Retelling The Tale Of MicroVision Memorial Day 2015

Of course this has happened. You’re in a conversation with someone who knows the entire story, except for the recent news, when someone new walks up, gets intrigued, and wants to hear the entire story. Pity the person who only wanted the latest tidbit. Don’t, however, ignore the person for whom it is all news. I’ve mentioned MicroVision for so many years that many roll their eyes, send mental daggers my way, or escape as soon as possible. And yet, there’s a new batch of people interested in the company, fresh with enthusiasm, who want to know more. It is for them that I write this long synopsis of MicroVision, a company with a technology that has intrigued, frustrated, and infuriated me for years – while continuing to be one of the most captivating investments I’ve ever held. My apologies to those who’ve heard this before (and who may know it better than I do). My welcome to any who are interested. My admission that, even with my semi-annual exercise, it makes sense for me to tell this story to myself, again.

The Basics:
MicroVision is a company founded on a basic technology, an ingenious innovation. If you take a mirror, shrink it to the size of a micro-chip, oscillate it back and forth and up and down, the chip can send and receive photons. Light can be captured and displayed. That is obvious but the implementation is not. By making the mirror so small it can move at high speeds. Shine red, green, and blue light on it; find ways to switch them on and off quickly; move the mirror quickly; and project an image. Reserve the process. Move the mirror quickly; have the reflected image shine on a series of sensors; and capture an image. Because the mirror is so small, the projector and the camera can fit into very small spaces, use very little power, and be potentially cheap and easy to use and manufacture.

The Applications?
They’re too numerous to list. For a guess, though, look around your world at all the ways images are displayed and captured. The technology can’t replace all of the existing solutions, but even a small slice of such a large market can create a very profitable company. The resulting products are quieter, lighter, and use far less resources than conventional solutions. MicroVision technology can be an upgrade that also improves the technology’s impact on the planet.

The Reality?
It hasn’t happened yet; despite over 15 years of effort. Some significant hurdles were crossed with the introduction of a new CEO a few years ago, and with the technical shift from LED light sources to lasers. Shifting to lasers required the crossing of another significant hurdle, the invention of an acceptable green laser, but laser projections are always in focus and exhibit high contrast. Lasers don’t have to fake black. They just turn off and save power. The image resolution is about that of HD, and getting better and brighter. The ingenuity also enables unexpected applications that could come to market at any time. One demonstrated capability is the ability to notice and react to a person’s hand, enabling them to interact with the image. These have been true for years, and the market and the shareholders wait.

Some Specifics:
Skipping the generalities, here are some specifics. MicroVision could enable:

  • Projectors that fit in your pocket that can display images that are one foot bigger for every foot the projection travels. (Done, and available as a ShowWXIMG_0417, PicoAir, and PicoPro.)
  • Projectors that fit in a cell phone that do the same. (Prototypes have been spotted.)
  • Projectors built to act as TVs anywhere, speakers included. (Prototypes exhibited by Sony at CES.)
  • Projectors that project dashboard information. (Prototypes exhibited by MicroVision, and supposedly in development by car companies, kitchen appliance manufacturers, and UPS.)
  • Projectors that fit into eyewear. (Prototypes like Nomad and Spectrum exhibited by MicroVision years ago.)
  • Cameras that can fit into medical equipment like endoscopes. (A prototype exhibited by MicroVision years ago.)
  • Cameras that can read bar codes at very high rates. (Products like the Flic/ROV discontinued by MicroVision years ago.)

Just like with computers, however, the best applications will probably only be obvious after the products have hit the market.

The Reality, Revisited.
Unfortunately, the company’s finances forced the company to rely on others to develop the products. While MicroVision might want to create enormous billboards about their accomplishments and potential, any company considering using MicroVision’s technology is working in a competitive industry that forces them to keep as quiet as possible as long as possible. The result is that MicroVision says little, the investors know little, and the stock languishes.

Fortunately, after years of hearing about next year, next year, there has been significant news. Here I will direct you back to a previous post for details, but I’ll include the graphic here. MVIS CatalystsInstead of a few possibilities and very little revenue, 2015 has seen several possibilities, record setting production revenue, and actual product launches. Celluon already launched the PicoPro and PicoAir, and is so pleased with the response that they are considering additional products. Sony has committed to payments of $8M and $14.5M prior to expected product launches later this year. The company has mentioned additional potential products from UPS, Ford, another car part supplier, a Fortune 500 smartphone, and several others.

The Oh, Too Familiar Situation
Any day now, really, any day now, a product or products can be announced that will be produced in the volumes in the millions, and eventually tens of millions. The concept is simple, as ingenious concepts are. The manufacturing and distribution are far more complex, yet solvable. The product manufacturers are in control, which means MicroVision is not. MicroVision’s fate and future are uncertain enough that many avoid the stock (MVIS), yet the potential is so great that those of us blogging about it find increased traffic that probably exceeds the actual number of shareholders.

Sources Outside MicroVision
First, I must point to the official company site, even though I find it provides little, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. I blog about the company occasionally because it is one of the most potentially profitable holdings in my portfolio. Estimates range from the ever-present zero, to a few multiples over the recent $3, to as high as $3,333 – which I admit is incredible, yet mathematically plausible. Peter devotes his blog to far more aspects of news, analysis, and speculation. I also suggest joining the discussions on Investor Village, Silicon Investor, and The Motley Fool, so you can hear from more than just me.

My Short Version of the Long Synopsis
For me logically, the potential far outweighs the risks. For me, MicroVision has the potential to do to tablets what they did to laptops what they did to desktops what they did to mainframes. It is easy to imagine a smartphone with a projector out the front for a keyboard (see Celluon) and projector out the back for a display. It is easy to imagine eyewear that allows a person to watch whatever they want, wherever they want, and to have their iris scanned as a password replacement. Riding on the bus will look different. The potential is so large that estimates may only look credible in retrospect.

For me emotionally, so far the company could be an archetypical case study in over-promise and under-deliver. I expected profitability about a decade ago. My enthusiasm has never been met by the reality. While I am able to write this synopsis, my emotions include those of not wanting to lead anyone on, and not wanting to repeat what I’ve seen before – people buying without research, simply because I bought and mention my enthusiasm. I mention my cautions as well, but that has been too easy for others to discount.

My preferred method of investing is to buy small companies and wait for them to get big, then sell. (See my book, Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover for details and historical data.) I buy based on comparing the present value of future revenues discounted for risk. I’ve always picked a risk discount that wasn’t as severe as the markets, which is why it thinks the stock is worth about $3, while I think it is worth about $33. Make your own analysis. Check in with your logic and emotions, and don’t let either carry you too far without the other. The story continues, and changes every day, and any day could see the story dramatically improve. The only evidence that it might not is years of history.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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People Supply And Demand

How many people does it take to make a difference? Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? As much as it is handy to invoke Margaret Mead’s quote; “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.“, there’s a good chance she never said it. But it is such a good quote, let’s work with it. As for having too much of a good thing, anyone who makes desserts knows there are limits, and anyone who has sat on committees of brilliant people knows that too many happens too easily. Finding a place in the world is a gratifying achievement, especially for frugal folk who aren’t attracted to the roles of consumer or spectator. The opportunities exist, but there may be reasons why it is harder to find gratification and compensation – and yet, the effort is worth the potential reward.

Folks who are frugal by choice tend to appreciate achievements instead of acquisitions. (Ferengis shudder at the thought.) The more you understand your own values, the more apparent the advertising pressures become. Stuff becomes less appealing and experiences rise in importance. Frugal folk volunteer a lot, and also spend more time sitting in wonder at the natural world. Causes become things to work on. Sailboats could’ve ringed Shell’s oil rig,DSC_5518 but it was a crowd of (mostly plastic) kayaks that rowed out to corral the platform. Kayakers aren’t necessarily frugal folk, but in order of expense boats typically go from power down to sail down to water you have to row. Whether they made a difference is too early to tell. They did make a statement. (And the colorful kayaks made for some pretty pictures.)

In May 1776, a few dozen men gathered and argued about the future of the British colonies in America. We know how it turned out: revolutionary and good, and yet far from perfect. Their collective wisdom, insights, and audacity are so well celebrated that we tend to mythologize them. The Founding Fathers is capitalized. Good. They changed the world. Not only did they do something remarkable, but the fact that the colonies had such talent is incredible. The colonies were barely not wilderness. The colonists were people who left convention to pursue opportunity, freedom, or both. The population was about 2,600,000. The United States was born from a group of people about the present population of Chicago. That’s more than the population that Seattle, but less than the population of the surrounding counties, which undoubtedly were all represented. A few dozen people revolutionized government. A few hundred people made a statement about an oil rig, and what it represented. A few hundred thousand can march on the capital, and find that they made a great noise but weren’t heard. I don’t doubt the wisdom, insights, and audacity of people today. I think they’re up against something much more difficult.

In 1776, the population of the planet was about 800,000,000. The British American colonies were a small, seemingly insignificant portion, less than 1%. Now, the population of the species is nine times greater. In 1776, a few dozen men held a lot of influence because half the population was excluded by gender, another large percentage was excluded by slavery, another large percentage was excluded by access to information, especially those in the real wilderness or illiterate or both. The few remaining had few to convince. In 2015, the same amount of energy by the same number of people, and possibly the same percentage, can meet an equal and opposing force, and another, and another. The American Revolution was tough enough. Changing minds now is much tougher.

People who aren’t as actively engaged, people who just want to get on with their lives are finding troubles, too. I rarely meet someone who is spending most of their time lounging. Recent poll data reveals that the percentage of Americans who think hard work is fruitless has grown from 23% in 2009 to over 40% in 2014. They’re working harder, but they aren’t getting ahead. Getting ahead isn’t a euphemism for surpassing the Joneses. Getting ahead is increasingly simply getting ahead of the bills and achieving some financial stability. It has become common that people holding down two jobs can’t afford rent and food, especially if they are raising a family.

A possible explanation may have less to do with work ethic and more to do with demographics. How many people does it take to take care of all the people? One person can take care of one person, but there’s no margin for error. One disaster is disastrous. A couple or a family brings support and stability, hopefully enough to allow some time for critical times, like raising an infant or caring for the elderly. A village allows enough excess to enable crafts. A town can create marketable specialties. A city can support multiple industries, universities, hospitals, – go open the Yellow Pages (if you remember what that is, or was.) And then a nation can handle the really big issues like defense and – who can marry who, or who can smoke what, or whether pieces of cloth can be burnt or not. Okay, so there are some flaws in the system.

All of those tasks, projects, and services are becoming more necessary because of the increasing population. The increased necessity has increased the appeal of technology. We’ve seen an increase in productivity that makes it easier to do far more with far less. Our efficiency has increased, and may have become too much of a good thing. Our improved efficiency means that it takes fewer people to provide all of our necessities.

the increase in agricultural labor efficiency over the past century – from 27.5 acres/worker in 1890 to 740 acres/worker in 1990 – Environmental Protection Agency

This may be why, even as productivity increases and GDP increases, wages stagnate. Increased efficiency through better information, automation, and robotics, means fewer people are required to do the work. Increased supply (population) and decreased demand (productivity) mean fewer jobs in terms of percent. This may also be adding to wealth and income inequalities. More money is flowing around, but there’s less need for it to go to wages, which means more go to the people running the companies. They may have no intent to accumulate great wealth, but it has to go somewhere, so it ends up with them. No conspiracy required.

So, what’s frugal person to do? A major goal to start with is basic survival. Enough folks are having trouble with that. We need solutions. Ironically, technology and small communities may be the key. Decentralized power, distributed information, and an increased awareness of sustainability mean that many who can afford solar cells, a good internet connection, and some basic household and gardening skills can take care of themselves, those around them, and if necessary walk away from a dysfunctional, conventional society – at least until some ingenuity reveals a way to enact positive change.

It was easier to be noticed for wisdom when there were fewer wise people with extra time. Making a difference or a dollar may be more difficult now, especially if conventional approaches are taken, even if they were revolutionary once. If you feel discouraged, remember; the rewards are as great as ever, but the methods must change, and are.

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Keep It All In Mind

It is tough, trying to keep all of it in my head. There’s a lot of news out there, and it is increasingly apparent that it is all connected because we are all connected. My news blog, Pretending Not To Panic



, is “news for people who are eager and anxious about the future” because there is good and bad news out there, and trying to keep it all in mind can cause headaches. If that was all a person had to do, it would be a tough enough task. Real lives, however, have to also keep in mind the practicalities and responsibilities involved in living. Take those two tough tasks and add a third by realizing how much of the news out there connects with the lives we lead – and then deciding what to do with things like our time and money. That’s a lot to keep in mind. There must be a way.

With seven billion people on the planet human perspectives become statistical quickly. There are some who believe that everything is going to continue to improve. Whether they are relying on inertia, faith, or analyses, they may see less of a reason to worry and more of a reason to prepare for a celebration. There are some at the other extreme who believe that everything is collapsing and that it’s too late to do anything about it. They may rely on similar sources and come to opposite conclusions. Are we approaching utopia and rapture, or dystopia and armegeddon? The great mix in the middle is infinitely diverse. Pick a general category: economy, society, justice, technology, environment, politics, … It is easy to hear from folks that think some categories are getting better while others are getting worse. Except on a biological level, we are not a homogeneous species. We get a great diversity of insights, and a lot of trouble reaching consensus.

I’m in that great mix. I’m in that great middle ground to the point that people who rely on labels have a tough time understanding my perspective. I am an extreme, independent, moderate – I am convinced that many of our best solutions are in the middle, and that none of the parties are there. The solutions may not be the ultimate, but the middle is where we can make the moves that matter, and that give us the inertia to get to the next step. The middle is where we have the best change of deciding what to do with our society.

My real life is equally complicated, with great potentials and great worries and a great uncertainty in where I am. I attempt to keep in my head the same things most of us must deal with. You don’t need my list. Look inside for yours. The two main categories are incredibly general and basic: time and money.

Because of my unfortunate financial situation and my dedication to improving it through my Rule of Seven, I’m working seven days a week, with a day off every month or two. Every day I think about how to allot my time. I’m an entrepreneur and sole proprietor, which means I’m working with several clients, which means I’m working to several schedules and compensation packages. Before I get out of bed (really just my futon sofa), I already have a plan for the day. That was true when I had a paycheck, but the schedule is far more chaotic, and each day is unique. Having several clients means that, except for my two biggest clients, an interruption in their schedule is easier to accommodate. Having several clients also means an inefficient way to work. As I shift from task to task I have to shift urgency, discretion, client implicit and explicit expectations, computers, and the way I account for my efforts.

My unfortunate financial situation also means that every expense is noted. Some are non-negotiable: mortgage, insurance, utilities, food. One measure of my situation is that the negotiable expenses are almost down to zero; but repairs

And another section fell.

And another section fell.

sneak in or are delayed, occasional luxuries arise and are ignored or approximated, and most plans are dammed awaiting that rising tide. Because bills come in on varying schedules, each month means a different maneuvering of funds, sometimes with delays in payment. Debt versus delay becomes a balancing act.

Here it is, 7pm on a Saturday night, and I just finished working an hour or so ago. It is a good thing that I enjoy writing because it is one of the cheapest ways to spend an evening.

The global view is overwhelming. My personal situation is stressful and anxious. In both cases, there are positives that can dramatically improve both, and that’s where I find hope.

The trickiest part, however, is the recognition that the world and I am not separated. I am part of the world, and the world affects me. Take the web of conditions affecting the globe. Take the intricacies of a necessarily frugal life. Then, realize that they are intertwined. As the environment goes, so goes my food, water, and air supply. As the economy goes, so goes my income and expenses. As politics go, so go my obligations and support. I’m glad I live by the Salish Sea, which moderates some of the environmental impacts; and I only use about a tankful of gas per month. That wouldn’t change much if my finances were better (though my hiking expenses would go up.) My business relies on other people and businesses, so as they have the resources to do more, I can do more – and I pay attention because the businesses are in industries that are changing. I vote, which at its basic level takes little time, but politics reaches in and affects my taxes, health care, mortgage – and reaches out and affects social injustice, support for others, and hopefully the common good. The most likely outcome is that both good and bad will happen, because they always have.

So, what happens when I keep all three levels in mind: global, personal, connections? I don’t know. The closest I got involved some precious time sitting on the deck (because I was tired and a client slip created a gap), with a drink (a homemade infused vodka martini).Cultus Drive deck and drink I do know, however, that I tried; and that the snippets, trends, and connections that I find are fascinating and frustrating. The fascination comes from seeing how close we and I are to dramatic improvements. The frustration comes from seeing how close we and I are to significant failures. I’ve managed a few such sessions, and I’ve learned one comforting paired response: I’m not perfect, but am trying my best; and that after trying to keep it all in mind I should trust my self and let it all go, at least for a while.

Learn. Understand. Act. Trust. Let go.

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Foot In The Mouth Palm To The Forehead

A far too common condition: putting my foot in my mouth while giving my forehead a slap with my palm. Photo on 2015-05-13 at 18.09 #4I may not be able to lift my foot to my mouth like I did in college days (was I really that flexible? Yep.) but I can do something more impressive – socially. Last week I finally managed to deliver a long-delayed compliment; and then added one extra sentence that made the compliment sound like the prelude to a sales pitch. Groan. Gag. Slap. Doh! Sad to say, but another downside to the protracted busy-ness we are experiencing is the skepticism created as ulterior motives are assumed, and generosity and sincerity are challenged. I’ve decided to not let that stop me, even if it means a social sock in the mouth.

Part of living a frugal life is appreciating every part of the day, every part of the world. For me, frugality means valuing what I have, what’s around me, what’s in the world. I may want a better financial situation, but I am glad for where and how I live even while knowing that something much better is possible. I may want a better world, but am glad for the greater awareness that is now available. Ignorance of the rest of the world’s troubles was a version of bliss we no longer have, but the greatest hope for resolving those troubles is awareness that leads to action. I may want a better community, but am glad for the community I feel a part of – and that’s where I got into trouble.

Discretion recommends that I skip the details, but I’ll at least describe a familiar situation. As well as my local community communicates, Facebook has made it easier to see what’s happening in others lives. One Facebook friend and real world acquaintance has operated a successful business for years. That’s a tough enough trick anywhere, particularly on an island. A but of luck gave me the opportunity to pass along a compliment about the business. The compliment stumbled out of my mouth, was received graciously – and then I said one more thing. I mentioned how it would all make a good story. Locally, I’m somewhat known for being a writer, and even I thought my follow up sounded like a sales pitch for a paid writing gig. Foot in mouth. Palm to forehead. Compliment potentially minimized.

People are scrambling. Large portions of the populace are well and conventionally employed. Large portions are financially stable enough to not have to worry about money (though many do because they fear losing it.) An equally large population is actively striving to get by, and maybe, just maybe, get ahead. About 40% of Americans have shifted their economic dream to one of stability rather than advancement. People are increasingly drawn to entrepreneurship because they are seeing lower probabilities of attaining even modest goals through conventional careers and jobs. They start businesses for weight loss supplements, alternative health care treatments, spiritual awakenings, and financial counseling which can be offered sincerely; but, it is too easy to question each when there are more than one in each category. Is the motivation the presenter’s profits, or the recipient’s improvement? How many of your defense mechanisms just kicked in?

Compliment too often, and each message can be diluted. Compliment too often, and be seen as insincere and a suck-up. Compliment too often, and others may feel obliged to compliment in return.

If everyone complimented everyone else for everything positive they’ve done, we’d rarely get anything done and would generate some of the most ridiculous dialog human language ever produced.

If we say nothing, however, the results are even worse. Complimenting a person, appreciating the world around us, being thankful for the good parts of the lives we’ve led – and doing it all vocally and sincerely – reinforce and confirm the value we’ve felt. If we say nothing, we may feel that there is nothing to value. It becomes easier to overlook and under-appreciate basic, vital things like air, water, land, food, life, and each other. Politicians and pundits are more likely to emphasize the fears, doubts, and divides. The media passes it along. I wonder what public debate would sound like if they placed more emphasis on amplifying positives rather than embellishing negatives. Would they be more likely to defend the basics? Maybe they think they’re already doing that, though their results suggest a lack of success.

Some folks have asked how I manage to maintain a positive attitude despite my situation. (Others, by the way, chastise me for my negativity, but they’re no longer reading this blog.) It is easier to be positive when you know how impressive the world is and how much our civilization has accomplished. We may be in the midst of some epic mistakes, but it hasn’t been because we haven’t tried to make things better. We are an imperfect and adaptable species that may yet figure things out in time. It is tricky balancing the positive and the negative; but, solar is kicking coal’s butt, social injustice anywhere in the world has a tougher time hiding than every before, human compassion and beauty have an easier time being noticed and acknowledge. We’re simultaneously learning how scary the universe can be while beginning to realize the vast potential that exists off this planet which will make it easier to preserve this planet.

A week or so ago started with one or two business meetings planned every day, in addition to my regular clients and assignments. That was encouraging. If even half of the meetings occurred on a regular basis I could finally pay all my bills and begin working my way out of debt, and maybe even start working on the long repair list. Every meeting except one cancelled. And yet, I felt better about the week. More than a half dozen new clients had sought me out. None of the new work was from cold-calls or ads. All was from people familiar with my work (consulting, writing, program planning, etc.). I appreciate that progress from a year or two ago. Fortunately, most of the meetings were subsequently postponed rather than cancelled, as I’d originally feared.

The following week one of the rescheduled meetings was at a local coffee shop. I was there early. My friend and client was there a bit late. Until they arrived I considered the possibility that they forgot. Rather than worry, I looked around. The coffee shop is in a garden center. The day was gorgeous. I had my cup of tea and an excuse to do nothing (the wi-fi was a bit dodgy outdoors).  Sure, I needed the money. Sure, I want to see the project completed. And sure, sitting there in the sun, surrounded by beautiful displays was pretty nice. I should compliment them on the arrangements.


Nah. I’d probably just put my foot in my mouth.

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They Might Not Make More

Don’t worry. They’ll make more. Or not. Change is accelerating. Tomorrow’s thing will be better than yesterday’s thing, and yesterday’s thing will be cheaper as a result. If something breaks, replace it or upgrade. The economy loves it, even if the upgrade isn’t an improvement. You know I’m probably about to flip that logic, and you’re right, but this isn’t a Luddite revival. The change in perspective is, however, to point out that some things we take as progress are as much rationalization as real. And that, looking back at what they’re not making more of is an inspiration to appreciate what we have here and now.

Earlier today I was talking to my dad. He served on Liberty ships in World War II. Liberty ships were built to only last a few trips across the Atlantic in convoys. The strategy reflected the times and may never be repeated. The Allies knew the German U-boats were too efficient, so in addition to trying to sink the U-boats, the US decided to build ships faster than they could be sunk. It was a war of attrition and it wasn’t a secret to those involved. My dad served on them, switched to work on land after the war, and then helped run the Merchant Marine Veterans association. Last week they had one of their conventions. Fewer men arrive every year. There are even fewer of the ships. Only two are operable. They won’t make more, unless it is for a museum.

I miss my TR7. I never should’ve had a TR7. It was a two seat sports car with some innovative design that pushed a little too far; but it was fun. It was called the Wedge and the only reason I bought one was because I wanted to learn how to use a manual transmission, and it was one of the cheapest cars on the lot. Besides, something in my 22 year old’s brain suspected being young and single was the best, and possibly only, time to own such a car. I’m over six feet tall. My head almost hit the ceiling. The only way my foot could stay on the gas was to tilt my thigh to the left and bend my shin back to the right to get around the transmission housing. I drove cross-country twice that way; one time with the interior heater on full blast to keep the car from overheating as I drove across the Great Plains in summer. They don’t make those anymore.

My main part-time job is as project manager for the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum, eventually an online museum for the history of how computers changed what, how, when, why, and where we learn. The computers that enabled the computing are of about the same age as the TR7. We’re building the museum from a collection of things that can be digitized and put online: documents, videos, and software. We’re also collecting stories from the people who lived through the early years of the revolution that saw the teacher’s role change from lecturer to facilitator. The people with those memories can’t be replicated. Even the software that has the illusion of permanence because it is digital, is perishable because magnetic media deteriorate and the hardware that reads it becomes rarer every year. In some cases, there are no spare parts and no one knows how to build duplicates to sufficient precision. (As I recall, the Living Computer Museum in Seattle would be greatly relieved if someone found a supply of RP06 or RM05 read heads.)

As an aerospace engineer I look around and see what we can no longer see. There are no successors to the Concorde or the Space Shuttle. While many will cheer the departure of both, they also represent a collective retreat from capabilities that aren’t easily replicated. It is easy to say we don’t need them and never should have had them, but it is also easy to imagine the benefits of quicker responses to trans-oceanic crises, and the utilization of space rather than our home for resources – and even defense of the planet. The Concorde’s first flight was 1969. The Space Shuttle design effort was started the same year. If we found we needed either of them, it would take years, if not a decade to redevelop the technologies, design the vehicles, build them and fly them. I know. I worked on next generation versions of each, and watched airplanes stall at slight modifications to the 737 and spacecraft revert to Apollo-era concepts. (Come on Space-X et al.)

Step outside technology and see similar achievements in architecture, infrastructure, and even politics. The ornamentation in cathedrals is rarely attempted. The US Interstate system is collapsing, not even being upgraded. The US Constitution was designed to be revised, improved, and upgraded for contemporary society; yet, we have yet to get around to rewriting the Second Amendment to eliminate confusion, or reflect technological influences like our digital lives.

As I said above, I’m not advocating for a Luddite revival, even though there are a wealth of low-tech answers to modern problems. My intent, which may be personal as much as public, is to appreciate what we have now.

This is an era when:

  • I can write a post like this and publish it to the world for the cost of a bit of my time and a bit of electricity. (Though some would say I should pay for the privilege.)
  • I can eat food from almost any continent, and be so casual about it that I may not know how far that ginger traveled. (Though I am glad for the local butcher who makes excellent sausage, steaks, and bacon from local herds.)
  • I can heat my house by flipping a switch or programming the thermostat. (Though I do notice that propane bill.)
  • I can store food for months, thaw it, and cook it within a few square feet for very little money. (And glad I can watch videos about how to improve my cooking.)
  • I can get into my truck, load it up with hundreds of pounds of whatever I need and drive hundreds of miles if necessary. (And be glad for cruise control and a cd player.)
  • I can open my home’s doors and windows to let in the good weather, or close them and be warm and dry inside. (Though there are a few panes that need fixing.)
  • I can go on, and won’t; because I’d rather you created your own list rather than reading more of mine.

We can’t save everything. Some things we should save at least a few of for historical purposes. The most perishable things are us; because at least for now, we humans are fragile and impermanent. Other things we should maintain, if for no other reason than we don’t lose the momentum. Frugality is not being cheap, but being appreciative of the resources available. The biggest gift is to not take what we have for granted; whether that is a house, friends, a community, a society, or a planet. There are plenty of things we can make more of, but the most precious are those that are in such short supply that they are unique. Thanks for you all.

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Working On Small Town Coworks

Go work in the coffee shop. That’s what everyone else does. If you can’t afford that, go work in the library. Welcome to the new job site search familiar to nomadic workers. Solutions that work in the big city don’t necessarily work in the small town. Our local coworks closed, office photo 062813and several of us are on a search for a solution. If convention doesn’t provide a solution, if need drives innovation, then we’re probably close to finding something new. Here’s the progress so far.

Whether as an independent entrepreneur, or as a displaced corporate employee told to work off-site, or as someone playing hooky from home and office, people are much more likely now to gather up their phones and laptops, buy some caffeine as a nominal table rent, and try to get work done. That works for some, especially if it’s temporary, but as a prolonged solution its appeal fades quickly. Welcome to the concept of the coworks, where office nomads collectively create an office by sharing space, utilities, supplies, and ideas. No one has to pay for the entire space. As needs change, the crowd changes, but the concept continues. Get the right mix of people and networking becomes powerful. Take the idea to a small town, though, and the reverse inefficiencies of scale arise. Each individual pays a higher share. The presence or absence of someone has a bigger influence. Regardless, solutions must be found.

Out of curiosity as much as need, I decided to try out a few of the usual places in my community. Being somewhat of an organized geek, I compiled a list, created some criteria, and built a spreadsheet of the possibilities. It isn’t exhaustive, but it might be informative, even for other small towns because some patterns emerge. Here’s what I was able to compile for the cost of a bit of gas, some time, and many cups of tea.
Whidbey Coworks
(For folks familiar with Whidbey, these are listed from south to north, but only as far as ‘North’ Freeland. The rest of Whidbey is outside my commute criteria, but go ahead and create a version from your options.)

The two main suspects are simple enough: coffee shops and libraries. A lot of folks use them because they’re there, no innovation required. South Whidbey is lucky enough to have other options, businesses that are providing work space as a way to draw in customers, or just to support the community. If all you need is wi-fi, a chance for a power outlet, and not being bothered, you have lots of options. That covers a lot of work, especially for folks who only communicate with computers, not with people. If you have to deal with people, that still may not be a problem, as long as you don’t need privacy. There are enough business deals happening over coffee that no one notices. If, however, the conversation is a phone call, or something that requires some discretion, well, you can pick a place and hope no one shows up.

My benchmarks are working from a conventional office, where everything is fine as long as I can afford the fee; the coworks, which was good, but could’ve been a bit more private; and working from home, which works for me, but not for all of my clients. Some people don’t want to work from another person’s kitchen table. Those three benchmarks highlighted what the coffee shops and libraries don’t have, 24 hour access and privacy. As simple as those two things are, they point out that working from most other places only works when work happens within the other place’s hours, and in the vicinity of who ever happens to be there. For some, that’s not an issue. For others, they are necessities.

After my survey, I am much more familiar with where to find good wi-fi (WiFire), good tea (Useless Bay Coffee and Kalakala), good equipment and support (Island Printing), good networking (South Whidbey Commons), good writers (Through the Reading Glass), good art and gluten-free cookies (Timbuktu – got a URL?), and undoubtedly I missed a few key benefits, but I do what I can with what I have. The best and cheapest solution may be the libraries. They’re free. They have copiers and printers. They’re increasingly set up for power and connectivity, and have computers available for short periods – and are excellent places for research because they have books (duh) and librarians (professionals who are overlooked and underutilized.)

There is some good news. I’m not the only one hunting for solutions. There’s talk of a coworks in Clinton, my mailing address. Some entrepreneurs are creating an excellent space for physical work, part of the Maker movement, where people can create small devices through conventional means or from 3-D printers. They might provide some space. A variety of offices are available, and the ones owned by non-profits may appeal to people who are working for other non-profits; especially, if the space is shared by enough people. If you’re interested in those specifics, contact me and we can talk about the possibilities.

I don’t expect a solution, even though I look for one. I understand both sides of the economy of scale and can see why the concept works in a city but maybe not in a town. This may be one of the prices of living somewhere quieter. I also know that what I’ve found is only one answer. Maybe this post will inspire someone to come up with a better sustainable idea. Maybe they already have it, but haven’t announced yet. For now, though, I provide this survey in case it is helpful to anyone else, on Whidbey or elsewhere. One thing that small towns are great at is creating community, and I suspect that this community can find an answer, maybe even one that’s never been considered before. Until then, it’s back to work at the kitchen table. At least I like the view, and the commute can’t be better.

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Watching The Early Maturation Of MVIS

Rarely do I pay as much attention to a stock as I have been lately with MVIS. (Okay, I watch DNDN a lot, too.) My increased attention may be because MicroVision is entering exciting times, or because I’ve grown impatient over the 15 years of owning the stock, or because I need the money, or because of a combination of all of those reasons and more. Today was the coincidence of a few events: I read the Annual Report recently, the company announced earnings and had a conference call, we’re one-third of the way through the year, and the stock went down 8.2% today but is up 86.8% since the beginning of the year. It is a good time to compile the progress and assess the situation, or at least guess. (Because, guessing is what every analysis is if any assumptions are involved.)

For those unfamiliar with MicroVision and MVIS (and if you’re reading this blog regularly how could you miss the topic) I wrote a bit of a synopsis a few years ago. The synopsis is due for an update, but like I said, MicroVision is not the only thing in my life. Go read Micro Vision for a slightly out-of-date primer. For the ultra-short primer, MicroVision may help make projectors as ubiquitous as those cameras in laptops and phones – and more.

Things I Knew already

There are two identified customers: Sony and Celluon. Sony has yet to announce any products, but they have paid $8M for a multi-year contract, and $14.5M for components, and will also pay royalties as the products sell. Celluon was a surprise, but they’ve launched two products (the PicoAirIMG_0417 and the PicoPro) and have stated an intent to launch more because they are so enthused by the technology. The products are getting excellent reviews, but no sales figures are available yet. There is lots of tantalizing talk about other customers and products, but no details because everyone is guarding competitive secrets. Secrets turn investing into speculation. Business in 2015 has already set records for true commercial production and product revenues. Congratulations. MicroVision is not, however, profitable – yet.

The Annual Report

I just finished reading the Annual Report. Yes, that can be dull. Yes, it can be repetitious. No, I don’t read every word; but, I do skim for key phrases in familiar places or in sections where I have questions. The quick summary: there was very little that was news, partly because I read the press releases, follow the twitter feed, and because discussion boards (particularly Investor Village) keep me informed well enough informed that there were few surprises. (Follow my blog tags for MicroVision and MVIS for posts about previous news items.)

The only small surprise worth mentioning was that under ‘not currently major areas of focus’ was the ‘pair of glasses’, which I take (and there’s an assumption) to include Hololens (an impressive Microsoft initiative). This is a disappointment because I think eyewear displays will be easier to use than projections that have no privacy. The embedded projectors have a large market for replacing or supplementing conventional displays (and are a great improvement for sharing videos) but I think (think) personal use will exceed public use.

The Earnings Report and Conference Call

Dutifully, MicroVision announced their quarterly earnings and held a conference call to discuss the results. Yes, that can be dull. Yes, it can be repetitious. Yes, I did listen to the entire 42 minute call; but, considering the implications, it was worth the investment in time. For the full set of financials, check their press release. If you prefer data, read the report. If you need to hear from management, listen to the call. If you have the time, do both. If you don’t have the time and are only relying on me, well, remember that this is free and you may get what you pay for.

The Report

Revenue was $0.9 million.
– Which is less than the price of many homes in the Seattle market. The $8M and $14.5M orders came in, but the accounting is spread out.
– Revenue was from selling goods rather than services, which is a switch and a sign of maturity.
Operating loss was $4.0 million.
– Oops. That’s bigger than the revenue, but includes non-recurring costs of building the business.
Net loss was $0.09 per share.
– But -$0.09 is better than last years -$0.23 quarterly loss. Keep up that trend and be positive, and extrapolations are dangerous.
Backlog was $18.7 million and cash and cash equivalents were $16.7 million.
– Those are like, real numbers from a real business. Yay! Dilution may be held at bay.

The Call

  • The $8M Sony deal (and they’re actually calling them Sony instead of a Fortune 100 company) is a deal for eight years.
    – Some were hoping for $8M every year, with follow-ons.
    – Some were hoping for $8M over a couple of years, with follow-ons.
    – Some are cheering the 8 year deal, while others are lamenting the fact that $8M spread out over 8 years is only $250k per quarter.
  • The $14.5M Sony deal includes shipping display modules (made by another firm) to Sony from 2H15 through 2016. There is no public information about when Sony will announce and release the product.
  • Celluon’s 2 products (PicoAir and PicoPro, available on amazon) were launched in February and April and have received almost exclusively positive reviews.
  • The Fortune 500 company working on an innovative smartphone continues to work on an innovative smartphone.
  • Several companies privately demonstrated products at CES15.
    The customer list is growing.
    All of the customers are maintaining secrecy.
  • There were no updates from auto and industrial, which does not sound encouraging.
  • MicroVision is increasing supply capacity, and expects growth in product and licensing revenues – but stockholders don’t know the details.
  • Research and Development is working on increasing brightness and helping develop applications beyond projection. (See Mark Bridger’s guest post for an example.)
  • Questions & Answers – paraphrased (and drastically reduced)
    – Every quarter should exhibit increasing output and revenues.
    – With Sony entering a new phase, employees are being shifted to other customers and neglected projects.
    – Royalty revenue has a one quarter lag before it is reported.
    – MicroVision is looking beyond projection. (Pun thanks to paraphrasing.)
    Sony is very bullish.

First Third of the Year
Nothing I read or heard inspires much of a change in the list of catalysts I posted earlier, except to mark off another month and Celluon’s launch of the PicoPro. There are lots of tantalizing potentials, but the graph already has too much speculation built into it. It sounds like the pace should pick up, and that bars will be replaced with stars (or deleted), and that a few other bars can be added; but that level of speculation is the too frequent norm.

MVIS Catalysts
The Stock

I’ll add my synopsis below, but the market made its synopsis apparent today. As I said above: MVIS was down 8.2% today but is up 86.8% since the beginning of the year. The stock is trading about where it was three years ago when the company executed a one for eight reverse split. The Sony news has been the biggest catalyst, and has the potential to be followed by far larger news items; but today’s news wasn’t good enough for many investors. Every day on the market is different. Noise happens. News happens. Rumors happen.

My Synopsis
Let’s take the above items in reverse order.
The Stock: I look longer term. Five years ago, back when many of today’s shareholders bought shares, MVIS was trading at over $22. A seven-fold increase in the stock price would make headlines, and yet it would simply take the stock back to the entry point for many. If they expected a 15% return because it was a startup, they were looking forward to a $44 stock today, a 14-fold increase. Dilution affects that but the reaction to a $44 share price is still more emotional than logical. I have to remind myself that the math doesn’t care about what makes sense. Multiple previous analyses (see Peter’s MVIS blog for a collection) have suggested far higher eventual targets, like $400 and eventually $3,000. That last one is possible, but would require so much success built on success that MicroVision would become one of the largest companies in the workd.
The Call: I spent the time. I heard the words. I took my notes. My opinion hasn’t changed. There are so many hidden details and NDAs that any story can be produced.
The Report: Without perspective, the financials do not tell much of a story. But, for anyone who’s followed the company for years, the data are encouraging, and yet not sufficient because profitability has yet to be reached.
The Annual Report: Aside from the eyewear disillusionment, I’m glad I read/skimmed the report; but found the details about the stockholders meeting to be the most actionable item. (Only a bit over three hours by bus to get there. Oh, goody. Thanks for the ride offer, folks.)

My Conclusion
This has been more work than I wanted to spend on a Thursday night, but it is part of the due diligence of investing. I don’t do this all the time for every stock. As the title of my book Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover suggests, investing is only a part of the story. I’ll continue to hold because I am cautiously optimistic and because the potential is so great. Logically and mathematically, the present value of future revenues discounted for risk is improving because the risk is diminishing. Emotionally, however, my optimism for MVIS has been worn out by years of slight progress and large disappointments. I look forward to being pleasantly and profitably surprised. My math says it can happen. My emotions won’t believe it until they see it. That’s why I am watching.

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Guest Post – Mark Bridger On MicroVision

The following is a guest post from Mark Bridger of Australia that was prompted by an email exchange. I appreciate the current find with the historical perspective. – Tom Trimbath

From Mark,

As a fellow ‘long haul’ MVIS investor, I’ve been following MVIS Retinal Scanning Display (RSD) technology since its inception at the Washington HIT labs and waiting for a killer app ever since.
I was convinced the RSD was a killer, but instead it got killed; still don’t know why, but I have my suspicions.
Then along came the bar code scanner, then the projector and still no explosion.
I’ve got faith the MVIS Laser Projector tech is a game changer, just have to find the right place to ‘crack the nut’.
Recently, I received my regular subscription email from Gizmag ( ).
My eye was drawn to a piece titled ‘Inexpensive new depth-sensing camera could outperform the Kinect’. – gizmag
I read the article and thought ‘interesting’, then watched the imbedded video.

At time 1:02, I heard a reference that made my ears prick up.
I quickly backed up the video to see what equipment was being used.
No prizes for guessing the brand of laser projector!
This new use gives me cause to hope.
Gaming, particularly immersive gaming/simulation, has been gaining ground, for want of better interface tech.
Given this new 3D vision system can go outdoors, it’s one more barrier to broad usage dropped.
With Microvision at its core, as a ‘reference’ projector and potentially graphic content projector, my fingers, toes and anything else I can cross, is.

Mark Bridger
Melbourne, Australia

As someone else recently pointed out, MicroVision has been around long enough that some employees must be getting close to retirement. I know that some of the shares are old enough to drive and vote. It is time for graduation day. – TET

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Evolving Conventional Wisdom

They’re here. Oh dear. Conventional wisdom is based on conventional thought from conventional situations. Check your calendar. It is now 2015. Old conventions based on the reactions of pesky humans don’t necessarily apply to a world where computers are making the decisions, and acting accordingly. That doesn’t mean stop. It does mean think. Things are different now. Some of the old advice remains true. Much of the old advice is just old. Bots are trading in more than just stocks. The markets’ defenses are designed for humans; and may never quite catch the evolution of technology. These will be, and are, interesting times when new wisdom will be required.

Read enough news and trends appear. We humans are good at discerning patterns, even when there aren’t any; but various bits of news from the last few months are possible signs of how different things are.

Bots Buy Houses
I wrote about this here a few weeks ago. The real estate market is no longer controlled by humans. Computer programs have stepped beyond their advisory roles and are actually placing offers on houses. Humans are required to inspect, verify, and close; but the inclusion of computer generated offers means buyers are competing against machines.

Bots Beat Wall Street From Tweets
This item was added to the news feed of Pretending Not To Panic (#PNTP), another blog I run. Computer programs are reading Twitter. Even if you aren’t, programs are reading the tweets, watching for news about companies and stocks, and trading options before humans can act. If you thought it programmed trading was pervasive before, it just stepped out into social media for something more significant than ads or spam.

Undercover AI
Another PNTP post brought up the ethical and cautionary issue of developing advanced artificial intelligence (AI). Many tech pioneers have raised concerns about developing AI to the extent that we can’t control it; at least not until we understand it. Mega-geeks are worried and want to make sure any AI is developed in ways we like. Want to see their worries in a more graphic display? Watch the Matrix. It isn’t an exact display, but it gets across the idea.

As a individual investor, I try to keep my life simple. That’s why the title of my book is Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover Investing is only one-third of the title. Dream and Live are the beginning and the end. Investing is merely one way to tie them together. Most investment strategies were developed when people met people to make transactions. Technology has become more useful and was therefore incorporated. Technology made it easier to buy homes by cruising the web instead of cruising the streets, at least until the short list is created. Technology helped enable NASDAQ and discount brokers, which allowed millions of individual investors to take control of their portfolios at lower cost – with an ongoing debate about changes in risk.

I’ve been buying and selling stocks from about 1978, from when the New York Stock Exchange actually remembered exchanging shares of stock. The first programmed trading induced crash that I recall was in 1987. The market recovered. Protections were put in place. Everything will be fine, right? Skip forward 23 years and witness the flash crash of 2010. Evidently, we’re not as protected as we think.

This week the SEC finally uncovered the cause



of the flash crash. Allegedly, one trader placed a long string of illegal sell orders, hoping to drive the market down, then making money by buying back in as it recovered. Five years later he was found. There’s good reason to believe that he did it more than once, because why stop something that is working. There’s also the crash in DNDN, an individual stock that experienced the same phenomenon, but without the subsequent investigation. Small companies don’t get the same attention as the entire market.

The market’s flash crash was caused by a human, but couldn’t happen without computer executed orders. Imagine then, someone who wants to make a lot of money, using the same technique, and designing the software to stop just shy of being noticed. Money is a sufficient motivation. The technology and ineffective regulation creates the opportunity. Hire the right programmers, buy the right hardware, and attain the ability. I would be surprised if this isn’t already happening.

Take the undercover AI scenario, add someone’s desire to accumulate wealth at all costs, and it is easy to imagine a well-funded development effort that would unleash an evolutionary leap in computerized trading in stocks and any other connected market. Whether they worry about designing in controls or limits or not, I don’t see anything that will stop them. So, rather than ponder the debate about whether they’ll exist, I think the new conventional wisdom is to assume they do.

I collect science fiction. Because of my recent troubles, I had to sell about half of my collection. One book was in the collection because it coined the term computer ‘worm'; Shockwave Rider by John Brunner. It was an early hacker novel from before hacker was a term. The main character used his skills to hack the network, as we expect hackers to do; but, he was smart enough to never leave a trace. His kind of hack is much more worrisome. Hacks that are so subtle, even when pervasive, that they can’t be found because no one has any reason to suspect the need for a search. In that scenario, there’s no way to tell if such a subversion exists.

This can sound doom and gloom, with tones of conspiracy theories, and apocalyptic overtones; but my take is simpler. Much of the activity is short term. Therefore, invest for the long term. Know that sudden aberrations will happen, because they have; and that they won’t be corrected, because only a few have. And, know that each bit of conventional wisdom is worth studying to understand its implicit assumptions because assuming is the most dangerous action of all.

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Taking A Hint About AST

Okay, okay. I can take a hint. A few days ago I wrote about AST, the stock for Asterias. It had a nice run to new records, and I wrote about deciding not to sell, and not knowing the details of the news. The details were easily uncovered by a reader. (Check the comments on the previous post .) And then the stock decided to rise higher. At one point today, it was up 50% from my last post. There was enough of a rise that taking some profits was effectively painless. I may have a hint of what’s going on with Asterias, but I still don’t know about what’s happening with AST. Spinoffs and divisions make simple stories complex, and provide opportunities for arbitrage. I’ll keep my story simple, and yet ponder the other possibilities.

For the advocates of medical advances, Asterias is definitely working to advance the technology. In particular, they are trying to help regrow damaged nerves. Succeed at that, and treating accident victims or people afflicted with strokes becomes possible in new and revolutionary ways.

For the stock hounds, AST has gone from a 52 week low of $1.37 to a 52 week high (today) of $15.10. Buy low, sell high and turn a dollar into eleven (minus commissions, of course.)

I balked at selling at $10, realizing that it should eventually go higher, especially if the trials succeeded. I bought below $3, having missed the low; so, selling a portion at $10 could recover my profits, give me a bit of profit, and let the rest ride with no real risk. And yet, go back and read my rationale for not selling then.

The same argument seemed less certain when the stock added another 50% in three days. While the stock was up 50%, the rise was also about twice my investment. I could sell even less, and still have as much left over as my total holding from three days earlier. Take a $2.50 entry. Compare that to a $10 stock, and selling 25% recovers the initial cost. Watch that stock hit $15 and see that the initial cost can be recovered by only selling 16%. Round up, sell 20% and make a profit as well. I listened to the math, partly stepped away from my Long Term Buy and Hold strategy (details in my bookDream Invest Live cover), and sold about 20% of my shares.

Congratulate myself on making about 25% in about 9 months, with substantial profit positioned for a possibly impressive future.

Here’s where the weirdness comes in. I’m guessing that the professionals already know this and that nothing is out of balance in the market. There’s too much money at risk, and too much of an opportunity for the professionals to miss profits from arbitrage plays, so surely they’ve reflected what I’m about to show. And yet, something seems amiss when I look at the market cap of Asterias, and some of its connected companies.

I own AST because I own GERN. GERN is the stock for Geron, another leading edge biotech, and one that is making too slow progress with its treatments. Through some merger, acquisition, and spinoff mechanics, the stem cell technology being used by Asterias was spun off from Geron, through BioTime, which has a division that is Asterias. As if the technology wasn’t complicated enough, welcome to the byzantine world of corporate finance. I ended up with shares of GERN, and AST, and BTX (sort of). Here is where the possible weirdness is manifested.

Asterias is using a technology that was spun off. Its value should be a fraction of the value of the origin, Geron. Asterias is a division of BioTime. Its value should be a fraction of the value of its parent, BioTime (BTX). In the time it took AST to go up ~30%, GERN and BTX went up ~3%. For a while, Asteria’s market cap exceeded its parent, BioTime, and may have exceeded its original company, Geron – all for a treatment that is only in phase 2 clinical trials.

Arbitrage lives off deviations in value across markets and equities. Surely someone has noticed. Ironically, the resolution of any imbalance may result in a decrease in AST’s price; though arguments could also be made to increase BTX’s price. Geron, in the meantime, is missing out on a substantial increase in value. They stewarded the technology for years, and simply ran out of money and time to develop all of their good ideas. Geron focused their strategy on telomerase, because it is equally revolutionary, and potentially more important because it can treat a wide variety of cancers and auto-immune ailments. If they’d only been able to hold onto both technologies, their stock would be much higher, their finances would be stronger, and more of their technologies could be advanced to the potential good of more patients.

I invest in small companies because they are easier to understand, usually. Even situations like Asterias’ are simple when compared to the intertwined machinations that are the collaborations, competitions, and complexities that are typical for mature mega-corps. For large companies, only the large financial institutions have the resources to discern the influence of one product on the whole. As complicated as Asterias’ situation is, I prefer it to trying to understand Apple or Microsoft. As an individual investor, I may not know everything about all the companies I’m invested in, but I know a larger fraction – and I know enough to notice a hint when it comes my way.

Whether AST should be lower, or BTX should be higher, or GERN should be valued for its identification of revolutionary technologies; I do know enough to take a hint when the market sends one my way. I sold a bit. Recovered my money. Took some profits. And am positioned to benefit in the future. Evidently, I may not know everything, but I may know enough.

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