Sunday, March 28, 2010

Barcamp 2010 - A Hacker's Guide to Financial Independence

Barcamp occurs twice a year to allow hackers, geeks and assorted hobbyists to come together to share ideas with each other. This year hundreds of people came together at Singapore Polytechnic to talk about tech start-ups, cooking, light sabers and programming.

I was very privileged to be able to share the gist of my financial ideas with this crowd.

The video of the presentation I made prior to my 30 minutes presentation can be found here. Unfortunately, this requires Veoh which means that a special client may be required to view the entire presentation.

Watch A Hacker's Guide to Financial Independence in Educational & How-To  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Expect a subtle shift as I attempt to incorporate lectures and presentations in this blog.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blog updates will slow.

All fans,

Thanks to all your support. Updates to this blog will slow down due to the upcoming preparations for Bar Camp and my efforts to monetize my gaming hobby.

Expect updates to this blog to slow down from now on until I can figure out a better way to make online income.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cognitive surplus as an asset class.

I've just learnt of a new term this week - the cognitive surplus.

Your cognitive surplus is the amount of mental energy you have remaining after going through your workday. With the Internet allowing new business models to be created in seconds in the form of blogs, mobile applications or websites, its no wonder that at a global level, this is an asset that cannot really be ignored.

While the self-help gurus are trying to make sense of cognitive surplus as an idea, I'm going to step forward to say that the cognitive surplus is something which needs to be invested just like an asset class. In fact, your cognitive surplus should be part of your human capital and managing it well can mean more financial capital to fund your retirement or travel ambitions in the future.

The reality of cognitive surplus immediately kicks in after you are willing to consider it as yet another form of investment.

In this reality where a business can be built in minutes and torn down in seconds, saturation of the Internet as a media makes it very hard to generate a positive ROI within any reasonable time-frame.

In my personal case, selling my time for money at work seems efficient enough. Investing my wealth for dividends has also been relatively frutiful. But an honest examination of how I am using my cognitive surplus reveals that there are many areas of improvement. In fact, I can safely say that I'm losing money and time from my cognitive surplus ( maybe there really is such a thing as a cognitive deficit. )

Only one out of three of my books has broken even. My on-line boutique does not really sell due to high prices and my e-book has only allowed me to get back my capital. Like any business, employing your cognitive surplus requires capital and you will need to husband the steady flow of income into something which is repeatable, it's like turning your ideas and brain juice into an annuity-like financial product.

As I have yet to get my formula right, I can only guess what's the next step for me :

a) To leverage on cognitive surplus, first seek a platform where you can easily reach your niche market. My RPG books sell in

b) Use a small project with little time and money and then seek to break even to push yourself up the learning curve.

c) Using sales figures as feedback, employ deliberate practice to adjust price points and optimize expenses accordingly.

d) Seek secondary benefits, like skills you learn can be applied to your day jobs or refine the way your invest your financial capital.

e) For me at least, the cognitive surplus simulates a deeply out of money call option. Until you can find a niche or a consistent set of customers, you are more likely to never get into the money. As many options expire worthless, many out of office efforts only lose time and money.

Right now, I consider myself lucky. As it turns out, my day job and investment income funds my dreams of a being a writer. I could also be finding other ways to squander my cognitive surplus like spend my time watching TV or playing computer games.

But it's humbling to know that there is a long way to go before my cognitive surplus can be converted into an annuity payment.

I hope someone with better luck out there can share some ideas with me on managing this new 'alternative investment'.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

If women are not choosy, men will have no standards.

I was privileged enough to read this article from another blogger in Singapore.

Rachel Zeng's Tirade

Personally, Rachel is a idealist who wants the world to conform to her liberal conscience. There is a better way to get the message across to Singaporean men if she has issues with them. Coming up with an essay to shove egalitarian down Singapore's throats will only result in being ignored.

Get this :

A) We Singaporeans do not want equality.
B) Every election result is a proof of this reality.
C) Meritocracy is not equality.
D) Some people do get a lot more than others. And their kids get even more than that.

If I were Rachel, I would approach the problem in a different way.

When men accuse women of being materialistic. The proper answer from feminists should be,"Well, so what's YOUR problem, not man enough to meet our standards izzit ?"

Many of us privileged Singaporeans who live carefree lives to the point of being able to blog about it know that we exist because our mums married correctly.

Our mums chose our dads who then proceeded to raise us, send us to school and give us enough support and advice to have great careers. In short, our mums had GREAT TASTE, that's why we are getting along in Singapore !

A human female, unlike a human male, invests a lot more in parenting than a human male. As such, evolution has armed women with a nose of sniffing what's best for kids. Tall, athletic men with symmetrical features signal healthy children in the future. Wealth signals availability of resources. Women are so-called materialistic because Mother Nature ( being a woman ) intended it.

This comes back to my biggest contribution to resolve the plight of the Single man of Singapore.
The magic figure is an income of about $4,500 a month. This puts you somewhere along top 30th percentile in earnings that will make you acceptable to the average female graduate who forms the biggest pool of single women in Singapore.

Work hard, get this resolved first, then focus on other areas like your dress sense, sense of chivalry, vocabulary, etc. Failing which, take your income to country where people make dramatically less. Statistics are beginning to show that Singaporean men are approaching this golden era of being God's greatest gift to Asia. Our GDP per capita is solid and we're growing 6.5% this year.

I have advice for women:

a) Don't wait too long.

I sound like the PAP now but us guys will accumulate our wealth and in time, we will become great catches in SE Asia or North Asia. Singapore men are appreciating assets like growth equity. Singapore women need to keep yourselves looking good. If Singaporean are going to accept that Singaporean women are realistic, then get real about about what we Singaporean men really WANT from a relationship.

b) Turn men down decisively, be cruel if necessary.

It's very painful to listen to stories of rejection from my single friends because it's such a long drawn out affair that destroys morale.

We men recover from rejection fast and we're good at moving on.

After all, we were rejected from top secondary schools, the gifted program, OCS and some local universities. Don't say,"I not free this Friday but next week maybe but my dog got birthday. " That's weak and you're wasting our time.

Say something like this,"You do not fit into my image of what a husband should be like." or " I don't think my family will be proud of me if I bring you home." Over the long term, we will appreciate this.

c) And look after your own finances.

I tell my wife this since I started dating her.

I wanted her to have her own financial resources because infatuation does not last long - 2 years at most. Enduring love in a marriage is more like respect and companionship but women need to account for straying men. When men hit mid-life crisis, they will do all sorts of things to prove their virility so women should maintain a piggy bank of their own.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Adventures in Monetization via e-publishing.

For months, my personal time was spent thinking of ways to generate Internet cash flow. I refused to employ methods espoused by Internet marketers and wanted to see how far I can go using only open sourced tools and some free websites.

Employing only Open Office Writer was quite a challenge as I realized that there is a need to relearn all the user interface features of new software. When it got to desktop publishing, I used Scribus, a free product which had difficulties importing from Writer tables I spent days churning out. The open sourced world gets your done eventually but the learning curve is much higher and it encourage a sort of "work-around" mentality which is crucial in the IT industry these days when things are very dynamic everyday.

Anyway, my e-book broke even within 2 weeks of being on sale on a specialist online RPG store. It's not a lot of money, about $20 US dollars which confirms that my short project was a success. Perhaps within this year I will redeploy my templates to build a few more products to generate more cash flow so see if I can generate a steady stream of $50 a month.

There are some lessons I learn here :

a) On-line businesses are hard to start. Until you can confidently generate income, use only your personal time to so stuff.

b) There are sites which sell generic e-books, odds are that you won't sell anything. A website that caters to your audience will have a smaller traffic but will have more people who will take a liking to your book.

c) Blogging to preview or advertise your product can help greatly.

So far I think the jury is still out on Internet Marketing. I do know that, for most ordinary people, creating on-line products and selling them is an inferior strategy of generating passive income. Far better to get decent work with your qualifications and then aggressively invest them in income generating real estate and equities.

But I going to keep on trying to prove that I am wrong in this regard. I can take my time because i still have a day job.

The result of my game product can be found here :

Noble : A Martial Controller for the 4e D&D game

A blog which promotes my Dungeons and Dragons 4e product is found here :

Noble Design Blog

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Some solutions to population growth and foreign workers.

Today I will present a solution for population growth and foreign workers.

Population Growth

Population growth can stimulated by asking ourselves firstly, how much GDP will we allocate into having future generations of Singaporeans. Russians, apparently, are willing to allocate 1% of to stimulate population growth. Whether this 1% comes from education or defense, it does'nt matter, figure this number out and stick with it for the next 10 years.

When a Singapore couple have a baby, the mother gets up to 6 months no-pay leave. They need to raise the kid for a year on their own, but one year later, the parents can receive a bonus equal to the pool divided by the number of new babies made last year. This is a one-shot, bullet payment into their bank accounts. At 1% GDP, this number should be quite significant.

This will incentivise Chinese couples to have kids in inauspicious years, prevent overcrowding of resources and eliminate discrimination against working mothers.

Foreign workers

Yes, foreign workers keep many Singaporeans poor by lowering costs but they also contribute to the dynamism of the Singapore economy. When the government raise the levies, they get hammered and lose votes.

Let's look at Low Thia Khiang's solution of the dependency ratio and then add a price setting mechanism to push the onus of cost setting to employers. This is much like the COE mechanism but now its applied to foreign workers.

Governments should only decide how many foreign worker permits Singapore can accept based on the tolerance of the citizens. Every year, HR companies will bid for foreign worker permits. They will set a number of licenses and how much they are willing to pay. Bidding is done in one pool and banks bid in the same category as the construction sector. Minimum bid per head is a low $100.

Price discovery of the value of the foreign worker is based on the bids of the employer. They decide how much they are willing to pay for foreign workers, after which they will pay in one lump sum of the bid.

The government will stop screening foreign workers and instead screen for criminal records and diseases. Employers will bid for licenses and then hire from abroad, approval will be streamlined and determined by whether employers have the permit or not.

Proceeds from the bids will determine how much governments should pay for productivity improvements.

By the same token, rather than spend money paying civil servants to screen foreign workers, allow them to pay for PR status. Allow about 10k to 15k of foreign workers who have spent at least 2 years in Singapore to take up PR status by bidding for this. When they succeed, their employer will no longer need to have a permit to hire them so they can get higher pay. This may even force competitive bidding to become more than $50,000 per PR status.

For citizen conversion, allow PRs of at least 2 years to bid for citizenship. Have a low number 1,000 citizenship licenses for bidding. This number can even hit $200,000 in a bullish economy.

Share proceeds with existing Singaporeans with income tax offsets or CPF credits.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Carebears and a discussion on personal strengths that are useful in investments

The Carebears are an accidental creation which is something that is worthy of mention. I have some sort of mastermind group which is composed of close friends who are generally into self-improvement, financial mastery, abstract mathematics, sociology, Goatse, philosophy and other high-falutin ideas which many Singaporeans will disapprove of if they join us for a beer session in Ang Mo Kio or tea session in Tea Chapter.

The name arose from our accidental run-in with a group of competitive board-gamers who only meet when the World of Warcraft servers are down on a Tuesday. They call their meet-ups "Tuesdays with Assholes". I called for a dinner session last night calling it "Tuesdays with Carebears", carebears being a term for folks who play games for non-competitive, social or affiliative reasons, and the name somehow managed to gain traction within the group. Just hours ago, the gang started taking personality tests to figure out which carebear they most resemble them. And we're talking adult STRAIGHT men here.

So here's a toast to the power of ideas.

Ok, let's talk about personality tests.

I first learned of the Strength-finder 2.0 through Singapore's top blogger Mr.Wang. He took the test and recommended it for his readers. Being a Mr. Wang fan, I promptly bought the test and took it for myself.

My Gallup strengths are :

Analytical, Input, Intellection, Competitive and Activator.

I think these strengths lend very well into investing:

a) My Analytical inclinations forces me to see numbers before committing my money and I'm always looking for clear picture of cash flow before investing in a dividend stock.

b) Input as a strength makes it easy to read all the investment journals, take the CFA exams and absorb large amounts of boring statistical data.

c) Intellection is a strength that allows me to create internal dialogues to challenge my own investment beliefs, it also predisposes me to philosophy which introduces ideas like that of Karl Popper who taught me to come up with ways to falsify my own investment ideas actively to refine my portfolio.

d) My two other strengths of Competition and Activator gives me the motivation to become financially independent by benchmarking my status with my peers and pushes me to make snap decisions with a sense of urgency.

Over the many months I've known my fellow Carebears, I've noticed that there is a common thread in that almost all of them feel a compelling need to know more about themselves. It could be because they want to delve into the meaning of Life or wish to make a decision on whether they are in the right career path. As an amateur life-coach, I have always directed them towards using the Strengthfinder 2.0 to frame their decision based on what their Strengths are.

Right now, it's still to early to see results but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that when a person is still going through some introspection, it may be useful to look into their personal strengths and withhold judgment until they can learn more about themselves.

They may well find a trump card in their hand which can make a difference in their journey in this world.