Guest Post: Engineer to Inventor – In 3 Easy Steps – Part I

The following is a guest post from the inventor I mentioned in my recent Friendly Good News post: Alan Beckley. We happened to hire into Boeing within six months of each other in 1980 and had almost identical jobs (as seen from the outside, at least). We both left Boeing eventually, though at different times and for different reasons. We, like so many other people, are redefining our work selves, which is why I am posting his story here. Regular readers have witnessed my story. Here’s part I of III of his. (For more of his story, check out his blog for inventors; Ideaworth.

Engineer to Inventor – In 3 Easy Steps – by Alan Beckley (aka @SavvyCaddy)

The American Dream: this is my journey and transition from what I did then to what I do now.

I began life – after college anyways – working as an engineer for the Boeing Company in Everett, WA. The Boeing Company was (and is) a great company and the 747 – the project I worked on for three years – is a great airplane.

But, for me, working as a young engineer for a large corporation felt smothering. I needed a career environment that was more dynamic and ever changing where either instant gratification or humiliation resulted from my work. I found all of that when I moved to Dallas, TX and began working for a small company as a telecom project manager in the early 80s in the then nascent cellular telephone arena. Telecom in those days was entrepreneurial; every day was different and I developed many new skill sets. It was a fast paced environment; deadlines were measured in days, not weeks or months. I loved it.


Going from an engineer at a large company to a project manager at a small company was Step 1.

All good things must come to an end.

Over the next twenty years the telecom landscape transitioned from an industry dominated by many small companies serving the needs of a few large industry icons (like AT&T) to the large iconic corporations gobbling up many small competitors. I again found myself working for large corporations: my creativity was obliterated by bureaucracy and smothered by monolithic processes. I was back to where I had begun, working for large smothering corporations. It was time to plan my escape to a very small company – my own small business. If I could no longer find the career I wanted, maybe I could create it; I became self-employed as an inventor.


Going from a telecom project manager to an inventor was Step 2.

In 2002 I filed two patents on a thin, flexible wallet design that I felt was worth patenting. I had conceived of many product ideas over the years, but had never taken actions to develop any of them into products. I subsequently saw some of my ideas selling as products in retail stores and I would say to myself, “what if”? I decided it was time to see if my wallet idea could be successful as a consumer product and the first logical step was to patent it. At this point, I was employed full time in telecom and was a part time inventor tinkering with my product idea.

After a few years of attempting to license the product to a variety of manufacturers, I decided I could get some wallets manufactured and test market it myself. Once I finalized the design, I had a small run of 500 wallets manufactured and soon was selling them at flea markets, shows and events. Buyers loved the wallets because they were comfortable to sit on, held a lot of cards (up to 24), yet were still thinner than most wallets.

In 2009, I had to opportunity to take my Savvy Caddy wallets to a bigger platform: the home shopping network, QVC, with over 90 million viewers.

Telecom had become draining and it was time to do something else, so I left the security of my telecom job and became a full time inventor without fully realizing what I had gotten myself into. It was very exciting, but also scary. I had embarked on a new journey to destination unknown.


Leaving my telecom job to become a full time inventor was Step 3

 I had sold out in my QVC appearances in the winter of 2009 and QVC reordered for winter of 2010. Things did not go as well in winter 2010, I got less favorable air times and sold about half my inventory at QVC when I got what every vendor to QVC dreads: the RTV notice (return to vendor). This meant my remaining inventory was being returned to me and my QVC career was over.

In January 2011, I was faced with a very difficult decision. I was done on QVC, still had about 1,500 wallets to sell but had lots of expenses – bills, loans, credit cards, and living expenses – that had to somehow be paid. I wasn’t going back to telecom, so I needed to quickly rework my business. I hit the road and began selling as a vendor at military bases, various shows and events. I soon found myself working 7 days per week just to make ends meet. I was extremely frustrated, this was not my idea of the American Dream: working very long, hard hours but not making very much money. But my QVC experience had convinced me that the Savvy Caddy wallet was definitely a sell-on-TV product; after all, I had sold over 5,000 of them on QVC. I had to find a path to DRTV (direct response TV or infomercials) where I convinced my product could be a big hit, even though less than 3% of promising products succeed on DRTV.


Stay tuned.

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Friendly Good News – October 2015

There’s more good news than I can write about. Discretion has its drawbacks. I have been heartened by the news shared by friends: new jobs, significant clients, unexpected opportunities, products that finally the market in a big way. The wave started a few months ago, and I’ve looked forward to sharing the good news here, but have been waiting for the public announcements so I didn’t break confidances by publicizing the news before the time they considered appropriate. I wonder how much good news remains uncelebrated from humility, caution, and an understandable desire for privacy. I decided to share what I can, even though it is only a spoonful from a much larger bowl.

Congratulations to Alan Beckley, one of the few folks who truly understands what my first few years at Boeing were like because we traded jobs, involuntarily, occasionally. He left the world of major aerospace fifteen years before I did. There was wisdom in that considering he ended up working for some odd new technology in 1983 called cellular telephones. Ah, but that will never go anywhere because they are too bulky, expensive, and only useful in a few places. Ha! He is restless because his mind is so active. He left the frenetic telecommunications world to prove himself as an inventor. Check out his blog. As I have chronicled personal finances ups and downs (and hopefully ups again) he has chronicled the struggles of inventors in America. The success rate of inventors is about the same as the success rate of writers, which probably has more to say about the creative economy than inventing or writing; but he recently became one of the success stories.

“Today, my product is one of the hottest selling new products on DRTV: the Wonder Wallet. It sells on TV commercials, on HSN, Walmart, Bed Bath and Beyond and soon other retailers all across the US and Canada. I have achieved the American Dream. Persistence pays!” – Persistence Pays

As someone in Silicon Valley has said, one way to become a billionaire is to do something good for a billion people. If Alan manages to relieve back pain for a million people, he will become a millionaire. Many people are trying to save the planet, but along the way there is great value in someone who makes a wallet that is slim enough that it can fit in a back pocket without throwing off a man’s ergonomics. The amount spent in treating injuries from bad ergonomics is in the billions. A slimmer wallet won’t make a difference to many of my friends because wallets bulk up from credit cards and cash. While many of my friends don’t have credit cards and are nearly cashless from choice or necessity, they are in the very small minority. Alan saw a need, saw a solution, and pursued it for years until finally, success. I believe a long vacation is due and deserved.

Congratulations to Dr. Craig Weiner and Alina Frank, a couple who’ve probably heard too many jokes about wieners and franks, but who are known on Whidbey for their healing practices. I’ve written about Dr. Craig’s work before, partly because of a session I had with him, but particularly because of a bit of wisdom he provided in a video. The video was about EFT, which I’ll quickly define in a bit, but the anecdote he relayed in the video was one of the best examples I’ve seen of how history and emotions can cause real physical pain – and also how to relieve it. Since then, he and Alina have made incredible progress spreading the message of what they do and how it works. EFT stands for (pardon me as I look it up again) Emotional Freedom Techniques.

The good news is that, after years of practice and an expanding network of clients, they’ve decided to take their offerings beyond the island, and beyond the region. His enthusiasm and awareness of risk were an interesting balance to hear playing together as he told me about his next venture, which is to make their teachings available in an online seminar. It is one thing to find a way to help friends, and friends of friends, but realizing you can help strangers regardless of location can be awesome and intimidating. And, they’re taking that step. They’re online event starts October 19, with them and a much wider array of instructors in various fields. They’re taking their knowledge and understanding, trusting in themselves, and taking a step too few take. Their schedule is what prompted this post.

In the same league as Alan, Craig, and Alina are easily dozens of friends who have recently attained levels of success they deserve and didn’t expect, or at least didn’t expect to have happen the way it did. Some are selling food, others are consultants, others have made connections that finally mean ideas are finding the right audience. One got to stroll the red carpet for real. One small (probably soon to be widely successful) company managed to be recognized for high-quality work by being personally, repeatedly, and authentically championed in front of the elite audience they’ve always tried to reach. The list goes on, and on. Some of it is public. Most is not. Too little is available for me to relay because I don’t want to exploit confidences, many people want to control every aspect of their message, and because I’ve lost track of who I can and can’t talk about freely. Information is power, and is necessarily guarded.

Unfortunately, humility, caution, and an understandable desire for privacy and control also mean we hear less good news. We need good news. There’s too much bad news. It is too easy for me to write about bad news, because, weird as it is, people are more likely to encourage the publication of bad news while trying to control good news. I know of lots of good news. It is one of the sources of my optimism. So much good news happens because of lots of honest, sincere work that finally finds an auspicious moment. Serendipity happens, and is wonderful. Sometimes it is a patron. Sometimes it is a customer. Sometimes it is basic capitalism, a demand finding a supply.

My life is a mix, as are all of our lives. I have lots of good news, but at least temporarily and monetarily, the balance falls on the bad news side. But I expect that to change. That expectation is based on logic and variations of the 10,000 hour rule, and also emotion and comments like the one I received today.

You are probably the most Renaissance man I’ve ever known because you manage to do so much intellectually, physically, and artistically.” (Paraphrased because I was whacking blackberries at the time – maybe the inspiration for the physical comment, though there is dancing, walking, hiking, and karate; so she may have a point.)

Too often we downplay the good news, even if it is stellar. It is easier to emphasize the bad news, because there are things that desperately need to be fixed. But, I think the only way we’re going to make progress on the bad news is to recognize the good news, share it, and celebrate it. So, to those who’ve shared good news that I didn’t include; my apologies. In the future, I hope to include more posts of good news, like this one. And to those I’ve cajoled, kidded, and encouraged to share their good news, know that we are waiting. We want to hear it. We need to hear it.

Doh! So here’s my bit of good news. Tuesday evening, October 20th, 2015, I’ll be giving a talk on Social Media at the Mill Creek Library (though the meeting is in the Annex, wherever that is). That’s good news because, 1) I enjoy helping people, 2) I enjoy public speaking, 3) they’re paying me, and 4) I’m finally taking my public speaking and consulting services off the island, stepping out ala Dr. Craig and Alina. Take this far enough and who knows, maybe I’ll give talks down Alan’s way in Texas. Stay tuned.

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Walking Across Scotland – A Five Year Anniversary

Tom Trimbath:

I’ve been asked how I am able to remain positive while in the midst of financial turmoil. I thank my walk across Scotland. Here’s a post from the fifth anniversary of the book. Ah, but when’s the next trip…?

Originally posted on A Walk Across Scotland:

Five years ago I arrived back home to my island north of Seattle after walking across Scotland. Since then, much has changed. And, of course, much has remained the same. Change is inevitable, and conscious travel amplifies it. Amidst the machinations of the world,  though, much would be the same if I did it again. And I look forward to doing it again, but possibly redefining what it is.

It is Fall 2015. My plan was to be walking, thinking, drinking across, around, or through some other country. My trip across Scotland was a ten year homage to my bicycle ride across America (Just Keep Pedaling)Just Keep Pedaling. Neither were supposed to become books, but when life changing events happen it makes sense to write them down before their significance is forgotten. It also makes sense to wait a while and let insights filter through. Change isn’t always immediate…

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Nomadic Employment And Coworking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Surprising MicroVision News

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

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

And MVIS stock was down 9%.

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

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

And MVIS stock was down 9%.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Fences Apples And Monty Python

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I think of the birds’ nests.

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

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

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

And then I think of the birds’ nests.

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

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

Photo on 2015-10-03 at 19.34

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Will MicroVision Spring This Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Frugality Of Hiking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a photo from a June many years ago

a photo from a June many years ago


September 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donald Leroy Trimbath Senior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Incomplete Emergency Kit

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

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

Chile quakes > 2.5

Chile quakes > 2.5

My neighborhood quakes > 2.0

My neighborhood quakes > 2.0

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

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

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

My Earthquake Et Al Emergency Kit

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

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

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