Friday, April 26, 2024

Wisdom from "Useless" books

Folks who wish to read up on my financial insights will need to wait a while as I'm having multiple headaches trying to maintain my business, so I'm thinking about my finances a lot. It's just not something I can arrange neatly into a blog article at the moment, I might actually be in crisis mode. 

At the moment, I'm gradually tilting my reading into less practical territory. As I spend hours on a bus to teach evening classes in faraway lands, my reading speed has increased quite a bit, and I have to moderate the pace at which I read the helpful programming, finance, and law stuff I tend to be more obsessed with. Of late, I think that I'm getting some applicable "wisdom dividends" from the stuff I'm reading, so I'm sharing them here. 

a) The Way Home by Ben Katt

The first unusual book I read is The Way Home by Ben Katt. It's not easy to empathise with the author because I find his life very rabak. Imagine spending your entire life serving a Christian ministry, then having a mid-life crisis after experiencing the bigotry of your faith and feeling envious of peers who actually earn more because they built conventional corporate careers. The solution to this mid-life is worse, involving spiritual guides and vision quests and communing with a Jaguar spirit animal. Stuff worse than an RPG splatbook about D&D druids. 

Surprisingly, the book broke my creative impasse, as I've run out of ideas to sell my course on operating and tuning your own robot advisors. Ben Katt's idea is to reimagine himself as a protagonist in his mid-life crisis hero journey, and I thought I could do the same in a future review. To do that I need to take a much closer look at Joseph Campbell's Hero of a Thousand Faces

If this does not turn my business around, it should put me in good stead when markets recover much later. 

b) It's Okay not to look for the Meaning of Life by Jikisai Minami

This is another unusual read which I was only willing to pay for because my son won some awards last year, and I brought up his Popular vouchers from him in exchange for fiat. 

The author is a Zen monk, but I thought he was a troll like me. The book starts out quite nihilistic, as he dismisses the need to have any meaning in life and then proceeds to argue that it's okay not to have hopes and dreams. ( And it's all well reasoned stuff )

Eventually, I warmed up to him as he shared some insights I couldn't get in Western works. 

His best idea builds on the theory that there is some kind of relationship that is neither friendship nor family. This is someone you can talk to about your personal problems for hours on end without violating personal boundaries or exacerbating existing tensions. A shrink cannot do this because therapy is expensive and based on the hour, and only rich people would hire a lawyer to do this.

This is where a religious figure can play the role. but the best part of the book warns against the religious figures we meet in our daily lives. A good spiritual advisor will not interrupt your questions, will not claim that they understand you, will not talk about money ( thus ruling me out ) and will not brag. Also avoid anyone who claims to want you to "become one with the universe".

 I devoured the book in two hours and I find Zen Buddhism refreshingly down to earth and kinda brutal in a kind sort of way.

c) A Travel Guide to the Middle Ages by Anthony Bale

So I got lucky with two "useless" books, I'm just sharing my next one which I have yet to finish. Some guy decided to piece together historical travelogues to imagine what a travel guide in Europe during the Middle Ages was like. 

I think it's a safe bet that I will enjoy this because it features Constantinople, which I visited last year. 

At the very least, it can become a useful sourcebook for my RPG hobby.

Something has to give to allow me to engage in more reads. I have already reduced my personal engagements due to the sheer volume of work that I fully intend to intensify all the way to 2025. 

The only casualty I have so far is that I'm reducing the amount of binge-watching. I'm just watching Frieren because my son has developed quite a liking for it.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Friendly Career Update


Maybe I'm lucky this year, but I got some free training that is more useful to my freelance training business than the institution providing the training. Still, only because the training is meant for folks lecturing older teenagers, but my work involves training adults. But if free training falls into my lap, I will not squander it, and I've spent a lot of time reflecting on how I can improve my materials. 

The fundamental problem is that I think many educators specialise in pedagogy, but I earn a living doing andragogy, a shiny new word I just learned a couple of weeks ago about teaching adults. 

I suspect that many folks don't practice andragogy at the moment, so with enhancements to mid-career training coming online as an ersatz welfare system, I'm probably at the vanguard of another life-changing sunrise industry. If I ride the wave, it will not matter if dividends fall out of vogue; I will be able to sustain this career-lite knowledge-intense lifestyle until the markets get well again. 

Some points for myself as a parent and instructor paid by direct customers and now tax-payers :
  • The doctrine that says adults are more motivated learners is BS in a world where taking diplomas can earn a meaningful allowance. It falls to the instructor to motivate them to pay attention. 
  • ERM instinctively got it right five years ago with diagnostic assessments, online pop quizzes and real-time feedback via apps.
  • Coming up with a hook and a narrative is essential, although I need to improve myself at this. I only use previews in private-sector work where I have to sell. 
  • My peers don't like smart alecks in class, but I'm happy to trade away my boomers with smart alecks anytime because they often can detect poorly made lecture materials and sharpen your wits as a practitioner. 
  • If a class polls heavy introversion, they will often be very grateful if you give them online means to interact with the class materials rather than call them out to embarrass them.
  • At a personal level, I find it hilarious that I can now discuss high-falutin ideas like Bloom's Taxonomy and Gagne's 9 events with actual MOE trained philosopher kings. 
I'm doing my own bit at being a radical within the system. I'm injecting 2 to 3 slides on how adults can learn to study in my training program and tying it to my official materials. I openly tell my students to put their opinions on the feedback poll at the end of the semester. 

This explains why my blog is not getting updates as often as I would like. 

I'm finally feeling a good kind of busy where my work makes a difference and is remunerated accordingly. After attaining Financial Independence, I've searched for that mysterious "third gear lifestyle" that eludes many Barista FIRE practitioners. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Will FIRE's enemies grow stronger?


It's been a tough stretch and I've not been writing as much as I wanted to. This week, I've been attending training, which has benefited my trainer role. Over the weekend, I've got another run of courses to conduct. Last week, I was fortunate to participate in the Seedly Personal Finance Festival.

I'd just like to pen my thoughts on personal finance because recently, we've seen a few high-profile retirements in Singapore.
  • First is a Rice Media report on 31-year-old Ashish Kumar, a top scholar who quit Ministry work to run his debate coaching business.
  • Next is gold medallist Joseph Schooling retiring from the competitive swimming arena.
  • Finally, my favourite comedian actor, Henry Thia, talked about reducing the number of acting projects and entering retirement mode. 
While I've yet to follow the recording of our Manpower Minister, it seems, from third-party mumblings I have yet to confirm, that Tan See Leng is also suggesting that people find greater meaning in their work instead of doggedly pursuing financial independence. This intrigues me because for a Minister to say something, the scholar machinery needs to come up with and vet the speech's contents.

It points to the possibility that our local elites are becoming more familiar with our subculture.  

Finally, for my own panel on Saturday, we can clearly see that financial institutions are struggling with the idea that FIRE is catching on with Millenials and Gen Z. I can only inform readers to look out for the recording of my session and see the results for themselves. I sense an attempt to paint FIRE as a great sacrifice, and folks who do this are missing out on a lot of fun in life. This conveniently skips the consequences of not at least trying FIRE out, which tends to be the subject of many financial discussions in the past.

So, my question for readers right now is: Is Financial Independence such a dangerous idea that both the public and private sectors are concerned about its adoption among the masses?

I won't comment in detail as I'm waiting for Seedly's recording to come out. I want to hear the speeches myself.

I imagine that if FIRE came under the government's radar, parallels would be drawn with my poet friend Gwee Li Sui's Op-Ed in the New York Times, which drew a rebuke from the PMO for promoting Singlish. 

Finally, I'll share something I decided not to say on the Seedly PFF as it might become misunderstood. Initially, I wanted to paint the FIRE movement like the Fremen in the Dune 2 movie. Many of us are finance fanatics who have truly optimised our financial resources, like the way we recycle water in our stillsuits. 

If you tangle with FIRE, you might be tangling with a bunch of financial zealots. 

Friday, April 05, 2024

A question of Two Apples


I've been keeping up with this blog less than I liked because I am entering a busy stage in my life. This week, I did a webinar with Havend, with whom I signed an Introducer contract. I'm also involved in a Seedly panel tomorrow on FIRE. Next week, I have an entire week of training to attend, where I'm actually the student, which should be fun. This means fewer updates in the next few weeks. 

I am writing articles now that I should have written weeks ago. 

If you can catch this movie YOLO, I suggest you do so because it's one of the rare gems coming out of China that is neither patriotic nor involves loads of CGI. In fact, it is one of the more motivational movies out there that successfully captures the angst of modern China.  

One fairly sweet moment in the movie concerns the philosophical question that was directed at the protagonist :

If you have two apples, one large and one small, and your friend wants an apple from you, do you give up the big or the small apple?

If you are most folks, you might give up the small apple and keep it for yourself. This preserves the Big Apple for enjoyment, but some folks are inclined to give up the bigger fruit because they see themselves as caregivers. 

The movie reveals that the protagonist sees herself as the kind of person who would give up both apples, to which her dad replies that this would mean that she would have friends. The scenes following that revelation were quite heartbreaking to the audience.

I don't want to spoil the movie, but from my point of view, anyone who gives up both her apples sees herself as a martyr—someone who actively sacrifices her own personal interests for others. This is an inherently unsustainable position, very antithetical to Ayn Rand's ideas.

Interestingly, scenarios where no apples will be given to the friend are missing from this philosophical discussion.

In what situation does this friend deserve a single person anyway? That may turn on whether this person is a giver or taker of apples in the first place.

For me, my default position is that no apples will be given. 

Apples should be earned. 

But folks like me who refuse to give up a single apple will naturally be the villains or bad guys in every movie. 

But I don't care because I might be very good at utilizing my apples. I can bake an apple pie for my family and preserve some apples for rainy days. More importantly, I plan to plant the apple seeds, and a generation later, my descendants can have their own apple farm. 

Whether my descendants will give up, and apple for their friends will be moot because they will have enough apples to feed the whole town. 

All because I started out by refusing to give my apples away. 

The Mainland Chinese would obviously want to celebrate the sacrifice of their women and immortalize it in a movie. 

Still, it does boil eventually to what you plan to do with your apples. 

Socialism with Chinese characteristics may not align itself with Capitalism with Singaporean characteristics.

Monday, April 01, 2024

This is where I talk a little bit about my hobbies


I've been quite distracted lately, so I was unable to blog as often as I liked. My non-investment training workload has increased, and I've been busy preparing for new students. Now I'm focused on perhaps pivoting one of my investment courses, as sales were not good. 

Last week I tried to visit a fairly well-stocked game store, but after a number of days of discounted promos, the shop had closed for good. Lately, it seems that one of the big risks of growing old is actually outliving your hobbies instead of your hobbies outliving you. 

So today, I want to talk about how my hobbies rapidly change in 2023. 

a) Dungeons and Dragons may start its decline this year
On the surface, it's possible to be very bullish about D&D as a hobby as Baldur's Gate 3 was a resounding success, and this year is D&D's 50th year anniversary with a highly anticipated rule set. But Hasbro blew it with attempts to amend the Open Gaming Licence that made the game so popular in the early 2000s. Hasbro also had a brutal company restructuring last year, losing a lot of creative talent.  

At the moment, the game seems to be going through what the Linux operating system went through many years ago, it's splitting into many variants/distributions:
  • Pathfinder was a fork of 3rd Edition many years ago, and now it has resurged with a remastered version that has created its own IP.
  • Kobold Press is about to complete its version of the 5th Edition called Tales of the Valient.
  • Matt Colville, a super charismatic DM, is now launching his own RPG that is very similar to D&D.
  • Matt Mercer, who is a super successful voice actor who promoted D&D, is now showing off Daggerheart, a more descriptive and narrative system, to mixed reviews.
  • Cubicle 7 just launched Broken Weave, a heavily altered version of 5th Ed that is focused on exploration and narrative play.
I'm following all these variants and backed them on Kickstarter. All I can say is that they are all good, so it can potentially split the fanbase into many different enclaves which can actually squabble with each other. 

In this sense, RPGing is different from finance. 

In finance, I prefer dividends investing, but I can dabble in crypto and growth because I benefit from diversification. In fantasy role-playing, some gamers need to be conditioned to hate an 'opposing' RPG system instead of another because the gaming group functions as a tribe. Otherwise, players can be lost to another group, or DMs will suddenly rug-pull everyone with a new ruleset and a steep learning curve.

b) The wargaming hobby may be what role-playing's final state will be like.

I bought this beautiful wargame, B-17 Flying Fortress Leader a few days ago. It is a board game for one player that simulates bombing raids over Germany. On the surface, the gaming concept is ridiculous. To appreciate the system, the player will need to read up on a dense set of rules and understand World History. After which, he moves pieces around the board alone, with no friends at all. In such a case, the obvious thing to do is to make this a computer game, but stubborn wargamers have only loved this genre with its tactile feel of gaming pieces, and this game is even in its second edition.

There is a wargaming community in Singapore. It is very tightly knit and consists of Gen X gamers, old millennials, and one or two curious Gen Zs. The availability of wargames is almost entirely driven by one or two zealous individuals who organise group buying of these games from Amazon or Noble Knight Games. Retailing of wargames died with a shop called Leisure Craft in Orchard Point in the 1990s. Many of us had fond childhood memories of that outlet. 

I suspect tabletop RPGs' endpoint in Singapore will be like the wargames community. Shops must pay rent and can only sell high-volume or high-margin items like collectable card games or miniature wargames. Fragmentation of the Fantasy Role-playing genre will render the current approach to playing RPGs in-store untenable as different pockets of players will have their own favourite ruleset. 

I already spent most of my funds on Kickstarter and DrivethruRPG, so I no longer need game shops here - but I'm also no longer a regular player as RPG gamers have evolved into a more woke and younger community with different social norms. 

So that's happening to me as I hit my 50s at the end of this year. I am still determining when I'll ever play D&D again as my business interests are expanding, and my children will get more attention from me. I still consider reading RPG rules a fundamental part of my personal identity and can talk about RPGs all day ( in a theoretical way, unlike investing ). I am slowly building up a collection of solitaire wargames, but I may never play them if they are highly involved.

I might have a way out of my kids developing a curiosity about my hobbies, which is almost impossible in an age of Roblox-like platforms, consoles and mobile gaming.