Lowered Expectations For MVIS

Next week is MicroVision’s annual stockholders meeting. The amateur grammarian in me would like to tweak it to read the annual stockholders’ meeting, as if the stockholders owned the meeting the way they’re supposed to own the stock and the company; but I realize it will be a meeting of a small percentage of the stockholders and that the meeting will be owned by the corporate officers and board members. Of course, the corporate officers and board members are also stockholders, and probably own or control more shares than any collection of individuals invested in the stock. Maybe that explains the way such events are run, despite the spirit of the SEC regulations. After years of optimistic expectations followed by disappointment, this year I am preparing myself with lowered expectations that I hope will be positively refuted. Why, not? It’s worth a try.

For several years, MicroVision has seemingly been on the cusp of dramatic success. Being able to embed projectors into devices the way cameras are now part of so many devices suggests that the owner of the technology and the patents should be in a very good position. MicroVision has been in that position for years, and hasn’t moved from it. Any minute they could announce a significant deal that finally realizes their potential, but that hasn’t happened, yet.

From the perspective of conventional investing, MicroVision has been growing. The growth has been uneven, which means it doesn’t fit well into analyses and spreadsheets, which also means investors are more likely to look elsewhere; but, it has been growth. In 2015 they booked over $9M in revenue, a significant improvement over the nearly $6M from 2013, and ever closer to the number necessary to reach positive cash flow, and then profitability. That progression is impressive, especially considering their hurdles, limited resources, and competition.

The stock (MVIS), however, has followed a different path. Since last years stockholders meeting, the stock is down over 36%. Over the last five years it is down over 80%. Over the last ten years it is down over 90%. Ten years ago I thought it was a buy, which with even a moderate rate of return should put the stock up 100% instead. I expected much higher by now because MicroVision is not a conventional company with a conventional product.

When you can disrupt a major portion of the electronic display industry and enable applications that are as inventive as the smartphone (in my opinion, emphasis on ‘my’ and ‘opinion’) then valuations and growth can be dramatically higher. Evidently, that hasn’t happened.

One measure of the success of a company is whether they can continue operations. They’ve crossed that hurdle for decades. Dozens or hundreds of employees have been paid, received benefits, and grown their careers through that period. Corporate officers and board members have received similar compensation though with the special characteristics associated with executive compensation like stock.

I expect that everyone working in the company even more strongly feels the difference between the future potential and the current reality. The difference with the stockholders is that the only compensation has been free coffee, tea, donuts, and pens once a year.DSCN5160 We also get to deal with the emotional stress of trusting analyses while witnessing painful portfolio performance. And then there’s the emotional stress that happens within relationships – but the anecdotes I’ve heard will remain private because discretion isn’t just polite, it’s vital between friends.

Since last year’s stockholders meeting, only one product has become available for sale, a portable projector from Sony. It is about the size of a smartphone, is far more capable than previous products, and may be the first of a line of Sony products. The walking, talking, robot smartphone called RoBoHoN should be available for sale about the time I publish this post. It will probably attract a lot of attention, but its high price and gimmicky design will limit it to a few, and probably won’t reach mass adoption that will lead to mass profits. Supposedly, another projector, the Viewsmart should be available by now, but I haven’t heard much about it. The Qualper smartphone is also supposedly available – somewhere. The smartphone with an embedded MicroVision projector was supposed to be a key milestone because years ago the CEO estimated that MicroVision would reach profitability about nine months after such an introduction. (Forward looking statement caveats apply.) Even Celluon used Twitter to tease that the PicoBit would be released by the end of April, with a surprise; and here is nearly the end of May without the news. (A pause while I check Twitter for an update. Nope. Not yet.)

MVIS_Catalysts_042916

If half of those products were readily available and selling reasonably well, this stockholders meeting might finally be the celebration many shareholders have been waiting for. We have one, and its reviews are more impressive than its sales.

Investing in companies, ideas, and people requires a variety of perspectives. As a stockholder, I have several reasons for owning the stock: investment returns, championing positive disruptive technologies, supporting local companies. Employees have a different set of incentives and motivations. Those of the officers and board are from yet another perspective. Success and failure are measured many different ways. It is nice when everyone smiles, but frequently at least one faction has a frown.

A week remains before the stockholders meeting. I try to attend every year even though each trip has cost the equivalent of several shares of stock. Between now and then are 160 hours, each an opportunity for good news to arrive; a wait that has been going on for 16 years. If you are a shareholder, I encourage you to attend because the story of the company and the stock is not being told in the numbers. I encourage any investor in any company to at least consider attending such meetings because the numbers aren’t the only story. The variety of perspectives in the room reveals the incentives, motivations, optimisms, and pessimisms that influence the company, the stock, and your portfolio.

If no new news arrives, I’ll arrive at the meeting expecting to take notes, as usual; to meet fellow shareholders, as usual; to politely and lightly meet with the officers and board members; and maybe to see a demo of a product or prototype that will entertain me. The lesson I’ve learned from MicroVision has been to lower those expectations, which is a sad lesson. But, all of the other times I’ve been wrong. Maybe this time I’ll be wrong, too – and that would be a good thing.

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One Of Those Days

Some days inspire long expositions of events and implications. Today inspired a need to sit on the deck and be patient. The septic system, which I just spent $1,800 on just had another failure which may be as simple as a fuse, and may be as much as $1,500 for a new pump. I’d like to tell you more about it and several other news items of various bits of optimism and pessimism, but those will all wait while I manage to manage the more important part of this household – me.

Thanks for staying tuned.

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Another Coworks Closes

Another coworks closed today; and, just like last time, it wasn’t about the coworks. The previous coworks closed as part of a strategic decision that involved several ventures. The Coworks for Writers closed because the writers association is being disbanded. Each coworks has been different. New incarnations are being considered, all different as well; but the energy and demand continue while the benefits are becoming more apparent to more people. Something good will happen, but we don’t know exactly what – yet.

For those who are unfamiliar with coworking, I suggest you review my previous posts. The simple example is to visit any coffeeshop and look for the people bowing to their laptops while essentially renting a table for the cost of a cup of coffee that they may nurse for hours. I tend to order tea. It’s cheaper, the bags can be reused, and I like it. Despite having been an early investor in Starbucks (for details see my book, Dream. Invest. Live.),Dream Invest Live cover I don’t drink coffee; but am glad for everyone who does. Many of those laptop warriors are nomadic workers who’d prefer a more professional environment, but can’t afford to pay for an office. Coworks provide that environment, usually for under a couple of hundred dollars a month.

Workers in the 1099 Economy (who get 1099 forms instead of W-2s for their US taxes), and workers in the Gig Economy (people who are entrepreneurs by necessity and possibly by choice as a means to meet their needs) are increasingly mobile, only require a place to plug in, connect to the internet, and stay out of the weather. Don’t be surprised if you see someone staring at a screen while they sit on a park bench outside a library after hours. That’s a sign that they’re hard workers and the necessary facilities aren’t in place. They’re probably pulling in free wi-fi to run their business.

The coworks that closed today may merely be relocating. Enough people who’ve tried it liked it and they’ve decided it’s going to happen regardless of official organizations. Coworks become communities where individuals begin to connect with other individuals into a support network that is more effective than any social media. I’m relatively active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter (search on Tom Trimbath or tetrimbath); yet none of my main clients came from the internet, even though that’s where the work happens. All of them have come from personal contacts and casual conversations. Two of my three biggest clients were directly related to coworks. Someone working on a project realizes that they need to either find help or a replacement. Maybe they already knew me, but being in the same room is a definite advantage. Years of submitting resumes haven’t been as effective as sitting in a room with a bunch of similar souls and subtly making that connection.

Coworks are not flukes. They aren’t anomalies. In major cities they are so successful that they are filling entire buildings or city blocks, and are even extending their services to include co-housing. Rents are going up faster than wages, and one coping strategy is to share as many opportunities and essentials as possible. Call it active entrepreneurship or accidental socialism, but people are finding value in working together – again, by choice or necessity.

As Whidbey’s writers experience their transition, a variety of the services are transitioning, too. The coworks for writers is most likely going to transform to coworks that are open to all, coworks that are open to writers but that have more of a social element, and coworks that are based on the outside inspirations whose specifics I’ve only heard hints of. Personally, I may have uncovered yet another variant that ironically is quite conventional.

When the writers association closes it also frees up space. One organization moves out, another moves in. That means they’ve freed up yet another space, which someone else moves into; which frees up yet another space. Eventually, a space could be free that is affordable if shared by a few.

Small towns have smaller populations by definition. The highly successful coworks model in metropolitan downtowns works because it draws from a population of millions (including the greater metropolitan region). Despite months or years of efforts, South Whidbey has yet to demonstrate a critical mass of coworkers; except when the power goes out. I continue to believe a viable model exists, but resources and opportunities have yet to align despite Surprising Coworks Support. Maybe, instead of creating a coworks from a cadre of a half dozen it makes more sense to start one step farther back and create a shared office space with three or four. Fewer is easier to find. The synergies and networking aren’t as large, but they may suffice – especially, considering the talent on the island.

Small towns lack anonymity, which makes trying to keep secrets somewhat entertaining. In a major city, someone can peek into a room and quietly assess the possibilities. Do that in a small town and it’s easy to know who they are, who they work for and with, their typical motivations and incentives, their resources, and whether they are serious or simply curious. That means that when a transition like the writers association happens, it’s possible to make educated guesses about what might happen next; but because logistics get involved, there are no guarantees. That means I think there will actually be more opportunities for coworking, but I don’t know for sure, or when, or where, or for how much.

In the meantime, people in a collection of small towns (and one reasonably large city) on a big island are taking the opportunity to redefine the way they practice their art, conduct their work, and develop a variety of communities based on writing, entrepreneurship, and mutual support. It is simultaneously unsettling and encouraging; but I don’t know what it will be exactly – yet.

Stay tuned.

WIWAcoworks

It was nice knowing you.

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Monopoly Versus The Farming Game

It’s Saturday night. I should be diving into a couple more hours of work (which I’m glad to have), but I’ve learned to listen to the messages my body sends. It’s time to recuperate, and then dive back in tomorrow. I watch economic news the way some folks watch sports. Saturday night also makes me think of relaxing with friends, but there’s not enough energy for that tonight. And yet, thinking of playing makes me think about games, and a recent conversation inspired me to consider two games: Monopoly and The Farming Game. Most have heard of Monopoly. Fewer have heard of The Farming Game, but it is the Farming Game that I’d rather play on a misty weekend night (unless I could make it to a dance, but I digress.) Those two games reflect two perspectives on money, work, and our economy. If I can’t play them, I might as well think about them, and write about them.

Monopoly is certainly familiar. Buy up real estate. Charge rent. Try to stay out of jail. Work hard at accumulating all the money on the board and bankrupting your opponents. It’s a simple description, yet the game can take hours with great uncertainty in the beginning and a long, dreary end in some cases.

The Farming Game has a similar board, but it is based on seasons instead of streets. There are things to buy and sell, and even rent; but the players work hard at trying to create the best farm while avoiding bankruptcy, natural disasters, and inconvenient tax bills. Along the way, decide what to plant, whether to own livestock, and whether to go into debt. It too, can take hours, but as the game progresses almost all players’ fortunes improve (it is a game, not a simulation).

In Monopoly, the goal is to beat and bankrupt your opponents. In the Farming Game, the goal is to become the first farmer to become solvent and self-sufficient by creating sufficient net worth. Each farmer is in a race, but you can actually cheer on the other players. You can try to undermine them, but that’s usually more trouble than its worth. If I’m going to play a game with friends I’d rather be cheering them than jeering them.

The difference is built in.

Monopoly was designed to demonstrate the negative aspects of concentrating wealth. Players were expected to find losing unpleasant.

The Farming Game was designed a bit differently. It was designed by a rancher, who wanted to demonstrate some of the realities of farming while also making it fun to play.

Evidently, games are serious business; and at least these two were designed primarily for education – and yet, they are games.

Screen shot 2016-05-14 at 8.23.32 PMIt is too simplistic to say that they represent current capitalism versus the sharing economy. Income and wealth inequality is returning to the levels seen just before The Great Depression and the introduction of Monopoly; but the present is an echo of history, not a repeat. Farmers may share, but that is not a feature in The Farming Game; though the game does represent the battle and balance between needing money to make money while avoiding bad luck – something that has become so difficult that the middle class is disappearing and the median wage is falling. To represent the Sharing Economy as a game might be going too far because ideally there’s no great tension between the players and either everyone would win or everyone would lose. In that case, skip the game and just go out there and do some communal activity that would be gratifying.

I worry about the US economy and political situation because they are run more like Monopoly. Whoever grabs the most wins. The most money or the most power is granted the most prestige. The rest of the players get to practice being graceful in defeat. Fortunately, there is a continuum from wealthiest to poorest; but the number of winners is decreasing while the amount they’ve won is increasing – leaving less for the rest. In the Farming Game, wealth creation creates individual wealth creation without detracting from anyone else – until the farms run out of board space. Coming in last could still represent a nice accomplishment.

I rarely have hours to devote to any game (except for the siren call of Civilization III). I can’t keep up with my friends’ binge watching of various series. (But please, no spoilers because I plan to catch up someday.)

The real lives of the monopolists have become extreme to the extent that they can’t comprehend a middle class life. The real lives of farmers and ranchers have split into those who’ve gone corporate and industrial versus those who’ve purposely stayed small and are therefore vulnerable. Neither game truly reflects reality, but both echo it.

I’d be interested in a game that embodies both and maybe adds other options. Players decide whether to compete, collaborate, or continue on their own. What lessons would we learn if a variety of perspectives could play simultaneously?

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A Good Disclosure

Whew. Finally, papers and pens and people met at the same time and the same place to reach an agreement about a fun and new project. Add writing for TV to my list of skills, talents, and experiences. As of this afternoon I get to work (part-time and temporary) on a documentary series for the island’s local TV studio, WhidbeyTV. To those who’ve listened to my story through such tough times, I’m glad I get to share yet another piece of good news. All things remaining equal, I’ll finally go from making enough to pay my bills except for my taxes, to being about to pay my taxes and make quicker progress on reducing my debt. Artistically, this is fun. Financially, this is a great relief. And, getting to learn a lot more about my neighborhood, my community, its history, and the people is marvelous. Good news comes from unexpected directions, and this isn’t the only opportunity. (There were more than one possibilities alluded to in that previous post.)

Unexpected opportunities for one friend created an unexpected opportunity for me. I’m not the first writer for this project. A friend had that honor, but had to bow out because another lucrative project demanded more time. One of the consequences of the Gig Economy is that each gig is dynamic, growing or shrinking, speeding up or slowing down as demand and resources shift. When you hear about someone creating a career from a web of gigs, be impressed by their management skills. Handle six projects within a corporation, and get a headache and a good performance review, and maybe a raise. But it is simpler because the pay’s the same, the benefits are the same, and conflicts are negotiated within a relatively common culture. Handle six projects as an entrepreneur, and the juggling shifts from handling six knives to handling a knife, a chain saw, a fish, a pumpkin, a torch, and whatever flies by. Pay, benefits, time, location, dress code, and urgency vary throughout the day. No wonder liquor sales are rising and marijuana is becoming legal.

I’d like to tell you more about the project, but as any artist will tell you, things change. That’s true within corporate America, but especially true when trying to compile a compelling story based on the inputs and constraints of several people and disciplines. It would be great to interview someone who was forty years old in 1890, but few people live to be 126 years old. Some audio or video or story may be compelling, but if it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the episodes it gets cut. Develop an idea, outline a narrative, create a draft, add or subtract based on available media and people, and repeat and repeat. So, I can’t tell you what exactly we’re going to produce, but I can tell you that it is nice to work in a talented group on a common goal (but also with limits on time and money, of course.)

While I can finally talk a bit about my new creative assignment, I’ll continue to remain more private about shifts that are happening within the writing community (as it sorts out its new direction), the coworks community (as various coworkers and possible hosts decide upon their needs and wants), and more than one other project that is considering me as a manager or major contributor (hence more NDAs whether implicit or explicit.)

Put everything together and after a thirteen hour day yesterday, what will effectively be a twelve hour day today, and two more schedule intense days for the rest of the workweek, I’ll be tired and ready to work shorter days on the weekend.

As grueling and unbelievable as that may sound to some, the shift is significant. When you aren’t making enough money to pay all your bills, any free time can be spent on worry. There’s more than enough unsolicited advice, peer pressure, societal shame, and financial necessity to fill free time with worry. Time is valuable. Is there something I’m overlooking that may be the key to paying my bills? Now, my free time is more likely to be spent juggling a variety of projects, some as contributor, some as manager, some as entrepreneur (which means simultaneously originator, contributor, manager, and evaluator.)

I am one of the fortunate ones. By many measures, despite having to pay my income taxes with a credit card, statistically I am middle class, barely. My clients have interesting work. There’s more than enough diversity in shifting from a museum about computing in the classroom, to writing light and hopefully entertaining articles about Seattle’s currently bizarre real estate market, to diving into and documenting Whidbey Island’s culture, community, and history. That kind of juggling means no day is dull. And, the other opportunities can be equally diverse. My resume and LinkedIn page are expanding – and I like it.

WhidbeyTV is a local initiative, a unmet demand that was recognized by the people who run the local telephone company. Living on an island means living within a culture that can be significantly different from mainland communities three miles away. The waters around any island create a cultural moat that may not mesh with the mainland’s media offerings. There may be a smaller audience, but it is a more dedicated audience. People who live in isolated places, are more likely to do so consciously. They know why they live where they live. They pick where they want to live, and then decide how to live there; rather than finding a job and then settling on housing based on commuting. Each choice is a story, and I get to help tell those stories. So, yeah, am I happier? Yeah. Am I glad I could disclose that much? Yeah. Do I know what’s going to happen next? Not exactly, but it will certainly be a story. Thanks for staying tuned. There’s more to come.

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Non Disclosure Agreement

I’d like reo tell you, but I can’t. With some formal and informal, commercial and non-profit, but almost all local to Whidbey projects, I have plenty of potential news. If you’ve read this blog for more than a few months, you’ve heard similar before. But, two of the projects have me shifting my mind-set and making it clear how tough it is to not have enough to pay the bills, and how much of a relief a little bit extra can create. To those who think I smile alot now, you might see a lot more of that soon – assuming things work out.

Unfortunately, I have to leave you in suspense. My novel writing friends strive for such tension; but I look forward to telling you the news. About the only bounds I’ll describe are that the commercial initiative is not, repeat not, a full time job with benefits. That seems as elusive as a jackpot winning lottery ticket. But it is very good. The other initiatives mean more work, possibly less time – and yet are very relaxing. Yes, I do lead an odd life.

“Anything for a weird life!” – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Be careful what you wish for. I didn’t even wish for it, but I remember saying that phrase with feeling about thirty years ago. Let’s take a look at my Bio page, “Consultant, Writer, Speaker, Teacher, Photographer, Engineer, Entrepreneur, etc.”. I’m starting to think there’s a heavy emphasis on the ‘etc.’ I’ve bicycled across America, walked across Scotland, got a black belt in karate, wrote a series of books about hiking year-round in Washington State’s Cascades mountains, have a patent and a string of inventions (aka Fresh Ideas), retired at 38 and was unretired in 2010, and I think that’s enough for now.

Like most people, my ups and downs can be made to sound epic. I continue to enjoy the fact that a friend in the industry pitched the story of my life to a Hollywood VP. I think they’re waiting to see how it comes out before they do anything.

Life most people, it is possible and likely to carry stress, habits, and perspectives through episodes even after situations change. I know too many people reacting to possible futures based on terrible pasts that are unlikely considering their present. I don’t want the same to happen to me.

As good news is filtering in, though not committing, I’ve watched my reactions. I smile more; but not too much more. I pay my bills as before, and am eager to pay earlier and pay down debt sooner; but hold back because I can’t spend what isn’t in the bank account. I fear less; because having a few hundred too little every month means any upset can be disastrous, while have a few hundred extra every month means it is possible to repair things before they break and to replace things that broke and were abandoned. I might even buy a bed instead of relying on one piece of furniture that is primarily a couch.

My shoulders are more likely to shudder as I realize they don’t always have to carry tension. Sometimes, they shake when I remind myself to relax. They don’t have to carry tension, but an awareness of the frailty of things, people, and life is amplified when there’s less you can do about it. When I was a millionaire, a torn pair of pants was an excuse to go shopping. When I couldn’t pay my mortgage, I wore overalls because they were less likely to rip or tear. It wasn’t until this year that I finally bought a pair of jeans, my first since before my Triple Whammy.

As more than one friend and financial professional commented, I was hit by a perfect storm of bad luck. It is inevitable, I’m not alone, but it did happen to me. I understand why the suicide rate is so high, why some voters are angry, and why the American Dream has measurably shifted from getting ahead to not falling behind.

The US economy is improving, though haltingly and unevenly. Millions of people have experienced unexpected trauma. Just like the Great Depression, we possibly have retrained a generation or two to act more cautiously and for them to expect less security.

Whether my good news arrives or not, I’m experiencing yet another lesson in my self and our money based economy. Money is an abstraction, but when it is the determinant of housing, healing, eating, and the basics of survival, it is easy for a body to physically react. We evolved to be sensitive to threats, so it is no surprise that our bodies react. Several of my friends teach stress reduction methodologies that are known by their acronyms: TRE, EFT, ICE. Others teach older versions of meditation, massage, and spirituality. For some, prayer suffices.

For me, I rely on and feel I should return to the tight/no-tight training within my karate practice. Karate embodies a pragmatism. There are times to be tight; but the best way to conserve energy and to flow is to spend more time as no-tight. I’ve certainly been tight enough long enough that now is the time to return to no-tight, a place from which work, life and particularly play flow.

I’m devoting more time to my garden this year. So far I’m tending apples, figs, raspberries, potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, and mushrooms. The most colorful harvest so far, however, has been the untended and very vigorous rose bush. Beauty delivered for no effort. That makes me smile.

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Stay tuned. News to follow.

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Transitions For Writers And Beyond

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a writer has a nice way with words; yet, it is a pleasure to hear a difficult situation described succinctly and finish positively. Transitions are inevitable. Last week’s meeting about our local writers group transition is a reminder that twenty years of success can be upset by a few bits of bad luck. It’s true of artists organizations, corporations, governments, and people. The trick is taking on the right attitude.

“Our organization is now penniless, homeless, and leaderless. The only way we can go is up.” – Dorothy Read, leader and facilitator of today’s meeting

“Life is a wave. Your attitude is your surfboard.
Stay stoked & aim for the light!” – Drew Kampion, surfer and hard-working, casual community organizer

One meeting is not enough for a transition, unless royalty is involved. Communicating the bad news throughout a community, helping them grieve, and then listening well enough and long enough to find a new direction takes a lot of time. Time is the most valuable resource, and transitions are defined by how it is spent.

Last week’s meeting was the closest thing to an official announcement the writers have received. It was held and managed by the authority figures from the previous organization.

Today’s meeting was the first public opportunity for those interested in defining what comes next. There have been enough private conversations about the possibilities, some of which will probably inspire private or commercial initiatives, but there will always be a core that sees the value in public, non-profit, and collaborative organizations. The most powerful resource a writer has is another writer. Well, a reliable source of income is important, too.

The list of ideas, notes, and comments are available for members of the group through a variety of avenues. I posted my collected notes to the Facebook group, Whidbey Authors. My live tweets from the meeting can be found under #afterWIWA, or scroll through my Twitter feed under @tetrimbath. I’d like to include the list here because it is impressive what passionate people can produce in under an hour; but those specifics are best kept to the group.

In general, though, people want to work with people. What’s more fundamental than that? The rest are details. Events like classes, conference, workshops, writers groups, socials based around caffeine or alcohol and definitely around laughter, all are up for consideration. The resources of Whidbey’s writing community are extensive enough that people have moved here specifically for the writing community. That’s not a box on a real estate listing, but artists will find artists. My writing improved considerably after moving here thanks to a Whidbey Island Writers Association writers group. A lot of practice helps; but supportive critiques are always helpful. There is no end to improving an art. That’s why art can easily be a lifetime pursuit. It’s a pity it doesn’t pay better; but then, educators and healers aren’t paid well enough either. Money and value aren’t well connected.

Amongst the entertaining talk of possibilities and potential, there was an undercurrent of the necessary. Will there be a new organization(s)? How will it or they be structured? Who will lead? How much will it cost? Where will the money come from? When and where will it happen? What will be prioritized? Not surprisingly, those were the questions least likely to be asked and even less likely to be answered.

Leadership matters. So does listening to as many people as possible. Whidbey’s writers are dancing with that balancing act. Pick a direction and lead too soon, and possibly leave too many people behind. Take enough time to listen to everyone, and then to everyone’s responses to everyone else, and less patient people will launch initiatives.

By the end of the meeting I could readily envision 1, 2, 3, at least 4 individuals, make that 5, who could take one aspect and pursue it regardless of, or in service to, the community. I know I’ve already sketched out a possible way to rebuild a writers conference, which would invariably be counter to someone’s desires and expectations. (I think there’s a demand for a writers conference that concentrates on writing instead of publishing. I digress, but it does serve as an example.)

The transition I describe is happening with a writers organization, but we’re experiencing many transitions. Industries are shifting as fossil fuels are usurped by renewable energy. Politics continues to amaze within the US, the EU, and China. Climate and culture are replacing old norms with unknowns. The three-fold balancing act between ideas, resources, and leadership are happening in greater profusion and confusion than our species has ever witnessed.

I use the local situation to highlight similarities with the larger situation. Outside this blog, I’ll probably spend more time talking about the local situation because I have more connections, resources, ideas, and opportunities to act. With this blog and with my other blog, PretendingNotToPanic.com, I’ll focus more on the global because the audiences are global; and the blogs are resources where I can take simple actions to relay ideas and connections. One source of my optimism is that each of the more than seven billion people on this planet can do something similar. As the now old phrase reminds us, Think Globally, Act Locally. And, remember to listen.

“The only way we can go is up.” – Dorothy Read

“Stay stoked & aim for the light!” – Drew Kampion

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Tedious MicroVision Catalysts

Tedious and studious are not the words that usually come to mind with potentially disruptive technologies and possibly profitable speculations. And yet, I return to report on MVIS. If I only hit the highlights, the great or terrible news, I’d be delivering an incomplete view of the world of individual investing. I’m also not going to chronicle every nuance in every stock because that would go beyond tedious to dive into dull. MicroVision’s technology is finally entering the marketplace, but it hasn’t hit that fabled key application that makes everyone aware that the world is changing. The catalysts have yet to catalyze.

As I said to a friend and fellow shareholder, the short version is that we are both still working. The long version is full of intriguing details, but the only folks I know who’ve profited enough from MVIS to dial back their jobs are traders and short sellers. Those of us who are Long Term Buy and Hold folks feel the weight of the Long Term, and are getting tired of holding for so long. But, that’s about to change. Right?

The good news: The company is making enough money and has a large enough backlog that I no longer worry about them going bankrupt – at least not any more than any other company that can run into bad luck.
The other good news: According to the conference call, orders are coming in, and several products are expected to be released by the end of the year. Have fun parsing the exact wording. Products can be announced, but not for sale. They can be launched, for short terms in test markets. And, they can become instant sensations that make headlines.

MVIS_Catalysts_042916
I’ve updated the catalysts chart that I’ve taken to maintaining. If I’d known I’d be using it so much I would’ve designed it differently. Maybe some other day. It’s getting busy. (And could use some updates. Does anyone have the real dates on some of these launches? Particularly the Pioneer HUD?) Celluon teased that there’d be news by the end of April, but so far it looks like the news is the announcement that there will be news about PicoBit and a surprise.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsSony’s competitor to Amazon’s Echo possibly has MVIS inside, but no launch date that I can find. The Qualper smartphone has been announced, but depending on who I listen to it is either already for sale in China or yet to be officially for sale. The ViewSmart projector was like the others, mentioned at CES; but not hitting headlines since then. The only product with a relatively firm date is RoBoHoN, the robotic smartphone that follows you around (slowly); but few expect many sales because it is expensive, gimmicky, and not practical.

That specific list of unspecific events expands dramatically with the announcement from the CEO that there will be several new products introduced/announced/released/whatever by several OEMs by the end of the year. We’re told to expect the unexpected. That sounds like hype, but the technology is disruptive and will inspire creativity and innovation. Maybe it will inspire profits, too. A few years ago the CEO postulated that profitability would occur about 6-9 months after the release of a smartphone with an embedded MicroVision projector. That would make a difference in MVIS. (Forward looking statement disclaimer in full force, I’m sure.)

Overnight successes usually take more than one night to succeed. To long term shareholders, any success will come with great patience. To the general public, it may seem sudden. At this point, though, there is no guarantee of success; just an improved chance of not going out of business suddenly.

Investing can be tedious. The studious aspects involve arithmetic, which discourages a large portion of the population. Timing when a stock is going to rise is gambling. Speculative stocks are close enough that some seem no difference; but buying early and being patient reduces the risk of missing the big positive event, while also exposing the shareholder to many negative events. So far with MVIS, I’ve witnessed lots of negative events. In my thirty years of investing before The Great Recession (or as I think of it, the Second Great Depression), I frequently bought small companies and held the stock through doldrums and then fast rises. Buy into Pixar when people are laughing at the idea of using computers to make movies. Buy into Starbucks when people are laughing at buying expensive coffee. Buy into America Online when few saw a need for communicating by computer. I also held some that never succeed. A few case studies are in my book that is the basis of this blog, Dream. Invest. Live. Dream Invest Live cover

Ideas come and go and can come back again. The idea that there will be innovative applications is not new. Shareholders have been brainstorming for years about possible applications; especially, when inspired by demos from meetings or crowdfunding campaigns. Interactive 3-D, sure. Saw that at an ASM a few years ago. Machine vision? Sounds like the UPS application. One device that scans and projects? I thought of that about a decade ago. Imagine eyewear that is easier to use than Google Glass, not as obvious, that also does an iris or retinal scan for privacy or security verification. Spy agencies and defense contractors would love it. For Your Eyes Only finally lives up to its name.

The CEO closed the call with the invitation that we’ll all meet again in three months. Evidently he forgot to mention the stockholders meeting at the beginning of June. Every year I think that the next year’s meeting will be a major celebration. Since last year’s meeting, MVIS is down over 30%. The company is doing better. Management’s been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars again. And, MVIS shareholders who expected to be retired have gone off to find work. I hope to be retired again, but by my

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Transition For Writers On Whidbey

The Whidbey Island Writers Association is probably going to close. The ‘probably’ is in there because miracles happen, but saving the name and the organization will take tens of thousands of dollars soon. I checked my Powerball ticket. I’m not WIWA’s financial saviour. There are plenty of ironies around a writers association closing partly from miscommunications. The story is deep, rich, and filled with passions; but, I’ll leave that material for others to delve into and cover elsewhere. I’m more interested in the future than the past, and am drawn to the parallels that must apply to other small towns as they go through transitions. I have my black tea martini beside me; let’s see how the story unfolds.

I give credit to the Whidbey Island Writers Association (hereafter called WIWA because why use 34 characters more than once when 4 will do – especially for retweets). Thanks to WIWA my writing improved from the simple action of attending a well-run writers group every other week for a few years. Writers groups span the range from unfailingly supportive (Congratulations! You wrote something, anything!) to rigorously exacting (how else can prize winners improve other than to have every mistake highlighted?). I was glad to drop into a group that sat in the middle. My favorite bit of feedback was; “That was so beautiful we missed the point.” Positive and constructive in one line; which was an impressive bit of extemporaneous verbal wordsmithing. Now I write so much, and get paid for much of it, that I don’t have time to attend the writers group. (Check Amazon Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotlandand Curbed Seattle for some of my books and articles.)

WIWA and other writers associations are known for writers groups, conference, classes, seminars, workshops, publications, and general support. Each community requires a unique mix. Whidbey Island’s writing community is so strong that people move here because of it. It was strong enough that it actually inspired and created the first Master of Fine Arts program for literary arts that was accredited without being associated with another college or university. An impressive feat. (I put a sentence fragment in here to make sure my editing friends had something to chew on, as if my writing style isn’t already a rich vein to tap.) Saying you’re a writer to someone else on Whidbey is as welcoming as saying you’re well-paid professional at a party in Seattle – welcoming, but without the expectation of wealth.

Small towns have long memories. Missteps that are quickly put in the past in the dynamic world of urban America tend to linger because the people persist and remember in small towns. Artists are passionate people. The emotions persist as well. The closure of the MFA program (called the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, aka NILA) and the subsequent closure of WIWA generated understandably strong emotions. For some, the news wasn’t new. They knew or suspected for months. It’s hard to hide for long in a small town. For others, the news of the meeting was the first sign of anything amiss, when it is effectively too late. It’s easy to concentrate on nothing else than your writing when you’re a writer. What? Donald Trump gave up his TV show and is running for President? And is winning? Fiction writers rarely are brave enough to write such narratives. Reality doesn’t have that constraint. But I digress.

Tuesday, April 26th (yesterday as I write this) included a meeting held at 3:30PM so WIWA members could learn about the transition. Understandably, not everyone could attend in the middle of a work day. Writers tend to have day jobs that have nothing to do with writing, and fit the writing in as they can. I was lucky and interested enough that I finished my gigs for the day and settled into the lowest and comfiest seat in the far back corner and hoped to listen instead of talk. I learn more when my mouth is closed. There was that one comment that slipped, but that simply proved that I was human. The people impressed me. There was obvious contention and friction, but people acted as adults by revealing their emotions but not letting them interfere with the meeting.

The overly-simplistic version is that a writers association can be recreated, but it has to start as an idea. Nothing except inspiration can be brought forward. No money. No name. No contacts lists. No assets. No offices.

One moment that made me sit up was when the topic of the new name of the writers association was mentioned. Whatever follows legally can’t use the old name unless it pays for the old debts (evidently), so it was suggested that we use the name I came up with for a Facebook group that was created on a whim one afternoon a few years ago: Whidbey Authors. I never considered that possibility. Okay. Writers questioned the distinctions between Author versus Writer. I didn’t engage because I was recovering from someone suggesting that something I did could help. Happy to help. Surprise!

For a number of reasons, I’ve found myself fielding several threads of messages since the meeting. While I take it as an honor that I’m included, I also suspect that messages are directed to me because I’ve been a WIWA member for a long time, have written extensively in a variety of forms, have never been on the board of WIWA or NILA and therefore have little history there, enjoy communicating, and was able to attend the meeting. Who was it that really said most of life is showing up?

If I followed all of the advice and direction I’ve received within the last 24 hours I’d have to give up all of my other jobs and devote my life to whatever WIWA becomes. My bills suggest otherwise. I’m willing to act as a communications conduit – to a point.

So far, the news is good. People who were dedicated to WIWA are dedicated to creating something new. There’s interest in reviving the conference, publishing anthologies of local works, sustaining writers groups, and providing lists of resources for finding editors and such. There’s also interest in launching initiatives that may be old, revived, or new – many of which involve being more public, more social, more digital, and emphasizing local. Coworks WIWAcoworksand drinking with your tribe come to mind. One crowd understands listserves, and has never heard of meetups. And, of course, the other crowd expects meetups and hasn’t heard of listserves. I sit in the middle, knowing of both, using neither but just because I have other options.

As much fun as it is to dream of what else the writing community can do, the trickier part is the procedural, financial, and legal part. An official non-profit with 501(c)(3) status can be generated readily, as long as there’s a name, board, and bylaws agreed to be enough people. Non-profits don’t have to become tax-deductible entities, which is simpler, but it makes it harder to raise funds. Some groups on the island don’t even have official structure, but are completely ad hoc creating events by almost accidental group consent and also rarely collecting money.

Money makes things complicated and is the root of when NILA and WIWA are going through this transition. (See, this blog is about finance, after all.)

As I write this, I know of a few threads of energy aimed at recreating a writers association on Whidbey. Some are in stealth mode. Others are more public. For those who seek a somewhat public forum, I’ve opened up the Whidbey Authors Facebook group as an online venue. We could probably do something similar on LinkedIn or Google+, but that may take too much training to be inclusive.

Amidst the chaos of energy, my inclination is to listen. I write this post as more of a prompt than as a detailed plan. Pattie Beaven has already posted about what she wants. I look forward to others doing the same. If they don’t already have a blog (come on, writers are the best people for blogging, get busy) I’m willing to host some guest posts, and maybe spin off a separate blog if necessary.

To anyone who is not on Whidbey who has read this far, thanks. There’s a message and a lesson that isn’t tied to the island. Small towns are necessarily aware and mutually charitable; otherwise, they don’t survive. I’ve been watching the transitions throughout South Whidbey and wonder how the various non-profits will shift or survive. Good ideas tend to persist. It isn’t guaranteed (how did we build the pyramids?) but watching the energy flow has been encouraging. It may not be controllable, but it is inevitable – and I trust it. That’s true for WIWA, and also for greater issues like our society, government, economy, and civilization.

To the rest of us interested in building a new organization, formal or not, I look forward to hearing the full breadth of the ideas, new approaches, and then narrowing down to what we can afford, accomplish, and sustain.

A couple of disclosures that I would normally break out separately, but don’t want to de-emphasize: 1) I teach classes and workshops for WIWA, the last of which is a workshop about Social Media for Writers on April 27th; and 2) once or twice upon a time I was interviewed for various management positions within WIWA which never resulted in a paid position. I admit to wondering if things would’ve been different for NILA, WIWA, and myself if things had worked out otherwise. That, however, is the classic retrospective trap, and also not the path to the future, whatever that may be.

Thanks to everyone for their efforts. Now, what comes next?

One more disclosure: to anyone who is proficient enough with Twitter, I live tweeted the meeting. Follow the hashtags #WIWAmeet &#WIWAnews for my notes. If that concept doesn’t make sense, well, hey; do you know I teach classes in that?

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Digging On Earth Day

I swung a pulaski today. Not familiar with the tool? Take a mattock, which is like a very heavy hoe, add an axe head and you get a very heavy hunk of steel that’s great for digging out roots. Professionals know them for firefighting where I suspect the ax is more important. Today, on Earth Day, I was part of a work crew that tore into blackberry bushes on land trust property. The berries may be great, but the plant is invasive and we were there to help the native species. Why volunteer when I could be home making money? There are more ways to be paid than with cash.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to get too altruistic here. I continue to work seven days a week with a day off every couple of months. My finances are improving – as long as I either ignore health insurance or income tax. Despite that, I decided that I’ll try to find at least some time for volunteering. I don’t do as much as I did when I was retired; but then, I went a bit overboard back then because I ended up volunteering about 32 hours a week for a while. If you can’t tell, I like helping – which is why I swung a pulaski for the morning.

Cue the inspirational music. Chant the slogans. Conduct the rituals. It is Earth Day, 2016. I’m old enough to remember the first one, and was young enough that I wasn’t allowed out of school to help. It would be possible to write this post as if today’s efforts were some grand plan and celebration, but it was simpler than that.

I’m one of two Site Stewards for Hammons Preserve, one of Whidbey Camano Land Trust’s properties. Hammons was donated to the Land Trust by Al Hammons, a farmer who owned a singular piece of land on South Whidbey about a mile and a half from my house. His goal was to provide a place where people could, “rest their souls awhile.” Gifting a few acres is never a good enough description. What had been a remote farm eventually became one of the few remaining properties that included acreage and an incredible view of Cultus Bay, Puget Sound, and the Olympics. Left to developers it would’ve been either one very large mansion, or a neighborhood of luxury homes. Left to developers it also would’ve meant that the natural environment that is Cultus Bay would only be visible to private landowners or people driving by. The bay has no easy access to the shore. The only way to touch the water is to own waterfront, or be in a neighborhood like mine that borders it. Thanks to Al, instead of celebrities the land has raptors, instead of pavement it has meadows, instead of being closed it is open (from dawn to dusk). Thank you, Mr. Alvin Hammons.
Cultus Bay from Hammon's Preserve
The creation of something valuable is worth celebrating. The maintenance of it can be far messier. Old farmland is fertile. Lots of things want to grow there. Originally, it was all tall forest. We could let it revert to trees, which would bring the land full circle; but there’s an awareness of the rarity and value of public or protected lands. Without the daily tending of a farmer, blackberries, scotch broom, english ivy, holly, and thistles march in and set roots. We’re taking two approaches to the battle. Uphill and away from the view and the wetlands, we’ve planted hundreds of trees – many of which are now twelve feet tall. Forests become relatively low maintenance. The meadow, the stream, and the wetlands are nicely situated for providing the view; but they are also the combat zone where we pull out the invaders. Hence, the pulaski, loppers, shovels, weed wrenches, rakes, and the occasional pick.

Be careful what you wish for; you may get it. As Site Steward, I assign myself some solitary work parties. After days of staring at computer screens and trying to decipher the internet, it is nice to tackle something tangible. When in doubt, pull out blackberries. So far I’ve been surprised to find other plants growing under the thorny canopy: lilacs, crocus, lilies, crocosmia, tulips, and even a walnut tree. The tree was far taller than the bushes, but the blackberries were so thick it was hard to look up and see what was growing there. After a couple of hours of whacking weeds with big tools, I took a break. Naturally, my thoughts drifted to my finances. If I had more money, I’d have fewer worries, or at least different ones. I know I’m not alone with the train of thought. About twenty years ago I realized that what I wanted was a small house on a big lot with a nice view. For a few seconds I wondered if I’d ever get that, which conjured images of winning the lottery jackpot; and then I realized I had it, just not in a way I expected. The land wasn’t mine, but I was partly responsible for it. The farmhouse was gone, but the remaining tool shed is larger than the tiny houses I find so appealing. The view is down a long slope, uninterrupted, and could never be blocked. I asked for one thing, and the universe provided it – somewhat.

One way to preserve such a place is to spend a lot of money and tend it myself, or hire someone else to tend it. That is temporary. Eventually, any individual will have to relinquish control through age or a shift in interest. Al understood that. Placing the land in trust is more sustainable. Complain about corporations if you want, but non-profits are frequently corporations for a good reason: sustainability. There’s a continuity to an organization that can survive generations. It isn’t guaranteed, but the structure provides the possibility that something valuable will last more than a generation. Two things are required: someone to get the idea going, and many others who maintain and sustain it. I’m glad to be part of its longevity.

There is a lot to do in the world. Simplistically, money cures all ills; but realistically, people do all the work. We progress in stages: ignorance, awareness, advocacy, action. There are so many things to do in the world that no one can be aware of every issue; ignorance is inevitable. Each person becomes aware of something, whether by choice or necessity. A news item from today reported that after people spent some time unemployed they were much more likely to help others. They passed from awareness to action, and I suspect a fair number of them spent some time saying and advocating, ‘Hey, someone should do something.’ And they did.

Spending a morning killing blackberries postponed hours of work, which I managed to catch up by working a little later on a Friday. What I gained, however, was something I couldn’t afford otherwise. Frugal folk will appreciate the value. I’m glad so many others volunteer in so many similar ways. To those who volunteered on Earth Day (and really any day); thank you, all. You’ve helped preserve our small home in this enormous universe. I think it has a marvelous view.

November Sunset

PS For more views of Cultus Bay, check out my twelve month photo essay of the area. There’s a lot more color than a glance would suggest.

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