Monday, October 08, 2012

Some very disturbing aspects of how NTUC treated the Amy Cheong case.

First of all, I was very disturbed and upset with what Amy Cheong said. As a former Assistant Director in NTUC-ARU myself, this case really hurt because I had to brace myself for questions which may come from Malay friends and colleagues who may ask me what she was like, etc.

Personally, this case should be closed, the mobs on the Internet got what they wanted, they should be happy. Today was a good day for racial harmony, all races united to condemn Amy's comments on FB.

But for current and former employees of NTUC, many concerns remain.

After Amy was sacked, I realised that this raises more questions about my former organization's practices.

Almost all employees in NTUC-ARU are encouraged to take up Union membership. In fact, I'm still a member. I pay $9 a month to be part of the Unions.

While most enjoy membership benefits in the form of link points, being a Union member entitles you to workplace representation.

If you follow the timeframe in which Amy posted her offensive comments and the time she was sacked in the news, this begs the questions of whether the Unions had a chance to step in to negotiate the terms of her punishment with NTUC management.

Kong Hee, Ng Boon Gay and even T T Durai had trials and a fair opportunity to defend themselves.

This looks like a bad case of a knee jerk reaction.

NTUC's ultimate role is to defend workers from their employers.

I was shocked and dismayed that there was no visible attempt to at least intercede on behalf of fair play. Amy may be wrong but can the punishment be lightened in light of her Union membership. More disturbingly, can a Union step aside because it was politically correct to do so ?

I can certainly imagine how this can be better managed:

a) Secretary General Lim Swee Say suspends Amy Cheong with immediate effect today.
b) NTUC does a thorough investigation with HR over two weeks, lets cool heads prevail and determines that this is an offence that warrants termination.
c) Staff Union of NTUC or SUN intercedes on Amy's behalf, General Secretary of the Union (currently an ethnic Malay lady ) declares that they are against racism but is is open to forgive the perpetrator. SUN lobbies to downgrade the punishment.
d) Amy gets demoted and volunteers 100 man-days of service to the Malay Community.
e) After serving time, Amy speaks of her experiences and how wrong and remorseful she was.
e) Everybody comes together to celebrate how well the affair was handled and how a crisis becomes a teachable moment for forgiveness and remorse.

While it's right to punish someone for racism,  the punishment must fit the crime and justice needs its due process. With authorities rushing to condemn a wrongdoing and pandering to mob rule, we should not forget that someone's livelihood has been permanently destroyed over a private comment in a facebook page. Should we even start going after members of the mob who used this opportunity to make some racist statements of their own ?

I could think of some political figures who have done much worse and was given way better treatment for it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Price to pay for financial independence.

A message that will definitely go into my next book on Personal Finance is to list out the price to pay for financial independence. It gives the young reader an idea of what sacrifice must be made to become financial independent in their 30s, it also explains why many people in their 40s struggle so hard to pay bills and yet a minority will just cruise comfortably in their forties with hardly a gripe.

Let's start with something simple first :

a) Can you forgo consumption in your fabulous twenties.

To me this is the cheapest price to pay. Your twenties is the time you can take the most punishment from the corporate world with almost no dependents. You can take on 16 hour management consulting or investment banking jobs to accumulate your wealth. There is also little need to consume - gadgets get better with time anyway.

Most investment books just talk about about point (a). If it's that simple, there would be a lot more millionaires in Singapore today.

I think my book will go further than that :

b) Are you willing to be disagreeable and have people hate your guts for it ?

This is something many people are unwilling to do. An agreeable person can cruise along in life with little strife. Type B folks live longer and lower incidences of heart disease.

A disagreeable person, on the other hand, can tell a close relative to fuck off when they try to sell them a whole life insurance plan or their childhood friend to fuck themselves when they into MLM. A disagreeable person can bulldoze their way through work and get the lazy social loafers to complete their projects in time. Overtime, disagreeable executives do better in the corporate world and earn more throughout their lifetime.

c) Are you willing to delay major milestones like marriage and children and risk it never happening ?

Your wealth needs to compound early to make a difference to your quality of life in your forties, an early marriage is a huge financial burden in your twenties and children make it worse. This effect is even worse for women, who have a strong financial incentive to stay single as it increases their income even more.

As I still believe in family, but this is a heavy price to pay if you, like most people, do want to settle down eventually. Even as a man, you may find yourself unable to pro-create when you finally get financial independent if you insist on this limitation too much.

d) Can you cope with an existential vacuum in your forties ?

I am beginning to really understand that price to pay as I near my forties. One side-effect of reaching financial independence early and going through the practice is that it turns me into an ascetic that's not excited about many things.

Car don't really excite me as much as watching a sunset, and I only need a few gadgets to keep in touch with the financial markets. I read some books on marketing to men to see if I can spend my money on more things but all it does is turn me off consumption even more.

The only thing which makes me happy theses days are experiences and my relationships but I can't travel much with a toddler around the house. I can't eat well because it will ruin my blood sugar control.

This ironically makes retirement a very scary idea because I need to figure out how to maintain the "flow" I get in my current public service job.

Maybe one day, I will devote more time to philosophy and become a social entrepreneur. That time will come after I make my contribution to Government service and round up my career in Singapore.

Financial Independence is a battle for your very soul

Financial independence can be a nasty battle for your soul. A decision to get ahead at work may cause you to reframe your colleagues as rivals. Accumulation of more assets can cause you to delay building many meaningful relationships in life. And one day, after you have it all, you need to fight to make your life more meaningful before that inevitable exit.

I knew the price I paid, question is which decision will you take ?

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The difference that makes the difference.

This article in an attempt to distil some of my personal experience into something useful for readers.

Since I was an undergraduate, I was never really able to excel in a core initiative. I'm going to share three experiences and then try to see if it's possible to turn them into teachable moments.

a) My stint in the Information Olympiad squad.

I spent a brief time training in Singapore's first squad that took part  in the Informatics Olympiad in 1992. In the selection phase, I was chosen not because I was good in programming but I was able to grasp the concept of a Graph algorithm and explain to the judge without knowing a god-damn thing about the augmented matrices that makes the algorithm work. Even my lecturer's in NJC was surprised I was chosen, because I always had the gift of the gab, my programming was good but not great.

Needless to say I was not chosen to actually represent Singapore, but I was able to participate in the training in NUS which was useful to my stint later as an Electrical engineering student.

b) My journey as an electrical engineering student.

I was slightly above average as an engineering student, I remember my final year as a pretty smooth year for me, I even managed to hit on some girls during that time. One class-mate commented that my most powerful advantage was my public speaking skills which I leveraged to get a string of As in all my communications modules and ultimately my final year project. Being in the Dean's list in semester 8 is traditionally hard because that's the time the hostelites stop drinking and start waking up the fact that they are close to graduation.

I was also able to get a decent ECA record which most engineers have problems doing, which paved way to being accepted in P&G when I graduated. ( P&G was into extroverted folks with a high openness to new experiences in those days. )

c) My work experiences

I spent most of my time in the working world scoring IT qualifications. It was crazy, some years I did 21 exams while holding a full-time job. What I observed is that my qualifications did not help me much, I was quite loyal to the MNCs I worked for and never could achieve good increments when I changed jobs. I explained my strategy to an fellow French student that I was buying a lot of call options on the IT industry. She felt I was being ridiculous. Now I agree with her since most of my options expired worthless.

Most of extra income came from my investments. These days about half of my take home pay is through dividends. My three years slogging for the CFA paid off in the size of my portfolio today. I did'nt even need to leave the IT industry in the end.

Moral of the Story

I think that something my generation failed to understand about success.

Very often, if you focus on one area of specialization, odds of you getting to the top 1% of your field is very hard. It's also very taxing for your sanity.

If you are able to find an alternative specialization and find a way to resolve your current life challenges, life will be a lot easier. My speaking skills in school help me out more than my ability in physics.

This is what I think is possible for most people :

a) You need to be good at your core specialization.

You still need to be competent at your core. If you are an engineer, you need to be able to do ok at your day job. It's a condition to be minimally employed.

b) Find something you like to do and be good at it in your spare time.

I realized that a secondary skill that is related to the following fields will always pay off and make you more useful to your company or business :

  • Communications and Language
  • Investing, finance or economics.
  • Psychology or culture.
c) Develop your secondary speciality and use it to reinforce your core.

This suggestion is neither a appeal for specialization or generalization of skills. You need to cultivate a secondary skill and keep leveraging that skill to reinforce your core. This creates a something unique that only you can do well.

Next steps  

As my next career is in public service, odds are I will need to be able to find a new secondary skill to reinforce my core. I'm looking at the TESOL to reinforce my language skills so that I can write better papers at my job. Of course, getting to the level as an English instructor as a lot of other benefits as it strengthens my writing skills.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Megachurches rise because meritocracies are inadequate.

I don't want to talk about City Harvest or Kong Hee. The law would take care of him if he is found guilty.

Instead, I want to share some ideas about religious organizations and Singapore society.

a) A religion is a great complement to a meritocracy !

Religions are great institutions in a meritocracy.

Worshippers tithe part of their income, in effect, raising their own taxes. In return, disadvantaged fellows get some help and everyone gets to participate in activities which improve their well-being.

A megachurch, in effect, becomes a microcosm for self-selected citizens to choose a Socialist lifestyle without interfering in politics. In badly-run regimes, religions may be even more well organized than the government, so it's actually more worthwhile to support religion than the state. Case in point, you don't see a lot of megachurches flourish in socialist Europe, especially in Germany where Christians actually pay religious taxes.

b) It's not about the Gospel of Prosperity. It's about coping with failure, inadequacy and mediocrity.

If you accept this point, megachurch go-ers probably do not go to their church to be rich. They go there for fellowship, trading their financial currency for spiritual currency and well-being. Meritocracies are harsh, failures are attributed to the individual. In meritocracies, people need to come together to build socialist bubbles to not lose their sanity.

People convert because they are vulnerable and hurt. The family and state refuses to spend resources to provide any form of consolation. People generally don't intellectualize themselves to pick up a faith, you're either born to it, or suffered so much you turn to them for help.

Besides, it does'nt make sense for money-mad people to give up their salaries just because someone says so. And having written three books with the word Prosperity in it, I have yet to encounter a single worshipper. It can't be just about money.

Now if you agree with me, there may be consequence for all of us here in Singapore.

First, there will always be groups like our megachurches in Singapore while we make our beds with meritocracy, pragmatism and capitalism. CHC is only a hint of more to come. Hundreds more "entrepastors" will be waiting for their turn. Some will preach Christianity, others will appeal to the Buddhists, many will go MLM or Internet Marketing.

Second, this socialist bubble is vital to keep status quo for strong right winged governments.

We can do well if we take three steps :

 - Governance function for an organization must consist only of people of different faiths. This ensures that entity cannot trade spiritual currency with the people who do the governance. It also leverages on our multi-religious society. Churches should be scrutinized by Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. Temples should be audited by Christians. Mutual respect with prudent governance.

- Forbid religious bodies from taking on donations from anyone below 21. Faith is no child's play. Forbidding donations will cause religious leaders from preying on young impressionable minds.

- Do not allow a church or following to exceed 10,000 in size. This is pragmatic, by keeping organizations small, we will prevent a situation where organizations use political force to swing opinion. WE got luck CHC has only a Cultural Mandate. One day, an organization will grow a Political Mandate instead.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

A slave with two masters is a free man.

Some ideas have more power than others.

A statement very similar like the above can be found in the Bible Book of Matthews where worshippers are told that they cannot serve two masters and must choose between Money and God.

Closer to home, I was first exposed to this statement in my first job P&G. It was then, as part of corporate myth that the Father of Management Peter Drucker took one look at P&G's corporate structure and declared that a slave with two masters is a free man.

Drucker was concerned about the rise in popularity of matrix structures, where every resource had a solid line to an administrative manager and a horizontal dotted line to a functional manager or project manager. This allowed the resource to game one reporting manager against another.

Suppose the resource has job A and did not perform up to task, the resource can claim that his time was spent doing job B. This can be a logistical nightmare for managers, for each other manager a resource had to be shared with, some expectations need to be clearly spelled out with each counter-party. Give an organization time and it grows top heavy from the relentless load managers need to account for their resources.

This is the reason why as a manager, I am not a big fan of sharing resources.

Anyway, just last Friday, I had to leave slightly early to pick my daughter up and a colleague joked that I am leaving early because I am now a slave to two masters and therefore a free man. The reference was made because I'm serving my notice and have another job waiting for me.

Well he might be right but this turned out to be quite a teachable moment because I suddenly had an insight about investing and work.

I have a line of income from my job that my family can live on.

I have a line of income from my investments and real estate that my family can live on as well.

My capital gains this year alone, is about the same my annual income from my work.

Investor-employees, therefore are under the payroll of many masters at the same time.

If they choose wisely, they can be free men.

Of course, work is more than a paycheck for me, it's a place to build accomplishments and a great way to be engaged in meaningful activity.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

About iron rice bowls and paper plates.

This is a short article. I have a discussion with a friend about careers today and we were talking about the differences between the public sector and private sector.

Now most folks from the private sector have a tendency to scoff at government or quasi-government bodies because of the impression that no work really gets done in these organizations, staff are jiak liao bee because they're protected by the iron rice bowl syndrome.

As someone who spent a decade in the private sector before deciding to look for more work life balance, I have a different perspective.

Public organizations and NGOs do a lot of back-breaking work. Results also take time to show itself  because of the intense amount of paperwork to push a proposal through. It's also important that decisions involving money are above-board and not compromised by a sexy IT sales manager, so a lot of pains have to be taken to provide a paper trail.  The other challenge is that it is a lot a harder to justify something without a simple ROI or IRR model that the private sector works by.

The other reality is that these organizations cannot hire and fire at will because of the political pressure from the electorate, so much work is required to outplace a non-productive worker, it's simply easier to tolerate them and give them work that provides less value add. Overtime, managers end up with a large contingent of such workers who cannot work for any other organization other than the ones they are stuck at.

Which brings me back to managing people in NGOs and government organizations.

While an iron rice-bowl may be the envy of the private sector. Never forget that we do not actually eat rice-bowls. We eat what's actually inside it.

If you have an iron rice bowl but report to a terrible manager, that's the equivalent of someone sprinkling dog food into your next meal. Your bowl will not break, but it's not exactly something that you want to eat for the rest of your career.

While a paper plate may not last many meals, a good careerist can always always walk around with some steak and foie gras on it. It the plate gets ruined, as it always happens because some kind of restructuring is just around the corner, just ensure that you know where to get the next paper plate.

A smart careerist can make do with an iron rice-bowl, ceramic plate or even a paper cup. The important thing is to manage your resume and experience, so that you will always have some caviar, champagne and foie gras to go with each party you attend to.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Singapore dollar - Bane of Online Entrepreneurs.

MAS is taking a policy of strengthening the Singapore dollar to fight inflation. This means that if you run a web business and earn in US dollars, you're very likely to experience a downwards swing in earnings if you convert it back to Singapore dollars.

This reflects one of the many uncertainties of running an online business.

At first, these so called entrepreneurs think that they can earn in USD and spend in SGD, the underestimate the power of Singaporeans who are more than happy to save for their future and strengthen their currency in the future.

 Of course, a smart online entrepreneur can do better if they bring geo-arbitrage to it's ultimate logical conclusion.

 It is definitely possible for a Singaporean with a savings of about $20,000 to settle down comfortably in a place like Thailand and pay minimal rent to see through their online businesses.

 Here's a dream combination if you are single and have weak family ties :

 a) Invest in SGD 

I can't emphasize enough that our low tax regime makes investing in SGD real estate assets an almost sure winner. Some REITs continue to yield over 8% and does not generate any taxes beyond the first 18% deducted at the company level.

b) Spend in MYR/THB

 Find a place to stay where the cost of living is about 40% less than Singapore. Johore Bahru and Phuket comes into mind but you need to blend in with the locals so that you will not be singled out by criminals.

c) Work and earn in Dubai or Aussie dollar. 

 IMHO, the best places to work should be friendly to foreigners and have a lot of natural resources such that the currency has a strong correlation with gold/oil.

So the best combination out there is probably some Malaysian Dude with a Singaporean PR who invests in the Singapore markets, works in an oil company and now stationed in Abi Dhabi and has a family in palatial mansion in Johore Bahru.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My American Pie Reunion Epiphany.

Some people are touched by great movie epics like The Titanic or Chariot's of Fire.

I have a much lower taste. The movie that affected me a lot lately and touched my heart was American Pie Reunion. It attempted to answer one of the key questions I've been asking myself for the past decade.

Looking at my University classmates, I witnessed so much youthful exuberance and promise, I started to wonder years ago what would they be like as working adults. Would they be the hotshots in our generation, or would they fade into the background like the working folks I saw 10 years ago.

American pie is a work of fiction, but is as a mirror of the real world, it worked because it reflected the inner world of generation X that is fast approaching an explosive mid-life crisis of its own.

Here's some insight I picked up from the movie :

a) There is an inherent dissatisfaction with married life after kids.

As a father of a 1 year old, I'm beginning to see that making a choice for a stable family life has it pitfalls. While it gives security, it takes away variety. The key to making it is contentment. The movie is almost a tragedy for Jason's family because the couple was not content with their family life.

b) It does not pay to be a romantic or a Chinese poet.

The most tragic character in the movie is Evan. He parallels the Chinese poets in NUS ten years ago, you know the stable, boring unimaginative types that come from Chinese medium schools who aim to start a family at a young age. Evan is stupid enough to wish that he would be with Vicki when when he was at high school. In the end, he had to let Vicki go.

It was heartbreaking even for someone like me to see a nice guy fail like this.

c) Overextension has its pitfalls.

Ostreicher would have been the fly-boy of my generation because he turned out to be a celebrity. Closest thing to Ostreicher would be someone like Adam Khoo. But unlike Adam Khoo, Ostreicher made an ass out of himself in a reality show and had to be humiliated during his class reunion.

I have the most respect for Ostericher because at least he's somebody. But it's so ironic that he wished for a stable family life when he was in high school.

d) The most interesting guy turned out to be a liar.

The most pathetic character was also my favourite in previous American Pie movies. Finch was someone with a stable job who disrespected his secure and predictable life. After being denied a raise, he stole his boss's bike and made tall tales about his adventures around the world with his closest friends.

These days I see so many of my peers from NUS giving themselves fancy titles like Social Media expert ( like it's possible to even be an expert in social media ) who claims to do some charity work on the fly.

e) The asshole wins !

The funny thing is that Stiffler won the game of life in the movie. He's the only dude with the simple dream of rocking with his friends ten years down the road. Because he was authentic and never had a second thought about being a lovable jerk, he was the only guy rewarded with self-actualization at the end of the movie.

American Pie is a great movie for Generation X. Gags aside, it chronicles how lives can go so wrong from where it begins in campus. The jury is still out on how my life turned out, my unnatural fascination with my financial independence is slowly bearing fruit but it comes at a huge expense of my blood sugar control.

But one things for sure, growing up and having a well-adjusted midlife has a lot to do with understanding your limitations, loving your family and accepting your mediocre status in society today.

It takes a movie like American Pie Reunion to remind us of these things.

Friday, April 06, 2012

HDB resale or car ? Which is the better investment in Q1 2012 ?

Recently an article mentioned a 0.6 percent increase in HDB prices while private properties have fallen. At the surface level, some HDB buyers may be feeling a little smug. They took in smaller losses than the folks who bought a condominium.

If you look at the projected inflation rate in 2012 which is expected to come at 4.5%, a 0.6% increase is way less than the inflation rate in Q1 2012. Comparing HDB prices to equities which have risen over 10% in Q1 2012, it's pretty clear which asset class is likely to be the winner in Q1 2012. In fact, a 1.6 litre second-hand car would have performed better as an investment in Q1 2012. COEs went from $46,889 to $58,501 through Q1 this year.

Here's some considerations for folks who intend to get wealthy by property ownership :

a) Rental yields of residential properties are pathetic.

Rental yields of residential properties straddle around 2-4% in Singapore. You are better off looking for industrial or commercial property if you are looking for yields.

b) This leaves capital gains which does not look good in the medium term.

By cutting down on foreigners, Singapore should look to less demand on resale flats. Making matters worse, HDB is expecting to ramp up the development of BTO flats for second timers in Singapore. Without any personal expertise in property, with shrinking demand and increasing supply, it does not take a genius to figure out that HDB flat prices will generate negative real returns.

( Note that politically I doubt the government will allow prices to decline, but having a n increase below the rate of inflation is one way of easing prices without a political backlash, hence I'm betting Q2-Q4 of 2012 to have similar results. )

Here's a better way of thinking about property:

a) Buy a flat or condo only if you need to stay in one.

Don't make your assets multi-task. Buy insurance for protection, equities for investment gains and a HDB to stay in. The moment you think that you are Warren Buffett's second incarnation if you own a resale flat, you will be expecting a disappointment pretty soon.

b) If you really think that you are some property punter, then get a good location.

Personally, if your unit is within 10 minutes of an MRT, your HDB may outperform the others. There is a psychological reason for this - Commuting ranks as one of the most unpleasant moment's in a person's working day, once people realise this, flats in a good location will become more expensive relative to a larger unit at inaccessible places.

Of course, some locations start out bad but future developments can make things better.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Which is better, higher monthly income or higher bonuses ?

Thought I'd share something with blog readers because I'm pretty surprised some people actually may not be able to to understand this concept and may make serious career mistakes in their lives.

Suppose your income is $120,000 a year. You have a choice between getting it over 12 pay-checks at $10,000 a month or getting getting it over 15 pay-checks of $8,000 with 3 month bonus for average performers.

Intuitively, the former the pay scheme is a superior one. Reasons can be very valid, a monthly income of $10,000 is useful for negotiating salary for subsequent jobs. You also get more money earlier on throughout the year which allows you to farm your money into investments earlier. There is also little pressure to perform at work as salaries are fixed.

Actually, if you offer me a choice of two pay schemes, I'd actually choose the latter.

Here's why:

a) CPF contribution caps are higher with the latter scheme.

One of the funny things about the CPF program is that the employer will contribute CPF up to $5,000 month. This means that you only pay CPF for up to $60,000 a year for your monthly income.

However, the CPF board has an Additional Wage Ceiling of $25,000 which allows an employee to contribute part of their bonuses to the CPF program with the appropriate matching from your employer.

This means that the former pay-scheme, your employer pays CPF up to $60,000 of your income but in the latter payment scheme, your employer has to match up to $84,000 of your income.

Many HR departments in Singapore have saved a lot of money by offering to pay their employees based on a 12 month fixed scheme instead of paying them bonuses. Employees happily accept those terms because it's more cash in hand and the program was touted as being income neutral. In actual fact, the employer is creating huge savings for themselves by contributing less to employee CPF.

b) The problem of higher taxes.

In many cases, when employees get more money, their contribution to CPF drops which means that more income becomes taxable. This actually means more money paid to the government.

To prevent manipulation and gaming of the CPF system, we will be better off simply setting the ceiling to be indifferent to whether the income is normal monthly income or bonus income. Simply limit a year of income matching to $85,000 regardless of the nature of the income for each employee.

This way companies cannot exploit workers by switching to a 12 month payment program and declaring that the switch is income neutral.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Transformation is easier said than done in Singapore.

As I inch closer and closer to my target retirement number, one challenge which I look forward to is the possibly of semi-retirement. In Singapore especially, this is not very easy because of two phenomenon which I observe.

a) Employed workers find it easier to get new jobs than unemployed workers.

I got this through third parties with close access to HR departments of MNCs and SMEs. One paradox which we need to contend with in Singapore is that while you have a job, it's easier to get another employer to talk to you. But if you are without a job, HR departments will wonder if you are the type of worker that can withstand a Singaporean workplace.

This makes it really hard to transition to semi-retirement. If you even need to stop work to perform a life audit, you make it harder to find a job which suits your personality more.

It also means that Gen-X workers as they hit their 40s will be more willing to tolerate obnoxious bosses to survive Singapore society.

b) The conundrum of real estate being affordable only to those with CPF.

One possibility for people who want semi-retirement is to start a "lifestyle start-up". This means I start a business that suits my life aspirations instead of a traditional start-up which is all about revenue growth, VC funding and burn-rate.

The problem with this approach is the problem of CPF. For folks with a 35+ year mortgage on a condominium, with a steady job being employed with a company, the monthly payments will hardly eat into your standard of living, but once you stop making CPF contributions and need to fund your mortgage using cash, a large chunk of your income gets eaten up from your home. For folks who have maxed out their Medisave, you may need to foot at least $1,400 extra every month to pay off your condominium loan.

This is consistent with the findings of Property Guru. HDB viciously attacked the study and used CPF as a defense but it's hard to refute the argument that our flats are expensive for folks who do not have CPF. This means the business owners and some free-lancers.

How this makes mid-life career shifts very challenging in Singapore. While I have some time before I need to address this, here are my suggestions:

a) Your passive income needs to cover your mortgage payments.

At my current passive income per month, I find that I have to keep on working in spite of being able to save a portion of my monthly dividends to make further investments every quarter. This is because I will need to address my upcoming Condo payments in 2014 which is largely coming in from my CPF payments if I stay employed. At 8% yields, it means another $200,000 savings which I need to accumulate over the years.

The good news of using passive income to cover Condo payments is that the amount is not expensed but goes into your equity section of your balance sheet.

b) Your time after office hours has to invested in self-reflection.

I think we Gen-X folks secretly envies the Strawberry generation. Without a family or debt commitments, Gen-Y is changing the workplace by being irresponsible and flippant, but I think in time Gen-X will be a beneficiary of this revolution.

Gen-X needs to spend their time after office hours to inventories their hobbies and ask themselves what kind of work they can engage in as a lifestyle choice. They need to push this agenda while holding full-time jobs and only transition after their passive income hits a reasonable level.

The challenge in Singapore is that you seldom can try a lifestyle before you buy it, some money needs to be spent on courses to simulate the new working environment.

While it is certainly tempting to "flip table" and quit, note that we have very close-minded employers and you are better off quietly interviewing instead.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A millionaire may not be able to afford to buy an executive condominium.

There are many scenarios painted where someone who makes $1,000 can afford a flat of his own. I'm going to paint a scenario that illustrates an opposing point of view.

Suppose you have $750,000 in cash assets and $250,000 in CPF making you a millionaire, your family expenses is $4,000 a month and you proceed to buy a condominium. The monthly payment for a condominium is about $2,500. ( $850,000 condo at 2% interest over 30 years )

If you can invest your $750,000 at 8% investment income a year, this means $60,000 a year or $5,000 a month in dividends.

What this means is that you have an monthly expense of $6,500 but an incoming dividend flow of only $5,000. You will need to work to make up the short-fall, otherwise you lose your millionaire status.

The illustrates the flip side of the wealth equation. While 20% of Singaporeans have a net asset base over a million dollars creating so much unhappiness over the rich-poor divide, I believe that in truth, many Singaporean millionaires have to wake up every morning and worry about how to make a living and actually do spend many years kowtowing to a boss because they bought into that Singaporean dream for condominium ownership. Of course, this can be made even worse if such a person has a car to pay off and tuition fees to pay.

So, next time someone talks about the $850 man who can afford to have a flat of his own, tell him the story of the millionaire who came to the conclusion that he actually can't afford an executive condominium from HDB.

Anyone can create any scenario to support his agenda.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

If we are labelled dogs, let's become pit-bulls and not poodles !

Baey Yam Keng's idea that scholarships should be based on meritocracy and not nationality is not completely wrong, but that should only be lauded if the students with the best results do get the scholarships in the first place.

I got myself my First Class in Engineering from NUS over a decade ago, the very same faculty as this Sun Xu person. I would dare say then that most of us who got a 1st Class in those days were Singaporeans. But I would also venture to say that most of us had to pay off our school fees just like everyone else. This, for me, means skipping out on my bonuses for at least the first two years of my working life.

Even if we do make our beds with Meritocracy, PAP has a lot to explain to the Gen-Xers who did time in NS, did ok in University and regularly pay our taxes today why we are investing $175,000 per head in a batch of student who have 55% chance of getting a second lower than before.

It's not good mathematics, it's not good finance and certainly bad politics.

Here's some people whom I believe, deserve a scholarship more than the likes of Sun Xu or even someone who gets a 1st Class in Engineering ( believe me, we can look after ourselves and our children.)

a) Why not give a scholarship for the ITE grad that makes it to Polytechnic part-time.

I have a very capable colleague who studied in ITE. He spent 5 years on his diploma while holding a job at the same time. I don't remember anyone in my cohort who scored a 1st class with that kind of world-class grit. Quite a number of Singaporeans go through this system which in actually a time-tax on people who may potentially be late bloomers.

Note : I'm not asking the government to give more seats to ITE students in a polytechnic, but their numbers should be sufficiently small enough for us to make a decision to let them study for free or at least with 80% subsidies if they serve NS.

b) Why not make studying cheaper for diploma holders to get a degree in NUS/NTU.

I'm not in the engineering field, never was and never will be. I prefer to use my logical reasoning to analyse stocks, calculate real estate yields and help motivate my friends to find spouses.

The loyal engineers who still do technical work today generally have polytechnic diplomas. The more more technical ones tend to do a Bachelor in Technology as a part time course because they need to apply these skills at work.

An investment in these guys keeps our manufacturing and electrical sector competitive.

From another POV, can NUS/NTU reimburse engineers who stick in the engineering field for at least 8 years ?

c) Pay people to drop-out of NUS/NTU.

This has been experimented very aggressively in the US. Degrees, even engineering ones, are primarily used for signalling to potential employers a person's worth. Very few degree programs impart actual workplace skills. This means that folks in a degree program who are getting good grades may not actually need a degree to do well in life.

We need more entrepreneurs to open up new markets. A panel of businessmen in collaboration with the NUS Business school should form a fund to pay out $100,000 to about 3-4 students with a solid business idea as seed funding. The caveat is that they need are to drop out immediately and not apply for a degree program for the next 4 years.

Anyway, I like to end by talking about dogs.

My parents used to own a pet shop at Shaw Centre. I'm ok with dogs and it's not really an insult to if someone calls me a dog. I would take grave offense if someone calls me a poodle, because its an elitist breed that needs constant grooming.

I think if PRC scum bag calls you a dog. Go show them what a pit-bull you can be.

Make sure that when you bite, you don't let go.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cynicism sucks ! Introducing Cynicism 2.0.

One of the things I observed after all these years is that cynicism sucks !

Cynical people achieve less in life, or perhaps go on to achieve less in life. Cynical people spend a ridiculous amount of effort to destroy a good idea when less effort can be spent to make the idea work.

I'm surrounded by cynics. Over the years, I changed the way I deal with them. Cynical people can be a great source of motivation as there is nothing more satisfying that showing a cynic that something can be done and that success is possible.

One of things I set out to do when I started studying Psychology intensely is to break down Cynicism into it's residual components using the Big 5 personality model and one of the things I discovered is that Cynicism is really a blend of the Neurotic and Disagreeable personality traits. With this discovery, I believe that the idea that cynics are also losers gain considerable traction.

Neurotic people are scientifically proven to make horrible spouses. Too much of it also causes a person to self-handicap and only set out to do something only if it is guaranteed to succeed. If a neurotic person is also disagreeable, you have this perfect storm of a pure vortex of an evil person, putting down others, not being able to accept criticism and destroying the self-esteem of their loved ones.

Definitely not a combination that inspires success or achievement.

Instead I offer an alternative to Cynicism.

Cynicism 2.0 is an active life philosophy where you become cynical about cynicism. If cynics are emotional vampires, you become Van Helsing. You seek out cynics, get to know them and then break them with your willpower.

Here are some ideas on the foundations of Cynicism 2.0.

a) Collect Cynics as a source of motivation.

We lack nurturing souls in our lives. For most people, only mum can be nurturing towards you. Cynics however, are a dime a dozen. Urban survival dictates that cynics become a fuel for one's personal success.

To use the cynics in your life, you must adopt the maxim that if it can't be done by a cynic, it CAN BE DONE ! In fact, it must be done.

The look on a cynics face will be priceless !

b) Be ruthlessly empirical.

A neurotic and disagreeable person will pour cold water against any idea even before an actual field test. One tactic is to react with ruthless empiricism. Force the cynic to produce evidence, if the cynics mirrors your move, proceed to make the idea work. If anything, the cynic would have given you some advice on what to avoid to make your idea work so don't waste it.

Next time you meet a cynic and he gives you grief. Ask them this : Show me your KPI. What are your numbers ? Have you done it yourself ?

c) Say and deliver

This is the hardest part about dealing with a cynic and consistent use can break him. When you encounter someone who attacks an idea, say how it can be done and what resources you will employ to do it. Then go ahead and do it.

This requires a lot of discipline on your part. For one thing, you can only defend a strong idea with actual execution.

Cynicism 2.0 allows ordinary people to create a self-help system that harnesses the cynical people in their lives, you will find yourself setting disciplined goals and visualizing the path to success when faced with disagreement.

The joy of breaking a cynic is also personally satisfying as you build your self-esteem on top of their broken dreams.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's already Valentine's Day ! Loneliness 2.0

Ok, it's already Valentine's day.

If you liked my series, good. If you tried your best to make full use of it, but still did not get any progress, better luck next year.

This article is really popular today all over Facebook.

Loneliness 2.0 Article

Ok, so the article is'nt really entitled Loneliness 2.0 but it's high time singles reframe singlehood into something as positive as what the article does. Modern technology and cheap air travel on Chinese New Year is making singlehood more bearable these days.

Which brings me to my final point this Love season of 2012.

I doubt many readers are Agreeable, Conscientious and Emotionally Stable. Even if you are, you might even be drinking from the deadly fountain of Introversion and Closeness to New Experiences, making you immensely BORING and fit only to go to Sovnguard to kill Alduin.

On top of all this, society's problem is that the Beast of Singlehood is really growing in strength and power these days and amplified by social media.

If you find a hot cougar and fail to understand why she's single, be very careful, she's much harder to score than what she looks simply because your love rival is not a living breathing man but very possibly the Beast of Singlehood itself.

The Beast of Singlehood is the most seductive creature known to man and woman today. It means unlimited travel, unlimited control over financial resources, unlimited beer and unlimited shoes.

So, perhaps this Valentine's Day, take a good look at yourself, while you might even be better than the friends you hang out with, have more economic resources and a longer Placido Domingo, you need to convince that significant other that hanging out with you is way better than remaining single.

Until you can answer that question, you might to think about which class to play when Diablo 3 comes out in two month's time.

I'm going with Witchdoctor.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Countdown to Valentine's day #5 - The "nice guy" problem.

Let's talk about the "nice guy" problem.

You might want to pay attention to this article if you are one of the following:

a) You nurse a girl after a break-up only to see her date someone else after recovery.
b) You are always big brother or gor-gor to girls, close enough to share personal problems but not close enough to exchange bodily fluids.
c) You give her up for the greater good because another guy needs her more. ( How noble !)
d) You are an engineer stuck in a dating event full of female accountants.

First of all, don't malign nice guys. Nice guys make great spouses !

The problem is not because you are nice. As explained before, you have the combined traits which makes you a loser in the genetic race. You are probably introverted and lack openness to new experiences.

While either trait is not a problem, a combination of the two can result in a disaster. Your dating life and problem is easily summed up to a problem :

If she dates you, will you be able to provide a life of variety and surprise. Can you keep her engaged an interested in a relationship ?

While you probably make a better husband than the disagreeble extrovert otherwise known as a jerk. He is spreading his wild oats by using negative statements to attack women's self esteem, once that self-esteem hits rock bottom, he proceeds to sleep with her. Next week, the bloody bastard will be at it again in another watering hole.

Is there no justice in this world ?

Some tips for all the nice guys out there :

a) Expand your musical interests. It's not always country music or stupid love ballads.
b) Go to the museum. Just go and force yourself to like something, if you're an engineer, still... fucking go to the museum.
c) Expand your meal palate. Steak tartar anyone ? What about French ?
c) Learn the art of conversation. What do you do ? What made you decide to do what you do ? What is your philosophy in life ? Are men too macho or too sensitive these days ? Go memorize a fricking list of questions if you lack creativity.
d) Pick up something distracting like Magic for example. ( But not Magic the Gathering, I know many are into Serra Angels ! )

Anyway, here's my two cents worth of advice.

Tomorrow is your big day.

Happy Valentine's Day !

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Countdown to Valentine's day #4 - Neuroticism, the hemlock of all relationships.

Neuroticism is the tendency to be affected easily by negative events. Neurotic people get anxious, angry and depressed easily by seeming the smallest events that happen to them. Neuroticism is the great poison in relationships and one should be wise to learn to detect neuroticism in others.

In the context of filtering people like stocks, neuroticism is the equivalent of a bad management team. Bad management destroys value and sometimes it's worth avoiding a bargain stock if the management is corrupt or beyond redemption. Similarly neuroticism is the destroyer of marriages. A marriage can barely survive a neurotic husband but can rarely be sustained if there is a neurotic wife.

Sometimes you find a hot-looking chick in SDN and wonder what's wrong, the answer is possibly that she's neurotic, once you confirm this, run. Leave the country, even cut your balls off, because even good looks cannot save a relationship with a neurotic woman.

Neuroticism in men not as destructive, but neurotic men develop a tendency to handicap themselves and put obstacles ahead of themselves to avoid failure to protect their self-esteem. These people pretend to working on something but often will never achieve anything in life because they are so afraid of failure.

You have been warned.

Signs of a neurotic personality :

a) Somehow attracted to the colour black.
b) Gets irritable if the air-con fails.
c) Tries to defend poor exam scores by saying that they did not work hard on the test anyway.
d) Gets a physical headache when you say stuff that upsets them.
e) Violent, aggressive behaviour when given poor treatment in a restaurant ( Guilthy as charged ! )
f) Disappears for weeks after a personal setback.
g) Defensiveness when asked to produce results on paper.

If you are a neurotic male, wake up your ideas. Your self-esteem is worth squat in the bigger scheme of things and no one really cares if you succeed or fail. But at least you are not really a bane in relationships.

If you are neurotic female, give up ! Do not even use your good looks as a consolation because of the countless husbands who will be destroyed by you once they go ROM with you. Better stay single to eliminate the neurotic gene from the human race.

Anyway, this sums up the three traits to look for in a long-term relationship. We will discuss some special issues with personality traits as we move towards VD in the next two days.

Happy Valentine's Day !

Countdown to Valentine's day #3 - Agreeableness, and stop coming up with excuses.

Agreeable is a measure of how pleasant you are in social situations. Internally it also measures the extent that one trusts others. Agreeable people make good spouses because they are more generous, helpful and trusting.

To demonstrate how agreeable I am. I would like to tell many single men this.


Street common sense can go against the grain of research findings.

If agreeable men make such great spouses, why do nice guys remain single and dateless on Valentine's Day ? The answer is possibly that the individual is too introverted and closed to new experiences, this is a deadly cocktail that can make a person un-dateable and remains independent of whether a person is a nice guy or not. Note that just because a guy is undateable does not mean that he'll make a horrible life partner.

Anyway, being Agreeable is also an important filter, somewhat like price to book ratio for stocks, but it is less important than Conscientiousness for men because disagreeable or Machiavellian men tend to go further in the corporate world and accumulate more wealth. My personal view is that women ordinarily do not filter aggressively against disagreeable people ( even Steve Jobs has kids right ? ) even though disagreeable men have a higher divorce rate.

Nevertheless signs of Disagreeableness can look like this :

a) Likes arguing with others. Cannot lose an argument.
b) Does not trust people.
c) Does not donate money to secondary school students in public.
d) Tends to lack ability to empathise.
e) Narcissistic bastard.
f) Prejudiced against stigmatised group. ( gays, fat or people of different colour )

If you are a disagreeable women, give up and stop destroying lives unless you are also really hot. The fact that you may climb higher in the corporate ladder does squat for men.

Being a disagreeable man is not such big a loss but if you do not have your achievements to back it up, you're just a grumpy loser. My advice is to learn to empathise with others or give up and stop ruining other's lives.

Happy Valentine's Day !

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Countdown to Valentine's day #2 - Conscientiousness, give up if you lack this.

If the number of people of the opposite sex you will meet can be seen as a basket of stocks, conscientiousness will be the primary filter that you should employ to ensure that you would not waste any-time for their consideration. For me, using conscientiousness applied to life-partners is as important as filtering out stocks based on dividend yields.

Conscientiousness has a complicated definition when I looked up Wiki. Some people would describe it as self-directedness. Conscientious folks are disciplined, industrious, careful, thorough, organized and have a strong need for achievement. Conscientious people have a plan for the future and have the balls to carry out their plans and track the numbers accordingly.

When you design a filter, there are some signals of someone who lacks conscientiousness :

a) Someone who is chronically late for an appointment.
b) Someone who procrastinates.
c) Someone who lacks impulse control, buys anything that's the hottest shit out there.
d) Someone who discussed sexual matters with a male friend ( Guilthy as charged !)
e) Someone who lounges around the house without clothes on ( Also guilty as charged !)
f) Someone who likes telling dirty jokes ( And the lady went "Mmmmf ! MMMPF ! MMMPF ! ")

If you're a lady and think you lack conscientiousness. Pray that you look hot.

If you're a guy and lack conscientiousness, I advice that you take yourself out of the dating market. Lack of conscientiousness in men is one of the highest predictor of divorce. Conscientious men who are disagreeable ( yes, the lawful Evil Darth Vader types ) tend to have more successful marriages and may even have longer lives.

Of course, being over-conscientious can be destructive to one's life. You can become a perfectionist, develop some obsessive compulsive disorder or can be just plain boring.

So it's not too late to take a good look at your significant other, if he lack conscientiousness. DTMFA ! ( Dump the MFer already ! )

Happy Valentine's Day !

Friday, February 03, 2012

Countdown to Valentine's day #1 - What to look out for.

Every Valentine's Day is the same on my Facebook. Some person decides to go all Emo-emo and start putting old Music Videos of Chinese songs from the 90s. Others start quoting song lyrics. Nothing changes after that. We can look forward to VD 2013 for more of the same.

As a married man and father of a girl, I want to do something different for VD.

Married people don't factor much into VD. All the struggles have already taken place. Now it's time to raise kids and worry about PSLE and getting the girl-girl into Raffles Girls School.

Singles should look at married people like the way CEOs look at management consultants. People who are not in the game but are happy to provide insight on what to do for the next playbook.

This year I want to write a few articles to countdown to VD for the readers.

Today I'm going to talk about what to look out for. Ask any single and he/she will have a wish-list on what to look out for in a significant other. As it turns out, studying Psychology can be useful and can yield a pretty simple answer. I think it's certainly possible to use this insight to filter out the problem people in your life the same way I screen my stocks for higher dividends.

So the next time, you are in some speed dating situation or get tested by other folks, you can claim to seek the following traits in a desired partner :

a) The person should be Conscientious.
b) The person should be Agreeable.
c) The person should be Emotionally Stable. ( Low in Neuroticism )

These three things to look out for are similar for men and for women.

As we get closer to VD, I will write about each trait.

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.