I Had A Plan

I had a plan. I had a plan to write about one thing based on What The F…, then I answered a Spam Call (I answer Spam Calls) that made me want to write about “Having Fun With Spammers, and then looked at my stocks and decided to switch to updating my Semi-Annual Portfolio Review because five little things have had a bigger effect than I realized. The spammers can wait.

Semi Annual Exercise EOY 2022
For those who have never encountered my semi-annual portfolio exercise I’ll quote myself.
Here’s my semi-annual exercise to see if I remember why I own the stocks I own, and so I can check back and see if their stories have changed. I post in case it helps others too.

The full story is back there and then. Here we are, I am, and my portfolio is only about a month later, and an opportunity to make an observation that touches on What The F…, but in a good way.

Typical, common, whatever waffle word you want, long-term market performance is less than 10%. Atypical happens. Ask honest folks who bought and rode the Internet Bubble up. Ask honest folks who were caught in the crash at the start of the Great Recession (which I consider the Second Great Depression.) But, 5%-10%, and usually around 7% is the number I hear and read for portfolios based on publicly-traded stocks. 

Two of my stocks had good days, recently, so I decided to check on them, their performance since my portfolio exercise, and the rest of my stocks, too.

YTD stock performance

  • GERN 39.2%
  • LCTX 13.8%
  • MVIS 39.0%
  • SOLO 76.2%
  • WNDW 85.2%

LCTX is the laggard at 13.8%, and that’s in one month.

Are there reasons? Of course there are reasons. I wonder what they are.

  • GERN – Geron announced results for their cancer treatment based on telomeres. Governmental approval looks more likely, and hopefully soon.
  • LCTX – Lineage Cell announced news about their cell transplant therapy for improving the outcomes for spinal cord injury patients. It may not be as soon as GERN’s news, but maybe soon enough.
  • MVIS – MicroVision (pause for the groans) just purchased a company for $16M, which evidently comes with a client base, or at least a very promising set of technology, patents, and employees.
  • SOLO – Electrameccanica is up because… Hmm. One article says sell and another says buy, and maybe the stock is bouncy because no one truly knows how to estimate the business prospects of a three-wheeled electric vehicle which is either too bizarre to catch on, or the right kind of bizarre for some new market niche. Shrug.
  • WNDW – Solar Window is up because… Can I just do a Copy&Paste from SOLO and change it to read solar power from window panels?

These kinds of results look like reasons to celebrate! So why don’t I? 

Well, I do; but 100% of a small number is a small number. Repeat enough times and head towards infinity rather rapidly; but only towards, not all the way to. There is a limit to the wealth in the world.

This kind of performance can also be ephemeral. If it can go up that fast, it can go down that fast; and the money isn’t made until the stock is sold and the money clears the account.

I did splurge a little. It was much easier to have a very nice lunch with a very nice friend in one of my preferred restaurants and not have to fight over the bill, or avoid it. Besides, with friends, everything evens out, eventually. 

The basis for this blog is my book about my personal finances, Dream. Invest. Live. I am not a financial professional so I can not give advice, but I can tell stories about my life and how I live it. Hence, the broad range of topics on this blog. The key for me is in the title. Investing is merely a bridge between dreaming and living that dream. Living is much more important than Investing, and Dreaming is free.

Go back far enough and see the days when I, er, not me but my portfolio, gained on the order of $100K in a day. And the days when I also lost $100K. This has not been a risk-free strategy. One reader called it a get-rich-slowly strategy. I won’t know how this comes out, but the slowly has been too slow – and yet, the previous few weeks have been encouraging. 

My definition of ‘rich’ begins below $1M. $1M is a nice target, but not necessary for my frugal lifestyle. Hiking, skiing, bicycling, dancing, and socializing don’t require much. My portfolio can reach those levels if it doubles at least five more times. For some, that seems easy. It has happened once (if I go back far enough), that’s only four more times. Others know that doubling that many times in a row with similarly large losses is highly unlikely.

Unlikely happens, in both directions.

It is easy to apply conventional wisdom to a fault. Markets and portfolios can rise or fall far more than the typical, normal, expected averages. Typical, normal, and expected are words that are being challenged more frequently, lately. What’s going to happen? I don’t know, but I do know that change can happen with or without news, with or without a notification; and the celebrations are worth celebrating because life is about living – but maybe wait until the money clears the account.

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GAIA – One Company One Story

Welcome to another story and another video in my One Company One Story series.
This time, Gaia (previously known as Gaiam).

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? https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0035XVXAA

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

This time it is about Gaia, a company that is also known as Gaiam. The company portrays itself as “a member-supported media network of truth seekers and believers empowering an evolution of consciousness”. Wikipedia says it is “an American alternative media video streaming service and online community focusing on fringe-science and yoga”. Some see fringe as far out there, and the wrong place to be. Others see fringe and think that’s the place to look for the changes that need to be made. And, of course, some will see a business opportunity regardless of their philosophy.

Disclosure: I owned stock in GAIA about a decade ago. See that history at the link: https://trimbathcreative.net/?s=gaia).

Gaia is simple, yet with all-encompassing goals: health, mindful-living, etc. Their products are media. They don’t deliver health and lifestyles, but they deliver the media that hopefully helps their customers. As their web site puts it, “over 8,000 ad-free, streaming titles that challenge modern paradigms and allow you to manifest the reality that defines your being.”

Basically a simple media company that delivers messages to customers. I sold in 2011 because they pivoted to that strategy. My initial interest was in Real Goods Trading Company, a company that sold alternative energy and lifestyle products to people who wanted to live off-the-grid either by necessity or by choice. Solar was a big component of their business. They were in the right place and ahead of the crowd, but possibly too early. I wanted to be invested in solar power. The two companies merged, for a while. Then they weren’t. Gaia wanted to sell yoga mats and videos, and they were there as those sectors got busy.

Were we both right? Real Goods is gone, at least as a publicly-traded company. Coincidentally, I needed a yoga mat and bought one from Gaiam.

Let’s look at the stock. Back when I sold it, circa 2011, GAIA was trading between $5 and $10. It spiked up to over $20, recently fell back to almost $2, and closed today (January 25, 2023) at $3.51. Timing matters. 

Google Finance

Optimists can point to trends like yoga and an evolution of consciousness.

Pessimists can point to ‘fringe science’ and whether it will be too fringe.

I watch GAIA because there is a demand and a need for many people to find alternatives to their conventional lives. 

I wonder if Gaia will mimic Real Goods, right product and maybe the right time, almost. Real Goods is still in business, but it isn’t traded publicly. Staying tuned.

The video:

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Fifteen Dollar Movies

Just a bit of fluff, or is it?

How much are movies at mega-multi-plexes? Pardon me as I try to remember the previous time I was brave to go to a Big Theater, instead of my local one-screen, one-showing per night, single aisle comfy space, The Clyde in ‘Downtown’ Langley (pop. ~1,150 people and about as many rabbits). Even there ticket prices have climbed to $10. $10! At least the popcorn is still $1. (Or has that gone up too?) But a $15 movie? Think plural, movies. For $15 I bought an old DVD/VCR player from the thrift store (Good Cheer). For $15 I can now watch my old tapes, my old discs, no interruptions.

I really should be writing this blog about a different topic, but hopefully it will work well next week. My eyes are tired because I’ve been writing the sequel to my first science fiction novel, Firewatcher; and squinting at a computer screen as I prepare one slideshow (though I called in help, thanks Joe), and am down-selecting a photo essay of 48 photos out of over 1,400 (argh, squint). My world barely extends to the reach of my finger tips as they command this bubble to add this and delete that. Once a day, assuming there is time remaining, I watch a movie at home.

The screens in the theaters are at a better distance, especially because I like to sit in the back. I’m tall enough that I don’t want to block anybody’s view, and the people watching is very entertaining – especially in a small town where (almost) everybody knows your (or at least many peoples’) name. But, I tend to stay home.

Last night, To Have And Have Not. A few night’s earlier, The Big Sleep. The world’s been in B&W. Soon, more modern movies where they had color and everything. At this rate I may have enough movies at home to take me to Thanksgiving. And if I need more, I know a place where the price for a new tape or disc is less than streaming.

But, streaming is free, so I imagine hearing from someone. Streaming is free, if you forget or ignore the subscription. On the other side, tapes and discs aren’t interrupted by ads – but they are, or were. Streaming may include ads, and they are likely to be fear-driven about what could kill you. Tapes and discs had their obnoxious ad era, but it was almost exclusively for more shows or games – with the obligatory FBI/Europol scary messages about copying content. FWD. Mute.

So, why am I writing about something as silly as an old VCR/DVD player that doesn’t even have a remote and that doesn’t work with universal remotes (shocking, eh?) This blog is about frugality, and sometimes in the midst of global crises, personal workload, social complexities, and the vagaries of investing it is good to remember to look up from news and work, look a little farther out, and maybe look a little ways back.

No driving. Nobody targeting ads based on what I am watching. The beverage selection encompasses water, herbal tea, hot chocolate, martinis for Bond, wine for art films, whiskey for Bogart, champagne for romances. Take breaks when I want and need. Research curiosities, paused during good parts, or while muted during unsavory scenes.

Fifteen dollars for a year of movies, basically ad-free? That’s a deal. Someone’s gotta clean up this popcorn, though. Please rewind.

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SciFi Collaboration

Earlier this week I gave a presentation at a local library (Freeland Library, part of Sno-Isle Libraries) about writing science fiction, and then collaborating for sequels based on my book, Firewatcher. This post is about that possibility of collaborating with other writers and authors. I’ll cheat a little here by copying from myself.

I won’t reveal any spoilers, but Firewatcher was written about one ship that escapes from Earth to colonize – anywhere is space, but with the equivalent of an unlisted address. Within the background for the story, five other ships launched at exactly the time. Each can be a book, or a series. That’s a lot of writing. I’m in my mid-sixties, and I have other things I want to write and work on. Open the doors, set some rules, and let others in to play. (One writer has already called dibs on the sequel of what happens on Earth after the ships leave. I have dibs on the prequel, but there are options, there.)” – Why Meet The Author

It didn’t start that way. The story is about one ship colonizing one planet. Simple. Familiar. As I wrote it, though, I realized it could be expanded. Most stories can be expanded, but this one is easy to expand. Instead of just launching one ship, launch six. The first ship I wrote about has already inspired at least two sequels. There are five other ships to write about. One of the benefits to an author is being able to write science fiction without having to invent more science. It took me roughly five or six years to develop the background science, background maths, and the Earth’s situation that are the framework for the story. There’s already interest in a sequel based on what they leave behind. (I’ll let them divulge their identity at their convenience.) Others can use the same rules and play with their own ship.

Collaborative writing is not new. Most television (now streaming) series use a suite of writers working to a canon and a set of rules. Within books, Larry Niven’s Man-Kzin Wars series is another model. There are others.

The canon here is simple, one book so far, Firewatcher. I’m already a few thousand words into the first draft of its first sequel. The rules are simple, so far. Interested writers can contact me for a copy, which is effectively just the start of a FAQ. It may grow into a wiki, if necessary.

Earth is big, really, really big, so it is impractical to open the collaboration to the entire planet; so I am starting it local, Whidbey Island writers and authors. There are over 300 people in the Whidbey Authors Facebook Group, which is large enough by numbers, but I don’t know if there is sufficient interest. If so, great! Contact me soon because…

If slots are still available, I’ll broaden the invitation to the local islands in February.

If slots are still available, I’ll broaden the invitation to all of the Puget Sound islands in March.

If slots are still available, I’ll broaden the invitation to the Salish Sea islands in April.

If slots are still available, I’ll broaden the invitation to Cascadia in May.

Why limit it to islands? One reason is purely commercial, it is a marketing gimmick. Cross-promotion can be powerful. Writing is an art. Selling books is a business. So it goes. Another reason is that island cultures reinforce self-reliance and compromise and adaptation. Fewer things are certain, just like in a colony. Power, water, food, every vital utility becomes more apparent when you can’t just call 9-11 or 9-9-9 for help. The more similar the writing mindset, the easier will be collaborating, marketing, branding, the marriage of the business and artistic part of writing.

Rules can free and limit, simultaneously. The same can be said about an established universe with prescribed maths, sciences, histories, cultures, and motivating current events.

The frugality of re-using one set of rules appeals to me because more effort and expression can go into the artistic rather than the logistical aspect of writing a book.

I bring this post back to frugality because that’s what this blog is about, and because frugality was implicit in the story, and frugality would be implicit in such a reality. Hikers and sailors know that you have to be prepared for the necessities and contingencies; and that they all have to be carried by you or the boat.

Writing is frugal. Writing can be one of the most minimalist arts: a person, some ideas, and some way to record them whether on paper or electrons or whatever.

I don’t know if anyone wants to join in, but it didn’t cost much to create this opportunity, and it is an opportunity that can benefit more than one person.

Thanks again to Whidbey Island Arts Council and Sno-Isle Libraries for spreading the word, and for Freeland Library for hosting the event. Now, pardon me as I give my fingers and forearms a break because I don’t want to get carpal tunnel syndrome, and this evening I get to write about an alien (who thinks the other one is an alien) and an alien (who knows the other one is the alien) find they have more in common with each other than they do with some in their respective communities.

#writing

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Why Meet The Author

Meet the author? Hey, that’s me on the poster. Freeland Library is holding a ‘meet the author event’ and this time the author is me. Why meet me? That’s a straight line that branches into so many jokes that I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. How about this? Come to the event to talk about one approach to writing science fiction, and an opportunity to write the fiction without having to invent the science.

January 11, 2023
Meet The Author : Writing Science Fiction (Firewatcher)
Freeland Library
talk: 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
https://sno-isle.bibliocommons.com/events/638526ad3ca7abd459714251

Hmm. Interesting. The book, Firewatcher, got billing. See; writing is as much about the story as it is about the author.

Writing can be intimidating. Science can be intimidating. Writing science fiction makes that easier and harder, depending on which you are emphasizing. But there are ways to make it all easier.

I wrote Firewatcher over the last several years. The artist who contributed their original art, Rob Schouten & Fire, helped me remember how the story of the story got its start. It all started with an image that came to mind in about 2008 or 2009. Ironically, it was because I had a gallery show of my Twelve Month series of Whidbey nature photos, which leads to a talk later this month about those photos.

Idea, 2009-ish. Book, 2022. No, I wasn’t writing that entire time. One year to realize I wanted to write a bit of fiction after writing several travel, nature, and personal finance non-fiction books. Several years to research the applicable science, invent science and math to fill the gaps, change the story appropriately, and repeat as necessary – or until the ideas compelled me to write them down. A few years of writing, then a lot of extra time as the pandemic limited my distractions. Then, ta da! Overnight, or over 13 years, and it was done.

OK. That’s a quick overview, and the reason for talking about the realities of writing fiction. (January 11, 2023, 2PM in Freeland – but I can do it again at other times and places. Interested?)

The second part of the talk may not be as obvious and common. Firewatcher has already inspired two or three sequels, one of which is already in progress. Without getting into the details here, I realized it would be relatively easy to write Firewatcher in a style and structure with a few rules that would open other sequels to other authors. One set of maths, sciences, history, and the rest of the Earth’s situation; plus some rules of how writers can work without tripping on the other writers; and a series of series can become more than one book and one writer/author.

Whidbey Island has hundreds of writers. (Whidbey Authors on Facebook, the blog/podcast WritingOnWhidbeyIsland.com, Island Arts Council ) That’s a lot of talent in a small-town space spread out over rural distances. Imagine a half-dozen writers, or so, writing within the same world, building off each other’s work, supporting each other as we share ideas, cross-promoting our works, and celebrating what we produce.

I won’t reveal any spoilers, but Firewatcher was written about one ship that escapes from Earth to colonize – anywhere is space, but with the equivalent of an unlisted address. Within the background for the story, five other ships launched at exactly the time. Each can be a book, or a series. That’s a lot of writing. I’m in my mid-sixties, and I have other things I want to write and work on. Open the doors, set some rules, and let others in to play. (One writer has already called dibs on the sequel of what happens on Earth after the ships leave. I have dibs on the prequel, but there are options, there.)

The second half of the talk will be about that opportunity, and whether anyone cares. Initially it will limited to Whidbey Island to facilitate in-person collaborations and meetings. It might also benefit from some of the arts organizations on Whidbey mentioned above.

Along the way don’t be surprised to hear self-publishing entering the conversation. The roll of AI, and the irony that the characters in the series are escaping to leave Earth before an AI makes it too late.

Hmm. What will take longer: writing this post or conducting the talk. Maybe we should have a talk about giving a talk and having to write about it?

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Popular Posts 2022

Another year. Another period of posting; but the ten most popular posts are all from before 2022. Why? MicroVision. MicroVision’s 2021 was such a story that it dominated this blogs traffic, including previous years’ MicroVision posts as people researched the company’s history. That’s encouraging because it proves that there are people who think, question, research, and hopefully learn. And, of course, two perennial favorites: one about ObamaCare and one about Drew Kampion.

Over this blog’s lifetime so far:

But what about only in 2022?

Ah.

Stocks, partly driven by MVIS (MicroVision).
Firing my bank.
One of my favorite inventions.
My retreat from real estate and my approach to re-retirement – eventually.
The launch of my Sci-Fi novel (but my book about tea feels overlooked.)
My experience in Ukraine from after the Soviet Union broke up.

Much more topical, and good to see. Sometimes the past can overwhelm the present.

Thanks for dropping by and reading.

Now, on to 2023.

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Semi Annual Exercise EOY 2022

Semi Annual Exercise EOY 2022

For those who have never encountered my semi-annual portfolio exercise I’ll quote myself.

“Here’s my semi-annual exercise to see if I remember why I own the stocks I own, and so I can check back and see if their stories have changed. I post in case it helps others too.”

The stories of my stocks continue to change because no company can remain static. Employees, management, markets, economies, and even politics mean it is impossible to remain the same, but I check every six months to make sure I didn’t miss something in my daily news feed. The stories of stocks and particularly the companies they represent are more interesting than most fictional stories, at least for me. Real people making real decisions without precise and complete knowledge generate drama and trauma, fears and hopes, risks and rewards. 

How do I type that sound people make when they clear their throat in impatience? It has been a tough six months. The companies seem to be making progress, but the stocks aren’t. Of course, the progress hasn’t been significant enough, positive enough, and profitable enough. Or investors are simple scared. Or they know something I don’t.

Geron (GERN) is getting closer to applying for FDA approval for their telomerase-based blood disorder treatment. Maybe 2023-ish? Maybe applicable to other cancers?

Lineage Cell Therapeutics (LCTX) is getting closer to applying for FDA approval for their stem-cell-based treatments for dry-eye macular degeneration, and for regrowing nerves damaged in accidents. Maybe 2024-ish? 

MicroVision (MVIS) has been supporting companies developing and in some cases selling displays and augmented reality gear but I haven’t seen a display displayed lately, and Microsoft’s Hololens hasn’t been the boost that was hoped for. Ah, but now (or still) the company is positive about LiDAR for autonomous vehicles and home security applications. As usual, MicroVision provides yet another opportunity for me to painfully chuckle at the 6-9 months, or 9-18 months optimism window I’ve heard described for 6-9 years or 9-18 years. And yes, I’ve held the stock that long.

Electrameccanica (SOLO) is selling their three-wheel, one-passenger, electric vehicle, which is good news. Their next major production facility should help soon. 2023? Will commuters and city dwellers buy enough of them? How about the commercial delivery market? 2023 could make that clear. If it is good news will I be able to buy more? The stock looks bleak.

Solarwindow continues to sell their innovative coatings that turn things like windows into solar panels. The idea looks marvelous because many buildings have more windows that opaque walls. So why hasn’t it been more successful so far? That’s why I start by buying small positions. Besides, I don’t have enough money to buy big positions, yet. This stock looks bleak, too.

There’s lots of potential for good news. Unprofitable companies can be underpriced, which seems to be the case, now, which is why I hold them, and is the basis of my personal finance strategy. (See my book: Dream. Invest. Live.) One friend described the approach as “get rich slowly.” My impatience is partly because I am now decades older and in terms of ‘sooner or later’ I have less time for later and actually have a strong desire and need for sooner.


For more details about the stocks, here are links to various discussion boards where you can find my synopses, as well as others’ points of view. For more details about how I do what I do, there’s a book that I wrote at the request of several friends: Dream. Invest. Live. Maybe you can help my personal finances by buying a copy – though the frugal part of me recommends checking one out from a library.

The following links are to various discussion boards I follow. Many of the independent investors who contribute to the discussions provide in-depth analyses that either aren’t available elsewhere, or would cost too much to buy. The other advantage is the diversity of perspectives. Unfortunately, I don’t engage as much as I did before. Some discussions have degraded due to lack of moderators, or overly zealous moderators (oxymoron), or have too many immoderate voices. Some boards are effectively ghost towns, or feel like cavernous empty warehouses. Regardless, here are the sites I continue to visit, even if it is only to lurk and listen. 

I encourage you to tune in, because more voices (as long as they’re mature) make for a better conversation. Maybe I’ll read you there.  

Investor Village (widest range of boards)

LCTX

GERN

MVIS

SOLO

WNDW

Motley Fool (This had the oldest boards, but recently those links no longer work. They have yet to reply to my query about what happened. This is a good example of why it makes sense to keep copies someplace that you control. That is one reason I post to this blog, and also why I post to several web sites because it is harder to lose everything that way. Alas, those first posts for MVIS may be lost.)

Silicon Investor (Relatively older boards, less trafficked, but populated with informed investors)

GERN

MVIS

Reddit (many will cringe, but there’s impressive quality within the impressive quantity of posts and voices)

LCTX

MVIS

SOLO

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Cars Cameras Computers Change

Hunting for safe conversation topics for the holidays? It’s been a weird year, but maybe too weird with too many controversies. The holidays are about tradition, remembering supposedly simpler times. Simpler or not, change is happening. Arguably change is accelerating. Maybe talking nostalgically about the way things were can feel safe, and also thought-provoking about how things may become. Keep it simple and physical instead of abstract. What do you remember about how computers and cameras, and cars have changed in the last few decades? 

Computers

The conversation has to start with computers even though most people only relatively recently began using them.

2022 – Computers are so ubiquitous that I wouldn’t mention them except that they should be acknowledged. They’re everywhere. We laughed at the idea of a computer in a toaster, but there they are. Computers are so common that some don’t even think they’re using them. Phones have replaced computers, but really computers snuck into phones and took them over. Laptops still are common, but the one I am typing on is mostly useless without the internet. Desktops are rare. Mainframes never went away, but they’re faster and bigger taking on unimaginable problems. 2032? Quantum computing will be doing…what?

2012 – Laptops rule, usually as an adjunct to a desktop somewhere. Smartphones are pricy and popular. A waning status symbol. Official business is moving to web sites, which means your system might not be compatible with their systems, and where did that bill and check go?

2002 – Messaging becomes a thing. Use a phone to call someone? Sure. But trendy folks are using SMS, a pre-cursor to texting culture. Quickbooks begins taking over checkbooks and bookkeeping. Being able to use a computer is normal, but there are bonus points for people who can use the internet, and extra points for being able to build a web site.

1992 – Surfing the internet becomes a thing, but few know what that really means. Windows 3.1 is introduced, and who really invented the concept of windows on computer screens? Steve Jobs is no longer running Apple, at least for a while. I still have my Newton, which was a (large) pocket-sized handheld computer that was like a very early iPad. Viruses and Photoshop happen, though unconnected. IBM made a smartphone, but did anyone notice?

1982 – Punchcards happen, but magnetic tape is now the thing. PCs happen, too. New hardware and new software is introduced via classes. Floppies are floppy. IBM has company with many smaller companies like Microsoft and Apple; but what will people use them for? There are no laptops but there are luggables. Weight training for geeks. Mainframes range from room-sized machines to ‘micros’ that are only the size of refrigerators. You want a program? Write it.

1972 – ARPANET (eventually to be called the Internet and then spelled internet, no capitalization) begins. Video game consoles are brought home to take over the family tv. Say hello to Pong. Scientific pocket calculators begin to replace slide rules. ‘Home’ and ‘computer’ are words rarely seen together. Mainframes are really all there is.

Cameras

Why compare cameras? Because they’ve changed the way we share the world. Images are harder to ignore than words are. They don’t need to be translated. 

2022 – How many cameras do you own? You may not own a stand-alone camera. Cameras are in phones and computers. Cars have their own cameras so the car can see the road, sometimes in wavelengths of light that are invisible to humans. Even vacuum cleaners look around to avoid things, maybe even the cat. Professionals may use SLRs, but they can be too conspicuous in conflict zones, so even journalists switch to camera phones. People fly cameras for perspectives that were only available to pilots.

2012 – They’re growing, at least the capabilities of the digital cameras are. Image resolution (the number of pixels) increases to the point that enough people abandon film. Film isn’t as convenient, cheap, or easy to store. Kodak files for bankruptcy. Professionals still use them, but it becomes harder to get the film processed. Jon Stewart made fun of camera phones a few years earlier. Who’s laughing now?

2002 – Fotomat still exists. Drive up to the booth, give them your film, and wonder of wonders, a day later drive up to the booth and pick up your prints. Or, mail it in and wait longer. Polaroid will declare bankruptcy, and long remembered for instant prints. Digital cameras are relatively easy to find. Some have interesting form factors as designers try to discover market niches. Print at home, but be patient.

1992 – Cameras are Kodak or Nikon/Canon. That isn’t exclusive, but they are either small and plastic or heavy and metal. High-quality digital cameras are available, but almost as experiments.

1982 – Digital camera? Sure, but save the photos to a mini-cd.

1972 – Cameras make it to the moon. Instamatics fit into tourists’ pockets. Consumer SLRs bring in more amateur photographers.

Cars

Cars, cars, cars. Modern infrastructure and culture is built around cars. Personal freedom. Necessary for a job. Where to park it? How to pay for it? How many do you need?

2022 – We’re not just talking about autonomous cars, they’re out there driving around – or at least learning how to. Electric cars, and truck, and trains, and planes are getting around. Some are surprisingly popular, then an obvious choice. Some have technological hurdles based simply on the weight of the batteries. And can we generate enough electricity, find enough materials, recycle the batteries efficiently enough to satisfy the need and the demand? We’ll know within the next ten years.

2012 – Teslas up the game for all-electric. They quickly go from novelty to must-have, for those without range anxiety or price limits. Hybrid this. Hybrid that, as if the industry and the consumer base can’t commit, for those who aren’t Tesla-courageous.

2002 – Muscle-cars are measured in liters (as cubic-inches wades). Cars use gas. Countries that produce gas have power. Pardon the detour into geo-politics but this is about the time when we must have oil forever, and we freak out about interruptions in supply. Cars increasingly look alike because physics defines aerodynamics.

1992 – K-cars are still on the road as the industry struggles with fuel economy, profits, and what the customers want versus what they need and use. Pollution standards are imposed, reluctantly.

1982 – Fuel economy rules. The Arab Oil Embargo was recent. So is high inflation and an economy that is barely past stagnation. But we do love our power and have a hard time giving up size. Three-abreast in the front is natural, right?

1972 – Rules, rules, rules. Safety, safety, safety. The exuberance of the 50s and 60s are countered by the maturity of the drivers, or at least the industry, or at least the government. Eventually, fuel efficiency standards are introduced.

If you read all of this I am surprised, pleased, and impressed. If you read all of this and have been shouting out corrections, I am not surprised and yet pleased. This isn’t a scholarly study or a panel in a museum. This reflection on history was inspired by the end of yet another year. What will the year be like in ten years? Change seems to be accelerating, which can be a sign that we are in the early phases of a Digital Singularity, a time when change happens in an hour instead of days, weeks, months, years, decades. 

This is also partly based on my recollections, which is why I stopped at 1972. In 1962 I was so young that I didn’t even have memories.

A decade from now, will computers approach or achieve consciousness?

A decade from now, will our eyes house cameras and record everything around us?

A decade from now, will autonomous cars mean we don’t own cars but rent them by the ride, effectively turning most trips into taxi rides?

These things will not happen in isolation. Politics, climate, technology, society are all shifting. I don’t know if it seems that way to you, but to me each of these ten years gaps represented more and quicker changes. Cars can now last 200,000 miles instead of only 80. Computers easily exceed almost everyone’s needs. Cameras aren’t using chemicals for film, but can we find what we record – and if not, why record it?

Prognostications are silly. They can also be fascinating. I wonder how many holiday conversations will focus on what can be rather grinding over what has been.

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AMSC – One Company One Story

Welcome to another story and another video in my One Company One Story series.
This time, AMSC (previously known as American Superconductor).

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?

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

This time it is about AMSC, a company that was previously known as American Superconductor – back when it had an name that gave the company an identity. Back then, their goal was to do for electrical power what fiber optics did for telecommunications – deliver a lot in a little package. Now, they are broader, trying to deliver grid efficiency. According to their web site they see their task as;

We don’t generate the energy. We keep it moving.

From my blog post when I sold AMSC to buy a different investment, LCTX.

American Superconductor had, and may have, great promise. Decades ago they found a way to manufacture relatively high-temperature superconducting cables in commercial quantities. The world’s electrical grid is old, inefficient, and due for some massive upgrades. We can’t afford to waste energy. Superconducting cables would decrease the losses in transmitting electricity. The bonus was that the cables could also make better motors, utility-scale voltage regulators, possibly tie the US grids together, and help renewable energies like solar and wind farms. Great!

Their superconducting cables are complex (requiring refrigeration) and exotic (requiring some very uncommon materials like yttrium (at least back then), but imagine trying to retrofit a city to upgrade to today’s electrical demands. More power down an old pipe instead of digging up yet another street? Sweet. Cables aren’t just cables. Superconductivity also allows for better voltage regulation, more efficient transmission of power, and more efficient motors. Electrical motors are becoming more common. Plenty of opportunity.

Look at their web site and also see applications like reducing the losses from distributed renewable energy systems like wind mills. More efficiency and enabling renewable energy. Very nice.

Along the way they actually bought into the design side of renewable energy by helping with such things as wind turbine design.

They were also involved in a project to connect America’s three main power grids, something that could’ve helped Texas a while back?

So what happened? The company became the target of a scandal. A customer ‘acquired’ enough information about at least one aspect of the company to become a competitor instead of a customer. AMSC won their case, but lost a big revenue stream. 

The investment community is run by humans, so sentiment matters and the stock suffered.  I’ll leave it to others to comment on whether that affected their cash position and their ability to advance their business and technology. Hopefully that is all behind them, now.

Google Finance

Going back to my blog post from 2020 (https://trimbathcreative.net/2020/08/07/amsc-out-lctx-in/),

AMSC has taken so long to develop that I believe competing technologies like graphene and other superconducting materials may have caught up enough to out-compete AMSC.

Disclosure: I owned AMSC from 2003 to 2020. https://trimbathcreative.net/?s=amsc

Their basic goal remains admirable, improving electrical transmission and systems. We need to upgrade old systems. It seems like a good industry to be in, but will they help and benefit from their efforts?

The video

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R Is For Retirement

Let’s take that phrase and see where it leads us, or at least leads me, because the topic of retirement has been part of a few conversations lately. Wishful thinking? Presenting one’s self with the ultimate present? A necessary next stage in life? A bit of this, that, and some other things, probably.

I have a long history with retirement than most. I retired at 38 years of age, almost three decades ago. (For a bit of that story read from my book, Dream. Invest. Live.) Then I became un-retired from what a few professionals called “A perfect storm of bad luck.” That can happen and I can tell you about it, either by directing you to read the previous twelve years of posts to this blog, or suggesting you wait until I’ve written the sequel, or both. Currently I am at least temporarily semi-retired sort of again, which is at least partly captured in these posts since November 1, 2022 when I resigned my real estate brokers license.

Flip back or throw back or trust older folks who can remember what retirement was about forty years ago. Retirement? Great! Now you can finally do all those things you want to do, but haven’t been able to. Of course, you may have worked a life-long career with the same company at nearly the same job, after graduating from school with the goals of that career and probably that spouse and that family in that neighborhood going to that church and cheering for that team.

My Mom’s doctor retired her for health reasons, so after raising a family she raised an emergency medical service for the community. (Work was a major theme in my family. Fortunately, my parents also knew how to spell vacation.) A woman couldn’t honorably retire, anyway, because that would first suggest she retired from motherhood and housewife duties.

My Dad retired because he could, barely. He’d worked multiple jobs, sometimes at the same time. I recall a period when I only saw him on Wednesday nights, Saturday after noon, and Sunday, of course. Thou shalt keep that day holy, eh? And don’t miss the game on TV. I can’t recall anyone asking him or he volunteering what he was going to do after he retired. There wasn’t much thought into what came after. People weren’t expected to live long.

My retiring at 38 was a disappointment to my Mom because I was no longer seen as being responsible. She wanted to know where she had gone wrong.

My retiring at 38 was considered an accomplishment by my Dad. He had a hard time conceiving it, but he cheered me on.

Retiring at 38 was unexpected but acceptable when I did it, but many friends didn’t know how to deal with it. Without kids or a job or a commute it became difficult to find topics to talk about. Mostly I learned to listen to their stories and sympathize.

I didn’t have a role model, so I decided to make one for myself. After a bit of research two things stood out. 1) If I wanted to keep making money, become a consultant in my previous profession or learn a new career. Some folks don’t know what to do with the extra time and eventually went back to their old job simply to keep from being bored at home. 2) Regardless of whether I wanted to make money, I was advised to take a long time getting to know who I was that wasn’t a job title. It is too easy to identify with the label on your name badge. Engineers can become artists. I decided to “Get in shape and give my wife a skinnier husband for Christmas, and hope it was me.” (Irony kicks in a few years later when I asked for a divorce. Details left out to respect privacy concerns of others who were involved.)

I soon found that I can teach karate – and then the parent organization had troubles. I was courted by a couple of companies, but they were too close to my original profession and I had even greater net worth and therefore less need. (One of those was an early entrant into the field of computer generated graphics for things like water and clouds in movies. Another was for a rocket company that had an admittedly mono-maniacal leader who wanted to have autonomous rockets that could land themselves – and it wasn’t Elon.) Along the way I realized I could write; so, I started writing about things I did: bicycling led me to write about America, hiking and skiing led me to write about nature, etc. As long as I didn’t need the money it was fine because writing has a bad business model.

(One benefit of calling myself a writer: The bar is set very low. People expect little of the work, and are impressed if you’re not like the stereotypical writer who sleeps in, drinks too much, and becomes a cantankerous eccentric who uses too many syllables.)

Now, retirement has become more about financial progress than just a chronological achievement. Even companies don’t expect employees to have life-time careers, or if they do, they can still blithely un-employ them with a tweet. Some people will have multiple careers by either choose or necessity. Starting your own business and failing is more acceptable and more a source of stories than of embarrassment. Hanging onto a bad job is also understandable if the benefits and compensation will be hard to find anywhere else. Working for the rest of you life needs a shorter title because so many are doing that to counter their bad luck whether that was personal, medical, or accidental. Companies evaporate. Too many lost savings, or didn’t save, or counted more heavily on Social Security or a pension that evaporated. Inheritances vanished to pay for health care or because a will was written differently. It is hard to maneuver through decades of life without some significant bit of bad luck arising.

That paragraph could be much longer because we’re witnessing an explosion of possibilities and necessities. The gold watches are gone, and so are the clear paths.

“What will you do when you grow up?” was a question asked of children.

“What will you do next?” and “What will you as grow old?” can be asked at any age, now.

I wonder if the R word has been asked about more lately because: 1) people are getting older (duh) and jobs are less reliable, and 2) the pandemic emphasized the ephemeral nature of any expectation except for chaos. If not now, then when? Hello, Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting, Quiet Firing, and whatever label comes next.

Here I am trying to get re-retired, not because I am so financially secure that I can relax and retire (R&R), but because of my health. Working so hard to recover financially degraded several aspects of my health to the point that quitting real estate and its stresses may have long term savings in terms of living longer, better, and saving money on health care costs. The old reasons for why, when, and how to retire have become obsolete because we’re living past retirement age, we’re out-living our technologies and companies; and because retraining is acceptable, entrepreneurship has expanded with the Gig Economy. We’re generally healthy enough to do things later in life that were considered ridiculous fifty years ago.

Someone starting an exercise plan at sixty and excelling is still a story, but one that is no longer alone, but one to compare the other stories to.

I’m glad I retired at 38. Some of the consequences have been difficult (understatement), but if I stuck to a plan from my Dad’s era I would still be working for another year, at least. Then I doubt that I would manage to bicycle across America, walk across Scotland, write three books about year-round hiking and skiing in the Washington Cascades, climb Mt. Rainier, circumnavigate Mt. Rainier, climb Mt. Adams, and you already have the idea half a sentence ago.

My previous decade (I won’t call it my ‘last’ decade) has been tough, but staying in that old career was tougher. I was able to retire at 38 because I could, but also because I had to. Stress was impacting my life – and I was only 38! Would I even be alive to write this if I’d stayed? (Rhetorical but important)

For some, retirement is being redefined as entering their Redefinition phase. If that sounds awkward, it is. Check the literature and see that writers are struggling to find something as catchy as Great Resignation or Quiet Quitting.

It is understandable to aim for retirement and to measure progress against conventional criteria, metrics, and algorithms. It is good to have a plan. But we’re now in an era when you might be the one to find a path that only fits you, or that shows the way that others can follow, and that may be the next big buzzword that isn’t quite Retirement but is something better. Redefinition may not be the ultimate word, but it does a good job of defining what each of us and society have to deal with. Good luck.

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