Intuitive Social Media

Thanks to Jeff Vander Clute for inspiring tonight’s post just by mentioning the phrase ‘intuitive social media’. If you listen to the sales pitches, if you basically buy into the virtual brochures from Facebook, et al, it can sound like social media is simple; especially, if you do it the way the sites describe. Personal finance has the opposite perspective where we’re told finance is so difficult that it must be left to the professionals. In both cases, managing your network and managing your net worth can be simple, but you might have to pay more attention to yourself than to the conventional wisdom.

I am a gregarious introvert. People are fun and fascinating. One of my favorite activities is sitting around with intelligent, wise, imaginative, and open-minded people playing with ideas. It would be nice to say that I’d never tire of it, but one sign of an introvert is the need to retreat when tired. (I could use a good retreat about now – but that’s another topic.) My interest in people is one reason I enjoy Facebook, Twitter (@tetrimbath), and such. My friends’ lives are played out before me, and I can vicariously appreciate what they are going through. They are definitely having better vacations than me. My life gets played out as well, with the subsequent mix of support, humor, and occasional chastisement. When the introvert needs to retreat, I turn it all off and hunker down for a while.

Listen to the advice from the sites and they’ll encourage you to hook up every site to every other site. They’ll encourage you to open your contacts lists and invite everyone on it. They’ll encourage group sharing (which sounds somewhat risque), location sharing (which seems innocuous until you read 1984), and photo sharing where you tag everyone else in the photo (apparently without regard for privacy or discretion.) They make it sound easy.

In addition to a lot of things, I help folks navigate their social media presence. Whether their social media interests are business or pleasure, the cacophony of claims intimidates people because they try to do everything, they find it too difficult to hook it all up, and then suffer performance anxiety when they don’t get as much traffic as someone whose kitten pictures just went viral.

Social media is social. Humans are social. We evolved to be naturally social, and the reason socializing feels unnatural may be because much of our daily lives exists within artificial, not natural, not intuitive realms. Socializing has always required some training. That’s what parents do, and why it takes a village to raise a child. That training, however, develops skills we naturally have. Socializing, with a bit of training, becomes intuitive.

Jeff (who is cofounder with Maria Back of Sourcing The Way) mentioned intuitive social media as if it isn’t common, and he’s right. The intuitive aspects of socializing evidently aren’t as profitable as boosting posts and promoting tweets. The trick, therefore, may be to concentrate on your intuition and your needs, and pay far less attention to what the sites want you to pay for.

Personal finance is less likely to be intuitive because finances are a fiction we’ve all agreed to believe in. Money is something we made up, and today’s incarnation of it is different from its first application and will probably be different from future implementations. Dealing with money, therefore, understandably takes more training than dealing with people. At least with people, math isn’t involved. (Though the species does count on one plus one making another one or two or more.) To optimize personal finances involves understanding budgeting, compounding, and estate planning. Corporations rely on selling optimization, and can dangle rewards before us that seem to justify the costs. It turns out, some of them actually deliver what they sell.

Money can be much simpler though. There isn’t much money to be made selling the simple lesson of “Spend less than you make. Invest the rest.” There are infinities within ‘spend’, ‘spend less’, ‘make’, ‘invest’. How you handle your income, expenses, assets, and liabilities fills bookshelves of strategies. The wealth of knowledge and insight is incredible, and was one reason I almost didn’t write my bookDream Invest Live cover. Eight words captures the idea. Why ask people to read eighty thousand words that say the same thing? (I edited it down quite a bit.) As intuitive as those eight words are to me, thanks to my parents, I now understand why each can require chapters. There are so many conflicting messages out there that intuition is inundated.

Money is math. Both are abstract. Money is treated as real, and mishandling money has very real implications within the abstraction that is our economic system. That abstraction has impressive accomplishments, but there’s no reason to believe it is a perfect system. Flaws exist. Mistakes will be made.

Social media and finance can both be made more intuitive. Modern pressures create complexity; but on a personal level, the closer we get to simplicity, the more intuitive it all becomes. (And then you get to spend more time with your friends, unless you’re a gregarious introvert who needs a vacation.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Example Conference Call – MVIS FY2014 CC

Sigh. Let me pour a drink or light a pipe because I was about to sit through a corporation’s quarter conference call. There are reasons why these things aren’t massive spectator events. For people who invest in stocks, however, the cost of an hour of your time can buy a significant amount of worth. Of course, if you do everything you can to avoid any type of meeting, well, allow me to point out that even I, an advocate of listening to such things, find it necessary to modify my attitude to get through. Here’s what I got out of one company’s call, besides an empty glass.

People flee the corporate world, just to avoid meetings that waste their time, aren’t engaging, and where their voice won’t be heard. Why show up when nothing will change? If there’s anything really important, you’ll hear about it later.

Being a shareholder is different. Own a share, own a piece of the company, own a vote, own a right to hear and be heard. Publicly traded companies are required to regularly report their finances so the public can decide whether to buy, sell, or hold the stock. There are thousands of publicly traded companies, so it only makes sense to listen to the ones you have time for. In some cases, that means listening to none of them. If you own stocks, or mutual funds, or participate in a pension plan you can benefit from knowing about the companies behind those investments. You could spend lots of time diving into documents, querying customers, flipping through the finances – all valuable activities. An alternative or addition is to listen to their quarterly conference call (which the majority, but not all, conduct). In about an hour you get a lot of legalese, some strategic statements, hopefully a financial report, and a bit of detail into what really happened. The best is sometimes the last, when there’s a question and answer session that allows almost anyone to participate.

If you know corporations, you know corporate speak; so, fling up the filters and listen to what they have to say.

Today, March 10th, 2015, MicroVision announced their earnings, and then held a conference call to discuss them. I couldn’t listen to the real time broadcast, but like many companies, they post the replay. Welcome to the notes I took while sipping a martini and eating dinner.

The link: Oh why must I register when I am listening after it’s over? It isn’t like I’m going to call in to ask a question.

How long is this going to take? 39 minutes and 27 seconds. Get comfortable. Here we go.

 

  • The first 2 minutes and 22 seconds were legally required statements; which, rather than add value, add disclaimers that devalue almost everything that’s about to be said. Another investor protection that went amiss.
  • The CEO kicked off a 7 minute description of what happened, and what they hope will happen. This is all big picture stuff:
    • an accidental or purposeful slip that the Fortune 100 customer is Sony,
    • old but welcome news that Celluon launched the PicoAirIMG_0417 and the PicoPro,
    • a hint about the Fortune 500 company that is working on an innovative smartphone market introduction that is due in the second half of 2015 which is a possible slip from the previous mention of a summer launch,
    • a reference to the package handler that we are certain is UPS,
    • and a touch on the head up displays (HUDs) being continually developed by an OEM and a Tier 1 supplier.
    • The nuance in the news for me was the possible slip and the possible hiatus while MicroVision waits for the car people to initiate the next step.
  • The next 3 minutes or so were a concise and correct description of the company’s finances. The best way to get those numbers is to read the press release because my typing may make small mistakes that can create large misunderstandings. I did, however, notice that the revenues were down more than I liked but that the backlog is up, so there is more of a delay than a loss; and that the loss in 2014 was about $18 million, which is larger than the recently announced expected payment of $8 million, which is not enough for break even alone.
  • The CEO spent another minute and 10 seconds summarizing the results. The main emphasis was on year-to-year growth, and that they will advance the technology to distance themselves from the competition.
  • The last 14 minutes were the unscripted, and therefore sometimes juicier, part where anyone can call in and ask questions. Anyone can call in, but the crowd self-selects and it is usually the institutions that command the discussion. Of the dozen or so questions, most of which involved contractually obligated obfuscation, I pulled out a few items:
    • the ~$8M payment in 2015 may slip to 2Q15, 90% of 2014 efforts supported Sony,
    • financing may still be necessary,
    • as R&D increases brightness the competitive advantage increases within the pico projector market,
    • the component costs are more manageable,
    • and a lot of nuances and suggestions that are similar to ones that I’ve misinterpreted before.
  • The final minute was the closing remarks by the CEO where he called 2015 a transformational year, and emphasized that they see their growth tied to consumer mobile video consumption which rose 114% last year.

Whew.

Put that in your spreadsheet and hit refresh.

And that’s what many analysts will do. The spreadsheets suck up the numbers. The analysts or the researchers flavor the answers with what they heard. Price targets pop out, and sometimes are made public. Such activities drive stock prices, and you can participate too.

MicroVision is a simple case. They are a relatively small company, with few people following them, with a singular technology, and a simple product line. That’s why I invest in small companies; they are easier to understand and track, and there are fewer competitors for the shares – until the company becomes successful, which is when I prefer to sell. As the company grows, complexity grows, and it becomes harder to absorb the situation and harder to compete with institutions that have far more resources for their analyses.

I don’t listen to every company’s every call. I tune in when I think something is about to shift. My time is precious and is secondary to my money, though lately it hasn’t felt that way and that’s another story.

Corporate conference calls are valuable, and they’re free as far as the money is concerned, and they can reveal profitable insights. Or, they can be as dull as any corporate meeting.

The publicly required communications like press releases, which I recently parsed; conference calls like this one; annual reports; and stockholders meetings are one advantage American shareholders can take advantage of. Just like voting in the general election though, most people miss their opportunity to participate. At the minimum, listen. At the minimum vote. And if enough of us did so, we might be heard, and we might benefit to a far greater extent than the cost required.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Middle Class Millionaire Muddling By

We’ll be able to laugh at this years from now. Why wait? Let’s start now. I even get to do it in public, laughing at it, that is. The “it” is the world, the wild, dysfunctional world of finance that may not look any different, but which has been hit in the face with a cream pie and is staggering around trying to miss the banana peel it knows is around here somewhere. I think there are monkeys on the sideline, snacking, and adding to the mess. If we held our breath until after the fall, we might find that we missed the best opportunities. There are some silly things playing out, and the local library system is giving me the opportunity to stand up there and tell some of the tales. It’s healthy to laugh, and I’ll start by making fun of myself.

One of my favorite Spider Robinson quotes; “If a person who indulges in gluttony is a glutton, and a person who commits a felony is a felon, then God is an iron.” In 2008 I published my book on personal finance for frugal folk, Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover After a blue-collar childhood that I considered rich, I retired at 38. Frugality is powerful. Retiring that young prompts a lot of interest and questions. I knew others who had done something similar, or far better, so I didn’t see a reason to write about it; but evidently I had and have some skill in describing finances simply. I wrote the book. The market crashed. Irony. Hence, the talk; From Middle Class to Millionaire to Muddling By.
23697 Middle Class to Millionaire
It is tough enough touching on the taboos we have about money. It will be tougher standing up in front of an audience and playing with the funny bits because they are going to be my funny bits, I mean my private parts, I mean – oh dear. This may be difficult.

As a society, we are carrying too much stress. Pick your problem. Weather, climate, food, energy, society, and the economy all have enough fear wrapped around them that psychiatrists and pharmaceuticals have more than enough business. And inspired Pretending Not To Panic.

PNTP

PNTP

(Insert your favorite rude noise here.)

A friend was dealing with a terrible commute, made more frightening by aggressive drivers. He was getting closer to road rage, but he was a geek. Spock saved him. Instead of getting mad, he became dispassionately derogatory by considering the other drivers as a species to study. Fascinating, and highly illogical. He said it aloud, in his car, and meant it as an insult. He did it again. It became a joke. He continued to do it, and after a while found that Spock was right. These other creatures are fascinating and highly illogical. Taking his anger, turning it into a joke, and playing with it led him to compassion. He found himself wondering why someone would drive that way. Their actions looked highly illogical, but they probably thought they were acting rationally. There’s a Robert Heinlein  quote that I can’t readily find, but it is something like; “Everyone always does what they think is best, even when they know it’s not right.” In other words, they didn’t want to do it, but felt they should. Humans are amazing at rationalization and justification. Knowing that makes others easier to understand.

A story I’ve mentioned here before is about the guy from the mortgage servicer. Take the story from while it was happening, and it was the opposite of funny. For several months I couldn’t pay my mortgage. When the mortgage servicer decides it is time to start default and foreclosure proceedings they have to do some strange things, one of which is proving the house is occupied or not. Some days I work from home. I watched a car drive up and block my driveway. The driver got out, sprinted to the house, touched it, sprinted back to the car, and sped away. Unnerving. By the time I told the story to a friend it was fascinating. After thinking about that’s guy’s life considering that guy’s job, the story became more thoughtful. Now, I see it as bizarre, feel sorry for the guy, and would have fun making a slapstick video of the event. I couldn’t get to the thoughtful end if I didn’t put laughter in the middle.

The healthiest jokes are the ones where we laugh at ourselves. I’ll start by making fun of myself because I am an easy target. I know my stories and I know which ones are getting funnier over time. Then, it’s your turn, whether you tell them to anyone else or not.

If you want to hear the stories, come by the Langley Library on Whidbey, Friday, April 3rd for the 6:30pm free talk. If you’re amazingly patient, wait until the sequel to Dream. Invest. Live. comes out because that’s where the best stories are headed. If you want to hear the stories sooner, well, let’s see what we can do about booking an event.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MicroVision Has Real News – I Think

Pardon me as I pour a spiced martini in preparation for parsing a press release from MicroVision. Photo on 2015-03-05 at 17.51Yes. Believe it or not, MicroVision had news today. The last time I pulled apart a MicroVision press release it was to prove to myself that, yes, the news was insufficient for enthusiasm. This time, however, I parsed the news and found that it was sufficient for more than enthusiasm. The market, however, didn’t agree to the same extent; so, tonight’s beverage is a home-concocted spiced martini instead of a popped bottle of champagne. The cork stays in for a little while longer.

I write this post, not to make proclamations, but to show how I pull apart the news. The same methods apply beyond MVIS and stocks.

If you want the entire text, here’s the full press release:
http://finance.yahoo.com/news/microvision-licenses-picop-display-technology-140000326.html

“MicroVision, Inc. (MVIS), … today announced it has signed a multi-year license agreement”
Finally, an agreement that is for more than a month, a quarter, a year, or a study. This is multi-year and for licensing. It was targeted to happen by the end of 2014, so hitting March 5th of 2015 is a bit of a slip in that arrow, but at least it hit.

“with its Fortune Global 100 partner”
The general consensus is that this is Sony, but evidently the hurdle of being able to speak their name has yet to be cleared.

“for MicroVision PicoP® display technology”
Branding is good. Branding pico-projectors would’ve been good, too. I think they came up with the term, but didn’t hold onto it. That may be like letting go of the phrase “personal computer”.

“The license agreement marks an important milestone in the ongoing relationship between the two companies that began in April 2013.”
It seems like forever, but that’s less than two years. I’d like to know the date of the first contact. Was it April 2013, or did the relationship building take longer?

“The license agreement grants the Fortune Global 100 company a non-exclusive license”
Non-exclusive, whew. MicroVision has had previous relationships that were exclusive (NCR as I recall), that provided no alternatives if the arrangement proved dysfunctional. This time the door is open.
Licensing is one of three revenue streams MicroVision has mentioned. Evidently, this is specific to one stream, which opens the door to other revenues.

“for use in display modules it manufactures and sells”
So, no image capture; and, it is for units made and sold without requiring actions or expenses from MicroVision. Risk is diminished, and MicroVision can receive effectively passive income.

“As part of the agreement”
So there’s more, rather than less, that we could hear about.

“MicroVision expects to receive an $8 million up-front license fee”
Amazing, a specific number for a specific service, though the “expects” is a little unsettling.

“later this month”
They aren’t reporting a deposit in the bank, but at least something within the next few weeks. Every entrepreneur knows that feeling.

“In addition to the initial up-front license fee”
What? There’s more? How uncommon for MicroVision.

“MicroVision will also receive royalties for display modules sold by the Fortune Global 100 company.”
Royalties in addition to licensing fees. Very nice. Fortune Global 100 companies tend to deal in millions of units, if they’re in consumer electronics. We are talking about Sony, right?

“Further terms of the license agreement are confidential for competitive reasons.”
Yeah. We’re used to that. It’s all the other more substantial and positive bits that are uncommon.

“This is a significant step forward for MicroVision and PicoP display technology.”
Heartily agreed.

“By licensing our technology … we have the potential to significantly expand the reach … on a scale commensurate with a company known for technology innovation and its global reach,” said Alexander Tokman, president and CEO of MicroVision.
One of the good reasons why licensing with big firms leverages a small company’s intellectual properties. Minimize risk for maximize (or at least greater than otherwise possible) gain.

“This milestone is a credit to the hard work of both teams, and we look forward to making this endeavor successful and enduring for both companies.”
Agreed again.

“joint development – April 2013 /  development phase – completed in 2014″
Good turnaround, considering the complexities of business in consumer electronics.

“the Fortune Global 100 company contracted with MicroVision for commercialization support services which are ongoing”
In addition to licensing and royalties, there are support services, which are another revenue stream.

“The license agreement represents a milestone achievement in MicroVision’s execution of its ingredient brand licensing business model.”
Agreed, a milestone that felt like a millstone for years. They can finally get this off their shoulders and plant a flag beside it.

“The Fortune Global 100 company will also purchase proprietary components”
That’s a surprise. So, there are licensing revenues, royalty revenues, support revenues, and purchase revenues. Four revenue streams from one customer, and MicroVision (supposedly) has several customers that it is working with. Gulp. Good.

I woke at about 5 minutes to 6am, west coast time. The press release popped up while I lay there scrolling through news on my iPad. My first reading of the release was tinged with skepticism learned from over a decade of MicroVision press releases. My second reading was because I realized that the boy who cried wolf may have finally seen one. I had two quick responses: 1) check the message boards for other interpretations, because they frequently reveal the flaw I missed; and 2) check the pre-market trades to see what was happening to MVIS stock, was it moving or halted. No one was saying much. The stock was up about 20%, which was appreciated, but far below my expectations.

Hours later the stock closed for a 13.33% gain. Not bad; but not what I felt was representative of the news.

An $8,000,000 payment is much more than most of us will ever see, but small in corporate environments. And yet, an $8,000,000 payment with a price/sales ratio of 6 would suggest a market cap increase of $48,000,000. That would’ve been closer to a 50% gain, not 13.33%. The multi-year aspects, the multiple products, the multiple revenue streams, and the fact that this was just one of MicroVision’s customers suggests to me that the value of this announcement is far more than 13.33% over the previous day’s price.

Patience, Tom. Patience. Ignore the looming tax bill, for now.

As much effort and enthusiasm as were wrapped around MVIS today, it wasn’t the biggest influence on my portfolio. One stock, GERN was up 34.5% on no news, except that some pundit suggested the stock could double. Two other stocks, AST and RSGE, were up ~ 10% and ~ 8.1%. For the stock trades, AST was up on 6.8 times volume. GERN was up on 8.2 times volume. RGSE was up on 2.4 times volume. While MVIS was up on 6.6 times volume. And, only MVIS really had news. It’s almost as if the small cap companies were suddenly accepted by the big money institutions, regardless of news, and that MVIS wasn’t as well received because of its history of over-promising and under-delivering.

I don’t like to read between the lines when nothing has been written. GERN, AST, and RGSE didn’t write as much as MVIS. I’ll say thank you for the rise in their prices (thank you) but as I wrote in the previous post, stock prices and wealth are more than a bit ephemeral.

This good news comes quickly after Celluon’s launch of the PicoAir, which I’ve seen and which is receiving nice reviews. The PicoPro is due soon, too, right? See the hesitancy in what I just wrote? That may be what’s happening with MVIS. There may be a reluctance to buy in because of history, but it also may be because of the reverse split, a market cap that was close to but below $100,000,000 (though today changed that), or a stock that is priced below $5 (which is an arbitrary yet real limit for some.)

It is easy to skim press releases because we see so much information flow past us. It is easy to read what we want to think was written. In slower times, every word held more meaning. The words continue to hold meaning, and there’s a benefit to slowing ourselves down and paying them proper respect. I hope.

At the end of this day, the press release is impressive to me, and may eventually be impressive to others; but until it is sufficiently impressive, I’ll sip my home-concocted spiced martini instead of champagne and enjoy a homemade cheeseburger instead of a steak – and then relax and dream because I think something very real just happened.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wealth Evaporates Instead Distributes

Want to kick off a touchy subject? Talk about wealth in a group that isn’t all rich or all poor. We already have enough taboos about money. Talking about money is usually tough because we recognize how easily it can be lost, both from the perspective of folks who are trying to make sure it doesn’t happen to them, and from the perspective of folks who already know what it’s like to not have enough. Taboos and our reactions blossom under such circumstances. Whether you think wealth should be more evenly distributed or not, the taboo touches on the uncertainties and ephemeral nature of what we think of as money and wealth. It is rarely piles of cash, which makes any accumulation or redistribution more academic than realistic.

Forbes’ list of billionaires was updated about the same time as OxFam released a study claiming that 80 will hold half the world‘s wealth. That leaves over 7 billion to divide up the rest, including 1,746 billionaires. It is entertaining to imagine what would happen to the lives of 7,000,000,000 people if 70 or 700 of them donated almost all of their wealth (maybe keeping a few tens of millions for the essential comforts.) The only way such a redistribution would happen is if there was some sudden awareness of common consciousness that encouraged ultimate empathy. It could happen, but probably not. The fantasy version of the redistribution would be something like a cyber attack that shuffled everyone’s accounts and evened everything out. Wealth is not that simple.

Financial wealth isn’t a pile of cash in a vault. There’s probably some billionaire that has recreated Scrooge McDuck’s gold vault, or at least thought about it. The majority of wealth is not cash. Wealth is stocks, bonds, real estate, resources, assets – things that can be traded for cash, but are mostly left the way they are. If every billionaire’s cash was redistributed, almost all of them would still be billionaires because of their other assets (except for those folks just on the edge of the club.)

Wealth is fickle. Millions of Americans had the lesson delivered when their house’s value dropped 10%, 40%, 70%. The house hadn’t changed. The land hadn’t changed. The price had changed, actually, the supposed price had changed. Their wealth diminished. A drop of $100,000 in a house’s value didn’t show up in someone else’s account. The same thing is true in almost any investment. We trade stuff, and sometimes use cash, but frequently not. For very large transactions, cash is only the intermediary. Want to buy a billion dollar company? It’s probably done by first selling a billion dollars of another company, or bonds, or by going into a billion dollars in debt. It is easier to trade stocks than cash.

Watch a stock. There may be a billion shares in a company. If a trade for 100 shares moves the stock a penny, the company’s market cap gets adjusted by $0.01 x 1,000,000,000 = $10,000,000. Neither the company nor the shareholders suddenly made or lost ten million dollars, but the market cap and everyone’s portfolios got adjusted. If the company was bought, the difference becomes apparent. If every shareholder sold, the difference is moot because that many sell orders would change the stock by far more than a penny. If Bill Gates decided to give everyone his shares of MSFT, the price would drop and much of the wealth could evaporate.

Wealth redistribution may never happen. If it doesn’t, then wealth may experience the evaporation that’s been witnessed many times since we invented money. Our economic system is not static. Wealth inequality is increasing. Wealth concentration is increasing. A finite system can’t have an ever-increasing inequality or concentration. Extrapolating from the situation in 2015 means eventually one person has the majority of the wealth, and that isn’t realistic. No king or queen every ruled that much of the world since we left Africa.

It is possible that changes will be made to the system in terms of laws and regulations, or out of compassion. Two of the strongest proponents for change are two of the wealthiest billionaires: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Both have spoken up for more philanthropy and higher taxes for the rich.

If changes aren’t made intentionally, change will happen eventually. We witnessed the evaporation of wealth in recent stock market crashes. The wealth that is represented by bonds, real estate, and commodities are all subject to similar uncertainties. Bonds are now paying negative interest in Europe. Precious waterfront may soon be on the wrong side of the shoreline. Oil plunged when most expected an eternal rise. No investment is absolutely secure. People with wealth know this, which is why they worry more than most. Their fall can be greater, and they’re more likely to be aware of the fragility of the scaffolding holding up the system.

Despite the uncertainties, and the inevitable intentional or unintentional change, it makes sense to invest. The conventional wisdom that working harder is the best way out of poverty only made sense when working harder produced greater wages. Minimum wages increases are happening, but are insufficient. Money can make money. Investing can produce impressive results (the return of which is eagerly awaited). Investing with money, however, is best done with discretionary income. One approach: Pay all the bills for a frugal lifestyle, with a bit of comfort. Get rid of debt, without hurting yourself. Build up a reserve. Then invest. And modify to meet your wants, needs, and style.

Considering the uncertainties, one of the greatest wealthy lifestyles has nothing to do with the rich and famous. A person living sustainably on property they own in a place they enjoy can be wealthier than any of the billionaires that are worrying about market indices, interest rates, and commodity fluctuations. If our economic system fell apart through chance or action, the wealthiest people on the planet would be the people who were their own sustainable source of food, shelter, clothing, and healthy living. The wealthiest of them would probably be living in a community of such people. Such sustainable wealth costs far less than a billion dollars and is worth far more.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lot Of Bland Versus A Bit Of Awesome

Frugal is mistaken for cheap. Frugal is realizing that a bit of awesome is much better than a lot of bland, and costs a lot less too. Tiny houses are getting busy. They were ignored, and then laughed at, and are approaching the point where they meet the fight. Do people’s needs and wants break through and past convention and regulation? I don’t know who will win, but the energies are building on both sides. Good.

I’ve long been a fan of tiny houses and frugal choices; but, I didn’t start out that way.

I made some of the conventional choices because it seemed like the right thing to do, there was a lot of encouragement to conform, and the pervasive message was buy big and grow. It was an easy comfort zone to settle into because there were so many other people there. I bought the biggest house I could afford, barely had any money left over for the first few years, sold it at a moderate gain to get married, bought a bigger house, sold it, tried a condo, bought a bigger house, got a divorce, and then re-evaluated everything. The divorce had nothing to do with the house; but as others who have been through the process can attest, divorces inspire intense introspection and retrospection – or fascinating denial. I like to think I opted for the internal inspections.

The first place I rented was smaller than any of my previous houses. The next rental was smaller. Then I bought a house. Unfortunately, I bought it at the peak (and sold stock that has since risen six-fold, FFIV). Fortunately, I bought a small, though not a tiny house. At 868 square feet (according to Zillow), it is the smallest house I’ve owned. It is also the only one that has felt like home. And, I only need about two-thirds of it.
DSCN5593
It was saddening to look back on the houses I bought because of other people’s opinions. Ah, but I was young, and when you’re young it is hard to hear your own voice – or at least it was for me. That advice had me carry far too much debt, put far too much money into interest payments instead of investments, and far too much time into maintaining a major asset when I lacked the proper skills. I still lack handyman skills, but at least the consequence is proportionally smaller.

For the last week in February I had fun writing about tiny houses. Other people are reaching similar conclusions about conventional wisdom. Curbed.com had Micro Week, a week devoted to everything tiny in real estate. I’m an contributing writer, so I got to contribute stories about tiny house builders and tiny houses that are for sale. Relative to the rest of the real estate market, tiny houses are inconsequential – at least from the perception of the conventional housing industry.

The economic situation has changed significantly for anyone who isn’t retired or well protected by a stable job. For many people, the Great Recession was the unexpected divorce from the old economy. Even if they found new jobs or started new businesses, they had to challenge conventional wisdom because the old wisdom wasn’t working. Stable employment was gone. Ratcheting social and economic status slipped several teeth without warning. Income wasn’t certain. Debt was too big of a threat. The wrong side of leveraging became apparent. Introspection and retrospection changed perception.

The job market is returning. Existing home sales are up. Interest rates are still low. Yet, people aren’t returning to the old ways. Wages are barely rising. New home sales are low because people are preferring to rent. Interest rates are low, but getting a loan is still difficult, and millions of people have damaged credit ratings.

Tiny houses appeal because, for about the price of a new car, people can own a home debt-free. The concession may be that they have to live in one-tenth the space, but the greater benefit is the release from conventional pressures.

Without the constraints of well-established tradition, people are being creative about how they want to live. Many identify tiny houses with Jay Shafer’s Tumbleweed Homes, high-quality wood construction, of houses that fit on trailers. The trailer limits the size of the houses to about 128 square feet; but the trailer and the size allows the houses to be considered RVs, which gets them past housing regulators. Seattle has its own Tiny House builders. Others are taking that same idea and getting creative with curved roofs and walls, because if you’re going to be different, be different. Others are finding a middle ground, building pre-fab houses that are small, not tiny, but also more likely to be accepted by the neighbors. Others skip the wood and peaked roof and repurpose modern shipping containers. If they’re strong enough to survive a hurricane at sea aboard ship, they should do fine on land. They may be metal boxes, but creativity softens that. And then there are the people who realize that 3,000 square foot houses are an aberration, so they rewind the historical clock to the nomads and find places for yurts and teepees. Settler’s cabins were rarely very large, and today’s tiny house owners are settling a new society.

Bigger can be better, but a lot of the bigness was built for show. Even for people who aren’t ostentatious, the majority of housing choices far exceed their needs, ignore their wants, impose designer’s wants, and commit owners to mortgages that measure debt in major fractions of a million dollars. The only way to fill such a house is to limit creativity or maximize debt.

The tiny house crowd has caught onto the positive self-reinforcing cycle of understanding the true basic needs for as little as possible. Today’s society and technology has made that much more attainable. Then, with the basics achieved, any surplus can be used for luxuries. High-end appliances, excellent materials, functional art instead of cheap furnishings with a few flourishes. Some tinies are shacks, because poverty is too pervasive; but the reason tinies are becoming popular is because people realize that being debt free allows them to free their expression and individuality.
A tiny house
According to Zillow, my house is finally worth what I paid for it eight years ago. That’s an effective interest rate of zero, and actually negative considering the expenses. I’ll probably stay here because the view is hard to beat, I don’t have enough to buy land, and the regulators are still fighting the innovators while defending an anachronistic standard.
DSCN5580
The people who are building tiny houses, living in them, and then engaging in the battle for the right to live in a house of their choice are basically the beginning of a housing rights movement, a movement that recognizes that the old attitudes no longer make sense. They’ve learned that a big box of bland paid for with debt is bizarre compared with totally owning a tiny bit of awesome.

PS If you happen to live on Whidbey, there’s an impressive development that is welcoming tiny homes. Check out Upper Langley.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hunting For The Funny

There’s fun in the dysfunction. There are also shouts and outbursts; but look at the industry that was built around Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Jon Oliver, and Larry Wilmore. How can you laugh at a time like this? Because, it is the best choice available, even in the worst moments. Sometimes that is by choice, but a lot of times laughter is by necessity. Hunting for the funny is a valid strategy, but sometimes you have to keep the joke and the punch line to yourself.

I’m planning a sequel to Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover If you don’t remember the first book, know that it is the basis for this blog. Go back to the earliest posts and find a different tone and set of topics. Then, the Great Recession hit everyone, in the midst of which I was hit by my Triple Whammy. Scenarios that were imagined but not expected played out, usually moment by declining moment, and occasionally by abrupt drops. It can be inconceivable to find laughter in there. Comedy is about timing, and finding the right timing is a marvelous coping strategy. Now, I have to find the right timing for the sequel, and find the right way to add the funny.

In retrospect, the fears were funny. The fears I had about losing my wealth were academic, lacked perspective, and were concerned with only those things I could imagine. The real fears from the real threats weren’t funny because reality was revealed. The absurdity of the situation, however, eventually percolated through. At the start, the lag time was weeks or days. Years into this process, the lag time can be so short as to be inappropriate. That’s actually good, because realizing the unreal nature of reality is a sign of awareness.

A deal fell through. That’s a disappointment, but the good news is that I was considered as responsible contributor for yet another deal. One deal fell through because I happen to be friends with one group, and another group didn’t like that. What is this, junior high for seniors? One deal fell through because someone decided to sleep with someone that they weren’t supposed to, and someone else understandably got upset, which upset yet another someone that had the money. As if I had anything to do with that one falling apart. One deal fell through where the person with the money was going to hire me full time as executive director, but only after they had a bit more money, but before that happened the SEC froze their assets. That’s another one I won’t try to fix. But the potential was so great. I could go on, and probably will in the sequel.

Watching some underpaid young adult sprint to my house to play tag with it as some sort of proof of occupancy to the debt servicer. Watching another one drive by with hands off the wheel because both hands were being used to take a picture of my house then just getting control of the car before it veered off the road. Being followed through a local store I’ve shopped in for years by a police officer for no other reason I can think of other than I was wearing a hoodie. Really? And each of these people got paid to do this?

The people with the greatest fears about money are the people with the most money. There’s an appreciation for the fragility of wealth in the modern world, and I happen to be an example of what can happen because of a string of bad luck. That scares a lot of people; and while rationality assures others that bad luck is not contagious, many seem to play it safe by increasing their distance. Cough. Cough. Is there an hand sanitizer that fights poverty?

The people with the greatest concerns are those that have already lost, or have never acquired, wealth. Fears can be abstract. Facing the reality of the concerns of not having enough money to pay the bills becomes more specific because every life is unique. I live alone and have never had kids. I don’t worry about child care, saving for college, or finding ways for children to enjoy life without being ostracized. Others do. I, however, need to concern myself with the expenses that support my business which provides my income: computers, internet access, fueling and maintaining the truck that replaced my Jeep, taxes. They may not care about computers and transportation. When you don’t know what you’ll lose, you don’t know what you’ll have to protect. After you know what to protect, the list of concerns shrinks. Life becomes simpler, even as it becomes tenuous.

Watching my computer decide to not boot, that’s a worry that isn’t funny; until after it goes ding and remembers what it was designed to do. Watching my fence fall down for the third or fourth time, that gets to be downright silly; but it wouldn’t be for my friends who reduce expenses by growing most of their food. Watching a friend get upset about some slight to my situation can be hilarious; which can be a shared laugh, but is equally likely to be an opportunity to stifle it and show appreciation for how much they care.

About a month ago I came up with an idea that I thought would work well for a company. A couple of suggestions evaporated, and I put them aside to work on independently later. Ta da! Guess what they decided to launch as a national initiative? Wow that has an amazing resemblance to my idea. As a friend put it, I could either laugh or throw something. There’s nothing in particular that I want to throw because I can’t afford to replace anything that may break, so I laughed. About the same time, another friend commented on how hard I was working and how that probably wasn’t healthy. My laughter went straight to the border between hilarity and hysteria and danced along the edge. Of course, this is level of effort can be unhealthy. But it is the best choice available. Besides, the laughter helps.
Photo on 2015-02-25 at 20.08If you are going through a similar situation and find yourself stifling a laugh, go ahead and laugh. You might have wait until you get home, close the door, run the water, and turn on the radio; but laugh. There is fun in the dysfunction because society is really quite silly. It isn’t real. We made most of this up because it seemed like a good idea at the time, but we are only imperfect humans. Mistakes will be made. Be concerned about the legitimate concerns, laugh at the rest as you can. And, if you haven’t lost it yet, don’t worry, don’t fear. You may never get here, and it is only when you get here that you know what to worry about. Focus on the few key serious bits and realize you won’t have to hunt for the funny. It will be all around you.

(Really, advertisers. Do you realize how your serious ads quickly become comedies when viewed by people who know what really matters?)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

PicoAir Meets ShowWX

Finally. I got to see, hold, and use a PicoAir PicoAir and PicoPro are projectors that fit in your pocket, or at least mine. They, and the technology within them, have the potential to positively disrupt the electronic display industry. Academic and abstract discussions aside, there’s now a product to buy and hold, or in my case, to borrow for a few minutes. Peter, who is internationally followed (via his blog and tweets – dude, upload a profile photo, eh) for his tracking of the company that provides the enabling technology, MicroVision, is a fellow shareholder of MVIS. He was nice enough to drop by my office so we could look at the new technology, compare it to the old technology, celebrate the advance, and wonder why the stock hasn’t responded.

No product is a panacea. Yet some products dramatically change our electronic worlds. The innovation that was the iPhone may never be surpassed for its impact; and yet we said similar things about the personal computer, the microchip, and the transistor. Picoprojectors may not fit inside that camp, but if they don’t, they at least have the potential to live in that neighborhood. Take a look at almost any electronic device. Almost all of them have displays. Any display that is more sophisticated than monochrome text is an amazingly complex and delicate collection of microscopic circuitry and precise material processes. It is only through massive development efforts and the now common economy of scale that has brought the display prices down to the level of commodities. Regardless, displays that are now considered conventional (LCDs, LEDs, plasma, etc.) are amazing. They are also limited by power, size, manufacturing complexity, transportation and warehousing expenses, and ruggedness. As I’ve written before, imagine replacing displays that come wrapped in plastic, surrounded by plastic peanuts, stabilized by styrofoam, and boxed in cardboard – imagine replacing that with something that can be dropped in an envelope and mailed, and yet still produce images that are measured in feet.

The PicoAir is not a panacea. But it does show what is not only possible, but is actually for sale. It is a projector that is about the size of a smartphone. It displays an image that is always in focus and that expands in a cone one foot diagonally for every foot the projector is away from a wall. Stand two feet back, get a two foot image. Stand four feet back, get a four foot image. Stand ten feet back, and get a ten foot image, but one that gets progressively dimmer. Just like a flashlight, the farther the beam spreads, the dimmer the light. At one foot away from a wall, or seat back, or piece of cardboard, the image is larger than any pocket cell phone. Such a capability has been discussed, but it has yet to catch on with regular consumers – at least not with the previous products.

MicroVision produced one of those previous products. Five years ago I received my first generation picoprojector from MicroVision.

MicroVision's first picoProjector, the size of an iPhone. The newest models are much smaller and brighter.

MicroVision’s first picoProjector, the size of an iPhone. The newest models are much smaller and brighter.

My ShowWX showed up via UPS (and almost didn’t), and was used for a few years until the novelty wore off. Actually, the utility wore off because the room I was using it in caught the sunset which outshone the projector. I found that I could only use it after the sun went down, and with Seattle’s late summer sunsets, that meant it wasn’t good for many hours of the day. The other limit was that the ShowWX required cabling, some way of being propped up, and had to be hooked up to a sound system or the movie would be silent.

The PicoAir is brighter, wireless, and includes speakers. I can’t afford one, but Peter did, or at least considered it a bit investment research. He brought it by my office. We set the two machines beside each other, and considered the advancements. Image brightness is up. Speckle is down. Heat is less of an issue. Usability is dramatically improved. Price is improved. This is all good. About the only downside was that each still needed to be propped on something unless the person using it has tireless arms.IMG_0417
The simplest review of the PicoAir’s operation was that it was so simple, seamless, and superior that we soon turned to talk about MVIS. With such an impressive product, why hadn’t MVIS moved?

Estimating a proper value for MVIS has become a moot analysis. If the current stock price was based on rational, conventional valuations they would only make sense if it is assumed that the company will never have a product, won’t grow, and yet will somehow survive. If it is going to grow, then near term valuations of $20 are easy to produce. If it is going to bankrupt, then near term valuations of $0.02 are easy to produce. Yet, for the last year, the stock has bounced around $2 and a market cap of less than $100,000,000. Good news hasn’t raised it. Bad news, or at least the lack of news, hasn’t dropped it. And yet, the company is making progress with an impressive potential 2015 pipeline.

Individual investors should know other individual investors; especially since 2008. Sit together and commiserate. Conventional wisdom has proven to be less than wise, and the investing environment has changed. We continue to invest because we believe in and have experienced the potential rewards, and yet, just like with the Three Guys Walk Into A Bar, we can watch the trades and see what appears to be stock manipulation. Small stocks have always been threatened by illegal trading. The sums involved in trading are so large relative to the size of small companies that prices become set more by trading than investing. Trading is not illegal. Trading to manipulate a stock’s price and profit from that action is illegal, at least as I understand it. We both commented on the fact that, for the last year, MVIS has traded within about $1.50 and $2.50. Those may seem like large swings based on stock price, but they are within the noise of movement within a market cap valuation that is potentially above a billion dollars.

We conduct our analyses. Research the companies by talking with management, visiting the company, attending the meetings, and buying the products. Okay, I did that years ago but can’t afford to now. Peter, however does all that and more. Then, finally, a catalytic moment, a significantly improved product is released, it is met with impressive reviews, the company tweeted “The initial demand for #PicoAir far exceeded our forecast.“, and yet the stock doesn’t move.

Two concepts come to mind: delusional investors, or coiled spring stock. Until the stock moves, MVIS shareholders have to deal with people who consider them delusional. If the stock never moves, then the detractors are right. If the technology, the company, and the stock finally reflect the positive disruption that is possible, then the longer the wait, the greater the release and the steeper the climb in the stock – or at least that is the hope.

I’ve listened to detractors before. They were right about Iridium. They were wrong about Starbucks, and America Online, and Pixar, and F5, and others. For the last few years, they’ve been right about my portfolio, including MVIS. None of us know the future. But, what I do know is that when his Peter’s PicoAir met my ShowWX it was obvious that impressive progress has been made, and that maybe a bit more patience will produce much greater rewards. I certainly hope so.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Guys Walk Into A Bar

A day trader, a commodities speculator, and a traditional investor happened to meet each other over a bar, or at least above a restaurant that serves beer and wine. It wasn’t a joke, but we had to laugh. We’re all witnessing the same behavior, realize there’s nothing we can do about it, realize there’s nothing the government is doing about it, and yet we all continue to invest. When your list of choices diminish, it is easier to make the choice, but you’re less likely to like it. Investing has certainly changed.

Whenever I sit down to write this blog I experience a frequent lament. I wish I had more time to research the data, analyze what I’ve found, check with other analyses, revise as necessary, and report the results. That’s what professionals get to do, and I suspect even they don’t get as much time as they’d like. Instead, I spend a bit more time than most checking news reports, perusing charts, checking in on online discussions, and reviewing my choices. My semi-annual portfolio review is the most structured of the exercises, but even that is far removed from the computations I’d enjoy producing. Data can be fun. Geek out!

But, I am not a professional and am only responsible to myself. I post my thoughts publicly via this blog and various discussion boards, but they are my thoughts about my situation. Your situation will be different. And yet, the lack of a difference is what I noticed during a chance meeting of three people that happen to continue to invest regardless of the current climate.

My office is in a coworks, a place where a mixed group share a space but rent desks. Interruptions are normal, and that includes visitors dropping by to check out the space. If you’ve been reading this blog you know I buy stocks in small companies, hold them for years, and then hope to sell them after they’ve grown. It is an old strategy sometimes called Long Term Buy and Hold (LTBH). One visitor sat down and started asking me questions about the space, and the topic of bandwidth and internet access led to the topic of high frequency trading. Another visitor happened by, recognized me from one of my talks, and mentioned that he was a commodities speculator as well. All of us were investing. All of us were interested in economical office space for jobs that had nothing to do with investing. Our investing was encouraging enough to occupy some of our time, but not profitable enough to negate the need for regular income.

We were all also about the same age. We had all experienced an earlier era in investing that was more rational, more regulated, and more enticing. We all recognized that we are in a new era.

Investing has never been completely free of inequities. There have always been people with unfair advantages. As civilization has matured, there has been a trend to minimize the disparities; and yet, within the last decade or so, the regulations and regulators aren’t keeping up with imbalances and improprieties. It seems that the inequities are increasing.

Here’s where I’d like to pull up the data, reference specific events, analyze money flows, and contemplate core trends. In the meantime, through that conversation and others, it seems that the imbalances and improprieties are outside the control of individual  non-accredited investors.

High-frequency trading is happening at such a technical level that large financial institutions are moving their trading computers as close as possible to the market’s trading computers because the time it takes electrons and photons to move a few extra feet is a disadvantage. Seattle is much more than a few extra feet from Wall Street.

Market manipulation hasn’t been proven, and may be unprovable except by a whistleblower, but flash crashes are effectively approved because the trades aren’t negated. There are regulations and mechanisms in place to manage such irregularities, but none of us had seen them exercised. Small investors get dropped out of stocks, and large investors step in to take up their positions at a bargain.

Wealth accumulation means larger portfolios are larger, that there is less for the smaller portfolios, and that the big money is chasing the big investments while ignoring the small investments. The demand for large cap companies increase because they are large cap companies, and small cap companies are more likely to remain small because there isn’t as much money left to invest outside the large portfolios. Unfortunately, small companies are where innovation happens; so subsequently innovation isn’t encouraged.

We’re all seen the activities, and yet we invest because we must. When there are fewer games in town, and games are the only way to “win”, then you have to play to games that are available.

Many investors no longer invest: 43% of Americans are only invested in cash, which is another way of saying they have a checking account and nothing else; and 53% of Americans have returned to the Great Depression habit of hiding cash somewhere around the house because they don’t trust the banks.

I wish I had the time to draw together the amount of involved in high frequency trading and the trend with time; the number, severity, frequency, and consequences of flash crashes; the numbers of small cap versus large cap investing capital; and the total wealth accumulating in cash in working class households. But, I don’t have the time to do more than draw my own conclusions.

My conclusion is that I will continue to invest because of another trend I’ve witnessed (and for which I’ve seen data that I can’t find quickly enough), and that is the fact that working harder no longer is effective for financial mobility. Wages are stagnant. Living expenses are increasing, regardless of the official inflation numbers or the temporary blip in gas prices. I continue to work seven days a week because that’s the way I pay the bills, or at least most of them. I even have hope that improvements will come my way – but I’ve held those hopes for years. My stocks are a hope. I’m invested in disruptive companies, which hopefully make enough money for the stock to attract the large investors, while also positively impacting the planet. That isn’t the refined, sedate, conservative investing strategy from years ago, but that was a different era. Or, at least that’s the way it looks to a trader, a speculator, and an investor who all have seen the old era, and the new – and who are all sitting at the same bar and continuing to invest and work.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Passionate Hope

Seven billion people can’t all be right or wrong. If we were all right about the same thing at the same time it would be spooky. Of course, maybe that’s what a common cosmic consciousness would be like. If we were all wrong about the same thing at the same time, that would potentially be tragic. Somewhere in the universe, that’s happen to a civilization. We never have unanimous agreement. There are even people who place the planet above all, and think the only way for it to thrive is to get rid of us. Fortunately, we rarely all agree. That may seem like a bad thing, and the cause of much suffering, but it is also the reason we may yet find solutions to our problems. Cheer the innovators.

My passion is for people and ideas. It makes for some fascinating conversations. It is one reason I enjoy consulting with artists and entrepreneurs. They are people with passions as well, and most of their ideas are aimed at solving problems. Somewhere between where we are and where we need to get is a bridge that will be built by someone with the right idea.

My other passion has also been stymied lately. The corporate version of the artists and entrepreneurs is the startup company with a disruptive idea. There are companies that aren’t just trying to build a better mouse trap. They’re trying to trap the mouse and get it to work for us. The body is confused about how to fight cancer? Retrain it rather than launch a separate assault. Electricity has a bottleneck called copper cable? Superconduct it. Signals need to be switched faster than materials allow? Build a switch with almost no moving parts. TVs and monitors are too fragile and bulky and use far too many resources? Throw away the screen and play with the light. Those are the stories of Dendreon, Geron, American Superconductor, GigOptix, and MicroVision. I act upon my passion for their ideas by buying their stocks (DNDN, GERN, AMSC, GIG, and MVIS.) That outlet for my passion has been stymied because, even when the companies make progress, their stocks languish – and in some cases become involved in bankruptcies.

A long time friend, fellow blogger, fellow ex-aerospace engineer, and fellow inventor has lived within the realm of invention for years. That’s how he makes his money. Over on his blog, ideaworth, he points out the realities of pursuing your passions. Most ideas fail. That’s an oversimplification though. The ideas don’t fail. What fails is the implementation of the idea. If an idea was obvious everyone would already know it. That means the inventor needs more than the skill of inventing. The inventor must also develop the skill of convincing (and recognizing when a great solution can’t find a problem to solve). The data show that persuasion is not as prevalent within the inventive. Many good ideas never get their opportunity to meet the people who need them.

(He’s also one of the most articulate and vocal back channel commenters to this blog and I encourage you to encourage him to post his responses as guest posts to this blog. The man has good insights and a slightly different perspective, which I appreciate – and which I think should be made more public. That offer is also out there for folks that have more to say than will fit into the Comments section. If you have something to say, say it, or better yet, write it down. It may get posted.)

The world does not lack ideas. Even in the small community that is Whidbey Island, I’m asked about a new project every week or so. Some are simple solutions to small problems. Don’t underestimate how much people will appreciate good granola or biscotti. People laughed at the concept of high-end coffee and now Starbucks is responsible for inspiring thousands to open independent gourmet coffee shops, and has dramatically improved the lives of coffee growers.

 

 

On a grander scale, graphene continues to amaze engineers and scientists with unexpected properties. Go check my Pretending Not To Panic blog for links. Graphene was an accidental and innocuous discovery. Ever since we began burning candles we’ve been making graphene, but we didn’t know it. It is deceptively simple. Graphene is simply a sheet of carbon. But, because that is all it is, it can do amazing things. A sheet of it isn’t like a regular material. Most materials are made of lots of chemicals, collections of molecules held together with chemical bonds. A sheet of graphene is a molecule. There is no upper limit to the size of a sheet of graphene. A house-size sheet of graphene would be a house-size sheet of one molecule. Molecular bonds are far tougher than chemical bonds. The frequently sited example is that an elephant standing on a pencil couldn’t poke through a sheet as thick as plastic wrap. Imagine roads and houses built from such a material, which just happens to be trapped carbon. Weirdly enough, use it right and it filters hydrogen out of the air, fuel from thin air. Use it right and it is waterproof, so that extra strong road and roof don’t leak. Bullet-proof clothes can become common, which raises additional issues.

As much as I am a fan of graphene, I am a fan of the people who are willing to take risks and examine the accidental outcomes. The stock market currently doesn’t acknowledge innovation. The great money pouring into the market and driving it to new records is coming in from large portfolios and is directed at conventional companies, or companies that received massive cash infusions at their start. To some, Microsoft and Apple may be innovative, but they are decades old. Most truly innovative firms are starved for funding, then either collapse or are bought out and absorbed. While it would eventually beneficial if their innovations were then championed by the larger firm, they are more likely to be sequestered so they don’t challenge conventional products. Fortunately, that doesn’t stop passionate people from innovating.

What do you see when you look at a seed? Do you see something to sprinkle on a bun? That’s where millions of sesame seeds go. Do you see something to plant? That’s how you can get another plant. Do you see a forest, that just needs fertile soil and patience? Innovators, dreamers, inventors, and entrepreneurs can be considered nuts. What do I see? Nuts grow trees. Trees grow forests. Forests can cover continents. Our world needs more forests. A person who simply needs the right environment and a bit of time to create something far larger, grander, and globally pervasive than one person – they are my passionate hope.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment