Paying For Bad Packaging

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a letter by its envelope. Don’t judge what’s in the box by looking at the box. Skip the judgments and maybe even make some money. Weirder things happen.

Two envelopes showed up in the mail. There were more, but those two dropped my mood two notches. It’s possible to earn a living income (or more) as a real estate broker.  (Hi, Washington State asks me to disclose that I am – “a licensed real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Koetje on Whidbey Island.” Hey, I didn’t want to make it part of the story, but I’m being careful with their regulations.) Anyway. Real estate can pay well, but it doesn’t pay every two weeks or on any regular schedule – at least for me for now. There are income gaps that are ignored by the need to pay expenses. Seeing an envelope from my old mortgage company and my new propane supplier days after recently paying those bills made me dread contacting the companies. Did the old and new mortgage company double bill me, and do so after the due date? Did the online Bill Pay not pay the propane company? I reacted before I opened the envelopes. I also procrastinated by waiting until I was at work where the office phone was designed for calls to be left on hold while I got other work done.

Yet another advantage of not living in The Big City is having phone calls answered by humans in the first two rings. The bill was $75 over the bill I paid a few days ago at the end of the month. If that was a late fee, it was a big one. One quick call to Van der Yacht Propane pointed out the money and the bill passing each other in the mail. Yep. I’d paid my bill, but their tank rental fee ($75) was sent to me before the money cleared. Instead of being over-charged or late, all I had to do was pay a regular rental fee. Whew.

As for the mortgage, I’ve lost count of how many mortgage companies and servicers have handled my monthly payment. The Great Recession swing them through a lot of loops. I wonder if, pardon me as I estimate, at least seven companies have truly been able (oops, eight) to keep track of who owes and who owns what. After all of that confusion, a double bill wouldn’t be a surprise. Surprise! It wasn’t a bill. It was a notice that I’d be receiving a check for the escrow money they’d set aside to pay property taxes. Whew.

Coincidentally, the propane bill was almost exactly the same as the escrow check. In and out equal nearly zero.

What was I reacting to, again? (Only slightly rhetorical)

We, or at least I, react to packaging. Dispassionately waiting until the envelope is logical, but humans are emotional, too. Maybe I should find a Vulcan to handle my mail.

Packaging is so important that we pay more for fancy packaging and pay much less for poor packaging.

20191206_144022I’m frugal. I browse the discount bin at the supermarket. Dings, dents, and damaged goods cost much less even if the contents are fine. Anyone who follows my Facebook or Twitter (#TomTea) feeds knows I drink tea. I’m not a tea snob. It’s just something I post about as an aside to the day. I can measure my progress through the day by how and what I drink. (If I’m drinking Tetley after 4PM you know it is going to be a long day and a sleepless night.) There it was, a box of Taylor’s Lemon & Ginger, crushed and crumpled. The box was crushed and crumpled, not the tea. Tea doesn’t do that, unless on purpose. Twenty tea bags that would cost several dollars was marked down to 99 cents. It’s fine. (As I sip.) The value and quality of the tea didn’t change. The impact of the packaging did.

20191206_144143A gracious and generous gesture by Victorinox happened about the same time and showed me another side of the packaging issue. I found one of my old Swiss army knives in a tool box. As if the normal set of tools wasn’t enough, this one included an altimeter. The altimeter that fit in the knife works because of a battery, a tiny battery, a battery thin enough to fit in whatever is left of the volume that isn’t already filled with knives, screwdrivers, scissors, files, and of course, a corkscrew and toothpick. So civilized, the Swiss. Hence, the graciousness of them when I contacted them about finding a replacement battery; and their generosity when they mailed me one for free. A battery skinnier than my pinkynail. A battery that is smaller than a stamp, but that required an envelope measuring 9 inches by 6 inches. The cost of the person’s paycheck for answering the call, the cost of the battery, the cost of shipping, and the cost of the envelope are costs associated with packaging their response, not just the battery. Impressive. Sadly, the battery couldn’t fix the fact that years in backpacks and toolboxes probably ruined the electronics in the altimeter. I’m not asking them to fix that, too. They’ve done more than enough, already. I’ve cost them too much, already.

And the coincidences accumulate.

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Nine by six is the size of my most of my books. According to some readers, one in particular is my best writing and possibly worth submitting for awards. I probably won’t because we do judge books by their covers. The writing inside may be worth mentioning, but the title and the cover do too little to connect with the content. Twelve Months at Merritt Lake. No verbs. No action. No emotion. The cover is a photograph, but only one that makes sense after the book’s been read. A clear day punctuated by a sweet wilderness camp, rifle shots, and helicopters attacking a nearby forest fire. I use my book as an example, but think about how some shop on Amazon. It was sad enough that judging a book by its contents was tough in bookstores. It takes too long. So, readers judge books by their covers. Now, covers are reduced to Amazon images a few pixels wide and tall. The cost to the author for poor packaging is in poor sales.

Humans are quick to judge. Maybe that was less likely when life moved slowly. Now, we judge people and events on a few words or even a few letters. See an (R) or (D) or (G) or (I) beside a politician’s name and the judgment is made. Some do the same thing with skin color, or gender, or accent, or whatever discriminator is being used to discriminate between this person and that person. Even in the world of personal finance, a car that safely drive at the speed limit holds a basic value, but tens of thousands of dollars are layered around that with brands, luxuries, and paint jobs. A house that is safe, secure, and structurally sound meets necessities, but style and whether the walls are painted or the windows washed can change opinions and purchases.

Maybe we shouldn’t be affected by such things, but we are. The pragmatist in me struggles with this notion. The frugal person in me appreciates the opportunities. The reflective part of me knows I am susceptible to the my own mix of feelings and consequences. I guess that proves that I am human. Time to sit back, sip some tea, make this post a bit prettier – all as we approach the holidays with wrapping paper and bows and silly sweaters.

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Thankful For Serendipity

Intuition, a hunch, listening to a hint I bought a new pair of jeans – just in time. The coolness wafting into my pants told me so.

Buy local! I do, or at least I try. South Whidbey has a (1) (one) place that calls itself a department store: Webbs. Clothing, bedding (which is just clothing for beds), shoes, socks, hats, etc. I tend to drop by as a treat every time I help someone buy or sell their house. Sometimes necessity urges action.

For the last two years I’ve worn one pair of jeans to the office. In some places, real estate brokers wear semi-formal wear and drive tastefully subdued luxury sedans. This is the south part of Whidbey Island. Sure, there are luxury properties, but I’m also likely to be stepping into the Before version of a fixer-upper, or strolling across fields or through forests. Jeans don’t get chewed up as much fine fabrics. Wingtips aren’t as practical as sandals that can be easily slipped on and off, or boots that can bash through brush.

Two years of my version of desk work, field work, and house work meant a hole grew in the knee. Not a very draft place. I’ll be getting there.

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Recently I attended a county housing presentation, in the audience, this time. A young, stylish woman walked in wearing distressed jeans. The tastefully arranged holes and wear spots covered, or uncovered, about a third of where fabric should be. I pointed her out to an experienced fellow broker who understands women’s fashion because she is one. She pointed out to me that the young, stylish woman probably paid a lot more for her jeans than I did for mine, and achieved a completely different effect. Yep. Though, I may have paid for the hole in my jeans with lots of time, if not lots of money.

OK. After the last washing, the hole went from cute and easy to overlook to that’s not quite right. Break a habit and buy some pants for the first time in over two years. At least they’re mens jeans, not something that has to be sized, fitted, tailored, and pampered. As I paid for them the clerk asked whether I wanted a bag. Let’s see. They’re jeans. They better not bruise, tear, or break if I drop them. No bag necessary. Throw them across my shoulder, toss them in the truck, make fun of buying them as I walk into the office.

Before getting back to work, though, it made sense to visit the rest room. No need for details – but. As I walked back to my desk afterwards, I wondered if I’d sat in something. My butt felt far too cool. Discreetly put my hand on my butt hoping not to find a wet spot. None. Instead I felt my skin. Uh oh.

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I wasn’t sure which would be worse, a wet spot or a hole. A wet spot could be temporary. A hole in the seat, however, could’ve been there for as long as the hole in the knee. Who knew? Literally. Who knew? Who knew but hadn’t told me? Someone in the office? Folks on the street? Clients? No one. No one noticed. Whew.

The washing that expanded the knee’s wear spot weakened the backside, but didn’t expose it – at least not in a way that anyone noticed. I may have just noticed it as it happened.

It is easy to forget about such events, but it made me think. Why did I have the sudden intuition or hunch to Go Buy Pants Now? What hints did my subconscious notice that I missed? I don’t know. I respect my subconscious but we rarely converse, and if dreams are our conversations then we have a lot of learning to do about communicating.

I believe in intuition and inspiration. … At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason.” – Albert Einstein

About the time I became a real estate broker I was also pursuing other possibilities. Each had costs and benefits. My intuition suggested I become a broker. (Getting turned down for some of the other offers limited the field, too.) Since then, three of those jobs have vanished. Each was a steadier income. Some even had benefits like healthcare. All were more temporary than my conscious mind expected.

Getting older means unavoidably accumulating experiences. My intuition at twenty had less to work with than my intuition at sixty. As I look back, I find that following my intuition would not have been a panacea; but my biggest mistakes were when I didn’t follow my intuition. I did what I ‘should’, what I was supposed to do. An exercise I’ve worked from both ends is; “What advice would you give your younger self?” and the flip was to find someone older and ask them for the advice they wished they received at my age. (See Thirty Year Wisdom for that result.) My advice to me has been to trust myself more.

The only person that lives every moment of your life is you. Anyone trying to give you advice can only become aware of a small slice of your experiences. Many are very good at doing so, usually by narrowing the topic to something they have studied. None of us can be consciously aware of everything, which is why it is good to keep a council of advisors handy.

Advisors aren’t the people who will live my life. I live my life. The future is unknowable. Decisions made today will have a shifting set of unpredictable consequences. I know I won’t always pick right. I have enough examples of that, already. But I’ve found there’s one advisor who at least knows me the best, and is intimately tied to how my life is lived. My intuition may not speak the same language, but I’m becoming more confident in listening to its hints. In at least one instance, it’s saved me from mooning the people around me. Now, that’s valuable. Thank you, me.

PS My frugal friends quickly pointed out that a rip right below the pocket is the worst because it is difficult to turn them into cutoffs or garden pants. My ultra-frugal friends quickly concocted ways to patch it from the inside. Quick advice, and fun to watch them deliver it because they’d experienced it, too.

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Trying Amazon Prime

Last year I said; “Goodbye Netflix”. 

mv5bmtc3mjewmtc5n15bml5banbnxkftztcwnzq2njq4na4040._v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_“At least for movies, I’m on a hunt. I’m trying Hulu, but only because they have Stargate SG-1 and Firefly. Their movie list looks slightly better, but not so appealing that I’m sucked in. The mute button is necessary for the anxiety-driven medical ads, and the fact that there are ads even though I’m paying for the service.”

It’s time to say Goodbye Hulu, at least for now. One streaming service at a time. It’s a frugal thing. Next up, Amazon Prime. Here’s why I’m saying goodbye to one mega-corp and hello to a much larger mega-corp. 

Go back nine years and recall why I left Directv. The cost was ridiculous. Despite spending about sixty dollars a month I still had to listen to ads – ads that amplified fears and anxieties. The worst were pharmaceutical ads that made every ache seem like a symptom of impending death. Find a fear (or make one), amplify it, and present a solution. And I was paying for that? There was lots to watch, but it took as much effort to know what to ignore. Not an efficient use of my time, and not something that helped me relax and enjoy.

Say hello to streaming Netflix over an early Roku box. Ah, the simple life. Then, Netflix decided to do more than share others’ content by emphasizing their own. Roku decided to make my old box obsolete. Get a new Roku, switch from Netflix to Hulu. At least I could binge watch a good and long sci-fi series, and a great but too short sci-fi series. But the ads, the ads. Too much fear in a world that already has an oversupply. 

You may have noticed that I give such services a year. It takes that long for binge-watching series that lasted for ten years (but at least now it is possible to watch them at ten times the broadcast speed.) You know those samples companies give away at groceries and such? They’re too small for me. If I want to try a beer, I’ll drink an entire glass. If I want to try a wine, I’ll buy a bottle, and taste it over more than an evening. Sips are too small samples for me. I’ll commit to more because first impressions are frequently wrong, even if they are what drives most human interactions.

I haven’t watched everything on Hulu. Who could? But I find myself scrolling and scrolling, hunting for something I want, rather than am simply willing, to watch. No greater analysis required. Too much fear, too little joy, time to try something different.

CBS All Access almost got me. They’re holding the new Star Trek series hostage, but I considered paying their price. After looking through the rest of their offerings though, I was underwhelmed. Committing to CBS would be like going back fifty years and breaking the TV antenna so it couldn’t get NBC, ABC, or PBS. There are hundreds more services now, but I’m keeping it simple and cheap by checking one at a time. 

Hello Amazon. AMZN is one of those stories where I bet beside the stock. I didn’t bet against it; but I hoped that its competitors would rise with it. Got that wrong. Barnes & Noble had a great opportunity – and missed it. As Amazon grew and AMZN rose, I continually thought it had gone far enough. Besides, monopolies eventually run into anti-trust regulations. Right? Got that one wrong, too. Now, certain aspects of Amazon make me cringe. Just like Google leaving behind their early motto of “Do No Evil” and abandoning their ultra-simplistic architecture, Amazon has become something dangerously large. 

I didn’t and don’t want, to feed such beastly large entities; but they now rule in a literal sense. They command more power than governments, similar to what was forecast in Powershift by Alvin Toffler. (Available on Amazon for $8.44) Maybe I should embrace the beast.

The beast has been benevolent towards me. Amazon sells and has helped me publish my books. (Check my Amazon Author Page for the long list.) Living on an island creates at least some reliance on shopping and shipping via Internet companies. Much of the rest is abstractions or at least remote: stories of what they’re doing to employees, meddling in local politics, and the bizarre circus they inspired when they teased cities with the prospect of a second headquarters. 

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I don’t just watch sci-fi; but that seems to be a distinguishing feature. I enjoy sci-fi because it makes me think, and if written right, makes me feel, too. I’m also writing my first sci-fi novel. Watching and reading sci-fi has helped me decide how I want to write my novel. Excellent ideas can easily be lost in bad writing. Good writing draws a crowd, but the sci-fi community is unlikely to abide bad ideas. It’s a balancing act, and one I want to better understand.

mv5bn2q3zwm0yzgtmgu0mi00owm0lwiwnzctnmq4ntuyytk0zwy2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzyymzu2oa4040._v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_One of my favorite examples of excellent sci-fi is Babylon 5. Aliens were truly alien. Humans were human. Science was so well respected that the series has some of the most accurate space battles. The series was written as a five-year arc, not a one year season that was hopefully extended annually and tenuously. The network still messed that up, but the show excelled, at least for me.

Unless I want to pay a couple of bucks for each episode, or buy the complete box set, it looks like I should sign up for Amazon Prime.

I avoided Amazon Prime for years because, despite the shipping cost benefits, I am a minimalist and the last several years have been frugal by necessity. Shopping only happens when it must (mostly.) I didn’t want to sign up for Amazon Prime only for streaming. The monthly fee is high enough that it exceeds the no-ad version of Hulu. But paying that extra for, streaming, plus shipping, plus music, plus whatever else they have means getting a lot for effectively a little extra.

But why now? Well, Hulu has had its year. I’m ready for Babylon 5. And, my dance shoes are falling apart. 

Yes, I dance. It’s social dancing. If you did it wrong but you’re both smiling, you did it right. The soles have been glued back on four times. The insoles are squashed thin. The stuffing is falling out. Even the tag has been wiped clean. I can’t read the size and have to guess. (That’s another story.) Just buying the shoes can save me much of the differential between Hulu’s annual cost and Amazon’s annual cost.

Personal finance is not always about spending as little as possible. Spending the least can also mean getting the least. Sometimes that’s all someone can afford. Walmart built a big business based on that idea. As my finances improve, it becomes possible to take a step up to leverage that balancing act between cost and benefit. 

I doubt that there will be a need to update you as I step through signing up. Amazon Prime seems to be so well-used that the process should be smooth. If not, I’ll blog about that. 

In the meantime, I’ll get out the plastic to pay for online services; and the engineer in me will hang onto Hulu just a little while longer because it’s usually good to have a backup. Stay tuned.

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A Tooth And Luck And Life

Don’t doubt that little things matter. It’s a good thing this isn’t a podcast. I’d have to talk around a wad of gauze. Instead, I’ll type while pondering the new hole in my mouth. All because of one popcorn kernel in the wrong place with a bit too much pressure. Crack. Ouch. And yet, not too bad, considering.

Brushing and flossing may be necessary for dental health. (I wonder what the equivalent is for mental health.) But, brushing and flossing don’t guard against accidents. Preventative measures don’t prevent every possibility.

It’s common enough. Doing something simple can interrupt the best planned and maintained lives. A twisted knee while cleaning, a trip or a slip while walking down slick stairs, an accident while sitting still in a car but getting hit by someone not paying attention. Despite a daily deluge of do this or don’t do that, all the good advice can’t counter the fact that bad luck happens. That’s part of life. A soft, accident-free life teaches less. That doesn’t mean go chase danger for the lessons; but think of the strongest people you know. They probably have stories to tell.

Me, I’m sitting here typing to try and ignore a soggy ball of something probably fancier than cotton.

I’m actually quite fortunate, at least related to this tooth. It cracked over a decade ago. Nothing dramatic. Just enjoying popcorn and a movie at home when one bite obviously went wrong. It hurt, but there wasn’t any evidence of something to worry about. The next time I went to the dentist he finally had an excuse to use his new flexible digital microscope. There it was, a barely-noticeable hairline crack in one of my far-back molars. It was a bit sensitive, but paying a few thousand dollars for a root canal and or a crown was too expensive. I’d wait for my portfolio to recover and then get something done.

Years of visits, each time an opportunity to mention its sensitivity; but too much money for too little discomfort.

Years. Years. Years. Until last year.

Last year, there were a few days when I was incapacitated with pain. All I could do sometimes was stand in the middle of the room and not move, waiting for the next wave to recede. I scheduled an emergency appointment, but I think it was over a weekend. By the time I was in the chair, the worst was gone. But I worried. Would I have to find thousands of dollars for the repair? Evidently, no. The dentist pointed out that the tooth could be extracted for under $200. Even that wasn’t affordable; but I was glad to hear it. Why hadn’t the other dentist mentioned the possibility? Maybe he did. I decided to wait.

Last week I got paid. That’s not the first real estate transaction I’ve closed, but it finally happened soon enough after another one that I could reasonably pay that bill. Besides, since the previous year’s episode, it was a daily ache, not a pain, just an ache. OK. There was that one day when a popcorn hull wedged itself down into the gum line – and that’s probably already too much information. That hurt. Since then, the ache grew.

It’s an interesting thing, doing something innocuous but unknown. The last time I had a tooth pulled was about 1970, and those were wisdom teeth that had to be extracted in a hospital. (Upon reflection, I wonder if my mother was talked into putting me through unnecessary surgery.) What happens when a tooth is pulled? How long does it take to heal? That was a hospital stay with some very unpleasant side effects. Am I over-reacting as I worry about infections and jaw pain, or will it all subside?

Drop back into frugal considerations. The crack lived for years. I spent too much time tending it, eating around it, updating dentists on its condition, basically carrying it along for too long. I didn’t feel like I had the money to spend; but I realized how much time I was spending, instead.

The visit was less than an hour and less than $200. Fortunately, I finally had the time and the money. Let’s see how much time my tongue spends probing the new hole. The geek in me asked for the tooth because I am fascinated at how our bodies grow and heal. That came out of me? Don’t worry. I won’t include a photo. Ick.

My jaw is sore, which is probably more from me clenching my teeth for the last few weeks and also through a squirmy part of the visit. (My fault, plus the jab of a needle that was too on target. Doc, that twinge went away, just as you said it would.)

My jaw is sore because I was unconsciously guarding the tooth, sometimes clenching down to keep things in place. Add some work-related stress, and those jaw muscles got a workout. I doubt that they burned significant calories, though. I didn’t notice the clenching until I took my first four day vacation in over three years last week. Relax, relax, relax, or notice what isn’t relaxing, relaxing, relaxing. I’m looking forward to relaxing my jaw, which will probably help my smile, which might help my attitude on glum days.

Not only is it too easy to carry small pains for too long, sometimes it is necessary. I suspect everyone is carrying more than a few, whether they are medical, dental, or mental. Ideally, we can shed them and live a freer life; but not every pain can be extracted and discarded as readily as a damaged tooth. Even the pains that can be removed can leave a hole that must heal, and even after the healing we may notice the evidence of what was there before.

Brush, floss, exercise, pay bills, do laundry, do those chores we’re all supposed to do; but remember that life delivers unavoidable upsets. If we’re lucky, we can extract them at the right time with the right help.

For now, I’m looking forward to relaxing (which is difficult with a bandage in my mouth). Instead of my normal popcorn snack, though, I’m thinking yogurt tonight, oatmeal tomorrow, soup for lunch – some softer living for a while.

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Simple Ideas Are Seeds

“You had me at doughnut.” Well, duh. Thanks to someone’s post on Facebook, today I saw a video about a one of Whidbey Island’s boutique doughnut experiences. This ain’t Dunkin, people. One couple has launched a YouTube channel where they tour and review doughnut shops around the country (world?). This time, they profiled Whidbey Doughnuts, a doughnut shop/diner that I frequent for breakfast. Both the shop and the channel remind me that sometimes a simple idea can reach far, especially when supporting others with similar approaches.

Let us not trivialize either endeavour. Opening a doughnut shop sounds simpler than running a steak house, but ask any commercial baker about their hours, or drive past Whidbey Doughnuts when the Open sign is off, but the lights are on in the kitchen. Launching a YouTube channel can be much simpler, but deciding to do so where travel is required can be intimidating and expensive.

And yet. Doughnuts are a simple idea, and a great culinary start. YouTube channels cost little to launch, and can lead to greater careers.

Insert your favorite doughnut photo here. Whidbey Doughnuts are impressive, but I go there to eat, not take photos – and I order eggs, bacon, and potatoes. They have gluten-free doughnuts (Yay!), but the rest of breakfast is already decadent enough for me.

Many of my friends impress me. Take a simple idea and do something with it besides talking about it. The world is driven by unintended consequences, so don’t depend too much on plan after plan after plan. But plan. At least a plan gives you a direction.

Whidbey Island seems to be a haven for entrepreneurs, artists, and similarly creative people. An entire market of localvores work from the ideas they’ve had for produce, meat, wine, spirits, beer, whatever. Artists have their art reach out far beyond the borders, the moat that is the water that defines the island.

A friend and I are blending a few of these concepts into a blog and podcast, WritingOnWhidbeyIsland.com (aka WOWI, an acronym that many writers cringe at, but that we’ve decided to embrace.). Two guys, a microphone or two, a nomadic selection of recording sites, and a scrolling list of writers, booksellers, publishers, illustrators, editors, whoever is a part of the Whidbey Island writing community that’s willing to be recorded as if live (because Don and I are both so busy that we barely have time to organize, record, clip to length, and post the podcast to the blog. (We’ll work to a regular podcasting site when we find the time and money.)

Why do something as simple as that? Mega-corporations can launch massive marketing compaigns with focus groups and outreach efforts. We can manage to free up about an hour a week to put some energy behind something we both care about: the the writing community on Whidbey Island.

Look around the surprising businesses. Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Starbucks, Pixar, all started with simple ideas that were laughed at, though decades later the laughter of those echoes is hard to remember. (All of which I invested in, too. Details in my book, Dream. Invest. Live. which is the basis of this blog.)

Look around at some of the YouTube stars. Whidbey Island’s, Amy Walker’s engaging videos for accents and actors, with her now 154K subscribers. Hannah Hart, who became popular by videoing herself cooking while drinking, while not excelling at either; but who built a massive business based on one video of a grilled cheese sandwich, where she forgot the cheese. Hank and John Green, who started a channel by sending each other video chats every week, that pulled in millions of viewers and launched dozens of entertaining and educational channels. One stellar example is an Australian who says nothing, but silently engineers the essentials of a simple lifestyle from the materials on his property.

Writers can launch careers from single books. Musicians can do so from a song. Inventors can build wealth from an invention.

There is no guarantee of success. If there was, at least one of my books, videos, photos, or performances would’ve already helped me re-retire. And yet, that may only be a day away.

Most of these ideas weren’t instant successes. Creative products frequently are born, then languish as their creator’s enthusiasm fades, only to be re-invigorated when found by some trendsetter, or definite unmet need. The 10,000 Hour Rule is similar. Sometimes it takes time for something to become recognized as valuable.

That’s the opportunity creative people can create for themselves. It is one reason I am a fan of entrepreneurship for people who are trying to improve their personal finances. If there’s nothing else to do, and not much to do it with, play until you find something you can make from nothing. Words are cheap. Almost everyone has a phone that exceeds my first digital camera. Artists frequently work from found objects.

The opportunity can also be tied to a necessity. Regardless of the economic data, the person without a job or who hasn’t been able to find one doesn’t care if they’re part of 3%, 6%, or 12% of the population. Out of a job is out of a job.

The folks driving around eating doughnuts probably have friends and family who scoff. So what? They’re producing. Just like so many of my creative friends, creating creates hope and possibilities. No guarantees, but that goes both ways. There’s no guarantee of success, but there’s no guarantee of failure – unless there’s attempt.

Now, about the folks who are following my tweets about tea… (see #TomTea on Twitter). Something there to expand?

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Truly Scary Things

If only I could match the list of my scariest things to Julie Andrews singing My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. Irony: The Sound of Music was about a family fleeing a government that shifted from a constitutional republic, to nationalistic, to being part of a regime so terrible that the world had to go to war to stop it. But it is such a sweet song. I digress. Kids are in costume and searching for candy. Sorry, kids. Can’t find an easy way to hand out that much sugar. Instead, it is a night to turn the lights to low, open the computer, and consider what is really scary. Going to need a cup of tea to type this. You may want something stronger to read it. Hang in there. Knowledge is power, and eventually I’ll get to the good stuff.

Note: Many of these are what I track on one of my other blogs: PretendingNotToPanic.com – news for people who are eager and anxious about the future.


Environment 

As if climate change isn’t had enough, take a look at the longer list:

  • Climate Change – duh
  • Ozone Depletion – remember that one?
  • Atmospheric Aerosols – aka pollution
  • Ocean Acidification – making many marine species uphappy, at least
  • Biogeochemical – phosphorus and nitrogen are in short supply
  • Freshwater – clean water is hard to find, and a growing population needs more
  • Land-System – we’re not using our land wisely
  • Biosphere – think extinctions and species migrations/invasions

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Of the items on that list, climate change is the easiest to describe, but not the greatest threat. Yet, even it is denied. Even without climate change, the land, soil, water, and air needed to grow crops are all under assault.


Politics

I’m putting it second. These aren’t in any special order, but I want to get politics out of the way. Governments have always had factions. Governments that suppressed them eventually imploded sharply. Think USSR/CCCP. Governments that institutionalized them eventually fractured. Think Civil War/War Between the States. Those wounds are frequently reopened with “we will never forget”, regional or tribal pride that anchors governments to the troubled past and gets in the way of a positive future. A century ago, such a squabble had to work hard to accidentally stumble into a world war. Today, a tweet kills thousands and displaces a hundred times that within a week. Serving the citizens and respecting the neighbors by following the laws seems to be secondary to power, wealth, and that pride.


Injustice

Wrongs are being righted, but we’re wading through revelations that cost lives to get there: Hong Kong, France, Indonesia, Peru, Haiti, Lebanon, Syria et al, Israel, Chile; and then the non-nations like the Kurds, Tibetans, over a dozen conflicts in Africa; and then the people who have chosen lifestyles that are counter to convention. The good news is that we’re all more aware of the situations because of the internet; but it also means a veneer has been removed revealing how poorly people can treat people. Whether it is access to safety, or food, or water, or freedom, or equality there’s a battle ongoing to resolve it.


Finance

Once upon a time, conservative governments advocated for balanced budgets. Once upon a time, investments were controlled by people instead of machines. Once upon a time working harder helped people get ahead, and if they couldn’t get ahead where they were, they could move to where they had a better chance. Deflation was academic and we developed tools to counter inflation, monopolies, and corruption. Now, too many financial instruments are returning negative rates, wealth and income inequality are increasing, tax avoidance is increasing, and the fundamental basis of trust in currencies is disappearing. But no worries because the economy is booming, or at least the markets, or at least the mega-corps.


Terrorism

Guns and other weapons are too readily available. Disinformation is too easily distributed. It is hard for an army to defend against a scattered group of radical or passionate people who don’t care about anyone else, and don’t have to protect a fortress or a city. Borders are anachronisms that fewer people are paying attention to, except where reactive governments are trying to hold back tides of refugees and ideas. Oddly enough in terms of deaths and life expectancy, terrorism is ineffective (at least so far); but very effective in terms of encouraging nations to bankrupt themselves using old techniques to fight new threats.

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Technology

Without technology, modern life would be impossible, and billions of people wouldn’t be alive. Whether that has been too much of a good thing or not, at least until about seventy years ago, we knew what we were building and had a good idea of what it would do. There were plenty of unintended consequences, but they were understandable in retrospect. Now, programs we don’t understand are writing programs we can’t understand. Privacy is basically eliminated simply by offering a slice of convenience for giving up fundamental rights. They know who you are, where you are, and can guess what you’ve done, are doing, and will do. But at least you no longer have to remember how to read a map or sign your name, eh? Facial recognition, so innocuous. Oops.


Nature

Nature has become synonymous with climate change. Look back a few paragraphs and see it is more than that. And then consider weather, quakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, pandemics, solar storms, and oh yes, rocks falling from the sky. Nature can be sweet, but it can also be nasty – naturally. The world frequently changed dramatically before our species was here to notice. Those causes didn’t go away. They’re just on a different, and somewhat chaotic, schedule. Now, we get to watch the magnetic poles shift without really knowing what that will do to climate and technology and mutations and extinctions.



And yet…

We’re aware of so much more, and more people are picking their favorite issue to handle.

Fifty years after the first Earth Day, environmentalism has expanded from a few advocates to the basis of corporations that realize that green is good, even profitable. Get rid of the waste, decrease costs, increase profits. People aren’t laughing (as much) at non-animal ‘meats’, electric cars and bicycles, and are drawn to local instead of corporate sources for necessities and luxuries.

People are witnessing the bizarre culture of conventional politics and are rising to make changes by changing the system, running for office, or doing rather than complaining. Upheavals will happen, and may even be encouraged.

I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” – Thomas Jefferson

They still do what, where, and to whom? Balance that against respecting cultural diversity. One person’s injustice is another’s norm. Social media has become a confused and inefficient debate platform; but at least people are talking. OK. They’re shouting, but until recently it was hard to know how extreme some injustices have been, and how non-homogeneous communities can be. Extremists in America? Sure. But someone can confess to a crime and have no repercussions for years, or ever? That is who we are and how our society has run. We’re aware. That’s powerful.

Everyone’s finance in personal, but now we see celebrities being upset about not getting paid an extra million while finally realizing realizing how many people are driven to bankruptcy by, ironically, a health care system with the oath to “do no harm.” Where’s the upside, the good news? Challenges to convention like Bitcoin, the Gig Economy, and DIY are creating avenues for change that weren’t possible a few years ago.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

And that is a powerful weapon. Terrorists wield terror and fear. Terrorists are terrible, but they’re also inefficient. The greatest hope is that they’ll eventually lose their emotional and financial support, which is something that can be accomplished – especially if we quit creating allies for them by over-reacting to their acts.

There are a series of races in progress within technology. Uncontrolled automation can be a threat. Advances in renewable energy, more sustainable products, new materials like graphene, and greater efficiencies may mean that many of the problems above are solvable. That’s what we as a species are good at, identifying problems then identifying solutions and implementing them. That’s how we got here, and now we have over seven billion minds to launch at any task.

Nature trumps all. We’re learning that we have to live with nature, not command it. We are learning humility, which is one of the toughest steps in maturing. Our species is old, but our societies, civilizations, and realizations are young. We are adolescents who found the key to the car, but there’s no owner’s manual, and there never was a repair manual. We might have to learn a lot more then write a few chapters, but we’re capable of that as long as we listen to logic and facts. Hopefully they are coming back into style, just in time.

Kids dressed up as witches and wizards don’t frighten me. We could use a bit of their magic.

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Motivation And Productivity Amidst Chaos

The world is crazy! My job is crazy making! How do I get through this?! Should I end a sentence with three punctuation marks?!? The majority of workers deal with how to keep the work and the paychecks coming in a world where chaos is common. We’re transitioning from a society defined by corporations and salaries to a society based on clients and invoices. As travelers know, smooth and certain terrain makes for quicker and easier travel. The modern worker equivalent is something I see in the lives of me and many of my friends. We’re creating new rules while wondering when the rest of society will catch up.

Frequently I am asked why and how I write. The myth is that a writer writes then readers read which encourages the writer to write again. Hopefully the readers read again. That’s the model that may be best represented by the pre-video days of Hollywood. A movie would be made, shown, and never seen again. The reaction was immediate because viewers didn’t want to delay. Today, content is created, stored online, and eventually lost or found. Evergreen content lives a different life. Readers can happen anytime.

One of my posts was recently found by Toptal, a firm with the goal to; “connect the world’s top talent with the world’s top organizations.” They found a bit of synchronicity between my post Motivation In The Gig Economy, and one of their posts, Triggering Productive Behavior: Motivation Tips for Work. The overlap, as they see it is “motivation psychology can contribute to productivity.” I can see that. I’d probably use fewer syllables because I’m not a psychologist (though I do appreciate the work mine did for me.)

Economists concentrate on financial motivation: salaries and benefits. That’s frequently the language used to describe why people do what they do. Get a job. Pay those bills. Keep the job. Keep paying those bills. There’s more to life than that, and fewer of those motivations in the Gig Economy. If those motivations retreat, then what other motivations take their place?

Let me relay a story from the midst of time when I was a lead engineer for a team at Boeing. Boeing works and worries productivity to a great degree. One corporate initiative decided to focus on career growth instead of simply salary growth. To support that I was asked to ask each engineer what they wanted from their career: progress up the management ladder or progress up the technical ladder. Those were the two choices. For younger engineers, like I was at the time, the answers were one or the other or “I’m trying to decide.” The two oldest engineers effectively rolled their eyes, and gave me an answer I didn’t embrace sufficiently. They just wanted to get paid, and get raises that kept them ahead of inflation, and maybe a little bit more. They were experts in their fields and were self-motivated to do excellent work. Left to plot their careers alone they would’ve answered differently; but they were the breadwinners for families. Each had over a half-dozen children. Their days were busy enough that they were anti-motivated to have to manage yet one more thing that potentially could take them away from families they cared for.

Fast forward to today. Many of the members of the Gig Economy that I know have one primary motivation: pay those bills. They’re not aiming for grand mansions or exotic trips. They’re trying to keep the truck fueled and doors from falling off the hinges, literally. Every day is a work day. No opportunity is missed. Many gigs are chased but few are caught. There’s a powerful motivation, but it is by necessity, not by choice. And yet, necessity isn’t enough when the effort stretches to years or decades. To me, they are the stars of motivation because their goals aren’t luxuries that can be negotiated. Their goals are necessities.

And then, finally, or at least hopefully, they find a gig that delivers more than just money.

A couple of public examples came to mind as I considered motivation and productivity.

Do you know Bruce Campbell? He’s the author of If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. He’s arguably more than a B movie actor. By one definition, a B movie actor is someone whose face you recognize, but can’t remember their name; or whose name is familiar, but you can’t remember what they look like. Instead, think of movies like Evil Dead, or Bubba Ho-Tep. B movie actors don’t make much money. He wrote about someone who made even less, one of the workers on the movie set. This guy’s job was to shovel manure. It was a Western, evidently. I can’t recall the exact quote, but basically this guy figured that each shovel of smelly horse droppings bought him one more shingle for his eventual roof repair. Focus on that. Repeat. Fix a roof. Find other things to to occupy the mind. Want more examples? Try Mike Rowe’s reality TV show, Dirty Jobs. The people with the dirtiest jobs tend to have impressive self-defined motivations.

A song came to mind, too. Jimmy Buffett’s It’s My Job. I suggest listening to the entire song because it describes the motivations of a street sweeper, a banker, and a singer. But, here’s a piece I think about often;

“It’s my job to be cleaning up this mess
And that’s enough reason to go for me”

Sometimes the motivation is simply to do a job well, and be better at it tomorrow.

The Greeks had a similar notion even before they considered themselves Greek. Paraphrasing massively on the notion of eudaimonia, I’ve heard a more modern interpretation. A life well lived is one where a person gets to use their skills and talents in a way they prefer, supplying something others need, and being properly compensated for their efforts. Whether that is truly eudaimonia, some other Greek idea, or something I came up with, I like it – and have experienced it a few times.

Finding something that you want to do, that others want you to do, and to then get better at it is gratifying, and can be enriching. There’s a similar concept I’ve experienced in my karate practice. Learn, improve, repeat, and ideally teach others to do the same. There’s an internal gratification for making improvements judged against your self (self-esteem) rather than others (ego.) Karate requires self-examination, which is not easy or trivial, but the long-term benefits are highly motivating. Just as an artist. They may follow a similar path.

One method that reinforces motivation also is evident in the martial arts. Only move when it is to your advantage to do so. Work for the sake of work can diminish motivation. Drudgery lives there, and many Gig Economy workers experience it. That’s an example of acting according to someone else’s plan. Moving to a personal advantage is necessarily more motivating, and if that’s reinforced externally, then the effect is multiplied.

Knowing when to move or act or not isn’t easy. Sun Tzu’s military manual, The Art of War, recognizes that by defining nine situations that require different actions. In some, move. In some, stand. In some, work with allies. In some, work alone. In all, move with your purpose, not someone else’s.

Our society is changing, and so are our institutions and choices. From what I can tell, firms like Toptal are matching motivations between workers and firms to not just get the work done, but to do so in a way that improves productivity. I don’t know how successful they are because I’m spending more time matching clients to properties, another area that requires understanding various motivations among the various people and organizations. (No surprise that buyers and sellers aren’t just negotiating price but also an important change in their lives.) (Disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Tara Properties on Whidbey Island.)

I don’t know if this thought stream helps Toptal in their pursuit of highlighting motivation and productivity; but I was motivated to produce this post out of appreciation of their work and recognition of mine, their inspiration for me to re-examine my prior thoughts, and because I think this is an important topic for people, their finances, and the necessity of finding ways to navigate our current changes. As for why this post is over 1,300 words, well, I guess I wasn’t motivated (or provided an incentive) to edit it down to something shorter. Besides, it is to my advantage to move to the next task: eating dinner.

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Billionaires Taxes And Perspective

A billion dollars is hard to visualize. And that’s a major understatement. Major. Understatement. Yet, billionaires are increasing their influence, increasing their numbers, and accumulating more of the world’s wealth. And then, there are taxes. And a fun idea to imagine, even if it can’t be implemented.

A billionaire, as measured in US dollars, is a relatively new identity. The United States Constitution was written in 1789. It wasn’t until 1916 when John D. Rockefeller became the first US billionaire. Now, there are over 2,000 billionaires, and growing. Whether they are US citizens may be moot considering their tendency to have multiple residences, and their tendency to have even more residences for their assets.

Screenshot 2016-01-18 at 08.31.28

If only everyone else’s wealth was growing as quickly. At the start of this year;

Billionaire fortunes increased by 12 percent last year – or $2.5 billion a day – while the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity saw their wealth decline by 11 percent,” – Oxfam

In 2000, it took 388 billionaires to equal the wealth of the poorest half of the world. By 2016, that was down to 62. According to CNN/Oxfam;

The top 26 billionaires own $1.4 trillion — as much as 3.8 billion other people” – CNN

Well, maybe that’s okay as long as they continue to pay their fair share of taxes. But what’s fair? The Panama Papers proved that billionaires and millionaires have sophisticated mechanisms to launder money and hide from taxes. Those havens aren’t enough, evidently. Tax cuts now mean that;

From The Guardian;
Economists calculate richest 400 families in US paid an average tax rate of 23% while the bottom half of households paid a rate of 24.2%

From my blog Pretending Not To Panic;
In 1960, the richest paid 56% in taxes. The richest are now paying less than half of what they did during the golden years of the Baby Boom.

Over five years ago someone posted a video trying to provide some perspective on what a billion looks like. Even visualizing a billion as a thousand millions or a million thousands is difficult because it can be difficult to visualize a million. Their video inspired several of my friends to find a truly visual way to display a billion. After a lot of creativity and resourcefulness produced some ideas (Concentration Dissipation, Extreme Displays Of Wealth Inequality), we realized the task was so difficult that;

The very fact that this is beyond some of our technological limits is a message.

A tweet went by recently that found another perspective. People have an easier time envisioning $50,000. For some, that’s a salary. It’s also the price of a nice car. It’s a large down payment on a small house.

To earn a billion dollars at $50,000 per year would take – well – let’s walk through it. Ten years would get to a half a million dollars. A hundred years would make that five million dollars, two hundred years is ten million, – really? Does 2,000 years times $50,000 only get to $100,000,000? Well, a billion is a thousand million. Make a million dollars for a thousand years and make a billion dollars.

Repeating what was said above; “Now, there are over 2,000 billionaires, and growing.”

That’s not 2,000 people worth $1,000,000,000. That’s >2,000 people worth >$1,000,000,000. The “poorest” of the top twenty billionaires is worth >$37.7 billion. Make a million dollars a year for 37,700 years and you, too can be worth that much – at least in terms of financial assets.

And yet, many wonder why wealth and income inequality continue to rise – or debate the existence of inequality.

Even billionaires are starting to say billionaires may have too much of a good thing.

There are reasoned plans for reversing tax codes to earlier, more sustainable levels. Tax cuts to the wealthy have been proven to not inspire broad improvements in the economy. Instead of encouraging investment in advances, there are incentives to hoard rather than distribute. Stagnation rather than progress.

And here’s where I returned to having some creative fun. I’m only one voter, and plan to vote accordingly. But, I can imagine and play with ideas.

Currently, the incentives to continually increase wealth far exceed the disincentives, and the disincentives are diminishing. Not sustainable. Negotiating tax structures is realistic but dull. How about this. Once a year, the wealthiest person is determined, and that one person gives up everything except one billion dollars. Jeff Bezos would be taxed about $110,000,000,000 – and still have more money than most people can make in hundreds or thousands of years. Unfair? Debatable. Yet, being left with a billion dollars would have only a very small cadre of people feeling sorry for them. Instead of casually accumulating wealth, there’d be an active attempt to come in second. The ‘sacrifice’ of someone becoming worth ‘only’ a billion dollars isn’t much of a sacrifice considering the billions of people who have no hope of accumulating such excess.

While $110,000,000,000 (left off three zeroes the first time I typed that), is a lot of money; it isn’t a panacea when compared to the US federal budget of ~$4.4 trillion (of which ~$1T is borrowed, debt, spending more than we make as a country. Also not sustainable.)

I’ll repeat the graphic from above. Oxfam produced this, which looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2016. Billionaires who own half the world’s wealth:

  • 2000 – 388
  • 2014 – 80
  • 2016 – 62
  • 2018 – 26 (from the above news report)
  • and about in 2021 – 1

Screenshot 2016-01-18 at 08.31.28

One person with half the world’s wealth. For several reasons that chart will flatten as the wealth concentrates into just a few; but within a few years we have the potential to reduce this discussion to a conversation between a few billion people and a group small enough to fit around a kitchen table. Billions facing billions, people facing dollars. Who should come in first?

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Whidbey Is Changing – Langley – Fall 2019

Affordability and real estate. These are topics that aren’t academic for people trying to find one of life’s basic necessities: housing.

Island life. It’s something romantic for some, too remote for others, not remote enough for those who want an island for theirself.

For the last year or so, I’ve made presentations about the affordability and real estate trends on Whidbey Island. Stereotypes persist, which means I surprise people when they expect a different message from a real estate broker. Now that I know many brokers, I can acknowledge that few fit the stereotype of “bigger is better.” Buyers, owners, and sellers are people, not stereotypes either. We’re all just people trying to lead lives.

Much of real estate revolves around stories, anecdotes that typify people’s concerns and goals – subjective perspectives. While that is a necessity, there is something to gain by looking at the data – objective perspectives.

This presentation, as well as the others tries to describe the story within the data – at least for Whidbey Island. Global issues, like ghost houses, are here, too. Local issues, like rising costs, an aging demographic, and limited options benefit from slicing the data even finer. Each town or city has its story and data. Every property is unique. Hopefully, the presentation provides what one member of the audience described as (paraphrased); “an interesting and unexpected perspective and series of insights”

In general, Whidbey Island has affordability issues, yet has strong demand because it is less un-affordable than other Puget Sound islands; greater name recognition around the world, and an increasing military presence. Supply, however, is barely budging, and is actually dramatically down over the last decade. High demand, low supply, and there’s a reason for increasing prices.

The following post includes the presentation slides, and a bit of the narrative that follows.them. Want to see more? The same presentation will be made at Freeland Library (10/15) and Coupeville Library (10/28). Maybe this time the live-stream will be more cooperative.

Stay tuned.

About Whidbey

Formal Disclosure:
I am a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Tara Properties in Bayview.

Thanks to everyone who attended the event in Langley, especially while a candidates’ forum was being held. Apologies to those who hoped and tried to attend online. My Windows laptop and Google software couldn’t agree on what “Go Live” meant. Say hello to a spinning icon that spun for most of the hour.

Whether you were there or not, whether you tried online or not, you’re here now. Welcome.

As usual, the presentation is based on sales data and colored with anecdotes. Only presenting the slides can be drier than a desert and harder to decipher than a scribble in the sand. So, here is the presentation as well as some of the narrative. Hopefully, the computers will play nicer at the Freeland and Coupeville events (Freeland 10/15 at 2PM, Coupeville 10/28 at 5PM).

View original post 2,180 more words

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Bread And Circuses

What are you and your friends talking about most: climate change, impeachment, social injustice, the economy? These are important issues, and they aren’t alone considering soil depletion, extinction events, and various – oh, you can probably fill in with your own list. (Hey, that’s one reason there is a Comments section. Keep it clean, eh?) Check social media and maybe get a different perspective. At least my YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter feeds come with sidebars listing the top topics. The differences are something to keep in mind as I manage my personal finances.

It is easy to think that the things that are affecting governments or the planet should be top priority. If that was the case, encouraging wise financial policies or investing in renewable energy would make the most sense. Find smart banks, or companies that are installing solar panels. They should be in demand, and eventually getting priced at a premium. I’ve quit investing in banks. Their finances are too byzantine. I’ve invested in energy efficiency companies; but the solar power company basically evaporated, and the one that promises to “do for electric cables what fiber optics did for phone lines” hasn’t done much.

So, what are people caring about the most, or at least, which topics get the most attention?

The lists change every second but the common concepts are: entertainment, sports, celebrities. So much for global considerations.

As:

  • climate changes, 
  • injustices prevail, 
  • and institutions wither.

People still spend time and money on

  • buying things that others say they need
  • watching other people play sports because others told them to
  • pursuing comforts for themselves and not necessities for others.

Some are distracting themselves from news they don’t want to hear. Can you blame them? For them, it is easy to spend hours on Sunday watching football (regardless of whether the football is round or oblong.) If someone spends that much time watching documentaries or political debates they’re labeled weird. What’s weirder: sitting on a sofa watching young millionaires run around on artificial grass in an artificial stadium, or better understanding the dramas played out in the real world? 

Bread and circuses was a term Romans used about how to distract the public during difficult times. The Roman Empire may fall? Appease the people. Concentrate on food and a show, and they have less time for contentious issues, which makes them less likely to do anything about them. Good thing that didn’t undermine the empire. Oh, wait. Well. Hmm.

Historically, providing necessities haven’t been as profitable as providing luxuries. Bread is a necessity, but in a modern context think more about the ads you see. Salt was important and less available in Roman times. But the greater profits were in the spice trade, and exotic goods like silk (the production of which was kept a secret – really? caterpillar silk? No way.)

Look at how much money is made by the top performers in sports and movies. They make that much because so many people pay attention to them. They’re celebrated. And some celebrities are celebrities because we celebrate the fact that they’re celebrities. And people buy “their” perfume, as if they were actually doing any of the work.

The world needs more efficient energy transmission, but AMSC’s grid products aren’t making them a stellar performer. Solar panels are increasingly popular (Yay!), but Real Goods is no longer a publicly traded provider of those systems. My portfolio would be performing better if I’d held onto my shares of Apple, which now seems to be marketing primarily to a young elite; or held onto my Pixar shares as they were acquired by Disney.

It is hard to buy shares in Greta Thunberg, or a NOAA research crew, or the ACLU. There are organizations that are changing the world. Giraffe Heroes invests in people (from what I can tell.) Newground Social Investment has found ways to use investing to inspire change. They aren’t alone, but a glance at the interests of the majority of the population shows them to be in an undeserved minority.

Personal finance is personal. I’m an advocate for investing in your interests. Your values matter, and investing according to them makes it easier to pay attention to your investments. But, don’t be surprised to find that your friend who buys some “sin stocks” has a portfolio of companies whose products are in greater demand by a larger portion of the population.

The Romans consciously instigated the bread and circuses strategy. Those colosseums weren’t built for practical purposes. Our stadiums are rarely are used for anything useful, maybe fun, but not useful. And the rationale for spending billions of dollars on something discretionary while ignoring larger issues probably isn’t as conscious a decision. For over two thousand years our societies have practiced generating distractions. It is now considered normal.

“Normal” is another way to say common and another way to label the things that attract large crowds, or customer bases. I’ll continue to invest in what I think are positive, disruptive, maybe even necessary companies and their technologies; but I don’t assume they’ll be as popular as sugary drinks, cars built to break the traffic laws, or the next billion-dollar-blockbuster movie. Hopefully, they’ll be good enough. Stay tuned for that.

Personal finance is personal. So are your values. So are your necessities. If you want something to celebrate, celebrate that you can invest accordingly. Just don’t be surprised if there’s a lot larger crowd attracted to something else. (Hello, tailgate parties with beer and nachos!)

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