Sunday, January 29, 2012

Song Writing - Day 2

Day 2 is an embarrassing day.

I did not do my homework, and making matters worse, almost all my other classmates did.

We were told to go back to come up with a song of our own - just like that ! I thought that was impossible because we were not even taught the fundamentals yet.I even expected no one to have a submission. But as it turns out, all the intuitive-feeling-perceivers had something to show the next day ! Some have been working on a song for a while and I find what they did really impressive.

Without spoiling what was actually taught today ( hope some of my readers do sign up with Inch Chua at Thunder Rock), I really want to talk about Creativity.

Inch asked me what creativity was to me, and, in a moment of hubris, I answered "Production".

I think it's fair to equate creativity to actual results because we're surrounded by people who think they can create content but have no balls or courage to actually launch anything. These songwriters tell the whole world that they are going to create something but nothing really happens for the next ten years. Maybe the creative process requires incubation but I would really narrow this down to being afraid of failure.

Creativity to me will always be about results. If you have a creative piece of work, let's put it in the market and start measuring sales and go through reader's reviews. Otherwise, what makes you think that you have any value to the world. You could be a poseur, just like thousands of poseurs trying to pursue a creative field today.

How can an inspiring songwriter use the lack of inspiration as a proxy for lack of talent ?

Ok, so I get to play the bad example today. I did not produce. I failed based on my own personal standards.

I have no idea how to put melody to a set of four chords. I could have tried doing some shit, laughed about it, but internally I was worried that I might end up humming an unoriginal tune. This caused me to self-handicap, I preferred to submit nothing instead of looking foolish. Why show the world your genuine lack of talent ?

All in all, the Gen-Y Millenials taught me a good lesson today. There is a lot of talent amongst young people, one guy even had a full fledged song which Inch was helping to troubleshoot even before I left.

Who knows ? One of them may be the next big thing in the music scene.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Song Writing at Thunder Rock School - Day 1.

We all come to a point in our lives when we ask ourselves, what's next ?

Until this question can be answered more concisely, it helps to do things to break the pattern. I've always attended classes where the agenda was clear - it should always help with my income flow or career.

As it turns out doing the opposite can also be useful in one's personal development.

I chose Songwriting as my first class in this Lunar New Year because it is the least obvious thing for a money-minded technocrat to do. It forces me to break my own patterns in my life and re-examine a skill from the position of a beginner.

Local talent Inch Chua is offering a course in Songwriting at Upper Thomson Road. You can access the link below.

Thunder Rock School

In today's class, we used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to define a creative process that suits our characters. As a strong ESTJ, Inch called me Phoenix and Unicorn Boy several times in class which is a great compliment. Highly quantitative engineering types are rare in a song writing class, so I exist as a Thorn amongst the Roses ( I'm also possibly the oldest dude in class ). I don't really expect another ESTJ attending song-writing class in Singapore- they'd be too busy learning options trading with SGX.

So extreme left-brained people, song-writing is a very ordered process involving a lot of research and constant references to a thesaurus to figure out words which rhyme. This methodology made a lot of sense to me. It's not really different from the SDLC process for software development.

More importantly, from a management perspective is that I could interact with Gen-Y and Millenials on equal footing and expose myself to people in the Intuitive-Feeling-Perception axis and I learnt that their creative thinking process is very different from mine and requires a lot of incubation and meditation to getting the process right.

So Inch took a personality framework and ensured that a each different personality type had a different means of achieving their artistic goals. This can be applied to any endeavour.

I'm pretty sure it applies directly to fiction writing as well.

My only disappointment came from my initiative to delve deeply into Psychology at an academic level. The MBTI framework is heavily criticised within the Psychology community because it's not backed strongly by empirical research.

Perhaps instead of the following the business world blindly and using their ancient personality frameworks, artists use the OCEAN framework and create a system around the concept of personality traits like Openness to new Experiences, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

This could be a better model for activating the creative impulse in the Arts.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Year of the Water Dragon !

Just finished the Channel 8 New Year Celebrations.

The folks born in the Year of the Tiger have a rough year ahead. There will be encounters with "little-people", bad investments and generally poor health.

Looks like a very defensive year ahead !

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Level 5 Ambition and Fun with Psychology.

Over 12 years ago, I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering. Then about three years later like most engineers, I wanted a business qualification but feared that the MBA qualification was getting too popular with professionals in my generation, so I studied for a Masters in Applied Finance and did the financial qualifications instead.

What I learned in IT helps with my investments, that's because in IT, certification is an endless process. You need to enjoy doing it non-stop to sustain your human capital in this field. I applied my ability to certify myself continuously into finance and scored the FRM, CFA and CAIA over 3 years.

After getting those qualifications, I started to develop my portfolio to begin supplementing my IT income. The strength of this approach is a that by remaining an IT guy, I don't run the risk of conflict of interest and have the freedom to build any portfolio anyway I want. And what I really want is passive income.

So now I have two fairly stable sources of income, my IT manager job and my investments.

As I can live comfortably on either source of my income, it's time to think about issues and problems I would like to work on even if I will not be paid generously for it. I've started with the assumption that I do like people and generally enjoy hanging out with them even though I can enjoy a good book on my Kindle Fire. The other factor is that I can take my time, and I'm used to the pace of IT work.

The third field which I would like to be good at - good being at top 25% percentile compared to a normal population, should be a social science. I've done enough technology for now and the humanities remain ever out of reach to a hardcore KPI-driven realist like me.

I've tried languages, but I simply can't master it properly without regular practice. I used to have the DELF A1 and A2 qualification in French, now I can't read wine labels. My Japanese is even worse, I just can't advance to JLPT 2 and the syllabus has changed.

I've tried philosophy, but other than really giving myself a framework for logical thinking, it does'nt give me something fun to work with as I go through the day. The more modern concepts in Philosophy are also hard to apply at work.

So right now, the social sciences look good.

Political science is useful to decode world events in a formal manner. And it's good for union work. Ditto for Sociology. Microeconomics can help me with making sharp decisions, although I've been getting more and more intuitive when it comes to my investments.

But I think the clear winner is Psychology.

Up till today I don't understand why Psychology is not introduced in an engineering curriculum. Psychology allows technologists to understand the operation system of the mind. Some ideas in Psychology can find instant application in the workplace. IT managers tend to end up managing a large team of introverts, they should know that interactions sap the strength of their men and plan interventions to keep morale running.

Psychology gives you some insight to your friends. If you suspect that some friends may harbour neurotic personalities and you can run actual field experiments to detect if self-handicapping takes place.

The possibilities are endless.

From hacking machines, we can end up hacking people.

Anyway, in this upcoming year of the Water Dragon, I'm going to launch a full scale attack on the social sciences. As advised by the book Great by Choice, I'm going to being fanatical discipline, productive paranoia and empirical creativity into mastering this field.

Will keep you guys updated on this blog.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Engineer makes living salvaging rubbish - may be a good thing.

I'm getting postings on this article with my name being tagged on them. I detect a strong tint of schadenfreude in those postings but I let you be the judge after you read this article.

Link to Article

Not all engineers succeed. We engineers know this.

Engineering knowledge has a very short half-life and many graduates find that whatever technical expertise they have become almost worthless upon graduation. Successful engineers use mathematical ability and logical reasoning to solve new technical problems at work and start to invest in management ability early. In my case, I built up some skills in investing to replace my earned income cash flow because, like this guy in the article, I will also be retrenched one day.

What I think that is really disturbing is that some people who read this article think that this is a fundamentally bad thing.

It may not necessarily be so.

Some of us really want a Singapore that has great social mobility. We will go all out to celebrate ITE and Polytechnic graduates for their commercial successes. We want a society where we can look up to people who turn from rags to riches. The problem is that for true social mobility to take place, the reverse must also hold true.

Some engineers will wind up picking garbage.

Some lawyers will go bankrupt.

Some doctors may end up begging on the streets. ( Ok, lah. No evidence of this yet. )

Somehow, we are not that willing to embrace the possibility of the opposite happening.

I developed a lot of respect for Koh after reading this article. He picks garbage to feed his family of 6, it's a damn honorable thing to do in a society where our Liberal Elites, poets and screenwriters are bitching about getting their handouts from the NAC reduced when all they do is create subversive works against the status quo.

Does Koh seek welfare and government handouts even if he's possibly a victim of globalization ?

He does not. He gets his hands dirty to feed his family. Somewhere else on this island, a PhD drives a cab to survive.

I am proud to call Koh a fellow engineering graduate from NUS.

[ If any reader has Koh's contact, I can link him up with the NTUC e2i. Mail me at I want to lend a hand. ]

The problem arises if you don't die.

A Facebook posting echoes the view of many critics who have confronted my take on frugality.Their argument goes like this :

Why be frugal ? If you die tomorrow, then all you did not enjoy your life enough. You should live in the present moment and buy whatever you want.

Here is my response to this criticism :

a) The problem arises if you don't die.

Our career trajectories tend to be short compared to our lifespan. In our generation we can expect to live until 80. A large risk that is not addressed by competing ideas of financial self help is what happens if you don't die but live until 105. In such a case, you might end up being a serious liability to your children. Or other tax-payers.

b) There is this thing called children that can receive your wealth after you are gone.

If you are like me, someone looks at money as something which buys choices and solves problems, then if you die, your children can benefit from the free flow of passive income. This opens up tremendous possibilities to decide what their calling is and focus something which may not be for survival but for their personal actualization.

c) You can justify all sort of atrocities using the argument that you might die tomorrow.

Actually this is a nifty argument. I can argue that you can buy a Lexus, then drive it into an orphanage and roll over a bunch of kids, after all, you might be dead tomorrow. The logic remains the same, you'll be in serious trouble if you are still alive the next day.

While I'm just one sample, I bet that most people who are focused on wealth accumulation do not view money in material terms. I see it as a score - something like experience points in an RPG. Spending money is painful to me, it's like getting level drained. It was hard for me during the last Christmas season when I forced myself to buy some gadgets ( Got a Kindle Fire and a Samsung MV800 camera ) but had to realise that it did not give me any personal satisfaction.

( But a visit to the NUS CO-OP to buy psychology textbooks ultimately did because I now have a lot of theories I want to test in real life )

There is safety and security even if money is not spent. Equity ownership gives a stock holder power, he has a right to table questions to the management of the company that he owns. He can work because he wants to be associated with an organization or to fend off boredom.

That's why we save. We're buying security and power.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Moving forward - 2012.

Resolution is too strong a word for setting of goals for 2012. Not all of my goals are completely within my control. e.g. This may turn out to be a tough year for the financial markets and rents may start dropping.

Given that 2011 has been such a year of violent change for me, I hope 2012 will be more stable.

a) Hold onto my job and save enough income to raise my 2013 dividend payout to be at least $65,000/year.

b) Publish two works of non-fiction, update my Fantasy RPG. New fictional work is an optional bonus. I'm going to let the Singapore Writers Festival of 2012 determine if I get my inspiration to get another piece of fiction out.

c) Get certified in an IT qualification on Cloud Computing. 2012 may be the year outsourcing management gets turned upside down which may result in more industry job losses.

d) Exercise ! I should have at least 2 30-minute sessions a week.

Until April 2012 where I have a huge project to complete, I'm not pursuing any formal goals in the short term. Instead, I'll be searching for some opportunity to develop my artistic talents.

Straight into 2012, I am looking for a class on song writing. Go figure.