spare cash


The trigger was reading that the old £10 note has gone out of circulation. Then I realised that the old £5 notes expired in 2017. I looked in my drawer and I have both, eeek. Not a huge amount, added up to under £100. I also have a variety of different currencies, left over from travelling: eur, chf, dkk, jpy, krw, thb, sgd, aud, nzd, cad. Not sure when I’ll get a chance to return to those countries so I decided instead of keeping the spare cash at home, I should drop them off at the bank. I’ll keep £20 notes since they won’t go out of circulation till 2019. And usd because I go to the US most often.

Some currencies I can deposit directly into my multi-currency account and there won’t be a fee if I want to take it out next time. The smaller, rarer currencies the bank had to convert to local$ before depositing. They don’t have a real demand for accounts in dkk, for example. It took the poor cashier some time to handle the transactions, even though I’d already bundled different currencies, written down how many notes and the total. She still needed to officially count them and give me a deposit slip for each currency. All in all, I freed up a fair bit of space in my drawer and my bank balance went up by a tiny amount.

random finance

We met a friend of ours, P, for lunch at a Japanese restaurant he recommended. Good choice, the food was fresh and the location convenient for all. P said he bought a small apartment in the Ōta region of Tokyo, which is southwest of Tokyo towards Yokohama. So jealous!! I wonder if we can rent it from him for short visits.


We talked about current affairs, Brexit, property, where we like travelling to in Japan, and since he is a branch manager of a local bank, what investment products are good right now. He stayed on the conservative side, telling us about guarantee funds, life insurance based products, and mortgage funds. Have to do some reading on mortgage funds, not as familiar as I would like. I do know that they are supposed to be relatively low risk and generate returns a bit better than money market funds. They’re supposed to be more resistant to interest rate fluctuations–when interest rates are low, income from mortgages are low but underlying equities do well; when interest rates are high, equity markets tend to correct but mortgage funds have higher payments supporting it.

Red flags to watch out for in mortgage funds: where it invests, the type of underlying loans, entrance fee, exit fee, management fee, whether it pays all dividends or partial dividends.

My risk appetite is higher than this although I try to take a balanced approach. Anyway I should take a look at my investments, seeing how volatile the market has been this week. I’m not going to panic sell, because I’m not in need of any of those funds. But it may be a good opportunity to find some bargains.

what Ken Cheng thinks about the new pound coin

Dave’s funniest joke at Edinburgh Fringe was awarded to Ken Cheng. The prize, now in its 10th year, is awarded to the best one-liner. Ken’s winning joke:

I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change

Ken studied at Cambridge and was a finalist in the 2015 BBC Radio New Comedy award. Found an excerpt of his Fringe act. I thought it was…okay. I preferred his set at the NCA finals. Perhaps it’s the subject matter. Talking about ‘Chinese Comedian’ is not as funny as dissecting the phrase ‘Two Birds One Stone.’ The bit about laundry and the South African cricket team was funny, although it sounds funnier when delivered by a professional comedian.


Anyway, what’s up with the new pound coin. The specs, according to the Royal Mint:

  • 12-sided so easily recognisable
  • made from nickel-brass and nickel-plated alloy
  • has an image-like a hologram that changes from £ to 1 when viewed from different angles
  • very small lettering at the rims
  • grooves on alternate sides
  • a hidden security feature

The design combines the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Scottish thistle, and the Northern Irish shamrock which is pretty representative.

Reaction to the new coin seems to be mixed with most people, as Ken said, hating change. I think it’s quite cool, and if it stops conterfeiting, I’m all for it. I remember when the pound coin first came out and how people didn’t like how heavy it was. We’ve all gotten used to it. I checked my wallet and I have £6 in pound coins. Beyond October 2017 I’ll have to change them at a bank. Since it’s such a small amount, i may keep them as souvenir. I have some old 10p and 50p coins somewhere.

the end of an era


When I was at school, lower or upper fifth year IIRC, I entered a short general knowledge quiz. Those days, there was no internet so I had to write the answers on a postcard and mail it back to the organisers. I won £5 in a Lloyds savings account.

When I started at King’s, I opened a bank account with Barclays because they gave out all sorts of goodies for freshers and I didn’t qualify for those benefits as an existing Lloyds customer (I assumed, I didn’t ask). I closed the Barclays account shortly but kept the Lloyds account. I can’t remember whether I was already at Southampton Row when I was at King’s but definitely when I started working at Astra my branch was there. Even when I went to Imperial, changed jobs and left the UK I never moved branches. When I was back in London a few years ago, I still kept my branch there.

Lloyds, like many other banks, have been closing branches during the past few years. There was a big cull in 2016 and I wasn’t affected. Recently they announced 100 branches will close including Lloyds, Bank of Scotland and Halifax branches. This time I’m not so lucky, I just got the letter than Southampton Row will close.

Sigh. The end of an era.

It’s not so surprising, really. People hardly go to branches to conduct banking business anymore. Online banking, phone banking and simply using the cashpoint have all but taken over.

My account will move to 113 Oxford Street, with no change in sortcode. This is important as the sortcode is ingrained in my mind. According to google maps, the branch is at the corner of Wardour Street and Oxford Street. I can’t picture it, but it doesn’t matter. To be honest, I’m more likely to be in that area than Holborn so no big deal for me. It’s just for sentimental reasons that I lament the closure of the branch I’ve banked with for so many years. Best £5 they ever spent, all those years ago.

at the banks

Bank day. Met sis at 10am at bank #2 and stayed there for over 2hrs. We had to open a joint account, a securities account, an investment account and close Papa’s accounts. There was a mountain of paperwork. Thought nowadays banks should be more automated, but there seems to be only more and more forms to fill in. The staff weren’t slacking, they had 3-4 people working on our case and it still took them to lunchtime to finish.

Lunch was at a conveyor belt sushi place. The set was nice, the sushi plates on the conveyor belt were barely touched, as most people ordered directly.

In the afternoon we went to bank #3. The staff there was also very helpful and there were also forms to fill in. We have to come back in about 2 weeks’ time after they sort out one of the bonds.

Long day and pretty tired. Bought meatballs and salmon from Ikea and took the bus home.

#74, #75 set aside money


Tasks #74 and 75 of 101.1001 are money related.

#74: put away $10 (or equivalent) for each goal achieved and #75: set aside $1 for each goal achieved and donate to charity. At first I started doing it, then I thought I’d just allocate a portion of my account at the end of the challenge for these. Interestingly I never thought about which currency. Local dollars? USD? AUD? Or even GBP / EUR?

Putting away $10 will give me $1010. I’m going to use this towards buying a new macbook later this year, when hopefully the new model comes out. I may get the new model or I may get a refurbished one year old model, depends on what’s available.

$101 for charity, but which charity? I have in mind two. Initially I thought of pAge drinking paper, which was #79 of this challenge. They’re no longer a non-profit and have set up a for profit company to distribute the book. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s still a very important cause, to make sure people in need get clean water.

I’ll probably end up giving to the charity mm helps out with, that deals with mental health issues. They are quite small scale and fairly new, so every little counts. She puts in a good deal of work so I want to show my support.

insurance claim update


Finally chased the insurers enough for them to give me a breakdown of the insurance claim for the Paris/London trip. Apparently they paid into our accounts already but never sent us any communication. Now I have to go to the bank and request a statement for May.

Anyway, they paid everything I claimed for. I didn’t have proof of forfeiture for the Brittany ferry tickets, I should have tried to claim it too by sending in the receipt. Ah well.

move to bond funds

In the spirit of “money doesn’t make you happy but it makes you less sad” I took a look at my bank account. There are these 3 investment funds I’ve had since forever, before I had enough money to open the account with my FA. A global growth fund, a European fund and a leisure fund focusing on hotels, airlines etc. Been sitting around for more than 15 years, it’s way past time to move them around a bit.


The rep at the bank recommended two funds, both mainly bond funds. One has a regional focus and one invests in finance corporate bonds (holdings include Citic, UBS, Westpac).

FA is also moving some of my GBP to UK bonds. I usually like sticking with global equities but I don’t have a sense of how the market is going, it’s too volatile lately. The idea of a little monthly income is appealing.

#76: make a will


Task #76 of 101.1001 is to make a will. This was a leftover from the 2007 challenge and something I should have done as soon as I bought the flat 20 years ago. It’s even more important now, with Papa gone.

I asked our neighbour, the same lawyer who did Papa’s will. He got it done quickly before I went on the US trip. I guess I could have written it myself, because it’s very simple but ah well. The will is now sitting safely in my filing cabinet. One fewer thing to worry about.

credit score


At the end of a week when $2tn (that’s 2 with 12 zeros after it) was wiped off the global markets I got an email, likely automated, from BoA about my FICO score. Probably not very good timing, BoA.

I never pay attention to my credit score, I know it’s a huge thing in the US. I remember my landlady doing a credit check when I started renting in Chicago and saying to me that she found records from New York. I said, yeah that’s when I was in the US last. I put my car on a loan deliberately to get some credit history and I always pay my credit card bills in full.


This is the first time I’ve seen my credit score. From what I can gather, it’s a good score. It also comes with an explanation of the factors that affect the score. Since I’ve kept my US account and I use my credit card a) when I visit the US; and b) to buy books, I’m guessing the regular use makes the bank happy.

6 syngenta shares


So apparently I hold a grand total of 6 shares of Syngenta AG, the world’s largest crop chemical producer. I’m guessing, since the company was formed as a result of a merger between Novartis and Zeneca Agrochemicals, that somehow I got the shares by way of Astra when Astra merged with one of the former ICI companies to form AstraZeneca.

Why are the 6 shares relevant now? I got a 8-page letter from UBS telling me that this company CNAC Saturn (NL) B.V. has offered to purchase all outstanding registered shares of Syngenta AG, ie this CNAC wants to buy Syngenta.

There’s not a lot of googlable information. The best is on Syngenta‘s own website:

  • cash offer at US$465 per share plus special dividend of CHF5
  • proposed ordinary dividend of CHF11 to be paid in addition
  • offer equivalent to CHF480 per share
  • new shareholder will enable strategic continuity and long-term investment in innovation
  • future IPO intended
  • Syngenta will remain a global company headquartered in Switzerland

Does it mean I’ll get over US$2,000 for just 6 shares? I guess so, right? Wow. I’m not sure if I chose the right option, to take the tender in dollars rather than CHF. The offer is in USD, and since the news was announced, USD-CHF rates have fluctuated significantly, wiping billions off what the Swiss shareholders would receive. Yeah, I think it was best, to receive payment in the currency they are buying at. The question is, how will UBS handle the dollars? IIRC, my bog-standard personal account is not multi-currency. I only kept it so I can claim I have a Swiss bank account, albeit it’s the Switzerland equivalent of having a Lloyds or BoA account. Oh wait, I have those too.

travel insurance claim


I went to the travel agent to pick up their letter to confirm we cancelled our trip. The flight+hotel package was non-refundable so I have to claim through travel insurance. This was the biggest expenditure on the trip and the largest forfeited amount.

Even though I opted for prepay, which meant I could cancel but needed to pay a £40 admin fee, Avis refunded my entire car rental in full. Airbnb in France refunded less admin fee (which I won’t bother claiming). Airbnb in the UK refunded only 50% so I’ll claim the rest.

Brittany ferries refunded all except £35 deposit. But I couldn’t find any receipt or documentation. Ah well, it’s a small amount.

Lots of paperwork. A 4-page form and they also asked for everything under the sun. Insurance policy, receipts, itinerary, refund paperwork as well as medical certs and proof of relationship. I ended up having to type up a list of document to keep things organised. I’m hoping they approve the claim.

write cheque, post letter


When it rains it pours, right. Add to all the sadness and stress lately, the credit card thing is close to tipping me over the edge. The medical insurance I took out last week didn’t go through cos they couldn’t charge my credit card. Because the card is suspended after someone tried to use it at some US restaurant. The only other method of paying is by cheque. Cheque! Looking at my chequebook, the only cheques I write are for management fee. There are very few uses for cheques nowadays.

So everything will be done the old fashioned way. I’ll write a cheque and post it to my FA. Postage rates have gone up and I don’t have the right stamps so I put 2 of the old rate. Then I had to figure out where the nearest postbox is. I remember postal collection used to take place 3-4 times a day, now it’s only once a day. Just to show how much things have changed.

no credit card


I was trying to pay all the Rates bills (parents’ flat, my flat, grandparents’ shops) that have accumulated online and got an error. Argh. Called card centre and found out there’d been some suspicious activity on my credit card. The bank had wisely rejected those but now the card is suspended. The customer service rep was helpful but a tad inexperienced / robotic, so it was tough to talk to her. Anyway, I’ll have to go to the bank tomorrow to change my address then have them send a new card.

In the meantime, no credit card. I only have one credit card per country, may be I should apply for a spare one.

my finances

I’ve been worrying about money. What will Mum and I live on? Do I need to go back to work (ugh)? Do I have to liquidate some assets? First order of business, get my flat on the rental market. The agent says nowadays tenants tend to negotiate hard and there are many time wasters. Sigh, see how it goes.

Saw my FA to sort out medical insurance and to make some tweaks so I’m more comfortable with my position.


I haven’t done a total finance calculation for a while so it was time to do one. I’m less worried. I still need to create an income stream so I’m not dipping into my savings and investments constantly.

running around day 2

I need to get a medical certificate for the marathon, so I booked an appointment for a health checkup. It’s high time I had a checkup anyway. I very rarely go to the doctor’s so I was a bit lost about what to do. Basically the routine is go from one location seeing one nurse or doctor or specialist after another: take BP, take history, physical examination, blood test, EKG, chest x-ray, cashier. Went from LG1 to LG2 to 5th floor to ground floor of a 5 wing hospital. Argh.

Some of the nurses and specialists were nice. The one nurse ‘in charge’ of me was especially great. The doctor who did the physical exam I didn’t like. Not only was he completely without expression, it seemed like he was going through the motions. Plus he wanted to charge me local $500 ($65) for signing a simple medical cert. The checkup nurse pulled me aside and advised me to take the report and go to a family doctor. Well, she actually said my family doctor but she wasn’t to know I almost never go to the doctor. I have been to one near mm a lot of years ago, or I can use my sis’ doctor. Let’s see.

By the end of the tests I was hungry and thirsty–no food or drink (except a little water) allowed for 8hrs prior. So I quickly made my way to the nearest housing estate to have breakfast. Then it was neither here nor there. It was 11am, I was at the other side of town, I had an appointment at 2.30pm. What to do with the time. At the end, I went home. But better to spend 1hr getting home and having a cup of tea and relaxing than wandering around aimlessly for more than 3hrs.

The appointment at 2.30pm was with my FA, to sign some forms and talk about strategy in light of recent market downturns and the pound’s devaluation. I wanted to buy some more GBP since it’s so cheap. So we decided to take some profit in one of the USD funds and keep the GBP either as cash or in money market bonds. Then when GBP goes back up again, sell and repurchase other funds. We met a a coffee shop and since I hadn’t had anything since breakfast, the berry tart was my lunch.

noodleskale201602 barbaresco1996

Went over to sis’, she invited me for dinner. We had another vegetarian meal, this time of rice noodles and baked kale. I could have finished the entire try of kale myself. I brought over a bottle of wine from my collection–time to start drinking up my stash, in the new spirit of downsizing I going to work at reducing the size of my alcohol stash. This was a Barbaresco 1996 I bought in Verona when I was living in Zurich. It means that it’s been shipped 1.5 times around the world. The cork was a bit soaked and soft but I carefully took it out to prevent the wine from being corked. Immediately I could smell the fruit. Peppery, rich, fruity. Good wine.

Finally, the end result of another running around day. No real running, must go tomorrow. My right arm has a big bruise where they took a blood sample. It’s a sign of whether the technican is any good, I’ve had blood taken out with just a pin prick and no bruise. This time, it was quite painful when she was drawing blood (even though I’m not afraid of needles or having blood taken) and now there’s a 10p coin sized bruise. On my left side, I banged my little finger against something on the bus and it’s now swollen, feels bruised and I can’t bend it. Argh.

clever phone bot confuses scam junk callers

No one I know likes junk calls. Many countries have a Telephone Preference Service / Do No Call list, but scammers ignore those and use spoof numbers to fool would-be victims.

I have a crowdsourced app where people report the numbers and nature of cold callers which is then written to my contacts list. When one of these numbers call, I can see from caller ID that it’s a beauty centre or fake loan company or whatever scam-du-jour.

There are different variants in different countries. The newest champion of consumers is Roger Anderson, who created a bot called the Jolly Roger Telephone Co. The bot is remarkably human-like, its intention is to fool cold callers that they are talking to a human being. It responds with a “hello” to get autodialers to respond and transfer to humans. It converses using ambigious “yeah” “uh-huh” and “right” responses. If the caller starts to get suspicious, the fun starts:

it responds with a few different things, like telling “honey” it’s on the phone right now and asking the telemarketer to repeat, or going into a short story about how it just woke up and needs some coffee

Giz called him a hero and points out that

before you feel bad for the people making these calls, it’s important to remember that they’re often using spoofed numbers to get around the FCC’s do not call lists.

Calls are recorded and posted for our enjoyment. This one is from “PC Solutions” about a virus on his computer. I love love love when the bot says there’s a bee on his arm but the caller should keep talking. Hahaha.

There’s now a kickstarter to expand the service to more voices and comments as well as to pay for the bot’s phone line. In the meantime anyone in the US or UK can forward or conference junk callers to the bot by following simple instructions: US | UK.

It’s a small dent in the fight against scam junk callers, but it’s a start. Plus, it’s amusing.

frugal, cheap, careful


It started, innocuously enough, with an ikea knife. My everyday utility knife broke, after more than 10 years’ usage. It was just a simple serrated knife I got at a supermarket, nothing fancy, the initial intention was a disposable knife. I have other knives, including a fairly decent set. I was still on the lookout for a replacement, because this utility knife is the one I abuse and not worry about it breaking. We were strolling at Ikea and I saw their 365+ knife, a small paring knife sized which could work. It was priced at local $100, around US$13. May be it’s because I got used to smaller numbers in europe but the number 100 (actually I think it was 99) seemed large.

It’s a good price for an everyday knife, but for some reason I was baulking at the price. Then mm suggested that she’s noticed this in me for a while, that I’m looking more at prices and opting out of buying whereas before I wouldn’t even have thought about the price.

She has a hidden agenda, which isn’t really too hidden because she’s flat out told it to me more than once. She thinks I should go back to work and earn some money.

I have enough to live on. I think even enough to retire and live on income generated by my portfolio. I don’t want to go back to the stressful work environment. But have I become too careful with money? She says that she has noticed this trend lately that’s why she doesn’t suggest that we go out as often. May be. If asked, I generally say I prefer to stay in and cook rather than eat out. Is that because I don’t want to spend the money or is it because I don’t think restaurants serve good food? Debatable.

I don’t really understand her accusation (okay, may be too strong a word but I felt it wasn’t said in a positive way). We just travelled around Europe for a month. After I recorded everything, we spent around US$160 per person per day, excluding personal spending and gifts. Including all flights, trains, car rental, hotels, food and sights. That’s pretty good, and I don’t think it’s cheap at all.

I didn’t buy the knife. May be I will, after I compare prices and quality at other shops. I don’t think it means I’m changed because I have no income. I just want an everyday knife I can use for the next 10 years. Sometimes I get allocated emotions and actions by other people (mostly mm) when the actual emotion / action is so much simpler. Sigh.

#3 become proficient with evernote

Task #3 of 101.1001 is to become proficient in evernote.

As a nano winner, I got 3 months of evernote premium, which just ended. I’ve been using EN for a while, and now have over 250 notes. I know, I know, proficiency isn’t measured by quantity. However I think that I can claim to have at least basic proficiency. Like many tech services, I signed up for an account ages ago but never got round to using it until later. When I did get started it was just playing around with to-do lists. I read up on how other people use it and I really appreciated its power and functionality when i started using it to organise travel. And then I started using it more. The rest of this post is how I currently use EN. Warning: may be boring for some, not everyone is into organising their lives in such detail.

travel planning and research

I started using EN to plan the cruise to eastern Mediterranean. There were too many new places and too many important places to see on that trip that organised research was necessary. The 201302 cruise notebook has 6 notes: 1 for itinerary, maps and general information, and then one for each stop. Each one had information about docking and all-aboard times, sights to see, transportation, places to eat and anything else interesting. The whole notebook printed out to a 9-page doc which proved invaluable during the trip.


I have similar notebooks for the alaskan cruise and trips to hokkaido, tokyo and seoul. A simple illustration is my tokyo notebook with 4 notes: hotel, things to do, day trips, food&drink. What I like is how I can keep the notebook and pdf in my files for another time. I didn’t do one for the big US trip last summer, mainly because it was too long, and we weren’t really planning a particular route.


Here is where EN is so easy to use, especially cross platform. I keep all sorts of lists: grocery shopping list, presents for people, wishlists, important information like phone numbers and scanned copies of documents. I also have my running PR (although I haven’t transferred the master running spreadsheet from google docs yet), my whisky inventory, restaurants worth remembering as well as other random lists I keep for myself.

goal setting / challenges


I keep track of challenges in EN. For example I can know with one click that I’m 65 tasks into 101.10001, with 36 left. I can keep track of my progress for tasks that are cumulative, like walking to mordor, or reading 101 books. If I’m doing a 30 day challenge, I’m constantly referring to the list throughout the month. Each completed task has a link to the writeup.

creative projects

Whilst I don’t think EN is a good writing tool because its text editing functionality is poor, it combines well with scrivener. Do the research and store information on EN, then do the writing itself in scrivener. It’s also a depository for my list of ideas, random writing and other useful links. I started to use EN more when I was writing PP for nano.

EN is also useful to store photography too, even though obviously the main bulk of my photography is at flickr. I have a scanned copy of the Oldie magazine article, the one where I got £60 for my picture of Wheelers in Whitstable.

reading: combining feedly, instapaper, evernote

It took a while, but I finally transferred all my instapaper and pocket links to evernote.

Way back when, at the beginning of the internet, when we found a page we were interested in, we bookmarked it. Those of us who were a little more OCD organised our bookmarks in folders. But the web grew and amount of content grew. It wasn’t just blindly clicking on links to search for stuff to read. Blogging became popular and the de rigeur thing to do. With blogging software came RSS feeds. Enter bloglines.

Google entered the fray and gave us the wonderful google reader. It killed bloglines but was then killed off a couple of years ago for no good reason. I moved to feedly.

There is now so much content that if I don’t look at my feedly for a few days, thousands of posts accumulate. Feedly isn’t my only source of discovery, I use digg, flipboard, reddit, metafilter, twitter and others. As a result of this huge volume, read later apps were developed to let us clip pages we want to read later. Pocket (which used to be called, literally, readitlater), instapaper, readability, tumblr and pinterest can be used to store and sort posts.


Even though EN developed a web clipper for reading later, like others I don’t use it as my read later app. I’ve settled on a workflow that works for me, h/t to jamie todd rubin for diagram format.

I use instapaper as triage. Once in a while I review instapaper and move articles to EN using clearly. Yes, it’s time consuming and I could use an IFTTT recipe to save directly to EN. I do this because: a) if an article is still interesting after a couple of reviews, then it’s worth keeping and b) I sometimes want to save the full post rather than just a link.

clearlybefore clearlyafter

An aside about EN Clearly. With just one click it converts a page to a clutterfree format for easy reading. No ads, no headers & footers, no sidebars. The example above, of a random guardian article. The one on the left is the regular page—I have ABP, otherwise there would have been ads too; the one on the left is on Clearly. It’s clearly spectacular, pun intended.

tags vs notebooks

Initially I only used the notebook filing system. 3-tiers that went from stacks to notebooks to notes, examples:

travel > 201408 tokyo > things to do
food&drink > whisky > whisky tasted

Then I read Michael Hyatt’s article that advocated using both notebook filing and tagging to make cross-referencing better. I started tagging, blatantly coping his nested tag scheme. It seems to work fine.

unused functionality

There are other functionalities I don’t use. I don’t use scheduling because I don’t keep a diary. When I was at work, I just used Outlook (or Lotus Notes, ugh) to keep calendar invites. I hardly blocked off timeslots or budget my time. I remember personal schedules in my head, or write them on my trusty wall calendar.

I don’t use contacts either, so EN’s OCR ability to store business cards is wasted on me. This is related to my not being very contactable and not having a wide network.

For the same reason I’ve always been inbox zero (even at work when I get hundreds of email), I don’t need the integration with email.

I wish I’m one of those talented people who can sketch on their cool moleskin notebook and transfer to EN. But alas I can’t draw. I ogle at the pics on the moleskin fb page though. Anyway, moleskines are expensive.

get even better

Yes, I have a 4 drawer filing cabinet at home that is very full. I have been quite good at going paperless though, switching to e-statements whenever possible. I’d like to scan more physical documents and EN seems to be a natural repository. May be not super confidential documents but definitely receipts, instructions and bits of paper. I was excited when EN released its own scanning app, and was disappointed when I saw that it’s ios 8 and above. I’ll keep with scanner pro for the time being.

I’m continually trying to streamline my workflow. Getting feedly, instapaper/pocket and EN to work together is an achievement. There are other IFTTT EN recipes to explore, like saving tweets, crossposting from instagram, iphone camera integration, even fb status integration. Not that I’m that keen to store my fb statuses, although twitter integration will be useful—instead of saving to google docs like right now, tweets can go to EN. Then again, its text and table handling need to get better first. We all have room for improvement, EN included.

My nano-sponsored premium account just expired. Will I start paying for a premium account? Right now the answer is no. The feature I appreciated most was additional bandwidth, I barely used the other premium features. I don’t use EN so much that I’m in danger of exceeding my quota, I’ll continue with the free account and monitor my usage.

cny sheep decoration at landmark


Met with my FA, and remember why I’m so glad I don’t need to brave the traffic jam and huge crowds every day to go to and from work. The flipside of not working is, of course, the need for money to pay the bills. I don’t spend a lot, so it’s an easy request for her to make a small withdrawal from the account. Hopefully by the time I need the next withdrawal, the portfolio will have regained that amount…and more. We’re switching out of Europe into UK, and exiting Latin America. There’s some in Energy that has gone down, but we’re not panic selling.

The CNY decorations are up. The Landmark mall has a display with clouds and sheep and a big tree in the atrium. Not sure why clouds, but they look quite cute.

whisky (cocktail) and (keyboard) waffle

When I was talking to sis’ restauranteur friend about a whisky bar, he mentioned about an idea he had about whisky and waffles. Quite intriguing. The main reason is that using standalone waffle irons or electric griddles falls under a less stringent food licence. And waffle irons can be used to cook all sorts of food other than waffles.

We ended up not going through with the whisky bar idea. And waffle irons do come in other shapes like animals, the state of Texas and of course Hello Kitty.


I was reminded of our idea when I saw this keyboard waffle iron kickstarter project featured all over the place. I can imagine geekily shaped waffles and whisky being an interesting idea for a bar-café. And for an alternate breakfast idea, how about keyboard waffles with this pg tipple cocktail made from pg tips, marmalade and bulleit bourbon.

$60 for a waffle iron is on the expensive side—most kickstarter projects are expensive I find. If I were going for the whisky & waffle bar idea then I’d probably get a couple of these.  

#4 complete online course


Task #4 of 101 in 1001 is to complete an online course.

I was working on a javascript coding course on codecademy but have sort of given up because I got stuck and the instructions weren’t clear. So for just for the hell of it I started browsing around other online education places and came across some simple short courses on graphic design at udemy.

The free courses are all very basic. The one on introduction to graphic design took less than 30mins to finish and I took away some theory:

6 elements in design = line, form, colour, texture, mass space
5 principles of design: alignment, balance, contrast, proximity, repetition

I also took one called real life graphic design: photoshop and illustrator. I learned how to darken a blue sky using gradient, add a sunset, use curves in photoshop — all of which I know. The course also touched on Illustrator, which I don’t have much experience or confidence in using. I learned basic manipulation. There was one comment in the course, that the instructor went too fast. I totally agree. I know what he was doing in photoshop because I’m really not a beginner, he was clicking and telling us what he is doing without explaining where the controls are or what settings. That said, I think I can start practicing using Illustrator for simple graphics.

It’s a good way to spend a couple of hours, better than playing a game. I get nifty completion certificates too. I’ll definitely go through some more free courses on the site, not ready to pay for anything yet.

math(s) and meters


Saw this sign in the middle of Montana of all places. Had to smile when I saw it, and immediately snapped a pic.

A recent guardian article about the perils of air travel devolved in the comments into small amounts of mud-slinging because the columnist talked about the

9/11 tragedy

and in an earlier version of the article said

simple math

The article, in the comments (ie not news) section, was serious enough. There had been 3 fatal incidents involving airplanes in the past week which may make people regularly travelling, or just about to travel, by air nervous. Basically the message was, it’s still safer to fly than drive and passengers are more likely to choke on one of the peanuts served on planes.

The ruckus from guardian commenters weren’t about the content of the article, the protest was against the americanisation of a British paper. One comment, perhaps in bad taste, asked

what’s the significance of the 9th of November?

to which another commenter answered

Remember, remember the 9th of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot;
I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

No wait… that’s not right.

Another commenter put their point across simply


I’ve been in the US about 1 month now, and it did take me a few days to get used to the, um, uniqueness that is America. The illogical way dates are written, the use of non-metric measurements in daily life, use of other words to describe the same thing (cart vs trolley, cookie vs biscuit etc). I still have to think after someone speaks and before I speak, which sometimes makes me seem like I’m not listening or slow.

At least I’m less petrified of tipping now, because I’ve adopted the practice of stop overthinking tipping and just put down 20 percent.

Anyway, apropos of nothing, via kottke is actor Siobhan Thompson demonstrating 17 different British and Irish accents.

#79: crowdfunding the drinkable book

Task #79 of 101 in 1001 is to invest in a kickstarter type project. There are so many opportunities to take part in a crowdfunding project nowadays, from books, films, music to gadgets, food trucks and medical needs. I’ve been looking for something worthwhile and noticed this one that has received some press lately.

We take clean water so much for granted. There is a big water problem in some parts of the world, where the water is contaminated and full of bacteria.

The Drinkable Book was developed by Dr Theresa Dankovich together with a team of scientists and engineers from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Virginia and designed by typographer Brian Bartside for non-profit organization WATERisLIFE. Each book is about an inch thick with 20 pages. The paper is embedded with silver nanoparticles which kills microbes; each sheet can filter up to 100 litres of water.


The pAge technology has been tested in South Africa on a small scale. The team are crowdfunding to make 1000 drinkable books to test in Ghana and other parts of the developing world. Although each book only costs about 10cents to make, the goal is $20,000 to include scaling up, equipment and travel costs to field sites. Only a few more days to go, for a $50 donation, I get a square pAge and a water bottle, neat.

periodic table of stocks


I was googling for images of the 2-line stock market ticker for LL cover when I came across this, a periodic table of the stock market. I get excited when I come across displaying information or ideas as a periodic table (or as tetris). In this one, the atomic symbol corresponds to the ticker symbol of the stock. Based on the NYSE and Nasdaq. So the top of group 6 is occupied by C for Citigroup. There are quite a number of blanks, but it’s pretty great anyway.

#78: money free weekend


Task #78 of 101 in 1001 is to have a money-free weekend.

Which is easy to achieve by simplly staying at home. There was enough food at parents’ place to last a while, and I made glazed chicken wings and ribs for dinner on saturday night. Instead of running outside I used the stationary bike. Most of Saturday was spent reading.

Sunday I did research for the April trip to Hokkaido with mm. Put all notes and links in an evernote notebook, including hotel details, maps, things to do, restaurants, bars and transportation. What I don’t like is you can’t print a whole notebook, you have to print individual notes separately. I printed them to pdf them combined them into a master pdf document. Our accommodation is finalised — start with 2 nights at a regular hotel in Sapporo, then 2 nights at 2 different onsens in Jozankei (5 mins’ walk from each other, so no problem with transferring), then back to Sapporo for 3 nights at an apartment I found on airbnb. It’s the first time I used airbnb, last time in Kyoto it was the more established homeaway/VBRO. Looking forward to the food there — king and snow crab, fresh sashimi, uni, salmon roe, even the famous sweet melons. And of course our visit to Yoichi distillery.

I guess not going out was a sort of cheat’s forced way of having a money-freen weekend. Then again I could have gone on an online shopping spree. And of course there’s the overhead spending — electricity, utilities, food already in the fridge. There are loads of other ideas, I like ideas such as having a cupboard potluck, organising one’s finances / house / junk, pottering around at home and generally doing stuff that is more relaxing and simple. We could all do with a simple weekend.

curvit shower curtain hooks

I hate shower curtains. They get icky and grimy and wet. They flow inwards and cling to my arms when the shower is on (there must be some physics that explains this). Anyway, I hate shower curtains.

In the absence of shower doors, because installing it will involve $$$ and a workman, I wanted to get a curved shower rod which gives more space in the shower. Problem is my shower rail is L-shaped, and I have yet to see an L-shaped curved shower rod.

Then I saw this idea on indiegogo, of shower curtain rings that pushes the curtain outwards to give more space. $35 for a set and $55 for two. Comparable to the curved shower rod with the advantage that existing shower rods can be used.

The project isn’t very well funded right now, less than 5% with 15 days to go. I wish there were more funders, then I’m more comfortable at putting my contribution in. Thinking about it.

#77: build net worth calculator


Task #77 in 101 in 1001 challenge: build a net worth calculator.

Personal finance websites talk a lot about calculating net worth and balancing chequebooks. I’ve always been a bit confused about why it’s such a big deal, and why it’s apparently so hard to figure out net worth. It’s a simple spreadsheet exercise. Add up assets, add up debts, take one away from the other.

Took me about an hour, to find all the statements or log onto bank websites. The only current liability is credit card debits waiting for the next statement. I didn’t include this because: a) trivial amounts and b) they’ll get paid once I get the next statement. Since it’s impossible to have the exact figure — statement dates, some investment accounts only report annually, fx etc — it will always be an estimate. Everything got converted to GBP and USD to create the sum total.

Data is summarised by currency and by subtotal of banks vs investments vs property. I don’t know what is an optimum ratio between cash and investments. Advisors say have at least 1 year’s worth of expenses available as cash, so I think I should move more cash to a safe vehicle to generate a return as opposed to it sitting there doing nothing.

working on 101.1001 list


So I started my 101 goals in 1001 days challenge yesterday and started working on those goals already. I made notes and folders in evernote for all the lists I should be making — places travelled, places to visit, food tried, achievements, books read, walking distance tracker. But mainly I worked on the places and foods list. But then I realised, I should be putting those lists together at the end of the project and not the beginning. Ack. Now I need to work on other non-list goals.

the new job


The last time I went into the office was May 2012. I was then on garden leave and started my officially unemployed status 3 months later. I guess the better term is sabbatical or semi-retirement, although I’m too young to look retired. In financial services it’s not uncommon for people to retire young though.

Earlier this year, I did have some discussions with a couple of companies on the job front. One I turned down because first they had a hiring freeze and then the manager managed to unfreeze the headcount but only if it’s shared with another department. I’ve done this long enough to know that sharing doesn’t work — the EE is still expected to perform as if they are 100% in both departments, which leads to double the workload. Plus, the politics, ack. The second job was with a consultant firm, it was going well until we started talking packages and timesheets and client marketing. Not for me.

I’m quite happy to exist without a job for the time being, bumming along at my parents’ place. But an opportunity came my way, and it suits my current circumstances.

So now I’m a researcher and case writer at the university’s business school. The university is 100+ years old, and enjoys a high global/regional ranking. The position is freelance, where I work with one of the professors on a particular case. It’s paid on a per case basis too; each case can take 3-6 months to finalise but I can work whenever I like, and from home. No need to be at any office aside from a few meetings with the professor or, if the case is about a company, the company’s staff. Some case writers work on multiple concurrent cases, but for now I have just the one.

Anyone who went to business school will remember case studies. We didn’t have case studies in every single subject but they were definitely used in Marketing and Strategic Management. Harvard is the pioneer of using case studies, apparently their MBA students study and analyse over 500 cases during their time there. It’s a tried a tested method for teaching MBAs, although there are some criticism of the case study method, that it’s not suited for all subjects (eg accounting and statistics), that some cases are too old and outdated, and other methods that mix lectures with real time cases may be the way to go.

Nevertheless, the wheels of academia turn very slowly and case studies will be used and in demand for a long time to come. They have become big business, with the three largest case study publishers (Harvard, Richard Ivey in Canada and ECCH at Cranfield) selling more than 10 million cases every year. Cases are priced per student, so even at $3 each, that’s $30 million in revenue.

I’d never really thought about who physically wrote these case studies. If anyone asked me a few months ago, I would have said that they are like academic papers, right? Even though I was the one who did the experiment and synthesised those compounds, my PhD supervisor wrote all our published JOC papers, so I would assume that business school professors wrote these case studies too.

Apparently not.

Sometimes their students wrote them, but there is a whole cottage industry of case writers. So far it’s a lot of research. Trawling through a company’s website, reading their annual statements, figuring out their org structure from public information. Then there are the academic theories that the professor wants to incorporate into the case — for someone in the field like I have been, they seem to be a lot of big words to describe a small thing that I already know, but I have to remember that the students may not know these things. There’s quite a lot of writing involved too: not just the case study itself, which can run to 20-30 pages; there’s also the accompanying teaching notes, which is another 20-30 pages.

Can I make a living out of it? Not at the moment, with just one case. It has potential to become more, I hope. Already the prof I’m working with is talking about a series of cases; and then there are a couple of ideas I have that I’ll wait till the right time to pitch. There are even case writing competitions around the world with fairly lucrative prize money. Wow.



I was watching a program about a celebrity chef touring around southeast Asia. Every destination, there was a big banquet with lots of famous people and people who paid big money to sample the chef’s food. He was in Malaysia, stressing out over food preparation, presentation. And then the guest of honour was late, over an hour late. Apparently “traffic” was the cause of the lateness. Poor chef, fine dining food will start to lose their flavour if they aren’t served at the time they are ready, he was a picture of frustration over the lateness.

His next stop was the Fullerton in Singapore. Guess what, the dinner started bang on time. No surprise to anyone involved in the organisation or even us watching the program on TV.

Why. How did it get to be okay for people to be habitually late. Most people will forgive the unexpected — traffic, medical reason, legitimately running late. If someone is always on time, but is late for just the one time, it’s mostly acceptable. It’s people who are late all the time, and the people who never apologise for being late, these are the people I will unfriend. A couple of comments stand out on this article:

we all have the same number of minutes in our day


early is on time, on time is late, late is unacceptable

marathons are good for the city

So I’m trying to pitch and write a MBA case study on the economic and other impact of holding a marathon, with focus on Tokyo, since it just joined the world marathon series. Trying out an introduction and putting down thoughts for rest of the paper.


Joining the Super Elites: Economic and Other Impact of Tokyo Marathon Joining the World Marathon Series


In 2013, only 6 years after its inauguration, Tokyo became the sixth member of the prestigious World Marathon Majors (“WMM”). The other races are: Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York. These are the most prestigious marathons in the world, attracing over 200,000 participants between them. The total prize money tops $1 million, shared between the 6 races.

Marathon races have become big business, with the World Marathon Major series as the top running brand in the world. Major marathons are profit-making as well as boasting millions of dollars of impact on the local economy through visitor spending, sponsorship and increased media exposure. It is also the largest source of fund raising for many charities.

Tad Hayano, the race director of the Tokyo Marathon, wanted to join the World Marathon Majors “to promote the Tokyo Marathon to the world.” The WMM previously had rules for inclusion including a large pro and mass participation, prize money, significant news coverage and a history of 25 years or more. Tokyo Marathon was able to request for, and received an exception to, consideration of the last rule.

The first WMM Tokyo Marathon was April 2013. What, if any, were the impact of WMM membership? What will future races be like? What lies ahead for other regional marathons, in Japan and in the surrounding Asia Pacific region?


  • growth in sports participation, focus on running and races — no of races, participation growing exponentially
  • economic impact of sporting events — summer olympics
  • impact of marathons — NYC, Chicago, London study + even smaller marathons
    • economic impact — visitors spending (NYC 2 million visitors), sponsors, vendors, positive marketing
    • charitable impact — millions raised for non-profits
    • community impact — local schools and clubs participation, volunteers
  • how and why tokyo joined marathon majors
  • possible and desired impact — prize money, sponsorship, revenue, visitor spending
  • runner and world reaction
  • knock on effect on other japanese marathons, other asian marathons

superyachts, couponing

Watching a program about superyachts and a preview for Extreme Couponing comes on. Talk about extremes.

Those superyachts are all basically the same — 100ft+ monsters with multiple staterooms all decorated with shiny wood paneling and gold sinks, galleys that are larger than some people’s homes, and in-your-face opulence everywhere. The only difference is the number of electronic gadgets, jacuzzis and sun decks they have. Costs are measured in the millions of dollars. The ultra rich live in another reality as far as I’m concerned so I don’t think about them, except when these wealth display programs come on. Being rich is fine, but the obsession with displaying the wealth is a little unhealthy.

That’s why the preview for Extreme Couponing was so out of place in the middle of a program on the super rich. Can’t imagine any of those yacht owners couponing. People make fun of extreme couponers but mm and I can’t stop watching the program. Some of the couponers featured started couponing out of economic necessity, to make sure their families have food and household supplies they need, for as little cost as possible. Yes, no one would ever need hundreds and thousands of boxes of toilet paper or toothpaste, but if they can benefit the couponers, their friends and families and even the ones who donate the goods, then it’s all good.

Professor Robert Schiller, one of this year’s Nobel Laureates in economics, said that income inequality is the most important problem we are facing today. I’ve also been watching and reading about the documentary Inequality for All, which was a Sundance winner. There’s an hour long interview with Robert Reich, who presents the film, on democracy now and he talks quite eloquently and convincing about his cause. This seems to be a thought-provoking film, I hope I can find a dvd when it comes out.

Everyone has a different view on wealth and wealth distribution. Some people are richer, some are pooer; some earn more than they should, some earn much less. But the gap between the top and the bottom has grown too large, too alarming. It’s also a global, not merely American problem. What can those of us who fall smack bang in the squeezed middle class do? Individually, we are more concerned in the last few years in holding onto our jobs, to make our net income (which has been falling in real terms) go further; in other words to survive. I guess it starts with us being aware of the issue, and to acknowledge that income inequality is a problem rather than accept the argument the top 1% keeps rolling out, that the markets are always correct. Remember, the very people who run the markets are the same people who manipulate it to suit them. Mr Reich said,

We make the rules of the economy, and we have the power to change these rules

We need to better educate ourselves, and hold those we trust with these rules of the economy to strict standards and governance. We are all born and raised unequal, but something I fervently believe in, is that ethical standards should apply to all equally.



Went to get some medical insurance information fro my financial adviser. All of them very comprehensive, but I need to do more research. At the moment, it’s probably okay to get hospitalisation only, because the difference in premium between in-patient and out-patient is more than I’d spend seeing the GP anyway. It’s always best to start thinking about getting medical insurance while I’m relatively healthy.

german possibilities


Met with my financial advisor about the state of my investments. Emerged from the meeting fairly happy. I did task her with investigating if I have enough capital to generate enough income so I don’t need to work. I think I’m okay, just about.

We are also converting a couple of my accounts to another platform, one that is more flexible, easier to use online and has more investment options. One of the options we talked about was to invest in some single company funds. The one she recommended was a Barings Germany fund. In the past, I could invest in pan-European but not just Germany.

Why Germany? It’s been voted the most positively viewed country in the world. Economic stability is first a foremost. As is frugality, organisation and just that particular German way of doing things. I probably won’t like living there, then again, I loved loved loved Switzerland and I was living in the German-speaking part.

good work day


I went over to Sis’ to help her work on her book, a parent-family guide. Reading and sorting and typing. We worked for a while in the morning, had sushi lunch, picked up my niece from school then worked pretty solidly for 3hrs in the afternoon. By the time I looked at the clock it was almost 5pm. Made a dent in the pile of material in her large plastic container. Steak dinner, and a glass of wine. A good day.

financial health


Met with our financial adviser. Seems like my portfolio is improving from when the market crashed. Our FA had also moved to a new company so it seems to be a good move. Now that I’m back from my London sojourn, I’m thinking of whether I need to keep so much in GBP. The other alternative is to switch to EUR denominated funds. Also may be switch platforms to get access to a larger selection of funds.

buy EUR


So one of the first things RM said to me when we got to dublin was, “they use pounds here, right?” Snerk. Um, no. Which is why my EUR stash was dramatically reduced and I need to get some more for the bbmm Provence (and may be Brussels) trip. The rate has edged up, eurozone crisis and all. YTD average is 1.21, and it’s now around 1.24. I should go get some this weekend.



I lost about 13% of the value of my US portfolio this year. Sigh. Since inception the cumulative ROR is about 18%, although it was up to 30% at one point. Not happy, but nothing I can do. The holdings are fine. I have mainly US large caps in this portfolio — apple, amazon, oracle, home depot. There’s some cash left over, which my FA suggests that we put to work. Hopefully this will remedy the situation somewhat.

This is just my US portfolio. I’m guessing the total hit globally is more than 13%.

making ends meet


Read in the evening standard that families are living on £162 a week after taxes, bills and transport. The alarming statistic is that this represents a 7.9% drop from last year, and with inflation at 4.5% on top.

Yes, I have more left over and I can survive on a weekly grocery budget of £25. The problem is, savings suffer big time. Everyone is feeling the pinch. I’ve been thinking of retreat strategy.

i can’t live here


Despite actions to the contrary, with inflation at a record breaking 4.5%, astronomical taxes, killer housing costs and a net take home that feels like it’s been halved (I dare not do the analysis lest it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy), I can only tolerate so much. I know I’m already very lucky, that my complaints boil down to how much less I’m saving and not that I can’t afford to buy food. Still am unhappy about this. And don’t start about work. In my mind I have dates and plans, preliminary at this point.

fund consolidation


Today is the last chance to get an ISA for this tax year, so I made an appointment at my bank. Got my ISA for this tax year, and tomorrow apply for a new one for the next tax year, maxed out on both years. Shifted a couple of old, old ISAs to this account so they’re all managed under one roof. The investment questionnaire shows that I’m a progressive investor, which is one step down from adventurous and one step up from balanced. The progressive funds are 70%-ish equities, 15% commercial property and the rest commodities and bonds. Sounds about right.

I have yet to meet a financial adviser who wanted to do this, but one of these days I need a review of all my accounts in all the countries. Problem is most of my advisers are focused only on their countries or regions, and I don’t qualify for private banking. The good news is that I have good geographic coverage, now in all 3 major continents, so it should be fine.

the truth of what we know


Overheard recently at work:

A: did you hear, [our intern who recently left] got a job at Goldman Sachs
B: Where’s that? A law firm?

I did a double take. True, if you asked 10 people on the street, only a small percentage would have heard of GS. But we are in the same industry, they are a big player, so that was unexpected. To give Person B the benefit of doubt, they are fairly junior and will learn more about our competitors as time goes on. I just assumed that if I talk about Goldman, or JP Morgan, or (sigh) Merrill, people would be suitably impressed or, as the case may be nowadays, repulsed. To be met with a “who?” is disconcerting.

I was also reading the article in the NY Times about how Nokia’s engineering driven culture has put them behind the likes of Apple in terms of design and therefore sales of their smartphones. They are talking about hardware engineering vs software and design engineering of course. One of the commenters said that engineers know instinctively figure out how to use a device just by playing around with it, but they

don’t understand that the rest of the population doesn’t think like them. To them, the user interface they created makes perfect sense and the rest of the world are idiots for not understanding it.

So the lesson today is, assume nothing. I assumed everyone has heard of a leading investment bank, or to go back one step, everyone knows what an investment bank is; but that’s just not true. Engineers assume everyone know how to use the camera on their iphone. The reality is very far from those assumptions. People aren’t like us.



A five pound note, that’s all the GBP cash I have on me right now. Oh, plus some coins to total probably about ten pounds. I had to pay my rent deposit by cash, it was either that or go to the landlord’s agent’s office and pay by debit card. Cheques don’t seem to be a viable option anymore, which is okay by me, except when I don’t have a lot of cash on me. I can get more tomorrow at the cashpoint of course, but it’s a strange feeling, of having no money. Okay, not no money. Worse case scenario, i have a bunch of USD.

I have too much stuff

zenhabits via bb, 9 questions to identify whether something is junk or not:

  1. does it work? if not, then throw away
  2. would I replace it if it were broken or lost? if not, then I don’t need it
  3. does it seem potentially useful, but has never been used? applies to far too many gadgets bought, especially kitchen gadgets
  4. was I saving it? then use it, otherwise it’ll go bad
  5. does it serve its purpose well? if it isn’t that useful, chuck it
  6. has it been replaced by a better model? do I have that better model? if yes, throw away the old version
  7. is it nicely put away in an out-of-the-way place? where I’ll never find it, get it out and get rid of it, it’s taking up useless space
  8. does this memento actually prompt any memories? most souvenirs only succeed in taking up room
  9. have I ever used this thing? most likely not

If I can focus, I can probably get rid of at least half my possessions and I won’t miss them. I should make myself do that.

garage sale

The neighbourhood residents group organised a community garage sale today. For $10 they handle the permits, printed maps and distributed balloons for marketing. Coincidentally, my immediate neighbour is also participating, and another neighbour brought her stuff over so we had a 3 family-2 garage sale. Convenient for shoppers.

I have a lot of junk. It wasn’t difficult to get 10+ boxes of stuff I want to sell — stationery, kitchen stuff, games. I’d prepped over the week, sticking prices and set up the tables yesterday. People came in waves. The early birds looked like professionals! Then there were the families having a nice time. I didn’t have many problems, one old lady paid me $1 in loose change, including 20 pennies. I was tempted to not sell to her. Then this guy came with his dog and I didn’t let the dog inside the garage and he left in a huff. Did I care that I may have lost his business? Not one single bit. I asked all dog owners to leave their dogs outside. Dog owners need to learn to respect other people’s wishes and property. The sense of entitlement and arrogance is astounding.

I didn’t sell everything. What I really wanted to sell, my glassware, didn’t attract any buyers. It was the same with my neighbour, people just weren’t interested in glassware. Ah well. All in all, I made $172.50. Subtracting the $10 fee and $5 for labels, quite a nice profit.

gs did not cause the financial crisis

I was following the nyt liveblog of the US Senate hearing on Goldman Sachs during the day. The bank is clearly on the defensive, and the senate committee members’ questions were smart and to the point. I’m thinking the headlines around the world tomorrow will focus on how GS was unrepentant and their statement that they didn’t cause the financial crisis.

My view of this is different from that of most people and, in this climate, probably considered politically incorrect and arrogant. No, GS didn’t cause the financial crisis. Nor Lehman or Bear or Citi or ML or AIG. Nobody could have predicted how bad and how long this crisis has lasted. The media portrays i-bankers as unethical and greedy. I’m not necessarily defending them, but there are certain aspects of the financial services industry that are unique. The pace and complexities. The unpredictability of the market. Comp structures.

Some of the comments in today’s hearing focused on how the bank sold derivatives that they were themselves short on. Um, that’s hedging. That’s how it works. Should those products have even been created in the first place? That’s the real question.

786,570 richest


According to the global rich list, I’m the 786,570 richest person in the world. Heehee.

Don’t take it so seriously. All it asks is annual income, without taking into account taxes, cost of living, personal circumstances. I got this from get rich slowly, which talks about wealth and the ultimate question, “how much wealth is enough?” True, 786,570 may not be that far off (+/- a couple hundred thousand) but is it enough for me?

i hate driving in the snow

I was supposed to be in Pleasanton CA this week for 3 days of training, but it got moved to Chicago. Or to be precise, a western suburb of Chicago. Instead of sunny weather, I woke up to 3-4” of snow, had to shovel my way out of my space and drive 1.5hrs to get to the training. Coming back was worse, still snowing, poor visibility and people driving without lights. I had to park on the street cos otherwise I’d have to dig my way into my space and dig myself out tomorrow morning. And now I’m looking outside and the snow is doing crazy brownian dancing it’s so windy outside.

I hate driving in the snow. I’m not used to it and I don’t have the right car for the conditions.

google, china and single markets

So google is getting out of China, and most publications in the English speaking world are hailing GOOG’s ethical and principled stance against cyber attacks, censorship and even human rights.

While I think a certain amount of (admittedly western) moralistic approach was behind the decision, I do not for one moment believe it’s the main reason. If any, I’m willing to bet it ranks may be within the top 10 reasons, and that’s it. Who is google to think that they can influence an entire government? If they want to operate in a country, they need to obey the laws of that country.

The main reason has to be business driven. That google is losing market share to baidu is very significant. First, baidu is associated with the mainland government, so there is validation in the eyes of the population. Second, if I get blank screens or crap results every time I search, I’d eventually stop using that search engine — much like how microsoft and yahoo bled search market share to google.

Lots of commentators say that it’s China’s loss, that it’s the start of the road to oblivion. How wrong, arrogant, and presumptious they are. Sarah Lacy at techcrunch said it best:

We tend to have the view that China is some copycat Internet backwater, and that’s just not true. China has formidable engineering talent, plenty of venture capital, the world’s largest Internet audience, and in many cases better methods of monetization

There is perception that China is still some backwards third world country where people use ricksaws to move around and eat rice with their hands. I shake my head at that ignorance. Google (heh, ironic) any image of Shanghai, or Beijing, or any of the Pearl River delta cities and you’ll see luxury cars, brand name products and a general prosperity that surpasses any city in the world.

Compare China with America and what is the most striking commonality? Sheer size. In terms of geography and population. Dominated by large cities situated at coastal regions (something that Russia can’t compare). Which means…single market. Why is it that American products are so different from the rest of the world? It’s because it’s enough for them to develop in their home market and make good profits. This is why the American mobile and internet market lags behind, American cars are poorly designed and American domestic flights are no better than torture. American consumers don’t know better, and there are enough of them who utilise mobile and internet, drive cars and fly on planes to pad the bottom lines of American businesses.

I’m not trying to slag off American business. My point is that in a similar way, China’s single market is in the same position. There is such a vast pool of people wanting to move up to middle class through consumption that Chinese businesses don’t have to worry about the rest of the world if they don’t want to.

And that is one of the scary things keeping CEOs of non-Chinese companies up at night.