Me On Money Matters


We live in interesting times!


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Will you take a paycut to save the company, part 3

I never thought there would be a part 3 to this.

A few days after the voting was officially over, my manager mentioned in a group lunch that he was surprised by my group's response, but he did not elaborate. He also said the voting period was been extended.

A few days later, we received an email that mentioned that 80% "responded positively". I thought that was the end of it.

A week later, our section manager called an "emergency" meeting to appeal to us once again. He said Singapore's figures were "substantially lower", and the management was very concerned.

I doubt people will change their mind. I don't think people believe that there are no consequences (the official claim), but look at it this way:

  • 5% cut is 1 to 3 normal pay increments, so even if you are skipped for a few rounds, you are still ahead.
  • There is no guarantee of no WFR.
  • The Singapore Government is already subsidizing 12% of the CPF (up to $2.5k).
  • Company appears to be doing well, judging by its stock price (at local high).
  • The grunts (that's us) have been "suffering" for years.

Let's see what happens after this deadline. Will there be another round of appeal? If there is, I may be inclined to change my vote. Always go with the majority, I say. Let's die together!

Money first in Singapore

News: Where money holds sway

Date: 25 April 2009. Source: The Star.

The large salaries paid to the elite is pushing many Singaporeans towards an unhealthy chase for the dollar.

THE trial of a high-living Buddhist monk who owns three properties and loves luxurious cars has shown how far Singapore has fallen under a money culture.

It is the latest of an ongoing debate whether this affluent city is over-paying its leaders in government, big business, big charities and religion.

Even priests and monks, who should be the last people to be involved, are not spared, the latest being one of Singapore's top Buddhist monks.

I'm surprised the followers haven't lost their faith yet.

A comment on the new US presidency

This administration has such mastery over press manipulation that it can rightly be accused of Axis-power style propaganda.

The Obama administration claims it is halving the deficit — while in the very process of doubling it.

It talks about bi-partisanship — while executing procedural maneuvers to cut off Congressional debate.

It talks about restraint — while rushing a trillion dollar package through Congress in three days.

And now, it talks about budget cuts — which amount to 1/35 thousandth of its budget.

Is this shrewdness on their part — or is in contempt for American citizens?

Well said. Obama speaks well, but his actions don't match his words.

A matter of confidence

News: Insider Selling Jumps to Highest Level Since 2007

Date: 24 April 2009. Source: Bloomberg.

Executives and insiders at U.S. companies are taking advantage of the steepest stock market gains since 1938 to unload shares at the fastest pace since the start of the bear market.

Gap Inc.'s founding family sold $45 million of shares in the largest U.S. clothing retailer this month, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings compiled by Bloomberg. Daniel Warmenhoven, the chief executive officer at NetApp Inc., liquidated the most stock of the storage-computer maker in more than six years. Sales by the co-founders of Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. were the highest since at least 2001.


China is diversifying

News: China admits to building up stockpile of gold

Date: 24 April 2009. Source: Financial Post.

China revealed on Friday that it had secretly raised its gold reserves by three-quarters since 2003, increasing its holdings to 1,054 tonnes - or a pot worth about US$30.9-billion - and confirming years of speculation it had been buying.

Hu Xiaolian, head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, told Xinhua news agency in an interview that the country's reserves had risen by 454 tonnes from 600 tonnes since 2003, when China last adjusted its state gold reserves figure.

The confirmation of its surreptitious stockpiling is likely to fuel market talk about Beijing's ability to buy secretly and its ambitions for spending its nearly US$2-trillion pile of savings. And not just in gold: copper and other metals markets are booming thanks to China's barely-visible hand.

Mankind just cannot get away from gold. Gold does not have an intrinsic value (you can't eat it, for example). Gold has value because everyone agrees it has value — it is very suitable for trading. Ultimately, people have more confidence in a physical item than fiat currency.

Why so many variants?

Recently, a friend was looking at the Macross 1/60 Destroids and was upset that the manufacturer, Yamato, came out with 4 variants per toy:

  • Cartoon color
  • Cartoon, weathered
  • Olive drab
  • Olive drab, weathered

(The weathered editions are limited editions. Apparently, they are used to get rid of excess stock!)

I am not surprised. The destroids are a very niche market, much more niche than the transformable VF planes. Perhaps the demand was even less than one minimum run! (Or more likely, to break even.)

What to do? Instead of 10,000 units, break them up into four 2,500 units. The hardcore collectors will then collect all four, helping with the sales. The more "realistic" olive drab color will appeal to the BattleTech group too.

Speaking of the planes, the VF-1 Valkyrie is really a cashcow for Yamato. There are six models: VF-1A, VF-1D, VF-1J, VF-1S, VT-1 and VE-1. The 1A, 1J and 1S are 100% identical, except for the head! The 1D shares 95% of the parts (it's a two seater) and the VT-1 and VE-1 perhaps 80%.

There are several color schemes per model. For example, VF-1A has six color schemes:

  • one with red strips
  • one with blue strips
  • one with green strips
  • one with blue panels
  • one with brown panels
  • "cannon fodder" (generic fighter)

Yamato also releases several VF-1 with non-canon colors.

If this is not enough, Yamato has issued the VF-1 three times. First, it came out with the 1/60 scale. There were some shortcomings, but it was much better than the old 80s edition, so fans still bought it. Then it switched to the 1/48. Finally, it switched back to 1/60, calling them version 2.0.

Unlike many collectors, I don't see the point of buying every single plane, even though they are canon. These are very expensive (and quite fragile) toys! I have two 1/60 v1 and two 1/48 VFs. That's enough for me.

No tax revenue, got to borrow

News: Soaring U.S. Budget Deficit Will Mean Billions in Bond Sales

Date: 22 April 2009. Source: Bloomberg.

Millions of lost jobs mean billions in lost tax revenue for the U.S. government, and billions in additional Treasury debt to fund a federal budget deficit that may soar to more than four times last year's record $454.7 billion.

Employers cut 3.7 million positions from their payrolls in the six months since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, and the unemployment rate reached a 25-year high of 8.5 percent in March. That suggests receipts for April -- the biggest month for tax collection -- are likely to come in well below April 2008, analysts said.

With spending on unemployment insurance and other safety- net programs rising, the deficit is already at a record $956.8 billion six months into the fiscal year. To help close that gap, the Treasury Department has more than quadrupled borrowing, pushing the government deeper into debt.

Challenging times. It would be interesting to see the effect on the bond market. Specifically, when will the buyers stop buying? That would be a very interesting moment. (Having to raise interest rates to attract buyers is not a good thing too. Having borrowed so much, it is to the advantage of US to keep interest rates low.)

The 12K novels

12K novels

I like the show Twelve Kingdoms very much. Some parts are quite slow (especially the start) and the animation is lackluster, but the story transcends its production flaws.

The story is very intriguing because it brings you into an alternate world. If you buy the story, you'll be hooked as you try to uncover how the alternate world works.

Twelve Kingdoms is based on novels of the same name. There are seven novels, around four of which are animated. For the time being, it doesn't look like there will be new animation nor novels.

For a long time, the novels don't mean anything to me. After all, they are in Japanese. And Japanese is as greek to me as greek is to a Japanese. TokyoPop has been translating them to English since 2007, at a rate of one book per year! In the first year, they will release the hardcover volume, then they will release the paperback volume exactly one year later. As of now, there are two paperbacks (the first two volumes) and one hardcover volume.

The hardcover version is too expensive for me. Amazon wants US$12.23 for it (not too bad), but Kino wants S$32+ and Borders S$36+! The local bookstores usually offer the books around 2x MSRP (US$17.99). The paperback version is still not too bad. Amazon wants US$8.99, Kino S$13+ and Borders S$18+.

There is one big reason why I hesitated to get the books: there are free translations of the novels online, copyright violations aside. Volumes 1, 2, 4, 6 and partially 7 are available. Some people spent the time and effort to translate the novels on their own. The translations are pretty good, in my opinion.

The second reason is that there is no guarantee that TokyoPop will finish the entire series. Anime is a niche market in the US, mangas even more so. I presume translated Japanese novels are even more niche.

A third reason is that the novels are said to have been fully translated to Chinese! I would prefer to read the Chinese verison if it's available. My impression is that Japanese translates rather well to Chinese, so the original meanings and styles are retained.

Still, faced with the books before me, I decided to pick them up after all. Take it as a vote for TokyoPop to continue its translations.

A new lease of life for my shoes

New soles

My shoes have reached its EOL, but I passed by a clobber shop while wandering in a mall, and I thought, "why not?".

I was rather surprised to find a clobber shop, of all places, in a mall! I know clobbers must exist in Singapore, but I don't know where to find them (other than makeshift "pushcarts" in the heartlands).

The soles have started to detach from the shoes, so I asked if they can be glued back. However, the clobber said the soles should be replaced and then the shoes can be used for another few years.

I was sold on the idea. I watched a recent news that men's shoes can be worn for ten years before they finally wear out. I'll be happy if my shoes can last another three years.

Of course, you can say that the clobber would recommend a more expensive solution. I agree. That's something to keep in mind when asking vested specialists for advice. Still, it's a win-win situation if the shoes actually last for years.

It was much more expensive than what I had expected to pay for gluing back the soles.

Downgraded my website

I'm paying $150 for 800 MB space and 20 GB (?) monthly bandwidth for my website. I'm paying another $15 for the domain name.

My web hosting company offers monthly specials every month, so when my site is up for its yearly renewal, I found a suitable plan among the specials: 1 GB space, 10 GB monthly bandwidth for just $100.

However, I did not switch to it as it involves moving to a slower server (and a $30 migration charge). In the end, I opted for a normal $120 plan that offers 1 GB space and 20 GB monthly bandwidth.

I save $30 and gain 200 MB more space! (Not that I need the space right now.)

I am really underutilizing my website. It has so much to offer: PHP, MySQL, forums, sub-domains. I'm not using it to its full potential at all.

The analysts and the market

I find it quite ironic. When the market turned around, all the analysts say it's a bear rally. The market kept going up, as if to spite them. The market is still on an uptrend.

The market will go down when the Singapore Government says the economy is recovering. The Singapore Government has an uncanny ability to be opposite of the market. By the time they give their analysis, the situation has totally changed.

I also feel that the fundamentals have not changed. The big US banks are bankrupted (probably) and the US Government is still taking the approach of spending money that it doesn't have to try to spur the economy.

However, this is not your grandfather's recession. The US consumers are overleveraged (credit cards) and underwater (housing mortgage). I don't see how the economy can recover in the short term, especially when the US Government is refusing to recognize the losses.

More rope to hang yourself

News: Banks lure big earners with more credit

Date: 6 April 2009. Source: ST.

HIGH net worth individuals will be enjoying increased spending power in the months to come as banks take advantage of relaxed rules on credit card limits.

Standard Chartered is already offering well-off customers a card with considerably higher credit limits, and Citibank is promising something similar 'soon'.

If I earn $30k/year, my credit limit is $5k/card. If I earn $120k/year, my limit is $100k/card!

I suspect the bank is hoping these people will borrow to their limit and then roll over their balance. The bank will earn $24k/year in interest then.

Good money for the bank, not so good for the person. If you used to earn $120k, now you only earn $96k.

Model shoot

News: Want to be a bikini model?

Date: 5 April 2009. Source: ST.

Young and eager, many girls are readily posing for male photographers for small fee, even free

The pay could be as little as $15 an hour for a two-hour photoshoot.

But there is no shortage of women agreeing to pose - sometimes in lingerie or bikini - for mostly male photography buffs, say organisers.

$200/hour is a very good rate. $15/hour, not so good.

I suspect one reason why the age has been going down is because of the price. Younger usually means cheaper.

Suppose you get 3 models at $50/hour for 2 hours, that's $300. You need 6 people who are willing to pay $50 to break-even.

Several things that I lost over the years

I lost/misplaced a few things over the years. One of them is a CD. I like the CD and have bought it twice because I lost the CD the first time round. (It is my destiny to lose this CD.) Unfortunately, I don't remember its name nor the group, so I couldn't buy it again. Once, I heard a song from it over radio and even caught its name, but it slipped my mind just 5 minutes later!

If anything, I suspect I left the CD in my previous workplace. I left a box behind when I left my previous workplace. I remember this because I left one of my lens hood in the box and I wanted to get it back, but I never did. I will try to contact an ex-colleague to see the box is still there.

I also lost two Studio Ghibli DVDs: Kiki and Howl's Moving Castle. I couldn't find them when I wanted to rewatch them recently. I don't think I misplaced them because I couldn't find them in the usual places; I rarely put things out-of-place. I suspect I lent them out and forgot about them. I can be very careless sometimes. (But then, these are R2 DVDs from Japan. They are quite expensive. I thought I would be more careful with them.)

I will rebuy Kiki, but I'll wait for the Blu-ray edition that (i) is progressive, (ii) has no EE (edge enhancement) and (iii) has no window-boxing.

As for Howl's Moving Castle, I don't really like it. The story doesn't make much sense, just like Spirited Away. Many people don't dare to give poor reviews because of Hayao Miyazaki's fame, but I'll call a spade a spade. Personally, I think Miyazaki has lost it. His previous works, up to Princess Mononoke, are all very good.

To make matter worse, the R2 and R3 DVD versions of Spirited Away have a red tint. Studio Ghibli never admitted their mistake, but they must have used a monitor that was too bluish, that's why they made it so red.

To witness real Hayao Miyazaki magic, it is necessary to look at his earlier works:

  • Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
  • Nausicaa (1984)
  • Laputa (1986)
  • Totoro (1988)
  • Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
  • Porco Rosso (1992)
  • Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke is a very serious film, unlike his earlier works. It's very un-Miyazaki-like, if I should say so. It took me a second viewing to appreciate the show.

It is unfortunate most of the R2 DVDs have the same problems: (i) interlaced, (ii) EE and (iii) window-boxing. (Fortunately, the video can be reconstructed back to progressive easily, but the other two problems remain.)

A new Transformers toy

MP-8 Grimlock

I'm an old-school Transformers fan. I only buy things related to the G1 (Generation One) series. These are the first three seasons of the TV cartoon and the movie — the real Transformers movie, not the Michael Bay who-the-hell-are-they sorry tale.

The only Transformers toys that I buy now are the Masterpiece series. I used to buy the Binaltech series, but not any more. They are well-engineered toys, but they are not canon.

I have MP-1 (Optimus Prime), MP-3 (Starscream), MP-5 (Megatron) and now MP-8 (Grimlock). I didn't buy the others because they are variants/repaints.

The Masterpiece toys are a solid piece of engineering. Hallmarks of the Masterpiece toys:

  • Size (20cm to 30cm)
  • Cartoon likeness in both forms
  • Good articulation (posable)
  • Gimmicks (lights, eye-color changes, accessories)

However, they also cost a lot. To ensure the sales volume, there are two important considerations: either the character is popular or it allows repaints. Starscream is a good example. The same mould was used for 2 other characters (MP-6 Skywrap, MP-7 Thundercracker).

The two leaders, Optimus Prime and Megatron, are the most popular characters. It's a no-brainer that the first toy out is Optimus Prime.

Megatron is a problem because of his gun mode. Realistic gun toys are not allowed in the US. Megatron was changed to a tank after G1, but to me, Megatron is always a gun. Takara didn't care and go ahead to produce him. Hasbro didn't license him for the US market.

Some people think the next Masterpiece would be Soundwave or Shockwave. That strikes me as unlikely because their transformations are very simple. In fact, I thought Grimlock was too simple to make into a Masterpiece.

I will continue to buy the Masterpiece toys, but I will not buy all of them. In fact, I'm biased towards not buying. I await the next toy eagerly because I want to see whether it changes my mind or not.

Expenses for March 2009

Category Jan Feb Mar
Basic 1,061.55 985.02 2,574.12
Cash 213.60 241.50 172.10
Vehicle 258.35 307.97 577.60
Others 116.30 875.00 308.15
Total 1,649.80 2,409.49 3,631.97

Basic expenses are high due to an insurance premium.

Vehicle expenses are high because I changed the CB400F's tyres and related worn out parts ($365).

The bulk of other expenses are the tablet stylus ($138.03) and a slim lens filter for the 28/2 lens ($61.60).