Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Birthday to me - A year in review.

Well it's Christmas and it's my 37th birthday.

2011 is going to come off as a year where I experienced the largest change in my life.

In the same year :

a) Downgraded from a semi-D to a 5 room flat.
b) Moved from the financial sector to join the worker's union.
c) Became a father to my daughter Clio.

It's one heck of a change.

On the upside, 2011 is the year I really started to live exclusively on my dividend income, paying off taxes, maid, wife, mum and personal expenses on investment income. Career-wise, I switched to a formal administrative management job role from that of a technical specialist with NTUC-ARU and gained three new certifications the CGEIT, TOGAF 9 and possibly the CRISC. For my writing, I really started producing books in the Kindle development platform writing a full-fledged RPG, two non-fiction books and in the next few days, my first fictional product.

On the downside, some things have changed this Christmas. In the past, Christmas meant Borders and spending time having coffee with my friends in Starbucks. These days, Borders is gone and I can't seem to get that holiday feel any-more because I get almost all my media consumption on my Kindle Fire. Even if Borders is still around there are the floods to contend with. Next year, we have to even say goodbye to Page One. I'm having some mixed feelings of the massacre of book-stores in Singapore, since I write e-books and own a lot of REITS, this makes me somewhat responsible for all this creative destruction in the book selling business.

And there is no rest for the wicked. Even right now, I'm in the middle of an escalation with Singtel. A we're having some network difficulties and Singtel has been sluggish in the holiday season to get the problem solved. If Singtel screws up, there goes my birthday celebrations.

So it's been a heck of a year.

If I survive this winter season with my sanity intact, I'll declare 100 days without a personal project so that I can can get my health back together.

Back to basics - Focus on work and family.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Income Streams - Your Three Armies.

I like to use War as analogy in Finance.

We are in a constant state siege in Singapore. We have to battle foreign talent and meet tough expectations from management at work. Recently our public transport has almost become a war zone.

Sometimes, you can look at your income stream as your armies.

These armies move, fight and die like real soldiers. An income stream can be eaten up with the introduction of a big liability. Each income stream has its own powers and limitations, the same way some armies fight better on land, sea or air.

Here is a breakdown of the three armies I know :

a) Earned income

Like many of you folks, this is my largest army. Your earned income power peaks in your 30s and starts to wane in your 40s. But the good news is that earned income does not swing with the markets and provides a certain measure of security throughout the years.

However, know that this army will age as you hit your forties. As many mid-career professionals will attest, the job market is brutal to any man in his forties and by this time, he would be encumbered with multiple mortgages.

Wean yourself out of using this army for battle before you hit your fortieth birthday.

b) Portfolio Income

The power of my second army is a about 60% of my largest army. Your portfolio income starts small and can become stronger the more you save. Having skills in investing make this army even more powerful.

The problem with this army is that it is very unpredictable. Sometimes, this army fights well and many enemies can destroyed in the process. In bad times this army actually turns against you. This upcoming recession is likely to be very bad. No one has any idea how Europe will dig itself out of this mess.

This army is also likely to survive your passing and can be given to your children. It grows with time and can become unstoppable when you hit your 50s.

c) Royalty Income

My last army is very weak and gives me only $150 a month. This army is perpetual and is normally not likely to be subject to market cycles. The problem is that accumulating it is very challenging.

This last army can only be cultivated if you manage your time after office hours well and have to account for the large amounts of channel saturation. Almost anyone can write and float an e-book in Kindle.

A large amount of time is now spent cultivating my third army for battle. My personal wish is that this army eventually becomes my most powerful army upon retirement. This will require a book to hit the best-seller list internationally if it were to happen.

d) Combined Arms is possible

The armies fight together to achieve all your life ambitions. My first army is used to reinforce my second army in the forms of REIT purchases. I look forward to starting on commercial property in 2016. Proceeds from the second army fund my third army, eventually, I have to start a marketing budget once I get serious about the online publication of e-books which should have a website and twitter feed.

Consider the transition to Entrepreneur slowly.

Read a while ago that ago that many start-ups are suffering in Singapore. They blow most of their capital to get a basic version 1 of their application only to make about $3,000 a month for a decent application.

I think this presents a great waste to our society. Entrepreneurship pays off only if someone becomes a success, otherwise, we have to account for the many folks who are forced to return to the job market that will probably discriminate against them.

Here's my alternative take on a safer way to become an entrepreneur :

a) Participate in the working world for a short, fixed time, like 5 years.

If you are a fresh graduate and have ambitions to do a start-up, why not bring your technical skills to a good employer and maintain your lifestyle as a start-up founder, another words, live like a poor undergraduate for the next 5 years or so.

b) Save 75% of your income.

Since you have a start-up mindset, why not just aim to save 75% of your income. This money is invested as future capital to generate passive income to live on.

c) Invest in 8-10% income assets

Invest your money at 8-10% yields. In 5 years, you will be able generate enough passive income to completely replace your expenses. In fact, you will have enough passive income equal to 30% of your starting salary even in the most pessimistic case. This will form the baseline for your lifestyle moving forward.

d) Devote your after-office time to build skills for a future start-up

These days, starting a business is very easy. With a developer account for iOS or Google or even in the future Windows apps marketplace, you can launch a free application to get users to pass you feedback to build a paid version of the app and hone your programming skills.

If you perform these 4 steps, you would be able to deal with the worse case scenario on the failure of your start-up as well as take baby steps towards building your company over 5 years.

As you will also accumulate working experience, you avoid the social stigma of being an unemployable start-up founder.

I think there is only one big weakness in this plan.

If you can work, invest and plan to start-up in your spare time, your company will probably want to find ways to keep you working for them for as long as possible. You may find jobs willing to pay you $10k a month at the end of your personal 5 year stint. This will make regular employment far too attractive compared to a start-up lifestyle.

Thus, you need to value your autonomy more than security to make this work.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What should a ceramics manufacturer know about artificial insemination ?

I was reading the Innovator's DNA, a book about innovation in companies. It had a very interesting story about a ceramics manufacturer that borrowed a technique in artificial insemination to create a new kind of ceramics which was lighter and harder than other industrial ceramics that can be manufactured at that time.

A lesson which can be learnt from that story is that many problems found in one industry can be solved by looking at the best practices of another industry.

Of course, given the complexity of most problems, it's very possible for a person to make the mistake of thinking that only a generalist is able to solve the most pressing issues faced by everyone today. We would need to create a new generation of polymaths or self-proclaimed know-it-alls who know how to inseminate cows and make ceramics at the same time. The consequences in our education system is too hard to bear.

Why does a secondary school student need to know history, english literature and geography at the same time ?

Actually, this is not necessary.

The solution to the problem was found because someone in the ceramics industry was curious enough to attend scientific conferences and had an inkling that a similar problem was solved years ago by artificial insemination experts. He simply managed to convince some experts to provide consulting to the R&D department of the ceramics manufacturer.

The moral of the story is this :

a) With your limited resources, develop a broad based skill-set along with one or two deep specializations. This T-shaped profile is vital to make a living in this world. The specialization needs to be taught, but a broad based education can be earned on your own spare time.

b) Since you are not likely to know everything. You need to network and be able to tap into a web of relationships to solve your most complicated problems. Of course, to benefit fully from this network you should be ready to help the others solve key problems with your area of specialization as well.

Another-words, if you have to choose between being a polymath or actually having friends, it's possibly wiser to choose the latter.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Are you eating better than a prisoner ?

Heard that a long acquaintance of mine who is now going back to NUS to get impressionable undergraduates to get into MLM. As times get worse, I expect MLM and internet marketing to rear to its ugly head again as a larger of younger folks find it harder to get jobs.

We have to accept that some people want to think different. They think it's cool to stay hungry and stay foolish. And despite the fact that thousands of people are getting into MLM, developing internet marketing websites and writing e-books and selling it for ridiculous prices, these people insist upon being unique in their approach towards financial independence.

I want to develop a simple heuristic to help a person decide if he's on the right track.

The answer lies in prison food.

My friend who is an ex-cop tells me that prisoners in Changi eat relatively well. They get three meals a day, always get meat because dieticians recommend a fair amount of protein in a person's daily intake and extra portions are catered in case a prisoner claims that he's not being fed enough. A prisoner would also, very often, get a piece of banana for a meal and sometimes even get night-snack like green bean soup.

If a uniquely Byronic entrepreneur wants to do an audit of his life, I would advise him to examine his lifestyle and ask himself if he's eating better than a prisoner in Changi prison. While you're thumbing your nose at the folks who are regularly employed and acting smug because you're "ramen profitable", the folks stuck in jail are getting more nutritious meals than packets of maggi mee or an infinite sequence of peanut butter sandwiches.

So is it glamorous to be eating worse than a prisoner ?

That is something a new age entrepreneur needs to ask himself.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I'm a vanity publisher but not a backyard money manager.

Traditional bookstores received another death knell with the closure of Clementi Bookstore, Funan computer bookstore and, of course, Borders in 2010. With the launch of Skoob books that sells ebooks from local authors, publishers are in serious trouble.

I think on the whole publishers deserve the mess that they are in.

In the Singapore Writer's Festival, I met quite a lot of obnoxious local publishers. One guy, who knew that I wrote financial books, asked me if I was a millionaire. That left a bad taste in my mouth because even a job interviewer had no right to ask such a question.

The truth is that for most investors, you read, do your own homework and then get into the markets by making your own trades. Other people will react by giving you a fair measure of respect. Some labels can be kind, like self-made man or independent investor.

If you switch the context to publishing, invest your own money to create a product that people would buy, you are labelled a vanity publisher. You are self-indulgent, possibly narcissistic and lack standards.

That's the equivalent of calling an investor a backyard money-manager.

I think at the end of the day, publishers miss the whole point. An author subjects himself to market forces and is no different from an investor. If his books sell, then he has the results to prove that he's created a superior product. A publisher is only helpful if he has the marketing muscle to move your goods.

Sales are everything. Publisher's attempts at maintaining standards means squat if there are no royalties. I fail to see to how a published author can pooh-pooh a vanity publisher if he doesn't have sales to speak of or is not ranked in the best-seller lists.

It works in practice too.

There is one thing that no publisher can explain to me.

My first book, Growing Your Tree of Prosperity, was on the best-seller list in the Strait Times and broke-even within two years. The book lacked proper editing and when it launched, it even did not have a decent distribution contract.

Anyway, maybe local publishers are being a little defensive and have genuine concerns about the industry they are in. Hopefully more writers will hop onto the e-books bandwagon, and I hope to catch SWF next year with some new technical skills like HTML 5 formatting which will herald a new generation of personal financial books on the Kindle Fire.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Time Management as a discipline.

One idea which I'm hatching is that time management is no different from portfolio management. We all have a fixed 24 hours a day but a key challenge is to divide it between a number of portfolios.

a) Work portfolio - For earned income.
b) Investment portfolio - to plan for future income.
c) Sleep - For health reasons.
d) Family and friends - for personal well-being.

An essence of lifestyle design to do more with less time. i.e. Generate income, shrink (a) and (b) to expand (d). There should exist a series of steps to meet this objective in such a way as to make time management a discipline.

a) Virtual assistants can be hired to run your lives.
b) You can adopt a organizational framework like GTD to make yourself more productive.
c) You can scale down your work by working part time or at least remove transport requirements by telecommuting.
d) Time can be recycled. I use transport to read and prepare for my certification exams.
e) Time spent doing hobbies can be enriched with economic resources toward more enriching activities. For example, I can read to daughter but I can also bring her to a book making workshop when she's able to.

What currently missing in my model is something analogous to my dividend investing model. Where more time spent today means much less time to be spent tomorrow. In IT management, I always tell the new administrator to consider working overtime to script some common service requests so that he can reduce the time spent performing service requests.

There has to be a consistent way to measure and manage how time spent today results in less time spent tomorrow. This, potentially, is better than compound interest.

Of course, we need to be mindful of some solutions offered at the extreme ends of time management, where you destroy your ability to earn wealth by dropping out of work entirely.

Many people take on silly projects and initiatives of their own and permanently impair their ability to be useful to society. My instincts tell me that this half-assed bohemian faux entrepreneurship class will become more prevalent as people lose faith in capitalism and bite back at society one day in the form of increased tax burdens for future generations.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Value of Literary Devices

Ok, there is something very important I really need to get off my chest. Today's Write-Camp featured Laremy Lee who gave a very passionate argument on why we should promote Singapore Literature in our schools.

Fundamentally, I disagree with Laremy, because I don't trust our local literati to be able to share their works in an apolitical manner. I believe, very strongly, that this effort will be hijacked in the interests of the political left. I have yet to see any writer portray the views of the central-right poignantly in a story to have it fairly represent the political interests of the majority here. To put it bluntly, MOE will become an unwitting tool of the Liberally-educated Socialists if this idea is implemented nationwide.

But that's just me. I have my biases and idiosyncrasies.I'm hardly fair and I don't expect you as the reader to agree with me.

As it turns out, Laremy has very relevant points in this presentation. One of his ideas is that local authors enrich the value of their texts by peppering their works with literary devices. Literary devices are tips and tricks to make writing more engaging. Some devices feature a rich use of metaphors. For example, "He's as arrogant as a government scholar." Others feature alliterations. "He's arrogant, anally-retentive and assholic - and these are his good points."

I was actually quite shocked and perplexed that some writers resisted the idea. Writers feel that they are not obliged to write well and actively write with an audience in mind. A person even wanted to pass the buck back to Laremy, expecting the Ministry to change instead of local writers.

I don't like the attitude of some local writers. A writer needs readers ( and very badly !), and Laremy has proposed a method to reach an entire generation of Singapore students.

We should respect his proposal.

Given the low respect and profit margins writers get in Singapore, the last thing you should be is an arrogant, self-indulgent prick when discussing your precious works.

Sometimes I wished I had better training, I would peppers my works with the proper devices ( At least my showing in Golden Point would not be this pathetic. )

And for the non-Literati types, literary devices can prove it's worth in the business arena. Whether you are writing a proposal or making a presentation to senior management, the ability to craft a great narrative and speak in metaphors will have a positive impact on how people see you.

Managers who employ metaphors are consistently rated as better leaders than those who won't.

This probably means means a much bigger pay-check. That's something many Singaporeans do care about.

Some random thoughts from the Singapore Writer's Festival.

This year has ended fairly productively on the writing front.

a) I published 3 e-books, one is an RPG, one is a book on Finance and one final book on Philosophy.
b) Took part in the Golden Point Award, submitted a short story. Too bad I took my writing lessons with Felix Cheong after my submission because I would have stood a fighting chance if I armed myself with some basics on storytelling.
c) Just today, I was given a chance to speak to writers in a 30 minute event. Never really wanted to be a passive player in the world of writing anyway.

Here are some insights I've gotten from the Festival :

a) Publishers here have no idea that they are in serious trouble.

There is this pervasive atmosphere that publishers are overselling themselves and outmoded publishing models to the general public but I think we writers know better than to keep on working so hard for so little. Modern modes of distribution can now provide up 70% margins for the content creator and this restores the balance of power in publications.

I think it's high time that publishers take a long cold look at themselves and ask themselves what they've become. It's almost like a refuge for Luddites who want a career to doing anything technological. Well, time's up ! The future belongs to publishers who can take a written work and create interactive experiences around it. This requires a team of competent IT and engineering professionals. More jobs for techies ! In writing !

b) Writers can be a self-absorbed bunch.

Writers can be a narcissistic lot. A writer was resistant to the idea of using literary devices so that the book can penetrate the student market. Other writers express concern that their work will change too much because of editing.

Personally I don't have a problem pandering to the market. I wished I got that right sometimes. More importantly, it's challenging enough for someone to read your work, I'd be kissing the feet of whoever offers to edit my work for free.

Anyway, I have more insights to share at a later time.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Politicization of Steven Levitt's talk.

I was very privileged to attend Steven Levitt's talk yesterday on unconventional thinking. This is the first time I took time out and paid to listen to 1 hour seminar. In the past, I have been tight-fisted with my money but given that my finances in better control, it's good to pay for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

I would'nt talk about the speech content in this blog. I want to talk about the behaviour of some participants.

During the Q&A session, some participant, knowing that there are prominent ministers in the audience ( I managed to see Yaacob Ibrahim, Lee Boon Yang and heard that Mah Bow Tan was there. ), decided high-jack the Q&A session to express his displeasure at the government initiatives to curb loan-sharking.

I think this is vulgar and uncouth behaviour, you can disagree with the government on many forums including Facebook or even the elections, you don't have to choose a paid seminar to do that. Many participants wanted to pick on Steven's brains on economics and unconventional thinking, so making a long speech during Q&A would just waste everybody's time.

Which leads me to a point I want to make about politicisation. Sometime on my Facebook, I want to describe a generic problem faced in society, like "Why can't we have more entrepreneurs ?". Invariably someone will jump into the fray and say that it's the government's fault. Some very disgruntled experts can politicise issues like dating and even family relationships.

If you take a step further, such behaviour reflects upon just how dependent we are on our government. The government has to take the blame even in a forum where they they should'nt.

In this aspect, we have to accept that if we can't curb our behaviour, it's probably better for everyone that more control is exercised in Singapore. That louts who waste everybody's time have their rights to ask questions taken away by a Big Brother organization. Is this the Singapore we want ?

I propose that tools like twitter and social media be used to allow participants to twit their questions to a moderator for filtering in future talks.

Anyway, the question I wanted to ask but could'nt was whether should we provide an incentive for University students to drop out to run businesses. ( First proposed by Peter Thiel )

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why most of the time, it does not pay to be a Generalist.

Life is'nt fair.

Many sales pitches can be thwarted by the most inconsequential detail. From what I have encountered so far, a heartlander accent can project an unprofessional image and may tilt the decision in the wrong direction.

The intangible often has very tangible consequences.

As such we may need to think twice about about playing to society's expectations.

MM Lee's initial approach to the bilingual policy is something I've always disagreed with. As Singaporeans we need to be be good at both languages. My personal experience, is that I only started to excel after I gave up studying Mandarin while I was in NJC after a D7 in my AO exams. I told my tutor to give up on me and let my mandarin rot in hell, I'll make it up with my other talents. After I quit, I started getting doing better in my special papers and even was in a training squad for the programming Olympiads.

This brings to my critique of Singapore's approach towards languages.

Singapore expects us to be polyglots. Polyglots are folks who are awesome at all languages much like Polymaths are awesome at everything.

Fine and good provided you are someone like Chen Show Mao.

But most of us are not awesome. We make trade-offs and optimizations to get along in this world. Sacrifice and trade-offs is part of life.

The victims in the industrial landscape today based on personal observation does not include the slick salespeople who speak standard English, they are comfortable making great presentations and fulfilling their sales quotas. Ask any high-earning ACS boy working in the finance industry, has his Mandarin ever been an impediment to his rise to high society, China's economic ascension notwithstanding ?

Victims of the bilingual program cover the lesser mortals like myself who just decide to plug at Mandarin continuously until we end up maybe being like 7/10 in both English and Mandarin. Then at a professional setting, a heartlander's home-grown accent from a Chinese speaking family causes him to lose out only slightly to a polished and accent less English presentation.

For want of a nail, an entire nation was lost.

I think a policy change should be in place. Ensure that all Singaporeans are excellent at standard English and can handle basic spoken mother tongue. Then for those who demonstrate proficiency in languages, they can choose to develop their mother tongue further to make them all potential Chen Show Maos.

Furthermore, this principle an also be applied to other areas of education and policy making.

There's always this talk about being a Generalist or Polymath or Renaissance Man. I think this is a nice sentiment, but its almost as practical as asking a guy to grow two penises.

Not giving students a choice to specialize, to put 10,000 hours into his talent and instead focusing on his weaknesses, is like denying his erection and asking him to grow a new dick.

Singapore is not likely to produce a Master of All. You're likely become a Jerk of None.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Write-Camp Presentation Idea #2 : Platform for continuous and never-ending failure

Suppose in a fit of temporary insanity, you start a web magazine. You ignore the conventions that most information junkies already have a fairly mature set of RSS subscriptions, you just go ahead because you believe in following your dreams, and spend a lot of your precious time publishing it.

Notwithstanding the fact that you refuse to use advertisers or even have a faintest idea of what who your niche market it. You just can't find a way to monetize it.

The biggest problem with you plan is not that it cannot succeed. In my opinion, the biggest problem with your plan is that you can't fail.

You can't fail because you don't have the courage to admit to yourself that if you can't get $100 a months on this, then you're wasting my time and should, perhaps, get a job flipping burgers instead.

Artists or writers can go on for years in that zombie state between success and failure. This state is infinitely worse than simply failure.

The second part of my speech will focus on the concept of building a platform for continuous and never-ending failure.

Singaporeans are by nature, very averse to failure. They think that if they fail, it's a reflection of their lack of ability or talent. By reaching a stage where your artistic pursuits can be sustained without losing your pants, the next thing to do is to create a means in which you can fail quickly and decisively. Time saved can be used to create the next generation of products to please your customer more.

This platform should have the following features :

a) Provide a quick method of product prototyping and delivery.
b) Keep production costs to a bare minimum.
c) Allow instant feedback on how your product is doing with the customer.
d) Automated payments.

Prior to the latest developments on the web. The most popular method of publication in Singapore is printing your manuscript, paying for editing and design and then working with a good local distributor. Each product costs about $5,000 to launch and takes about 6 months to get your first pay-check. So a writer technically spends about $10,000 to fail twice every year.

Now with the latest e-publishing platforms, you can float a $0.99 book that contains a key idea for next to zero cost if you have friends who are willing to proof-read for you. Publishing 10,000 word tracts at the rate of 1 product every 2 weeks allows you to fail 26 times a year at a cost of perhaps your internet bandwidth.

This new model for publishing is a very attractive one for Singaporeans as it allows us to have our cake and it eat and take on artistic projects at a magnitude where we can easily bear the cost of failure.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Write-Camp Presentation Idea #1 : Sustainable Artistry

A lot of writers and artists struggle with the question of whether they should quit and go full time with pursuits that they are passionate about. Understandably, that is a challenge in Singapore because inevitably, you will find yourself discouraged by your well-meaning friends and family.

A very tempting option would be to simply ask the artist the question to live his dreams. An artist should follow his passions and somehow things will just itself out. This can make the guru a lot of money, just come up with books like The Secret or The Alchemist and you can live live happily ever after. Your victims will be your readers who actually buy into your ideas.

The logical flaw in such books is that it indulges in the fantasy and fallacy of wishful thinking. That the environment will change just because you engage in positive thinking.

But for the folks attending Write-Camp,there's yet another problem, we live in Singapore. Where artists seldom even get paid by the folks who commission their work. Asian societies are different from Western societies because we're built to be more interdependent.

When you embark on an artistic lifestyle, you are expecting someone else to take up the slack in looking your family. So it's not just about living a non-conformist lifestyle. It's no surprise many artists wind up looking like self-indulgent, narcissistic dicks who can't live up to society's expectations.

I think too often we're stuck in bipolar thinking. Either be an artist, and live a life where you can't even afford to pay for plate of duck rice, or spend the rest of your life working for the Man and being a conformist corporate robot.

The first part of my speech is about the third option :

a) You do the bare minimum to sustain yourself. Perhaps holding a job part-time or working harder to generate passive income. You do just enough by being frugal and fed.
b) Once you can sustain yourself and can look normal to the rest of society, you start building an artistic platform where you can FAIL FAST AND FAIL OFTEN.
c) Keep trying until you succeed.

Artistic endeavours is a challenge in Singapore. It's easier to simply assume that you will fail but success can come to the person who fails the most often and picks himself up to try again.

In the worse case, you can always come back and be a robot.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Just signed up for Write Camp 2011.

I just signed up to speak for Writecamp 2011. This is one of my major goals I set for myself this year, which is to speak in the Singapore Writer's Festival but since I believe I lack credibility amongst the Literati, for now, I will focus on performing in the un-conference.

Writecamp Link

I have not completed the plan for the speech, but I expect that it should include the following :

a) People who pursue artistic pursuits take a lot of personal risks to live their dreams. Some quit a day job to focus on their writing, others never publish because of their busy work and personal lives. A workable financial plan can allow you to pursue your artistic dreams while putting food on your table.

b) Some financial figures on my expenses to get my three books published and how I reduced my costs for subsequent projects.

c) Some very compelling cost and profit figures will be shared on the Kindle Development Platform for local authors.

This post will be edited as I develop the Powerpoint slides for my presentation. In the meantime, share with me what would you like to hear in my talk.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Is being good in Chinese a financial liability ?

Just the other day, my good friend and ex-colleague, told me he liked my article because of my observation that a large number of unemployed IT professionals come from HCJC and I suddenly had an eureka moment.

I just realised that my friend is from ACS and then ACJC, and I don't remember seeing a single resume coming from this institution.

There has been many things the government has been trying to do to us Gen-Xers in the past. Two of which is to develop skills in Mandarin and take up courses in Engineering.

The Chinese High-HCJC elites have traditionally adopted the government suggestions, they are stereotyped as math wizards and have the stoic, taciturn and conscientious outlook in life. The ACS-ACJC students stayed true to their Methodist tradition, they were stereotyped as being poor in Mandarin but excellent salesmen, have great practical intelligence and generally go into the banking industry.

I think this is where the government can have a breakthrough if they are simply willing to reveal some numbers to us.

With SAP schools targeting the top 10% of the student population, I'm sure that statistics point to the fact that your income is correlates with mother tongue proficiency. I don't need a statistical report to accept that if your chinese score is higher, odds are your salary is also higher for the general population.

But we would be fooled if this fact was used in personal decision making. We should be benchmarking people of equivalent intelligence and background, and then comparing their salaries based on the effort they put into the mother tongue.

Differences in ACS-ACJC versus CH-HCJC philosophical outlooks can serve well in this regard.

They are students, generally, of equivalent intelligence and capabilities. Only exception is that one group chose to stoically devote time to Chinese language and culture and the other proceeded to develop superior communication skills, salesmenship and personal character.

The results would be mindblowing but ultimately useful to all Singaporeans.

If CH-HCJC salaries come on top, then the government does not need MM Lee to keep reminding us to develop mother tongue proficiency. There is a financial premium that goes towards being good in Chinese. We Singaporeans are a practical lot and will happily adopt CL2 as a first language if such is a case.

However, if the ACS-ACJC salaries come on top, all hell would break loose.

The Generation X guys in my generation will go away knowing that for all this effort to develop mother tongue, we'll just handicapping our future. We will then know that there is a discount attached to developing an affinity for Chinese culture.

This will result in the most earth shattering discovery for ethic Chinese in Singapore. If we take Mandarin seriously we will crippled financially by our personal choices.

If ACS-ACJC salaries come on top, I would not want to be a Chinese teacher in this country.

Regardless of the results, I think Singaporeans deserve this level of granularity to assist us in decision making. If we make our beds with Meritocracy and Pragmatism, then we should apply the same principles in deciding here to devote our 10,000 hours of deliberate practice into.

Remembering those bad old days in NJC where I could score straight As and still get a letter home to my parents because I failed my CL2, I've always argued aggressively ( in mandarin, mind you ) that decision to develop a language should be an economic one and not one which is clouded by some sentiment of superiority of Chinese culture or spirit. And the list of silly proverbs we had to memorize do not move towards that aim, we should reading Chinese business contracts instead.

We are Singaporeans first and ethnic Chinese second.

Today I am a good Mandarin speaker and my old secondary schools friends find it very freaky.

And that is only because my wife refused to park toh with me if I keep speaking English in dates.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

TCS 8, is $4,000 not enough for a Singapore man ?

I saw this article on the web and decided to share it with my Facebook.

TCS 8 mocking Singaporeans

Initially I was a little indignant. The cap on my monthly expenses which covers giving to my family is about $4,600 because that's how much passive income I get every month from my investments. As a policy for me, earned income is invested into education or income generating assets.

My breakdown of my expenses are as follows :

Wife and daughter allowance $1,500 ( Mum in law helps look after baby )
Mom $1,000 ( Mum cooks for me )
Taxes $300
Telco expenses $120
Insurance $160

That leaves barely $1520 for my transport, food, certification classes, games expenses and costs incurred in publications. I draw about $200 from the ATM every week.

If you examine Calvin Soh's character, he earns $4,000 before CPF and taxation so he's at a fairly hard place in Singapore. It's miracle he can feed a car and pay rent but odds are someone like him can't really afford to help his parents out. He's someone who barely makes it.

But if only if the viewer thinks that he's the only source of income around the house.

But if you look from another POV, modern Singapore families show wives helping out with the finances. Over time, you see wives chipping in financially so if Ng Hui's character draws $3,600 take home, we have a fairly comfortable Singapore family here which gets even better if they ditch the car and use public transport.

I think the moral of the story is that we have to take stock of our earnings and save first before we decide on the lifestyle that we can afford to have. If I were Calvin Soh, I am aware that I make about $4,000 a month, the last thing I would do is to date a woman who has aspirations that I cannot afford. Men in this spectrum actually have no choice, they need to marry a financial equal and plan conscientiously to have a working retirement.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Learnings from working with unemployed IT professionals.

One of the things about my current job is that I can afford to take a short time off work to spend half a day helping unemployed IT professionals get new jobs. This week I was able to perform screening interviews for a job I used to have with a major tech firm about 4 years ago.

Here are my observations. This observation is probably one small sample of unemployed IT professionals so that there is unlikely to be of any statistical significance. I think my learnings can help the reader protect their careers as they get into middle age.

a) Generally speaking, those above their 40s with a salary above $7,000 are at risk.

There is a large number of unemployed folks who have a previous salary of over $7,000 and above the age of 40. If you belong to this category, my only advice is that you begin to curtail your home expenses aggressively, start investing for yields and possibly spend your weekends getting your taxi license or giving tuition. Don't let the MNC you work for pink slip you into doing this out of necessity.

b) Most candidates lack communication skills, technical skills or both.

One of the trends I noticed amongst candidates is that they don't really have the right skills to explain complicated technical concepts to non-technical customers. People with a sales background can speak really well but can seldom dig within a component like a router to explain to me that they can understand IP address, packet sizes, etc... The technical folks who can do so somehow fail to inspire confidence in the customer. This serves to confirm that professionals who have both can develop more career resilience. Technical professionals should join a Toastmasters club, sales professionals probably need a to get a good technical credential like A+ or a Masters in Technology to remain competitive.

c) Foreigners are cheaper and better than Singaporeans.

It saddens me to say this but this is an inconvenient truth which I must emphasize to all my readers. Of all the candidates I interview, those who were given the highest grades were all Singapore PRs. Singapore PRs generally have lower pay scales and somehow combine technical savvy with better communication skills. I imagine that the local candidates who got through the screen would have to contend with pretty fierce competition. I pray we will learn that the deck is becoming increasingly stacked against us and it's time to call in favours and network with other Singaporeans to work better in this industry.

( If you want to know, I did ask the coordinator if we should only allow Singaporeans through the screen or forbid PRs altogether. After all, we believe that Singaporeans should come first. While this idea is nice, my organization cannot afford to lose its credibility to the MNCs as well, so that this is not an easy balancing act to do. )

d) Read here for the most controversial finding.

I am not trying to nasty or suggest that a statistical reality exists here, but a lot of the resumes I reviewed had Hwa Chong Junior College in it. It took me a while to decide whether to blog about this since I have no explanation for this finding. After all, HCJC is an elite institution in Singapore. A good way to explain it is that many HCJC alumni are mathematically inclined so would have been attracted to IT as an industry. I think there are worse ways to interpret these observations but I am not out to start a flame war here. ( Note that, personally, I'd rather there'll be less NJCians like myself in politics or the civil service. )

Nevertheless note that I speak on this blog as a ultra-capitalist finance author and not my day alter ego as an bleeding heart liberal IT manager and HDB uncle in a labour union.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What will you be doing in your miserable 40s ?

"At 15 I set my heart on learning; at 30 I firmly took my stand; at 40 I had no delusions; at 50 I knew the Mandate of Heaven; at 60 my ear was attuned; at 70 I followed my heart's desire without overstepping the boundaries of right." - Confucius

Confucius was wrong, he never was an IT guy and given the complexity of the modern era, having no delusions in only the first step in planning for your 40s.

A recurring theme in my discussions with my IT team-mates ( who are coincidentally my age ) is that our career mobility faces a drastic reduction the moment we hit our 40s. This means that by the age of 40, it is vitally important that we position ourselves in a place where we can hold onto a job.

For IT professionals, this is bad news. The industry places a very low premium on the experience of most technical professionals, so to survive, we have to perform a balancing act of developing domain knowledge that is largely experience-driven versus keeping up with the latest developments in modern technology.

In the my current environment in NTUC, I urge my team not to benchmark internally, as others within NTUC become more valuable with more social capital, but for us IT guys, we need to convince ourselves that we can find employment somewhere else at the drop of a hat. It's too easy to get complacent in labour union.

So for myself, I have to lead from the front, I just scored my CGEIT, in the middle of my TOGAF certification and very likely to end the year with CRISC. My team has been asked to focus on security management, cloud computing and consumerization to remain relevant for the rest of the industry.

But somehow at the back of mind, for the generation of Gen-X executives, staying relevant within the industry is not enough, here are some of my thoughts which I may not find comfortable echoing within my workplace :

a) Your career income flow is only one flow.

While your dividend income moves with the markets, your earned income has a fluctuation of it's own. The amount of effort you need to maintain your earned income flow depends very much on political connections in the office and how useful you can make yourself to your superiors. You can have a few key projects in a peaceful year but staff turnover can result in a new boss the following year which can result in a personality clash. Having two flows with two different sources of risk can ease you into your 40s in a much easier manner.

b) Your 40s are going to be your most miserable years in your life.

My studies in psychology confirm that our 40s are likely to be our most miserable years. Our careers will become fixed at this stage and we're not likely to climb much further. Family men have mortgages to handle and young kids cope with. It is also logical that many of us will starting losing our parents to old age at this stage of our lives.

Singles are slightly luckier, but they will need to take their parents health as a key consideration for planning their career in their 40s.

c) Gen-X needs to loosen up.

Somehow I think that Gen-Y's priorities are very different and very new age. They probably will not face the same kind of misery we will eventually face because they were never sold to the world of corporate employment and mindless consumerism we were sold to in the 80s and 90s.

While Singaporean used to scoff at making meaning through artistic endeavour in our youth, it's time to use our financial independence to earn back at least a small part of our souls. This means doing something to enrich our experiences through art, entrepreneurship,travel or meditation.

This last point on loosening up is my weakest suit. I'm aggressively pursuing artistic pursuits and using this market downturn to pay for some courses.

Time will tell if I can succeed when I hit my big 4-0 in 2014.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

People who read "The Secret" hate me !

A series of events triggered this blog posting. I'm slowly coming to realize that there is a class of readers who absolutely hate my writings and form the core group of people who are my biggest critics.

This started when a colleague told me that he liked my writings but his friend does'nt, I asked him if his friend ever did MLM, and he said yes and then went on to say that his friend is also a fan of Rhonda Byrnes' best-seller The Secret. I asked if his friend has any alternative to my system of wealth management system and did not manage to get any answer.

Anyway, to my critics, my ideas are too conservative, conformist and conventional. To them, working hard, living frugally and investing intelligently is very boring. A life coach and insurance agent once admonished me for intellectualizing too much, to which I replied that I am sure that their commissions would be much higher if everybody stopped intellectualizing in this world.

I think I'm starting to get a grip on who my biggest critics are :

a) Someone who does MLM and thinks that its the best thing in the world.
b) Someone who likes authors like Rhonda Byrnes, Paul Coelho or Harv Eker.
c) Someone who focuses on the aspirational aspect of internet marketing but not the techniques will probably hate the stuff I write about.
c) Someone who is intuitive and not very judgemental and possibly not data driven, because they don't want to be challenged with statistics or proofs of concept.
d) Someone who aspires to be special and non-conformist and think that people who do a decent job are robots controlled by the Men in White.

A large part of my second book Harvesting the Fruits of Prosperity addresses my critics so much so that I wrote a special section on why MLM doesn't work most of the time. I shall not repeat them here.

Perhaps in a future piece of work, I will explain why concepts in The Secret are not designed to be falsifiable but I will need to draw some concepts from Philosophy to launch a credible attack on it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sustainable Artistic Pursuits with Astute Financial Management.

Today I just to share my ideas on pursuing one's interest in the Arts.

There are quite a lot of friends around me who want to be artists. Many want to publish a book of fiction, some like to draw, others want to pursue photography. A common grouse is that Singapore as a society does not respect the Arts and someone's dreams cannot be fulfilled because of other Singaporeans and their pragmatism.

We're currently in the middle of dividends season, and I just had an insight that I am probably closer to living a life of a writer than many of my peers.

Passive income is a "no-brainer" for artists. Steady cash flow is a welcome addition if you have a creative pursuit and may have to suffer an unpredictable cash flow if you choose to make it your primary income.

In fact, in Singapore, I may even argue that passive income is a pre-requisite for proper pursuit in the creative arts. If I do not have any fear of my family starving while I write my book or do my painting, I may be able to devote more time to my pursuits and take on bigger risks. This will buy time for me to practise and really become the best in my field.

As it stands, I have an opportunity to try something I'm really not particularly good at. I can spend my extra time to create a small piece of fiction, pay for writing lessons, pay for editing and float it into the book-stores.

It can sell zero copies, I won't be destroyed by my attempt if it fails. The next round of dividends can pay for my next version and so on...

Anyway, these are my plans I have brewing in the background. Next step is to pay for all the workshop events in the Singapore Writers festival and keep up the pressure to become a decent writer.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What's next ? Some random thoughts.

Here are some random thoughts on writing, passive income and financial independence.

a) A financially independent employee/entrepreneur is better off than just simply being financially independent.

Just yesterday, most investors would have had a major pay-off from their dividends. There was enough for me to sustain myself for the next 1.5 months until my next set of dividend income which comes in on September.

Coupled with the recent downturn, I am pretty grateful for my work in the unions these days because it has become easier to use earned income to pick up some bargains on a market downturn, something which someone who is simply unemployed but comfortable is unable to do. ( Unless he is so rich he lives on the dividends of his dividends, something I hope to achieve before I die. )

Of course I can write an entire book on how staying employed gives a person the ability to achieve a state of flow and hang out with a nice bunch of colleagues.

b) Passive income from writing is something worth fighting for.

I have no illusions about how hard is it to make money by writing. It sucks ! Only a crazy moron would quit a job to write full time in Singapore. While its entirely possible to succeed, you can jeopardise your family by indulging your fantasies about having a book out on the shelves.

That aside, I get about $100 from all my books every month. Cheques come in twice a year and I make $3 USD every month on my $0.99 Kindle publication per month. The power of royalty income is that it does'nt really correlate with the markets. My books will probably sell in bad times or good times even though they always sell pretty badly.

When your day job is done and your investments are humming, building your passive royalty income will be really slow but can be personally satisfying.

c) Very few avenues to sharpen writing skills in Singapore

If you want to pick up fiction-writing, Felix Cheong is the Man!

NUS Extension Writing Class

I've done the classes and even read a book on an MFA ( What is CFA and MBA of the Arts ). My next step is to engage very aggressively the Singapore Writer's Festival, plonking $140 bucks into paid workshops and attending the talk by Steven Levitt.

Who knows, maybe in two years time in 2013, I'll be doing the talking and others will be paying me to understand how I write my books. ( One can always dream. )

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Final Writing Lesson - Quick tour of the Singapore Literary landscape.

Friday was the last writing lesson for me. Most of us in the class felt rather sad. By the time the course ended, class participants have just gotten into the groove of making fiction submissions, it is too bad that this has to stop.

In the last lesson, Felix walked us through the literature landscape with some books to read. I will not spoil the full list here but I did see three familiar titles which I have read.

a) Gone Case - Dave Chua.
b) The proper care of foxes - Wena Poon.
c) If we dream too long - Goh Poh Seng ( By far my favourite )

Of particular is that some upcoming books were passed around the class. I was able to feel the book and assess the quality of the paper and art.

Anyway, I'm posting my final submission here. My classmates commented that the story opened well but I should have expanded on the first half instead of coming up with the morbid second half.


Boris' nipples hurt – a lot. To him, nipples are not quite different from an elected president, both are used for ceremonial purposes.

But he can only blame himself as his freshly installed nipple-ring scraped against his bear outfit. It has swollen to the point of becoming red. Perhaps Boris might end up with an infection on the wrong part his chest. But in a few moments, the pain would have been considered all worthwhile. Boris has been waiting for this event to happen all his life.

It started with an Internet Chat-Room called #bearyland, Boris has been lurking and participating in the chatroom for many years. #bearyland was a a very special chatroom, instead of the normal IT geeks and chicks who frequent the Internet, #bearyland is a chatroom that caters to furries, people who have a kink or personal attraction to other people dressed as furry stuffed animals. While amateurs dismiss furries as just people are into Sesame street or the Muppets, a true furry can spend thousands of dollars on an outfit, complete with flaps placed strategically at different parts of their bodies, to facilitate acts that only a furry would know and understand.

Boris has spent years asking for a meet-up with fellow furries, but most of them were quite shy. A lot of furries are a little ashamed of their own inclinations and having an actual meet-up would be the last thing on their minds.

But not today. The folks who frequent #bearyland now have a way to meet without making the public feel at ease. Today is the cosplay convention at Singapore Expo and this is Boris' chance to meet his other friends who has his own interests.

Boris likes the colour pink. He gets turned on by other furries who dress in that colour. You might say that Boris wants something feminine but Boris would argue that it does'nt matter who is behind the outfit, the outfit is the real deal. The outfit allows the furry to express himself as how he genuinely saw himself. Besides, sexual orientation and gender are concepts that are so 20th Century.

Boris walks into the crowds of cosplayers who are reveling in all that attention from an eager group of photographers. Some girls walked by were wearing Sailor Moon outfits ( Tramps ! ). Seconds later, a section of Stormtroopers marched by (Fascists !). Boris ignores them all and begins to look for other furries just like himself.

He is soon in luck. Pink paw gestures to Boris from the corner of his eye.The paw belongs to a creature that looks like a cat in all it's pink glory. The cat has a sweet smile and adorable disposition.

As Boris got nearer, the enigmatic Pink Cat placed a tiny card on his brown furry paws and then waved goodbye to him and danced away.

The condominium is located on the East Coast. Boris could change into his outfit at the fitting room on the ground floor before taking the lift to the unit where the party takes place.

The condominium unit that Boris walks into is not something that he has expected. The rooms looks dilapidated and gives an eerie feeling to Boris that he cannot explain. The television is on, playing some creepy horror movie that involves zombies.

As Boris trundles into the center of the living room, the door slams shut and Boris can hear a click as the locks become. activated.

Emerging from the shadows is the Cat in Pink, the expression on the costume looked somewhat different from the cheerful expression what greeted Boris in the Expo. The Pink Cat looked a lot more feral and what used to be a smile now looked like a scowl. Boris swears that the Pink Cat's eyes are glowing red.

The flaps on the Pink Cat costume opened. To Boris' horror, a stream of what could be thousands of tiny rodents with glowing red eyes began to scurry down from the Pink Cat's opened flap at its groin region, they raced towards Boris who is too stunned to react.

Boris began to scream and stomp as the gerbils started to surround him, driven insane by the cacophony of chittering noises.

It felt ironic that throughout his entire life, Boris wanted to be surrounded by furries. Now thousands of furries are surrounding him, trying to squirm and wiggle into his costume. Before he blacked out, he could feel something small and furry dive crawl up his rear-end.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fiction Writing #7 : Opportunities, Scholarships and Competitions.

This update is going to be really short. For folks like me, writing is an attempt to build a third source of passive income. It's slow, has a ridiculous low ROI, but writing creates cash flows that do not vary with the prevailing economic situation.

With books at $0.99 in Kindle, you'll likely make the same amount of money during a downturn. If your book actually describes what to do in a downturn, then it'll probably peak during times of economic distress.

It may take someone like me 10 years to pay off my electrical bills with my book royalties, but hey, you'll never know if you'll luck out and have a bestseller in your hands if you just keep on trying.

I won't really go into detail into this lesson because I think interested folks should give Felix Cheong, my instructor, some business. This one lesson itself is worth the price of the entire course fee.

Anyway, today's lesson is the most important one for the product creator:

a) It lists our the key local publishers that a writer can approach to get his book out on the bookshelves.
b) It discusses some sources of funding from the government as well as scholarships.
c) It provides a list of writing competitions to keep the deliberate practice going. ( And thought the Golden was the only thing which I can participate in. )

Anyway, we're almost to the end of the course so the last write-up will be next week.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fiction writing lesson #6 : Genres

The last lesson had almost no theory. We spent the greater part of the day going through the works of other writers and coming up with a criticism of their work.

Genres can be thought of as imaginative or realistic.

Imaginative genres include fantasy, science fiction or even wuxia. Law of physics can be bent and it's normally expected that wizards can cast spells.

Realistic genres include detective, romance or historical genre. Even though the events are fictional, they can possibly happen in the real world.

Authors write within genres because it's easier to ease the reader into their world. Bestselling ideas often involve mixing and matching different genres. For example, teenage vampire fiction like the Twilight series mixes the horror and romance genres.

My own personal project which resulted in a Golden Point submission this year is sort of Harry Potter meets Song of Ice and Fire in the Singapore school system.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Fiction Writing Lesson #5 : Perspectives

Writing class is now starting to become interesting. As the homework submissions become larger, we now spend more than half the time reading and critiquing other people's writing which I think is really good because it shows us how to sharpen our own writing skills.

In a good writing class, theory should be thin and to the point. The rest of the time should be spent on critique and writing fiction itself.

Today's lesson is on perspectives.

When writing in first person perspective, we write from the point of view of one person. Sherlock Holmes stories are written from the perspective of Dr. Watson. This form of writing is fairly common. This form of writing gets especially interesting when you write from the point of view of an evil character. You may have to introduce a long stream of rationalizations into your writing and narrations can be unreliable as well. George R R Martin's Song of Fire and Ice divides his chapters into multiple first person narratives and is a good showcase on the power of using this technique for writing.

When writing in third person perspective, you become some sort of godly being that can move from different points of view from multiple characters. Dragonlance, Lord of the Rings employ this approach. This is the most common perspective found in fantasy fiction and most plot driven narratives.

The hardest perspective to write with is the second person perspective. The book addresses the reader as the protagonist of the story. Uncommon in literature, the second person perspective has spawned the gamebooks genre like Choose your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy series where you get to be the fantasy hero of the story.

" You step into the Dungeon of Chaos and find an orc eating a pie. He draws his sword and charges towards you. If you strike him down turn to page 69."

Unfortunately for all of us students, we would have to write a story based on second person perspective and submit by next Friday. Fortunately, my many years as a Dungeon Master will be useful for this exercise as it is the primary mode which I narrate a game to my players.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fiction Writing Lesson #4 : Characters

At this point of our classes, we will spend more time writing and discussing the merits of our works so there is less theory to share moving forward.

Yesterday, we studied how to create believable fictional characters and once again we were introduced to two concepts, that of an archetype versus a stereotype. Once again, my engineering instincts kicked in and produced an equation to make understanding fiction much easier for us Techies type.

Archetype = Stereotype - Exaggeration

An example of an archetype commonly found in fiction is the The Artist, someone who is cast as somewhat eccentric, angsty and wants to bring something from his internal world into an external representation like a book or a piece of sculpture. Some experts claim that there are about 45 standard archetypes in literature and fiction writing.

Archetypes makes characters more believable.

A stereotype is an archetype on steroids. Add exaggeration to an archetype and you will get a stereotype. The character loses his political correctness and becomes more unbelievable. imagine a story of multicultural Singapore where Chinese gamble, Indians drink and Malays take drugs, and you catch the drift.

The best value from the course comes from the idea that a character becomes much more interesting if you introduce contradictions into his character.

Instead of a starving artist, perhaps the Artist in the story is a vulgar drill sergeant who imposes a life of strict regimentation his recruits who actually secretly paints in his spare time. Once an author finds a way to twist a character, the character becomes much more memorable.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fiction writing lesson #3 : Plot, Reversals, Recognition and Beats

Yesterday we got into a detailed discussion on how to construct a plot.

Stories can be plot-driven or character driven. A plot-driven story is somewhat like Transformer 3, a lot of things happen, but the author has to intervene and make the entire plot gel using a series of contrivances or coincidences. Plot-driven stories may have logical loopholes and tend to disrupt the suspension of disbelief. In Avatar, nature has to wake up just when the humans are about to destroy the Na'vi.

Stories can also be character driven. These stories are more carefully crafted and often are told from a person's point of view. The strength of this approach is that causation for the events are clearly spelled out so there is usually stronger logical consistency. The weakness is that character driven plots can be boring. I just read a Dance with Dragons and it's a very character driven fantasy series. In book 5, there is so much stream of consciousness writing that nothing much happens for thousands of pages until the author decided to fuck this shit and started killing the key characters in the story.

The best stories should a combination of both.

Then the lesson starts getting interesting. Due to my engineering inclinations, I can summarize storytelling into a simple equation.

Beat = Reversal + Recognition

Imagine a set of scenes as programmable objects that you use to develop a story otherwise called a beat. Fundamental in a good story is that the protagonist encounters an obstacle (reversal) and then experiences a personal change (recognition).

Chaining these beats allow you to methodically build your story into a climax.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fiction Writing Lesson #2 : Show, don't tell.

Show, don't Tell is one of those basic fiction writing concepts which have been something I've been trying to wrap my head around for ages. In fiction writing, the aim is not tell the writer of someone's feelings but to show it. This allows the reader to infer for himself what's really going on around the story.

Lesson 2's exercise is powerful and I find myself able to apply it to some of my electronic products almost immediately once I get around to rewriting some of the narratives in my fantasy RPG.

Original prose - He had never been so angry in his life.

After my refinement - His brows tightened as his face turned beet red. With a clenched fist raised to the sky, the teenager's voice thundered across the room.

I was not even sure if tightening brows signified anger but I'm still an amateur at this.

Some paragraphs later, I decided to go ape-shit with this concept.

Original Prose - She could not imagine how her precious baby had grown up into such a rebellious, defiant teenager with no qualms about saying untrue things.

After my refinement - The babe that used to suckle at her teats has now become a raging tornado of bullshit, threatening to despoil the truth with it's swirling nuggets of filth.

The flair for drama aside, I just recalled my good instructor reminding us not to mix our metaphors.

All in all, a good lesson not just in fiction writing, but also in good corporate communications. You can increase your persuasiveness by using metaphors in your speech and by using concrete images to sway your audience.

Now to "weaponise" this discovery for my friends who are still in the dating circuit.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Fiction Writing Lesson #1 : Joys of discomfort.

Yesterday marks my first fiction writing lesson under Felix Cheong, who conducts a brilliant course on fiction writing with NUS extension. While I'm not a new as a student of Felix, having attended an earlier session on feature writing, this first lesson was a particularly useful one, because I found it a little uncomfortable.

For years, I have stayed within comfortable boundaries and leveraged my classes based on my strengths. Classes in finance and IT played on my traditional strengths of Analysis, Input and Intellection. For the first time in my life in a class, I had no strength or talent to draw from. All I have is the idea that with enough deliberate practice, I can take on fiction writing just like folks like George R R Martin and J K Rowling.

It felt funny being below average in class. Almost like taking Mandarin classes all over again.

I'm just going to highlight some of the high points of this class. I think many exercises cannot be done buy reading a book on fiction writing. You've got to sign up with Felix to experience it yourself.

a) Creatively generating multiple uses of an everyday object.

Felix took a water bottle and made the class think up alternative uses for it. I said that it can become a weapon for self-defense, another student said that it can function as a book-end. After a few rounds, conventional ideas started to run out and we began brainstorm some really zany ideas for the water bottle. Most of my ideas are X-rated in nature so I had to suppress sharing with the class how the bottle can be used for colonic irrigation or acting as a temporary storage on the way to the sperm bank.

b) Predicting someone's personality by looking at their belongings.

In the second exercise, we were made to read someone's personality by looking at four of their items. I had an unfair advantage for this exercise because I employed the OCEAN personality framework to create a fairly accurate profile of someone. The dude showed me an Economist magazine (turned to the pages on ETFs) and a bible, so using the framework I painted an agreeable, introverted and very conscientious personality profile of my target. One student wanted to offer me a job after my display, but it's really the framework in use that should be credited for it.

c) Generating a story by listening to a song.

This is the highlight of the evening. We listened to two songs and we then were made to come out with a story-line idea after the song ends. This exercise was way over my head. The songs were very alternative and the best i could do is visualize a scene which was spontaneously being generated in my head. I was unable to construct a setup, conflict and conclusion by listening to one song. But the amazing thing is, the rest of the class did! One lady who is in advertising came out with so much concrete detail it includes a twist in the plot of each tale, the specific locations where action is taking place and the the countries the characters come from. How so much information could be squeezed out of a song with lyrics that are barely audible baffles me.

To close this article, I think a fiction writing class can benefit technology professionals or suits. Felix taught me that people tended to frame their experiences in two ways. A Paradigmatic approach normally used by engineers in an attempt to bring order out of chaos is my bread and butter in my daily work. But the other approach is the Narrative approach which I am now trying to master. Crafting a story, enriching it with metaphors and symbols, is a rare skill in the Tech world.

We should heed the useful lessons of the liberal arts to advance our technical careers.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

10,000 hours of deliberate practice : Maybe its time to realize my Fiction Writing ambitions.

The Golden Point awards submission closed on Thursday this week, and I have, a month earlier, submitted an entry for the English short story category. Perhaps after the announcement of the results, I can share my, as yet, amateur writings on this blog.

For the past 8 years or so, I took the easier road in writing and publication. Writing non-fiction does not really differ from project management. Simply start with a table of contents, break down the work structure until you can complete a section per sitting and start writing about 500 words a day. Rinse and repeat the cycle.

The tough part comes in after the manuscript is complete. As Singaporeans are not avid readers, you need to in-source a lot of functions like formatting and cover design to keep your costs at a bare minimum, by my third book, my cost per copy became as low as $3.80 a copy.

With the invention of the Kindle, authors now get direct exposure to international markets. While marketing remains a consistent problem for me, publishing a book priced at $0.99 can break even within a week. The Kindle based role-playing game I wrote actually sells about 15 copies a month.

Now it's time to move into the territory that I've been eyeing for years. Fiction writing is a big money loser in Singapore, and that's for our greatest literary talents. My distributor is always warning me about the perils of writing poetry in our business meetings, but I think the economics for Singapore fiction writing has changed, a short story can be floated on Kindle and if about 5 fans pick up a copy because of marketing over your blog, you can say that you've broken even. If you write a novel and can sell it for $2.99, your profit margin climbs up to 70%.

No paper publisher can offer terms like that.

Anyway, this years Golden point begins a fresh new cycle of deliberate practice for me in fiction writing. I can now say authoritatively that writing fiction is very hard and yield much lower rewards than non-fiction writing. But the process is psychically rewarding and you enter the state of flow much more easily.

Beginning next week, I will apprentice myself to a master wordsmith, Felix Cheong, who will smoothen some of my edges and, hopefully, make me a competent fiction writer who doesn't churn out drivel.

In the months that follow, I will share my vision for my fantasy fictional world of elite Singaporean secondary schools struggling for dominance in a Harry Potter cum Game of Thrones like setting.

I hope to target this product for teens as I now have a daughter to share my writings with in the future.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why shouldn't Singaporean women be materialistic ?

The following article has created a minor storm on my Facebook, I thought I should comment on it.

Singaporean Girls are materialistic

So far, the reactions from a lot of folks were typical. A lot of ladies got upset and said that generalizations like this should not be made. A lot of guys snicker and accuse SMU of stating the obvious.

I'm adding my two-cents worth in this argument.

a) Maybe SMU should publish an article to demonstrate that Singaporean guys go for looks.

I'm with the evolution camp and while evolution makes women go after guys with more economic resources, women are also fairly diverse in what they want. Height, Facial symmetry are also factors in mate selection. They are actually more multi-dimensional than men.

The great thing about being multi-dimensional is that women can be subject to socialization.

b) Singaporean women HAVE to be materialistic.

Now a lot of poetic beta-males fantasize about European or Scandinavian chicks because they seem so liberal and are more willing to settle for love and compatibility. I don't think its the fault for Asian women to actually have standards compared to their European counterparts if you really understand the kind of societies they come from. If you observe these European women carefully, you will find that they come from countries that tax their working citizens to provide child support.

So of course Swedish and French women can accept the guy even if he is "useless piece of shit for a guy who can't get his ass off his bed to go out to work" because the State goes really far to look after the children. The Swedes and the French like to protect their men who can serenade their women and write touching poems.

c) Ergo, you want your daughters to less materialistic, pay more taxes !

In socialist Europe, more taxes will go a long way to help families cope with children. Childcare can be free all the way to university. But I don't think my single friends will want 15% GST and 60% income taxes like those in Europe so that they can find someone to love them unconditionally.

Of course, in such societies, particular breeds of unconscientious and unreliable dudes get to go on to taint the gene pool further. Why ? Because hard-working, conscientious and productive single men are paying to feed all those babies who might from the dudes who drink beer and can't hold a decent job.

Yup. You heard it. Women are not materialistic in high-tax societies. They are free to find some testosterone filled drunkard and have his babies because he may be tall and have better facial symmetry.

You, my hardworking, nerdy and geeky friend will spend your entire life paying 60% taxes and getting cuckolded by these non-materialistic and unconditionally loving women ! They simply develop a different criteria for mate selection. They love being serenaded and want love poems from a testosterone-filled guy with a neanderthal facial features. They don't give a shit about you even if you have money.

d) Therefore I conclude that materialistic Singaporean women are a good thing for us !

If women have are not choosy, men will have no standards, society will stagnate and we will be swallowed up by Malaysia.

Yeah sure, our local Xiao Meimei are a tad more materialistic than their Yankee counterparts, but that's easy for us guys because unlike facial symmetry, height or looking good with long hair on Harley motorcycle, SOCIAL STATUS CAN BE EARNED.

It is earned by careful planning, hard-work, resilience, superior salesmanship and ability to delay gratification. These traits can be developed.

Singaporean women are just telling us boys that if we want their love, we have to fight for it !

They are realistic and cannot be easily swayed by good looks, a leather jacket or a well-played ukulele.

Tell me why is that wrong with that?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Field testing my retirement and the World's Cheapest Guides.

Maybe I should explain just what the heck I'm trying to do. About 3 weeks ago, I left my job with a secure offer from another company. Because as a new dad, I asked for a later starting date because I wanted some time to watch my girl grow.

More interestingly, I wanted to field test the effects of early retirement.

My holiday was split into approximately 25 days, I wanted to wean myself from a day job so I gave myself three challenges :

a) Publish an e-book on Financial Independence.
b) Publish an e-book on Philosophy and move out from writing finance books.
c) Study intensively for an IT exam.

To make things more interesting, all three need to be done simultaneously and had to be complete before my IT exams finish.

My first book was published after 5 working days. My products are all designed with the same specs :

a) Targeted at International audiences.
b) Cost set at the minimum allowed by Amazon at $0.99.
c) No more than 10,000 words.
d) Facebook friends provide editing comments and proofing.

I wanted some sort of cheap alternative to a Dummies guide that contain a single idea in a Kindle e-book format. I want the series to grow with me as I develop new interest in other fields. For example, I am now aggressively reading books on Organizational behavior to glean some insight into Power and Politics in the modern office.

Anyway, my first book is on Financial Independence. It's nothing really new compared to my other writings but the investment examples had to be drawn from the US. For example, instead of business trusts, I had to write about Master Limited Partnerships.

Local readers probably don't have ready access to a Kindle, but to keep the long story short, Singapore is a dividends yields paradise. In the US, if you want fantastic yields, you gotta give Mortgage Backed securities a try.

My second book is on Life Philosophy. For a couple of years, I've been a following a good friend, Lau Kwong Fook, the founder of Singapore's first Socrates Cafe in his lessons on Philosophy. I thought it might be a good time to get into writing Philosophy to crystallize my thoughts on this interesting subject matter.

I think many of us who took professional degrees exhausted a large part of our youths to get a decent lifestyle, we never did have the time to develop a meaningful philosophy of life. My engineering background allowed me reverse engineer Ayn Rand's approach to Objectivism and rebuild it into a framework that can be used for anyone who missed out on a good liberal arts education. You can find the link again here.

The second book did not meet my deadline , but it went out the Tuesday night because Amazon needed to vet it before it goes live.

Lastly, I want to talk about retirement.

For month's I have split my earned income from my passive income and field-tested my family's ability to live on nothing but stock dividends. This is very much like a business continuity plan. Since I do it for my company, I might as well do it for myself.

Anyway, living on dividends is actually more challenging for a working man because going to work incurs costs like transport and more expensive meals in town. A retiree spends only a fraction of what a working man spends.

In the past 25 days, I lived out a life close to a being a retiree but in the end I don't think a life without working is right for me:

a) You can retire at 36, but your friends are working. Even if you can afford to do nothing and drink coffee with, who are you going to drink it with?
b) In the days where I was churning out 2000 words a day, I was very happy. There's stuff to think about. Frameworks to improve. Ideas to hack. Certainly better than idling the whole day.
c) Work provides more than pay and personal satisfaction. Work forces a person to interact with others and that interaction yield ideas that goes beyond what a person and dream out on their own. To be fair, I'm an extrovert, I'm more relaxed when I'm hanging out with other people.
d) I hate TV, my RSS feed is excellent but there are only about 1000 articles to read everyday.

Anyway, in the next few days, expect me to talk more about my guides with a focus on developing a life philosophy.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Launch : World's Cheapest Guides on Financial Independence and Life Philosophy.

2011 has been roller-coaster ride.

a) My family downgraded to a 5-room HDB. It was not as tough as I thought.
b) I became a new dad to my daughter Clio.
c) I'm transitioning out of the private sector to a pseudo-government organisation.

One of things I promised myself is during the 20 days break between jobs, I do the following:

a) Take and pass the CGEIT exam on IT Governance.
b) Publish 2 books.

Well it's all done and get the rest of the week off to promote my books and update my blog.

So here are the links to my books.

Over the next two or three days, I'll talk about low-cost publishing on the Kindle Development platform and what this means to someone who wishes to become an author.

I will also take some time tell you more about these two new books I wrote.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Some quick figures for 2010.

Quick quiet update in case some of you guys subscribe to my blogs.

Ok, this year is not as good as last year in terms of yields largely because of the problems in the shipping trusts I bought, but the capital gains are satisfactory so far.

So far my dividend income for 2010 was $25434.37 which was about 7% yields based on my current cash portfolio size. Capital gains have been ok judging from the nice run-up in January 2011.

2011 should be a better year yield-wise with great yielding new REITs IPOing. Hopefully, I would be able to hunt down a bunch of small-caps which yield above 8% to complement my REIT-heavy portfolio. Of course, if a REIT comes along with 8% yield and below 30% gearing, I will be all guns ablazing for 2011.

It's taken quite a while to get here, clearly $2,100 is barely enough to get along a month. I've got a daughter coming in April this year so expenses are bound to go up even though I have eliminated bulk of my personal spending.

Priorities for this year is :

a) Reining in my blood sugar levels ( 7.9 right now. Way better than my old HP-SGX days of over 10.1 ).

b) Preparing for the arrival of my daughter. Still can't figure out what the costs will be, but will channel some income to ensure that she gets a safe arrival.

c) Rapidly uncluttering all my belongings, first starting with all my RPGs and books and then moving all my assets into the cloud/hard-disk. By de-materializing all my needs, I can channel my finances towards my family.