See Politics Post Art

See politics, post art. Make sure that comma is in there because otherwise it sounds like an invitation to watch politics create art. The phrase came to mind one day when I realized that my artist friends were more likely to make political posts than artistic posts. I don’t post about politics much, though I do read some every day. These are historic times. Imagine not reading the papers in 1775. Surprise, 1776 happens. I did hit a limit though when I realized I was seeing less beauty and art; so, rather than complain about the lack I decided to post art when I’d seen enough politics for the day. Some days that happens right after breakfast. Other days, dinner. Living frugally means respecting resources like time, not just money. As historic as these times are, I also want to make sure I see other parts of today’s world. One way to do that is pay an equal attention to art.

Fiery July Fronds
Insert self-centered plug here. Want some art? I’ve produced plenty. Whether it is pretty or beautiful or not is subjective. Here are some links so you can make your own assessment, and maybe find your own inspiration. My books via my Amazon Author Page. My Whidbey Island photos via the Gratitude Gallery. My Washington Cascades photos via Fine Art America.

But enough about me. What about you?

These are stressful times. Everyone seems to be going through a balancing act between knowing enough and seeing too much. That’s true for both sides (and the fact that there only seem to be two is a temporary illusion.) My and my family’s health history have proved to me the value and the difficulty in reducing stress. The good news is that it can be done without spending money. The bad news is that it may require spending time. The best news is that after you’ve mastered it, it takes no time at all; but of course then you are a monk of some sort.

For the last several weeks, since the day after Christmas, I’ve been working every day. Partly that is my Rule of 7. Partly it is because of an aspect of the Gig Economy; when work shows up, work, because it may not be there later. Something usually turns up, but until it does, anxiety can fill the void. Even my body is telling me that I’ve been sitting, typing, and squinting for too long. Within the last week, several projects have come to completion, which means some day soon I’ll be able to return to my de-stressing exercises, as soon as I can spend the time without having to worry about the money.

It would be entrepreneurial of me to say that art is the best way for me to reduce stress, and that it helps others do so, too. I’ll get to that.

For me, there are four times a day when a few minutes diffuse the tension.
1) When I wake up I stay under the covers and steer my brain back to thinking about how warm and comfortable I feel. My muscles are the most relaxed. I try to memorize that moment so I can remind myself of it later in the day.
2) It may sound like kindergarden, but I take a ten minute nap after lunch. It may not be long, and it may not be as effective as eight hours of sleep, but for ten minutes my body unscrunches and gets a chance to concentrate on digestion.
3) I thank Steve Smolinsky for putting a name to my late afternoon pause. He calls it a Clarity Break. Schedules mean I don’t manage to do it every day, but at about 4pm I find a seat with a good view, and sit there for the time it takes to drink a cup or a glass of something. Tea is good. Martinis happen, too. Lately, I’ve had to pull back from whiskey, even though that seems appropriate. Besides, I usually have two or three more hours of work to do. When there’s enough time, I try to include a few minutes of meditation.
4) I’ve edicted an arbitrary line at 9pm. I’ll only work past then if a deadline is approaching too quickly.
At each of those moments I remember the insight from The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. There is only here and now. Most of my anxieties come from thoughts about things that could, might, are possible, in the future; or, they are thoughts about what’s happening in other places. Things to truly worry about here and now can exist, but adding all the possibilities from the past, the future, and the rest of the planet will always be more than a person can handle. Those other issues can benefit from our energies, but for a few times a day it is good to return to taking care of the person that is in this place and time.

Art helps me do that, particularly photography. Writing helps me express myself, but it is always about what was or what will be. No one can write about the present because writing always takes a finite amount of time. Photography, however, does the opposite. It usually records a finite, yet much smaller period of time, usually less than a hundredth of a second. An image is as close to a moment as we can get, as close to a now, or at least a remembrance of a now.

It’s after 7pm on a Saturday evening. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t posted any art today because I haven’t had much time to check my Facebook page. It isn’t avoidance, simply an overwhelming schedule (and I’m glad for the work, and the pay.)

I’ll draw this to a close with and image or two. One is from Twelve Months at Admiralty Head, an image that just happened to be sent in as a candidate for display at the local hospital.

dsc_6496The other provides another point of view on art and politics. It is a painting by Brian Kern, a long-time friend and artist who is using politics as inspiration for his art, and as a way to vent. It took longer to make than one of my photographs, but evidently didn’t take long. I think that may be why I can feel the energy in it.

distressTake your pick. Find your balance, and don’t be surprised if you find that it feels best to have a bit of both. But, if you see too much politics, maybe just post some art. (Or even buy some. My artist friends would greatly appreciate that.)

#SeePoliticsPostArt

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Super Bowl Ads 2017 Sell Success Carefully

The game is over. As usual, I skipped the game and watched the ads. I’ll assume some team won the game and some team lost the game. Congratulations. Sorry to hear that. The ads are entertaining, but I watch them to catch the themes. The advertisers don’t coordinate their messages, but common threads appear that tell me something about trends and emotions, which affect how people buy, spend, and deal with each other. This year they did it again, without trying. Despite the event being a spectator sport, most of the ads celebrated getting active, physical or otherwise.

After writing up my notes I realize the underlying theme was rarely stated. Make fun of our political situation, carefully. Encourage commonality, carefully. Encourage activism, carefully. This year’s situation is too fresh and fragile. Next year’s ads will tell a different story; another reason for me to record my notes.

Athletics

  • Michelob – Exercise, get in shape, and then have a beer. Ah, check your calorie balance.
  • Pistachios – Exercise, and eat nuts for their protein. Remember to clean up after yourself in the gym. Don’t eat and run.

Perseverance

  • Honda CR-V – Move forward despite failure. Believe you can make it. Dreams are within reach and worth chasing.
  • Ford – Exercise any way you can, even if you don’t succeed, because eventually you’ll break through.
  • Audi – Forget what everyone else says. Ignore conventional wisdom and old stereotypes. Work hard and succeed.
  • Kia – Nature needs your help, and you must help if you are going to be a hero. Don’t be surprised if it hurts.
  • Budweiser – Pursue your dream, and if you need a role model, look to immigrants and refugees.

Community

  • Mercedes, AMG – Even bikers band together when they find a common enemy, and then find he’s one of their heroes.
  • Budweiser – Don’t drink alone, or you’ll be visited by the ghost of a dog.
  • Febreze – Want to see something we all have in common? No you don’t, because it is the bathroom break.

And then there were the indulgences – The Greatest, None Better, You Deserve This

  • Tiffany – Somehow Tiffany is a rebel. Yeah.
  • T-Mobile – You deserve everything, all the time, no limits.
  • WeatherTech – Even your car’s floor mats should be the best.
  • Nintendo Switch – You should be able to play your game anywhere on anything.
  • Battle of Evony – You should be a king, empress, general in a great battle. Ignore diplomacy.
  • King’s Hawaiian Bread – Bread so great you should hide it from the rest of your family, who then steal it from you.
  • Wendy’s – Don’t settle for frozen beef, as if fast food is an exercise in luxury.
  • TurboTax – Just because you can, you can, even if it is stupid and someone else has to pick up the pieces.

And Also The Apocalypse

  • Ghost in the Shell – A movie about a stolen life that must be saved, thanks to a naked robot that isn’t a naked woman, really.
  • Transformers – A movie that shows the world is dying, and that we must seek redemption, with lots of explosions.

When In Doubt – Nature

  • Fiji Water – A gift from nature. Untouched by man because man is messy.
  • LIFEWTR – Art makes life, and life requires water.
  • BUSCHHHH – A mountain stream, an eagle, USA, and a noisy beer.

Simply Fun

  • Skittles – Everyone gets some, skittles, that is.
  • Avocados from Mexico – Conspiracies, leaks, and plenty of missed opportunities about fruits coming over the border.
  • Yellow Tail wine – Pet your ‘roo, but only if it says yes.

Ads That Made Me Shrug

  • KFC – Not the real Colonel.  Kind of get it.
  • Tide – Socks and sleeves were king of cute.
  • Wix – A great series of ads that were impressive and expensive, but that didn’t engage me.
  • Buick – At least it reminded me that Buick hasn’t gone out of business.
  • Sprint – Anti-Verizon, which is supposed to be enough.
  • Lexus – Great dance routine, inspired by a car?
  • GoDaddy – Making up for years of outlandishly sexist ads?
  • Mr. Clean – Sex sells, anything.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Presidents Of Countries And Companies

Okay. I give in. I’ll write about the President, and I’ll try to bring it back around to personal finance because that’s the purpose of this blog. So much weird stuff has happened since Inauguration Day that it takes a special effort to not mention the President. So, let’s get this out of the way. Now that there’s a week of evidence accumulated I think I understand where a lot of misunderstandings are coming from. This President is acting like a lot of other Presidents; not political ones, but Presidents of companies. Seen from that perspective, The President of the United States is still acting eccentric, but within the vast realm of corporate officers that run the non-governmental side of the country. He’s not acting like a politician because he’s not a politician. He’s someone who has almost accidentally found himself promoted to a yet another higher position, and probably thinks he’s not done yet. I think our country is now being run by a “bungie boss.”

Refresh your memory of dysfunctional companies. It is easy to find anecdotes of people who are promoted for reasons that have nothing to do with the job or their performance. The right connections, being in the right place at the right time, a dose of strong definitive statements, and someone can rise from the bottom to the top of a company. Gain some momentum, make a strong impression, initiate bold maneuvers, then move up before the flaws are exposed. Get out before the bad news hits and the next person catches the blame. It isn’t a universal model, but it is familiar enough to make it into Dilbert, also the Peter Principle.

Previous Presidents of the United States have accomplished impressive feats. Except for a few, they’ve all risen through political ranks. Several achieved the position because of successful military careers, which makes some sense considering the position is also Commander in Chief. Combat generals also have a tendency to want to avoid war. Regardless, their collected ranks created traditions and conventions that worked towards diplomacy and compromise, at least until recently. They were never completely diplomatic or prone to compromise, but the systems around them buffered undiplomatic and uncompromising positions.

Presidents of companies can be promoted for the opposite reasons. They may make names for themselves for boldness, for challenging convention, for taking dramatic actions, and for being confident in their positions – even to the point of delusion. Because such managers and leaders exist, it is important to evaluate a company’s management team when researching a company.

When I worked at Boeing, it was amazing and sad to see quiet, well-liked, efficient, honest, and very capable people be over-looked for opportunities because they were too diplomatic. They were too likely to share credit, admit faults, truly accept responsibility, and not complain. Too frequently, someone cunning enough would market themselves well, associate themselves with accomplishments, vie for a position, attain it, and repeat. While that may seem like a strategy limited to the levels of management within a company, it isn’t. Rise high enough and the next move may be to a better job in a different company. Do it fast enough and your mistakes don’t have your name on them and can’t catch up to you. Someone stuck with the mess can point at such great risers, but people will dismiss the criticism because there’s a perception that someone who’s risen so far so fast obviously does things right, even when that’s the opposite of what they did.

To me, the President of the United States of America is acting like the President of USA, Incorporated. He thinks we work for him, without realizing that in his new position he works for us. And most Americans are not acting like a bunch of employees. It’s almost as if it is our country.

The tactic of move up and out before finishing the job has political models as well. An ex-governor of Alaska did something similar. Get the job. Make a few bold moves. Leave before the term is up. Get promotions and opportunities based on stories rather than reality.

I worry about our country. People with delusions don’t act rationally. The greater the disconnect between their delusion and reality, the more extreme their reaction. No one on the planet can be act more dramatically and cataclysmically than a leader of a major nuclear power. So, yes, I worry about that, and many other things.

I’ve spent some time thinking about those presidents, managers, and high-powered people I’ve experienced in the corporate world as an employee or as an investor. In none of those cases was I able to change what they did or what they thought. Their identity is built on supreme confidence. If they admit a flaw, admit to being human, the challenge to their internal identity can be painful for them. Impressive defenses clang into place. Denial of their flaws and accusations of flaws in others is a common response.

Revelations happen. That’s a hope I hold for any lofty person who has been lofted too high too fast. It is, however, wonderful to witness when they receive that marvelous gift of a fresh perspective.

The two tactics that come to mind are simple enough. Patience is the easier to employ. It isn’t easy, just easier. When I saw a bungie boss pop up in an organization chart above me, I knew that it was temporary. A year was usually too soon for them to leave. They had to stay around long enough to get something started and get themselves associated with the title. Three years was too long for them to stay. In that time, bad ideas could become very bad, very obvious, and damage their internal and external identity. The other tactic is to feed their self-image to convince them that they are ready to move on. It is sad, but it can be effective.

I wasn’t surprised that citizens of the United States would vote for someone practiced in bombast. Bombast persists because it is effective. Many sales people rely on it, and pay their bills because of it. I was surprised that such a person would be elected to the Presidency. That’s our new reality.

There will be personal finance implications: interest rates, GDP growth, asset bubbles, income and wealth inequality, diminished benefits to the poor while the rich receive their own version of welfare, etc. It will be a long list. I also expect an extraordinary level of dysfunction as a person tries to run a government as if it was a company. As I said, citizens aren’t employees. The president of a country reports to the citizens. Employees report to a president. Proclamations work in one case, not in the other. When employees protest, officials can find an excuse to fire them and hire others. When citizens protest sufficiently well, they can fire the officials.

If my scenario comes to fruition, the current President of the United States could launch initiatives, declare victory in about a year and a half, move into an amazingly profitable string of commercial ventures, and leave the country to our Vice President, the person who would become President Pence. One thing at a time.

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

Pay Bills Do Laundry

Allow me to pour a glass of wine, again. So, how’s your world? Seen any changes lately, like, oh, since Friday? The world has changed. The world has stayed the same. Take any period and that’s been true, though the rate of change has definitely accelerated in the last century, last few decades, since the new millennium, and in the last few days. It’s probably changed in the last hour. I’ll check on Twitter after I post this. Throughout the change, some things, usually critical things, remain the same. I’ve been watching for a major societal upset for a while now, wondering I was just humoring my inner pessimist, and realizing some of those scenarios may be happening now. Travel and a study of history come in handy at times like this. Stick to the basics, including ethics, and adapt as necessary – and maybe recognize new opportunities.

My world got busy in 2017, mostly in good ways, somewhat in uncertain ways, but at least there’s more money coming into my business now than there was a year ago. No politician can claim any of that accomplishment. I thank my network. I’ll skip most of the details because so much in life is shifting and changing that it is healthiest to concentrate on the steady, healthy core. Some of the shifts are nicely positive, but I won’t celebrate them until there’s a positive commitment. A quick summary is this, my Rule of 7 continues to apply as I work seven days a week, and usually ten to twelve hours a day, but the number of billable hours are up, and so are the rates. Whew.

I’ve been so busy that I’ve put on weight because I’ve had less time to exercise. I continue to get out for walks, but not runs; my bike is collecting cobwebs as I wait for coworks to open; and the weather has curtailed energetic martial arts exercises outdoors because it is embarrassing to find that I slipped and hit myself. Yes, that happens.

In about 1996 I was fortunate enough to work in the Ukraine for a week and a half as part of a team launching American satellites on Russian upper stages on Ukrainian lower stages that launched from a cruise ship and mobile oil platform that were modified by Norwegians. I like jobs like that. Throw in a culture clash between commercial and military and never be bored. I miss those days as a mission planner and customer liaison.

My main benefit from the trip to Dnepropetrovsk (a fine word to have to repeat to border agents who don’t quite speak English or Ukrainian), was meeting Ukrainians. The Berlin Wall was down. The USSR was dissolved. Their economy was in such bad shape that they turned off the gas to the eternal flame that honored their World War II dead. And yet, they had impressive technology, brilliant engineers, and resourceful people. Their engineers were calculating rocket trajectories by hand that I could only do on a computer. And they excelled.

The people outside the factory impressed me more. On one of the few walks through town, we saw rows of people creating small, personal markets. Don’t think of quaint farmer’s markets. Think smaller. A long line of people, each with a cardboard box, each selling less than a half dozen things: a fish, some bread, maybe some fruit. It was a sad sight. It was also a sign of adaptation. The ones on the sidewalk hadn’t given up. I wonder how their lives have changed in the last twenty years.

The norm in America is far from that norm. I keep in mind, however, that such things are possible anywhere.

I squeezed in a walk this evening. I wanted to get some exercise in before dinner and before sunset. A man walked by with two dogs, which are really just conversation starters on leashes. He and I chatted for long enough that the energetic dogs sat down in the road. (There’s a mark of a rural road, take a seat and don’t worry about traffic.) It turns out that we’re both frugal. The difference is that he is older and already on Social Security. His philosophy was simple. Take it easy. Live simply. Ignore the fluff. Walk the dogs. That’s something that doesn’t change – as long as Social Security doesn’t change.

A similar quote comes to mind for people on spiritual journeys; “Chop wood. Carry water. Gain wisdom. Chop wood. Carry water.” I think the modern equivalent is; “Pay bills. Do the laundry. Gain understanding. Pay bills. Do the laundry.”

Usually, I post one article per day to PretendingNotToPanic.com, news for people who are eager and anxious about the future. Too many places only report the good or the bad, but not both. I do what I can. I tend to leave politics out of it unless it is a generalizable trend measured over years. Since Election Day, it’s been more difficult finding apolitical content. The good news is that I’ve forced myself to focus on issues that will be pertinent in five years that were also pertinent five years ago. A span of ten years can encompass dramatic change that is less random than political whims. Climate change, economic instabilities, technological advancements, scientific discoveries, are all progressing. They may be impacted by politicians; but now that we’re a global community, a dip in one place inspires action in another.

Frugality has its benefits. One is an understanding of fundamental values and resources that are highly personal. Just like the guy walking his dogs, being frugal by choice and then by necessity has taught me the value of my values, my efforts, my friends, my community, my faith in people, and my general faith.

We are in weird times. If I solely concentrate on the weirdness, I’ll miss these times in my life. I’ll continue to watch the news, be aware of the political winds and whims; but the main thing I have to keep in mind is pay bills, do laundry. Good thing I have a washer/dryer.

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

Light One Candle More

Whether it is because of climate change, politics, social injustice, or personal problems that no one else appreciates,

It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.

dsc_7209

And

It is even better if you can light fifty and really get some energy flowing.

dsc_7211

Be careful around the smoke detector, though.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MicroVision And CES2017

Usually, when I want to hear about MicroVision’s activities at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (also known as MVIS at CES), I check in on PetersMVISblog. He has great access, an understanding of the history, and enthusiasm for the company, its technology, and its stock. I was disappointed that he couldn’t attend it this year. Official news is nice, but it must be careful, circumspect, and familiar. The customers get to make the big announcements. Personal stories can tell a better, more open, tale. I sat back to wait for insights from other shareholders who visit. They may not blog, but I hoped they’d post on the various stock discussion boards. Independent investors can access such simple and valuable resources.

Partway through the event I got an email from a different friend. They were visiting CES for other reasons, knew I am interested in the newest trends and technologies, and wondered if I could suggest any companies they could visit. Visit? YES! Oh, pardon me. Yes. How about MicroVision? They didn’t have a booth, but they did have a suite. They probably wouldn’t be unveiling anything dramatic – but maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was too familiar with their story and what looked like old news to me would look dramatic to them. See what you can find, and if you can’t even get in the door, that’s okay, too. I understand.

Surprise, here’s a report on MicroVision at CES from a person who has heard of the company, has an independent point of view because they aren’t a shareholder, and knows how to write. Name withheld upon request.

On 1/5/17 I went to the MicroVision suites at the CES show in Las Vegas, hoping to gather some useful information as to what the company is up to and upcoming plans.

I met a receptionist who was quite amiable, but she apologized that all of the key MicroVision personnel were in meetings with clients. To me it seemed odd that MicroVision was paying for 3 different suites on two floors of the Westgate Hotel, and yet everyone was meeting clients elsewhere. But that is just me. She advised if I returned on Friday 1/6 at 10 am I might be able to meet briefly with someone.

So, I returned on Friday 1/6 at 10 am and she was quite apologetic. There were indeed people meeting in the adjacent suite, but no one had any free time at that time. I told her “thank you” and walked out into the hallway preparing to depart to the elevator. I was about to leave when I noticed three men in the hallway about 15 feet away from me. I heard introductions and caught the name of Alex Tokman, CEO of MicroVision, as one of the men in the hallway. I decided to try a creative tactic of simply lingering nearby in the hallway until someone noticed, then to see if I got an opportunity to gather information.

Soon, Alex noticed my presence and the other two men were clearly a bit irritated as it was obvious I was not an invited guest nor one of the clients (as they were). I apologized and just told Alex I was there on behalf of a business colleague who had significant stock in MicroVision but who had not been able to attend the show (Tom Trimbath). Alex was amazingly amenable. He suggested that if I went into their suite down the hall that someone might be able to meet with me in a few minutes (there was a meeting in progress across the hall from the suite he sent me to). I told him, “thank you” and went into the suite to wait a bit.

In that suite, I was met by a different receptionist whose job was clearly that of gatekeeper. She knew I was not on the schedule, nor an invited guest, she said everyone was “quite busy” (true statement) and that she needed to keep Alex ‘on track’ in terms of his appointments. By this point, we were out in the hall again. Alex saw that she was about to show me the door and he came to my rescue. He walked over to me and said he could spare me a few minutes for a brief show and tell in the suite. The gatekeeper clearly did not like this turn of events.

On the table in the suite MicroVision had a collection of their products, as well as a RoBoHoN from Sharp. I believe one of the items was the new small form PSE-0403-101 or -102 that MicroVision is promoting will roll out in the second quarter of 2017.

He mentioned the RoBoHoN, then took a few minutes and showed me a cool demo of the PicoBit projector on a nearby wall. The resolution was amazing and the colors were bright. He had a trailer from the new Ghostbusters loaded on the PicoBit. Even on a beige wall from 3 or 4 feet away, the projection was quite good. He explained that these were not ‘optimum’ conditions – a dark screen is much better. I mentioned to him the fact the unit tends to get quite warm after a few minutes of use and asked him if there had been any complaints or problems with that. He said “no” that it wasn’t a problem at all.

I thanked him profusely for his time, gave him my name and business card and told him I was there on behalf of Tom Trimbath. I gathered product flyers on PSE-0400Li-1xx, PSE-0403sti-101 and PSE-0403-102 and left.

It was quite nice of him to take about 10 minutes away from active meetings he had with actual clients to do a show and tell for me.

It is easy to miss the value in such simple encounters; especially with such quiet companies as MicroVision that are at such critical times in their development. Here was an example of management’s willingness to engage at least informally, a suggestion of customer interest, and an independent assessment of the product. The entire event may have only taken a few minutes, but that’s more time than most analysts have spent on the company, and is about the time that most customers will spend while shopping for a product. It is also an example of how independent investors with the right time and money and manners could learn about companies that seem abstract and distant.

This confirms for me that the company is making about the level of progress that I expected (though not as much as I hoped last year). Not so much that they had a booth on the floor with a line waiting to see a new product. Not so little that the suites were quiet and empty. I won’t buy or sell on the insights, but I will give management good marks for being in the right place at the right time. Detailed financial reports, announcements of sales and revenues, as usual, those will come later – and hopefully soon.

Thanks again to an intrepid entrepreneur.

Posted in guest post | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Virtual Reality On Whidbey

As if Whidbey’s reality isn’t virtual enough, virtual reality has come to Whidbey. Virtual reality rigs are slowly making their way into homes, offices, and classrooms; but sometimes it takes a champion (who wouldn’t give themself such a label) to make a new idea available to everyone, not just early adopters and uber-geeks. For the last several months, I’ve been informally and casually working with Ethan Bishop (in other words, we kicked around a lot of ideas when we had the time), someone who understands this new world, understands its software, its hardware, and what’s coming next. In a classic case of great ideas trying to find enough money, or least an opportunity, to turn thoughts into actions, Ethan’s managed to create a uncommon experience in a place as uncommon as Whidbey. We’re both wondering where his new initiative will lead him. From what I’ve seen, this is a moment that reminds me of the introduction of the Macintosh, and the moment when America Online opened itself to the Internet. I wonder what it will me for me, too.

Trying to explain virtual reality is like trying to explain the personal computer when everyone thought a computer had to be the size of a room and dedicated to scientists. Personal computers seem obvious now. They didn’t thirty years ago. Any yet, a bit of patience then and now means many people will become familiar with the experience very soon. The concept is potentially that pervasive.

I’ll skip the long list of examples and stick to one that I’ve mentioned before. Imagine a blending of the virtual world called Second life and the social media world of Facebook. Now, you log in to see little icons of your friends, read a few words from some, see a photo or an album from someone else, and check out their very polite and never political posts. It can still seem silly, and yet billions use it. Welcome to a larger community that can simultaneously be superficial and deep. Facebook is already considering a VR version of the experience. Put your headset on, and see your friends (or at least their avatars), talk to them, dance, play games, go places. Be in a place with them, and instead of being a spectator, stand in a panoramic view and point out things together.

I get ahead of myself. But, that’s also what I do. I watch trends, see which ones can run the farthest, and hopefully benefit from the knowledge and insight. With the Mac and AOL, I was able to do that by buying stock. (Want details? I wrote a book about that, and more. Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover) This time, I’m not sure how to engage with the momentum.

If you get the chance to try out any VR rig, go for it. Keep in mind though that many of them are like the first computer screens, low resolution and a bit jittery. Keep in mind that many of them are like dialing into the Internet for the first time, odd protocols, slow connections, and bizarre interruptions. Google Cardboard is a good intro, so are the units from Oculus (Facebook bought them). Ethan’s rig is a Vive system good enough for him to use it for games, but also for designing parts that he then prints in 3-D.

img_0729

We tried a variety of venues where we (largely he) could set up his rig and demonstrate it. The goal wasn’t exclusively altruistic. This is an opportunity to provide a benefit in return for compensation. The industry is so new that an obvious business model has yet to emerge. Some of our venues may succeed, or not. In the meantime, Ethan independently arranged to create an arcade in a very retro and very cool pinball arcade. (Dozens of original pinball machines carefully renovated by Tim Leonard and lit up in an arcade two block from “downtown” Langley, are worth a visit on their own.) It’s a good match, it made the front page of the local paper, and I was glad to see it and get a chance to visit.

People may line up for games. I watched a kid have a blast simply throwing a virtual stick to a virtual dog on top of a very realistic local mountain. No need for anything more exotic than that. When I tried that experience a few months ago my brain knew I was in a room, but my senses convinced me I could fall a long way.

Watch an artist get the chance to paint in 3-D, and to walk inside the artwork, then scale it down to the size of jewelry.

For me, I want to use it for design, invention, and would thoroughly enjoy wading through datasets and computer visualizations of physical phenomena.

When I first used a Mac I knew it would succeed, and that I had to have one. When AOL finally added a button for the World Wide Web, I remember telling someone in the room that this will be as big as AT&T. I had the same reaction this time.

And yet, I haven’t gone into debt so I could buy stock in the various companies. The Mac had no real competitor. The sea of PCs that swirled around it made more money, for a while, but picking a winner was difficult. AOL stood alone and was a simpler choice, but it went through years of unprofitability before succeeding as a stock and a company. I don’t know if Vive will be the ultimate victor, and suspect the industry has yet to find the key hardware, software, and marketing that will succeed. Wireless is an obvious upgrade. Resolution and response times will improve, and are almost good enough, but not quite. Hand controllers (because there are no keyboards) continue to evolve. I suspect a major benefit will be a headset that can be made opaque, translucent, or transparent with a switch. (I think MicroVision has great potential here, but then I think that about them in many industries and applications.)

This is VR’s training phase. Computers and the internet both went through phases when early adopters were paid to help others adopt and adapt to the new technologies. Ethan’s already doing that. (He also builds and sells rigs for others.) I look forward to helping. Yet again, technology creates a Wild West frontier where there are lots of opportunities, a great uncertainty about the rules, and a lot of pioneers who may get lost along the trail.

My frugal self looks forward to this because of the opportunities for creating things in 3-D and then printing them. The part of me that is passionate about people and ideas looks forward to learning about the technology and introducing others to it. The investor in me is watching for the companies that have stock that are engaged in the trend, not just watching and wondering about it.

If you get the chance to drop in on Tim Leonard’s Machine Shop (630 Second Street, Langley, WA 98260), check to see if Ethan and his equipment are there. It’s worth the trip. If Ethan isn’t there, bring a bunch of quarters. The rest of the arcade is awesome. Of course, I’m assuming they still take quarters. I had a pocketful but had so much fun talking to Ethan and using his rig that I never got around to playing pinball.

img_0721

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

Good News No Time

Well, the amount of time is always the same, despite what time traveling sci-fantasy shows show. But, this is just a quick post to pass along that 2017 has started off very busy. That’s very good, except for the pain in my wrist and in my – well. No need for those details.

The situation may be temporary, which is always because permanence is an illusion. When twelve hour days follow each other for a variety of reasons, the chaos can be unsettling; but I’ll put that in perspective. For the last several years, the workload has been similar, but much of it has been – entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurs know how much work goes unpaid in the hope that compensation will eventually follow. Between the mad, barely paid scramble and the seemingly mythical sustainable occupation, there exists the swirl of energies that must be ridden even if there’s no apparent direction to the underlying current.

Several years ago, twelve hour days were common, but only two or three hours were billable. This year is starting off with twelve hour days, but four or five hours are billable – for now. It is hard to know if this is a surge that will fade, or the precursor to more stable and more than sufficient pay. There are tantalizing possibilities, few of which I can mention because they are so ephemeral.

So pardon any lapse in a more descriptive discourse on this chronicle of an American who has gone from middle class to millionaire to muddling by to somewhat manically working towards something. One measure of how busy I am is that I turned down an invitation to go dancing. Shocking, I know.

Some news that will eventually be relayed:

  • my experiences re-entering the conventional American healthcare system
  • news about a history documentary I have been asked to write
  • news about coworks on Whidbey
  • news about virtual reality (and probably 3-D printing)
  • an analysis of charitable contributions in a progressive small town
  • and maybe a guest blog post about MicroVision at CES from a friend who was able to attend. Maybe. Hey. It’s not like I’m paying anyone to do that, eh?

Thanks for your understanding. Welcome to the wild weird year that is and will be 2017. Expect the unexpected? Bah. That’s already happened. That was just the start.

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

Expense Report – Fuel Costs

Watch my frugal friends wince. I drive a truck. I drive a good old ‘Merican pickup truck with a cap on the back, 4WD, and a tow kit. Surprise. It turns out to be quite frugal. Not as frugal as my friends who bicycle almost everywhere, but I can confidently state that my fuel mileage is better than most Americans. My truck’s fuel mileage isn’t very good. But mine is. Frugal can mean many things. Seemingly unfrugal choices can still fit into a frugal lifestyle.

dsc_7168My truck is a 2000 Chevy Silverado. My Dad passed it along to me. Before that I had Jeep (not Grand) Cherokees since 1987. Drive them right and I’d get 28 mpg. (Set it into 4WD on some particularly gnarly roads to trailheads and watch the instantaneous fuel mileage drop to 1 mpg. That was a bit spooky when I had less than a quarter tank left and miles of ruts and gravel to travel. See my hiking books for more stories.) The Silverado weighs more, is larger, is equipped for a contractor, and unsurprisingly gets much worse mileage. Unfortunately, I’ve been so busy that I hadn’t taken the time to work through the exact numbers – until now.

Let’s skip the suspense and dive into useful data.

dsc_7180After looking at a year of data, I now know that the truck gets 15.6 mpg. I suspect that’s more like 18 mpg on the highway, but that’s not much consolation. Flip that number into something more useful for frugal folk and it works out to $0.18 per mile. The local theater is ten miles away, so going out to a movie costs $3.60. Good thing the local theater only charges $7 for the movie and $1 for the small popcorn. It’s good to live in a small town. Beware of spoilers from your friends in the big city. The cost of gas is one reason I turn down lunches. “Meet me for lunch. I’ll pay.” Sounds great, but I’m still trying to pay previous taxes, haven’t found enough to save for this year’s taxes, and know I can make lunch at home for less than the cost of gas. Even the time spent in travel costs because it isn’t billable, as even the least profitable of my jobs are.

Sounds like a good reason to ride the bicycle, which I do whenever I have the time, don’t have to also carry my computer, and can arrive a bit perspired. (Looking forward to a coworks where I can store a computer and a change of clothes. It could happen, again.)

With those numbers and that situation, it doesn’t look good for the truck.

The truck isn’t very frugal (though it is very useful.)

Let’s take those same numbers and look at them a different way.

Miles driven in a year = 3,922. Gallons of gas burned and turned into work, heat, and pollution = 289. Total cost of fuel in a year = $783.
Or
Miles driven per month = 327. I know people who drive that in two or three days.
Gallons of gas per month = 24. That’s less that one tankful, but then, this truck has a big tank. At least I only have to go to the pump about once per month.
Cost per month = $64. That’s still about $2 per day, but that’s less than some people spend on one meal.

I’m more frugal than the truck.

I’m not trying to fly a banner, sound the trumpets, or build a pedestal. I have several friends who ride farther and get much more done on their bicycles, have to remember to trickle charge their hybrids because they’re driven so rarely, and have mastered mass transit. They’re the ones that deserve the accolades.

My fuel costs are low without being extreme. I don’t drive much, but I wouldn’t drive much more if my finances were much better, except for more frequent trips into the mountains. My situation has encouraged greater frugality, but I present it here as an example of another approach to frugality. I doubt that I could trade the truck for something more reliable and just as capable, even another truck. The truck isn’t the issue. How the truck is used, is.

Frugality isn’t about using less. Frugality is about making the best use of the resources available. Make your things fit your lifestyle. Live your life, not the lifestyle of your things.

That’s a generalization, of course. Sorry to dilute the message there, but reality is important. Part of the reason I live the way I do is because of my house, my computers, my clothes, and of course my truck. We aren’t totally independent. It is more important for me to realize that, while my truck isn’t frugal, I can be.

Posted in My Money And My Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Popular Posts 2016

Writing is an interesting exercise. Writing about personal finance is particularly interesting to me because I treat finance as something personal, emotions included. And yet, deciding what to write is always a guess. What will people care about? I tend to write about what I think fits the purpose of this blog, but readers decide which topics are most important to readers. I am a fan of data, so here they are, the posts you decided were the most popular in 2016. Apologies to December posts that don’t get the advantage of January’s head start; but it all works out in the end because the most popular posts draw traffic for years.

  1. MicroVision Before And After
  2. Will Zillow Make Me Move
  3. One Confused Obamacare Applicant
  4. Spreading News – MVIS And CES2016
  5. MicroVision Today The World Someday
  6. Sad MVIS Shareholders
  7. Lowered Expectations For MVIS
  8. Transition For Writers On Whidbey
  9. Upscaling Whidbey
  10. Corporations Meet Owners MVIS 2016

See a trend? Of the top 10, 6 are about MicroVision and its stock, MVIS. This is for a company that has fewer shareholders and employees than any of the zip codes on Whidbey Island. Housing, healthcare, and two posts about Whidbey are the remainder – all topics that I’ve written about other times.

Writers, take note. This is one of the powers of blogging, actual measurements about what your audience responds to. The next seven posts were all about stocks, mostly MVIS. That’s surprising considering the price is so low that it won’t buy a cup of tea at my local non-profit coffeeshop.

My emphasis for this blog has been to create a chronicle of the realities of personal finance, not just the math, but the emotions, implications, consequences, and imperfections that are inevitable in something as personal as financing a life.

I’m not done, and see no reason to stop. I won’t be so mercenary as to only write about what the readers want because I’m telling a longer story here of which MVIS, housing, health, and writing are simply temporary story arcs.

Tell me what you are interested in because I may be overlooking something we both care about. You may notice that I don’t get into politics (though I can’t ignore my perspective). For some “news for people who are eager and anxious about the future” on a planetary scale, check out my other main blog: PretendingNotToPanic.com (which even has its own merchandise.)

In the meantime, stay tuned; and thanks for reading.

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