Week 5.21

  • It’s like the ants around here have gone crazy. I noticed them swarming in the kitchen one morning, carting off bits of a granola bar whose wrapper had a corner mysteriously torn off. Did they do it with their teeth? One colony cleansing later, I saw them reappear in another cupboard trying to get into a packet of dates. Wondering if there was something seasonal or lunar about this behavior, I asked some friends if they’d noticed anything similar lately and got “YES!” for an answer.
  • I joked that it was as if the ant leaders had announced that they weren’t going to make their food targets for the quarter, so everyone needed to get out there and collect goddammit!
  • Stonks. This week was noteworthy just because everyone now knows what a GameStop is, even though we don’t have any. I saw the headlines but didn’t poke into it until it was too late to get rich. Buut I bought a single overpriced share anyway, in solidarity with the people out to make predatory short-sellers suffer. I can’t even begin to guess if this is as big a deal as some make it out to be, or just a blip the system will painlessly absorb. I can’t intuit if it’s the beginning of a sea change in money, or just a January news story. My longstanding ignorance of market matters doesn’t help. But it is exciting to watch.
  • If it turns out to be a big deal though, many smart people seem to think it will accelerate adoption of decentralized finance platforms. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about getting my feet wet with PoolTogether, which was just buying lottery tickets with play money. This week I actually used Uniswap, and bought into an index fund governed by smart contracts. So… progress. Maybe next week I’ll quit my job and yield farm for a living.
  • It wouldn’t be an update without some Apple-related anecdote. My wife got one of the new iPad Airs for work purposes, and it’s nice enough that I actually questioned needing the next iPad Pro. Better screen technology and an A14X would be great, but if they raise the price for miniLED then I might just settle for an Air. My current iPad Pro, the one-off 10.5” model (2017), is such a weirdo. It’s like they had to cut a bunch of corners on it while waiting for the redesigned third-generation (2018). It doesn’t support spatial audio with AirPods, even though older devices like the iPhone 7 do. It’s got a white spot on the screen that I’ve seen others complain about. And graphically it’s so weak that most games seem to run in 480p.
  • Before bed each night, we started watching random YouTube videos of food being prepared, with no narration or music. Just street food kitchens and stalls in Korea and Taiwan frying up stuff at scale, with tons of oil. It’s beautiful, horrifying, and sleep inducing all at once.
  • As a result, I didn’t use my Netflix account until Sunday, when I started to watch Alice in Borderland, which is a truly not-bad Japanese live action series based on a manga. I recommend giving the first episode a go, just to see an impressive shot of Shibuya that will make you go “wait, what?!”. I’m up to Episode 3, which unfortunately goes into one of those time-wasting sequences where people scream/shout each other’s names for about three minutes. That’s still my number one pet peeve about Japanese shows. Nevertheless, I can recommend it on production values alone.
  • What a week for music, though. New albums from Rhye and Weezer, and the long-awaited debut albums from Arlo Parks and Celeste.
  • Through the serendipity of my personalized Apple Music radio station, I also discovered Instant Karma, an Amnesty International project from back in 2007 to “Save Dafur”. It’s 61(!) John Lennon covers by various artists, including R.E.M., Willie Nelson, The Cure, a-ha, Lenny Kravitz, and The Postal Service. Avril Lavigne even covers Imagine! I haven’t had the time for it all, but Regina Spektor’s version of Real Love might be my pick already.

Week 4.21

  • It’s now been a year of living with the pandemic. I remember hearing about it and wondering how serious it could be; not having been around for SARS when it happened here, I had no frame of reference for how daily life could change with hand sanitizing, mask wearing, and all that. I certainly did not entertain that it could be even worse. By March, I think it was much clearer that this would not be over in a matter of months, and here we are.
  • I read some opinions that with the new strains emerging and the efficacy of current vaccines in question, it might easily be 2023 before developed countries are really free of it, while poorer countries may never get there. That may turn out to be overly pessimistic, but on the other hand I worry that without definitive information and leadership, people are only too happy to assume it’ll be okay instead of making drastic life-changing plans, like getting out of a tourism-dependent career, for instance.
  • I spent more time trying to improve my financial literacy by reading up on things like how to safely draw down on your investments in the unlikely event of retirement, and how it can be more valuable to reduce your monthly expenses than to invest in exactly the right things.
  • That prompted me to inspect what I’ve been spending on, and to think about why my monthly expenditure varies so wildly. But when I started to imagine giving up little things (starting with swapping Nespressos for tea bags), it started to feel a little miserly/miserable. If I’m going to be working hard, I want to push hot water through grounds in an aluminum pod goddammit! So the answer I came up with was… mindfulness. Instead of taking so many things for granted, I’m going to try and consciously enjoy them more.
  • Yeah the pods get recycled.
  • Bicep’s Apricots was on my list of top songs in 2020, and now the full album, Isles, is out. I wouldn’t normally sit through an entire LP of “electronic music” but this is a good one. Stream it on Apple Music, and you’ll see animated cover art. Paul McCartney’s McCartney III is the only other album I’ve seen with an animated cover, but many of Apple’s own playlists now have really expensive-looking animations.

Week 52.20

  • I weighed myself at the end of last weekend’s staycation, which arguably came at the end of a multi-month odyssey of bad eating, and found that I was heavier than I have been in at least 6 years. So the first half of this week was devoted to eating salads and lowering my caloric intake as much as possible. I also skipped drinking every day, and I think it’s come down a touch. I will have to keep this going in an effort to return to a figure that could be called normal (both on the scale and irl).
  • No surprises, but Christmas was different and the lead up was even less detectably Christmas-feeling than it is every year — I am prone to declaring that ‘THIS year, it really doesn’t feel like Christmas’, every single time. Nonetheless, efforts were made, and I shall probably look back on this year’s edition with fondness.
  • There was work to be done up to the last minute of Christmas Eve, and there’ll be some work to do next week too, but I am looking forward to a bit of a rest and some reading/gaming in early January. I say this here to remind myself to actually do it, and not just scroll Twitter on the couch for days.
  • It’s not often that I fire up the podcast app and listen to anything, but I uncharacteristically spent a few hours this week on financial/investing-related content, which will hopefully help to set up a better 2021. I don’t know why I spent the first half (or more) of my life resistant to the idea of understanding economics and money; well, I suppose I can make a guess as to the underlying repulsions, but it’s never too late to change your mind and try to let some new thoughts in.
  • My birthday was months ago, but I think the realization only started to land in the last few months (and almost completely subconsciously!). I was talking to someone awhile ago about how you just one day catch yourself changing up stuff or trying new things, and oh hey what a coincidence 4-0, and they said yeah, it’s a real thing and it’s started happening to me too, except a year in advance. I’m always lagging.
  • A reunion of sorts: Many years ago, possibly a decade, I chanced upon a wonky, clearly Not Proper Art painting at the Affordable Art Fair and sort of fell for it. It was an underdog. It was absolute innocence, defenseless against the world. Kim hated it and walked us away. I wanted to go back for another look and maybe take a photo but never got the chance. In any case, it was way too expensive for me to even consider. As with all things that get away, you want them even more, irrationally. I remember calling the gallery up for the local artist’s name and writing it down in Evernote. And all these years, I’ve been holding a vivid memory of it in my head, and I bring it up from time to time to tease and horrify Kim with the idea of putting it up in our home. We found it online this week. It’s still unsold, at the same gallery. The price has come down by about half. I have money these days. It’s still higher than it probably should be. I don’t know. It’s almost exactly as I remembered it. Maybe I’ll buy it just to scratch the itch and close the book.
  • App of the Week: Mimi Hearing Test [iOS]. This free app will test your hearing in about 5 minutes if you have a pair of headphones that they’ve calibrated for, and tell you how degraded your ears are. It outputs an “audiogram” assessment to Apple’s Health.app, which can be used to tune the sound quality of AirPods beyond the usual Hearing Accommodations. It’s pretty great and I think everyone should try it.

Little Green

As I write this update, I’m listening to Joni Mitchell’s Little Green at possibly too high a volume for 11 o’clock at night, but I have no idea how thick these walls are, so let’s find out. This unusually unneighborly behavior has been brought on by watching the new High Fidelity TV series (yes, based on that Nick Hornby book), starring Zoe Kravitz in the role played by John Cusack in the 2000 film, and look, the whole thing is sublime. Watch it, because it’ll remind you that you were once young and played your music loud. And that it’s been too damn long since you’ve heard Darondo’s Didn’t I.

This is also made possible by the fact that I’ve finally traded in our aging Asus router for a pair of Netgear Orbi mesh routers. Only 1.5 years after moving in. And so the internet is now flowing into a part of the house that I’d neglected before because what in the hell am I supposed to do in a room with no WiFi? This room is now going to be a place where I can sit in near darkness, streaming really warm sounds out of a cranky first-gen Beolit speaker, writing on my iPad, and drinking. Aww yes.

Speaking of Little Green…

I spent most of last year getting up to speed on personal finance basics at the ripe old age of a̷l̷m̷o̷s̷t̷ 4̷0̷. For most of my working life, money and investing was an essential resource that I never fully understood, and I was mostly happy to have it sit in that blind spot, content that simple saving would do alright “for now” and nervously assuming that the “for later” part would sort itself out in the end.

I put some blame on the false absolutes we were taught in school: kids are sorted into separate paths focusing on either sciences, economics, or the arts around 14, if I recall correctly, and it’s too easy to let that define you to yourself. I ended up with the thinking that money was for the money people. Of course, I accept the residual blame for hiding behind that lazy excuse all these years.

So when I read Ramit Sethi’s approachable book “I Will Teach You to be Rich” last month, I was relieved to find that I already knew the majority of its lessons. As he puts it, the best time for me to have started investing was 15 years ago; the second-best time is now. Another practice that made sense to me: setting up monthly financial check-ins as a family. Even if there’s no news to update each other about, it sets aside time to think and plan.

In any case, it certainly seems like personal finance is being discussed a lot more frequently in casual conversation today than it was when I was growing up, or even in the past 10 years, for that matter. Financial literacy has probably never been higher.

I attribute this to the rise of fintech startups, how many there are, and how visible their services are in our Instagram feeds. If you live in Singapore and haven’t seen a StashAway/Endowus/Syfe/Kristal ad, then I’ve got a referral code to offer you.

For the unfamiliar, these are all so-called roboadvisors, usually helping you to buy into a portfolio of ETFs based on your asset allocation preferences/risk appetite, while taking a sub-0.8% cut for management fees. It’s remarkably easy to get started once you’ve educated yourself and decided you want in — whereas back in my day, before online banking (let alone mobile banking), starting a trading account was an arcane art that required serious capital.

Based on what I’ve seen, the equivalent offerings from traditional banks (DBS, UOB, OCBC) are only playing catch-up, both in terms of fees and design. It would be fun to do some research on how the boundaries of trust have moved and what Singaporeans’ financial behaviors look like now. I used to wonder what the big deal was with the local licensing exercise around digital banks, but now that I think about it, there’s obviously blood in the water.