A pretense of personlisation, or how to keep those prying algos from targeting me.

In a Economic History class, 20 years ago, we had a topic on consumer goods from 1900s to present and I learnt the term, democracy of consumption. In that class, we also speculated a little the trajectory of consumer goods. One thing was that goods will become more personalised and more tailored. An example was a pair of jeans, in which the consumer’s body would be scanned in order to obtain an ultra personalised pair of jeans. The idea is that in the past only the very rich could get scanned for a personalised pair of jeans. As consumption is democratised, personalised jeans will be available at all levels of spending. Actual ultra- personalisation is never a question for the rich. For the rest of us, there is a pretense towards ultra personalisation. Machines at first listen in on our searches to to recommend advertisements that we may like. Then these eavesdropping applications tell other applications in their family and those applications perform the same recommendations. As we use the same ID to log into different applications, these machines build a profile of what we have seen across all facets of our internet life. They will perhaps accord weightage base on certain signifiers (Eg clicks, likes, supports) to determine if we like or do not like certain things that we are seeing to further tailor what we see.

Sellavision is no longer a canned message of “wait, there is more” to engage. If I were purchasing something off the shelf and am searching for reviews, the marketing message is getting personalised via influence in their areas of “selling”. No longer a TV message is crafted to be accepted by the masses but the same message is sold to me via the influencer whom I enjoy watching, listening, and, whom I believe is an independent consumer just like me.

With the technology I am no nearer to that ultra personalised pair of jeans but I am being marketed to in a personal way into buying that jeans. The privacy settings on social media gives the impression that my data is private. It only means, the marketer doesn’t know my name, email and telephone number. Does the marketer need that information to target me? No. They just need my habits, preferences and what sort of thing I click on. This data will help the social media company target marketers who target me. They are less interested in my chats with friends, status updates. They are interested in things that will be shared. So, the less that I am up in arms about on social media, the less information I am giving to the social media company. The more I am incognito, I am less likely to be campaign target.

In the old days, the search engines will rank if a page or a search is high on their list. To get listed you put all sorts of meta tags for SEO – this is free. With Google ads or Facebook ads (which is paid), these social media companies like any other business will favour revenue generating over free services. Ad buying is getting very complicated – on television, you get eyeballs, ie exposure. On social media, the buyer is buying on blind faith. The buyer has no real knowledge how the algo functions, if it functions at all. The argument for this could be, well, politicians are getting the results from putting in effort on internet advertising. Yet it is the sensationalists who are winning at social media. The ones who do not only woe and betide devastating calamity if the other side wins but puts in derogatory, inflammatory remarks against their opponents.

Where does that leave the consumer who would like ultra personalised jeans? It only exists as those ultra body hugging elastic material which looks horrible on those who have dimply knees.


Can’t reccomend this enough: Singapore National Gallery

The permanent exhibition “Siapa Nama Kamu” is super fun! Paintings cannot be experienced online. It’s the equivalent of watching food when you are hungry. The galleries was categorised by a timeline of art development in Singapore. (The intro said broadly – I think they meant – staid, super fun and experimental. )

It isn’t arranged in a typical western art way – romanticism, cubism, etc, etc. There was not a lot of those styles – I wonder if it was the artists were doing it for fun. They weren’t trying to be famous. The Super Fun period had a reference to a Nanyang period. I had sniggered, thinking this was thought up by a marketing department. It wasn’t.

The Nanyang style refers to the pioneer Chinese artists’ work which was rooted in both the Western schools of Paris (post-Impressionism and Cubism for example) as well as Chinese painting traditions; styles and techniques of both were distinctively integrated in depictions of local or Southeast Asian subject matter (Singapore Art Museum, 2002).

More notably, the Nanyang art style is the result of these artists having departed from their roots – but not entirely – to try to produce something uniquely regional. They aimed to represent pictorially the Nan Yang culture and way of life – Nan Yang meaning South Seas in Mandarin. As art historian Michael Sullivan pointed out above, these painters could be striving to produce an “expression of the times”.

Yeo, Alicia (April 2006). “Singapore Art, Nanyang Style” (PDF). biblioasia. Singapore: National Library Board. pp. 4–11

Can you please go to level 2 and see this awesome portrait? Portrait of Lee Boon Ngan. It is online but the online version is not awesome. It is strangely yellow. Look at the detail on the shirt! The green gray on the nose! Her skin is robust and not sensitive. These other two made me lol out of delight! Picking by Tay Kok Wee and Here they come by Koeh Sia Yong. It was superb! It was energetic! The anger! The unfairness! The entrepreneurial spirit! The resourcefulness! The need to be alert to threats and opportunities!

I was moved by a re-enactment of the artwork. I love the video for the interviews with the artists. They had clarity in the trade offs they have seen. They did art because that was what they did and they picked social realism to be relevant. Honest simple living. People sell food because that was what they did. Teachers taught because they could read and write. Bank officers were hired from comfortable families because they know other comfortable families. (Bank clerks were different from officer grade.)

Young people are now exhorted to pursue their passion. Consistency is a discarded virtue. Why are we coy about being paid for work? It’s honest simple living.

As I tidied a shelf of notebooks last week, it occured to me that I accumulate a lot of words that I don’t re-read. The notebooks exist to get the words out. I once read that a writer will always write. In all my wisdom of a 16 year old, I disbelieved it. Productivity will cease, I thought. (Clearly, I more suited for a life of a white collar bean counter than an artist.) I had wanted to be a poor artist. Not starving – I like my food. I now know, it is true that writers will write. Artist will paint. Those who love eating will feed themselves and others. Those who love sleeping will work themselves up for a nap. We will naturally arrange our lives that is comfortable to ourselves.

Writing books, is likely, not my thing. I count beans and write stories about corporate exertions. I develop reassuring memos of what has been done and what is to be done. I am creative when it comes to relaxing and untying knots at work. Work is rarely difficult, mostly comfortable and my temperament is well suited for it. I don’t think I am well suited to be fully creative. As a bean counter, there will always be a worry about my own quality and productivity.

Fantasy Office

My boss humourously pointed out I seem to have an aversion to creating slides. I asked one too many times in a day, how many slides should I do; is one slide enough, etc.

If it were up to me, all bosses will get printed memos on letterheads that require signatures in their approval process. Their secretary will have to keep that signed document. If analytical or investigative reports, they appear on as a word document. Excel charts or tables will form appendices. (Nothing against them but they are workings, not the conclusion.)

Try handing up two pictures instead of a two thousand word essay on the stock market run-up to the great depression, is my thinking. Only words on a wet signature will do, thank you very much.

Against the tide

My mom was determined to be middleclass. She bought a Kawai piano and I was to play it half an hour daily. She bought assessment books and told me the drill. This was at odds with my idea of childhood. I am more or less dutiful, depending on whether you spoke with my doting aunts or my mom. My dad understood the importance of working hard. He disliked homework and never got involved in my mother’s schemes. He also never said, how about a break. Interminable work stoked the fires of revolution.

No worksheets, I said to my husband, when we were picking childcare.

Amongst my few friends, I was the deviant. 回头是岸吧孩子! One of them was as fervent as a Young PAP about it. Children should start homework as young as possible. (Naturally, I ignored her.) I heard the moderates. I moaned about homework as if I was the one doing it. I still ignored them.

The teachers didn’t think the kids had a problem with school work. I concluded that the nightly assault on their spelling lists was good enough. I also thought their problems wasn’t work but behaviour. One was fidgety. They other just started class for 3 months and is a bit of a 管家婆.

Home based learning changed my life view. My son is illiterate in Chinese. My daughter doesn’t understand grammar rules. I started trying flash cards. I bought assessment books. How on earth do people decide what to buy? Luckily, my sister in law who heads English in primary school had passed me a thin booklet and an assessment book. I went to the shops with these books and bought the same thing for my son. I bought a similiar thing for Chinese. I didn’t go off into the deep end and buy exam papers like a friend advised. It would be optimistic to imagine they could take an exam and finish writing it.

Forum: MOE should publish assessment books written by teachers ...

Flowing with the tide made stress levels high. My kids were understandably upset about having mummy’s homework. I planned their school day. My husband, stuck at home, carried out those plans. The kids didn’t like Daddy messing about their homework. He was too strict, they complained. My husband missed his work – he belonged to the 手停口停族. More accurately, he was already stressed about income. Tasked to man the kids, he complained about not having his own time for paper work. Welcome to my world, I said, testily. Your life is so easy, I said at another time. I was being mean because his initial idea of manning the kids is to mess about with his phone and take a nap after.

I think we are getting better at it, the kids, their father and I. The kids yelling now takes on a note of resignation. I am now very open to the idea of tuition and the need for practice. The father is now open to changing their student care. (The 8 year old picked up rude words from older children there and they are not making sure work is done.)

Why is it that flowing with the tide is more stressful than not? It might be the realisation of not being average makes it stressful. Against the tide, there is no such realisation. It is white noise even if you notice there are others who are marching to the beat of their own drum. There is a lot more freedom. It takes more discipline and grit to flow with the tide.

Risk Management In The Time of Covid 19

Risk management in a financial industry is more structured than less – which is a very good thing for the financial industry. When I entered my next job, it was mainly handling X. I got do a bit of the “Hey I did this to figure out that!” but it was not that often. I implemented those things thought up by others. The sort of thinking in risk slants towards what ifs and how do I make something that I totally don’t know about knowable. I felt I was translating risk a lot. That was when everything was norm.

When Covid 19 struck, risk management disappeared. I don’t mean I don’t need to work but that everything was clear, predictable and stable. There was no uncertainty. The government set clear and firm laws about what is to be done. The businesses set about doing it. While it is true we don’t know how the community and the economy will emerge out of this crisis but nobody is thinking about this at the moment. The front of mind is how business can be continued at the present time. Soon, there will be gradual reopening of the business community. The funny thing is that the reopening is more uncertain than the closing – with the fear of a second wave of the virus, there is a lot more uncertainty. The potential flip flop of the ministry’s stand is requires more resources than certainty.

As a means of diversification, services industry might make our GDP earnings less risky than a manufacturing or agrarian focus if there is domestic consumption of these services. As with all decisions, there is a trade off: focus on too much domestic consumption, we won’t earn as much GDP. There is also another trade off because food access a safety concern; a healthy manufacturing sector creates jobs. But I am generalising broadly – risk and impact is relative.

In a daily stand up, my boss would asked for our plans and what we have done for the day. To this end, I have discovered something call a bullet journaling. It is helpful when there are just too many things happening. It helps with recording what was completed and what will need to be done for that day.

It doesn’t really show what I have achieved for the month. I have started recording it in the monthly page. It is interesting to see that many of my jobs requires on and off tinkering.

It also doesn’t help with feeling stressed or overworked. My current boss is really a superb boss. We had a call yesterday that was a weekend wrap up. He was asking us how we felt working at home. Imagine that! And he also remembers the family and circumstances of every team member. Impressed!

Mature teams

Death, for example, is socially disruptive, because it not only removes an individual member from the fabric of society, which potentially creates tension, it is also stressful for those with close emotional ties to the deceased, who may not be able to function efficiently for a period of time.

Religion deals with the problem of death through both belief and ritual: a belief in the afterlife (common in many cultures) denies the fact of death and comforts the bereaved, while the funeral ceremony offers a chance for other members of society to comfort the bereaved with their physical presence and it may also act as a form of catharsis.

The funeral is effectively an expression of social solidarity which serves to reintegrate society following the ‘stress’ caused by a loss of one its members.

Rituals In Death

We had some rites for Grandmother yesterday. I was impressed how smooth the team operated.

The team of priests and musicians were old and they worked efficiently, taking and handing over when the situation fit. There was an assistant to the priest who seemed to require reminders by the team. The musicians, alert, came to his aid by mouthing instructions or gesturing. Set up and removal of the altar tables appeared seamless in their construction and take down. I would not be familiar with the details of their job (the chanting and the rituals). I could see this was a stable team with the leader being the one who supplemented directions (slightly annoyed tone) to the team where required. They were so smooth in their procedures I felt reminded of my job. This is what established departments look like. There is seamless handling by every member of the team. Where there are new staff, the rest of the members sprang into action to advice the new staff, to socialise what needs to be done.

When teams have an elevated number of new persons who need socialising, the resources and effort spent in socialising them increases. It is not an easy task to socialise staff even if the staff is open and receptive. It requires a lot of conversation to calibrate the staff into the existing way the team thinks and works. The level of difficulty increases when the staff is neutral or unreceptive. (Usually, they get labelled as having an attitude problem.) If the head of the team is new, it increases the difficulty of calibration. The calibration is necessary to reduce production problems in a team. When the head of the team is new, problems get magnified. Heads are less receptive of calibration in general and they can create more chaos by issuing directives when they have not been properly calibrated. Now do I mean that everyone should be yes men and do as they are told all the time? If the issues are production driven, yes, we all need to be able to follow those instructions. If change is required, it needs to be managed.

Now I know that makes me sound bureaucratic but in an organisation, where there are processes already built to handle certain aspects of risk, change requires care. Given the fast pace change in the business circumstances, the ability to nimbly handle them requires a well settled team who is familiar with their work. In chaos, there must be order (to support growth). In order, there must be chaos (to drive growth).

On a side note, I think this blanketing of other risks as operational risk by Basel isn’t very helpful to think about risk properly.

It creates a lot of misuse in the word risk. Someone would declare the presence of risk when they mean error or impact. Language is alive and different cultures use the lingo in different ways. I am not pedantic and it’s not difficult to figure out what the meaning from context and conversation. However, I wonder if it drives the conversation and thinking differently. Being error free means less wastage – it’s a production concern. Being able to cushion impact means the ability to recover and resume operations quickly – another production concern. These production concerns are something that has everyday processes and handling to manage them. A break in controls is a production problem, ie, the operational factors. Production problems must be fixed but it is impossible for production problems to be eliminated. You could bring the number to a very small occurrence but zero is impossible. I wonder if conversations are brought awry when we talk about levels of intolerance in operational risk. It’s at most an ambition, at worse a denial.

This leads me to wonder, if this is a fuzzy concept to measure management. If so, the collection of operational risk data is something to reflects the management at the point of measurement. It can never be forward looking and looking back makes no sense if there are upheavals in management.

On The Compassionate Mantra

At my grandmother’s funeral, so not to frighten the guests, I read the scriptures for my grandma when it was just another cousin and I.

It was amazing. I felt happy to read it to my grandma. I felt they were joyful expressions. I wasn’t reading it out of filial piety, I felt it was fantastic to read it aloud for her to enjoy it too. Totally excellent words they are!

The different depictions of risks

The origin of risk was the uncertainty of coming back alive. There is a great article on rituals as controls that I used many years ago in a workshop. (My old office let me run free like a wild child. They are fabulously good sports all the HODs.)

Malinowski found that magic was not used in lagoon fishing, where men could rely solely on their knowledge and skill. But when fishing on the open sea, Trobrianders used a great deal of magical ritual to ensure safety and increase their catch.

In the world where there is physical dangers, risk continues to be conflated with safety. In that article, it was sea fishing. Other industries that think of risk similiarly are mining, construction, armed escorting, heavily bombed or areas where they are frequent gunfires. I also notice that manufacturing plant where the materials or processing is dangerous would think of risk the same way. In these areas, risk is monitored like blood pressure readings.

The mathematics of risk was born out of gambling. It was beneficial to being able to apply knowledge to skew the chances of winning. This would apply to fields where knowledge can skew chances: baseball, football, horses and poker. It would not apply to 4D and and other lottery. The space race is another area where skills and learning skew chances of winning the race. (Astounding book on this by Deborah Cadbury is highly reccomended.) This is also the area where traders operate. A rather well known example is Nissam Taleb applying his knowledge to bet on black swans events. In these areas, risk is described as uncertainty of winning and risk is given a factor.

Where money is promised to be exchanged at the onset of an event, the stranger who shook hands on the deal could be unwilling or unable to pay. For exchanges such as a loan or the benefits of an insurance payment, the unwillingness (ie moral hazard) was eliminated with legalease. In insurance, it meant preventing payments. In loans, that meant exercising the rights to get the collateral/security. If there was no security, it was based almost entirely on the pain of being black marked or harrassed. (AAA rating dropping straight into into D, for example.) The problem of being unable to pay can be hard to figure out. More or less, the risk of default became tied to cashflow or observations of payment patterns for a person, a company, an industry or a country. For instance, your industry sunsetting, there is risk of cuts, you have lost your job, or you missed one more payments. In insurance, missing the premiums cease insurance protection. In loans, missing loan payments brings the debt collector to your door in polite legal letters.

In these traditional areas of risk, the problem that we have been dealing with can broadly be described as uncertainty and its management (ie safety, ability to win or cashflow). With the flourish of risk management, the strenous marketing of basel, GARP FRM and PRM and risk events, there is an infestation of risk workers.

Risk has invaded into every department and its name spread like a contagion.

Compliance risk, legal risk, fraud risk, technology risk, operations risk, business risk, finance risk, people risk, marketing (they were sly and named it reputational risk), tax risk, AML risk, Sanction risk. Risk when inserted in a department’s name, perfumes the original department with an aura of knowingness. Admitting ignorance and uncertainty has become the equivalent of being a sophisticated man about the world. However, these worlds are by and large, the equivalent of the lagoon fishing. If you behave as an ordinary fisherman would you would get fish. Now and then there will be holes in the net that requires mending. One mends the net and continue fishing. One does not need to be frightened and measure the width of the holes, how often the holes are made, etc. For purposes of efficiency, one would prefers noticing the small holes and getting them fixed quickly so to continue fishing activities. There will be most certainly holes as one uses the nets. As an insider working in the company, there is no uncertainty – I have (relatively) full knowledge of policies, procedures and systems. That means I have more certainty than others. An onlooker or investor would consider this a risk because there is no view. So Warren Buffet tries to mitigate the risk of holding equity by visiting the company or talking to the people in there. A minor investor has no such access or perhaps no need for such long term view. He would base his investment decisions on by comparing which company appears more desirable in terms of returns. A beautifully maintained net doesn’t mean the fishermen know how to fish. Eventually, even Basel gave up on letting a thousand flowers bloom in the measurement of operational risk.

With this infestation of risk persons, with banks appointing CROs and declaring their risk management in annual reports, uncertainty didn’t get any clearer.

This is an interesting take on controls for risk management folks by Will Smith