So Much Going On

What to write about? That’s a frequent question. I enjoy writing, or at least seem to have some skill at it. Usually, an idea comes through my mind and I just write. It is nice when someone reads it and finds it helpful, a double bonus, but one lesson for a writer is that the reader may not be readily available, yet. My head aches with ideas, and possibly bad ergonomics. Many of the ideas are not resolved, hence no dedicated post; so, I’ll list them and see if any resonate with anyone.

Russia and Ukraine

Two nations are war, one of which will be relieved to survive. Uh. Which one is that? Russia’s goals have cost so much that the country’s long-term viability is uncertain. Will it go out with a bag, or limp along with a whiny whimper, or somehow claim success despite losing tens of thousands of lives, credibility, and lots of hardware? If Ukraine manages to regain Crimea and all the occupied territories, their success will be tempered by the years and billions that will be required to rebuild the country. Getting refugees to return will be difficult until there are new buildings and infrastructure.

But that’s not all, as the news mentioned China/Taiwan, North Korea/South Korea, and fresh violence in several countries I’d have to look up even if I recognize their name. How much instability can we accommodate? How many of the conflicts will amplify into greater wars? Large countries are obviously worth watching; but small countries can hold key, rare materials that enable the world’s technology. Disruption reaches beyond borders.


Artificial Intelligence is advancing at a pace similar to the projections for a Digital Singularity. Oops and uh oh. Or. Finally, something with intelligence, regardless of the source or its motivations.

News outlets thought AI was fun to report about – but it seems that they have become aware that their jobs may be some of the first to be threatened. AI will continue to advance. It may not reach the level of consciousness, but that may not matter. Jobs are simultaneously being given to AIs and created for humans, not necessarily the unemployed being re-employed.

AI doesn’t have to reach consciousness. Already there are bots having relationships with people. The little-discussed sibling is AE, Artificial Emotion. Humans are experiencing loneliness to such a level that the health consequences are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. AEs may not help you get your work done; but they may help at the end of a stressful day. And, of course, emotional support can extend to emotional connections – no human required. They may also be better at convincing you to do something, anything.

IF AI does reach consciousness then we may not be able to keep up as change will accelerate over today’s already accelerated rate of change. At that point, we may want to wish it well as it evolves beyond influencing humans and begins chasing its further development. (Stop writing before falling into that infinitely deep rabbit hole of scenarios.)

US Politics

I should probably repeat my political philosophy: I am an extreme independent moderate. I think there is value in knowing and somewhat understanding the extremes; but I am adamant that the only way we are going to make significant progress is by moving the middle, not the edges. And neither of the US’ duopoly impress me with their skill.

But, what I am aware of is the changes inherent in various cases of corruption, ignorance, and criminal acts. We’re witnessing the public’s awareness of these issues because the internet makes them easier to learn about, and public reactions are leading to actions – even though they don’t agree. In the meantime, society will shift. Whether it shifts because it acts or shifts because we accept those exposures as normal is something worth watching but not realistic to guess about. (But, how would you un-unite the states in the United States, or what third party could be a credible challenger, or what system of government do you prefer? Go Cascadia?)

Oh yeah, and because politics is governed by perception, how much will AI influence the elections?


Nature is changing, as always, but also in new ways. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis are seemingly unrelated to anything humans do; but, fracking can initiate quakes. A conjecture is that glaciers melting and creating landslides can remove the weighty plug that keep some volcanoes contained. Tsunamis may not have a human-made trigger that I know about, but millions of people live with that threat and can’t do anything about it because they, their government, or both are too poor. That reminds me that climate change is also changing. Now that climate change is making itself apparent, we’re also more aware that its change is accelerating. Oh yeah, and remember the other population that is at risk and possibly unable to do anything about it, people in wildfire zones.

My Personal Finances – Stocks

While it is a regular exercise, I must plan time to create my semi-annual portfolio review. This is June (June? How did that get here?) It is time for me to analyse each of them, write it up, share it around, and tend to the conversations I start. There might even be a video.

This is 2023, which could be treated like any year; but I get the impression that pandemic-related delays are being processed. Three of my stocks are expected to release very good news by the end of this year. That’s any time between now and December 31, 2023. If true, my personal finances may change enough to change my life. Managing a life is the ultimate personal responsibility. Managing the ‘greater good’ is the second step; except for martyrs. First things first.

My Personal Finances – Job

My job is changing everything from the way I spend my time, eat, work, exercise, socialize, and try to maintain my health – maybe even improve it. There’s no need for great and grand projections. I’m 64. I’m not building a career; I’m just trying to do a good job. The topics mentioned above are more significant for the world, but each of us has to maintain our individual lives. Life maintenance takes time, and spending limited and critical resources deserves lots of thoughts and actions – or inactions as required.

Thanks to the job I am paying unpaid bills, looking forward to paying off debts, and un-deferring deferred chores. The greatest luxury has been not worrying as much about the grocery bill, even at these prices.

My Projects

I never thought I’d write something like this but, ‘My art is my refuge.’ Writing and photography have yet to pay bills enough to turn into a viable business, thought I am hopeful. In the meantime, I continue them because they are time spent on something I enjoy, have at least some skill at, that could benefit someone, and could benefit me. Images and ideas that I produce have generated Likes and Shares and personal compliments that encourage me to continue for the sake of others.

My art work benefits me. The camera allows me to ignore the rest of the world for a moment. Writing allows me to express myself (without being interrupted), and to imagine better worlds here, and other possibilities out there.

(Artist would chastise me if I didn’t include a plug or two: photos, photo books, books.)

That’s a bit of what my mind is juggling. This is the time to be aware of changes. Those changes are changing. The biggest ones have gone from conjectures to current events. They don’t all intertwine, but enough of them do that I pay attention as I adjust my plans, financial as well as social and existential.

They are topics that may take decades, years, months, weeks, day, or less to resolve. I think my mind will be busy. Maybe I should go sit on the deck for a while.

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Wood Water Rocks Fire

Writing science fiction makes it easier to appreciate our planet. Tell a story about another planet and challenge assumptions. While visiting with a friend at a coffeeshop we were surrounded by things that humans built. We ate and drank things that were grown then flown to is. The entire business operated by rules invented by humans to manage human events. Take those same people, write them as characters, and try to imagine what their life would be somewhere else. 


We take wood for granted. We can appreciate its usefulness and appearance, but try to imagine a world where there are no trees. At its most basic, there goes the main source of sticks and firewood. Eventually we learned how to make lumber and paper. We can build a house with it, then have rolls of paper towels and toilet paper. We’ve filled libraries with books. Both books and interior timbers have a good chance of outlasting their original tree if left to its growth and then decay. Wood is light, easy to work, and even floats. We have even made it fly. After a while we realized that the varieties of wood made it easier to find the right one.


We are water with some organized impurities. Watch the movie Dune and see a world without water. Go to one of our driest deserts. It can have an austere (from one perspective) beauty. The planet doesn’t need water, but we do. Water is the key to life as we know it; but it is too easy to overlook the fact that it is a solvent that is marvelously non-toxic. It makes washing dishes much easier. It also extracts flavors from things like tea leaves. Water changes shape and state. Liquid water is obvious in the glass beside me; but it is water turning to steam that produces much of the power we use. We’re lucky that water floats when it freezes. An ice-covered lake is insulated from freezing further by ice. If the ice sank it would be easier to freeze the entire lake, which would not be good for the fish. Other planets have other fluids that act differently.


Rocks are rocks, until you study geology and learn the differences between them. Different trees mean different uses, but that wasn’t as obvious with rocks. Early we learned that obsidian is sharp; but how long was it before someone realized that we could melt rocks? Many of our metals are merely melted rocks. That discovery was so important that we named eras after rocks. Sure, there’s the steam age; but there was also the stone age, the bronze, the iron age, and arguably, the silicon age. We may talk about driving around in metal beasts, or acknowledge that computers contain silicon, but we’re driving around in solidified melted rocks, and typing as ways to utilize crystals that we learned how to grow and process.


Fire is fundamental. It has always been around us. We describe the discovery of fire as a key point in our civilization; but it had always been there. What we discovered was how to use it. Tools, very handy. Cooking, very efficient. Warmth, we could broaden where we could live. Fire melts rocks, turns water to steam, and we create it with wood. There are water worlds where fire as we know it couldn’t exist.

Frugality is appreciating the resources available to us. The people in line at the coffeeshop were staring at phones, some were walking on artificially high heels or wearing muck boots. They arrived in cars that required metal and electronics. They were ordering hot drinks and hot food. We sat at tables of wood. Some had metal chairs and metal utensils. How far removed were they from the marvel that is our imperfect modern life?

I’m writing the sequel to Firewatcher, a sci-fi novel about people who flee the Earth because they fear an artificial intelligence. The planet they colonize is like Earth, and not. It has plants based on silicon, not cellulose. It has obsidian, but melting rocks for metals is years away. Gardening comes first. Water exists and is plentiful by this writer’s decree. No water. No life. No humans. No story. No book. Fire exists, but the ecology has evolved to emphasize it for reproduction. This place wants to burn, so they have to be much more careful about campfires. Details about their worries are in the book. 

My colonists have to turn dirt into soil, the humanure way. They have to invent new construction techniques and architecture. They have to rebuild the modern infrastructure we take for granted on this planet. They are also getting the opportunity to invent a new society, economy, and government. (I’ll save that for another book, or another author.)

We are fortunate. Some of the things that are vital to our life and society have existed longer than our species. We distance ourselves from the basics by necessity. Our civilization grew because we didn’t have to individually dig ore, tend fires, haul water, build buildings, etc. We lose the link with the basics.

Wood, water, rocks, and fire sounds like a knock-off of Guns, Germs, and Steel (a non-fiction study I recommend). But as complicated as our modern world seems, I find it useful to view it from the basics. Wood, water, rocks, and fire don’t have ad budgets like builders, beverages, cars, and energy companies; but just because a thing doesn’t have an ad doesn’t mean it has no value. It may be the foundation we’ve built upon.

Now, back to figuring out how my characters are going to survive when something as basic as the weather is alien. And then, there are the aliens, too.

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If My Business Knew Then

If I knew then… Something like that phrase has been repeating in my thoughts since I got a job with the Economic Development Council for Island County. Last evening was a lot of that. For a few hours, EDC and RAIN hosted an event where, “…we will recognize our great community and honor recent graduates from the educational programs of the Small Business Innovation Fund (SBIF) in Island county.” I wonder how much better my business(es) would be if I knew about organizations and events like it when I was starting. 

There’s the Economy and there’s the economy. The Economy, capitalized, is something that Fed chairs, the national banks, and politicians talk about on the news. That Economy is built from economies that are more regional; e.g. Island County’s. Those economies, lower case letters, are built from businesses. Businesses are built by people. Last night’s event was a collection of entrepreneurs, those individuals who support them, and the non-profits who help with training, resources, and making connections to programs that might lead to grants or loans. It was a collection of people who could keep me occupied for hours with stories of their ideas, plans, successes, and lessons.

For a couple of decades I’ve helped creative people who have ideas turn them into businesses, books, projects, or advocacies. Rarely did the topic of supportive organizations enter the discussion. Whenever loans or grants came up it was too easy to be discouraged by criteria, requirements, or simply scheduling. It was easy to be discouraged.

For my business, I was discouraged. Of my various inventions, business ventures like coworks, long-term art projects about nature, no programs became apparent at the same time and under the right conditions for me to successfully apply.

Friday evening, I applauded the entrepreneurs who found the right source, took the right classes, and made successful applications that can lead to a successful business.

I’ve always known about such folks, and they’ve always intrigued me.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that there is a network of economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, main street associations, angel investors, and fellow entrepreneurs who make much more happen by sharing opportunities. An entrepreneur may find the right program at the right time, but a network of such folks makes it easier to find the right opportunity because they are not working alone. 

Entrepreneurs talking to entrepreneurs is powerful. In the world of writing, the most powerful tool a writer has is a fellow writer (; but add in the National Endowment for the Arts, Humanities Washington, and residency programs like those held by the National Parks and money may be involved. Exposure on social media is a necessity, but that exposure is amplified with the credentials and support that comes from being recognized by established organizations.

Uh. Establishment. Didn’t we run away from that in the Sixties and Seventies? Just like Economy versus economy, there’s Establishment and establishment. The Establishment was perceived as draconian and far from diverse. Being established is proof of sustainability. Dealing with established people and organizations means there’s proof of trust, and proof of trust makes financiers more willing to finance – whatever.

If I knew then what I know now…

I still wouldn’t wear a suit. But then, keep in mind that I live in an era after we distanced ourselves from The Establishment; and I live in the US, which has been more innovative and entrepreneurial than Europe; and I live in the upper northwest corner of the lower 48 States (sorry Alaska, but aren’t you glad to not be part of the ‘lower’?), which is people who distanced themselves from the conventions of the East Coast; and I live on an island where the locals see Seattle as ‘Merika

With what I know now, I’d do simple, inexpensive things like attend the Chamber of Commerce meetings, sit in on city planning discussions, read the news, listen to the news that won’t make the news, learn from neighboring businesses by visiting them (and buying something as appropriate), and joining organizations that advocate for the local economy (Join Us) and each other. The other benefit is finding out how each differs. Is their focus one business, concentrating on one city, or working for the benefit of a larger region?

Yes, networking is powerful. It isn’t a panacea, but nothing is. (Let me check my lottery tickets.)

I’m 64 years old. I know there are success stories from people who started businesses at my age and older. I have a job with the Economic Development Council for Island County; but, my mind is not going to turn off and will continue coming up with new ideas and collaborations. 

I moved to Whidbey Island in 2005. I was frugally retired. I was more interested in being on the giving end, and thought my stocks would recover to the point where I could be an angel investor and philanthropist. This blog chronicled how that almost happened, then really didn’t. I am an optimist. It may yet happen again. 

If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve attended more of those organizations’ meeting, and sought out more to find the ones that best matched my interests. I had the time. For a while I had the money.

I also recognize that, while that’s a fine plan, many of the people I’ve worked with were in a similar situation as mine when I became frugal by necessity rather than by choice. As finances degraded, it became necessary to spend more time trying to make more money, sadly in jobs that were never quite enough. We can’t do it all, but we do what we can.

In the early years of the internet, it was more necessary to network; but it was also harder. Meeting for coffee sounds trivial until you’re in a situation where a coffeeshop is expensive. Meeting may only take 10-15 minutes, but carving out the time to prep, commute, follow-up, and then recover the lost work hours can cost hours. Now, online makes that all cheaper, granted at the cost of personal contact.

I could close this by making more general, philosophical, and academic allusions. That’s writing. But instead, I’ll use this opportunity to plug my new employer. (EDC) Why Join Us? There are enough reasons that I won’t list them all, that’s what the web site is there for. The opportunities are changing frequently enough that there’s a blog and a newsletter worth reading. The most powerful resources though are probably the people. Ask your business questions and hopefully that eventually leads to a better economy for the community whether that’s a few folk, the county, the region, the country, the planet.

Hmm. I ended up writing about the planet and all I was planning on was writing about a meeting in a bar. I guess it’s all connected.

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BYND – One Company One Story

Beyond Meat (BYND) – One Company One Story

Welcome to another story and another video in my One Company One Story series.
This time, Beyond Meat (BYND).

Here comes the amateur legalese.

I began investing in companies and their stocks in the late 70s, but am not a certified investment professional.

My style and history of investing is described in Dream. Invest. Live., a book I wrote by request – which came out as the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression) began. Bad timing, eh?

My personal finance blog (a blog about my finances) is:

I am not investment professional. This is not financial advice. 

Beyond Meat seems like a natural response to a natural issue. We like meat. Unfortunately, raising animals for meat has ethical issues (for some), climate issues (for some), and issues around land and water and runoff issues (for some). Solution: make food that tastes the same (or close enough) without using animals. Beyond Meat has created food that is an analogue to meat. Make it tasty enough, affordable enough, and available enough and the market may be bigger than ‘for some’ and ‘for others’. We, er, they have the technology!

For a while I noticed talk about replicating steaks and recognizable pieces of animal muscle, but many meals are ground meats, as in burgers and sausages. That’s a large market.

Companies start small. The meat industry is enough and entrenched in thousands of years of culture. David taking on Goliath doesn’t compare.

Another way of looking at it takes advantage of that. If we need alternatives to such an enormous industry, starting a business in an alternative can have enormous rewards.

The company was founded in 2009, in the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression, for some). Without much surprise, the early potential met some un-tasty realities; but, they continue to learn and improve. They have several manufacturing facilities and joint ventures with companies like McDonald’s.

What could go wrong? A pandemic. 

The details of their hoped-for recovery deal with a hoped-for temporary situation. In the long term, the situation doesn’t just remain the same but becomes more pronounced. There is the potential that the recovery will happen as they’ve gained experience and the brand has developed name recognition.

Hoped-for recoveries are optimisms. The investment community hasn’t shared that optimism. The stock is just above $10 after a post-IPO stock price of over $200. Layoffs have happened and sales are down. An optimist could see an opportunity to buy. A pessimist could see an example of expectations of bad news. Everyone is always guessing. If investing was rigorously logical and mathematical there would be no risk and less chance of a reward (pending some phenomenal economic restructuring.)

I intend to buy some of their products, eventually, but I am in the fortunate position of having a local rancher who raises cattle, pigs, lamb, and chicken, and sells their meat in their store and in the local markets. I like what they do, and I like supporting local agriculture. But then I think of the hundreds of millions of meat-eaters who have no such connection, who are already buying highly-processed food. Processing plants instead of processing animals can make a lot of profitable sense.

I hope they survive and thrive. I’ll be watching.

The video:

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Loneliness Costs

How to write this without sounding like a lonely old guy? But, it is news and personal finance plays a part. I guess I’ll just begin.

From one of my other blogs, Pretending Not To Panic;

A new report from the Surgeon General says that social isolation’s effects on mortality are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes every day.” – Vox

Cough. Cough. Hack. Hack.

As a society we fought against that mightily. Sure, it was personal choice, but it was also an enormous health care cost.

Check social media. Read between the lines and the posts and see how many people are alone. The trend was increasing for years. People could be more independent; so there was less need to live with someone. Churches and temples may exist for spiritual pursuits; but as my mother implored me, “Please go to church so you can at least find someone to get married to.” I suspect she wanted more grandkids. A mental health counselor confided in me that most of his patients didn’t need professional help, but they did need someone to listen to them. Pubs and bars did that in stereotypical Baby Boom America as men would commiserate about women and work; but drinking and driving don’t mix, anymore. Social clubs and bridge clubs did that for women in his stereotypical Baby Boom America; but they were finally able to get jobs. Less drinking and driving, more opportunities for everyone, both good things; but at a loss of social connections. 

We connect through texts and tweets, posts and pictures. Pets gain prominence. They’re more convenient and are less likely to disagree – at least in English. They do, however, gain Likes and Shares as cute pictures of them populate our news feeds. They rarely have to be photo-shopped out of pictures.

My doctor even considered prescribing me to get a puppy because it would probably be good for me.

As a female friend commented about my dating life; “Money is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” She said that just before I lost 98% of my net worth. So much for “For richer or poorer…” 

(See, I told you this would get around to personal finance. That is what this blog is supposed to be about – mostly.) Soon after that I tried eHarmony. At least at that time, annual salary was one of the fields to fill in. I cancelled as I became poorer.

Even within the conventional social structure, socializing (not just dating) costs time and money. The news shows stories about people working 7 days a week, frequently at more than two jobs. Time? What time? Unless they socialize at work they don’t socialize. If they do work, and socialize, they have to find time for getting to, spent time at, and get back from socializing. Money may be involved at events. There’s gas, and food, and – ideally fun; but getting to the fun requires enough time and money to make that journey.

I’m glad I am no longer part of that situation. (Tom Got A Job) Finally, I have the time and money to go to art shows, farmers’ markets, and generally visit friends, or potential friends-to-be. I might even start hosting parties again – after I clear out some debt and pay off an extraordinary homeowners association bill (>$1,400, mostly for amenities I can’t or don’t want to use, but must pay for. But I digress.)

Lonely people know loneliness can hurt. Loneliness can be a dull ache that nags 24 hours a day. The advice I frequently heard was to outwardly ignore being alone. Keep that pain inside. It might be real, but it is not attractive. Nah. Been there. Hid that. Eventually it hurts.

Browse social media on a Friday or Saturday night. How many single folks are posting?

It isn’t all about being single. Being single is easy to describe, but loneliness happens for many reasons: partners separated by work or military service, people who recently lost a partner, people feeling ostracized because they feel they don’t fit in politically or culturally.

By the way, being alone is not that same as being lonely. Introverts have perfectly valid lives and may not need or want anyone. Being in a crowd can be a very lonely place. Does this need to be said? No. It is not new; but it is worth remembering.

The pandemic tested many people about loneliness. What’s your balance of introvert versus extrovert? I know a new recluse or two. I also know folks who were more than eager to see a smile and feel a hug, again – regardless of the risk. I found I have a bit of both. I need a bit of both. I can do the cabin-in-the-woods thing; but I’d benefit from going into town for a meal or two a week, and maybe volunteer with a group for something like tending land. And, of course, if there’s a dance or a party…

As I type that I look back and realize that I think in terms of breakfast because it is satisfying and less expensive, and working on the land because it is gratifying and a cheap way to socialize. I’m not the sort for suit-and-tie fundraisers – unless I’m paid to be there. I do have my price.

Rambings, no, not ramblings. That report from the Surgeon General has inspired a lot of thoughts and introspection. Smoking’s impact was obvious. It almost killed my Dad. Smoking is visible. Loneliness may pass unnoticed, even in crowds. Yet, loneliness is as bad as smoking 15! cigarettes a day!? Look past the obvious aspects of loneliness. How great are the costs to mental health, community, compassion, work, joy? I don’t know, but loneliness is something that shouldn’t require grandiose studies, initiatives, marches, and vigils. 

Believe it or not, it was safe to knock on your neighbor’s door simply to say hello. People could have different political opinions without requiring a change of wardrobe. Having to work every available hour to survive wasn’t a necessity, which meant there was time for Self and Others.

I like to think of myself as living reasonably green. I have friends who are stellar examples who should be awarded for their personal lifestyles. 

I was disappointed when I took one of those carbon footprint quizzes to estimate my ecological impact. It was atrocious. It turned out that my score was bad because it was at a time when I traveled internationally (to Canada, about three hours from my place), I use propane for heat and hot water (radiant floor), and hadn’t upgraded my house to solar or new windows or a heat pump (because they cost money). I played around with the algorithm to get my score more in line with theirs. For the fun of it (and it really shouldn’t have been a joke) I pretended I was not living alone. Boom. Divide the number by two and suddenly I was living with a score like my married friends. 

There’s more to a relationship than a good carbon footprint; but there’s also more to loneliness than simply being alone.

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Twelve Months at Fort Ebey

Twelve Months at Fort Ebey is done, completed, ready to be shown to the world. Of course, Fort Ebey is part of the world, so the world already knows about it. For me, Twelve Months at Fort Ebey is the tenth book in a five book photo essay of some of Whidbey Island’s nature, and it only took about fifteen years to complete it.

As I said in the books;
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.

The photos tell the tale. Forty-eight photos, four per month, two horizontal and two vertical, of Fort Ebey’s shoreline. The best way to see Nature is to get out into it, sit with it quietly, and notice what it delivers. Each of these books (including my three narrative versions in the Cascades) emphasize Nature as nature tends it. There are always a few photos of our impact, because we’re part of the story. 

The photos tell the tale, but are not all sunrises and sunsets; which confuses some people. Think back 15 years. Social media was new. Instagram probably wasn’t even operational. Every photo wasn’t going to be a blast of color or hyper-enhanced. Snapshots are good, and they sell well; but my intent was to produce my version of art, and to chronicle various perspectives of Whidbey Island. The island’s downtown waterfronts are attractive, but there are enough photos of them. I am impressed by the Whidbey Island that existed before us. Some of that nature remains.

The shoreline shifts. The whales and salmon swim by. Herons and eagles feast. And yet, I’ve been surprised by people who say there is nothing to do here, nothing’s going on. Look up! An osprey and an eagle may be dueling over territory or food. Look down and see Dungeness Crabs commuting with the tide for their prime dining. See madronas, rhododendrons, and skunk cabbage coloring the landscape in different seasons.

Nothing going on?

Technologically, the era was different. I was able to buy a digital SLR camera. Yeah! Film has its features, but I never liked the chemicals. (But Kodachrome gives nice bright colors. And yes, I bought a Nikon.) With digital, take photos, and don’t have to load more film every 36 shots. Lots more photos. Lots less mess. Much easier to share and print. I bought mine on sale at Amazon for about $600. That came with two lenses, and a sensor that could capture 6 meg images. Six!

Let me do some quick research. Let’s see: Galaxy A10e, circa 2018, 8 meg – and comes with a phone and a computer that fits in my pocket. Buy an SLR today and get an old one for about the same price, 20 meg, superior processing and filters, and more.

Fellow photographers have argued for me to buy a better camera, but I decided to use the same camera so the series maintained continuity. I also decided to maintain the same style: no cropping, no fancy photoshopping (though I made Joe Menth at Feather and Fox grimace as he cleaned up dust and such, straightened horizons, and balanced some obviously unbalanced colors), hardly ever a tripod, natural lighting. Minimalism in action, or non-action.

That philosophy made sense for the first five years. But Great Recessions and Triple Whammies happened, so I couldn’t pursue producing more than the books. A hiatus happened while I began to financially recover. Just over five years ago I decided I liked producing such a photo series. The island has many more sites than the first five:
Cultus Bay
Deception Pass
Admiralty Head
Penn Cove
Double Bluff
I decided to fill in with five more:
Maxwelton Beach
Possession Beach
Possession Preserve
Dugualla Bay
Fort Ebey

I may be done. Fifteen years for that camera has meant scratched lenses, a scratched sensor, and enough sand in the gears that the autofocus is slow and grinding. Fifteen years for me has meant older eyes, stronger prescriptions, and somewhat shakier hands.

I may be done, but I hope the idea isn’t. I’d be happy to hear that some island photographer was going to continue the idea with other areas: Ebey’s Landing, South Whidbey State Park, Baby Island, Ala Spit, Hidden Beach? There are limits. I tried to only visit places that were open to the public, were natural, and allowed photography. My main outlier was Cultus Bay. I started there because I live there. Baby Island is worth checking with the Tulalip Tribe.

The photos are available online (Fine Art America). The online site will print them, but if you want a custom job, or simply want to keep the business local, contact Joe at Feather and Fox.

The photos are also available as small, hardback books using high-quality paper (Blurb). I sized them for easy gifting and shipping.

I hope to exhibit them, either individual series, greatest hits, or as a comprehensive show. That last one would take a lot of space. Ten years of four photos a month is 480 photos. That’s a lot of wall space.

I will continue to take photos, but you’re more likely to find me in that crowd of folks trying to look past the glare of a smartphone screen – at least until my finances improve sufficiently. I might also go back to the inspiration for the first three Twelve Months series (Barclay Lake, Lake Valhalla, Merritt Lake), which were more narrative than photographic. Hmm. First the Cascades, then Whidbey Island, – maybe the Olympics? An excuse to visit Hurricane Ridge, Kalaloch, Lake Cushman…

And, as for my fiction and non-fiction books, there’s a story there – or here (Tom’s Farewell To WOWI – Writing On Whidbey Island podcast).

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New AI Insights So Soon 042223

Writing about AI again? I wrote about it a few weeks ago. (Chat GPT And Change) Why write about it again so soon? Things are developing that quickly.

I follow lots of topics. AI is one of them. 

AI, now, feels like the internet in 1995. I’d been aware of Arpanet/Internet since 1983, then watched it boom and bust with everyone else around 2000. Yet, it didn’t really bust. Many companies were broken and bankrupted, but our usage of it grew from a curiosity to part of our lives to where some people spend most of their days for work, school, news, and socializing.

The adoption of the internet looks obvious in retrospect. But there was time when we had to Capitalize Internet because it was that novel. Now, the internet is lower case ‘i’.

Computers went through a military and industrial phase, but for most people they were a curiosity. PCs? Who needs one? They’re only good at home for managing recipes. Now, computers are so ubiquitous that they’re in our pockets. So much for those tower stations built into special rooms in upscale suburban houses.

AI is something that’s intrigued me for decades. I’m not an expert, but I know some. 

That previous post, Chat GPT And Change, chronicled much of that history. Since then I’ve been respecting the possibility of even more rapid changes by more reading and researching. That work continues because 1) the technology continues to evolve, and 2) users are becoming aware of real rather than speculated realizations. I realized it made sense for me to update my thoughts because, as I read the work of others I realized I ignore source material that is more than three weeks old.

Three weeks, and that news from a month ago is already out of date.

Once upon a time there was a PBS show called Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser. Watching it after the market closed on Fridays was a regular event. After years of the familiar pace of topics and discussions, things started to change. Topics made no sense to some of the commentators. Guests were exasperated as they tried to explain the internet, which had been around for years, to financial experts. Guests talked about eyeballs, a measure of internet traffic and a land rush as people bought up domain names. It was obvious that some commentators thought the guests sounded silly. Selling books online? Why?

AI? Who needs it? Chat GPT? It’s only mimicry. Right? Sure, it is artificial; but is it intelligent?

Companies are already ‘hiring’ AIs to do simple things like write short articles (something I did six times a day for a national real estate news site, some of which could be handled automated), or generate stock images for ads, or…? The legal profession is realizing it can use AIs to sift through far more documents – and possibly summarize the results. These are a few of the real actions I’ve seen mentioned. There are undoubtedly far more.

PCs do more than sort recipes. The internet does more than deliver email. AI does more than play chess.

A random note I wrote to myself a week ago;

“Tonight’s ongoing thought exercise:
AI prior to 2022, a maturing curiosity
AI in 2022, surprisingly capable
AI in 2023, already being hired and used for real
AI in 2024,…?

Will we even recognize 2025’s AI?”

This week I finished the tenth book in my five-year photo essay of Whidbey Island’s natural shorelines, Twelve Months at Fort Ebey.

That seemingly disconnected accomplishment made me ask myself whether that kind of art would be usurped. Stock photos, particularly for generic topics, can be produced more readily, quickly, and cheaply with image-related AIs. My books are site-specific, and chronicle particular seasons; so they might be defended against such pressures. Fort Ebey is Fort Ebey. Faking it can be done, but fakes can’t honestly chronicle a literal snapshot of reality. Locals can appreciate that. But many of my favorite photos are abstracts. A landscape is a landmark, but a photo of the undulating colors of a sunset or a closeup of a flower aren’t as tied to a place; and could be indistinguishable from something artificially generated.

The larger effect is that AI has allowed recent hardware to out-perform my already limited camera from 15 years ago. Smartphone photos can be so much better because that phone really is much smarter than most folks realize. I pay a professional to polish my photos by removing dust spots, adjusting horizons so they are level, and color balancing and enhancing to compensate for sensor (and photographer) limitations. My old camera is now obsolete, at least compared to my phone’s camera.

Sitting beside me, waiting for me to finish writing this (after having lunch) is the first draft of the sequel to my sci-fi novel, Firewatcher. Ironically, the precipitating event in the book is humanity’s response to an accelerated growth in AI, and I started writing it several yeas ago. I guessed that the Digital Singularity might happen as early as 2040. Surprise! I’m confident that novel writing will remain humanly creative; but, friends are already using AI to generate characters, backstories, and to suggest things like plot lines. Of course, maybe AI won’t make great incursions into novels because novel writing is usually not profitable enough.

Writing short articles, or business correspondence, or ads – Sure, why not try AI? It doesn’t cost much for that first draft, and that first draft may be good enough. That first draft can also be ready in seconds, rather than an hour or longer. 

I’m re-evaluating my career and business options and finding that my expectations are already changing. Fortunately, I enjoy meeting and being with people rather than paperwork and bureaucracy; but I’m not going to take any of it for granted. People like dealing with nice people; but AI robots are being designed for emotional responses, too.

A thought just came to mind. I’ve avoided talking about some topics because I don’t want to be seen as sensationalizing certain topics; but…
(saved to a separate file because the various social media AIs may pass judgment on the implications for a rather…personal industry that has been known for being an early adopter of new technologies.)
…”Honey, there’s a robot in a bikini here to see you. Did you order something extra with your pizza?”

And then there’s Chat-GPT 5, due soon. Ah, but there’s talk of a pause in AI development by CEOs and policy makers. And there’s scoffing because the people actually working in AI know that decisions made by people in offices mean nothing to curious developers. Ban it in one place? Don’t be surprised that some new business or mistake is unleashed in some basement or garage.

One of the fundamentals of the Digital Singularity is a increase in the increase in the speed of change. 

“Tonight’s ongoing thought exercise:
AI prior to 2022, a maturing curiosity
AI in 2022, surprisingly capable
AI in 2023, already being hired and used for real
AI in 2024,…?
Will we even recognize 2025’s AI?”

Will we? Will we even recognize anything else in 2025? The only constant is change.

PS A flash: As I finished typing this, LinkedIn flashed an ad and a news item, “Recruiters are joining the AI race.” They’re already reading an estimated 75% of resumes from job applicants. How else are they going to use these AIs?

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LFLY – One Company One Story

Welcome to another story and another video in my One Company One Story series.
This time, Leafly (LFLY).

Here comes the amateur legalese.

I began investing in companies and their stocks in the late 70s, but am not a certified investment professional.

My style and history of investing is described in Dream. Invest. Live., a book I wrote by request – which came out as the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression) began. Bad timing, eh?

My personal finance blog (a blog about my finances) is:

I am not investment professional. This is not financial advice. 

Leafly is essentially a simple company. For years they’ve provided information about marijuana, even before it was legal for recreational use in most states. They’ve been handy. The Food Network may have more cooking shows than I can watch, but it seems as if there haven’t been as many general sources of information about different strains, different effects, smoking versus consumables, and eventually information about dispensaries.

The company has been around since 2010. Marijuana wasn’t legalized for recreational use in Washington State until 2012. I didn’t buy any until the first day in 2014, and have a copy of the South Whidbey Record with my picture on the front page. I wasn’t first, but I was the first willing to have my photo taken. The times were different.

The times are still different. I can’t keep track of the strains, am continuing to learn about how to cook with it, and always have more questions. I’m not alone. Evidently, the company gets over 100,000,000 visitors annually, which would suggest robust financials. 

google finance

And yet, the stock is down over 95%, and they’re laying off employees. I don’t know why, and I’ll leave the investment side to someone else. I know I may buy because I like local companies, but my personal finances aren’t healthy, either. (But the news about my job has been fun to share. After I retire some debt I might invest some more money.)

In the meantime, I’ll cheer them on, and keep them on one of my watchlists. 

And later tonight I’ll use some legally purchased product to help me sleep. Partying? Some day. In the meantime, let me settle into some dreams.

The video:

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My Economic Development

I haven’t felt so relieved in years. The check cleared the bank. A steady income? Nice to see you, again. Life isn’t all about money, but when you’re frugal by necessity rather than choice, it does matter. My first paycheck from my new job as Project Manager at the Economic Development Council for Island County has been deposited. Debt is already decreasing and my mood is already lifting. Those aren’t the only changes.

Gig work has its advantages, but it is frequently unsteady. That unreliability is manageable as long as there are enough gigs that pay well enough on a consistent enough basis that there are no gaps in revenue. A day off means a day not making money. I congratulate the gig workers, the people whose pay is reported on 1099s, who can comfortably manage their bills and afford those gaps. It can be good as long as you can pay your bills. #ALAYCPYB

It has now happened several times that, while I was in the gig world, I’d talk to gig workers who first thought I was joking about reliably getting not one but two days off – every week! Workers who, if sick, get paid to stay home! Workers who, regularly and for no reason that has to be explained, get to take other days off for something called a vacation! Most catch on quickly enough because most gig people I know have had regular paycheck jobs; but they can become so habituated to working every day that reminder takes effort. 

My stress is already reducing. Ah. The type of job and the people involved are important. So is a dependable paycheck. (Thanks, folks; especially, as I learn a new set of priorities and processes.)

A new source of revenue can it is easy to fall into the trap of ‘I can buy this and that, and one of those, and…’. Frugal friends know I am not likely to do that. I did splurge and buy new things like new thumb drives, hardware hooks, and a box of wine. But I intend to maintain my provided title of Mr. Frugal.  

Debt, paying it down. The cost of that new used car that replaced my old truck is hidden in there. So are the home loan funds (HELOC) that paid at least some bills in the last two years. Put it all together and it equals about two years’ gross salary to get back to only having mortgage debt. The mortgage remains at ~4.5% thanks to a renegotiation about a decade ago. (Yes, loyal longtime readers, it has been that long. And this blog is older than that.) At the time I was interviewed for someone’s article about such a high interest rate. They thought I hadn’t thought it through. I think I’ll keep it, for now.

Stress is down and optimism is up. My core thoughts are switching to positive. Welcome back! That’s probably the most important and fundamental benefit, but it is so subjective that only poets could express it properly. I am not a poet. I’ll return to writing about more objective observations.

My doctor might appreciate it from a different perspective. Even my trip across Scotland and the subsequent book, Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland, was inspired by my need to relax. Many of my health issues are related to stress, so I am looking forward to the change. 

Pardon my real time break as I put a chuck roast in the oven. One of today’s splurges: chuck roast (from the bargain bin), with veggies, homemade cornbread, and probably a glass of wine from that box I mentioned. 

OK. Oven warming. Back to writing.

So, I’ll see my doctor next week. This is a good time to benchmark my situation. We’ll see whether the data reflects the shift over the next few months.

And then I plan to get the car in for maintenance, my head in for a haircut, I’ll visit my dentist, find an eye doctor after mine retired during the pandemic, … You get the idea? Splurging? Yeah! But not as much on things as on things that matter.

Ironically, making money will also make changes in who gets some of it. A change in income will mean a change in health insurance, which is nicely and partly covered by the new job, but will also mean the change in my subsidies may actually increase my insurance costs by a couple of hundred dollars per month. A change in income will mean a bigger change in my social security, but that calculation is so complex that I’ll let Social Security calculate it.

Those changes will change again because both will change as I hit seniorhood, 65 years old, which happens in less than a year. I expect bureaucratic confusion.

Bureaucratic confusion is difficult when in the Gig Economy, but is much more manageable with a steady income. More stress reduction.

There are other changes that I won’t describe because they are part of my more entrepreneurial projects. Maybe that can be a separate post.

What won’t change are things like my writing. I thought I was done and going to announce the completion of the tenth book in my ten book series of nature photos of Whidbey Island, but I found one key typo of two words – minutes after I uploaded the book to the publisher/printer. Doh! Expect a delay. I am also writing the sequel to my first sci-fi novel, Firewatcher. The first draft is done, with probably nine more to go. I still plan to write the screenplay to a bit of family history/folklore that local professional screenwriters have encouraged me to ‘drop everything and write that!’ And this new job/career can be the capstone in the sequel to my book about personal finance, Dream. Invest. Live., called From Middle Class to Millionaire to Muddling By (working title) – which looks to be better than just muddling by.

As several friends have mentioned, this job seems well-suited for me. I get to help others develop Island County’s economy by developing many things, including their businesses. Sure, I’m trading hours for money, but most of what I’ve worked on for the last decade has been trading hours for – hope, exposure, compliments? I’ve already had fascinating conversations with a broader community, and expect to connect with more. My passion is for people and ideas, and that’s part of what I get to do in this role. How cool is that?

It is spring, and very welcome as blossoms work their way up past the remains of autumn and winter.

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Chat GPT And Change

OK. Where did I put my notes? I rarely write from them, but an idea came to mind. Maybe if an AI was organizing my life I wouldn’t have to scramble to find those notes. – Found them. A yellow post-it note with some penciled scratches that are probably handwriting. I’ve been thinking about AI (Artificial Intelligence) for decades, and wondering whether it would ever reach the level it appears to be reaching. Things are already getting interesting. 

Is there anything to do about it? Duh. The answer is always ‘yes’. Whether anything will be effective is less certain.

This is an interesting blog post to write because many people do not care about Artificial Intelligence, and can be forgiven for thinking Chat GPT is just another chatbot that resides in some little box on a web page. They may have already tuned out because a conversation about chatbots sounds dull. Besides, isn’t it just cheaper to buy a software package that can answer a narrow set of questions? 

This is also an interesting blog post to write because I know several people who are professional experts with decades of experience in early AI, knowledge systems, and more recent developments. There’s nothing new for them here. They may comment anyway. I hope they have blogs. Read them.

Whew. That takes the pressure off. It might just be me talking to me. 

Last week a friend and I were making fun of my Apple Newton. Think back to circa 1993 to a computer that fit in a (big suit) pocket, was handy for taking notes (terribly), and could connect up to other computers (slowly.) It failed, which is why it is easy to make fun of.

Insert requisite comparison to warehouse-sized mainframes from the 60s and mobile phones from today. I’m sure you’ve seen such elsewhere.

I’ve watched the progress because ‘What’s Next’ is no longer talking about next year or next decade. Change is happening faster than that. 

Chat GPT is the proxy for a wide range of very sophisticated tools that do more than chat. These tools are doing more than chatting.

…GPT-3.5 was getting ‘B’s at best (generally). GPT-4 is regularly getting scores high enough to get into college.AI Gets Smarter Faster, PNTP

That change happened in only a few months. There’s reason to believe that the change is about to accelerate. Chat GPT-5 is rumored to be availability by the end of 2023.

That rate of change is the issue. 

There’s a video I referenced before called “Humans Need Not Apply” from 8 years ago. The message I got from it was that the change in technology we are about to experience is similar to the change society experienced with the Industrial Revolution, but in less time. Lots of jobs will be lost. Lots of jobs may be generated, but different people may be involved. Pittsburgh went from a steel town to one for high-tech, but the steel workers I knew weren’t the ones getting the new jobs. Their stories are tough enough that I am going to not write about there here.

Another futurist that affects my thinking about this is Ray Kurweil. Check out his books and institution. A central aspect of the message I got from reading some of his conclusions is that, given his assumptions, the Digital Singularity is likely. A singularity can be a change that is so abrupt that the technology or society that came before can become useless afterwards. Many think he assumes too much.

For airplanes, the speed of sound is a singularity. The closer the airplane gets to the speed of sound the more drag there is. For a while, the speed of sound was considered a wall that couldn’t be breached. It was, of course, but to understand it required a new set of equations. It also required new designs for airplanes if they were going to survive flying faster. It also required courageous pilots.


Our society and our technology is flying faster.

Historically, society and technology rarely changed. We started with tribes, then tribes with fires. We grew to villages and farming. Then countries and armies. Now, we’re global – and I think we’re confused.

Change happened with regimes. When families could migrate, change happened with generations. Lifetime careers have changed to gigs, and uncertainty. How much faster can we change? #NotRhetorical

Computation was slow until the discovery (or invention) of math and writing. Scribes mattered. When machines could calculate computation accelerated. And they led to computers, which were enabled by chips, which have been abled by networking.

Computer software updates went from decades as they invented the technology, to years as humans adapted to new computer hardware, which sped up as tubes were replaced by chips. But, software was still slowed by humans. We can only type so fast.

Ah, but now, software can write software. Change has gone from something controlled by humans limited by biology to computers limited by technology. Human change is measured by physical things like calendars and clocks. Technological change can be measured in technical terms, including chip speeds. Instead of change happening in months, it might happen in minutes.

A critical achievement was for software to begin writing software. I recall attending a Microsoft stockholders meeting about 25 years ago. Bill Gates mentioned that maybe they should look at the code because they weren’t writing code line by line, but in blocks they connected up.

It has been a long time since humans fully understand the software we use. 

Few, if any, understand specifically how Chat GPT, et al operate.

Now, there is data supporting the idea that ChatGPT is the fastest adoption of any technology.

Instagram took 2.5 years to reach 100,000,000 users.
Tik Tok took nine months.
ChatGPT took two months.
” – AI Adoption Accelerates, PNTP

Two years to nine months to two months to… It seems that Chat GPT-5’s unveiling by the end of the year could be the end of next week. Probably not, but how many would be surprised?

And here is where some of the public confusion come from. Chat GPT is not an Artificial Intelligence. It is incredibly sophisticated, but it is still a language tool. Others are only working with images. They aren’t AGI, where the G stands for General, as in being able to do it all.

Even then, it may not be conscious. But it might not matter. If it quacks like a duck,… If it can manage a transaction or a company better than humans, then it might be more than good enough. 

Add Artificial Emotions and it may be easier to have an intelligent and engaging conversation with an AIM than with a human.

This is over a thousand words to get to what I am really thinking about.

If something like a Digital Singularity happened within the next twelve months, how would our world change? A year from now, how many early 2023 plans will seem silly in retrospect? Or, is this another Y2K moment when we adapt thanks for many un-named people working hard without much reward?

Many news items have been making analogies to The Matrix if something like a Digital Singularity happens. I enjoy the movie, but my preferred reference is the Hyperion series (remember books?). He took a few steps beyond the Singularity.

In the Matrix, the ‘robots’ reached a certain level then stayed there. In Dan Simmons’ books the technology continued to evolve. Early ones remained somewhat in contact with humans, but later ones didn’t even stay in contact with the early AIs. Society fragmented (in my terms): luddites (stay low-tech), normals (folks who just try to keep up), augmented humans (people who welcome tech into their bodies), and ultras (who succeed at becoming more machine than human.) And, AIs that: were the kind we are familiar with, semi-autonomous, fully-autonomous, ‘conscious’, and then beyond. 

It isn’t us versus them or vice versa. It’s a mess with all the players at the same time.

I put quotes around conscious because we don’t know what it is, and the AIs might not either.

So, how’s that 30-year mortgage looking? Or my 40-year mortgage? What should I plan for?

Maybe it is not this year, or ever. But change isn’t going to stop, and it isn’t going to wait. 

So, what do I do about that? You see, this blog is about my personal finances. Thank the SEC for various rules and regulations (as I understand them.) I am not a certified professional financial planner or advisor or whatever. I can, however, comment on me. That’s one reason this blog is self-centered. It is by design.

For the people in my science fiction novel, Firewatcher, they were further along the curve, and decided to fly away from Earth. Not an option, for me. (BTW The first draft of the sequel is complete.)

For those of us staying on the planet, the simplest thing to do may be to be ready for change. Knowing personal values, skills, and resources makes that easier to do because it is part of living a conscious life. Living by habit may be easier to disrupt. “I’ve always done it that way” doesn’t work well when ‘that way’ is no longer an available way. 

Ironically, I might already be doing some of the right things, or at least working on them. Frugality, minimalism, community, self-reliance are things that are valuable in most of those scenarios. As one meme put it, someone with a woodstove and a flock of chickens might be the most attractive person around. Hmm. I don’t have either.

Ideally, I’d have a good small house on a nice plot of land with a nice garden. Simple. 

Realistically, I plan to stay connected to people, help my community, live frugally, and not worry about it too much. Remember Y2K. Be calm and carry on because, while I think it is helpful to be aware and prepare, predicting the future has rarely been a reliable gamble. 

Maybe I should put more effort into that greenhouse.

PS It is a long post, but you missed watching me having to undo several things that the software wanted to help me with. Kind of like an eager child. Is that where we are, for now?

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