Thursday, March 25, 2021

Learning from Asta (Black Clover)

I seldom watch anime, but this year it seems I watched a fair bit from Netflix. While waiting for more episodes of Demon Slayer, I started watching Black Clover. It just happened to be in the feed so I clicked on it and realised how great it is. It's very inspirational. 

Pic from Amazon

One of the main characters in the anime is a young boy called Asta. He lived in a kingdom where everyone can use magic. It's like us using smartphones - everyone has one (or two), once they had reached a certain age. However, Asta did not have an ounce of magic inside of him. It's extremely rare to find such a person. The kingdom is governed by a magic emperor who once slewed a demon with his powerful magic. And in spite of all his limitations, Asta's goal is to become a magic emperor. Most people would have censored themselves and realised that in a world of magic if you are not a magic-user, you have zero chance of being a magic emperor. But certainly not Asta. 

He trains and trains until he can run as fast as if he is aided by magic. He trains physically until his reflexes and capabilities are no less powerful than a magic-user. And that's what so interesting about this anime. It's super inspirational. I'll watch it at the end of the day at night and will feel recharged and motivated. I make it to point to follow his way of getting through difficulties or obstacles. You just try and try again, even if you are 'beaten' till half dead. You get up and try again. 

But it's not like Asta will never give up on anything. It's more correct to say that he will never give up on the goals that he set for himself. There are so many people asking him to give up on his goal to become the magic emperor but he didn't care about that. I think setting his own goal makes all the difference to him. From here, we know a thing or two about setting goals:

1) If the goal is not set by you, you'll likely give up. This is the key difference between being intrinsically motivated or extrinsically motivated. Finding the point of trigger to activate a person's internal motivation is the number one thing that I am preoccupied with when I'm teaching my students. Not imparting knowledge, not correcting habits, not preparing them for exams. If I can find the correct button to press, they will fire themselves up and exceed even my expectations. I've seen that before.

2) Even if the goal is not set by you, as long as you don't give up, I think you've internalised the external goal. Well, somewhat. Otherwise, the instance you face obstacles or difficulties, you'll surrender. So I guess for all goals, try attempting more times than comfortable. Fail better. Learn from it and have another go. Sometimes the act of attempting more will also force you to internalise the goal, making it intrinsic. Why? Sunk cost. Since you've spent so much time attempting it, maybe you're 1 more try away from being successful!

I've not finished the anime series (from Netflix, there are 3 seasons there) so no spoilers in the comments! Looking forward to seeing how it goes. Now who says watching Netflix is a waste of time? lol

Live long and prosper.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Closing techniques applied to Parenting

Recently I read a book on sales, called SPIN selling by Neil Rackman. It's a pretty good book that talks about the differences between the traditional methods of selling low-value items and high-value items. I read such books because ultimately, we all need to be good salespeople. Either we need to tout our own horns or persuade someone to do certain things, we ought to be able to sell off an idea to anyone. 

These days, my young boy starts to get a mind of his own. He seems to realise the theory of the mind, where he discovers that he can form ideas and decision of his own that can be different from others. More and more frequently, he starts to assert his decision onto us, like the times when he doesn't want to go to school or don't want to brush his teeth. That's when I realised that I need to level up my selling and motivational skills. Young children are the worst kind of client because they are irrational, emotional based and acts on instinctual whims. They can be very hard to persuade, so we must resort to trickery lol

I learnt 4 closing techniques from the book. They are:

1) Assumptive closes - this assumes that the sale has already been made, so we ask questions like "Where would you want this product to be delivered?"

2) Alternative closes - this technique reduces the choice of a buyer, both of which are acceptable to a seller. It goes something like this, "Do you want it to be delivered on weekdays or weekends?"

3) Standing-room-only closes - this is the classic scarcity scare tactic. "We only have the last set left and that I have people on the waiting list waiting to buy."

4) Last chance closes - similar to standing-room-only closes, except that it is scarcity principle used on time. Early bird discounts are based on this principle. "The discounted price is valid till today and will go up tomorrow."

5) Order-blank closes - Fills up the customer's answers on an order form even though the buyer didn't indicate that he is buying yet.

The book says that all these tactics work on low-value sales, so it's a kind of pressure closing techniques. Wouldn't work for high-value sales, because those are based on relationship and that's what the rest of the book talks about. But as a parent, I think most negotiations are low-value type, so these should work well. I'll illustrate how I used some of these tactics:

1) Assumptive closes

When my boy doesn't want to go to school. I took his snack box and milk packet to show it to him. I told him that he can eat this in school later in the afternoon. This assumes that he has agreed to go to school, which he hasn't.

2) Alternative closes

When my boy doesn't want to brush his teeth, I'll ask if he wants to brush his teeth here or there. Both options are perfectly acceptable to me, but giving him a choice will allow him to commit to it. He doesn't know that there is another choice, which is not to brush. Fingers crossed if that happens.

3) Standing-room-only closes

When my boy eats too slowly or is distracted by other things when eating, I'll create some competition by trying to steal a bite. That usually creates a sudden urge to eat faster because the food is not only for him, there's another person waiting to eat it (that's me). I know it's evil, stealing food from young children, but hey, it works :)

This can be manipulative, I understand. There is a blurred line between manipulation and motivation. I do that to my students when I teach them too. Basically, the role of a tutor is also to persuade them to do something that they dislike. If I can't make them do that, nothing much can be changed. I see manipulation as changing the behaviour of others in order to gain from it, while motivation is changing the behaviour of others so that they themselves will gain from it. The difference lies in the intention behind the push for behavioural change and who benefits from this change. 

It might not be so evil when you know that children also employs such tactics to manipulate parents into doing things that they want!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Richness far beyond that of Silver and Gold

During CNY, I went to my mum-in-law home for dinner. My son was offered 3 ice-cream cones, of which he was to choose 1 for himself alone. But he quickly grabbed all three and passed one to my wife, one for me, and one for himself. I wasn't really interested in the ice-cream so I wanted to pass it to another person, but my son took it back and pressed it in my hands. 

It's quite sweet actually that he thought of his family first. It's not the first instance when he did that. There was a time when we went up to take an MRT ride somewhere, and there were only 2 seats left. Usually, I'll just stand, so I told my wife and son to just sit at the two empty seats. They did, but when my son realised that I wasn't seated, he rushed out to grab my hands and pull me towards the seats. This is an indication that I should sit down together. Then he proceeded to squeeze his big butt in between the two of us, lol

Is my son selfish? 

Can't really say so, because usually selfish is reserved for people who think for themselves alone. But is caring only for your immediate family considered selfish behaviour? I will say that it is. But it is less selfish than those who cared for themselves only, obviously. It's just that I think the sense of 'self' should be defined a little broader. What if we treat 'self' to be inclusive of the weak and the defenceless? What if we include all other humans? Other species? The world at large? Some religious texts will say that the self is a self-construct and an illusion - everything is really just one.

I know that is an ideal case, but it's really a good goal to aim for. If he can include his 'selfishness' within his tribe, and we work to enlarge the size of the tribe to include more and more sentient beings, he will be more compassionate and empathetic. That is a far fetched goal but nevertheless a good value to inculcate to the next generation. As parents, I think it's our sacred responsibility to bring up kids that will make the world equal or better after they leave, rather than worse. I understand that as a single child, my son might inherit some characteristics associated with that status, like selfishness, self-centred, entitled etc. I'm quite determined not to make that happen.

If my son grows up well and becomes a positive contribution to the world, that will be a richness far richer than that of gold and silver. Live long and prosper.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Having a gentle mid-life crisis

I am at this middle age where I see others doing better than me.

Their careers are progressing well, getting more recognition and pay. Then there are others who are making more money and are deemed more successful than I am. Their kids are smarter than mine. Their cars are flashier, their watches have more diamonds than there are numbers.

If I keep on thinking along these lines, I'm quite sure I'll get a mid-life crisis. But here's the thing - that's the cue for me to take a step back and re-evaluate my life so far. The young should and must take over the old, otherwise, society becomes stagnated and takes a backstep and everyone suffers. It's a natural progression for the next generation to step up and eventually take over the previous one. But am I ready for this change? Cognitively, this is rational and logical, but I'm more than just rationality. 

I think I have it easier because I don't have colleagues. I work alone and that shields me from a lot of pressure from comparing with others. There's no water cooler gossip about whose kids did better in national exams, no rumours about who got a bigger bonus. My blog saved me too. It allows me to network with many people from different slices of society - some older than I am, some younger. This gives me perspective and also comfort. I think it's good to know friends younger than me so that I can guide them along with life's milestones and share my experiences. Mentor them and guide them so that we can also share their successes vicariously. Friends who are older than me provide me with the reassurance that things will turn out fine, and will help me when I face one of life's obstacles. If I am with my peers only, I'll have a much narrower perspective of life and that can only be bad.

I think it's important to see beyond the material world and find meaning. I mean, I'm middle-aged and have reached the halfway mark of my life, and what have we got to show? People at this age will start to think back and see if they still want to continue wasting the second half of their life doing something that they dislike. If not, the sudden realisation that time is not on their side might force them to do a career switch, become deeply religious or spend more time with their family and loved ones. These are observations that I've made.

For me, I don't have a full-blown mid-life crisis. It's just a gentle realization that the stream of my life is no longer in the white water region, all fast and furious, aggressive and relentless. The time for that has passed and my life-stream is now gently meandering around river banks. It is calm and peaceful. And that's how I hope to see my middle age defined as.

Live long and prosper.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Astrea VI bonds : Buy or bye

There is a new bond offering for Astrea VI bonds. The sponsors of the bond come from Astrea Capital VI Pte Ltd, an indirectly wholly-owned subsidiary of Azalea Asset Management Pte. Ltd, which in turn is wholly owned by Temasek Holdings. That name SHOULD NOT immediately give you assurance of the safety of this bond and is not in any way guaranteed by Temasek or Azalea, so please be aware of that. 


1. Maturity date: 18th Mar 2031

2. Scheduled call date: 18th Mar 2026

3. Expected raintg: A+sf / A+ (sf)

4. Interest rate: 3.00% pa, payable semi-annually on 18th Mar and 18th Sep each year

5. Special features: 

a) If the bonds are not redeemed back in full on their scheduled call date (i.e. 18th Mar 2031, which is five years from now), there will be a one-time 1.0% pa step up in the interest rate (i.e. to 4.0% pa)

b) A bonus redemption premium, not exceeding 0.5% of the principal amount of the bonds, is payable upon redemption if the performance threshold is met on or before the scheduled call date.

6. The bonds will be listed on the mainboard of SGX (on 19th Mar 2021, 9AM) so you don't have to wait till maturity if you need to liquidate your holdings. However, you have to sell at whatever price it is transacting on at that point in time, which depends on supply and demand. The bond will mature 10 years from now in 2031 at par value if it is not redeemed at the scheduled call date 5 yrs later in 2026.

7. The conditions to redeem back all the bonds on the scheduled call date is as follows:

a) the cash set aside is sufficient to redeem all the bonds fully

b) There are no outstanding credit facility loans

Once all the conditions are met, the bonds must be redeemed at the scheduled call date. Failing which, there will be a step-up in the interest of 1.0% pa, as stated above in point (5a).

8. Min amount to apply is S$2k and thereafter in multiples of S$1k, with an admin fee of $2 that is paid upon application. You can apply through ATM (DBS/POSB, OCBC, UOB) or internet banking websites or mobile apps (can't do it from OCBC mobile app).

Closing date and time: 16th Mar 2021, 12:00 NOON

9. I'm not the best at explaining the cash flow and priority of payments for the investments. Here's a nice pictogram taken from the prospectus that I cut and paste here for your perusal:

Click to enlarge. Taken from the prospectus.

10. The nitty-gritty details can be found in the prospectus here.


1) The last publicly listed bond from Astrea is back in 2019 - that's for the Astrea V private equity Class A-1 bond. I wrote about Astrea IV bonds here and eventually subscribed to it, and it's doing pretty okay, even during the Mar flash crash where it plunged to the near par value of $1. It had recovered with the rest of the stocks in SGX.

2) Back then in 2018, the bond has an interest rate of 4.35%, with the possibility of stepping up to 5.35% if not redeemed 5 yrs later in 2023. I know it's different times now, but 3% seems to be a little hard to part with my money, especially if there is a real risk of losing your capital. Is it enough to risk your capital for 3% pa? You have to answer that yourself.

3) This is NOT a fixed deposit and must not be treated as such. Yes, it's a higher interest than a fixed deposit but the capital is definitely not guaranteed. Do not associate the safety of this bond with the name Temasek Holdings. 

4) I'm 70% sure that I'm not going to apply for this. I thought of getting some for my parent's retirement portfolio, but nah, better not risk it especially for 3%. I'm still holding on to the Astrea IV bonds though, and will likely hold until they recalled it back in 2023. The 30% why I am thinking of buying this is to replace the Astrea IV bonds that I'm very sure will be recalled back in another 2 years time (i.e. 2023). I'm currently using this as another place to park my emergency cash. I'm just afraid when the time comes to tap on it, the value might drop way below my principal, like during the Mar flash crash of 2020.

5) Based on a quick behind-the-envelope calculation, the already publicly traded Astrea IV 4.35% bond is traded at 1.056 at last close, so it's giving a current yield of about 4.1% pa, which is higher than the newly issued Astrea VI bonds at 3% pa. But don't forget that the Astrea IV bond is now trading at $1.056, which is above par value. So, when it's redeemed back at par value of $1.00, you'll lose $0.056 too. Capturing all these details, the yield to maturity of the Astrea IV bond is at about 1.5% pa, but we haven't included the bonus 0.5% of bond principal upon redemption at the scheduled call date. Included that bonus, we have a yield to maturity of 1.76% pa. Still lower than 3% pa of the newly issued bond. This means it's still better to apply for the Astrea VI 3.0% bond at par value.

All of the above information could have errors. I try not to do it, but it might still happen. Please do your own due diligence and I do not take responsibility if you act on the above information in any way. Not say you win money you'll donate some to me right, so if you lose money don't blame me!

(Update: I made a mistake and mentioned that the last time Astrea issued a bond was back in 2018. I was wrong. It's supposed to be in 2019 for the Astrea V bonds. I've already made adjustments to the post)

Monday, March 08, 2021

My naive views on financial independence

Last time I was quite naive. Probably still am, but hopefully less so lol. I thought that after reaching financial freedom, I can relax. No need to work, shake legs and spend my passive income and I'll be happy. I calculated my expenses to be $2.5k per month (that's before I have a lot more adult responsibilities like the current me), which works out to be $30k per year. Assuming 5% returns per year, I just need to get 600k capital and I'm settled. And that number just gets anchored in my mind for the longest time.

I am naive because:

1) On paper, having 600k @ 5% per year can settle my monthly expenses, but it just makes my life easier. I still have to work because there's no buffer. I can't sleep well with 100% invested in the market as well. In practice, I need more than 600k, probably 30% cash buffer will be very nice, which means a total of 1 mil is a more realistic figure to aim at.

2) 2.5k is really just good enough for me, at that point in time. I'm at a different life stage now, with more commitments, so 2.5k is just not enough. I didn't account for future life plans back then. Or rather, I didn't know what changes it will make to my expenses to account properly for it.

3) 5% returns per year - this is based on 'average' returns. I am below average because I'm not wizardry material. I know now, but I didn't know back then. I thought I can be Warren Buffett but I am just 我人不肥. I know myself better now and have a more grounded expectation based on data, rather than hopes.

4) Thinking I don't have to work after financial freedom is really naive. On paper, everything is fine but I did not have a more holistic view of financial freedom. In the past, it's all just about money, but progressively, I think financial freedom is more about philosophy. Ultimately it aims to resolve the question of what we are going to do with our lives here. It is more about meaning instead of materialistic pursuits. If we don't have a meaningful outlet to pour our life's best work in, we'll never end up free, regardless of whether materially we are financially free or not. 

Hence, I adapted this FI (financial independence) koan:

On the outside, nothing has changed after FI. We still do the same things as before. But on the inside, everything has changed. Our mindset and attitude are not the same and we will approach the same task with more purpose and meaning. Don't expect life after FI to change drastically on the outside - it's all happening on the inside where no man can see.

Live long and prosper.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Sharing my emotional upheaval

Whenever I'm feeling moody, or easily irritated, I try to correct my own biochemistry first. This means that I will settle all my physical bodily needs. Do I have enough food, water, rest and leisure time? If I don't have any of these, I will try to correct them first and see if I feel better. Most of the time, I do. Usually, I don't have enough sleep, and I'm always surprised by how much a good night's rest or even a short afternoon nap can do wonders for my emotional stability.

But if I did all these, and I'm still feeling miserable, I think there are some deeper issues at work here. There are a few types of issues, but I'm not an expert, so I will rather not mislead. I can only share the ones that I've experienced before. 

A long long time ago, the stock market crashed and I lost a large percentage of my networth. How did I lose it? I keep averaging down as it goes down, thinking that the fundamentals are still intact. Eventually, I can't take the losses and cut them off at a huge loss. That stock is Longcheer. Is it still around? I'm not sure. In hindsight, I lost more than the money - I lost confidence in myself and I was suitably depressed for about 3-4 months. I think it was quite serious because others around me can feel my gloominess and I even entertained thoughts of suicide. That's when I knew it was bad. I eventually clawed my way out of it by working hard. I realised that by working, I can put the needs of my students ahead of mine, and for that time being, I can forget my own troubles. But at night? Nighttime is the hardest period to go through if you're depressed. There are fewer distractions and you just have to deal with your own troubled mind alone.

I guess I'm lucky that I got out of it on my own. I might sink so deep that I can inflict irreversible self-harm. That episode made me stronger and more empathetic regarding such inner turmoil. It's quite useful in my line of work since students these days are so highly strung up that they might be just one trigger from crumbling catastrophically. I heard that more and more young adults too are facing tremendous stress and are suffering emotionally.

I have recommendations to make for anyone who needs such help.

I have a good friend Patrick, who did a mid-life career switch from IT to counselling. Counselling is not exactly a field that one associate with making big bucks, so you can be sure he switched because of his natural passion and affinity towards it. Nobody I know makes a career switch midlife because he wants to make more money as his primary reason (though it could be a 'side effect'). 

Patrick is now doing an internship, working for his clinical hours. He has started accepting clients for therapy and it is 100% free of charge and with no obligations, and no hard sell to sign up for packages. The sessions are conducted on Google Meet (fully HIPAA compliant) and will last typically 60 to 90 mins per session. If necessary, face to face sessions can be arranged near OCBC center on Saturdays.

What have you got to lose? At worst, you wasted your time only since there's no financial cost to this. At best, you find the right match for a person that can guide you out of your underlying issues. For people who needs this, I think it's a godsend. Patrick comes highly recommended by me since we've been good friends for many years. I might even consult him except that I can't, because he adheres strictly to SAC ethical guidelines so he can't do therapy for friends/family due to dual relationship issues.

This is not a sponsored post by Patrick. He didn't ask me to do this and I have no financial gains for referring clients to him. I just want to help him and believes that he can help others since I trust him enough to endorse him personally for his services. You can reach him through email at

Monday, March 01, 2021

I have a spate of good luck recently...

I had a spate of good luck recently in the past week or so.

Firstly, my car that was parked got bumped by another person (let's say that the driver is a male for convenient's sake). It's not a huge dent since cars that are parking are moving at a slow speed. The good thing is that he put an ang bao on the windscreen with his contact details and is willing to pay for the cost. That's cool. I have had people bumping into my car and running away. 

Secondly, my washing machine died on me. I had used it for 10 years so I guess it got tired. Thankfully it died when the water is maybe about 10% filled. If it's anything higher, the washing machine will lock up the door with the water inside and that will be disastrous. The good thing is also that there is only like 3 pieces of clothing inside, so it's not that bad to remedy the whole laundry situation. I always say that things that can be solved by money are a small problem. I've already ordered a new one, and hopefully, by the time this article is online, my laundry problem would have been resolved.

Thirdly, I put an order to sell a counter after my gym session in the morning. Perhaps I was too tired so I didn't check properly. I actually used a different platform to buy and to sell the counter, so effectively I'm doing a short sell. Thankfully after an afternoon nap, I woke up suddenly and had a sinking feeling that something is not quite right. I double-checked and realised my mistake, so I sent a quick buy order to neutralise the naked short sell. I lost $23 as a result of this dumb error, but the good thing is that I could have lost hundreds because of the penalty imposed by SGX for naked short selling. I'm also quite impressed by my sudden insight to check my sell order after my nap lol

Lastly, an ex-student of mine sent me an appreciation text. I taught him 10 years ago. Just the week before, I went by his address and thought about him, so it's really great to have him contact me again to tell me that he is going to start work soon. It's great to know that I did something right and changed someone's life for the better. That really made my day (and week).

Just always try to look on the bright side of things. Live long and prosper.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

How to save time?

To save time, there are really just three ways. The first way is to make our usage of time more productive, hence we use less of it, thus saving it. If instead of accomplishing just 1 thing, we aim to accomplish 2 or more things at the same time. That's saving time. The second way is to change our perception of how we utilise time to 'save' it. If we hate reading and doing any reading is perceived as a waste of time, then changing our attitude towards reading will make our usage of time more productive. Not doing something you dislike is time saved. Nobody wants to save time when doing something that they like. The third way is to spend other resources to save time. Usually, that means spending money to save on time, but not always. I can use relationship points to save time too. If I've accumulated many points to strengthen my relationship with a friend, I can ask my friend to help me to do something that saves me lots of time. 

This post complements the previous one. There are so many things to do and so many projects to accomplish that you might ask how can anyone do that? Here, I will share how I handle some of these tasks. It's easier to give examples:

1) Laundry/folding

Nobody I know likes doing laundry and folding clothes. You either outsource this to a domestic helper or you do it yourself. I like to do chores in front of my kid. Doing so will accomplish two tasks - firstly, I can teach my kid to do chores and not to take such things for granted. I believe in teaching young children without explicit instructions through modelling and setting good examples. There's no formal instructions or a PowerPoint presentation on folding clothes - he sees me doing it, if he shows a little more interest, I'll guide him and let him help me in what ways he can. So far so good. Secondly, I get to change my perspective on folding clothes, from an unpleasant but necessary task to a teaching moment for my kid. Thus, I saved time by accomplishing more things in the same duration (completion of chores and teaching kids) and also remove the unpleasantness of the task. Two birds with one stone.

2) Blog articles

I mentioned in the previous post that I give myself a quota of writing 2 articles per week. Until the experiment ends, I'm going to have to squeeze some time out to brainstorm for ideas and also to write/edit the articles. How to find the time for this? For the creatives out there, you should know that brainstorming is not something you can force out in a scheduled time. Just feed brain food (aka reading) then hopefully something good will appear at random when you're doing something else. So, the brainstorming part is already a time-saving activity, because it can't be scheduled anyway. When I shower, or when I'm falling asleep, some good ideas for an article pop up in my head, then I'll just quickly jot it down in my phone for future reference. What about the actual writing? This activity takes about 2 hrs, and I usually do it while working. There are some lull periods when students are doing work, so I'll just flesh out the articles (like now, lol). 

3) Reading

To reach my goal of 52 books a year, I have to read ebooks on my mobile phone. I very much prefer paperbacks, followed by a dedicated ebook reader like Kindle, but I've no choice. With a kid, I just don't have the time to sit down to read 1 to 2 hrs in one sitting. I've to do stealth reading - stealing minutes here and there to read. Quite irritating at first, but I get used to it by now. If I can, I'll also borrow a paper version of the same ebook that I am reading. I like to read in front of my kid, to let him see me reading. These days, I can see him picking up books to flip through and pretend to read, so I know it works. It's quite charming actually. Again, I want to stress that I'm trying to tick as many things as I can while focusing on one thing. 

I think giving three examples should be good enough to illustrate my point. I want to highlight the fact that I'm not multi-tasking. I'm just doing one thing at a time, but accomplishing many goals at the same time. Research shows that multi-tasking is not possible - what we're doing is actually just switching tasks frequently to simulate the appearance of doing tasks simultaneously. I don't recommend that because we'll end up doing things half-heartedly or absentmindedly. 

Live long and prosper.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Why am I pushing so hard?

My wife asked me an interesting question recently. I was telling her that I'm quite relieved because I've completed the week's quota for my blog articles. The quota stands at 2 articles per week, rain or shine, until an undetermined period of time. So she asked me why am I pushing so hard? It's not like I am being paid or sponsored right? And there's no manager behind my shoulders barking at me to fulfil my quota. So why?

Her question makes me realise that I am indeed pushing myself on different aspects of my life. I didn't even realise that. Here's a list of the stuff (I call them projects) that I'm currently doing:

1) 30 to 60 mins of practice on the piano every day

2) exercise every weekday for at least 1 hr, except on Wonderful Wednesday, which is my break. There are more detailed fitness goals to do on each gym session, like 30 pullups, at least 30 mins of running, 30 mins of weights training or bodyweight exercises 

3) 2 blog articles per week

4) 1 book per week (on average)

That's a crazy amount of things to do on top of work and family time. And I'm still deciding if I can add one more project - to practise digital drawing. One quick sketch per day. But back to the question, so why am I pushing myself like this? I can come up with a few reasons:

1) I value personal growth. Every year, I strive to be a better version of myself.

2) This builds up willpower. There are days where I don't feel like doing anything (like exercising), but if I push through that feeling and still do it anyway, this will build up a reservoir of mental willpower to tap on whenever I'm doing something difficult in the future. Willpower is a very valuable and scarce resource. Like mana.

3) I try to fulfil the 10,000 hours needed to master anything. At 1 hr per day, I need 28 years to clock 10k hours. At 2 hrs per day, I'll need 14 years. At  3 hrs daily, I'll need 7 years. At 4 hrs daily, I'll need 6.5 years. I don't have a lot of 6.5 yrs, not to mention 28 yrs left, so I better get moving right now and seize each moment as best as I can.

4) I try my best to be a good role model for my son. I want him to know that failing is okay, I just need to fail better the next time and try again and again until I get it. I want him to see first hand that as long as I keep trying, my practice will see some results.

5) It's important to keep me in a newbie mode. See this post to learn why.

Every person has 24 hours each day. That's 3 buckets of time with 8 hours in each. After subtracting 8 hrs to work and 8 hrs to sleep, we still have our last bucket of time. What we choose to do with this last bucket will determine how we are going to be like in the future. Choose carefully.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

So, which am I? A monk, shaman or wizard?

In the last 3 posts (here, here and here), I've shared what my thoughts are on different ways to reach financial freedom. I've done nothing new, as there are other more prominent bloggers who shared similar ideas that I've copied proudly with some of my own inputs. Essentially, one can be financially free by either reducing expenses (monk's path), earning a lot of income (shaman's path) and lastly by being a good investor (wizard's path). Let's explore that a little more.  I'll also share which of the 3 types I am most aligned to in this follow-up post.

One doesn't need to be a pure class to win the rat's race. In fact, I think being a pure class will be a much harder journey. I think we can all aim to be above average in just 2 out of the 3 types and we can still nudge the odds in our favour enough to reach financial freedom. Someone asked me which is the best way out of the three. I think that's the wrong question to ask. Rather, you should ask which way is the best based on your own personality type and temperament. At a certain life stage, it's better to play to our strengths instead of improving our weakness, because it'll give us the best reward with minimum effort. 

After investing/trading for so long, I slowly came to the realisation that I'm just, at best, an average wizard. Current abilities aside, the more important question is if I am willing to invest more time and effort to improve my wizardry skills. I think honestly, it's a flat no. There was a time when I've read the entire library worth of investing books and I think that time had passed for me. As it is, I have more and more projects that require my time and commitment, and that I've found it more meaningful to do. So, I can safely rule out being a wizard now. That's also one of the reasons why I'm moving towards Endowus to manage an increasingly larger and larger part of my portfolio so that I can concentrate on the things that I do best. Moving forward, I should have a small trading portfolio, a med sized SG portfolio (with good dividend-yielding stocks and REITs) and a large invest-the-world portfolio using Endowus. The trading portfolio is to curb my gambling instincts, while the SG portfolio is to generate passive income to supplement my active income. The main mover of networth should be the Endowus portfolio.

After tracking my networth for many years, I realised that the main contributor to my networth is still my active income. Investing gains/dividends is not the main contributor. What took me so long to realise that? I guess it's just stubbornness plus inertia. From my expense tracking, I know that I don't spend a lot of money as well. Hence, I must be a hybrid monk/shaman. Being a monk is natural for me, so much so that I have to reverse some of the natural inclination to save money to have a bit more quality of life. Does a bird have to think to fly, a fish to swim? No, it comes naturally to it. I guess being a monk is the same thing for me. 

At the same time, being a shaman doesn't mean I'm a super high-income earner. I am self-employed, yes, but far from being a business owner. But the hybrid class of shaman combined with monk means that I don't have to earn a crazily high CEO level kind of pay to reach financial freedom. The special power of this hybrid class is that I have a naturally high base savings rate. It's easy for me, and I don't have to suffer at all to maintain it. And that's the only way to do this. Because if you suffer too much over a long period of time, spending precious willpower every day for like 20 to 30 years, chances are that you will give up.

As I grow older, I realised more and more that there is some money that is not meant for me. The wise ones say this: when young, experiment; when old, specialise. When I'm younger, I'll dabble in all sorts of ways to see which is suitable for me. But when I'm older, time is increasingly becoming a precious commodity. And energy. I just don't have that drive to suffer as much as when I'm younger. I think it's natural because as we get closer and closer to financial freedom, the ability to take hardship reduces.  So, I'll do more of what I've shown to be good at, with less experimentation, especially those that requires too much effort. If it's not a hell yes, then it's a straight no.

I'm going to make the second part of my journey towards financial freedom a happier and a more balanced one. The ideal situation is that I don't even need to worry if I am going to reach financial freedom or not because I'm already living the kind of life I've envisioned after reaching it. The destination should become less and less important, with more and more importance placed on the journey itself.

Live long and prosper.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The 3 ways to Financial Freedom (Trilogy part 3)

 Fully expecting 

another knock on the head,

I shut my eyes, 

and slowly opened them in dread.

The old man seems older, 

he took a deep breath,  

gave me an unnerving stare, 

to try to freeze me to death.

"I'm going to show you the last way

to be financially free,

if this doesn't suit you, 

pack your things and leave."

"If you decide to choose 

the powerful Wizard's way, 

you will need to study 

until your hair starts to grey.

You will learn to read, to research, 

using old charts and tomes

in order to investigate anomalies

as astutely as Sherlock Holmes.

You will learn to manage money, 

and possess a mastery of your mind,

and cultivate an investing method 

that will be polished till steel fine."

"There are three Circles of power 

that an aspiring wizard must learn,

the First Circle is of Method - 

"How", "What", "When" he must yearn.

When honed to near perfection, 

it gives the Wizard an edge

to slice, to dice, and to push 

his opponents right off the ledge.

The Second Circle is of Money - 

essentially it is portfolio defence.

To manage risk or diversify, 

to ensure you don't lose your sense."

"The Third Circle is of Mind - 

the most important of the Circles.

With this last mastery, 

you can clear all investing hurdles.

A good Wizard is cool, 

especially when the heat is on.

The mastery of his emotions

makes him inert like Argon.

He's greedy in the face of fear, 

afraid when the rest are blissful.

A Wizard thinks and acts alone, 

yet somehow finds it cheerful."

"All Wizards are drawn to a field,

and have an area of speciality,

could be stocks, forex or crypto, 

bonds, metals, and property.

Actually, in the entire universe 

there are two branches of wizardry.

The first branch is the Chartist - 

a master of charts and all its trickery.

The second branch is the Investor - 

like Buffett, Dalio and all they represent

Matters not which branch in the end, 

if your annual returns exceed ten per cent.

"A Wizard is ultimately

a master of compounding,

conjuring returns 

in a rate that is astounding.

Twelve per cent returns 

with half a million dough,

in six years will turn to a million, 

and that's still considered slow.

By the harnessing and control

of his immense investing power, 

a Wizard wins the rat's race 

by this innate superpower."

And with this our story

has come to an end. 

So which of the three paths 

will you choose, my friend?

In truth, you don't even need

to pick just one path. 

Mastering two out of three, 

you'll definitely hit home-run.

So there you are, these secrets, 

I'm sure you will need'em

in your long arduous journey

of achieving financial freedom.

The 3 ways to Financial Freedom (Trilogy part 2)

But how can I choose which path

until I know much more?

Oh please, enlightened one -

do teach me, my mentor! 

The sage looked up at me 

and this is what he said,

"Those who choose the Second path

this road he will tread,

He lives the life of a Shaman 

who is an excellent rainmaker. 

A Shaman always finds a way, 

that clever money-maker" 

"A Shaman can invite a parrot

to grant the gift of the gab,

to charm his way around you

to make you pay for his tab.

By making an origami fold, 

he turns it into a spider 

that can spin the most intricate web 

for his network to grow wider.

By tapping on his special bond

with animals of Mother Nature,

a Shaman uses his druidic power

to call a bonded creature."

"After the summoning smoke settles, 

out comes a poisonous adder,

that can aid its bonded master

in the climbing of career ladder,

or a brightly feathered toucan

who just loves eating pecan,

that specialises in business ventures

to create a source of income. 

The way of the Shaman 

is to bring in so much dough,

that he doesn't have to try

to keep his expenses low."

"By boosting his total income,

and earning more than his peers,

he can save more in a year, 

what others must do in years.

Shamans can have two options:

First to climb the career ladder

by invoking the special talent

of his summoned death adder.

Second to call a toucan 

to build a business empire,

that rains a constant income 

to lift his networth higher."

"Savings is what remains of income

after subtracting what you've spent.

While the philosophy of the Monk

is to live on just one cent,

the way of the Shaman 

is to earn all that he can, 

because being a hermit or a caveman 

is never his game plan.

As long as he doesn't do silly things,

and keeps his spending in check,

the Shaman will win the rat's race 

by the power of his paycheck."

"So young one, what do you think?

Do the Shaman's path call on you?"

I can feel his attention all on me.

Let me think first....... mmm....hmm....ewe

I don't think I'm a Shaman,

never had a gilded tongue.

So many animals tagging along, 

Gosh, I don't want to step on dung.

Honestly, I don't mean to complain,

but being a shaman sounds so meh,

perhaps you can aid me once more

and show me the Wizard's way?

Sunday, February 07, 2021

The 3 ways to Financial Freedom (Trilogy part 1)

I heard of a sage 

who lives up the highland,

located in an old and hidden,

largely forgotten island.

I trekked all the way 

right up to his doorsteps,

to ask the wise man 

the secrets of his success,

and what ways there are 

to be financially free

so that when I'm working, 

I don't scream like a banshee.

After ten minutes 

(it could have been twenty),

he broke into a smile

that meant aplenty.

"Three ways there are

 to be free financially. 

The First is a Monk - 

the disciple of frugality. 

The Second is a Shaman - 

master rainmaker. 

The Third, a Wizard - 

investing kingmaker"

I'm not sure what's a monk 

(I mean... I do know).

Will I have to live

in a temple in Guangzhou?

Can I have a wife? 

Can I still eat at Tex-Mex? no no no no, 

does it mean I've to give up sex?

Before I could voice-out 

more concerns about being a monk,

there's a knock on my head, 

like I'm being hit by a trunk.

The wise sage continued, 

albeit a little angry,

"You can still have a wife, 

continue your hanky panky.

You need the eyes of a hawk, 

to track your own expenses,

and the immense strength of a bear

to slash spendings that dull your senses.

Eventually, you'll find felicity 

by basking in simplicity,

purging the toxicity

of living in complexity."

"The way of the Monk

is to keep his expenses low,

and not to compare income 

with people like John Doe.

By choosing instead to spend 

on things that truly matter,

he deftly side-steps to avoid

becoming a source of flatter.

Striving to keep his ego 

firmly on the ground,

he wins the rat's race

by simply sitting around."

"If you don't have the quiet temperament

of the frugal and disciplined Monk,

you like to party, to dance 

and imbibe like a wasted drunk,

then this kind of simple life

is really not meant for you, 

hence we shall take our leave 

and bid this path adieu.

The way of the Shaman

and the Wizard lies ahead.

Now of the two pathways,

which one will you tread?"

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Book recommendations from year 2020

Year 2020 is the year of the books for me. I read voraciously because I can't go to malls and I'm 'stuck' at home most of the time. But I'm secretly happy because that's exactly what I want to do most of the time - just blanket myself up, put a book on my lap, a pillow behind my back and read myself to sleep.

I read a total of 59 books, way exceeding my target of 52 books a year. I know, I have no life. Since I have the time, I also wrote down short summaries for all the books read. There are some worthy books have a much lengthier summary for my own records and learning purpose. 

In descending order of books read, here's the list:

59) The psychology of money - Morgan Housel

58) The almanack of Naval Ravikant

57) Network Effect - Martha Wells

56) Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory - Martha Wells

55) Exit strategy - Martha Wells

54) Rogue Protocol - Martha Wells

53) Artificial condition - Martha Wells

52) All systems red - Martha Wells

51) Manners begin at breakfast - Marie Chantal

50) Kappa quartet - Daryl Yam

49) X-men: days of future past - Alex Irvine

48) Lee Kuan Yew - Graham Allison/Robert D. Blackwell/Ali Wyne

47) Memoirs of an infantry officer - Siegfried Sassoon

46) Trollhunters - Guillermo Del Toro / Daniel Kraus

45) Too much and never enough - Mary L. Trump

44) Hidden girl - Ken Liu

43) The wandering Earth - Liu Cixin

42) Supernova Era - Liu Cixin

41) The weight of memories - Liu Cixin

40) Of ants and dinosaurs - Liu Cixin

39) Die with Zero - Bill Perkins

38) Beacon 23 - Hugh Howey

37) Hard choices - Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh

36) Ultralearning - Scott Young

35) Opposite of Always - Justin A. Reynolds

34) Hard at work - Gerad Sasges

33) Tripping over the truth - Travis Christofferson

32) Goodbye, Things - Fumio Sasaki

31) Waste tide - Chen Qiufan

30) Currency war - James Rickards 

29) Funny, You Don't Look Autistic - Michael McCreary

28) Things my son needs to know about the world - Fredrik Backman

27) How to forge a frogman - Max West

26) Islands of Genius - Darold A. Treffert

25) The collected stories - R.A Salvatore

24) Tattooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris

23) Boundless - R.A. Salvatore

22) The new "hidden hand" thread - compiled by Wes Penre

21) How to stop time - Matt Haig

20) Money wisdom - Christopher Tan

19) Maybe you should talk to someone - Lori Gottlieb

18) Maid - Stephanie Land

17) Art of simple living - Shunmyo Masuno

16) Wes Penre papers - 1st level of learning - Wes Penre

15) The man who solved the market - How Jim Simons launched the quant revolution - Gregory Zuckerman

14) Children of the Resistance series - Dugomier/Benoît Ers

13) Invisible planets - Ken Liu

12) Goh Keng Swee: A portrait - Tan Siok Sun

11) Don't fall for it - Ben Carlson

10) Win Bigly - Scott Adams

9) Can't hurt me - David Goggins

8) It's easy to cry - Subhas Anandan

7) The best I could - Subhas Anandan

6) Impractical uses of cake - Yeoh Jo-Ann

5) Loserthink - Scott Adams

4) The new case for Gold - James Rickards

3) Homerooms and Hallpasses - Tom O'Donnell

2) French kids eat everything - Karen Le Billon

1) Fundamentals of piano - Chaun C. Chang

As usual, I'll list down the non-fiction books that I think are great. You decide if you want to follow them up. Most of the books can be borrowed through e-book format from the great NLB accompaniment app Libby (not the NLB's official app).

1. Can't hurt me - David Goggins

This book is about channelling the shit that is happening in your life: all the anger, the injustice and the unfairness, and then funnel them into a motivating force to get better. This helped the author, at least for a while, but later he realised that channelling all the rage isn't going to work anymore. Hence he seeks a sort of contented peace towards the end of the book. The author's extraordinary life in which he overcomes all the obstacles is very inspiring. In the book, you'll see the major events that shaped his life, followed by lessons in which you can do to challenge yourself. Highly inspiring and teaches you how to suffer well. But who exactly is the author? He is the crazy dude who does pullups to break the Guinness record until his skin peels off but continues doing anyway. Or runs ultra-marathons once a week, something like that. 

2. Money wisdom - Christopher Tan

A collection of articles written by the chief of Providend, a fee-only financial advisory firm. I think the book talks about all aspects of personal finance, including insurance and investment. I learnt quite a few things reading it, to the extent that I went ahead to close the gap of long term care in my insurance portfolio by upgrading my Eldershield plan. Makes me want to really go and visit them, pay them a fee and see if I get my financial shits right before it's too late. Highly recommended. 

3. Ultralearning - Scott Young 

I can't stop recommending this enough. If I have to choose the one book to read in Year 2020, this will be the one. This book teaches you how to learn anything. It's the ultimate meta book on learning how to learn. This is one of the worthy books that I mentioned earlier and I made detailed notes in the link here. I expect that I'll be revisiting this book again and again whenever I need some tips and tricks to get through any learning obstacles in the future. 

4. Die with Zero - Bill Perkins

Another worthy book. This book changes my viewpoint on having a poor person's mentality to something more balanced. It's about not leaving excess behind and spending all that you want. I know I know how this sounds like. Doesn't seem fitting for someone on the journey to financial freedom right? But I promise it does make a certain sense. Not suitable for those who are spendthrifts in personality. Very very suitable for hardcore savers looking for another viewpoint towards frugality. Good quality of life, not necessarily materialistically speaking, is what the author is trying to convince us to do. And he convinces me.

5. The psychology of money - Morgan Housel

This book deserves a second or even a third reading. The author is a very good writer and it makes the lessons inside all the easier to assimilate. Each lesson starts off with a story (or two), so it is easier to relate to. Of the many lessons inside, a few stand out to me. The best lesson I've got out of this is that everyone is reasonable. It might not be for you, but it is for them at that point in time, so respect that. The second thing I got out of this is that we don't have to aim for the highest return, just reasonable will do. It'll be easier to sleep at night. Great book.

I read lots of fiction books. For those who don't know my story, I do not read fiction at all for many years. In fact, from after primary school until adulthood because I thought they are just stories. How silly. Non-fiction books teach one about life's reality and fiction books teach one about how to be a human. Both equally important.

For fiction books, I read a lot of books by one of China's sci-fi greats - Liu Cixin. Anything by him is generally good. Of the books written by him, Supernova Era, highly disturbs me. It's a chilling tale about how a supernova from light-years away gave off deadly radiation that killed off all adults on earth. The world is then governed by children. Will that kind of world be a world full of wonders and full of child-like innocence? In short, no. And it's a disturbingly strong no. 

Supernova era by Liu Cixin

Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Then when I was in the library, I chanced across a series of 6 books by Martha Wells named Murderbot Diaries. Oh My Goodness, it was so good. The Murderbot Diaries is written in the perspective of a part organic part inorganic security droid that called itself Murderbot. It hacked itself so that it doesn't have to follow the orders, and yet it cared way too much for the human clients that had hired it. The characterization of this part machine part human being is so good that it makes me want to read on and on and see what it is going to do. This has the potential to be a hit series in Netflix original production and I'm so glad to have chanced upon it. Serendipity. 

2020 is also the year that I started listening seriously to audio books and podcast. At first, it's a little strange, because I find that reading is faster and easier to absorb. But it's all a matter of getting used to this. Eventually it's quite good because I get to listen together with my wife, and possibly lead us to discuss related topics. Shared experiences are good, especially since reading is such a private experience. I expect myself to do more of this in year 2021.

Alright, that's all from me for now. Let me know if you have any good books to recommend me. Also let me know if you had read the books that I've listed here and agree with me that they are fantastic read. Live long and prosper.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Don't be a target board

Recently I've been reading on the works of Michael Bazzell. He is the expert in privacy and does consultations with people who need to disappear from scrutiny. I just finished his book on Extreme Privacy and learn some ways to better prepare myself if the need arises. Why am I reading such books on opsec (operations security)?

You must have heard of the revolt against the establishment by the people. These days, the fight is not out in the streets, like HK, but it happens in the digital space in the stock market. The 'streets' that they fought on are the counters GME (Gamestop), KOSS (Koss) and AMC (AMC Ent Holdg). Though there are no actual groups of people clashing against each other physically, the harm and damage done are very real. I'm not going to repeat the long story you must have heard countless times in social media. Can you feel the sentiment on the ground?

There are lots of angry people out there. Some of the angry people are also desperate and destitute. These attributes are not funny when mixed together. It creates a very volatile situation that will ignite and burst into flames that will spread all over uncontrollably. All it needs is a spark or two. I'm not here to debate who is right or who is right. I just want to make sure no matter what happens, I must survive it all.

Don't be like the aristocrats in France who are still sipping tea and attending balls, totally unaware that people from the Third Estates are already marching to the Bastilles to take up arms. For those who feel what I'm talking about, do the following:

1. Stop flexing. Immediately. Stop posting how much returns you make from your investments in social media. Don't be the spark that causes the fire.

2. Stop posting on social media about where you have been eating your delicious lunch, or where you had been out jogging when others are working. Don't let people with ill intent track your movement.

3. Stop putting pictures of yourself and family members on social media. Don't let people with ill intent know how you look like. Turn off tagging of photos on social media.

I think that's the bare minimum we can do. I'm not talking about more extreme measures like VPN, PO boxes, burner phones etc. Just don't bring unnecessary attention to yourself and your family will be a good enough preventive measure. Stay hidden in plain sight.

Live long and prosper.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Don't let your Organic Intelligence box me up

Recently WhatsApp had to roll back an initiative to share data with her parent company Facebook. This is after receiving a severe backlash from users, which led them to switch to alternative messaging services like Signal and Telegram. The perception of the data sharing between Whatsapp and Facebook is that if two persons are messaging each other about cars on Whatsapp, both of them will start seeing personalised ads for cars on Facebook. It might not be like this in reality, but that's the perception and hence people are pissed off about the perceived privacy intrusions by these MNC.

I think when communicating with people, we are also collecting personal data. Inside our minds, we have a little secret dossier about the things we know about that person. His likes, dislikes, personality quirks, birthday etc. And from this collection of data, we form an idealised form of what the person is like in our minds. It may not be the real person, but that's the perception of that person in our minds. And perception is often reality. 

So what do we do with the personal dossier formed in our minds? We do more of the things a person likes and do less of the things he doesn't (unless we invert it to achieve other more nefarious objectives). Isn't this similar to personalised ads from Facebook and Google? Their Artificial Intelligence is trying to mimic what our Organic Intelligence is doing unconsciously. In truth, we also collect data on others, often without their explicit consent, with the aim of helping us to achieve some aims. This is called under various terms, like team bonding, dating, networking etc.

I'm okay with the things that are forwarded to me because of my perceived liking. If I like ebooks, and I'm shown more ads or information on ebook devices, or new listings from the authors that I like, that's perfectly fine with me. But what I'm not okay are the things that are missed out because of my perceived dislike or just general disinterest. I might not like it eventually, but I still want to be exposed to it. Maybe after a few more exposure, I'll begin to like it? How many opportunities are missed out because I wasn't forwarded some information that I am perceived to be disinterested in or even hate? I guess we'll never find out because this is censorship straight from the source. Others just stopped sharing.

And here is the thing. While I hope Whatsapp do not share my data with Facebook, I also hope that my friends do not stop sharing things, especially those things that they perceived I do not like. I want the dossier in their minds to list me as curious, open-minded and not afraid to try new things. No matter what my age is. I want my child to tell me his favourite band, his first love and his misadventures. I want my friends to tell me new things that I am never exposed before and that I've never shown an interest in before, because they know I might change. I want them to believe that I can change and adapt, and not box me up.

So, delight me with your surprises.

Monday, January 25, 2021

The power of small changes

I'm doing a classic SMOL post here (lol!), so interpret however you wish. Here it goes:

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Blogging about blogging

Ever since I resumed blogging this year, I have been quite disciplined in writing. Each article takes about 1 to 2 hrs time to write, edit and essentially just be ready for publishing. This doesn't include time to brainstorm for articles. Hence, you can see it requires a certain discipline to churn out consistently. I'm trying to hit about 2 articles per week, usually published on a Monday and a Thursday to spread them out. 

The writing and editing is the easy part of the job. What's the hardest part? It's to come up with ideas to write on. And for this kind of creative process, you can't just set a goal and say I want to come up with 10 great ideas by this week. It just won't happen this way. It can't be forced like that. Some days you are wet with ideas, and some days you are just dry as a bone. In the past, whenever I felt that I have a brilliant blogging idea, I'll just leap up and type out a draft straight away. But these days, being busier, I have to quickly jot it down digitally before I self-censor or forget about what I wanted to say. 

Self-censorship during blogging is very real. There are so many drafts stored in my blog that failed to publish because halfway during the writing, I decided that it's not worth my readers' time (or my time to write). The article is either too lame or just too painful to flesh it out. These will go straight to the bin. If I keep doing that, it'll be a phenomenon known as writer's block. I read a book that says that to fight this ailment, we just have to keep writing and stop the self-censorship. Oh, and having a routine helps too so that the brain knows that say, after drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, it's time to do some writing. After a series of really lame and bad blog articles, something fresh and unique will (usually) appear. Then we can proceed from there. If I have no bad ideas at all, I think I haven't tried hard enough. There is a saying that an expert fails more times than a newbie had tried. Or a Chinese expert ate more salt than the rice a newbie ate. You get what I mean.

Over the years, I found that the drier periods usually coincide with days when I didn't have time to read. I think reading is a habit that keeps on giving and compounding throughout my life, and in this case, it helps tremendously in blogging as well. Reading is like brain food. If you don't eat food, you don't have energy. If you don't read, you don't have materials to write. As simple as that. My main brain food is reading. I think for others, it could be podcast or youtube or people that you meet up. Whatever floats your boat, man.

There is a certain sense of freedom in not caring about personal branding
and to simply blog without an agenda. It's like financial freedom, but on blogging.

To streamline the work process for blogging, I came up with the following steps:

1) Read daily and consistently to get ideas. The goal of 52 books per week still stands after all these years. In addition to that, I am also getting warmed up to the idea of audiobook summaries and podcast during transit times. Book summaries (I'm using Blinkist) are just summaries of books that are condensed into less than 10 pages. I used this service to get the main ideas of books (especially those themes that I normally wouldn't read) and if I really like it, I'll read the book from cover to cover.

2) As soon as a blogging idea comes up, note it down. I am using Google keep because it allows me to sync between desktop and mobile phone, but it can be any other note-taking app. I prefer digital app because of the syncing, and also because while I don't always have a pen and paper with me, I am very likely to have my mobile phone with me at all times. Since I wanted to write 2 articles per week, I need to have at least 2 ideas added per week to my note-taking app.

3) If I know in advance that I have a block of time (roughly 30 mins), I start to flesh out the ideas noted down in the previous point. This need not have to be free, undisturbed time. I can write while waiting for food or any other such times. Being a parent means free time is a luxury, so sometimes I'll have to multitask and flesh out articles when watching my child watch cartoons, for instance. It's not ideal, I know, but hey, not every minute spend with family is quality time. 2 to 3 such sessions of 30 mins each should be sufficient to flesh out an article. Unless I'm doing a creative post, like writing poems, or short stories, then it might take a very very long time. But it's fine because then, I'll be having lots of fun :)

4) Since I'm writing way ahead of self-publishing deadline, usually a week ahead, I have the time to edit and add some pictures. My picture quality can be improved, I know, but currently, my addition of picture within the article is simply to break up the passage into digestible chunks for easier reading. There are many should-haves regarding pictures - I could have selected more relevant pictures, arranged and edit more attractive ones etc. In fact, I have a grand plan to include my own drawings or illustrations, but it might add an extra hour or two. We shall see how that ambition goes. I've always wanted to do a long term project like drawing something every day and see where that takes me. But I'm afraid it might be too much of a commitment right now. KIV.

5) Publishing. I know some days are better for publishing than other days. Heck, even some timings are better than others. So far, from trial and error, it seems that the best timing is just after lunch. I guess a lot of people just returned from lunch and still getting their gears warmed up before starting work. So they will check their social media platforms to procrastinate a little. I don't know, it's just a wild but reasonable guess. It's not very important also, because these days, this blog is not written with the aim of making ad revenue, or for exposure, or fame. I'm not slamming people who are doing that, and personally, I've done that before too. It's just that at this stage in life, I don't need this anymore. I just want to consolidate my thoughts, gift aways some ideas and maybe, receive ideas in return. The plus point is that I can also freaking write whatever the crap I want to with nary a care about my 'branding', hahaha

That's all folks, enough of this meta-post on blogging about blogging. Live long and prosper.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Big fish small pond OR small fish big pond?

 If you have to choose, would you rather be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond? 

I ask this question because my students just had their O'lvl results. After so many years in this line, I tend to get less excited about their results. I fully understand how getting a great result will lead to undesirable consequences in life. I don't know whether to be happy about good results or be sad about bad results anymore. I'll explain more.

This student of mine, let's call him John, got a fantastic result of  L1R5 of 8 points. That is a freaking good showing in the O'lvl. It means almost all the subjects scored an A1 (the highest possible grade), except for 2 subjects which are A2 (the second highest possible grade). Fantastic right? So naturally, John will want to go to the best JC. But I know John since primary school; he's quite a nervous wreck and will often breakdown due to stress. As in, really breakdown, go nuts, need to visit psychiatrist kind of break down. If he goes to an elite JC, I'm worried about whether he will suffer another depression episode because we all know how crazily hard Singapore A'lvl JC course can be. 

So the question again: is it better for John to be a small fish in a big pond and go join a more neighbourly JC and be the top dog there? Or is it better for him to be a big fish in a small pond and go join that elite JC and possibly be crushed by the competition there and suffer any mental breakdown?

I tend to favour the small fish big pond idea, especially since I know John's 'pattern'. The education system is not worth shedding tears and blood, with the real cost of having a mental breakdown. I think the most important thing is to survive the education system with your confidence level intact. You do not want to come out of your schooling year thinking you are not capable of success. I've spoken to some NA/NT students and it's quite sad. After years of being hammered by the system, they have a tendency to think that their lot in life is only this high. They don't want to aim high because 'people like them' can only get this far.

In the past, I've seen a very clever and bubbly girl who got 250+ for PSLE, went to a top integrated programme school and got crushed alive. Does it happen to everyone? Of course not, but as parents, you really have to know the personality of your own children and most importantly, how they handle stress and adversity. Some will crumble and avoid stressful situation, while others will fight even harder. Choose carefully. Being in a top school does not guarantee anything with regards to grades. From what I've seen, most of the elite school assumed that the students have outside help (aka tuition) and so will go at breakneck speed.

For John, I've spoken to the mum about all these issues that worry me. She knows it too, so we'll be keeping tabs on him (if I'm still tutoring him, that is). I don't know which type of fish he'll choose to become, but I sincerely hope it'll be a salmon that swims against the current, jumps repeatedly over white waterfalls, in order to reach their destination. Because that is one fish, big or small, that is a real survivor. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Expert versus Newbie

I've been a full-time tutor for 18 years and that's a very very long time. I think if I have a kid early, some of my youngest students can be my children already. Over the course of 18 yrs, I've progressed from a newbie tutor to a more experienced one. I've probably seen the same question in exams over and over again for decades. Therein lies the problem. I find that I'm more impatient over the years, and less willing to try new methods because of past success. I mean, why fix something that works?

It's the problem of the transition from a newbie to an expert.

Being an expert makes doing things a lot easier and faster. After all, an expert has done the same things so many times and had seen so many permutations of the same problem to be able to solve it at an instinctual level. But it comes at the expense of being open-minded and seeing every problem as a nail just because you have a hammer. An example will be those lao jiao investors who had seen the stock price of Creative during the dot com bust and Lehman brothers crumble down before their very eyes, blow by blow. They will think they had seen it all until they realised, just an instant too late, that they had not. It's especially hard to be an expert in an open complex system like the stock market where the outcome is based on many different individuals with different motives and emotions. Are you sure you have seen all the permutations in your years of experience in the stock market? 

On the other hand, being a newbie makes you a little more fearful (okay, granted, there is another type of newbie who is reckless and ignorant, but not readers of this blog I hope) so you tread with caution. You listen and read up more, you stay curious and humble in order to absorb like a sponge. In other words, you sacrifice efficiency in order to learn. I remember devouring libraries of books on investing and trading, but now I hardly ever read one. Or that for every hour of lessons I have with students, I need to spend 2 hours preparing. Now, it's maybe 5 to 10 mins preparatory work per hour of actual lesson?

From ITG.Builder

The issue comes when an expert stops learning. He becomes stagnant and gets left behind by the changing wheels of time. A newbie, however, learns and learns, and eventually, he might become an expert. His destiny is that he too, will stop learning and ceases to be relevant to society. So, how do I break this chain?

I think the most important part is to recognise that you might not be an expert in the first place. In a closed system where the solution is not determined by other players in the system, it is easy to become an expert. A few years in such an environment will enable one to see most of the tricks of the trade. I think being a tutor is mostly a closed system. Year 1 as a tutor might find me sweating because I don't know how to answer a question, but by year 10, shame on me if I still don't know some underlying trends or derive some shortcuts to hack through a difficult topic. I probably would have seen most of what could be set in a topic by now. But in an open system where there are many players, each interacting with one another, it is incredibly hard to be an expert. You might be an expert, for some time, until the system adjusts to a stage where your edge is eroded away. A shining example of that is the stock market. As a trader/investor, you better don't think you're an expert. Always a newbie, always learning, always be that little cautious. The market is not your mother to feed milk to your wide gaping mouth. If you're not careful, it'll steal the milk bottle plus the baby under your nose.

Don't ever fall for the illusion that just because you are an expert in one domain, you are an expert in all domains. Not by a long shot. Most expertise, if any, are extremely localised and specific and thus not transferable. So don't think that because a celebrity actor endorses a hair treatment service, it's a guarantee of its effectiveness. Most likely, she has the expertise in acting, but certainly not in hair treatment. Likewise, having expertise in mathematics (e.g.being a top student) does not guarantee expertise in teaching mathematics. So when I know of parents/tuition agencies wanting a stella academic track record before hiring, I smile silently. They might very well end up with a walking textbook who excels in doing math but sucking big time at teaching it. 

Do something new and be a newbie in some new fields. This will keep you grounded and humble. The feeling of being a newbie is transferable, unlike expertise in domains. I think it's because if you suck at something, the feeling of being a loser hurts you more than the euphoria of feeling powerful as a winner. Hence, being a newbie in a new field might keep you grounded in the domain that you are an expert in. How about surrounding yourself with smarter, wiser people? If you see a diffusion of knowledge as the net movement of information from a person of higher knowledge to a person of lesser knowledge, being in such an environment creates the greatest knowledge gradient between you and the group, so you maximise your learning by being immersed in knowledge, so to speak. I guess this cuts both directions, so don't be the most knowledgeable person in a group. If you are there to stroke your ego, please continue. If not, move on and find a smarter and wiser group of friends.

The best of both worlds is to become an expert in being a newbie - someone who constantly puts himself in an environment to maximise learning, who is humble enough to recognise his own inadequacies in the field, and who is curious enough to keep learning in spite of, past successes. 

So there, that should be my new year's resolution. No...  this is bigger than a new year's resolution. This should be my lifetime goal.