More Than Enough

“I’ve had enough!” Call them prayers, visualizations, manifestations, I’ve asked the Universe for “more than enough.” There’s ‘not enough’, which is poverty. There’s ‘enough’, which is balancing on a razor’s edge, where a slip is a dangerous thing. Then there are at least two versions of “more than enough”: prepared for an emergency, and beyond that is arguably greed. (And, no, the world isn’t as simple as that, but generalizations are handy ways to organize the world.) I asked for ‘more than enough’, and got it. Maybe I should’ve been more specific.

One thing that there’s more than enough of is advice about envisioning the world you want to live in. Ask and you will receive. While I like the sentiment, the lottery is proof that not every request is immediately and perfectly answered.

And yet, I understand the concept and the philosophy of manifesting a personal existence. Rather than make it an emphatic statement though, I temper it with a bit of reality for myself. Setting a goal is one way to improve the chances that you’ll achieve it. All we’re ever doing is improving the odds. There are no guarantees. Fortunately, setting goals doesn’t cost anything but time. Working towards them, well, that can take a lifetime.

Forget the pundits and their advice about visualizing things like success. Be careful what you wish for because you may get exactly what you want. Comedians and D&D players know how such things can go agley. You wanted a mountain of gold? Congratulations! It is being delivered from above and is about to land directly on your head. Wording. Wording.

I asked for ‘more than enough’, not too much more, just enough more. I’ve seen ‘not enough’. I feel like I have ‘just about enough’. I know having ‘more than enough’ is comfortable. And I’ve seen what can happen to those who have ‘far more than enough’. Thinking about how to preserve or what to do with the excess can consume their life as much as a poor person can be consumed with the need to find enough. The pain of any anxiety can be real; but the impact on their lives is completely different, of course.

So, what did I do wrong? Well, maybe nothing. This is a busy time to be in real estate, especially on Whidbey Island. The historic reaction to a pandemic is repeating. People want to get out of the city and its density, and out to somewhere with distance built in. Business has been good enough that my business, and therefore I, might make enough, and maybe a bit more.

Why would I think I did something wrong? Well, after months of staying and working from home, I’ve become more aware of what I have. There are a lot of things I have more than enough of.

(The following list is not comprehensive. This is a blog, not an academic survey of my life.)


More than enough, much more

Weight – Yep. Prior to working as a real estate broker, there was a time when I could bike commute to a coworks. Twenty miles a day, that’s probably how I fit into those clothes that are shoved to the side of my closet. Bike commuting for real estate? Not on one of the longest islands in the US.

20200713_145405Herbs – After buying my house I decided to save money by landscaping with transplanted plants. Aside from two apple trees, a fig tree, and a bay laurel, the rest of the landscaping is transplanted from somewhere else on the property. Left basically untended for about a decade, my yard now produces far more herbs than I can use: rosemary, lavender, sage, lemon balm – with mint finally showing through. Just enough would be something that can fit in a few pots. Instead, I have loads of herbs that must be cut, which I then leave out as free fresh herbs, which become yard waste if no one wants any.

Fruit – Those fruit trees are doing well. For most of the year they stand there, slowly growing. For a few weeks they produce far more than I can eat, or at least should eat. There are limits. Figs, figs, figs. Apples. Apples. Apples. I’m not complaining. The deer aren’t either. They get the excess after I toss it across the fence and into the yard.

Stuff – I am a minimalist but not an extremist. There are those who proudly live with only 200 possessions. That’s fine – for them. I don’t have much but i have much more than that. After months of bumping around things that I never use I have even less. Free or trash, lots of stuff has gone. Sure, some of it could be repaired, but then again, maybe not.

Art – Anyone want some art? Like most artists/writers, I have a more than ample supply of unsold inventory. Ah, but some day, some day, I’ll find a way to sell it all – maybe after the pandemic.

Incoming January


More, but not too much more, than enough

Clothes – Within the last two years I’ve finally refilled my wardrobe. After years of carefully wearing holey things, I’ve been able to replace most of the old clothes, or upgrade for work while using the old clothes for chores.

House/home – My house, my home, may be one of the things were I have just a bit more than enough. In 868 square feet I have enough, plus a bit more. Two bedrooms, but really one office and one workout space; because I sleep in the living room on a futon couch. Someday I might buy a bed, but there’s a long list of things to repair or replace before I get there. Another room would simply become storage, and I don’t have that much to store.

Pantry – The pandemic has emphasized necessities that can become unavailable. My earthquake preparedness kit has doubled. Noticing Use-By dates has adjusted my stockpile of perishables. My pantry is almost full, but I’m not going to obsess about it because having too much more than just enough can become that same issue of how to store it and protect it. My freezer can’t expand, but I’m keeping it stocked – even though that means re-arranging a frozen 3-D jigsaw puzzle every time I take something out or put something in. Avalanches can happen indoors.

20200417_161843


A bit more, please

Money – Money continues to be a taboo topic, but ignoring that taboo is partly what this blog is about. Studies try to quantify what is enough, but they do so statistically. Personal finance is personal. Enough, or just a bit more than enough, is different for everyone, and changes throughout their lives. I frequently quote one of the themes in my book Dream. Invest. Live.Dream Invest Live cover; Spend less than you make. Invest the rest. The ability to spend less than you make is an accomplishment. Basic necessities represent a lower limit, a minimum expense/income balancing act. Too many people can’t reduce expenses any further without threatening their lives. The ‘minimum’ part of ‘minimum wage’ is a political choice, not what’s necessary to afford necessities. (Maybe we should change the discussion to one about a Living Wage.) Being able to spend less than you make means, at least as some level, there’s more than enough. Being able to invest the rest, to put it somewhere where it isn’t immediately available is even better. Currently, I am moving that balance point to simultaneously get out of debt, pay bills, set money aside for taxes, repair and replace as necessary but with strict prioritization, and have hopes of investing more. Retiring anxieties is an action that may take just as long as it took for the anxieties to accrue.


At least for me, life is about balance. What’s necessary? What’s sustainable? What’s enough? What’s too much? And. When is it appropriate to have just a bit more than enough? There is more to mention, but this post already has more than enough words. A writer’s lament; “If I had more time I could’ve made it shorter.” #IIHMTICHMIS

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

AMSC Out LCTX In

Can a title be more dull? Sure. The stories, however, they are what keep me interested in stock investing. Stories alone are not a reason to invest, unless you have lots more money to lose than most. Stocks without stories can perform well, but I’ve also noticed that it is easier to track a stock if there’s more than a financial reason to hope it succeeds. Stories help put the ‘personal’ in personal finance. AMSC (originally called AMerican SuperConductor) hoped to do for electricity what fiber optics did for telecommunications. Maybe they still hope for that, but I can’t see how they will get there, anymore. LCTX (Lineage Cell Therapeutics) is developing a few medical treatments to tackle ailments like accidents, eye issues, and maybe some cancers and vaccines. I can see how they can get there. AMSC out. LCTX in.

For a short version of my investing strategy, read my semi-annual portfolio exercise from July 31, 2020. For a longer version, read my book, Dream. Invest. Live. For the longest version, read this entire blog – No! Don’t do that! Have a life! There are probably over a million words in this blog. That’s a lot of reading. Dream Invest Live cover

I tend to invest in companies that can positively disrupt entrenched industries. (Examples in the book of some that worked and some that didn’t.) I also tend to invest in companies whose business model or technology is uncommon. Analysts for large financial institutions have a great advantage analyzing giant companies in conventional businesses. So, innovators get overlooked.

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win – hopefully.

In investing that can mean buying overlooked and therefore hopefully undervalued stocks, hold through the laughter and the struggles, then sell when the stocks ‘suddenly’ become popular.

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!

Fortunately, while they were building the cable capacity, they merged or acquired a company concentrating on wind turbine design. Even better, they had a key customer in China that produced impressive revenues. The stock did well, and the company hadn’t even launched its key product, those cables, in my opinion.

Oops. Intellectual property theft happens. A customer becomes a competitor using AMSC’s technology. AMSC’s stock crashes. Years later, after potentially losing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, the company settles for far less.

Screenshot 2020-08-07 at 14.15.34

source: Google Finance

AMSC just announced earnings. They are proceeding to profitability, but I have lost the confidence that they will disrupt the industry. I’ve held the stock since 2003. I think I’ve been patient enough.

As I wrote in July; “AMSC may not be dying off, but it also seems to be growing like a low ground cover rather than the towering tree that was supposed to “do for electricity what fiber optics did for telecommunications.” Of the five, it is my most likely candidate to sell, despite the need for its technologies that improve the efficiency of the power grid.”

Screenshot 2020-08-07 at 14.17.10

source: Google Finance

It announced earnings and started to climb. An investor’s dilemma; getting ready to sell a stock, seeing it rise, and wondering whether to let it run a bit more. I missed selling AMSC about a year ago. Friday morning I noticed it was getting close to that old price. If I’d heard of some change in corporate strategy, or shift in the industry, maybe I’d hold longer. I haven’t. I sold. That’s a fat load of annual reports headed from my shelves to the recycle bin.

At the same time, I’ve been watching Lineage Cell (LCTX is easier). Again, as I wrote in July; “LCTX includes one of those GERN prime technologies (stem cells) that is inspiring as it has the potential and has proven somewhat to repair damaged nerves in accident victims without the use of mechanical devices or implants.” Add in their work on eye issues, and cancers and vaccines and witness that possibility of a positively disruptive technology(ies). The treatments aren’t approved, are in early human trials, and typically would take years to get to profitability. That timeline may still be true, but I am encouraged by the results of the trials which aren’t theoretical. From what I understand, some accident victims are regaining some muscle control, and some with eye issues are regaining some sight.

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.

LCTX’s technologies are some of the most advanced, and in may be one of the earliest to market to an unmet need.

“AMSC may not be dying off, but it also seems to be growing like a low ground cover rather than the towering tree…” – me

Meanwhile; “Compassionate approvals may be possible when there are few or no alternatives, which might be the case with Lineage’s treatments.” – me

I hesitated selling AMSC. Maybe I sold just before a future dramatic rise. By selling AMSC I have reduced the diversification in what had been a diverse portfolio. By buying LTCX, however, I am balancing what remains of my portfolio. If LCTX was to succeed, my holdings were so small that my bragging rights might exceed the value of my stock.

People ask me why I conduct my semi-annual portfolio exercise. This is why. I can look back over years (decades?) and read how my expectations and understanding have changed. Notes are never complete, but human memory is fallible. Why did I buy that stock? Did that prove to be true years later? If so, great. If not, should I buy, hold, or sell?

This is the end of a era for my AMSC holdings. Superconductivity now changes into stem cell therapies – at least within my portfolio. I intend to buy a bit more LCTX to better balance my portfolio. That will take funds, revenues, profits, income from my business (and I also buy lottery tickets.) After that, I plan to save to be ready to buy something else. Maybe I’ll buy back into AMSC. I’ve performed such returns before. But I also look forward to diving into a full stock screen as I haven’t done for years. Normal is gone. New and positively disruptive technologies and businesses are needed. It will be time to look ahead, not back.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Returning To Rural

Masks on. Proper distancing. Nice weather for sitting outside and considering the world and where it is heading. (I know, it’s spiraling through this universe at insane speeds, but too few care about that.) I met with someone recently about some other topics, but the topic that couldn’t be ignored was “What comes next?”. We know the pandemic is changing things. Normal is so far in the past that it won’t catch up. A conversation about pandemics, economics, psychology, and personal finance was fascinating and welcome; but one theme I want to share here is where people may want to live. I suspect we’re witnessing the rebound from years of urbanization. At least some are going to change addresses that described which floor they lived on, for addresses that have enormous gaps between house numbers. The other benefit of the conversation; I sold three books. Yay!

I’ve been considering the move to rural spaces for years. I did it myself 15 years ago. Before I moved to the island 15 years ago the topic was academic. Since I became a real estate broker I’m seeing the practical application of the possibility.

Imagine being confined to an apartment or a condo for months. (Many of you won’t have to imagine it.) In some cases that means sharing the hallway, the elevator, and the laundry. Stay within those walls until the pandemic passes, and wonder how long that will be. Days were doable. Weeks were acceptable. Months get to be a bit much. Years? Oh, no.

The economy may be in trouble, but real estate is crazy busy. Since the Great Recession, the trend has been to lower inventories. On Whidbey Island, that drop has been about half in the last ten years. (See my presentation on AboutWhidbey.com for lots of details.) Just as the spring rise was about to temporarily increase inventory, the shut down shut that down. We now have less inventory in this summer than in recent winters. Supply is down. Demand may be up. Prices rise, and so they have. The lack of inventory may be why land is also selling rapidly, sometimes with multiple offers.

811 812 813 number of homes - monthly

As one family summarized and paraphrased;

We want a place where we (the parents) can work from home with a nice view, and the kids can play outside, maybe even in the water without anyone having to use a car or a bus.

Whidbey Island isn’t the only place with water and views, and it is also not the only place getting lots of attention.

The other enabler of such a move is high-speed internet. The WorkFromHome orders encouraged people and businesses to find new ways to work. Get good enough internet access, and trade commutes and noisy neighborhoods for online meetings and natural surroundings.

Overlay the maps of places with views, places to play, and a way to work, and realize that the answer is more likely to be out of town than in the city.

Add in the desire to grow some veggies, maybe have some chickens, or even just have a lawn to relax and play on, and find that suburbia has that ‘-urbia’ root.

Hobby farms get popular. So do gardening gloves, fencing, and the realization of where food, water, and waste come from and go to.

I don’t expect the trend to the countryside to empty the cities. Only 16% of the US population lives outside cities. Of the urban 84%, even 10% of them moving (8.4% of the population) would overwhelm rural populations. That economic boost may be welcome in many small towns that have been struggling. The towns that lost the kids to the big city may be getting them, and others, back. Culturally, well, there may be some adjustments.

I watch such things as an investor as much as I do as a real estate broker, as well as a resident of a rural county.

Aside from the money needed to move, the enablers are communications and delivery services. There may be an increase in seed sales, but streaming services, online meeting platforms, and a variety of ways to get goods to and from the house’s front door may be more profitable investments.

People may move from the city, but they tend to bring their city sensibilities with them. Rural life is casual and pragmatic. Urban life tends to bureaucratic. City regulations are tighter, or have more people in the bureaucracy to enforce the rules. Rural counties have people scattered by design, which also makes it harder for governing bodies to check on every house, every permit, to peek into every barn to see if there’s a house inside. (Yes, that’s a thing. Finding it difficult to legally get a permit for a house? In some places some resort to a less, um, approved method. Build a barn. Build a barn, then build something house-like inside, maybe simply park a nice RV inside – for storage, yeah, that’s it, for storage. Not a recommended solution, but it does happen.)

(Personal peeve. City folks also take a while to dial down the volume. City voices need to shout over a background hubbub of sirens, traffic, air conditions, and backup horns. At my house, outside the tourist season, the loudest voices at night may be a seal or coyotes a mile away. In summer, they have to compete with shouts and music cranked to 11. Newbies eventually quiet down and realize that too many lights at night make houses look like concentration camps. Go subtle.)

It may not make much difference in this election, but a switch and city values and people moving to rural areas may change representations and power centers.

A simple desire to have a quiet, pleasant place to work, raise a family, and play a bit may have long-term implications for politics and investments. I haven’t done much with retail lately, and I certainly won’t be as interested in businesses that rely on storefronts – unless they are hardware and farm supply stores.

As I mentioned in #RuralDistancing, rural means space. Take a place’s population and divide by acres and the area of a circle. In parts of Seattle; “That translates to 13.9 people per acre. Not bad considering acres. That’s a 32 foot radius around each person.” On Whidbey that’s; “0.5 people per acre. That’s a 160 foot radius around each resident.” You want room? We got room. We may not have enough water or septic-friendly land for much more than that, but we have room.

A little fiber-optic cabling, a lot of space, some appealing nature, and it is easy to see why there may just be an return to rural living. It certainly has meant the right environment for great conversations for me.

dsc_6733

Apples from the garden. What the worst that could happen?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Buying Time

I got paid! Yay! I got paid twice this month! Yay! Yay! (One was actually from selling a house in June, but paychecks can take a while to arrive in the time of Covid.) So, what am I going to buy? A new car? Nope. A long vacation? Not traveling far this month. I’m buying time instead of things.

OK. There was one big bill. I paid my taxes. That was a luxurious necessity because I had to pay (necessity) and was able to pay on time, in full, without borrowing to do it (luxury). (Side note to helpful friends: Cash buffers from friends definitely have helped, but fortunately, I haven’t spent all of those funds and was actually able to pay from my earnings. Sweet.)

OK. And I have started crossing items off my Retire Anxiety list (see my post Furnace Bicycle Mower.)  About a decade of deferred maintenance means that’s a long list.

And yet, I’m not going to eliminate that list all at once. Call it risk management. If you haven’t noticed, 2020 has been a year of Mondays, or Friday the 13ths. What new crisis, today? Really? The federal government’s secret police force teargassed the mayor of a major city? Didn’t see that one coming.

My main income source lately has been real estate. (State required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Coldwell Banker 360 Team on Whidbey Island.) Other industries are having trouble, but across the country there’s a demand for rural real estate. #RuralDistancing Urban living has its appeal, but people are finding it hard to grow more than a few veggies and herbs on an apartment balcony. Over 4,000,000 people in the Seattle metropolitan area. Fewer than 200 houses for sale on Whidbey Island. It doesn’t take much for one population to overwhelm one island. And Whidbey is known far beyond Seattle. But, I digress. (But, that’s also why I got paid.) (See Whidbey Real Estate During Covid19 – July 2020, over on one of my other blogs: AboutWhidbey.com.)

It is tempting to retire anxieties, and maybe buy a few luxuries. From what I can see, Jeep is offering so many new car incentives that new cars look like they can cost less than used cars. My doctor and I agree that trading in my long truck for something that’s better suited for maneuvering around mountain hairpin roads would ease some tension, as well as help me get back into the alpine zone – a place where I truly relax. But, just because I can, doesn’t mean I should – yet.

One advantage of living a frugal life is that a little money goes a long way. Real estate may be busy now, but folks who are watching the pandemic data can see the possibility of re-tightening restrictions. If we’d done that back in March, we probably wouldn’t be in this situation now, but we didn’t, so we are. Every bit of cash I can save translates into a cash cushion that can see me through between paydays. There are other anxieties to retire, but knowing I have enough saved up for six months of frugal living is relaxing (my goal is twelve months), or at least not enabling the fear so many rightly feel about how they are going to pay their bills if the economy retreats.

(By the way, there’s a stereotype about how much money real estate brokers make. The commissions are large, but usually that’s split between the buyer’s firm and the seller’s firm, then those slices are sliced again depending on the firm’s policies. That’s the broker’s gross revenue. Subtract the cost of doing business and many (if not most) brokers are making less than minimum wage. A tough business; but at least one that is currently in demand.)

Assuming no major disaster happens (in 2020? Ha!) I now may have enough to live frugally for several months. That’s not a brag. I’m pleased about it; but I mention it because I see other people making the same choices. Maybe this is why Jeep is offering such good deals.

There’s a myth that poor people are poor because they waste whatever money they get. Allow me to shift that. It isn’t poor people. It’s people. People tend to waste money. Frugality isn’t common. From what I’ve witnessed, poor people are less likely to waste money because their needs aren’t met and losing money hurts them harder. The amount that a poor person may waste on a six-pack is very small compared to the amount someone wastes on a fancier trim package for their car that can do 180 mph, but shouldn’t because there are speed limits. All that extra power is a waste, and a dangerous one.

And there’s where the debate about a universal basic income begins…which I’ll leave to others.

Today, I splurged. I find it fun to wander the grocery and hardware aisles and break out of my normal shopping pattern. What do I usually walk right past? What have I denied myself from habit? I’ve found satisfaction in a herbs and spices, kitchen gadgets, maybe a better outdoor grill (one that isn’t rusted), a cheap car-camping tent to retreat to on hot nights.

I can imagine the frustration those in government feel when stimulus packages don’t stimulate the economy enough. People have the pesky habit of paying their taxes, paying down their debt, maybe taking care of medical expenses, and even saving the money in case they need it later. {sarcasm on} It’s almost as if they are responsible adults (which mystifies those who rely too much on stereotypes.) {sarcasm off}

Granted, it is hard to celebrate without a receipt in modern America. It’s almost as if true celebrations can’t be found in concocted advertisements. No one runs ads for living responsibly or frugally. A celebration based on personal values may not make sense to anyone else, but it may be the most valuable thing a person can do for themself. And, if that means months of money, well, few celebrations last as long or can mean as much.

 

But, it is fun shopping…

Screenshot 2020-07-23 at 17.11.26

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No News Big Smiles MVIS

Someone out there is having an epic; “I told you so” moment. I believe it was back in March when someone on the MVIS Reddit board told me to buy more MVIS stock because it was bound to go up, had to go up, couldn’t go down any further. (Paraphrased because the MVIS board is so busy I couldn’t find that post among the thousands of comments.) I bow to them, but I also have not changed my strategy or tactics. MVIS’ low price was $0.15. Friday it closed at $2.71. If I’d listened to them then, the $1,000 I had to invest would now be worth $18,000. I recognize the missed opportunity, but I also respect my approach to personal finance. Both things can be true.

Screenshot 2020-07-18 at 17.50.16

For more about MVIS, the stock for the company MicroVision, I suggest either drilling into My Semi-Annual Portfolio Exercise, or the MicroVision and MVIS tags in this blog, or both. The discussion boards are even better for a broader collection of perspectives. For the rest of this, I’ll assume you, reader, either already know about the stock or don’t need to know the specifics and are fine with the generalities of independent investing.

Turning $1,000 into $18,000 in less than half a year is frequently considered a good thing. Those discussion boards are suddenly populated by millionaires. I’m not one of them, alas. So it goes. And, congratulations to everyone who can celebrate that wealth.

My investment strategy is to buy stock in small, positively disruptive companies when they are overlooked, hold them for years (or decades in this case), and sell them when they become popular. (aka Long Term Buy and Hold, LTBH. Details in my book, Dream. Invest. Live.) Dream Invest Live coverIt is easy to dismiss startups because so many collapse. That’s why their values can be driven down by market unreasonable pessimism (there’s that $0.15). When there’s unreasonable optimism (aka irrational exuberance), the price can go the other way. I bought my original shares in 1999, lost that data, watched the price spike to something like $500, then bought more as it retreated during the Internet Bubble. That price was $38-ish X 8 (reverse split) ~$304. Optimism!

Over twenty years there have been several rises and falls, each as the highs weren’t as high and the lows were usually lower. Ah, but I was effectively dollar cost averaging, buying a bit more as I could. Because of that, I no longer have to wait for it to reach $304 to break even. My current break even is about a tenth of that. I’m not exactly sure because I’ve held the stock for so long that my brokerage lost some of the records. I have paper copies, but I don’t need to know the exact number – despite the curiosity of many others.

Screenshot 2020-07-18 at 16.46.21

For me, and especially for stocks in small companies, I use three familiar terms but give them my own definitions: gambling, speculating, investing. For me, investing means objectively evaluating a company and its stock based on quantifiable finances and market analyses; e.g. financial reports, etc. Speculating involves educated estimates of the numbers that aren’t available; e.g. realistic market capture, market size, market growth, company revenues, expenses, etc. Gambling is something I’ve done too often; e.g. it’s gotta go up because it can’t go down any further; e.g. about half of all my shares and trades.

Investing hopefully reduces risk. Speculating accepts a bit more risk. Gambling is risk. And gambling can pay off. Eventually someone wins are Roulette, someone wins the PowerBall lottery jackpot.

When I am estimating a value for a company or its stock or both, I use a method that needs a shorter name: Present Value based on Future Revenues Discounted for Risk. If there are no revenues today, there can still be a value in the company if they eventually make money. Amortize the future back to the present. Multiply that present value by the estimated (guessed) likelihood that it will succeed.

For a long time I’ve been convinced that MicroVision’s technology has great potential (future revenues), but have underestimated the risk (the fall from $304 to $0.15).

And yet, even with the timely advice to buy more at $0.15, I didn’t. While that person was epically correct, each of my other almost annual purchases seemed correct, too. Imagine the conversations around each of those purchases, and the people who encouraged me, the people who discouraged me, and the people who got tired of hearing about MVIS (especially the ones who so much that it ruined relationships.) The ones who discouraged me got to say “I told you so” far earlier than the recent ones.

For most small companies, I have a high enough risk tolerance (but no longer a rich enough portfolio) to invest a bit, gamble a bit, and concentrate on speculations. MicroVision, and particularly MicroVision’s management’s communication style, as inspired me to add yet another criteria before spending more money on the stock. There’s sufficient silence and ambiguity from the company that I am holding back until there is significant, positive, quantifiable news.

Recently there’s been significant positive news about the company. At least one consumer bought a Hololens (Microsoft’s main play in the augmented reality market), and took it apart to find a MicroVision subcomponent inside. That is certainly significant and positive. Unfortunately, the news isn’t quantifiable. How many units? Is MicroVision the only supplier? What’s the profit margin on the MicroVision product? When will those revenues be recognized?

Management alludes to several other possibilities. Over the decades they’ve talked about NDAs that keep them from mentioning the details about other HUDs, some for cars, some for people; display units; embedded projectors, LiDAR, sensors, etc. Those are potentially positive and significant too, and even less quantifiable.

But, by my criteria, there’s no news.

Obviously, there are also many smiles.

Despite my desire for significant, positive, quantifiable news, the stock has rapidly risen. Yes, someone found the component in Hololens. Yes, the company avoided delisting the stock. Yes, there have been management changes. Yes, there are rumors of buyouts. Yes, there are far more shares being traded and far more people visiting the discussion boards. If I was in a gambling mode with money I could afford to lose, I might be convinced to buy some. But, I already have enough shares that MVIS is my largest holding, even before the recent rise.

As I recall, at one point I had enough shares that, if the company became worth $1B, my holdings would be worth $1M. Time to retire! Dilution has dramatically decreased my leverage. Partly because of that dilution, I don’t expect the stock to regain $300. My hopes for re-retirement (see My Triple Whammy for details) probably require more than a rise in MVIS.

I find myself in an interesting position. As interest in MVIS has increased during a lack of news but great rumors, several people have told me that I’m not pessimistic enough because they see a house without a foundation, and several people have told me I’m not optimistic enough because I prefer to wait for significant, positive, quantifiable news. Maybe that means I’m in a reasonable position.

Envy is too strong a word. I sincerely am pleased that many people who have recently purchased the stock had profited so well. If I’d been able to take all the money I spent on the stock and purchase it at $0.15, I’d be re-retired. Dollar cost averaging, or accidental acquisition, diminished that possibility; but it also meant that I was in position to benefit any time. Wishes don’t matter. Reality does.

Many focus on the growth from $0.15 to $2.71, for good reason. I also recall lessons learned from four decades of stock ownership. Looking back isn’t as powerful as looking ahead. If I have good reason to suspect that the stock is worth more than $2.71, then I should consider buying it. Averaging more than 10% in a year is better than most investors’ performances. MVIS can meet that goal by being worth more than $3 this time next year.

That’s true for any stock. That’s why I am also evaluating the rest of my portfolio. One of the cheapest risk reduction strategies is diversification. After these recent weeks, MVIS is by far my dominant position. The lack of significant, positive, quantifiable news; and the realization that there are more stocks than just MVIS encourage me to consider alternatives.

The pandemic has upset many lives. (Duh. Massive understatement.) It has meant that my current occupation as a real estate broker on Whidbey Island is keeping me busy, and possibly providing me the funds to begin investing/speculating/gambling again. The race is on. Will MVIS rise faster than my discretionary funds accumulate; or, will either change course as restrictions and economics shift? Interesting times, for sure.

As the title says: No News, but maybe soon; Big Smiles, at least for now, and maybe bigger ones later; Wither and Whether MVIS?

Stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Retiring Anxieties – Furnace Bicycle Mower

Here’s a challenge, and a celebration. What do a furnace, a bicycle, and a lawn mower have in common? Each has been a source of anxiety that has become a reason for celebration for me. Odd? Sure. There isn’t a section in the greeting card aisle for “Happy new lawn mower. May all your clippings merrily mulch.” But being able to use my furnace, my bicycle, and a mower without worry is the sort of thing that usually doesn’t show up in personal finance shows, podcasts, or books (though I will as I write the sequel to Dream. Invest. Live.)Dream Invest Live cover For everyone who hasn’t had enough money to replace or repair basic necessities, regaining that ability can be better than anything wrapped up with a bow on top. Don’t worry; I’m not going to try to use all three at once.

Buy quality, when you can afford it. In the long run, quality lasts and saves money by requiring less maintenance, and may last a lifetime if taken care of. If you can’t afford quality, at least afford maintenance, or at least repair, or at least replace as necessary. Old and broken equipment can be hazardous, which can be even more expensive if someone gets hurt. But, people who have to decide whether to pay this bill or that bill can look at maintenance, repair, or replacement as major luxuries. That car with the broken headlight may not be a sign of neglect. They’re probably very aware of it whenever they drive. They just might not be able to afford it. Imagine their relief when they can replace a bulb without worry.

My little house is the only place I’ve called home. I’ve lived in many places, but this is the only one that gets the label of ‘home.’ One of its better features is radiant floor heating. It isn’t quick, but it’s quiet, and I don’t have to worry about the fire hazard from heaters, or losing spare change down a vent filled with dust bunnies. But. Radiant floor heat is complicated, requires regular maintenance, and isn’t something that’s east to repair simply by looking at the various parts. It’s a mess. Every year, the company that installed it sends me maintenance reminders that I ignore. I couldn’t afford the inspections, and certainly couldn’t afford to repair or replace anything. That’s a risk, because the system uses hot water for heat, and that can leak.

dsc_3189

Now that I’m working from home I notice things that may have been overlooked. A few mornings ago I heard a water hammer noise coming from the utility room. Bam. Bam. Bam. For a minute or so it sounded like the pipes were trying to pop themselves free. A boiler blowing up is bad. Duh. Even simply breaking would make a mess, leave me without heat (more of an issue in this island summer than you might expect), and without hot water. OK. The house has a long list of deferred maintenance items, and this one jumped to the top of the list. Grab the installer’s postcard that I’d saved. A friend’s repairs cost thousands. Despite a ridiculously busy schedule, the installer could come out and inspect and repair in a day or two instead of a week or three. Less than $300 later, two or three parts were cleaned, repaired, or replaced and I could take a hot shower without worry. If you think that means I’ve taken cold, or at least chilly, showers for years, yep. Welcome to part of my world I didn’t talk about.

It is a good thing hot showers are available again because I need to get more bicycling in. StayHome as a real estate broker has meant less exercise. I like to cook. I like to eat. My neighborhood is usually empty except in summer when visitors return to summer homes and vacation rentals. But. Those homes and rentals have been busy since the start of StayHome. Why stress out in the city when you can relax in the country? So they relax, and too many of them think that means they can relax their use of masks and distancing. Sorry, folks. The same rules apply. That means going for walks means navigating an invisible fog of careless behavior. My answer: get on the bicycle and go for a ride. Mask up, sprint through the fog, then relax while cruising country roads.

That sounds good, but the bicycle is the same venerable vehicle that carried me across the county twenty years ago. (See Just Keep Pedaling for details.)51fqu8xbkxl.sr160240_bg243243243 Even then, it was a ten year old bicycle. Now, when I took it to a shop to get one or two things fixed, they informed me that it was in such sad shape that they’d only sell me a new one (after I got on the months-long waiting list). So much for exercise. My storied bike was too dangerous to ride? I wanted a second opinion. Two weeks and $200 later, a bike shop at the other end of the island ($20 in gas for each trip) serviced, repaired, and replaced enough components to make it safe to ride again. (Looking forward to tomorrow’s test ride.) One consequence: I liked some of the new bicycles I saw in the second shop, and might buy one after I retire some other anxieties – after I help a few more people buy and sell some houses.)

And then there’s the mower. My lot is about 8,000 square feet. Part of that is house and carport (~1,500 square feet), part is driveway, part is garden, part is deck. The remainder that is grass doesn’t take long to mow. For my first few years here, I used a reel mower, a person-powered mower. That worked fine, except aesthetically; at least it kept the grass within neighborhood norms. Ah, but spring would come and there’d be a season of struggling to keep up, even on a small lawn. A neighbor got tired of watching me sweat, went onto craigslist, found a broken mower, fixed it, and gave it to me for free. A gift. A very welcome gift. Power!

Alas, it was old when he got it, and I’ve used it heavily for enough years that parts started falling off. The rubber flap that keeps the grass from flying out the back began to fray into nothing. The gate that turns it into a mulching mower blew open, so I had to wear a mask before it was popular just to keep from breathing grass clippings. I mowed through a green fog. The kicker though, was when I decided to get the blade professionally sharpened. It came back sharp, but also out of balance. The mower shook so much I was sure the shaft was weakening. The sound was terrible, louder than a gas mower. I know mowers can throw their blades and I worried. One remedy was to balance the blade with a grinder (which I don’t have), or to add weights. All it took was a double wrap of tape. Easy, cheap – and needed to be replaced about every twenty minutes.

The perceived threat of getting cut off at the ankles can create at least some anxiety. (Understatement.) For about $200 I took the leap and bought a brand new mower. (You’re allowed to gasp.) Quiet, smooth, clean, and worry-free. Worth the money.

20200714_171856

The money is the issue. Many of my anxieties, my stresses, and therefore my health issues come from having to hang onto whatever I can to get by. Keep in mind, that I’m making more income, have lower expenses, greater assets, and lower debts than tens of millions of Americans. Imagine what it is like for them. The three items above cost less than $1,000, which I didn’t feel comfortable spending until a recent house sale completed successfully. Before that sale and the ones that preceded it, $1,000 sounded exorbitant. After that sale, $1,000 sounds reasonable. For those with little, it doesn’t take much to make a big difference. One small improvement may mow a lawn, but relieve worry, and let someone move on to more important things.

One of the reasons I chronicled this here is for my own benefit. (And thanks for reading this far.) Within days of retiring these anxieties they become innocuous memories that are easily forgotten. I wanted to capture them to remind myself to celebrate them now, but more importantly later. It is also a reminder of those small things making big differences.

Next month is the anniversary of my Triple Whammy. About nine years ago I lost 98% of my net worth. My recovery from that isn’t over yet. These three items moved themselves up from the middle of a very long list of deferred maintenance of things, including my health. There are good reasons for me to be optimistic that I can retire those items and their anxieties. It may take months or even a few years, but as each is removed from the list, the recovery accelerates. One of optimisms for the future is precisely that phenomenon. So much worry, anger, anxiety, and despair can probably be retired for far less than most imagine. That would be something to celebrate.

As for trying to use the furnace, the bicycle, and the mower at the same time, well, I’m sure there’s a way. It might even make a good video. Repairing our collective sense of humor may be worth much more than we can measure.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Taxes During Bad Times

That delay made a big difference. The US government delayed the income tax deadline from April to July. That (and an able accountant) meant 2020 was the first year in years that I was able to pay my taxes on time in full without resorting to payment plans or credit cards. That’s a significant hurdle crossed in my journey through America’s wealth classes. I was able to pay my bills without worry. I feel like I finally have boots from which I can tug on bootstraps as I pull myself back towards a life that’s more sustainable.

The main trend continues. The more I make, the less I pay. Maybe that’s the influence of hiring an accountant, but it may also reflect the inverted nature of taxes in America. Income taxes are designed to demand higher taxes from higher incomes. All things staying the same, if I make more this year than last year, I expect to pay more taxes.

Check back through this blog and find a yearly progression that challenges that. Reach back far enough (though those posts may be abandoned by the host) and find a time when I was retired and paying almost nothing. As I recall, there was one year when I received a refund despite only having income from capital gains. Then, as I lost almost all of my assets, the amount I paid dramatically increased. Hence, credit cards or IRS payment plans. Money being spent to manage money that I owed while not making or spending much money.

Thanks to a friend’s amazing generosity, there was one year when I was able to pay, though I still had significant debt. (I didn’t expect them to provide the one gift, and certainly didn’t intend to ask them to clear everything.) Last year I was back to putting the taxes on my credit card, which has almost been paid off – again. There’s a good chance that debt will be gone shortly. Less money going out means more money to catch up on deferred repairs and maintenance of my business, my house, my truck, my stuff – and my health. Such seemingly simple hurdles can hinder too many, and I’ve seen it happen to me.

It’s hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you can’t afford boots.

I can afford boots, now.

The two biggest differences have been generous friends and significant employment. I tried doing it alone, but years of hunting for jobs resulted in being turned down because I was too experienced (old), male (they specified they weren’t comfortable hiring men), knew the wrong people (even if I didn’t agree with them), and had the wrong address (really.) Of the few interviews for full time jobs (I can only recall two in ten years), one was particularly fascinating. They interviewed me because; “They didn’t believe anyone could have such an impressive resume.” (not verbatim but close) I met 22 of their 24 criteria, but they never intended to hire me. And they didn’t.

And now for something different. Welcome to real estate.

It only took about a year of urging from friends for me to try becoming a real estate broker. Fortunately, that’s a job that has one prime explicit criterion: passing the test. I did that. The prime implicit criterion is being able to survive long enough to begin earning enough money. The test and setting up the business may cost a couple of thousand dollars, but surviving long enough costs far more. This year, I expect to clear that hurdle, too.

If my taxes had been due in April, I would’ve been back in the same debt cycle. Despite coronavirus, I was able to earn enough money in the last three months to pay my taxes, as well as every outstanding bill in my in box.

For years I know I’ve been on the edge between poverty and a sustainable lifestyle. I could see both possibilities from where I stood. From there I could appreciate how tenuous my position was, and also feel dismay at the tens of millions of Americans who were on the wrong side, dismissed by rhetoric and ideology despite the reality that they were humans, hard-working citizens, who had the bad luck to be trapped in a system that didn’t, and sometimes couldn’t, care.

I made more this year than last year, and my taxes went down. I’ll assume that is due to the expertise of a professional tax preparer, and wonder if it is also because someone who identifies as a real estate developer has been given America’s most prominent position.

The pandemic has changed everything. While many places are shutdown, Whidbey Island, where I live, is in Phase 3 of 4 (for now.) The island is largely rural with only one large-ish city. Across the country, urbanites sequestered in condos and apartments are seeking escape to places where there’s more room. Sharing hallways, elevators, and laundromats is enough to convince some to consider a house with enough land to garden, and a large enough buffer to be able to wave at the neighbors without also worrying about their coughs and sneezes. I might be quite busy for quite a while.

The US tax system isn’t so broke that those with the least pay the most, but it is common to hear about those with the most paying the least, or nothing, or actually getting money (think subsidies and corporate welfare.)

Thanks again to those who are generous, those who are capable professionals, and whoever had the idea to postpone the tax deadline just a few months. You’ve helped me create a bootstrap I can tug on.

IMG_20200707_170941

It is a tiny bootstrap, and there’s only one per boot, but I’ll celebrate it anyway.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Semi Annual Exercise Mid 2020

Semi Annual Exercise Mid 2020

Six months ago, who thought the world would look like this? (Let me check my notes. Nope. I was reading about but didn’t start writing about the pandemic until February 2020.) Six months from now, who can predict how things will be. During the next six months there should be an election, an economy that’s stumbling to correct itself, protests, frustrations, and resistance to change that is being overwhelmed by circumstances and collective actions. So, sure, why not, let’s look ahead, behind, and in the mirror for a bit. This is my semi-annual exercise. The rest of the world may be in turmoil, and that may be the best reason to maintain some structure and continuity, while also trying to decide whether to change investments in stocks, time, and money. For this post, stocks.

Of my five remaining stocks (from what had been a diversified portfolio of about a dozen stocks about a dozen years ago) the price of three hasn’t changed much (AMSC, LCTX, NPTP) while two have more than doubled (MVIS, GERN). Of the five, all are Long Term Buy and Holds (LTBH): (AMSC 2003, GERN 1999, LTCX via GERN 1999, MVIS 1999, NPTN 2017 though that was in response to LMRA spun off from MVIS 1999). These are the remnants of that portfolio where many of those stocks were held for years then sold for significant profits (AOL, PIXR, SBUX, MSFT, CSCO, AMAT, FFIV, etc.). Are these the weeds that I shouldn’t be watering, or are they seeds that are about to sprout? 

AMSC may not be dying off, but it also seems to be growing like a low ground cover rather than the towering tree that was supposed to “do for electricity what fiber optics did for telecommunications.” Of the five, it is my most likely candidate to sell, despite the need for its technologies that improve the efficiency of the power grid.

GERN started with four prime technologies aimed at revolutionizing health (GERN – Geron – gerontology, get it?), but is down to one which, if proven, can be a cancer vaccine for more than the blood disorders it is currently targeted towards. That’s worth hanging onto, but also risky enough that I don’t count on it. 

LCTX includes one of those GERN prime technologies (stem cells) that is inspiring as it has the potential and has proven somewhat to repair damaged nerves in accident victims without the use of mechanical devices or implants. Yeah. I’ll hold onto that.

MVIS, ah MVIS. The more than doubled stock price reflects a cratering of credibility that drove the price from ~$0.75 down to $0.15 then the almost substantiated news that an MIVS component was spotted in a Microsoft Hololens unit. Add in the typical rumor mill of other contracts to be announced ‘real soon’, and the rise to a price of over $1.30 makes some sense. I may have missed the bottom, but with companies with communications as poor as MVIS’ I prefer to wait for significant, quantifiable, positive news. Risk and reward. Can’t ignore it.

NPTN replaced my shares of GIG that came from LMRA that came from MVIS. The need for high-speed electro-optical switches has increased through these years, which is why GIG finally became profitable (Yay!) and then was bought out (Boo.) for far less of a premium than a shareholder could’ve enjoyed if the company remained independent and public.

Which catch-phrase comes first in the list of many? Persistence pays. Address an unmet need. Buy low, sell high (buy small companies and sell them when they are large.) Embrace change. Don’t try to time the market Or. Don’t water the weeds (as I said above.) Cut and run. You can always come back later. Don’t try to catch a falling knife.

The pandemic, social unrest, climate change, and politics are having a massive impact on personal finances. As I mentioned in my book (Dream. Invest. Live.), Dream Invest Live coverone of the reasons I invest in small companies is to sell when they are large. Another reason is that small companies don’t necessarily trend with the market. The market, as reported, is not representative of every company or stock. The market is reported on as the Dow, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500. Those indicies are dominated by fewer than a few dozen very large companies. 

The very large companies tend to defend the status quo. I wish I hadn’t sold my AAPL in protest back when they fired Jobs, but look at what and how Apple managed to disrupt several industries after spending years in dire situations. IBM stock has not done as well. 

I believe we need to use energy more efficiently, to introduce less traumatic and more effective treatments into medicine, to get past the era of the computer screen, and wider and deeper adoption of telecommunications. That’s what I felt at the end of 2019. It is also what I largely felt in 1999. The various crises we are experiencing don’t change that, and in some cases amplify the need. As the companies progress, they are also making larger positive contributions, which are hopefully reflected in the stock price.

The economy has been hit by the crises, but it has been fundamentally unstable for years. We continue to add poles to prop it up a bit longer, but I worry about the effects as some of the temporary props are removed, or fall part. Increased debt, fewer jobs, supply chain disruptions, and geo-political mismanagement will probably take longer to correct than the time it takes to develop a vaccine. 

In six months, hopefully the US election will be resolved peacefully and justly, hopefully the pandemic will be under control, and hopefully justice will be fairly and evenly applied to people’s concerns. Hope.

My main investment may be myself. I’ll watch and manage my stocks, of course. In uncertain times, stress arises from a feeling of a lack of control.  I can’t control the markets, but I can control whether I buy, hold, or sell. I can’t control the economy, but I can control many of my expenses, and I can try to improve my income. 

Here are the links to the discussion boards I use. Those discussions are less philosophical and hopefully more practical. Feel free to comment here or there, and to pass along links to others. The bigger the discussion, the better the chance of valuable insights (as long as the trolls and flamers are moderated appropriately.)

Investor Village

AMSC

LCTX

GERN

MVIS

NPTN

The Motley Fool

AMSC

GERN

MVIS

NPTN

Silicon Investor

AMSC

GERN

MVIS

Reddit

MVIS

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Twelve Months At Possession Beach

A dead whale. A dead grey whale. Then, bones. Eventually, nothing. And some people wonder why I continue to produce twelve month essays and studies. Twelve Months At Possession Beach is the latest of my twelve month series. Fortunately, the majority of visits smell better than a dead whale, but there’s always something interesting – even if it takes twelve months to realize it.

Possession Beach cover - draft

(Full the fuller set of links and description of Twelve Months at Possession Beach, check out one of my other blogs: AboutWhidbey.com.)

OK. A dead whale is smelly and gross, but I was there to take pictures. Why include it? There are vistas, flowers, wildlife, tides, storms; and for Possession Beach and Possession Point there are beaches, salt marshes, bluffs, forests, and trails.

0322_Autumn Suspended

Many people travel by checklist. Saw this site, check it off, move to the next, repeat. They get to see everything, but each becomes a snapshot, one glimpse of a place from one moment. It’s like speed dating, but they never call back.

My approach to travel isn’t exactly getting married to a spot, but by accidentally starting my twelve month studies I’ve found myself looking at, experiencing, and on occasion smelling a variety of places in the Pacific Northwest. 41hreqcqdkl.sr160240_bg243243243(Read Twelve Months At Barclay Lake for how the whole thing got started.) It may not be marriage, but I find myself developing a relationship to a place that isn’t based on one good or bad day, but on how a place feels throughout the seasons. Weather changes. Crowds change. Nature changes.

Travel is more difficult, now. People who would’ve casually planned a trip to another continent might wonder where to go, instead. That doesn’t have to be difficult. Everywhere you go, someone thinks that’s the place to be – and someone else wants to leave as soon as possible.

Whenever I hear about someone wanting to fly to another country to experience another culture, I wonder if they’ve traveled within their own city, county, state, nation, or continent first. Washington’s culture isn’t the same as Washington D.C.’s culture. Is this something we’re missing, when people in a country are more interested in other countries without knowing more about their own? Imagine the food! You want decadent? Try anything deep-fried from the Southeast. Want experimental? How about some Asian fusion from the Northwest? Want to understand “them”? A visit to “their” neighborhood may only take a few hours, but it may provide insight into discussions that are already taking days of some people’s lives. On one visit to the southeast, I had one halting conversation with an elderly black man, and another with white folks who boldly celebrated “kicking the Yankees’ butts at Vicksburg during the War Between the States. 51fqu8xbkxl.sr160240_bg243243243(Chronicled in Just Keep Pedaling.) We’re not all alike.

Picking someplace new every time costs time, a precious resource. There is effectively an infinity of destinations. Checking them off, and then deciding yet again which to visit next also means spending time reinventing travel arrangements, what to pack, and who to have along.

Returning to one place several times throughout a year simplifies the escape. Clothing changes, and weather may get in the way of travel, but that’s part of life. Visiting several times means not having to squeeze every experience into one trip. By taking pictures and notes, I spend more time noticing changes. A lonely and wet Wednesday in March will be dramatically different from a crowded and sunny Saturday in August. Looking back at those photos and notes makes it easier to see the changes. In some places, it confirms that Nature is resilient. In other places, it becomes obvious that there is no “preserving the land as it has always been.” The mammoth bone I found on one beach certainly wasn’t from a herd that’s still here.

The whale, though. Whoa. The whale. How many different stories are there? Whales in the water are magnificent. They’re one of the reasons I enjoy living by the Salish Sea, particularly on Whidbey Island. But standing on the shore and seeing a whale in the water is at least somewhat remote and ephemeral. They’re always at least some distance, they rarely stay in an area very long, and only part of them is visible. That’s way more than enough compared to my childhood wandering through the Pennsylvania woods (which included creeks with a whiff of sewage, depressions that turned out to be the collapsed roofs of abandoned coal mines, and houses never far away.) But seeing a dead one taught me new things.

When I first saw the whale I thought it was another rock on the beach. I knew better. The bluffs shed sand frequently, and boulders occasionally; but the boulders are easy to spot. I’ve tracked one from being barely noticeable, to jutting out from the bluff, to where it fell onto the beach, to the growing gap between it and the hillside. This was too big to be such a boulder. But, it didn’t smell and I thought I was downwind. (Later I would find the smell had permeated my clothes. Laundry!)

The rational mind can carry too perspectives. Dead whales are so rare that there could be a different explanation. That ain’t no boulder.

It is bittersweet finding a dead whale. It is a rare event, which can be a thrill; but it is also a sad event. Too many of the dead whales in the Salish Sea die of starvation. I can also take a hint. Whether Nature intended it or not, I wasn’t going to ignore the opportunity to watch what happened. By the way, I also called Orca Network to report a dead marine mammal, as anyone should. They knew about it, which explained why parts of it were anchored and tagged for research or to be displayed or both.

Each visit added to an experience that is more than I want to shove into one blog post. Personal experience is richer than reading about someone else’s. That’s why I am a fan of travel.

The first visit was after the whale was dead for a while. The skin was turning from grey to a surprising mix of colors.

9722_Whale Abstracted

By the time of the second visit, most of the flesh was gone, revealing a cathedral of bones draped in remains and seaweed.

9813_Whale Cathedral

Within several weeks, what was left was mostly a curve of spine that was slow to break up.

0114_Whale Backbone

A few larger bones, either from the head or the hip, stood apart, weathering  to translucence.

0462_Whale Translucence

And then, it was all gone, or at least distributed to the bellies of birds and crabs, with some pieces heading to labs and displays.

And then, and then… The changes in flowers and migratory flocks of birds and people were enough for a year of stories. That is always the case, at least for me.

I am working on the twelfth in the series. The first was in the Teanaway Valley, but I didn’t record it. The next three were in the Cascades: Barclay Lake, Lake Valhalla, and Merritt Lake, bracketing three climates across the range. After I moved to Whidbey I started the photo series (as photos to print and as photo books): Cultus Bay, Deception Pass, Admiralty Head, Penn Cove, Double Bluff, Maxwelton Beach. And now Possession Beach. And now the next one, which is in month six of twelve.

Visiting a place over twelve months isn’t traveling as broadly, but it is traveling more deeply. In these pandemic and economic upset times, it is also nice to have a way to cheaply and easily get out into the world, to get out into Nature. Nature was here first. Nature will be here for millions or billions of years. The rest of the news is about layers we drape over a reality that has a lot to teach us. It is reassuring to look beneath those layers for lessons that are more eternal, even cyclical.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thankless Kindness

I’m going to start with thanks. If you are dutifully wearing your mask when appropriate, washing your hands frequently, and maintaining social distancing, I thank you. I say it here because if I say it when we meet it might just sound like mumbles muffled by fabric and social distancing. Seeing herds of tourists walking around without masks, or distancing (and I’m not going to ask if they wash) made me wonder about how much society relies on layers of thankless kindnesses – and whether this time next year kindness or arrogance will rule. And, because this is a personal finance blog, I wonder what that means for jobs, investing, and life in general.

I live on a touristy island which has a few touristy towns. It’s June. It’s the season for tourists to arrive.

Langley from calmer days

Coupeville from calmer days

Real estate has been busy during the crisis. People want to escape the density of concrete canyons, or condos, or at least move to some place with more space. I get to work with the people making a commitment to live such a life.

Tourists are escaping the same things, but temporarily. They’re escaping tight restrictions and looking for a way and a place to relax. Evidently, they forget that many of the rules they’re trying to escape and in force, here, too.

There was a rare break in my day, today. Generally, I like the tourist towns – from September through May. Otherwise, I shop in other parts of the island. Believe it or not, there are shops that are selling more than gifts and souvenirs. But, there are some special items that are only available in the midst of the crowds. Some of them are health-related. Some of the items support my work as an artist. (Stay tuned for my next book which is in the mail. I’ll announce that when it arrives.) So, I parked on the outskirts, put on my mask because I do anyway and because the town has edicted that masks are required, and set out to say hello to friends and do my chores.

And there goes a maskless team of eight, packed together, no distancing, and roaming along the sidewalk aimlessly. I suspect they didn’t notice me standing back from them by about eight feet until they passed. Just a part of the scenery to ignore. In the next hour I would guess that about half of the people in town were maskless. None were people I knew. All of the people I knew were wearing masks. All of the people I visited were working there, sustaining the town, all running essential businesses. My friends were making the tourist town attractive enough to draw people to the island (and make it better for the locals throughout the year), and yet were probably not going to be thanked by the very people whose health they were defending. From what I see in the news, the maskless are more likely to get upset than to say thank you if asked them to wear a mask, too.

Somehow, (gasp, how?) the last few years people have been encouraged to be more selfish, less considerate, and less compassionate. The majority of the protests seem to be trying to counter that trend. I don’t know what will return us to common courtesy, manners, politeness, and community. (If my mother was alive and we let her run the country, well, this would get turned around real quick.)

Do you see where this is going? Human cultures continue to mature, but it looks like we’re still in an adolescent phase where we’re obviously growing up. We’re also obviously dealing with acne, greasy skin, hair that won’t behave, impulses that seem like a good idea at the time, and occasionally saying deeply embarrassing things that we may regret later, too late. Jobs, investing, and life in general are things driven by logical advice, mature advice. Human culture is also a mix, like a high school. Some are trying to act responsibly. Some 14 year olds act like they’re 41. Others act like they’re 4.

We’ve progressed because enough mature people and enough resourceful people have lived constructively and in community. We’ve also progressed because of inventors and revolutionaries who also live constructively. Even their disruptions are intended to be positive. At least in the US, inventors can become wealthy. They at least get that for thanks. The dutiful employees, however, may get a paycheck and a rousing speech if their company does well. Considering how much has been accomplished to get us here and now, that’s little thanks.

We’re also witnessing the result and the value of those centuries of efforts as we suddenly find ourselves missing things we took for granted. (My hair, oh my hair. I’m starting to look like a cross between Santa Claus, Alfred E. Neuman, and Albert Einstein. And, no; I am not including a bio photo.) Some become more appreciative of what they must give up temporarily. Others cry like 4 year olds who’ve been told to go to bed on time.

Jobs, investing, life.

We’ve seen it. Most jobs are thankless, even if they are essential. Maybe this is the precipitating event that changes that.

As currently designed, investing favors the wealthy, but allows anyone to play. (And yes, at some level it is play. Think about how often you hear about winning and losing when it comes to stocks.) The investors in small companies, the individuals who tell others about the company and its goods or services may be thanked with a rising share price, but they probably don’t get their fair share of the credit. They may become thousandaires or maybe millionaires, but if my shares become worth ten thousand dollars, someone with a hundred more shares will become worth more than a million dollars regardless of anything either of us did beside accumulate enough money to buy the shares. That’s true, except for the people who benefit from executive compensation packages that can escalate even as a company flounders. They may put in fewer hours than some investors, do less to market the company, yet be paid richly.

Life is largely thankless. I never thanked my parents enough. When I’m driving, I’m more likely to notice someone doing something dangerous than someone who obeys all the rules, guidelines, and laws. I do notice them, however. 51fqu8xbkxl.sr160240_bg243243243When I bicycled across America (Just Keep Pedaling), many people would ask about how I dealt with the drivers who would blast their horns at me, maybe swerve towards me, or shout insults as they sped past. Standing by the side of the road during a break I realized how many thousands of cars and trucks passed me every day, dutifully, maturely staying their lanes. After a while I realized there was usually only one bozo per day (except in Kansas and maybe Arkansas, shudder, where it was one per hour). I had to respect the threat a bozo could be, but also look at how many tolerated me. A thousand to one? And there was no way to thank them.

I’ve watched people put up their guard when I deliver an unexpected thank you. It is as if they are expecting a sales pitch to follow. Too often when we get some news the sweeter the coating the more bitter what’s inside. Maybe that’s something else that can change in this culture.

How does this affect my personal finance? I look for the positive in my job(s). (Which can be REALLY tough some days.) I also concentrate on investing in companies that are positively disruptive. Sadly, I also don’t act surprised if essential workers aren’t treated well enough for them to afford the essentials.

I am not a parent, but I can recognize thankless kindness in what they do. Just as all of us move society by our actions, parents move along children. Almost all of that is thankless, but at least we recognize it in parents and others with a simpler word. Love. Thanks to all who love.

Screenshot 2020-06-17 at 19.04.34

PS While Island County (the home of me and the tourist towns described above) is possibly entering Phase Three, the United States of America is no longer projected to reach zero deaths per day through October. Currently, over 700 people are dying per day and the total deaths projected by the start of October exceeds 200,000. People. 200,000 people. At that rate, our hard-fought Phase Three progress may be lost. Thank you for wearing your mask, washing your hands, and maintaining appropriate distancing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment