Sunday, December 30, 2012

Show, don't tell

I received a brochure from an English enrichment class near my home. I was super impressed because of the great advice it gives to students - Show, don't tell. Basically that advice - for good writing to students - means that instead of saying that John is smart, you say everything that describes why he is smart. In other words, you show, you don't tell. I'll probably write something that goes like this: John can solve problems at a snap of a finger; problems that normally take others a good while to figure out.

I was pretty impressed! I thought in life, we should do all that. You know the thing about communications in Singapore, especially Singlish, is that we tend to jump to the point very fast and efficient. We Singaporeans are man (or woman) of few words, and some say fewer emotions.

Examples? Here we go:

1. What you want? (imagine the position of your hand with palms facing down, then you flip it up at the same time you raise your chin)

2. Makan? (coupled with a gesture of the index and middle fingers pointing out like a chopsticks, scooping imaginary rice into your mouth)

3. Makaned. (with hands rubbing your belly)

I think we should be less efficient. Talk more, describe more, show more instead of just telling. Try telling your boss everything except saying that you need a raise in salary. Try telling your wife everything except saying that you love her. Try writing in your resume everything except that you are hardworking, creative, smart and have good management skills. For the stock gurus, try showing more results instead of telling, haha!

It might very well change your life :)

Monday, November 05, 2012

Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear

I was having lunch with my wife and I happened to chance upon this car with a very special wording imprinted on the side mirrors. It's not the first thing that I came across this particular phrase but it's the first that I've seen printed on the side wing mirror itself. I don't think it's pasted on the side wing mirrors as I did not observe signs of a sticker's edge anywhere. I could be wrong though. Here's how it looks like:

If the words are not clear, it says "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear"

A warning, printed on both the mirrors read, "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear". The first thing that came to mind is that not all images formed by a mirror will appear closer than it really is. Only mirrors that are not flat but convex in nature would have images appearing closer than it really is. So the rear view mirror, which is flat, would have images appearing exactly where it should be, but not the convex side wing mirror. That is, of course, secondary school science knowledge. Good to know.

The second thing that came to mind, is of more importance to me. This is a reflection (haha, the pun) after knowing how successful students can have their past success impeding their future success. Strange isn't it? Past success should contribute to future success, and certainly not impede it! I've read reports where researchers did on gifted and normal students and see how they react to situations totally outside their domain of knowledge. For the gifted and very academically successful students, they tend not to try something that they are not immediately good at. The key word here is 'immediately'. They will give it a shot, and if people who are around them are perceived to be more superior and are receiving all the praise, these gifted students will give up. It almost seems that the gifted students are afraid to lose their excellent track records. If they are not going to be a prodigy in that new area, they are not even going to try it.

On the other hand the normal students, who are average or below average in academic results, will try out the new things until completion. They exhibit a better attitude towards trial and error and are more tolerant of failure. I guess they have nothing to prove and nothing to lose too, and that is exactly why they don't mind suffering all the failures that comes before success is reached.

Perhaps in light of the warning given on the side wing mirror of the car, good students should be given a warning in their report books too. What should it say?

Are you guilty of that too? Perhaps in your investments? Perhaps in your career? Perhaps in your life? Or maybe you've seen someone else do it too?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

THAT which is sacrificed to the god of Aphorism

As work begins to wind down, I started reflecting more on the articles that I read on other blogs. One of the articles struck me as worthy of further reflection, and so I mused more on it. The article talks about how compounding can be magical in the way that a seemingly small sum of money that is put aside will grow into a gigantic sum over a long period of time. There's a story of this lady Grace Groner who, shall I say passively, put a small sum of hundreds into the shares of a company that she worked for. Without taking anything out and throwing in an exciting mix of  bonuses, dividends and splits plus the most important ingredient of all, time (all 75 yrs of it), into the mixture, you'll hear a BOOMZ and out comes the magically surreal sum of 7 million.

While this story of an unknowing young lady blossoming into richness is pretty inspiring, I wonder whether the moral of the story can be as simple or as magical as "Compounding makes you Rich". I think the gadget called 'Compounding' isn't just a black boxed machine that churns out money after you add in the raw materials of time, interest rate and a principal sum of money. While these raw materials are necessary, they are not sufficient. In life, the things that are not seen are usually the most important. 

Grace Groner - the above said lady who is a closet millionaire that you would never suspect

I think the important unseen ingredient here is picking the right stock. But 'right' is so vague, so unspecific. In a general world of things, drawing a random line down the middle will divide all the things into two parts. Those that are not on the left side is on the right side, and we are none the wiser what constitutes the right side. Alright, bad pun aside, being right on a stock consists of many things. I'll try to list down some of them:

1. At the right time

2. At the right price

3. At the right amount

4. At the right industry

There are possibly many more 'rights' but my nutrient starved brain and sleep deprived body can't think of much at this moment. Ultimately, we know we're right when the market price eventually rises higher than our purchase price. It might rise slowly over a long period of time or immediately within the next few days, but we know it's going to be right when the market price rises higher than the purchase price. 

But that's the problem isn't it? Prices don't go up all in a straight line, neither do they fall linearly. When the price goes down, do we say that it's no longer right? What's the threshold that you are going to take before you call it quits? If you have a high threshold of pain, then you'll be accused of buying and holding a wrong stock and the magic of compounding becomes the curse of compounding, working against you instead of for you. I'm sure there are  many captains who went down together with the ship when their Titanic stocks hit an iceberg and starts sinking. But every once a while, you'll see cases when a seemingly sinking ship rises to the surface and soars to the sky. Are you going to be kicking yourself because you called it quits and throw down your shovel when you're only 1 inch away from striking gold?

I'll share with you this example. I bought HSBC shares in 2007 at a price of 137. When the financial crisis hit, the prices of all bank stocks plummeted and I seized the opportunity to get more of it at 28. My average price is around 75 but it keeps going lower because I participated in the scrip dividend program, where all the dividends that I get quarterly are channeled to buy more shares lesser than the allocated lot size. The year now is 2012 and 5 years had since gone by. I'm still making a loss of around 10% (there's many factors for that, one of them being the exchange rate, but that's another story another time) after 5 yrs. So what am I going to do? Am I going to be buy and hold or be right and hold? If I sell it, am I going to kick myself when HSBC soars up, say after 30 yrs, when my initial investment blossoms into a princely sum of millions? Or am I going to hold it, thinking that the magic of compounding will work its magic over time but ultimately letting my money sit on an old horse lagging behind all the thoroughbreds? 

I gave this example, not to seek advice on what to do, but to illustrate the difficulty of following market wisdom. For every market wisdom out there that extols the virtues of holding stocks for the long term and letting the magic of compounding do its magic, there'll be another one saying quite the opposite. Does it mean that only one of them is correct? Not necessarily. More and more, I think they are cosmic twins, the yin and yang of the stock market where there are no opposites but simply complementary pair. The real wisdom in reading market wisdom is to distill all the good advice and see which advice to follow and WHEN to follow. I stress the word 'WHEN' because I think all good advice has its place and while it doesn't take much intelligence to understand what a particular advice means, it does take a lot of wisdom to know when the advice is applicable and when the complementary pair is a more appropriate fit at the point in time in that particular situation. Market wisdom are supposed to be simplified reality squeezed into easy to remember sound bites. However, in the process of simplification, certain details such as the circumstances in which the advice is valid, becomes sacrificed to the god of Aphorism.

Perhaps in a parallel universe, there is this same lady who did all the same things but instead of getting 7 million, she found out that the stock she had invested went into trouble and all her money is gone with the wind. I wonder what sort of advice and moral will it be now? 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I'm a true neutral druid/wizard!

Did this survey to find out what my alignment and class is for the D&D role play found here. It's a humongous 129 questions survey - pretty long - but it gives a very detailed result which I put it below. Have fun, and do share the results if you did it :) Sadly, I'm no longer a ranger class now, haha!


True Neutral Elf Druid/Wizard (2nd/2nd Level)

Ability Scores: 

Strength- 10 Dexterity- 13 Constitution- 13 Intelligence- 18 Wisdom- 13 Charisma- 12


True Neutral- A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.


Elves are known for their poetry, song, and magical arts, but when danger threatens they show great skill with weapons and strategy. Elves can live to be over 700 years old and, by human standards, are slow to make friends and enemies, and even slower to forget them. Elves are slim and stand 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall. They have no facial or body hair, prefer comfortable clothes, and possess unearthly grace. Many others races find them hauntingly beautiful.

Primary Class: Druids- Druids gain power not by ruling nature but by being at one with it. They hate the unnatural, including aberrations or undead, and destroy them where possible. Druids receive divine spells from nature, not the gods, and can gain an array of powers as they gain experience, including the ability to take the shapes of animals. The weapons and armor of a druid are restricted by their traditional oaths, not simply training. A druid's Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that they can cast.

Secondary Class: Wizards- Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Singpost's quiet rise

Singpost's shares had been climbing up steadily, but especially so after the announcement of the new thompson mrt line. At least it seems so to me. The volume of the shares transacted daily also rose up appreciably, whereas in the past, this is usually a quiet counter. Out of curiosity, I went to dig up some figures to see how much the postal building at the affected Thomson Road Post Office located at 246T Upper Thomson Road is worth.

From commercial property guru site, a mall shop, 99 yr leasehold located at Upper Thomson Road is selling at $1.5 million for a 31 sq m space (built in). This works out to be around $4.5k psf. The Thomson Road post office is also a leasehold property of 99 yrs (since 31st March 1992), occupying a land area of 2753 sqm and a building floor area of 1793 sq m. Just as a ball park figure, this works out to be around $86 to $130 mil, depending on which area you multiply with the psf figure. The weighted average number of ordinary shares is 1,900 million shares. So if they are going to distribute out all the money from the property transaction, it'll work out to be around $0.045 to $0.068 per share.

Of course, this figure could be way way off, because a lot depends on the fair value of the property, which is hard to determine. I only know the comparative value based on another property which is trying to sell at this price, meaning that the price is not even the actual transacted price. So let's give and take - we'll take 50% of the lowest price of $86 mil, and that works out to be $43 mil and see what's the dividend like. It turns out to be $0.0225 or 2.25 cts per share.

Compared to the usual quarterly distribution of 1.25 cts and final distribution of 2.50 cts, this can be quite a bounty. Is that what people are buying up this quiet counter for?

(You do realise I'm not a qualified surveyor or property guru for that matter. The figures are just numbers plucked from a certain number of key assumptions that may go all wrong. If you buy the counter based on what I wrote here, you're nuts. Either way, the disclaimer at the bottom of the blog applies.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to borrow ebooks from NLB

Some of you may heard that our very own national library board (NLB) had begun lending out ipads with books preloaded inside or downloadable from the library site, in order to encourage the younger ones to take up reading. While I reserve my judgement on whether it's a good thing using ipad to encourage reading before children actually learns to read good old boring books, I think libraries going the way of lending out digitized content is actually a good thing. If you look at the many physical book stores that go bust or downsized (think borders, mph, harris, page one and times) and compare it to the proliferation of online book stores, it's not hard to see the growth of digitized content readers. This trend is certainly helped by cool gadgets like kindle and ipad, as well as smartphones.

And this post is going to share with you how to get e-content from NLB. Firstly, you'll need to sign up as a member. If you ever borrowed a physical book from the NLB before, you're already a member. If you are not one yet, join it, it's the wisest use of your tax money and it's free. Let's go:

1. Go to this link from the NLB site. Click on number 5, the overdrive site highlighted below.

2. You'll be prompted to log in using your NRIC, the first word of your name and your date of birth. If you are not a member yet, just join in. It's free and it takes only a few minutes to sign up.

3. Once you logged in, you'll be back to the screen in 1. Click on the same thing again, and another tab will open up with the opendrive website. You can search for books here. But most require you to download Adobe Digital Editions because the books that you can 'borrow' comes with DRM (digitilized rights management). You have to downloaded the Adobe software first before downloading the ebooks. After that, you can just click on the ebook and open it with the adobe digital edition. Since this is a library afterall, you need to 'return' the book after a number of days. In this case, after 21 days, the book that you downloaded will expire and you can no longer read them. Please don't send the expired downloaded books back to NLB by email, lol!

4. For example, if I liked this particular book, Zombie Economics. I can see that there are 1 library copy in total and 1 available copy for me to borrow. I think due to IP requirements, NLB cannot just let a lot of users download the ebook. It's silly, really, so let's hope this kind of thing that governs physical books be removed when it comes to ebooks. You just click on the add to cart button, highlighted below.

Then click on the proceed to checkout button to go through the transaction. After clicking that, you'll be asked to enter you NRIC and date of birth (again) before you can go on to the next step. So enter them. You'll then see a screen telling you how many books you can borrow. If you're a normal member like I am, you'll be able to borrow up to 6 books, each book being 21 days before expiry.

5. Once you confirmed the checkout, you'll proceed to the download screen. Here, it's important to download the Adobe Digital edition software (free of course), before you download the ebook. The ebook that is downloaded here has DRM and has limited reading period (it expires after 21 days), hence you need another software to prevent piracy. So click on the purple highlighted link first before you download the ebook.

You'll see two available softwares here. I selected on the Adobe Digital Edition. Not sure how the Overdrive media console is about, but you can try. Both should work. Anyway, for illustration purpose, select the highlighted one.

It'll bring you to adobe website where you can download the required software. Before you can access it, you can need to have an adobe id, which means an email and a password to have an account with them. Once that is done, you can finally click on the download button (highlighted pink) from the screenshot above this current one. Save it somewhere and click on it. It should open up Adobe digital edition and you can read the book off your desktop or laptop. If it doesn't open up, right click and choose to open with adobe digital edition.

This is how the adobe digital edition looks like. There's also 'days left to expiry' on each borrowed book.

Happy reading!

There's quite a few selection from just that overdrive site alone. If you're interested in children's books, you can select other links, though personally I've not tried it before, so no advice from me there. You can even browse singapore historical books and documents. Those are very interesting. Like this link, it'll lead you to a book that contains historical photos of Singapore in the 1900s. If you're so inclined to read the memoirs and even orbituary of Raffles, you can also find it somewhat there. It's almost like I've stumbled into an Indiana Jones' tomb of ancient historical relics!

Let me know if you encounter problems. I'm not an expert, but I'll try to help :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kindle dx graphite edition review

I very recently bought a kindle graphite dx. This is the newer version of the kindle dx that I had and it comes with free 3G, a usual 9.7 inch display but with the newer e-ink (pearl) display. The 3G really works and I can access a very basic web browser with it. Don't expect to do fantastic surfing with the browser because the refresh rate and loading speed, at least here in Singapore, is rather slow. I'm sure if I'm residing in US and with the whispernet available there, the surfing speed should be appreciably faster. Still, I'm happy with the basic free 3G services for stuff like looking up the kindle store, google stuff and checking wikipedia. That's a huge improvement because my older kindle dx does not have all these functions. These are secondary improvements to me, because the main function of having a kindle dx is just to read. The rest of the features are good to have, but not essential ultimately.

The best thing that I liked about this newer 'graphite' edition is that the contrast is much much better. I've had the older one for 2 yrs already and it's okay to read it with sufficient lighting. But once the lighting drops, you find that you have to squint to make out the words because the contrast isn't good enough. The newer one has purportedly 50% improvement in contrast compared to the old one.

As you can see, even without words, the background of the new pearl e-ink technology shines through. The older (white) kindle has a more grayish background compared to the graphite one.

Reading pdf files on the new kindle is better than ever. When reading pdf files which I do very very often, the older version will experience a drop in contrast. Some pdf files are thus 'unreadable' because you really have to make out the darker gray words against the gray background. Not a very good reading experience at all.

Two of them side by side. You can see the words jumping out of the background for the graphite edition, whereas for the older version, the words and background are sort of merged together.

But the graphite edition makes the contrast so much sharper. I tried reading in a place with very poor lighting and I'm happy to say that it can still be done. Reading pdf files in the past will also experience a drop in the page turning rate, meaning that it will take a longer time to turn the pages. Amazon made tremendously improvements in this department. There is still a very short lag between pressing the 'turn' button and actually seeing the page flip, but it's tremendously shorter. It doesn't affect my reading experience, even with the older version, because you can get used to such things after a while. It's like just before reading the last few words, you start to press the button already, and when you actually finish reading the words, the page turns just in time for you to have uninterrupted reading. You know what I mean.

Reading text files. Again, the words are clear and sharp for the graphite edition. This is not to say that the older version is not's just that you need better lighting to do it. 

Nothing much is changed when reading mobi or amz format. The text size changes seems faster than the older version, but you don't usually change text size on the go, so it's not going to affect much.

Comics look great on kindle dx. The large screens size means  more can be packed in one page without sacrificing readability. Try reading comics in a small screen and you get what I mean.

Due to the improved contrast, I think I can start reading more comics on the kindle. I didn't do it in the past because the words can barely be read using the older kindle. I'm actually looking forward to this!

A real work of art. The screensaver when you're not reading literally tempts you to unlock it and start using it.

I bought this for $370 from a kind gentlemen. He found the kindle dx with the big screen too huge to carry around, so he got himself a smaller one. I'm unlikely to carry this around with me and it's meant for reading when I'm not travelling, so the size is okay with me. It comes with nearly 1 yr of warranty so I practically got a new set with a huge discount. For readers who want to see what I had blogged about for the older kindle, do check this out.

With the new 3G function, I wonder if I can subscribe to some periodicals and newspaper and have it wirelessly transmit over to my kindle for my reading pleasure. It certainly opens up a whole realm of possibility. I'm going have a few sleepless nights of reading again...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Online loans

Online Quick Loans—Great Solution to Overdrafts

Payday loans are now one of the most convenient ways to borrow money. Banks offer loans with low interests however; approval takes some time because of several factors. Cheapest pay day loans UK offer online quick loans to borrowers who need loan for emergency situations. People have been using bank loans but recently, payday loans have become relatively popular than banks. “Cash loan instant” is now being chosen by people to get immediate money without undergoing long process and extended wait.

Payday loans can be costly because of the high interest. But still, this type of loan is fast and reliable since it can be approved in a short period of time. As long as the borrower completes all documents and meet the requirements, lenders can release the loan within the day. The loan amount is also dependent on the borrower’s salary figure.

Banks versus Payday Loans

Interest on payday loans can reach as much as 25 percent and must be paid in a short period of time. In a month’s time, borrowers should make the repayment of the whole amount plus the interest rate. Banks offer a minimal percent and it’s done on an annual basis. However, borrowers can be charge of a higher interest during bank overdrafts. These overdrafts are limits set by the bank on accounts. When limits have exceeded and extended, borrowers will get high interests and should be paid sooner than the expected time. Cheapest payday loans UK offers a one off payment in a month’s time. This process is more convenient since payday loans will not go through overdraft. People are now resorting to payday loans because of overdraft experiences. Some of these are unauthorized and cause problems due to high interest rates given by banks. Overdrafts are required to be paid in days or months which are expensive on borrower’s end.  Online quick loans can be easily accessed through the Internet. This can be a cash loan instant thing because of its simple process. Applications can be done online and once approved; it will be deposited on the borrower’s active account. This is a very convenient way because it’s a one day process as long as documents and requirements are complete. People who have experienced troubles with overdrafts have resorted to payday loans for their emergency needs.

Cheapest payday loans UK can offer you as much as £750 and can get it the same day. There are also other online quick loans that provide higher amount. Approval of applications is dependent on the capacity to pay and salary range per month or per annum. If you want a cash loan instant approval, you can check the Internet for more information.

Payday loans have become popular because of their accessibility. These types of loans are ideal for people who are in need of urgent financial assistance. There’s no need to wait for a long process and approval. As long as you meet the entire requirement, you will instantly get the money deposited into your account. It will not also give you headache on overdrafts because payday loans are set to a one off payment.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Diablo 3 hardcore

There's this game called Diablo 3 by Blizzard that I'm spending quite a fair bit of my time on. Having played the normal aka softcore mode using all the different characters available, I thought I'll try the hardcore mode for the wizard character. They said it's going to be a wild ride and it sure is. In hardcore mode, you can only die once and if you do, your equipment that you carry with you when you die will be erased. The gold that you kept will be saved for future hardcore characters though, so at least you don't have to begin everything from scratch, as I do when you switched from softcore mode to hardcore mode.

When you begin to realise that dying actually matters, not just in terms of the huge repair cost in light of the recent patch, you start to see things in a different light. Things that you take for granted, like wading right into the thick of battle, going off to the toilet while you're in the dungeon and taking on something bigger and meaner than what you can fight...all of these starts to become an important factor in deciding your longevity. I think everyone who plays hardcore mode knows that their character is going to die one day, but they still play it, although more cautiously (and justifiably so) than softcore mode.

I think there's a lot of relevance between playing hardcore mode in Diablo 3 and life itself. The lessons that I take away from playing hardcore can thus be equally applied to the game of life. Except that in life, you can only play hardcore. There's no ifs and no buts, no server lag excuses. If you die, you die. So make the best use of your life. The memory of the deceased will live on, even if the life and body did not.

Draziw....I'm never really imaginative, so says Zoltan Kulle

Hardcore lessons:

1. Buy the best gear that your money can afford. Constantly upgrade yourself. There's no point hoarding so much especially when you do not know when you are going to be killed by the next monster or server lag. Whatever left that is in your bank account will be left aside for the next character. Therefore money that is not spent on yourself now is not yours.

2. Spend more on vitality (aka health). If you know you only have one life, you had better spend more time building up on your vitality. More vitality, more health, and you last longer.

3. You have to play the game cautiously, but you can't play it too cautiously. If you spend so much on vitality and ignore your damage per second (DPS), you're just running on the treadmill - you can't move on. Take risk when you are ready, if not, your self doubts and lack of confidence means that you are depriving yourself of life itself, even though you are trying to prolong it by playing it safe. That is not the way the game is meant to be played.

4. Choose the right partner. Even though I played the game solo, there are times that I wish there's another hardcore character to team up with me. When choosing partners, it can be a double edged sword. Once another character joins in  your team, the monsters' health doubles - it actually become harder to kill. Hence, it's important that your partner knows what he is doing in order to maximise each other's ability. If not, he's just dead weight and will drag you down. Imagine you fighting solo for 100% of the monster's health, and you fighting solo for 200% of the monster's health while your partner is idling somewhere. It's just not right.

For all the Diablo 3 players out there, happy gaming!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Is it fair?

In my neighborhood there are three stalls selling economic rice. They are all selling around $4 each plate. One day, the stall that I've been buying for the past 4-5 yrs decided to change their price. They decided to import better rice and meat and fresher vegetables, with a catch of course. The catch being that they will reduce the quantity of the rice, the meat and the vegetables by about 1/6 of the original amount and it'll cost the same price. Despite being complained by consumers all over the neighborhood, the stall refused to budge with their plans. Their reason is that most consumers do not finish their plates and perhaps only 1% of the people buying their economic rice finish the entire plate. Since 99% of the people could not finish their plate, therefore they would not even notice if the amount of food on their plate is reduced by 1/6.

What's worse is that the surrounding stalls also followed. One of the stall haven't really raised its price yet so maybe I'll have to wait and see how it goes. Despite complaining to the authorities who governed hawker pricing, nothing is going to be changed. In fact, the authorities said that it's fair practice to reduce the amount of food but charge the same price since it's a universally accepted practice in other countries as well.

Seriously, what a bummer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The hen, the pig and the man

A man has two best friends, one a hen and the other a pig. However, he is unsure what their level of commitment that they have towards him. For all he knows, it may just be a one sided friendship. So one day, he asked a fox for help. The wily fox agreed and set to action immediately. On the pretext that the fox had kidnapped the man, the fox asked the hen and the pig to put out their most valued possession that they have in order to raise the money to pay handsome ransom to the kidnappers.

The hen clucked and said that she would give off 5 of her eggs to pay a part of the ransom. The fox nodded and accepted the offer. The pig, however, took out a knife and was walking towards the fox. Thinking that the pig wanted to attack the fox, the latter shrieked and was about to run for cover when the pig snorted that he is willing to kill himself so that the fox can cure it as a bacon to pay the ransom. Before the pig can plunge the knife, the fox stopped him and said that the intention would suffice for now. With that, the fox ran off to report to the man.

What do you think the fox said to the man? Who is the more committed friend? There's no right or right answer of course.

(To readers who found this story familiar, I twisted the story from Singapore Man of Leisure's blog. I've no idea why this story floated to my mind when I was having dinner tonight. I can't remember the exact story but the fun thing is that it doesn't matter. The gist of it, once captured, can be transmuted in infinite ways and still, it would retain the original flavor.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A frustrating week

I've had students who asked to stop the tuition once they did well for their exams or once the holidays are here. Usually I don't agree, especially for graduating students because I think the time spent with me is worth many hours spent doing their own revision, unless proven otherwise. I'm in this business too for the money of course, but there are times where I think the student is so well trained and I've nothing more to offer to them, then I would either reduce the tuition time or simply drop the student. I think that's only fair. No point getting short term gains in terms of higher tuition fees now but lose your professional reputation. I'm in this for the long run, so no short term fix for me please.

When weak students requested to stop the tuition during the holidays or because of their good results, I feel cheated. Sometimes it's like I'm being penalised for doing such a good job to turn around their grades. It's almost like hiring a very good team of police officers to take over a crime infested part of town. When the crime rate starts dropping, the people who hired them suddenly felt that the high pay of the police officers are unwarranted. What's the point of hiring such a good team of officers when the town has low crime rates now? I realised there are two ways to see this problem. One is that the crime rates are low because the police officers are here. The other is that because the police officers are here because the crime rates are high. Since the crime rate is no longer high, the police officers should no longer be here.

Being the person paid for a fee based job, I'm of course impartial. But those who knew how to use me as a mentor/tutor would know that I offer a lot more than just to improve a short term obstacle such as an exam. It's the framework of looking at things that I can impart to students who stay with me for a long period. It's the observation and basically knowing the characteristics and behaviour of a person (I know a student would think this way or that before he or she even knows it) so intimately and well that I can offer advice tailored just for that person. Do you change a GP who had looked after your family for years? Do you change a dentist that had cared for your teeth for decades? Do you change the hairstylist who had cut and trimmed your hair every month for a good part of your life?

I doubt so. But people view tutors as replaceable. I despise that and I hated being used as such. Is it because of the high fees I charged? Perhaps. But I did offer suggestions on how I can charge a lower rate. Just find another person to group together. You can't expect me to give you the best that I can offer but not reciprocate by letting me earn my living. I'm a full time tutor. I do this as a profession and I do not have any other jobs besides this. Did I not compromise by lowering down the rates because you said that we could have more lessons since he needed the help? But when the exams are over and the holidays are here, you now said that the kid must learn how to depend on himself but if there's any questions or doubts, can he clarify with me? My phone is on 24/7. The kid can ask me anytime he needs and I'll solve the question on the spot for him, without charge even when I'm busy. Is that not support given enough from my side?

I'm perfectly fine with that if you really want the kid to learn how to be independent. But if it means that I've to work doubly hard after the holidays because the kid couldn't remember anything anymore and I've to revise everything again and at the same time, do the new stuff when school starts again, I'll tell you gently - I quit.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Noble chart

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Be Brave.

A student of mine recently got 'scolded' by me. She was trying to solve a physics problem but she had no idea how to do it. I had a glimpse of her thinking when I asked her to think out loud. She said after doing this and that, she had no idea what to do. Then I realised that she is trying to figure out entirely the solution of the problem in her head before she even attempt it on paper. I told her severely that perhaps in simpler problems, the entire steps of the solution can be visualised before attempting it. That would be the ideal case, wouldn't it? You would have the confidence to go through the entire process of writing down the solution since you already had in mind what you are going to do next.

However, I told her, that as problems get increasingly complex, it's nearly impossible to figure out all the steps that you're going to do without at least writing down some stuff. As long as you some clues on how to do it, you should just proceed to write something and find out whatever you can from the clues, then let the things you had worked out provide further leads. This trial and error kind of behaviour in doing things would separate the good from the bad students. The good students simply tries something that they know in order to arrive at something that they don't know, whereas the bad students need to know everything before even attempting it. When they can't figure out a step, they won't even want to do the first step. The good students have the confidence to know that they would be able to innovate and improvise along the way to hit their objectives.

I was wondering how many of us are also doing that in our lives. Most of the time, we fear the unknown so much. But understand that fear drives us to either want to find out more about it or paralyses us straight there and then. No matter how much we research, there'll be a moment where you just have to press the trigger and decide to proceed on with the best knowledge that you have at that moment and just jump with leap of faith. How many of us are stumped and paralysed when the first unknown comes along that throw us off our path? How many of us reads all about swimming in books but keeps on postponing the actual act in the pool?

I can also think of many many examples of myself procrastinating objectives that I know would enrich me but because of my fear of the unknowns, I keep dragging doing the first steps towards it. I must believe that even without knowing how I would get to the end, I would eventually reach there. That definitely needs a leap of faith. From what I see, there's two ways  to get it - one is from religion, the other is by a similarly zealous belief in yourself. Both are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Have courage, my friends. Be brave.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's the minimum salary to live comfortably?

I was wondering what is the salary that one would need in order to survive life here in Singapore. It would not be surprising to hear a wide range, perhaps from as low as 1k/mth to as high as 20k/mth. That's because we want different things in life and for certain things, we really do not want to do without because if these basic comfort levels are gone, then our quality of life also decreases. After all, we do not want to merely survive; we want to live a life. Knowing that this would be a subjective topic, let's just start with me.

Here's some of the basic things that I need to pay on a monthly basis:

1. Food $200
2. Parents $650
3. Insurance $400
4. Mortgage for house $1000 (my part alone)
5. Phone and internet bills $80
6. Groceries $80
7. Car expenses + loan $360 (my part alone)
8. Water and electricity bills $100
9. Conservancy charges $60
10. Overseas holiday $100
11. Entertainment $50

Total: $3080

This amount does not include tax yet. But tax on a monthly basis would not add much to the overall figure. To avoid underestimating some variable expenses and to account for tax, let's just put a blanket figure of $3300. That should iron out all the variation in certain expenses and include tax too, which would make the figure a pretty good estimate of how much I need to live comfortably.

I think the median salary per month in Singapore in 2011 is $2700 and the average salary is $4,100. That should make the $3300 a pretty average kind of salary for a comfortable life here. But bear this in mind, if you really earn that much and spend it all, you won't have much savings, if at all. If you are retrenched, or just simply retired from work, you won't have a drop of money to last you a month. That means that if you plan to retire, you need to earn more than this amount. So how much is a good salary that can cover my expenses and to include savings?

I think savings 20% is too low for my liking, so I would say a minimum of 50%, which puts the income at 6.6k per month. With that kind of salary, I can pay my expenses plus save up another month of expenses for the future. This makes things a lot easier to calculate. For every month that I'm earning a 6.6k salary now, I'll  be able to NOT work for another month in the future. So, if I still have 20 yrs of working life left, then I don't have to work for 20 yrs till I'm dead. Of course, this simplistic back-envelope calculation does not include the eroding effects of inflation, but neither does it take into account what I can do with the savings that I stashed aside.

I mustn't let my income drop below 6.6k. But this year is a hard year for me, so far. Bearing in mind that in the future, the expenses might go up or down, so it's good to do this kind of calculation in the future again. My target of 100k savings is still in-the-works, and I still want to push my income level towards 12k. If that happens, hor say liao, haha :)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Changing market strategy?

Some people follow a market strategy of being a contrarian. This means that if others are buying, then you will be selling and vice versa. I think this makes a lot of sense, at least in theory. The hard thing is not about the theory itself, but deciding when the theory is applicable. If you look at a snapshot of all the available market theory, they will work in particular situations but not in others, hence to a beginner who is bombarded by a thousand and one market strategy, he will only get more confused after reading all these.

I am saying all these because it seems like people are trying out new strategies almost like changing new clothes. Try a bit of value investing, try a bit of momentum trading, try a bit of this and a bit of that. I'm quite sure some of the advice for a particular school of thought is completely opposite to other schools. I'm also quite sure that all of them work in certain situations. Hence, while it takes intelligence to understand what the theory and market strategy is all about for the different schools of though, it'll take wisdom to know where and when to apply it and more importantly, temperament to know if that particular strategy suits your personality.

But how do you know if a particular method is suited for you or not? Haha, seems like we're going back to square one. Perhaps that's why some people are trying out the new methods to see if it suits their temperament. Talk so much still goes back to the same point, haha :) Actually will checking one's XIRR to see if your method is effective works? I'm not so sure. First of all, when is the right time to say your current strategy sucks? 6 mths? 1 yr? 10 yrs? I'm quite sure for value investing to work, at least a few years (or market cycles) needed to be put in in order to ascertain a certain degree of confidence. What if one changes strategy at the critical point before it starts to work and therefore drawing the wrong conclusion? I don't know.

I've done my searching and circling in the past. I think I've found a method that works pretty well for me and suits my temperament as well. I'll be sticking to that :)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Sharing my monthly ritual

I just finished tidying up my month end accounts. I've been doing this for quite a while, so it didn't take too much time as all the necessary process had already been routinized and it's just a matter of clicking the right websites and recording down some numbers. Let me share what I do every month end:

1. Open up my excel spreadsheet. There are 2 books that needed me to fill up. First is the monthly expenditure. In the past I used to record all my expenses, big or small, onto that spreadsheet daily. But these days, I tend to consolidate over a few days to a week before putting them into the spreadsheet. I realised that I don't need such precision and accuracy now, because I already know what my spending pattern is. I take that as a reason to reduce the amount of work to do some tracking (it's not much work even if I do it on a daily basis, but a few minutes shaved off is still a bonus haha!)

After filling that up, I'll do up my second book -  networth. This means going to the respective websites, log in, and record the following:

Group A: Amount at month end of all my personal and joint bank accounts, as well as spare cash in the drawer

Group B: Amount in the money market fund

Group C: Amount of money in stock portfolio, based on latest market price

Group D: Net surrender value of whole life policies

Group E: Amount of CPF in various accounts

I do not take into account the market price of my HDB flat, but neither did I take into account the existing liabilities in terms of the mortgage loans. I will treat my networth accounting as such for similar asset that I had borrowed money to get it.

2. I'll also take the opportunity to pay up all my credit card bills in full. I usually use my posb everyday card for day to day purchases. However, for big items, I'll use manhanttan card to do that. I used to pay using scb's debit card for the rebate, but thought that I should conserve more cash since I'm a bit tight in liquidity the last few months. Why? Look at my post on the financial bombs.

3. Lastly, I'll transfer a portion of the cash in my bank account over to a separate account. This will form the savings that I will need to do every month. I think the amount doesn't matter (but it does matter if you want to hit a particular savings target per year), it's the act of putting aside a portion of your income that is important. I always think that if you do not save a portion, even a small amount, when you have this salary that you are drawing currently, what makes you think you can save when your salary increased in the future?  Thus the habit that is inculcated is more important that the amount saved, at least at the beginning.

What's the point of tracking all these, you ask? I think the greatest pros of doing this exercise is to give confidence to your own financial status at any point in time. You will know what you have at a glance by looking through your books. This will allow you to make proper and realistic financial decisions when the time calls for it. At the same time, you will also be able to track your progress over time and see if you had been doing the right things financially. Too much debt? Too much spending on luxury items? Too little income? All these will be shown in the books that you keep, much like the quarterly financial statements that public companies publish for their listing requirements.

It's good to see yourself as a company, especially in matters dealing with finance.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Don't be obsessed over financial freedom

The title says it all. Do not be obsessed over financial freedom. Financial freedom is for the future, but in order to have a future, you need to have a present. What if one day, your present situation changes, would the financial freedom that you have in the future still be meaningful? For example, you planned nicely for a nice retirement at age 45 with a cash flow matching your expenses, but suddenly your life situation changes - your spouse left you, you lost control of your limbs etc - would the financial freedom that you crave for in the past still meaningful? I doubt so.

So, while it's good to plan ahead for the future, it's never too good to be obsessed over it. What do I mean by being obsessed? Like forecasting every bit of income that streams in to the cent, like controlling your expenses now so that you can save a few thousand dollars in order to put in the stock market for the 'long term' for retirement etc. Live a life. Ultimately, you only live once and your friends and your family are only beside you for a limited amount of time. Once they are gone, they are gone, with only wisps of memory left for you to regret not spending more time with them. Youth will be gone in a blink of an eye too. Once you pass a certain age, your body will start deteriorating. The perfect travel-around-the-world vacation that you always wanted after your retirement might not be so perfect when you have to climb mountains and walk around with a weakened heart and a painful knee.

Hedge your life now by spending excessively sparingly. Always spend on things that you value, not what other people value. You never know when you are going to exit hotel earth, so hedge your life by living it, not merely surviving it. If you think buying a handbag will contribute greatly to your life, go ahead and spend the few k on it. Again, spend excessively, but sparingly. If you always keep a portion of your income as savings, there's no guilt to spending future retirement money away.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Complementary opposites

I realised, by living with my wife, that we have different ways of looking at things. She could fuss over details that I wouldn't bat my eyelids over. Or I could crunch over the numbers before buying things while she just looks at the colours available. I think that's the thing that makes us, as a couple, interesting. It would never do to have two person who are too similar. Wouldn't it be boring? Of course, we cannot be too 'interesting', otherwise we would argue at everything and anything and living together would be near impossible. I see this differences as being complimentary opposite.

I guess in the market, the two camps of TA (technical analysis) and FA (fundamental analysis) works the same too. They are different; they see different things and do different things. You can even say they are opposite, but I think they are complementary to each other. One just have to look at how successful AK applies his knowledge of both to his positions to know that it can be done. I guess each camp can learn a little from the other, if you keep your mind open and receptive to new ideas. It's really like two blind men trying to figure out how an elephant feels like by touching different parts of it - you are really only seeing one perspective of the bigger picture.

I think I did a post on this topic before. It's found here. Must be getting old and naggy.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Selling mode

Throughout the entirety of this week and last, I was trying to sell of a good part of my portfolio. I sold off all my aims before the run up and all my sabana and all my lippomall. Don't be alarmed by the word 'all' - it means different things to different people. I sold all because the amount that I had in it is not big in the first place, so it is senseless to try to earn that extra few dollars by staggering it into multiple sell batches.

As to seller's remorse, I believe it no longer plagues me. I conclude that it is essentially an emotional problem, you know, the twin forces of greed and fear. These days, I'm more emotionless regarding the market. Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, isn't that what the folk songs of old taught us so?

So what's the rationale for selling? It's just an old nagging feeling that something isn't right. I get more bearish as the market goes further up and gets more excited as it goes further down. I think that's the right kind of feeling to have, if you think about it. I can rationalise further by going into charts and all, but essentially that is just the carrots and potatoes that are served with the roast chicken. The main reason is that I don't feel good putting that much money into the market at this moment in time (I'm above 100% invested  - don't ask - before I sold off, if that's even possible). I think around 50 to 70% invested is more proper for me. But don't follow me, because if I change direction, I'm not liable to inform you and if the market rises up further, you're silly to blame it on me.

Do I always act on feelings? I think not always. But recently, I do. Newbies are not entitled to having feelings about the market, so maybe I shouldn't do that. But what am I? No longer a newbie? Or a newbie pretending not to be one? Nah, who cares....

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Results announcement calender

Here's the result announcement for this month. I'll be paying attention to a few counters that are announcing their full year results. I wonder whether this is the thing that keeps STI awake these days and wondering what will become of STI when the excitement dies off.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The swan song of local bloggers

As the market transforms back and fro into a beast that is neither a bull or a bear (perhaps it had always been a hybrid chimera of sort - a bull with bear head for instance), I noticed that more and more old timer bloggers are slowly exiting the blogging scene. I say that with a tinge of heartache, because some of them had been blogging together with me since I started circa 2006 period, right near the peak of the bull market. 6 years had since passed, with each of them patiently and industrially churning out articles after articles, sometimes to an unappreciative crowd of anonymous users, and hopefully not blogging just to yourself.

I guess there's a time and tide for everything. As we grow older, a lot of activities will exact their demands on our energy and time. Suddenly passions that you once had might have gone uninteresting and unloved with the passing of time, but that's only natural, since new activities might also interest you more and you would willingly devote more of your resources on them. Like the market that we, the small group of local financial bloggers, discuss, poke at and debate relentlessly, the blog that we had painstakingly nurtured also has its own bearish and bullish cycles.

I'll try to keep this blog for as long as possible, but I do not guarantee a full premium cbox features in the future as these premium features requires me to pay for your enjoyment. But as avid readers and followers of this blog can see, I've reduced tremendously the amount of blog posts here because I simply cannot muster the energy and patience to blog about another market related stuff. I felt that I've done that and covered that many times in the blog's illustrious (hopefully) 6 years since 2006, so it's just a rehash and churning of stale ideas.

Walk with me, blog articles by articles, and we shall see where this road will lead us.

Friday, January 20, 2012

How I read (almost) 52 books a year

Since a lot of readers commented that they had only been reading 1-2 books max in a year, I thought it'll be a good time to share what I did to read that many books. First of all, let me add that in my opinion, reading many books is not as important as reading the right books. I rather read less books but books that are important and crucial to your mental well-being, than to say, reading many many books that are just trashy. But it's the law of diminishing returns that really makes it harder and harder to find those books that bring the right amount of inspiration and motivation to pump your hand in the air and gave a mental shout of victory. The best books are books that told you what you know internally already, in a way and mannerisms that makes it so easy for you to absorb. If I can read a handful of such books in a year, I think it'll be a great literary adventure for that year.

I read a lot more after I wanted to have a more disciplined approach towards it. In the past, I only read like less than 5 books in a year. I thought there is something wrong with this because there are so many things - wisdom and experiences - captured in books, written by people who had lived entirely different lives, that if I didn't know about them, I couldn't be living a full life, so to speak. It's a very good habit, I'll say. Things that I never though I knew, I actually knew. Besides being able to talk about almost anything, I find it useful in my work when I can relate certain facts or story and weave them into my lesson plans when teaching.

These days, I'm more likely to hold a ebook reader than a physical book

Anyway, here's how to squeeze more time and have some spare time to read:

1. I never watch tv. In fact, I don't even have a tv at home now, a fact that I'm proud of (despite the many cries by relatives and friends for me to go get a tv). I watch things from my computer though, because firstly I can skip by all the advertisements that a show usually will be splattered with, intermittently every 15 mins or so. I used the spare time to read instead. Roughly I can save around 2-3 hours like that to spend on reading.

2. I read while commuting. Though I don't bring my gigantic kindle dx around with me when I travel, I either have a physical book with me or an ebook saved in my handphone for idle time that pops out occasionally. I make it a point to always have something that I want to read in my bag (or handphone) so that when I'm commuting or when friends I'm meeting are late, I can whip it out to spend the time. Since I've reduced the amount of time that I spent travelling now, I read in between classes while waiting for students to come. I think I can save around 1 hr per day reading by doing this.

3. I always read before going to bed. Minimum of 30 mins or until a suitable stopping point in the book. It had been a habit since a long time, so besides calming me down to ready my mind to go to rest, it also serve as a routine that brings me to sleep. If I don't do it, I might even have problem sleeping! I think everyone needs to prepare for bed by doing things that will relax their body, so that when they actually go about sleeping, their mind will not be so alert and restless. This bedtime reading will allow me to spend a minimum of 30 mins to 2 hours reading.

So, in total, I think I can do about a minimum of 3 hours of reading time per day on average. Of course, there are other hobbies that I would do occasionally if I'm not reading, like guitar and playing computer games. But I think spreading between these few hobbies that I have, it's not too hard to be able to read an average sized book (around 2-3 cm thick) in a week.

Try it, you might find how easy it catches on!

(I'm off for a trip on 21st Jan, will be back on 26th Jan)

Monday, January 09, 2012

Reflection on 2011

After doing my end of month accounting for the Dec 2011 and thus wrap up my financial year 2011, I realised that a lot of my networth was wiped out. Okay, everyone's definition of networth is different, so here's mine - it's defined as all my assets (includes cash, marked to market investment portfolio, whole life insurance cash value, mmf  and cpf) but excludes my residential property. I also didn't include debts that I owed to the hdb because of the property. I think you can roughly say that's my investible networth since most of it is cash that I can utilize at short notice. I know you can't use cpf anytime you want, but then again, I don't have much of it anyway, so it doesn't matter significantly.

With this kind of definition, I realised that my networth is whacked down to around 2008, way before I had started any kind of disciplined savings. I had never had so little money in my savings account; the last time being just right after I had graduated from university. Wow, what a journey that I had in 2010/2011 right? But I had never had so much satisfaction and fun, so it's all worth it.

I realised that I had to begin from scratch again, working hard, savings hard and building up that excess money that I can hoard away for maybe another life's big bombs to hit me again. Sometimes I wondered if I had spend way more than I can handle. But the deed is done, so there's only one way to go and that's forward. I guess it's back to the 50k per year savings target. I'm really trying hard to double that savings but I think realistically, it's not going to happen this year 2012. There's simply no way to save more than I can afford to do so without sacrificing my current standard of living, so I'll have to do it by upping my income level. That's the challenge isn't it? I think if I can manage to save up 50k this year without including my mortgage payment, it'll be quite a feat already. That's technically 60-70k in total. Gulp.

So what had I set out to do in 2011?

1. Save 50k. Okay, that's old story, been there done that. Even though halfway along the year, I had to start paying mortgage for my flat, so the 50k includes all the mortgage payment too (I don't have much cpf, as mentioned earlier, so all of it is through cash)

2. Read 52 books a year. Nope, didn't manage to do that but I came quite close at 50 books. Here's the books that I read in 2011. Most of it is fiction, not some financial books that I've been gorging on since 2006. I realised that fiction taught me a lot on how to be human being. I haven't been reading so much fiction since my primary school day. PRIMARY SCHOOL - can you believe that? My brains must be super lopsided, haha!

You can see that I'm a loyal reader. If I like a particular author, I tend to 'cheong' all his/her books.

3. Set up and finish up the house. Okay, that's mostly done too. I still haven't got my bedside table and a tv. Yes, most people who came up to my house will definitely remark on the fact that I don't have any tv at home. I just don't see how a tv will fit into my life, so that's quite a low priority in my waiting list of things to buy.

In retrospect, I think 2011 had been a fulfilling year. It's a year that I had spent more than I had ever done in my life. It's a year that my friendship with my parents had just begun. It's a year that I had experienced a lot of new things (like cooking and maintaining the home, buying furniture, supervising renovation etc). It is certainly a year that is a big milestone in my life