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.

Prelude
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.

Consulting
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.

Conclusion
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 PretendingNotToPanic.com 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),
    and
  • people, people, people (the best part of the show, particularly the major cuteness brigade.)

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

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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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An MVIS GIG Dilemma Slowly Solved

No need to rush. Wait long enough and dilemmas become clearer, or at least decisions become easier. Last year, I had a dilemma. In the last twelve months, I did little about it except pay attention. While my dilemma was about stocks, the lesson has more to do with patience and only moving when it is to my advantage to move. Within the last year, I’ve heard a lot, read a lot, saw a few things – and nothing much changed in the meantime. An opportunity to make a decision has arisen, and I intend to act. Some dilemmas are complicated, like in politics, what to eat for dinner, and trying to understand how to deal with other people. My dilemma is simpler. It only has to deal with personal finance.

Almost exactly a year ago I posted an article titled, “This Investor’s Dilemma MVIS V GIG“. I was invested in each of the companies, MicroVision (MVIS) and GigOptix (GIG). Each was getting close to potentially significant profitability, but it was hard to tell which would get there first. MicroVision’s management was known for speaking much and saying little; great stories with lots of pronouns and few details. GigOptix’s management was known for saying little, being too technical when they did communicate, and not communicating much. The company sizes were similar (~$100M). They even have a common heritage reaching back to an innovative set of researchers at the University of Washington. They were each making progress; but would they both continue to progress; and if so, which would progress first and further?

Because I interpreted MicroVision management’s communiques to suggest they would have several new revolutionary products out within the next twelve months, I bought a small extra holding in MVIS. The size of the purchase was small relative to the market, but about as large as I could afford within my budget. In particular, I thought they said there’d be a new product out in time for the holiday season. Not quite. A couple of new products were announced, but not launched. I think it is understandable that some, like me, could interpret ‘announced’ to mean ‘for sale’. Evidently, ‘announced’ means the manufacturer said something about a product that should be available, sometime. Note: That doesn’t mean the announcement is in English. That doesn’t mean the product will be for sale in North America. That doesn’t mean MicroVision will pass along the news, even though it is supposedly material and important to the operation and viability of the company.
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The products announced were a very nice smartphone with a MicroVision projector inside, and a stand-alone projector that doesn’t need another computer attached to it. The products were finally available for sale within the last few months. The Qualper smartphone was available sometime in June. The ViewSmart projector was available as of sometime in July. Both were several months of a delay. The details are unclear to me because I have yet to find clear communications from any of the companies involved, including the one of which I am a part-owner. Aside from the too-innovative robotic smartphone known as RoBoHoN that was made available for sale in Japan in May, there have been no other products launched. Innovative? Yes. Major market? No. Positively disruptive? No. Source of significant revenue and profits? No.

This week, MicroVision announced their quarterly profits. Product revenue was up 62% from last year. Sounds impressive. They made about $4.2M in the quarter. The stock fell from $1.75 to $1.56. That 62% sounds great, but it was from a too-small number last year. Within the call, management only discussed two customers, no significant new orders, and no projection that encouraged stockholders hoping for profitability. Several OEMs are expected to announce products; but now, more of us understand the glossary. As has been the case for MicroVision for years, “really good news” should happen within the next few months – again. Some day that will be proven true; but not as of July 2016.

This week, GigPeak announced their quarterly profits. Before I get into those, though, check the name. Whatever you want to call the company behind the stock called GIG, it has been growing for years through mergers, acquisitions, and internal efforts. Their technology enables high-bandwidth internet services like streaming and working within the cloud, but it is esoteric enough that most analysts and individual investors can find simpler companies to understand. The merger activity confuses the finances, with a similar result. For some reason, they also changed the name from GigOptix to GigPeak; which doesn’t decrease the confusion.

Back to GIG’s finances. For a company of a similar age and heritage, though a different management style, they have grown to making $15.4M in the quarter, 35% over last year’s quarter. They even earned $0.1M in the quarter. That’s profits. Imagine that. Not much, but profits.

MicroVision’s management convinces me that they understand the details of the technology and manufacturing, and the potential within the industry and the market; but they seem to lack news, communications, or any apparent dedicated efforts at sales and marketing, the things that make companies money. I know the officers and managers must be doing what they can, but it is evidently being done very quietly, so quietly that I could believe it is a major unfunded task at a critical time in the company’s development. Meanwhile, GigPeak’s management doesn’t say much, but at least they mentioned customers and sales in their press releases.

My parents taught me enough about investing for me to get started when I was about 19 years old. To honor that, I’m taking roughly 10% of my inheritance and investing it. That’s not enough to buy me a new bicycle, but it is enough to appreciate significantly considering GIG’s potential. MVIS’ potential is greater, at least according to my amateur research; but GIG is actually doing something now. Maybe MVIS will surpass it with one epic reveal of one of their mysterious NDAs. That’s why I’m holding onto the MVIS shares I already own. Now, it is time for me to give GIG another chance by adding to my holding.

Ironies exist. Since MicroVision’s announcement of 62% revenue growth, the stock is down 11%. Since GigPeak’s announcement of 35% revenue growth, the stock is down, yes, down, 7.4%. Of course, that sounds like something that is increasing in value while decreasing in price. Buy!

My dilemma is resolved and will be acted upon after I figure out how to make a deposit into an account that I haven’t added to in years.

Those other dilemmas, well, politics will sort itself out by early in November, probably; dinner will be resolved after I publish and share this post; and other people – that’s one I won’t rush because listening takes time. I wonder if the politicians have tried that, really tried that.

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Another Coworks Opens Again

Open and close, open and close. The concept of coworks on Whidbey continues to sputter to life like an outboard motor that is just about ready to catch. Each time is different. This time it comes with a bookstore and coffeeshop downstairs. The South Whidbey Commons has opened a coworks and I’m the first customer, again.

The South Whidbey Commons is an idea that makes a lot of sense. Provide a place for students to learn about work life, provide a place for people to meet, furnish it like a living room, and ring the walls with books for sale. (Many of which are used, but they sell new copies of the works of local authors, too, like me and mine.) It becomes a natural place to sit and relax. It also becomes a natural place for the nomads of the Gig Economy and the 1099 Economy to buy a cup of something to effectively rent a table for a temporary office.

Several months ago they asked me about the various coworks that I’ve used, including the one I proposed as a kickstarter campaign. They had an attic classroom that wasn’t being fully utilized. Could it be a coworks? The answer is always yes, followed by “but” or “as long as” or “especially if”.

A little more than a month ago we closed one of our discussions with me handing them a check for the rest of the month’s rent. A new coworks was created.

Putting a coworks in a commons must make sense. They use the same prefix, ‘co-‘; well, at least the same first two letters.

A coworks works best when there is a co-. For several days, it was a solo-works because I was the only one signed up and paid up. Non-profits, like the South Whidbey Commons, have certain processes and procedures to address, so the word didn’t get out until last week. Sorry I missed it. I would’ve blogged about it then. No matter, here’s the announcement that I missed.

South Whidbey Commons Co-Works is starting up.
Open during business hours 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM daily.
Monthly membership $60 Day Rate $10
Questions? 360-661-0969

Which was followed by;

Co-working is a style of work that involves a shared working environment, often an office, and independent activity. Unlike in a typical office environment, those co-working are usually not employed by the same organization.[1] Typically it is attractive to work-at-home professionals, independent contractors, or people who travel frequently who end up working in relative isolation.[2] Co-working is also the social gathering of a group of people who are still working independently, but who share values,[3] and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with people who value working in the same place alongside each other.
Co-working offers a solution to the problem of isolation that many freelancers experience while working at home, while at the same time letting them escape the distractions of home.
(wikipedia)
SWCommons is offering free WIFI, electrical outlets and a quiet work space in our upstairs classroom space, along with easy access to food, coffee and restroom facilities!

Evidently, there was one bit of confusion. Some saw “free” before “WIFI” and thought it might apply to everything else on the list. Nice deal if you can get it. The first notice is shorter but contains the data coworkers need most, the cost: $60/month or $10/day.

Every coworks is different, and non-profits have to be careful with expenses. For now, they’re starting small: a few tables and chairs, use of the space, freedom to bring in our own food and drink (as long as the main room customers don’t see us do it and get confused.) The main benefits are distance from the noise of the espresso machine (but drinks are just downstairs), more room than a cafe table (at least until the crowds show up), and a mutual expectation of at least some professionalism because there will be online meetings, necessary discretion, and also sharing of information and support. Two of my three biggest gigs were arranged while sitting in a coworks. In this economy, that’s farm more valuable than the monthly rental.

Each coworks had a different inspiration. Despite the phenomenal success in urban areas, each coworks has yet to firmly establish a self-sustaining community. Finding the right mix of services and fees for a coworks to succeed in a small town takes trial and error, and a bit of luck.

One idea, each initiative, inspires others. Now that the Commons has announced their opening, other entrepreneurs are asking me about what business services they could provide to the people working in the Gig and 1099 economies. Small towns go through generational shifts, which seems to be happening on South Whidbey. Younger people who can’t afford to live in Seattle are looking for solutions that allow them to both live and work on the island. The right set of services attracts other services. Langley,UBCC 070613 which is a tourist town known around the world, is also appealing to year-round residents. It may be that two or three businesses that serve business can establish a mutually supportive core that helps the locals who work via the Internet, while also providing an additional and therefore stabilizing revenue stream for the local economy. Ironically, some of the tourists who come here to relax will probably appreciate those same services when some urgent task arises back at their home office. Having something more than a mobile phone can be worth a lot.

Maybe the South Whidbey Commons coworks provides all of those services, or simply manages to plant that critical seed. It will take time to find out. That motor, that engine for an economy, may finally catch, do more than make a bit of noise, and help move things along. Pardon me as I keep pulling on that starter cord.

The 'Before' photo. Stayed tuned for what comes 'After'.

The ‘Before’ photo. Stayed tuned for what comes ‘After’.

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Balancing Hiking Costs And Benefits

Knees. My body is reminding me that I have two of them, they aren’t happy, and I shouldn’t be surprised. I have a confession to make. It has been about a year since my last backpacking trip. Please forgive me. I’m asking forgiveness from my self, because I know how much better I feel when I am hiking regularly. Once a year is regular, but too infrequent. As my finances improve, I intend to spend more time past the end of the road. As frugal as hiking is, it is not cheap; but the benefits far outweigh the costs – as long as I can pay my bills.

For those who missed part of my writing career, I wrote a series of three books about Washington’s Cascade Mountains. Each was about what Nature around the lake was like for twelve months. I visited once or twice a month, as conditions permitted, to basically compare wintry Wednesdays with summer Saturdays. Twelve Months at Barclay Lake was about an unofficial temperate rain forest. Twelve Months at Lake Valhalla was at the ridge crest where the lakes can be frozen more often than thawed. Twelve Months at Merritt Lake was past the pass and into the dry terrain where forest fires are too common. Three lakes along one highway create a cross section of nature.

Unfortunately, writing about and taking photographs of nature aren’t enough to pay for the hiking and skiing necessary to take the notes and collect the images. About seven years ago, finances suggested I hike and ski less. Through the Great Recession (or as I call it the Second Depression), I’ve managed about one overnight hike a year. Hiking seems cheap. Throw everything on your back and go for a walk. Sleep on the ground. Drink from a stream. How can that cost money? Permits. Gas. Food. Gear repair. And, the biggie, lost work time. Last year, I wrote about the cost of a two day hike. It was $86. The lost work hours equal about twice that.

And yet, I hiked.

You know it is time to take a break when more than one friend looks at you and says, “You REALLY need a vacation.” Like so many other pieces of advice: “Get a massage”, “See a doctor”, “Treat yourself to something nice”, the advice comes with a frequently forgotten caveat and suffix, “As long as you can pay your bills.” Thanks to an inheritance and an occasional extra gig, I have enough saved up to give myself a day or two off every month through the Autumn.

I write these posts to chronicle the reality of living in these economic times. It is easy to join the chorus of Nature cures all ills. It is also easy to join the chorus of don’t spend any money and don’t put yourself at risk. Within the 48 hours from Friday noon to Sunday noon, I swung through all of that.

To my friends who patiently listened to me rescheduling my normal routine and planning the trip, thanks. That went on for more time than it took to pack. Fortunately, oddly, two of my three major clients had hiatuses, and the third was very negotiable. The universe was giving me a hint. I’m learning how to take them.

The trip started off with a dark reminder of the daily grind I left behind. My route took me past Boeing’s plant for the big airplanes, just as the shifts changed. Ugh. Nasty traffic. People desperate to get somewhere else on a Friday afternoon. Bumper-to-bumper for miles. That’s when I smelled the burning plastic. My truck is 16 years old, but I only got it a few years ago. It has smells, sounds, and shakes that I can’t identify. I didn’t see any smoke, but the passenger window no longer would move. A mechanic had thrown an anxiety bone to me by talking about some extra work to do with the drive train or suspension – but they always do that. For miles I couldn’t find a place to pull off and back on to stop and check. I hoped the smell was from someone else’s vehicle. At least my tires were new.

Skip ahead a few dozen miles and I’ve finally managed to get to a USFS Ranger Station before they closed. After a bit of discussion of the remaining light, the length of the various hikes, and the length of the various access roads I decided on Dorothy Lake. DSC_6580The access road was long, but it had been serviced recently. The trail was only about two miles and less than a thousand foot elevation gain. If you think serviced recently means paved, Ha! They had done impressive work, but the potholes in the gravel road were big and deep enough that taking each slowly became a necessity. The 9.5 miles went slowly, eating into my remaining daylight. My fears of something burning were replaced with fears of something breaking.

When I got to the trailhead, I was relieved, hoped the truck wouldn’t get broken into (which they’d warned me about – more anxiety), and suited up for a hike that was a climb up a muddy and wet trail. My anxieties switched from worrying about truck breakdowns or breakins to Tom breakdowns or breakins. I was out of shape, and glad I hadn’t picked what I would’ve considered a moderate hike just a decade ago.

DSC_6556The trail was the transition. I’ve hiked it for decades. It was familiar. I was visiting an old acquaintance who hadn’t changed much, but who had been tended well. Instead of just mud and slick rocks, there were boardwalks and staircases. Many people had done a lot of work. After about an hour of wondering my heart and knees were going to make an ultimate complaint, I got to the lake. There were few photos because the misty air absorbed too much light, but I witnessed its primordial nature. In a bit of manifestation, I asked the world for the first campsite to be open, otherwise I might have to hike to the far end of the lake, another mile or so. There were 17 cars in the lot. The campsites could all be full. Marvelous. The first site was empty, and so were its neighbors. I had solitude on a busy weekend.

DSC_6570The next day was contentment and relaxation. No clocks. No obligations except the fundamentals of eating, drinking, reading, sleeping – and there was even a toilet nearby. Granted, getting to the toilet required climbing over a half dozen fallen trees, but at least it wasn’t over-used! The toilet, by the way, is a simple box over a hole; but, to anyone who has had to dig a trench latrine, it was luxury. I stayed in my tent most of the day because of the bugs. The site provided solitude, but it didn’t provide a breeze and the mosquitoes were hungry.

By the end of the day, I was physically aware of how tense I’ve been and still was, how my variety of gigs means continually evaluating my time, how distant I could be from the basics of life – even while I worked to attain, maintain, and sustain those basics.

Sunday morning I woke with the brightening of the sky. I couldn’t see the Sun, but the day was obviously beginning and I had work to do at home. I broke camp, packed up, and gingerly stepped down the staircases and along the rocks. A twisted ankle could be financially devastating. About 25 years ago I found myself helping a search and rescue squad because someone had stepped wrong, and he was a back country medic. Be careful out there.

Just like the relaxation of a vacation can be erased by passing through airport security, the drive home was done with a perceived wobble in the truck.

There’s probably nothing wrong with the truck or me, aside from our ages. As I said, I write this to chronicle what it is like to live through such economic times. Otherwise, selective amnesia rewrites history.

I know people who won’t hike because they tried it and found it didn’t match the Disney image so many portray. I spend a lot of time looking at my next step. In camp, there’s a lot of time spent providing the basics of shelter, food, water, and hygiene. Trips to the bathroom at midnight aren’t done without a lot of thought. Those are some of the costs.

The benefits far outweigh the costs, at least for me – as long as I can pay my bills. For the last several years, any small upset could’ve maxed out my credit card, effectively totaled my transportation, and had far worse impact than a trip to the shop. When I had more than enough discretionary income, an accident or incident would make me unhappy, but money would solve most problems. Now, I sit in the middle, able to hike, still vulnerable to realities and anxieties that aren’t easily swept away; but able to experience the benefits of being in Nature.

My camera was a bit dodgy and decided to limit how many photos I could take, but I pass along these few to show the large and the small things that made me smile, that took me out of the civilized world, that reminded me of the real world of Nature that civilization happens to sit on top of.
DSC_6560 DSC_6565 DSC_6566 DSC_6574 DSC_6577 DSC_6581 DSC_6590

Seventeen thousand years ago, the Puget Sound area was under 3,000 feet of ice. The glaciers retreated, scoured mountains and created lakes. Eventually life filled in as it could; forests in many places, but bare rock persists. Throughout the forest, which started from a few seeds, a wide variety of life lives, even those pesky mosquitoes. Termites will eat the entire forest. Bear, deer, and various cats roam for miles while squirrels ad chipmunks guard far smaller territories. Birds wing throughout. To sit in its midst is a marvelous reminder of what’s important, what I can and can’t control, and what exists even when I am at home typing on the computer. Sure, that slides into the sappy narrative about nature that so many tune out. Maybe they’ll find value somewhere else. I’m simply glad I know where I can find something I value, and find silly when I forget how much it is worth. I look forward to doing more hiking – assuming I can pay my bills. If nothing else, my knees might appreciate some ibuprofen or turmeric.

DSC_6590
For the curious, I also posted more practical trail notes over on NWhikers.net.

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Mysteries Investing In Real Goods

Real Goods is up over 100% in the last five days. That’s Real Goods as in the stock, RGSE, for the company Real Goods Solar, Inc. That’s not for real goods as in really good things, well, maybe but that’s a very subjective thing; one person’s real good is someone else’s real bad. But, that’s another story. I wrote a very short synopsis about RGSE in my Semi-Annual Portfolio Review because the company has been shrinking despite being in an expanding market. Somehow they were chasing away investors and not making profits in an industry and a technology that is in high and growing demand. I couldn’t find a definitive answer for the fall, but I suspect management in such situations. Now, the stock is rising, and I can’t find any news about that, either. Small companies can be the easiest and, paradoxically, the hardest stocks to invest in. Welcome to my exercise in futility and hope.

As I relayed in my other main blog, PretendingNotToPanic.com, solar power is becoming so inexpensive, is so much in demand, and has become so pervasive that it and wind are now seen as far more appealing than hydroelectric power. For decades, dams were the premier low-pollution choice for power. Solar was too inefficient. So was wind, but for different reasons. In 2015, the two combined added 118,000 megawatts of power while hydroelectric added only 22,000 megawatts. Solar power panels have increased efficiency, decreased cost, and have expanded their map of most affordable option. Solar power can be decentralized so well that individual buildings and homes, even street signs, can be electrified without tying into the greater grid. Tie into the grid, and switch from being an expense to being an income. That sounds like an easy business to be in. Evidently, not.

Real Goods Solar has been in business since 1978. I knew about them back then, and have followed them sporadically since. Thirty years ago, solar was a statement. It was inefficient, but people installed systems to disconnect in comfort, to demonstrate their desire to disconnect from Middle East and corporate influences and wars, and to experiment. Real Goods was there with a mail order business that provided everything someone needed to go off the grid: solar panels, batteries, converters, regulators, efficient appliances, tools and supplies for sustainable gardening – even tiny hydroelectric systems that fit in streams. After the boom and bust of the Internet Bubble, America Online’s ex-CEO got involved in the company, there was a merger with the alternative health care and healthy lifestyle company called Gaiam during which Real Goods wasn’t emphasized, then Real Goods was spun off as a separate company just in time for the recent boom in solar power. The emphasis was on equipping businesses and municipalities in subsidized areas, with a moderate return to the off-the-grid market. Good timing, or at least it should have been.

I bought and sold at various times as the company changed ownership. Strategically, I believed the company was going to be in the right place and the right time by getting there first and waiting for the trend to catch up with and then pick up the company and the stock. Through mergers, acquisitions, spinoffs, and reverse splits my holdings have fallen 87%. I bought some during the 2008 IPO, have held most, but sold some for diversification – because it looked like they weren’t as well managed as they could be, but held because strategies can change within one meeting or revelation. At the end of 2008, their market cap was about $60,000,000. When I published my mid-2016 semi-annual review, their market cap was $3,000,000. There are houses in my neighborhood that cost more than that.

If the company was barely making any money, such a decline in the stock price would make sense. For the last three years, they’ve regularly had revenues of more than $40,000,000. In 2015, they lost $10,800,000. Something just wasn’t right in either the company or the investment community. Maybe they simply upset the wrong fund manager.

And then a few days ago, something happened. On Friday, July 15th, the stock rose from ~$3.60 to ~$5.10 on increasing volume. I expected it to fall on Monday as if some rumor turned out to be groundless. The stock rose a bit, but more importantly, it didn’t fall. Today, July 18th, it rose over 49% to close at $8.21 on over 33 times normal volume. I wonder what July 19th will bring.
Screen shot 2016-07-19 at 7.12.39 PM
I didn’t just wonder. I researched. The first source: check for press releases for news the company wanted or needed to reveal – nothing. Check news reports for news that the company may have lost control of – nothing. Check the various stock discussion boards that I frequent (InvestorVillage.com, MotleyFool.com) – nothing. Check the Yahoo stock discussion boards as a last resort because it can be like wading into a drunken college party – nothing, except one post from someone else pondering the same question. Check Twitter for the company’s newsfeed (@RealGoodStore) – and find their last post was from a year ago; and check Twitter for the stock hashtag ($RGSE) – and find a few traders speculating on the move, but without a concrete news item. And yet, the stock is up 123% in the last five days. Do that for five weeks and I’ll be a happy investor. I don’t expect that to happen – but – nah – but – well – nah. And yet, it is a sign of hope.

If they can manage to simply breakeven on their $40,000,000 revenues, and if the investment community values them at a Price/Sales of 6, then the company would be worth $240,000,000, a 65-fold increase over today’s valuation. If, if, if.

Solar City (SCTY) has a Price/Sales of 6.16 and a market cap of $2,700,000,000, proving such revenues and valuations are possible. But, Solar City has lots of news and a celebrity CEO, Elon Musk. Of course, Real Goods had their own celebrity for a while in Steve Case, the ex-CEO of AOL. I’ll save the celebrity comparisons for later.

There’s a mystery in investing in Real Goods, at least for me, now. I prefer to invest in small companies because they are easier to understand and because they can eventually become big companies with valuable stock. Small companies can also be harder to track. They have less news, can decide to only reveal what is legally required, can have management that wants to hide mistakes, and are more sensitive to upsets. Some of that is true for large companies, but in those cases there are crowds of researchers and analysts uncovering stories. That’s also why I don’t invest in large companies, the competitors within the investment world have far greater resources.

Either someone uncovered a story within Real Goods that they’re buying into, or someone is convincing others such a story might exist, or the investment community has decided some stock listing criterion has been cleared, or this is all a fluke. I don’t know. I’d like to know. Eventually, I will know.

Because of the mystery, though, I won’t be buying into the rise, won’t be buying hoping the crowd is wise, won’t be buying until the mystery is resolved, or not buying at all. Mystery changes a stock from an investment into a speculation. Since the Great Recession (or as I call it, the Second Great Depression) it seems that the small companies I am invested in are saying less. Maybe they’re hiding their successes until they are certainties. In the meantime, it feels as if my portfolio has become filled with mysteries- at least for now.

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Chicken And Egg

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Within one lifetime that’s gone from being philosophical and rhetorical to proven and solved. The egg came first. Dinosaurs were hatching from eggs millions of years before evolution created the chicken. Sorry if I put a major crack in a favorite conversation starter, but at least we can celebrate a bit of progress. The catch phrase will continue. I regularly work with entrepreneurs, creatives, and innovators – people who have solutions and no money or people with money and questions about what to do with it. Welcome to matchmaking; and just like in the world of romance, there are lots of tenuous steps, defenses, opportunities, and maybe eventually a connection. Now’s a good time for solutions and questions to get together.

There’s another answer to which came first, the chicken or the egg. This evening it is the egg. Someone was nice enough to give me a dozen fresh eggs, which added to the dozen I already had. The supermarket had a good deal on chicken breasts, and I’ve been craving salad that includes some of that. It’s summer and the oven only gets used as necessary. Rather than heat it up twice, I decided to bake some eggs first at about 300 degrees for about 25 minutes, then up the heat for the chicken breasts which will be part of tonight’s dinner and many salads and possibly nachos to come. And yes, I notice switch from using healthy leafy greens to decadent pub grub.

The world needs good solutions. Pick a topic and there is probably something bizarre going on around it. Economists, climatologists, and even politicians are trying to find answers, solutions, or at least strategies because the world is no longer acting the way it did just a few decades ago. My pessimism climbs and my mood sinks when I listen to their problems. My optimism climbs and so does my mood when I listen to the entrepreneurs, innovators, and creatives. (Hence, PretendingNotToPanic.com.)

Entrepreneurs are developing new business models that redefine value as more than money. Strengthening their supportive community creates a more sustainable business. Even though peak profits may never climb as high, they may continue for far longer. At least, that’s the hope.

Innovators are developing new technologies or reinvigorating old technologies to do far more with far less for far more people. That includes smarter farming, more efficient housing, and cleaner transportation. Infrastructure is in retreat, but when it advances again we may manage to replace old solutions with far more appealing versions.

Creatives are developing networks and new ways to communicate that are redrawing the lines around communities. Old national political parties, grand or not, are less likely to be seen as effective as local efforts. Self-governance has a new meaning when it is based on several people mutually supporting each other. One thread I am particularly interested in is from the people who realize the US Constitution was designed to be revised. The Founders knew it would eventually be archaic. I’ve seen initiatives to amend it to shift political pay and therefore influence, and to edit contentious amendments into something clearer. Writers can spot bad writing. Why should we govern by ambiguity?

There’s a bit of a simplification there. I matched entrepreneurs to the economy, innovators to climatology, and creatives to politics. Of course there is a matrix of possibilities. That’s even better. Entrepreneurial politics may not be appealing as creative new economies; but, hey, I could be wrong.

The great frustration is sitting in the middle of the conversations and seeing the struggle between enthusiasm for new ideas and the caution around sources of resources. That’s an ancient struggle. Most new ideas don’t succeed. Fundamental flaws hide easily. Sometimes they aren’t apparent until they’re tried; which means someone who provided the resources subsequently has fewer resources – and probably more caution. Luck is involved, good and bad, which makes it a guessing game regardless of the thought expended at the start. Of course, sometimes that creates unimaginable successes; but that can be hard to remember after a dozen failed projects.

I was lucky enough to run across an unexpected confluence this week. It may not succeed, and yet it may. Three or four businesses in different stages of maturation may have surreptitiously connected to alleviate several sets of worries while providing a new and expanded service to a community that has a demand for it. Maybe. Whether it happens or not, it is a good example of how such events occur. Each was in a chicken or egg situation, but one person’s egg was another person’s chicken. Which, now that I think about it, is how chickens and eggs work.

The issue is less about any one project and more about the need for us to progress. The world doesn’t lack problems. With over seven billion people, the world doesn’t lack new ideas. The worst scenario, though, is letting fear and panic reinforce inaction as if it provided stability. Stability is taking a break. The best way to get through what we’re going through is to keep going.

If you want to help educators learn how to teach better, I know someone to talk to. If you have an invention that needs help, I know someone to talk to. If you want to help, but don’t know how to find (or talk with) the entrepreneurs, innovators, and creatives, I know people. Of course, I enjoy being part of such conversations, so I’ll include myself – partly because I think I can provide value, and partly because connecting people and ideas is a passion of mine. A surprise to me was learning that, according to Facebook’s analysis, I have a network as broad as their CEO’s. I’m still trying to reconcile that with our widely different net worths.

By the way, a short list of ideas includes: my collection of Fresh Ideas, Tidal dock powersomeone who wants to test all of Nikola Tesla’s inventions, a revolutionary new programming language, a novel flying water taxi, various edits to the US Constitution, local food production, senior services, a fascinating twist on yoga, a Holocaust museum exhibit, and you probably get the idea.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Tonight was the blog before dinner, which is ready now; so, I’ll post this and dine in my nicely cooled house. I found a new way to keep the house cool that worked well enough and long enough for the clouds to come in and do an even better job. Sometimes, there’s more than one solution. Sometimes it takes the chicken and the egg. It actually always has taken both – unless you’re a dinosaur.

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Marijuana And Experiments In Life

Marijuana has been available in Washington State for two years. Sales of recreational marijuana exceeded $1B in Washington State. That’s a celebration that celebrates itself. If champagne celebrated its anniversary, would it open a beer? Of course, not. Yet, marijuana has been legal in Washington State for two years. The main thing that hit the news was most at home on the business page (~$1B), not in the entertainment section. There may be no more need to post on the next anniversary; but, it does seem appropriate to point out that the fears, worries, and cautions about legalizing cannabis have faded to be one of the less troublesome bits of news; and are more likely to be mentioned because of the upside effects. Experimentation, taking on a bit of risk and taking data, can be more effective than debates. That was true for marijuana. It’s true for many things.

Our society loves to debate anything. Every new thing can be labeled a panacea or a pariah; and spark eternal rhetoric. It’s terrible! It’s terrific! Replace the ‘It’s” with many of today’s topics and you have a synopsis of the news. The news loves debates, loves dynamic tension, loves conflict. Solutions aren’t nearly as exciting as problems. Compile a list of health issues according to the ads, and think we’re all going to die because either we have the symptoms, or haven’t thought to look for them. The solution is frequently to spend billions on testing medications that will hopefully make billions (disclosure: I am invested in biotech). But the easier solution is to eat right, drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of rest, take care of stress, and exercise. Compile a list of the global worries and watch the politicians travel from conference to summit meeting to negotiations, and think the world is going to fall apart (disclosure: I run a news site for people who are eager and anxious about the future, PretendingNotToPanic.com for balance in that news). But, the easier solution is to concentrate on your lifestyle by living healthily, shopping locally, building community, and extending that reach as you can. Small actions have big effects, and are a lot cheaper that major interventions.

DSC_5109I was first in line at my local pot shop simply from curiosity. Sure, I wanted to finally buy marijuana legally simply because it was possible; but it was also a case of personal experimentation. Friends who had tried the current crops that are “new and improved” when compared to the product available when I was in college forty (40?!) years ago talked about the increased potency, and the likelihood of kicking off anxiety attacks. I took their anecdotes as evidence, but not as a conclusion. So, I tried some myself.

Evidently, like many things we ingest, everyone experiences something different. To some, the first, middle, and last glasses of wine out of a bottle are significantly different. I can taste the difference between a red and a white, and whether a wine is sweet or not; but, box wine has always been fine by me. If I concentrate, I can detect more subtle distinctions; but, I usually open a bottle with friends, and my interest in my friends is greater than my interest in wine. Besides, my friends are easier to tell apart than a Lemberger from a Grenache (those are wines). After months of trying various strains of marijuana I can somewhat tell the difference between an Indica and a Sativa because I’ve convinced myself that one keeps me awake and one puts me to sleep. And, I could be convinced that it is all in my head.

As for potency, I have yet to detect a difference. Maybe I have a greater tolerance than most, maybe I’m too wound up with stress, or maybe the differences aren’t that great from before.

I know an amazing number and variety of intelligent people. Get a few of them together, toss in a juicy topic, and the conversations can go on for hours or days. Some things are easier to talk about than to affect: the origin of consciousness, the effect of the oil price war and negative interest rates on Europe’s economy, whether any particular diet or health regimen is better than the rest. There are, however, a few topics that come up where people talk around issues they can resolve themselves. At times like those, I am equally fascinated at the tendency to talk rather than to act. Some of my friends have broken through that mode. Don’t like fossil fuels? Then, find a way to work from home and use your bicycle more than your car, even if it is a hybrid. Don’t like GMOs? Grow your own food or find someone who’s growing in a way you prefer. Don’t like a particular political candidate? Then don’t vote for them, and between now and the election get busy with other productive activities – but make sure you vote. Retirement? Well…

One of the most frequent topics in workplace America, whether it is corporate or entrepreneurial, is trying to find a way to no longer have to be involved in workplace America. After we get past wishes of winning the lottery (Powerball is up to $311M), Screen shot 2016-07-10 at 8.59.54 PMthere’s great frustration and a feeling of being trapped. I know that feeling. Fortunately for me, I also know the feeling of having retired at 38 (read my book, Dream. Invest. Live. for details); so, for me, the debate is less esoteric and more pragmatic. I know how much I need, I know I don’t have it, and I know many different ways I may get it. I tried that experiment and learned that lesson. To people who don’t know their current living expenses, trying to imagine a future with a less certain or dramatically reduced income can be scary. Rather than try a new lifestyle, they stay where they are regardless of the comfort or lack-of-comfort level because a known isn’t as frightening as an unknown.

It is entertaining to look back on my own experience. When I was getting ready to retire I had many internal debates because there were few people in similar situations. All the plans I made had little to do with what happened. I am glad I made the plans, but teaching karate ran into a political roadblock; purposely stepping away from my engineering identity was good advice – as long as the income continued, which it didn’t; coupling the effects of the economy, terrorism, and an unfortunate relationship would have been impossible to predict; and surprise, surprise, the future and life laughs at any plans.

Washington State was willing to take a risk, test an idea, take some data, and be surprised. I’ve frequently taken risks, have contemplated them as I experienced them, and have created a life that has unbelievable benefits and detriments. Washington State is still here. I am still here. Things haven’t worked out the way I had it planned. Some could say they haven’t worked out at all. But, they are working themselves out. That’s something that doesn’t just happen to me. I applaud those with more trust, more faith, and less hesitation. I hope they prove to others that it’s okay to try rather than to just talk, and to get on with living and get past worrying.

Now, after an evening’s self-imposed writing assignment, I think I’ll celebrate with a chocolate cookie or two as the sun and the ridge slide past each other. In about two hours, the cannabis in the cookies will slowly take effect and produce one of the greatest benefits my experimentation has created: a good night’s sleep.

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