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Saturday, 10 March 2012

My Poor Math - Lucky Investing Just Need Primary School Math!

I am poor in math during school.

Come to think of it, this "handicap" extends to life after school as well.

How bad is my math?

When doing additions and subtractions, I have to use all the digits of my toes and fingers. Looking down at them, the max I can count is up till 21. Oh behave!

(Clueless female readers may want to remember I am a guy)

I've never learned my multiplication tables. So if people ask what's 7x4, I'll mentally go: 7, 14, 21, 28... Talk about slow processing!

So when mobile handphones come with the calculator function, I was the happiest people on earth! After sms, the calc function is my next most frequently used app!

I hated math so much that when I got streamed into the pure science stream after secondary 2, I switched into the sub-science stream so I can skip additional math for history.

I am better with words and pictures (or imagery).

Of course with that decision, I realised after O' levels quite a few courses were closed to me without additional math - thank goodness for that! That made quitting school all the more easier.

It was years later that I learned about left and right-brained persons. I am more right-brained.

It's true, when it comes to investing, all I ever needed was: + - X /

OK, understanding ratio is also great for making bets on soccer or gambling. I guess the same applies for making risk/reward analysis for speculative trades or investments.

Percentage is another way of representing ratio; but given a choice, I prefer to count in money when it comes to gains or losses in my speculations - thank you very much!

"Only" 10% loss is something else if it equals to $100,000 hair-cut. 500% gain crashes down to earth if it means $5,000 profit in money terms. Statistics and numbers do lie.

Of course being poor in math has many handicaps during my investing and trading journey. For eg, options is beyond me :(

Concept I understand; but once I've looked at the Black-Scholes model, I cried.

So I am limited to simpler "products" and trading/investment strategies. Boo hoo hoo.

But looking back, it wasn't a handicap for me. Simple as simple does suits me just fine :)


  1. You are really poor in Maths. When you count up and then count down. It is "021" or "201" or "210".

    Did you did miss anything? LOL!

    1. Wah!

      You even naughtier than me ;)

      Correction. With my stomach blocking the view, I can only count to 10 with my fingers now :(

    2. Ha! Ha!
      Fortunately, they says, "There are many ways to skin a cat". i find out it's true even in "Investments". You can Alpha and Beta or simply +-*/. Some even just to do the Cha Cha. It's O. K. if you do not how to tango. Me? My left leg doesn't recognise my right leg. Oh dear! Poor me.

    3. "Percentage is another way of representing ratio; but given a choice, I prefer to count in money when it comes to gains or losses in my speculations - thank you very much!"

      have you ever heart, "never count the money when you gamble"?

    4. Coconut,


      With my lousy math, I can only count the money - when the dealing is done.

    5. Temperament,

      I think I prefer to dance - 2 steps forward, 1 step back.

      Having said that, I not sure my counter-party dance partner will agree to that!

      Thanks goodness men are expected to do the leading. Now if I can only do the same in speculation...


  2. Hi SMOL,

    Well get this - I'm a scientist, and I still suck at math. I also use my toes and fingers to count. But then again, no worries. There are all kinds of "good at math" characteristics. The math that I'm poor at is arithmetic. I can't make change at the cashier. It's tough and I have to use a calculator. But I'm quite decent at Calculus. I'm still working on the Black-Scholes formula (I have Paul Wilmott's "Quantitative Finance" on my shelf). Also, don't worry too much about Black, Scholes, and other Quants on wall street. They're far better off with quarks and elementary particles than modeling human behavior (which by the way, can't be modeled). And finally, you're the one who's retired. The rest of us geeks are still doing math for a boss ;-)

    Three cheers for SMOL.


  3. Thanks Ronian!

    Now I feel better; I am not alone.

    I now suspect there are more like us than we think. Perhaps that's why so many people wear slippers to the hawker centres and wet markets? To count change?


    1. How do you guys count your change? You add or substract?

    2. Hello CW8888,

      I subtract as taught by school.

      But I notice most hawkers use add; I realise it's a much better system ;)

      Learning from life beats learning from ivory halls.

  4. Pro. in money add, school teacher usually subtract.

  5. Eh...never occured to me whether to add or subtract (I don't even know what that means!) All the way up until college, I didn't know why I a cashier would ask me for 20 cents when something costs $8.20, and I give her $10!!! And then a friend finally told me, "Because if you gave her $10.20, then she can give you two whole dollar notes!" Oh...duhhh. Unfortunately, the Singapore education system tends to identify such cases as "kids who should be streamed away from math and science". So if I had gone through the Singapore system when I was young, I wouldn't have become the engineer and scientist I am today. Thank goodness I went through an International School, based on the American system where people are more open and dynamic. I'm slowly trying to instill some difference here in Singapore though. I've been giving talks to schools and such. I gave a talk last October at the National Library about engineering as a career and stressed that that the school systems here stream people too early.

  6. Ronian,

    I was taught in school: 10.20 minus 8.20 = 2 change.

    But hawkers use: 8.20 add 2 = 10.20 to arrive at the correct change. Cool huh?

    No wonder!

    When I read how you went "against" your CEO's rigid rules and techniques and advised your audience to "be themselves" when making presentations, I remember thinking to myself that's not very Asian!?

    Talk about great escape! I just missed the introduction of primary school streaming at Pri 2 or 3. Looking my school report card then, I would have been streamed to Pri 8 or some new fangled streams.

    Thanks goodness I wasn't too "poisoned" by our one dimensional education system.

    But it has gotten better with more diversity and alternative pathways.

    I see schools of arts popping up everywhere, and I simply love what they are doing at ITE with technical education - these young warriors will be our future entrepreneurs!

    1. Yeah, I guess I'm not 100% Asian in my style. I lived in Malaysia the first 7 years of my life, then 10 years in the Philippines, then 9 years in the States, and I've been in Singapore for the past 10 years. I was what people called a "third culture kid" while growing up. I've lost most of my Minglish and Singlish, and speak mostly with a thick upstate New York accent now. It's why I'm a "damn lucky misfit in corporate Singapore"...Sometimes, I'm too vocal, and it makes people uncomfortable, especially that Sr. Director who thought too highly of himself ;-)

      But thanks for letting me know about ITE and what they're doing. I'll try to find out more about that stuff. Cheers! - Ronian


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