Monday, December 29, 2008

Continuing

Life continues.

Last month I received the first payment on my first gov research contract, which finally put us back on track for being financially viable. Another payment or two and we'll be off the rosters for public assistance, meaning we need to figure out what insurance to purchase. I'm honestly looking forward to that. These days there are many lining up for public assistance because of job losses or cutbacks. I'll be happy to step aside. This is the first and only time in my life that I have dipped into the public coffers where I normally put my tax dollars. I hope it shall also be the last.

Last week, I filed the second of three status reports. Word I got a few weeks ago is that this second one will be the basis for their decision whether to award me transitional funding (an additional 6 months), so I poured a great deal into the report. I ended up preparing some preliminary proofs-of-concept that I had promised for the end of the first six month period. I'm pretty confident moving forward. Hopefully they'll see the merit in my proofs as well. In any case, I should know by the end of January at the latest whether my firm will receive an additional 6 months of funding. That'd be great.

The next step is working on getting the 2 year contract from them. There are three firms in this first round. Only one or two of us will get the second round funding, to deliver the end product. Meantime, I'm looking to prepare new proposals in the first few months of 2009, for other projects. I've got a couple proposals outstanding. They're just abstract sort of proposals, so a thumbs-up merely means they'd like me to prepare a fuller proposal. In addition, I've got several other irons in the fire.

I'll be meeting with several deans and faculty at a local state university sometime in January, to discuss prospects for a major initiative that I hope to play a big role in. This meeting is the culmination of a meeting I had in the end of November with the head of research on campus. I've also got several more ideas for research proposals to a few more agencies and departments for grants and contracts.

If the supplemental six-month funding comes through, I'll be ready to start thinking about hiring. It still won't really be enough in itself to support another full-time employee. But I'll be needing to budget time and energy to preparing new proposals. I'm really almost off the ground. It's still a start-up, so it might all come crashing back down to earth. It's best not to expect success at every step. Rather, it's wise to anticipate next steps, with or without a crash landing.

Mostly, I just wanted to say, all is well.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Snowfall













It's that time. The first real snow of the season fell last night. The Painter and I built this beauty this morning.

One of my brothers arrives this evening. My mother and a second brother arrive on Wednesday. Thanksgiving we'll have 18 people over for dinner.

My oldest brother and his fiancée couldn't make it. (He chose to announce his engagement to me by noting in his regrets email that they're saving for a wedding. My reply: "someone's getting married?")

Ah, family!

Good news: I should get my first invoice paid today! That's the word at least. It'll be my very own small business injection of cash stimulus. I can't say it'll mean I've arrived. But it's a milestone that'll let me feel this is all real, and not simply some dream.

I still worry a bit about what's next. Will I get the second phase of the project funded? I emailed my technical contact last week, to ask about timing and criteria of the decision. The conferences have instilled in me the understanding that more communication is better. She's the person who'll make the final decision as to whether I get that two years' more funding (enough to hire a couple employees full-time). It's a big deal. She was travelling last week, then on vacation this week. So, I won't hear back from her until after Thanksgiving. That's alright. My job is simply to forge ahead, develop the technology.

It will get funded one way or another. Of that I'm pretty certain. They say most small businesses that fail do so simply because the founders give up. I'm not much for giving up (at least not when I haven't been convinced that continuing is unworthy of the effort). For now, I remain strongly convinced of the value and benefit of my current path. For now, I'm able to sustain it. When I see that direct deposit, I'll be elated!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Just start writing

Between yesterday and today, I made some good headway in getting back to my research. With a bit of hemming and hawing, I forced myself to just start writing. Then, finally, the ideas started flowing again. Much much work. But it is my work. I like the challenges. And I am so utterly convinced that I am on the right path, that I am doing what has not yet been done, that what I'm working on is significant and beneficial.

Next week, I meet with the Vice Chancellor for Research of a large state university nearby. The meeting was setup by one of my recent principal advocates, a regional director of the state's entrepreneurship agency. It'll be a preliminary discussion re: possibilities for collaboration with faculty on campus. Tentative it may be, but still significant to have a high university administrator pencil me into the schedule.

There are many options for me in moving ahead. I've got to keep my head on my shoulders, and stay focused on priorities. What do I need to accomplish, by when, and how? Always with an eye to what's next, and keeping a handle on what's now.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sliding

I've been preoccupied with other things. Thus my silence here. I had a good start to my research project. A good couple months of action.

About three weeks ago I attended a conference. The week and a half I was home, I spent mostly organizing my office and computer, much of it spent on setting up a dual-boot with Linux on my workstation, and setting up Linux only on my new laptop. More effort than I would have liked, and somewhat unsatisfactory results. I had to send back the laptop for some tweaking from the manufacturer. And the Linux partition of my workstation still lacks the proper sound card drivers (not to mention I snapped the connector on my speakers, so I have only headphones).

Then I headed off to another conference, from which I returned last Friday. Busy since I got back, and expecting relatives next week.

I feel like I've lost the last three weeks (though the conferences were good). I'm just having a hard time sliding back into the research. I spent a lot of time this week following up on contacts made during the conferences, and researching ideas for future funding proposals. I've mostly decided to forego proposals before the end of the year, even though it means letting several deadlines pass, with no guarantees that next year's topics, subjects, and priorities will still support my work, and the possibility that it might result in several months or a year without funding.

It's just that I've got to get back to making progress on the current project, in hopes that it will move beyond the six months of funding I'm promised. I'm obsessively checking whether my first invoice has been paid. It's been nearly three months since I started the project, and almost a month since the invoice was processed. My last income was a year ago (not to mention our savings have diminished by more than a third since then). That's how it goes I guess. But between that, and waiting on evaluations of two proposals I have outstanding, and anticipating replies to several emails of importance, and a myriad of other distractions... I'm finding it hard to focus on priorities.

I guess the first thing is to follow up on my wife's suggestion that I detail the remaining tasks for the current project. Good management skills. And it should help me not only to budget my time, but to see where I might get outside help on some points, which would lighten the load.

I'm mostly just thinking out loud here, since this blog has been good therapy for me in the past. I worry a bit about our shrinking assets, which leads to my obsession over getting paid. But this too shall pass. And overall, things are well.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Patriotic Taxes

Click on image for full size.
I was curious, since the Pit Bull has been spouting off about how Obama & Biden "think it's patriotic to pay more taxes," just how she and those supporting her line up on the issue of spending other's tax dollars. I recall over and over hearing the phrase "tax and spend liberal". George W. has proven that those from the historically fiscally conservative side of the fence can spend like drunken sailors. So, if paying taxes isn't patriotic, how about spending the taxes that other people have paid. Let's see what that looks like. I superimposed NPR's election predictions with the amount of federal dollars returned to states per tax dollar paid. Unfortunately, the most recent data seems to be for 2005. I can only imagine it's gotten worse, since spending has gotten even more out of hand since then.

Sources:
Original spread sheet from: The Tax Foundation website.
NPR Election data from National Public Radio.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Eat, sleep, breath

Often I head off to sleep contemplating possible solutions to the problems I face in my research. Mornings, I frequently awake with these same thoughts on my mind. I mentioned this to RocketMom this morning. She replied "it sure beats waking up and thinking 'I really don't want to go to work today.'"

I think of the line from Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues about calling in well to work: I won't be coming in again, ever. Not me. I'm doing my work. This is my choice. It's a challenge. It's fun. It feels so abundantly, wonderfully good to finally finally be getting paid for my mind, for my thoughts, for my ideas; to be trusted and respected. I can't say enough how good that feels. (Of course, it will feel a bit more real when I finally get that first income (around the middle or end of November. Meantime, it's scrimping, and biting my lip when I have to sell some investment that's 40% off for the year, because we simply need the cash to pay the bills). And it will feel so absolutely spectacular when I have in my hands those proofs of concept that show the success of my methods and techniques.

Would I have felt this way, had I gotten a professorship? Perhaps. I really can't say. Do any of you feel this way?

But it's not all clams and oysters. I worry about this nation and the world. I worry about the economy. Thankfully this six-month contract, even if I don't get the next stage funding, should keep us in the black for another year or two. I had made the explicit promise to myself and my wife that I'd have income before we ate through half of our non-retirement savings. With the precipitous fall of the markets this past month (even with a large chunk of our holdings in bonds and cash) we're perhaps 3 or 4 months away from that magical midpoint. With the contract, income should start flowing a couple months before we get there.

For the most part, I'm hoping to simply sit this wave out, and leave most of our investments untouched, hoping that in a year or two things will have stabilized. I have few illusions that they will come back to their lofty heights (even if those heights were already down six months ago. But they may recover some of this decline. I'll sell off only what we need for cash. No need to contribute further to the decline. But I anticipate keeping a large proportion of the income in conservative holdings, at least until I know about the second phase (likely around February or March).

I only hope that the U.S. electorate chooses a change in leadershp. For sure, Obama doesn't have all the answers. I fully expect some mis-steps. But I trust that he is smart enough to pick good advisors and to listen to their advice. Something George W. has proven incapable of doing, and which I fear the Maverick is constitutionally averse to, as his ridiculous choice in running mate reflects. Assuming Obama wins the election, that is but the beginning of the work ahead. It will be our task to help lead this nation back to sanity in all its affairs. I hope.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wrong Task

I read a bit of an article in the grocery store yesterday about the bailout plan and it's impact on the local economy. The article read (and I paraphrase):
... so, now that the $700 billion bailout package has passed Congress, the money will start flowing to local banks, and be made available to consumers, right? Wrong, the first thing that has to happen is housing prices need to stop falling.
Um... no! First off... it is not the job of the government to set prices. It is the job of appropriate government agencies to oversee fairness in business and social exchanges. It is the job of these agencies to ensure reasonably honest dealings, to set reasonable (though not excessive) regulations and disclosure requirements toward that goal, and most importantly to staff these agencies sufficiently to enforce the regulations. These are things that Ronald Reagan started dismantling, and which has accelerated in the ensuing two decades, and which must be reversed.

Housing prices are falling because they have become out of line with their inherent value! No amount of government intervention (short of providing every citizen with a housing allowance!) can change that. Let the values drop until they are in line with that value. To some extent this is where "free market" principles must be respected. Values should and will be set by the public's ability and willingness to pay. Gasoline prices have dropped ~20% over the last month for exactly this same reason.

The task that the government should have been and should be focused on is not stabilizing housing or stock prices, but rather mitigating the negative effects of their fall. They will continue to fall! We should brace ourselves. And we should turn to our elected officials, to step up to the plate and swing. And if they won't, or they foul, or they strike out (as has clearly been the case these past few years), we should expect them to get out the way, and let someone else step up who can handle the job!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

In other news...

Just thought I'd update you on the business front. At the beginning of this week, I issued a press release on my firm's recent contract. I had a telephone interview yesterday with a writer for the state entrepreneurs' network. I got a couple calls from the business reporter from the main newspaper in a large city nearby. She wants to do a couple interviews with me, and try out a new mini-business plan feature with my firm as guinea pig. Also, got word this morning to expect a call from the business reporter from my own city's main paper.

There's a lot of excitement about my (albeit moderate) success. It's amazing to me how vested local parties are in the growth of my company. How different this feels from the complete and utter neglect I got from my doctoral institution, from my old department. How different this feels from the shame of the four years post-doc that I spent applying for one faculty post after another, and receiving mostly silence.

Talk about the economy! Why is it that this great nation has such little regard for teachers and professors and educational institutions? Why is it that the administrators of supposed institutions of higher learning haven't the courage to stand up and set priorities where they ought to be (to be clear, I mean that the priorities of colleges and universities ought to be focused on teaching and research, not on buildings, courtyards, and athletic events.) The number of faculty across the country should be doubled, and salaries should at least keep up with reasonable expectations for someone with the level of educational attainment and apprenticing that PhDs have.

I'm doing the research. I'm finally receiving income commensurate with my training, and in line with what I'm working towards. I'm getting support for that. But it's been a long and painful road. And I'm not out of the woods yet. My current contract is short. There may yet be lean times ahead. Who knows: someday, perhaps I'll be able to teach again as well.

Loosen credit?

Look, I can't second guess the folks in Congress. I'm not sitting there at the negotiations. I haven't read the full version of the bill that passed the Senate, and I don't know what may likely pass the House. What I do know is this: half the chatter I hear on the radio and read online indicate the concern over the tightening of credit standards. A bit of the chatter regards these absurdly convoluted structured securities that bundled loans together in a fashion that even those doing the bundling weren't sure what real value if any the securities represented. And finally, most of the remaining chatter speaks of how much of this mess began with defaulted mortgages and other loans (which were due in part to lax lending standards). So... wouldn't shoring up capital to encourage banks to relax their now tightened lending standards be counterproductive?

I think what needs most to be accomplished by any pending action (though from where I sit I can't say I'm yet convinced of the wisdom of what may or may not be done) is to change the present culture of living beyond our means. The problems did not begin with defaulted mortgages. The defaults were symptomatic of the underlying problems. When I moved with my wife to Paradise from Colorado to enter a doctoral program in 2000 we were shocked by the cost of housing. Granted, it was Paradise. But we had been paying about $800/month on our mortgage in Denver for a 1700 sq.ft. bungalow (with a 1500 sq.ft. finished basement). Our rent that first year, for a 1000 sq.ft. condo (in a marginal neighborhood) was $1600/month. Didn't make sense. But the apartments we had looked at for under $1600 were not livable by our standards (and we're not talking high standards here!).

But, we could afford that only because my wife got a 40% bump in salary (doing essentially the same work as she had in Colorado). Why did they pay so much more? In large part to attract and retain employees (since they all expected to afford a house). Problem was, the more firms paid, the more housing prices rose. We bought a condo the next year, because after the mortgage interest deduction, the cost of buying was equivalent to rents (and the location was better and closer to work and campus). We sold the property two years later at nearly a 60% profit! But rentals had barely budged. Meaning that the buyers were paying a hefty premium to buy, which made no sense. Of course, the value of that property grew another 60-75% over the next 2-3 years. According to zillow it's now worth about 20-25% less than at it's peak, about 15% higher than we sold it for in 2003.

The point I made then was that housing prices like that were unsustainable. They were even more unsustainable when we sold it, certainly even more so two years later... but I find it hard to believe that they are sustainable even at today's reduced level. A few years ago we were all led to believe by the "experts" that the "new economy" sloughed off the old standards of productivity and profit. We were told to ignore the price-to-earnings ratio of new firms. The old standard P/E of 15 or less was passé.

The Bush administration has relied on a simplistic view of wealth creation: spend, spend, spend. The objective has been to keep money flowing throughout the economy. Think of the tax cuts. Think of the "stimulus package". Go out and buy things, my friends. That was the mandate. We need to return to some sanity. We need to return our valuations to real values.

That will take a lot more than simply keeping money flowing. In some cases, it may take the opposite. If lending standards are tight, it will force us to rethink our priorities. Would that be such a bad thing? The best role of any government intervention at this point would be to ease our way back out of a credit card culture of easy spending, and overspending, and speculation. The stock market should not be a gambling haven. We should renew expectations of reasonable P/E values. Dividends should once again be standard practice of established companies. Housing values should return to a reasonable multiple of income (say the old standard of 2-3 times annual household salary). Any intervention by the government should aim toward these effects. Anything short of that is failure!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout

Okay, let me get this straight: Large and established financial institutions have been suffering, some going bankrupt because:
  • They have been lending money, too cheaply
  • to risky borrowers
  • for overpriced purchases
  • that they couldn't afford
  • (like houses priced at 10-20 times their annual earnings).
Got that. And... many of these borrowers are now defaulting on those loans. Of course. This really isn't a surprise.

So, the financial institutions are now losing money on those bad loans. Okay, got that.

So, they'll have less money to freely lend, to risky borrowers, for overpriced purchases, that they can't afford. Individuals and businesses will have to pay a higher rate in the future to borrow money, forcing them to be more cautious in considering the necessity of borrowing money for a purchase, and forcing lenders to be more cautious in determining the ability of the borrower to repay the loan. Okay, got that.

So... um, I'm a bit lost as to why this is a crisis. When did we as a nation move away from the principle that we should buy things that we can afford? Housing prices have risen steeply in large part because borrowing was so cheap, leading borrowers to believe that they could afford to pay such high prices, because everyone else was doing it.

Now, how does this affect the proverbial "Main Street" so bantied about? First off, there is the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) which insures individual deposits up to $100,000 per account for standard checking, savings, money market and CD accounts.*

Then, there is the SIPC (Securities Investor Protection Corporation), which protects individual investor's securities holdings against the failure of financial institutions, with certain limitations.**

So, a bank or brokerage failing will not likely cause you to lose any money directly. Of course, if you own shares in a company that goes bankrupt, well then, you've just lost some money. But then, the issue is diversification of risk. Or, if you were a borrower with an adjustable rate mortgage for an overpriced house, you may still be at risk of losing that asset. Fortunately, politicians have moved in to redress this issue, and are seeking the facility for borrowers and lenders to renegotiate such loans to keep the borrowers in their homes, and maintain the viability of the mortgage to be repaid.

So, the government is stepping in, to prop up the financial institutions (that have been reckless in lending too cheaply to risky investors for overpriced purchases which in many cases they could ill afford and didn't need), so that consumer confidence in these institutions will be preserved (despite the fact that our confidence is shaken because of their own recklessness), and so that they can go on lending money "affordably" so that business (like Boston Market and Starbucks) can borrow for growth and expansion, and keep the economy rolling along.

Somehow, I'm just not convinced that a slowdown is not what is needed (or, in fact, that such an artificial propping up of a failed sector in the economy will actually prevent it). In Wall St. terminology, we'd call it a "correction." And, if we're all in it together, we'll all pull through it just fine. We always do. That's one great thing about America that has not yet been destroyed by eight years of failed policies. We're industrious folk. Let the big, old institutions fall of their own making. Smaller, lither companies will grow from the rubble. New ideas will emerge that will pick up the slack.

It's amazing to me that those most vociferous in their supposed support for "free market" economics seem so quickly to run away from it when their most cherished institutions begin to falter. I say, let them falter. We'll be okay.

*What Is Insured? You are probably familiar with the traditional types of bank accounts - checking, savings, trust, certificates of deposit (CDs), and IRA retirement accounts - that are insured by the FDIC. Banks also may offer what is called a money market deposit account, which earns interest at a rate set by the bank and usually limits the customer to a certain number of transactions within a stated time period. All of these types of accounts generally are insured by the FDIC up to the legal limit of $100,000 and sometimes even more for special kinds of accounts or ownership categories. For more information on deposit insurance see FDIC brochure "Your Insured Deposits."

**Investments protected by SIPC. The cash and securities – such as stocks and bonds – held by a customer at a financially troubled brokerage firm are protected by SIPC. Among the investments that are ineligible for SIPC protection are commodity futures contracts and currency, as well investment contracts (such as limited partnerships) that are not registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under the Securities Act of 1933.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Flying High

I'm heading out of town on Monday for my initial meeting with the funding agency that has issued me a contract. I've been working full days of late, keeping track of everything. I won't get paid for another couple months, but I'm definitely on the clock. It feels good. But it leaves me little time for blogging.

I had a conversation this morning for over an hour with a fellow I met a while back at a conference. I wrote a little about him in my old blog. I had contacted him recently to formally ask if he'd serve on the Advisory Board to my firm. It was a great, free flowing and supporting conversation. I'd say there are a lot of similarities between us, though he's a few years ahead of me. He received his PhD in 1991, and founded his own firm in 2002. So, he makes a perfect mentor to me. Even better, our work is complementary, so there should be many fruitful collaborations down the pike.

I just thought I'd poke me head in here to say, I'm still around, and still cranking ahead. I think back to a post I wrote nearly two years ago, about striking out on my own, and the commentary there that pressed me on what that might mean. It's been a good couple years.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sour Garlic Pickles














These are not only the best pickles I've made yet, but they rival my memories of "Lower East Side Kosher Garlic Dill Pickles".

Get yourself a good pickling crock. I use a 7.5l Harsch. You may also want to invest in a little kitchen scale, since weight measures are more accurate than by volume. Here, then is the recipe.
  • ~7 lbs. of fresh pickling cucumbers (or kirbies)
  • 10 large cloves of garlic
  • 5 grape leaves
  • 1 bunch of fresh dill.
  • 5 l of water (boiled, then cooled)
  • 175 g salt (35 g/liter) This is the summer recipe. You can reduce the salt to say 30 g/l during cooler months). Be sure to use "pickling salt" which is salt pure and simple, containing no iodine and no anti-caking agent. In the past I had used "coarse kosher salt" but this contains anti-caking. Table salt also normally contains iodine. Apparently both have a deleterious effect on fermentation.
  • 15 g mustard seed
  • 10 g black peppercorns
  • 10 g coriander seeds
  • 5 g red pepper seeds
  • 4 bay leaves
Wash the pickles in cold water, setting aside any that are bruised. Snip or cut the flower end off the pickles. Pack them tightly in the crock (but don't crush), standing on end. Add the spices (don't worry about mixing, they'll be under water for a long time). Pour cooled salt water over pickles, to a depth about 1-2" (3-5 cm) above the pickles. Be sure it's well cooled-you don't want to cook your pickles! Set a weight on top of the pickles to keep them under water. Leave the crock at room temperature (in your kitchen if possible) for about a week, then move to a cooler location for an additional 3-4 weeks. If you use an airlock type crock (like the Harsch) you shouldn't need to skim the scum that might otherwise grow. If you use an open crock, you may need to take such precautions.

After about a month they're ready! You can harvest a jar's worth to keep in the fridge as needed, and leave the rest to continue fermenting. Note, these are fermented brine pickles-no vinegar. The grape leaves apparently help preserve the firmness of the pickle skin. So also does snipping the flower end off. Another suggestion I've heard, also to preserve the skin's firmness, though haven't tried it, is to not add the garlic until a week or two before the first harvesting. I've heard that 3 months is needed for a full sour, but mine were great at about 5 weeks (perhaps they'll need longer in cooler months).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Finally

Got the contract by email this morning. It's long, and complicated. And... they mistyped my address (better get that fixed). But... it's real. It's in hand. I just have a few items to discuss with them (like whether I might not be able to get paid sooner than December!), then to sign it. Looks like I'll be flying out to meet with the topic lead next month.

I met with an attorney and patent engineer this morning. Good meeting. The engineer has a PhD in the field of study I'm encroaching. He was pretty excited by my efforts. I think I might work with these guys. We'll see. We left it that we'd touch base again in a couple months after I'd gotten cracking on this current project.

In the meantime, I need to dive into this project. Finally FINALLY I'll be getting paid for my research. Now, simply to make something of it!

________UPDATED ________
Well, no, I can't get paid sooner. Yikes! Well, at least state-sponsored health insurance will continue in force, until I have income coming in. I've got a couple months then to research that, as well as retirement benefits and life insurance, etc. There are many, many little details about running a business that we don't always anticipate. I guess that's why most firms have an HR department, eh?

[Hang on, I need to switch hats, okay, "HR here, how may I help you?"]

I suspect I'll be spending a lot of money on accounting and legal consultations. Good thing it's in the budget. Fortunately, I've got some really good small business resources and advisors from state and local agencies.

I spent half of today pouring over parts of the contract, and mostly filling out various forms and documents and questionnaires, and... There's a lot of paperwork involved in government contracting! And half the questions require a significant amount of uncovering before the answer is clear. Hopefully I can finish up and return the signed contract tomorrow, knowing I won't see a dime for about three or four months. At least it's coming. That's good to know.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Intensity













... at seven months
(and yes he does have grey-blue eyes...
like my wife, and grandmother)

Concentration















The boy can focus when he wants to.

Peach Jam















... and blueberry, and apricot-raspberry too.
My family is happy, and the neighbors love us.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

These people should be lined up and...

I had been blissfully SPAM-free since setting up my new websites and emails a couple months ago. Yes, not a single SPAM message had reached my inbox. I was guarding the emails well, not publishing them in full on my websites, using proxy emails in many cases where I needed to put an address. That was, until I registered as a government contractor. Hey, I thought if anything would be safe it'd be a government registry, no?

There was a little box at the bottom of one of the pages that indicated a new registrant could allow their company info to appear in their public directory or opt-out. They warned if you opt out then you might limit your access to contract opportunities. Hrmph! Apparently (even though they have safeguards against auto-bots harvesting information) it was worthwhile for some schmuck in Belarus or Hong Kong (or both) to send some derivative of the Nigerian scam to my email address.

If you're not familiar with the scam it runs something like this:
Hi, we're dishonest scum looking for some cheating loser to help us. The former military dictatorship in our country ripped off the public for millions of dollars, and now they no longer have access to those accounts. But we do. Only, we don't want to be caught. So, we'd like you to give us your bank information, so we can share the loot with you. You're dishonest scum too, right? You trust us don't you? I mean, we wouldn't want to simply empty out your bank accounts and make off with the money now would we? I mean, that would be stealing.
Aargh! So, I immediately logged into my contractor registration account, and checked the "opt-out" box. Let's hope I will return to my blissfully SPAM-free state soon.
_________________

And, in other news... I'm still waiting for the contract! I'd feel so much more settled to simply have it in hand.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cleaning up

Yesterday, I shaved and cut my hair.















You might not recognize me.











But it was fun to let it grow out for a few months.

Comedy of Delays

I didn't want to wait out another weekend. I sent a fairly innocuous email inquiring about the contract and a few relevant details like anticipated start date and location of technical contacts. I received a reply that they are currently experiencing problems with their system: some time next week I will be able to send you the contract. I have to wait it out for the details.

Aaargh! At least I know it's on its way, sometime!

Meanwhile, I had a meeting this morning with the director of a local center for technology and innovation to follow up on our earlier contacts. Among other things, we discussed getting me started with some publicity, sending out press releases and such.

I've got a meeting scheduled for Monday with a local CPA who was recommended to me. Finances get complicated. With the accounting required of a federal contractor (which I soon will be), on top of my status as sole owner of an LLC (the status is months old, but the income will be new!), I think it's time I get some help.

I'm trying to set up a lunch meeting next week with another patent law outfit. I wasn't convinced any of the attorneys I spoke with a couple months ago would be right. This outfit has someone on staff with quite a bit of experience in the field of research of my technology.

I'm also planning to register for a couple conferences on federal grants and contracting this fall. It's quite overwhelming the sheer variety of funding opportunities out there for research and technology development. The more I learn about them at these conferences the better. Until I have some deliverable products developed, these funding mechanisms seem to be my best choice. They're grants or contracts rather than private investment, meaning I can retain undiluted equity in my company and control over the work it does.

I'm hoping to submit another handful of applications before the end of the year. I'm riding on a wave of confidence. It's all good (except the delays!).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Still waiting

You'd think, after so long, I'd be accustomed to waiting. But it just isn't so. More than 1 week ago, I got the email vaguely hinting that I might have won a contract. It was a week ago that I received rather unambiguous confirmation of this fact.

Then, I waited for the first step of the registration process to go through, assigning me a number I could use for the next step. Then I waited for the second registration process to go through, assigning me yet another number. These two I finally sent along to the contracts administrator, on Tuesday morning. It has been a very long couple days.

I want the contract in hand. I want to know where my technical contacts will be so I can plan the face-to-face meeting to get started. I want to know the schedule of the contract, when I am expected to commence the project, what my payment schedule will look like, what milestones or progress reports will be expected of me.

Don't get me wrong. I am pleased, thrilled. But I'm hungry. It's like a delectable meal awaits me; I know the outline of the menu items, but my stomach rumbles as I wait for it to begin.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Almost in hand

My mom is visiting us for a week. We took her to the lakehouse for a couple days. I needed a break in any case from the waiting. We got home Wednesday afternoon. I went sailing (we came in third!). When I got back home in the evening, I was catching up on email and such.

There was a message in my inbox, from an unknown author. Subject: Proposal XXX-YYY-Z under topic... etc. I paused. Then I looked.
Dr. Dad,

Are you registered with the Central Contractor Registration service? If not, can you please register there.

Thanks,

Catherine Thomson
Contracts Specialist...
This morning, I took care of some of the necessary items (like opening a business checking account). I sent her a message describing the status of my progress toward registering, and included the inquiry: Does your involvement mean the proposal has been selected? Her response:
Yes the proposal has been selected. Once you are registered in the CCR, I can award you the contract, which should only take a few days.
I'd say, there's little ambiguity in that response. I'm... breathless. Five years has been a long time to wait. Now... this is just six months of funding (granted at about twice what I might have been making as a professor, including benefits, plus operating expenses and such). I'm thrilled. If all goes well (and there's little reason it shouldn't), the next six months, then another two years should be in the bag.

It's a foot in the door, a new door. One foot in/one foot out. I'm still here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Open Source

I have been a user of the internet since around 1989, when I was a student at a tiny college (~400 students) on the East Coast. I created my first website sometime in the early 90s, and have had a nearly constant web-presence ever since.

I have long believed that the essence of the internet is freely (and broadly) shared and distributed knowledge and information. The sharing of ideas is what I have most prized. At times, I have lamented the commercialization of the space, when it seemed to counter the free-flow of ideas. Commercialization in itself is not the enemy. Stifling creativity is.

So, where do I see my role now, as I labor to develop a new technology, one which I hope and believe can be transformative. In principle, I'd like to see this new technology as widespread as possible, accessible, available. But...

I wish to retain for myself some independence, some ability to sustain myself, my family, my work. I have no desire to give away the farm. I want to ensure there is enough land left for me to grow vegetables, for I enjoy tilling the earth, and I require sustenance. It's an apt metaphor.

It is easy for a fully-employed, tenured professor to create and support open source software and technology. It is in ways the life of a scholar to freely share ideas (though, of course, there is at times conflict over whose ideas they are.)

But what of an entrepreneur? And not just any entrepreneur. I am in ways one thrust upon this life-path by circumstance, frustrating, disappointing, discouraging, abandoning circumstance. I have so far no external supports. I'm like a boat adrift at sea, with no anchor, and no sail.

We shall see. I have been preparing to patent the very foundation of the research I am doing. I have thought to protect the underlying principles upon which all the work depends. If I can figure a way to get to market with products that may prove sustaining, that may render my company viable for the long-term, without needing to keep that foundation closed, I will. I will, because it would be a better world for the free-flow of ideas, for open sharing. I will, because the ideas will more likely be widespread if I do. But I only will, if I can reasonably see how to keep enough of the farm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cooking anyone?

Looking over recent draws to this blog, I've discovered that over 1/4 of traffic comes to find my recipes. Hmmm.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Abundance

Abundance is a good thing to have. I can't say that we are wealthy, but we have enough. Luckily, thanks to our savings and the generosity of state-sponsored benefits, we have enough to survive as a family in relative comfort for a few more years, without worrying too much about when and how much income. It is a luxury for which, though I think we are worthy of it, I am truly grateful.

What it gives us is an abundance of time. It's ours to choose how that time is spent. I'm plugging away at my business plans and research. I've realized that while I've been placing a priority on developing the materials for a patent application, what I really need is to develop some proofs-of-concept. These are complementary enterprises, so I'm not too concerned. It's just good to keep priorities in mind.

Time. To some extent, time is on my side. I'm in no rush. There is little to be gained from rushing through a patent application. Without the proofs-of-concept no one is going to take me and my technology seriously. That's an advantage as I see it. The only real threat is if there is some maverick or outsider like me out there who either gets whiff of what I'm doing (not terribly likely) or who is developing such things concurrently and happens to reduce to practice before I do. For now, I'm discounting that possibility as rather unlikely, since I think it takes an odd and eclectic background and interest (as well as the means to spend a great deal of time on the project) to get where I am and where I'm going.

I'm planning to keep up with my schedule this summer. I've actually worked out a fuller and more detailed plan in the past week (which incidentally includes this book chapter I agreed to write--a promise is a promise). I've been playing with Gantt charts (which I first used in my recent grant proposal). But I'm also planning to keep my life in perspective. I'm moving ahead my plans to get a workstation dedicated to the research and software development. I might go for it in the next few weeks. I'm planning to run a flavor of Linux (any recommendations or cautions... I'm leaning toward SuSE at the moment), and pick up some powerful (possibly expensive) industry-strength software for prototyping and algorithm development. It's time to get serious in that regard.

It's not all work though. Today, I cleared out much of the garage, enough to park our car in there alongside our minivan. We've been here three months, and this is the first time. This morning, I finished putting up the ceiling tiles in the basement family room. All that remains is staining and putting in the baseboards and the doors, getting an area rug or ordering carpeting, then organizing and cleaning up. I also consolidated my books and papers in the office onto one large bookshelf, and moved the second large bookshelf into the living room, to store games and toys. It's a big improvement for both rooms, and gives the office more space which will be needed especially when I get the second workstation. More cleaning and organizing tomorrow, and I've committed to keeping the home projects end up, even if it eats into some of my workweek hours. In the end, I'm sure my work time will be more productive (and my life more fulfilled).

As soon as the family room is finished, I can set up the exercise room. I'm feeling my age (or worse). I'm 40. Too many people die young. I think of Tony Snow. No fan of his, I assure you. But no one should die at 53! I think of Douglas Adams. I am a fan of his. My wife and I heard him speak about a week before he died in 2001, at the age of 49! My dad was 69 when he died of prostate cancer. Give me 30 more years, that's all I ask. But it's a tall order I know. It's best I do my part, meaning exercise for one.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Clean Slate

I am not by nature a particularly neat and organized person. At least, I'm not organized in a neat fashion. My wife would assure you that the picture of my desk above is a rather tame condition for the wilds I normally inhabit. (The walls are still a might bit dark for my taste, but that will have to await completion of the basement improvements).
My desk, in its state of disorganization, patiently awaited my return from a holiday. We arrived at the Lake House a week ago. Shortly after arriving, I took off my watch, as I readied to hit the water. I didn't put it back on until the drive home on Sunday.

I spent a good deal of time on the water, in the row boat or canoe. It's not a big lake. About 10-15 minutes is enough for a full circuit in a boat. There are about 8 houses surrounding it (two of which are for sale!). But the family Lake House is at our disposal, so there's little need for us to purchase our own plot any time soon. Good to know it's there for our use as we wish. We might get a small sailboat (say 14-18') sometime to supplement the rowboat and canoe there. It'd be a nice place to practice.
It was overall a peaceful and refreshing break. Our visit to the Lake House last year in fact was a major factor in our deciding to move to these parts. Our requirements were simple: affordable, near family, near the water. Many places would have fit the bill. But the peacefulness of nature at the Lake House was a reminder of what we wanted to capture.

There was little cause for my initial concern over spending five days away from home. I've sometimes felt a fish out of water during family vacations. I just let go this time. It helps of course, that there were others (mostly the inlaws) to entertain the boys much of the time, freeing me up to boat, or to read or just sit when the weather dictated.
In the end however, I find my slate has been wiped clean. I checked off the remaining two tasks on my to-do list this morning. I've spent much of the past couple days dealing with some technical issues regarding my websites and email servers.

I've been reading up on some of the engineering side of the research I'm involved in. Before me lies the patent preparations. Immediately, my plan is to develop my "technology narrative," sort of a white paper to explain what I'm doing, its relevance, the procedures, the market. This will be the basis for the patent description, and also for future grant and funding proposals.

Even though I've got this goal, it's dauntingly open. At the moment, I have no hard deadlines. A soft one I've self-imposed of the end of the summer to have the patent materials completed. It's soft because I'm not certain whether I'll file a provisional or full utility patent, or whether I might put off the patent filing for a time once I've gone through the process. There may be reasons to delay, so I'm open to the prospect (as long as I'm poised to file with everything prepared).

Will I get the grant I submitted last month? No telling. It'd be nice, but it won't really change my plans one way or the other. The next round of deadlines for grants and such is October-December, so that won't occupy me this summer. It feels good to be where we are. But things have slowed down a bit. I just want to keep up the momentum, even while I'm enjoying a bit of coasting.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Late in the Season

I finally got the vegetable garden set today. About three weeks ago, I dug up the sod in a triangle bed just outside our back fence, along one edge of the driveway leading into our detached garage. It seemed a useless patch of grass, too small to play in, good for little more than an extra four minutes of weekly mowing. Silly, I thought... but it has a nice warm micro-climate, sheltered and insulated by the wood plank fence, and warmed by the concrete driveway, with a full-sun westward facing. Today, I finally finished with separating the soil from the roots, tossing the dying grass in a pile by the worm-bin, and tilling up the soil in the now vegetable patch.

We had bought a bunch of seeds to start the garden (along with some still languishing bulbs and tubers) that populate our back stairwell. I decided at this late stage in the season, it'd be better to plant some seedlings than to start seeds. The Inventor and I headed out to a couple garden centers. Tomatoes we found in abundance, but sweet peppers were hard to come by. Many varieties of hot pepper, but I could only locate two types of sweet (both oddly enough purple). So, we have a half dozen tomato plants, five hot peppers, four sweet (purple!) peppers, one bean plant, and three strawberries. I also bought a few packs of lettuce seedlings (which it's certainly too late to start from seed) in hopes that they'll provide us with a month or two of baby salad greens. I'll plant them along the inside of the fence tomorrow.

Still a little room in the triangle patch. Maybe I'll put in some seeds, or purchase a couple other plants (eggplant? more beans?) Not really enough room for cucumbers or zucchini there. I might find another spot (though I'm not sure it'll be this season). There's a lot to do in the garden besides. I was also planning on starting a small bed or two inside the fence, and have half a notion to plant some corn in the greenway along the street. We'll see. Anything that doesn't get done tomorrow will have to wait.

We'll be taking off for a few days starting on Tuesday. My wife's grandparents own a remote house near the Wisconsin Dells, on a dirt road, alongside a pond ("the lake house"), which is the venue for occasional family gatherings, most traditionally for the Fourth of July. We'll be heading up a couple days early, and staying on a couple days past.

No computer. It'll be five days without email, or internet. RocketMom promised she'd try to plan enough activities and outings so we wouldn't get bored. And I promise, I'll try to just be in the moment. Vacations are good... I'm just not always so good at being there.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Slow & Steady

The choice I face today as an entrepreneur is how far/how fast. What are my requirements, my needs, my hopes, my expectations? I'm at a pause. Not that I'm standing still. It's more like I've hiked to a vantage; I'm taking a few deep breaths to survey the scape around me.

We made this choice as a family to leave behind HELL.A. (the "hel" is silent), to find a nice place in the midwest, where we could afford to be home owners again, near family (at least my inlaws), near the water (so we could go sailing again sometime), where the air is cleaner than we had, where the pace is gentler, where neighborhoods have sidewalks, and neighbors say "hello" to each other, and lend out garden tools just because. We've found that place. We're very happy here, enjoying the spring (despite the frequent heavy rains).

But where to, and when, and how? A week ago, I submitted a grant proposal for funding to support the work I'm already doing. I've been honing and focusing my efforts. If I get the grant, that buys us another year or two (at least for us alone, though it won't allow me to hire employees). I'm working on my patent application. Patents are like diplomas, they're nice to have but relatively meaningless in themselves.

What I need is a product. What I need is a plan. I remind myself of a debate that I've summed up before as the opposition in outlooks between the composers Haydn and Dvořák. Haydn for his part viewed the essential task of music, its mark of genius, to reside in devising a fine melody. Dvořák considered the melody the easy part, believing rather that musical genius was in the treatment of a melody, not its creation.

Both of these masters were abundantly skilled at producing memorable melodies. I find myself more in the latter camp however. It's interesting to note the differences of their circumstances. Haydn spent a career as a court composer, sustained, supported, directed by a wealthy patron. His freedom to compose derived from his relative lack of worries. Dvořák toiled. He picked up temporary and part-time gigs, applied for grants and stipends to permit his continued efforts.

They present not only a difference in philosophy, but a difference as models for an entrepreneur. Do I wish to seek the comfort and stability that comes from raising capital (or taking a job), in exchange for releasing some of my creative direction, or do I wish to continue along a path of great freedom, in exchange for releasing financial comfort and stability? In the end I may reach the same point. Both masters' music lives on.

There are as many journeys as there are feet to tread them. For now my path lies before me. RocketMom is here to hold my hand, join the discussion at times, offer her advice. She begins to say we rather than you (as in "maybe we're not ready to hire someone full-time" or "we can wait a couple months to see if we get this grant"). I like that.

Perhaps I'm a bit afraid that if I leap too fast (by seeking investors now), the research and its applications will get away from me. It's not so much that I fear delegating, that I'm afraid to share decisions, that I don't recognize that others may be better qualified or equipped than I to make certain sorts of decisions. It's more that I don't wish to be hasty. It's just not yet time. There is no rush.

Ah... I think I'll take that path over there down the mountain. I like the way it looks.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Post-partum

It was a rather intense three weeks, preparing the grant proposal. Then, it was done. What might happen?

I explained to RocketMom that I feel like I'm in my old darkroom. Once you select the frame, and adjust the cropping, place and expose the paper, burn and dodge as you like, then gently glide it in the alkaline developer tray, you catch your breath until that moment when the image in silver halides begins magically to appear.

I'm caught in that moment. I'm in a Groundhog Day dream, terminating just before that crucial event. What might happen?

No... I don't need this. But what next? I have a new priority now: my patent application. Deadline set by the end of the summer. That's three long months. According to Gaisma, we're in the summer solstice locally.
Date Sunrise Sunset Length Change
Today 05:13 20:33 15:20
+1 day 05:13 20:33 15:20 00:00 equal length

More intense effort. Don't get me wrong: this is what I wish to be doing at this point in my life. But there are times when the path weighs heavily on me.

I mentioned the other day that I'm reading about the making of Pixar as inspiration. Long time readers will recall that a bit more than a year ago I read part of the story in Droidmaker, by Michael Rubin. Problem is, I'm not sure just whom I'm emulating.

See, the folks who made computer animated films a reality (Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith, John Lasseter, et al) were not exactly entrepreneurs. They had the spirit, the commitment, the ideas, but... they also had that rare and wonderful commodity: wealthy sponsors. First, it was Alexander Schure, then George Lucas, and finally Steve Jobs. They... those last three, they were the entrepreneurs. But, I can't say they're my role models.

David Price, in The Pixar Touch, writes (p. 62): "The trouble at Lucasfilm was that Lucas wanted his computer graphics experts to be Isaacs, the inventor, while they wanted to be Muybridge, the artist...". My problem is, I wish to be the inventor and the entrepreneur.

It's not that the thought of a rich patron doesn't at times appeal to me. It's mostly that I've given up holding my breath. I look at job listings, wondering if there isn't somewhere a position just right for me (like there was for Catmull and Smith and Lasseter). But that phone has yet to ring out of the blue, inviting me to head a new lab. For now, and likely for good, I'm on my own.

I just hope, someday soon, to have the resources to hire some others to join me. Even the best climbers wouldn't tackle a mountain alone.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Reminder

Painter: Mommy, does daddy really sneak in here every night and give us extra kisses?

Mommy: Yes, he does... well, maybe not every night.

Painter: Daddy, when I'm a daddy, you'll have to... you'll have to remind me to kiss my boys, too.
I don't think I'll have to.

Seared Ahi Tuna with Mango-Pepper salad

Ingredients:
  • ~1 lb. of Ahi Tuna steaks
  • ~1 cup of minced peppers (use several kinds)
  • ~1/2 cup of diced fresh fruit (mangoes, peaches, apricots)
  • 2 tbs. thinly sliced green onions or chives
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. sesame seeds
  • juice of half a lemon, half a lime, half an orange
  • 1 tsp. fresh minced garlic
  • 1 tbs. fresh grated ginger
  • 2 tbs. soy sauce
  • 2 tbs. rice wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1/8 tsp. wasabi powder
  • fresh greens (lettuce, arugula, radicchio)
  • fresh sprouts
  • cherry tomatoes
Mince & chop peppers, green onions, & fruit. Mix in bowl with oils, seeds, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, wasabi, and citrus juices. Stir well. Gently Sear tuna about 3 minutes per side (don't overcook it). Arrange leaves, sprouts and tomatoes on plate. Set tuna steaks on leaves, spoon mango-pepper sauce on top. Serve with rice. Enjoy.

The mango-pepper chutney was devoured by our pepper-loving (won't touch most other fruits and vegetables) Painter. Chalk that up as success.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Submitted

This morning, at around 4:00am local time, while I slept soundly, my previously uploaded and complete application silently became a submitted proposal. All told, it's worth about $150,000 and 12 months of effort... that is, if it's funded. Now it's on to the next project.

I spent a few hours the past couple days in the garden, getting a bed ready for vegetables, though it's already late in the season to get started.

The next priority is preparing and filing a patent application. Simultaneous with that, I need to start investigating other grant opportunities to support research and development.

This has been a good process for me, clarifying my ideas, specifying applications. The more I have delved into current efforts, the more I become convinced of the value of my own ideas. The trick is figuring out a way to realize them in practical applications.

I picked up a copy of The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, by David A. Price, for inspiration. It's a model for me. There are similarities in what I'm trying to do, in a different domain. Can I do it on my own? No way of telling just yet. But shy of making friends with the next Steve Jobs, or giving up, I haven't a choice.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Darned if I didn't think I'd shut that door!

[Door knocks]

Me:
Hello?

Tasse:
Hi, AD... it's Tasse Plein. I got a call from June Strawberry. They're looking to hire someone to cover some classes. It's a one-year appointment. Don't know if it's long term, but they've got an overflow of students. If they continue to have an overflow... well, you were the first person I thought of. I know you said you'd had enough, and I respect that. I just still think you'd do a great job.
Ain't it always that way? The call came during the entrepreneurship conference. Actually there was a voice mail that I returned. The school is 7 hours' drive from here. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) there are no direct flights, so travel by plane would likely still take 5 hours or more, what with travel to and from regional airports and arriving early for departure.

It's hard to say, still hard to say, but it's not really what I'm seeking now. I just don't want to burn any bridges. It's not that I'm no longer interested in the academy. In some ways, I'm irredeemably connected. "One foot in/one foot out". I may shut the door, but it's ever in sight. You never know when the knock will come, or when I'll choose to open it up, to see if the courtyard appears at all changed.

_______________________
I've been doing more and more searches on the internet, mostly "prior art" searches, trying to uncover the known universe of research in my area. People are looking at the geography for sure. They're just not using my tools. I am increasingly assured of that. There's a patent to be had, with little problem I'm sure.

But, as was hammered home at this conference: patents don't make sales... products make sales. "And why are sales important?" you may ask. Fair enough question. I mean it's all about the research, about asking interesting questions, finding answers, right? Why climb the mountain? Because it's there, right?

Ah, yes... but you can't climb a mountain without the necessary equipment and resources. Years ago, foolishly convinced by a friend, I entered a bicycle race. I hadn't trained. Not a bit. I rode my bike daily, wasn't that enough. Humiliation. You need to have the resources and the stamina. What gives a researcher resources and stamina? Ah... there's the rub.

See, as you will recall, I have no institutional affiliation, no academic support network. I have no foundation, no trust, no lab. I have my trusty "Moose" and my home office. And I've got ideas. Oh have I got ideas. But ideas alone won't pay the mortgage. And I've got a limited time to live off savings.

I met a lot of investors at the conference. What's your 30-second commercial? Do you have an "elevator speech"? Repeatedly I heard something along the lines of "it's not the technology, it's the revenue". The trick, the real trick is to make us both happy. What they want desperately to give me is the resources to succeed, so long as they get what they want in return. We may differ on how we define success... but that doesn't mean our definitions are mutually exclusive. To the contrary, by making them happy, I'm more likely to ensure I've got the resources to keep it all going for thirty years.

See, that's my goal. Get me to 70! Then I'll reassess. But how to get there? Everyone who got where they are... started where they were. Indeed! I've no aversion to success, even financial or business success. I'm fine with that. It's just not my motivation. What I want is to remain true to what I hold dear. Knowledge, inquiry. Ask important and interesting questions. Propel human understanding forward.

Now, from the investor's standpoint: so what? Fine, they've different motivations. But I still have to answer that so what. What problems are you solving? That's a good question for us researchers. It's fine to climb a mountain because it's there. But if one particular mountain lies between my cache of food and a starving village, there's a bit more impetus to the project. Nice thing is: I get to climb the mountain either way. So I begin to ask myself these questions. In finding the answers to them, I'll discover the best paths to take at this stage of the journey.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Brief hiatus

Friday afternoon, I took a brief hiatus (about an hour) from grant writing, so I could prime the walls in the basement family room (and pantry wall). Today, we took advantage of a break in the rains, to head over to a local building supply store, and pick up the baseboards, quarter rounds, and shelving hardware. We never got around to putting on the first coat of paint. My mother-in-law will be coming up tomorrow, and my father-in-law on Tuesday (they have conflicting schedules -- though they're both retired now).

I'll be away at an entrepreneurs' conference both days. It'll be my first of that variety. I'm looking forward to it, though I have no idea whether I'll find much interesting, or much tedious. I certainly wouldn't be terribly interested in hearing about how one fellow got rich building laundromats, or some gal learned how to buy and flip rental properties. That's not exactly my kind of entrepreneurship. But then, maybe it's not most people's. I couldn't really say. I'm feeling like an outsider again.

But for me, being an outsider is a good feeling. I like being on the edge, listening in, taking my view from a different place, having something unusual to contribute to the conversation. I learned that in junior high school, those many years ago. I had had a rough time in elementary school... a really rough time. I was small, always the smallest. And I was young, younger than all but one very sweet (and very smart) Korean-American girl (I hear in Korea you're considered 1 at birth -- apparently counting gestation as a first year -- any insight, Soo? -- so there may have been some discrepancy in translation).

In any case, I joined the group in second grade, having missed two years of socializing with my cohorts. Somehow, that lead to my becoming an outcast. I had three or four friends until fifth grade. Mostly, I was known as it and thing. I learned self-reliance, self-respect, self-confidence. I had to. In junior high, I learned to blend, to be a chameleon, always to be almost a part of many cliques, never quite a member of any of them, but never fully excluded. I think that's lived with me until now.

I suppose that has contributed to my comfort with interdisciplinarity. Who wants to be fully entrenched in one discipline, when you can find a territory to lay claim to that lies between several? I wrote a lot about the dangers and challenges of this approach, and also its benefits, on my old blog. And now, I've left academia. I'm an outsider there, and an outsider in business.

I like being a researcher/entrepreneur. I like the prospects that appear on my horizon. This just may work. I may be able to carve this territory for myself, find a way to make a living at it, keep it self-sustaining, and fully regain my dignity, which has been creeping back after the relentless suction of four years wandering a zombie among the forgotten and abandoned PhDs.

I'm looking forward now. Enjoying every way station. Enjoying my time. Enjoying my life. Enjoying the rains and the storms. Enjoying my house. Enjoying my family. Life really is good.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The never-ending proposal

I feel I'm making progress. I know I am. But this whole endeavor is quite exhausting. More than 6000 words on the page. (I've probably edited out more than twice that already). I'm putting my best foot forward. The deeper I get into the process, not only of preparing this federal grant proposal, but of building the business, the more I believe in it. I've been doing almost daily searches, including multiple keyword searches of issued patents and published applications. Mostly, I'm on my own in the research domain, and that's exciting. I feel like I've entered a massive field of stones, and all have been turned over... but one! When there is something remotely similar to what I'm doing, it's not too hard for me to see through a lacuna in that work. I remain convinced that what I'm proposing is indeed novel and valuable. And yet, I remain on the cusp.

The proposal I've been putting together would be a first step, giving me a real salary for conducting the research I've been doing for free for most of the past two years, and in part for the two preceding ones. That ... would be heaven. But it's just a start. If I'm right... If I really can accomplish the things I'm setting out to do, it should be little problem moving to the next phase and beyond. All told, this could mean more than a million dollars for my firm, just on one project... and that's before commercialization. That should be enough to hire a staff. Instant colleagues. If I deliver, I've got a product to propel me forward.

My goal is not to get rich (though I certainly won't cast it off). My goal is simple: to find a way to make enough with my research to keep it going for the next thirty years. I simply want it to become self-sustaining. And the thing is, though this proposal is sapping all my energies at the moment, I don't really need this one to come through. I'm utterly convinced that the right opportunity will arise one way or another.

Most likely I'll submit just one of these two proposals I've been planning. It's simply too much work (if I do it right) to get both done. But there are two more cycles coming up with other agencies in August and October. And there are many opportunities beyond these federal grants as well.

Next step after this grant submission is working on the patent filing. I've spent a lot of time lately reading patents on related work. Some are well written, some work interesting, others so badly written I haven't the slightest idea what they're about. I want my patent application to be clear, patently clear. Will I hire an attorney? Perhaps. I haven't decided for sure, though I suspect I'll at least want to hire one to look over my wording, even if I file it on my own. I suspect part of what makes some patents and applications so poorly written is that the attorneys at times have no idea what the invention is all about, so they fill in the filing with words words words. On the other hand, there's a strategy I believe to presenting just the facts, ma'am, without providing all the pith, in the nomenclature--without making the description enabling. Properly, I believe a patent is supposed to be enabling... but in practice it most often isn't.

First off, I complete and submit this grant proposal. Next, I find my Nolo's Patents for Beginners, and get cracking. We'll see. It just might be worth paying that $5-10k for an attorney.

Enjoying the storm

I want the Earth to talk to me,
to listen to its call,
to hear its winds awhispery,
even a stormy squall.

I'm glad for weather's vibrancy,
a living Earth for me,
no more the quiet sight
of rainless day and windless night.

The past few nights we've had rain, and thunder, and lightning. Our bully black cat, Jeda, curls up on our bed in the throes of it, raowing his concern. This morning, a tornado watch and flood advisory were issued for the area... take shelter inside, move away from windows.

The Earth speaks to me again. I hadn't realized quite how much I missed her capricious ways. In Southern California the weather is mostly predictably boring. I'm sure many of you will think me odd; who wouldn't want the regularity of sunshine? But there is something charming and delightful, something worldly, gritty, real about weeds cropping up where wind or bird dropped their seeds, rather than only where irrigation nourishes. Fickle rains for me!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Been Quiet

I've been quiet here for a few days I see. I'm busy. Friday, I had a morning meeting (followed by lunch) with a nearby professor to consult about possible future collaborative projects. I had first met him a couple weeks ago, but finally with a non-disclosure agreement in place, we were free to talk more openly. After lunch, I had another meeting with the local coordinator for the entrepreneurs network, who agreed to help me out a bit with my grantwriting.

I feel really good off of those meetings. On the one hand, local prof (let's call him Mark Johns) was supportive, but cautious. He's an engineer, trained in one domain of the discipline in which a large part of my current efforts infringe. He validated my view both that what I'm trying is novel and valuable. Next, it actually pleases me a bit his skepticism on some points. The reality is standard practices in Applied Research Field were established long ago when different problems appeared. Those problems led to certain directions in the research. Generations of researchers have tweaked and plumped those techniques, but a few of the fundamental assumptions (in large part determined by the needs of those original questions) fail to go challenged.

I believe the skepticism on Mark's part derives from those assumptions. I fully expect there may be greater complications to what I'm attempting. But I see them as hurdles to climb over, rather than roadblocks. I think, from the vantage of his training and experience, he simply can't see that. It's a good feeling to be so confident in what I'm doing, knowing full well that there is much in his knowledge base that I lack, having not been trained in that discipline. But I'm on to something, I know it, I feel it, I'm validated in that when I get someone like Mark excited about the novelty of it.

And I also know that my ideas are not all that complicated, not all that inspired, not all that spectacular. It's simply, coming at this field from a new direction, with new eyes, I've noticed a stone left unturned. When I turn it off, it's marvelous to see [--I suppose if I were a real academic I'd have written mirabile dictu--] that there are creatures under that stone yet to be catalogued.

The afternoon meeting was exciting as well. Let's call my local entrepreneur coordinator Dick Lindt. Dick's another engineer, but from a quite different area. I've met with him twice now, and talked on the phone and emailed numerous times. He's got great energy, and seems to really believe in what I'm doing. He thinks this first grant should be in the bag. We'll see.

Coming off those two meetings, I honed a bit of the proposal on Friday. The weekend was mostly for the family and the garden. We've gotten a good start on that. I've been edging the yard, setting off small planting areas along the walkways. Hopefully this week we'll decide where the vegetable garden will be, and get started on that. Saturday night we joined some neighbors for a camp fire, to drink and talk. That was really nice as well. It's a good place for us to be, all around. It feels like HOME!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Keeping focus

Had a good time yesterday. Barbeque over at my brother-in-law's, about an hour's drive. It's nice to be able to visit family without too much ado. In two weeks, we'll be heading to one of RocketMom's cousin's houses (about two hours' drive) to celebrate the birthday of one of her boys.

This is why we're here... well, in part. I've been keeping focus otherwise, on these grant proposals. Tough, because I keep thinking I've got three weeks, which I do. But there's a whole to these proposals. I've got to keep to a particular format (there are ten defined sections, each which addresses a particular part of the proposal). I've got to prepare a budget, which I've never done of this kind before.

Today, I finished a complete draft of the eight-page technical description. It'll need tweaking for sure. But it's got a lot in there. A lot of my heart is in there. But RocketMom keeps reminding me (sometimes with prompting) this isn't all there is to me or to us. She'll love me whether I get this grant or not, whether I get the patent on this idea, or not. Life will go on. That's good to know.

I have to keep reminding myself that this deadline is looming, is now. There's a lot of work to do. I've got to keep editing the technical description. I have to fill in the other sections. And I'll have to do it all again (cutting and pasting much of the technical description, rewriting as needed) for the second grant proposal as well.

This is an exciting, but also scary part of being an entrepreneur. I keep reading more and more about what others are doing. Of course, I know much of what they're doing now, I won't know for a couple years, because they like me are keeping it close to the chest, until patents and such come through. I'm convinced that no one is working on what I've got (but then sometimes we all delude ourselves--that I know).

So, this could turn out spectacular. Or it could turn out a dud. I've got to be like Thomas Edison. One more dud just adds to the pile of things that have not YET worked. It'll come. It'll come.

Happy Memorial Day! I've got to get out to the barbeque before everything burns.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Grantwriters & Attorneys

Earlier in the week, I got a preliminary bid from one of the grantwriters I had spoken to: $7000! Um... yeah, really. Granted, it's likely the state would cover about 40% of that via a grant program to support new technology businesses, but... uh... From a guy (with a PhD) who recently worked 15 weeks, at least 24 hours/week, teaching two courses at a university, for a paltry $7700, it's rather difficult to justify paying someone else that kind of money to handle a bit of editing and formatting and assuring that electronic submission goes through for a grant proposal (okay, two actually, but they're quite related). The proposal was a flat-rate-fee, ostensibly based on the assumption of 70 hours of work ($100/hr with a comfy buffer I'm sure-- Not bad.) There are numerous things I could do with that 4 grand out of my pocket, not the least of which concerns living expenses for my family for about a month!

Now, I'm not banking on failure, and one approach might be to simply buck it up, fork over the cash, and hope for the best. But I've quite a bit of confidence in my own grantwriting skills. In fact, the grantwriter wouldn't really be writing the grant in any case. It's my research. I'm in for writing the technical proposal (the bulk of the application) either way. So what would that $7000 cover? Not quite sure. Formatting and editing mostly. Sure, that's all a pain in the ass, but I've handled the like before. I think of Lilian's recent drama with submitting her dissertation.

I've taken the tack that I'll just plan to do it all myself, and if I get a bit stressed or derailed, I can always call up one of those folks and say Hey, I've gotten this far, can you help me get it all in? What would that run me? [Reality dictates: I've been under deadlines before; more than likely I'll just pull through.]

My mind's actually a bit more at ease after my latest meeting with a patent attorney yesterday, and my reviewing of disclaimers on the grant submission website. Deal is, the submission itself is treated confidentially, so there's little threat that submitting a grant proposal would constitute public disclosure, thus my patent rights and IP security are retained. All of which means, there's no rush for me to file a patent application (even a provisional one) prior to preparing and submitting these grant proposals.

That said, I've got about three weeks to focus entirely (at least professionally) on preparing those grant apps. And, I remind myself: I don't need these. It'd sure be nice to get one or the other (or both) of them, to validate my approach, and to put some money in the firm's coffers. But we've got a couple years or so before we've got to worry about revenue. I'm utterly convinced that everything will fall into place.

This gives me some breathing room to concentrate on clarifying my ideas, explaining how they solve real world problems. These grant proposals are different from ones I've done in the past, in that I'm not trying to figure a way to fit my research into their expectations, I'm merely finding topics of their interest that I'm already working on, and writing up a proposal that says this is what I'm doing, and hey it solves the problems you're posing. It's a really good feeling!

And that breathing room allows me to work on some other funding avenues as well. I'll be talking with a couple county and regional development representatives next week, to discuss what's available to me in getting this venture up and running. It's quite possible I'll qualify for a state grant/loan program that puts up funds for third-party services (like patent attorneys?), equipment, and staff (but not my salary), with the proviso that it gets paid back as a loan on easy terms if the venture succeeds, and possibly gets forgiven if commercialization fails. That may put me in the awkward position of paying employees more in salary and benefits than I've ever had the honor to receive.

I can't say for sure what will happen, but it's not out of the question that I'll have a couple full-time employees by the end of the summer. I've been alone on this journey professionally for quite a while. It'd be a relief to finally have some company, but it'll be odd as well, especially since it'll be my task to provide them with assignments, and to make sure that they remain busy and engaged. That'll take some thinking. Meantime, it's three weeks on these grants. We'll see from there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Am I happy?

Last night, in bed, RocketMom said she was pleased to see me happy, that she was glad so many things are taking off for me and my business. I kept waiting for the "but"... it didn't come. I asked. No buts... just I love yous.

... Hmmm. Am I happy?

I'm one of these people who often whistles to myself, imbuing the space around me with sound. What is that you're whistling? I don't know. It's nothing. I'm just making it up. So many remarks over the years about how happy I must be. I've often wondered at those remarks, not feeling particularly happy in my doings (not sad either, simply being). I guess 1950s musicals trained us to see whistling => happy. Or maybe it's deeper than that? Maybe it's true. Maybe I was just unaware of my own contentment.

Am I happy?

I'm busy, that's for sure. More activity in my life condensed in a month than I've felt for years, YEARS! The post-doc depression (for me, and I'm sure many others) was a sink hole the size of Kansas, the kind of chasm you'd expect from a 1970s era movie on earthquakes, where faultlines disappear into depths below, swallowing cars, houses, people.

I'm no longer in it. I'm not looking behind, to see the devastation. I grieve for Myanmar and Sichuan today. I have a distance from their suffering (theirs is physical, tangible, mine merely emotional--why do we say merely?).

To some extent, I'm not ready to pause and revel in my happiness, because there is no stopping point just yet. I've a house again. For that I'm glad. My family is receiving state aid (a hand-up as I see it, not a hand-out).

I'm edging closer and closer to accomplishing practical applications of these ideas which have swirled for years in my head. They begin to congeal, clearly and concisely on paper. I'm attending meetings, and workshops, and seminars, and talks. I'm working on proposals. I'm discussing state funding for various projects. (If it were my own money, how would I spend it?) I'm talking to lawyers about protecting my intellectual property. (What can I patent? Is it the right moment? Do I risk losing patent rights, if I submit grant proposals before patent protection?)

When that first check arrives, I will surely celebrate. Happiness is an attitude, not so much a state. Am I happy is not the right question. Do I admit to my happiness? (To quote Dr. Lanning from the movie I, Robot): "That, is the right question."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Little pleasures

Our dear Mira is gone. In some ways, knowing the end was coming, makes it easier. I remember when Mouse was run over by a car. I was devastated. Such a sweet, fluffy (she was the only longhair in the litter), intelligent (she was the only one who could open doors by grabbing the handles), beautiful cat.

Mouse in March 2002

She had a habit of running across the busy frontage road beside our condo complex to catch field mice and gophers in the greenway along the highway. One day she didn't make it back. She had been out for hours, I was worried. I found her, flat and stiff, wrapped in a newspaper beside the road.

It was the daily habits that reminded me. Each day, I reached for four cat bowls... then put one back. These days I reach for three, and settle on two. Two toms remain. Enormous cats. Not really fat, just enormous. Take a look at the tail size on the other tabby beside Mira in this photo and you'll get a sense of what I mean. The fourth cat of the litter was Spock. His tabby "M" marking on the forehead reminded us too much of Leonard Nimoy's character to forego the namesake. We had given him away shortly after weaning. It was very hard. We decided to keep the others. Five, then four cats... now down to two.

My three boys

But there are many small pleasures in life. Looking in my baby Composer's grey-blue eyes. I wonder if they'll remain that color. His mother has long been my "grey-eyed goddess Athena". My paternal grandmother had sky blue eyes her entire life. The older two boys have my hazel-green. Composer is just four months now... they could yet change. But those eyes seem willful in their determination to take after their mother's.

I love to tickle his cheek, and watch his delighted, gaping, toothless grin. I love the creativity of his elder brothers, their stories, and their questions. I enjoy those rare occasions when all three (or even just two) play contentedly together.

Multigrain sourdough

The past couple days I've enjoyed my baking again. I was never a baker until the past couple years, when my yearning for dense and flavorful Central European-style bread (the kind you just love to slab a hunk of cheese on), and the inability to find it anywhere, led me to purchase a baking book, and start experimenting. I'm finally at the point, where I can modify recipes on the fly and be fairly sure they'll turn out. I learned the secret to free-form loaves that don't collapse: long rising times (about 3-4 hours), with a couple intermediate sessions of folding the dough in on itself (like an envelope). That stretches and strengthens the glutens. The loaf above is a multi-grain sourdough (wheat, rye, spelt, cornmeal). I baked a dozen bagels the night before.

And now, it's back to work. I'm still honing the technology narrative. I have lunch today with an upcoming senior in computer science and business at a local college, who will be taking on developing a business plan for my firm as his senior project. Then, I head on a two-hour drive for a talk about the research priorities of one government agency. Busy days. Good days. It helps dispel the sadness of loss.