Social Media Really

social media graphic

Why? Why Like, Follow, Plus, Connect, or Subscribe to someone? Why not? It’s free, isn’t it? It’s worthless, isn’t it? Skip the pleas from Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and WordPress and Blogger. They aren’t free, really. They aren’t worthless, really. Concentrate on the first word, social. That’s as free and as worthless as it ever was or wasn’t. If can find a reason to be social, you’ve got a reason to use social media, probably.

Social media has become such a part of most people’s lives that it has fallen into the category of “things we can all complain about everyday”. There are enough topics to avoid in polite conversation, but letting loose about what’s wrong with Facebook is fashionable; and no one comments on the paradox of then passing along a bit of news from your network of friends. We are social creatures and this is just another way we’ve invented to connect with each other.

The difference with each of these inventions is that someone, some corporation, owns it. We’ve probably been social since before we invented language, but the majority of those social interactions were free, or only cost the price of shared meal.

Shared meals, parties, festivals, and rituals were all things that brought us together. They also became opportunities to do more than share stories. People bartered, collaborated, debated and tried to extend their group of friends. Within the last few centuries that spawned country clubs, secret societies, even chambers of commerce – places where people gathered to indirectly encourage each other’s business. There was a lot more going on, but a lot of socializing was driven by the need to make a living.

Just like socializing, social media isn’t limited to business and money. Every topic is available. I imagine that there are even online discussions about how there shouldn’t be online discussions. Social media on the Internet is amazingly empowering because any topic can be raised, if the right venue is found, and the audience isn’t limited to only those people within walking distance of the pub. The advantage for entrepreneurs and advocates is that audiences and markets can be built by pulling together even small percentages of what has become a very large population.

Social media is, however, very different from socializing. This invention called social media is a tool owned and operated by corporations that want to make billions of dollars. Their paradox is that they can’t make any money unless we use their sites, post bits from our lives, and interact with what other people post. They’re driven to a business model based on offering free services, because otherwise a competitor could underprice them, while then trying to find some way to make money by selling information about our habits, or from businesses that want to advertise more cheaply and more directly than any other venue.

There’s enough reason for distrust that the offer of “Free” usually raises doubts and questions. We know we’re paying for it somehow. Each of these sites asks us to post private information, and then asks us to trust them as they sell that information to others for whom we have even less basis of trust. As if that wasn’t unsettling enough, many of the sites are now encouraging us to pay for premium services, or pay for apps like games or archives.

So why use social media?

The biggest reason I use social media is social. People, communities, and discussions are worth what any conversation can be worth. Finding a good deal, maybe a free exchange, may save a few dollars, maybe a few hundred. Businesses and non-profits know that to reach customers and funders means reaching as many as possible because success rates are small. Multiply a small chance by a big enough set of chances and chances are something good can happen. Investors gather to compare notes, analyses, and sometimes to commiserate; and those conversations can be worth – well – millions, honestly. (Check out my semi-annual portfolio review of a list of links to forums.)

I use social media to keep track of my friends and let them keep track of me at their convenience. Within my neighborhood we’ve used it to track construction progressDSCN4972, map power outages, rally support for someone in sudden need, organize parties, and sometimes just to check how long the ferry line is today. For my clients I use social media to get their message to their advocates, and beyond, establish collaborations, and find new sources of funding. For my business I use it like any other business, to announce my goods and services to as broad an audience as possible, while also making deeper connections with those that like what I do.

I don’t have accounts on everything. That’s an inefficient use of time. Social media is maturing, so some sites get abandoned while others get added, tentatively. I also don’t say the exact same thing on every site. Never changing your tone or talk is boring in any social scene. Within the last week I shared the fact that a photo had gained prominence as the new “most viewed” photo on one of my galleries.DSC_4293 On my business’ Facebook page the announcement was more open and casual. On LinkedIn my target audience were the people who buy art for decorating businesses. On Google+ I knew I was targeting Google’s search engine, rather than any individuals, so that post had more tags. On Twitter the photo would take up some of the 140 character count, so I kept the rest very short. I’ll do something similar with this post. I also like that sites like Klout let me see where my messages reach, and suggest ways to make them reach further.

And there are cautions. Social media is so changeable that I don’t rely on any one site, only post what I’m willing to show the world, only post lower-resolution images or watermark the higher quality versions, use lots of pronouns instead of individuals’ names unless they are actively interested in getting their name spread wide, and step away from the glorious time sinks of viral videos, games, and quizzes – except when I need a break.

Of course, we are all individuals. I like that about us. I especially like those of us who make up our own minds, use tools as appropriate to benefit ourselves and each other, and who know that – just like in socializing, a bit of maturity is very welcome even in places as immature as social media.

PS Want to hear more? Thursday night at the old Bayview School on Whidbey, I’ll be part of a duo (Dan Pedersen is the other half) talking about Social Media, particularly for writers. $5 if you’re not a member.

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Full Speed Days

Ironies abound. Here I am, blogging about balancing life and money, wrote a book about it Dream. Invest. Live.(Dream. Invest. Live.), am a case study in another one (Your Money or Your Life), and I’m launching into the last task of the day at 9pm on a Sunday. And yet, as unbalanced as it seems, I suspect that there is and will be a balance precisely because I am working at full speed these days. Sometimes the best way to appreciate a rule is to break it – without doing anything illegal, of course.

Ah, if only I could find the reference; but I’m working at such a pace with so little free time that I’ll have to skip it. But. Evidently, aboriginal cultures typically only require a three hour work day. They’re busy the rest of the day too, but it is socializing and family activities. In medieval times, workers worked from sunrise to sunset; except for holidays, of which there were more than a hundred, and which also meant effectively long vacations during the winter when the nights were long and the candles were precious. Sometime along the line there must have been a peak in the working hours because in the late 1700′s workers were happy to get their workweek cut back to only six days a week and their workdays cut back to ten hours a day. Now, we take the 40 hour work week as a standard even while it is being nudged to 36 hours by people like the French.

“Time is money.” “Time ain’t money when you have nothing but time.” “Money can’t buy you time.” All great sayings, each of which can play off the others; all of which are moot for many. More than 25,000,000 American families live paycheck to paycheck. If they have free time and can make more money, they probably would. If they had extra money, well, they wouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck.

I’m currently living that knife edge, making just enough to pay all of my bills, eventually, I think. My optimism builds from the fact that last year was on the bad side of that balance; so maybe next year will be on the other side. I still don’t know because I haven’t heard from my mortgage servicer about whether they are going to offer me a mortgage modification despite having made all of the required trial payments. Put together my three biggest clients and I should be fine; but doubt remains and spare time is spent trying to make spare money – which leads me to writing this post late on a Sunday rather than early on a Saturday.

I am not alone. It is a refrain, so maybe I shouldn’t pass it along, except that many of my less public friends share the feeling and thank me for expressing it. Two, three, even six jobs are stitched together to pay the bills – while hoping nothing big breaks. There is a sub-culture of a quiet community that foregoes parties, potlucks, and plays because it’s too hard to go dancing after standing at a job for eight hours, or there’s not enough time or money to make something for a potluck, or a play is too expensive in money plus time. Take the ticket cost divided by the time spent at a play and compare it to your wages. It’s possible that the time and money must be earned back at a wage that’s lower than the cost for every hour in attendance.

My irony is that my balancing apparently happens over years. Instead of eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest my life seems to be more like work for years at full speed, retire early for several years, work for years at full speed, retire again (I hope). It is not ideal, but having several years or decades off is appealing and may be worth this effort. But, as I say, my balance is moot. Right now, I have to work as much as possible to recover from my financial upset.

I wonder if the ideal we hold for society is also in need of a similar adjustment. We’re in a period of heightened consumption, change, and societal evolution. Everything seems to be in flux, and vast populations are amazingly busy working to resolve innumerable global crises. These last few decades are the first time humanity has been aware of the state of the rest of humanity, and the condition of the rest of the globe. The responsible people are responding, frequently working to resolve issues that seem poised on a knife edge between collapse and resolution. Philanthropists who would’ve focused on the community within a day’s horse ride now can tackle any issue anywhere because everywhere is a plane ride away, or even closer by phone.

This blog is about balancing money and life, investing for dreams that can actually be lived. When in the midst of such determined effort, any reduction in effort can feel like a wasteful indulgence. In some cases that’s right. We are lousy at predicting the future, and that includes being lousy at predicting the tendencies around knife edges. I offer this encouragement that I offer to myself every day. It may be a personal cliche, but my first book’s title is Just Keep PedalingJust Keep Pedaling. If you haven’t reached your goal, but your efforts are pointed in the right direction, trust yourself and keep making progress however you can. Just keep your goal in sight. Keeping your head down and pedaling right by your goal makes for such an embarrassing video.

With that in mind I am going to lift my head, refill my glass of wine, and find a bit of balance in what remains of the day. I hope you, and we can eventually all do the same, and for a lot longer than a day.

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Trends Shifting Stalwarts

Conventional wisdom held that investing in the stalwarts, the old blue chips, was the way to safely invest. Dull but successful. The market continues to hit new highs, mostly through the action of the biggest companies, that are more a mix of the new blue-chips like Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco. Alas, my portfolio of originally small-caps and now micro-caps currently languishes. Whether my portfolio will recover or not will merely take time, and its potential will be the subject of my semi-annual portfolio exercise due the end of this month. In the meantime though, trends are undermining the fundamental business environments that support the stalwarts that support the markets. The changes may fundamentally change the markets and investing.

I watch trends. I don’t always know why, but it is human nature to look for patterns. Some people watch patterns in sport scores and celebrities’ career arcs. I enjoy watching the way our society, culture, civilization and world are changing. Sadly, our world is experiencing some dramatic changes. Gladly, our responses are providing some positive possibilities for the world, us, and investors.

Power, banking, housing, technology – all are changing. Each change is large enough for its own story, and has multiple consequences. Put them together and the interrelations become complicated enough to conjure up the consequences of chaos theory. Trying to understand them simultaneously is overwhelming, but necessary for serious investing.

Power

  • decentralized power
    • Solar, wind, geothermal, batteries, and fuel cells are all becoming effective, efficient, and affordable enough that it is easier for people to go off-the-grid. Take it far enough and a suburban house won’t need a power pole outside. Do that often enough and the need for massive infrastructure fades, and so does a utility’s business.The views improve, and housing options proliferate.
  • divestiture of fossil fuels
    • Public awareness of the limit to the resources, the impact on the environment, and the power of those who sell power have convinced people and institutions to sell their investments to buy something more sustainable and acceptable. The revenues will remain for a long time, but the demand for the supply of their stocks is diminishing faster than the fuels.

Banking

  • micro- & peer-to-peer lending
    • As both lenders and borrowers, people are finding ways to deal directly with other people because they’ve been put off by low savings rates, tough lending policies, high credit rates, and a decreased trust in banks that are too big to fail. The banks may not notice, but as the trend grows they’ll have to. The consumer part of the economy may learn to largely ignore the large banks, and the consumer is the largest driver in the economy.
  • decentralized currency
    • Local currencies, barter systems, time banks, and cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin) are proving to be attractive alternatives for people interested in avoiding currencies run by central authorities. Maybe they don’t like the central control or the way the currency is managed. Maybe they prefer privacy. Libertarians have an alternative that didn’t exist five years ago. In either case, the effects are small for now, and yet another market segment is lost to a financial business.
  • student debt
    • Student debt exceeds all debt except mortgage debt. If those graduates weren’t in debt there are enough loans out there to finance a lot of houses. But, student debt means less money spent on the two largest purchases in most people’s lives: houses and cars. Unemployment may be down, but not by much for millennials, and the ones with jobs frequently aren’t working in their field of study or making enough to pay off the debt. Not good for housing and companies selling housewares, or car companies and businesses like suburban malls that expect to fill massive parking lots.

Housing (though the topic has already come up)

  • urbanization
    • Worldwide, people are moving to the cities. (I prefer my island, thank you.) That’s where the jobs are, lifestyles are more transient which is good in a changing environment, public transit means it is possible to not have a car, there’s plenty to do, and there’s a degree of anonymity that is freeing. All which means lower demand for suburban developments, less taxes for bedroom communities, and fewer people spending money in the malls. The same impacters as those hitting the student debt crowd, which makes sense because there’s a lot of overlap but it is true for every generation.
  • tiny house movement
    • People fed up with mortgages, who feel owned by their stuff, who feel they live for the house rather than the other way around, who want to make a smaller impact on the planet are all types who are downsizing, in some cases dramatically.
      For Sale

      For Sale

      Build your own house for under $20,000, or even $10,000, be debt-free, possibly off-the-grid, and with limited storage – and no longer be much of a consumer of goods. Which leaves a lot for consuming experiences, helping others, or both.

  • climate change
    • In some neighborhoods, debating climate change is as silly as standing on the deck of the Titanic and getting into an argument over whether the skipper was at fault. Low lying neighborhoods in places like Norfolk and Florida are already dealing with high tides that are too high and getting higher. Coasts concentrate people in cities. Old jokes about buying swampland in Florida may reappear, but aside from the humor, there will be a shift in housing which will necessitate a shift in infrastructure and services. Shifts are opportunities for change, not just in location but in habits, traditions, and attitudes. Ironically, this is an investing opportunity, but also a caution if a business is entrenched and committed to risky land.

Technology

    • automation
      • Automation continues, and it will probably accelerate now that devices talk to devices and we’re more likely to trust them to drive cars, tend patients, flip burgers, milk cows, fly airplanes, and fight wars. It is the ultimate outsourcing, finding a source outside the species. Great opportunities for the companies and the technical folks. Less for the rest of us to do. Gotta think this through.
    • rise of the cloud
      • Information is moving to the cloud, which is really just a way to say we trust the Internet as much as we trust our devices.
        Looks like a laptop, but the files live in the cloud.

        Looks like a laptop, but the files live in the cloud.

        That’s not an impressive endorsement, but it is true; and is being proven by people who use social media for messages, photo albums, home videos, and their finances. The power is headed into the cloud, so check out those companies; but also check out the NSA and Net Neutrality.

    • digital singularity
      • Digital singularity, the event that trumps everything above, that is one day closer every day, and that just passed a milestone as a computer passed the Turing Test (maybe). There’s no way to guess what happens, which is why people ignore it despite its phenomenal potential effects. Estimated to happen sometime before 2045, yet rarely accounted for in a retirement plan.

And then there’s the geopolitical, but I’m skipping that because my arm hurts from typing so much. I’m also skipping the geopolitical because the power within politics is tied to the stalwarts. Politics is already dysfunctional enough that none of the trends above are stabilizers. That instability will probably also fuel the decentralization trends.

I think about such things as a habit, and also because understanding trends has worked well for my investments, until the recent upset. That’s why I own AMSC for power efficiency, GERN for innovative medical treatments, GIG for the increased demand for bandwidth, MVIS for the increased interest in decreasing the size and cost of electronics while increasing the quality and battery life, and RGSE for decentralized solar power. But, trends that historically were independent are now more likely to intertwine in unexpected ways. Stuff it all into one brain at one time and there better not be any interruptions because there isn’t room for another thought.

My conclusion is to watch the trends, invest to support the most sustainable and positive momentum – and be very flexible.

My suggestion to anyone is to figure out where your life is heading within your world. You’re the expert on you. Trust yourself. And if you need a portfolio manager, make sure they are very flexible.

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I Think I Accept Bitcoins

I gave up trying to buy a BitCoin. I got a wallet instead; and I’m glad, even though it is empty. Welcome to the land of cryptocurrencies where of course you need a cryptowallet for your cryptocoins. Cryptocurrencies are intriguing. They are financial creatures that have evolved fit a niche in online ecosystems. I watch trends and this is a trend that has more reasons to grow rather than diminish. Academic debates are fun, but sometimes the best way to understand something is to try it. During a cumbersome attempt at finding funds to buy a Bitcoin I stumbled upon a cheaper and better idea. I got a Bitcoin wallet. I have decided to accept Bitcoins for my business.

This is as much a business decision as it is an exploration of alternatives. Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency, gets most of the attention because it is the biggest and the first. That doesn’t mean it is the best. But I run a business that deals primarily with innovative and creative people who consider alternatives, challenge convention, and champion causes. Cryptocurrencies exist to provide an alternative to conventional currencies. Bitcoin was designed to provide a currency that wasn’t tied to the regular banking system, isn’t based on debt, and protects privacy. The recent financial crises, worldwide debt, and ubiquitous surveillance certainly were inspirational. I understand a lot of that, and I do appreciate diversification even in currencies, but today’s decision was based on providing goods and services in exchange for value. Why not accept Bitcoins for business? If I need a special wallet for Canadian currency, I’d get one of those too.

If you still aren’t aware of Bitcoins, except for a vague recollection of the scandal of a few months ago, don’t worry about it. Even as the biggest cryptocurrency, it is only worth about $8 billion. “There was approximately $1.28 trillion in circulation as of May 14, 2014, of which $1.23 trillion was in Federal Reserve notes.” – US Federal Reserve Bitcoin isn’t challenging the US currency. The bigger threat to US currency is the way the US currency is managed, but that’s an entire bookshelf if digressions.

Cryptocoins are, however, providing alternatives to communities that may feel underserved or misrepresented by conventional currencies. The Lakota Nation now accepts MazaCoins. Iceland, the country that actually threw bankers in jail, issued everyone AuroraCoins. There are dozens of cryptocurrencies out here. Some are scams. Buyer beware. Many are championing causes. Think there should be more people using solar power? SolarCoin has some incentives for you. Need a bank for a product that’s legal in your state but that the Federal Government has restricted? How about PotCoin? Think the whole idea of cryptocurrencies is laughable? Okay. Dogecoin; and as I’ve been corrected it is not doje coin but more like doggie coin. Their claim to fame? “… favored by Shiba Inus worldwide.” Bitcoin aimed for the high ground with a familiar sentiment; “Currency of the people, by the people, for the people.

As I wrote about earlier, the US Dollar didn’t become the standard currency until 1863. Communities, banks, companies, organizations had their own currencies. Within a community a currency makes sense, but runs into difficulty when it meets with another currency. That’s where money changers come in. That’s also where a longer post would include the story of Jesus in the Temple and the origin of the word bankrupt. 150 years later the concept of community has borders drawn along lines that have less to do with geography. Moneychanging is much more mechanical. Business has become much more international.

For weeks I’ve been researching alternative currencies, and cryptocurrencies particularly. With the introduction of Bitcoin, communities are reasserting themselves and their values, or their separation from convention. The only way to truly learn more was to buy a coin, or a fraction of one, and see what it was like. For a lot of folks that would be an easy experiment. I think one restaurant on this island called Whidbey actually accetps Bitcoins. Buy enough Bitcoins to buy a dinner, and enjoy a culinary learning experience. In almost every other post I’m describing my personal financial recovery, which at this point remains uncertain – much better than last year, and with great potential for the future – but without enough spare cash for the research.

Today I decided to commit a small but risky sum because I believe that cryptocurrencies will become a much larger part of our lives and I’d rather learn more sooner rather than later. I also was encouraged when I saw a tweet from a Kris Krug (@KK), a phenomenal photographer and technology pioneer who I’ve met a few times. He’s just decided to accept Bitcoins for his photos. As I brought up a site or two to do a bit more research I saw a key term Kris used. He got a wallet. I’ve been concentrating so much on buying coins that I forgot about the wallet. And there it was on the Bitcoin web site: “Wallet – your first step is a click away“. A few minutes later I had a wallet. It was empty, but I’d opened a door.

Kris may be selling photos for Bitcoins. I’ve got online galleries already (custom photos of Whidbey atNovember Sunset Fine Balance Imaging

and conventional printing at Lit From Below) that only accept US dollars, for now. In the meantime, I can offer my services for Bitcoins, and maybe other coins if there enough demand. Alternative, innovative, creative currencies for alternative, innovative, creative clients. I truly enjoy helping people get things done, help them make decisions, strategize, and plan. The number of people using Bitcoins makes for a large community, but the number of businesses serving them is remarkably small. I may not supply goods for a while, but maybe I can supply a service that meets a bit of a demand, as long as it is legal and acceptable to me, of course.

So, I’m open for business. I’ve been open for business for over 15 years, but now I’m open to a business in a new way. That may be something that’s increasingly true for more of us.

Now, let’s see what it takes to get something into this wallet. At least I don’t have to worry about making change. I think.

Oh yeah, and tips are accepted. Here’s the address for those who know what to do with it.
1PviLUXCgEyksS7LNhJae7zocNsaHeVT1M

(I think the QR code does the same, but I’ll post that after I check.)

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Corporations Meet Owners MVIS 2014

People crave stories, poems, plays on words. Analysts crave data. Investors deal in both. Investors in startups have so little data to pick from that investing becomes speculating. When words are the main source of information, it is best to get the words without filters and that means hearing them in person so body language can be read as well. I attend stockholders meetings when convenient. Lately the only one that’s been convenient has been for MicroVision (MVIS), which provides lessons in deciphering critical content from nuance and inference. Investing in companies that have a lot of secrets isn’t preferred, but sometimes it is one of the best of a short list of options.

MicroVision is a tiny company, only about 60-70 employees, that makes tiny mirrors that may have a major impact. The longer story is carried in my various posts, but the short version is simply – imagine having projectors become as ubiquitous as embedded cameras, and imagine them dramatically changing two of the main features of a laptop: the keyboard and the display. The potential impact is huge societally, environmentally, and financially.

For about fifteen years I’ve regularly attended the stockholders meetings. Their size hasn’t changed much. The stock price has varied widely, from a peak of over $500 to today’s less than $2 quote. The technology, the market, and industry have changed. The story hasn’t. Success is only a few months, quarters, or years away. Yet, with all the progress being made, maybe it really is about to happen.

Information is valuable, which is why the SEC made sure that no one had an advantage by getting news early. Individual investors and financial institutions would have equal access to information. As usual, instead of the intent creating better access for the individual investor, it meant that everyone heard less. The corporate motto became, “when in doubt, shut up”.

Information is also valuable to competitors and suppliers. Companies guard competitive advantage by saying as little as possible, while trying to learn as much as possible about each other. Less information for all.

Information becomes incredibly valuable when companies have little more than an idea. To survive they have to tell about the idea, but to survive they must also say as little as possible, and if they do say anything they have to tell everyone the same thing simultaneously.

With proper information protection a company can move forward balanced between telling too much and too little. The unfortunate corollary is that a company that has something to hide can hide behind SEC rules, competitive sensitivities, and NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements.) Which is it? Is the quiet company being wise, or deceitful?

A stockholders meeting is the SEC mandated event at which the owners of the company, the stockholders, can learn about and question the people they’ve voted to run their company (the board of directors). Usually, the meeting is actually run by the management that was hired by the board, the Chief Executive officer, et al.

The reality we’ve become accustomed to is different. The Directors and Officers run, manage, and control the meeting as authority figures, not designees or employees. This is frequently because they acquire enough shares to acquire enough power to make the combined effect of the remaining shareholders into a minority position. Strengthened by the control over information via SEC, NDA, and other official constraints they can say as little as possible, which is the wisest course for them. Hearing as little as possible isn’t the wisest course for the shareholders, but most have become accustomed to the arrangement and try to become more astute at asking carefully crafted questions.

The most optimistic stories about MicroVision include profitable relationships with Apple, Microsoft, Google, Sony, dozens more electronics manufacturers and numerous car manufacturers. They might be right. Even a few of them being right is more than enough to make the company profitable and the investors richer. But, even at the stockholders meeting, the CEO wasn’t allowed to say the name Sony even though Sony mentioned MicroVision in one of its product development announcements. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, we all knew what he was talking about; but he wasn’t allowed to say more. We also heard of a Tier One company, a major auto manufacturer, and other “household names” and “impressive” companies.

Q: How many people are working in Sales? A: I can’t tell you.
Q: How many units have you shipped to the test facility? A: I can’t tell you.
Q: Do you have any unsold inventory of the previous product? A: I can’t tell you.

What I could tell was when someone hesitated with concern, when someone held back enthusiasm, when I asked a question they wanted an answer to too.

We communicate more than ever, thanks to mobile electronics and social medial; but sources are more circumspect the closer we get to useful data.

Information’s value continues to grow though, so even with circumspection, caution, and occasional inevitable misinformation, it makes sense to show up, shake some hands, read some body language as they try to frame responses to your questions, and maybe come away with at least one thing we crave, those stories. Oh yeah, and maybe by showing up enough they’ll remember that we stockholders own the company too. When they recognize that it will definitely be a story.

For my notes on the 2014 MVIS ASM, go to Motley Fool and Investor Village and join the conversation. Someday we’ll have data, but until then we have story.

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Fresh Idea – Creepy Crawly Barrier

Fresh ideas, inventions that I pass along to the world. Maybe they already exist. Maybe they’re useful. Maybe they’re fun.

As I type this, my neighborhood is experiencing our local version of biblical locusts. Our current scourge? Tent caterpillars. DSCN5275Tent caterpillars in large enough numbers in some places to make it impossible to walk without squishing a dozen. Gardens and orchards are being denuded. I know someone who has to remove thousands every day to save her main source of food, an organic garden. Chemicals that kill them, kill beneficial bugs. Some ineffectively spray some of them away with water. Some have even used fire, but that has a long list of risks. Then I realized that, while they crawl up walls, they can’t navigate a sharp overhang.

Here’s my, possibly, fresh idea for protecting spaces like gardens or houses.

a sectional view

a sectional view

Create a barrier that angles out from the ground, then make a sharp bend in the barrier so the barrier points back down part way to the ground. If the barrier is made of something thin and smooth like paper, plastic, or metal then the edge pointed down may be too sharp for the caterpillars to reach around. They have a tendency to climb, so they may not even make it past the inside bend. Those that do make it past the bend may fall off as they climb down. Those that make it to the edge may fall off as they try to reach around. If any make it past the barrier, they do so in a way that is highly visible and where they are easier to remove than typical places like as they pass through branches or fences.

I suspect that the barrier won’t be as effective if it has any texture like cloth, or is thick like cardboard because both features can be used for better footing, and they have a great supply of feet.

I decided to post this before trying it because I don’t have the time, do not have as urgent of a need, and because my garden is not as easily surrounded by such a barrier.

One encouraging anecdote comes from a friend who noticed that her patio table looks like an island on a deck that is awash in a tide of bugs. She left the plastic table cloth on it and there’s not a bug on top of it, though there is a vortex of them below it.

This may be too late for this season, and maybe not; but it is something to keep in mind for next season. As a bonus, it may also work against slugs, a perpetual menace.

(And then there’s idea of a moat filled with beer that has to be guarded against bunnies and deer and dogs and certain humans.)

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Sustaining Small Town Charity

They are among us, and that is good. The things that are closest to us are easiest to overlook. Where I live the economy continues along uncertainly. Some businesses are thriving. Others are shuttering. Many live on a knife edge. The same is true of the people, with one particular twist. Young people tend to leave this rural community, just like in every small town. They hunt for opportunities or even just work, and realize it is easier to find it in town, in the city, away from home. In the meantime, the very character of small towns is defined by the very people who must find successors if the character will be maintained. But who will help with that? You’ve probably already realized where I’m going. Let’s go there.

The economy is growing, oops, except for last quarter’s hiccup. Corporate profits are up. The total wealth of the US continues to grow. Yet wages aren’t growing. Long term unemployment continues, and encourages people to relocate to job centers or to jump into entrepreneurship; both of which are risky options.

Small towns, or isolated communities like Whidbey, have a tough time holding onto young people. The jobs tend to be in the cities. With every young person that leaves, a small town’s social scene becomes noticeably less appealing. I bought my house from a young woman who realized that as long as she was on Whidbey she’d have to stay single. Commuting to an urban social life becomes even less appealing when it costs $30 which is added to higher urban prices while being paid from a rural wage. It works for me, but then, I am older, somewhat gregarious, enjoy throwing parties, and have a social network that is similarly ensconced.

Small towns can quickly trend to an aging population. In Whidbey’s case that is very nicely balanced by substantial discretionary income, impressive artistic talent, a sense of style, and a long list of good local food and wine.Callahan's Firehouse A lot of the people are also actively advocating for their causes, sometimes even in conflict, but definitely equally passionate. That may be a characteristic of the Boomers because, at least on Whidbey, they’ve created a long list of charities.

Click. If the young people are hunting for jobs, but not finding them; and if the community needs young people to continue; and if there is a lot of passionate work to be done; and if the non-profits want to continue beyond another decade; and if the resources are here to fund the non-profits; then maybe the young people and the Boomers can get together as a model of what may be necessary across the continent – a succession plan that spans generations.

The local folklore has claimed that South Whidbey has the highest concentration of non-profits per person in the US. If so, then maybe this is a great place to start such a societal succession.

Folklore is not enough. I wanted data.

Look for the library under the rainbow

Look for the library under the rainbow

Trust your local librarian. Do you realize that librarians look forward to people coming in and asking them to help with research? Librarians went to school for that very reason. Watch them light up with the right question. I asked around at my local branch, where most of us know each other because it is a small town and because I give talks there frequently. Within a couple of days I had a list of every non-profit on the island. They knew just which database to query.

For the entire island, there is about one non-profit for every 280 people. Ah, but the northern end is dominated by the Naval Air Station, which has an impressive supply of non-profit services delivered by the non-profit service that is the Navy. The rest of the island has about one non-profit for every 150 people. Drop into the trendiest and most stylish center of Langley and that drops to one for every 102. If, on average, a non-profit could sustain two people (and yes, many can’t sustain one; but many can sustain several) that’s two more people living on the island and helping to maintain its character. In real numbers, that is 156 non-profits from a population of 23,957 (221 from 61,780 if we include the northern end). Two people per non-profit is 312 jobs, which therefore employs more than one percent of the population.

Of course some of those young people already have those jobs. Many of the non-profits can’t sustain their web sites, so a staff person won’t fit in the budget. But many of the remaining jobs are handled by volunteers, frequently by founders, and usually by people who prefer having someone else do the work within the next decade.

If it remains even remotely true that the Boomer generation will pass along $41,000,000,000,000 in wealth within the next decade or so, then there is a remarkable opportunity to also pass along passions for causes, transfer hope to youth, and continue or even accelerate good works that remain undone.

On Whidbey the numbers may be small, but the percentages are large and will be noticeable. I know that I’d like to see my community maintain its style, and continue doing good work. But I also worry. Saturday night I went to my favorite concert of the year: The Rural Characters playing at Mayfest, a fundraiser for the local community hall. The music was fun and excellent as ever, especially if you like ferry jokes. (It’s an island thing.) Sitting in the back it was also apparent that I wasn’t the youngest, but I was far younger than the average. The thought of generational succession was already in mind, but the event placed it in front of my eyes too.

Will it work? I don’t know. I’m not a millennial. I’m so close to the edge of the Boomer generation that I’ve never felt a part of it. I admit that one motivation is that I want to stay on the island too, and if I have a thirty year mortgage I have to think thirty years ahead, not just three. If nothing else though, I realized I could provide the list (thanks again to Sno-Isle Libraries), make the suggestion, and see what happens. Besides, do you realize how much fun a party would be if an extra 312 happy people showed up? Gotta get a bigger dance floor.

For those who want the details, here’s the list, and a few factoids.
Which ones do you want to help maintain and sustain?
Total (non-profits = 221) population = 61780

Clinton (18) 5635
Animal People Inc.              
Tune in to Nature Org              
Chinook Learning Community              
Kids First – Island County              
Washington Assistance Dog Education Center              
Whidbey Institute              
Whidbey Island Youth Soccer Association              
Coming Alongside              
Citizens in Support of Useless Bay Community              
Lakeside Bible Camp Association              
Whidbey Island Waldorf School              
South Whidbey Youth Soccer Club              
Friends of the Clinton Library              
La Bella Coro              
Adoption Network A Charitable Trust              
Shoes for Kids Foundation              
Progressive Association              
North American Motor Officers Association              

Langley (52) 5278
Heartbeat Serving Wounded Warriors              
Giraffe Project Inc.              
Whidbey Childrens Theater              
Sister Island Project              
Langley Community Club              
South Whidbey Good Cheer Inc.              
Oasis for Animals              
Saratoga Chamber Orchestra              
Island Christian Academy              
Experience Food Project Cascadia              
Ryans House              
Outcast Productions              
Langley Main Street Association              
Whidbey Island Nourishes              
Elizabeth George Foundation              
South Whidbey Commons              
Mother Mentors of Whidbey Island              
Power of Hope              
Hub – Youth Central              
Matanho Project              
Hedgebrook              
Young Skandia Dansers              
Wild Works Conservation Foundation Inc.              
Northwest Language Academy              
Pye Global              
Hope- Horsemanship Opportunities for Potential Equestrians              
Parent Child Cooperative of South Whidbey              
Context Institute              
South Whidbey Childrens Center              
Island Arts Council              
South Whidbey Historical Society              
Baby Island-Saratoga Club              
Helping Hand of South Whidbey              
Whidby Community Hall Association              
South Whidbey Elementary PTA Island Co 7 7 15              
South Whidbey High School Performing Arts Boosters              
Hearts & Hammers              
Whidbey Island Center for the Arts              
Whidbey Environmental Action Network              
Whidbey Watershed Stewards              
Whidbey Dance Theatre              
Langley Middle School Ptsa              
Readiness to Learn Whidbey Foundation              
Keepers of the Game              
Goosefoot Community Fund A Not for Profit Corporation              
Fetch              
Friends of Friends              
Island County Fair Association Inc.              
Friends of the Langley Library              
New Road Map Foundation              
Micah              
Morris Family Foundation              

Freeland (41) 4561
Zoe Foundation              
Island Affordable Housing Tr              
Association for Veterinary Family Practice              
Brothers of Saint John the Evangelist Osb              
Whidbey Orchestras              
Living Success Center              
Fund for Personal Liberty              
South Whidbey Parks and Aquatics Foundation              
Veterans Resource Center              
Mellison Family Foundation              
Calling the Circle Foundation              
Island Rowing Association              
Friends of Holmes Harbor              
Rotary Foundation of Whidbey Westside              
South Whidbey Bible Chapel              
Senior Services of Island County              
Christian Life Ctr of Whidbey Island              
Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens              
Enso House              
Service Education & Adventure              
Otherworld Media Inc.              
Foundation of Senior Services of Island County              
Friends of the Freeland Library              
The Arise Charitable Trust              
One Drop Zendo Association              
South Whidbey Church of Christ              
South Whidbey Rotary Club Foundation              
South Whidbey Schools Foundation              
Mano Con Mano Health Beach              
Whidbey Island Garden Tour Inc.              
Cru Institute              
Northwest Institute of Literary Arts              
Genealogical Society of South Whidbey Island              
Northwest Venture Drum and Bugle Corps Inc.              
New Stories              
Victor B Sheffer Foundation              
Whidbey Island Land & Shore Trust              
Friends of Freeland              
Orca Network              
Destination Paradise              
Impact Teams International              

Greenbank (9) 1837
International Association of Home Staging Professionals              
Native Plant Stewards              
Dg Foundation              
Washington Association of Land Trusts              
Romainia League in Defense of Animals              
Whidbey-Camano Land Trust              
Greenbank Farm Management Group              
Ulmschneider Educational Foundation              
Tinyblue Foundation              

Coupeville (36) 6646
Capt Dans Farmstead              
Gifts From the Heart Food Bank              
Globan Ent Outreach              
Small Miracles Coupeville Medical Support Fund              
Auxiliary of Whidbey General Hospital              
Coupeville Booster Club              
Pacific Rim Institute for Environmental Stewardship              
Central Whidbey Hearts & Hammers              
Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association              
Magic Macintosh Appreciation Group of Island County              
Kwpa Whidbey Public Radio              
Penn Cove Water Festival Association              
Citizen Corps Council of Island County              
Alcohol 24-Hour Help Line              
Island Ministries              
Whidbey Island Hospital Foundation              
Central Whidbey Cooperative Preschool              
Friends of the Coupeville Library              
Quilters on the Rock C/O Joanne Van Patten              
Coupeville Lions Foundation              
Concerts on the Cove              
Island County Amateur Radio Club              
Coupeville Arts Center              
Island County Master Gardeners              
Whidbey Animals Improvement Foundation              
Coupeville Elementary PTA 777 C/O Washington State PTA         
Lighthouse Environmental Programs              
Washington Imagination Network              
Community Foundation for Coupeville Public Schools              
Whidbey Weavers Guild              
Western Education & Stewardship Trust              
Broken Arrow Memorial Fund              
Stellar Arts Foundation              
The Wildlands Restoration Society              
Island County Historical Society              
Coupeville Community Bible Church              

Oak Harbor (65) 37823
Medical Safety Net of North Whidbey              
Animals in Need              
Anglican Fellowship of Whidbey Island              
Oak Harbor Youth Sailing Inc.              
Deception Pass Park Foundation              
North Puget Sound Dragon Boat Club              
North Whidbey Christian High School              
Whidbey Playhouse Association              
Whidbey Community Chorus              
Oak Harbor Musical Youth Boosters              
Beeksma Family Foundation              
North Whidbey Caregivers Cove              
Molly Bears              
The Valley Calvary Chapel              
Swan Lake Watershed Preservation Group              
Caleb-Joshua Education and Humanitarian Project              
Mighty to Save Ministries              
Pit Stops Here              
Ballet Slipper Conservatory of Oak Harbor              
Oak Harbor Music Festival              
Word of Everlasting Life and Faith Ministries              
Discipleship Ministries              
Keelworks Foundation              
Rural American Scholarship Fund              
Periwinkle Press              
Interfaith Coalition of Whidbey Island              
Oak Harbor Christian School Society              
New Leaf Inc.              
United Way of Island County              
Bible Baptist Church of Oak Harbor              
Lutheran Outdoor Ministry Assn Inc.              
Family Bible Church of Oak Harbor              
Island Thrift               
North Whidbey Help              
Grace by the Sea              
Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse              
Oak Harbor Church of Christ              
Oak Harbor Firemens Association    
Toddler Learning Center Association              
Pregnancy Care Clinic              
Suzuki Association of Washington State              
The Lords Garden Association              
Friends of the Oakj Harbor Library              
Calvary Chapel of Oak Harbor              
Oak Harbor Wildcat Booster Club              
Development Companions International              
Oak Harbor Educational Foundation              
Impart Ministries              
Olympic View Orca Parent-Teacher Organization              
Whidbey Island Genealogical Searchers              
Oak Harbor Rotary Foundation              
Oak Harbor Senior Center Foundation              
Heritage Valley Foundation              
Prowler Memorial Park Association              
Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Island County              
Hillcrest Elementary PTA              
Pby Memorial Foundation              
Cascade Warbird Eaa Chapter              
Oak Harbor Elementary PTA              
Soroptimist International of Oak Harbor Foundation              
Impaired Driving Impact Panel of Island County              
North Whidbey Middle School PTA              
International Association of Lions Clubs              
Friends of Home Health Care of Whidbey General Hospital              
Oak Harbor Christian School Foundation              

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Society Accidentally Diversifies

Us versus Them. That’s a familiar theme; yet we know there are grey areas between the two. Finance is the same. There are “The Big Institutions” and “the rest of Us.” Alternative economies try to make clear distinctions, but if there’s a financial advantage The Big Institutions will try to use it – just like people are glad to step back into a conventional mortgage if they can get a low enough rate. Both sides are affecting both sides. Society is diversifying, just as we should.

The Big Institutions are easy to stereotype as the massive stock brokerages and mega-banks that are physically and culturally removed from mainstream life. Either housed behind anachronistic granite colonnades or modern steel and glass, they are the entities that were too big to fail. They’re so easy to stereotype that they’re personified as characters in movies like Wall Street and Trading Places.

Alternative economies are less easy to stereotype because their recent incarnations are new, and most people don’t recognize the heritage behind barter economies and alternative currencies. When in doubt, people apply the familiar labels of hippie or socialist, ideas as individuals that can be treated as nuisances and fads.

Ideas within the alternative economies are growing enough to affect businesses, communities, and investments. Communities are developing their own currencies, like BerkShares (the Berkshires in Massachusetts), or cryptocurrencies like MazaCoin (for the Lakota Nation), as a way to encourage community development. Individuals are switching some transactions to cryptocurrencies, like BitCoin, as a way to do business without involving banks or central authorities. Microlending organizations like Kiva.org, or LendingClub.com mean people can invest in each other; effectively taking the place of local banks (if there are any.)

Alternative economies are growing because they are more community-focussed, are more likely to deal on a personal level, can paradoxically generate better rates for both borrowers and lenders, and because they aren’t The Big Institutions.

The Big Institutions read that last line and ignore everything except the better rates. If they can get better rates of return and reach new markets, then they can make more money. They got that big by not ignoring such opportunities. The grey area gets greyer.

It is now possible to participate in the alternative economy by dealing with conventional businesses and institutions. Hedge fund managers are creating portfolios that invest in peer-to-peer loans, somewhat ignoring the definition of peer. BitCoin, the cryptocurrency developed to be a “Currency of the people, by the people, for the people” can be bought and sold anonymously, which means it could also be traded by traditional currency arbitrage professionals without anyone knowing about it. Just the way travel was changed when Priceline challenged Expedia which challenged online travel agencies which challenged travel agents, taxis and hotels will see new business models because of the disruption championed by Lyft (“taxis”) and AirBnB (“hotels”).

Lyft – photo by Matt Earnest

Growth in the alternative economy has spawned a backlash. Sharing services like Lyft or airBnB are running into municipalities that are imposing new restrictions at the urging of existing taxi and hotel companies. The IRS is definitely taking notice, and issuing notices about how to pay taxes on any exchange of value, whether that is a cryptocurrency or a bit of bartering at the farmers maket.

Reality becomes more entwined.

Some people will only invest and manage income and expenses only via conventional banks and brokerages. Some people will avoid them entirely and attempt to operate solely within alternative economies, with the major caveat that the tax authorities continue to expect taxes to be paid regardless of the currency.

Most people though, are increasingly using both the old and the new. Paychecks come in via regular currency, probably to a conventional bank. A lot of bills, including taxes, will be paid right back out with that same currency. Without exchanging currency, some will go off to microloans, shared services which are really alternative pay-for-hire, or even directly helping the community by buying local. Farmers markets are grateful. Inevitably, though, people are turning to time banks, closed community currencies, and traditional barter.

At the one end, conventional finance continues to be The Big Institutions. At the other end, alternatives continue to distance themselves as much as possible from centralized authorities.

The fact that most people live in the middle is a good thing. Diversification is one of the most powerful personal finance tools, and collectively without design, we are witnessing the development of a supportive web that extends from The Big Institutions to the farmers at the markets. A person may invest via direct deposit with a match from their employer, while also investing peer-to-peer, and contributing time in the community, whether for charity or trade. The better the diversification, the less severely we will be impacted by the next, inevitable upset.

Our diversification isn’t happening by design. Our diversification may be happening by accident. In any case, our diversification can be strengthening us and redefining conventional, alternative, and stereotypes.

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Chromebook Disruption

Chromebooks are the answer, but don’t ask too many questions. Four months ago I bought a Chromebook (Unwrapping My Chromebook). Despite the inevitable complaints I’m about to list, I’m convinced that Chromebooks are going to usurp the laptop the way the laptop usurped the PC the way the PC usurped the mainframe. Continue that regression if you wish, but the main trend is that a new technology that is dismissed may yet again dismiss its predecessors.

For those of you unaware of Chromebooks, don’t be surprised. They are largely being overlooked, and look so similar to laptops that they blend.

They are being overlooked for more than enough reasons.

  • They do less.
  • They’re dumber at what they do.
  • They have less memory.
  • The earliest ones aren’t even useful without wi-fi.

Why would a dumb, hampered, limited, and shackled computer be not only useful but actually disruptive?

  • They are cheap.
  • They are reliable.
  • They are fast.
  • Memory is as simple as adding a card or a disk.
  • They’ve evolved to work even when they aren’t hooked up to the Internet.

Yet, I’ve yet to describe what a Chromebook is. A Chromebook is nothing more than the barest bones laptop, not much more than a keyboard, screen, and a few components that let the user type into and read from the Internet. They are such a simple idea that there’s no reason to make a fuss.

And here’s the fuss.

My Chromebook was an experiment enabled by a gift certificate at Christmas. My venerable MacBook

MacBook and friends

MacBook and friends

has been showing its age. A hinge is cracked. Some fasteners fell out; and stayed out because, as Apple certified products, they cost too much to put back in. The system is slowing as Apple’s operating systems upgrade and advance. Occasionally the logic board forgets a device or loses touch with a signal. My business is my computer, and I work almost every day so it works almost every day. We’re both tired.

With sufficient funds I might be tempted to buy another Apple, though I’ve think that fruit’s beginning to show some spots. Despite the defense of Mac-aholics, some of whom were probably born after I’d already bought my first, recent changes in Apple’s file management and reliance on iTunes and iStore and iProfits encouraged me to consider options. A computer is a tool, not a sacrosanct temple.

Without sufficient funds, the Apples were out of reach. The low-end PC laptops have always been cheaper, but even there I’d have to pay hundreds of dollars for software. IPads don’t do enough. And I don’t want to dive into the possibly steep learning curve and incompatibilities of a Linux boxes. Because Chromebooks do so little, they cost much less. The cheapest run for under $200. I bought a slightly nicer one for under $300. The high end ones cost as much as “normal” laptops, which must be an overlap, but I’ll leave that review to someone with more money.

My Chromebook before I removed the labels.

My Chromebook before I removed the labels.

Four months into using my Chromebook I must admit that it must be good enough. It doesn’t do everything, but there are days when my Mac sits with its lid shut.

Having a cheap laptop that has little memory, little software, few moving parts, and yet has all the basic elements of keyboard, screen, and battery means I am much more relaxed. There’s less of a reason for anyone to steal it. If they steal it, they don’t steal much and it will be easy to replace. Because it does so little, the battery lasts almost an entire workday. Fewer moving parts means it is quieter, cooler, and less likely to get damaged during a commute.

The reason a Chromebook works is because the Internet works, usually. As software, storage, and services move onto the Internet (aka as moving into “The Cloud”) there’s less for a local hard drive and software suite to do. Apple and Microsoft and every competent company are aware of the power of the cloud. Apple is trying to shove every user through iCloud the way they do with iTunes and iStore. I think Microsoft is doing the same, but evidently their marketing machine plows different fields than where I’m standing because I can’t recall the name of their initiative. Google is doing the same, but where Apple and Microsoft rely on expensive hardware and software, which also help protect high profit margins, Google has the incentive to do so with cheap hardware and minimal software which lure people to their services (and ad revenue or extra paid services).

This change may be no bigger than the change from mainframe to PC to laptop. Hey, wait. Those changes were fundamental to entire industries. I’ve yet to find a pure-play stock investment based on Chromebooks. GOOG has far too high of a market cap for my style.Dream. Invest. Live. The majority of the Chromebooks are coming out of other large companies like HP (mine), ACER, Samsung, etc. There may be a career trend in coding for simple machines, harkening back to the original and necessarily minimalist programming mindset, relatively. The bigger change may be the simple opening of closed markets: buyers who couldn’t afford the expensive machines or were intimidated by the complexity of software keys and admin protocols.

Chromebooks proved themselves to me by working every day for four months with very few of the issues of conventional laptops.

Chromebooks are not without faults or flaws.

  • Much of my work stretches back to old-line Microsoft and Apple programs (Word, Excel, iPhoto) that aren’t readily replicated on the Chromebook (regardless of claims of compatibility.)
  • The Internet is not always available.
  • Large tasks carried out via the web can have I/O traffic slowdowns.
  • This Chromebook’s monitor is dull and insufficient for final photographic work.
  • The off-line abilities of the Chromebook either fall short of my expectations or I haven’t learned how to properly use them even after four months of opportunities.
  • Printing and scanning from my own equipment have required signing up for Terms and Conditions that are unnecessary.
  • The apps are not mature, and are evolving, which is good eventually but bad in the midst of a project.

. . . and the list goes on as with any machine.

One problem that doesn’t fit into a nice bullet list is why I’ll write this draft on the Chromebook, finish it on the Mac, and then upload it from the Mac. Pulling in files, photos, and links from other sources sometimes brings up menus that don’t show what I know is there. In some cases on the Chromebook I have to find the file online, download it to an SD card in my Chromebook, and then upload it back to a Google directory – even when it started in a Google directory (oh, pardon me, a Google Drive because Google doesn’t use a strict directory format, or was I supposed to use Files, or was it Docs which all sound like the same thing.)

Many of Chromebooks’ flaws vanish for folks that use nothing else. Kids are starting out with Chromebooks, partly because they are something schools can afford. I’d recommend one to my Dad if he needed a new computer. There’s less need for Tech Support, and there’s a lot less cost.

Google started with a simple idea. Keep it simple. They’ve continued to do that with their search engine. They strayed when they launched Google+. They’ve returned to it with Chromebooks.

Each disruption has been dismissed for the very reason they were successful, they proved yet again that less is more. That’s something we need more of.

Keeping it simple - photo courtesy of Pam?

Keeping it simple – photo courtesy of Pam?

(And then, there’s something even simpler and more disruptive than Chromebooks, but it is so radical that it can sound like sci-fi. I’ll wait until it is closer before mentioning more.)

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Adaptation And AAM2014

Have you ever spent four full days thinking about museums? Most people think about museums for a few hours every year, yet museum folks necessarily think about them every day. Me, I think about them about three or four hours a day because I am Project Manager for a virtual museum for about two hours a day (and then my brain can’t just let go.) Museums are excellent at preserving the past. Many people live their lives based on habits developed in the past. The past is something to understand so we can learn and only repeat the good parts of history. Moving onto a better future means actively not repeating the bad parts. Money’s future is changing and so shall I.

Prepare for a long string of words and acronyms. For the last four days I attended the IMG_03632014 Annual Meeting of the American Alliance of Museums conference as the Project Manager for the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum project, also known as AAM2014 and HCLE. If you want to read what it was like head out to twitter and check our twitter handle, @HCLEmuseum, and the hashtag #AAM2014. Four days of hanging out with thousands of museum professionals who know the difference between curating and archiving – and are willing to debate the nuances that they may see as enormous. I learned a lot by hanging out with the crowd.

Museums are repositories for history, whether that history is from nature millions of years ago, civilizations millennia old, social issues from the last few decades, or art from last week. Or in HCLE’s case, how education changed as computers came into our classrooms and lives.

The balancing act is between properly preserving the past while making the collections relevant to people in the present so they can enjoy a better future. Vaults are great for preservation, but lousy for access. Hands-on exhibits are great for relevance, but can ruin irreplaceable artifacts.

I witnessed a different type of preservation that is reluctant to change, that also persists in personal finance. Cultures, plans, expectations can be extrapolations or continuations of history and experiences. Museums are continuing to adjust to the dramatic decrease in direct government funding that began twenty or thirty years ago. Instead of tax dollars directly being funneled to well-established institutions, almost everyone is required to spend large percentages of their resources applying for grant money with a minority chance of success. Long term plans have shifted from decades to years because funding is less certain and is delivered in smaller chunks for shorter periods; even while the process of acquiring it has lengthened. Adaptation is happening by necessity, but the remembrance of easier days is hard to ignore. I suspect the change will continue to change.

Personal finance is going through similar changes. Once upon a time, though really for only a short period in our history, the norm was stable employment, steadily rising home prices, reasonably steady investment returns, a promise of comfortable retirement, and an expectation of a better life for the next generation, ad infinitum. Committing to a career made sense. Buying a big house made sense. Locking money away in tax-deferred portfolios made sense. Becoming expert in one skill rather than knowing a lot about a little made sense. To those of you who have had all of those assumptions remain valid, congratulations. To the rest, well, adaption is the only viable option, eh? (You Are Not Your Job)

The scary bit is that, even when you recognize the need for change, there is no guarantee which adaptation is best. One lesson from history is that the future has never been readily predicted, except in hindsight. Another lesson from history is that the more things change the more they stay the same, but standing still is usually the worst option.

One lesson from HCLE is that change is becoming more dramatic, is happening more quickly, and at least in education requires continual adaption.

We are having to learn new ways to live with each new technology, crisis, and insight into our interconnectivity.

This blog would become phenomenally successful if I had all the answers and was infallible. Know of any blogs that fit that description? I am, however, fortunate enough to work with two organizations that unexpectedly intersect: HCLE and my next largest client New Road Map Foundation,

New Road Map Foundation

New Road Map Foundation

an organization advocating personal values-based personal finance. New Road Map’s arena covers the current economy, economic changes, and how individuals can take personal responsibility for their finances. The confluence of ideas convinces me that the changes we’re about to experience have no precedence, only allusions and metaphors.

The things that probably won’t change will be “Spend less than you make.” “Invest the rest.”

The things that may change will be the definitions of Spend, Make, Invest, and even You. Spending may be more related to time than money. Have you heard about time banks? Making may be more related to time and talent rather than income. Investing may be more related to networking (hello social media) than buying stocks or land. You may be the plural instead of the singular. If so, personal finance plans will be more about the person or the community than the finance. If so, institutions like museums may find bigger challenges that shifting from direct funds to grant proposals.

All I know for sure is that, as I pass through my financial turmoil, the greatest lesson I’ve learned has been to study the past, adapt to change, and be flexible about my future.

Catching rainbows when I can, usually just after a storm.

Catching rainbows when I can, usually just after a storm.

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