Lifeboats For Our Species

Unless you’re lucky or asleep, dreams take work. Elon Musk has announced plans to accomplish one of my dreams, colonizing space. First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win. I expect a lot of laughter over the next few years. I’m smiling, but as I laugh, it is in celebration. Something I tried to further made an enormous step forward with his announcement. I had nothing to do with it; but one of my greatest existential anxieties finally has a hope of relief. It didn’t come from a government. It came from an individual. Already, it has put my life in perspective. It probably will for others, too.

In case you hadn’t heard, the mega-billionaire, Elon Musk, has decided to do what no government has seriously considered, try to preserve the species by giving us at least a second home, and maybe more. His plan is to launch a series of enormous rockets to Mars, each carrying a hundred people for the eventual purpose of colonizing another planet, and possibly the rest of the Solar System. Go ahead and laugh, but for me, this is like finding myself on a passenger liner, seeing icebergs in the vicinity, and realizing there aren’t any lifeboats – and then finding one guy who decided to start building lifeboats, not just for himself, but for as many people as possible. In decades, it will be less amazing that someone did something and more amazing that the governments of the world, and the other ultra-rich didn’t. Even though I doubt I’ll get a seat on the lifeboat, I’m glad someone is building it.

Let’s take this back about forty years. I was an undergrad at Virginia Tech (actually Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, aka, VPISU, which shouldn’t be pronounced.) My selected major was Aerospace (and Ocean) Engineering. I didn’t care about fighters, bombers, or jet liners. I wanted to work on anything that would help us, Us, colonize space. Our planet is tiny and our internal and external threats have grown too large to have everyone crammed onto one over-stressed shell. One big crack from an asteroid, or one stupidly quick and massive war, and our species would become a has-been. I didn’t expect anyone to start working on space colonies that year, but hoped I was learning the right information at the right time in the right country to help make it happen. The Space Shuttle was new, and I was already hoping to work on the successor, because it was obvious that we’d need a successor. We’d never been stupid enough to throw away that much work. Forty years later, I’ve seen a lot of stupid choices. Short-sightedness is incredibly common.

Space colonization was becoming viable. I joined an advocacy group, the L-5 Society, where fellow dreamers considered the possibilities. I also joined the professional society, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which considered itself innovative thanks to the Apollo Program and various advances since World War II. The L-5 Society continues, but couldn’t sustain the energy to keep me engaged. AIAA became entrenched with the mainstream. I realized my best effort would be to learn how a commercial company like Boeing could make vehicles that fly reliably. I didn’t get to work on space shuttles at the start. They offered me a job working on 747s, then R&D, then 737s, then a supersonic transport – finally something that would start to touch on what I needed to learn about high speed flight. Then it happened. Despite a downgrade, I took a series of jobs that let me work on second generation space shuttles, innovative rockets, and satellites. Decades after I started college, I’d get to work on the very things I considered necessary. In the middle of that came the call.

Boeing had merged with (or been taken over by) McDonnell Douglas. Our remote and new manager called us into a conference room. Over the phone and as a group, his disembodied voice told us to throw away our notions of building something. There wasn’t enough profit in it. If we built something and succeeded, the profit margins would be small. If we built something and there was an accident, the company would lose money. Oh yes, and someone might die. If, however, we designed a vehicle and wrote about the design, the company would make a relatively predictable profit. After that design, we’d design again, again with a predictable profit. Repeat. Low risk, high probability of profit, completely legal, of course that’s what the company would pursue. There was no transcript. The person wasn’t in the room. I never met him. And, I watched the dream die. Instead of growing, the group stagnated. I stayed at the company for a few years, trying to find something satisfying, but began making more money from investments than from engineering, and retired before I was forty.

That was almost twenty years ago.

And along comes Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Paul Allen, people how made a lot more money than me, all of who are now launching space-based businesses with their billions. Elon has the grandest vision, but I cheer on all of them (and apply for jobs with them, unsuccessfully.) Governments spend trillions on war and almost completely stall space exploration and development. NASA’s annual budget is less than what the US Department of Defense spends in two weeks. Meanwhile, Elon, Richard, Jeff, and Paul have all launched businesses with their (incredibly large) spare cash.

Governments are driven by politics and election cycles. Space projects take too long to benefit politicians. Businesses are driven by profits. There are no profits to be made by preserving the species. At least one benefit of our economic system and our amazing wealth inequality is that someone with a grand passion can exercise it. Few do, but I’m glad they are.

If you want details, call me and you’ll have a tough time getting me to shut up. Or, check out SpaceX’s various sites. The video is easy to watch, but four minutes isn’t enough to describe the challenge.

A pair of details that have already been chastised convinced me that public perception has a long way to go to understand the draw for many who are interested. Sign up for the trip and you may die. Sign up for the trip and you won’t be on a vacation. Sign up for the trip and it will cost you about $200,000. Who would do such a thing? Me. And, I’m not alone. And, I probably won’t go.

I’m frugal. I look at the numbers. Forget about the fact that it is possibly a one-way ticket to Mars. If I was offered an job that cost $200,000, required a relocation, separated me from our complex of dysfunctional systems, and helped me preserve the species against most existential threats, that’s an offer I’d consider. If I had the money. If $200,000 sounds like a lot, consider how much people are already risking with mortgages, student loans, and medical expenses. For some, that’s barely enough to maintain, maybe not sustain, and doubtfully expand their current lifestyle. Within seven billion people, even one tenth of one percent would be enough to fill the dozens or hundreds of ships Elon is proposing.

That $200,000 appeal is a measure of our species’ pioneering nature, but it is also a measure of the state of our current society.

I know I won’t go. If they’re doing this right, those hundred people on each flight will have to meet certain standards: health, skills, talents, fertility, psychology, and ideology. The other 99 people would probably prefer a young, fit, fun, intelligent, wise, and productive person. I may meet many of those criteria, but they’ll have many more to choose from – just like the companies have been able to find other (younger?) engineers.

The horizon is rising. The Sun has set behind it as I type. For many, the idea of colonizing anything off this planet is ludicrous. But for some, colonizing planets, moons, asteroids, or empty space is as natural as realizing that our planet is spinning relative to the Sun, the rest of the Solar System, and the Universe.

If Elon succeeds, great! If Elon fails, our species, society, and civilization have progressed at least a bit. And maybe, when we realize how much sense it makes to move to Mars, we’ll realize we must be able to fix the problems we have here on our first of hopefully many homes.

Elon, congratulations, and thanks for what’ve you’ve inspired.

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Frugal Harvest 2016

It was possible because of friends – throwing away old stuff. The equinox is past. Harvest time is passing, too. The garden that I apologized to has been producing produce and stories. It is time to ask the frugal question; “Was it worth it?”

dsc_6742I apologize to anything I plant. Life’s been busy enough that I typically pull some weeds, plant some seeds, and hope nature will grow something for me. I usually don’t get much. But, the deer, bunnies, and slugs seem to be happy. This year was different. Thanks to some of last year’s seed sales and friends who were throwing away some cracked pots, I was able to plant tomatoes, peppers, and gourds. Thanks to a bit of playing with old fencing, I was able to prop the pots on stands that kept them out of critters’ reach. Previous gifts of raspberry plants, an apple tree, onion and garlic starts, grew this year; especially, the perennials. Potatoes were planted after they sprouted in the pantry. My squash bed (which sounds like a mattress that wasn’t sturdy enough) came from last year’s seeds from the edible gardens of Langley. While all of these things were growing, my mushroom crop has patiently continued colonizing about a half dozen logs. Ginger, grown from pieces bought at the supermarket, sprouted, too.

That sounds like an incredible harvest. Yep. Parts of it were hard to believe.

dsc_6733Finally, a harvest that overwhelmed me. After years of caterpillars and deer, my trees finally produced a crop. The two small trees that I planted over five years ago have been trying to grow in terrible weather, despite pests, and while being nibbled to bark by deer that walked through a downed fence. Finally, with the fence fixed and record spring rain, they grew and produced an apple – combined. Incredible. Right beside them, however, is the transplanted tree from my neighbor. It and two others were uprooted during a six inch property line dispute. I was too late for the first two, but the last one was planted about five years ago. This year it produced so much fruit that my refrigerator bins are full, and I’ve had ingredients that went into oatmeal, onto pork chops, as part of roasted veggies, and eaten raw. I would’ve had more but the tree has grown too tall to harvest completely. It also turns out that the deer decided to help with the harvest. I thought the harvest was done because there were no more apples hitting the ground. After a bit of investigation I noticed that the lower leaves were being nibbled. The rabbits aren’t that tall. Evidently, the deer no longer fear jumping over the fence. At least they helped with the cleanup. If I want the smaller trees to survive, though, I’ll have to deploy more defenses next year.

The fig harvest almost overwhelmed me, but they’re much smaller. So far I’ve only used them as snacks, but I’m considering adding them and the apples into my typical fruitcake. I’ll probably have to dry them first. The figs were gratifying. Bite-sized, easy to harvest, easy to freeze, and not prone to blemishes or bugs. I’ve got about a gallon of them in the freezer.

Sticking with the perennials, the raspberries came back. A friend was thinning their garden and gave me about a dozen canes last year. Somehow they survived me and came back. I only picked about a dozen. When they were ripening, I wasn’t watering. They were dried on the vine. The birds appreciated them, though. More defenses.

Last year, a very successful gardener game me some extra garlic. Extra garlic is possible? They suggested I plant it this year, which I did. If it’s out there, it’s hiding. I suspect they ended in the bellies of the slugs.

dsc_6745This spring, a new neighbor was surprised to find free onion starts at one of the local garden centers. Buy something, get a handful of baby onions. They are new neighbors, which meant buying lots of things, and getting lots of onions. Thanks, folks. Mine grew to about the size of golf balls, not bad, but not tremendous.

dsc_6744Langley is a tourist town with a wide mix of ideas, one of which was to encourage business owners to plant edibles instead of ornamentals. The idea is so simple and so unexpected that most people hesitate to eat any of it. It’s a sad statement to realize that people think they need written permission before doing something as simple as eating a beans and peas from a sidewalk patch. I enjoy seeing plants I wouldn’t see otherwise. The tall artichokes look alien. Last year, one patch had squash. I harvested a few at the end of the season, ate some, and noticed that one was rotting before I got to it. I saved the seeds, planted them, and had the biggest bed of squash ever, for me. The mystery was that I couldn’t remember what kind it was. Evidently, they are big and yellow, so I’m guessing zucchini. I only have two, so will eat one and save the seeds from the other; but I’ll also celebrate a garden bed that was so covered with leaves that the weeds stayed low, and grew so many plants that the slugs couldn’t keep up.

Tomatoes and Peppers and Gourds
The cracked plastic pots and the wire stands were enough of an excuse to actually buy dirt. Money has been tight enough that I haven’t bought dirt until recently. Maybe when people ask me how things are I should tell them I can finally afford dirt. The good news was the the wire stands worked, as long as I made them wide enough (to keep from blowing over), but not too wide (which put the bottom of the pot within reach of a stretched slug). The plants grew! I even got fancy and bought some chicken manure mix to help them along – and helped them too much. The plants basically burned because the soil was too nutritious. I’ll probably get a half dozen tomatoes, about the size of a handball. The peppers are doing better, at least for the stems and branches, but the peppers are small and may not mature before the end of the season. The gourds weren’t for eating, but hey, why not try growing a mug? I might get a thimble.

Somewhere down there are potatoes. In the various places I planted them, the potato plants did fine – for a while. Then, everyone seemed to eat them. This has happened before. What’s also happened is that I found a small harvest under each. East some. Plant some.

Last year I grew ginger indoors, and it did better than I expected. When the summer got hot, I put them outside to soak up the warmth, and they seemed to wither. But, just like with potatoes, it is hard to know what’s going on underground. So, I brought them inside. From one shoot came two, and now there are three. They’re tiny, but I’ll encourage them.

Mushrooms grow when mushrooms want to. I planted, er, inoculated some logs over a year ago. The mottling makes it look like something good is happening; but the logs got so dry that the bark peeled. No reason to give up hope. I just watered one and set it in the ground to see if some contact with dirt will inspire some fruiting.

Aloe Vera
dsc_6748No, I am not planning to eat aloe vera (but pass along a recipe if such a thing exists.) From one donated plant, I’ve given away eight, and have at least fifteen more sitting in my living room window. The original is so happy that it sprouted a flower spike, something I didn’t expect. The flower stalk is over three feet long. I’m surprised some hummingbird hasn’t tried to break in to say hello.

Here is where the question comes around; “Was the garden worth my time and money?” I know plenty of gardeners whose gardens produce as much as 80% of their food. For them, it is definitely worth it. Growing things is not an obviously profitable venture, though. If it was, farmers wouldn’t have such a tough time. My garden mostly produced apples and figs, which are tasty. The rest of the crops were encouraging, but not very productive. The most produce came from the plants that required the least tending. The plants that used the dirt, pots, stands, and watering produced a few things; but it would’ve cost less to buy them from the grocery. On a strictly objective analysis, I should spend more time working and less time gardening.

And yet, I’ll continue to plant things. I want to grow things. Convenience, emergency supplies, knowing what goes into my food, an appreciation for farmers, a nice greening of the property, and an easy opportunity to learn are all reasons why I’ll continue. As I learn more, it is easier to produce more productively. I do best with perennials. Good. I like fruit. I’ve gone from not growing fruit, to growing fruit but not vegetables, to maybe growing both and more. That’s personal growth, and that’s valuable.

I like to plant things. Usually, I plant ideas. They don’t always grow, either. They take a lot of tending, and sometimes find fertile places to grow – like in a similarly minded person. Ideas are perennial. That’s my strength. The results aren’t as quick and obvious as bed of zucchini (picture that), but they can be sweeter and last longer. This harvest is mostly over, and yet, I know that there are an unknown number of potatoes in my yard, ginger that may appreciate its change in location, and mushrooms that may mushroom. Part of my litany of optimism comes from similar plantings, ideas that I tend, that are coming along, that may yet send up a impressive spire or mushroom unexpectedly. In the meantime, I think I’ll get some better fencing.

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A Perfectly Imperfect Equinox

dsc_6714Oh, well. That’s close enough. My house has a Stonehenge moment every equinox, almost. On the equinox, the sun hits the horizon due west, putting it over a point of land across Cultus Bay called Scatchet Head. As it sets south of west for the next six months, I’ll get to see it set behind the Olympic Mountains. That’s true, but not exactly. A string of caveats describes the imperfections in my celebration; but that’s okay. That’s normal. Perfection isn’t. Accepting the difference is almost invaluable.

I can’t say the difference is invaluable because someone can figure out a way to value it. I’ll let them. I want to spend my time getting some other things done.

The Sun doesn’t set behind the Olympics. The Sun is traveling through space, but it is Earth’s rotation that rolls the Olympics up and into my view of our local natural thermonuclear reaction.

The photo is of sunset (an imprecise word, as I’ve just demonstrated) on September 21, 2016. That isn’t the equinox. The autumnal equinox will occur at 7:21AM PDT on September 22, 2016. So, the photo is about twelve hours too early; but sunrise (an equally imprecise word) happens on the other side of a ridge behind my house. The photo wouldn’t be the same.

I should get six months of sunsets, but I won’t. I live by the Salish Sea on the eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean. It rains here, in case you haven’t heard. It actually doesn’t rain much compared to many places, only about 36 inches per year. That’s imprecise, too; because within a short drive the weather goes from desert (less than 10 inches per year) to rainforest (over 120 inches per year.) I think my neighborhood gets about 50 inches per year, but that’s an imprecise measurement based on a memory of what a local weather fan reported. The biggest barrier to watching sunsets is the series of clouds that will sweep across the area during the autumn and winter. Potentially, I get about 182 days of sunsets. Realistically, there are far fewer. There are no exact measurements of the exact number of sunsets from my house because I’m the only one who can measure that and I haven’t done so.

I’m pondering (im)perfection because the topic has come up in several conversations. There is an infinity of room on a scale of totally perfect to totally imperfect. Totally perfect doesn’t exist, unless you accept something as it is, like accepting your or anyone’s imperfections as perfect representations of themselves. Totally imperfect doesn’t exist, either. Absolutes don’t exist. Even perfect vacuums have been found to contain random particles on a quantum scale. The great infinity between the extremes is where debates, decisions, choices, and progress live.

One thing I enjoy about consulting is helping people make those choices. Where are we relative to good enough? Is it time to make the commitment? Should a few more uncertainties be resolved first? The answer is rarely the same.

Within my life, I’ve had to exercise balancing imperfections much more in the last few years. The fewer the funds, the greater the need to deal with what’s available. With more funds it is easier to test ideas, experiment, and search for more options. My book, Walking, Thinking, Drinking Across ScotlandWalking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland was published early because I had an immediate need for money. Polishing the manuscript was a luxury I couldn’t afford because I had to afford food and shelter. It is an imperfect book; but then, they all are – even the prize winners and best sellers.

This week some imperfections appeared in a storm window I made. I have only one window facing south. Our strongest storms come up the Sound from the south. They build strength over the water and blast the southern tip of the island. My poor window was battered. I couldn’t and can’t afford to replace it; so, for years I’ve taken a hint from the previous owners. They replaced the screen window with a sheet of heavy plastic wrap. Between being beaten by the wind and rain, and getting irradiated by the Sun’s UV rays, the plastic only lasts about nine months. It was a solution, but an imperfect one.

Summer is over, or will be within twelve hours of the publication of this post. Within the last week the plastic developed rips on rips. Tape on tape wasn’t enough. Another layer of plastic might work through the winter, but the frame had been stapled so many times that the wood was splintering. After months of considering this inevitable event, I decided to try for another solution.

  • Solution 1) Repair the window and frame. = Too expensive.
  • Solution 2) Replace the plastic that came off a roll with a rigid sheet of plastic. = Expensive enough that the helper at the hardware store laughed before he told me the price. (It’s a big window.)
  • Solution 3) Celebrate a bit of good luck. A neighbor gave me his house’s old windows. = Great! But none of them fit. Cutting them to fit should work, but all I proved was that I can turn one piece of glass into two or more, but the breaks are curves, not lines.
  • Solution 4) Buy old but clean glass and get a professional to cut it. = Back to expensive, again. Not as expensive; but bad enough.
  • Solution 5) Buy the most economical sheets of acrylic I can find. Get a professional to cut them. Create a jigsaw puzzle of pieces that fits the frame. = My solution.

Finally, a semi-permanent solution just in time for the next set of storms; and hopefully, until my finances improve enough to rebuild rather than repair in patches.

Without much thought I can think of six projects that involve me that are in the decision making stage. Each is approaching the process differently. None can know if they’re making the right decisions. That’s what the future is for. The only way to find out is to try, as long as you can try again.


Autumnal Equinox 2014

That photo of the sunset at the top of the post isn’t perfect, either. A Facebook friend reposted my photo from a previous autumnal equinox. That was much better, I think. And yet, all I had to do to get a better photo for tonight was to ignore the sunset on the horizon and see the effects of the sunset on the sky.


Autumnal Equinox 2016

As for the storm window, it is holding; though, we haven’t had a storm in the hours since I installed it. It will be interesting seeing how well it will work. For the first time in years that room is bright in daylight. Acrylic is clearer than plastic sheeting. I’m a bit worried because of my technique. I glued the acrylic to the wood storm window frame using the adhesive suggested. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize acrylic sheets have protection plastic on both sides. I took off the protection on one side – and unknowingly left it on on the side that was glued. I didn’t glue the acrylic to the wood. I glued wood to the protective coating that hopefully will remain stuck to the acrylic. It is an imperfection; but if it succeeds, it will be perfect enough. And if not, I’ll try again.

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Barclay Lake Revisited

The loudest noise was a minnow jumping. That’s when I knew I was in the right place. Life has been hectic, lately. Sound familiar? My schedule almost lined up with the weather. Postpone a meeting or two as the last sweep of sunny, dry weather was being chased out of town by a forecast for rain, rain, then showers, showers, showers. Backpacking replenishes my batteries, reminds me of the essentials, pulls back the facade of civilization for a peek at reality. Camping isn’t free, it isn’t cheap, but it can be sweeter than a suite – especially when there are no bugs, and just a bit of adventure.

Believe it or not, about 25 years ago I managed a full time job as an engineer, had a house, and somehow managed to hike three weekends out of every four with one or two of them being overnight trips. How did I ever do that? 1) Overtime helped. It provided the extra cash for gear, supplies, and licenses. 2) I was young and single. I shouldn’t have been in a house. I bought it because I should; which also means I didn’t keep it up to suburban standards. Overlook a few imperfections here, get more chances to play out there. 3) As tight as money was thanks to a big house and a big mortgage, in retrospect I realize I was being very frugal. I spent my money and time on the things that were valuable to me, even if they confused my family.

Lately, I’ve been working seven days a week. Yes, I know that most of you know that, but one of the purposes of this blog is to chronicle the life of one person as they navigate their financial journey. Thanks to my Rule of 7, I’m working seven days a week – with a slight allowance for a day off every two months. As most sole-proprietors know, a day off is one day of lost revenue that has to be made up for before and after, or decide which bill doesn’t get paid. I’m glad I have enough of a cushion that I should be okay this time.

Screenshot 2015-01-20 at 16.26.46Several years ago, I completed a three book series about hiking in Washington’s Cascade mountains. I wanted to hike somewhere else, to put work a bit farther away, but loading up a bit of Thursday’s work on Wednesday meant leaving the house about 2PM. So much for hikes that involved long drives, hard climbs, and research. I realized my best choice was from the series’ first book, Barclay Lake. Instead of sleeping beside an alpine lake above the treeline and beneath the stars, I’d sleep within a temperate rain forest beside a drought-shrunken lake under a 6,000 foot tall spire of rock. It’s all good. And, it turned out to be a good place for relaxation and contemplation. Those aren’t action words for marvelous stories, but they are some of my most valuable experiences.

It is easy to dismiss Barclay Lake. It’s relatively low (2,430 feet), small (I’d consider swimming it if the weather was right), and can be overrun (unless you pick the right times to arrive.) The trail is only 2.2 miles and the elevation gain is only 200-500 feet. It is listed as a family hike because kids can get there (unless they’re distracted by the log bridge); so, “serious” hikers avoid it. Instead, I’ve seen tequila parties, kids with hatchets, and Huck Finn rafts using nature as a setting for some idea of fun. I tend to only go there after Labor Day or before Memorial Day. Then, it is so quiet that the chipmunks haven’t even tried raiding my food.

The road has a new layer of gravel, which is great; and a fresh set of washboards, which can be brutal. Drive slowly and watch for traffic. Since my visits for my book, they’ve installed a luxury, a rest room! The bushes are still there, too, maybe for traditionalists. Last year’s wind storm that slammed Dorothy Lake evidently slammed Barclay Lake, too. Thanks to lots of chainsaw work, the trail is clear, and many of the campsites are clean and open. The first toilet even looked new (and was refreshingly clean). I found the sign for the one at the inlet, but was distracted by something I’ll get to in a bit.

I was lucky. I had the lake to myself. My late start meant getting to the lake about an hour or two before sunset. By the time my tent was set up and water being filtered, it was time for a jacket and hat despite warm weather in the valley. I cold-camp, no stove, so dinner was cold pizza and a slim box of wine. And silence. Camping beside a babbling brook is nice, but I’ve also found myself wanting to turn off the faucet in the middle of the night. Minnows jumping were the loudest noise, except for the occasional slight breeze that make me wonder what was out there.
Barclay Lake has an impressive drop in level as the summer goes by. An eight foot drop in such a small lake is dramatic.  I agree with the ranger’s notes that it was probably at its lowest, which meant plenty of beach camping possibilities. I stayed to the trees for a more level surface. That also meant there was no water in the stream, just lots of weathered boulders under the log bridge.
No people. No bugs. No noise. Just what I needed after two months of working without a day off.

The second day wasn’t as quiet, which is what happens at Barclay. Just as I got to the inlet (where I found the sign to the second toilet), I heard something fall off the peak. It sounded like a tree being ripped from its roots. I swung back for a look and realized the sound came from a BASE jumper whose chute had just opened above me. I was worried because I couldn’t find him for a while, but eventually he hiked by and I checked to make sure no one else was flying. Being the only person at the lake also meant being the only person available if a 911 call was required.
Plenty of folks came up for the day, several just walked their dogs. Another tent went up on the exposed sand bar at the outlet. After dark, another set of campers came in, stumbled into my camp site, and were a bit confused. I gave them directions to another site in case they wanted privacy. Before they found my tent, one of them asked the other how much weed they’d smoked. The answer came in the form of a question; “All of it?” I’m glad they found another campsite.

Thanks go out to the USFS and WTA work crews that maintain the trail. (For my experience working on the trail, check out my book.) Seeing the damage on either side of the trail was impressive. Nature does things in big ways.

I’m back home (duh). The gear has been dried, cleaned, and repacked for the next trip. Add those chores to the catch-up work and see why the hike takes longer than the hike.

Enough of my friends shake their heads when I describe backpacking. Cheers to those who use passages from my books as examples for why they’d never sleep in a sleeping bag, in a tent, on the ground, in uncertain weather, with rodents for neighbors. The moments of adventurers flying off mountains, or stoners bumping by in the night are the easiest things to describe; but, the real value comes from the boring moments that won’t show up in ads. They’re too quiet, too still. I stood on the beach and let my gaze drift from minnows to autumn colors to tilting back my head to take in the 3,700 rise to the top of Baring Peak. The peak has a cleft big enough to hold a battleship held vertically. It is amazing to stand there, know the lake was formed by a rockfall, and see cracks bigger than ships. And yet, the minnow swim by, partiers party, and a forest soaks up over 110 inches of rain per year until a windstorm knocks it down. Weeks of unprocessed thoughts unspooled with no agenda or schedule to hurry or dismiss them.

If I’d been treated to an indulgent couple of nights in a luxury suite in Seattle, I would’ve accepted because duh; but I also know that there’s more value to being quiet and still in nature and being reminded of my and our place in it. Time in nature is the greater indulgence and is far more affordable (even if it isn’t free.)

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Upscaling Whidbey

img_20160913_151554Those photos are mine. Well, they’re now the property of the WiFire Coffee Bar, the place where I’ll be part of an Economic Development Think Tank tonight. The setting is sweet (and artistically decorated, in my opinion.) The title is grand. It is all much simpler than it seems. A group of us have been inspired by the introduction of 10 Gig Internet service to think ahead about our community that is the south half of Whidbey Island. Others are more official, but sometimes unofficial conversations are more productive. 10 Gig is only one of the things inspiring me to ponder the future of Whidbey. I wrote about a few aspects recently, but more flow in. This will be an interesting shift that will be an exercise in adaptation instead of control; because, if you haven’t noticed, things seem to be getting out of control. Begin adapting, now.

One of my favorite gigs (not to be confused with Gig) is writing for Curbed Seattle. I’m a contributing writer for them, which means writing an article or two a day. Usually, the articles are a lighthearted perspective on houses for sale. The biggest and the smallest are typically the best stories. Sorry, suburbia. Occasionally though, I get to dive into unexpected trends, like the recent article about a possible shift in real estate from Vancouver to Seattle. I’ll leave the main story in the link above, which leads to an even deeper analysis in another article written by a local firm.

The short version is: Vancouver became unaffordable, possibly from too many foreign buyers; so, Vancouver began taxing foreign buyers; now, Chinese real estate agencies have cut back on Vancouver searches by ~80% while Seattle searches have risen over 140% in about a month. Because of immigration policies, there are citizenship advantages for foreign investments that exceed $500,000. Vancouver’s median real estate prices are 80% higher than Seattle’s. As much as we may think the Seattle area is unaffordable, we locals may find it is about to get an unexpected boost. Great if you’re a seller. Tough if you have to buy.

Seattle’s market has been extreme, and the impact has been spreading to surrounding counties. A few have seen over 20% increases over last year. Whidbey’s market is already speeding up. Rural areas by definition have fewer houses, which means lower supply. Increased demand, low supply, up go the prices. Zillow has been increasing my home value since the beginning of the year, up $17,000.DSCN5593 (Professionals are allowed to groan at my use of Zestimate, but it is only tool I have available.). Of that $17,000, more than $6,000 has been in the last month. A $1,500 per week increase in assets helps swing fortunes. Do that for fifty weeks and see a $75,000 increase. While that may seem unrealistic, that would put my house’s value at $306,000, only $15,000 over what I paid in 2007 after the price had come down from $334,000 to $291,000. As a wealth creation model, that suggests a basic income that allows me to stay in the house is an enabler for passive wealth growth – as long as I’m willing to sell, at which point I probably couldn’t afford anything similar. Affordability drops. The outward migration will begin. The sustainability of the community diminishes even as its wealth increases, just like in Vancouver.

Set that aside for a while.

Thanks to one of the previous Think Tank meetings, I met a local entrepreneur, Ethan Worthington, who is working in the world of Virtual Reality (VR) and 3-D printing. (See his web site at where he also creates gaming machines.) As I’ve said earlier, spending time using his VR rig gave me the same feel I had when AOL added a web portal to their previously closed environment. That prompted one of my best investments, which meant encountering months and years of jibes and scorn – until everyone else caught on. (Want details? Read my book, Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover) This time, I don’t have as much money to invest; so, I may invest my time. The ability to make something in virtual reality and make a 3-D print in the real world draws on a lot of experience I have from my aerospace engineering days. The ability to teach others about the experience is appealing, too.

The implications of Virtual Reality and 3-D printing was something I discussed in a previous post. Live near a bunch of big box stores and be able to buy almost anything you need, for a short drive, many lights, a long time parking, dealing with lines, all to buy something where the packaging costs more than the product. Live on an island and either add on the price of a ferry ride, a long drive, or buy online and possibly pay for shipping and then figure out how to get rid of styrofoam peanuts. Islands, therefore, are particularly appealing places to embrace 3-D printing. Skip the drive. Skip the wasteful packaging that would just have to be shipped off the island for disposal. Buy just what you need, and maybe get it customized, too.

Ethan is the expert, an artist, and far more talented than me in that realm. And yet, just like with the early Internet, the breadth of applications and opportunities grows as more people become involved. The ability to design, produce, and sell things for fellow islanders is appealing. The opportunity to sell the designs throughout the world is an marvelous market. I already have remote clients, and do most of my work online with off-island people. That may begin to happen in Virtual Reality as well taking screen sharing to a new level. While Ethan expands his business, I may find a new venue by using his gear, at least for now. With the addition of extra wearable sensors, I could even return to one-on-one personal training in karate. Much safer that way, too.

The two stories (as many other trends) will influence each other. Tech workers in Seattle may find it easier and cheaper to work from Whidbey thanks to the 10 Gig Internet service and the island’s lag in real estate prices. With more workers on the island, the local economy won’t be as reliant on retirees and tourists. With new business opportunities that support the community while also bringing more income to the island, the local economy and lifestyles become more sustainable.

Of the two, the real estate trend is less controllable because economic pressures are driven by wealth, and right now wealth is flowing as it seeks safe havens. (One measure of the confidence in the world economy is the flow of funds out of certain countries and conventional financial investments into things like real estate, which has just been proven to not be as stable as before.) Vancouver built a monetary dam that diverted instead of stopped the flow. The wealth is headed this way and has been thanks to Seattle’s healthy technology industry, and more wealth may flow along with it. As it does, people like me may have to find new ways to stay where we are, or sell and move. One way to minimize the moves is for people like myself to exert a bit more control over our own lives, and hopefully stay ahead of the trends.

The Think Tank meeting starts in under an hour. This post may not get the normal level of formatting as I rush to publish in time. Things are moving quickly. My adaptation has just begun.


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Asterias May Have One Success

One of my smaller investments had good news. It appears they’ve been able to regrow severed nerves. One of their trial patients has regained use of his arms. Amidst the cautions layered around investments and health care news it was too easy to mark the progress off as a necessary but insufficient step – but someone who thought they’d be permanently paralyzed from the neck down can now use their upper body. To them, this is big news. It may be big news for others, too. For the investment and medical communities, it is only a small step. They’re both right.

Asterias is developing a stem cell treatment that may have grand applications, but for this clinical trial they are focusing on a specific application: can they help accident victims regain nerve function. In all good caution, the trials are supposed to measure objective criteria from which a judgment can be made. Most biotechs go through a process I’ll grossly simplify: lab tests (watch the cells and molecules to see what they do), pre-clinical trials (lab rats, at least), Phase 1 clinical trials (is it safe for humans?), Phase 2 clinical trials (is it effective?), Phase 3 clinical trials (what’s the right dosage?), and hopefully FDA approval (go ahead and treat the general population, and good luck trying to make any money.) Asteria’s test is a Phase 1/2a trial because the real process has much finer distinctions. The trials are also uncommon because so few people are being treated. Instead of working with hundreds or thousands to gain a statistical sample, trials for extreme conditions are sometimes limited to a few patients.

Data is necessary for the financial and medical community, but people respond to stories, too. In my semi-annual portfolio reviews I’ve mentioned how significant it would be for a patient to walk again. For me, the imagery would be startling. Now, I know I was limiting myself to thinking they were treating paraplegics. Instead, they’re treating quadriplegics. The logical place to start with is as high as possible, I guess, and at least for one patient;

Three months later, he’s able to feed himself, use his cell phone, write his name, operate a motorized wheelchair and hug his friends and family.

The clinical trial data will be presented on September 14th. The anecdote was published September 7th. September 8th, the company’s stock, AST, was up 11.8% during the main market hours, and up another 7.1% after hours. Institutions care about data, but people care about people. Having a potential treatment for something many considered untreatable provides a lot of hope for anyone who realizes the impact of an accident, and that any of us can have an accident. That’s worth something, probably more than a few dimes in a stock price.

The FDA is the key approval agency, is known for its bureaucracy, and yet is also just another collection of people. The FDA allows another option for patients, “Expanded Access (Compassionate Use)“,

“for patients may be able to receive the product, when appropriate, through expanded access.”

It is easy to imagine how frequently they are asked to allow such treatments. Whether it would involve Asteria’s treatment is unknown, but is at least possible.

Regardless of the regulator issues and the investment implications, this is the sort of news that encourages my optimism. As dire as some things seem in the news, our civilization continues to progress. That progress happens because of innovators and courageous people. The patient who signed up for the treatment had a lot to gain, but it also takes courage to be subjected to experimental procedures. We are not perfect. Unintended consequences happen. In this case, the consequences were positive. Good.

There is great hesitancy in society. We’re recovering from the traumas of 9/11 and The Great Recession (what I call the Second Great Depression). Worries about terrorism continue. Worries about another economic collapse are reinforced by various data, which shifts the market psychology to caution, which slows the economy, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Corporations are issuing bonds at negative interest rates because losing a little money is preferable to losing more in conventional investments or losing more by spending on R&D that never finds a receptive market.

And then, something like this happens.

Stem cells aren’t the only things that may disrupt entrenched industries. In my optimism I consider the probability that every industry can be disrupted in such a fashion that either startles the conventional companies to move or replaces them with more agile competitors. Driverless cars, virtual reality, 3-D printing, renewable energy, and more are causing positive change. Health care treatments require a bit more work and caution, but to me it looks like disruption could happen there, too. Stem cells have the potential to do far more than regrow nerves. I don’t know the limits, but I suspect they aren’t constrained to accident cases and may extend to other parts of the body. Organs?

As one friend and fellow investor who understands my position and portfolio observed, the stock would have to go up about a thousand fold for me to be able to retire. I don’t expect that kind of performance. If it happened, Asterias’ market cap would be about $160B. Possible, but improbable.

In the meantime, I’ll cheer their anecdotal success, hope for measurable confirmation, and would definitely be pleased with more people enjoying such positive results. And, I’ll thank Asterias for a yet another reason for optimism in a world that could use more of it.

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Five Years From September 2016

The following post will be the straight line of a joke where we get to hear the punch line five years later. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a conversation and series of meetings about the economic sustainability of Whidbey Island. Speculating about the future can rarely be anything more than educated guessing; and yet, that’s what we all have to do. So, here is a rather extemporaneous extrapolation of the environment for small towns, particularly like those on south Whidbey, about five years from now. Let’s see how frugal the world will be. I can already hear my future self laughing at me.

Let’s look five years back. This incarnation of this blog goes back that far. I didn’t realize that. The world was in the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression) and I was in the depths of my Triple Whammy. Hopefully, optimism would see us through. Housing prices were terrible, and I was about the enter the struggle to keep my house. People were avoiding the stock market even while Quantitative Easing was supporting economy but also the creation of wealth derived from wealth. Aside from the economic issues, most things would feel the same; right?

Things we take for granted, now. It is hard to see what has changed in the mainstream because each change is so gradual. Film, tape, mail, landlines, tv, newspapers are fading. People go into withdrawal if they can’t connect to the Internet (which is now so ubiquitous that we aren’t supposed to capitalize it anymore.) Shopping malls are no longer growing. Urbanization is claimed as a solution to many environmental and societal ills. Staycations have become common and don’t need to be justified. Who wants to deal with TSA?

Looking forward (and an ominous typo just went by – looming forward), requires many assumptions, which is why futurism is rarely accurate. I’ll assume there are no great economic, environmental, societal, or existential calamities. One asteroid can ruin your day, eh? I’ll also assume that we won’t be dealing with fifth forces of nature, aliens, digital singularities, or breakthroughs in consciousness. The last five years haven’t had them; let’s assume the next five don’t. (Part of me says, Ha!, but go ahead and continue.)

Five years from now
Urbanization has helped create a phenomenal real estate market in Seattle. I should know; I get to write about it. (Curbed Seattle) Seattle’s economy is growing faster than most because technologies are being advanced and accepted, established companies like Amazon are growing spectacularly (just check out the spectacle of their domed offices), and Silicon Valley has become so expensive that businesses and jobs have been moving here. Hiring has drawn so many people that Seattle can’t hold them all, nor can King County. Neighboring counties are now seeing median house price increases of over 20% annually. Unless Silicon Valley gets cheaper, or the Internet breaks, the trend is likely to continue. Right now, Whidbey’s real estate prices are relatively low; but if even a small fraction of new residents or displaced mainlanders decide to shop for houses on Whidbey, the prices could rise dramatically. Small supply, relatively easy access to the city, and non-negotiable growth limits like water and septic could drive prices into unsustainable territory. One response is to allow unconventional housing options to become more conventional. Tiny houses drop the price by lowering the square footage. House sharing divides the expenses, effectively turning some homes into boarding houses. Whidbey is an island, one that has surprisingly few, if any, houseboats. Rafts of neighborhoods could provide housing for the folks who can’t afford the land that would fit under a tiny house. At the same time, waterfront and view properties would head in the opposite direction, mimicking the wealthier islands. One EPA study reinforces the notion that the density won’t change, which suggests the housing will diverge between those who maintain the island and those who can afford luxurious homes. Island wealth and real estate tax revenue will probably increase.

Currently, tourism is a big business; which is necessarily very seasonal. There are plenty of service jobs in the summer, and a dearth for the other nine months. Great paychecks and tips for three months don’t look as rich when divided by four. There are a few other businesses on the south half of the island, but boat builders and the phone company can’t employ everyone. A large portion of the island commutes to the mainland because that’s where the jobs and the money are. That may change. Ten gigabit internet service is already being installed, far ahead of the rest of the nation. I know several people who work remotely from the island. For them, good upload and download speeds are vital. As the adoption and awareness of the high speed internet expands, some Seattle-ites may decide to relocate; and some commuters may realize it’s easier to work from home rather than the office – and they may be able to make the case because island speeds are higher than mainland office speeds. Switching commuters back to island workers means they spend less on commuting, they spend more on the island, and time wasted in traffic is traded for time invested in family and community. Coworks become important, as do businesses that provide the goods and services offices need. Talent gets concentrated rather than diffused. Whidbey can become a destination for clients who get to meet in more pleasant surroundings. I’ve seen that happen within my business. Come to Whidbey, relax, get some work done.

Buy local. That’s worth repeating. Buy local. Thanks to some advocates who kept out brand names and big box stores, Whidbey has an almost complete collection of stores, most of which are owned and run by locals. But, there’s a price to pay for shipping things to the island. Check prices on-island versus off-island and see a premium. Things that are built here, however, aren’t as likely to deal with that.  As technology develops, 3-D printing has matured to the point that a few thousand dollars is enough to build a device that can create custom items within a few hours. It may take less time and money to download and print something than it does to take the ferry and drive to the mall. At the same time, things printed here can be shipped anywhere. One entrepreneur is doing this in 2016. By 2021 the capability may be so common that a printer is a natural part of a home, just as ink-jet printers were. More money flowing within island businesses makes the island more affordable and sustainable. The Organic Farm School has just started, and within five years will have added at least some inspired farmers and ranchers to the area.

Whidbey Island relies on ferries. Hopefully, the new terminal will be open by 2021, making it easier to get on and off the island, as well as into and back from the city. That change may not be as significant as the introduction of driverless vehicles. A taxi fleet is already being launched in Pittsburgh. A fleet of taxis picking up islanders and taking them to the ferry would free up a lot of parking lot space, reduce the number of cars on the road and in the waiting line (waiting for the ferry can stretch to three hours), and dramatically change an already supportive mass transit system. Bad news for taxi and bus drivers, though. With more virtual work going on, people may be more concerned with power and Internet outages than potholes. If the income bifurcates as the wealth may, more people may be relying on bicycles and whatever mass transit exists.

The fancy name is demographics, but the issue is people. Without people, the island gets to revert to nature; but that’s probably not going to happen in five years. Whidbey’s population is old. The last time I checked, I was the median age – and I’m collecting a pension. Granted, it is an early accelerated pension, but you can read those details throughout this blog. People define culture. Islands tend to create intentional communities. On the mainland, a person’s neighborhood may be decided by their job and commute. On islands and in small towns, people decide to live there and then figure out how to make it work. Retirees have an easier choice. Artists are passionate about picking their places. For decades, Whidbey has been a community that is a mix of retirees, commuters, artists, and others who found a place to lead an alternative lifestyle. Whidbey is going through a generational change, just like many small towns. Families who lived there for generations begin seeing the next generation look elsewhere. Older folks stay. Younger folks leave. Schools empty and hospitals get busy. As the older generation departs, taking a support network with it, younger people eventually move in. But in Whidbey’s case, the next generation may be less likely to be artists and such. They will be faced with affordability issues that if not resolved will require them to be more entrepreneurial, more concerned with income and expense than meditation and expression. The character of the community may change simply because choices that were available fifty years ago won’t be available in five years.

As I said, this is an extemporaneous list. The conversations we’ve been having about the introduction of 10 Gigabit Internet service prompted me to write this post today; but the topic is always on my mind. Technology is changing. My community is changing. Houses, schools, jobs, are all going to change as well. The changes in the next five years have the potential to be much larger than the changes from the last five years. High speed Internet may enable significant moves to affordability through jobs and shopping. Other, less technological initiatives can have large influences, too. New tax codes for farmers, new zoning regulations that allow tiny houses or houseboats, common meeting areas for nomadic workers can strengthen community and the economy simply by deciding to accept that the world is changing and peoples’ needs are changing. The personal choices for non-retirees, however, may be very similar to the same frugality that defines rural lifestyles. Don’t assume needs are taken care of. Respect them. Then, as resources allow, enjoy luxuries.

I enjoy playing with such ideas. As one friend put it; “How do you keep all that in your head?” It’s easy because I enjoy it. I’m also enough of a student of history to know that something else completely different will happen. I hope I’m right that in September of 2021 I’ll be laughing at my guesses because life turned out to be better than I could’ve imagined. Stay tuned.

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Listen To The Quiet Ones

This week has been a series of fascinating meetings. Only some of them are billable, but every meeting has been interesting. Keep in mind I am easily entertained. Gregarious is good because it is energizing, to a point. Interactive is good because otherwise a meeting becomes a lecture instead of a conversation. Bombasts seem to think they’re in style, though considering what the media covers I can understand why they might think so. And yet, a trend persists. The quiet ones, the people who are economical with their words, and frequently their way of living, are also frequently the ones who heard the most, thought the most, and made the deepest insights. As in meetings, so in the rest of life. The quiet ones are getting a lot done.

Anyone who has been to one of my classes or presentations know that I am happy to talk. My fear of public speaking was obliterated by teaching kids class in karate. They’re a tough audience that you don’t want to turn your back on. When I’m hired as a consultant, I switch from speaking to listening. That comes as a surprise to many, but it is the most effective tool I have for understanding what someone wants to do – and not just what they say they want.

One of my favorite listeners was an expert aerospace engineer at Boeing. He had decades of experience. Sat in the back of the meeting. And listened. He answered if he was called on, but he didn’t seek the stage. He was excellent at the concise summary. He also had a sense of humor. After absorbing a variety of insights, he’d find the core, and in about three sentences state the situation, the assumptions, identify any that were influential but only as nice ideas and wishes, and then describe the most pragmatic solution and action that met most of the needs. He deflated lots of management’s ideological bubbles, and softened it with humor. They didn’t like that, but he was right so often that they had to listen to him.

He’s not the only one. At a meeting a few days ago, several of us were discussing the economic sustainability of communities like Whidbey Island: part-retirement community, part-bedroom community, part-artist community, part-alternative lifestyle community. As we’re seeing throughout the US, housing is becoming less affordable. No state has a minimum wage that supports rent of a reasonable two bedroom apartment. In some places like Seattle, even studio apartments don’t meet the 30% of revenue criterion. Communities are only sustainable if the people who work there can live there. I mentioned tiny houses because I am a fan, but also because I write about them for Curbed Seattle. Cabin by AngelaIt was interesting hearing the conventional perception of tiny start with 800 square feet and the meet resistance when I pointed out that the norm for tiny houses is 128 square feet. The concept that anyone could raise a family in one was dismissed, even though people have been doing that for years. I didn’t press the point because resistance to new ideas can become entrenched when the departure from the norm exceeds a paradigm – regardless of reality.

And then the quiet one spoke.

Amongst a table of impressive people, one with more authority than others quietly interjected that they’d been homeless two years ago. Being homeless resets one’s expectations. Quibbles of square footage are details. A roof, any roof, is a major improvement. That takes care of the rain. Walls provide protection from the wind. A door provides protection from other people. Heat is greatly appreciated, and puts death at a distance. Water from a faucet can feel like a luxury when compared to collecting whatever you can. Being able to piss and poop is something we all must do or die. Add some electricity, and almost all of the comforts of home are available. Square footage is a consequence. All of that can fit in under 128 square feet, but that’s a convenient place to draw the line for reasons too detailed to get into here.

The incremental improvement from homeless to a tiny house is far greater and much more appreciated than the improvement from one mansion to another, and costs far less.

There are more than enough things for us to work on, on Whidbey, in the US, in the world. The bombasts grab the attention; but don’t get nearly as much done as the people who are too busy doing things to get around to telling anyone about it. A group of people on Whidbey already addressed affordable housing, at least for them, by creating a neighborhood of tiny-ish houses. Others are collecting fruit and distributing it to food banks and people in need. Others improve the communication within the community by starting email lists, Facebook groups, and informal gatherings. I’m a peripheral member of at least two member-less unorganized organizations that see something to do with bicycling or dancing and somehow hold classes, memorials, dances, and support sessions simply by deciding to do it, regardless of publicity.

I marvel at the media as they talk about politicians as if the politicians actually do anything. I’d like it more if the news about a disaster was about the people providing the relief than on whether a dignitary arrived. Politicians may represent a constituency, but I’d rather hear from the constituency than the politician, and rather hear from the ones working on the issues than from the ones holding the signs.

Advocacy is necessary; but for people trying to get something done now, immediately, I suggest finding someone who’s already working on the issue, someone in a similar situation, someone everyone else may be overlooking. They’ll be the quiet ones, and they probably have the most to say – even if it only takes a few sentences.

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Almost A Day Off

Pardon me as I type a few words and then step aside to mix a drink. – OK. I almost took today off. Grand plans. Gods laughing. You probably know how it is. I recently resolved to take at least one day off a month, at least through October. A good idea. It almost happened. Instead, I decided to do something radical, I worked a bit, rested a bit, got a few chores done – and cancelled all my plans that sounded grand, things that I should do on a day off. It was that ‘should’ that changed my mind and reminded me of some frugal fundamentals. So far, my abandoned plans have worked out well, and the day isn’t over, yet.

It is August, a month when, despite common perceptions, Seattle becomes one of the driest places in the US. Rainfall so far is 0.16 inches. Evidently, even the deserts in the Southwest get more. That’s an easy bar to clear because one good downburst can produce more than that; and Seattle gets fewer downbursts than almost anywhere. Don’t worry. We’ll make up for it real soon. With weather like that, it’s a great time to head into the hills and hike. That was my plan that I wrote about in July. August is even better for hiking. The dry weather means the mosquitoes run out of breeding grounds. Summer rules, and the days are warm. No rain, no bugs, warm air, and views stretching for miles – if you can climb to them and if the dry weather hasn’t kicked off forest fires. The region is dry enough that even the Olympic Mountains, home of rainforests, is burning.

My plan was to hike to Surprise Lake,DSCN1893 and maybe Glacier Lake above it. Sure. Not a problem. I’ve been there before. It would be good to get back; especially, if I had enough time to climb to the ridge over the lake and see the interior of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. To hike it right means two nights at the lake. Hike in. Set up camp. Spend one day roaming and relaxing. Hike out the next morning. Work two half days and take one day off in the middle, and it all fits my bizarrely Typically Atypical Trimbath Workday. I’ll get to it. I’ll get to it. That’s what I kept saying throughout the month; but I was busy finishing up a significant study, presentation, and web site redesign for one client while investigating several intriguing new initiatives with some fascinating folk. In the middle of the week I realized the end of the month was less than a week away and my schedule was almost fully booked. That’s okay. I could squeeze this in. I said I should.

Plans meet reality. The only time slot open was the weekend. Get the rest of my work done. Find time to pack. Check out a few worrisome bits about my truck. Then jump from work to pack to drive to hike to camp to climb to return and get back to work. Sounds relaxing, eh? And yet, I almost did it. The main thing that stopped me was the reality of the weekend. Even if I switched destinations to an easier hike, I’d be camping on a Saturday in August. One thing I learned from writing a series of books about the CascadesScreenshot 2015-01-20 at 16.26.46 was that Saturdays in August are busy. Duh. Imagine hiking up 2,700 feet and 5.5 miles in just to find that all the campsites are taken. Last year I tried a hike like that and found four dozen vehicles at the trailhead for a lake that had fewer than a dozen tent sites. Alpine areas are fragile, and a lack of tent sites means a long hike back out. That didn’t sound appealing. I postponed those plans. In only two weeks, Labor Day would be past and the crowds would be gone.

Fortunately, there’s always more than enough to do on the quiet island that is Whidbey. I won’t list the weekend’s events because it would be hard to know where to stop. I will, however, include one example I looked forward to: the Island Shakespeare Festival, pay-as-you-can performances of Billy’s plays. I can afford that. I don’t even need to know which play they’re performing. I’ve never seen a bad show there. For a variety of reasons, I prefer to bicycle to their circus tent. Parking is easier (not that that’s an issue), and I get a workout. I usually avoid the Saturday performances because they are so popular; but I could make an exception. And yet, I didn’t; and it had nothing to do with them.

I need a day off. I continue to work to my slightly modified Rule of Seven where I take off one day every two months, with the recent exception. My productivity is fine, but it takes more effort than it should. My client base is basically unchanged, and my revenues are basically unchanged, as well as my expenses. A small improvement in my business can mean a big improvement in easing my anxieties; but for now, it pays to work. From the long list of things to do on a day off (of which I’ve only listed two) I realized that few seemed to fit my mood, schedule, and finances. The philosophy of frugality centers on concentrating on value. If an experience looks valuable to everyone else, but doesn’t feel like it is providing value; then reconsider. Maybe it means doing it anyway, but in a new way.

A friend instilled in me a motto that is very useful in turbulent times that I’ve experienced: hour by hour, day by day. Yes, it is good to plan; but sometimes the best thing to do is to take each hour as it comes, each day as it arrives.

Last night, instead of creating a strict schedule I did the opposite. I decided to take each hour of the new day as it came by. There was enough time to get in a hike, if I wanted. I could make it to the play, if I wanted. I could steer myself to any of a long list of options.

This morning I woke, and rolled back over for an hour. After breakfast, I realized I wanted to check in on the world so I might as well do my regular newsfeed for PretendingNotToPanic. From there, I was curious about the software trials we’ve initiated at the museum, so I worked at that for an hour or so. Thanks to some extra time yesterday, I was already done with my work for Curbed. It was lunchtime, I knew I could rush and pack and hike and camp and climb, and I didn’t. Instead, in a very relaxed fashion, I puttered. There were six hours before the performance, five if I allowed for the bicycle commute. I took a Clarity Break, as described by Steve Smolinsky, a practice I’ve always done but for which I am glad now has a name. After a short break, weeds were pulled, gardens checked, an operating system updated, a nervous truck repair handled with far less cost and fuss than I imagined, read the recent edition of The Economist, plus had a nap or two. By the time I was done, it was too late to bike to the play, and that was okay. I decided to take the time and write this post while a simple dinner slow-cooked its way to doneness and some fine aromas.

I will take a day off, honest. But, it can be more valuable to break convention, challenge assumptions, and oddly enough, take a break by getting some work done. The next slot in my schedule isn’t until September, but that’s only a few days away. Then, when I take that time I won’t be as worried about weeds, a truck overheating, or delays in my clients’ projects. The hike will be quieter and less crowded. The plays will continue for another week or two. August will be gone, but I prefer September. Maybe I’ll do something really radical instead and take two days off.

Now, pardon me again because dinner is almost ready, I’ve barely touched my drink, and I have a stack of movies and books to pick from for the evening. Popcorn may even be involved. Ah, luxuries.

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Selecting a Catalog Management System

As many have asked, “What is it you do, again?” Here’s an example of some work I enjoyed – that also potentially saves a client $300,000 and several months of development time. A case study in a make versus buy software development project for a small museum (that’s tackling big ideas.)

HCLE Virtual Museum - the blog

Selecting a Catalog Management System: A Make-Versus-Buy Case Study

We recently completed a comparison of about two dozen software packages in an attempt to meet our museum’s needs for an asset, collection, and catalog management system. Catalog management systems provide ways to add and organize items, describe them with metadata, and make it easier to sort, search, and manage them as a series of collections. Our comparison included a make-versus-buy decision because we have also been developing a custom software solution internally called the Catalog Maintenance System. Our decision-making process is presented as a case study describing how we assessed various commercially available solutions, our selection criteria, and our tentative decision. Hopefully, our experience will be useful to other museums and similar organizations.

A good catalog management software solution is especially important to a virtual museum, like HCLE . Almost every museum, library, archive, and collection needs some way to keep track…

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