Asterias May Have One Success

One of my smaller investments had good news. It appears they’ve been able to regrow severed nerves. One of their trial patients has regained use of his arms. Amidst the cautions layered around investments and health care news it was too easy to mark the progress off as a necessary but insufficient step – but someone who thought they’d be permanently paralyzed from the neck down can now use their upper body. To them, this is big news. It may be big news for others, too. For the investment and medical communities, it is only a small step. They’re both right.

Asterias is developing a stem cell treatment that may have grand applications, but for this clinical trial they are focusing on a specific application: can they help accident victims regain nerve function. In all good caution, the trials are supposed to measure objective criteria from which a judgment can be made. Most biotechs go through a process I’ll grossly simplify: lab tests (watch the cells and molecules to see what they do), pre-clinical trials (lab rats, at least), Phase 1 clinical trials (is it safe for humans?), Phase 2 clinical trials (is it effective?), Phase 3 clinical trials (what’s the right dosage?), and hopefully FDA approval (go ahead and treat the general population, and good luck trying to make any money.) Asteria’s test is a Phase 1/2a trial because the real process has much finer distinctions. The trials are also uncommon because so few people are being treated. Instead of working with hundreds or thousands to gain a statistical sample, trials for extreme conditions are sometimes limited to a few patients.

Data is necessary for the financial and medical community, but people respond to stories, too. In my semi-annual portfolio reviews I’ve mentioned how significant it would be for a patient to walk again. For me, the imagery would be startling. Now, I know I was limiting myself to thinking they were treating paraplegics. Instead, they’re treating quadriplegics. The logical place to start with is as high as possible, I guess, and at least for one patient;

Three months later, he’s able to feed himself, use his cell phone, write his name, operate a motorized wheelchair and hug his friends and family.

The clinical trial data will be presented on September 14th. The anecdote was published September 7th. September 8th, the company’s stock, AST, was up 11.8% during the main market hours, and up another 7.1% after hours. Institutions care about data, but people care about people. Having a potential treatment for something many considered untreatable provides a lot of hope for anyone who realizes the impact of an accident, and that any of us can have an accident. That’s worth something, probably more than a few dimes in a stock price.

The FDA is the key approval agency, is known for its bureaucracy, and yet is also just another collection of people. The FDA allows another option for patients, “Expanded Access (Compassionate Use)“,

“for patients may be able to receive the product, when appropriate, through expanded access.”

It is easy to imagine how frequently they are asked to allow such treatments. Whether it would involve Asteria’s treatment is unknown, but is at least possible.

Regardless of the regulator issues and the investment implications, this is the sort of news that encourages my optimism. As dire as some things seem in the news, our civilization continues to progress. That progress happens because of innovators and courageous people. The patient who signed up for the treatment had a lot to gain, but it also takes courage to be subjected to experimental procedures. We are not perfect. Unintended consequences happen. In this case, the consequences were positive. Good.

There is great hesitancy in society. We’re recovering from the traumas of 9/11 and The Great Recession (what I call the Second Great Depression). Worries about terrorism continue. Worries about another economic collapse are reinforced by various data, which shifts the market psychology to caution, which slows the economy, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Corporations are issuing bonds at negative interest rates because losing a little money is preferable to losing more in conventional investments or losing more by spending on R&D that never finds a receptive market.

And then, something like this happens.

Stem cells aren’t the only things that may disrupt entrenched industries. In my optimism I consider the probability that every industry can be disrupted in such a fashion that either startles the conventional companies to move or replaces them with more agile competitors. Driverless cars, virtual reality, 3-D printing, renewable energy, and more are causing positive change. Health care treatments require a bit more work and caution, but to me it looks like disruption could happen there, too. Stem cells have the potential to do far more than regrow nerves. I don’t know the limits, but I suspect they aren’t constrained to accident cases and may extend to other parts of the body. Organs?

As one friend and fellow investor who understands my position and portfolio observed, the stock would have to go up about a thousand fold for me to be able to retire. I don’t expect that kind of performance. If it happened, Asterias’ market cap would be about $160B. Possible, but improbable.

In the meantime, I’ll cheer their anecdotal success, hope for measurable confirmation, and would definitely be pleased with more people enjoying such positive results. And, I’ll thank Asterias for a yet another reason for optimism in a world that could use more of it.

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Five Years From September 2016

The following post will be the straight line of a joke where we get to hear the punch line five years later. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a conversation and series of meetings about the economic sustainability of Whidbey Island. Speculating about the future can rarely be anything more than educated guessing; and yet, that’s what we all have to do. So, here is a rather extemporaneous extrapolation of the environment for small towns, particularly like those on south Whidbey, about five years from now. Let’s see how frugal the world will be. I can already hear my future self laughing at me.

Let’s look five years back. This incarnation of this blog goes back that far. I didn’t realize that. The world was in the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression) and I was in the depths of my Triple Whammy. Hopefully, optimism would see us through. Housing prices were terrible, and I was about the enter the struggle to keep my house. People were avoiding the stock market even while Quantitative Easing was supporting economy but also the creation of wealth derived from wealth. Aside from the economic issues, most things would feel the same; right?

Things we take for granted, now. It is hard to see what has changed in the mainstream because each change is so gradual. Film, tape, mail, landlines, tv, newspapers are fading. People go into withdrawal if they can’t connect to the Internet (which is now so ubiquitous that we aren’t supposed to capitalize it anymore.) Shopping malls are no longer growing. Urbanization is claimed as a solution to many environmental and societal ills. Staycations have become common and don’t need to be justified. Who wants to deal with TSA?

Looking forward (and an ominous typo just went by – looming forward), requires many assumptions, which is why futurism is rarely accurate. I’ll assume there are no great economic, environmental, societal, or existential calamities. One asteroid can ruin your day, eh? I’ll also assume that we won’t be dealing with fifth forces of nature, aliens, digital singularities, or breakthroughs in consciousness. The last five years haven’t had them; let’s assume the next five don’t. (Part of me says, Ha!, but go ahead and continue.)

Five years from now
Urbanization has helped create a phenomenal real estate market in Seattle. I should know; I get to write about it. (Curbed Seattle) Seattle’s economy is growing faster than most because technologies are being advanced and accepted, established companies like Amazon are growing spectacularly (just check out the spectacle of their domed offices), and Silicon Valley has become so expensive that businesses and jobs have been moving here. Hiring has drawn so many people that Seattle can’t hold them all, nor can King County. Neighboring counties are now seeing median house price increases of over 20% annually. Unless Silicon Valley gets cheaper, or the Internet breaks, the trend is likely to continue. Right now, Whidbey’s real estate prices are relatively low; but if even a small fraction of new residents or displaced mainlanders decide to shop for houses on Whidbey, the prices could rise dramatically. Small supply, relatively easy access to the city, and non-negotiable growth limits like water and septic could drive prices into unsustainable territory. One response is to allow unconventional housing options to become more conventional. Tiny houses drop the price by lowering the square footage. House sharing divides the expenses, effectively turning some homes into boarding houses. Whidbey is an island, one that has surprisingly few, if any, houseboats. Rafts of neighborhoods could provide housing for the folks who can’t afford the land that would fit under a tiny house. At the same time, waterfront and view properties would head in the opposite direction, mimicking the wealthier islands. One EPA study reinforces the notion that the density won’t change, which suggests the housing will diverge between those who maintain the island and those who can afford luxurious homes. Island wealth and real estate tax revenue will probably increase.

Currently, tourism is a big business; which is necessarily very seasonal. There are plenty of service jobs in the summer, and a dearth for the other nine months. Great paychecks and tips for three months don’t look as rich when divided by four. There are a few other businesses on the south half of the island, but boat builders and the phone company can’t employ everyone. A large portion of the island commutes to the mainland because that’s where the jobs and the money are. That may change. Ten gigabit internet service is already being installed, far ahead of the rest of the nation. I know several people who work remotely from the island. For them, good upload and download speeds are vital. As the adoption and awareness of the high speed internet expands, some Seattle-ites may decide to relocate; and some commuters may realize it’s easier to work from home rather than the office – and they may be able to make the case because island speeds are higher than mainland office speeds. Switching commuters back to island workers means they spend less on commuting, they spend more on the island, and time wasted in traffic is traded for time invested in family and community. Coworks become important, as do businesses that provide the goods and services offices need. Talent gets concentrated rather than diffused. Whidbey can become a destination for clients who get to meet in more pleasant surroundings. I’ve seen that happen within my business. Come to Whidbey, relax, get some work done.

Buy local. That’s worth repeating. Buy local. Thanks to some advocates who kept out brand names and big box stores, Whidbey has an almost complete collection of stores, most of which are owned and run by locals. But, there’s a price to pay for shipping things to the island. Check prices on-island versus off-island and see a premium. Things that are built here, however, aren’t as likely to deal with that.  As technology develops, 3-D printing has matured to the point that a few thousand dollars is enough to build a device that can create custom items within a few hours. It may take less time and money to download and print something than it does to take the ferry and drive to the mall. At the same time, things printed here can be shipped anywhere. One entrepreneur is doing this in 2016. By 2021 the capability may be so common that a printer is a natural part of a home, just as ink-jet printers were. More money flowing within island businesses makes the island more affordable and sustainable. The Organic Farm School has just started, and within five years will have added at least some inspired farmers and ranchers to the area.

Whidbey Island relies on ferries. Hopefully, the new terminal will be open by 2021, making it easier to get on and off the island, as well as into and back from the city. That change may not be as significant as the introduction of driverless vehicles. A taxi fleet is already being launched in Pittsburgh. A fleet of taxis picking up islanders and taking them to the ferry would free up a lot of parking lot space, reduce the number of cars on the road and in the waiting line (waiting for the ferry can stretch to three hours), and dramatically change an already supportive mass transit system. Bad news for taxi and bus drivers, though. With more virtual work going on, people may be more concerned with power and Internet outages than potholes. If the income bifurcates as the wealth may, more people may be relying on bicycles and whatever mass transit exists.

The fancy name is demographics, but the issue is people. Without people, the island gets to revert to nature; but that’s probably not going to happen in five years. Whidbey’s population is old. The last time I checked, I was the median age – and I’m collecting a pension. Granted, it is an early accelerated pension, but you can read those details throughout this blog. People define culture. Islands tend to create intentional communities. On the mainland, a person’s neighborhood may be decided by their job and commute. On islands and in small towns, people decide to live there and then figure out how to make it work. Retirees have an easier choice. Artists are passionate about picking their places. For decades, Whidbey has been a community that is a mix of retirees, commuters, artists, and others who found a place to lead an alternative lifestyle. Whidbey is going through a generational change, just like many small towns. Families who lived there for generations begin seeing the next generation look elsewhere. Older folks stay. Younger folks leave. Schools empty and hospitals get busy. As the older generation departs, taking a support network with it, younger people eventually move in. But in Whidbey’s case, the next generation may be less likely to be artists and such. They will be faced with affordability issues that if not resolved will require them to be more entrepreneurial, more concerned with income and expense than meditation and expression. The character of the community may change simply because choices that were available fifty years ago won’t be available in five years.

As I said, this is an extemporaneous list. The conversations we’ve been having about the introduction of 10 Gigabit Internet service prompted me to write this post today; but the topic is always on my mind. Technology is changing. My community is changing. Houses, schools, jobs, are all going to change as well. The changes in the next five years have the potential to be much larger than the changes from the last five years. High speed Internet may enable significant moves to affordability through jobs and shopping. Other, less technological initiatives can have large influences, too. New tax codes for farmers, new zoning regulations that allow tiny houses or houseboats, common meeting areas for nomadic workers can strengthen community and the economy simply by deciding to accept that the world is changing and peoples’ needs are changing. The personal choices for non-retirees, however, may be very similar to the same frugality that defines rural lifestyles. Don’t assume needs are taken care of. Respect them. Then, as resources allow, enjoy luxuries.

I enjoy playing with such ideas. As one friend put it; “How do you keep all that in your head?” It’s easy because I enjoy it. I’m also enough of a student of history to know that something else completely different will happen. I hope I’m right that in September of 2021 I’ll be laughing at my guesses because life turned out to be better than I could’ve imagined. Stay tuned.

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Listen To The Quiet Ones

This week has been a series of fascinating meetings. Only some of them are billable, but every meeting has been interesting. Keep in mind I am easily entertained. Gregarious is good because it is energizing, to a point. Interactive is good because otherwise a meeting becomes a lecture instead of a conversation. Bombasts seem to think they’re in style, though considering what the media covers I can understand why they might think so. And yet, a trend persists. The quiet ones, the people who are economical with their words, and frequently their way of living, are also frequently the ones who heard the most, thought the most, and made the deepest insights. As in meetings, so in the rest of life. The quiet ones are getting a lot done.

Anyone who has been to one of my classes or presentations know that I am happy to talk. My fear of public speaking was obliterated by teaching kids class in karate. They’re a tough audience that you don’t want to turn your back on. When I’m hired as a consultant, I switch from speaking to listening. That comes as a surprise to many, but it is the most effective tool I have for understanding what someone wants to do – and not just what they say they want.

One of my favorite listeners was an expert aerospace engineer at Boeing. He had decades of experience. Sat in the back of the meeting. And listened. He answered if he was called on, but he didn’t seek the stage. He was excellent at the concise summary. He also had a sense of humor. After absorbing a variety of insights, he’d find the core, and in about three sentences state the situation, the assumptions, identify any that were influential but only as nice ideas and wishes, and then describe the most pragmatic solution and action that met most of the needs. He deflated lots of management’s ideological bubbles, and softened it with humor. They didn’t like that, but he was right so often that they had to listen to him.

He’s not the only one. At a meeting a few days ago, several of us were discussing the economic sustainability of communities like Whidbey Island: part-retirement community, part-bedroom community, part-artist community, part-alternative lifestyle community. As we’re seeing throughout the US, housing is becoming less affordable. No state has a minimum wage that supports rent of a reasonable two bedroom apartment. In some places like Seattle, even studio apartments don’t meet the 30% of revenue criterion. Communities are only sustainable if the people who work there can live there. I mentioned tiny houses because I am a fan, but also because I write about them for Curbed Seattle. Cabin by AngelaIt was interesting hearing the conventional perception of tiny start with 800 square feet and the meet resistance when I pointed out that the norm for tiny houses is 128 square feet. The concept that anyone could raise a family in one was dismissed, even though people have been doing that for years. I didn’t press the point because resistance to new ideas can become entrenched when the departure from the norm exceeds a paradigm – regardless of reality.

And then the quiet one spoke.

Amongst a table of impressive people, one with more authority than others quietly interjected that they’d been homeless two years ago. Being homeless resets one’s expectations. Quibbles of square footage are details. A roof, any roof, is a major improvement. That takes care of the rain. Walls provide protection from the wind. A door provides protection from other people. Heat is greatly appreciated, and puts death at a distance. Water from a faucet can feel like a luxury when compared to collecting whatever you can. Being able to piss and poop is something we all must do or die. Add some electricity, and almost all of the comforts of home are available. Square footage is a consequence. All of that can fit in under 128 square feet, but that’s a convenient place to draw the line for reasons too detailed to get into here.

The incremental improvement from homeless to a tiny house is far greater and much more appreciated than the improvement from one mansion to another, and costs far less.

There are more than enough things for us to work on, on Whidbey, in the US, in the world. The bombasts grab the attention; but don’t get nearly as much done as the people who are too busy doing things to get around to telling anyone about it. A group of people on Whidbey already addressed affordable housing, at least for them, by creating a neighborhood of tiny-ish houses. Others are collecting fruit and distributing it to food banks and people in need. Others improve the communication within the community by starting email lists, Facebook groups, and informal gatherings. I’m a peripheral member of at least two member-less unorganized organizations that see something to do with bicycling or dancing and somehow hold classes, memorials, dances, and support sessions simply by deciding to do it, regardless of publicity.

I marvel at the media as they talk about politicians as if the politicians actually do anything. I’d like it more if the news about a disaster was about the people providing the relief than on whether a dignitary arrived. Politicians may represent a constituency, but I’d rather hear from the constituency than the politician, and rather hear from the ones working on the issues than from the ones holding the signs.

Advocacy is necessary; but for people trying to get something done now, immediately, I suggest finding someone who’s already working on the issue, someone in a similar situation, someone everyone else may be overlooking. They’ll be the quiet ones, and they probably have the most to say – even if it only takes a few sentences.

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Almost A Day Off

Pardon me as I type a few words and then step aside to mix a drink. – OK. I almost took today off. Grand plans. Gods laughing. You probably know how it is. I recently resolved to take at least one day off a month, at least through October. A good idea. It almost happened. Instead, I decided to do something radical, I worked a bit, rested a bit, got a few chores done – and cancelled all my plans that sounded grand, things that I should do on a day off. It was that ‘should’ that changed my mind and reminded me of some frugal fundamentals. So far, my abandoned plans have worked out well, and the day isn’t over, yet.

It is August, a month when, despite common perceptions, Seattle becomes one of the driest places in the US. Rainfall so far is 0.16 inches. Evidently, even the deserts in the Southwest get more. That’s an easy bar to clear because one good downburst can produce more than that; and Seattle gets fewer downbursts than almost anywhere. Don’t worry. We’ll make up for it real soon. With weather like that, it’s a great time to head into the hills and hike. That was my plan that I wrote about in July. August is even better for hiking. The dry weather means the mosquitoes run out of breeding grounds. Summer rules, and the days are warm. No rain, no bugs, warm air, and views stretching for miles – if you can climb to them and if the dry weather hasn’t kicked off forest fires. The region is dry enough that even the Olympic Mountains, home of rainforests, is burning.

My plan was to hike to Surprise Lake,DSCN1893 and maybe Glacier Lake above it. Sure. Not a problem. I’ve been there before. It would be good to get back; especially, if I had enough time to climb to the ridge over the lake and see the interior of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. To hike it right means two nights at the lake. Hike in. Set up camp. Spend one day roaming and relaxing. Hike out the next morning. Work two half days and take one day off in the middle, and it all fits my bizarrely Typically Atypical Trimbath Workday. I’ll get to it. I’ll get to it. That’s what I kept saying throughout the month; but I was busy finishing up a significant study, presentation, and web site redesign for one client while investigating several intriguing new initiatives with some fascinating folk. In the middle of the week I realized the end of the month was less than a week away and my schedule was almost fully booked. That’s okay. I could squeeze this in. I said I should.

Plans meet reality. The only time slot open was the weekend. Get the rest of my work done. Find time to pack. Check out a few worrisome bits about my truck. Then jump from work to pack to drive to hike to camp to climb to return and get back to work. Sounds relaxing, eh? And yet, I almost did it. The main thing that stopped me was the reality of the weekend. Even if I switched destinations to an easier hike, I’d be camping on a Saturday in August. One thing I learned from writing a series of books about the CascadesScreenshot 2015-01-20 at 16.26.46 was that Saturdays in August are busy. Duh. Imagine hiking up 2,700 feet and 5.5 miles in just to find that all the campsites are taken. Last year I tried a hike like that and found four dozen vehicles at the trailhead for a lake that had fewer than a dozen tent sites. Alpine areas are fragile, and a lack of tent sites means a long hike back out. That didn’t sound appealing. I postponed those plans. In only two weeks, Labor Day would be past and the crowds would be gone.

Fortunately, there’s always more than enough to do on the quiet island that is Whidbey. I won’t list the weekend’s events because it would be hard to know where to stop. I will, however, include one example I looked forward to: the Island Shakespeare Festival, pay-as-you-can performances of Billy’s plays. I can afford that. I don’t even need to know which play they’re performing. I’ve never seen a bad show there. For a variety of reasons, I prefer to bicycle to their circus tent. Parking is easier (not that that’s an issue), and I get a workout. I usually avoid the Saturday performances because they are so popular; but I could make an exception. And yet, I didn’t; and it had nothing to do with them.

I need a day off. I continue to work to my slightly modified Rule of Seven where I take off one day every two months, with the recent exception. My productivity is fine, but it takes more effort than it should. My client base is basically unchanged, and my revenues are basically unchanged, as well as my expenses. A small improvement in my business can mean a big improvement in easing my anxieties; but for now, it pays to work. From the long list of things to do on a day off (of which I’ve only listed two) I realized that few seemed to fit my mood, schedule, and finances. The philosophy of frugality centers on concentrating on value. If an experience looks valuable to everyone else, but doesn’t feel like it is providing value; then reconsider. Maybe it means doing it anyway, but in a new way.

A friend instilled in me a motto that is very useful in turbulent times that I’ve experienced: hour by hour, day by day. Yes, it is good to plan; but sometimes the best thing to do is to take each hour as it comes, each day as it arrives.

Last night, instead of creating a strict schedule I did the opposite. I decided to take each hour of the new day as it came by. There was enough time to get in a hike, if I wanted. I could make it to the play, if I wanted. I could steer myself to any of a long list of options.

This morning I woke, and rolled back over for an hour. After breakfast, I realized I wanted to check in on the world so I might as well do my regular newsfeed for PretendingNotToPanic. From there, I was curious about the software trials we’ve initiated at the museum, so I worked at that for an hour or so. Thanks to some extra time yesterday, I was already done with my work for Curbed. It was lunchtime, I knew I could rush and pack and hike and camp and climb, and I didn’t. Instead, in a very relaxed fashion, I puttered. There were six hours before the performance, five if I allowed for the bicycle commute. I took a Clarity Break, as described by Steve Smolinsky, a practice I’ve always done but for which I am glad now has a name. After a short break, weeds were pulled, gardens checked, an operating system updated, a nervous truck repair handled with far less cost and fuss than I imagined, read the recent edition of The Economist, plus had a nap or two. By the time I was done, it was too late to bike to the play, and that was okay. I decided to take the time and write this post while a simple dinner slow-cooked its way to doneness and some fine aromas.

I will take a day off, honest. But, it can be more valuable to break convention, challenge assumptions, and oddly enough, take a break by getting some work done. The next slot in my schedule isn’t until September, but that’s only a few days away. Then, when I take that time I won’t be as worried about weeds, a truck overheating, or delays in my clients’ projects. The hike will be quieter and less crowded. The plays will continue for another week or two. August will be gone, but I prefer September. Maybe I’ll do something really radical instead and take two days off.

Now, pardon me again because dinner is almost ready, I’ve barely touched my drink, and I have a stack of movies and books to pick from for the evening. Popcorn may even be involved. Ah, luxuries.

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Selecting a Catalog Management System

As many have asked, “What is it you do, again?” Here’s an example of some work I enjoyed – that also potentially saves a client $300,000 and several months of development time. A case study in a make versus buy software development project for a small museum (that’s tackling big ideas.)

HCLE Virtual Museum - the blog

Selecting a Catalog Management System: A Make-Versus-Buy Case Study

We recently completed a comparison of about two dozen software packages in an attempt to meet our museum’s needs for an asset, collection, and catalog management system. Catalog management systems provide ways to add and organize items, describe them with metadata, and make it easier to sort, search, and manage them as a series of collections. Our comparison included a make-versus-buy decision because we have also been developing a custom software solution internally called the Catalog Maintenance System. Our decision-making process is presented as a case study describing how we assessed various commercially available solutions, our selection criteria, and our tentative decision. Hopefully, our experience will be useful to other museums and similar organizations.

A good catalog management software solution is especially important to a virtual museum, like HCLE . Almost every museum, library, archive, and collection needs some way to keep track…

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Whidbey Writers Workshop 2016

Well, someone’s got to do it and it might as well be me. I suspect that’s the line that’s gone through the minds of so many entrepreneurs and artists. Sometimes the best way to get an idea started is to try it – and then find out how it should be done better. Do that enough times and eventually I’ve found that either I get much better at it, or someone else decides to step in and show how they think it should be done. Talk prompts talk. Action prompts action. So, instead of just talking, I decided to act. Actually, several of us decided to act; which is resulting in a workshop for writers on Whidbey. At the same time, similar inspirations are happening with coworks and a few other items. Now we get to see who helps and who is helped.

Four years ago, Molly Cook, Wynn Allen, and I held a weekend workshop for modern self-publishing. Two days of talks, discussions, and strategizing with about a dozen writers. Some where beginners. Others had completed manuscripts and dismal experiences with publishers. It was fun; and evidently, useful.

I haven’t checked lately but as I recall, in 2000 there were about 35,000 self-published titles through print-on-demand presses; and about 250,000 traditionally published titles. About 15 years later, the number of traditionally published titles was about the same, but over 500,000 titles were self-published through print-on-demand and e-books. Publishing changed.

My first book, Just Keep PedalingJust Keep Pedaling, was published on a print-on-demand (POD) press in 2002. Evidently, I was early in the industry. That book continues to be one of my two best-sellers. Must be something about bicycling across America that folks find interesting. Maybe it’s the chihuahua story. Nah. Probably the bit where I was chased by a house, yes, a house, not a horse.

For a variety of reasons, we didn’t repeat the event. We tried, but instructors moving off the island is a detriment.

About the same time, and with a much longer lineage, there was a famous writers conference on the island: the Whidbey Island Writers Conference. Catchy and clear title, eh? I enjoyed it, and always wanted to rename it to the Whidbey Island Publishers Conference because the focus was on traditional publishing. Agents and editors ruled the stage. It was popular because it provided useful information, great contacts, and fun networking. Alas, that went away with the closure of the local writers association. It was far grander than our event and attracted people from around the country with a few extras who dropped across the border. Glad there wasn’t a border wall to keep them out.

Advocates and entrepreneurs watch and listen for opportunities for supply and demand. With the closure of writers association, many people stepped up and took over various projects and tasks. If you want to see how active a group of enthusiasts can be, check out and search of writing events on Whidbey. Pattie Beaven (aka @Earth_Fit), moved to the island for the writing community, witnessed the collapse of the organization, and introduced the writers to a new way to gather. No official organization required. Very cool. Almost all of the functions handled by the previous organization were picked up and championed by individuals. Come to the island now and find plenty of social, supportive, and collaborative endeavors. Of course, considering Whidbey, walk into almost any coffeeshop or library and see a few folks working on manuscripts or screenplays regardless of a group. It’s a very creative place.

It is understandable that no one picked up the task of creating a writers conference. That takes a lot of money, dozens of volunteers, and a major commitment of time and energy. I didn’t want to see any longer gap than necessary, though; so, welcome to the Whidbey Writers Workshop, that just happens to have the initials WWW. That shouldn’t confuse anyone. (Sarcasm) The workshop is based on a simple concept: Whidbey has an impressive community of writers, and some of have something to share and know how to share it.

Four of us can fill a day of presentations that reach from getting started with your writing through publishing your work.

Just Write: Jumping Into The Flow – by Jo Meador
Revising Your Own Work – by Deborah Nedelman
Writing for the Internet – Sean Keeley (@SeanKeeleyIsMe)
Modern Self-Publishing – Tom Trimbath

Local writers spread the effort of teaching. Local writers hopefully benefit from the effort. The teachers learn from the other teachers. The students learn from the other students. And, we all get to demonstrate that Whidbey has an active enough writing community that what was could be again – regardless of official designations and incorporated organizations.

If nothing else, launching the idea will inspire others to suggest, and maybe act upon, possible improvements. There have already been (humorous) suggestions about fixing the start time. Evidently, 8:30 is too early for some writers. Some writers understand caffeine. Others don’t. Of course, Hemingway understood alcohol, but we can’t have that. Hunter Thompson understood the rest, but we don’t want any arrests.

While the workshop is being developed, other initiatives are inspiring other folks. Now that the South Whidbey Commons has opened their coworks, hours of conversations have been started about variations on the theme. After all the initial talk, one organization acts, and the others realize the opportunity and offer variations on the theme. The nice part about the South Whidbey community is that they are sharing the conversations to turn potential competitions into collaborations. If everyone has something else to offer. Great! Find ways that let everyone, including the coworkers who are customers, to benefit.

Hosting an event like the Whidbey Writers Workshop is something I decide to do because I think it is useful. I arrange it as a for-profit venture because my finances encourage me to respect and value my and others time and experience. The passion for ideas and people comes first, then I find a way to make it sustainable. Maybe we’ll attract a crowd, in which case it will be good that I’ve arranged for a second facility.

And, when I inevitably hear about ways to “do it right” or “make it better” or “get out of the way”, I won’t be surprised and will probably be pleased; especially, if the conversation is about collaboration rather than competition.

Stay tuned. Show up. I know I’m looking forward to it.

Whidbey Writers Workshop 2016 icon

A Whidbey Writers Workshop
Saturday, November 5th, 8:30-4:30
South Whidbey Commons

There’s always something to learn. It’s good to practice old skills and learn new ones.

Whidbey has an impressive community of writers.
A few of us decided to put together a Whidbey Writers Workshop for Whidbey writers by Whidbey writers.
This will be a simple forum for a few classes ranging from basic writing skills up through making your work public.

Just Write: Jumping Into The Flow – by Jo Meador
Revising Your Own Work – by Deborah Nedelman
Writing for the Internet – Sean Keeley
Modern Self-Publishing – Tom Trimbath

Price: $160 for the entire day or $50 per session

Update: $120 for the entire day if registered by the end of September.

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A Typically Atypical Trimbath Workday

One of the hardest questions for me, and I suspect other members of the Gig Economy to answer is, “So, what do you really do?” Even the simple version of the correct answer takes too long. The polite answer is much shorter, but can also be so generalized to seem evasive. One of the advantages of having a blog, however, is having a place to answer deep questions, or at least finally have one place to show how much the work world has changed for me, and undoubtedly for others, in the last twenty years.

Even with an unlimited word limit, I will make a few generalizations to keep from boring you and to let me finish early enough to eat while it is light out, maybe even with the Sun above the horizon. So, I’ll skip the email minutia. If you want details on specific tasks, ask. You might find something useful in the answer. And, I’m not going to chastise myself for not including everything. The real contrast is between current reality for nomadic workers and the old reality of the corporate cubicle environment. Believe it or not, what follows is my following my passion for people and ideas. Helping people get things done and spread their message is immensely gratifying; and evidently, I’m reasonably good at enabling uncommon, inventive, creative, and entrepreneurial ideas. If no one has ever done it before, great!

I’ll understand if you skip ahead to the Conclusion.

Before launching into anything else, check the emails, phone messages, texts, and social media notifications to see if anything is going to change my day. Emergencies and opportunities arise at any time, and someone may have asked for help while my computers, phone, and eyelids were closed.

Pretending Not To Panic
“News for people who are eager and anxious about the future” This is one of my initiatives. That’s another way of saying I don’t get paid for it until it becomes established. It’s a news feed I started where I publish about a post a day about news that is either optimistic or pessimistic or insightful about issues that affect tens of millions at least, and frequently will affect the planet or our civilization. Climate, economy, technology, society, justice all are changing. Not politics! As one person put it, “How do you keep all of that in your head?” I read a lot; and evidently have broad enough interests that connections become evident. I have some ideas on how to build a business from my research, which for now is simply merchandise branded with “Pretending Not To Panic”. T-shirts, coffee mugs, and hip flasks are all I’ve developed so far. The benefit of my reading is a greater understanding of how my work and my clients’ work may be affected. The old world has gone away, though most folks continue to exercise old habits.

History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum
Finally, billable hours. I’m helping one of my clients, Liza Loop, develop a virtual museum devoted to the study of how computers and computing changed learning and education. The simplest scenario is the study of how teachers pioneered the use of computers and software, frequently unofficially. That was a fundamental shift in one of the foundations of civilization, learning. Now, learning has changed so much that we expect to teach ourselves new operating systems without any help because our phones upgraded overnight without warning. Acting as the Project Manager is my biggest gig, and one where I get to use most of my managerial skills: strategic planning, program planning, fundraising, communications, negotiations, etc. Like many of my gigs, it could become full time – if we find the right funding. Working on that.

Curbed Seattle
Writing personable real estate news is my second most regular gig, and probably uses the least of my managerial skills; but it is fun. Once or so a day, I write a few hundred words about interesting houses for sale in Western Washington. Tiny houses and off-the-grid are my faves, but I also get to write about mega-mansions, houseboats, and what-in-the-world-were-they-thinking. It’s fun because we can write from the perspective of someone who isn’t a buyer, a seller, or an agent. We get to say what others can’t. I also get to dive into data, which is where my essential geekiness gets to play. Market analyses can be dull, until you realize what it means for individuals instead of statistics. Besides, we also get to write about Bertha, the big boring machine creating a tunnel under Seattle. Bizarre.

Now that we’re past lunch, things get a bit more fluid. Yes, that was before lunch.

Without a doubt my least regular, but also most enjoyable gig is a series of small gigs helping lots of individuals pursue their passions. Need a development plan for an invention? Ok. How about a communications strategy for an advocacy group? Sure. Have too many options and no idea which to pursue? You talk, I’ll listen, and we’ll work out which works best for you. This also means sometimes simply helping someone set up a web site, edit their catch phrase, revise their social media presence, or pass along referrals to folks who can take them to the next step. Some days, there’s nothing to do, and I move on to other tasks. Other days, my mental transmission has to shift from international issues to local business concerns to discreet private matters. I’d like to do more of that because it is closest to my passion, and also the most difficult to describe. Usually when it happens, consulting happens in the afternoon, and gets a higher priority than almost anything.

Networking (@tetrimbath on Twitter)
In today’s world, the most powerful tool is available to the greatest number of people: social media. Networking has never been so easy, unless you were only interested in your neighbors in your hamlet. Almost every day I spend about a half hour checking my clients’ social media messages. Sharing is a good thing. I don’t mechanically share everything because that would look soulless, but I do try to amplify their messages as appropriate. It is something simple and easy that any of us can do for each other. If you really want to make social media work for you, be social and make sure it works for someone else, first.

Prospects and Projects
Here’s where it gets messy, but in a good way. Every day I work on at least one, and frequently several prospects and projects. Some are entrepreneurial. Some are for advocacy groups.

Today’s entrepreneurial endeavor was confirming the details of an event I’ve organized for November, a Whidbey Writers Workshop, a one day series of classes taught by Whidbey writers for writers on Whidbey. Three of us did something similar several years ago. It seemed like the time to do it again. The absence of the Whidbey Island Writers Conference was another inspiration. If we can’t have a grand conference, at least a few of us can offer a workshop.

One bit of advocacy was based on a sad event. A local bicyclist was killed in an accident with a car. A few of use from the completely unofficial Occupy Your Bike “organization” decided to create a ghost bike memorial. I drafted an article about it, and fact checked with local authorities. Others will take on the tougher tasks of preparing the installation.

A more pleasant bit of advocacy is in support of the local Senior Center. They’ve asked me to host a meeting, to which I finally said yes thanks to schedules synching, and about which I’ll know more about when I find out what I volunteered to do. I enjoy public speaking and meeting facilitation; so, sure. What am I supposed to do, again?

While I’m writing this post, I’m waiting to hear about another connection that may be entrepreneurial, may be for advocacy, could be both, and definitely sounds interesting. The local phone company is already installing 10 Gig Internet service on the island. That beats out most of, if not all of, Washington State. Evidently, I am now part of a technology forum that will help guide how the community leverages this unique resource to improve the sustainability of the local community and economy. Cool. That part isn’t paid. The entrepreneurial part may not be paid either, but one of the other forum attendees has an amazing 3-D printing business that I’d like to learn more about. It would be fun to write about it. It would be fun to (be paid) to help it out, too.

If you actually read all of this, I’m amazed. If not, simply realize how many lines of text you just scrolled by. Compare that to the list I would’ve produced when I was at Boeing in one of those “we’ll have to walk and talk between meetings because there’s no other time open on my schedule” kinds of jobs. There, the tasks were varied as well, but they lived within a narrow environment. There was a common core of goals, culture, and constraints. There was also a common core of compensation, even with the disparities between employees and managers. Everyone had a paycheck. Everyone had benefits. Now, my meetings range from 1%-ers to people trying to work out of poverty, from facts to feelings, from solving the world’s problems to figuring out how to get bills paid on time.

The Gig Economy works, sort of. The Gig Economy provides great opportunities but within great uncertainties. Every day contains far more unknowns than an 8-5 with 1 hour for lunch 5 days a week with 2-4 weeks off every year job. That fundamental shift in our economy and our society may be as significant as the fundamental shift I help steward when I work on the History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum. An increasing number of us are working in it, defining it, revising it, and hoping it will become sustainable. Predicting the future has never been highly successful; but it looks to me that days like this which weren’t typical before are becoming more typical now. What will be typical in another twenty years?

Hey, I finished in time to see the Sun meet the horizon! Looks like dinner at dusk – after I publish and share this post. Work, then food, then play – or at least sit still and stare at the horizon for a while.


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Buying A Bit Of GigPeak

It’s really only a little thing, this thing I did. Today I bought a little bit of one stock, GIG, the stock for the company GigPeak. Small actions can be big events when they signal a turn. I don’t know if that’s the case with this trade because I can’t predict the future; but it may be the sort of simple event that I’ll want to have recorded later. I paid myself by buying some stock, something I haven’t done in years. Years from now, we’ll see if it meant anything or nothing.

This blog exists for many reasons, but the main reason is as an extension of my book on personal finance, Dream Invest Live coverDream. Invest. Live. Economics and finance are changing so rapidly that I knew there’d be more to add, and I have. As the book was published, the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression) hit. Programmed trading, quantitative easing, negative interest rates, and high frequency trading swept in and redefined the environment. At least within my portfolio, I’m seeing at least three stocks where the company’s revenues rise by 30%, 50%, 60%, but the stocks went down by 20%. The short term nature of the investment world apparently is paying less attention to business fundamentals. My hope is that the long term nature remains where accumulated value is eventually recognized with appropriate valuations. Sooner or later investors realize a good opportunity.

This blog exists for other reasons, too; but particularly as a prelude to the sequel to Dream. Invest. Live. My story of Triple Whammies, Mortgage Farces, Backup Plans, and hopefully eventual recoveries has been a ride I’ve described before as From Middle Class to Millionaire to Muddling By. I’ve been on a roller coaster ride through America’s classes – and yes, America is not class-less. The ways we value people based on their wealth is pervasive, discriminatory, prejudicial, and counter to We The People. These blog posts are the notes about events that I’d probably remember inaccurately if I didn’t publish them for public viewing.

Today, I bought shares of GIG; and spent about as much as many people will spend on dinner tonight. That’s easier lately because Seattle is amazing prosperous, except when it isn’t.

There’s a basic concept in personal finance called, Pay Yourself First. In my interpretation, it follows: Spend Less Than You Make. I usually follow that with Invest The Rest. At this point, I am on the knife edge of spending what I make. My two main clients plus an temporarily accelerated pension mean I can pay almost all my bills, everything except self-employment tax. There’s an irony there. If I was making this much from a regular job my taxes would be covered – thanks to the employer who would be paying them, or taking them out of my paycheck.

Recently, two things happened. A variety of side gigs means I’m able to either pay down my debt or save for my taxes. I’ve been paying down the debt because the interest rate on debt is about 12% and the interest rate on savings is – ah – oh yeah, very very low in this new economy. As I wrote several days ago, partly in memory of my parents, I took about 10% of my inheritance to Pay Myself First. I got new tires. I’m getting new glasses. But, most of the money has been going to paying down the debt. And yet.

I’m a short term realist and a long term idealist. Reality has been somewhat pessimistic for the last few years. Many may consider that to be a massive understatement. While there is plenty to worry about in the future (go to for news for people eager and anxious about the future), I’m willing to invest in it.

If I respect myself, I should act on what I’ve learned. The investing community dropped GIG’s price from $3.42 to $2.04 within the last year, even as the company has become profitable and is growing revenues at more than 30%. Take last year’s revenues, multiply by Price/Sales = 6, and get a market cap of about $240,000,000. The current market cap is $134,230,000. That’s a nice possible return, and growing as the revenues grow. The Price/Earnings doesn’t make as much sense yet because they are crossing the line into profit, which means an earnings near zero which means ridiculous P/Es. Within a few quarters, they should have financials that finally fit into conventional analysts’ spreadsheets. A return on investment of greater than 12% is easy to justify with 30% revenue growth and much higher earnings growth, relatively.

Respecting myself may be admirable, but a heavy dose of caution is advised. Investing in small companies has become much more speculative. Old rules don’t necessarily apply. What may appear to be a temporary trend of increased automation and ultra-short term action may become prevalent enough to become permanent within the larger financial institutions. That’s why my main strategy is to pay down my debt. My fundamental optimism, however, is finally also recovering – which is why I bought back in, at least a little.

My role model for GigPeak is f5 (FFIV). F5 builds essential equipment for the Internet. I bought them as the Internet Bubble burst, bought more near the bottom, bought more as they recovered, and eventually sold to make the down payment on my house. The stock did so well that if I hadn’t sold I’d be able to buy this house for cash now. GIG may experience a similar course, misunderstood, dismissed because it was too small, ignored as the techies bought the products, then becoming successful within the perception of the investment community.

My role model for my optimism is my history. My investments began with purchases that weren’t much more than the price of a nice dinner. Eventually the profits from the sales were the size of a six-pack, dinner, a weekend get-away, an extended vacation, a new car, and almost a house.

I don’t know if that is happening now, just like I didn’t know it was happening at the time. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. Probably, something unexpected will happen instead. In any case, I’ll celebrate this event because it means I’m no longer standing still. I’m moving thanks to buying a little bit of GigPeak.

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Future Found At The Fair

It’s summer. Ah. It’s summer and the Island County Fair (actually the Whidbey Island Area Fair, but I like the old name) happens to happen about nine miles from my house. Of course I go to it. A frugal life is not about spending as little as possible, though sometimes it works out that way. And, having fun is sometimes the best way to connect with community, and maybe even create some business. And spot pervasive trends. All for $8.

For $8 I get to wander around:

  • Fair food (which should be a separate culinary category worthy of study),
  • amusement park rides that can fit onto a flat bed trailer (not like Kennywood Park at all),
  • the 4-H stalls (where I saw one finely coiffed person try batting away aromas that upset her sensibilities,
  • the commercial barn (where friends and strangers staff booths selling, advocating, and publicizing slices of America),
  • music (ah, but where’s a dance partner when you need one),
  • people, people, people (the best part of the show, particularly the major cuteness brigade.)

Where else are you going to see a yarn-bombed Bug?

The Island County Fair is just about the right size. There are grander fairs in the area, and if the Island County Fair tried to get that big it would no longer be just Island County. Too big and it takes to long to take it all in. Too small and it isn’t worth taking the time to take it in. The Fair hasn’t changed much over the eleven years I’ve been able to attend. Sure, regulars can highlight the nuances, but it remains a place to check on what’s happening. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to eat a corn dog, maybe an elephant ear (though not since I went gluten-free, sadly), or an over-stuffed baked potato. In about three hours I saw the continuation of traditions, noticed a few changes in fashion, and stumbled across two technological advances that couldn’t have been part of the Fair even a few years ago.

When a trend shows up at the Island County Fair, you know it is pervasive.

The Arts and Crafts building held the usual dioramas made for school projects. They have to be appreciated for what they are, creations in cardboard and tape with a bit of paint and glue. One unexpected competition was the duct tape challenge. What could you make from duct tape in a few hours? Whether it was brown paper or silver tape, I doubt I could’ve done much better. The surprise though, was the new sign outside: Robotics. DSC_6604It is now considered normal for kids to make robots, sophisticated robots that operate and compete underwater. I’d like to volunteer my time considering my degree in Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, but I suspect the kids know more about the practicalities. Of course, I could learn a lot that way.

When robotics have reached the Island County Fair competition it probably means they’ll be everywhere soon.

The other futuristic yet very current exhibit was the high-speed Internet service being introduced to the island. The local phone company, Whidbey Telecom, was demonstrating the high bandwidth service that is already being installed (but not in my neighborhood for a while.) In the booth, they were able to get over 9 Gig. The last time I checked my service at home it maxed out at 70 Meg. I pay extra to handle online meetings with clients (which just happens to mean I rarely have to watch Netflix or YouTube buffering.) That service is more than 100 times my current service. It will probably be more expensive, but I doubt it will be 100 times the price. Ah, but how much more will I pay? I’ll wait until I see the brochure.

Islands and any small town economies have been difficult. As I wrote recently about small town markets and economics, the best way to run a business is to have clients and customers who live outside the community. They tend to get a better price because island living can be cheaper than city living (at least in some ways). The small town economy is improved because money is introduced rather than simply recirculated. Frequently, the problem is finding and implementing a business model that matches the internal supply to the external demand. Especially for Whidbey, that quickly limits anyone selling any products that can’t be shipped easily. This is not the place for a car manufacturing plant.

Robotics and remote occupations minimize some of those issues while amplifying other aspects. One variation on robotics is programming. Build the robots somewhere else, write the software here. One variation on robotics flips that model. Getting things to the island can be more expensive, so use a robotic printer, a 3-D printer, to build things here. The students were demonstrating that, too. Ship over some material, and create what’s needed where it’s needed. If something novel is created (and this is a creative place), sell the information about how to create that creation. Remote occupations don’t even need machinery beyond computers. Provide high-speed Internet and anyone who can work from home can work from the island. Crank up the speed high enough and make it easier, more efficient, and cheaper to work from the island than from the city. Instead of trying to keep up with the competition, pass them and make those other communities the alternative and this community the preferred solution.

I’m particularly aware of the 3-D printing and remote business model because of my history. I was lucky enough to get to work with 3-D printing at Boeing in about 1990. My main clients are remote, and I’m very aware of the possibilities and limitations of operating a business from the island. Put the two together and I can see how Whidbey Island could finally have revenue streams that don’t rely on waiting on tourists. More people might even be able to afford to live here, even before they’re retired.

The Island County Fair is like many fairs, ostensibly there for fun but also purposeful showplaces of an area’s economy, sustainability, and a reminder of community. A hundred years ago, there was Fair food, rides, livestock, hucksters, entertainment, and people; but there was also technology: tractors, lighting, and maybe a phonograph. As much as county fairs seem like places to kick up some hay and catch an unfortunate whiff of a swine, they’re actually introductions to the future. On Whidbey Island, you can get that for the old-time price of only $8. That’s a bargain.

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Making Money From Whidbey

Windwalker beat me to it. I’ve been amused by Facebook’s promotions that want me to promote my business through Facebook promotions. That’s a lot of promotions. Windwalker had fun making fun when Facebook said they could reach up to 71,000 people in Greenbank, WA, a place with a very patriotic population of 1,776 people. Facebook tells me I can reach 330,000 in my town of Clinton, that is much bigger, 5,840 people.Screenshot 2016-08-03 at 15.56.05 As much as Facebook may have problems with math, the math for small towns reveals some problems for small businesses in small towns. It can be tough making money in a tiny town. Making money from a tiny town, as in ‘working from’, makes much more sense.

Windwalker Taibi and MaryJo Oxreider are dear friends who also happen to own an art gallery in Greenbank, WA on Whidbey Island: Raven Rocks Gallery. It is an eclectic fine art gallery that they’ve created around a theme of “Home to Whimsy and Wonder”. A visit is a mix of smiling at fun perspectives while also being impressed with artistry and expertise. (Her fantasy houses are a joy, and his ravens in love paintings are sweet. Or is it the other way around? Both.) They were nice enough to host some of my photo exhibitions (which sold reasonably well); but that may partly be because I helped paint the space before they opened.

It would be tough if they tried to run the business based only on the population of the gallery’s zip code. Even without knowing their expenses, I’m sure that making $1 per resident wouldn’t suffice. $1,776 is not a lot of money. Add the four zip codes for the south half of the island and find 17,567 people. So, $17,567 is a much nicer number; but, even if the gallery didn’t have any expenses, that’s not much of an income. Obviously something else is going on because they’ve been in business for at least 8 years. How do they and others manage?

Let me use myself as an example because there’s a lot less guesswork involved.

I was semi-retired when I moved to Whidbey. Prior to my divorce I was retired. (For details, read my book, Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover Even better for me, buy it.) Divide retirement by two and that becomes semi-. (That’s overly simplistic, but definitely a powerful influence.) This is also the five year anniversary of my Triple Whammy, a series of events that decreased my net worth by another 80%. My writing and photography efforts shifted from contributions to culture and chronicles of nature and society, to hopefully sources of income. They did well, but not well enough to meet mortgage payments and climbing health insurance costs.

The active work of trying to establish passive income wasn’t enough; so, I emphasized those professional skills I developed in helping manage research, development, design, and customer support while an aerospace engineer at Boeing. Check my consulting page, 1) to see how I can help, and 2) to see why consulting is potentially a better way to sustain a lifestyle while doing good work.

Whidbey Island looks like a good place for operating a consulting business. There are plenty of creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial people and therefore plenty of projects to help with.

During the worst of the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression), it wasn’t a surprise that establishing any new business venture would be difficult. I know people that lost more than 100%. I only eventually lost 98% while establishing my business, was relatively glad I hadn’t lost more, and genuinely worried for myself and others.

It wasn’t until I looked at the market I was trying to reach that the economics of a rural island became apparent. There’s plenty of wealth represented on the island, but like me, most of it came here to retire. Some local investment happens, but considering the billions that are represented, the local investments are relatively small, and understandable. Much of that wealth also has homes in several communities, and probably already has other purposes and goals.

Get back to those numbers from above. If I made about $3 from every person on the south half of the island, I’d be comfortably lower middle class. I might even be able to afford visiting a doctor. It is unrealistic to have that broad a business base, unless the business is a local utility. How about making $30 from 10% of the people? That’s more doable, and is probably the business model for barbers. Make $300 from 1% and that gets into the realm of most businesses like contractors. That 1% is 176 people, a sizeable, and possibly unmanageable customer base for one person. Make $3,000 from 17 people? That’s possible, but a lot of consultants live on the island which means they have plenty to choose from.

Facebook, however, claims it can reach 330,000 people in Clinton. Great! That is, however, 56 times the population. Make an average of $3 per person in that large of a population and skip past middle class and get busy celebrating being close to being a millionaire – as long as it doesn’t burn out the business owner.

People move to cities for many reasons; one of which is that it is easier to find jobs and start businesses there. There’s a greater population which means greater opportunity. It is a positive feedback cycle that grows itself, possibly to a fault. That fault was apparent to me when I lived in and around Seattle, and that was before its recent insane growth spurt. Median house prices of $666,000? Median rents of $2,300? That’s a caution from so many perspectives, especially that 666 thingy.

I am fortunate enough to have passed through some major disfortunate events and end up with a dramatically reduced mortgage. If I’d stayed in Seattle, I’d probably have to move. Through the bizarre circumstances I’ve passed through, I now have a much more affordable set of expenses. Getting the income to match or even exceed expenses is tougher.

The numbers are clear. That’s what I like about math. It is tough to make money on the island. It is tough to afford a lifestyle in the city. So, I try to make money from the island. I work on the island, but most of my income comes in from off the island. I’m making my money by working from my home of Whidbey.

Being willing to travel helps, though it hasn’t been required more than once a year or so. Being aware of the mathematical difficulty of islanders trying to survive by making money from islanders also helps. There are jobs and a need for consultants on the island, but the most successful islanders I know use Whidbey as an enticement, as a treat for any off-island client that wants to consult. Come to the island, get yourself out of your familiar environment, and find a new perspective while tackling tough decisions from a pleasing place.

February Reflects FebruaryWhidbey Island is a destination. Art patrons travel here to meet artists and buy their work. Creative people travel here to remove daily distractions while focusing on their projects in a supportive environment. Corporations, institutions, and organizations travel here in groups for retreats, seminars, and workshops. There’s a value in being a destination, but there’s a limit if the expectation is to find everything in one place.

Whidbey Island is an island; but there are many kinds of islands: geographic, economic, cultural, etc. Islands have strong identities because community is stronger when people can identify a larger percentage of the people they meet on the street. Community is strong, but don’t be surprised if to sustain a community it becomes necessary to work from it, not just within it.

I enjoy working with islanders. We speak a common language, or at least know many of the same ferry jokes. I enjoy working with people who live elsewhere; not just as a source of income, but as a source of fresh perspectives.

As for Facebook, I think they just proved that they don’t quite understand what community really means; but, I’m glad they’re providing us with straight lines and raw material for jokes. I guess I can promote that.

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