The Bioremediating Missile

Jos Volkers hand-crafted a fourteen meter long replica of a V-2 rocket, the WWII long-range guided ballistic missile developed by the Germans to attack Allied cities as retaliation for the Allied bombings. The purpose of the artist’s weapon, however, is everything but nefarious. Instead of killing civilians and destroying buildings, this gigantic seed bomb was designed to be deployed in case of environmental emergency. “Detonating” it would bring back biodiversity in seriously compromised ecosystems.

Jos Volkers, Bioremediating Missile, 2020

Jos Volkers, Bioremediating Missile, 2020

Jos Volkers, Bioremediating Missile, 2020

The artist spent two years creating this Bioremediating Missile: he built it using biodegradable materials such as wood, textile and clay and filled it with seeds, spores and nutrients. He recently hired a truck and took it on a European tour all the way from Romania to various art events in The Netherlands. Its next stop is Zone2Source, an international platform for art, nature and technology in Amstelpark, Amsterdam.

The rocket was developed within the framework of Volker’s fictitious company Ecological Space Engineering (ESE) which brings together reflections related to the ongoing ecological crisis, technological innovations, human interventions and conflicts in order to engage in speculative research about how we can improve the quality of life on our planet.

I liked the sound of that so I emailed Jos and asked him if he had a moment for a few questions…

Jos Volkers, Bioremediating Missile, 2020

Hi Jos! The Bioremediating Missile (Brm. 1) is filled with seeds, spores and nutrients. Are you planning to make it explode? And if you do where would that be and what are you hoping the firing will achieve in the short, medium, long term?  

In theory the Brm. 1. is made to store ecosystem specific seeds and spores from the South-Eastern Carpathians. In case this still pristine ecosystem vanishes because of logging, pollution, nuclear war or otherwise. If this happens, Ecological Space Engineering will have these ecosystem specific seeds and spores stored in the Brm. 1. Ready for use in order to renew, restore and bioremediate this severely damaged area. The Brm. 1. can be dropped out of a helicopter or plane in the near future.

But if we look ahead, E.S.E. will create Bioremediating Missile launch platforms which will float like satellites in Earth’s atmosphere. They will be capable of measuring radiation and pollution, filtering carbon dioxide and methane. Until the affected area is ready to receive seed and spore inoculation.

Where most governmental space agencies spend their money to explore space and to find life on other planets, we as a non-governmental space agency use our finances to support life on Earth. In our perspective life on earth should be nourished and restored instead and, above all, protected against human mismanagement. This is how Ecological Space Engineering and Atmosphere Remediation Centres (A.R.C.) started to collaborate. With the Bioremediating Missile program, we investigate the possibilities to maintain and store ecosystem specifics, like seeds, spores, micro-organisms and minerals.

A.R.C. will develop Nature Oriented Aquatic Hovercrafts (NOAH’s), which will float in Earth’s atmosphere on a high altitude, filtering Co2 and carrying B.R.M’s. This enterprise is one of the most intriguing developments within the Bioremediating Missile program. By the process of filtering CO2, NOAH’s will produce fuel, mainly this fuel is stored and shipped to outer space docs. A part of the produced fuel stays on-board in case of turbulence or malfunction of the aquatic system which propels these hovercrafts, in this way NOAH’s can be stabilized and brought back into position.

These outer space docs function as hubs for space exploration purposes. With this invention, we are able to finance our Bioremediating Missile program because governmental organisations are mainly focused on exploring the boundaries of space.

The Bioremediating Missile “Instruction Manual”
Jos Volkers, 2020

The above scenario seems very unlikely, so the Brm. 1. will at the end of its lifetime – after its journey – probably decay fully in the garden of Np3 M0Bi in Groningen. If this happens I might need to replace all the seeds for new seeds from the area around Np3. In the case of flora forgery and to avoid global homogenisation.

Jos Volkers, Bioremediating Missile, 2020

What kind of seeds and spores does the Missile contain and how did you select them? Are they meant to adapt to specific ecosystems for example?  

The E.S.E. Research Group collected the seeds and spores in the Southeastern Carpathians. Of course, some are ecosystem-specific seeds and rare or unable to grow in other ecosystems. We selected them carefully by researching specific areas such as meadows and forests and waited for the right season to collect just small amounts of seeds and spores.

Jos Volkers, Bioremediating Missile, 2020

Jos Volkers, Bioremediating Missile, 2020

Jos Volkers, Bioremediating Missile, 2020

I’m very curious about the transportation of the Missile from Romania to several events in The Netherlands. From the instagram images, it appears that its 14 meter long body is traveling in full view (and not hidden inside a big container). Is it because you want to use the transport of the missile as a springboard for conversations? What kind of reactions do you get when you are on the road with it?  


Ecological Space Engineering plays a vagarious role. Although E.S.E. claims that it manufactures instruments that have the potential to restore polluted, impoverished or damaged ecosystems with natural processes, it must make concessions. The use of burdensome assets such as machinery and transportation are matters that are unavoidable with regard to the manufacturing and presentation of the Bioremediating Missile. The transportation of the Bioremediating Missile serves an important message. Every company that is moving towards the transition to a green economy has to deal with these environmental issues. This dualistic message must nurture a dialogue.

From an artistic point of view, I give my work ambiguity and let the spectator free to interpret it.

Although I present at the same time a context and inform the spectator, the question remains to the audience whether the given context, in reality, is correct or not. The context creates a framework and represents the work, but actually the context does not serve an absolute truth, even though it is based on absolute values.

The artist does not seek for truth, he creates it.
(Maxim Gorky: Literary Portraits, page no. 118)

The transport of the missile caused many different reactions, depending from country to country. In Romania, the reactions were above all the funniest, maybe because people are less acquainted with this type of art or just because we travelled half of the time through villages. In most cases, people just reacted delayed by turning around after it already past. Some did put hands on the side of their hips and gazed after it. Kids, in general, pointed to it, trying to explain to their parents a rocket is passing by, if the parents could get a quick peek they reacted a bit shocked. Cars that drove next to the missile and filmed the missile, sometimes causing some (luckily) minor problems in traffic.

Jos Volkers, Bioremediating Missile, 2020

Jos Volkers, Bioremediating Missile, 2020

Why did you choose to enclose the seeds inside a missile? Why this menacing, war-like image?  

The V-2 rocket was developed by the Germans to win WWII, luckily this didn’t happen but instead the Americans and the Russians took the researchers and technical drawings. This fact caused the weapon and space race between the two nations. This is why the V-2 rocket not only embodies war but also embodies technological development. Without this space technology, we might not have had satellites in space, and without satellites, the world we know would not exist. Many fields of research actually rely on space technology such as meteorology, geography and biology. But space technology is also used for ensuring food security, reducing the risk of disasters, preventing humanitarian crises, monitoring natural resources and reducing poverty, as well as for telecommunications and health.

Another reason is that the shape evokes exploration, admiration and fear. Strangely enough, the V-2 rocket became over time a very strong symbol. Using this symbol, making it the world’s largest seed bomb, fully biodegradable and harmless made a lot of sense to me.

Any upcoming events, fields of research or projects you could share with us? 

In my mind I’m always busy with how to solve environmental issues, E.S.E. is for me a tool to express the concerns I have and I allow this fictional company to over exaggerate these concerns in order to create awareness among people. Since 10 years I’m visiting Romania on a regular basis and I’ve lived here for the last two and a half years, I’m very impressed by the natural wealth and still pristine wilderness. Only somewhere something went very wrong in my perception. In the past – during communism – people only had to deal with materials that were biodegradable, but after the fall of communism, capitalism kicked in and the plastic producing industry caused a huge unforeseen problem. In combination with corruption and mismanagement, this problem became bigger and, to this day, it remains unsolved. Besides, it is affecting the environment. This also gives me a bad aftertaste, which is a huge pity if you just made an incredible and beautiful walk through one of those pristine areas.

Something needs to be done against this mess and people responsible for throwing trash in nature need to get more awareness so they realise what the consequences of their actions are. Garbage is practically everywhere alongside rivers and roads. Of course, some people do clean up garbage, some organise special events, others keep the streets clean in villages. The question only remains whether this garbage will be processed or just dumped back into the river.

So one of my new ideas is to get a garbage truck, paint it all white and write Ecological Space Engineering on it and let specially trained employees clean garbage from hard to reach areas near rivers with special made equipment.

Somewhere I have the need to do something really constructive against pollution.

Thanks Jos!

Bioremediating Missile by Jos Volkers will be at Zone2Source in Amstelpark, Amsterdam and remain on view from 15 August until 5 September 2020.

Previously at Zone2Source: Trust Me I’m an Artist. Ethics surrounding art & science collaborations. Part 1 and Part 2, Machine Wilderness: a world of ecological robotics and Symbiotic Machine, the photosynthetic robot that feeds on algae.

from Finance

How to Harness Your Emotions for Financial Success

How to Harness Your Emotions for Financial Success

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[It’s typical for a financial advisor or money coach to tell you to “Leave all of your emotions out of financial decisions!”?… Well, today’s guest, Christine Luken, encourages us to consider the opposite! Instead of ignoring our money emotions, we can learn to harness them and use them as a tool to improve our financial situation!]


Harnessing Your Emotions for Financial Success

Money is emotional, and I should know. In my mid-20’s, I crashed and burned financially, despite having an accounting degree. I possessed the head knowledge, yet my emotions hijacked my financial common sense. (You can read all about it in my financial confessional post right here on Budgets Are Sexy, “I Was a Collector-Dodging, Check-Bouncing Accountant.”)

And this goes beyond my personal experience. Science has proven the moment of decision happens in the same part of the brain that processes emotion. So, it’s literally impossible to make a purely logical money decision.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard more than one financial professional say, “Leave emotion out of it! Just make logical money decisions. Crunch the numbers and let them dictate your financial decisions.” When people aren’t able to follow this advice, they feel like a failure and money shame sets in. So, if emotion fuels our actions around money, does this mean we’re at their mercy? Not if you learn how to harness their power!

I am a huge fan of martial arts. I took 2 years of karate lessons in high school, love movie fight scenes, and even attended a live UFC event in the 10th row (and got my picture taken with Dana White)!

The martial arts practice of judo emphasizes utilizing your opponent’s weight and strength as weapons against him, while preserving your own physical energy. You are essentially using their force to achieve your goal — winning. The great news is you can do the exact same thing with emotion to achieve your personal finance goals!

3 Ways to Harness Your Emotions to Win With Money

Before you can harness your emotions around money, it’s important to start being aware of them on a regular basis. Whenever you are earning, spending, saving, or managing money, ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?” It’s helpful to make note of your emotions in different financial situations. Then you can examine WHY those particular emotions are surfacing.

Amp Up Your Excitement to Achieve Major Money Goals

Make your financial goals and dreams as exciting as possible, so you actually want to do the work to achieve them. How? Fuse them with as much positive emotion as possible so nothing will stand in your way!

My #1 financial goal right now is paying off the mortgage, which has a balance of $41,300. My husband and I are hyper focused on it and talk about it constantly. We don’t just want to pay it off to be mortgage free. We focus on why we want to get rid of it and what opportunities it will open up for us. Our ultimate goal is a new house with an in-ground saltwater swimming pool. The real estate market in our area is really hot right now (housing selling in hours, not days), so being mortgage free means we can build our dream house with a pool, exactly the way we want it.

Paying off our current mortgage really means: a beautiful and relaxing backyard with a pool for me to peacefully float around in whenever I want. It means a brick ranch home with the perfect floor plan, including my dream work-from-home office with floor to ceiling bookshelves. I supercharge this dream by envisioning myself living this new reality via meditation for 5- 10 minutes per day. Whenever I go swimming, whether it’s at a friend’s house or my dad’s country club, I float on my back, close my eyes, and pretend I’m floating in my pool. By supercharging our goal with so much positive emotion, my husband and I become excited every time we pay extra on our mortgage. “One step closer to owning our home with a pool!”

Channel Your Anger to Destroy Debt

Did you know you can use negative emotions to help you achieve money goals? I did this shortly after I hit financial rock bottom. When I looked at the list of debts I need to attack, one stood out, mocking me. My Dillard’s bill had a charge on it for my Valentine’s Day present that my ex-finance “bought” me (he was an authorized user), and now I was stuck paying it. I got pissed off every time I saw the statement!

I decided to put my anger to good use and focus it on paying off that debt first. My Dillard’s bill didn’t have the highest interest rate, the smallest balance, nor the largest balance of my debt. It was simply the one I hated the most. I now refer to this as the “Volcano Method” of debt reduction and frequently use it with my financial coaching clients, especially women coming out of divorce. Is there a particular bill you hate, maybe because it’s baggage from a previous relationship or it reminds you of a stupid money mistake you made? Go ahead and attack your hated debt first! You can always transition back to the debt snowball or the debt avalanche method after it’s gone.

Use Positive + Negative Emotions to Achieve Your Retirement Goals 

One of my favorite uses of emotionally charged money goals is retirement. I know you are probably already FIRE’d up about early retirement! But people outside of the FIRE movement typically find it hard to motivate themselves to save for retirement. It seems so far off and they have a hard time getting excited about it.

This is why I use both positive AND negative emotions to inspire people to retire with dignity by imagining the best- and worst-case scenarios. First, we want to get crystal clear on what retirement will look like, so we can get amped up about it. For me, it means retiring on Maui, near Wailea. My husband and I know exactly which beaches we’ll go to for snorkeling, what neighborhood we’ll live in, and which golf courses we’ll be yelling “fore!” on. But sometimes imagining our ideal retirement isn’t quite enough to motivate us to max out our retirement contributions. So, we also need the contrast of the worst-case scenario: What happens if you don’t save enough? 

I’m not sure if you’ve recently visited a nursing home in your area that accepts Medicaid. Several years ago, I undertook the unpleasant task of nursing home shopping for my mother-in-law who was dying of cancer. There was one in particular that made my skin crawl from the moment I walked in the door, but I proceeded with the tour. (Thankfully, we found a wonderful place for my mother-in-law to spend her last days in comfort.) But I’ve never quite rid my brain of the horrible nursing home I toured. And that’s okay, because I use it to my advantage!

Whenever I consider adding extra money to my IRA, I dream about Maui, but I also remember the horrible nursing home! Maui pulls me closer to my goal, but the horrible nursing home uses my fear and dread to shove me in the direction of my dream. It’s important to remember that people take action for one of two reasons: to increase pleasure or to avoid pain. Sometimes, the second one contains a greater emotional charge! So, why not use both positive and negative emotion to motivate you to take action on your financial goals?

I challenge you to start paying attention to your emotions when you’re spending, saving, investing, earning, paying debt, and managing wealth. Which money emotions are strongest for you and how can use them to your advantage with the three techniques I mention here? Are there other ways you harness the power of your emotions to achieve your financial goals? Please let me know in the comments!


Christine Luken, the Financial Lifeguard is a Certified Financial Coach, author, and founder of the Financial Dignity® Movement.  She empowers couples and divorcing women to break the money-shame cycle and achieve lasting financial health.  You can download the first 3 chapters of her book, Money is Emotional: Prevent Your Heart from Hijacking Your Wallet at

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101 Ways to Get a Raise at Work

101 Ways to Get a Raise at Work

Post image for 101 Ways to Get a Raise at Work

This post started out as “7 ways to get a raise at work.” But as I was typing and brainstorming, more and more ideas started to flow and I made it all the way up to 101!

So, here are 101 ideas you can try to make yourself more valuable and recognized within your workplace, aka how to get a raise. 🙂

Remember, the best way to get a salary increase, a fancier job title, or more benefits is to demonstrate additional value *first*.

Also, I know many people are working from home these days, so some of these include virtual tips and ways to stay relevant (and score a pay raise) while being remote! Hope these help!

How to get a raise at work: 101 ideas 🤓

We’ll start with general good practice & fun ideas …

– Find the 5 grumpiest or most miserable employees at your employer. Study them and what they do… Then, make it your specific goal to do the complete opposite! Talk the opposite, walk the opposite, answer your phone the opposite way these miserable employees do. Do this and you’re already miles ahead!

– Get a small Japanese rock garden or “zen garden” on your desk. Anytime one of your coworkers is having a bad day, invite them over to your cubicle so they can take in your garden and release their stress while telling you about their issues.

– Keep a little calendar reminder for people’s birthdays and other special dates (set an alert 3 days in advance). Be the first person to say “Hey, don’t you have a birthday coming up?” You will stand out from the 200 people that just write happy birthday on their Facebook wall.

– Name work projects after other people, places, and teams. Humans love it when their names are linked to successful projects, even if they weren’t a major part of the day to day activities.

– Bring your dog into work one day, or maybe bring your kids to the office. Introduce them to everyone and show your coworkers another side of you that they’ll fall in love with. (everyone loves dogs and kids!)

– Ask about other people’s kids! Parents love talking about their children, and they’ll remember you as someone who takes an interest in their life.

– Dress better (or, actually, try to be more *professionally comfortable*) than other employees. You don’t have to be the fanciest … rather, shoot to be the person who looks completely comfortable and in control of their position.

– If you’re walking down the office hallway and drop something … do the ‘bend and snap’. It works every time. (Sorry, I watched Legally Blonde recently and thought this would be funny to add.)

– Don’t be on your phone 📲 when other people are talking! If you have an urgent call or text, exit the room to deal with it.

– Rock up to work in a Ferrari. Just kidding! Other employees don’t care what type of car you drive. And you shouldn’t care how others arrive to work. Never shame your peers 🙂

– Don’t get hammered in front of your bosses. 🍺🍺 Be careful who you drink in front of. You want to be remembered, but in a good way!

– Don’t talk politics! As much as you might want to, people appreciate a neutral perspective at work.

– Don’t wear too much cologne or perfume. One spritz is enough. 🙂 Personal hygiene is important, as people remember other well groomed people (or worse, they remember those who aren’t!)

– Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room, aim to be the most professional. Professionalism stands out, not brains. If someone gets in an argument with you, remain professional at all costs.

– Show up on time to everything. People will remember you as someone who never double-books and always respects the organizer’s time. Be happy and alert at the start of every meeting.

Be a team leader (even if you don’t think you’re one)

– Commend others and give them credit as much as possible. Not just when they do stellar things, commend them when they do their *regular job*. Everybody loves encouragement, and you’ll stand out by giving it to them.

– Compliment people *directly* when they do a good job. Call them, stop by their cubicle, or even write a handwritten card. Feedback is always appreciated, and everyone loves confirmation that they’re doing a good job. Do this for even the coworkers you don’t know very well.

– Write notes of compliments to the team managers, too! Make sure you add details about how the other person a) upheld the companies values, b) gave extra effort or went out of their way, or c) helped save or gain a new client for the company.

– Don’t take sick days unnecessarily. If/when you do actually get sick, communicate clearly with all your peers and supervisors in advance to make it a seamless transition as possible *for others*. If your being sick is tough on someone else, consider making up for it by repaying the favor somehow later.

– Talk to the coworkers nobody else usually talks to. Everyone is important in your company! Make friends with the nerdiest nerds and quietest quiet people. They will probably appreciate it and you will stand out.

–  Always give credit to others where due. The most successful people are often giving others credit, and this rarely “reduces” the credit you’ll receive for successes. When others see you sharing credit, they’ll share with you, too. But we do this for teamwork, not just for the boomerang effects.

– Organize the office birthday card, the flowers when there’s been a death in a coworker’s family, and be the one who calls ahead to the restaurant to reserve a table when you eat out together. It’s not hard and you’ll have others look to you for leadership.

– If a team member makes a big mistake, forgive them immediately instead of getting annoyed. Don’t go around telling others — help your coworker try to fix the issue and save face. Helping people out of sticky situations leads to bonding.

– Send your team a motivational email each morning. That’s how I started my 5am email list! Back at my old organization, I was known far and wide by employees and managers I’d never even met before.

– When somebody screws up, send them a private, encouraging email, like “hey, these things happen to all of us. I appreciate you being here” – these short messages can be remembered for years, don’t cost you any money, and help motivate others.

– Set up an informal learning session to teach people about something you know. You don’t have to be a career coach — even if it’s a presentation on basket weaving, people will appreciate your effort and it shows you are a team player!

– Welcome new hires and a new employee. Show them around the office and offer to help them get to know their new job. Everybody is nervous on their first day … you’ll help them out more than you’ll ever know.

– Shake people’s hands with a firm grip. Nobody likes a dead-fish handshake.

How to interact with your manager and get exposure to the C suite!

*Careful with this section. Remember to be genuine – you don’t want to be seen as a sycophant!

– Set a 20 min meeting with the CEO of your company. Ask what keeps him/her up at night. I promise after that conversation, the CEO will always remember you.

– Research your C-level team members and find their hobbies. Try them out, or do your best to relate these things to your own hobbies. Executives are real people who like to connect with other real people, no matter where they sit on the corporate ladder.

– Find out what old high school or college your managers graduated from. Buy them a mug or shirt with the school logo on it as a gift they can keep in their office. Bosses usually have extreme pride in their education. Every time they look at the gift, they will remember you.

– Ask for mentorship from a career expert you really identify with and want coaching from. Executives love to transfer knowledge down and approaching them shows you’re willing to go the extra mile to learn.

– Ask questions at your all-hands company meetings. Even if there’s 500 people in the room – don’t be afraid! Asking good questions makes you stand out. Executives take note of your interest!

– If you have a weekly or regular 1-on-1 review, keep notes each week. Use OneNote or a filing system to remember last week’s follow-ups. Ensure the note keeping is your responsibility, not your boss’s. This makes managing you very easy for your boss.

– If you don’t already have a regular performance review on the books, consider asking your boss for a meeting, either once-off or regularly scheduled. This allows you to briefly check-in with your boss to make sure you’re meeting his or her goals. (An annual performance review just isn’t often enough.)

– Sleep with your boss. Kidding!!!! You don’t want to be known for being the office hussy! In fact, you should do the opposite. Be the person who never crosses the line at work.

– Ask your boss to help review resumes for people trying to get a similar position on your team. It shows that you care who your future team-mates are (you should!).

– Before asking for help from your boss, try and solve the problem yourself first the best way you know how. Managers love to see that you’ve at least tried everything possible before dumping problems on their lap!

– Learn how to golf. I hate writing this, but in a lot of industries golf matters. Maybe just learn how to *try* and golf. Even if you suck, at least you TRY.

–  Don’t be afraid to share your past work successes and experience! Got some weird knowledge in that brain that will benefit your current employer? Speak up! Executives and management LOVE employees who share a good new idea.

Tips on getting a raise when you’re working from home or remote

– At the beginning of each Zoom call, tell a daily Dad joke or funny story! This always cheers people up and starts the meeting with laughter.

– Always answer your phone in the first few rings. Be happy and helpful.

– Train yourself on Zoom, or become an expert in whatever your company’s video software is. You will always be helpful on calls, be able to train others, and never be the one that makes amateur mistakes and accidentally makes the call a crappy experience for others!

– On Sunday afternoon, look at your calendar for the week. If there’s any overlapping meetings, move them. If there’s pre-requisites that a colleague needs to bring to a meeting, a friendly private reminder can help them avoid dropping the ball. Don’t be the guy just catching up on Monday morning!

– When you schedule meetings, set the end time to 10 mins prior to the hour end. Eg, 1pm – 1:50pm. The extra 10 mins won’t be missed. The meeting will end quicker and others will have time to check emails before their next meeting.

– During meetings, stay mentally alert. Always be ready to contribute. No phone browsing, no email answering, and definitely no Facebook. In this day and age, the ability to concentrate for long periods of time is a rare skill. Take this opportunity to stand out!

– If a meeting is going fine without you and you don’t need to be there, drop out. This is very simple but some people still don’t understand this! People respect people that respect their own time. Hanging around in meetings just to “show face time” doesn’t help anyone.

– Use a to-do app, like Microsoft’s ToDo. Mine is on my PC and my iPhone and is synced. Many devices are supported. During the day I add small things to it. It’s handiest for the small tasks that are easy to forget.

–  On Zoom or video calls, set your background picture to something weird. Personal pictures are cool – people will ask about it and remember you more about you!

–  Wear different wigs and hats when you log into video calls. Lighten the mood by making yourself look like a fool for a few minutes.

– Be alert for systems and processes that can be redesigned to be more efficient. Or, manual processes that can become digitized. Saving work for others leaves a huge positive imprint with coworkers and management.

How to write better business emails (don’t be the reply-all guy!)

– Get to Inbox Zero and always be on top of your emails! The #1 pet peeve of co workers is when people complain about how many emails they receive. We ALL get the same amount of emails – figure out a way to stay on top of yours, now and forever 🙂

– Never reply-all to emails if it’s not necessary. Save your colleagues from getting messages they don’t need.

– Dot point (bullets) all your emails, or keep things very short! Almost anything you say can be summarized in 3 bullet points.

– After you’ve written an important email, proofread it and think about whether it comes across positive or negative. Become a master at delivering bad news in a fun and positive way.

– If you need to copy/paste large blocks of text, consider using a different size, font, or color. This makes it easier for people to read your email. Eg, if you are pasting a quoted block of text, make it obvious. If you’re conveying what someone else said, make it obvious which parts of the email are you talking, and which parts them.

– Get rid of your complex and ridiculous long email signature. Dancing logos and flashing ads are a distraction from the most important thing: your NAME.  Simple signatures are remembered more!

– When writing emails, stay mentally alert. Saying something and then trailing off with long tangents leaves hanging questions. If you don’t know an answer, you can still be clear (Eg, “that may work and I see no problems, but I have not tested this myself.”).  Be concise, like you would in a real conversation with someone from leadership.

– When someone sends out questions via email, answer them 1 by 1. Even if you pull out their questions from a rambling paragraph, respond with a clear, numbered list of questions and answers. Answering many questions in long, text paragraphs is difficult to follow.

Cubicle life: Be the FUN person!

– Make holidays FUN. If it’s Christmas, wear a Santa hat, and buy some for the whole office. For Fourth of July, dress up as Abraham Lincoln. Just kidding, but you get the point. Being chirpy during holidays makes you stand out at work! Hang decorations in your cubicle.

– Set up an “explore your city” night! Most of your coworkers probably haven’t explored too much and you can be the one to introduce them to their own backyard! Just a 1-hour walk around a few city blocks, pointing out 5-10 historic facts they probably didn’t know.

– Get a small candy bowl in your cubicle. Always stock it up and be the person who cheers people up with treats. Before handing out a treat, ask the person a fun question like “What 3 things are you grateful for today”?

– Stay late in the office one night. When everyone is gone, make fun post-it notes with encouraging sayings and place them around your colleagues cubicles. You can leave them anonymous (then the following week you can let it slip that it was you if you want).

– Play pranks on people (in good humor, of course) like… replace a picture on someone’s desk with a funny photo of yourself. Making people laugh strengthens your relationship with them and raises their opinion of you. You can get really creative playing office pranks!

– On Friday, clean your desk so it’s clean on Monday morning. Clean desk = clean mind = focus = effectiveness.

– Organize a games night after work for your colleagues. Bingo is always fun! Bring in a plaque or trophy that people can keep on their desks as the winner. Rotate the winners each week 🙂

– Set up a happy hour. Drinking with colleagues is a great way to bond over common stuff!

– Keep a neat and clean cubicle, and always respect your company-provided equipment.

– Rock a good sock game! Wear a pair of socks that expresses the moods that you’re feeling.

– Make some homemade kombucha and go around to people’s cubicles and pour a little cup on everyone’s desk around 2pm after lunch time. It may help them with digestion and give them a little energy boost.

– Become the internal Yelp. Know where all the best burger joints or sushi places are and always make good restaurant recommendations. People bond over food – it makes you stand out.

– Always refill and make coffee for others! In fact, try and replace anything you see in the kitchen that is out.

Having company pride increases the value of your PERSONAL BRAND

– Promote your company on LinkedIn and share fun and positive stories about your workplace. Connect with your clients and business partners, liking and commenting on their posts. Also, make sure your LinkedIn profile is set up as professionally as possible, with an awesome personal mission statement.

– Write short blog posts on LinkedIn or internal sites to increase brand recognition and demonstrate your knowledge publicly. Promoting your company increases your personal brand big time! In fact, you can do this on any social media platform, as long as it’s worded professionally. (Most companies have a professional Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profile.)

– Share your company’s career page and re-share job postings with your network when spots are open inside your extended team. Help recruiters attract good people – it makes you and them look better. Win / win!

– Motivate your coworkers to rally against your company’s biggest competitor — tastefully, like creating a funny meme or in-house joke about how your company is better. This shows company spirit, as well as cheers up the office.

– Bring in a big new client, even if you are not in the sales department. Always promote your company outside of work and look for opportunities to bring in new business. Ask one of the sales reps to teach you their 30-second elevator pitch!

– If you know a good candidate for your company, help them write a killer cover letter so they can land their dream job. Make sure it mentions you as a referral contact. Help review their resume before submitting it, and prep them for the job interview. Helping others helps YOU!

–  Invite a new person to coffee once a week. Tell them about your company culture and ask about their background! Learn about their prior company and past experience. They could help you in the future, as well as you can help them with the present.

How to be a better co-worker

– Become an expert on the company benefits plan and teach others what their best retirement options are. Study the 401k guide, and encourage people to invest in themselves! I KNOW you guys can do that. 🙂

– Bring donuts into the office one day. Everybody loves donuts!

– Make lunch for everyone one day. Try something from your culture or something your parents used to make growing up as a kid. People might not remember the food, but they will remember the *story* behind it.

Buy lunch for everyone one day. Use funds from your charity budget!

– Take some tasks off a new mother or father — so they can pick up their kids early and spend more time with them.

– Take notes at group meetings (can just be a few dot points or action items), make a summary afterwards, then email it to all who were there. People will start depending on you – which is a huge value-add.

– Got a bonus? Share some of your bigger paycheck with a colleague to support his/her children’s charity or activities. Supporting people outside of work is sometimes more memorable than supporting them inside the workplace.

– Always ask ‘how are you doing?’ at the start of each phone call with coworkers, customers and business partners. You’ll be remembered as someone who cares about people, and it will increase your emotional intelligence.

– Offer to mentor a few new people. Or at least offer to meet with them once a month to check in and ask your help to talk through any big challenges.

– Give your IT guy or gal a Starbucks card when they fix your computer. (They might even hook you up with cool equipment when you do this.)

– Live your life – so you can tell everyone about it! Work-life balance is important. Teach others to achieve the same balance!

– Set some sweet-smelling candles in the bathroom. If you’re allowed to, light them every few days to keep everything fresh. Or, maybe replace the generic company soap with a nice smelling hand soap. Cheap, fun, and goes a long way!

– Attend the event that other people put on. Happy hours, movie nights, strange stuff … be the person that says YES and gives everything a try.

Always be POSITIVE, even if you feel grumpy

– Don’t live in the past weekend, or complain how long the work week is. Be positive about the upcoming work days – and encourage others to have a positive attitude also!

– Take ugly tasks without complaining. When your boss delivers you crap news, just say thanks and move on! It sucks sometimes, but you will stand out as someone who they can always depend on. Bonus points if you make crappy tasks look fun while you’re doing it!

– Never gossip. When you hear it, just leave. Stay positive. Think of the people you know that gossip. Do you trust them? Do you think the people they gossip about trust them? Don’t gossip. It helps nobody and makes you look bad, too.

– Start a never ending game of pay-it-forward! Do a favor for someone (or give a small gift) and then ask them to pay it forward to another coworker. You’ll stand out as the creator of making the whole company happier.

– When someone on your team does something awesome, write up a quick story and send it to the whole management team for recognition. See if they can share it with the entire company, or even publicly.

– Have the attitude that “nothing is below you.” You are never too good for a project, and rolling up your sleeves for lower-level tasks proves you are a dedicated worker.

– Observe everyone around you and try to understand as much as you can about their roles. Make sure you take everyone else’s job as seriously as they do. The best way to earn respect is to give respect!

– Set up a punching bag or stress bag in a private area and encourage people to get out their frustrations there. Negative attitudes and energy is like a cancer. It spreads fast — so catch it early!

Show tons of initiative

– Offer to run a weekly team meeting for your manager. Tell them you want practice hosting meetings and ask for feedback afterwards. This shows major initiative and builds you up as a team leader!

– Always try harder and do more than what you’re asked to do. After completing your work, ask others if they need help. The best way to get a pay raise is to demonstrate your extra responsibility and additional value *first*.

– Start a regular “news & updates” email that you send out weekly, monthly, or quarterly to your colleagues, bosses and execs. Include extremely brief summaries or links to relevant industry news, announcements from competitors, and any mentions of your company in the news media. This can be quick and easy for you and valuable to others — but requires consistency from you.

– Ask to present a topic at your next quarterly review or next company/dept-wide meeting. Your topic could simply be your job and how you are there to help others in the organization. If your company is large, your goal is to be remembered as a “go-to” guy/gal for your department. If it’s small, your goal is to educate your immediate team about what you do so it can help them see the overall context of company operations. Then encourage others to do the same in future meetings.

– Say yes to things that are outside of your usual work duties. Taking on more and new responsibilities makes you stand out at work, and shows you are prepared to take on a leadership position.

– Create a morning checklist for yourself. Even if you’re in a high-paying senior role, basic checklists help. They can be as simple as “say good morning to everyone” or as complex as “review firewall logs and look for anomalous indicators” — whatever suits you. Note takers and list makers stand out!

– While you’re doing a complex task, write up the steps you took to achieve or complete the task. Save this as an email template. Next time someone asks “how do I log into the PO system and mark an order as paid?” you’ll have an easy, quick reply.

– If you are in a technical or professional field, consider starting a small blog with “how-to”, “why”, or even “my tips” talking points for your profession. This can apply to lawyers, IT folks, architects, salespeople, nurses, or basically anyone who works in an industry where you have peers at other companies. The point is not to have a popular blog. It’s to have an article to point to the next time someone asks “why is this… ?” or “how do I…?” – referencing an article you wrote yourself shows preparedness and mastery of subject matter.


That’s it for now, folks!

Give some of these a try to prepare for your next raise conversation or salary negotiation. Bookmark this list, refer back to it if things feel stale in your current job, and most importantly … have FUN with whatever you do.

How do you prep to earn a higher salary? Would love to hear how you stand out at work and hopefully snag that pay bump!

PS: As a reminder for all you finance professionals and bloggers out there, you might be interested in this virtual conference this week … Elevate Influencer is for personal finance influencers who speak directly to People of Color. I’m attending the first day Aug 13th (You can too for FREE thanks to Motley Fool sponsoring the event). I’m looking forward to educating myself more about the financial challenges faced by People of Color, and how I can use my influence and this blog to help!

from Finance

New Job Benefits, FI Workshops, and What Is J$ Up To?

New Job Benefits, FI Workshops, and What Is J$ Up To?

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Time flies! It’s been two full months since taking over this blog.

I haven’t gotten any death threats yet, the nasty feedback I receive is vastly outweighed by encouraging emails, J$ seems to not have any regrets so far, and my employer hasn’t fired me yet! (!ctually, they just gave me a small pay increase and extended our contract – more on that below.)

All in all, things are going pretty good!

Quick question for you readers … I’ve shared details of a few of my accounts and assets (IRA, duplex, gift accounts) and I have a few more I’ll be detailing soon (Roths, cash accounts, etc). I was thinking of creating an overall summary & tally, then updating the growth and changes every so often. Kind of like J$’s net worth tracking – except I’ll be excluding a few real estate assets and partnerships my wife and I are a part of.

Anyway, would it help if I made a “partial net worth” snapshot and tracked asset growth over time? 

Keep in mind, net worth reports are less about the total $ number, and more about the progression and ongoing process. Growth for my stuff will be pretty slow, given that I’m not able to contribute much with a low salary. Let me know if it benefits you seeing my process anyway.

What’s J. Money been up to!!!??

J$ will jump on the blog soon and write his own update post, but for now I’m going to spill the beans on a few things… (He also sends out personal updates every so often you can see at

First, the big curation website he’s been working on with the Motley Fool team is launching soon! It will include *original video content* written by and starring J. Money himself! You’ll all be the first to know when the site goes live!

In the meantime, J’s opened up an online personal finance apparel store! It supports a bunch of personal finance bloggers and enthusiasts that spread the good word about FIRE in a fun and trendy way! Check it out, and get your gear here –>

Elevate Influencer 2020!

For all you finance professionals and bloggers out there, you might be interested in this virtual conference next week… Elevate Influencer is for personal finance influencers who speak directly to People of Color. I’m attending the first day Aug 13th (You can too for FREE thanks to Motley Fool sponsoring the event). I’m looking forward to educating myself more about the financial challenges faced by People of Color, and how I can use my influence and this blog to help!

Take Control of Your Finances, by Alan and Katie Donegan…

This week I joined Alan Donegan’s Take Control of Your Finances course (also FREE)! You may already know Alan – he’s the guy behind Popup Business School, interviewed by Mad FIentist, ChooseFI and already achieved FI in his 30’s with his wife, Katie! Since COVID pretty much shut down all of their in-person workshops, Alan and Katie are hosting a FREE 8-week beginners course on Financial Independence. Although it started last week, you can still join here

The course covers:

  • Week 1: Net-worth: Monday 3rd August 8pm BST
  • Week 2: Cashflow: Monday 10th August 8pm BST
  • Week 3: Money Beliefs: Monday 17th August  8pm BST
  • Week 4: Debt: Monday 24th August  8pm BST
  • Week 5: Couples and family finance: Monday 31st  August  8pm BST
  • Week 6: Investing: Monday 7th September 8pm BST
  • Week 7: FIRE Principles: Monday 14th September 8pm BST
  • Week 8: Planning for the future: Monday 21st September 8pm BST

(FYI for time zones… 8pm BST = 3pm EST same day in the USA). Also, this is tailored mainly to beginners… But even though you might know most of the basic FI principles, it never hurts to refresh and hear different perspectives! – that’s why I’m attending 🙂

Camp Progress by Jillian Johnsrud!

Currently I’m taking a Life Design course hosted by Jillian Johnsrud. Jillian is the host of ChooseFI’s Everyday Courage Podcast which you may already be familiar with. Every time I hear Jillian speak, I walk away with really big epiphanies about life, money, relationships, and happiness in general!

Jillian’s got a few other classes available soon in the fall that you might be interested in that cover Life Design, Mastering your Money, and Boundaries. You can check them all out and register here. Note, these classes cost $$ to attend. An investment in your personal development 🙂

(I have *no* affiliate relationship and get no kickbacks for recommending any of these courses or workshops… Just sharing the good things I come across!)

Lastly, some good news!…

My employer offered me a long-term contract… Yay- now I get some BENEFITS!

It’s rare to be offered benefits as a part-time employee, so I’m extremely grateful for this! Out of the list of ~30 “benefits” that are offered, the 2 biggest interests for me are – healthcare and 401k, baby!

In an earlier post I mentioned I don’t have health insurance currently, so this problem might now be solved. I’m not eligible for the healthcare plan until after 30 days of employment, so there’s time to evaluate this option… (at first glance, the lowest cost HDHP plan to cover me and my wife is $8,400 per year!! 😩. Might be cheaper to just sign up via Covered California!)

As for the 401k plan, like any good FIRE nerd I read the entire 17-page brochure the second it was sent to me. Then, I called the 401k plan administrator to introduce myself and ask them additional questions. I’m not sure what shocked the administrator more; receiving a call from someone actually interested in learning, or the fact that I wasn’t even a hired employee yet!

More to come on the healthcare and 401k details as I enjoy the glorious onboarding process.

Wishing you all a happy and relaxing weekend!

– Joel

*Typewriter up top by Markus Winkler!

from Finance

Cultures of Violence. Visual Arts and Political Violence

Cultures of Violence. Visual Arts and Political Violence, by Professor of political philosophy Ruth Kinna and Senior Lecturer in visual and material culture Gillian Whiteley.

Publisher Routledge writes: Investigating art practitioners’ responses to violence, this book considers how artists have used art practices to rethink concepts of violence and non-violence. It explores the strategies that artists have deployed to expose physical and symbolic violence through representational, performative and interventional means.

It examines how intellectual and material contexts have affected art interventions and how visual arts can open up critical spaces to explore violence without reinforcement or recuperation. Its premises are that art is not only able to contest prevailing norms about violence but that contemporary artists are consciously engaging with publics through their practice in order to do so. Contributors respond to three questions: how can political violence be understood or interpreted through art? How are publics understood or identified? How are art interventions designed to shift, challenge or respond to public perceptions of political violence and how are they constrained by them? They discuss violence in the everyday and at state level: the Watts’ Rebellion and Occupy, repression in Russia, domination in Hong Kong, the violence of migration and the unfolding art activist logic of the sigma portfolio.

Artur Barrio, Defl … Situação … +S+ … RUAS, 1969. In Brazil, over the course of six months, Barrio placed hundreds of bloody bundles of rotting flesh in public locations for people to discover, with a view to provoking outrage at the military regime’s brutal elimination of political activists

Cover of the United Kingdom edition of Sroja Popovic’s ‘handbook’ Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World

How could I resist a book that scrutinizes cultural interactions with social and political violence?

The artistic and intellectual practices investigated in the various essays not only decry forms of violence that might not always be visible but also respond to them with strategies that range from poetical hijacking of public space to backing of wider grassroots movements, from playful collaborations with migrant workers to utterly bonkers performance that stunned passersby. By engaging head-on with the work of activists, with the struggles of fragilized communities and more generally with a broader culture of violence, the initiatives explored in Cultures of Violence have the potential to re-shape social dynamics.

The book contains only 5 essays, plus the introduction by the editors but it covers enough ground to trigger the curiosity of readers who might not be familiar with the topic and the surprise of those who might already have a strong interest in it. The quality and style of the essays is a bit unequal but I liked the balance between contemporary practices and dips into past moments that echo some of today’s most pressing issues (African American movements with a potential to transform a wider social infrastructure, inability to envision a future that isn’t dystopian, commercialisation of shock, etc.)

The essay that, by itself, makes it worth getting the book is the one in which researcher Amy Corcoran examines artistic interventions designed to reveal and challenge the state violence implicit in bordering and migration. I found that the style and the content of her text mirrored the commitment of the visual practices she describes as attempting to foster intuitive connection and encounters with broad audiences.

Kennard and Phillipps, In Humanity, 2016

Corcoran identifies 3 main artistic strategies to contest state-led political violence, connect with activism and bring about social transformation: (de)legitimation, education and empathy or emotional connection.

I found the paragraphs on (de)legitimation particularly interesting. She convincingly argues that legally sanctioned state actions -from police violence to government inaction, from enforcement of national borders to forced deportation of asylum seekers- can be regarded as acts of violence and as such, are morally reprehensible. Accordingly, it is legitimate to denounce and resist such state violence, even using defensive violence.

Her essay highlights a number of artistic interventions that push back against state-endorsed violence and connect with grassroots resistance. I’m listing a couple of them below:

Public Studio and Adrian Blackwell, Migrant Choir, 2015

Migrant Choir: migrants stuck in Italy sang the French, British and Italian national anthems outside the national pavilions at the Venice Biennale. Information booklets distributed to visitors explained the wider situation but did not promote any particular campaign or course of action. The intervention was designed to generate an affective tension between the feeling of ‘home’ generated by the anthems and the situations of the singers.

Tammam Azzam, Kiss, 2013. Photo via ISIS

Tammam Azzam digitally laid Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss over a bombed-out building in Damascus, poetically depicting physical state violence and the structural forces that fuel it. The work breaks the barrier of attention fatigue and turns what has become a favourite museum postcard into a powerful plea for empathy that unsettled Western audiences when they first saw it.

Center for Political Beauty, Eating Refugees, 2016

Center for Political Beauty’s Eating Refugees contested a law that prohibits refugees from flying into the EU without a visa. Through its use of various provocative stunts (including a Roman-style arena for refugees to be devoured by tigers), the work generated debates among members of the public who might otherwise not be willing to engage with performance art or politics.

Manaf Halbouni, Monument, 2017. Photo: David Brandt

Different audiences will respond differently to a socially-engaged work. In 2017, Manaf Halbouni installed three upturned buses in Dresden’s central square, referencing a well-known photo from Aleppo where a community had used bombed-out buses as a barricade. The statue, erected to mark the anniversary of the Allied aerial bombing of Dresden during World War II, attempted to establish “a connection between the people of the Middle East and Europe and our shared destinies” and alluded to “the suffering and unspeakable losses as well as the hope for reconstruction and peace.” Unfortunately, the artwork was met with protests by right-wingers who claimed the installation represented an abuse of artistic freedom and a ‘snub’ to the views of Dresden residents.

Dr Martin Lang‘s essay also looked at how cultural resistance responds to political violence. His approach, however, is more historical. First, because his text spans fifty years of transatlantic activism, from the 1965 Watts Rebellion in Los Angeles to the global Occupy movement of 2011, his examination of activist struggles. Second, because he examines this political violence through the lens of Situationist International, an organisation of social revolutionaries that started with a predominantly artistic focus in 1957 but moved gradually towards revolutionary and political theory. Born as a mostly European movement, the SI took a keen interest in US race relations and civil unrest, imagining the Watts riots as the first step in a broader struggle in which, they predicted, African Americans might be able to “unmask the contradictions of the most advanced capitalist system.”

Oleg Kulik , The Mad Dog or Last Taboo Guarded by Alone Cerberus (with Alexander Brener) Yakimanka Street. Moscow, November 23, 1994

In her contribution to the book, art and cultural historian Marina Maximova explores the most provocative works of Oleg Kulik as well as the strategies of Moscow Actionism, the radical strain of Russian performance art that emerged in the early 1990s in response to the violence prompted by the collapse of the Soviet regime and the transformation of social life under the new capitalist order.

The often outrageous way these artists used public space took advantage of the small window of time between the Soviet period, when public spaces were submitted to strict political control and surveillance, and the emergence of new exclusive hierarchies which from the 2000s onwards resulted in the loss of the ‘publicness’ of space in urban areas. In that short timeframe, artists saw in violence and provocation the only appropriate response to the sociopolitical conditions they were witnessing and experiencing.

E.T.I. Movement, E.T.I.-text, 1991. Photo via Calvert Journal

An example of such urban space intervention was E.T.I. collective’s reaction to the Act on Morality of 1991, which prohibited the use of obscene language in public spaces, the group spell out a Russian swear word with their bodies on the pavement in front of the Red Square. ETI’s action typifies the Moscow Actionists attempts to win back the right to express themselves in the public sphere, often by adopting the strategy of ‘public mischief’.

Oleg Kulik is perhaps the artist whose practice pushed this shock strategy to its most brazen limits. His street interventions became also for him a mode to explore the effect of his actions on audiences that would otherwise never visit his gallery exhibitions. His most famous performance is probably the one in which he roamed the streets naked and played the part of a dog. I had no idea, however, that he founded his own party: Partiia Zhivotnykh (the Party of animals.) During his political campaign, the artist ran on a central Moscow street wearing a muzzle and a chain, howled in front of journalists at a dog show and used the slogan ‘being a homo sapiens is like being a fascist!’ in his election campaign.

Interestingly, Kulik found that even though his work responded to the specific Russian context, its violence was very well-received in the West and he was invited to do similar performances in various European and U.S. cities.

In their joint text, researcher, lecturer and curator Vlad Morariu and artist and curator Jaakko Karhunen discuss sigma, a network of writers, artists, scientists and psychiatrists active between 1963–1965. Their most tangible achievement was the sigma portfolio, a collection of texts, ‘part manifesto, part manual’ for art activism. Their writings explored, for example, how architects could use their skills to redesign spaces for creative sharing, education and knowledge production or how cultural practitioners could develop new means of distribution for art and literature that would break through traditional media and even mainstream consumer goods.

The most fascinating part of the essay dives into Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi and Mark Fisher‘s perspective on the shifting vision, visuality and ideology of possible futures. The first part of the 20th century was characterised by unwavering trust in the future. In the aftermath of 1968, however, utopian imagination and ideology of progressive future turned into dystopia, and cyberculture, the last utopia of the twentieth century slowly died of mental exhaustion. Berardi calls it a ‘paralysis of the will’, Mark Fisher ‘the slow cancellation of the future’.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Hong Kong Intervention, 2009. Photo: Hong Wrong

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, Hong Kong Intervention, 2009. Photo: Hong Wrong

Lecturer in Visual Communication Jessica Holtaway considers Sun Yuan and Peng Yu‘s Hong Kong Intervention, an artwork that invited 100 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong to place and photograph a plastic toy grenade in their employers’ homes. The image was accompanied by a photo of the participants with their back to the camera to preserve their anonymity. The work drew attention to political issues surrounding the working conditions and rights of migrant domestic workers who make up nearly 5% of the local population.

Holtaway analyses how, by staging the scene the work through the eyes of the migrant worker, the artists challenge the viewer to become an accomplice in the intervention. By involving so many participants -the audience, the workers, the artists- Hong Kong Intervention flattens out power structures, makes visible the often invisibilised domestic workers and act as a springboard for a broader discussion about the often poorly respected human rights of domestic workers.

from Finance

How to Find Estate Sale Deals (From a Beverly Hills Bargain-Hunter!)

How to Find Estate Sale Deals (From a Beverly Hills Bargain-Hunter!)

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I can’t wait for this COVID thing to be all over … when everyone’s healthy and safe, I can resume one of my guilty pleasures — my Beverly Hills “shopping sprees!”

I’m not talking about the name-brand stores on Rodeo Drive that sell $1,800 sunglasses or $12,000 handbags … The bargains I’m searching for lie within the suburb’s majestic mansions — at private garage sales and estate sales!

Furniture, plants, kitchen knick-knacks, fancy candles and soaps … almost everything in my home once lived at somebody else’s home first. Sounds a little weird and gross, but let me explain my process and share some of the gems I’ve found over the years.

Garage Sale vs. Estate Sale

First, it’s important to know the difference between a garage sale (or yard sale) and an estate sale. This matters because there’s a huge variation between quality, price, bargaining power, and general cleanliness of the items!

Garage sales … aka yard sales aka tag sales

  • Are usually held outside
  • Mostly sell household stuff that people don’t want anymore
  • Are usually one-day only
  • Don’t provide photos or good descriptions of the items available before you get there
  • Typically have items sold as-is (they’re not always cleaned very well)

I don’t attend too many garage sales anymore. If I stumble across one when I’m walking or driving around, I’ll stop and have a quick look for hidden treasures, but most of my bargain-hunting is done at estate sales!

Estate sales …

  • Are usually held inside the house (or mansion)
  • Include almost every single item in the house (and sometimes the house itself!)
  • Are typically organized and managed by a professional estate sale company (but not always — here’s a side hustle story about it)
  • Can span multiple days, with most starting on a Thursday or Friday and ending on Sunday. Unsold items get cheaper as the estate sale goes on.
  • Often have well-cleaned, high-quality items, especially when the sale is held in an affluent neighborhood. Think jewelry, antique furniture, artwork and other valuables.

There are two main reasons people hold estate sales. The first is because someone who had been living in the house recently died, and the heirs want to sell everything inside. (If this describes your situation, there are all sorts of legal things you need to know about probate court and the probate process, so PLEASE consult an attorney before you touch any of the items inside the house, let alone try to sell them.) The other reason is because extremely wealthy people want to move and need to clear out all the personal property before selling the house.

A good example … Elon Musk recently announced he is selling all his worldly possessions. This will include several Los Angeles mansions and estates. My guess is he’ll have a professional auctioneer or estate sale company sell his household items — either hosting an online sale or in person at one of his homes!

Inside Scoop: What’s Inside Those Multimillion-Dollar Mansions?

The best part about estate sales in fancy neighborhoods is walking through MASSIVE homes!

One estate sale I visited was selling more than 50 chandeliers. I almost laughed when I walked into the “lobby” and realized that the house was connected to an adjacent lot. The estate was so huge I stayed there for hours just walking around and enjoying it. It was like a free museum.

Another house I visited was owned by an old movie director. He had a library, hidden rooms and secret closets. This guy also collected a copy of every Playboy magazine since 1953. Weird! I couldn’t afford to buy anything at that sale, but it was fun to be there and pretend to be a shopper.

Once I went to an estate sale and the whole mansion was giraffe-themed! Everything inside had giraffes on it … kind of like the Carole Baskin of giraffes.

There’s a ton of strange things that wealthy people collect. But for the most part, mansions have regular household items in them. That’s why I’m there. I buy their kitchen items, small appliances, cleaning supplies, or things that I can actually use at home.

The Best Estate Sale Deals I’ve Scored (So Far)

  • One day I left my house yelling, “Be right back, honey, I’m running to a quick garage sale!”  I returned home 4 hours later riding this ‘98 Harley Davidson Sportster. Picked it up for $2k! Sadly, it was a little small for me, so I sold it on Craigslist a week later for a sneaky little profit.

  • This swing bench is the coolest part of my back yard! I think I paid maybe $40 for it at an estate sale in Rancho Palos Verdes about 5-6 years ago.

  • This fountain is one of my latest finds … made out of solid concrete, it’s so heavy I had to pay some local gardeners to help me load it in/out of the car. The Prius almost didn’t make it home that day.

Other Cool Things I’ve Bought at Estate Sales

  • 600 water balloons for $6. The kids in my neighborhood held a massive water fight with these. Cheap fun!
  • Large fancy cigar humidifier, $40. This was the size of a small mini-fridge, and I ended up giving it to a friend for his birthday.
  • Skateboard signed by Tony Hawk! $5. This was an awesome find because I didn’t even know it was signed by anyone until I got home and noticed a little scribble under the back wheels. Sure enough, it was Tony Hawk’s autograph!
  • Shoebox full of exotic soaps, $8.  I actually sold one of them on eBay for $8, which paid for the whole box. Now I’m using the remaining 20 bars myself 🙂
  • Romertopf clay dutch oven, $10. My wife bakes chicken in this bad boy, and sometimes I make bread in it too!

How to Find an Estate Sale

If you’re in a major metro city in the U.S., the best site for finding nearby estate sales is Search your zip code (or type in the zip of a fancy suburb near you!), and you’ll see upcoming sales. You can sign up for email notifications if you want there, too.

For more rural areas, you’ll find sales listed in your local newspaper. Some small or exclusive estate sales companies also have private email lists that — if you ask around — you may be able to join.

Craigslist sometimes has estate sale listings, but it’s hit and miss. Definitely do some research on the sale before you go to make sure it’s not a regular garage sale. You can always contact the owner and confirm what’s going on.

Another way wealthy people sometimes handle estate liquidation is to have an auction. An estate auction is usually reserved for valuable items and is managed offsite by an auction house (as opposed to being held in the house where the items came from). A ritzy one can draw potential buyers who are bidding from all over the world. In an auction, the prices for the valuables end up being set by the bidders (duh), which is way more intense than a little friendly haggling at a flea market! Sometimes you can check out out these auctions in person (you usually have to register beforehand) and they can be fun to watch even if you don’t intend to bid on anything. Again, check your newspaper and You never know what might happen!

Tips for Shopping at Estate Sales

  • Bring and pay in cash. Most estate sales are happy to take your credit card, but almost all charge a % fee to use it, and also add a hefty sales tax! 
  • I always ask if they are “selling the house.” Not because I’m interested in buying it, but because I want to find out how urgent it is for them to get rid of all their stuff. The very last day of the sale, things can be like 90% off the price (which was probably already below fair market value) just because the owner needs everything gone!
  • Join private email lists. For each sale that you attend, ask the estate liquidator if they have any other “private sales” going on. Most of them keep their own mailing lists and sometimes they’ll let you know about exclusive sales not publicly advertised (Los Angeles people love their “exclusive” lists).
  • Everything is negotiable. Remember, they want to get rid of everything, so estate sales are a great place to practice your negotiation skills!
  • Some big-ticket items might have been professionally appraised, like antique clocks and rare art. If you’re not sure, you can always ask if they had an appraiser check it out, and if so, they’ll usually show you the appraisal. I don’t buy this kind of expensive stuff, but it’s nice to know.
  • Lastly (and this rule goes for any type of sale), don’t buy stuff you don’t need or can’t give away or re-sell!

One Person’s Trash Is Another One’s Treasure!

When you have a spare weekend and you’re up for some exploring, see if there are any sales in the fancy neighborhoods around you. Or if you’re visiting LA, maybe I’ll bump into you at a Beverly Hills sale. It’s fun visiting houses you usually can’t go inside, and everybody loves a bargain!

Are you a garage or estate saler? What cool stuff have you found?

*Top pic by chrissie kremer on Unsplash!

from Finance

Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness

We’ve been processing, refining and commercialising it for hundreds of years. We’ve turned it into a key actor of our nutrition, binged on it and used taxes to reduce its consumption. But what if sugar actually had the upper hand over us? What if sugar had domesticated us? This is the kind of questions that Nadine Botha asks us to consider. Her project Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness takes us on a journey across history, cultures, economy, geopolitics, bodies and minds with sugar as our guide. Or rather as the grey eminence that stealthily engineered much of the world as we know it today.

Nadine Botha, Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness (screenshot of the website), 2019-2020

Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness “aspires to develop an alternative history of the rise of modernity and the spread of colonialism from the perspective of sugar itself.” Because Botha’s radically non-anthropocentric exercise allows us to understand how sugar has not only materially built today’s reality but also neurobiologically ­shaped our perception of it, it fits perfectly into the research behind (UN)REAL, an exhibition curated by William Myers for Science Gallery Rotterdam. The show challenges our understanding of what is real when so much of what we experience is digital or influenced by the changing chemistry and architecture of our brain.

I spent half an afternoon clicking all over the Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness website. Going from “Triangular Trade” to “Deep Decolonisation” and meeting Adam Smith, Charles Manson and Pharaohs in the process. I learnt a lot but I still wanted to know more about the project. So I contacted Nadine Botha. She is a research designer preoccupied with how unseen systems are shaping important aspects of our daily lives and she kindly answered my questions:

Nadine Botha, Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness, 2019-2020

Hi Nadine! Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness attempts to re-imagine human history from a non-anthropocentric perspective. What does the sugar-centric perspective bring to our understanding of history and society?

The intention behind looking at human history from the non-anthropocentric perspective of sugar is to invite an awareness of reality and knowledge as being designed paradigms in which we operate.

Sugar is a particularly unique substance. On the one hand, the industrialised farming of sugar since the 15th-century has changed what we eat and how we enjoy it, as well as completely restructured our society, economy, ecology, culture, and even bodies and minds. On the other hand, it is the basis of carbon-based life — defined as a sugar metabolising organism. Given these two sides, sugar has very explicit and demonstrable material and abstract affects in the present-day modernity/coloniality designed environment, as well as being so microscopically and omnisciently vast as to baffle comprehension.

In other words, humans think we control it, but it could very well be that sugar controls humans. But what is human even?

Given that sugar production and consumption has grown exponentially over the past 500 years, concomitant with colonialism and the intellectual project of defining some organisms and people as human and others not, I got to wondering how much of this definition of what is “human” is based on sugar’s impact on increasing brain function and the senses, and the historical decisions that were made out of what appeared to be reason but might have been sugar addiction.

These days we are becoming more aware of the impact of sugar on our moods and mental capabilities, and slowly also how the big food and pharmaceutical industrial complexes rely on people — often people who because of coloniality are most socioeconomically disadvantaged — developing a sugar addiction to the detriment of their health. How does our perspective on history, the present and what is human change when we consider that sugar may have been the engineer behind this all?

By clicking through the website of the project, I encountered many terms, historical facts and ideas (deep colonisation, plantationocene, etc.) I didn’t know about. But you’re a designer, not an historian. So what made your approach to collecting and presenting information different from the one that an historian or sociologist would have adopted?

History is a designed narrative — perhaps it could even be argued that history is essential to the notion “human”. Out of an infinite set of occurrences, a specific set of occurrences are spun together through a seemingly linear, causal narrative that serves the interest of those who are constructing it. The project considers how the historical narrative that we take for granted as the factual reasons for present conditions could be completely different if we look at it from another perspective, that of sugar’s. Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness is an inquiry into how we can redesign our knowledge structures and lenses of reality, and how if we think differently about our past, new ways of thinking about the future can emerge. If we consider design to be a hinge between our material environment and the intangible realm of ideas, politics, beliefs, relations and emotions, could a different medium of conversation and knowledge building be designed? One of the biggest opportunities for a research designer is to bring knowledge that is otherwise academically silo-ed into conversation, so for instance while the research started in existing historical and sociological literature, it expanded to the realms of biochemistry, evolution, religion, folklore, philosophy and memes. A lot of things also cropped up through side projects — plantationocene I came across through Donna Haraway, and the link between happiness and Adam Smith through Sara Ahmed.

Once one starts looking, it can feel like everything can be traced back to sugar — even COVID19 has 10x higher change of adverse effects in people with Diabetes 2, caused by sugar addiction. This research was packaged in “granules” — the pink ones that you see on the website, and the posts shared on Instagram. These granules formed the basis of workshops in which people were invited to link granules by spinning their own historical yarns. These yarns — like deep colonisation — are the white granules on the website. At this stage the sources have been left ambiguous, to create an interplay between the believable and fanciful in the construction of a speculative alternative history. The yarns — like deep colonisation — are the white granules on the website, which has been conceived as a growing rhizome that represents an inconsistent, contradictory, wildly imaginative alternative history. Acting as a mirror, this speculative history demonstrates the inconsistent contradictory nature of our dominant narrative of history on which reality is based.

The information on the project page is organised in small clusters. What is the logic between and inside these clusters. Why not organise the information chronologically for example?

There’s a lot of revisionist historical work going on at the moment, to reposition people who by virtue of race, gender or sexuality have been written out of history. This is essential, however this project is less interested in maintaining the dominant historical narrative and filling in gaps, than in questioning the premises and structure of the dominant historical narrative. Why do we think history runs linearly from the past to the present? In physics the “arrow of time” states that the theoretical statements that describe events on a microscopic level remain true even if time is reversed, however what remains unsolved is why it appears otherwise on the macroscopic level. For many non-Western cultures, however, this is not an issue: history and time do not only run in one direction. When information is presented to us in a chronological linear format, we tend to assume that events act causally on each other, and that it is inevitable that one follows the next. Such a construction can very easily leave out key counter events and make events look more or less important than they were, and it is disempowering as it makes the present and future seem inevitable. The website hopes to jar people’s expected order of events and invite them to make their own interconnections between events.

Nadine Botha, Sugar A Cosmology Of Whiteness (screenshot from the instagram feed of the project)

Nadine Botha, Sugar A Cosmology Of Whiteness (screenshot from the instagram feed of the project)

I love the Columbus and Castro swap. How did you get to associate these two in this type of story? What is the name of this type of playful manipulation of history by the way? Retro speculative history? Alternate fiction?

The Columbus and Castro swap was one of the yarns that emerged from the workshops. In cinema, this genre might be called alt history. In design I like the term speculative alternative history as it plays into the speculative and critical design paradigms of inviting us to become more conscious of our present, and unlike cinema, not only proposes an alternative narrative but also explores an alternative methodology.

Nadine Botha X Neuhaus Sugar: A Cosmology at Hew Nieuwe Instituut

Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness also forms the basis of workshops. What happens during these workshops? What do participants get to do? What kind of futures do they imagine?

In the workshops, we start with becoming aware of sugar’s impact on our bodies and experiences, then expand that to our environment through somatic activities, automatic writing and discussion. People then use these insights to spin a yarn connecting a couple of granules. For me, the workshops are the project. The initial research into literature gives the workshops a starting basis, but it was very important to open up the research and conceptualisation process as soon as possible. Otherwise it’s not really imagining history from sugar’s point of view, it’s just imagining history from Nadine’s point of view. While the website rhizome presents an archive of the results, the real rhizome is the one that spreads between participants and their families and friends, and how they become aware of the ubiquity of sugar and coloniality, and designed nature of narratives and history.

Nadine Botha, Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness at Science Gallery at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam. Photo: Lisa Eileen

What do we see in the works you are exhibiting at the Science Gallery in Rotterdam? What do these images represent?

Three of the sugar granules have been materialised as windows or lenses. What seems like glass, is in fact sugar cooked and cooled in the same way that Hollywood makes special effects glass. The lenses are cracked and broken, just as what was perceived as modernity and reality is revealed to be coloniality and construction. The first one on the left shows the veins of a leaf or tree transposed on a cross-section of the brain, to evoke how sugar is the basic energy unit of life. The second one, in the middle, shows an Islamic pattern and a tea/coffee pot, pointing to how originally sugar came from the Middle East before being taken to the Americas by Columbus, where it met its beloved companions tea and coffee. The third one is a microscopic view pointing to the ubiquity of sugar: there is sugar in every (carbon-based) living being on the planet.

Nadine Botha, Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness, 2019-2020

How do these works (and Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness in general) fit in the theme of the exhibition (UN)REAL?

If fish can’t see the water, then for most people we can’t see the sugar. The world that we cannot imagine without capitalism is less than 500 years old — a blink of the eye for the 4.5-billion-year-old planet — and to a much larger degree than we realise, built on sugar. Sugar as a political motivation, bodily fuel, cultural concept and social aspiration. But what makes sugar so fascinating, is that it is not only “real” as in functioning in the objective plane, but also a genetic predisposition to seek out sweet food and a psychoactive substance that affects the functioning of our brain and body: enhancing our senses to make the external seem more real than the internal and as inducing responses like anxiety to this untethering, but also giving our brains the energy required for the incredible intellectual advances of the past 500 years. “Real” and “reality” are words that date back to the 15th-century, when the systems and arguments used to substantiate colonialism were being made. The common understanding of real is that it is objectively verifiable by an independent observer, but what that actually it is a social construct of agreeing to see the same thing. What if what we see is co-created with sugar? What if what we see is not only co-created with sugar, but also with all the other critters that make up our microbiome? What is real? What is unreal?

What’s next for Sugar?

The project is certainly a long-term project, and I would like to present the workshops in as many places as possible around the world in order to let the rhizomatic alternative history grow beyond the Western-centric realm. I’m particularly interested not only in taking the project to countries that were previously sugar colonies, but also back along the pre-colonial Silk Route through the Middle East to sugar’s origins in India and China to uncover the sugar history that has been erased by the colonial narrative. Until travel opens up again though, I am refiguring the workshop for the Zoom era and exploring institutional partnerships.

Thanks Nadine!

Sugar: A Cosmology of Whiteness is part of the exhibition (UN)REAL, an exhibition curated by William Myers for Science Gallery Rotterdam at Erasmus MC.

from Finance

How to Give Stock to Children With a UGMA Custodial Account

How to Give Stock to Children With a UGMA Custodial Account

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When my wife was a baby, one of her Aunties created a gift account and put a few thousand dollars in it. This Aunt was pretty financially savvy and didn’t have any kids of her own. She put the money in a UGMA account (named for legislation called the Unifed Gifts to Minors Act) and invested it in a broad, low-cost mutual fund that would multiply over time as my wife grew up.

Today, this investment account has about $35k in it. 😳

It’s a bit embarrassing for us to talk about. My wife and I are extremely proud people … the do-it-yourself type. We don’t like taking handouts, and large gifts make us uncomfortable.

But, over time, we’ve found ways to accept the gracious gifts and blessings that come our way. One of those ways is to pay it forward. The blessings that rain down on us throughout life –> we pay it forward and try to make it rain on others! 

About four years ago, when our first nephew was born, my wife and I set up a UGMA account for him with $2,500 invested in a total stock market index fund. Same with the second, third and fourth nephews as they were born … a total of $10k gifted so far! When they turn legal age, they can access the account for college savings, a down payment for real estate, or keep the money as an investment counting toward their own FI number!

We set up all the accounts with Fidelity, which was a really easy process online that I’ll share at the end of this post.

a screenshot of the 4 accounts shows a combined balance of more than $12,000

Benefits of Investing With the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)

Originally, my plan was to just buy some stocks in my regular personal brokerage account and figure out the transfer later when my nephews were older. But, after calling my Fidelity rep and talking through the options, my wife and I learned about UGMA custodial accounts and really liked what they had to offer.

The Uniform Gifts to Minors Act was created back in the 50’s. It allows people to transfer assets to kids but remain in control of those assets until the child reaches legal age. It’s like setting up a trust but way easier.

We also checked out the 529 plan option and college savings accounts. But going to college is a decision we wanted to leave to the kids and their parents. Personally, I never went to college, but my wife did. We didn’t want to set up a college savings account where our nephews felt pressured to attend school just because they have the money to do so.

Also, for the amount we are gifting, we are not too concerned about the tax benefits of college savings accounts. Kiddie tax should be small — and we might even be able to do some capital gain harvesting while the child is young with no income.

Roth IRAs vs. UGMA

Children can open Roth IRA’s, and there’s no age limit. But, the child needs to earn some type of income. Earnings need to be at least as much as the amount that’s being contributed to the Roth.

The process and account type for Roth IRAs are very similar to those for UGMAs — you open the account and assign an adult as the custodian — and then it’s transferred to the kid when they are legal age. Some brokerage firms don’t offer custodial IRAs, but Fidelity and Charles Schwab do.

Since none of my baby nephews earn income, we couldn’t set up a Roth for them.

Why I Like UGMA Accounts and Why We Chose Fidelity

  • No lawyers, no messy trust paperwork, costs $0 to set up and $0 expense to maintain!
  • Online set-up usually takes 10 minutes. All you need is the child’s name, DOB, SSN, and address.
  • You can assign any adult as the “custodian” (like a “trustee” of a trust), and they have full control of investments until the child turns legal age. (For my nephews’ accounts, I put myself as the custodian and will transfer it over to their parents at a later date.)
  • The asset counts against the minor’s estate, so tax will be calculated at the child’s tax rate.
  • With Fidelity, there are no trade fees or a minimum amount of money you have to give. You could transfer just $1 if you want. (But some index/mutual funds have trade minimums, which you need to abide by as usual.)
  • When the child turns legal age, the account can transfer to their name like a regular brokerage account. They can do whatever they want with the funds.

What to Know Before Setting Up a Gift Account

  • The Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) is a little different than the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act, mainly the tax liability and maturity time. Might want to consult your brokerage firm and tax advisor if you are planning to give massive amounts of money or stock away!
  • Depending on which U.S. state you live in, the child gets ownership at age 18, 19, or 21. Here’s a site showing the Age of Majority for each state for UGMA and UTMA.
  • This is an irrevocable transfer! You can’t change your mind later and take your money back. The child owns it, not you or the parents.
  • Having a large UTMA might affect the kid’s financial aid eligibility later in life!
  • For all you Uncle Scrooges out there … If you’re giving more than $15,000, you’ll have to pay gift tax to the IRS. Here’s the gift tax limits and FAQ.

Compound Interest … The 8th Wonder of the World, Especially For Kids 😍

Every time I log into my Fidelity dashboard, I get to see the progress of my nephews’ accounts. There’s nothing sexier than watching money grow over time. 🙂 Even though these are gifts for them, I’m getting so much pleasure enjoying the ride and imagining the future balance!

We’re still 14 years away until the oldest one can access the money in his UGMA, (which has already grown to more than $4,000). But here’s what it might look like in the future, with compound interest …

Assuming an 8% growth rate, with a $4k starting balance today, if left untouched …

  • At age 18, the account could be worth: $11,748!
  • At age 30, the account might be: $29,585! Woohoo!
  • When he’s 40, he could have $137,896. Boom!
  • If he keeps the account until age 70, it’ll be $642,728! Booyah!

I hope my nephews are wise and continue to keep the cash invested, just like my wife hasn’t touched her gift account and is still letting it grow.

How to Open and Set Up an UGMA Account … It’s This Easy …

I created a custodian account last month with Fidelity for my newest baby nephew. Here’s the process! Takes less than 10 minutes …

  1. Go to the Fidelity homepage; click on “Open an Account” at the top, then “All Accounts”:
  2. Scroll down and find “Custodial Account” and click “Open Online”:

  3. Fill out the minor beneficiary information.  You’ll need their legal name, DOB, SSN, & address. This is their address, not yours! (When babies are born in the U.S., it can take a few months for a SSN to be assigned — be patient 😀)

  4. Fill in the custodian or trustee information. Can be a parent, grandparent, trusted financial professional, or yourself! If you are already a Fidelity customer, and logged into your account, this part will automatically be filled out with your info. If you want to appoint someone else, you can.

  5. Open, read, and confirm all the account docs. It’s important to note that you can save the application and pick up where you left off at any time. My trick for reading long contracts is to print out all the pages, then read for about 20 minutes each morning.

  6. Choose how you want to add money to the account! I went with the one-time transfer from a bank.

  7. Transfer from your bank to the gift account. If you don’t see your bank account info here, you’ll need to link a new bank account. This is a fairly seamless process, just like connecting to a regular brokerage account. You need your bank routing and account number handy.

  8.  Bank money transfers can take 1-3 days. But once the money lands in the account, don’t forget to invest it in an index or stock!!! I’m going with Fidelity’s Total Stock Market Index. (You can also set up recurring transfers, in case you want to divert a small portion of your income instead of a lump sum).

  9. Pour yourself an ice cold beverage. And relax knowing that you’re helping your little loved one financially and are teaching the ankle biters about investments.

This is me visiting my newest baby nephew on the East Coast earlier this year!

joel pushing in nephew in a stroller in a park

Hope this post helps anyone out there looking to gift stocks to minors! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments 👇👇👇

Have a good one!

* Top pic by Micheile Henderson!

from Finance

The Contamination of the Earth. A History of Pollutions in the Industrial Age

The Contamination of the Earth. A History of Pollutions in the Industrial Age, by historians Francois Jarrige and Thomas Le Roux.

Description by MIT Press: The authors describe how, from 1750 onward, in contrast to the early modern period, polluted water and air came to be seen as inevitable side effects of industrialization, which was universally regarded as beneficial. By the nineteenth century, pollutants became constituent elements of modernity. The authors trace the evolution of these various pollutions, and describe the ways in which they were simultaneously denounced and permitted. The twentieth century saw new and massive scales of pollution: chemicals that resisted biodegradation, including napalm and other defoliants used as weapons of war; the ascendancy of oil; and a lifestyle defined by consumption. In the 1970s, pollution became a political issue, but efforts—local, national, and global—to regulate it often fell short. Viewing the history of pollution though a political lens, the authors also offer lessons for the future of the industrial world.

John Bulmer, The Black Country

Société de St Gobain. Sept usines. Engrais chimiques. Atelier Hugo d’Alési (photo: BNF)

How about a harrowing but incredibly interesting book to start the week?

The Contamination of the Earth chronicles almost 300 years of environmental crime, as well as the resistance to it and the industrial efforts to make acceptable and -in some cases- conceal toxic abuses.

There used to be a time when public health came before economic development. If you were a tanner and threw waste in the river, you’d get a fine. If your workshop filled the neighbourhood with “miasmas”, it would be pushed outside of the town.

In the early 19th Century, under the pressures of the nascent industrialisation and the wonders of its achievements, attitudes changed and pollutions became a necessary evil. Chimneys, machines and chemicals were not just nuisances, they also denoted prosperity, progress, employment. As for nature, it was boundless. Up for conquest and plunder.

As a result, pollutions became constituents elements of modernity. Its ills on water streams, landscapes and atmosphere, however, were getting increasingly decried. Factory neighbours, workers, thinkers, doctors and scientists raised their voice in protest of the number of toxic substances released. So were artists. Romantic writers, impressionist painters and poets denounced and represented the extent of the damage.

Ernest Jean Delahaye, L’usine à gaz de Courcelles (Gas factory in Courcelles), 1884

William H. Rease, Harrison Brothers’ White Lead Works and Chemical Laboratory, Philadelphia, 1847 (photo: WDL)

20th would have to reckon with the increase of contaminants as a result of wars, globalisation and mass consumerism. The chapters on the effects that WWI, WWII, the Cold War and the Vietnam War had on ecosystems were particularly distressing. Each conflict brought more disinhibition, more reasons to unleash chemical, explosive or nuclear weapons. The war had become industrial and so was the scale of its destructions. At the end of hostilities, the infrastructures and weapons didn’t fall into obsolescence, they were converted for civilian use. Chemical gases used in fighting, for example, would reinvent themselves as tools to sanitise material, to disinfect, control pests, etc.

With every protest and damning medical repost, industrialists’ strategies to deny and obfuscate reality become shrewder. Industrial nuisances were blamed on weather, topography, people’s sensibilities. Problems were outsourced to poorer countries, waste was dumped in high sea. Powerful lobbies emerged, close relationships were weaved with local authorities. Technical improvement became the modus operandi to manage nuisances. Sometimes, the innovations did wonder. More often than not, however, any reduction achieved in one form of pollution produced secondary effects: either displacing the source of nuisance or producing the dreaded rebound effect. The most revolting strategy employed by the heavy polluters was acquired directly from the tobacco industry: generating scientific ignorance in the mainstream discourse about the deleterious effects of smoking. They hired their own experts to spread doubts about the certainty of scientific research and challenge evidence. I learnt in the book that there’s a name for discipline that studies this phenomenon of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt: it’s called agnotology.

The book stops its historical research into industrial depredation in the early 1970s. After the 70s, everything accelerated and all the phenomena the authors describe look like a long rehearsal for what we live today. We still fail to see the world as a holistic unit, we still see technology as the best path to salvation and, as concepts such as “sustainable development” demonstrate, we’re still not ready to challenge the very heart of the productive system. As for yesterday’s persistent organic pollutants, they are still widely present in our environments but hundreds of thousands of new, often more insidious ones are being developed with the help of bio and nanotechnology.

Defoliant spray run, part of Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War by UC-123B Provider aircraft, 1960s

Pasha Cas, Dance, in Temirtau, Kazakhstan. Photo: Olya Koto

There are many reasons why I’d recommend you get this book. The first one is that The Contamination of the Earth convincingly demonstrates that environmental hazards not only threaten the health of our planet, they also deepen inequalities and disparities between North and South, between richer and poorer communities.

Reason number two: instead of focusing on the usual polluting suspects (Western Europe and the United States), the book attempts to give an overview of the history of pollutions across the world, drawing parallels between what happened in France or the UK and what happens in China, Russia or Japan.

Reason number three: although the authors paint a rather bleak picture of what we’ve inflicted on this planet over the past few centuries, they articulate with great clarity the political, social and economic processes that have paved the way for this rush into the abyss. If we want to get out of this mess, we need to understand how we got there in the first place and ensure that we don’t reproduce the same mistakes and adopt the same inadequate solutions and fatalism again and again. Pollution is a violent monster but it is a monster that can be tamed with the help of new imaginaries and new alliances with the living.

One last reason I loved this book is that it’s very well written. The authors juggled with an impressive amount of data, papers and studies. Yet, their text remains compelling and pleasant to read.

When the heart of the Potter rejoices! Factory chimneys and pottery kilns belching pollution into the skies over Stoke on Trent, UK (photo: Dwyne)

Richard Jefferies, After London; or, Wild England. London: Duckworth & Co, 1905

After London is regarded as an early example of what we would today call the “eco-apocalyptic” novel.

John Bulmer, View over the Potteries, Stoke on Trent, 1963

Camille Pissarro, The Pont Boieldieu in Rouen, sunset, foggy weather, 1896

Related stories: Paleo-energy: a counter-history of energy, Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet. Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, The Shock of the Anthropocene. Or what does it mean to have the future of the planet into our hands?, Paula Humberg: making visible the unseen victims of climate change, Back Water: What should be classified as “wilderness” in a post-industrial world?, Plastic Capitalism. Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste, etc.

from Finance

Investing With Family … the Good, the Bad, the Meh

Investing With Family … the Good, the Bad, the Meh

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Are any of you guys investing with family members or co-owning any assets with siblings? Like partnering on rental properties, businesses, and joint estates or lending them money?

I’m not talking about your spouse or significant other … I mean investing with siblings, aunties and uncles, your parents or kids. I’m curious to hear your experiences and if you recommend it as a good idea to others?

For me, the first property I ever bought was a joint real estate investment with my parents and older brother. We owned the place for 15 years before selling it and parting ways. While there were certainly squabbles and times we wanted to all kill each other, for the most part the experience doing real estate investing with family was pretty positive.

Should you invest with family members?

Most people would say NO. And my off-the-cuff advice to any investor is usually, “If you have to ask, the answer is probably no.”

But, every family has different dynamics and it could also be a great move. It worked out well for me, and it might work out for you. Either way, here’s a bunch of pros and cons to weigh before jumping into an investment with Aunt Susie or lending money to cousin Vinnie for his crypto ladder scheme!

Advantages of investing with family

Pooling your money together can have further reach: I would’ve never gotten into real estate so young if it weren’t for my brother and parents. I didn’t have the down payment or the knowledge to buy a property on my own. Combining our money gave us a head start in buying a larger property we wouldn’t have been able to afford individually.

Diverse experience and skills: Two sisters I know here in LA co-own a rental property. They’ve owned it for three years now and they work really well as a team. One of them is excellent with numbers and handling the money side of the business like the rental income and tax stuff, while the other one is great at dealing with tenants, negotiating leases, and operational stuff. They are stronger as a team versus investing alone.

You know who you’re getting into bed with: It can be easier to trust family members because you know more of their backstory, values in life, and prior demons. (This is also a good reason *not* to invest with some family members.)

Can possibly strengthen your relationship: Investing with your family forces you to have conversations that you otherwise would never have. In my experience, this has given me a deeper sense of appreciation for my family. We win together, or we lose together. Either way, we do it together.

Difficulties investing with family

Different goals and risk tolerance: A big reason my parents and I sold our joint investment property is because our goals changed over time. My parents are now in their late 50s and want less risk in their life. I on the other hand am comfortable with more risk. We don’t make suitable partners anymore because we approach investments with a different financial goal.

Families grow and change: Marriages, divorces, financial hardships, kids, moving locations, changing jobs, etc. As each person in the partnership grows older and lives life, this brings new complications in managing things.

It can be hard to split tasks “fairly”: This is a sneaky one that can ruin relationships over time. I’ve seen a couple of joint investments where one family member does all the property management work and the other does nothing. It might be OK for a little while, but over time it can wear down the partnership. Finding “fair” is quite difficult.

More stakeholders means slower decision-making: This is a downside of any group investing, not just with family. The more people you bring into deals, the more opinions and viewpoints that need to be considered when making moves as a group.

Some benefits or grants could be missed: Let’s say three siblings in their early 20s all put their money together and buy a house they plan to live in. They may get a First Home Owners Grant or special subsidized loan. But, as they grow older and when each of them go to purchase their next house, none of them can qualify as a “first time” homeowner anymore. All three of them used one grant, instead of three using three grants.

Emotions breed unrealistic expectations: Bringing any type of emotions into investments complicates things. It’s extremely difficult to drop your emotions when talking with family. They are your family, after all. You love them 🙂

Recommendations & things to consider before investing with family

OK, so you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided to go for it … You’re going to invest with family. Plan ahead and consider these things:

  1. Talk about your individual goals and desired outcomes. Short-term and long-term goals should be discussed, written down, and agreed to by all parties. Especially with rental properties and long-term investments. Be sure everyone shares the same mindset and is in it for the long haul!
  2. Consider setting up an LLC or formal business entity. It sucks to go through legal contracts (and it can cost more money), but ultimately contracts are put in place to protect all parties. It’s more cut and dry.
  3. Plan to communicate … often! Unaddressed problems only get smellier over time, and family members have a habit sometimes of sweeping issues under the rug. Constant communication is needed for a good partnership, so plan for that upfront. Regular scheduled meetings, reviews, and stuff like that.
  4. Have an exit plan and set up contingencies should a member want to leave the partnership. The last thing you want to do is sell a great-performing asset just because one person wants out! Plan ahead for buyouts or succession plans if a member dies.

I love hearing success stories of family members helping each other and investing together. In a perfect world, we’d all be helping our loved ones financially. But it’s not for everyone!

What about you? Do you have a FIRE Family? Have you made it work with your fam or would you rather stay solo?

*Photo by Thaís Ancalime on Unsplash

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