Economics of life 101

Dear Boys,

We have had this house for a while. There are things that comes and go, and we are quite pragmatic about what can lasts and what doesn’t, so that we spend our money prudently. There are some of the items we buy and my opinion on them.

Fans

fan 1  VS  fan

There is no need to get a cool looking Dyson Bladeless fan, which easily cost S$500 to S$1,500. Sure it is a cool (pun intended) looking piece of technology. But hey it comes with a 2 year warranty, like most fans, what does that mean? Will it break down 2 years plus 1 day? You guess is as good as mine. The normal fan next to it? Costs perhaps at best S$150, warranty? 2 years for most. When, not if, either one of them breaks down, which one will you ache over? A $500 fan or a $150 fan? I can buy 3 normal fan and cool 3 rooms compare to a Dyson Bladeless fan, to me that works better than plonking down big bucks for the sake of asthetics. No matter how good the Dyson fan is, I only need it to blow air, that’s all

Watches

casio VS  wacthes

Unless if you are into investment, I’d get a watch for day to day use, a Casio will do. Expensive watches are expensive to maintain as well, every time you send one in for servicing, it’ll cost a couple of thousands.

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew also wears a Casio for his day to day. He got a Rolex, which was a gift.

And yes, watches, do break down, and unlike time, it does not lasts forever.

It’s a lifestyle thing, of course, there are many merits one will sell you for getting a S$20,000 watch to slap on your wrist. But after than telling time, what else can you do with it? Kill bad guys by shooting laser?

Personally, when I do have the money to afford a really expensive watch, I’d get a Rolex. Why? In my time, you’ll hear about watch sales. But you will never hear about a Rolex sales. Thing that has value, do not need to go on sale for the sake of selling.

Wedding Rings

wedding rings

The one your mum and I have, is a simple Platinum band, which costs S$700 a pair. None of us have diamonds on them. I didn’t get your mum any engagement rings. She didn’t get carats from me. We like it this way, because while the ring is symbolic, it must symbolizes the meaning of the relationship, simple, pure and lasting. If your wife wants a rock, think again, while I wouldn’t your choice is ‘bad‘, you just have to make choices you can afford.

Shoes

We will go through many, many pairs in our lifetime. And all shoes wear out, if it is a S$10 pair or a S$600 pair. And when you put them on your feet, they mostly look the same. You can hardly tell an expensive pair of Oxford shoes from a average pair unless you have really sharp eyes.

Again the deal here is wear and tear. For shoes, I won’t go for the cheapest, I’ll go for one that is mid price, with a good brand, which I have heard of. I will not buy basement price shoes, because it matter what we put on our feet. Bad shoes can cause discomfort, or worse injuries.

For running, sports shoes, I’d choose mid price one, heck, I’d get lower price range. My rationale is, if I can run, I’d be running with any decent jogging shoes, and I’m no athlete, so I do not need high end performance jogging shoes, these costs more but do the same thing for me. I will not spend more than S$150 for a pair of running shoes. As long as they are comfortable, I can run in them, its good to go.

Pens

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Pens are another money wasters, while I have a fetish for pens, your mother will agree to that! I’m not a big fan of expensive pens. Pens are small and you’ll lose them. And ink will run out, and people buy expensive pens for the same reason they buy expensive watches, it is a matter of image, style and for the rare few, too much money they don’t know where to spend on. If you are a great writer, any ordinary pen will be suffice to convey your ideas, if you are rubbish, even a S$600 Mont Blanc will end up writing nonsense.

So no, I will not spend more than S$20 bucks on a good pen, most of the time, a plastic, ball point pen not more than S$2 is enough to make me happy. Anything more, you’d be better off writing with your blood.

Computers

computers

My mantra is to spend as little as possible on computers. I bought a Lenovo laptop which eventually became a white elephant. When I traded it in for charity, all I got back was a S$30 voucher. So no matter how expensive your gadget is, once it is sold, to you, and you trying to sell it off, will turn that $1,000 thing your bought into dirt cheap $100 preowned, preloved secondhand goods.

Bags

LV.JPG

No I didn’t get your mum any expensive S$2,000 bags, such as the famed Louis Vuitton. She didn’t want me to spend too much money of these kind of things. Her current bag is a Cath Kidson brand I bought on sale, I think it didn’t cost me more than S$200. It is a hardy bag, which is stylish, it does the job and you cannot ask for anything more.

While I write about this, if there is any bag brand I’d splurge, it would be an LV. Again, this boils down to the same ‘Rolex phenomenon’, you will never see an LV sale anywhere. They are a good brand, with a value and do not need to stoop to a level of ‘Sale’ to sell their bags.

Electronic vs Electrical

There are many items we use that relies on electricity. And nowadays, there are many more electronic stuffs than electrical. And electronic stuff typically do not have a long lifespan. There are modern myths and urban legends that hints towards manufacturers making thing that has a short lifespan, so that we can consumers can get trapped in that buying spree, so as to stimulate profits and the economy.

There is some truth to that as my Asus Zenfone 5 went kaput shortly after its 12 month warranty expires. Well, that is one of the many, I guess, but there are also electronic items that lasts and lasts, so the truth is really out there.

Nothing lasts forever

When we buy something, there is a certain high to owning new things, so while that is a great feeling, even some bragging rights to it, after a while it will feel like the same old thing. Everything settles down after a while and all items, not matter how expensive, will break down, so while you are prepared to spend top dollar for a material, will you still be thinking about it when it breaks down, and when you have to throw it away?

We are not stingy on things, but we tend to place value on the things we buy, and these values are more than monetary costs, which is ironic, since people mostly put a lot of money into things, therefore these things becomes ‘valuable’. We tend to differ, we value things, not matter how ‘cheap’ or ‘expensive’ they are, and when the needs calls for it, we will not hesitate to spend to get the best product money can buy, but when you think on the side of pragmatism, you seldom have to do that, most reasonably priced stuffs are quite lasting and does the job decently well.

 

The Big Island Theme Park we call Home

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Dear Boys,

We have been to a few theme parks, The Universal Studios SingaporeLegoland Malaysia, Disneyland Hong Kong, just to name a few, so you know what a theme park is all about.

The theme of theme parks is to make money by attracting visitors, there are many attractions in it to make the visitors goes in awe and makes them want to come back again. Theme parks need to continuously upgrade their attractions to make sure visitors are not bored with the same old thing.

There are 2 distinct groups of people in these parks. The visitors, and the staffs working there. Occasionally, we will get visitors wanting to actually join the theme park as staff, and occasionally we do get staffs, who use the theme park like a visitor.

This is not too far from the reality of life we are living right now

staff signStaff only

In every Theme park, there is a ‘staff only’ door, where, obviously if you don’t work in the theme park, you don’t get to go in.

What’s behind the door?

Well, that is where the ‘hard truths’ of the reality comes in, every theme park comes to life because there are many workers, working to make the rides safe, clean the streets, wash the loos, there are also the marketing folks who design attractions, sell them so that tourists will flock to the rides.

Many, many things are happening behind the door and none of the tourists nor visitors gets to see, should see, nor want to see. This is where the employees stays and be themselves behind the scenes, This is where the staff can let down and talk about life. The employees of the theme park isn’t always going about chatty, and pretending to be magical and all that. They have real lives, and once they walk through that ‘Employees Only’ door, they can drop their image of a happy trooper, and head back to real life.

Singaporeans= Theme park Employees

I can’t be more blunt than that, I feel a sense of hollow in our society, the blank stares are everywhere. Singapore, as a land exists as a hub, a trading port for people, goods, to come and go, that’s all. We have the best Airports and Sea-Ports for a reason, it is a place where ships, brings goods, come and go. Nobody ever really stayed really. It is a way-point for transactions, and in the midst of that transaction, we make money.

Money which we use for other transactions. We use money to make more hubs, so that more visitors will come. As long as we, as a hub stays relevant, and current, people will come, we will make money, just like Disney land. As long as money is the centre of our social fabric, we will remain shallow, and our whole lives, go from deal to deal, without actually getting anything meaningful out of staying here. We live in the constant hype of the high, created by the rides and theme park attractions.

When we end our work, we leave the office, we step through our metaphorical ‘Staff-only’ door, disrobe our banker hat, doctor mask, sales person costume, and go back to real life, we go back to our screaming kids, ailing parents, rising taxes, claustrophobic train rides, and of course, our 5 inch world.

The next day, is simply another Groundhog Day. Live, Die, Repeat.

groundhog day

The Government=Theme Park Management

People gripe at the government all the time. The government is always in a damn-it-if-you-do/ damn-it-if-you-don’t duality. But honestly, the government are mostly interested in the theme park, and how to keep it running. There will always be complains from employees now and then, but as long as the employees gets paid, everyone would just bear with it.

I’m not anti-government, just so you know. Why should I? The government don’t care about me and my opinions, because the government is never personal, they are always big picture; they have to, they need to keep the entire theme park running, if the theme park closes, due to mismanagement, all the employees from top to bottom loses. The tourists? They will just go to the next theme park!

Can Singapore be less of a Theme Park?

Honestly I don’t think so. As long as Singapore remains a hub, we will always have people come and go, and those who are here, the citizens, will always face short-term socio-economic cycles. We will never have a longevity of an heritage, people will never feel that they have a part of Singapore they really have and hold, and called their own. As with all theme parks, change is the only constant, attractions will need revamp. Those specific rides we love will go away, and we will be left with only fickle memories, which will die when we die. Even those who are dead, will be dug up and their places, replaced with something new, and swanky.

Lines between employees and visitors become blurred when the employees are often caught up by the fun and hype of the theme park, and join in as visitors, and play on the rides, get all high and excited, have all the fun. While there is nothing wrong with that, it comes with a price (yes money again) When the employees play visitors, who is playing employees? This leaves the theme park short handed, and the management has to resort to other means to fill the manpower shortage. That created another set of problems that warrants a new post by itself.

Here’s the rub

Well, boys, if you think working in this theme park is bad, don’t. At least the employees here gets a decent education, healthcare is taken care of. Nobody steals from the staff canteen. Most of your colleagues, gets together well. The management are genuine and listen to the gripes of the people and have the heart of the theme park in everything they do. It’s not an easy job running the theme park, and keeping everyone’s morale up. They are not perfect, but they are trying.

The rub is this, at least when you walk through that door, you see a theme park. In many other place, you get slums, you get landfills, you get polluted drains. We have a theme park going, so let’s try to make the best of it.

We live in the constant hype of the high, created by the rides and theme park attractions.

 

 

 

Machines Learn, Human Experience

Machines Learn, Human Experience

Dear Boys,

We are in the age of the Computer Revolution. Everywhere, people are making smarter computers, and at a consumer level, smart phones and other electronic products are getting smarter, and unfortunately, humans getting dumber.

‘Anything that you can repetitively do 5 times, the same way, can be automated.’

Every now and then we will hear on the social media, how a baby drowned because the mother is to engrossed on her phone. Oh, there are other cases, I’m sure. We don’t have to look at the news, everyday, I see people engrossed over their 5 inch (some 6) and becomes oblivious to their world. I get caught up in that sometimes, but I do make a mandate not to text while I’m walking or mobile. Seems odd, but I do stop to finish my text messages before moving on. And yes, while I drive, no phones, PERIOD.

This discussion is not about Digital Policy, I wrote about that already. Its about the more current socio-economic environment, where many people fear that robots are taking away human jobs. I think it will be quite a while before robots really catch up to human level of thinking and advances.

Why?

Humans, for all our fallacies, frailties and faults, made this world humans. While we tell a lot of self-centred humans out there, ‘The Earth was here, first. ” Likewise, we can tell the machines, ‘The Humans was here first.’ They may evolve, to take over the human race on earth, I can see that coming, but that will be a long time away. By then, Robots will be so intellegent, they will be waging war against other robots, sidelining the lesser species, the Homo Sapiens.

So while we say ‘The Earth was here first”, we are mother nature’s first lover, albeit not a very good one, as many humans rape, pillage and plunder Mother Nature’s resources. The better, human side of us is able to relate and experience, what our surroundings have for us. Machines, at this current level, can only learn.

Take a hike!

For example, I went for a hike recently, enjoying the scenic walk, also testing out my new boots. It was for fun, just to get out of the concrete jungle. While I was there, I totally immerse myself into the environment, feeling the breeze, walking and walking, getting into streams just to try out the water-proofing for my boots (which held up well for s S$50 boots) I feel at a deeper sense a relationship with nature. That’s an experience. The total distance was a good 15 kilometers, I think.

Can a machine do that?

Why not? After all it is just a distance. There are already a ‘bot’ walking with me, That’s my app, on my phone, called Runkeeper. Okay, let’s talk about a physical equivalent, yes, the very smart guys from Boston Dynamics, has created eerily humanistic machines, called Big Dog, Small Dog, which can tackle the kind of terrain I walked for 15 km. The difference is that, the machine will learn the terrain, overcome it, handles the ebb and flows of it, but will not enjoy it. There will be nothing attached to the endeavour, except data and function. The machine will learn, to stoop low, to get past an overhang, go slow, going downhill. Data will be obtained, everything the camera sees, helps the entire machine to manage the journey. That’s it.

They will never ‘get it’ that the whole 15km is about an abstract, random, serendipitous feel. The experience that I felt, looking at all the trees there, with respect and awe, these living things are here first, older than me, wiser than me. Me, a little puny human being, dwarfed by the enormity of the jungle, and yet so fortunate to have this gift of life.

Repetition is the key to robotisation

My mantra is ‘Anything that you can repetitively do 5 times, the same way, can be automated.’ I probably heard that from somewhere else, but it makes sense, and that will be how the machines rise. It will rise from the ashes of the Industrial Revolution, because we humans want to be productive, and make the same things over and over again, until some lazy bastard came along and invented stuffs to do that for us.

So is learning.

So don’t learn. experience. Learning is only one part, the input of information into our brains, learning is repeated again and again until we ‘get it’. But we don’t get it all the times, and I think that is fine, as long as you get the experience about it and from there a lesson. Experience,  is unique, it cannot be repeated. It is a whole body immersion, the problem is, in schools they expects you to learn, using only specific part of our body, if we continue to do that, machines can catch up, because they exist for a specific purpose, function and design. The fact that we still beat machines, is because we are a total, holistic system, the machines not yet. I can pluck out a key from the keyboard, the computer will still work, and will not feel pain, obviously. Try pulling a fingernail out of a person’s hand.

So we need to make learning experiential, then we can continue to be humans, because it is our own unique experiences that makes us one of a kind, any other form of learning, makes us human computers, pretending to be the real computers. And when we lose our originality, our original purpose, the real computers will take over.

 

Responsibility: Yours and mine

Capture.JPG

A friend of mine in his 30’s recounted to me how he used to call home from school when he was in Primary school, just to ask his mother to send his workbook, exercise book and sometimes pencil case almost every day. And I thought to myself, how spoilt and irresponsible, I would never have done that and I will never allow my kiddos to do that.

Of course, once or twice is fine. But it shouldn’t be too frequent, otherwise how do we teach our children to become responsible for their own belongings?

Then came this TNP article about a school discouraging parents from dropping off their children’s forgotten items.

So signs are put up at Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Primary School’s entry points that says: “Let Your Child Grow Up…Please turn around and leave…”. A bit hard-core, I know. But I think you need to see where the school is coming from here.

The Principal told the reporter that “taking responsibility for their own learning and belongings is an important life skill we require our pupils to learn as part of our values education…”

I think one reason for this is if a handful of parents come to the general office with items to pass to their children, then the general office will definitely have to spend time getting the items to the students. It’s definitely not productive.

Then of course there’s the main reason of the children not learning how to be responsible for themselves. Many of the comments for this post on Facebook, agree that spoon-feeding and pampering the kids won’t do them any good.

Honestly, teaching children responsibility should start at home. After all, our homes are the first school for our children. Children should be taught to be responsible for their mistakes or actions and learn to be accountable for their belongings.

In other words, the responsibility of teaching our children these values should lie on parents, and shouldn’t be left to the school instead.

Just to quote a psychologist interviewed by TNP, “if parents are constantly solving problems for their children, it will affect their ability to be alert.”

Are we being irresponsible parents?

Think about it, back in the good old days, parents used punishment to teach kids how to behave properly and be responsible for their actions. But these days, parents are busy working and making a mark for themselves in society that somehow the role of educating their children values fall on teachers. Are we expecting too much of our teachers then? Besides planning for their lessons, teaching and taking charge of CCAs, they have now got to be responsible for teaching students basic values? No wonder we have a shortage of teachers as a result of the high attrition rate.

Are we being fair to our teachers or not?

I do hope that more parents can begin to be more aware of the need to be more present in their children’s lives and be their kids’ first teacher.

Maybe the next time if your child calls you about forgetting to bring something to school, remind him or her that it’s your responsibility AND his or her’s to remember to bring it to school.

Written and Contributed by: Nicholas Lee

Link: http://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/dont-deliver-kids-forgotten-items-school-tells-parents