App Review: Paperless Note-Taking with LectureNotes


A sketch inspired by a Naruto comic I perused.

While this blog is focused on my journey towards financial independence and early retirement, I’d also like to use it as an avenue to share any useful tips that I can. With that being said, I’d like to introduce to you today an amazingly useful app called LectureNotes (Android). (No one’s paying me to say this)

As an architect, I constantly find myself needing to take notes down and do sketches. Many of these also need to be distributed to various parties. For some people, they find they can bring a laptop to a meeting and type notes out as things happen. Personally, I’ve tried this a couple of times and found that I can barely recall what happened and I’m sure this is attributed to one of those studies that supports handwriting as a way of mental reinforcement for learning and memory. However, with the amount of sketches and notes I take throughout the day, I’ve seen how I can go through a number of notebooks or sketchbooks very quickly to the point that I don’t care about the quality of the notebook since I know I’ll be moving onto another within some time.

So with that, I thought I’d try going paperless(ish) with my note-taking and sketching and here’s where LectureNotes comes in.

To simplify it down, this is basically a note-taking app. You take your tablet or phone (with or without a stylus) and use the app to help you take notes and record information.

Here’s a couple examples of what I use it for:

  1. Taking notes over my typed notes. Every week, I have meetings where we run through the meeting minutes from the previous week. I import those meeting minutes into a new note book, and take notes over those. After the meeting is over, I export the notebook to PDF and share it with my colleagues.
  2. Photo notes/sketches at the construction site. This app allows me the luxury of taking photos with the app and sketching over them. Lugging around my tablet can be troublesome sometimes, though, so I also have the app installed on my phone and use it to simply take photos of things on site, add a quick text note (typing’s faster for me than writing), and I can, again, export everything to distribute to the relevant parties.

Created a blank template in MS Word, imported into the notebook, duplicated the pages, and used this to record notes during my site walk.


Sketching over photos taken on site.

3. Sketching. I will admit that in terms of producing actual artwork, I am sure there are tons of other apps that do a better job, but for me, this app works for my simple needs.

Looking at the above, you’re probably now wondering, “I can do that with other apps, too. What makes this app so special?” Well, before I say why it’s special, I’ll start by saying that, of course, it does the same crap as all of those other note-taking apps like SNote and others that I’ve tested out and since forgotten the names of: you can write notes with your stylus, import and mark up PDFs/JPEGS (and export them), use different colors, and organize all of your files by name or throw them into folders.

The only thing is that this app does all of those things and more.

So here are the things that it bundles together that I find incredibly useful:

    1. For those with a Samsung tablet, this app allows you to program that little button on your stylus to do things. For me, 1 click means the pen switches to an assigned pen (highlighter in my case), and 2 clicks means that it turns into a lasso tool (amazingly useful when taking notes and reorganizing things) . I have no idea why the default Samsung note-taking app SNote didn’t come with this seemingly basic function since their hardware has the button right there.
    2. Customizable interface. This is a bit of a double-edged sword as some people will take one look at the settings and freak out. That being said, however, once you take the time to set everything up, you’ll have the app working for you. You can customize what 1 finger will do (eg pan, or erase), what 2 fingers will do (eg pan, zoom, etc.), which icons you want to show up in your toolbar, default “new file” settings, export/import settings, layers, etc.
    3. Customizable pen table. As someone who is very graphically-oriented, I like to take notes with colors and highlight things. When I tried out other apps, I found myself having to change pen settings (color, thickness, opacity, etc.) every time I wanted to use a different color. With this app, the pen table allows me to have about 18 saved, customized pens. I have 6 of them as fat highlighters, 6 of them as thin highlighters, 2 for different sized erasers for controlled erasing (when my finger is too fat), and a couple more to change when I need specific colors. As an architect who is always sketching things in similar contexts (e.g. concrete slabs, turfing/grass, wood details, etc.), having a grey, brown, and green highlighter come in handy to produce fast sketches that more easily communicate what I want to show.
    4. There’s more, but I’ll leave the last point as the fact that the developers actually respond to questions very quickly. Over the last two years that I have been using this app, I have had a couple of questions, all of which the developers have responded to via e-mail very quickly. They are continually improving the app and to me, that definitely counts for something.

Screenshot from my tablet of the interface and pen table. Forgive my crude sketches.

When I wanted to try note-taking via a tablet, I borrowed a friend’s old tablet that had a stylus, and installed a couple of different apps. This app has a trial version which, if my memory serves me correctly, allows you to have full functionality of the app with a maximum of 3 notebook files (with no time limit either, I believe). This is more than enough to try out the app, and once you decide that it’s as good as I say it is, you can buy the full version. I’m like the next guy who typically only uses free apps, but the productivity I’ve gained from the small amount of money spent on this app has been WELL WORTH the price. Now that I think of it, this is probably the only app I have ever purchased. (*edit: I’d also like to add that I’ve been happily using this app since 2014 or so.)

I am also aware that there are other digitalized note taking devices out there like the Wacom Bamboo or those smart pens, but in the endI felt the tablet works particularly well for me since I also use it to hold all of my construction drawings, code references, and any other soft copies of documents that I need on hand.

If you decide to jump on the wagon, you can start off with this site.

And to close, here’s a couple more sketches to share.



Obligatory disclaimer that I did NOT draw this in the spa haha




Book Review: The Global Expatriate’s Guide to Investing


When I first moved here to Singapore, I wasn’t as motivated about FI/RE, and even when I realized I had been wasting some valuable compound interest time not investing, I didn’t know where to look or what to do.

In the last couple of months, I have been soaking up a lot information and stories on a subreddit called r/financialindependence* as well as reading Mr. Money Mustache’s blog. It was all good and well, but how did it apply to me as someone living abroad?

Around that same time, I stumbled upon someone recommending a book called The Global Expatriate’s Guide to Investing by this guy named Andrew Hallam. I looked at the book’s info page and at first glance, thought it looked like one of those “get rich quick” books that you see on spam pages, but I searched it on Amazon and found some good reviews. He also keeps a blog and seems to share some good info, and best of all, his book was available for loan at the Singapore National Library Board ebook website (surely that means it’s a legit book then, right?) so there were no reasons not to take the plunge!

The book is a pretty easy read where he goes through the advantages of investing in low expense ratio index funds, being wary of unsavory funds touted by fund managers to naive expat investors, and some anecdotes from particular people he’s encountered and helped in the past. He uses historical data and simple(ish) math to show a variety of examples throughout the book of how large an effect a seemingly low expense fee has on a fund’s performance and how much the more the gains would need to be to offset it.

The book is catered to expats in general and at the conclusion of the book, he also goes into some country-specific recommendations. While he doesn’t cover anything related to financial independence, his recommendations on investing strategies (low expense fee, index fund passive investing) pretty much align with what a lot of the FI/RE crowd supports.

Overall, if you’re an expat who’s feeling a bit lost or even slightly unsure of your investment options, I highly recommend this. If you’ve been talking with a fund manager or financial planner in your country about signing up for some plans, I would recommend you have a read through this book before you sign anything, as well.

In the end, I’ve gathered that even as an expat, the best method for me will still be to just throw money into my Vanguard account as opposed to doing anything special, but reading through the book still gave me the assurance that this is, if not the best, at least a sound option for investing towards my future as an expat.

Hope this guides some people in a better direction!

*Over time, people will notice I link things to Reddit often. There’s a ton of good (and bad, too I suppose) advice and information to be found here. There are loads of people who have blazed the trail years before you and are readily willing to share their experiences with you and support you on some of these subreddits.

Your Money or Your Life: Step 2 of 9

In my last post on the amazing nature of libraries and eBooks, I raved about getting a bunch of free books to read through the National Library Board here in Singapore. As a frequent reader of Mr. Money Mustache who has indelibly gotten me more motivated and inspired towards financial independence and early retirement (FI/RE), I also came across one of his blog posts on the heralded book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. If you have been reading blogs, articles, and such related to FI/RE, I would be surprised if you had not come across anyone mentioning this book yet as it contains a wealth of information on how to live and make your way towards financial independence that has remained relevant even 25 years after the first edition was published.

You can read a summary or review of the book on a number of websites, but here, I’ll just humbly go into my journey through the book and my experience going through the different steps – and today, I’ll start with Step 2*.

Step 2: (excerpt from page 167)

  1. Establish (accurately and honestly) how much money you are trading your life energy for, and discover your real hourly wage.

  2. Learn about your money behavior by keeping track of every cent that comes into and goes out of your life.”

Part 1: Life Energy, Real Hourly Wage

Part 1 of Step 2 is quite enlightening. With our jobs, we are paid a wage to do something, and every minute we spend doing what it takes to get that money, is time spent towards getting that income – time that could have been spent sleeping, spending time with our friends/loved ones/children, eating, cleaning the house, reading that book on our list, learning that hobby we’ve always wanted to do, etc. Essentially, we are trading our time (or as they refer, “life energy”) for money to, well, live – a trade of sorts. Conversely, when we spend that hard-earned money for say, a beer, you can start to think of it as trading your “life energy” or time for that beer.


Your life energy -> Money

Money -> Beer

Your life energy -> Beer

Sounds pretty simple, but at the same time, we don’t often think of buying things in this way, right? Well, it becomes even more eye-opening when we find out how much of our time or life energy is required in exchange for that beer.

I’ll share my numbers with you as an example (care of Google Sheets):

Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 6.24.25 pm

The left table focuses on how many actual hours go towards my job a month. We include the actual work itself, commuting, overtime, etc. In the book’s example, it includes things like costuming, decompression, escape entertainment, work-related illnesses, etc. I’m a pretty low-maintenance guy, I enjoy my job, and I also don’t get sick very often, so I haven’t inserted anything here. The total 214 hours represents the total amount of time actually required of me to maintain my job a month.

The right table represents the money spent towards that job. It’s tough to ascribe a “monthly” value to how much I spend on clothing for work, but I gave myself an estimated $300 annually (I’m pretty frugal so hopefully it’s less than that). The commute is pretty straight forward. My work place gives me a measly $15 in pay for the extra 5 hours I do once a week, but when I work late, I’ll usually end up taking the cab the next morning to get some extra sleep so that needs to be added, as well. Luckily, my work place is located in an area with a lot of cheap food, but with my breakfast at the canteen and lunch, I’m sure I spend more money on food at work compared to if I were retired and eating from home.

After listing out the above, the rest is pretty straightforward. I take my annual pay and subtract from it the additional work-caused expenses that I have and convert it to a monthly amount. After that, I divide it by the actual hours spent and I get my true $/hr pay which is actually a lot less.

From here, I found out my true $/hr pay is around $25. When I look at the $114 meal my girlfriend and I shared to celebrate a special occasion, I can calculate that paying for that was the equivalent to almost 5 hours of my life traded for work. Conversely, if I’ve been spending $200 going clubbing every month, that would be equal to 8 hours of my life (I’m already past that phase, so I actually have not gone clubbing in awhile).

After starting to consider my expenses and what they’re really worth (my life/time), I could start to begin to examine what was really worth my money. Step 3 goes even further into this. If you try it out yourself, you might be surprised to see how much time and money actually goes into well, making that money!

Part 2: Expense Tracking

As for Part 2 which consists of tracking my daily expenses, I’ve tried a couple of apps, and for now, I’ve settled on one called AndroMoney. I’ve heard of another called YNAB and Goodbudget, which are supposed to be very good, but for now, this is the one I’m using.

After setting up the different expense categories and spending mediums (cash, credit card, etc.), it’s very fast and simple to enter into my phone. It syncs online which allows me to see a dashboard view of my expenses on a website, and I’m also able to view summary reports of my expenses expressed in different ways such as by pie graph by category or as a line graph. And of course, it all exports to whatever format I need it for. The other convenient aspect that I like is that it has a “Projects” category which I’ve used to track my expenses during trips; this allows me to easily see how much was spent during our trips.

Screenshot_20170205-190511    Screenshot_20170205-190426    Screenshot_20170205-190448

The thing that’s important about the expense tracking isn’t to try to focus so much on cutting your spending to make your expense tracking look nicer or being ashamed of your spending, but moreso, just tracking everything first so you can get a realistic picture on your spending habits. “No shame, no blame” as they write in the book.

*Step 1 involves tracking all of the money that has entered your pocket from the very first job you’ve had. I’ll get to this eventually, but for now, I’m starting with Step 2.

Libraries/eBooks are Awesome


library@Orchard at Orchard Gateway, Singapore | photo credit

Back when my brother and I were little, my dad would drag us to the Kaneohe Public Library nearly every Sunday in the afternoon. He would sit at the adult section and read through the newspaper or those Tom Clancy books while my brother and I would go to the kids section to find something to read. I would find something to read to get through the time and my brother…well, now that I think about it, I have no idea what he went off and read on those occasions. In any case, it wasn’t really something I looked forward to, so the main memory I have of this weekly ordeal is looking forward to hearing that heavenly voice at 5:45pm announcing that “The Kaneohe Public Library will be closing in 15 minutes…” and finally getting to go home. Even now, I can hear the sound of that pre-recorded man’s voice announcing my impending freedom.

Flash forward to 2004 (or somewhere around there) in my sophomore year of college while studying architecture: something must have clicked inside of me along the way, and I realized how awesome libraries were with their massive collections of books on anything, and in particular at the time, with all of the amazing architecture-related periodicals, books, magazines, etc. that would’ve cost a bomb to buy myself, assuming they could even be found in the US. I would find myself heading to the library between classes to kill time, finding whatever book that seemed to interest me to flip through. On a random note, the library at my college also served as an oasis for a place to take a much-needed nap on campus during days where I had pulled an all-nighter.


figure 1: plan view of college library space which overlooks atrium

And then flash forward further to today, I have been slowly realizing for the last couple of years how amazing eBooks are and how easy they are to get. First off, ever since smart phones came out, you now have the ability to keep all your books on your phone to read wherever you are – if I’m ever early for something or have to wait, it’s never an issue as I can just plop down somewhere and read.

Here in Singapore, the National Library Board (NLB) has a digital collection of eBooks available for registered users to search for and digitally check out for about 21 days (listed out the steps below!). Since I’ve discovered that, I’ve already gone through a couple of books and have more ready for me. If you’re not in Singapore, you can head over to search for your desired book at, and after finding the book, they’ll give you some options on how to get it through a library near you, as well.

All in all, while this all might not directly relate to financial independence, I cannot be more thankful for free resources like these that open up tons of knowledge to anyone. You can bet it will be awhile before I see any books show up on my monthly expense sheet!

To end my rambling about libraries and eBooks, here’s some random tips I’d like to share:

How to find eBooks on OverDrive (for those in Singapore; if you’re not in Singapore, you can substitute the NLB for another library when you do the search):

  1. Install OverDrive app on phone.
  2. Add a library by searching for the National Library Board, and then signing in with your NLB account. From there, NLB will be linked to your account.
  3. Within the app, you’re able to search the NLB collection. Once you find something you like, you can choose to Borrow it if it’s available, or reserve it if all copies are checked out. You can opt to receive an email once the reserved copy becomes available.
  4. Once you “Borrow” the book, you can download the eBook to your device and start reading! They also have options available to read the eBook directly on your desktop, as well.

*The above method is not for Kindle users, unfortunately. However, there are some libraries (Kaneohe Public Library included) that check out eBooks in .mobi format which is usable with Kindles.

Favorite app for reading eBooks if not via OverDrive: PocketBook

When I first started reading eBooks, I first used that default app that came with my phone called Aldiko. It was okay at the time, but man, it felt slow and having to read the entire page as opposed to scrolling down for me, personally, was a bit annoying. Once I got into reading eBooks, I did some searching, installed a couple of apps to try out (Moon+ Reader, Universal Book Reader, and some others), and after a couple of days of trying the different options out, I found PocketBook to the best for me.

The particularly great functions I like about it include:

  1. Interface and overall usage is pretty smooth and fast
  2. Search function is fast (not necessarily used with ebooks but helps with the PDF files I go through)
  3. Allows scrolling through pages in addition to flipping
  4. Auto-scrolling and easy control of the auto-scroll speed (great for eating and reading)
  5. Highlighting and notetaking is a breeze, and the app has a list of all of the notes/highlights bookmarked

Additional resources from reddit (another reason I love reddit):

  1. Huge list of free ebook resources
  2. Websites where you can download free eBooks
  3. General reddit forum (subreddit) on eBooks
  4. General reddit forum (subreddit) on Kindle

On another note, as an architect, I’ve also realized along the way that there are a TON of really well-designed libraries out there. Of course, not all libraries fit into this category, but when I do have the opportunity to come across one, I am appreciative of the fact that the skills of my profession are being used to create places that people will be attracted to and encouraged to read and learn. If a “cool” library can attract a teenager to go there to hang out to study with his friends (and maybe he’ll even pick up a book to read) instead of going to a Starbucks,then all the better.


Hyundai Travel Card Library (unfortunately, requires a Hyundai credit card for access)


If you have any recommended methods of finding your eBooks, awesome apps, or even your favorite library in your country, I’d love to hear about them!


*Libraries around the world also offer tons of options on listening to music, watching movies, reading comics, and host a ton of great events. Use them!

getting started NOW



This website will represent my depository for thoughts, ideas, and experiences in my personal journey towards financial independence and early retirement.

Last week (or was it 2 weeks ago?), I decided to start this blog. At this time, I’m still not sure what to call the blog, what I will write next after this, and a ton of other things, but I decided – as goes for many things in life – that there’s no need to procrastinate further trying to overplan or decide everything, and instead, I need to start writing NOW.

“Now” for me is 8PM on January 30, 2017 at 31 years old as I sit here typing this in my girlfriend’s family’s home. “Now” for me is being an aspiring architect working in Singapore. “Now” for me is a guy who has dreams of traveling the world.

Someday, though, I look forward to being able to reminisce on who I once was, the journey I’ve taken, and who I have become. In the next 14 years – 45 sounds like a nice age to retire early* – here are a couple of things I’d like to have accomplished, some of which definitely won’t take even 14 years:

  • become financially independent
  • become a registered architect in the state of Hawaii (and maybe the same in Singapore; not sure yet)
  • figure out how I can use my Japanese language skills in work or life (I just passed the JLPT N1 last week after 3 failed attempts!)
  • get involved in the community in volunteer work to start, and find out what I thrive at and what calls out to me in volunteering
  • travel the world (hopefully, our RTW trip will have been completed by next year)
  • finally get my saxophone repaired and get back into playing, and even get involved with a community band
  • read enough books about financial literacy and find a path that allows me to share that with people wherever I am
  • have 1 to 2 beautiful children with my future wife
  • learn some krav maga
  • learn how to improvise simple jazz piano
  • build an app
  • continue to be physically and mentally fit
  • continue writing this blog

As I was typing out the above just now, my girlfriend asked me what I was doing. When I responded that I was starting a blog, her first response was that I want to do everything (but never finish anything – jokingly said, but somewhat true), which is quite evident from my list above. Nevertheless, we’ll see how my values change, which goals remain the same, and where my journey in life takes me in the next 14 years and onwards.

and Happy Chinese New Year!