Nomadic Employment And Coworking

It’s been over 24 hours since I talked to anyone, except myself. That happens a lot when I work from home. Entire days can go by without a sound. (I could probably make a lot of money if I could find a way to sell the silence to parents of toddlers.) The new economy has more people working from home, either by choice or necessity. Even folks who aren’t working from home may be working from coffeehouses, coworks, libraries, or their cars. The era of the cubicle isn’t completely gone, but it is fading. New strategies, mindsets, manners, and logistics mean new opportunities and new challenges. Working from home also means getting the laundry done.

My first job at Boeing had me in a sea of desks. In 1980, cubicles weren’t as common as heavy metal desk by heavy metal desk, lead engineers sitting beside recent college grads sitting beside tech aides, everyone with the same kind of desk, everyone within an arm’s reach of at least two people. Privacy was created by co-workers discreetly ignoring other people’s phone calls. It also meant community and a real need to get along with other people.

I was lucky. My desk was boxed in by diversity: men from Sweden, China, Texas, Spain, Iran, South Africa, and a woman from Iran and an empty desk.  Political debates weren’t Democrat versus Republican. Debates were between a socialist, a communist, a libertarian, an anarchist, a capitalist, a pragmatist, and a revolutionary. The capitalist and the revolutionary were both from Iran and tried not to sit beside each other. This was 1980. Check your Iranian history. Through it all, the man from China had the most enigmatic expression. Whatever we discussed was interesting but momentary compared to thousands of years of history in his country. The debates weren’t nearly as good as the food. Potlucks were amazing, and if I had a culinary blog I’d go into the details. But, oh, baklava!

I worked in the middle of an unofficial, accidentally bureaucratically created support network. It wasn’t perfect, but it was memorable and I learned a lot. It was also chaotic and an insight into the reality that everyone is fighting a personal battle unique to them.

That was in the era of careers based on one job, held for decades, hopefully bearable.

The modern era is based on accelerated change, constant re-organizations or mergers, obsessive pursuit of increased efficiency and profit, and less regard for the individual. If it costs less to have people work from anywhere else, great, there’s less money spent on facilities and utilities. Until there’s a backlash because some manager recognizes a drop in efficiency or feels the need to control adults even if it means treating them like children.

My modern era is based on the greatest work fluidity I’ve experienced. Instead of one job, I frequently work on as many as nine in a day. (Ah, and if only I got paid for all of them, but that’s another story.) A workweek itinerary may be as simple as staying home and combing my hair (really) before a video call. My itinerary may also be something more familiar to traveling salesmen, linking up locations and leaving time for the connecting commutes while also carting around everything for different clients while also making sure to pack a lunch and maybe a dinner. Driving around and eating out can make expenses match revenues, which leaves nothing to pay for living expenses.

There are great benefits to working from home. The commute is as short as possible (but work is never far away). I can roll out of bed (er, futon couch) and check email, news, and schedule before getting to the kitchen. Working at home may have its advantages but the greatest frugal benefits are things like spending less on gas, spending less time driving around and setting up temporary workspaces, spending less on clothes, and definitely spending less on food. Home cooking is best, is cheapest, especially when the cheap foods like roasts and beans can be set to simmer for hours. Hello a few extra pounds. (Few? Ha!)

Working from home can be isolating. Some aspects are great. Burp, fart, or sneeze if you need to. Some aspects aren’t so great. Working alone means working without a support network, unless your social media circles are robust. Working alone also means having less of a need for a formal, or even business casual, wardrobe. It is nice to work in sweats (though sometimes it is handier to work in bib overalls because of all the pockets), but dressing up does happen occasionally.

One intermediate solution is the trend in coworking. I’ve written about it before. A shifting collection of similarly nomadic workers jointly rent a space and try to find that balance between total structure and total freedom. Langley’s cowork space shut down a few months ago, but a new version has arisen. The local writers’ association (Whidbey Island Writers Association – which has a new name that I continue to forget but has the acronym NILA) has opened a space for its writers. Once a week (Wednesdays) a few of us use an old schoolroom. Laptops and caffeine cups. Casual dress, but not too casual. Relaxed environment, but keep in mind that others are working too, but keep in mind that total silence would be spooky. An opportunity to occasionally do a real world search by asking everyone for a good synonym, advice about what should be done for free versus fee, and HELP when a computer glitch startles and threatens.

As one of the co-organizers (Lori Kane, author of Reimagination Station) describes, working in a coworks is a great reminder to maintain at least a minimum set of sensibilities (heavily paraphrased). Talking to yourself is okay, but don’t do it too often. Noticing that everyone else is working is an inspiration to keep working. Noticing a spontaneous bit of chatter is a reminder that we all need a break occasionally.

Now that the for-profit coworks closed and the non-profit cowriting space has opened, I can see how such collaborative spaces can replace many seas of desks with lakes of laptops. I can also see how much the business model has to mature, at least outside the urban areas. Within the last few days a new business model has come to mind that may be worth trying, but more about that later as conditions and serendipity permit.

I worked from home today. It is a Saturday. There were no rules blocking my ability to work. (Yep, that happened.) There was a wind storm, so I took a break as the worst blew by. I might break my silence by calling a friend who also works from home, frequently on Saturday nights, because that’s part of the new economy as well. If not, another quiet evening and day may go by. In the meantime, I write in silence in comfort, and am glad that, amidst everything else that happened today, I got the laundry done.

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Surprising MicroVision News

Well, that certainly didn’t go as expected, though it may have gone as predicted. MicroVision (yes, another MVIS post), finally announced its innovative smartphone that many shareholders have eagerly awaited for months, or for over a decade in some cases. The product is flashy, high-end, gaining world-wide attention – and the stock was down 9% on heavy volume. Evidently, the intersection of perception and reality was unpleasant from the market’s, and my, perspective.

Today, Sharp announced the launch of a new product, the RoBoHoN robot with integrated smartphone functionality. It’s highly unlikely you’ve ever seen anything like this before. In one unit it is a robot, a mobile phone, a camera, and a projector. It can call out to you, walk across the room, take a picture of you, display the photo on any surface, and then remind you that this is what you look like before heading out on a date. Awesome. It isn’t available yet, but it is being demonstrated at CEATEC, an electronics trade show in Japan.

And MVIS stock was down 9%.

For months (years?) MicroVision management has talked about the possibility of an innovative smartphone that would launched in summer, then mid, 2015 by a Fortune 500 company incorporating MicroVision’s picoprojector technology. At one point, the CEO estimated that MicroVision would be profitable six to nine months after the embedded cellphone product launched. (If my brain was a database I could pull up the reference, but it was from one of the stockholders meetings a couple of years ago – I think.)

Some of us remember early MicroVision claims to embed projectors in cellphones more than ten years ago (Ericsson), even from before the invention of smartphones. It has been a long wait.

And MVIS stock was down 9%.

I am comfortable in portraying many (but not all, or even most) shareholders as expecting an innovative smartphone to be something like Lenovo’s Smartcast, a sleek, though slightly larger smartphone that could project keyboards or large displays. If the Fortune 500 company wasn’t Lenovo, there were speculations about Microsoft (like their Lumia line), hopes for Apple iPhones, and even guesses about Amazon, Google, or any other Fortune 500 consumer electronics company. I don’t recall anyone saying Sharp would be the company. I don’t recall anyone saying the smartphone would be inside a robot.

MicroVision talked about an innovative smartphone with an embedded projector being launched by a Fortune 500 company. Innovative? Yes, a phone inside a walking robot that fits in your pocket is innovative. Smartphone? Well, yes, the phone is definitely smart; but the current image of a smartphone was defined by the iPhone. Embedded projector? Yes, but the projector plays a small enough role that the RoBoHoN would exist without it. Fortune 500 company? I’ll take their word on it that Sharp is a Fortune 500 company.

Perception is important in most marketplaces. It is apparent that the preliminary perception of MicroVision’s statements didn’t match the reality. Instead of a professional smartphone that could pervade the smartphone market both in business and people’s lives, the product is an impressive toy. MicroVision couldn’t tell people ahead of the launch about the details of the product, but they could’ve managed perceptions by de-emphasizing smartphone and emphasizing innovative phone.

The perception is not a nuance. A smartphone that has a projector in it does not have the same effect as a robot with a projector in it. Smartphones can sell in the millions of units. Robots may, but it is more difficult for them to reach such levels. In terms of estimating the impact on MicroVision, either can elevate the company’s visibility. In terms of estimating the impact on MVIS, the more units sold usually means the higher total profits; a smartphone is at least perceived as being able to sell more units that sales of robots; consequently, revenue estimates may be reduced, expectations about embedded smartphones may be dismissed, and the stock price drops. If today’s announcement had been about Lenovo’s or Microsoft’s phones, the action probably would’ve been different.

We’re in October. There’s less time every day for new product launches in time for US holiday sales. I’ve read many comments today about investors thinking that, if they mis-perceived ‘smartphone’ they may also have mis-perceived MicroVision’s statements about other CES OEMs, HUDs, and projects like UPS’s trials.


Perceptions aside, today’s news is good news for MicroVision. Sales are sales, and if MicroVision has a deal with Sharp, that’s a nice addition to their deal with Sony (and potentially others.) MicroVision now has three product revenue streams: Celluon, Sony, and Sharp – all selling products that are meeting with positive reviews. At the end of the 2015, MicroVision can rightly claim significant improvements over 2014.

On a personal level, I will finally consider replacing my flip phone. I’ve held off for years because I planned to upgrade to a smartphone with MVIS inside (Image by PicoP). RoBoHoN may become a phenomenal success, or not. My work life could greatly benefit from an innovative smartphone with an embedded projector. It looks like Lenovo may be making one. I’ll have to give it a lot of thought and due consideration.

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Fences Apples And Monty Python

My harvest wasn’t very good this year, or it was, but in unexpected ways. I planned for apples, and grew birds. I planned for painting, and built a fence.  I planned on, or at least hoped for, several business ventures, and helped people in ways I didn’t imagine. Whether by plan or by chance, I’m glad I’ve learned to give up expectations of control. As the world shifts, that may be one of the most valuable skills.

There are three apple trees, a fig tree, and some raspberry canes in my backyard. They’re in my backyard because the backyard has a fence, or is supposed to. My fence and I are real world examples of a great monologue from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

King of Swamp Castle: When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England.

Three , no five, no four times my backyard fence has fallen down. Never the entire fence, but wind storms on Whidbey have blown eight foot sections down almost every year. Of the twenty sections of fence, about half of them have fallen at least once. Maybe it is the winds here on the south end of Whidbey Island, maybe it is the fact that the fence is aging, maybe it is the fact that the firm that built the fence didn’t nail all the boards into place, maybe it is a conspiracy of the local deer because they lounge and dine in my backyard as soon as they can.

Three apple trees sound like more than enough for one person, but only one has a trunk larger than two inches in diameter. The deer and the bunnies (with their big nasty teeth) have gnawed the other two trees so frequently that the leaves look scared. At least the one apple tree and the fig tree are surviving. (The raspberries are a gifted transplant, and are hiding behind chicken wire hoping to survive.)

There was enough foliage to suggest a nice harvest, but nope. This year’s weather was so weird, record setting heat and drought didn’t help, that I was amazed the leaves hung in there. The fruits, however, did not. As autumn finally works its way into the forecasts, I held out hope for at least a token apple or fig to have made it through the season. Sigh. Nope. Maybe next year, because the fence will finally protect them for an entire season. Right?

As I reached through the leaves, looking for hidden fruit, I came across something that had grown: birds’ nests. DSC_5903 Some birder could probably identify the occupants from the mud-daubed cup. All I know is that, while I didn’t get any fruit, at least something was able to create a new generation from what I’d planted.

I’ve been discouraged lately. Many of my sources of optimism in my backup plans have seen postponements or cancellations. Zillow is dropping the Zestimate for my house. My portfolio‘s companies are getting good news, but not good enough to move their stocks much. Classes in photography and social media were hit by a miscommunication (but there’s still time to sign up for the Social Media class). A few appealing job opportunities haven’t arrived, whether through funding issues or changes in direction. I feel a bit like Monty Python’s  Black Knight who is trying to pass off some major battle damage as “just a flesh wound”.

And then I think of the birds’ nests.

The world, including our societies and economic system, is a chaotic system. We can rationalize cause and effect, which we have to some extent. But, despite the highly held banner of “Just Keep Doing Good Work”, I also have noticed how many success stories include an element of good luck: finally making the right connection, meeting a patron or partner, being in the right place at the right time – even when it first felt like the wrong place at the wrong time. Hard work does help, but panaceas don’t exist. Good luck does help, but even lottery tickets require someone to take the steps to buy one. If we think we have complete control it’s because we’ve overlooked something. Someone else’s accidental deviation from a plan may become a great personal benefit.

There are a couple of cartoons I’d like to include, but I don’t want to worry about copyright (and researching cartoons on the Internet is a sure way to dive into an hours-deep rabbit hole.) One cartoon describes the definition of insanity; “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” The other cartoon shows two miners, one quits from frustration while only inches away from the rich vein of diamonds that the other miner gains with just a bit more effort. Which cartoon are we in? Which cartoon am I in?

I’m back to my seven-day-a-week work schedule until Thanksgiving (unless good fortune arrives). I feel like a tired miner. I look around and see many people in similar situations, sometimes for their financial situation, sometimes for a cause. It can be hard to keep going, and there’s no way to know if the persistence is a problem or revealing an opportunity.

And then I think of the birds’ nests.

As a friend pointed out on Facebook, unintended consequences are more common than we expect. That doesn’t mean we quit trying. That doesn’t mean our efforts are wasted. Sometimes it means we worked on one thing, and it enabled something just as precious and valuable for someone else – and eventually for ourselves as well.

If nothing else, I just found a great rationalization for re-watching Holy Grail for the twelfth or twentieth time. No, the fifteenth! Aarrgghh.

Photo on 2015-10-03 at 19.34

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Will MicroVision Spring This Fall

Keeping track of sports is much easier than keeping track of companies. Teams have schedules, public events, and lots of publicity. Companies can operate in stealth mode, only communicate when they need to or want to, and keep their schedules private. Investors are reduced to trying to parse press releases, sift for analyst reports, and watch the industry and competitors for trends, possibilities, and probabilities. Earlier this year, I took the time to sketch out a product timeline for one company, MicroVision, because there was the potential for lots of news, little assurance of any specific milestones, and a lot, a lot, of speculation amongst investors. I hoped to inspire someone to make something better, but it looks like my simple chart will have to suffice. Sports fans are luckier.
MVIS CatalystsA few years ago, MicroVision’s CEO encouraged us investors to look forward to the company’s Super Bowl year because the company was finally clearing its major hurdles and was ready to run. Those years came and went. For more than three years, since the stock went through a 1-for-8 reverse split, there has been great anticipation, and very little actual action – at least publicly. Since then, the only products to hit the market were two variations on the same portable projector, the PicoAir and the PicoPro, both of which are getting very good press. Neither of which has publicly reported any revenues or sales numbers.
IMG_0417For the last few months, very little has changed in the chart. The biggest improvement was a crowdsourced estimate of likely dates for likely catalysts. While there is impressive enthusiasm for the company, the stock, the technology, and the products, there was also a significant tone of investors lowering their expectations for the year. They expected at least one product launch from Sony, had a reasonable expectation of an announcement of an innovative smartphone, and largely discounted the rest of the catalysts on the chart.
MVIS_Catalysts_093015From the conference calls, stockholders meeting, and various emails, there are also reasons to believe Celluon may launch a new set of products, Sony may have included MicroVision technology in another of their home products, and then there are hopes from hints from car companies, UPS, and unnamed companies that privately demonstrated prototypes at CES back in January.

Welcome to October, 2015 and the three month countdown to the end of 2015. By the end of the month, Sony will have officially launched and made available a portable projector that appears to be significantly better than Celluon’s projector. Maybe there’ll be more news. Maybe not. Nine months into 2015, and the company has had far fewer than an announcement a month as some expected.

If any of the other products are going to be launched in time for Christmas, the US holiday shopping season, they have to so within about the next two months. The lack of any motion in the stock suggests that, regardless of shareholder sentiment, new buyers are holding back.

Sitting between the enthusiasm and the wariness is like taking a seat in a football stadium, picking the best seat available, and waiting for the crowds, the teams, and the marching band to show up. It can be fun, sitting on the 50 yard line when a game is being played; but it can feel silly to sit amongst tens of thousands of empty and quiet seats if the game never gets played.

There are signs of increased interest in the stock. Trading volumes have not increased dramatically, but this blog and others that mention MVIS are attracting more traffic, the discussion board on Investor Village had a day with five times the normal number of visitors, and private conversations are being started by past investors who sold and are interested in buying back in. At least one of my previous posts has been picked up and republished by an investing web site, Evidently, someone is interested.

Stocks can move on quantitative measurements like finances, but those aren’t due until the third quarter report which may not happen until November. Stocks can move based on official announcements, but Sony wasn’t able to budge MVIS with its preliminary news. Maybe the formal launch will suffice. Stocks can move on qualitative reactions when the investment community decides they want buy a stock before it makes a sudden move, or can hold off until after a trend is established. In any case, MVIS hasn’t moved.

As I type, the only reasonably reliable October catalyst is Sony’s official product launch.

At a minimum, regardless of sentiment, Sony sales are likely to significantly increase MicroVision’s revenues because MicroVision’s revenues were so low for so long. FY2014 revenues were only ~ $3.5M (Yahoo). That isn’t even enough to buy some houses in Seattle. Based on comments from the CEO at the stockholders meeting, expenses are running at about $12M/year. It is easy to imagine MicroVision making enough within the next year to be cash flow positive. If Sony plus Celluon sold two million units and MicroVision made $5 on each unit, then the company would make $10M. Add in development contracts and break even. Add in another product launch or three, or a more successful product, and MicroVision becomes profitable.

But here is where the simple tool of a simple chart comes in handy. It is easy to get caught up in the speculations. Some of us frequently dive into the speculations, just the way people dive into dreaming about winning the lottery. (I’ve got my ticket to the >$300M Powerball lottery!) It is sobering, however, to reflect on the chart and see how little has happened, how little is scheduled to happen, while also seeing the reasons for optimism and enthusiasm.

Investing can seem complicated. Full analyses of companies can require resources unavailable to individual investors. The same is true of sports. Understanding every player, every coaches’ strategy and tactics, the competition, and things like the crowds and the weather is equally complicated. Most sports enthusiasts are happy to be spectators, tracking a bit of the data, listening to commentary, and largely enjoying the game (if their team wins). Investing can be as simple. I made a simple chart, improved it with help from others in the stands, and have given myself some additional confidence in the position of the company, the stock, and my investment.

I don’t know what will happen to MicroVision or MVIS this month. I know what I want it to do, (Conservative Estimates). I know what it can do. I’ve also seen what it’s done. Maybe this time next month, the company, the stock, and my portfolio will have finally sprung ahead with the catalysts from the spring. I just hope it doesn’t fall.

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The Frugality Of Hiking

I may not have much money, but at least I have a long list of frugal activities – until I added up the costs. The best things in life are free, and enjoying nature sounds like it should be one of the most affordable things. Add up the costs, and even hiking can be surprisingly expensive. Fortunately, it is remarkably valuable.

How did I ever do it? Back when I was thirty I managed to hike three weekends out of every four, with about half of those being overnights on the trail. Somehow I did that while working more than forty hours a week, bike commuting, and owning a home. I’d bought as much house as I could, and backpacked because it was cheap and because I liked it. I lived within two hours of probably hundreds of trails, including getting to the north side of Mt. Rainier – as long as the Carbon River road wasn’t washed out.

I was able to do it because I was young, wasn’t aware enough of home ownership to know what to worry about, and had more discretionary cash than I realized. I also spent so much time on the trail that I didn’t date much, wasn’t interested in hanging out in bars, and knew that the gear I bought would probably last a long while. My apologies to that house. My regrets to my social life. But at least I was right about the gear. I also created a long list of memories that I value more the older I get.

As many of you know, I’ve been working seven days a week since my Triple Whammy. That’s not a euphemism. There aren’t a lot of caveats. Every day is almost the same set of tasks. I’m glad to do them because I know too many who aren’t fortunate enough to have steady work, even if it is fractured into a half dozen projects with another half dozen trying to build into something substantial.

Without going into the details of my personal life beyond what you can read about in previous posts, I was due for a break or a breakdown. Through some unintended consequences I had worked to quota on a job or two, could put the others off for a while, and manage not one but two, count them, two days off. Give me two days in a row and I’ll head to the mountains if I can. Weather abated, and yet I hesitated. My guess was that I needed the serenity I’d find in the mountains, but I’d have to pay a real cost to do so.

Every entrepreneur knows that a day off is a day without wages. I’ve known business owners who’ve laughed at the audacity of being paid to take time off, even though others call it ‘vacation’; and then shake their heads at people who don’t take their companies up on the offer. A day off is a day that costs in opportunities, backlogs, and momentum. And yet, humans aren’t machines and need to stop working so they can continue to work.

One of the inspirations behind my Twelve Month nature seriesvalhalla cover was the simple concept of returning to familiar places to see them from unfamiliar perspectives. A Saturday in August is very different from a Wednesday in March. Making sure each trip was to someplace new becomes a burden when so many places have already been visited. In thirty years of hiking, I’ve visited a lot of places in Washington, and seen fewer than a quarter of the classic destinations. But, I needed a break more than I needed to bag another trail or peak.

I decided to return to one of my favorites, Lake Valhalla, a lake along the crest of Washington’s Cascade Range, therefore along the Pacific Crest Trail, and therefore high and cold enough to spend more time frozen than thawed.

a photo from a June many years ago

a photo from a June many years ago


September 26, 2015

The trout probably think ice is normal and blue skies are associated with being caught and eaten.

The short version of the trip is that I hit the peak of autumn colors. The vine maples and berry bushes were in prime yellows, oranges, and reds; and the bugs were done for the year. It was already autumn, so I expected few people, but managed to hit the season for through-hikers, those dozens or hundreds of people who hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, or the reverse. I met the ones heading north, the ones hoping to step across the border before dozens or hundreds of inches of snow hide the trail for another winter. The longer version of the trip was uploaded to a very good trails site,, but as has happened before, the words and photos were lost between my computer and their web site. (Look below for the text if the link hasn’t gone live by the time I publish this post.)

The frugal version of the trip is not just about the money, but considering my finances and my desire to spend more time in the mountains, I decided to quantify how much it cost for an overnight trip. Nature may be free, but hiking costs money. As anyone who has tried applying accounting to their personal life knows, it can become complicated to figure out indirect costs. How much of the cost of new underwear goes to the time my socks spent on the trail? I concentrated on the direct costs because they are easy: food, fuel, and in my case, ferries. Living on an island has its consequences. Most days that is a slower pace of life, nature nearby, and a bit of isolation from modern day pressures. Getting on and off the island costs; in my case, about $20.60 because my 4WD truck is long enough to get a bump in the fee. The fuel is a variable, but Lake Valhalla is at the crest of the mountains, so it’s also a good intermediate spot for the calculation. I let the pumps do the work, and it cost me about $27.50 for the fuel. The food, ah yes, the food, cost about $38; largely because I cold camp, which means nothing spent or carried for heating anything, but also means buying processed meats, cheese, energy bars, and a snack or two for the drive. Oh yes, the wine cost about a quarter of that. Rounded and totaled and the cost of spending two days in the mountains was $86, less than some couples spend on dinner, more than I spend staying home, and enough for more than a week’s food.

Frugality is not just about costs. Frugality is also about benefits.

DSC_5880Serenity sounds trite. How about natural silence? No earplugs, acoustic tiles, sound-canceling headphones; just a natural silence that isn’t completely quiet. Wind through trees. Water meandering through a meadow. Birds singing for mates, territory, or because they are birds. Chipmunks and squirrels (Squirrel!) chattering because I was invading their space or because I wasn’t feeding them or both. How much do some people spend on meditation sessions, sensory deprivation tanks, quiet counselors? For about 24 hours (because a two day hike really reduces to 24 hours past the trailhead), I had as much serenity as nature could provide, and it provided it naturally. From the time I parked the truck (after lucking out and not having to pay a parking fee, and yes, trailhead parking fees exist), until I climbed back in sore, wet from frost, dew, and sweat, my greatest cares were making sure I didn’t trip, and finding a place to stay for the night. Everything else faded away. I had my happiest dream in years. Yes, I remember it. No, I won’t bore you with it.

The feeling was far more valuable than the $86 I spent getting it; but in today’s society, that feeling doesn’t pay any bills that the spent $86 could have. I could create great value for myself going back to my old routine of hiking three weekends out of every four, but that would mean not paying my health insurance premium (assuming I’m paying it instead of my income taxes, which are about the same.) And yet, I might try to find a way to go on an overnight hike once a month. Four years of only taking off one day every two months is not sustainable. This hike was day off #4 & #5 for 2015 (I think.) The main reason I was able to do so was because I bought good equipment twenty and thirty years ago, gear which is understandably showing its age, just as I am. Amortize depreciation into the cost and the $86 rises. Replacement costs are high enough that I’d just have to forego the trips until finances improve or serendipity provides.

The best things in life are free, and yet, accessing them isn’t without cost – and undeniable benefits.

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Donald Leroy Trimbath Senior

Photo: Glasgow, Scotland, April 1945, about the time a young sailor was introduced to Guinness

Photo: Glasgow, Scotland, April 1945, about the time a young sailor was introduced to Guinness

There were whitecaps on the bay today. They were nothing like the waters of the North Atlantic, or typhoon in the Pacific that my Dad survived aboard ship as a Merchant Marine in World War II. He died, Saturday, September 19, 2015 after a long life of hard work mixed with enough play. He helped raise three sons, including me, and will remain an example of a frugal life and an internal honesty.

He lived a version of the American dream. Born in coal mining country in southwestern Pennsylvania, got out as soon as possible by joining the Merchant Marines because he was too young for the other services, survived (except for a broken nose from a softball game in Marseilles), came home, became a trucker to avoid being a miner (which was wise considering he was over six feet tall), worked his way up through union management as one of the earliest shop stewards in the Pittsburgh area, then worked hard enough in successively higher paying jobs to help all three kids get through college (and me without any debt), then switched jobs at 58 based on a moral choice, worked until a retirement, became active in the Merchant Marine Veterans Association, cared for my Mom as she fought cancer (misdiagnosed until it was too late), found love and married again which required moving to California, cared for Doris as she fought cancer, then returned to Pittsburgh after her death to take care of himself as best he could. In the end, my brothers and their wives, all who still live in the Pittsburgh area, took on the role of caregivers for someone who took care of enough others. At many levels, I am sorry I couldn’t provide the care I’d hoped to before my financial troubles.

He was not a saint. He was human. This is not the time for imperfections.

Throughout his life, he never had the wealth of those around him. And yet, he knew when to work, how to save, and how to make time to play and take vacations. None of the vacations were particularly grand (until after I, the youngest, went off to college then they went on cruises). If it took a second job to save up for a week on the Outer Banks, he worked it. For a while, he had three jobs and Mom had at least one until the doctors told her she shouldn’t work (and then she ‘volunteered’ by creating a local ambulance service with Dad’s help.) During that time, as my brothers were transitioning from high school to college, I saw him on Wednesday nights, Saturday afternoons, and Sundays. Strict Catholics (he converted from Presbyterian to marry Mom), they made sure we went to church every week – and actually tried to bring us up to those standards. Usually though, he was at work because that was his duty.

And, they knew how to throw a party. House parties were a reason for me to stay downstairs in the family room that he built. As we grew up and out, they went out with friends, and also went dancing. I can’t remember seeing them dance, but I know that he could dance for hours, and would keep dancing after Mom was too tired. After I went to college, he even got to dance with some of the girls that had been in my high school class who I’d never danced with.

They never made me feel poor. As I grew up, I thought we were upper middle class. It wasn’t until I got an engineering job that I realized how little they’d had, how simply we’d lived, and how little they’d complained – to me, at least. Our neighborhood was one where every house was basically the same floor plan (which made it easier for us kids to always know where the bathroom was), and dozens of the homes were supposedly built over an abandoned mine (which never fell through, but two houses a couple neighborhoods over did drop a story or so). For years after Mom passed away, he got by on $24,000 a year, still took vacations, still went golfing, still socialized. That’s about what I’m getting by on now. He did a better job of it. Of course, his house was paid off because they bought one and held it for almost fifty years, improving it as necessary rather than trying to play the real estate game of ratcheting up.

He was strict, but softened somewhat with age. My brothers tempered him a bit, or, at least by the time I came around I only got one spanking. He was from the era of stoicism, perseverance, and duty above all. Outward emotions were a luxury only occasionally afforded. By the end, the world had changed enough that it confused him. It didn’t make sense anymore. My brothers and I all had separate struggles that should have been resolved by the work ethic he taught us, and he couldn’t understand why that wasn’t enough. There’s no need to go into how much computers confused him; but, it was how he communicated with the second woman he’d marry, despite the fact that whenever I visited I’d spend hours of a couple of days cleaning his computer of viruses, and the fact that he couldn’t figure out how to read most of what I posted.

His childhood was spent being so poor that they didn’t notice the Great Depression. Some of this is family folklore, but according to my memory of his recollection of his memories, he got the one slice of bacon per week because he was the only son in a family with four daughters (all older), two of whom are still alive. He also was responsible for climbing on the coal trains that passed through town, tossing off chunks as it went through a curve, and then jumping off to take the coal back home to heat the house. From a history like that, it is no surprise that he always appreciated what he had.

If folks want to understand my understanding of frugality, look at a life like the one my parents lived. It wasn’t perfect, but some of the lessons were eternally valuable.

He is embarked upon the ultimate, unknowable journey. I hope within it he finds the peace, comfort, and understanding he deserves. I thank him for what he gave me of his life.

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My Incomplete Emergency Kit

Chile was hit by an 8.3 earthquake, and then a 15 foot tsunami. They killed 12 people. The news is already fading, possibly because the death toll wasn’t higher. The one million Chileans who had to evacuate, undoubtedly are very aware of the news even if Western media has moved on to the next story. As I’ve written before,

I live over an earthquake fault, have to drive through a tsunami zone to get home, am within about a hundred miles of three large volcanoes, and live on an island that is only tied to the mainland by one bridge and two ferries. Do I worry much? No, at least not about that. – What Me Worry

Chile quakes > 2.5

Chile quakes > 2.5

My neighborhood quakes > 2.0

My neighborhood quakes > 2.0

I do, however, take precautions; note the pre- and the -cautions. Today’s task was simple, but like many precautions, put off until it was heightened by news; it was time to open my earthquake kit and update it.

Take everything needed to survive a disaster and stuff it into a garbage can. Stick the garbage can outside because anything inside the house may not be accessible in a disaster. Figuring out what to pack is an exercise in frugality. What has true value when the bare essentials truly matter? And, what few frivolities can make the experience a bit more human?
Putting together a kit of stuff that is hopefully never used is very likely to be a thankless task that has costs and no benefits. Putting together an emergency kit, however, is better insurance than any policy and can be cheaper than an annual premium. I put this kit together years ago, so long ago that I don’t know how old it is. I’ve listed almost everything in the kit (I left out some details like specific clothes and meals) because others have asked for the list. My list is that of an amateur. I’m sure the Red Cross, FEMA, and local authorities have official lists; but this blog is about the reality of what one person does.

As tedious as this can sound, trust me, opening a can after years held a suspense. What crawled in while I ignored the kit? Had anything leaked and ruined everything else? Would those clothes fit?
Surprisingly, only a few things needed to be tossed or replaced. Drugs were out of date. A few fuel canisters were slightly rusted. The only thing that leaked was contained in one baggie that held a Sterno-type fuel canister and Coast Guard rations. I don’t want to know which leaked. I’ll just toss the bag. Two bugs died, stuck to the duct tape, immortalized or at least mummified.
Of course, I don’t want to use the kit, but I’m glad I went through it. It took less than an hour or two to unpack it, sort through it, and repack it. Resupply and upgrades won’t cost much, but with my finances I might do it incrementally because most of the important stuff is in there already. If you haven’t built a kit, take notes, check with the officials, and use it as an excuse for an eclectic shopping trip. And, I hope you never have to use it; but if you do, it can be one of the most frugal and valuable chores you’ve ever accomplished.

My Earthquake Et Al Emergency Kit

  • Medical (people are #1 priority)
  • Vodka (100 proof and a multi-tasker for a cheap disinfectant that can be drunk)
  • Gatorade (tastes good when working hard, and encourages replacing fluids and salts)
  • Imodium (which I’ll update and goes with the upset tummy)
  • Tums (because an upset stomach won’t be a surprise)
  • Advil (which I’ll replace with ibuprofen)
  • 53 piece first aid kit (unopened, and not going to, but could understand replacing much of it)
  • Safety Gear (protection to keep a healthy body healthy)
  • Boots (old leather ski boots because something tough is needed in case there’s lots of sharp debris)
  • Work gloves (plural because they will wear out)
  • Plastic gloves (because chemical and body fluids are messy)
  • Hat (I live by the Salish Sea, so rain might happen at the same time)
  • Safety glasses (duh)
  • Safety goggles (in case glasses aren’t enough)
  • Dust mask (the disaster could be volcanic)
  • Tools (to tear down, dig in, and build up)
  • Hammer (pulling and driving nails)
  • Nails (no time for screws)
  • Crowbar (a claw hammer may not be enough)
  • Utility knife (the more tools the better )
  • Screwdriver (unscrewing things like door hinges)
  • Shelter (in case it gets that bad)
  • Tarp (a couple big ones, maybe to patch a roof, maybe to create a roof)
  • Nylon line (rope might be better, but it is bulky)
  • Duct tape (an infinity of uses)
  • Plastic drop cloth (not as strong as a tarp, but can cover windows, create a dry space, etc.)
  • Food (gotta eat)
  • Sterno (any non-perishable heat source, especially one that doesn’t leak)
  • Matches (even for self-lighting stoves)
  • Metal cup (also serves as a mini pot)
  • Metal plates (paper plates aren’t as reuseable)
  • Paper plates (backup supplies and useful as signage)
  • Cups (drinking, storage)
  • Water bottle (in case clean water is available but in short supply)
  • Travel mug (like the water bottle for hot stuff)
  • Aluminum foil (the culinary version of duct tape)
  • Baggies large and small (good for leftovers, and general storage)
  • Utensils (something to cook and eat with)
  • Rations (something military, Coast Guard, etc.)
  • Freeze dried dinners (hiking food)
  • Beans (simple and nutritious)
  • Rice (simple and nutritious)
  • Paper towels (napkins, cleaning, toilet paper, whatever)
  • Clothes (just in case disaster strikes suddenly while naked)
  • Sweats (old workout gear that’s too tacky to wear elsewhere)
  • Sewing kit (a button can be a big thing if it isn’t there)
  • Poncho (about that rain and wind possibility)
  • Modern logistics (insurers and officials will have requirements)
  • Paper (good time for chronicling)
  • Pen (or pencil or both)
  • Sharpie (thick enough to make signs, thin enough to mark possessions)
  • Camera (was more of an issue before embedded cameras)
  • Radio (time to go old school, hand-cranked is best)
  • Light (LEDs make this much easier, hand-cranked is best, and is probably in the radio)
  • Glowsticks (not good for very long, but in the early hours it is good to have a non-combustible light source)
  • Daypack (in case evacuation is necessary)
  • Cards (for sanity if the situation persists)
  • Stuff for stuff (you know, stuff)
  • Trash bags (there will be trash, and can also supplement tarps, ponchos, etc.)
  • 5 gallon bucket with lid (storage, a seat, an icky toilet, a drum, etc.)
  • Garbage can (everything is packed inside it, but when it is empty it becomes a rain barrel, or storage, or a bigger drum, or a very cramped shelter)
  • Should add (as I emptied the contents I wondered why I didn’t have…)
  • Spare glasses (near and far as needed)
  • Folding saw (something for tear down, repair, and firewood)
  • Towel (a resourceful person always knows where their towel is)
  • Money (hesitate to put it in an outdoor kit, but cash machines might not work)
  • Copies of important papers (gotta prove identity and ownership and whateve)
  • Contact info (gasp, might have to actually use someone’s phone number or address instead of relying on the computer)
  • Wrench (for turning off gas or water)
  • Solar charger (amazing what can be charged now that technology has advanced)
  • Iodine (how did I miss iodine tablets or a water filter?)
  • Map (of course, a local map, to better communicate with others and plan routes as necessary)

(Pardon the formatting, but WordPress is not being WYSIWYG tonight.)

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Preparing To Live The Day With MVIS

I’ve witnessed a phenomenon I call, ‘Living the day’. Philosophers will jump in before hearing the rest and say, “Every day should be lived because every day is precious!” Yep. Agreed. A frugal lifestyle daily reinforces the value of every day, every moment. ‘Living the day’ for my investment career has come to describe the key moment when long anticipated news finally arrives, when months, years, or decades of ‘It could happen’ become ‘It’s happening!!!’. In almost forty years of investing (wow, it really is that long, whew) it has happened a few times. I know of a small cadre of investors who wake every morning knowing this could be the day, and who have been denied every day – so far. Is it simply a matter of patience, or will MVIS somehow manage to continue to disappoint?

Set the wayback machine to April 2009. DNDN had a ‘Living the day’ moment. Dendreon received FDA approval for a cancer vaccine. Yes. In case you missed it, the FDA approved a cancer vaccine in 2009. The reason it isn’t widely available for the variety of cancers it can possibly treat is a phenomenal story, one that deflated much of the trust I had in the FDA and the SEC, but that’s another story. For that one day, and for months afterwards, DNDN became a case study in patience and why Long Term Buy and Hold can beat market timing. I mention DNDN more because it was one of the few ‘Living the day’ moments that I chronicled in my first blog (though it was in an early incarnation that was abandoned because the site become so popular that I had to switch to wordpress.)

If you are interested in reliving the emotional ride of a fantastic day in investing, go to that old blog post: “Living The Day“. It is effectively archived (at considerable expense), so don’t be surprised if links don’t work.

For those who want the short version, I’ll summarize. Forget about getting any productive work done. The most I’ve seen a stock go up in one day is 600%, but I didn’t own that one. Frequently enough, I’ve seen 240% in my portfolio. It is common enough, however, that the stock goes up about 140%. DNDN went from $7 to $24 and settled at $17 within a day. That drama was preceded by a rise from about $3 over the previous days. But, rumors never leak ahead of official news, eh? Within a few months it would top out at $55 (at which my Triple Whammy happened, but that’s yet another story.) It was a heady time, and it was vital to have a support network. Success can create as much stress as failure – but stress reduction for good news is easier than when the news is bad.

I waited years for DNDN’s news. If you want to see how confident I was and wasn’t, scroll back through that old blog. Memories are easily edited, but the posts haven’t been changed.

I write about MVIS frequently because it is almost an archetype of a startup. They have an ingenious solution to a complicated and ubiquitous problem in a multi-billion dollar global market – but others and myself feel that the stock is vastly under-appreciated. The concept is simple. Build a mirror on a chip. Oscillate the mirror. Bounce light off the mirror. Send light out, and create a display that is far lighter, simpler, and more efficient than any flat panel display. Look around your world. How many flat panel displays do you encounter in a day? MicroVision’s technology can’t replace them all, but even 10% of an enormous number is a really big number. Point the mirrors at sensors, and capture images instead of display them. Without getting into the details (many of which I’ve forgotten) the range of applications is smaller, but viable.

MicroVision has been around for about twenty years. I’ve owned MVIS since about 2000. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It has always seemed like it was six to eighteen months away from ‘Living the day’. Evidently, that hasn’t happened – yet.

Saying ‘yet’ is repeating the catch phrase of the optimist.
Pessimist: Good news didn’t happen today, so it won’t happen tomorrow.
Optimist: Good news didn’t happen today, so it is more likely to happen tomorrow.

The window of possibilities for MicroVision’s good news is narrowing. Based on company statements, though with a lot of latitude because of ambiguity, MicroVision is due for at least three major announcements by the end of the year: Sony’s launch of its mobile pico-projector, an innovative smartphone from a Fortune 500 company, and the next generation of products from Celluon. There is also the potential for additional Sony products, automobile head up displays, and as many as four to six companies that quietly displayed MicroVision-enabled products back at CES in January.
MVIS_Catalysts_083115Today is September 15, 2015. That leaves only three and a half months for that much news. Today is September 15, 2015. MVIS hasn’t made any dramatic moves since early March, 2015. The pessimist says, “See, nothing is going to happen.” The optimist says, “Wow! These next three months are going to be awesome!” Neither really knows.

As I type, there is no news, but it could happen even as I post. (That’s the optimist taking control of the keyboard.)

This post isn’t about buying or selling. It is a bit about MVIS. It is more about that support network I mentioned before.

The lesson I want to pass along is more about being human than being an investor. I said it then, and decided it need to be said again.

“Be prepared for The Day. The celebration is easy to fantasize about, but there are more pragmatic aspects to manage. Emotions, trading strategies, and logistics are a few of the the real aspects of The Day. I knew that it was very unlikely that I would actually do anything with my stock. I had decided on my sell target and the size of the position. Part of that was simple personal finance. Part of that was recognition of my risk tolerance. Others sold. They made a profit. That’s a big part of what this is about.

The most important thing to have in place is a network of friends who are in a similar situation. It can be hard, and even impolite, to call up someone at work when your news is that you just made two years living expenses before lunch. They might not have the time and they may resent what sounds like a boast. You have to be able to celebrate with someone and talk over the possibilities and implications within your own life. They will help to ground you and may have insights that are blocked from you by emotion.” – Living The Day

I am fortunate. I have a several close friends who also happen to be invested in MVIS (and that’s been painful enough that other friends were pained by the experience.) I am also reasonably active on three discussion boards devoted to MVIS: The Motley Fool, Investor Village, and Silicon Investor. Knowing that you’re not alone is valuable. It is good to know others who are also going through emotional swings while trying to make potentially life changing decisions. It is just as important to have a support network when there’s good news as when there’s bad news. Whether it is for MVIS, or your lottery tickets, or accolades, it is good to have friends around.

I don’t know if MVIS will have as dramatic a day as DNDN. Consumer electronics don’t have decision dates as dramatic as FDA pronouncements. Even if MVIS gets good news, it may not involve trading halts, or headlines on CNBC. But, the time to prepare for events is before the event. The time to buy the umbrella is before you need it, even when it’s a beach umbrella to lounge under because the Sun is shining so brightly.

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Just Keep Pedaling Anniversary

“Do nothing and nothing remains undone.”
– Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu

Fifteen years ago I played hooky from life for a few weeks. I got on my bicycle on an island in the northwest corner of America and aimed myself at an island in the southeast corner. I was trying to do a new version of nothing, a simple monotonous chore in place of the multitude of tasks required of a homeowner. I was retired, but I was spending most of my time tending stuff. I wanted to spend some time tending me. I did a lot of nothing, and something happened. I changed my life, and found optimism in the world.

It doesn’t seem like fifteen years. It seems more like fifteen decades. The other side of middle age feels that way. Fifteen years ago was also one year before 9/11. The world was different then. In 2000, I finished the ride from Roche Harbor on San Juan Island to Pensacola – Washington to Florida (with a quick trip home from Ponca City, OK). I finished the ride. Finally listened to my friends, and wrote the first drafts of Just Keep Pedaling,Just Keep Pedaling my first book which continues to be one of my best sellers. But, I wasn’t satisfied. I hadn’t ended at an island in the southeast corner; so, I decided to finish the book by finishing the ride by returning to Florida in the fall of 2001. About when I was ready to leave, 9/11 happened. Everything stood still. My plans were discretionary so I purposely decided to not fly until the displaced people got home. Finally, in October, I returned to Pensacola and bicycled to Key West breathing humidity I could see, through smoke from the burning sugar fields, and had to dance with a hurricane before I reached my goal.
When I returned, I wasn’t just writing about a bike ride. I’d witnessed a shift in America’s psyche. Paranoia escalated. So did xenophobia. I rode through a scared Florida of emptied hotels and uncertain people. It was a sad time, but I trusted that we’d recover.

Within a year, Just Keep Pedaling was published. It was my first book, with a relatively unfiltered perspective on pre- and post- 9/11 coloring my narrative of America’s various cultures.

Now, in 2015, a lot has changed. I’ve written several more books; but the bigger changes are in our country and culture. The Internet Bubble popped. We launched ourselves into a new type of war, and spent heavily to do so. The economy was fragile, and then The Great Recession hit. Now, there’s much less certainty about national security, financial security, and environmental security – and we’re uncertain about where we’ll find the resources for the new fights.

I’ve also had a divorce and my Triple Whammy. That’s another source of uncertainties, but on a personal level.

“Do nothing and nothing remains undone.” That’s a fine bit of wisdom that runs counter to conventional Western wisdom; “Hard work will set you free.”

As with all pithy phrases, the reality requires a bit of pragmatism. Do absolutely nothing, and die because you didn’t eat or drink. Work 24 hours a day every day, and die because we are only human. Reality is in the middle.

There’s an ease to following intuition, trusting to the world, and not going to extremes. I bicycled across America. I didn’t do it by sitting on the bike in the driveway. I didn’t do it by never stopping (despite the title). I trusted my intuition, rode across America, and thought nothing had happened. I went to lose weight; but didn’t lose any pounds, percentage body fat, or notches on my belt – and that was with missing meals because some towns are smaller than most imagine.

It wasn’t until months or years later that the changes percolated through. While I was on the ride I became much more tolerant of variations in American culture, partly because they were tolerant of me (except somewhat less so in Salt Lake City, Kansas, and Arkansas.) After months, my attitude about my creative skills changed. I saw the political reactions to foreigners with a greater awareness of how little contact most of America has with anything non-American. It has become apparent that we are an impressive country and culture that is not cohesive but continuing to mature with some lingering adolescent attitudes.

Most people didn’t know what was happening forty miles from their homes (the typical distance between towns). Some days I rode twice that distance and saw things they’d missed because it was more than an hour’s drive. They didn’t explore because they didn’t have to – unless that was where the nearest Wal-Mart was. That may sound like a joke, but the things most likely to get someone out of town was either shopping for discounts or visiting friends. Even people that didn’t like where they were didn’t travel because they just assumed the next town was just as bad.

They weren’t ‘doing nothing’. They were doing the exact same thing, perpetually.

Playing hooky isn’t doing nothing, but it is doing nothing about the things that supposedly matter. Push on something hard enough for long enough; and, if it isn’t moving, you deserve a break; and, by taking a break, you may find that you’d already nudged it enough for it to move slowly on its own, or that you were pushing in the wrong direction.

There were a pair of angels in Oregon, and they gave me one. They ran a small convenience store on the edge of onion fields that border the Snake River and Idaho. The longer version of the story is in the book (naturally) but the short version was this: They didn’t try to go out and evangelize to change the world. They didn’t even evangelize when people walked in the door. Despite having to work three jobs each, they spent time listening to customers, finding what the customer truly needed (even if it had nothing to do with what was on their shelves), and providing what they could. For one young, uncertain fellow, they bought things from him instead of telling him to buy things from them. He needed a start to his business, and they provided that. For me, they gave me an angel to carry on my bike. It was a kitchen magnet, but the intention wasn’t trivial.

The angel is broken now. Tiny sculptures don’t survive bicycle tools bags for thousands of miles. Think it trivial if you will, but I didn’t have an accident in over 3,800 miles of riding. To them, it was a little bit of nothing with a big intent. They’ve probably forgotten me, but they’re bit of nothing is something that I remember every time I see the angel on my shelf.  Our most influential actions don’t have to be grand gestures, epic struggles, public demonstrations. Our most influential actions can be something that feels like doing nothing. Our most influential actions may be to take a break and let our previous energies carry us through. Do nothing, and nothing remains undone.

Photo on 2015-09-11 at 18.52

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Green Brown Grey Green

DSC_5827My lawn is turning green again. With the drought we had, it went from green to brown, and beyond that to grey. And then the rains came. A few days later and back to green and back to mowing, no time spent in the grey. Good news and recoveries don’t have to take as much time as bad news and declines.

Optimists find good news in a blade of grass. Washington State has been in a drought for months, which is one reason this year’s fire season set records. 100% of the state is in severe drought and ~68% is in extreme drought. I don’t remember mowing the lawn in August, and only had to do it in September because, as Erma Bombeck wrote, “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.” The rains came back in storms that felt like October. After the skies cleared (and I fixed my fence – again) I mowed the rest which had gone past brown to grey, I noticed new shoots of green arising. Welcome back.

That was quick.

The world’s economy and ecology are not just blades of grass needing a bit of rain. But, just because it took years, decades, or centuries to get into the current condition, doesn’t mean it will take just as long to recover. Left to natural processes and without changing our way of life, the necessary recoveries may never happen. But people are working hard at finding new ways of living. New technologies are being introduced. We may actually be learning from our mistakes.

My situation has been less-than-optimal for more than four years. My finances have gone from green, to brown, to grey. A frugal lifestyle and some reasonably steady revenues have helped keep the remaining grey from turning to dust and blowing away. It is too easy to assume that either 1) nothing will change and I’ll be stuck in this tedious situation that has me working seven days a week without being able to pay all of my bills, or 2) it will take four more years to recover from my quick decline. The optimist in me knows, and the mathematician confirms, that small bits of good news can create big benefits. The difference between not being able to pay all my bills versus being able to pay them confidently is a small amount by a great reduction in stress and a great increase in ease. The optimist in me also knows that any email, phone call, or conversation can dramatically improve finances, stress, emotions, and sustainability. Hey, I’m an expert; surely that’s worth something.

Within the last few months, I’ve come across news of:

  • health care costs coming down (or at least not growing as quickly),
  • graphene making progress on everything from desalination to hydrogen production to incredibly strong and transparent and light building materials,
  • US carbon dioxide production dropping to levels of the early 80s,
    renewable energy rising in a self-reinforcing cycle of decreasing costs and increasing effectiveness,
  • billionaires who recognize that income and wealth inequality are getting too extreme,
  • more people bicycling or walking rather than driving,

The good news continues. I capture a lot of it in my blog, Pretending Not To Panic.



The bad news is easier to report, but the good news is in there.

It is far easier to concentrate on the downside, the potential disasters, the apocalyptic. It makes for compelling stories and news. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true, but it is only part of the story.

I’m witnessing a return to values, habits, and attitudes from more frugal times. The mainstream continues on, but there are significant communities of people growing their own food (without calling them Victory Gardens), people moving into smaller homes (which is the Tiny House trend), people focusing more on community rather than television, people getting by with less either by choice or by necessity. Each trend is easy to dismiss, but their effects are becoming strong enough to elicit immune responses from the conventional institutions. The natural health community has to defend itself against regulatory agencies that don’t know how to respond to food that isn’t mass-produced or herbal treatments that weren’t funded by multi-billion dollar corporations. The Tiny House community has to work around the housing industry that continues to sell the concept of bigger is better and that smaller is degrading to the neighborhood. Television and conventional media know they have to do something different, but only experiment gingerly while YouTubers and podcasters follow their intuition usually failing but sometimes creating empires from simple ideas.

Personal finance is about personal choice. Conventions that were relied on fifty years ago didn’t have much competition, and yet the Sixties happened despite more difficult communication. Conventions now are meeting competition and innovation that may be nuisances but may be historically disruptive, and can disrupt far more quickly because of the Internet. We are in a time of great experimentation at a time when we need to test new solutions. It is happening. We don’t know if the experiments will generate solutions to the problems of our current cultural drought. But, as I plan out my finances and consider my future I know to assume that a lot will change, I’ll probably be surprised, and that good things can happen quickly. It might mean having to do some work, like mowing the lawn after a rain, but that’s okay. Droughts don’t last forever and it can be fun to dance in the rain.

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