Not According To Plan

That didn’t go according to plan; but, it is 2022. What does? Serendipity helped.

About a week ago I finished my book about tea, Kettle Pot Cup (assuming the proof copy proves good enough, due in two weeks). It is a gift book and a fundraiser. Thirty real life tales and observations about tea. There’s enough out there describing Japanese and British tea ceremonies, but I thought someone should write about the realities of tea in America. We have our rituals, too; but they are in coffeeshops, commuting, in the office, or maybe just having something to drink. The book is only semi-serious, so as a gift book I decided to make it small, hardback, and glossy so it is easier to wrap and ship. While writing it I also learned that it should be a fundraiser because the people who pick the tea deserve better than what they’ve received.

That was planned, but with a slight acceleration in the schedule.

I was tired, partly because I am also getting ready to return to public speaking. In May I’ll start with a talk (or more) at my local library by giving my regular (interrupted) library presentation on Whidbey Island real estate and affordability trends. (May 17, Langley Library)

That wasn’t planned, but it was anticipated.

The talk points out that I’ve been busy with real estate throughout, including lots of classes (a requirement I planned to get out of the way before the tourists return). (Required disclosure: I’m a broker at Dalton Realty, Inc. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/).

I even received my newest design for a car magnet, one of those ovals that proudly proclaim where the driver considers home. I see lots of them around, but none of them applauded my favorite place to live, hence, PE as in Planet Earth. (With a side note that I’m willing to consider relocating.)

Throw in springtime yard work, and I was tired enough to sneakily take a morning off. That was the plan. That didn’t work.

After about an hour of practicing lounging (hey, I’m out of practice, and don’t want to lose the skill), I felt the need to get up. It wasn’t a call of Nature, but an intuitive bet that I could upload the photos from the essay into my online gallery. It is tedious because each photo has its own title and keywords/hashtags, but I felt somewhat compelled to take on the challenge. 

Just before lunch while uploading the last photo I got the word that the book was ready to be uploaded. That plan was slid earlier because I did something that looked good until an earlier proof proved that it did the exactly wrong thing. That’s happening now? OK. 

After lunch I drove to the expert’s shop (Joe Menth of Feather And Fox). That way I could ask him questions if I had any trouble uploading the interior or the exterior of the book. (Those two pieces are all there is, but there’s a lot of work to create them.)

Uploaded! And now waiting two weeks for the hardcover proof of three proof that it all worked well enough, at least. That’s the plan.

Langley is designated as a Creative District (the 4th in Washington State), so it wasn’t a surprise to meet Drew Kampion (writer, author, journalist, editor, surfer, and community activist). Always a good conversation, which this time resulted in me being encouraged to submit my recent blog post about the Ukraine Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, circa 1997 to The New Yorker. Heady, but intuition, a minor compulsion, some auspicious timing, and a chance encounter led to an unexpected opportunity. 

Head home and hit submit.

Then try to unwind and untangle such a disparate set of topics to see if I missed anything. Yes. I had one idea planned for this blog, forgot to write it down, and decided I evidently forgot that so I could write this.

It was a good thing that I got an updated set of business cards because it looks like I might need them.

Oh yeah, and I received a useful improvement to my Tidal Power invention, another totally unplanned event.

It really is empowering to plan with the expectation that the plan can be executed. As has been said so many ways, ‘Gods laugh at people who plan.”

Most of those items had plans. They were staggered to keep from bunching up and overworking me. Plans = laughs. Maybe it was because it is spring that so many things decided to layer themselves into this time. Or, random happens.

Authors and creatives know that, while it makes sense to celebrate the completion of piece of art or an invention or even just a job, the work truly begins as the tasks shift to marketing and sales. I know of some great books that are published, but that the author doesn’t feel comfortable mentioning. Our loss.

My life is about to get busy with marketing, selling, promoting, presenting, and following through with contacts. I realized that which is why I planned to accommodate completing my sci-fi novel (due this autumn), and developing my board game about Whidbey (in review with a potential collaborative organization), because real estate is getting busy, again. Don’t be surprised by real estate can eat entire schedules regardless of plans.

No plan survives reality. Duh.

The world does not have a discernible plan. People, organizations, and businesses plan but also must recognize the hints and encouragements when they reveal themselves. Serendipity isn’t a plan nor does it come with guarantees; but as I described a few posts ago, serendipity, persistence, patience, and a sense of play can pay. At least, that’s my plan.

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Wars Words Worlds Changing

War exposess realities; not all of them, but war is actions over words. Soft words can’t hide a fist. A person talking about peace has no credibility when they’re shooting at the same time. It took me a while to realize that was why I am drawn to military news and history; actions do speak louder than words. This war in Ukraine has demonstrated that, but it has also demonstrated the power of words that are followed by non-physical action. I think we’re seeing a new awareness of the realities of power, and I suspect that will extend beyond Ukraine’s borders and beyond the battlegrounds.

Karate has taught me much. While many are distracted by the aggression, I also saw the reality of traditional karate that was taught as defense, not offense. 1) Most fights don’t have to be fought. 2) Anyone who starts a fight must first expose a vulnerability, and must at least temporarily lose their balance. 

The Ukrainians seem to understand that. Block and counter. Defend against the assault, then take advantage of that moment of vulnerability and a loss of balance. 

Just like this war, this set of thoughts is in progress, not resolved.

The Ukrainians are impressing people with their ability to respond. They didn’t try to match power with power. I am sure they would’ve liked to keep the Russians out, but once the Russian tanks were in, the Ukrainians had success because they used weapons that fought weapons. They used missiles that cost tens of thousands to beat tanks that cost millions. Their army may be one-tenth the size, but they were also spending far less and risking far fewer of their soldiers. They are being hurt, but the Russian attacks are providing opportunities for the Russians to be hurt worse.

Stay with me and I’ll get past the armament stuff, but I want to emphasize what is happening in the drone world, too.

Russia has a bigger, badder air force. But, again, the Ukrainians are doing much with much cheaper drones. If Russia loses a fighter, they’ve lost millions of dollars and a skilled pilot. If Ukraine loses a drone, they’ve lost far less. And the drones have been successful because the Russian motorized forces must expose themselves even just to maneuver to attack.

Alone, however, drones and missiles are probably not enough.

There’s a power shift in progress. It looks like someone has finally understood how to properly apply sanctions. They’re going after the oligarchs. The oligarchs don’t command the military. They don’t run the government. They operate for their mutual, and sometimes conflicting, self-interests. They prop up their privileges, and prop up the government because it enables their privileges. While the sanctions may look mis-directed, it is possible that they can undermine the attacks because the sanctions undermine their privileges. For a good description of how autocrats must rely on oligarchs I recommend watching CGP Grey’s video “The Rules for Rulers“; which makes the case that even autocrats can’t rule without some support.

This is also why I am watching the seizure of luxuries like yachts because they are removing tangible privileges.

See, I told you I’d get past the armaments.

And then there’s social media; the power of words, even if they are just memes or tweets.

Prior to the invasion Putin was seen as powerful. Zelensky was known, but not as well. After the invasion Putin was exposed as out-of-touch, possibly delusional, and untrustworthy. Rather than meet Putin on Putin’s grounds, Zelensky operated on social media. Short, terse, pointed posts and tweets and videos helped rally support that was more than Shares and Likes. Ukraine found itself with volunteers from every aspect of the conflict – except those aspects that were too close to World War III. I appreciate that restraint. 

The tanks, the air force, the sanctions, and the Ukrainians knew, or learned very quickly, that trying to match the Russians directly was a way to lose. They may not win, but they knew to fight this year’s battle with this year’s weapons and attitudes. They aren’t fighting a Cold War that got hot. They aren’t trapped by anachronisms and archaic thinking.

Just like in karate, that first punch might get through or be at least somewhat blocked, but the response is what matters. Use your opponent’s energy against them, and they can defeat themself.

That’s Ukraine. I believe it has revealed something more global.

We now know that a big army does not equate to victory. Smaller can win, or at least stop the fight.

Oligarchs don’t have many fans. When their power structure is threatened, there are millions of allies cheering on the assault. Swap the word oligarch with its Russian connotations for mega-rich and its Western equivalents. Will there be similar support in enough countries when their privileges are assaulted? The Panama Papers already documented a significant level of tax havens, concealed ownerships, and money flows that operate in a different realm outside government control and taxation. Does Bezos think nothing of the comments about his celebration of flying to space? I’m glad we have billionaires funding space travel, commercialization, and colonization; but that feeling doesn’t extend to them flaunting it. Will the exposure of Russian oligarchs create a trend to upsetting other oligarchs? Corporate monopolies?

It is easy to make fun of social media, just a few words, maybe a photo or a video, nothing much. But. “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” That is more memorable than the speeches from the world leaders maneuvering their way around this war. Zelensky is living and acting in the modern world. How many institutions are going to be upset as others learn the power of communicating that way? I struggle with it even as I am aware of writing hundreds of words that some poet could condense into 17 syllables, a tweet, a TikTok expressionistic dance.

The war has highlighted decades-old rhetoric that wasn’t backed up with actions, and which words spoken in new ways can create an alliance around the world. War, climate change, economics, social justice may all find themselves using this conflict as a model for change. This may not be the new normal, but we may be witnessing the old normal passing.

So, I’ll keep watching new ideas rather than old ones. Many somethings or someones that are considered to be too-big-to-fail might prove readily capable of reaching too far, and exposing privileged positions to have less of a foundation that they claimed. 

Interesting times. Thoughtful times. New times.

(For more of my experience in Ukraine read, Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, circa 1997.)

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Unwrapping Tea

“In daily life, tea is less pretentious. Tea is practical, pragmatic, and frugal.” And opening a shipment of tea is fun if you order more than one kind at a time. And I did. And I’m glad. And it is a good thing I did because I almost had to – gasp – use a tea bag. And a reminder about frugality.

Seriously. I let my tea supply run so low because I thought I’d drive over to Sequim where I could visit my friends and their tea shop (Dandelion Botanical). OK. It’s an herbal apothecary, but they have tea! But, life got in the way so I had to order online. Alas.

Alas, but when the package arrived I got to unwrap a dozen presents that will I will get to play with and enjoy daily for months. (Mostly, but I’ll get to that.) Christmas presents rarely are that appreciated for that long.

This was not like shopping on Amazon. The box fit. It wasn’t packed so tightly that it would burst, and it wasn’t like a tea bag bumping around in a milk carton. 

Pardon me for losing count, but I’d ordered so many different teas, herbs, and spices that I can’t remember all of them. You see, they do more than sell tea. Remember that ‘herbal apothecary” label? I ordered three teas that were just that, teas, two black teas and a pu-erh. Two massive pouches of mint, massive because mint is light enough to be a mini-pillow, and mint because it can be used in tea, more correctly an infusion, and other concoctions. Some minty vodka may be in my future. Two more spices for herbal tea, though I guess it should be spiced something. One of them sounds like the name of a Bond Girl (throwback alert), Honeybush. And then there were things for cooking: ginger, white peppercorns, cumin, and tarragon. 

I said mostly because, being human, I ordered the wrong ginger (easily fixed with a grinder), and got distracted enough to forget to re-order turmeric. Aargh! I might just have to put in another order.

Next came the part that is unlike Christmas, the repackaging.

Everything arrived in zipped baggies, which is fine for transport, and is actually fine for storage in my case because I am not that picky; but glass jars are better for storage and for reaching in when I want to use some herb. But really, I do it because glass jars aren’t floppy. An herb drawer of baggies isn’t very organized, and looks like something hiding drugs. By the time I was done I was almost out of jars. Time for more canning jars, and I don’t do any canning.

Then comes the experiments that start now and take months. The blending begins. Some will methodically sift and sort and mix and combine. I dump a bunch of this, an equal amount of that, a little less of these two, and maybe some of another. Make a pot of tea. Drink it up. Adjust. None of this sipping to savor and fine tune the flavor. Drink a pot throughout the day. Maybe it is better in the morning, or after it has mellowed through the day. Drink. Adjust. It is hard to go very wrong, and if it does taste bad the total cost is less than a dollar.

Appreciating wine requires refinement and drinking responsibly – and money. The same is true of beer. Doing the same with liquor is self-limiting. Are there taste testings of chocolates and doughnuts? Cigars get the squinty eye treatment. There are probably experts on things like popcorn. Fine.

For those who missed it, almost every year I watch dozens of Super Bowl ads to see what companies are trying to get people to buy. Cars deliver exhilaration, but in reality drivers must stay within the legal limits. Perfume and cologne ads entice with fantasies that involve unrealistic dress codes, bodies, and attitudes. Junk food ads are for cheap food, but not when you consider how much exercise time is required to work off that sugar..

Real teas like Assam and Keemun aren’t brands. They’re regions, places, dead leaves treated well enough to store flavors that only require hot water to unpack in a cup or mug.

Does that sound like hype? Yes, but no. Tea is dead leaves in hot water. After a few minutes it becomes a drink that doesn’t come in a wrapper with a cute saying attached. I suspect the majority of tea is consumed without the flavor being noticed. It is a cup of tea sitting beside someone who is working or having a meal. Work and the meal is more important.

But consider how many other things we’re sold that are expensive and readily forgotten. How many trips to the store are for retail therapy, which makes spending money the goal regardless of what is bought? 

Frugality can be the simple yet difficult act of appreciating something for what it is, appreciating resources for what they can really deliver. I’m sure most people don’t have my reaction to a shipment of dead plants parts. That’s fine. But for the next few months I get to enjoy something a little different that doesn’t cost much, that is a unique experience.

PS

I gotta get me some more turmeric, though. Oh, maybe I can order up the powdered ginger, and take another look at my spice collection. And then there are the flavored teas, but that will be a different story about a different friend who also sells teas. So much to look forward to. Lets see, that web site is https://dandelionbotanical.com/. Surprisingly, I don’t have it bookmarked.

PPS

My book about tea is coming along. Stay tuned. I hope to finish it this year. Follow #TomTea on Twitter for random tea-related comments.

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Not Doing Nothing

Do. Do. Do. Do. Do. Do. Do. Not. Oops. Doing, again. Sigh. In today’s work world it can be hard to stop the do do. Something must be done about that.

I’ve been doing a lot lately. ‘Lately’ refers to the last twelve years. Things are better than they were about eight years ago when I was working seven days a week, usually at least ten hours a day, with about one day off every four months. Yep. That happened. (My Rule Of 7) Lately I’ve only been working about six days a week and with more reasonable hours, yet I need a break. 

I remember talking to a shop owner about taking time off. We laughed. I recalled working a 40 hour work week with two days off every week, three weeks off a year – and getting paid to do nothing. She thought it was a joke, and quickly realized that it shouldn’t be. Despite her efforts, her business closed within a couple of years. It would be nice to know that lots of work led to more than enough compensation, but there are no guarantees.

The good news is that I am old enough to recognize when it is time for me to take some time off. Well, almost. I usually recognize that I need time off about a week after I should take a vacation. But hey, at least I finally notice. That’s an achievement.

Last week I noticed the signs: tight muscles, eye strain, muscles that want to move but must sit in one place for just another hour or three as the fingers work on the keyboard. OK. OK. I’ll take some time off.

Ah, but some things have to be done as soon as they are ready. Want to buy a house? That’s a limited time offer in this market. (required disclosure: I’m a broker at Dalton Realty, Inc. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/). I have four publications in work, and each has its own timing. The lawn must be mowed in the dry windows between storms. My photo essays require photos from every month, no excuses for bad weather or lighting. 

No. No! NO! I’m going to take some time off. Ah, but there’s a company meeting and then there’s a class, and – doing becomes such a habit that not doing becomes something that requires practice.

Most people I know are energetic people. Even the people who are sitting on the couch watching shows are usually also doing art work or exercising at the same time. Freshly retired people find enough deferred tasks to tackle to fill about a year, but eventually there can be a sheepish moment when they realize they can take some time off without abandoning a project. (Pets and gardens can be temporarily tended by others. Really.)

The idea of doing nothing can almost feel like a threat.

I keep hearing news items about lazy people, but I don’t know any.

Here’s my solution. You’re reading it. When I finally realize that taking time off is no longer optional, I cheat. If I am taking more than a day off I spend the first day tending my guilt and my work anxiety. I take one small aspect of each job, touch on it enough to accomplish something, and move on. No expectations. No grand effort. Just do enough to keep the dust from settling. And move on to the next until that transition has transited.

A friend had a heart attack. Did that catch your attention? It caught mine. 

It is hard to find the balance between doing and not doing when the doing hasn’t produced enough to fund the not doing. The pandemic made that even harder. The entrepreneurial life has always been known for its lack of guarantees of getting paid for the work that is done. A two year hiatus hasn’t helped. I suspect I am not alone in having spent the last two years working, and having the energy needed just as life is trying to come back to normal. 

Is this the time to take time off, or is it the time to push just a bit more for a bit longer?

There is no one answer. 

Partly inspired by my friend’s situation, I’m taking some time off, just a day or so because there’s a major work item due next week, but I and others are hoping for work finally working, doing leading to being able to do nothing, at least for a while without guilt and maybe even with some ease.

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Catching Falling Knives

Apologies to anyone who expected to read about an attempt at juggling. This is duller than that, but can be more important. “Catching a falling knife” is one way to describe buying a stock that’s share price has been falling. Congratulations, you caught it! Ouch. It is safer to pick up a kitchen knife after it has hit the kitchen floor. Trying to catch it too soon can be too painful. Doing the same thing with stocks is more difficult because there’s no real floor (stocks rarely reach $0.00), but fortunately there’s no blood lost, only money. Catching a falling knife, or not, is one of those investment decisions with no clear answer. Here’s how I almost bought a stock this week but didn’t because I’m trying to decide where the floor is.

Thanks to some conservative money management, I have enough discretionary cash to round out one of my portfolio’s positions (buying enough shares to bring the total to a number that’s easier to remember and manage.) My next target was and is Solar Windows (WNDW), a company that makes transparent solar panels. Transparent panels mean solar panels aren’t limited to rooftops, acreage, or special structures. Transparent solar panels may be handy and appealing for residences, but they are even more effective on buildings with more glass like office buildings and greenhouses.

Let me check the price of oil as I type. (NASDAQ – Crude Oil (CL:NMX) = $102.98)

NASDAQ.com

Every rise in the price of fossil fuels tips the balance towards renewable energies. About the time I bought my first shares of WNDW the price of oil had risen from ~$60 to ~$80. At the beginning of March oil was priced at over $120. The price has come down, though not in direct correlation with pump prices, but it reflects the volatility and vulnerability of commodity pricing. Solar power isn’t as sensitive. Enabling technologies should be in demand.

This week WNDW closed at $2.84, down from the $4.96 I paid in November, down from the 25-week high of $16.55. Eep.

Google.com – finance

A pessimist can look at a fall from $16 to $3 and say it is going to continue to fall.

An optimist can look at a fall from $16 to $3 and say it is bound to go back up.

They are both guessing. They may be making intelligent guesses, but they are guessing. So am I.

I was prepared to buy a few hundred shares, thought about falling knives, and decided to wait.

While this is happening, I’ve been watching another stock fall and then rebound, MVIS. (Yes, that one again.) Within the last twelve months it has fallen from $28 to a low of $2.61 about two months ago. I thought about buying then, but didn’t buy. 1) I already have a large enough number of shares that I could re-retire if it rose enough past that $28 point. 2) I didn’t know how far the knife could fall. 3) A more prudent approach might be to have a more balanced and diversified portfolio. All logical reasons. MVIS has risen to $4.60, a 76% gain in two months. Logically, any investment that beats the market is a good investment; so, by that measure I made a mistake.

I also put MVIS in a broader perspective. Two years ago MVIS was priced at under $0.20. Throughout that time there has been no positive, significant, quantifiable progress that correlates with a price going from $0.15 to over $28 to $2.61 to $4.60. That’s the market. There are rationalizations for the moves, but nothing objectively demonstrable.

Google.com – finance

Within the last two years WNDW has risen from ~$1.40 to a peak of over $34 to its bumpy falling knife trend to today’s $2.84. Pardon the copy and paste but… Throughout that time there has been no positive, significant, quantifiable progress that correlates with those prices… That’s the market. There are rationalizations for the moves, but nothing objectively demonstrable.

Stocks are bouncy. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be realistic investments, at least in our economic system. Buying into an irrationally optimistic rise is more dangerous than buying into an irrationally pessimistic fall. Booms and busts are common. Booms and busts are only identifiable in retrospect. For purely mechanical reasons I failed to buy Bitcoin at ~$220, and that was after a rise from ~$20. It is now over $41,600. Buy my book (Dream. Invest. Live., the basis for this blog) for details on a few purchases that went bankrupt, where ever-more-affordable prices were a knife I kept catching, unfortunately.

The biggest losses I’ve made were by not buying more, not by selling too late. I’ve lost tens of thousands by selling one stock too late (DNDN, et al), but I’ve missed out on millions (SBUX, et al) by not buying more of another stock. Neither was obvious at the time.

Writing about most topics benefits from strong, simple, declarative statements. They make the writer sound confident and assured, and can provide the reader with the same feeling, at least vicariously. The truth is messier. Falling knives are messy and risky.

I don’t expect WNDW to fall like a knife, hit the floor, and let me casually pick it up. Especially with stocks based on speculations about future revenues the valuations can vary widely, quickly, and dramatically. Neither WNDW nor MVIS have proven earnings that meet or exceed their company’s potential, in my opinion. A projector in every phone and home? Solar windows dramatically reducing fossil fuel dependence while improving utility costs, sustainability and reliability? Sure. Both are possible. Whether they are probable will only be tested in the real world and in time.

I will probably buy more WNDW next week. While it might be more prudent to wait until the knife is done falling, I also don’t want to miss a bounce that is actually a return to earlier valuations. In those two years companies, technologies, and global circumstances have shifted in favor of both companies. Whether I catch a stock at $2.60 or $4.60 doesn’t matter much if it subsequently is worth $28 or $34 or more. I miss the optimization, but a ten-fold increase is called profit. The rest is details, bragging rights at parties.

Listen to the caveats included with ads from financial firms describing investments. Investing includes risk of loss. Investing also includes the possibility of gains. If those gains are in companies that improve the world, and those stocks are most affordable before they’ve proven themselves, then those are opportunities that let my money help me live a lifestyle in a world with a surplus of uncertainties.

Stay tuned, and be careful out there. I know I will be.

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Taxes Stocks Electric Cars

OK. There’s so much going on that it has been hard to know where to start. So, pardon me as I literally roll up my sleeves. I didn’t need to roll them up, but that act let me think a little more before the typing begins. The world has gone weird. Today has also been weird for my personal finances, not all good or bad, but weird. Weird taxes. Weird stocks. Weird technology. And like most people, the weird world is affecting personal finances. Have you seen the hurt people are feeling to fill their tank? That gets touched, too.

Today I got the yearly call from a professional that has to start with paragraphs of caveats, clarifications, and questions. The suspense isn’t calming, but my tax accountant called to make sure she got the numbers and forms right. She couldn’t tell me the final number until she understood all of the details of my 2021 finances. In the end, she gave me good and weird news.

You can feel sorry for her. When I was retired my taxes were simple. One or two stock trades a year, nothing fancy, and I could fill out my taxes myself. After a while I started selling photos and books, so I stepped up to TurboTax, just to make sure. After I became a real estate broker (required disclosure: I’m a broker at Dalton Realty, Inc. http://whidbeyrealtor.com/ ) my list of jobs, or as friends call it my “lines in the water” (Real Estate Broker, Consultant, Writer, Speaker, Teacher, Photographer, Engineer, Entrepreneur, etc.) got long enough that I gave up and called in a professional. Oh yeah, and there was a modified pension, early withdrawals from my IRA, Social Security, and an emergency Home Equity Line Of Credit (HELOC). Oh yeah, and the regular stuff like health insurance, subsidies. It’s a ridiculous list. It was even more ridiculous because of the pandemic with its impact on my business slightly balanced with some stimulus checks, and aargh! 

My taxes are no longer simple, which is ironic because almost all of the work is proving that I didn’t make much money in any of the categories. I think there’s bait on those lines in the water; but sometimes think there’s no bait on the hooks, or maybe not even any hooks. 

When I lived off stock trades my tax rate was almost zero because I could balance gains against losses, and spent so little because I was frugal by choice before I was frugal by necessity. 

When I was re-retired my income rose to where it was almost paying all of my bills for that frugal lifestyle, and I was startled to see my entrepreneurial efforts kicked up my income tax. It wasn’t because I had too much income. My taxes were higher because I had to pay a self-employment tax. Working hard to make my way was making my taxes higher and more complex. 

Skip ahead to 2021 with a mess of accounts and unexpected changes, and she calculated that I will be getting back a few thousand dollars. Huh? Wha? Evidently, various subsidies and personally conservative accounting practices meant that, even with essentially only paying state business taxes I will be getting back a bunch of money. Put that checkbook back into my pocket – after paying her a well-deserved fee. If I’d filled out my taxes and got a result like that I would’ve guessed I did something wrong.

Federal taxes may follow some version of cause and effect, but they do not correlate with work harder, pay your dues, and know that the more you make the more you pay. I’m not complaining, but if I shake my head too much I might have to pay for a massage treatment because of a sore neck. Of course, I will be able to afford that.

I’ll get back to that story, but first I have to tell you this one, too.

I buy stocks. For most of my readers that is not news, but there are always new readers. This blog is old enough to drive and vote, and is based on my book, Dream. Invest. Live. The fundamentals of my approach to frugal finance are in there. This blog is about the more daily details. 

Driving is part of being a real estate broker. The price of gas is hard to ignore. The war (or whatever Orwellian propaganda phrase is being used) drove up the price of gas. Bummer (major understatement all around) but supply and demand and sentiment drive prices in familiar, though unpredictable ways. Ah, but those clever (and rich enough) folks who could afford an electric vehicle aren’t directly affected. Hence, one of my investments. 

Recently I bought stock in an electric vehicle manufacturer, Elecrameccanica ($SOLO). It was only a small position. Start small. Learn more. Buy more if feasible. Monday I decided to squeeze a bit more out of my IRA and add to that position. Log in. Check the price. Check the cash balance. And watch the OCD part of me decide to wait until Tuesday because I was $11 shy of being able to buy just enough to make my holding a nice round number of shares. Tuesday the stock goes up, again. Grump. Tuesday night I decide to loosen up and buy the shares from money held in reserve for things like taxes. I probably had enough for taxes, but if not, there’s my Home Equity Line Of Credit. Wednesday morning buy the stock – which promptly goes down.

Just to keep the weirdness going, the electric vehicle (called the SOLO), is an enclosed three-wheeled – vehicle? that sits in that style desert between motorcycles and sedans. I think it is innovative and interesting. Others may think it is too weird. But, with gas prices setting records, weird might be just right; especially because the price is about half that of most cheap new cars. A new SOLO is cheaper than my used 2016 Jeep. I think they’d make an interesting pair but: 1) I don’t need a Jeep and a SOLO, 2) I need the Jeep for several reasons, but only want the SOLO, 3) whatever emissions I could save by buying an electric vehicle is probably offset by the extra materials needed to make another vehicle. Besides, my higher priority is replacing my old two-wheeled human-powered vehicle with a newer two-wheeled human-powered vehicle, and No, I am Not replacing the human. 

So, I buy the stock; and watch the price come down. Grumble. Despite that I want to rebuild my portfolio, and instead of having to go into debt to pay a few thousand dollars in taxes, I will be getting a refund that will let me pay off some debts, reinvest the money, and maybe get that bicycle. (Don’t worry. I’m frugal enough that I’ll probably wait for a sale, and sales for items in short supply like bicycles won’t be common in this economy.)

Almost everyone is watching history, while millions are too intimately experiencing its reality. The pandemic inspired changes. Give people two years of chaos to consider their options and we create the #GreatResignation, et al. Now, as if the world wasn’t weird enough, a war that is ridiculous even for a war has possibly done more to undermine oligarchs, tax havens, and anachronistic institutions. A year from now will probably be how long it takes for us to recognize hints of the New Normal. I don’t know if it will be a world of three-wheeled electric vehicles, or projectors embedded in smartphones, or major financial and investment reforms; but I suspect that yet again I’ll box up a private world of weirdness and deliver it to a professional who actually thrives in the world of taxes; and I’ll wait for that suspenseful call with checkbook in hand, just in case.

What a weird world it is. Congratulations to all who manage to maneuver their way through it.

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Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, circa 1997

The Berlin Wall had fallen. The USSR had broken up. I was a Boeing engineer at a ICBM assembly plant in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine. The people I was working with had just been through an upheaval after an upheaval. For decades it had been a closed city, a place considered so vital to the USSR that it didn’t get many non-Communist visitors. (understatement) Boeing sent a team of engineers to work on a commercial space project that would launch US satellites from rockets that were Russian second stages on top of Ukrainian first stages. The work was fascinating, but the people made a bigger impression on me. The city is now called Dnipro, which must be much easier to say; but from what I can see on the news, the people haven’t changed much.

Feel sorry for the passport control officer as I passed through the airport in Wien (Vienna). He asked my destination several times. Evidently I couldn’t properly pronounce Dnipropetrovsk, or he’d never heard of it (closed city, remember), or he was having fun watching an American squirm – in which case, don’t feel sorry for him.

It was a working city. It wasn’t there for tourism. I saw little that was fancy. Function over form. We stayed in a nice guest house because there were no hotels available, at least for us. It was days of cold showers because no one told me that the building didn’t turn on the hot water until later in the morning. Early to rise meant a real wake up. 

It was a pragmatic place. In some ways it reminded me growing up near industrial sections of Pittsburgh from the 70s. That shouldn’t be a surprise because at that time much of Pittsburgh was populated with immigrants from Eastern Europe. 

My Mom’s family was from Poland, though they also pointed out that their region had been invaded so many times that countries like Germany considered it theirs. Evidently there was more pride in being Polish than in being one of the frequent and temporary invaders. 

My fellow co-workers had to adjust to some of the food, decor, and manners; but they reminded me of my Mom’s Mom. My babushka. Be polite. Be productive. Be sociable. I could hear her voice in our Ukrainian hosts, and could understand as little as I did with her. She was sweet, but I mostly remember her saying “Oh, go on.” which years later I realized could have been her way to fill in a conversation if she couldn’t understand what was being said. (My older brothers should have clearer memories than my young years provided.) The food was breaded veal with lots of potatoes, leafy greens, and cucumbers, as I recall. Not five-star, but marvelous comfort food – for me.

The meetings were held in a manager’s office that was still adorned with a map of the world centered on the North Pole. It wasn’t a Christmas thing. It was the most likely route for ICBMs that would launch between the USSR and the USA. They still hadn’t taken it down. We were inside barbed wire, saw someone dragged into a guard shed, and had no doubt that they were in control of us. I just assumed the meeting rooms were bugged, and probably outside the rooms, too.

The biggest impression though came from our few trips outside the meetings. 

The economy was trying to recover. A walk along the sidewalk was a walk along a long line of people selling food. Don’t think in terms of a farmer’s market. It was a block-long line of women, each with one cardboard box which served as a sales table for some variation on: one fish, a few root vegetables, and maybe some bread. Infrastructure was bad enough that some engineers had to leave to respond to an apartment building collapsing. They even had to turn off the gas to the eternal flame that honored the five million Ukrainians who died in World War II. 

From what I’ve seen on the news, things got much better.

We were there with western expectations, laptops powerful enough to eclipse – well – I saw more Ukrainian slide rules that computers. And yet, I was more impressed with their engineers. We trusted our computers. They trusted themselves. They had to know, to truly understand the math, the equations, the approaches that would provide answers almost as fast as we could, or at least as quickly as I could. We’d let the computers crank through enormous quantities of permutations. They’d use experience to concentrate on a much smaller set because they knew which could be avoided. They were good.

They didn’t moan. They knew they were going through changes, so they changed. They caught onto capitalism so quickly that I was sure they’d outmaneuver and outnegotiate the Boeing managers. 

The people selling a fish, a potato, and a roll were pleasant. They weren’t scrambling after us begging. 

They wished they could keep the eternal flame lit, but they didn’t plead for help. 

They drank. They smoked. The food was heavy. The life expectancy was in the mid-50s. Two of us probably provided a scandal, or at least entertainment, when we went for a jog around town. The truck of soldiers didn’t seem pleased with us as they passed, but they didn’t stop, either.

Watching the news I felt echoes of an attitude I wasn’t sure of at the time. They had struggles, but they’d deal with them. They or their ancestors had lived through invasions and wars. There was almost a philosophy of deal with the current crisis, know that it’s temporary, and know that they’d eventually get back to what they’d been doing before. The media seemed confused that the Ukrainians weren’t more incensed about Russian positioning troops for an invasion. I had the impression was that, rather than not caring, they were acknowledging the situation but not wasting a lot of energy at the time. That time would come later.

And that time arrived. Molotov cocktails make the news because they make good videos. But, I prefer the two videos where farmers found deserted tanks, and towed them back to their farms. The grandmother who gave sunflower seeds to a soldier to put in his pocket because they’ll look pretty when they sprout and grow from his decaying corpse after fellow Ukrainians buried him in a field. And then there’s “I need ammunition, not a ride.” 

These are the descendants of people who fought Hitler. Every country wants the Ukrainian crops and fuel resources. Left alone, they could do pretty well. They’re not being left alone, for now, but maybe enough of them are taking the present seriously, as well as already looking past this unsustainable situation. 

Here’s one lesson I learned from karate. The person who starts a fight has already lost. Even if they win today, they’ve usually made enemies that become more obvious tomorrow. Prepare for the fight, but concentrate on defense, and think ahead to what tomorrow will bring. 

Thinking ahead to what tomorrow will bring sounds like a cliche; but in the modern world it is a necessity. Someone who starts a fight today has to answer to the law tomorrow, and that gets worse if they win the first fight. Self-defense is preferred over unprovoked aggression.

Whenever the US economy is having trouble I reflect on the Ukrainians I met. Their currency was in terrible shape. One of the city’s main industry was switching from massive military budgets to a startup commercial venture. Some of them hadn’t been paid in months, but were working now to benefit later. Supplies were tight. They tackled each situation with more emphasis on getting the work done rather than getting more sympathy. I gripe in situations that they probably make them shrug, get to work, have some good food and drink, and drink, and get back to work. 

one of their gifts to us, a drink in honor of Taras Bulba, a unique folk hero

As for the Russians I met, they were equally impressive, but theirs is a separate story.

One thing the Ukrainians emphasized was that they were Ukrainian. They had their own language, culture, history, and pride. Nothing they’d experienced managed to take that away from them.

I wonder what’s next for them.

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Encouragements

Could it be over? Could we finally be getting out of the pandemic (even though it has become endemic?) Whether we are or aren’t, we’ve spent two years adapting as necessary. I don’t think the New Normal will become fully apparent for several years, but am looking forward to things that have undoubtedly been in development in the meantime. There will be grandiose productions, but I’m more interested in the people who had an idea, played with it, and finally had the time to devote to it. The fun stories are easier to find. The profitable stories will eventually prove themselves in the marketplace (and possibly in my portfolio). The personal stories, well, I know so many creative and productive people that I am hoping at least some of them finally get fully compensated (or more) for all their efforts. This post will be about the fun ones. 

The fun ones. I won’t apologize for the definition of fun I’ll use for these examples: educational YouTube videos. Surprised? (I’d provide my list, but I can’t find a way to copy it. Send me an email or leave a comment about a specific topic and I’ll see if I have a lead for you.) I have been fascinated, or at least intrigued, to watch people who had a simple idea, pursued it for the fun of it, and watched it grow beyond their expectations. It is particularly fun to see someone as they become popular – even if they don’t know why. 

For me, the classic story is that of Nick Zentner. He describes himself as; “I teach geology at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, USA.” Oh come on, for frigging sake! (#SorryPatrick – inside joke) “teach geology”? He’s a professor with decades of experience! Sheesh. But that honestly understated approach to Pacific Northwest geology meant there was no dogmatic or pedantic lecturing about rocks. He’d talk about what he knew, and if he didn’t know it, he’d show how he learned about it. His style is what I’ve called on Twitter, “The Mister Rogers of Geology”. 

They’re already making documentaries about what he has accomplished, but those are from the perspective explaining his success. I’ve been watching his videos for over six years. I stumbled across his early videos where he described the geology along I-90 in Washington, and his Two-minute geology series that seemed to be aimed at a younger audience, but done so in a way that appealed to this old guy. When I started watching him I was surprised that he was only getting a few hundred views for excellent videos. 

Then, the pandemic hit, he appeared to feel cooped up (duh), and he started making a video a day, almost every day. Do Not Hit View All unless you have nothing else to do this year. His daily videos were frequently an hour long, and there are hundreds of them. Along the way his audience grew. The number of people watching him live exceeded the viewership of his earlier work, and grew ten-fold as people watched them later – and then watched the old ones, too. Some of those earlier videos have millions of views, now. 

He did it for the fun of it. (Yes, science can be fun.) He did it for the fun of it to the point that he had to release a video telling folks that there was no ulterior motive. And they don’t believe him. 

Years of videos for the fun of it, then more intense sessions as a way to cope, and now, wow. 

I’m cheering his success, but to make this point. He is not alone. He had a simple idea, played with it, didn’t worry about success, and succeeded in ways that confuse others. I’m pretty sure there was no business plan, marketing strategy, or ultimate goal. Just a good idea competently produced and presented and provided for free. 

There’s a commentary for you, good stuff for free is hard for many people to believe. I’m not in his league, but recently someone pointed out that a lot of the unofficial volunteer work that I do is hard for some to believe and an opportunity to be taken advantage of by others. So what? If it needs to be done, or is fun, or is both, then great! My life has enough constrained and planned projects. Outlets are necessary. 

I won’t bore you with my Subscription list from YouTube. There are over five dozen channels I track, and the most engaging ones are about math, science, and history. But, here are few.

Hank and John Green (vlogbrothers, but more importantly for this, SciShow, CrashCourse, and several more channels)

Hank and John are brothers who started sending each other video letters via YouTube when YouTube was new. They’re both educated, work hard, and have fun exchanging ideas. The videos were public, because, why not; and spawned more channels than I can keep track of. They’ve both become authors, run seminars – and attracted the attention of people like the Gates, personal attention, like come fly with Bill to go find a fix for something. All they started with was a couple of brothers kidding around online.

Brady Haran (Numberphile, Periodic Videos, and more)

Brady was a videographer, as I understand it, who kept making videos until he found his niche. He did not find his niche and then start making videos. His leap to popularity happened when he decided to interview a chemistry professor from the University of Nottingham. Professors can enjoy their work, and it showed. The Albert Einstein hair and unassuming approach helped too. Success on one channel made the other disciplines jealous, and more channels followed – and then other professors from around the world get involved. It grew beyond any expectations, a central theme, here. By the way, the chemistry professor was subsequently knighted.

(Also helped launch, Dr. Becky, astrophysics; and is an excellent way to find mathematicians like Matt Parker’s Stand-up Maths comedy routines – note the plural of math.)

Scott Manley (Scott Manley)

From his About section; 

“Scott Manley is someone who fell into youtube because he felt a deep compelling need to teach people orbital mechanics and rocket science so they could play Kerbal Space Program…” Whenever I think about starting a YouTube channel about aerospace I think about Scott who does not have a degree in engineering, but has learned so much along the way that I wait for his perspective on news, and appreciate his analyses. I won’t even try to compete. And this isn’t his day job. He travels around the world for stories, but has a regular job doing software. 

In all of these cases, the people did what they wanted with what they had. For many, their ‘studios’ are a corner in their house. Brady produces science and math videos using a handheld camera, butcher paper, and Sharpies. 

How many people with similar resources created something out of boredom in the last two years which may just be about to finally reach critical mass? 

How many inventors and entrepreneurs have done so? 

How many performers now have an impressive portfolio?

Overnight successes frequently take years. Doing something for the fun of it can be so fun that the person making it isn’t even aware that others might think it is even more valuable. Surprise!

I am encouraged by the possibilities of significant positive disruptions to entrenched conventions. I suspect that some of the most successful will happen without a plan, except to have fun and maybe, maybe, make something useful. They make it. They enjoy it. Then out of a population of billions, they may find millions that are glad they did. A million-to-one multiplier of something good? Thanks to everyone who does such a thing – and lets the rest of us enjoy it, too.

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Super Bowl Ads 2022

As @BiscottiDon, er @WIBakingCo, so eloquently put it;

My yearly tradition that comes from curiosity, investing, and getting a perspective on ‘mainstream America’ (or at least what the advertisers want us to think, see, and feel – and buy, of course.) Watching dozens of Super Bowl ads always takes longer than I expect, so this time I expect it will take long enough that I should refill my cup(s) of tea, and settle in for a lot of “Really? This is what is considered normal?”

Oh dear. I forgot. This year there were official teasers to the ads, that are teasers for products. Nope. Not going to dive into that recursive fantasy world. Hmm. I suspect some are trapped down there. Poor souls.

Summary (Written after watching over 100 ads – and that wasn’t all of them!; but probably enough to capture the main themes)

Diversity

Progress, and with a lot of work to go. But at least now some of the ads seem to be more naturally reflective of who actually lives in the USA; except for Native Americans, you know, the ones who were here, first? Lots of ads show broad views of the American West – but more about the land as a setting, not a place where people were moved to, moved from, and basically shoved around. Maybe next year. But, still, progress.

Pandemic

Not much mention of the pandemic/endemic. No masks. No cheers for the nurses. A sign that many are already past it, or that advertisers know that mentioning it is too risky?

Politics

Blessed none that I saw. Whew.

Food

Except for a few small companies, the healthiest meal I saw was for KFC. Shudder; but I do succumb to their chicken on occasion. Now if they’d only do gluten-free biscuits. Oh yeah, and Quaker Oats gets a nod for being included.

Drinks

Beer, liquored up tea, cider – no surprises. The ads were superstars celebrated success with see-through bottled beer, not convincing. May be true, but not convincing.

Crypto

I heard there was a lot of crypto. Nice economic evolution. Not surprised that none of them tried to explain it – but they did seem to blindly encourage folks to participate. I wonder what the SEC and FTC thought.

Cars and Trucks

EVs rule! And then there’s also celebrating the great outdoors by churning up the dirt. No motorcycles or bicycles, though. Not even e-bikes. Next year?

Inspirational Messages

Fewer than last year, it seemed. Nods to the few that wanted to save the planet, etc. 

Tear-jerkers

The Clydesdales did it, again. But I saw fewer similar stories played out. Most of it seemed to be more fantasy and escapism.

General Notes

Why to buy is usually left out. And one motivation is to not be left out, so join in without knowing why? That’s America!

It is also educational to see how much money fast food and escapism can generate, because sodas, chips, beer, and movies make enough to hire multiple celebrities, and to use very high production standards. 

A few did nod to important issues; but I wonder how different the world would be if, for every high-end ad that has the message of ‘Don’t think. Feel! Buy!” they also had to have an ad based on some issue that is reflected in that company’s official values from their Annual Report. How much do they really care? 

(My comments about specific ads are below because it would take too long for many to scroll through.)

Conclusion

The trends I saw were nothing new. The ones with enough money to launch such ads are probably already too big for me to buy into. 

EV and crypto stand out. Finance issues cheer interest rates that are actually historically small percentages while inflation is rising.

One trend that is more hopeful than proven is that there was more maturity to many (but definitely not the majority of) ads. The ads can still be silly, but there was less making fun of others, less divisiveness. Overall, that’s good. 

Wealth inequality seemed to be less obvious. Violence was still apparent, but feel sorry for the furniture in any room where the game was being played. Cuteness was used, but it felt less manipulative. 

Give me a few moments to quickly scroll through again to see if there is anything that will change how I live or what I will interested in investing in. Hmm. I might buy some gin, because I just ran out the other night. And yet, probably not.

(Oh yeah, and thanks for the Expedia ad that incidentally described how and why I’ve ended up writing books about travel and nature.)


Amazon – Mind Reader
Alexa reading minds and an overly automated house. Duh. Hari Seldon, Foundation sci-fi series from decades ago; no? Doesn’t sound familiar unless you’re a sci-fi fan? Oh well, at least they made fun of why I won’t buy one.

Hyundai – Evolution
Nice history and geography lesson. Actually talks about the car, too.

VRBO
Ski lessons. Nice. Still looks very pricey, but as an occasional indulgence, great. 

Takis (snacks)
It is the Super Bowl. There must be fatty, salty, sweet, hot, and crunchy food.

Nissan – Thrill
Stars from multiple mega-media-successes? Fun, but don’t try this at home, or anywhere on this planet. As for how the car actually drives – well, that’s immaterial. Showing off? Well, that’s important.

Movie trailers – Pardon me folks, but I don’t like spoilers (mostly) so I’ll skip them.

Booking.com
Pretty good for a travel site – and good timing if the pandemic is over (and we can travel during the endemic.)

Pepsi
Because there must be fizzy sweet drinks to go with the snacks. But, hey, chess! AR song battle? Oh, a trailer for the halftime show. Evidently fizzy sweet drinks are profitable enough for a phenomenal – trailer – for a halftime show – for a sporting event that most folks can’t afford to attend. Oh, the things I miss out on. Whew. Good production quality. Pity chess was gone so soon.

(Side note: They just reminded me that I’m older than the Super Bowl. Pondering the changes. I wonder what Vince would think.)

Netflix – more spoilers

(Side note: Fastforwarding is so handy.)

Dying Light
Games, what change. Remember Space Invaders? Lots of quarters. Now, lots of dollars. Handy if you’re stuck inside. How many will stay there, or were there all along during the pandemic? 

(Side note: No masks, so far.)

Rakuten – High Stakes
Indulgent spending. Spend, spend, spend – so you can get a little bit back?

T-Mobile – home internet
A musical! Hmm. Share that wi-fi password and save more?

Amazon – more spoilers

BMW – gods
Mythical EV. A natural for a god of lighting, but what makes it a better car?

T-Mobile – 5G
Well, they talked, er, sang about the phone.

Busch – Mountains
Nice. They got folks outside. I prefer my hikes to be quieter though (unless I’m the one doing the singing.)

Nope – more spoilers

Netflix – more spoilers

Michelob
More diversity this year, and more natural portrayals (considering past decades). Bragging – then celebrating with…Nah. At least not for me.

HBO – more spoilers

(side note: Ads that last two minutes? Yeesh!)

T-Mobile – 5G
Dolly Parton helps amazing causes. Phones?

Twisted Tea
You had me at tea. Ten proof iced tea? Well, I watch these to see new trends.

Chevy Silverado
All electric? Finally. I was convinced of the value of electric pickups when the Prius came out. Surprised it took so long. Ironically, I just donated my 2000 Silverado and got a Jeep. Getting the right vehicle is more about personal lifestyles, so think then buy – or are you interested in an electric bicycle?

SoFi
A 1% account makes you do your “money dance”? Check inflation, eh?

Monday – Work Without Limits
I get that it’s about work, but what about it? Missed the point.

MGM – gambling
Did Vegas ever to advertise like this?

Honey – online shopping
Oh, saving cash. At least this one is talking about regular purchases rather than glitz.

(side note: Just imagining how many artists got good gigs to make these ads. Congrats.)

The Botanist – gin
Gin! And I just ran out. Also like the Isle of Islay. Missed it when I walked across Scotland. (Got to meet someone from Glenfiddich, though.)

Budweiser – Clydesdales
OK. These ones I usually want to see; but that because of the horses, not the beer. Someday I’d like to see a Clydesdale beside the winner of the Kentucky Derby; basically a big rig beside a sports car. I’m more impressed with the big rig on four hooves. Cute ad as usual. Good story and photography. Choked me up. How about ads for horses and dogs? Might have to look for the Puppy Bowl, now that I think about it.

Pringles
Kinda creepy. 

Amazon Prime – more spoilers

Angry Orchard
Ah, hard cider. Actually talks about the beverage. Radical.
eToro – crypto

Oh, if only I’d been able to complete that transaction when Bitcoin was $220 (up from $20, so it seemed risky.) Social investing is cool. They make it look like a fantasy, though.

NBC – more spoilers

Bic Lighters
Nicely done, but ultimate? 

Google Pixel 
A real solution to a real problem. Rare. Well done ad, too.

NFL
An ad for the game where the ad plays, so they should already be watching the game? Oh, but destruction is ok if football is involved? Wha?!

NBC – more spoilers

Michelob
Contents of the beverage. Zero. Not convincing, but open.

NBC and Lexus?
Cars advertising TV shows.

DC – more spoilers

1-800 Flowers
Win, because winning? Valentines Day is – important.

Miller – math problem
Number Theory! Excellent! Get this guy some champagne!

TurboTax
Crypto. Complexity. 

GM
EV. Climate change. Save the world. Then take over the world.

Pepsi
Drinks selling snacks. To excess.

Lostark
Games. Violence. You know, there are challenging games that involve less death and destruction.

Greenlight
Smart money. Learn to earn. I approve.

FTD
Roses. Nice and direct.

Paramount – more spoilers

Intuit & MailChimp
Kind of on-point. Kinda.

Squarespace
Business. Poetry. 

Michelob
Bowling. Ala Big Lebowski? It’s only worth it if you enjoy it.

Disney – more spoilers

Toyota
Racing trucks. 

Rocket Mortgage and Barbie
Competitive market. Mortgage pre-approved – but did Ken have cash?

E*Trade
Off-the-grid. Cute, of course. Now from Morgan Stanley? Cross that one off.

Sam Adams Beer
Robots. 

KFC
Considering the rest of the food and drink ads, this seems almost healthy.

Sportsbook
Gambling. Glitz. 

Proflowers
Diversity in expression.

Polestar
Cars with lots of nos, but I don’t know why besides electric. The anti-Tesla ad.

FTX
History. Crypto. Not convinced.

Marvel – more spoilers
And this is for a movie I really want to see. Look the other way. Look the other way. Mute. Mute!

Taco Bell
Dystopian burgers. VW Thing! Bring that back as an EV! Oh, this is about fast food.

ExpediaTravel over stuff. Agreed. Shall I show you the books I wrote?

Universal – more spoilers

Drugs – skip the fear

Draftkings – gambling

Uber Eats
Don’t try this at home. Branching out. Handy if you know who they are.

Triple Zero
Supplements. But why do they work?

Headspace
Not Spotify.

Gopuff
What? TL;DW

Bevy Long Drink
Finnish cocktail. OK.

Chewey
Pet meds. Cute.

Frito-Lays
Destroy.

Gillette
OK. So, it’s a razor. Saves time? Ha or nah.

Quaker
Grains (but I’m gluten-free). Fine.

Sleep Number
Forrest Gump-ish. But why?

Zaxby
Buffalo wings. OK.

Mailchimp
Better show of automation.

Dogfish Head
Beer = Ideas.

Madden
Games without guns. First one.


OK. That’s enough. I probably have a statistically significant sample, and I’m not doing statistics on this. I missed some, but the others don’t make me want to catch them. Lunch. Ponder. Then write my impression – which are probably back up at the top of this post, because that’s the way writing works.

Now, pardon me as I return to some of my favorite YouTube channels.

Nick Zentner

Scott Manley

Tom Scott

Joe Scott

Isaac Arthur

StandupMaths

Dr. Becky

Kurzgesagt

Minute Earth

Numberphile

Minute Physics

Periodic Videos

Sixty Symbols

oh yeah, and mine

Tom Trimbath

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My Straps Snapped

There wasn’t even a Sproing! or a Snap!, but when I looked down at my snowshoes there was a piece of the binding sitting on the snow; not very helpful. Well, one important thing is to get a workout, and anyone traveling in or near wilderness has to be prepared for a bit of an adventure. But, having all of the straps snap? Sigh. OK, universe, evidently you wanted to teach me a lesson – maybe about trusting to the past a bit much? Time for upgrades, or repairs, or trying something else for a while.

My doctor prescribed one hike per week. (This was independent of the Canadian initiative allowing doctors to give patients passes to their parks. Hey, my doc’s a trendsetter!) I may resist the rest of the prescriptions but having to spend time in the mountains is not a burden. It may be a long commute, cost a bit in gas, and be humbling at times; but I feel better when I am visiting the bits of nature that we haven’t paved over. The prescription was for hiking, but I a three-book series of hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and skiing at three places in the Washington Cascades throughout the year. (Twelve Months at Barclay Lake, Twelve Months at Lake Valhalla, and Twelve Months at Merritt Lake) Finally, snow in the mountains. Time to tromp several feet above the forest floor.

I don’t want to give people the impression that the books were some macho exercise. I’m a chicken adventurer. That does not involve adventurous chickens. It means that, to my adventurous friends, I am chicken; I turn around at avalanche slopes, or carefully scoot off them if I find myself on one. It also means that to my more urban friends, what I do can sound adventurous. I know the truth. Almost all of the trips in those books were sweet and innocuous – with a few episodes of “Uh Oh”, “Dumb guy, dumb guy”, and “I’m so glad no one saw what I just did.”

The books were written over a decade ago, during which I’ve been working so much that I didn’t have the time and money to go for a hike. (Hence, getting out of shape, working myself too much by necessity, and getting a finger wag from every healthcare professional involved – and why a prescription was inspirational.) I wasn’t going to be silly about it. The me that took those trips and wrote those books was in the his mid-forties, had relatively new gear, and was in better shape than I knew. (I actually thought I was out of shape because I had more criticisms than encouragements, and I turned that lack into a poor body image. See Just Keep Pedaling for a lesson in that.) I was going to take it easy and slow.

Easy and slow meant a hike that wasn’t very wild. Drive until I find snow. Find a cleared and safe place to park. Make sure it’s okay to be there. Change clothes. Put on gear. Get up onto the snow with the shoes and go!

Maybe I should’ve driven higher. Instead of a snowpack I was on two feet of slush. Even the snowshoes wanted to sink. After several steps it makes sense to readjust the straps that hold the snowshoes to the boots. Hmm. Each snowshoe has three straps across the top, and one that goes around the heel. They keep everything in place, and have redundancy. So, when I saw that each snowshoe had a partial crack in one strap I wasn’t too worried. A decade in storage didn’t prevent rubber from aging. It was aging. I was aging. I felt its pain.

Tromp. Tromp. and I’ll speed up the story. Within less than a hundred meters each snowshoe had two snapped straps. Each was being held on by one strap on top and one around the back. Uh. That’s a good good time to turn around and abandon the effort. Perseverance can be taken too far.

Halfway back to the car all of the top straps had snapped. That left the heel strap, and it was shoving the boot through the front of the snowshoe. Not good. Stepping out of them wasn’t good either because – well – stepping through two feet of slush at every step was tiring and a knee and ankle twisting opportunity. Gingerly, tenderly I scooted a step, readjusted the remains of the snowshoe, repeat – and detour around a trough of big holes I stepped across at the very start. Another fine moment when no one was watching.

I survived. Duh.

Back home I checked with the manufacturer to see if they were still in business (yes, though they were bought out along the way), and if straps from 2022 would work on shoes from 2002. Yes!

Yes? It’s 2022. Supply chain issues mean they are out of stock. It’s already mid-February. By the time those straps arrive the season will be over.

What worked then, should work now, but not necessarily. Snowshoeing may be about as low tech as a winter option can be, but assuming is a risky strategy. I aged. They aged. The world changed.

I own stocks that are older than those snowshoes. My house is older. I am older. Even buying stout equipment from a reputable business, and knowing how to use it does not mean it is eternal. Cars aren’t expected to be eternal. My backyard fence certainly hasn’t been permanent. Even society and the economy aren’t the same. (The environment isn’t the same, either; and those changes were apparent even back then.)

We are in the midst of change, and were, even before the pandemic. I welcomed the shutdown because I remember my parents’ worries about polio. That inspired me to better understand previous pandemics. Mask up? Yes, please. Get vaccinated? Definitely.

As we un-mask, re-socialize, re-arrange our lives we’ll also be adjusting to schisms in society that weren’t as apparent a decade ago, to the Great Resignation, to conventional wisdom being questioned and measured against what we’ve been through.

This blog is about personal finance. For me, inspiration about what’s personal about finance comes from life more than from books. What will I invest in? What will I spend money on? (Will my books ever pay enough to more than compensate for the effort in time and money that went into them? New boots? New tent? New sleeping bag?)

I did nothing wrong. The manufacturer did nothing wrong then or now. But those straps snapping is a reminder that budgets require funds for maintenance, repair, and replacements as necessary. It isn’t always about buying the new new thing. (That’s also true for infrastructure, as I reflected on the potholes and rusted bridges I saw on the way home.)

My snowshoes aren’t necessities, as long as I’m already somewhere safe. A few hundred meters from the car and they became dire necessities. I’m safe and at home. Unless my finances and the supply chain improve I’ll postpone snowshoeing until the end of this year. That’s easy enough to do. I’m simply more inspired to re-assess old, reliable gear to make sure it is still reliable; and maybe do that to attitudes and assumptions, too.

In the meantime, there’s snow in those mountains. It looks like I’ll have to drive higher and farther. You see, I have these cross-country skis that I haven’t used in a decade…

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