Archives for category: Everything under the sun

“Despair is the price one pays for self-awareness. Look deeply into life, and you’ll always find despair.”
Irvin D. Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept

So I woke up this morning (14 June 2017) to find the beginnings of a soap drama playing out on my Facebook feed. The entire blogosphere basically got into a frenzy about this news and the mainstream media was caught off-guard with the post released in the wee hours of the morning. This is just the beginning of the entire affair.

 

LWL_fbpost

The post that started the drama.

 

In case you missed it

 

So it appears that Lee Wei Ling (LWL) and her younger brother, Lee Hsien Yang (LHY) are not happy with PM Lee Hsien Loong (LHL) and his wife, Ho Ching’s behaviour with regards to the late Lee Kuan Yew’s residence.

The statement started off with some very serious allegations of misuse of power and harbouring political ambitions for PM Lee’s elder son. However, that part was very short on details and most of the statement centered around PM Lee and his siblings’ differences with regards to the treatment of their late father’s house at Oxley Road.

What does it all mean?

After reading the full 6-page statement and PM Lee’s response, here are my thoughts:

  • It seemed petty to be arguing over a house but I guess the larger picture here is not so much the house but LWL and LHY’s attempt to paint LHL as a power-hungry person to the extent that he is willing to go against his father’s last wishes. And in doing so, would be detrimental to the future of Singapore.
  • LWL and LHY are obviously not very good terms with LHL any longer. Going public with what is essentially a family matter is damaging to well-known personalities as all three of them are. Arguably, this is most damaging to LHL as compared to LWL or LHY.
  • The allegations of big brother being omnipresent are most probably exaggerated but if true, is a worrying sign of a paranoid personality who needs to be in control at all costs.
  • LWL seems to be the one with the least to gain or lose from this. LHL has quite a bit to lose- he can’t sue his siblings (can he?), those anti-PAP or even fence-sitters may see the allegations as somewhat truthful since it is ‘insider info’, the general public may question his ability to lead if he can’t even get his own brother and sister to back him, and most crucial, his son’s entry into politics, if at all, is now going to be tougher to push through. However, the upside is that he probably plans to step down sooner rather than later anyway.
  • LHY is the question mark here. Given that his son, Li Shengwu has also spoken out on the matter, could it have been a case of LHL not helping his nephew enter politics or is this setting the stage for Shengwu’s entry later on?
  • LWL and LHY’s naming of Lawrence Wong as a figure in all this, if true, just confirms most people’s suspicions that LHL’s cabinet has some yes-men in there. The question is who else and how many? Not the best vote of confidence for the whoever takes over from LHL.
  • In my opinion, LHL’s official response wasn’t the best. It sounded sad and defeated and although he tried to say that his siblings’ hitting the nuclear option tarnished his dad’s legacy, I’m not sure many people would connect the dots. After all, his siblings were accusing him of departing from the path his dad took and he didn’t really do much to refute what they said.
  • LWL and LHY were pretty nice actually that they didn’t bring in any personal anecdotes on Ho Ching overstepping her boundaries. Why? To help their big brother save some face? Or to not give LHL any ammo to sue them for? I guess we’ll never know.

I can sympathise with LHL because I have witnessed some drama in my own extended family. Of course, my own family is nothing like the Lees but the similarities in terms of the clash of egos and views are there. No one would ever wish that the full story gets out and to be honest, no one’s going to be interested anyway.

All in, LWL and LHY really hit the nuclear option with this one. LHY is never going to come back to Singapore after this and dropping this bombshell of a statement while LHL was away on holiday shows how much of a calculated move this was. Bringing LHL’s son into the picture also blocks his son’s entry into politics, if it was on the cards, for the short term. With the upcoming presidential election and next General Election, this release was designed to inflict maximum damage. As for LWL and LHY, I guess they don’t really have much to lose in the first place which explains why they did it in the first place.

The plot twist now would be that this was all done so that whoever manages to bring the family back together will be the next PM.

 

Maybe there really is a problem with millennials after all. So, this was making rounds on my Facebook feed. It’s a very long article but essentially it makes a few points:

  1. University education in Singapore is becoming more elitist with Minister Ong’s remark that university education is capped at 30-40% of each cohort.
  2. Singapore government spends a lot of money giving foreigners scholarships.
  3. Singapore’s high cost of living means that the rich (elite graduates) become richer and the poor (non-grads or grads from private universities) become poorer.

While the young people (mostly former students and some relatives) on my Facebook page share the same sentiments as the article, I think everyone in that group is missing the point about higher education.

Before I go on, I agree that the data shows that graduates have a higher starting salary than non-graduates. That, no one will dispute. Also, if you take a look at the advertisements for jobs, almost every white collar job ad out there states that a degree is a minimum requirement.

The problem is this fixation on starting salaries and the fallacy that starting salaries will remain the same should the number of graduates increase. Another problem is people thinking that things in the future will remain the same as they are now.

In the past, a degree was a pathway to acquire knowledge. Other than that, studying for a degree also meant making friends that may eventually end up in high places plus the added signalling effect that one gets from getting a degree or even better, a degree from a reputable institution. Today, with platforms like Google, Youtube, Cousera, Udemy and the likes, knowledge can easily be acquired for free or a low fee, from many other sources. That reduces the value of a degree as a signal to employees and the university as a place to network. Some may also argue that networking can easily be done online which further reinforces that the degree may be nothing more than a signal to employers.

Since the degree is now mostly used to signal to employers, any prospective undergrad must realise that the institution and course that they are taking matters a whole lot more than before. Unless one has proof that the better institutions don’t take in the best and the brightest, employers are going to assume that graduates from more reputable institutions are more desirable than others.

Is this elitist? Possibly. But the more important question should be whether this is fair. If the institution doesn’t take in the best and the brightest, then how can they justify the reputation that the awarded degree confers on the recipient? Furthermore, those who can’t handle the course probably would have spent their time better off doing something else rather waste all that time, energy and money on something they can’t handle.

At the same time, employers aren’t dumb. If there were more graduates in the job market, employers would simply respond, and some already have, by creating more stringent job interviews to ensure that they get the most suitable candidate for the job.

I’ve read arguments on why the proportion of each student cohort going on to university shouldn’t be capped and at the same time, I can understand where the government is coming from given the conservative mindset they’ve always had. I don’t think the government is being bold enough to face the future but that’s really not the point I’m trying to make here.

The point I’m trying to make is that so many young people agree with an article like the one in the link and that line of thinking makes it so easy for them to find someone or something else to blame rather than realise that the government is not and shouldn’t be the solution to everything.

Given what prospective undergrads or graduates are facing, I think the most important task at hand is to figure out what projects of value that one can do.For example, I have a student who is currently studying at a university overseas. She’s fortunate enough that her parents can pay for her education but more importantly, she realised that she loves baking and before she left for her studies, she ran a home bakery which basically meant that she had to do things like costing, inventory management, planning the logistics of

For example, I have a student who is currently studying at a university overseas. She’s fortunate enough that her parents can pay for her education but more importantly, she realised that she loves baking and before she left for her studies, she ran a home bakery which basically meant that she had to do things like costing, inventory management, planning the logistics of her bakes and delivery of her goods as well as marketing of her business.

I’ve also had a group of students who were studying for a diploma in business information technology and they took on extra work helping us create games in HTML5 that required minimal coding. However, that project taught them the value of managing a project from start to end, dealing with clients’ redos and other things that they wouldn’t have learned in class.

So, for people who think that life is unfair because you couldn’t get into a school of your choice or graduates who think that a job is at hand just because you have a relevant degree in the field, please remember that employers nowadays have look for more than just a piece of paper.

Some days are more special than other. 5th May is a special day for me. This year, I witnessed some students graduate which is probably one of the few days in the year where my job really means something.

This year, I witnessed some students graduate which is probably one of the few days in the year where my job really means something. For most students, I only teach them one module: microeconomics and to be honest, I don’t really care if they remember anything that I taught. After all, how many of them will go on to become economists or even study economics at a higher level? It would great if they learned how to apply some microeconomic concepts to help them make better choices but that wasn’t really what the focus of the module was. What’s more important is that I hope they see me as someone they can count on if they should ever need my help. I wish them all the best and hope that they all realise that their road ahead is long so whatever they do, enjoy the journey and take the time to smell the roses whatever their ambitions might be.

5th May is also the birthday of the future Pirate King. It’s a happy coincidence because the 5th of May also happens to be the day I got married to the most wonderful person in the world. Before getting married and having a place of our own, I never imagined that I would be washing the dishes, changing bed sheets, mopping the floor, cleaning the toilet and cooking on a regular basis. As dreary as the word ‘chores’ sound, I’ve come to realise that doing chores isn’t so bad. It’s a moment where one can just focus on the task at hand and not get lost in random thoughts or “what-ifs”. It also lets one appreciate life a little bit better and I suspect that if the day should come, I’ll be a little more resilient as well.

This year, the Mrs made a remark (in jest or was it a hint that I didn’t get?) that I thought was quite cute. She said that in the past, I’d probably plan a nice surprise, at a nice restaurant while this year, I took her to a ramen restaurant (it was good ramen though). When we’re fifty, it’s possible that we may be at a hawker centre (if they still exist then) having fish soup.

But you know what? There’s no one else I’d rather be having fish soup with.

I just read this article (Young Asian adults likely to face cash crunch in retirement) from The Straits Times and it pains me to read that the main reason for the alarming headline is due to a mortgage.

Young adults – so-called millennials – in the region are at substantial risk of a cash crunch in their later years, with many expecting to carry mortgage debts into retirement or even run out of money altogether.

I’m not against property as a form of investment but it’s pretty apparent that some young couples in Singapore are buying property that they have to take a 25 to 30-year mortgage to pay for. 20 to 30 years is essentially the entire working life of a person and if most of one’s CPF is used to pay the mortgage, CPF is going to be useless as far as retirement is concerned.

Some people may be banking on the fact that wages, in general, go up over time and hence their future increase in wages will be the solution to their retirement needs. There are two reasons why this is a terrible plan. One, saving at a later age means that money has less time to compound. Two, mortgages are typically pegged to floating rates. We have been in a low-interest rate environment for a long time. Any future increase in wages is likely to be offset by the fact that the mortgage will cost more in future too.

The most likely scenario for people who have over-stretched themselves on an expensive live-in property is to either downsize to a cheaper place or to use some sort of reverse mortgage on the property in retirement. Either way, it still means being a slave to your property for a long time.

The best thing young couples can do is to buy a home that is within their means. It’s a time-tested, age-old advice that still remains true to this day.

 

Wow, what an inspiration!

Ng Joo Seng, a businessman with a rags-to-riches-to-rags (ok, maybe not quite rags) story was featured in Goh Eng Yeow’s column in The Sunday Times. While the article is sketchy on details (The Straits Times should do a follow-up on this), I find the fact that a person, regardless of age, attempting to climb back to where he once was is a wonderful story on its own. Let’s not forget that Colonel Sanders of KFC fame was also in his 60s when he started his business so age shouldn’t be an issue.

In Mr Ng’s case, his experience of going bust during a financial crisis and his boardroom battles should be instructive in helping him build an even more resilient business and I’m hoping that the lessons he learnt will be shared with all of us.

 

So, I’ve been using the Spending Tracker for 69 days and I thought it’s time to do an update. If this is your first time hearing about the spending tracker, you may want to read this first.

First of all, my average daily spending has hovered around $50 per day. I’m not sure how major expenditures will affect this but it’ll be interesting to factor in given that I have a holiday to my favourite city in the world coming up in two months’ time.

Second, while my tracker (since it was meant for lazy people) doesn’t break down what I spend on each day, it’s become pretty apparent that days with low double-digits spending are days where I didn’t do much except go to work, have a simple lunch at the canteen or where I stayed at home. Days like these really bring the total spending down. I would imagine that 8 out of 10 days in financial freedom be like that.

Third, maybe it’s a competitive streak or something but it’s kind of irritating seeing days where I spend more than the average amount. Although I meant for the tracker to be agnostic towards spending, it’s certainly made me think twice before spending on something that I know will push the daily expenditure above the average. Of course, there are days where one big item (for example, paying the monthly parking fee of $110) will throw the entire figure above the average but such days are far and few.

That’s it from me. Do let me know if you have been using the tracker or if you experience similar feelings and thoughts when using a financial budgeting system.

So, this story turned up on my Facebook feed this morning and I thought it’s an excellent example of how life sometimes requires struggle before you see the reward. The story is about how the Philadephia 76ers basketball team is starting to see the results of a strategy that was started some years back. The strategy consisted of being deliberately bad for a few years in order to get better players that would be around for the longer haul. Unfortunately, the owners of the team couldn’t wait long enough to see the results and forced the general manager in charge of the strategy out. I’m not an expert on basketball and there might have been a less painful way to turn a team around but the one thing you can’t argue is that the strategy didn’t work because going by the 76ers current record, things are certainly much better than before.

What I think is important is that the above also applies to many areas of life. Some months back I read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist for the first time and the book tells a simple tale of never giving up and having faith in the journey that you have to take in order to reach your dreams. While the story doesn’t reflect the complexities of real life, the struggles that the character goes through for practically the entire tale does provide a cautionary tale for anyone who dreams of success- that the path to success is often filled with numerous false starts and it is a long and arduous journey not for the faint of heart.

Since humans develop habits by the way of a cue, routine and feedback, savings money is a pretty easy thing to do. Money that comes in from a paycheck (the cue) can be channeled to an account used for investing (the routine) and as you see that amount get bigger, you feel a sense of satisfaction (the feedback which is positive).

However, things can screw up when it comes to investing. After putting money into a carefully selected invested, the value of the investment could decrease. This leads to the investor questioning his or her ability when it may be no fault of theirs if markets tank in general. It may also not be of concern if the stock tanks in the short term due to unnecessary pessimism. The bigger question is, will the investor be able to stomach a decline in value of their holdings?

This is where I think it’s absolutely necessary to have an investment process which should be able to do a few things. One, it should help an investor enter or exit the market during periods of extreme valuation. Two, it should help investors select securities (equities or bonds) which have a more than fair chance of surviving in the long-run. Three, results should be evaluated over a period of at least 3-5 years and certainly not just over a year or two.

Having said that, sometimes we also need a little faith that we’re doing the right thing. Trust the process.

I heard about Cal Newport from a long time back when Newport was still a student in college and wrote the study hack book How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less. I don’t exactly remember when it was but it might either have been when I was a student myself or when I had just begun teaching and was trying to figure out how to best help my own students. Either way, I never got around to reading his book and in time, I think I will.

This review is for his latest book, Deep Work which was released early 2016 and to be honest, the reason why I waited so long to read it is because I never really followed what Newport was up to and I guess I never saw the need to read a book about how to be more productive.

All that changed when I decided to start on the ReLive project. Since the ReLive project is about living better, it is inevitable that I need to learn how to work better. I see two benefits to working better. One, I do better work and get rewarded better for it and/or Two, I get more of the essential work done quicker so that I can then focus my time and energy on picking up new skills and knowledge to further the ReLive project.

Deep Work is a useful book in that regard. In the first part, Newport paints a very convincing picture of why deep work is beneficial to anyone. His style is to present the thesis and then bring you through the examples and supporting evidence of his thesis. Needless to say, I picked up the book because I already saw the need to do deeper, more impactful work. What I was looking for were strategies on how to do that. This is where the second part comes in.

In the second half of the book, Newport takes us through the four main rules to working deeply. His first rule is just to simply, work deeply. This is where he suggests finding a routine. It could be (a) working deeply for long periods at a go like how writers shut themselves in a cabin in the woods for a week cutting out all forms of distraction, (b) doing deep work only during certain pre-specified periods such as academics working on papers and research during the term break or (c) penciling in certain periods in the day to do deep work. For example, this could be an hour or two before leaving the house for the office each morning.

The second rule is to Embrace Boredom. This rule basically emphasises the necessity of taking breaks in order to be able to continue deep work for longer periods of time. One useful tip is the suggestion that internet time be scheduled. For example, if you decide that 15 minutes is the amount of internet time you’ll get for every three-hour block of time, then there should be absolutely no opening of the web browser outside the allotted internet time of 15 minutes.

Although the third rule is called “quit social media”, it isn’t as draconian as it sounds. Newport makes a good argument for both keeping and quitting social media but ultimately leaves the choice up to the reader. The chapter also talks about decluttering and how the decluttering mindset helps when it comes to quitting social media.

The fourth rule is to “drain the shallows” which is to reduce or even eliminate the shallow work from your life. The two follow up questions I have when I read the title of the chapter are “how do I identify what is shallow work?” and “is it possible to even avoid shallow work?” This is where Newport nicely defines shallow work before running through a couple of suggestions like ruthlessly scheduling every minute so you know how much of your time is going into mindless, repetitive tasks, asking your boss to limit the amount of shallow work and to obsessively reduce and cut shallow work. I also particularly like how he suggests making it more difficult for people to elicit a response from you by making them craft emails in a certain way so that it’s easier for you to get a response.

All in, I highly recommend Newport’s book. You may not agree with all the suggestions in the book but after reading his book, I think you would agree that deep work is something we should all strive towards.

I hope you liked this review and if you choose to get Deep Work by Cal Newport via Amazon, clicking on that link gets me some coffee money.

Just a quick follow-up on the Spending Tracker.

I’ve been recording the amount that I’ve spent for 54 days now and it seems like the “average spent per day” has stabilised at around $50. By the standards of most people around the world, that must be an astronomical sum. Being able to spend $50 a day already puts me in the top end of the Global Upper-Middle Income.

global-income-pew-study

Anyway, this post isn’t about that. This post is just some clarification on what and how I track my spending:

  • I realised that it would have been easier to track cash as it flows out of my bank account. However, my over-zealous self started recording receipts even though it was charged to my credit card and the bill would only come some weeks later. You could just track the cash outflow when you pay your bill, that may be easier and would more accurately reflect the needed liquidity for cash.
  • I recognise that what I spend now is obviously not going to reflect the same kind of spending if I choose to stop work and it also does not reflect lifestyle changes at a later stage in life. For example, if I stop working, it’s highly likely that my spending on coffee and lunch will go down. As cheap as my coffees and lunches are, it can’t be cheaper than buying ingredients to prepare my own meals.
  • The tracker isn’t meant to help with granular budgeting so obviously, it’s not meant as a feedback system to know where to cut spending from. I honestly don’t see the need for that. If I can’t even tell where the bulk of my spending is going to, then I’m in trouble.
  • I also haven’t had the major once-a-year expenses hit my tracker yet. For example, I pay about $3,000 in life insurance premiums once a year. When that time comes, it’s going to raise the “average daily spend” by A LOT.

If you’ve been using the tracker or if you have been using some other system to figure out how much your average daily spending is/will be, do let me know in the comments below.