Having more by wanting less

I was talking to a friend who kept telling me that she didn’t have enough time for all she wanted to do: translation work, teaching, preparing curriculum, researching for PhD program and running a business of multiple AirBnb listings. Many of us have the same issue: day time job, workout, cooking, eating, socializing, reading, side projects, family, friends, 8 hours of sleep, transportation, you name it.

The 24 hour allocation every day isn’t going to change. The more we want to do and complete, the more we feel that there isn’t enough time. If time isn’t going to expand, I believe that the solution to this issue is to want less. If we decrease the number of activities, we’ll have more free time on hand.

The concept can be applied to personal finance as well. I came across a report on how Americans incur more debt for weddings

The Washington Post reports that these companies—amongst them Prosper, Upstart, and Earnest—are offering five-figure-plus loans with up to 30% interest. Unlike other types of personal loans (which, in 2019, typically have interest rates between 5% and 36%, according to personal finance site Value Penguin), these loans are specifically for brides and grooms to help pay for their special day.

According to the Post, these lenders say that, already in 2019, they have issued up to four times as many “wedding loans” as they did last year for couples paying for their own weddings.

What’s driving this trend? It seems to be the confluence of several different factors. First, the majority of those taking out wedding loans are millennials, a demographic that is under substantially more financial pressure than previous generations. Millennials are spending more money on things like education (or, rather, paying off student debt), healthcare, and rent; their average net worth is $8,000, 34% less than Americans of the same age 20 years ago. That leaves a lot less money to spend on extravagant nuptials.

On top of that, the average cost of a wedding is rapidly rising. According the Brides‘ 2018 American Wedding Study, a wedding in 2017 cost around $27,000. A year later, in 2018, that number nearly doubled to $44,000.

Adding to that cost is the so-called “wedding tax,” the premium that party vendors—such as photographers, caterers, and florists—place on a product or service when its meant for a wedding.

Young Americans are racking up debt for Instagrammable weddings

A colleague of mine once shared his financial concerns about his upcoming baby and wedding. Apparently, he would have to care about paying for the wedding, the baby’s birth, a new car as his current one isn’t friendly to babies and day care. All of them are significant expenses. In many cases, many of us have only one income and a lot more expenses. As the number of expenses increase, the disposable income left shrinks and debts can rack up. Either we have to grow more income sources or expenses have to be cut down so that there is more free money in case of emergencies and more freedom. Obviously, having a secondary or third income besides a day job is more difficult than eliminating unnecessary expenses. So again, to have more, we should want less

Discussion on socialism on the Internet and the news

Socialism is one of the most polarizing topics out there, either in politics, on the news or on the Internet. Whenever socialism is mentioned, the two extremes are often cited: the social democracy in Scandinavian countries and failures such as Venezuela.

What I found troubling with the use of socialism on the news is that it is closely associated with social equality. Whenever the discussion on increasing social benefits to citizens starts, the term socialism follows. Proponents cite Scandinavian nations as examples of success while critics use countries like Venezuela to demonstrate how horrible socialism is.

In my opinion, increasing social benefits to make the playing field more even isn’t equal to socialism. If that were the case, why Scandinavian countries haven’t failed or plunged into oblivion and chaos yet? The problem lies in the state-owned privatization of industries, the suffocation of free markets and corruption. It is not the social benefit programs that plagued Venezuela’s economy. It is the catastrophic privatization by the government, the removal of free markets and the extreme reliance on oil which is turbulent.

American politicians who oppose social benefit programs use Venezuela as an example to stop those programs, but I think they are wrong. And what’s wrong with leveling the playing field a bit more? America is obsessed with working hard and defying the odds. Yet, having a leg up or a bit of help in the beginning doesn’t take anything away from the triumph in the future. Folks in Western Europe still have to compete and work hard to excel in life. Nonetheless, at least on average I think they have better help from the government than Americans.

This is not a declaration of my political view. It is just to say that the term “socialism” is falsely used to scare off folks when it comes to any discussion that can benefit citizens. It shouldn’t be like that.

Access to Internet. Difference between America and Estonia

Internet is now a necessity to our life, in addition to water, electricity or clean air. It’s wildly hard to imagine our life without the Internet. Yet, to some in rural areas in America, access to Internet is a luxury. Today’s episode on Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj shed light on the problem that seems unbelievable in this day and age in the country known for being a leader in technology. Apparently, millions of people in the US don’t have access to the Internet. It’s bonkers to think that some kids have to access Internet from parked buses at Coachella to do homework.

The cause of the issue lies in the monopoly and hence, lack of competition. The market is controlled by two companies only, both of which have more motivation to increase their bottom line than to deliver quality services. To make the matters worse, the authorities haven’t exactly come to the rescue of consumers. Have a listen to know more about this astonishing problem in the US

Meanwhile, Estonia is a little country in Europe with 1.3 million in population. Yet, it makes access to Internet a human right and creates a digital society that serves as an example for other countries. Things that are painstaking and time-consuming in the US are done in little time in Estonia. For instance, you can vote electronically in Estonia. You can get your medical records online. You can file taxes in no time as well. The Estonian government prepares all the tax documents so that all that is required of you is for you to verify the information. Have a listen to a mini documentary below

According to PBS, when Estonia left USSR in 1991, there were few computers in the country and 20% of the US population already had access to the Internet. Almost 30 years later, Estonia already surpassed the US in this regard.

Infrastructure in the US is notoriously in a shabby shape. However, when infrastructure is mentioned, we tend to think about roads, railway and highways. Not the Internet. But the story by Netflix above shows that the US has a serious problem at hand with one of the fundamental necessities, despite possessing some of the most advanced technologies in the world.

The longer I live in the US, the more I am convinced that inequality is ubiquitous in the US. Not just geographically, but also across domains. While being excellent at some specializations, the US underperforms in some fundamental foundations.

Half Year Progress Reflection

We are already past the middle of June; which means that half of the year 2019 was gone. Blink your eyes and you’ll look at 2019 in the rear mirror soon. I took a walk today to do some thinking and reflect on what happened in the first 6 months of the year. So far, I have had some ups and downs. Let’s talk about the ups

  • I managed to get my dad to visit the US, his first overseas trip ever. I was in awe when I saw the outside world for the first time at the age of 19. I can’t imagine his feelings when he did at the age of 60
  • I joined a wonderful team and company. My teammates are excellent in their abilities and, more importantly, manners. They have been nothing, but helpful to a new guy with little experience in the banking industry. My paperwork has been luckily smooth so far. Yayyyy!
  • I have been pretty consistent in maintaining this blog. So far this year, I have written 135 blog posts, well ahead of my goal of 200 blog posts at the end of the year. Since January, the traffic has been doggedly increasing with last month as the new high. Though it is somewhat positive, maintaining a habit is more important
  • I think so far I have done a decent job of keeping myself from stress. Being able to take long walks, exercise, do some reading or travel at will is awesome
  • Except for a few nights that I could count on one hand, I have largely stayed away from alcohol

But I still have a lot of work to do:

  • I still don’t get 8 hours of sleep every night. Getting even 7 hours is rare enough
  • On average, I frequent the gym less often than I did in the same period last year. On top of that, my addiction to and increased consumption of ice cream have added a few pounds (7 to be exact) to my body
  • I made some bad calls in investing, including bad timing and missed opportunities (Zoom, for instance)
  • 8 books have been read so far. I went for 3 months in a row without finishing a book and it needs to be changed
  • My circle of local friends hasn’t changed much compared to 2018; which is a pity. I feel that I still face the same struggle integrating into American culture and making American friends as I did in 2018. Additionally, I don’t venture much outside of my comfort zone
  • Lastly, I was a bit reckless in expenses for the past 3 months. The increase in expenses comes mostly from my urge to explore all restaurants in town and my dad’s visit to US.

Overall, I would give my first half of the year a solid 6.5. It’s below a C and I’ll need to up it to at least a B in 6 months’ time. How did you rate yours?

Technology at La Guardia

Today is my first time at La Guardia airport in New York. I am pleasantly surprised by the fact that there are an iPad and a credit card reader at every table, next to a separate electricity outlet.

The devices have every information that a passenger may possibly need while at the airport. More importantly, it makes orders more accurate, self-serving and efficient. No waiters need to take orders and dispense bills. There is no difficulty in locating the customers who placed orders as I am sure that every iPad comes with a unique ID. Moreover, there will be no argument over the accuracy of orders as everything is recorded digitally.

Because the iPad and credit card reader combo sit next to an outlet, passengers can order some food and spend hours with ample electricity. The wifi is reasonably fast enough that I can stream videos. It’s more difficult than you would think to build a network big and fast enough to accommodate thousands of Internet users with heavy demand at the same time. The bandwidth, reliability and consistency have to be maintained well enough to make waiting a pleasant experience. Plus, the network has to handle numerous transactions at a time by passengers. I am intrigued to know the infrastructure like the one at La Guardia.

I may not be as experienced as other fliers, but I know that what is offered at La Guardia isn’t available at every airport. Technology, when used properly, can benefit human beings greatly. This is one of those cases. I am glad to be alive in this era. At this moment.

Japanology – Small factories

I am so humbled to watch a short documentary on the magnificent talent of Japanese artists. At times, the tasks at hand require a level of precision that can only be achieved by feels and instinct of humans. For instance, a stainless steel bar needs to have its diameter reduced from 52.01 millimeter to 50 millimeter. Exactly 2.01 millimeter must be removed. No more, no less.

The talent of these skilled workers is remarkable, only bettered by their off-the-chart regard for what they do. All the interviewees have years and years of honing their craft and pride beams out of their face whenever they talk about the work they do. The products of their labor don’t often get mentioned or recognized by end users, yet as the video shows, the parts play a pivotal role in high speed trains or rockets or healthcare.

This type of craftsmanship, dedication and pride in their work seems like a lost art. I have nothing but deep deep respect for Japan, its culture and the example they show the rest of the world.

Fan transgression and blemish on sports

Last night, an unfortunate event took place at Oracle Arena in the game between Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors. The co-owner of GSW sat court side and upon contact with Kyle Lowry, the point guard of Toronto Raptors, who was trying to save a ball, laid hands on Lowry and hurled vulgar language towards the player. The culprit was suspended by the team for the rest of the series and fined by the league as well

Sports are about emotions and it’s alright to stay at home or a friend’s place and scream at the TV. However, it’s not OK to assault athletes, either physically or verbally. There is racism around Europe in soccer stadiums. Players threaten to walk out in cases like that and I think that they are justified. In basketball, fans touch and throw insults at players. Why? Players are just humans who are trying to do a job for which they are paid. There is no reason to act outside the realm of courtesy or decency.

In some cases, it gets more serious than just shoving or obscene language. A few weeks ago, Mkhitaryan, an Armenian football player at Arsenal, had to stay home to watch his teammates play in the Europa League. It is because the game took place in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which has political conflict with Armenia. If the fans could separate the beautiful game of football from a political conflict and realize that Mkhitaryan didn’t choose where he was born, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

I hope that one day, we will forever discard all the blemishes on the sports we love and just enjoy the beautiful moments that sports bring. We don’t need what the co-owner of Golden State Warriors did to be a distraction away from moments like this.

The debt to the truth & the fatal lesson we didn’t seem to learn

The last episode of Chernobyl was aired on Monday and yet it has still been on my mind since. The quality of the episode is unbelievable and bettered only by the message it carries. The importance of the truth. The cost we pay for lies.

Here is a clip in which how a nuclear core works and how negligence, coupled with greed, set up the cause for one of the most tragic incidents in humans’ history.

This speech from Legasov explains that it is not incompetence that caused the reactor core explosion. It’s the lies we tell each other.

“When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it’s even there. But it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, the debt is paid. That is how an RBMK reactor core explodes. Lies”

What is even more shocking is that we as humans don’t seem to learn from our lesson. Technology Review reported on the egregious behavior of KHNP, a nuclear affiliate of Korea Nuclear Power Corporation.

“On September 21, 2012, officials at KHNP had received an outside tip about illegal activity among the company’s parts suppliers. By the time President Park had taken office, an internal probe had become a full-blown criminal investigation. Prosecutors discovered that thousands of counterfeit parts had made their way into nuclear reactors across the country, backed up with forged safety documents. KHNP insisted the reactors were still safe, but the question remained: was corner-cutting the real reason they were so cheap?

After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, most reactor builders had tacked on a slew of new safety features. KHNP followed suit but later realized that the astronomical cost of these features would make the APR1400 much too expensive to attract foreign clients.

“They eventually removed most of them,” says Park, who now teaches nuclear engineering at Dongguk University. “Only about 10% to 20% of the original safety additions were kept.”

Most significant was the decision to abandon adding an extra wall in the reactor containment building—a feature designed to increase protection against radiation in the event of an accident. “They packaged the APR1400 as ‘new’ and safer, but the so-called optimization was essentially a regression to older standards,” says Park. “Because there were so few design changes compared to previous models, [KHNP] was able to build so many of them so quickly.”

Having shed most of the costly additional safety features, Kepco was able to dramatically undercut its competition in the UAE bid, a strategy that hadn’t gone unnoticed. After losing Barakah to Kepco, Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon likened the Korean unit to a car without airbags and seat belts. When I told Park this, he snorted in agreement. “Objectively speaking, if it’s twice as expensive, it’s going to be about twice as safe,” he said. At the time, however, Lauvergeon’s comments were dismissed as sour words from a struggling rival.On September 21, 2012, officials at KHNP had received an outside tip about illegal activity among the company’s parts suppliers. By the time President Park had taken office, an internal probe had become a full-blown criminal investigation. Prosecutors discovered that thousands of counterfeit parts had made their way into nuclear reactors across the country, backed up with forged safety documents. KHNP insisted the reactors were still safe, but the question remained: was corner-cutting the real reason they were so cheap?”

It’s not just other countries. The US is reportedly not very careful with nuclear warheads in the country, as Last Week Tonight reported

The hopeless and “It wouldn’t matter anyway” pessimism

A friend of mine showed me a screenshot of a notification from a school to which she applied years ago. The notification was about a security breach at the school recently. My reaction to her was that it happened every week nowadays. What does it matter, one more breach?

That’s when it hits me. I am so used to this hopeless beat-down notion that our online identity is eventually leaked and misused. What does it matter that it happened today?

The feeling isn’t exclusive to myself. You and I can see it everywhere.

A friend of mine from Belgium didn’t vote in the election last week. When asked why, he said he didn’t think his vote would matter, in addition to his disagreement with the way EU was functioning.

We are so accustomed to scandals and misdemeanor from this administration and the President that anytime it happens, we just shrug it off and let it buried after one day or even a few hours of the news cycle.

Personally, I am so used to the deaths in traffic accidents in Vietnam that whenever an accident is reported, however horrific, I am numb to the shock or disappointment. I just absorb it and move on.

Should we succumb to this type of pessimism? Maybe not. If someone wants to criticize this surrendering attitude, as they may say, they are in their rights to and they may have a point. On the other hand, the pessimism isn’t necessarily unjustified. As we grow older than the time when we are full of youth and optimism, we gain more life experience and, as a byproduct, more interaction with the harsh reality. Yet, we are too powerless to do anything. And if you look closely at what transpires every day, how can you blame them?

The majority of folks, including myself, tend to just get on with our lives, carrying with us the distrust caused by constant disappointment. However, when enough people in our society subscribe to the “it wouldn’t matter anyway” pessimism, a group of people will benefit. And they will benefit greatly.

Inspiring story about Wasabi

If you have ever eaten sushi, you must be familiar with Wasabi, a green mustard that can hit you right in the nose and leave you speechless for a few seconds. It’s not for everyone, but if you can eat the mustard, chances are that you’ll fall in love with it like I do.

I came across a very informative, soothing and inspiring clip on Wasabi industry. The industry isn’t sexy or talked about like others in the mainstream media. So it’s great to see a mini documentary about it. I love clips like this. In the clip, you’ll see the process of growing wasabi plants in a remote yet beautiful area in Japan and learn why the wasabi we eat at restaurants is most likely fake. At the same time, the story of the main character is really inspiring. He keeps on working and plans to continue doing so in the next 10, 20 years despite his old age and the tragedy of losing his son.

If you could be like him, working in a specialized field and offering the world a precious material, with nature in the background like that, compared to the office job in an urban building that you may or may not like, what would you choose?