Signing up for Social Security

Mix good news and bad news and get mixed emotions. I signed up for Social Security, I think. Should I have waited? Sure. Should I have signed up earlier, definitely in retrospect. Was it easy or hard? Yes. No. It either took a half an hour or seven months. It’s mixed.

Despite perfect storms of bad luck, I am an optimist. Sometimes that has a cost. In terms of making money, of paying my bills, I have worked and am working at many types of jobs and businesses. Just check out my bio on this blog and other sites: Real Estate Broker, Consultant, Writer, Speaker, Teacher, Photographer, Engineer, Entrepreneur, etc. Yes, we were all hit with the pandemic; but surely some mix of things on that list will create enough value to accrue to enough income to pay those bills. 

OK. I admit it. Public speaking wasn’t going to well during a pandemic. The same with teaching. I’ve been out of engineering for long enough that it wasn’t much of an option (so say so many ghosted job applications). Consultant? Sure! Crisis is an excellent time to reconsider old ways and either adapt or innovate, ideas were launched. Maybe someday they’ll pay. Photography continues, with pay in the form of compliments. Writing, as always, and optimism about my first sci-fi novel; but that might not be done for a year or two. Real estate has been the thing. I’ve worked on it almost every day; but alas, too many people were priced out of looking, too many were outbid, and too many decided to move to places more affordable than Whidbey Island. The entrepreneurial spirit, however continues, one sign of the optimist.

So much for the plans and the optimism. The reality is that bills must be paid, my main stock has been slipping (come on, MVIS!), and a stimulus check is in the mail – seemingly eternally. 

Hello, Social Security 

No, really. “Hello, Social Security.” I ended up calling them, twice.

Try Online

Back to the beginning. This financial situation was apparent months ago. I dutifully went to their web site (, started answering questions, reading FAQs, and being intimidated by the possibility of a time-delaying byzantine bureaucracy when finding quotes like;

Apply four months before you want your Social Security retirement benefits to start. If you want your benefits to start at age 62, you can apply at age 61 and eight months.

At least I have the age thing done. Patience and perseverance will do that.

What else in addition to name, address, Social Security Number, and contact info?

  • Dates of current and previous marriages, and where you were married
  • Employer names and dates for the past two years
  • Self-employment income and type of business
  • Bank information to set up your direct deposit
  • Your original birth certificate
  • A copy of your W-2 tax form(s) and/or self-employment tax return from last year. A photocopy is acceptable

But, according to the site, don’t take your time about it because;

For security reasons, the online application gives you a warning if you leave it open and don’t do anything for 25 minutes.

OK. This is going to take a while; but I’ll have to do it quickly. No paradox or contradiction there.

Filling out government forms about important personal matters gives me anxiety attacks. Digging up all of those old records? Not easy. I keep such things, but which boxes hold what and how much time would I have to spend in the attic battling spiders? (But not rodents, thankfully.) Humans help me at times like this.

Try Email

This step was quick. After a few exchanges that may have included Chats or Texts (a rare time when I didn’t take notes) I compiled a list of questions. 

  • Dates of current and previous marriages, and where you were married. (Are Marriage Licences and Dissolution Documents required or can memory suffice?).
  • Employer names and dates for the past two years. (All income has been earned as an independent contractor. Do I need to include the names of businesses that used my services, in particular, real estate brokerages?)
  • Self-employment income and type of business. (Do Schedules C and SE suffice, or should I include the complete 1040 package?)
  • Does email suffice or are hardcopies required? 

They answered by giving me a phone number to call. 

Try Phoning for Help

Twenty minutes after calling, which is short or long depending on your experience, perspective, and tolerance for voicemail music, someone answered. I received some relief because they can confirm many of the details; so, they just needed the information. I didn’t have to contact the hospital I was born in and ask for an official paper copy of my birth certificate, etc. Whew.

  • Dates of current and previous marriages, and where you were married. (Later I’d find that it was a good thing that I saved the Divorce/Dissolution Documents even though memory suffices. Flipping through the wedding album was a different memory experience.)
  • Employer names and dates for the past two years. (As I understand it, this is only about W-2 type jobs. None of those.)
  • Self-employment income and type of business. (Ah, this is almost all of my recent work, Gig Economy, 1099 stuff. Though I did get to freak out in June when I couldn’t find my 2020 tax package filed in April 2021 . My accountant had a backup. Whew.)

The person helping me was nice and answered lots of questions about estimated benefits, timing, and alternatives to signing up immediately. I thanked them and hung up because I knew it was going to take some time for me to gather the information. They might be fine with my best guesses, but if I had the information I’d feel better gathering it in case they called back. Signing up later could mean better benefits. It was November 2020. Surely people would wear masks and vaccinate now that we knew what we were fighting. Business would return and would chase away the need for signing up for Social Security.


A bit of procrastination, layers of failed or maybe just delayed optimisms, and the repeated advice from several friends who signed up early finally convinced me to try signing up, again. An enormous bill from my homeowners association that matched a still-delayed stimulus check helped, too.

So, about seven months later I checked my notes, rummaged around (and actually emptied) the attic, found more old documents, and called the Social Security helpers. 

On The Phone Again

Start with another twenty minutes of repetitive electronic music. At least I got some meditation done.

They dutifully started by advising me to wait for my full retirement at 67, five years from now. If my bills could wait, that’d be great. We just went through this pandemic, remember? Glad they had a sense of humor when we discussed my recent income.

We talked about how I’d been earning, or trying to earn, money. After hearing my list they pointed out that as my business returned, some of the Social Security benefits would be offset against any business income I received. Some might complain about losing those benefits, but I’d cheer having that much income (and hopefully more.) Besides, they couldn’t take more than they’d give. (The IRS, however, wasn’t part of the conversation.)

They provided my estimated benefits, which were about 22% less than the estimate I received in the previous call. Sad. But were more than half my frugal life expenses. I’d be able to pay the mortgage and things like insurance or utilities. I’d still have to make more for the rest. Better than nothing, which is what I was working from as I called.

Within fifteen minutes they steered me through all of the questions; and they did so with manners and impressive people skills. 

And then told me that they’d set up my appointment. My appointment? I thought this was my appointment! Nope. This was just to prepare everything now to make that in-person meeting more efficient eventually. The soonest slot available was in August. I asked if we could expedite it by going to another office, even if it was two hours away. Yes. Maybe. Hard to say for sure. Of course I could just go online and there’d be no need for the appointment. 

As Inigo says in Princess Bride; “You told me to go back to the beginning… so I have.

Hello Online, Again

This time was simpler. It’s not that the process had changed, but those two heroic or at least patient and understanding people answered so many of my questions that this time through was much easier. In twenty-five minutes I answered all of their questions, guessed and estimated as necessary, and rushed along so my momentum would carry me through the hurdles of anxieties that were ready to pounce if I felt a doubt.

According to one of the last bits of information from the person I talked to, by signing up online that conservative four-month wait for the first check might be as short as two months, August instead of October. The caution, however, is that they might need to clarify information. Evidently, guesses can cause delays.

Implications And Emotions

The mix of emotions is taking time to process. That’s partly what writing this blog helps me do (though the main goal is to help others by chronicling a real experience instead of the version in some brochure.) Those years of work will literally pay off, but they only pay for half of what I need. Receiving those benefits can remove the stress of many basic needs, but it also feels like a capitulation and an admission of failure. Just as with my IRA, the less money you have the less money you receive. I had to gut my IRA prematurely because of My Triple Whammy, which also meant paying a penalty on my retirement funds. By using an IRA I now also have to pay taxes on losses that I could’ve balanced against gains if I’d left all of those investments in conventional accounts. Signing up for Social Security out of necessity, not choice, means my current lack of security reduces the amount of security I am provided. And yet, I’m glad the benefits are there, though I’ll be happier when they are here.

Now, the wait begins. Because they may need to clarify items, and because bureaucracies can have issues, I won’t consider this task concluded until the first deposit is made. 

In the meantime, I’ll continue to work because even after that deposit is made I’ll continue to need additional income – at least for now. I could sell my house, possibly move as a result, watch my portfolio for some semi-passive asset growth, hope my books or photos or both sell online for passive income, and we’ve just come back around to where I started: optimism and entrepreneurship. Wish me luck, good luck, specifically. Now, about those lottery tickets., and maybe succeeding in ways I can’t imagine…

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A Bit Of Self-Indulgence

I spend a lot of time thinking about other people, other things, other ideas. Then, Spencer Webster offered to interview me for his new audio magazine, InSpiris, about creativity, inspiration, and imagination. It wasn’t until after he posted it, and then I listened to it, that I reflected some of the energy back on my self. Regular readers may have noticed that I make personal finance personal, about what, why, and how I do things; but it may not be apparent that such an approach is basically an federal SEC requirement. I’m not a certified financial planner or analyst or whatever, so for me to describe financial matters I have to make it about me. There are fewer regulations about a person talking about themself. So, pardon this self-indulgence as Spencer Webster created an opportunity for me to listen to myself about the very philosophies that inspire me, and are part of the foundation of this blog and my other creative outlets. Maybe you’ll find it useful, too.

A few additional notes:

  • Great credit to Spencer for making me sound clearer and more organized.
  • The video is over an hour, but it’s an audio, so can just play it background while you do chores and such.
  • And special thanks for allowing me to grant myself and my self the indulgence of time because a typical blog post takes a couple of hours (and would benefit from even more time.) Time is the most precious thing. It’s even one of our dimensions. So, pardon me if I take up some of yours (though I suspect it might be at least somewhat entertaining), while I go have a cup of tea (which will undoubtedly morph into checking off some chores.)

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Selling A Sliver – MVIS

I made money. I lost money. Take your pick of perspectives, but it may be best to pick both because both things are true. After a lot of research, analysis, and thought I wanted to pop myself in the forehead because my decision was so simple I overlooked it for days. On Monday June 7 I sold a small slice of my MVIS holdings. The answer is rarely all or nothing, and sometimes the important thing is to decide on what’s enough. Buy low, sell high? That gets a bit more complicated.

For those who haven’t been reading this blog for years and putting up with my MicroVision/MVIS posts, I’ve held the stock for over twenty years. Some are calling it a ‘meme’ stock, which is comical because the use of ‘meme’ wasn’t common back in 2000. MicroVision is a company that has had great potential all that time, several stumbles and faults, and may now be nearing significant successes or at least a significant buyout.

And then the market community found the stock, and not necessarily the company, for completely different reasons.

Over those decades I’ve invested a few year’s of living expenses into MVIS, (as with many to the unintended detriment of relationships) because I was and am so convinced for the technology’s positive disruptive potential. I think MicroVision can do to flat screens, what flat screens did to CRTs, to what CRTs did to paper printout. How many displays are there in the world? That’s a big market. During the spring of 2020, those tens of thousands of dollars had shrunk to a few month’s living expenses. A bad time to sell. In retrospect a good time to buy because the stock’s low was $0.15 and its new high is $28.00. I mention its new high because its all-time high is in the hundreds back during the Internet Bubble. Pop. Sigh.

I buy stocks to sell them, eventually. My book, Dream. Invest. Live., has that title because I see Invest as a bridge, a tool that helps (but does not guarantee) a person a way to get from their dreams to the way they want to live. If MVIS does well enough, I’ll have an opportunity to buy other stocks and will write about that buy side of the next deal. This post is about selling, selling to support my lifestyle, or at least pay my bills.

Selling is also one of the more common conundrums I see people posting about as their stocks move from low to high. So, rather than just talk about what I did, I decided to also describe what I didn’t do.


Selling everything does happen. If a stock or the company are no longer adding value to a portfolio or a stockholder’s life, it is common enough to sell everything. Selling everything certainly makes it easier to move on, be definitive and decisive. I’ve also done so to raise money for a downpayment for a house. If someone bought a stock to make money, and they can sell it for a profit, then that’s a success, not something to feel bad about.


As a stock’s price climbs there can be very good reasons to not sell, yet. If the sale is simply for managing a portfolio, then is there a better place to put the money? Answer 1) always. Answer 2) Always, but maybe that just hasn’t been found, yet. Answer 3) Cash is appreciated but it doesn’t appreciate, and may be a place to put things for a while. Besides, it is usually possible to buy back in. Stocks are liquid assets. That’s handy. A friend successfully triped their money and sold. Great. It was MSFT circa 1990. So, there’s that. I waited too long to sell a quarter of DNDN, and lost almost everything.


Selling nothing isn’t investing, unless the decision to not sell is simply to not sell now. MVIS has risen from $0.15 to $22. Great! But there are estimates (and guesses and hopes) as high as hundreds of dollars. If the money isn’t needed and losing it won’t affect anything, then the stock effectively becomes a lottery ticket. There are some investors who will also hold because they want the bragging rights (a share of SBUX at IPO, perhaps?) – or because they forgot (and that does happen.) 


Read stockholders’ comments on the discussion boards and find many experienced investors maintain a core of share they hold, and then trade with the rest. For active traders, those who understand puts and calls, and those exploring other strategies it is one way to have half the cake in the freezer while the other half becomes a long line of desserts.


If a stock looks good enough to buy, there’s either an implicit or explicit notion of when to sell. One strategy is to decide to sell at specific prices, or at specific profit points. When my portfolio was larger and more active (long story, but check My Triple Whammy for a perfect storm of bad luck), I preferred to buy, hold, and then sell about a quarter if and when a stock rose four-fold. I’d get my original investment back to reinvest. The rest would be profit. It’s easy to imagine other scenarios merely by setting different percentage profit targets. 


After twenty years, those original targets needed updates, for me. I’ve bought MVIS so many times that I could assign different targets for each lot, group them together, or whatever. Usually such decisions are at least somewhat based on expectations of future value. MVIS is such a spotlight stock currently that quantitative analyses of the company or the stock may be insignificant relative to emotional reactions (irrational pessimism followed by irrational optimism), or relative to other agendas (like attacks against shorts regardless of the stock.) 

For me, the current investment community mindset made me greatly simplify some sell targets: even numbers ($100, $200, $300), as well as tax breakpoints (then non-IRA losses can be balanced within $3,000 of the gains), as well as a few dream numbers (replace the old car, get a new car, fix the house, buy a dream house, work less, or re-retire.)

And don’t underestimate the anguish of trying to understand which shares in which portfolio with which set of tax advantages and disadvantage…


Look back through that list. Consider the alternatives for the company and the stock and the taxes. Would any of the four main vertical product lines succeed independently, or be part of a partnership, or be sold off? 

There are too many scenarios when considering each of those combinations. Then consider the influence of the large customers, partners, possibly acquirers. If Microsoft bought all of MVIS to 1) preserve their access to augmented reality engines while 2) blocking Apple, Google, Tesla, Amazon, and many of the major car companies from MicroVision’s LiDAR technology or MicroVision’s display technology or the rest of MicroVIsion’s patent portfolio or some combination – would a strategic bidding war escalate MVIS’ share price? Would Amazon do something similar for a new display for Alexa? Tesla and LiDAR against the rest?

How serious, powerful, and committed are the new shareholders at either supporting the company, or the price, or their battle against short sellers? Short squeezes are less common, but maybe that’s changing as new battlegrounds seem to opening. 

Then put the two together: two simultaneous battles: companies against companies, shareholders versus shareholders, shorts versus longs versus hedgies. Oops, that went to three from two, but that’s how complicated the situation has become.


I agonized. There must be a solution. Normally I’d prefer to hold. I’ve held for over twenty years. Now didn’t seem to be the time to sell, well, maybe a little. But after considering so many scenarios, few reduced the stock price significantly. Hold – from the perspective of the stock.

I agonized. Separate from the stock considerations there is real life. Bills must be paid. A pandemic didn’t help. Real estate is booming! – as long as realtors represent the seller, or the lone lucky buyer. I tend to represent buyers. Too many offers from folks with mortgages who lose out to people with cash offers over the list price. Sign. (Required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island. Sell – from the perspective of my bank account.

MVIS has done well, climbing from $0.15 to $22, but selling all would be a small gain after all of these years and those original costs bases; and I suspect the stock will continue to rise. But it looks like it may take weeks or months. Selling nothing was an option, but too many real estate deals fell through. Those bills won’t wait. 

Then came the dope slap to the forehead. Rather than selling all or nothing or according to some preset schedule and strategy, I realized I could sell just enough to cover a couple of months of bills. I’d still have a couple or a few years of living expenses in MVIS, and the majority of my holding would still be able to rise. 


I write this, not as a way to structure when or how to sell, but to point out that over forty years of investing (MVIS wasn’t my first) deciding when and how to sell can still be complicated. If you’re new to investing and this seems difficult, that’s because it is. Congratulate yourself on being perceptive.

Now, about that perspective. I sold a slice of MVIS at ~$22.50. For a stock that was at $0.15, that would sound like a great gain. But, I lost money. That sale represents a loss about as much as the cash I gained from the sale. My cost basis for that purchase was about twice the current price (~$55 for one of the purchases.) Because it was in an IRA there’s no balancing of gains and losses, only the extra pain of having to take money out of my IRA, pay taxes on it, just so I can pay my mortgage et al. But I’ll be able to pay those bills because I made money, a sale is a sale.

Did I make money? Yes. Did I lose money? Yes. Welcome to personal finance.

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See It For Yourself – Remote Living

OK. I’m tired. But trips can do that. During the last few weeks I managed to fit in three business-related road trips. Really, business trips. Honest. OK. So they were all touristy or wild or at least remote; but so many people cover cities and major highways that I decided to visit (or at least drive through) over a thousand miles of two lane roads through about a third of Washington State. Really, it was business – and curiosity and an excuse to get out of the house while real estate is a weird mix of busy and slow.

(Required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.

With money this tight (and with a stimulus check lost in the mail) why do such a thing? Because when I can, I like to rely on more than just tweets for a better understanding of what’s going on.

The good news: During these weeks I’m past my vaccinations and the two weeks after, mask mandates have been relaxed, and enough others have been responsible enough to help drive down the infection and transmission rates. (Check out one of my other blogs for an amateur’s synopsis about the pandemic and Whidbey Island. Corona Virus June 3 2021

Other good news: Real estate buyers seem to be increasingly interested in moving to Whidbey Island. 

Other news that is good for some but not for others: A recent survey we conducted showed that people on Whidbey like Whidbey so much that they don’t want to sell. Good to hear they’ve found a place they like that much. But, that also means demand is up, supply is down, and prices continue to climb. (Whidbey Real Estate During Covid19 – April 4, 2021

That also means people who want to sell might watch their house sell quicker and for more money than they expected. Good for them. That also means buyers might find that they can’t find what they’re searching for. So, I get questions about Whidbey from out-of-state buyers, who also ask about what else is around; as in around the entire state. Hence, road trip.

Road trip? That sounds like weak logic for driving hundreds of miles around the state. Just get online and search that way. Yes, but. We’re returning to the real world, the one where people deal with people with no machines involved. (Yes, it’s true. It’s really true. Not everything happens via social media.) We’re also still in the midst of extreme opinions and stereotypes about people and places. There really is no substitute to knocking on a door, walking into a real estate office, (seeing if anyone is masked), and talking to someone about someplace. After this trip I now have a few more contacts to contact so I can refer buyers to brokers without me having to drive for hours to try to help someone buy property in a place where I am not an expert. Farm and forest lands are great, but I’m not going to claim I understand industrial operations in such places; especially when they cover hundreds of acres.

Challenging Stereotypes

The islands are remote and only for the rich. The coast is cold and wet. East of the Cascades is hot, high, and dry. Stereotypes should always get failing grades because they are probably rarely right more than 50% of the time. F. 

San Juan Islands 

Oh, the islands are sweet. Islands equal waterfront. The San Juans are touristy, and remote. Rich folks are flocking there. Nice amenities. 

Yes, but. There’s more than just waterfront. Some inland properties are expansive, and maybe with a view of the water. Remote? Well, there aren’t any bridges; but there is more than just the main ferry. There are local water taxis, airports, marinas, and for a bit of personal attention, charter float plane service. The islands tend to be quiet, are visited by various types of whales, have a lot of artists, organic and local food, and can live up to those tourist brochures. I visited the islands first, which may be one reason I saw the most masks there; but they also had to deal with more people from outside their community. Not a surprise the locals were careful. The microclimates range from very dry to deep forests. Take your pick.

Olympic Peninsula

Ah, the coast is sweet. And, the mountains are sweet. Magnificent gets mentioned a lot to the point that much of the area is inside Olympic National Park, from sea level through immense rain forests, to some of the tallest non-volcanic peaks in Washington State.

And then there are dry places like Sequim, inland waters like Hood Canal, fishing ports, resort towns, remote towns, and places so remote that there are no towns. Forest and federal lands also mean there are long drives with no homes in sight, but each house is probably a home, not someone’s vacation house number four. There is also a diversity of opinions and cultures. Some recent events led to national coverage about harassment and tensions. Considering some comments I heard, that’s not a surprise, but it’s also not ubiquitous. People are people. Another reason to go meet people rather than rely on stereotypes. 

North Central Washington

North central Washington is an enormous region that some think is all treacherous mountain terrain, or that high, hot, and dry mentioned above. It is also typified as too far away to get to. 

North Cascades & Lake Roosevelt

Of course, getting to some place far away can be exactly what someone wants. It would be ridiculous for such a large area to fit on image. The east edge is North Cascades National Park, a place that lives up to that treacherous terrain image. Just west of there is Mt. Baker, a volcano that set the snowfall record at over 1,100 inches one year. No surprise that the main pass gets closed for several months, and only opened weeks before this trip. Ah, but then there’s the Methow Valley, a vacation and tourist area for hiking, bicycling, and skiing. Also, occasional wildfires, an irony being that close to that much snowfall. Then, out to the Okanogan Valley which is drier yet, except for the irrigated orchards and such, unless you climb out of the valley to cooler lands. Keep going east and the forests return, the land gets wetter, and the homes spread out again. Farther east and the mountains rise up, again. Remote? Yes. Also very independent. Also the site of a super-spreader event that made the headlines, but that seems to be controlled. My route headed south along Lake Roosevelt / Roosevelt Lake (some signs thought their spelling was better), a long sometimes windy road shouldering the lake. Breezy, a welcome relief from 100F. Then east through rolling farms where one home could barely see the next. Dust devils swirled across the road. I lost track of the microclimates. Pick one. It might be there.

Every region was identifiably unique; and they all have things in common. Every broker I talked to had far more buyers than sellers. Wood prices are up everywhere so building on vacant land isn’t an obvious solution. Affordability for locals can be tough, especially when competing with well-funded buyers. Artists and others with less certain income are looking farther out, possibly creating new creative communities.  If you want to be remote, be remote; and also be within a few hours of cities like Seattle, Portland, Wenatchee, Omak, Chelan, Spokane, etc. Or, take advantage of the same reason others can now consider such places: high-speed internet. Remote workers are moving into places that mainly attracted retirees before. If a place has enough water and utilities and acceptable regulations, they might also get an exclusive neighborhood if it doesn’t already have one. Some entrepreneurs are going to get there first. It turns out water may be less available than broadband. It also turns out that solar power makes places that were too remote, not as remote as before. Rural and country is definitely not urban or suburban. The local government may be a smaller bureaucracy, but they’re also more likely to be overwhelmed with the sudden interest. Another good reason to be a person who gets to know people. 

And in every place, remember there were entire nations here for thousands of years, and the people are still here. Respect.

My trip was going to be grander and broader but was changed for one of the very reasons I took it. As I came out of the mountains and into Republic a call finally connected. Someone wanted to make an offer on a house within miles of my house. The deadline to submit the offer was less than 24 hours away. It could seem like forever and I was hundreds of miles away, but with a push I could’ve driven home by sunset. Because high-speed internet is so widely available, I drove partway, found a well-equipped hotel in Leavenworth, and got to work. The next morning I finished up the paperwork after talking to my client, submitted it, and was home just after lunch. 

Stereotypes about people and places persist, and they are becoming increasingly inaccurate. They’ve always been inappropriate. There’s usually that kernel of truth that’s mentioned frequently, but that’s never the complete picture. The other thing I look for is what we all have in common. The regions may be diverse, but the people usually know how they want to live. Diverse places. Diverse places. That hasn’t changed, and thanks to infrastructure, that’s also becoming easier to attain.

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Twelve Months At Possession Preserve – Ta Da

I did it again, and I’m not sorry. Actually, it’s something for me to celebrate. The photos, video, and photo book of Twelve Months at Possession Preserve are finished and public. Ta Da! In 2020, I completed the eighth photo essay of the five book set of Twelve Month photo essays of Whidbey Island’s nature. (Yep. Do the math.) As I said in the book (and in the others before it); “My few visits spread across twelve months are one small slice of a very long story, yet more than a single Saturday visit and therefore tell more of a tale.” It’s become a habit.

Twelve Months at Possession Preserve is preceded by seven other Whidbey Island photo essays, which were preceded by three narrative nature essays about the Washington Cascades. And I’m not done, yet – I expect. (Whidbey Island: Cultus Bay, Deception Pass, Admiralty Head, Penn Cove, Double Bluff, Maxwelton Beach, Possession Beach, Possession Preserve) & (Washington Cascades along US 2: Barclay Lake, Lake Valhalla, Merritt Lake)

It is also an example of something that can be done by minimalists and frugal folk.

The general idea concept is simple: find something no one else is doing, that you think should be done, and do it if you can. Others have better equipment, more talent, more time, more resources. I’m a minimalist and a working frugal person. I don’t have the greatest equipment or the most time, but I do have some photo and writing skills and more importantly, I have persistence. 

The Pacific Northwest has a phenomenal collection of writers, photographers, and adventurers. They’ve produced award-winning art documenting the area. But I noticed that almost all of the work concentrated on shorter events, those sunny Saturdays in August, or a technical discourse on the science, or detailed trail guides. Those are all good things. But I realized that none of them covered an entire year, or the broader experience of a place. 

Hence, Twelve Months at Barclay Lake, Lake Valhalla, and Merritt Lake; three lakes to cover three mountain environments. I wanted to chronicle the life of a place from summer’s welcoming weather, to winter’s approach and dominance, to the timid and messy reveal as snows turned to slush which flowers found ways to poke through.

And then I moved to Whidbey where, for reasons scattered throughout this blog, I didn’t have the time and money to visit the high country. But then, did I need to? Whidbey Island has a wealth of nature. The seasons may not be as extreme, but the diversity in the wildlife is more than enough to engage my curiosity about nature. Several photo essays later, there are still more places to play. But where next?

Fortunately, I’m a Site Steward for Whidbey Camano Land Trust. Just as I was trying to decide where to visit next, I heard that the Trust was preparing to open a new preserve: Possession Sound Preserve. It was close some of my earlier sites, but it was an opportunity to explore a place before it was cleared, prepped, and open to the public. I asked if I could make the preserve the next subject and they said yea. (Bows to the Site Steward(s) for that property because that’s a lot of work.) 

As I wrote in the book;

South of the Clinton ferry is a long bluff over an empty beach above beds of vital eelgrass. Possession Sound Preserve is a half-mile of natural shoreline permanently protected by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. What might have been a development for estates is now a place for nature to live, naturally.

A path leads from a high point inland, down a windy way through 45 acres of upload forest with wetlands and meadows. Soon, views can be seen through the trees to the Salish Sea. At the bottom, find a beach with the remains of plans being reclaimed by nature, with some help from humans.

The hillside faces east, and acts as a canvas as sunrise light bounces of the still waters of early morning to paint shimmering lights on the near-vertical stand of sand. 

At high tide, storm waves try to shrink cliffs. At low tide, marine green blankets rocks, eelgrass and other aquatic foliage that are hints of the fertile spawning grounds for the fish salmon rely on. Wild birds hover, dive, scavenge, rest. Seals, otters, and occasional whales cruise by on their commute or meal run. 

Look north, east, and south to see ferries, newly-built jumbo jets, and deep-sea craft from carriers to cargo ships to yachts.

All around are the reminders that the things of our civilization are fragile and fleeting, their seeming permanence proved temporary by sufficient time.

A quiet place to put things in perspective from the sights of volcanoes the nature of Nature and us.”

The official opening has yet to happen as of May 2021. You’re welcome to consider these three versions on the nature essay as a preview. (Nows to Joe Menth from Feather and Fox as well for polishing the images.

Photos (contact Joe for customized prints):

Photo book (7 inch square):

Video (because, why not?):

As for essay number nine, yes, it is in progress; and no, I don’t jinx it by mentioning it (much) before it is done. Stay tuned, and enjoy.

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Affording Affordable Housing

“We need more affordable housing!” So goes the cry in the country. I think we need to review those words, and their connotations. A different emphasis may be more useful. And that ‘we’ can include me – if I had to sell my house.

(Required disclosure: I am a licensed real estate broker (as well as many other things) on Whidbey Island with Dalton Realty, Inc.)

Affordable housing is banner topic, a flag flown at marches, something to be debated at many levels of government. Unfortunately, the interpretation has a flaw. In general, everyone who has bought a home and not defaulted has at least some measure of affordable housing. That includes multi-million dollar estates. A property that sells for $6M was affordable for someone. We have millions of homes. We need millions more, but we also need something else.

It is easy to advocate for more houses. More houses means more jobs, more real estate sales, more property taxes. Very popular notions. My business would appreciate it. 

Unfortunately, the issue behind ‘affordable housing’ is that for many people housing is not affordable. One hypothesis is that adding houses (supply) will reduce prices. If every house went to a different homeowner, that would at least be more feasible. But that assumes the increase in supply will significantly reduce the price of housing. There’s no guarantee that such a thing will happen. 

I live in an area where the prices have gone up ~15% during the pandemic. Since 2010 median sales prices rose 59.6%, locally. I’m confident that wages haven’t gone up as much. In the US in the ten years prior to the pandemic housing prices rose 55.9% while wages rose 11.4%. That’s a hard gap to fill simply by building more houses.

Economic Policy Institute

I live in an area appealing to vacationers and retirees. I moved here because I was a retiree (and unfortunately became un-retired, hence the real estate gig. A very long story.) I’m one of ‘them’ and look forward to being so again. According to previous census data, about 27% of the houses in my area are considered vacant because they are vacation homes. There is also a world-wide trend called ‘ghost homes’, homes that are purchased as an asset, a house bought as if it was stock, bought for price appreciation. Some houses are bought as rentals, but they’re not included. Ghost homes are bought to sit and eventually be sold. Renting out a ghost home can provide income, but managing a rental and a renter takes effort while also adding risk of damage. So, they sit empty. The Washington State average of vacant homes is just under 10%. Some even trendier places exceed this 27% Aspen was as high as 40%.

Which is easier, increasing the supply of homes by building more, or encouraging vacant homeowners to rent or sell their homes? My business benefits from more houses for sale and I am glad for it, but simply adding more houses are only one thing to adjust if we’re also going to help my friends who are trying to improve their housing situation.

Unfortunately, there can be an unexpected consequence of the economic nature of buying houses. If there are multiple offers on a new house, someone who can pay cash for more than the house’s listed price can outcompete against anyone who used every bit of leverage to qualify for a mortgage. The cash offer may be a yet another vacation house, while the mortgaged offer may for someone’s first house. Purely by the financing, cash wins. Increasing the number of houses doesn’t necessarily increase the number of homeowners. Another house is built, but the housing situation hasn’t changed. 

Affordable housing can concentrate too much on ‘housing’ and not as much on ‘affordability’. Affordability can have more to do with wages than houses.

Pardon me as I repeat the data from above. If housing expenses, whether to rent or buy, increase by 10% but wages only increase by 9%, then housing has become less affordable. Until wages increase by more than housing prices and rents, then affordability decreases. In the ten years roughly from 2009 to 2019, wages increased 11.4% while median home prices rose 55.9%. That’s a lot of catching up to expect from building more houses.

It is easier, however, to convince communities to build more houses than it is to convince businesses to raise wages. It also seems to be easier to build more houses than it is to change regulations. So, we build more houses.

As a broker, this may be why I’m hearing from more buyers who want to build or buy houses that others might not want: fixers in terrible shape (but cash is required), tiny houses (if only they can find agreeable municipalities), RV pads or even just RV parking places, yurts, tipis, unconventional materials, unconventional shapes, creative architecture that only unconventional people can appreciate. I like the unconventional. I like creative solutions. But for many of those buyers it is not a question of style or expression but a fundamental desire to own their own home.

For them, it is easier to explore alternative housing solutions than find more affordable incomes. The hurdles of conventional regulations and finances are definitely non-trivial, though.

I watch the value of my house appreciate. It is a small-ish (868 square feet) beach cottage with a nice view. If I sold it, however, I’d have to move about a hundred miles to find something similar and affordable. Even rentals are hard to find that far out. High-speed internet makes some jobs more feasible, but real estate businesses are hard to move. Yet, with so few houses on the market, the business model of a real estate broker is also being challenged which means staying place is also a challenge.

I don’t expect a change. It is too easy to lobby for more houses even if those houses don’t address the core problem. Lobbying for higher wages may help, but the disparity is so great that I suspect all we can do is narrow the gap, not close it.

It is a dilemma, but that is true throughout our economy and society. I don’t have the answers, but I do have at least this suggestion – that affordable housing has more to do with raising wages to become affordable than it does to building enough houses to have enough excess to satisfy everyone – including the people who are working to find a better place to live.

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Linear And Logarithmic Views Of MVIS

The way we look at data matters, and doesn’t. (Another post that can be generalized, but where it is handy to have an example like MVIS.)

Hopefully this will be one of my shorter posts. It should be because more work went into the data, this time. The plots are simple. The thoughts weren’t.

The default for many stock charts are linear. (Really, almost any chart in the news.) Linear is easiest to understand and easiest to draw; but can miss longer term trends.

Another popular choice is logarithmic. This one takes some thought because instead of the axis going up like 1, 2, 3 in equal distances on the chart, the steps are 1, 10, 100, etc. Why do such a thing? Because long term trends can be easier to spot.

When a stock is going up the same amount every day, the price grows as a straight line on a linear chart. If the increment stays the same, then the percentage increase gets smaller every day. YAY! turns into Yay! into yay into eh.

When a stock goes up the same percentage every day, the incremental change is small at the start, even possibly so small that it’s lost in the noise. But.
A 1% change when a stock is $0.15 is only $0.0015, not even an penny. But.
A 1% change when a stock is $1.50 is $0.015, barely more than a penny. But.
A 1% change when a stock is $15.00 is up to $0.15. And.
A 1% change when a stock is $150.00 is only $1.50. An increment which has become ten times the total value at the start.

Return on investment is usually expressed as a percentage. On a linear chart for a prolonged period of time, it either takes a magnifying glass to see where things started, or accepting the fact that the curved line rockets through the top of the chart, or a Really Big piece of paper is required. On a logarithmic chart a steady progression is a straight line. 

Stocks don’t follow straight lines or curves. The stock market is chaotic, in a mathematical sense. Finding the simple trend within the complicated chaos is an approximation. 

Companies don’t follow straight lines or curves. Milestones like earnings reports, press releases, product announcements, are few, even if some of them are regular. The company’s intrinsic value climbs or trips on stairsteps. Internally, there are many tinier steps preceding those stairsteps, but even the managers can’t track every bit of progress. Some of the steps are too small, essential, but too small individually. The stock doesn’t wait. It bounces in the meantime, sometimes driven by rumor or supposition more than official news.

Much of the interest about MicroVision refers back to the recent months. Look at the linear chart and the growth seems to start somewhere in December. Prior to that, barely any progress could be seen (unless you were in the midst of the advance and were very aware that the stock had gone from $0.15 to almost $3.00. $3.00!!?!? Whoo Hoo!) 

Look at the logarithmic chart and see a different story. Rather than the last three months looking like the volatile time, they look like a pause in a trend that began back in June 2020. That long term trend looks optimistic. The data and the trends from the last few weeks can look downright dismal, or at least dull when compared to expectations of constant growth. If that earlier trend is the truer story, however, then the short term is temporary. No one knows.

I like charts. I like data. I read discussion boards and tune into various YouTubers because I enjoy understanding others’ methods of interpreting the stocks. And then I make my own assessment.

I am encouraged by recent trends, as I see them. 

I am also aware that behind the stock’s machinations, noise, chaos, and investment climate, there’s a company that is striving to make significant, positive, objective progress. Many things are coming together after decades of small, incremental improvements that battled corporate realities. Their cash position dramatically reduced the downside risk. Customers are encouraging, and maybe finally getting past a pandemic’s problems. Possible buyers seem to be progressing (but the price makes me wonder if the stock has overpriced their comfort range). Shorts and such may yet overwhelm any true value of the stock or the company. There are so many unknowns that I doubt any trend line will remain firm for very long because the company and the stock are in the midst of systemic change. Allow me to emphasize that: trends are helpful, but reality has no duty or guarantee to adhere to any trend up or down or sideways or bouncing along.


It is encouraging to see evidence that systemic improvements have a longer history than most realize, and that my dwindled supply of patience might be just enough to enjoy more than just enough of a reward. 

Now, about the dangers of extrapolating data…

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The Fifty One Percent

“We never agree on anything”; say some couples. “We won!”, said the majority that had the results go their way despite the minority. “It’s worth a lot, so I should get a lot.”; say so many sellers, artists, homeowners, – and stockholders. Regardless of value, worth, or even relationships, our society emphasizes the majority over consensus. If the majority rules, and you don’t get more than half the vote; then the world may not be the way you want it to be – even if that’s within a couple or between factions.

Ah, truly democratic relationships. Society in microcosm. If both people have exactly 50% of the votes, there are only two votes, each has one, and either person has a veto power over any choice or negotiation. It’s great if there’s always agreement, and it must happen with some folks; but for many, absolute and all-pervasive equality and authority can mean neither person gets to get much done. Give and take are necessary. I’ll leave it to you to decide how that works out in your life.

Step it up, a bit. Companies and unions, and governments can be reduced to relying on bare majorities. Because politics are so bizarre I’ll use business/employee negotiations as an example. The company has demands. The union has demands. Each presents positions that can sound valid, valuable, and defensible. The positions are debated, or at least shouted back and forth; but the resolution comes down to which side can convince 51% of the vote.

For the pedantic types; yes, sometimes it is 50.1%, or 1 vote past 50%, or 60%, or 66%, or 75%, or… The issues aren’t resolved by the better of the positions being resolved by logical debate judged by an independent entity. Who got the most votes? Union contracts come down to how many employees are enticed by the first offer, then the next, with a guess of when enough will accept it, regardless of the importance to the rest.

I’m sure you can make the analogy to government, and possibly not be surprised if votes between two major parties keep coming down to elections that are hard to call in advance, even if they seem foregone conclusions in reflection. Satisfying the barest majority is the cheapest way to win.

Currently there is great debate, argument, and speculation about how much MicroVision is worth (yes, I’m talking about them – again, but the company is a proxy for so many corporate issues.) Look back a few posts (MicroVision MVIS Valuation Shift) and read or at least skip down to “my rickety wobbly valuation model” for MicroVision which results in a price for MVIS of $76. The post was well-received, but I forgot to realize what many investors do not have experience with buyouts and mergers. Those who do know buyouts and mergers are decided directly by the number of votes, and only indirectly by the value of the company. I think MVIS could be worth $76, but I don’t expect it. It could go lower in a negotiation. It could go higher in an auction, and market forces could overrule all in either direction.

As usual, I’ll point off to my seldom-bought book, Dream. Invest. Live. (really, buy a copy and be even more special than on-in-a-million) where I described one situation that made the 51% very apparent: Disney’s buyout of Pixar.

I’ll shorten it here, so pardon as I simplify the story. I owned shares in Pixar almost as soon as it was public. As I recall, that was before Toy Story, back when the idea of computer animation was laughed at and Job’s investment was termed a waste of money. But, I saw some of the very early shorts, extrapolated the potential in my mind, and bought at the earliest opportunity. (Those were busy work times so I missed the IPO.) Fast forward past a few movies and it was apparent Pixar wasn’t a fluke. They were artists, experts, geniuses, passionate, and persistent. The short version: Disney bought (or merged with) Pixar for a small premium of the stock price. Just as Pixar was about to become highly profitable as the revenues were finally being booked, Disney made very good offers to a few people at Pixar. At the time, Steve owned almost a majority alone. Disney needed a majority, though; so, they made very nice offers of stock in Disney and positions in the Disney to possibly fewer than a half dozen people. Disney got Pixar. A select few were selected to be very nicely compensated. The rest of the shareholders received a premium over the stock price which was appreciated, but was far below the future value of Pixar if it had remained independent. (Aside, I recall Pixar’s version of Ratatouille could’ve had a lot of fun making fun of a certain mouse by making a move about a rat if the Pixar animators got uppity. I wonder if I still have those notes.)

Buyouts and mergers are decided by votes, not value.

And, those votes are counted one vote per share, not one vote per shareholder.

So, while many shareholders in MicroVision debate about how much the company is worth, the decision is more likely to be made by what offer has to be made that will receive enough votes. In the scenario I described, I valued the stock at ~$76 – for that particular scenario. Any particular scenario may be valid, but valuations can be secondary to the vote count.

The power of the vote count is something that is familiar to voters in the US. The value of the argument is worth considering and honing – but as an understanding of the issues. The votes may be swung by other things like ideology, peer pressure, habit, promises, and regular real-life distractions.

With every extra bit of news it is possible to shift my opinion of a topic or to alter my algorithm or assumptions about an analysis. The decision, however, will remain with the majority and probably based on a different set of criteria, assumptions, and logic than mine. One for all and all for one? Nice idea. In the meantime, however, we get to watch what it will take to get that one extra vote to fall on the larger side of the scale. The 51st% makes the rules. But, if MVIS gets bought out for >$76/share, well, … let me see the rest of the offer.

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No News Is Still No News

History echoes. It is too easy to let no news be interpreted as negative news. Humans are so good at reading between the lines that entire grand narratives can fit between two paragraphs of a press release, in the gap between the difference between a plural versus the singular version of a noun or verb. Today, MicroVision released some news, not enough for some, and the price and enthusiasm suffered – at least for today.

Today, MicroVision announced long-anticipated earnings. Would there be a surprise because of something happening quietly in the background? Would management reveal, or at least suggest, or even just tease about buyouts or partnerships or orders? Judging from the stock price after hours, management managed to deliver lots of disappointment regardless of their intent. This isn’t the first time stockholders were dismayed when reality didn’t meet expectations. I leave it to those involved to decide if their enthusiasm misled them, or if management did.

As I decided to write this post I remembered a similar one from several years ago. It wasn’t about earnings. It was about MicroVision’s performance at a massive trade show. There was great anticipation. Lots of ‘wink, wink, nudge, nudge’. Big things were about to happen. And nothing did. At least nothing public, significant, quantitative, and positive.

That big event/non-event prompted me to write “No News Is No News“. The feeling is so similar that rather than rewrite it, I’ll post it again.

No News Is No News

I’m sure some stockholder who was there can recount the tale. I just recall the feeling. Ask around on the discussion boards.

One tidbit: The stock price was about $1.20. I wrote the blog on January 11, 2014.

Another tidbit: A few days ago I tweeted a recent series of updates.

In the last ten days MVIS has bounced between just over $10 to just under $30. After hours it is around $14. Last night one friend suggested it would go to $0.50, because it was about that a year ago. I think the company can be worth ~$76 for a specific scenario which is unlikely because a merger isn’t determined by the value of the company but by the offer that is sufficient to gain a majority of the votes of the shares (not the same as the shareholders – see PIXR’s example in my book, Dream. Invest. Live.) Short squeezes are argued to be able to reach three digits, with some suggesting four digit prices. Shorts and others are rumored to be able to drive it ridiculously low. Pick a number from under a dollar to over a thousand dollars and there’s someone who will agree with you.

And yet, there’s no real news. NDAs and such can be frustrating, but the shareholders, the owners of shares of the company, want to know things like: A) Is MicroVision supplying components to Hololens? B) Is MicroVision supplying components to IVAS? C) Are other customers working in similar products? D) Are customers working on buying display components for other products? E) How many customers are actively incorporating LiDAR units in vehicles? F) How many customers are actively incorporating consumer LiDAR units into products? G) Are any other customers serious about other MicroVision products? H) How many companies are negotiating to buy some or all of MicroVision? And no, I’m not going to ask because years of experiencing professional obfuscation have convinced me that asking it a waste of time.

So, if people can’t find answers, they’ll make them up.

I’ll repeat what I tweeted, with some notes. The risk to the company has significantly been reduced, again.
1) $50M added a few months ago. (Whew.)
2) Very high probability of supplying Hololens & IVAS. (But not guaranteed)
3) LiDAR milestone cleared. (Sales in Q3/Q4. Ah.)
4) and the other possibilities supply hope.
5) And add, the buyout possibility continues.
6) And I hope the company remains independent and become highly profitable, and the stock reflects that – soon.

A stockholder who has only begun their investment endeavor asked how we long term shareholders hang in there through such wild swings as we’ve seen this month. Take a look at the chart in detail back to the 90s through several episodes of MVIS’ history. Expectations remain high. Technological, business, marketing, and public awareness all continue to improve. The story is improving. There are no guarantees, there isn’t enough news, but it helps to concentrate on the progress of the company, not the swings in the stock.

This does feel like an echo, but instead of a cave or a canyon, it feels more like a more refined space where good things are about to happen. But, hey! Management! We’re getting tired of reverb and some stagehand saying “check, check.”

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An MVIS Rabbit Hole 20 Years Deep

Yes, this again, MicroVision again, but it is also a history lesson with a non-stock-related twist that I surprised me.

MicroVision To Announce First Quarter Results on April 29, 2021” – Yahoo Finance

As I type, that’s less than a week away. Only a few days before MicroVision’s management releases news about how much they made, lost, kept, and spent – and maybe news about how much they hope to make, or be sold for, or something, anything. Just a few months ago, I wrote about Gamestop And Moving Smaller Stocks; particularly whether the situation that put Gamestop’s stock (GME) into the news, including the late night talk show bits, would happen to MicroVision’s stock (MVIS.) As of a few days ago, within some investment communities, MVIS is a more popular or at least common topic than GME. Thousands of people might be watching to hear whether they want to buy, sell, hold, short, borrow, whatever.

If you haven’t noticed there are many qualifiers and possible actions in some of those sentences. That’s because MicroVision’s long term shareholders who have spent years wondering if anyone would ever notice the company and the stock suddenly find their company, their stock, and even their discussion boards overwhelmed with crowds, comments, and actors.

While I and others prefer to work from data, logic, and facts, I recognize that the investment community can operate from emotion. In my opinion of the stock price, MVIS has passed from years of irrational pessimism to so much attention recently that it may experience irrational optimism – or mechanisms in the investment world that can dramatically affect the price of the stock regardless of the value of the company.

Lots of variables. Little information. Thousands of people. Very little time. Billions of dollars at risk. Industries possibly positively disrupted in ways we haven’t witnessed since the internet was so novel and amazing that Internet was capitalized.

Just the time for me to dive into data for long term trends. But, wait.

As many know, I’ve owned MVIS shares for over twenty years. I don’t access massive databases, because I don’t spend that kind of time and money. I’d rather focus on living than on investing; hence, my book “Dream. Invest. Live.” But what I do have is a pile of paperwork from years of owning the stock and trying to decipher management speak.

Hello, paperwork. Hello, rabbit hole. So much for data. Nostalgia kicked in.

That’s a lot of paperwork. It’s also a lot of data, but searching that many documents to retype data stored on paper is more time than I want to spend today, and there aren’t many days between now and the meeting.

But look at those annual reports. Even simply looking at the covers tells a story.

The ones on the left are from an optimistic time. Color brochures, every year a different set of graphics – and every year a different story. The technology and the name of the company were the most constant part of the story. If I write a book about the company I’d like to compare the progression of the optimisms.

The ones on the right are from the next decade, the era of black and white, structured format, cheaper paper, no catchy slogans – the years of a reverse split, many shareholders splitting with the company, technological holes being filled in by managers recognizing reality.

Between the two are a period when the company’s logo went from something I saw as a tri-color bicycle to a set of harsh green cuisinart blades.

This year’s report is as dull as the others.

Until last year, however, every stockholder’s meeting came with trinkets. Sometimes only a pen (which may not last the meeting), other times cups, hats, notebooks.

My favorite is the pen that lights up so you can write in the dark. It was the celebratory pen for the Nomad system, an augmented reality headset that clipped to a baseball cap. Great things were expected for the monochrome display – back in the early years. (2004?)

The stack of papers weighed so much that, as I arranged them, the binder holding them broke.

Out popped a surprise: the 1999 Annual Report with a scribbled note of “When profitable?”

Curiously enough, I don’t think I’ve heard that question about the upcoming meeting. There are questions about buyout values, royalty and licensing income, customers, and cash burn. Profitability? Not discussed. Wouldn’t it be a great surprise to hear management address that directly? (rhetorical)

We’re in the drumroll period for MicroVision. An earnings report in a few days. An online stockholder’s meeting in about a month. (Not expecting them to mail us doughnuts, coffee, trinkets, and demo units. I do miss the meetings, and meeting the other shareholders.) Maybe I’ll set that mug aside, just in case any optimism I have is greatly exceeded. Champagne? Whiskey? Maybe just tea?

One last surprise. As I opened the brochure from that first meeting an article fell out. Ask long term holders about green lasers and get more stories than you may want to hear. Intrigue. Soap opera. Success through adversity.

And then, as I picked up the article I dropped it, it flipped and revealed something that should’ve been read about two years ago. Spooky.

Stay tuned. There may be much brighter days ahead, and the wait might not be long – for MicroVision, MVIS, and many things.

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