Contrarian Rebellion

This will not be a shock for folks who know me, but once upon a time I went dancing. In the midst of a crowd where I didn’t fit in, I realized an entertaining way to rebel legally is to ignore the crowd. It may seem odd, but that helped me pick my investment strategy. But first, let me reminisce about dancing, because, why not?

Set the way back machine to the late 80s. I hadn’t danced in a decade, but when a friend asked me out, I said yes. (This was back when women asking men out was scandalous, almost. Actually somewhat rebellious, upon reflection.) Life in the suburbs was not for her, so she suggested we head into the heart of Seattle’s avant garde scene. It was a goth club. The walls were black. The clothes were black. Much of the make-up was black or bright red. Practiced scowls were more common than smiles. She wore something a bit more fitting for the place. I was an engineer; so of course, I wore a polo shirt and chinos. I stood out.

A few years earlier in my early twenties I would’ve felt the peer pressure as a bunch of strangers peered at me. Instead, after a few minutes I began to smile, then enjoy the evening. I was rebelling.

The others in the club were rebelling, too. Goth was new. They were serious about it. They were doing something different. They were so determined to do something different that they were all doing the same thing. They’d accidentally turned unconventional into something conventional, at least within their environment. By being conventional I was unconventional in their space.

Rebelling, or being contrarian, does not have to mean breaking the law, or regulations, or even guidelines. There is an infinity of possibilities within society’s borders that can startle most people. Treat the speed limit as a limit, not as a minimum, average, median, or a goal. Try driving one or two miles an hour below the legal limit, and get comments and gestures. Become a minimalist and a millionaire during the Me Decade and make people wonder what’s wrong. Be honest, and people may not trust you because why would anyone tell the truth, at least in some circles. Imagine an honest politician. Some can’t even though they must exist.

Investing in stocks is risky. Many individual investors invest by following the crowd. Everyone else is buying MSFT? OK. Buy MSFT. Everyone’s doing it so it must be good. I bought stock in AOL. (I’m realizing some people no longer get the reference. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, or at least faded.) People and pundits laughed at it. How can an online business make money? SBUX. Who will pay over $3 for a cup of coffee when 7-11, Denny’s, and Dunkin Doughnuts has it for far less? PIXR. Movies made on computers? That can never compete with Disney’s hand-drawn art on every frame. Want details? They’re in my book, Dream. Invest. Live. I also have examples where that approach didn’t work. Dream Invest Live cover

(Late addition: Imagine using social media as something social instead of as advertising, and being grateful for what it provides for free because it is free.)

Maybe I am on to some radical, rebellious strategy. Nope. Charles Schwab advocated buying overlooked companies that are therefore temporarily cheap. Warren Buffet is known for buying unexpected companies.

Those who invest only when commentators are upbeat end up paying a heavy price for meaningless reassurance.” – Warren Buffet on Motley Fool

With an attitude like that, bad times can be good times.

The stock market reports in the evening news are about the crowd, the companies and stocks that were also in last night’s news, stories that can be told in fewer than ten sentences. Listen for the “moo” as the herd heads this way or that based on the movement of the herd. The herd may not know where it is going or who decided to go that way, but that’s the norm.

The stock market swings from irrational optimism to irrational pessimism. In both cases people respond as if whatever is happening will continue happening forever. Has anything ever happened forever? Even the universe has phases. Why pretend anything is eternal?

Unfortunately for me, I don’t have any recent success stories to celebrate. Yet, I continue to invest and write about the experience. Within personal finance, money is used as the measure of intelligence and wisdom, even though luck and chance can be just as important. Rich investors who are also writers pontificate as if they are infallible. Investors who are writers who lost their money fade away. I rebel by continuing to write about both sides of the experience. A couple of my strengths, or at least characteristics, are persistence and perseverance. As a friend pointed out, if you want good relationship advice find someone who has been in more than one relationship, both good and bad.

Currently, my portfolio is very contrarian. I purposely invest by buying stock in companies that are based on positively disruptive technologies and products: energy efficiency, advanced biotech, and innovative electronics and optics. The topics are popular, but most investors are drawn to incremental business strategies, ideas that nudge the boundaries. After my experience, I favor companies that are erasing and redefining the boundaries, at least.

Stay tuned. Even my patience is being tested.

Normal and conventional are currently being redefined. As we pass through this crisis, someone is going to create a new business model that revolutionizes their industry, or creates a new one we didn’t know we needed and wanted. (Drones and robots allowing touch-free delivery solve a lot of hygiene problems. Automation may take over a large swath of low-income jobs. See CGP Grey’s popular video from a few years ago; “Humans Need Not Apply.“)

Reaching back a post or two is the reminder to challenge fundamental assumptions. I expect either significant improvements in tax policy, or an entrenchment of our current dysfunctional economic model. Ideas that were overlooked are probably being looked at. That will benefit some companies, but which ones? Changes favor companies that can adapt, regardless of size. Entrenchment favors companies that are already in that trench.

I don’t know how things are going to go. The pandemic is bad news. Subsequent waves in pandemics can be worse news. So many people are doing so much to avoid or mitigate the subsequent waves that they may be creating good news. Ironically, they may be chided rather than cheered for it if it doesn’t arrive, even if it doesn’t arrive because we stayed and worked and learned from home, wore masks and gloves, and washed our hands.

I don’t know how things are going to go, but this feels like that moment in one of the original Star Wars movies where Han Solo sits and waits for the fleet to break up and fly off in one direction before flying the Millenium Falcon on a path he prefers. As I was taught in karate, “Do not move until it is to your advantage to do so.” Then do so.

I do know how one thing went. Soon after trying to dance at that goth club, she fell in love with a guy who was just right for her. I was the maid of honor. (Unconventional! at least for that era.) A few years later, I decided to actually take dance lessons from an instructor who was a fan of being unconventional, but within guidelines. There’s a lot of fun to be had playing inside the bounds but in the places few play. Have you ever cha-cha’d through a waltz? Try it sometimes – after social distancing is appropriately relaxed, of course.

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Quarantines Vaccines And Generations

So see that word ‘Generations’ in the title? That’s the hint that this will be a bit of a throwback post to contrast with today’s situation. Astrologers know that when you are born makes a difference, but here I’m reflecting on different generations are born and bred into different assumptions. Behind any plan and most actions there are assumptions that change how valid those plans and actions are for others – including personal finance, but I’ll get there, later.

I am over sixty and younger than seventy. That means I don’t remember the polio scare, but I remember my parents being very glad I was given the vaccine. Sure. Whatever. I was a kid. Take the sugar pill. Put up with the new invention of a needle gun. Do what I’m told because the topics were too complicated to explain to someone who barely understands the basics of the 3 Rs. It was a time when people trusted scientists and doctors, and were practiced at following orders because a few wars had just gone by, and the threat of nuclear attack wasn’t abstract. I didn’t understand bio-chemistry, but I knew what a Fallout Shelter was for.

It was normal for kids to be quarantined. Besides polio there was mumps, measles, chicken pox, etc. that made kids stay at home, and have a sign in the window warning us not to visit. Of course someone contagious would stay home. Why would we infect anyone else in the neighborhood?

Flash forward to 2020 and I begin to realize that we followed directions so well that entire generations aren’t aware of the value of data, logic, science, and community. Deny vaccines? Sure. What good did they do in a young person’s life? Challenge authority? Sure. There is a value there, but to do so over wearing something that protects everyone? How strange these humans are. But, I see them as strange because my experiences bred in a different set of assumptions.

My Dad could never understand climate change, sustainability, equality, … He was born just before the Great Depression and was raised during it. His family was so poor they really didn’t notice it. But, he was raised in a company mining town, back when that was the stuff that inspired strikes and unions. He understood unions and solidarity (at least within that community.) When he was born there were just about two billion people. Many people still worked on farms. Fresh local food was the norm. Supermarkets didn’t exist. To him, the American lifestyle was sustainable. As for social justice, being a union steward was a major effort. He picked that battle and let others pick theirs.

The advice graduates are receiving from commencement addresses may be moot. They are graduating into a world where connectivity is assumed, sustainability isn’t, governments aren’t to be trusted, good and bad information is readily available, gigs and jobs are more common than careers, and various inequalities seem firmly entrenched. The world’s a mess and why did the previous generations let this happen? Throw in the invulnerability of youth and don’t be surprised if social distancing doesn’t make sense (especially as hormones are at their peak). They don’t realize the power of their collective votes. And too much of conventional wisdom sounds archaic.

Did you notice the sweeping generalizations? I’ve found insights while thinking about this, but I also keep the cautions in mind. Generations are built from individuals, and individuals are individuals. There are people from 1926 who understand all of this. The same is true of folks who haven’t graduated high school. It is one reason why I tune out when I hear things like; “Americans are upset about…” No. Americans aren’t 100% in agreement on anything. “Men are…” “Women are…” “Kids are…” “Boomers are…” Nope.

Too much advice is delivered to a generalization. One message doesn’t sell to every person. If it was possible for one person to always be able to convince everyone they met to agree to some idea, then everyone who met the Pope would become Catholic, and everyone who met the Dalai Lama would become Buddhist. And, I’d be curious what would happen if the two of them met privately (which I suspect they have.)

Obviously, there are messages here for advocacy, sales, or simply understanding each other. But, I want to steer this back to something less abstract and more direct. (This is ostensibly a personal finance blog.)

We’re probably entering another recession. We’ve had the Great Depression. Then the Great Recession, which I thought we should call the Second Depression. This pandemic has affected more people and more of the globe than the previous economic crises. System studies suggest that, even without a pandemic, our economic system is unstable. We should expect higher highs (just had those) and lower lows (which might be coming sooner than expected.)

The advice my Dad had about lifetime careers didn’t last. I followed advice about the Space Race and the Space Age, and became an aerospace engineer. That advice was either too late, as America backed off as I graduated college; or too early, as commercial companies are doing much of what I hoped to work on. If a new graduate asked me for advice I’d probably have something in mind, but I hope I’d hesitate and ask them about their goals, values, expectations, and situation. We may be alive at the same time, but we’re each living in a different world.

There are some basics that I will keep in mind as this crisis proceeds. Spend less than I make. Invest the rest. The caveat: As Long As You Can Pay Your Bills. #ALAYCPYB Currently, many can’t pay their bills. That’s a different world from those who can invest the rest. I am relieved that I sit closer to that balance point than most, and have reasons for optimism. (I suspect Whidbey Island is about to become more popular.)

With record unemployment, trillions of dollars being thrown at the moment, a pandemic that hasn’t been contained, and that long list of troubles from climate to politics to justice, last year’s assumptions are already due to be reviewed.

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Life in the 1930s wasn’t life in the 1960s isn’t life as we are swept into the 2020s. I am encouraged to see people who aren’t assuming we’ll return to a normal (that never existed), and who are finding ways to live that reflect ‘now’ not some irretrievable ‘then.’

People respecting quarantine (or simply staying and working from home), a coronavirus vaccine, reforms in government and economics, and more sustainable lifestyles, imagine how much better things could be. Imagine what this generation will tell their generations, and whether advice from 1930 will persist into 2130.

Hmm. I wonder what some of my astrologer friends have to say about the 2020s. Some may not consider that ‘normal’, but normal isn’t what we need, right now.

Stay tuned.

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Masks Facades And Probes

I’ve been probed. Yep. That was weird. It tickled. And, no, it wasn’t aliens. (Or were they?) Yet another surprise from 2020 that I hope never has to be repeated. Probes and masks are something unexpected. I’m also seeing a lot of new facades and fallen ones, too.

On the official side of things, Island County Department of Health was finally able to begin testing people who don’t have symptoms of corona virus aka Covid 19 aka SARS-CoV-2, also known as one of the few things to make us reassess every aspect of life and lifestyle. From what I heard at the drive-through testing, they wanted to test about 3,000 Island County residents to get a diverse demographic sample. Because the pandemic can also be asymptomatic (a word many of us never typed before), they have to test as many people as possible to find out who has it, who carries it, who had it, and who doesn’t have it. That’s a tough test to set up. I’m glad I was selected.

On the practical side of things, here’s what it was like for me. To start with, it isn’t drive-through testing. I had to actually stop the truck at three stations. Drive-through would be cool, but really difficult to take the test at speed. Drive by has a different connotation. Drive up? Closer. Station 1) Lowered the driver’s window to get instructions, which was basically a name check and the instruction to drive to the next station. Station 2) Name and age checked again, and they prepared a little packet that they placed on the hood. That’s one way to keep the speed down. Station 3) They asked me to lower my mask so they could stick the probe up both nostrils. Sure, but how long does that probe have to be? It looked like it could clean out my ear wax by going in through my nose. One nostril, innocuous. Something in the other nostril took a wrong turn and hit something that tickled. Imagine being tickled from the inside while there’s a stick sticking out of your face. Don’t laugh. Seriously, don’t laugh. After she pulled it out, I tried to imagine what would happen if it broke off in there. Needle-nosed pliers for real noses? It was actually fine; weird, but fine. I started to wonder if that was a way to clear out mental cobwebs. Station 4) I think they handed me some paperwork. The cab of my truck was messy thanks to running errands and taking care of one of my real estate listings so I may have lost it. I was more interested in what the attendant(?) had to say. Test results can be ready within 72 hours, frequently within 24 hours; but the testee may not hear back for days. Positive results, meaning the test indicates the person has the virus (which the test can get wrong), get the results first. That makes sense. People who need treatment need to hear it about quickly. Negative results (which is positive in normal language) take longer to report because there’s less urgency and more people to call because they expect most people are clear. That may also be why they’re not calling back the folks that weren’t selected for the test. The testers are busy. In a county with only 80,000 people, they only needed about 3,000 to test but had 6,000 sign up. That’s a lot of phone calls and a larger fraction of the population than I expected to volunteer. By the way, I asked what demographic was under-represented. The young woman said they needed more young men. I got out of there before I played with that straight line in too many inappropriate ways.

I’ll probably post my results in the Comments section eventually. Stay tuned (but why would you?)

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Within the last few weeks the good news has been that the rates of infections in the county are down from the peak. At the same time, businesses and even municipalities are becoming stricter about mask usage. At the same time, some people are protesting masks, social distancing, and the shutdown in general because they think their rights are being violated.

I’m fine with wearing a mask. It’s a mask. It’s a bit of cloth. I’ve studied enough science and history to know that what we’re being asked to do is very little compared to previous crises. Besides, I’m finding side effects that I like. My hay fever is more in control. Wearing a mask while bicycling is like resistance training my lungs, something like runners carrying weights during a jog. Diplomacy is easier and harder. It is easier to hide an accidental (or not so accidental) grimace. One person talked about practicing laughing eyes, conveying a smile however possible. It is also a sign of respect of others. And, of course, it is at least some barrier to the virus; possibly more than enough.

Once a week I shop. It’s usually the day I check on my real estate listings. Today included a stop at a grocery store. Outside the exit were three people, none wearing masks, all rather close to each other, and bracketing the exit. Everyone leaving the store had to walk through the cloud of their conversation. I doubt they stood there intentionally. Perhaps they weren’t aware they were putting others at risk. Perhaps they simply didn’t care.

They aren’t alone. There are more of ‘them’ than I think most suspected. Within the last few years America’s mask and facade has been stripped away. Truth, Justice, and the American Way were a fine (and somewhat ambiguous) motto. But, we’ve seen truth dismissed in favor of feelings and emotions. Justice is more obviously based on discrimination not equality. And the American Way, ambiguous as it sounds, is no longer as valued here and in the rest of the world. Americans are impressive, generally. Witness the mass mask production that was mostly done without thought of profit or applause. Witness the work of the essential workers who frequently aren’t paid what they’re worth, yet they continue to work even under threat from the virus, finances, and local armed intimidation. America as a governing body, however, is governing – well – I’m glad I live in Washington State and Cascadia where people’s lives matter. The other Washington is making itself moot.

Life, school, work, and even worship have been upset. By necessity we must reassess what we value, what’s essential, and how we will manage our lives during and after this crisis. I’m a minimalist. A friend called me Mr. Frugal. Some of that is by necessity, but most of it is by choice (which has turned into necessity after my Triple Whammy.) Dream Invest Live coverWriting a book about personal finance forced me to think about my values, my finances, and my choices. Wearing a mask during a pandemic? Working from home? Limiting my trips and shopping? I would do that regardless of governmental declarations. How better to respect my community, my friends, and my self?

As for the test and the crisis, I’m glad they didn’t use a pipe cleaner, that this was nasal and not one of the less accessible orifices, and that it didn’t cost anything. I do miss dancing though. Some day. Some day.

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Wither Or Whether MVIS

There are far more important things happening in the world this week, but for a few thousand people, the future of MicroVision and its stock (MVIS) was massively distracting. Rumors were flowing of great things, some terrific and some terrible. The fates of many companies are being tested. This was happening with MicroVision as well, but the possible outcomes were amplified, partly from the pandemic, partly from expectations. This one stock is one of the many stories that are lost in the crowd of content we’re currently experiencing. By the end of the week, neither the doom and gloomers were right, nor the cheerleaders. Welcome to the swings of fortune in personal investing.

My investing strategy that had worked so well for decades is commonly called Long Term Buy and Hold. (For details, look in my book: Dream. Invest. Live.) Dream Invest Live coverFind stocks I think are undervalued, hold them until their value is recognized, and maybe even sell them when they are over-valued. It isn’t a guarantee, but one friend called it a Get Rich Slow technique. I’ve owned shares in MicroVision for about twenty years. Is that slow enough? A bit more patience may be required.

If you’re interested in the company and why I am enthused about it, browse this blog’s posts that are tagged with MicroVision or MVIS. Basically, if the company succeeds with its technology, I can envision MicroVision’s tech doing to laptops and other such displays what laptops did to old CRTs. That’s a rather large market. (Massive understatement at no extra charge.)

Small companies with big ideas generate lots of stories. For years, I described MicroVision as a company that will either make headlines or go out of business. Disruptive ideas can be too radical. A few years ago they were finally getting into products which were actually being sold by major corporations like Sony. I thought the odds of going out of business were finally almost zero. Oops.

After that surge of products there was silence. No new products had been announced since September 2018. Evidently some contracts fell through, large corporations can shift product lines without warning their small suppliers, and competition was catching up. The CEO was replaced with another CEO. The company is typically reticent, and only broke that silence to suggest they might be cash flow positive or profitable by the end of 2019. That didn’t happen. The CEO was replaced with another CEO. Even less was being said.

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Google Finance

The stock dropped below $1 for too long, which threatened to have the stock delisted. Some see that as traumatic. I’ve seen other companies weather that without reverse splits or fancy financing.

Unfortunately, recently MicroVision announced “strategic” considerations, which was interpreted as being bought out. That’s seen as good and bad. Good in terms of getting something rather than nothing out of the stock. Bad in terms of a sign that revenues won’t arrive in time to pay expenses.

screenshot-2019-02-25-at-13.58.38Ah, but there were rumors about Microsoft’s next big product, Hololens 2. MicroVision components were in the prototypes. Great! But Microsoft moves slowly. Bad – for MicroVision. Neither company mentioned the other in anything official, but as long as the product was a success and the revenues arrived, that’s fine. The rumors had been around for over a year, hence my post from 2019: HoloLens2 And MicroVision. I didn’t pay much attention to the discussions on the discussion boards because most of it was speculation. Something was different this time. More people were on the stock boards. The stock started to move.

One commentor advised me to “load up now” because I’d waited so long. They were right. Maybe I should’ve. Within a month the stock went from a low of ~$0.15 (yes, fifteen cents, less than a quarter, only one dime and one nickel) to about twice that. By the beginning of May, it was ~$0.44. (Almost two quarters!) A few days later MVIS was over $1.70, and I was thinking that for once a stock tip was right, and I missed it.

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Google Finance

I stood by my reply, though. Buying on rumor is gambling or speculating. I’d done enough of that with MVIS. I was waiting for significant, positive, quantifiable news. Earnings were going to be released on Thursday. I might miss a jump by not acting, but I already had a position and decided to hold. (But, really, from $0.15 to $1.70 in under two months. And I watched it happen. But hey, no news, just rumors. Therefore, no action.)

Other folks were interested, too. Traffic to that year-old post I mentioned above, Hololens2 And MicroVision, spiked this blog’s traffic by a factor of twenty. Hence, I knew I’d be writing about MVIS this week.

In an ideal world, people would wait to hear the news before acting. In an ideal world, no one would be trading based on having heard the news early. (That can be illegal, but legalities are considered selective, by some.)

Days before the meeting, the price began to fall. Just before the meeting, the price was back down to under a dollar.

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Google Finance

The meeting did not have “significant, positive, quantifiable news”. There were lots of waffle words, no Q&A, and too little in general. The next morning the stock was under sixty cents. Today, Friday, it began to climb back up, finishing at $0.77.

The speculations begin again.

MicroVision has had similar swings in simpler years. Basically, the company has been in a series of startup modes, sometimes several within the same CEO’s tenure. I wonder if they’d stood still with their original strategy if the world would’ve come to them. Yet again, we are left with the mantra of “things will be better within the next six to nine months.” And maybe it will, this time. We’re also left with the realization that the cash available may only last fewer than six to nine months, or not in time to realize revenues.

These aren’t simple times.

There’s bad news. The pandemic has been disrupting supply lines, maybe including MicroVision’s. The company’s customers may delay product launches until the economy re-launches.

There’s good news. The devices MicroVision’s technology enables are potentially in demand. Hololens2 helps people work remotely. MicroVision’s tech may be enabling that display. Instead of touching an electronic display screen, MicroVision’s tech allows people to gesture in mid-air as if they were using an iPad. Robotic deliveries need sensors for the robots, and MicroVision has an innovative LiDAR solution.

No one knows which way it will go. That’s typical for startups. There’s even more uncertainty in the world, now; and even more for MicroVision.

This is a story I’ve been following for decades that I have always thought would be resolved in less than a couple of years. I’ve watched irrational exuberance about the technology, the company, and the stock. I’ve watched irrational pessimism in the investing market because of failed expectations, poor management communications, and a lack of demonstrated success. In my opinion (opinion, as in my guess), the present value of the company’s future revenues is far greater than the current stock valuation except for the risk that those revenues may never happen. The company and the stock probably won’t be properly valued until they receive and release news about significant, positive, quantifiable news – or until it is bought out as that is another way to define what the market will pay.

Do I think it should be resolved soon? Of course, I hope. The downside scenarios are so dull that I’ll simply shrug and hold until something happens. The upside scenarios are so exciting that I’ll enjoy them. Either can happen any day, or week, or month, but probably not any year. This is the time for something significant to happen. I’d like to be able to say I know which way it will go; but whether MicroVision withers or succeeds is too unpredictable. That makes MVIS a speculation at best, a gamble in many minds; but could yet be a phenomenal investment.

One thing is for sure, owning shares of a company like MicroVision isn’t dull. Hopefully, years of risk will result in decades of rewards. Stay tuned.

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Challenging A Fundamental Assumption

A common response many have in retrospect;

The Soviet Union will live forever. Of course it didn’t. Africa shattered into even more nations after the colonizers left. Naturally. The European Union may no longer be a union. Well, it never looked sustainable, did it?

I can’t find the TED Talk video that talked about the tendency for nations to breakup rather than come together. In the meantime, here’s a more entertaining video that includes the rise and fall of empires as well as the Big Bang and a bunch of science.

The Western States Pact (as well as the Upper Midwest Pact and the Northeast Pact) brought me back around to considering the fundamental assumption behind the United States. How united are the United States, and does it matter?

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Because of the corona crisis, various states in the United States are uniting because the United States government is treating the states as part of them not us. (See States Uniting And Not over on one of my other blogs, PretendingNotToPanic.com) As of late morning, April 27, 2020, 19 states are in the pacts listed above. Their goals are to coordinate their responses to the crisis. The fact that there are three pacts points out that each sees their region as having separate circumstances and cultures.

It does not necessarily follow that the pacts will remain after this crisis has passed; but it does exemplify the reality that pragmatism can become more important than ideology when needs aren’t academic. People are dying. At least some governments are proving they can govern responsibly.

Various state’s responses have also highlighted which ones have been funding more than benefiting from the federal budget. At least in a rough sense, states joining the pacts are aggressively responding to the crisis, are being deterred by the federal government, and are more likely to send more money to the federal government than they receive. States that aren’t aggressively responding to the crisis are more likely to receive more than they send. Not surprisingly, friction and resentment can result.

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While many say a dissolution of the United States won’t happen because we don’t want another Civil War / War Between The States, keep in mind that peaceful changes happen, too. The Louisiana Purchase and the Alaska Purchase are two examples of governments getting out of debt or simplifying their administration by selling off land. I don’t know of a similar situation has happened in modern times with industrialized regions.

As I wrote above, this is something I’m considering, a fundamental assumption I am challenging. The world’s been weird enough, lately. Could this happen, too?

If. If. If. If, it happened I wonder how life and governance and personal finance might, might, might, might change. What else is there to do while during StayHome and WorkFromHome? I’ve poured a mug of tea (a cup’s too tiny for this), and decided to break down the response by one representation of the US Government: the Cabinet, etc. This is not a detailed and long-researched analysis. I’m just sitting, typing, and will see what insights come up. In no particular order but with my Western Washington perspective, here I go.

Environmental Protection Agency – Clean air, clean water, wildlife protection, lots of those green things that people make fun of treehuggers about; expect them to return and possibly be expanded.

Health and Human Services – Particularly during a pandemic, especially while sitting on the Pacific Rim and the travel that is required, expect a greater response. This is the front line, and the local agencies know it. Maybe improved health care, including mental health.

Agriculture – If Eastern Washington comes along, then the area’s economy benefits greatly from plenty of farm and ranch products and ports from which to ship them. Otherwise, a lot will have to be shipped in, driving up costs. Many nations are in such a precarious situation. Whether the area can be self-sustaining depends largely on how large an area is included.

Labor – Many of those essential services live here. Think Amazon’s shipping network. Seattle’s minimum wage advocacy could extend to farm workers and other overlooked occupations. There may be fights between unionization and the mega-corporations that also exist here. Would the corporations leave if they didn’t win?

Commerce – Washington State has a strong economy. Boeing may move production lines for smaller airplanes, but the jumbos are tougher to shift. The Puget Sound’s standard of living draws high-paying professions. The ports are important. Proximity to Canada and the Pacific Rim is powerful. Could be a significant income source, as it has been.

Treasury – Here’s a big one. How to establish a credible currency and banking system from nothing. Going to cryptocurrency sounds appealing, but I’d check how long and hard it was to establish the Euro. The region is not seen as a finance center, though there is certainly significant wealth in the area – at least for now. Keep it here and maybe it can happen. One possible big benefit, disassociating the region from the current US Federal debt and deficits. Those would be intense negotiations, but they could make all the rest work by providing sufficient funds and stability.

State – In general, the region has a favorable international reputation. Reinforcing trade partners is high leverage. Increased foreign aid? A new Peace Corps?

Interior – Hello, preserving national parks! Hello, managing forests, too. That may be less of a battle here because the parks tend to be too steep or dangerous for commercial activities. Between the two, well, finding the balance is what governments do. The debate will be significant because the local interior is rich in many ways.

Housing and Urban Development – Homelessness has been a major issue on the west coast. Urban development has also been active as planners try to fit more people into geographically constrained land. The efforts seem to be independent of the federal agencies except for grants and loans, but as discussed above, grants may be balanced against current federal taxes. Possibly no significant change.

Transportation – The region is a transportation hub, as well as being a producer of airplanes, trucks, and some ships. Geography will continue to funnel traffic through the area. After a crisis-induced decline, producing transport vehicles may recover, possibly with the loss of the Boeing Renton plant. Boeing has been one of the largest contributors to US durable goods exports. Even a small portion of that would be even more significant in a much smaller region.

Energy – I suspect the Department of Energy might live up to its name. Instead of being only about nuclear power, energy, and weapons, it could include the already impressive renewable energy infrastructure. Emphasize the renewable energy markets and the total budget may significantly decrease. Hanford might not be happy about it, but would possibly get more emphasis on cleaning up the site.

Education – That’s a tough one. I’d assume no change until some innovation is accepted.

Intelligence – CIA, FBI, NSA, NRO, some semblance of them would be necessary, but again, it would probably be proportionally smaller; and possibly more focused on industrial rather than military needs.

Defense and Veterans Affairs (and I’ll include the various security services) – This may be the only one trickier than Treasury. It would be difficult to imagine a new region spending the same proportion of the budget on the military. That would be a significant budget improvement. It would also be difficult to negotiate the status and operation of the US military bases. Because of the region’s location, they can’t be readily moved. But, that’s a situation the current Department of Defense negotiates in dozens of countries. There are precedents. As for border security and such, if the region is no longer identified as The United States of America, would it be as much of a target? Perhaps the only targets would be those military bases. That is worrisome considering the nuclear arsenals. Very strong benefits and difficulties. Hopefully, the Coast Guard would be as important as ever.

A new region would probably create new bureaus and bureaucracies. Washington is already known for a mix of liberalism, libertarian values, and conservatism. Despite being known for diversity, there’s more than enough internal conflicts to keep such an event from occurring.

To me, the biggest swingers would be a monetary system and the military presence. To my personal finances, there’s the potential for little change and a possible improvement because the federal taxes and benefits already almost balance but on the side of more taxes out than benefits in.

That’s a long way to go to get back to effectively no difference, but that’s on a governmental level. On a personal level, my income may improve if people are drawn to move here, and also to move away. (Real estate brokers get involved in both.) My tax expenses may not change, but I suspect eventually there’d be better social services. Social services are valuable. Interest rates would probably be much higher until financial institutions gained confidence in the new government and region.

Being on an island also provides a buffer. Islanders tend to be more independent from necessity. Being on an island that includes a Naval Air Station (which must be capitalized) means also having a front row seat to one of the major contentious points.

Over 1,500 words for something that probably won’t happen. And yet, now is a good time to consider such possibilities. Considering them after they become realities can be too late.

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Negative Oil Prices And More

screenshot-2020-04-21-at-10.21.05Economists do not like negative numbers, at least not ones that make the economy diverge from some norm. A new one showed up in the last few days (mid-April 2020), negative oil prices. Yep. Want to buy some oil? You probably won’t be able to take advantage of what is probably a very temporary event, but at least for a few hours, producers were producing so much oil that they were paying people to take it away. Surprised? Sure. But the economy has been getting weirder for the last few years. Check your assumptions because they aren’t academic; they’re part of any plan you have behind your personal finances.

Look back to a post from earlier this year, Oh Know 2020. At that time, I’d been watching China’s coronavirus crisis, but not saying much because it was over there. That ‘there’ is now everyone’s ‘here’. At the start of the year it was relatively easy to see hurdles in politics and elections, social unrest, climate crises, natural disasters, financial instabilities, and unknowns. Let’s put the corona crisis under the Unknown category. It was known, but mostly in retrospect. Now, it is affecting almost all of those categories. The response to the virus has definitely been political. Social unrest is apparent as we realize our essential personnel are not treated as valued people, and being poor is costing more than most realize. The natural disasters aren’t as affected, but climate has actually improved simply because we aren’t in nature much, lately. The financial instabilities were bad enough: inequality, increasing debt at all levels, and a general mismatch between needs and budgets. Now, record unemployment, an unavoidable recession, and an uncertain schedule for, well, living in general are going to keep the economy uncertain for months, probably years.

So, how are your assumptions doing so far? Mine? If they were written in chalk, there’d be a lot of dust around as erasers are cleaned after clearing blackboards.

The negative oil prices are weird enough, but they make sense. Fossil fuels are under pressure from competitive renewable energy sources, and from an expanding attitude of switching from consumption to sustainability. As renewable energy gains more users, their demand for fossil fuels falls. Fossil fuel providers, however, have high fixed costs. Fewer customers, same costs, so their prices should go up; but that drives away customers. Profits fall. Profits fall enough that some low-cost producers with cash reserves attempt to drive high-cost competitors out of the market by temporarily producing more oil, increasing supply, driving down prices, and making marginal producers get out of the market. Increased supply, low prices, good news for filling the tank, right? And then governments finally realized how bad the corona crisis was and told billions to Stay Home, maybe Work From Home. Less driving. Less demand for fuel. As long as enough of us used the fuel they produced, they could continue to produce it. But. Our consumption dropped so far that the industry’s tanks weren’t being emptied. Storage tanks on land are almost full. A significant amount of oil is being stored in tankers because there’s no where else to store it. Turning off wells isn’t easy, evidently. Prices fell from $100/barrel a few years ago, to $60/barrel, then $40/barrel, then the price wars drove it down to $20/barrel, then for a few hours less than negative thirty (<-$30/barrel.) Take my oil, please; they said. At the close of business April 21, oil was back up to $9/barrel. Not $9/gallon, but $9/barrel. That may be cheaper than water in some regions. Some aspects of this are discretionary, but such an event can change an industry.

Alone, that is weird enough. But, at the same time much of the world’s finances are experiencing very low and sometimes negative interest rates. Contemplating Negative Interest Rates was a post from August 2019. Money is accumulating in so many havens that countries are trying to encourage people to spend it by discouraging saving. The more money in the havens, the less there is in the economy, the greater the inequalities, and the less stable the entire economy. The US was one of the few countries avoiding negative interest rates, but corona crisis convinced the Fed to drop the rates to zero. Ironically, that convinced some mortgage rates to rise as mortgagors saw it as a sign of greater financial risk. The fact that so many countries were already experiencing negative rates is an indication that the economy wasn’t as healthy as it could be, and now is even worse.

Assumptions are being erased, regardless of whether we recognize it.

Since the Internet Bubble and the Great Recession we’ve become familiar with very low savings interest rates for individuals, and countries have witnessed very low rates of savings from individuals. Many people were only one or two paychecks from insolvency or losing housing. That’s being tested.

Conventional wisdom about investing is being challenged as algorithms out-compete people, at least in the short term. Companies that are accumulating cash aren’t reinvesting in research and development as much as before. Stock buybacks are popular, but do nothing for creating a future for the company, the economy, or society. Then, a virus hits and the markets drop faster and farther than most folks knew was possible.

Common plans work to goals of retirement that can be years or decades away (or decades in the past for some like me), or mortgages that are frequently measured in thirty year blocks. For the next year, interest rates, income, expenses, market returns, and even taxes will be in flux. The details may change every day. The essentials are more reliable.

Crises are painful and opportunities. For those with higher risk tolerances (like me) and sufficient resources (not like me) this can be a time to invest in depressed assets, or in assets that are expected to rise. I’ve been invited to participate in several conversations about what comes next and what can we do about it now. Happy to have the conversation. Wish I could act on what we learn. For those who are near the edge, it is a scary view. Providing goods and services that are immediately needed or wanted may be the start of a new business. (Several clients are hoping to provide help to people trapped in their houses.) For those who can stand back from the edge and gain a different perspective, there are opportunities (maybe in those new businesses); but I know my caution and partly the inspiration for this post is to challenge the assumptions behind those opportunities. Is an intriguing possibility a good idea based on the way the world was, the way the world is, or the way I think the world will be? Something I’m thinking about every day.

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Emergency Preparedness April 2020 Revision

I admit it. Sometimes I feel silly about maintaining an emergency preparedness kit. It is prudent to have a kit considering Whidbey Island’s potential for disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and wild weather. Decades of keeping a kit that is never needed is where the silly feeling comes in. And then we get whammed by something completely different. It took me a month to realize coronavirus was an opportunity to update the kit. And then the coincidence hit. It looks like the County agrees it is time to consider updating emergency plans, coincidentally.

We are spoiled. Despite griping about power outages and storms, none of the service interruptions in the last couple of decades have lasted long enough for me to need my kit. Whew. Let’s hope that’s the case for many more decades. Earthquakes are like that, unpredictable. The Salish Sea doesn’t get as many as other places along the Pacific Rim of Fire (a great, dramatic title), but it does get the bigger ones, like the ones that hit Indonesia, Chile, and Japan. (I like Nick Zentner’s primer on Puget Sound quakes.)

Getting ready for a quake and then getting hit by a pandemic is like preparing an ice cream social and finding that the guests are lactose intolerant and watching their sugar intake. (I do miss ice cream. Pardon me as I reminisce. Mmm.) Congratulations for preparation, but zero points for implementation.

And then I needed a mask. (Actually, I need lots of masks, but that story won’t be told until after they arrive.) Ah ha! I have several kits. There’s the big one for the house. Another is in the truck, in case I have to sit and stay, or walk to some safer place. The one at the office isn’t as extensive, but it helps complete the picture. Don’t be surprised. I’m an engineer who had to deal with failure modes. Backups, backups, backups. Ta da! A mask! The truck had a supply in case of ash clouds, dust storms, or maybe just a bad pollen day.

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OK. But, a month has gone by and I realized that: 1) the kits are handy, and 2) I hadn’t thoroughly sorted through the house kit in years. Grab the hand truck. Wheel the kit/trash cans into the carport. Pull everything out, being careful to look for leaks.

Spiders? They get everywhere! What did they find to eat? Not much. Whew. One bar of soap was oozing out of its package. So much for the fancy soaps. It was on sale, but I think I’ll find something more shelf stable. The dried foods are all OK, or at least don’t look or smell bad. The Use-By dates on the food and medicines are hilariously out of date. Is Advil still good after a decade? Unfortunately, this is not the time nor the financial situation for replacing the old with new.

Really, the kit wasn’t that bad. With the recent shopping shortages, I chuckled when I realized there wasn’t any toilet paper in the kit. Changed that. I also added some extra clothes and another pair of shoes (retired running shoes.) I thought there was a saw in there. Something to add. Something to replace: the 80 proof vodka with 100 proof vodka. More sanitary the better! Inside and out. Besides, the bottle is plastic and sweating. Can the alcohol or the water leach out through plastic? Interesting.

The kit was designed assuming utilities aren’t available: power, water, septic. All of those are available during this crisis. Imagine going through Stay Home without the Internet. That’s harder to pack. Limits must be defined. Except for replacing the food and drugs, and either charging or replacing the emergency light/radio, the kits are good enough for now.

And then; “Island County Department of Emergency Management is in the process of updating its Hazard Mitigation Plan.” The notice popped up on Facebook. Even just describing their plan takes them 216 pages. Not a surprise. Whidbey is a large and varied island. They have plans for drought (we do get them), floods (mostly but not entirely a shoreline issue), storms (they’re common enough), and earthquakes (which few knew was an issue fifty years ago.) Hmm. I couldn’t find the tsunami info.

Considering what we’re going through with a pandemic makes it easier, and scarier, to imagine what life would be like after a major earthquake. We would still have to worry about contagious diseases, through probably not to the extent of Covid-19. But we might be under mobility restrictions that are more severe and non-negotiable. Trees down, and tangled with power lines. Bridges and ferry operations interrupted. Forget about shopping while wearing masks and gloves. The stores may not be open even if getting to them wasn’t a problem.

It is hard to stop after getting started making a kit. Recently I added a tent. Glad for that. Looking forward to buying a solar oven for occasional use, and as an emergency backup. Same thing with a solar charger for electronics. But what to do with the film camera that was supposedly only good until 2010? It is meant for documenting damage for insurance, but I don’t know the film can be developed. Keep it for nostalgia? Are there such things as disposable digital cameras with removable batteries? I might have to go onto eBay for an old point and shoot that works from AAs. Maybe before the next time I need the kit…

(Writer’s note: One of the dangers of writing about food is that I now want ice cream, which I can’t eat. That’s going to mess with my dinner. How much popcorn will satisfy that urge? Butter, more butter.)

 

 

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Gig Economy Training For StayHome

I confess. Others are having a tough time adjusting; but working from home has not been a big problem for me. #StayHome feels remarkably like a typical day in the Gig Economy prior to becoming a real estate broker. Rather than a major interruption, for millions of people this is normal: working from home with uncertain income, no benefits – and no dress code, no boss on site, and no barriers between work and wine. Pardon me as I switch from sipping from a mug to sipping from stemware. It’s after 6PM. Time to take on one more task or two.

It seems like a decade ago, but less than two years ago I was still working nine gigs a day. That may sound profitable, but in the Gig Economy work does not equal pay, and sometimes pay seems to have nothing to do with work. The problem is, it’s hard to know which gigs are worth dropping. As long as there’s time, there’s a chance some more work might pay some more bills.

Now, my work life is different. My main gig is as a real estate broker (with Coldwell Banker 360 Team on Whidbey Island.) The tasks are remarkably the same: contacting prospective clients, learning what they want to get done, then helping them do it. The stereotype is for the broker to spend the days driving around looking at and showing properties; but that world is vanishing. Helping sellers get ready to sell hasn’t changed as much; but buyers are frequently self-directed. I send them listings, but they’re also likely to research properties from access I can provide, or they dive into real estate sites like zillow, redfin, estately, trulia, etc. The result? A lot of time working via the computer that can sit in my lap or on my desk. Much less driving around. Much less need to go to the office.

The coronavirus has upset more than work schedules. I’m not as affected by school closures, restricted retail operations, and the need to tend family members. I feel sorry for people whose careers are on hold or have to be maintained while also handing a younger generation, an older generation – and then somehow find supplies. Eight people in one house? That could be several jobs, several school grades, and little hope of quiet.

Amidst the various offers of help with masks, toilet paper, and errands, I realized there are experts out there that may not realize the help they can provide. Folks who’ve lived in the Gig Economy for several years have developed skills that are particularly useful now.

When does a home office make sense, and when does it make more sense to not get that picky? I purposely use several sites around the house – and my house is under 900 square feet. I have three main stations: dining table, comfy living room chair, office chair at an office desk. Work doesn’t seem as confining or monotonous when there are different views and ergonomics to work with.

There are a lot more dishes to wash, but that’s because there’s more cooking going on. I like that. It is a good time for slow roasts, stews, soups, and things like slow-cooked ribs. The aromas can’t be replicated in an office. They’re too distracting. Meals become much cheaper and healthier when they’re made at home; that is if they’re made well-enough. But, hey! That’s what all of those cookbooks are for. (If you wrote a cookbook, you’re welcome to mention it in the Comments. Hint.)

Stay Home does not mean never go out. Stay Home does not mean stop exercising. Working from home makes it easier to work out. The gym may be closed, but exercising at home avoids the locker room scene and worrying about what you’re wearing and how you look. You decide on the hours. There’s no charge for the opportunity to sweat. And you can space out the exercises throughout the day. For me, pushups after the first task is done. Chinup(s) after the second. Early or late I’ll get in a walk (distancing, of course), or a mid-afternoon bicycle ride if the weather is right. Making a cup of coffee or tea? You’ve already stood up to get into the kitchen. Do some stretches. Going back to work sweaty may be frowned upon in the office, but not at home as much.

The true masters of the Gig Economy, and the folks for whom Stay Home is nothing new, are those gig workers who were already home schooling, tending parents, juggling their gigs and their spouse’s gigs. These are the pros, the experts, the people who can commiserate with you about how tough it is, while also supplying answers that make most sense to you. 

The Gig Economy isn’t a panacea. The corona crisis has seen coworks close, too many businesses retreat, and millions be perplexed by worrying about something that has no symptoms until it has too many.

But.

There’s a different way to live. You probably know someone who has been living it for years. They may be willing to help.

We won’t go back to normal – as if there ever was a normal. Remote working is being tested on a grand scale. It will work for more than before, and obviously won’t work for many others. Parents will find either a new appreciation for teachers and schools, or confidence that they can home school. Xenophobia will be redefined as people from one region fear people from another one; or simply are startled by anyone who coughs or sneezes. Masks and gloves are probably coming back in style. Forget the utilitarian ones. Fashion is already jumping at the chance to play with something fresh (or very very retro, as in medieval retro.) Essential services aren’t abstract now. We know which ones mattered to each of us. Hopefully society shifts to reflect our appreciation and to improve their compensation.

Because some regions have delayed their response, and science denial continues to be proudly popular, we’ll be dealing with this or other global crises for a long time. Reinfections will happen. For those who can, this is the opportunity to stay home, work from home, rethink old lifestyles, and think of new lifestyles.

One hint: remember to talk to someone once a day, and get out of the house about once a week. It is too easy to forget how to talk to people and too easy to forget things like manners. Eventually, we’ll start socializing again. There’s going to be a lot of pent-up demand for dances and parties. You deserve it. We deserve it.

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Dining By Due Date

Hmm. Best by May 21, 2017. That may be a bit past its prime. But then, it is an extruded potato product heavily salted. Maybe it is fine. So goes my visit to my pantry. This coronavirus crisis seems like a good opportunity to review my stored food, and make menu selections accordingly. What can I make from Annie’s Mac and Cheese, shredded coconut, and a can of Pringles that’s three years past its “Best By” date?

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Being a frugal folk, I try to keep my pantry full, but not too full. Living alone means it is easy to buy more than one person can eat before it all goes bad. I haven’t been to the store in about 12 days. My real estate office was (though no longer is – stay tuned for that story) beside a community grocer, The Goose. To most shoppers it looks like a medium size super-market. To locals, it’s one of the largest on the south half of the island (Whidbey). To me, I’ve appreciated that it is influenced by the local non-profit (Goosefoot) that figures carrying for people is the best way to care for the community. Or is it the other way around? Or is it circular? No matter. My almost daily habit for over two years was to visit at lunch, scope out the sales, and fill my pantry by buying on the way home from work. That certainly has come in handy.

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Partly because of my blog that is about ‘news that is based on data and logic, significant, and apolitical’ (a tough criterion for the last few years), I’ve been aware of the virus since December. I waited for statistically significant data. In 2019, the data wasn’t as common as the anecdotes. In January, the first US case was discovered a short drive east of my home. By February there were over 37,000 cases. I began taking it personally seriously.

I also didn’t freak or panic, despite the name of the blog (PretendingNotToPanic.com). I did, however, review the gaps in my pantry. There weren’t many, but I filled in many of the niches whether there was a sale or not. As I mentioned in Personal Pandemic Prep, basically if I bought too much and the crisis was lifted, I could donate the rest.

So much for the crisis being lifted. The world now has over 1,000,000 cases of the virus, and billions haven’t been tested.

Hello, pantry.

Tonight’s dinner doesn’t touch any of the past-best-by dates. This is an opportunity to thaw a meal that was intended to be an office lunch. Add some rice (sorry, Doc), maybe some cheese (despite the fact that I hope to never buy that brand of cheese again), and chili for dinner.

But, how out-of-date are things? Fortunately, I checked earlier and at least put the oldest things up front. In the next few days I’ll use one of the Annie’s Mac and Cheese mixes (though they give it a fancier name). The shredded coconut will either become an addition to oatmeal, or cookies, or – nope, almost out of yogurt. Not bad, considering. Certainly not a hardship. Oh shucks. I have to make cookies. Oh darn.

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To quell the idea that I have some massive storage facility, I have a small house (~860 square feet) with a small kitchen – and still have nearly-empty drawers and cabinets.

The photos may not look packed, and they’re not. Between their contents and what’s in my fridge and freezer, there is at least a month of meals. Maybe two if necessity drives me to adding tomato sauce to various types of beans and noodles. And then there’s the rice. And then there’s the truly emergency food that may last forever, but would only taste good at the edge of apocalypse.

Canned goods and such in one place. Another holds staples like flour, mixes, sugar (leftovers from a different diet), and beans, lots of beans. One last cupboard has pasta, rice noodles, lots of popcorn, herbs and spices – and of course tea. (See #TomTea on Twitter for pieces of that story.)

At this point, preppers are scoffing and laughing. “Only a month’s supplies! Ha! How about a decade’s?” An impressive accomplishment, and a time when they can feel justified for stocking up.

The world is weird enough. As I mentioned earlier (Personal Pandemic Prep), dedicating an emergency preparedness kit for only one thing is better than nothing. It is more than most folks accomplish. Having a full pantry without a kit is also better than nothing, as long as the power and water flow. Having both, that’s a luxury.

And yet, imperfections happen. I don’t expect to cover every possibility. Life’s too short to worry that much. But, covering most of the cases is comforting, especially when there’s already enough to be anxious about. Three items past their “Best By” date? Not a problem. A slight imperfection. Forgetting to stock things that aren’t stored in the pantry, like toilet paper? Well. Let’s give a new definition to three squares a day.

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Home Workers

Gloves are back in style. Well, at least they’re popular. I’m in Washington State where we’re effectively on lockdown as of about 24 hours from when I post this. Lock down. Stay home. Try to get work done. Except for the lockdown part, that’s typical for workers in the Gig Economy. Work from home, because it is cheaper. Only go out when it is necessary with a few rare trips for shopping and possible socializing. Social distancing is built in. For those who live alone and stay home, even the gloves aren’t as necessary. The Gig Economy can be a facade to hide partly-employed people, but those people have been developing adaptation skills that others can learn from.

People with paycheck jobs, kids in school, and parents that need support are finding themselves crowded into a house. If they’re lucky, they ‘get to’ work from home and continue to collect paychecks. Prior to a lockdown they were performing several roles in series (get up, get the kids off to school, get themselves off to work, get home, take care of the kids, take care of the house – and along the way take care of the parents, possibly by paying for their care.) During a lockdown all of those roles happen simultaneously without recess or relief. They’re employees, parents, guardians, teachers, cooks, cleaners, and whatever else needs to be done. Ouch. They may not be doing much binge-watching.

Some members of the Gig Economy have been living that life for a long time. I’m no longer one of them, and when I was, the only person I had to take care of was me. Whew. Granted, I was working seven days a week with most days being 10-12 hour days, so it wasn’t casual, but there was no one else relying on me, either. Good. I barely got by. Those who worked those roles simultaneously successfully may have lessons to teach that they take for granted. Give them a call. Besides, we should all be keeping in touch (not physically) with others anyway.

Despite what’s in the news, I don’t know anyone who is bored. There’s more than enough to do, even if it is simply cleaning every surface in the house, or de-cluttering, or finally finishing that inevitable myriad of projects every homeowner has.

One of these days I’ll get around to replacing that electrical outlet. After thirteen years in this house I finally and accidentally found a major gap in the weatherstripping. That might get fixed, too.

In the meantime, I’m dealing with the disruptions in real estate. (Regulatory required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Koetje on Whidbey Island. See below for changes there.) Typically, spring is the time for listings to arise. More buyers arrive. Office life and showing houses get busy.

Rather than interest fading, many people are suddenly inspired to move to remote areas, like islands. Rural Distancing is real. So many people have temporarily moved to my neighborhood that I curtailed my walk. Normally, a workday in March would be quiet with hardly anyone outside. I only saw one person I know, and he turned back for home too. I didn’t need my gloves and mask, but it felt good to bring them along. I think I’ll replace walks with karate workouts.

The lockdown’s timing feels like a collision of coincidences. Just as interest in real estate escalates, we can’t show houses. It makes sense. So it goes. At the same time, my office is being moved. Fortunately, I emptied it yesterday. Unfortunately, the new place isn’t ready; so I’m making trips out to the stuff stacked in the pack of my pickup. Oh yeah, and they’re changing the name of the company. And there are new procedures and policies. OK. It’s all good. Eep.

We’re about a month from when I was scheduled to give the next in a series of talks at some local libraries about real estate and affordability trends on Whidbey Island. Ironically, the topic was going to be about why we shouldn’t assume everything will stay the same; basically reasons to not extrapolate current trends. The talk has gone from hypothetical to real. The talk may also be going from on-site to online. Stay tuned for that, too.

At the same time, I hope to publish my next photo series within days. (Thanks to Fine Balance Imaging doing some final formatting. Stay tuned.) Something new to add to the libraries’ collections.

In addition to that book, I’m working on three others. I’ll get some extra time to work on them, but this is not a sabbatical. They’ll fit in because I’ll spend less time driving around. I’m not sure how I’ll continue the work on the next photo book. They are based on twelve month studies of specific sites, Twelve Months at Deception Pass, for example. Can I get in at least one day at the next site next month? No one knows.

As if my books aren’t enough, others are taking this time to finish theirs. Congratulations! And some want my help. Happy to help, but let’s not assume that’s the only thing going on. As for the WritingOnWhidbeyIsland.com podcast, well, we’ll find a way to make that happen. Right, Don?

Others are asking for my services, too. Consulting is one of my joys too rarely exercised. I’ll find the time. Fortunately, that’s work that can be done online, too.

I list those, partly as a reminder to myself, but also as an example of the skills necessary to survive the Gig Economy. Others have a different set and suite to offer.

I’m settled back into my IKEA chair, the one I lived in for years, laptop in lap, typing my way through the day. Dancing along the borders of the Gig Economy. I know millions of others who are in a similar but not the same dance. We don’t know how long this will last or how we’ll get through, but I know there are people out there who are practiced at working from home, getting by on what they can make, and adapting as necessary. One benefit for those working at home alone: no need for gloves or masks – until it is time to go for a walk, maybe.

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