Books that made a difference in my life

For too many years, I did not believe in the power of self-improvement books. I always believed that there must be a catch, and these books must have been written simply to profit off the weak minds of readers. After all, why aren’t more people better off if these books were really useful?

Continue reading “Books that made a difference in my life”

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PowerPoint Basics For Those Who Give A Damn

I’ve been creating PowerPoint decks for decades – for everything from small workshops to big-scale event presentations to weekly marketing reports. I’ve had plenty of practice and I think I do decent decks.

Continue reading “PowerPoint Basics For Those Who Give A Damn”

The Surface Pro 3 as an artistic canvas

Before I was a photographer or a writer, I was an artist. I drew incessantly when I was a child, and hoped to become a graphics illustrator when I grew up. It’s a long story as usual, but that didn’t happen.

Over the years, my drawing ability became dormant from disuse, but the arrival of the Surface Pro 3 got the artistic juices flowing again. For those who don’t know, I am in charge of the Surface consumer business in Singapore but I make it a point never to write about my day-to-day work on this site. I’ll make an exception here because of what I’ve been doing on the SP3 outside of working hours – rekindling my love for drawing.

sp3-drawing-ref-1
Going back to basics with Willy Pogany’s classic book The Art Of Drawing, which was written over 60 years ago and with the Surface Pro 3, packed with 21st century technologies.

Much has been written about the SP3’s ability as a drawing tablet for professional or amateur artists. And it’s all true – the combination of the 12″ touch screen, 256-levels-of-sensitivity Surface Pen and software like Fresh Paint, Adobe Photoshop and Autodesk Sketchbook Pro – makes digital artwork both affordable, convenient and easy.

Continue reading “The Surface Pro 3 as an artistic canvas”

Fenix 3 is a better smartwatch than most

The Apple Watch is about to be launched this month and there isn’t much excitement in Singapore because the country is not in the first launch wave. Enthusiasm over Android Wear has waned with the lack of compelling new models and there have been no improvements in battery life.

In the meantime, most people don’t know that Garmin has actually launched a pretty good smartwatch in the form of the multisport Fenix 3.

It’s just a pity most people won’t know about the Fenix 3 because they think a smartwatch ought to look like an Apple Watch, Moto 360 or Pebble. And when you tell people this is a “fitness watch”, they may give you the leery look since they associate the term with hardcore fitness freaks.

Continue reading “Fenix 3 is a better smartwatch than most”

Kindle Voyage : A really short review

Has it been five years already, since I first started using a Kindle? Amazing how so many things have changed in this time frame. I had a USD259 Kindle 2 in Feb 2010, then upgraded to a much cheaper USD139 Kindle 3 later that year.

Both were very imperfect e-book readers, hampered by the technologies of 2010. To be honest, I haven’t used my Kindles much in the past few years as the iPad, and later the iPad mini took over the e-book reader function. What I really couldn’t tolerate was the low contrast, low resolution (167 ppi) and dull grey e-ink screen of those Kindles.

Continue reading “Kindle Voyage : A really short review”

Why and how to buy a 4K UHD TV

This is not a great time to buy a new television for your home as the industry is in transition from the old full HD 1080p standard to Ultra HD (UHD) standard, otherwise also known as 4k TVs.

But if you’re like me, whose faithful Samsung HDTV died after six years of service and it needed to get replaced, you would still have to figure out what type of TV to buy. I learned a lot of things when I was TV shopping back in June and am finally putting down my learnings here for people getting all confused about 4k, UHD, Full HD and all that jazz.

TV-buying is not as easy as buying a PC or a smartphone, so here’s the crash course.

Continue reading “Why and how to buy a 4K UHD TV”

Thoughts on Fitbit and activity trackers

I recently started using a Fitbit Zip activity tracker because I was intrigued by this whole idea of doing 10,000 steps a day to keep fit. At S$78 (before the Challenger member 10% discount), it’s not cheap but it’s not expensive either for a tiny pedometer that comes with Bluetooth wireless capabilities and built-in user account.

To be clear, it’s not like I need a pedometer, because I already jog regularly two to three times a week and I watch what I eat most of the time. I weigh myself daily now with a Fitbit Aria scale that logs my weight to my personal account and I can always study my weight variations anytime on my phone or PC.

But once you pique my curiosity and it involves tech and fitness, I just have to try it out to gain an understanding of what other people are raving about. Continue reading “Thoughts on Fitbit and activity trackers”

The Tuition Problem nobody wants to solve

Dear Voices Editor

I refer to the Today report “MPs call for closer look at private tuition industry” (Today 17 Sep 2013)

It was a disheartening story for parents of primary school children to read.

While the original question posed by MPs in Parliament was focused on whether teachers are leaving the Education Service for more lucrative careers in the tuition sector, the replies from Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah was a disturbing indication that the Ministry of Education doesn’t consider the tuition industry to be a critical issue.

Like it or not, it’s time for policymakers to stop ignoring the Tuition Problem if we are to improve the education system in Singapore. Continue reading “The Tuition Problem nobody wants to solve”

A Gear Shift For The Car Population

This post first appeared on the Breakfast Network.

It was Budget Day and many carrots were handed out.

But most folks I know zoomed in on the two new rules for purchasing new cars:

1. The new MAS rulings for car loans, capped at 60 per cent for OMV less than $20K, and 50 per cent for OMV more than $20K. Car loans are now capped at a tenure of five years.

2. The new tiered Additional Registration Fee (ARF) which increases the tax on luxury cars by up to 180 per cent, versus 100 per cent for low capacity car models.  According to Today: “The ARF for cars with OMVs up to S$20,000 will remain at the current 100 per cent, but two more tiers will be introduced for more expensive models. The next S$30,000 of the OMV of the car will attract an ARF rate of 140 per cent, and any value beyond S$50,000 will attract an ARF rate of 180 per cent.”

The knee jerk reactions came Fast and Furious :

– Car dealers opening their showrooms till midnight for one last desperate lunge at buyers. The question is how many impulse buys were there last night? Once again, it looks like more car salesmen are about to lose their jobs as more buyers are squeezed out of the market.

– On any Facebook stream, you can see two clear reactions: “It’s about time!” vs “Another policy to favor the rich!”. It’s also obvious who is cash-rich and who isn’t, based on the comments.

– Speculation among the more car-savvy folks on how much the COE will drop due to this. Personally, I’m guessing 20-50 per cent drop over six months as the market of buyers shrink. The question is: Of the people who are interested in spending over $200K on a new car, how many of them are cash rich?

Don’t be hating me okay… but I think the Gahmen’s latest measures on tiered ARF tax and cap on car loans are logical and sensible ways of controlling the car population.

Some may think that this favors the rich, but not really, since the rich are taxed more on luxury cars now. Sure, it’s not going to stop a millionaire from buying his Porsche, but it does make the average Joe looking to buy a BMW think a bit harder about his purchase.

The latest policies favor the financially prudent who know how to accumulate cash for a rainy day. For too long, people have forgotten the virtue of saving cold hard cash, relying instead on loans and credit, and spending more than their means. Even if the COE price doesn’t drop much, at least this is sound public policy that will appease those who have been unhappy about the current COE system and have been asking for alternatives (which have been soundly rejected by the Transport Ministry repeatedly).

It also sends a very explicit message to young people just starting out in their careers that owning a car is not a given, but a luxury item. The 2000s were a period when COE prices were low (I got mine at under $5,000 in 2009) due to wrong projections of COE deregistrations, and many young people could afford cars then. Since then, there have been one corrective action after another by the authorities to reverse the over-supply of COE in the market, and this looks like the most potent move yet.

More interestingly, the latest move on capping car loans comes from the Monetary Authority of Singapore because it wants to “safeguard against borrowers defaulting on their repayments” and encouraging financial prudence.

Now how many people have defaulted on their car loans recently? That would be a newsworthy number to know. If the number is low, maybe the G folks should just say it straight: “We don’t want you to borrow money for a car you can’t afford.”