Category Archives: money

The imperfect fungibility of time: thinking about how to use money to accelerate learning

2015-01-30 Leaving money on the table -- index card #consulting #experiment #balance

2015-01-30 Leaving money on the table – index card #consulting #experiment #balance

Any time I want to, I could spend more time consulting. This would make my clients happy. It would help me create much more value, and they would get more value from me than from other ways they could spend their budget. I would improve my skills along the way, especially with people’s requests and feedback. And to top it all off, I would earn more money that I could add to my savings, exchange for other people’s time or talents, or use to improve our quality of life.

How hard is it to resist the temptation to work on other people’s things? It’s like trying to focus on cooking lentils when there’s a pan of fudge brownies right there, just waiting to for a bite. It’s like wandering through the woods in hope of coming across something interesting when you know you can go back to the road and the road will take you to an enormous library. It’s like trying to build something out of sand when there’s a nifty LEGO Technic kit you can build instead. It’s probably like Odysseus sailing past Sirens, if the Sirens sang, “We need you! You can help us! Plus you can totally kit out your ship and your crew with the treasures we’ll give you and the experience you’ll gain!”

Maybe I can use this temptation’s strength against it.

2015-02-02 What if I use the lure of work to help me grow -- index card #consulting #experiment

2015-02-02 What if I use the lure of work to help me grow – index card #consulting #experiment

Maybe I can treat client work (with its attendant rewards and recognition) as a carrot that I can have if I make good progress on my personal projects. If I hit the ground running in the morning, then I can work on client stuff in the afternoon. A two-hour span is probably a good-sized chunk of time for programming or reporting. It’s not as efficient as a four-hour chunk, but it’ll force me to keep good notes, and I know I can get a fair bit done in that time anyway.

The other part of this is making sure that I don’t give myself too-low targets so that I can get to client work. It’ll be tempting to pick a small task, do it, and say, “There, I’m done. Moving on!” But I have to sit with uncertainty and figure things out. I expect that learning to work on my own things will mean encountering and dealing with inner Resistance. I expect that my anxious side will whisper its self-doubt. So I lash myself to the mast and sail past the Sirens, heading towards (if I’m lucky!) years of wandering.

Part of this is the realization that even after my experiments with delegation, I’m still not good at converting money back into time, learning, ability, or enjoyment. Time is not really fungible, or at least I haven’t figured out how to convert it efficiently. I can convert time to money through work, but I find it difficult to convert money back to time (through delegation) or use it to accelerate learning.

2015-01-07 What am I happy to pay for in money or time -- index card

2015-01-07 What am I happy to pay for in money or time – index card

Extra money tends to go into projects, tools or cooking experiments. Gardening is one of my luxuries: a few bags of dirt, some seeds and starters, and an excuse to be outside regularly. Paying someone to do the first draft of a transcript gets around my impatience with listening to my own voice. Aside from these regular decisions, I tend to think carefully about what I spend on. Often a low-cost way of doing something also helps me learn a lot – sometimes much more than throwing money at the problem would.

2015-01-27 Financial goals -- index card #finance

2015-01-27 Financial goals – index card #finance

But there are things that money can buy, and it’s good for me to learn how to make better decisions about that. For example, a big savings goal might be “buying” more of W-‘s time, saving up in case he wants to experiment with a more self-directed life as well. House maintenance projects need tools, materials, and sometimes skilled help. Cooking benefits from experimentation, better ingredients, and maybe even instruction.

2015-02-01 Accelerating my learning -- index card #learning #accelerating

2015-02-01 Accelerating my learning – index card #learning #accelerating

What about accelerating my learning so that I can share even more useful stuff? Working with other people can help me:

  • take advantage of external perspectives (great for editing)
  • organize my learning path into a more effective sequence
  • learn about adjacent possibilities and low-hanging fruit
  • bridge gaps
  • improve through feedback
  • create scaffolds/structures and feed motivation
  • set up and observe deliberate practice
  • direct my awareness to what’s important

In order to make the most of this, I need to get better at:

  • identifying what I want to learn
  • identifying who I can learn from
  • approaching them and setting up a relationship
  • experimenting
  • following up

How have I invested money into learning, and what have the results been like?

Tools? Yup, totally worth it, even for the tools I didn’t end up using much of (ex: ArtRage). Do more of this. How can I get better at:

  • keeping an eye out for potentially useful tools:
    • Emacs packages
    • AutoHotkey scripts/ideas
    • Windows/Linux tools related to writing, drawing, coding
  • evaluating whether a tool can fit my workflow
  • supporting people who make good tools
    • expressing appreciation
    • contributing code
    • writing about tools
    • sending money

Books? Some books have been very useful. On the other hand, the library has tons of books, so I have an infinite backlog of free resources. Buying and sketchnoting new books (or going to author events) is good for connecting with authors and readers about the book du jour, but on the other hand, I also get a lot of value from focusing on classics that I want to remember.

Conferences? Mostly interesting for meeting people and bumping into them online through the years. Best if I go as a speaker (makes conversations much easier and reduces costs) and/or as a sketchnoter (long-term value creation). It would be even awesomer if I could combine this with in-person intensive learning, like a hackathon or a good workshop…

Courses? Meh. Not really impressed by the online courses I’ve taken so far, but then again, I don’t think I’m approaching them with the right mindset either.

Things I will carve out opportunity-fund space for so that I can try more of them:

Pairing/coaching/tutoring? Tempting, especially in terms of Emacs, Node/Javascript, Rails, or Japanese. For example, some goals might be:

  • Learn how to improve Emacs Lisp performance and reliability: profiling, code patterns, tests, etc.
  • Define and adopt better Emacs habits
    • Writing
    • Organization
    • Planning
    • Programming
  • Write more elegant and testable Javascript
  • Set up best-practices Javascript/CSS/HTML/Rails environment in Emacs
  • Learn how to take advantage of new features in WordPress
  • Write more other-directed posts
  • Get better at defining what I want to learn and reaching out to people

Actually, in general, how does one accelerate learning?

  • General learning techniques: spaced repetition, skill breakdowns, deliberate practice…
  • Structure and motivation: personal trainers, courses
  • Instruction and perspective: expert, peer, or external
  • Higher-quality resources: original research, well-written/organized resources, richer media, good level of detail, experience/authority
  • Better tools: things are often much easier and more fun
  • Experimentation: learning from experience, possibly coming up with new observations
  • Feedback, analysis: experience, thoroughness
  • Immersion: languages, retreats
  • Outsourcing: research, summaries, scale, skills, effort
  • Relationships: serendipity, connection, conversation, mentoring, sponsorship
  • Community: premium courses or membership sites often offer this as a benefit
  • Freedom: safety net that permits experimentation, time to focus on it instead of worrying about bills, etc.

Hmm. I have some experience in investing in better tools, higher-quality resources, experimentation, feedback/analysis, delegation, and freedom. I’d like to get better at that and at investing in relationships and outsourcing. Come to think of it, that might be more useful than focusing on learning from coaching/instruction, at least for now.

Let me imagine what using money to accelerate learning would be like:

  • Relationships
    • Get to know individuals faster and deeper
      • Free: Build org-contacts profiles of people who are part of my tribe (people who comment/link/interact); think about them on a regular basis
      • Free: Proactively reach out and explore shared interests/curiosities
      • $: Figure out digital equivalent of treating people to lunch or coffee: conversation + maybe investing time into creating a good resource for them and other people + sending cash, donating to charity, or (best) cultivating reciprocal learning
      • $: Sign up for a CRM that understands Gmail, Twitter, and maybe even Disqus
    • Identify things to learn about and reach out to people who are good role models for those skills
      • Free: Be specific about things I want to learn
      • Free: Find people who know how to do those things (maybe delegate research)
      • $: Possibly buy their resources, apply their advice
      • $: Reach out with results and questions, maybe an offer to donate to their favourite charity
    • Help the community (like Emacs evil plans; rising tide lifts all boats)
      • $: Invest time and money into creating good resources
      • Be approachable
      • $: Bring the community together. Invest in platforms/organization. For example, I can use whatever I would have spent on airfare to create a decent virtual conference experience, or figure out the etiquette of having an assistant set up and manage Emacs Hangouts/Chats.
  • Outsourcing
    • Identify things that I want to do, regardless of skills
    • $: Experiment with outsourcing parts that I don’t know how to do yet (or even the ones I can do but want external perspectives on)
    • Use the results to determine what I actually want and what to learn more about; iterate as needed

Huh, that’s interesting. When I start thinking about investing in learning, I tend to fixate on finding a coach because I feel a big gap around directly asking people for help. But I can invest in other ways that might be easier or more effective to start with. Hmm… Thoughts?

Finally decided what to do with the tax-free savings account

I finally decided what to do with the tax-free savings account (TFSA) recently introduced by the Canadian government. Because I’ve got $5,000 of contribution room to play around with this year, I’ll move my emergency fund into it in a combination of a regular money-market fund and some GICs. Once I move most of my short- and medium-term savings into the TFSA, I can then start looking at it as a way to save for the long term (say, by holding stocks). In the meanwhile, it makes more sense to save the fairly hefty tax levied on my interest income than it does to hold equities in the TFSA in order to avoid capital gains tax a long way down the road.

PCFinancial offers a slightly higher interest rate for their TFSA high-interest savings account (3% to ING Direct’s 2.7%), but they ding you with a $50 transfer fee if you want to move your TFSA money to a different institution (say, if you want to invest in TD e-series mutual funds). You could withdraw for free and deposit it normally, but that still uses up your TFSA contribution room and you won’t be able to contribute as much until the next year. ING Direct doesn’t ding you with the fee and they have better GIC rates, so I’ll probably go for them.

Hooray! Tax-free savings account!

To encourage people to save, the Canadian government created a tax-free savings account. You put after-tax dollars into it, and the interest is tax-free. The contribution limit for this year is $5,000.

PCFinancial and ING Direct are two Canadian banks with great interest rates. Currently, ING Direct (0.27%) is better than PCFinancial’s Interest Plus (1% on 0-$1000, 2.75% on $1000 and up) for amounts less than $53,000, and you probably wouldn’t want to keep that much money in a savings account anyway. PCFinancial does have an anniversary bonus and it’s easier to transfer money back and forth between accounts, and sometimes PCFinancial’s rate is a little bit higher than ING. ING Direct’s GICs seem to be a better deal, though, and they come with more options.

If you do set up an ING Direct account (and deposit at least $100 into it), you can use my referral code (Orange Key: 29083948S1) for a $13 bonus. I’ll get a $13 bonus, too, so everyone’s happy. =)

I’m setting up some transfers. Looking forward to taking advantage of that tax-free deal! Maybe another set of laddered GICs…

The economics of entertaining at home

Last Saturday, we hosted a dinner party at our house. There were eight people, including me and W-. For starters, we served broccoli and cauliflower crudites with blue cheese dip and home-made hummus. For the main course, we served vegetarian chili and chicken curry, accompanied by naan bread and basmati rice. People brought dessert: halva, chocolates, sesame snacks, buns, and all sorts of assorted goodies. The party went from 7:00 to 11:30 or so, and we had tons of fun chatting about storytelling, university advice, and whatever else came to mind. After the party, we had a week of leftovers to feast on. I estimate that we ate just a third of the food prepared.

Ingredients bought for the party: $52.81 total
Home ingredients used: Approximately $10 (one pack of chickpeas, half a pack of black beans, half a pack of red beans, three packs of curry paste, assorted spices)
Estimated cost of party: ~$63 / 3 (as we only ate a third of the food available) = ~$21 total, or ~$3 each

plus the cost of whatever desserts people shared, of which we probably ate a fifth. Maybe a total of $4 each, for the whole meal + desserts?

I don’t think you can find a restaurant in Toronto where people can eat such a spread for $4, or stay for so long and chat with such ease without the waiters trying to drop hints about freeing up tables. ;) Nor could you find a restaurant with such friendly cats, I think – Luke was _such_ a charmer, immediately identifying the cat fans and climbing onto their laps for a good purr.

I traded time for these savings, of course, but not as much time as one might expect. Pre-cooking the beans using a pressure cooker took up most of my Friday evening, which was a good time to relax and unwind. Chopping everything up for all the meals took an hour, and cooking both the chili and the curry took another hour and a half – during which I was learning more about cooking, thinking about what was going on in the week, and planning what I wanted to do next. (And listening to bouncy Japanese pop songs…) Time well spent.

And the conversation and company? Priceless.

If we had more chairs, or found some way to squeeze more people into the house (in an elegant way that doesn’t mean some people are privileged enough to sit at the table while everyone else just stands around ;) ),I can easily scale up. It seems that the time and money I spent on the get-together could scale up to 24 people, and even more if we decided to make it a well-organized pot-luck get-together.

What would this house look like with 24 people in it? Where would people sit? How would we deal with the coats and shoes? Someday I’ll figure that out. =)

Tonight I’m attending a dinner get-together for recent hires in my department. The pre-set menu is $30 per person. Now that I look at that sum, I’m thinking, “I could host a quite a dinner party for that amount!” ;)

Credit card

Finally sorted out a Canada-based credit card. Yay! I no longer have
to course credit card purchases through the Philippines, getting
dinged on the exchange rate. Too bad I didn’t get it in time to pay
for my flight.

The credit card representative handling my activation call was really
hard-selling me on credit balance insurance. I wasn’t too sure I
needed it because I plan to pay the balance off in full each month,
which is the proper way to use credit cards anyway. He was really
pushing me to go for the 30-day review, but I was, like, ehh…
Something about hard sells raises my hackles, and I was rather
suspicious of the fact that I couldn’t go without and just opt in
afterwards.

So I Googled for “do I need balance protection insurance” and found the Government of Canada’s helpful factsheet on credit balance insurance, which led me to the totally awesome list of consumer publications from the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

Hey, governments can rock after all. =)

On Technorati: , , ,

Keeping track of envelopes in Gnucash

I sorted out my checking/savings account today, using Gnucash to keep
track of what is where. I’ve set up the transaction to pay my rent
from now until July 2007 and have earmarked the cash for it.

PCFinancial won’t let me have more than one savings account, but I’m
faking divisions with Gnucash, a personal finance program. Under
Accounts:PCFinancial Savings, I have “Earmarked” and “True savings”.
Because I can set up automatic bill payments only from my checking
account, I scheduled automatic transfers between my savings account to
my checking account. This is tracked under Assets:PCFinancial
checking:Earmarked and :Actual.

I need to talk to Mark at some point to figure out how my funding is
structured so that I know what kind of budget I have and whether I can
afford to cook for people more often. =) I _hope_ the increased
funding from You-Know-Who translates into a raise in my fellowship, as
it’s quite a bit more than my previous funding.

Nice to have everything sorted out. =)

On Technorati:

Random Japanese sentence:

猫が窓を引っかいているのが聞こえる。 I can hear a cat scratching at the window.