felt it had to get done, because there were external pressures, that were brought on by a personal crisis – but – wait, of course the emotional issue was the ultimate cause.

Just like with my socks. I put on each sock while on the other foot, because that’s good karate balancing training and practice. Which was me adding another stressor into my life because I don’t have much free time for my regular karate practice. Which I don’t have because, by working seven days a week I’m able to probably keep my house, which is great, and which means I’m working seven days a week. Which is something I am doing because I want to see myself as a responsible person properly maintaining a conventional home, and because I enjoy living in a house that is owned by me. Which is something I place so much emphasis on that I am worried about the fact that I haven’t been paid by my three biggest clients for my June work and that the bills are coming due at the end of the week, and that amidst this I am determined to maintain my optimism because this is much better than the situation I was in last year. But carrying all of that tension is not just mental or emotional. It cascades through my muscles and nerves, such that a slip of a foot as I put on a sock can upset the practiced and choreographed alignment of the muscles protecting my compressed disk. In less than a second, a nerve is irritated, the muscles rush back to protect, and a spasm confuses everything in the vicinity. My back hurt, not because of a sock, but because I wasn’t relaxed, was asking too much of myself, and not trusting that everything is going to be alright.

The idea that cause and effect goes deep has been reinforced by every healer I know, even my Western doctors. Got a sore throat? Maybe it is a cold, but maybe I had something to say but felt like I wasn’t allowed to say it. Got a sore neck? Maybe it is bad ergonomics, but maybe it is because I’ve been working hard at keeping my head held high.

Deeper causes are being explored in healthcare, but not in personal finance. Finance is just about money, right? Personal finance questions go as deep as those in healthcare.

Rote retirement plans, proscribed saving rates, dictated ratios of income to expenses may be good guidelines for a start; but they are superficial. What do you mean by retirement? What are you saving for? Do your incomes and expenses make your whole life better? One of the reasons I enjoy working for New Road Map Foundation

New Road Map Foundation

New Road Map Foundation

is that they espouse the same tenets described by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez in the Nine Step Program and Your Money or Your Life. Personal finance is personal, and therefore is based on personal values; which means everyone’s answer is different.

(This is also what I enjoy about consulting, finding that questions a layer or two lower that resolve more than a simple effect.)

As a society, we carry a lot of stress about money, finance, and economies. Our simple answer is to make more money, cut spending, and grow our economies. Yet, it is difficult if not impossible for everyone to make more money. Cutting spending can save a few pennies and eventually cost thousands. And growing our economy might work if we could also grow the planet, which we can’t (unless we colonize space, but I don’t see that happening fast enough.)

I believe that a lot of the problems we are facing have little to do with the solutions we are applying, as a society and as individuals. Instead of erecting defenses against nature, maybe it makes more sense to relinquish contested territory, or maybe find a new way to build homes for flood plains and coastal areas. Instead of attacking disease, we spend more effort on its opposite which doesn’t even have a name – proease. Are you working towards someone else’s idea of retirement or yours? Are you spending your money and your time the ways you want?

My back is feeling better, now that I’ve been typing this post. It might be that the ibuprofen finally took hold. It might be that sitting for a while is therapeutic, and that I’ll notice pain when I stand up. It might be that expressing myself is relaxing. I suspect it is a combination; a bit of conventional pharmaceuticals, some conventional Asian philosophy, and tapping into the source of my worries, hopes, and my Self.

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Patience Is Precious

As I type it is about as far from Christmas as you can get in the calendar. The turn around day was last week, June 25th. Since then there have been three pieces of good news that seem like presents that everyone is certain about, but that I can’t open, play with, or use until a parental figure says Go! Until then, I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve who also remembers finding that some presents turned out to be a boxes of socks and handkerchiefs. But not this time. Right? Patience, lad.

Many of you read last week’s good news. The mortgage modificationDSCN5350 looks good. All I had to do was sign the papers, get them notarized, and ship them off. I think that happened, though there was an issue with the envelope. And there was an issue with the formatting of the document. And there was an issue with the signatures. But, that’s all taken care of, I think. Just because I think it is so, and just because people are celebrating it, doesn’t mean that the official word is inevitable. As anyone who works with contracts knows, technicalities can arise. Resolving technicalities within a deadline can cause an inordinate amount of work within anxious hours to simply correct the position of a page break or a comma. I will be relieved when I finally receive an official notice and when I receive the first proper mortgage statement with the envelope with the little plastic window. Until then, I more likely to pop open a beer than a bottle of champagne.

A quieter bit of good news is that I am up to three major clients. Months ago my business had grown to the point that I could pay my bills, as long as I continued to live my comfortable, yet frugal, lifestyle. But most of my income came from two major clients, with the rest being filled in by an ever shifting combination of consultations, speaking engagements, teaching assignments, and book and photo sales. Work seven days a week and make those payments. It creates Full Speed Days, but the trend is in the right direction. Within the last couple of months, another regular client signed up. A third client helps ease the income fluctuations that come from the continual shuffling of my clients who have smaller projects and less certain funding. That sounds like a very nice present wrapped up by a team of clients, yet here I sit waiting for the checks and email payment confirmations that I can then deposit in my business account from which I can pay myself from which I can pay the mortgage, et. al. – and maybe a bit left over for that bottle of champagne I mentioned earlier.

Those who are following MicroVision (MVIS) may have seen the third bit of good news. Microsoft announced a patent that mentioned MicroVision. I was particularly pleased because the patent was for eyewear, which I now think is a better application than projectors in cell phones. Cell phones with projectors may become ubiquitous, and even one successful product can make MicroVision profitable; but the positive breakthrough product will probably be in wearable computers. Offices changed when computers arrived on desktops, then again as laptops replaced desktops, then again as mobile Internet connections unshackled the computer and the user from the office. The home computer went through the same transition, though for different reasons and with more incentive to use tablets. Now, they are all converging until offices look like coffeeshops, and coffeeshops are acting as third places as long as they have web access. PicoProjectors may change all that again, I have a rough time imaging everyone beaming their images onto every surface, but an easy time imaging them watching the web inside their eyewear, privately and clearly. And Microsoft may learn from Google Glass and skip the ick factor of the camera and avant garde design. Great news that they are working together, but that present stays under the tree until they announce a product launch or a revenue deal. MVIS has to hit one of its old delisting hurdles before I can sell enough to safely and effectively sell enough to affect my short term financial hurdles.

Bad news comes fast. Good news arrives slow. That’s why patience is precious. Fast or slow aren’t bad or good; but if bad news moves slow enough we can hope to dodge it, and no matter which pace good news picks the main thing we try to do is position ourselves to meet it.

Right now, my best position is to sit still, work hard, and somehow simultaneously take it easy, relax and enjoy. And hope that Christmas, or at least unwrapping my presents, comes early this year.

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?

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Semi Annual Exercise Mid 2014

An encouraging characteristic of good habits, rituals, and regular exercises is that their descriptions and rationales don’t change. Welcome to my semi-annual review of my stocks, and an introduction that hasn’t changed much so copy and paste helps me balance my time.

For over a decade I’ve ended every June and December with a simple exercise: in a few sentences, well, maybe a few paragraphs, for every holding my portfolio, explain the company behind the stock, why I have the stock, what I think the company can do, and how I think things are going. It is an exercise inspired by Peter Lynch (author of One Up On Wall Street). If you can’t explain why you’ve got it, maybe you shouldn’t own it. I suspect that is true of any possession. Welcome to my opinions, lightly supported with facts, that explain to me why I own what I own and what I may do differently. I leave you to judge whether you want to do something similar. I also encourage you to follow the links and check my opinions about the various stocks. More minds are more perspectives, and each adds value – especially, if the insights are posted. Diversity is the power behind the discussion boards.

If you want specifics of my strategy and analyses, buy my book! Friends encouraged me to write Dream. Invest. Live.Dream. Invest. Live., which means I’ve probably done more that most to document my investing style. As for the details of the ups and downs of a risky portfolio, well, that’s what this blog has chronicled.

The arcane shorthand of my investing approach is LTBH, PV of FR x %risk, and Buy Small Sell Large. Otherwise known as Long Term Buy and Hold (typically for years), Present Value of Future Revenue Discounted for Risk, and Buy stock in Small companies and Sell them when they are Large. Data from my history is in the book, but we’re all measured by where we are; and, where I am as I type is recovering from a financial upset caused by an unlikely confluence of unfortunate possibilities. One advantage of taking the time to write a book about my strategy is that I’ve analyzed my data and can recognize the probability of recovery – though there are no guarantees.

In short:

  • AMSC is up 20%.
  • GERN is down 18%.
  • GIG is up 30%.
  • MVIS is up 105%.
  • RGSE is up 22%.

So, life should be marvelous. Well, life is worth marveling at, but my portfolio is so damaged from a number of effects that a lot of recovery has to happen before I can call myself retired, again.

Over the last five years (Yes, five years. I told you I Buy and Hold.)

  • AMSC is down from its peak by ~96%
  • GERN is down from its peak by ~66%
  • GIG is down from its peak by ~59% (possibly more because it traded under a different symbol for a while)
  • MVIS is down from its peak by ~95%
  • RGSE is down from its peak by ~36%

(not accounting for dilution)
Ouch. If you haven’t guessed, my style of investing requires high levels of risk tolerance – and they’ve certainly been tested since 2008.

With numbers like that, where’s the cause for optimism? Optimism is within the numbers. One of the tenets of Long Term Buy and Hold is that markets are irrational in the short term but eventually acknowledge logic and reality.

I invest in companies. I just happen to do that through stocks. I invest in companies that I think will help make the world a better place, which frequently means investing in new technologies. All of those companies have been making progress with their current technologies. The companies’ values are increasing, even if that isn’t reflected in the current stock price.

During this market recovery attention has been focused on the mega-cap companies, the Microsofts et al. Quietly, in the background, many small companies are developing the next wave of goods and services that will eventually be properly valued. I don’t think that all of my investments will succeed, but I suspect they won’t all fail.

To generalize:

  • If the companies with products reached a conservative price/sales of 6, their stocks would quadruple and my portfolio would triple.
  • If the stocks recovered enough to return my portfolio to even, my portfolio would quintuple, and my net worth would increase by about three year’s living expenses.
  • Considering that I aim to at least earn about 10% per year, and that most of these stocks have been held for over seven years, then on average, my portfolio would at least double that three year’s living expenses.
  • If MicroVision hits its (only) analyst’s estimate for 2015 revenues and gets a price/sales of 6, I’ll have years of living expenses and a net worth equal to about half my mortgage debt.
  • Based on a simplified estimate of an eventual one billion dollars in sales and a price/sales of 6, the present value of those future revenues exceeds a million dollar portfolio. Account for some risk and there’s still more than enough.
  • Except for RGSE, each of these stocks represent disruptive technologies, and disruptive companies are known for having stocks that languish until the companies succeed at which point the stocks excel. Price/Sales of 6 is small for desirable stocks. Apply a premium and it becomes easier for me to relax and enjoy.

My best return so far is 2,400%. That sounds incredulous, but incredulity is emotion rather than math making judgments. MVIS and GERN have that potential. Oh, and as for RGSE, its competitor trades at a price/sales 30 times higher – and RGSE is my conservative stock.

The reality check, though, is that my portfolio has languished, it is possible for them all to fail, diversification only changes the odds, and that they may recover in ways or with timing that doesn’t benefit me. Buyouts happen. Delays happen. For the last few years the pessimists have been right.

For those that want the details, here are the links to my synopses of each of these stocks. I post my synopses on the public boards so the conversations can take place within community, not just sequestered to my blog. Jump in and join the crowds. There is wisdom there. (There’s also some flaming and a few trolls, but hey, that’s the Internet.)

Investor Village

The Motley Fool
Economy and Markets

Silicon Investor

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7 Demons Of 7 Days – a guest post

The following is a guest post from an old friend. Alan Beckley and I started Boeing at almost the same time, had almost the same engineering job, both left Boeing early, and have led completely different lives – except that we’ve noticed that we’re both working every day of the week exercising our entrepreneurial skills as much out of choice as necessity. A recent post of mine (Full Speed Days?) inspired a comment from Alan that I encouraged him to expand into a post. Here you go, another perspective on hard work and time demands. (If you want more from Alan, check out his web site where he delves into the life of an inventor and proprietor.) – Tom Trimbath


7 “Demons” of 7 Days – by Alan Beckley

To millions of people who are working harder and longer hours than ever before, the jobs expansion or recovery that began in 2009 has seemed a rather cruel joke. Figures from the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) bear out their melancholy. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of new business establishments and the new jobs created by them have plummeted (by 150,000 establishments and nearly 1 million jobs, respectively). These are new lows since 1994 when the data was first tracked.

The data suggest that the number of people who now work 7 days per week (not tracked by the government) has likely reached new peaks.

Working 7 days a week is not fun. Those who work 7 days a week do so not because they love their job or business that much, but rather because for one reason or another, they feel that they must.

Below are 7 “demons” of 7 days – the impact – or “collateral damage” – results from the choice or necessity of working 7 days per week:

  • Relationships – very little time available to nurture them
  • Household chores/maintenance – only absolute musts get attended to
  • Errands of daily living – no weekends to run errands any more
  • Down time – important for refreshing and resting
  • Medical appointments – very difficult to schedule
  • Guilt – continual struggle feeling you cannot do everything you should
  • Vacations – no time for such frivolities

Relationships – The Beatles famously asserted “8 days a week is not enough to show I care.” More recently billionaire serial entrepreneur Elon Musk asked his female interviewer, “so how much time does a woman need – 8 hours per week, 10 hours?” Mr. Musk’s query illustrates the sort of tortuous thinking of the 7 days worker.

Household chores – Anything that requires more than 1 hour of attention that can be postponed generally is put off, oftentimes indefinitely. A messy, cluttered chaos of a castle is a common malady of the 7 days worker. See Guilt below.

Errands of daily living – such as oil changes, laundry, and grocery shopping etc. still get accomplished because they must, but they get squeezed into short time spans and spread out over time. This leads to a continual feeling of frustration that any possible “free time” must be filled with errands.

Down time – Everyone needs down time – breaks of a few hours to a few days to relax, refresh and retool. Down time can be a great de-stressor for the uber-busy. For the 7 days worker, down time, gets shoved to a very low priority and is rarely attended to. As a result, the 7 days worker feels continually under stress.

Medical appointments – require blocks of time during the most prime of time for the 7 days worker, business hours on weekdays. As a result, medical appointments are postponed and often not rescheduled – with detrimental effects later.

Guilt is an almost overwhelming emotion for the 7 days worker. He or she soon realizes it is simply impossible to do everything on the list, so continually leaving things unattended to makes them feel guilty. “Success” requires getting more things done, but they cannot do so, ergo they feel they are letting down themselves and others.

Vacations are something that “normal” people enjoy, but 7 days workers are not normal. Vacations are a pipe dream that the 7 days worker hopes to enjoy at some distant time in the future.



How about you? What’s your story? Care to share it? My voice and Alan’s voice aren’t the only ones that should be heard. Pass yours along and maybe it will be the next guest post.


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