The World as it Should Be

Just thought I would share with you what has to be, for me, the quote of the week. Taken from the book Getting More, a beautiful book on negotiation by Stuart Diamond (emphasis mine):

Lower your expectations. If you come into a negotiation thinking that the other side will be difficult, unfair, rude, or trying to cheat you, you won’t be likely to have dashed expectations–and you won’t be emotional. When you lower your expectations of what will take place in a negotiation, you will be rarely disappointed–and you might be pleasantly surprised. Getting yourself psychologically prepared is important.

You might feel, “Hey, I shouldn’t have to do things like that.” Okay, maybe not. But we live in the real world, not in the “should” world.

The beauty of that statement, I think, lies in the fact that it embraces the irrationality of people, the irrationality of the world. Where things are done sometimes for reasons beyond human comprehension.

And even if you don’t believe in the irrationality of people, as I sometimes find myself wont to do, the fact is we as human beings have so many hidden motivations that though we are, perhaps, ultimately rational, we are for most practical purposes just the opposite.

Back to writing

It’s been such a long time since I last wrote anything here (blame the whole ____load of work that’s been coming in; hint: sounds like “ship”) that I’m suddenly all self-conscious about it.

It reminds me of a period of my life where I used to wear running shorts all the time. I wore them in camp (i.e. army camp — I was serving national service at that time); at home; occasionally when I sent out for short food trips; and, of course, for runs.

Then for some reason I stopped. For four months.

Then I tried them again.

“Wow, your pants are sexy,” exclaimed my dad, unused to how I looked in them having not been in them for so long.

It’s been almost ten years since.

Since that statement.

Since I last wore my sexy short running shorts.

I suppose though, that there is one difference between my writing after a long absence and my wearing running shorts.

If someone said my words were sexy, it’d probably be 10 seconds before I wrote my next.

Roy Ngerng, CPF, and the Widow who Lost $1m

Current affairs currently in my head, in a nutshell:

  • Roy Ngerng criticises Singapore’s CPF, likens it to schemes of questionable legality.
  • Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sues him for defamation. Many citizens think this is a bad move. See also: Catherine Lim’s open letter
  • Among criticisms, Ngerng says government should make it easier for citizens to withdraw their CPF, and/or more of it (e.g. by lowering  the “minimum sum”, which is what can’t be touched/withdrawn).
  • Apparently quite a number of people agree: Citizens should be trusted with their money.

On this last point, as intuitive as it is, and as much as I wish that was true, it probably isn’t.

Last weekend, I read a story that provided a great example of how difficult it is to trust ourselves with money:

Two years ago, after her husband was killed in a freak accident while working at Changi Airport’s Budget Terminal, she received nearly $1 million in insurance payouts and donations from the public.

Today, that money is all gone.

Madam Pusparani Mohan, 34, is now looking for work in Singapore to support her four young children back in Johor Baru.

“I made a mistake. People knew I had so much money and they all came to me. I am so stupid. I never buy house and finished all the money meant for my children,” Madam Pusparani told The Sunday Times from her home in Skudai.

It is funny how the people who most need to withdraw CPF monies are the very same people who most need their CPF monies kept from them.

It is easy to say: give me my CPF, and let me invest it; I can do infinitely better than the infinitesimal 2.5% the government gives me.

But how many people in reality can do it? I know of people who jump through hoops just to get 3% interest on their savings. 2.5% really isn’t that bad.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say most people can get that 2.5% or more. In fact, let’s quantify that and say that 70%  of the population can (and how unlikely this is! Imagine that for every 10 people you walk past on the street who are old enough to possibly withdraw their CPF, seven are able to get a return 50 or more times the existing savings rate of 0.05%).

This leaves us with the 30% who can’t manage their money. Who’s responsibility is it to help them? Let’s say these people finish spending their CPF monies within 5 years (that’s 3 years longer than Madam Pusparani Mohan mentioned in the story above).

What then? Should the 70% who do earn more be taxed on their earnings to pay for 30%? Would the tax be enough to cover the loss?

Maybe. But probably not.

Though those of us who probably can manage our money pretty well would love to have our CPF in our hands and not the government’s, we’re probably the ones who least need our CPF in the first place.

Donn & Li Shya Marriage

Why you will fail to have a great career

This is a beautiful talk, one that addresses something I’d felt strongly about since I started thinking seriously about my professional life back when I was studying at Temasek Polytechnic.

I remember sitting in the lecture hall, listening to an entrepreneur who had been invited to speak to us business students. During the Q&A, I couldn’t help but ask if his business success had come at the price of family.

I can’t quite recall what he said, but I suspect it had something to do with it not being quite the answer I had hoped: “no”.

It’s been more than a decade on. Having been through two years of National Service, another two overseas at UWA (University of Western Australia), marriage, and five years of relatively productive work, my question remains. Still unanswered.

But this time, the perspective’s a little different. I’m asking it from the inside. I’m living the answer, writing it as I go along. So far so good, but I think I’ve got a little bit more capacity for that weirdness; that abnormification; that passion to burst onto the scene.

So when my child questions why I haven’t lived my dream, I won’t have to say, “because of you.”

On Nerdiness, Programming, and Cooking

The extent of my nerdiness was only realized this after reading the following excerpt from the book “Decisive” by Chip Heath (I find it a really good book, by the way):

In our quest to convince you of the merits of a process, we realize we’ve been facing an uphill battle: It would be hard to find a less inspiring word in the English language than “process.” It’s like trying to get people giddy about an algorithm.

…and vehemently disagreeing with it. Because I’m inspired by process (and systems; and the like), and get giddy playing with algorithms!

Programming and Cooking

I can hardly fathom  a more exciting afternoon than one in which after hours of programming, scripting, and coding that seem to be going nowhere, with the swish of a “compile and run” magic is revealed: the completed program; website; or basic scripting routine, coming together and working like a charm.

For non-programmers who are looking and longing for a similar experience, I say look no further than your kitchen. In cooking, a similar joy can be found. Many times I’ve found myself in the kitchen preparing dishes that look nothing like what they started with.

One of my favourite “how can this be that?!” revelations can be found in one of my favourite Chinese dishes called hor fun

Especially if it’s the first time you’re trying to cook it, almost all the way through to the last couple of steps where you pour in the cornstarch solution and the egg, you’d be questioning if it’s really going to be turn out like you think it should turn out to be (before that, the dish just resembles a really sad attempt at kway teow soup).

I find it a great analog to programming. Where you start off with various ingredients that don’t appear to mix together too well, and where you’re trudging through tough periods based on nothing but faith and the hope that it’s going to work out in the end.

It’s no wonder that many computer and programming books come with titles like “Recipes” and “Cookbook”.

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