NPTN Buyout Aftermath – Stock Screening Begins

It’s been a long time, but it is time for me to decide which stock to buy. Deciding which stocks to consider is so daunting that many give up and let someone else pick the stock, or the mutual fund or the index, or which way to splurge. I’m not doing much splurging. One of my stocks, NPTN, is being bought out; which means I’ll be reinvesting that money somewhere. The process may look daunting, but after a few decades, my process has sped up, at least somewhat. This post chronicles some of the steps and progress I made in an hour or two, today. 

Every person is different. Everyone’s financial situation is unique. Personal finance is personal. That includes me. What I do may not work for you, but sharing might help someone who wants to know at least a bit more about how this stuff can work.

By the way, I didn’t use a stopwatch, but I know it only took about an hour or two because I only drank a cup or two of tea. Hey, we all have our ways of tracking our progress through errands and chores.

Alright. NPTN is being sold. Rats. That’s OK. Check the previous post (NPTN Buyout – An MVIS-ish Legacy Ends) for that backstory. Buyouts sound profitable, but that seems to be more the case for management than for individual stockholders. A 45% premium is welcome, but I tend to own stocks that the potential to make that jump much several times, not just once and then over. Compounding 45% is powerful, but the buyer buys that potential.

So, what am I going to buy? I’m not sure, yet. When I had a more diversified portfolio (~ a dozen stocks) I’d use the money to rebalance the portfolio. During the Great Recession I had to sell off all but a few, so I’d like to take the money from NPTN and shift it to another stock. But which one?

Here’s the place where many are intimidated. They imagine the number of stocks to pick from to be in the millions. It’s not. Checking with various databases today I found ~8,000. Broaden the criteria to include less easily traded stocks and then the numbers get ridiculously large, but sticking to the normal markets like the New York Stock Exchange, the American Exchange, and the NASDAQ brings it to that ~8,000 number. That’s still enough to scare some away.

There are ways to make it more manageable. One way is to use a stock screener. A stock screener is a way to winnow the list down by many criteria. Each stock screener has a unique collection of criteria and how they operate, but basically you can pick by things like size, industry, performance, etc. 

My style of investing is Long Term Buy and Hold, and Buy them when they are small and Sell them when they succeed – ideally. Details, successes, failures and other insights are in my book, Dream. Invest. Live. 

I steer away from large companies because the large financial institutions are the main competitors in that market. I steer towards small companies because the large institutions become less efficient the smaller the company is. So, my first criteria is to ignore companies that are larger than $1B market cap. (Market cap is the stock price multiplied by the number of shares, basically.) There’s an insight into US industry; $1,000,000,000 is considered a small company. Go figure. Here’s a quick breakdown:

6 companies over $1T (according to the stock screener on 11/11/2021)

> 99% are under $1T

~ 98% are under $100B

~83% are under $10B

~53% are under $1B

~20% are under $0.1B

~5% are under $0.01B (So here’s another perspective, there are hundreds of publicly traded companies that are valued at less than the priciest houses.)

It is arbitrary, but I start with companies that are between $1.0B and $0.1B. That’s about a third of the market. That’s a lot, but it’s also a lot less to consider – and it took longer for me to describe the process than it did to actually do it.

Still, that’s thousands of companies and their stocks. Some investors treat all stocks equally, as mathematical artifacts to evaluate and compare. My personal approach is to apply some of my personal values. Within a stock screener that can be reflected in either eliminating or concentrating on specific industries and sectors. The categories don’t exactly match my definitions, but it was easy to cut out companies that I don’t feel comfortable buying because I don’t understand the business models or don’t agree with their approach. For me, that meant no hotels, fossil fuels, banks, military suppliers, fashion houses (ha!, as if I understand fashion), and other personal choices. I made sure to include the alternative energy industry, telecom, commercial space enablers – basically companies working on my other strategy “companies developing and selling positive, innovative, and disruptive technologies that make the world better.” Being interested in what the company does makes it much easier to stay engaged in my investments.

That brought the list down from about a couple of thousand to about five hundred; smaller, but still large. That would be a lot of web sites to check. Slice it down some more.

Before I exited the screener I also narrowed the list by only considering stocks with between no and 10% debt/equity, a price between $1 and $30? (forgot that note), and a positive net worth. Basically I want ones without a lot of debt and in a price range that means I can buy a few hundreds or thousands of shares; that’s something I’ve found handy when selling to pay bills. It may not be a sophisticated reason, but it works for me. Hey, like I said, this is personal finance.

The list came down to ~250.

Looking at the list of hundreds of companies it became easy for me to see which entire groups I should avoid simply because I already own stock there. In this case, biotech.

Stock screeners sometimes allow users to download the data. It removes it from the tools inside the stock screener, but at some point the details start to matter.

The next step was tedious, but simple. It was relatively easy (note the ‘relatively’) to browse through the list deleting companies that I recognized and don’t want for a variety of reasons, companies with names that were misleading, and companies that are based in countries whose markets and business laws I don’t want to have to understand. Without biotech, media companies, holding companies, and a few other industries my list dropped to about a quarter, ~75.

Here’s where the real tedium begins, but the list is much shorter. Many financial sites provide quick overviews of a company based on the stock symbol. Of those 75, several I didn’t need to investigate further because I was already familiar with them. That’s an advantage of doing this for years. It’s also a measure of the company that their stock is still available. 

These are companies, corporations, worth at least $100,000,000. And yet it is dismaying how many of their web sites either don’t load, or look great but are so laden with buzzword bingo that I couldn’t tell what they did. Forget return-on-equity and other financial criteria, if the web site’s that bad I wonder how well their marketing and customer service is.

Working away at those sites (and here my eyes did blur a bit) brought the list down to just over two dozen. In less than two hours I was able to take a list of thousands and reduce it more than 99%. That doesn’t mean I am done, I’m still only going to buy one stock, but the task has become much more manageable. 

One encouraging and discouraging insight was seeing how many of those 27 companies had stocks that were up over 10% in the last week, and one what was up over 600% in the last year (and no, it wasn’t MVIS. Those kinds of performance do exist; they’re uncommon, but they exist.)

I already started taking my next step. I keep a running list of interesting companies, companies that I’ve heard or read about that look like they are innovative and may positively disrupt their industry. Nothing on the two lists matched, but it was worth checking. Next I will take the running list and check whether those companies have stock, and if so, how that compares to the other list.

But that’s for another day. This doesn’t have to be done to a deadline, or ever. Make each step small enough and the burden probably won’t be intimidating.

Now, time for another cup of tea (and making sure I make time to work on that book about tea – but that’s another story.)

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NPTN Buyout – An MVIS-ish Legacy Ends

Yep. It’s another stock post. Something happened that I actually have to do something about. My style of investing is called Long Term Buy and Hold (LTBH). Circa 2000 I bought a stock, that spun off a stock, that was acquired, renamed, bought out, sold out, so I bought some of their competitor, which just announced today that they are also being bought out. Buy, wait two decades, then sell, which will lead to another buy – and hopefully not having to wait twenty years, again. NeoPhotonics is being bought out, which means I’ll sell, shop, then buy something else. It is time for me to get a bit busier with my portfolio.

For those whose ears perk up or whose stomach twists into knots at the mention of the company, this involves MicroVision (MVIS). Yes, that one. It also involves the University of Washington, inventions that were decades ahead of their times, and a lot of patience. 

Those who want the fuller story can read my post from May 2012, UW MVIS LMRA GGOX GIG. I’ll summarize and use lots of acronyms and symbols. A prof at UW came up with ideas that helped create MVIS. MVIS held onto the display technology – which will be ready any day, week, month, year, decade – for the last twenty-so years. Eventually MVIS needed money so they spun off Lumera (LMRA), which worked on bioarray chips for rapid analysis of medical samples, solid state steerable antennas for telecommunications and collision avoidance systems for cars, a few other things I can’t recall, and solid state electro-optical switches that could operate at very-high speeds with very few moving parts. 

It seems that those bio chips could’ve been handy during our recent pandemic. Steerable antenna for telecom? I think telecom has grown at least somewhat since then. (understatement on purpose) Collision avoidance for cars? Yep, that became a thing. But the acquiring company get rid of all of them in favor of the electro-optical switches. It fed well into their product line. Eventually the company became profitable. Just as I hoped the stock would reflect that, the company sold out to a private firm. I sold and received a small premium, but not enough to provide a significant return on investment. 

Rats. I couldn’t own stock in the tech, so I bought stock in the industry by buying stock in their competitor: NeoPhotonics. 

Here’s a minor irony. Basically I had stock in Lumera (LMRA) and have stock being bought out by Lumentum (LITE). That’s a long way to go to come back around from Lumera to Lumentum. 

This buyout, too, will reflect a premium of ~45%; not bad, but not a champagne-popping ROI, and certainly not the kind of premium so many hope for companies like MicroVision (MVIS). 

Right ideas, a little too early, but just right for someone who could buy the entire company. 

Another aspect of my investing strategy is to buy small companies, hold them until they become begin to succeed, at which time the stock tends to appreciate as the investment community switches from pessimism to optimism, then sell at a premium. It is a risky strategy, but the rewards can significant. IF the company succeeds. I’ve experienced it enough times that I continue to use the strategy. For details of personal successes and failures, see my book “Dream. Invest. Live.” For years of irony read this blog which is much bigger than the book.

So, LITE is buying NPTN so I plan to sell my NPTN then buy something else. Some sell immediately. Some buy into the acquirer. I hold for a little while longer in case a second buyer appears, driving up the price. 

What will follow for the next few weeks will be my research into what to buy next. I plan to blog about it as it goes, because that process is at the core of what I describe in the book. The somewhat short version is to find:

  • small companies (<$2B market cap, because many analysts overlook small companies)
  • developing innovative, positive technologies that have the potential to positively disrupt their industry, or make a new one (which plays to my strength of understanding new tech)
  • soon to be profitable (I tend to get in too early, if you hadn’t noticed)

Then I get picky. 

The list of thousands of stocks will winnow down to one. My NPTN position wasn’t large enough to spread around. Diversification is a great enabler, but, well, a “perfect storm of bad luck” damaged that. The process can take weeks depending on whether I find any candidates and whether the rest of my life has sufficient time available. Gotta keep working, eh?

The recent experience of MicroVision (MVIS) (meme opportunity: has anyone made a ‘micro’ version of the character ‘Vision’ from the MCU?) was fascinating to watch as people recently finding the company scrambled for adequate comprehensive descriptions of the company. As I investigate companies I might write up some descriptions as appropriate. There might even be an entertaining market for that as I stumble to understand possibilities. YouTube lives!

The strategies I follow are old. They work more from the viability of the company rather than the daily variations in the stock. The strategies may be having difficulty with day trading, programmed trading, hedging, and hyper-speed access to the trading environment. I’ll stick with the basics because of things like the anecdotes I described in Trust Your Self (currently my most popular post of the last twelve months and the third most popular post overall).

Stay tuned for one of the more significant and current examples of my approach to my personal finances. I wonder what I will find. I wonder.

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Five Years Later 2016-2021

I missed my cue! Five years and one month ago I wrote a post about what life could be like five years later, September 2021. Let’s have fun tearing apart my own predictions. (Allow me to remind you and me that this was before the pandemic, the insurrection, the #GreatResignation, and lots of rockets. No aliens, yet; but UFOs are now a thing.) Begin!

2016

The following post will be the straight line of a joke where we get to hear the punch line five years later. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a conversation and series of meetings about the economic sustainability of Whidbey Island. Speculating about the future can rarely be anything more than educated guessing; and yet, that’s what we all have to do. So, here is a rather extemporaneous extrapolation of the environment for small towns, particularly like those on south Whidbey, about five years from now. Let’s see how frugal the world will be. I can already hear my future self laughing at me.

2021

Who’s laughing now? Not very many. The meetings about economic sustainability stalled or evaporated. Maybe they’re continuing, but I’m not a part of it. In the meantime median sales prices for homes went up 50%-100% depending on the area. (Wow, this is a throwback. I wasn’t a realtor then, just a writer writing about real estate. Now I have to add a required disclosure. “I am a licensed real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island. Kind of interrupts the narrative, eh? http://whidbeyrealtor.com/ Hasn’t affected my income, and lately even diminished it; the consequence of deciding to concentrate on working with buyers. Long description that I’ll skip.) Anyway, because median incomes probably haven’t risen as much the affordability and sustainability probably haven’t improved. The upside, asset growth has changed, particularly for homeowners who become home sellers – and then probably move off the island.

2016

Let’s look five years back. (my note: 2011) This incarnation of this blog goes back that far. I didn’t realize that. The world was in the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression) and I was in the depths of my Triple Whammy. Hopefully, optimism would see us through. Housing prices were terrible, and I was about the enter the struggle to keep my house. People were avoiding the stock market even while Quantitative Easing was supporting economy but also the creation of wealth derived from wealth. Aside from the economic issues, most things would feel the same; right?

2021

Hello, optimism. How are you doing? Some actually are doing better now. Many are not. We’ve gone from the Great Recession to the Great Resignation. People voluntarily quitting jobs may be more effective at social change than Occupy Wall Street managed. We’re probably still years from that resolving.

2016 

Things we take for granted, now. It is hard to see what has changed in the mainstream because each change is so gradual. Film, tape, mail, landlines, tv, newspapers are fading. People go into withdrawal if they can’t connect to the Internet (which is now so ubiquitous that we aren’t supposed to capitalize it anymore.) Shopping malls are no longer growing. Urbanization is claimed as a solution to many environmental and societal ills. Staycations have become common and don’t need to be justified. Who wants to deal with TSA?

2021

Landlines are fading. Streaming rules. E-books are so busy that someone reading a book is assumed to be using something battery operated. Newspapers? My gig as a real estate journalist vanished as they decided to report on Seattle’s market using writers in New York City. I’m curious about whether those jobs are now remote. Irony. Malls are being turned into schools and apartments. Urbanization ran into Rural Distancing. Whidbey benefits. Staycations have shifted from uncommon and voluntary to the norm and almost a necessity. 

2016

Looking forward (and an ominous typo just went by – looming forward), requires many assumptions, which is why futurism is rarely accurate. I’ll assume there are no great economic, environmental, societal, or existential calamities. One asteroid can ruin your day, eh? I’ll also assume that we won’t be dealing with fifth forces of nature, aliens, digital singularities, or breakthroughs in consciousness. The last five years haven’t had them; let’s assume the next five don’t. (Part of me says, Ha!, but go ahead and continue.)

2021

Looming. Hmm. That seemed prescient. So much for “no great…calamities. 4.97 million dead. I didn’t round up to 5 million because I don’t want to be accused of making it sound worse than it is, and that kind of communication nuance is a sign of that other calamity, our degraded mutual trust. No aliens, but UFOs. 

Wow, and that was just the 2016 prelude. I went into details? Hmm. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise.

2016  

Five years from now

2016 Housing

Urbanization has helped create a phenomenal real estate market in Seattle. I should know; I get to write about it. (Curbed Seattle) Seattle’s economy is growing faster than most because technologies are being advanced and accepted, established companies like Amazon are growing spectacularly (just check out the spectacle of their domed offices), and Silicon Valley has become so expensive that businesses and jobs have been moving here. Hiring has drawn so many people that Seattle can’t hold them all, nor can King County. Neighboring counties are now seeing median house price increases of over 20% annually. Unless Silicon Valley gets cheaper, or the Internet breaks, the trend is likely to continue. Right now, Whidbey’s real estate prices are relatively low; but if even a small fraction of new residents or displaced mainlanders decide to shop for houses on Whidbey, the prices could rise dramatically. Small supply, relatively easy access to the city, and non-negotiable growth limits like water and septic could drive prices into unsustainable territory. One response is to allow unconventional housing options to become more conventional. Tiny houses drop the price by lowering the square footage. House sharing divides the expenses, effectively turning some homes into boarding houses. Whidbey is an island, one that has surprisingly few, if any, houseboats. Rafts of neighborhoods could provide housing for the folks who can’t afford the land that would fit under a tiny house. At the same time, waterfront and view properties would head in the opposite direction, mimicking the wealthier islands. One EPA study reinforces the notion that the density won’t change, which suggests the housing will diverge between those who maintain the island and those who can afford luxurious homes. Island wealth and real estate tax revenue will probably increase.

2021 Housing

Not only #WorkFromHome, but also #LearnFromHome is rising (as is the use of hashtags); but solar power and satellite internet are enabling neighborhoods based on decentralized services and infrastructure. People are getting out of town, and not just to Whidbey. I saw it happening in North Central Washington where houses are going up that are relying on solar systems, Starlink Internet, and smartphones. Low prices for real estate? Let’s repeat that Ha! The need for innovative housing continues, but the regulatory and lending institutions have barely budged while the construction techniques and consumer acceptance have surged.  

2016 Employment

Currently, tourism is a big business; which is necessarily very seasonal. There are plenty of service jobs in the summer, and a dearth for the other nine months. Great paychecks and tips for three months don’t look as rich when divided by four. There are a few other businesses on the south half of the island, but boat builders and the phone company can’t employ everyone. A large portion of the island commutes to the mainland because that’s where the jobs and the money are. That may change. Ten gigabit internet service is already being installed, far ahead of the rest of the nation. I know several people who work remotely from the island. For them, good upload and download speeds are vital. As the adoption and awareness of the high speed internet expands, some Seattle-ites may decide to relocate; and some commuters may realize it’s easier to work from home rather than the office – and they may be able to make the case because island speeds are higher than mainland office speeds. Switching commuters back to island workers means they spend less on commuting, they spend more on the island, and time wasted in traffic is traded for time invested in family and community. Coworks become important, as do businesses that provide the goods and services offices need. Talent gets concentrated rather than diffused. Whidbey can become a destination for clients who get to meet in more pleasant surroundings. I’ve seen that happen within my business. Come to Whidbey, relax, get some work done.

2021 Employment

This one actually seems reasonable, considering the other upsets we’ve experienced. Coworks weren’t helped by the pandemic, but the rest of it seems to be moving along. While many make fun of those who take chances, it is a good thing that the local telecom took that risk of installing fiber when they did. Imagine if islanders were only now seeing the cable get connected to the island. The island is only partly connected, but this post is being written thanks to that work. So, thanks. (Now about those advertised speeds and DSL’s better reliability during an outage… Good thing my smartphone can also act as a Internet hub.)

2016 Shopping

Buy local. That’s worth repeating. Buy local. Thanks to some advocates who kept out brand names and big box stores, Whidbey has an almost complete collection of stores, most of which are owned and run by locals. But, there’s a price to pay for shipping things to the island. Check prices on-island versus off-island and see a premium. Things that are built here, however, aren’t as likely to deal with that. As technology develops, 3-D printing has matured to the point that a few thousand dollars is enough to build a device that can create custom items within a few hours. It may take less time and money to download and print something than it does to take the ferry and drive to the mall. At the same time, things printed here can be shipped anywhere. One entrepreneur is doing this in 2016. By 2021 the capability may be so common that a printer is a natural part of a home, just as ink-jet printers were. More money flowing within island businesses makes the island more affordable and sustainable. The Organic Farm School has just started, and within five years will have added at least some inspired farmers and ranchers to the area.

2021 Shopping 

Let me start with an updated reminder about #ShopLocal using a post on one of my other blogs, AboutWhidbey.com – Shop Whidbey Shop Local In 2021. The names have changed, but the diversity remains. 3-D printing hasn’t become common, and may not be as anticipated as drone deliveries both within the island, and from the mainland to here which avoids ferries and bridge traffic. Imagine deliveries that don’t have to worry about icy roads or downed trees; but that’s for 2026, perhaps. The local food production continues. Personal note: My old truck is now part of the Organic Farm School’s equipment. Maybe I should see if they deliver. Ah, that’s something that has changed. #SocialDistancing encouraged restaurants to begin deliver services, even if only temporary. Of course, we expect the pandemic to be temporary, but enough folks are avoiding the vaccine (which wasn’t anticipated, of course) that delivery and #DiningAtHome may shift the island lifestyle that clustered around town cores. 

2016 Infrastructure

Whidbey Island relies on ferries. Hopefully, the new terminal will be open by 2021, making it easier to get on and off the island, as well as into and back from the city. That change may not be as significant as the introduction of driverless vehicles. A taxi fleet is already being launched in Pittsburgh. A fleet of taxis picking up islanders and taking them to the ferry would free up a lot of parking lot space, reduce the number of cars on the road and in the waiting line (waiting for the ferry can stretch to three hours), and dramatically change an already supportive mass transit system. Bad news for taxi and bus drivers, though. With more virtual work going on, people may be more concerned with power and Internet outages than potholes. If the income bifurcates as the wealth may, more people may be relying on bicycles and whatever mass transit exists.

2021 Infrastructure

The new terminal is open! I miss watching the diners in Ivars as we drove to and from the ferry. At least now I am less likely to groan when a neophyte in front of me in line decides to “just run up to the take-out window before we load” even as the ferry workers are directing traffic for the next sailing. The ferry workers are part of the system, and the Great Resignation has definitely had an impact. I’ve already canceled a few trips because too few crew had managed to avoid contamination. Will any new workers be more successful at being able to get to work reliably? I like the idea of driverless taxis and mass transit. It may happen, but the technology sits at a crux as it tries to prove that the sensors and algorithms can be so much safer than human drivers that governments and insurance companies add to the adoption. Electric vehicles, however, are so common that they aren’t worth commenting on. That’s a good thing.

2016 People

The fancy name is demographics, but the issue is people. Without people, the island gets to revert to nature; but that’s probably not going to happen in five years. Whidbey’s population is old. The last time I checked, I was the median age – and I’m collecting a pension. Granted, it is an early accelerated pension, but you can read those details throughout this blog. People define culture. Islands tend to create intentional communities. On the mainland, a person’s neighborhood may be decided by their job and commute. On islands and in small towns, people decide to live there and then figure out how to make it work. Retirees have an easier choice. Artists are passionate about picking their places. For decades, Whidbey has been a community that is a mix of retirees, commuters, artists, and others who found a place to lead an alternative lifestyle. Whidbey is going through a generational change, just like many small towns. Families who lived there for generations begin seeing the next generation look elsewhere. Older folks stay. Younger folks leave. Schools empty and hospitals get busy. As the older generation departs, taking a support network with it, younger people eventually move in. But in Whidbey’s case, the next generation may be less likely to be artists and such. They will be faced with affordability issues that if not resolved will require them to be more entrepreneurial, more concerned with income and expense than meditation and expression. The character of the community may change simply because choices that were available fifty years ago won’t be available in five years.

2021 People

So much for an aging population. The new census won’t capture the new arrivals that are working and learning remotely, but many aren’t retired. The Navy has added thousands of service personnel. Ironically, places like Langley can now be designated something like “Creativity Zones”. Langley was a center for art, but its median house price can be as much as $100,000 higher than its surrounding neighborhoods. Anecdotes point to artists that are leaving for more affordable places. Personally I’ve seen friends move to Oregon, the Southwest, and the other side of the Cascades. Road trip! The wealth increase has been obvious as houses are more likely to sell for cash and then only be lived in part of the time, the prevalence of Maseratis is barely worth a mention, and restaurants are more likely to be closed to the public because they are hosting private parties. Fortunately for me I like to cook at home.

2016

As I said, this is an extemporaneous list. The conversations we’ve been having about the introduction of 10 Gigabit Internet service prompted me to write this post today; but the topic is always on my mind. Technology is changing. My community is changing. Houses, schools, jobs, are all going to change as well. The changes in the next five years have the potential to be much larger than the changes from the last five years. High speed Internet may enable significant moves to affordability through jobs and shopping. Other, less technological initiatives can have large influences, too. New tax codes for farmers, new zoning regulations that allow tiny houses or houseboats, common meeting areas for nomadic workers can strengthen community and the economy simply by deciding to accept that the world is changing and peoples’ needs are changing. The personal choices for non-retirees, however, may be very similar to the same frugality that defines rural lifestyles. Don’t assume needs are taken care of. Respect them. Then, as resources allow, enjoy luxuries.

2021 

Today’s changes larger than yesteryear’s changes? We’re in health, political, social justice, climate upset, and infrastructure crises that may be perceived as temporary, but are initiating long-term changes through our civilization and environment. While governments, institutions, and corporations have the greatest leverage, many of the changes are being driven by individuals who are redefining their lifestyle by choice or necessity. Frugality never changes, though its tools evolve.

2016 

I enjoy playing with such ideas. As one friend put it; “How do you keep all that in your head?” It’s easy because I enjoy it. I’m also enough of a student of history to know that something else completely different will happen. I hope I’m right that in September of 2021 I’ll be laughing at my guesses because life turned out to be better than I could’ve imagined. Stay tuned.

2021

Ha! and not in a good way; but maybe that’s temporary and 2026 will be much better. Stay tuned.

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Charitably Truckless

I felt odd, watching no-longer-my truck be driven away. Today I donated my venerable Chevy pickup to a local charity. Whidbey Island has an impressive organic farm school appropriately named the Organic Farm School. (Fancy, eh? At least it isn’t as confusing as Greenbank Farm Management Group, which sounds correct but also a lot more corporate.) Friends were literally shaking their heads when I said I wasn’t going to put a For Sale sign on it. Value isn’t always measured in money.

‘Chuck the Truck’ came into my life several years ago. At the time I had a mostly-reliable Jeep Cherokee, the Classic, the Cherokee that was designed for a balance between back-country ruggedness and suburban comfort and utility. Car folks can appreciate the in-line six. Anyone can appreciate the fact that one faulty sensor could undermine all of that heavy metal. And yet, I could think of no vehicle that better suited my life. And then my Dad’s wife died. (‘Dad’s wife’ was a specific word choice and is a hint of her family dynamics, but so it was.) My Dad loved Pittsburgh but was willing to move to her ranchland in the foothills between Sacramento and Reno because of her. While I was there for the funeral he turned to me and asked, “Do you want a truck?”. One of my brothers sidled up beside me and softly said, “At a time like this the answer is ‘yes’.” I said, “Yes.” My Dad’s logic, he was only on the ranch because of her, so without her he wasn’t going to stay on the ranch, and therefore didn’t need a ranch truck.

I got a truck – and a half of a round-trip ticket that was useless because I had an 18-hour drive ahead of me to deliver the truck and me back home. That was when money was tighter than now, so, no hotel. Drive straight through. Only started to fall asleep three times. No accidents, remarkably. And with a deadline of catching the last ferry. (Something islanders can appreciate.) I made it to the ferry, and capped the trip by not being familiar with how wide the truck was. I bumped the ferry. It didn’t notice. I dented the running board. It was years before I told my Dad, the ex-trucker. 

I could’ve kept the Jeep and sold the truck, but that wasn’t the intent of the gift. And the truck was a gift, all right and proper. The Jeep was sold to a local entrepreneur who had just started a business (which continues, today – congratulations.) The price must have been reasonable because there were three backup offers. 

Chuck the Truck had been handy, very utilitarian, but not suited for my life. The suspension was wrong for mountain roads. The turning radius was comical for showing properties to real estate clients as I tried to turn around at the end of narrow driveways. But, it worked, mostly. 

Skip ahead to earlier this year and I’ll simply point to the posts that chronicled a weekend of events that “starts out like a country song”. The short version: the truck broke down and I bought a new used Jeep. Little Red is cute (a consequence, not a criterion), and nicely suited for maneuvering backroads and narrow drives – and getting 30 mpg, much better than the truck’s 13 mpg. 

Even before the truck broke down I wanted to donate or sell it to an entrepreneur, or to a non-profit like I did with the Jeep that preceded the Jeep that preceded the Jeep. (I like Jeeps.)

Arguably, my Jeep Renegade is no longer a Jeep Jeep. (AMC – Chrysler – Fiat?) But I digress. 

Which brings this back to the Organic Farm School, here on Whidbey. I’m familiar with the place because it happens to use land that was a racetrack from back in the days when there wasn’t much else to do on the island. Browse some satellite photos of the Maxwelton Valley and there’s the oval, flat, surrounded by acres of farmland/wetlands that disconnect it from the paved roads. It hasn’t been a race track for decades, but it was just right for quiet walks under open skies. 

I like food. I believe I need it to live, but maybe I should research that. Nah, I’ll just accept that as fact. I like community. I like people who are working on sustainability and learning basic skills that are overlooked. I’m old enough that I don’t intend to become a farmer, but I can help support those who do. I also wondered if they’d want the truck. (Not taking anything for granted.)

They said, “Yes.” I said, ‘Good.’ (massively paraphrased)

The State said, “Yes, but…” the truck was already gifted once (from my Dad to me) so it couldn’t be gifted again. (?) OK. As a group, we found a way. Whew. 

Being charitable isn’t always easy.

But, why? Why not sell it, take the proceeds, and donate the money? A price can be put on the truck. At a glance, it looked relatively new – as long as you look at it from the driver’s side. The dents on the passenger’s side are more dramatic. But a faulty sensor or subcomponent of the California (the site of the ranch) emission system triggered a perpetual “Service Engine Soon” light. Three mechanics worked on it. Three thought they solved it. In each case the light came back on. There was no discernible performance change, odor, or mileage impact. That light and the almost 200,000 miles on it meant the Jeep dealership would only give me a trade-in value of $1,000, and I think they thought they were being generous to a person in need.  

That little sensor effectively devalued the vehicle. That little sensor designed with the intent of improving the environment, or not damaging it as much, meant over two tons of materials could arguably be sent to the junk yard. Using a For Sale sign would get a higher price, but as long as the light was lit for one message, there is no way to tell if it is trying to display a second or third message. A flaw in their design does not mean I have to work within their values. 

There’s a term familiar in the area: ‘Island Truck’, a truck that may be perfectly fine, but that is best used at island speeds and used for island tasks – like being rural in a rural area, like maybe not spending much time off the farm, frequently spending a day not doing much more than 10 mph, and testing out the suspension and tow package as heavy things get moved around. It’s an island thing.

One sign of an ‘Island Truck’ – moss, lots of moss

A truck that was recently able to complete a thousand-mile road trip along the Pacific coast, across the mountains, and through remote areas of central Washington is more than an island truck, but it was getting older, did break a fuel pump, and was maybe ready to spend less time on the freeway. 

Because of mileage, its market value falls. Because of a sensor, my confidence in selling it to a stranger fell, too. The folks on the Farm are effectively neighbors, resourceful, and pragmatic. They have work to do. Does the truck help them do the work? If so, then it has a value that may have nothing to do with ‘market value.’ Them having it and using it has a value to me, too. It is only because some people try to cheat the tax system that the rest of us have to work harder at helping each other. 

It took about a month to figure this stuff out. The money is easier to understand. Time is more valuable, and yet I was willing to spend the time because the value of the contribution of the truck to education and community would be difficult to duplicate with a check. Besides, until recently, my financial situation means I haven’t been able to donate much money to any charity for about a decade. I hope this helps me give back at least some.

It is easy to see everything as monetary exchanges. Money isn’t the only measure. Time is more precious, and even it isn’t always the ultimate. Sometimes there are values that can be planted like seeds, sprouted, grown, distributed – and the cycle repeated. 

My Dad died about six years ago. The last words he said to me were, “Make sure you do good work.” I hope he approves.

Photo: Glasgow, Scotland, April 1945, about the time a young sailor was introduced to Guinness
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We Are Sprinting Marathons

Are you tired? I’m talking ‘marathon tired’, tired as in ‘hitting the wall’ or in some cases having the wall hit you. I’ve run marathons. They take training. It is common knowledge, but usually dismissed, that marathons are mental challenges, too. Our society has been running marathons as if they were sprints. If you aren’t tired, congratulations. I am reaching back to that training, the physical exercise for sure, but also the mental perspective, the benefits of a support network, and rest. Society can run a marathon as a relay, but that also means letting someone else run ahead while recuperating. 

I am not a sprinter. (massive understatements, no extra charge) Take a bicycle trip? Sure. I crossed the country, and did so at about half the pace of many cyclists. Climb Mt. Rainier? Yep, but I used a guide; and it took the guide to convince me to climb those last three hundred feet. Go for a walk? Well, there are three Twelve Month nature studies of hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing in Washington’s Cascades. Oh yeah, and then there was that walk across Scotland. My favorite job as an engineer was massive projects, like space shuttles, that would take several years and someone else’s billions of dollars. These were not sprints, but sprints are for others, not me. Long, slow, and steady – and hopeful. Just because a marathon is started, there’s no guarantee it will be finished.

As a society, we’ve been sprinting through consecutive marathons. Great Resignation? Sure. We’re still in a pandemic. We just got out of a Great Recession. Before that we had the double hit of the Internet Bubble and 9/11. The 90s started with a recession. The 80s started with stagflation. The 70s had Watergate, Vietnam, and the Oil Embargo. The 60s had the 60s. The 50s only look good for some folks for some slice of time. The 40s and 30s weren’t exactly happy times. Which brings it back to 100 yeas ago and the Roaring Twenties which seemed like a good idea at the time. Oops.

I’m not going to list all of today’s troubles. I have a separate blog for that (PretendingNotToPanic.com), and even that is incomplete because I don’t include politics, there.

Personally I’ve been sprinting a financial marathon since about 2010. Losing 98% of my net worth wasn’t highly motivating. Trying to survive was.

Finally, some good news. Regular readers will know that thanks to my house’s value, a resurgent stock portfolio (which is showing wobbly legs), and people who’ve supported my various businesses I’ve been able to get back to – at least hope. Sustainable is still a long way away, though Social Security, and a home loan based on a recovered credit score has enabled enough finances to rest for a bit. (Finances aren’t the same as money. Much of my cash is from debt, but it is welcome, anyway.)

I’d forgotten this from my running days and my engineering career, but after working on something for so long for so hard it can be difficult to do nothing. Even relaxing can be forgotten and be something to relearn. 

I just finished several days of a staycation. I won’t bore you with those details, but some comedian could find a lot of material watching me try to remember how to sit still and – gasp – do something simply because I wanted to. Add in pandemic constraints and some bad weather and the list of options get short.

Fortunately, I know me. I know me well enough that I know when it is time to accept a bit of help. That’s not completely true. I usually realize I need help after I’ve gone too far. So, within the last week or so I’ve benefited from my naturopath (who actually manages to provide advice without triggering anxiety attacks), my massage therapist (who does so well that my eyesight actually improves – yes, my head and neck are that tense), and my counselor (who sifts through long discussions to concisely describe concepts for me to consider.) 

I’m feeling better, but they’ve also helped me realize how long and hard I’ve been struggling. At least as I understand it, it isn’t a surprise to them that I am not just tired but exhausted; and that several days away from work won’t undo a decade of anxiety. 

As I recall, I ran three official marathons, another by accidentally mis-measuring a training route, and one by doing laps around a park. I never finished one without having to stop somewhere during the run. Whether it was to tie a shoe, or jump into a porty-potty, or massage a leg cramp, there was always something that meant I didn’t run the entire time.

And yet, I finished.

And yet, our society makes impressive accomplishments. 

So, why do I/we push so hard? Why do we chastise those who aren’t ‘totally committed’ as if they aren’t human with lives and families?

#NotRhetorical

We ask much of ourselves and each other. I knew I was getting tired and exhausted, but it took a bit of a break for me to see how hard, far, and much I’ve pushed myself. I was too busy being busy to notice, otherwise. 

I’m not handing out advice. Partly this is a reminder to myself to take better care of my self. I am the only one responsible for me. But I wonder how much we also project those unrealistic goals and expectations onto others.

As I was thinking about this earlier – before I had to put it aside to mow the lawn – I thought about people who by necessity are so engrossed with their struggles that resting can seem mythical. 

Much of this is so simple that people who aren’t in the midst of it can’t understand it. Only the rare few can sprint a marathon. The rest of us are allowed to grab that water bottle, walk for a bit, tie that shoe lace, maybe massage a muscle. Winning isn’t as important as finishing. And in the reality of this world, there’s always another marathon waiting. Taking a break is better than having to mend a break.

Not simple and concise enough? Well, 

If I Had More Time I Would Have Made It Shorter

#IIHMTIWHMIS

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Trust Your Self

“Here you go, Tom. Here’s the car I want.” It was about ten years ago and a friend showed me a magazine ad for a Tesla. He laughed. He was part owner of a nice art gallery, but that meant he had enough to keep an old Toyota running, not go out and buy a new Tesla, or even a new Toyota. So goes the like of an artist and gallery owner. 

(Side note: Galleries aren’t museums. The art on display is for sale, not entertainment. Want to make a gallery owner happy, or at least happier, or at least able to pay some bills? Compliments are nice, but; Buy Art. But I digress; which is why I labeled this as a side note.)

The man is known for wisdom, but didn’t recognize this nugget coming from himself. He joked about not being able to buy the car, but possibly being able to buy a share of stock. didn’t. He should’ve.

Google Finance

A friend works in a retail store. Several years ago she told me about how customers were coming into the store and using her phone for price comparisons, and for checking product information. There she stood with years of education that people ignored as if she was “just a clerk”, instead of a conscientious part of the health care industry. “They come in, type something into their phone, then frequently just walk out. They google everything.” 

She’s also well-educated about the stock market. The verb ‘google’ was on her mind, but surely Google couldn’t make much money doing this, could they? She didn’t buy.

Google Finance (note the irony)

How many people do you know who have been griping about Facebook for years, and yet use it from choice or necessity every day? “This is ridiculous!” And yet, they’ll pay for ads because conventional wisdom says they should. Instead of buying ads, what would their lives be like if they’d bought a share of FB? 

Google Finance

“This Bitcoin thing is going to be a thing.” I said and wrote about several years ago. As usual with me, I was too early into the trend. Too early would’ve been highly profitable, but I didn’t have much money, the currency had climbed ten-fold, and the technology included hurdles between where I had the money and where I could buy a coin. I relented. Bitcoin was at ~$220. Now, over $54,000. Eep and oops.

Google Finance

Readers of this blog know I tend to buy early. Lately, that’s been too early. Sure, MVIS is up to ~$10 and has been as high as ~$30 in the last year, but my return on investment is terrible considering that I’ve held the stock for two decades. And yet I hold it and actually bought a bit more because, and I internally groan as I say this yet again, I think they might finally succeed within the next 9-18 months. 

Google Finance

Buying early doesn’t always work. But ignoring personal intuition can mean missing massive opportunities. 

IF I bought those two Bitcoins, I probably would’ve sold one when Bitcoin jumped to $15,000; which would’ve paid off a lot of debt. In my normal style, I probably would’ve sold the other one out of necessity rather than taking out a loan. But that was an IF.

Buying FB, GOOGL, TSLA, early could’ve meant retiring debt, or even retiring from work. For many working people, there might not be sufficient funds to buy enough for retirement, but imagine how a couple hundred dollars blossoming into a few thousand, or tens of thousands can improve a life.

Sadly, those rewards come with risks. Thirty years ago I had sufficient savings that I was able to buy enough AOL, PIXR, SBUX, MSFT, etc. to retire at 38 years old. Ten years ago, the stocks I was left with held promise, but those promises have not been fulfilled – and may not be, and yet may be, too. 

This blog is based on my book, Dream. Invest. Live. The book is partly based on the simple, yet sometimes difficult, tactic of “Spend less than you make, and invest the rest.” Especially since the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression, in my opinion) spending less is difficult as income didn’t rise as quickly as expenses. There’s a limit to how little it is possible to spend and maintain the basics. The trend’s been going on since the early 80s, but has become more pronounced, lately. So, I don’t expect everyone to invest. The extra cash isn’t always there. That’s one reason I didn’t buy any FB, GOOGL, or TSLA, and why I gave up so readily when I tried to buy a Bitcoin or two. 

But I saw one of those friends today while shopping in her store. I saw the Tesla fan while checking my social media feeds. And, of course, did anyone Not touch Google in some way today? 

I’ve learned to trust my intuition, and accept the risk. Sometimes the risk is painful. Sometimes the reward is astonishing. Conventional wisdom, wisdom based on what was considered ‘normal’ doesn’t apply as readily as before. My friends’ intuitive senses and their observations reminded me that sometimes the best person to listen to is as deeply personal as it is possible to be. Trust yourself, or even your Self? I’ll leave that choice to you; but I know I have learned to give myself and my Self more credit – and a bit more patience. I think I’ve already taken on enough risk. It’s time for the reward.

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Getting Better Slowly

Yay! Good news! Getting the loan on my house means a long string of long-delayed tasks can get done. Ah. What? A loan doesn’t equate to money in my account, which doesn’t translate to immediately paying off lots of bills, and many of those tasks aren’t instantaneous? What ever happened to instant gratification? Why are there so many question marks in this first paragraph? Ah, because answers and resolutions are rarely as easy as they seem in the stories. That’s true at a personal level and in the broader world. So, yay?!

I live in the US. Money cures all ills, so some say. The ads certainly make it seem that way. Hello, reality.

As I wrote, about three weeks ago I got a loan on my house. (A Home Loan To Retire Anxieties) Whew. Some things were immediate, partly because they were bills that were already due. It felt good to pay my homeowners dues. It was relatively easy to restock my pantry, but there has been a delay because I still wait for sales. A massage was not an indulgence; it was necessary because years of tension don’t evaporate within an hour or two. I foresee many more sessions before we can work past a surface of taught muscles to get to the necessary core work. Until then any massage will involve speed bumps as being uptight proves to be more than a euphemism. My portfolio has been restocked and rebalanced after filling gaps opened when I needed interim funds. I actually sold high(er) and bought low(er) for part of that. And, I found a counselor to help me work through the stresses, anxieties, and bad habits I’ve accumulated during a decade of frugality by necessity instead of choice.

Money can be an answer, but despite its seeming immediacy reality imposes real restrictions of such simple things as time and weather. So much rain, so few hikes.

A month after being issued a very nice line of credit, I’m barely through my initial list of deferred items. I still want to pay off my new old Jeep, donate my truck, get the chimney cleaned, submit myself to some medical tests, get a haircut (and looking forward to a professional beard trim), get a new credit card, fix things like a fence; and maybe even get around to some new sweats (though I did already get new hiking boots to go with the Jeep), a restocked liquor collection, a cord of firewood and a few yards of yard and garden soil. Oh yeah, and maybe I’ll listen to my various doctors and actually take a vacation. (I grinned at the unlikelihood of me actually managing that because I’m out of practice and have a rough time remembering how to let things be for a day. A week or a month is almost unimaginable.) Oh yeah, and I might even get some furniture to sleep on in my bed-less bedroom because I sold a lot of furniture nine years ago. Almost a decade of sleeping on a futon couch. (Which my doctor has also warned me about.)

But, that’s my life. Now for the rest of the world.

It is easier for me to see that things are getting better for me (keeping in mind that my improvements come from taking on more debt.) 

There are reasons for optimism and pessimism in the world. (Crisis Fatigue And Hope) Fossil fuels are fading, regardless of subsidies. Death by violence is down; though death by ignorance of science is up, but that’s somewhat self-selected. Awareness of many issues is improving, even with faulty information. And people are acting as individuals to live more sustainable and enjoyable lives. 

As I’ve written previously, electric cars, home solar systems, LED lighting, work/learn from home, gardening and crafts are becoming more popular simply because they make sense. Organizations can champion such initiatives, but people integrating changes into their lives make them sustainable. 

It is going to take time, however.

The pandemic has been a major trauma and disruption, but it has also prompted and accelerated change. Archaic ideas and institutions are being abandoned. Why commute? Why not grow at least some of your own food? Why burn fossil fuels? Why should we assume that old laws, policies, and habits should be protected when they don’t protect who we are and who we are becoming? 

The answers may be obvious, but the changes will take time. Knowing “thou shalt not kill” is a good idea, but we’re still working at kicking that habit.

My personal changes amidst the larger changes is providing me an opportunity to think ahead. We can’t predict the future, but plans for personal finances must at least make guesses, hopefully based on what’s been learned. I suspect some of the people who will be ahead later are those who are thinking ahead now. I’m thinking. I’m thinking.

I’m thinking, but I’m also in the midst of my personal changes. I am also, however, trying to decide which way to go rather than striving to return to the past. It ain’t easy. It won’t be easy for our society, either. (massive understatement)

It is powerful to write about definite actions and conclusions. Check out the popular media sources and politics. Nuances aren’t as popular as simple declarative statements. That works for spreading the word, even when oversimplification makes the message more useful for manipulation than effective implementation. I choose to pay more attention to the nuances. They may not make fun cocktail conversations, but we’re not having many of those events, anyway.

Over the next few months I plan to plan. Maybe I’ll end up living a life that blends into suburbia, but I intend to consider other possibilities, communities, – and more importantly for this blog, other investments. 

My version of personal finance remains “Spend less than you make, and invest the rest.” That’s the basis of my book, Dream. Invest. Live., and this blog. I guess I could just post that one line every week and hit repeat; but the majority of readers tell me they are more interested in stocks and community and how they are changing. Stay tuned as I expand on those themes, particularly as the pandemic and politics change our world. This is going to take some time, but my hope is that things are getting better. I just guess I’ll have to accept that good news usually travels slowly.

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An Evening Off From Writing – Ha

But, but I have to write. It’s that time of night! Dinner is done, and for the past several months that’s meant turning off the ‘TV’ (really a Roku connected to a monitor and the internet, ‘TV’ takes fewer letters), opening the laptop, and opening the file that is my work-in-progress, my first science fiction novel. Why and why not? The frugal part of me likes the idea that writing doesn’t affect the checking account. Writing’s main cost is time, but time spent writing is much more gratifying than time spent watching yet another repeat of yet another show. Of course, my opinion may change if my book ever becomes a show – but I’ll leave that fantasy aside for now. Today I finished the third draft of my sci-fi novel, so tonight I have the time to write this post and get ready to take a break from my novel but working on my book about tea. Ha! The writing doesn’t end, and it probably shouldn’t for me and for many others.

You have a story to tell. I may not know who you are, and yet I’m sure you have a story to tell. Laptops and free software mean more people can write than did when writing involved cramped fingers from putting pen to paper, or tired fingers from hitting keys on a typewriter. Modern self-publishing means you can take what you’ve written, and put it up for sale on places like Amazon in less time than it takes to get a rejection letter from a publisher or an agent. 

When I started writing books just after 2000, there were about ten times as many books published traditionally as were published in the new technology of Print-On-Demand. Within the last few years, there are as many as five times as many books self-published as traditionally published. Add in over a year of social distancing and there may soon be a surge of books written during the pandemic.

Are there too many books? There are over seven billion people, the world is hurting and could use new ideas. We don’t have time to let things work themselves out. We need those ideas, and books are one way to distribute them. 

Ideas don’t have to just live in dry, pragmatic books of non-fiction. Serious is necessary, but frivolity may be just what is needed to get some ideas across. My novel is inspired by the dystopian elements of today’s projections, but then has plays with ideas of possibilities. Why not? There is already an over-supply of alien shoot-em-ups. How about a romance story between species? ‘They’, ‘them’, ‘others’, ‘aliens’ are not always going to be the bad guys, things, whatever they call themselves. 

Writing costs a lot of time and has no guarantee of making any money. Almost all books have greater expenses than income, and that’s a very low bar that isn’t crossed often. But. Writing a book can be gratifying. Getting an idea out of the head, into a story, and out into the world is one less ‘someday’ thing. If it works, great! If not, at least you know.

In my case I didn’t intend to write a book. Pardon me as a copy and paste from myself via my Amazon Author Page.

“I fell into writing by trying to lose weight. That’s not an obvious career path. I decided to lose weight by bicycling, and figured it would take so much bicycling that I’d be able to cross the continent. So I did. By the time I was done, I’d sent out 15,000 words of emails, which a friend pointed out was more notes than most writers have when they start a book. So I wrote Just Keep Pedaling. The emails tell one story. The rest of the book gets into what really happened each day.

After the first book I realized that I could do a better job and decided to chronicle the life of the natural world in Washington’s Cascade mountains. I’d hiked there for a couple of decades and was surprised to find that, despite the excellent writer and adventurers in the area, no one had taken on the simple task of describing a year’s worth of visits to the mountains. And so the Twelve Month series swept into my life.”

Now, I have written and published six completed books, have produced eight nature photo essays, and am working on my sci-fi novel, a book about tea that I hope will be a fundraiser for folks in the field, and a sequel to my book on personal finance. Oh yeah, and I have helped dozens of writers become authors.

So far, none of my published books have become lottery ticket books. I consider writing a book to be similar to writing a lottery ticket. The odds of a book hitting the jackpot is small, but some of the wealthiest people took simple ideas, expanded them, write them well, sold them well, had some luck, and touched hundreds of millions of people. 

I’m a fan of writing, writers, authors, and readers. My passion is for people and ideas, and this is a time in our history when we need more people playing with ideas that might solve our problems. 

If you are tired of social media and its too short style of communication, then dive into writing a blog, articles, a book. Writing is an opportunity to express an idea without being interrupted. How glorious is that? You can take your time, edit, delete, save it for later, or share it around to make it better before the rest of the world sees it.

Here’s where my writing led me.


Just Keep Pedaling – a coast-to-coast bicycle road that was supposed to be about me trying and failing to lose weight, but became a pre- and post- 9/11 view of America

Twelve Months at Barclay Lake – from the wet side of Washington’s Cascades that is probably temperate rain forest

Twelve Months at Lake Valhalla – from the cold crest of the Cascades where the fish seem more months of ice than of blue sky

Twelve Months at Merritt Lake – from the dry side of the Cascades where smoke from forest fires can’t be ignored, and neither can the rifleshots

Dream. Invest. Live. – my take on my personal finances and investing for frugal folk like myself; which was published just as the Great Recession began, during which my portfolio survived – but until a perfect storm of bad luck arrived

Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland – my walk from the southeast corner of the country (Stranraer) to the northeast (Aberdeen), during which there was much more thinking and maybe not enough drinking

Twelve Months at Cultus Bay

Twelve Months at Deception Pass

Twelve Months at Admiralty Head

Twelve Months at Penn Cove

Twelve Months at Double Bluff

Twelve Months at Maxwelton Beach

Twelve Months at Possession Beach

Twelve Months at Possession Preserve

and then

Firewatcher – my sci-fi novel about an escape from dystopia and the adventure that follows

Tea (title in work) – a less-than-serious chance to play with the simple joys of tea and a few of the frustrations of trying to enjoy it in modern society

the sequel to Dream. Invest. Live – basically personal finance seen as a roller-coaster ride through America’s wealth classes

Twelve Months at Dugualla Bay- book nine of my five book series (do the math) of photo essays on Whidbey Island


That’s one of the things I enjoy about writing, one thing can lead to another thing, and another, and as many as I want – time allowing, of course. 

My bookshelf of my books is growing. I lose track. But for about twenty years I’ve had an outlet for my ideas. Each book is an opportunity to make the next one better. Each book is a possibility of passive income, maybe even that self-written jackpot. I asked ‘Why and why not?’ You’re welcome to ask yourself the same.

Pardon me as I bring myself back to one of my failings. One thing I have to work on is sales. I wrote this post because I wanted to fill yet another evening of writing; but this is also the right time to start promoting them for the holiday season. So, since I’ve already written more than my carpal tunnel appreciates, (keeping in mind my motto of “If I Had More Time I Would Have Made It Shorter If I Had More Time I Would Have Made It Shorter #IIHMTIWHMIS”) here are links to the books I’ve written (Amazon) and the photo books I’ve produced (blurb). Enjoy.

And write!

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The Great Resignation

(The following is an expansion of post from PretendingNotToPanic.com.)

The middle class was born about 650 yeas ago. It wasn’t by governmental decree, though there were probably some declarations declared. It wasn’t by some great grass-roots organization, though there was probably some organization. At its core was the simple sentiment, “We’re not going to take it, anymore.” And so economies, governments, and personal lifestyles change. And it may be happening, again.

The Bubonic Plague did it. The Bubonic Plague killed approximately 1/3 of the population of Europe. That’s worse than today’s pandemic, but not as severe as the epidemic that killed so many in the Americas a few hundred years later. 

By losing so much of the population, peasants became in low supply but in high demand because they were the ones that supplied the essential services of things like food. Europe’s institutions either adapted to power shifting to the peasants, or the institutions simply faded. Monarchies continue, but there are few of them. Democracies had been talked about, but noting much happened until old power structures weakened. People’s perspectives changed. The world changed. 

So what?

Well, for the people who survived that epidemic, their lifestyles could improve dramatically. The basic concept of personal finance became more personal because finances were finally involved. Lords and ladies weren’t as important as income and expense, assets and liabilities, taxes and inheritances. Families could build wealth. It didn’t work for everyone, but for those it worked for, it worked well enough to propagate around the planet and through the years.

Kind of a big thing. (understatement)

We’re going through a pandemic, not just an epidemic. Prior to the pandemic worker satisfaction was declining. Since about the early 80s there was a disconnect between a worker’s productivity and their income. Wealth began to accumulate in corporations, financial institutions, and the people who controlled them. Meanwhile, population is up, global problems intensified, but a greater percentage of the money flow flowed out of the economy and into havens. You may have noticed. 

Prior to the pandemic worker satisfaction was declining to the extent that, while about half of the employees are at least somewhat satisfied with their jobs, many do not see them as careers, and many considered changing jobs. Even with ~50% satisfaction, only ~20% were enthused with their worklife. The trend was noticeable enough that the term The Great Resignation was born.

Then came the epidemic which we turned into a pandemic. If the crisis had been handled swiftly, the pandemic would’ve had less of a chance to mutate into worse strains. Because the pandemic has been going on for not just months but years, many habits and institutions have been challenged. The term ‘essential worker’ has become more than a label. Everyone from doctors and nurses to grocery clerks and delivery drivers are now seen as essential, and seen as deserving of appropriate compensation. 

The peasants were essential and finally found an opportunity to change their lives. 

Today’s workforce may be going through a similar transition. 

Since the pandemic, job dissatisfaction has become less of a reason to gripe and more of a reason to act. Recent studies show over 40% of the working population is dissatisfied enough that they are considering quitting for another job or retirement. Few political movements generate that sort of size without great effort. This is an effort that is happening with a few slogans ($15/hour), organizations, government initiatives, or really not much more than enough people saying “We’re not going to take it, anymore.”

There are many enabling technologies, particularly the internet. Why show up at an office when all of the work is done online? Some places rely on teams and a physical presence, but enough do not, so why spend time and money to commute? 

Enough businesses are adapting by increasing benefits because they realize that may be necessary to stay in business. It shouldn’t be a radical idea that treating your workers well does good things for your business, but some do not see the trend that’s been moving towards personal empowerment since the start of the middle class. 

I am encouraged by such peaceful, legal, and quiet movements.

Governments may have subsidized renewable energy and electric vehicles, but it has been individuals deciding to make the choice to buy an electric car and install solar systems at home that enabled the undermining (an ironic choice of words) the fossil fuel industry. 

Our situation is different from the Middle Ages. They had too few people but a lot of work to do. We have overpopulation and increasing automation. They didn’t know what caused the deaths. We do. They couldn’t coordinate their efforts as well as we can. And the pace of change back then meant change happened over decades, while today social changes can happen with a tweet.

Regardless of those and other differences, the fundamental change affects anyone with a personal finance plan that is based on old assumptions. Unfortunately, those people who know we need new economic models also know that no one knows that those models will be.

Will we have Universal Basic Income? Universal health care, and family care? Will mega-corporations be challenged as if they are modern-day sects and empires? While we work out these issues will the pandemic and the climate mean that nothing will be certain for decades? If nothing is certain, how does a personal plan? 

Nothing has been certain for – ever. But, back then uncertainty happened over generations instead like the dramatic shift we are witnessing in the last two years. 

By the time we get past this pandemic (optimism) electric cars will be much more common, there will be less need to connect to a grid for electricity and telecommunications. Work and school from home coupled with delivery services means urbanization may peak and rural areas can gain back population. Fundamental aspects of everyday life are being redefined. 

When I get overwhelmed with trying to understand such change and how to manage it I remind myself of my simple rules and philosophy of frugality. (Dream. Invest. Live.)

Know and understand my values.

Spend less than I make. 

Invest the rest.

Live my own life.

Those may not be grand schemes involving higher math and intricate spreadsheets, but my values and the way I handle my are in my control. There are still assumptions inherent in this approach. Spend less than I make is a goal, but if income is basically zero, then it becomes dangerous to spend less than what is required for the essentials. Advice makes more sense ‘As Long As You Can Pay Your Bills’ (#ALAYCPYB), or the more personal version ‘As Long As I Can Pay My Bills’ (#ALAICPMB).

The pandemic continues. Vaccines are making progress. So is masking and social distancing. But enough forces are actively keeping the graph from leveling off. Every day is another day removed from the old normal. Every day is another day of millions of people trying to find a new way to live. I’m discouraged by the pandemic’s trend. I am encouraged by the survivors’ trend. I wonder what this new world will look like. It may be that we’ll have to wait for the historians to tell us the full tale, but in the meantime I’ll do what I can – and hopefully my own eventual resignation when I re-retire.

IHME – global
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A Home Loan To Retire Anxieties

A nice way to start the day, sending out a ‘thank you’ email, arranging to pay an overdue bill, contacting a doctor I actually enjoy visiting, and a hopefully scheduling a massage. Money makes things move. For several months I’ve done very little moving because there wasn’t much money to move, which meant I almost had to move myself. Now, thanks to a local bank, I have resources, cash, a loan. – And a better appreciation of the process and why it isn’t instantaneous.

That’s who the thank you went to, a loan officer. That may seem like an odd thing to celebrate, but I recognize some of what they have to do to make a loan work. Her efforts made a lot possible, possibly a lot more than she can realize.

My business is still busy, but it hasn’t been profitable. As I’ve written about before, when there are several offers for every house that’s for sale, then the seller and their broker may be happy, the successful buyer and their broker have reason to smile – but all of the other buyers and brokers must move on to the next listing or decide to do something else. It’s easy to imagine a crowd of disappointed buyers loading themselves into a bus to get delivered to the next possibility. Just prior to the pandemic I decided to concentrate on representing buyers. Bad timing, that was. (And, of course, the optimist in me knows it can all change with a phone call or email or chance encounter.) (Required Disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.)

Browse back through this blog and find when I started finding other sources of funds. Social Security came first. There was the interruption with the truck, the Jeep, and the good news that I had a great credit rating (which was a surprise considering almost losing my house about ten years ago.) For a while there I realized I might have to sell my house and move – somewhere. 

The news about the credit rating meant I had another possible option or two: refinancing the house, or getting a Home Equity Line Of Credit. A quick talk with a friendly and patient banker was encouraging. 

Refinancing – My mortgage was low to start with back in 2007, but the Great Recession and My Triple Whammy meant I almost lost my house, which led to a mortgage modification that dropped the rate (and extended the period) to historic lows. Now, the rates are even lower, which is why the refinance business and everyone in the process is busy, very busy. That’s certainly one way to get a lot of money out of the house, refinance for the max, take the money, and pay off bills and reinvest the rest maybe with some set aside for some fun. The mortgage payments reflect the new debt and terms. People can frequently lower their monthly expenses that way. Tempting.

Home Equity Line Of Credit – Sometimes I think refinancing is more popular than some of the other options simply because refinancing is one word instead of a phrase like Home Equity Line Of Credit – which also is called a HELOC, which sounds like someone in a superhero movie. (He-Man’s banker?) A HELOC utilizes the difference between the house’s mortgage and a conservative market value of the house. A refinance basically does that too, but as I understand HELOC, it doesn’t affect my existing mortgage, and it only calculates payments based on how much I borrow. Here’s the thing. I don’t have to borrow the maximum amount. If I get a HELOC for $100,000, but only use $1,000, I only pay interest on the $1,000. Then, if I want to borrow $10,000 later, I can get $10,000 from the HELOC, and the payments are adjusted on that, too. It is a nice way to create a buffer while giving me more control over how much debt I’ll deal with. 

Cool. Cool; especially because estimates of my house’s market value are much higher than they were three years ago.

OK. Sounds simple enough. Sign me up! A HELOC sounds like a good choice for me.

Here’s why it is not instantaneous.


Pick a lender. I made it easy on myself by choosing local, not a national. It’s more personal that way. Good luck to all who do a much more thorough search.

Collect the paperwork. Fortunately, the paperwork I collected for Social Security was also used for my Jeep loan and was also what the bank needed. Those folders have been sitting on the kitchen table or shoved into a briefcase for months. Someday they’ll be put back in storage. 

Deliver the paperwork to the bank after also signing some disclosure information, as I recall. 

Await the answer of Yes or No, which was quick. 

Yes! Well, yes; but provisionally. The bank verifies my information, so wait while they do that. 

OK, that’s done; but only provisionally. The bank needs to verify my house’s information. That wait is longer, and expensive. Because there are so many people refinancing, appraisers are busy and have raised their rates. I could either spend $850 for an appraisal within about three weeks, $950 for one within ten days, or over $1,000 which wasn’t competitive. 

Three weeks. Groan. I started this process because I needed the money. Social Security can help, but isn’t enough. A promising customer decided to buy somewhere else. I didn’t like having to do it, but I sold a sliver of MVIS from inside my IRA to fill that gap. In the last ten years I’ve done that so much that more than half my original position is gone. Sigh. Everyday, however, optimist me hoped the appraisal would come in early. 

Ha! They stuck to their schedule. Well, at least it wasn’t late. Also, at least the bank will have everything they need in enough time to release the funds before the end of the month. Maybe that stock money can go right back into the account and get turned back into shares. 

Nope. And watch the end of the month go whooshing by.

It takes a few days for the appraiser’s report, then there’s a required third party review period, then for my own additional protection I was given a few business days during which I could back out if necessary, but then finally I’ll have the money.

OK. Got through the protections layered on protections while I’m left vulnerable to the situation that prompted the actions. Finally, I can pay those bills.

Nope. Setting up a checking account was simple enough, and done earlier. We still had to wait for the County to record the loan. Then, it took some time for the bank’s system to set up the loan’s account. Then, it took a while for system to acknowledge my login, and my ability and authority to transfer the funds. 


From the outside and from the eventual future, the process is remarkably straightforward and quick. From the inside while worrying about the possibility of failure and dealing with the reality of a large late bill and a desire to pay off a car loan, every day was an exercise in waiting while doing nothing. It is easy to assume that the loan will be approved. As the homeowner, though, I had to consider the possibility that the loan would not be approved, in which case I would have to sell my house.

For the last month and a few weeks before that, I prepared myself and my house in case I had to move. The sale would probably go quickly. The record I’ve seen was a house listed and sold within about two weeks. That part didn’t worry me. I’m a real estate broker. I’ve seen how much and how little is required of sellers in a market with more buyers than sellers.

My biggest task was to begin clearing the property of a decade of postponed projects. Old repurposed lumber wasn’t going to find a new purpose. Off it goes to the dump. Old concrete, same thing, recycled. The same for metal fencing. A heat-scorched garden, sad to see it not succeed; but dismal dried flowers don’t add to curb appeal. Lots of trips to recycle and dump yards cleaned up the lot, and would make it easier for me to move if I sold.

As a real estate broker, I also can not advertise the sale of my house until it is listed. So, for over a month I was on edge about finances, keeping myself busy by doing house chores, and wondering every day about whether I’d have to move. Partway through I’d run out of chores, had to be careful with my money, and found myself in limbo while waiting for news to come. I also couldn’t tell all my friends about what was going on, which shrunk the opportunities for social distractions. 

In the midst of worry, a marvelous bit of generosity from long-time friends who actually knew what was going on, could guess the rest. They offered one of their well-equipped tiny houses as a retreat and refuge. Ah. A major anxiety managed.

Now that the money and the accounts and the uncertainties have been resolved, it is time to get busy, again. The adage of “It takes money to make money” comes to mind. Without money I spent a lot of time trying to not spend any money. Poverty means having insufficient funds. I can see the contrast between too little and hopefully enough. I’m glad this has worked out for me.

The processes involved in accessing funds sound supportive, but each avenue I’ve pursued has required significant effort, has impacted life in the process, and aren’t guaranteed. In the last three months I’ve listened to people who didn’t get their stimulus checks, to folks who haven’t been able to pay the rent, whose businesses are severely hindered, who’ve suffered from bureaucratic mistakes that suspended their benefits – and sometimes being threatened with fines as a result. 

I am fortunate enough to have kept this house on this island and to be made aware of the possibilities. I hope others can take advantage of their situations, as needed; but I wanted to also chronicle what it may require procedurally, logistically, financially, and emotionally. If it feels like it is tougher than it should be, you’re probably right, and you’re undoubtedly not alone; but good things can happen. I wish you good luck.

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