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Finance for the uninitiated

I’ve always wondered why schools don’t have a course on the basics of real-life finance. It doesn’t even have to be too detailed, just the essentials, like basics of investment, saving, retirement, loans, equity etc. Anytime during the 12 long years of schooling, anytime, or at least sometime. There is so much that people can do right, from the beginning, that would essentially help them better budget their assets. It’s the lack of this information to the masses that needs to be addressed. And this post is just another attempt at highlighting some of that information out there. So here goes.

Three rules to live by:

  1. Spend less than you earn (Don’t we all know that.). The problem is we keep forgetting this or we just overlook which causes problems. This brings us to budgeting. More on that later.
  2. Always plan for the future. Not just retirement, all along the way. Plan for tomorrow, and the next week, and the next month. If you are to buy something that let’s you pay off in installments, you should know that you’ll be able off those installments.
  3. Make your money make more money. Save for emergencies. But let the rest of the money work while you sleep. Invest it.

Three tools to help you on the way

  1. Bank Accounts: If you don’t have one, get one right now. What’s stopping you? You can keep track of your money. You have some level of satisfaction of not having to worry about a basement full of dollar bills. Banking is a highly regulated industry and working with banks insured by the regulatory body insures your holdings for loss. Providers are required to maintain security standards to be insured. They are audited on a regular basis for inconsistencies. So working with insured banks is as safe as it gets. You can find the insured banks in your area using the search here.
  2. Budgeting: A simple way to describe budgeting, it is a logging and evaluation system for your finances. In that, you compare your spending and earning. Based on the outcomes from the comparison you plan how the money needs to be adjusted, whether the earning needs to be increased or the spending needs to be reduced. Ever so often, you have the opportunity to spend more. This is when you plan to categorize and allocate your earning to a set of buckets for spending. A simple categorization could be recurring costs (in-house, insurance, etc.), savings (retirement, emergency, etc.), investments (stocks, mutual funds, etc.) and fun (guilt-free spending). There are a number of budgeting tools out there. Mint is a good one. Work through tutorials that can help you get started. You do not have to be a finance expert to maintain your own budget. In it’s simplest form, all you need is a piece of paper, a pen and a calculator, if need be. From there on, all you have to do is keep track of your earning and spending and evaluate every now and then.
  3. Credit cards: You might be wondering, “Debt? Really?”. Debt is a good thing if managed well. If you are on top of it, managing it all along the way, you can make it work for you. A lot of businesses evaluate you on your ability to manage debt. And credit cards are a wonderful resource to do just that. The important part here is to have complete control over your credit cards. They basically lend you money which you have to then pay off. Most credit cards won’t charge you any interest as long as you pay off what you spend during the statement period within the specified time period. And paying a “little interest” also helps your credit. Your paying a little interest shows that the lenders can earn off of you. Now you don’t need to pay a lot of interest to fall in that bracket and all of this falls under you being on top of managing it. As a bonus, there’s always the opportunity to earn cashback or travel miles. It’s like money for spending money. (Use wisely though.)

Which brings us to the last topic Credit Reports. Credit reports are the tool used by lenders to verify your credibility for managing your finances. They are centrally managed by three independent entitites viz. Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. They monitor your financial activities and provide a score that determines your ability to handle your finances. There can be another blog post entirely about this. But not today :).

There is a lot more information on these issues over at Lifehacker. I strongly suggest you check that out if you were interested in this post. This is only the tip of the iceberg. They have done a far detailed job of explaining Personal Finance 101.

-Akshar Rawal

Google CS First

Google Computer Science First is a website dedicated towards teaching kids the basics of Computer Science using different real-life situation-al categories. Categories include Music and Sound, Art, Fashion, Story telling, Friends, Social Media, Sports and Game design. The courses have been designed to be very amateur friendly. Also, the program has been designed in the form of study groups. The learned can host a group in their area and the learners can join groups within their area. Check out the CS First website for yourself to learn more and join a group near you now.

-Akshar Rawal

Machine learning visualized

Have you heard about machine learning? For the ones who haven’t, machine learning is the study and construction of algorithms that learn from and make predictions on data. It is used in a number of fields that involve predictive analysis.

Machine learning algorithms are primarily perfected over two phases. The first phase is the learning phase. In this phase, the algorithm is fed data from previous occurrences of the event that is to be predicted. The algorithm is designed to tweak its parameters to balance weights. The second phase is the testing phase. During this phase, the algorithm uses it’s learned parameters to predict events. The accuracy of prediction determines the efficiency of the algorithm.

This is a very abstract definition of Machine learning and in no way does justice to the awesome that is machine learning. Flowing Data has developed a visual introduction to the concept. It is very easy to follow and provides for a decent introduction to the applications of machine learning while describing some of its concepts. You can check out the visual introduction here. Just follow through the text and enjoy.

-Akshar Rawal

For the Github rookies…just like me

Have you used github yet? You don’t have to be a coder/developer to use it. It is an absolutely amazing useful tool that can be used to collaborate on digital media. This could include code, writing, blog?, and with your creativity, almost anything that requires collaboration. It flaunts a distributed structure that makes it just better than its competition. Distributed in the sense that it has both a local version of your work and a server version. This allows for a lot of flexibility in operation. If all of this isn’t enough, you can blame others (rightfully of course) if things go wrong! Huh! Huh! Now do you want to use it?

Well for the ones already using it, but are bemused by the commands and the never ending merge conflicts, check out this gamefied interactive tutorial on using github. It is the BEST THING EVER.

-Akshar Rawal

Privacy: You can never have enough of it

Do you close your house blinds every night? Have a lock on your phone? Lock your house? Password protect your email? If you answer yes to most of these, you are a privacy conscious individual. And so are most people out there. But, not everyone understands what goes into keeping their lives private. Our digital lives don’t make it any easier, do they!

While the digital content about people out there is a significant deterrent to protecting privacy, it is only a more highlighted concern. There old-style surveillance is still a major contributor. Except that it is so eclipsed by the spotlight put on the digital media, that it is oft forgotten. Take a look at this article that describes how physical surveillance is no where near extinction and is a real thing. So when you think about privacy, think of the complete picture.

But dwelling more on the digital privacy concerns. This past fall I took a class “Privacy Technology Policy and Law”. The class discussed the various laws and policies regulating the privacy and technology that raises privacy concerns. A recent event highlighted in media was the case on Google by the EU courts. The speculation there was that people should be allowed to request search engines to remove search results if they feel that some of the results are irrelevant, incomplete, no longer relevant or excessive. The EU actually passed a regulation regarding the petition which can be found here.

The regulation has been quoted in the media as the “Right to be forgotten”. Now while that is the intention, it is quite misleading as to what it actually entails. No one can explicitly be forgotten from the internet. Like mentioned above and in the directive itself, data will be considered for removal only if it is irrelevant, excessive inadequate w.r.t the concerned data subject. I’ll leave the legal details for you to read and comprehend. But they have renamed the directive to “Right to Erasure” which is more relevant to its meaning and implication.

We did, however, get a chance to device a set of policies for a search engine so as to include the new directive and its policies. We defined a new set of policies that would see the organization comply with the new directive. We also, defined the process that would be in place to handle cases dealing with the directive. All-in-all it was fun and educational!

-Akshar Rawal

Pixar’s Inside Out

This past Saturday we finally saw the long awaited Inside Out. Its an animated movie by Pixar that describes how the brain works. It is quite detailed in the way it works for an 11-year old girl. It took 5 years to make and is quite accurate (atleast from what I know about memory). Pixar has put quite an effort in researching memory functions and portraying them in the way that they have in the movie. Don’t want to spoil too much of the fun now, do I?

Not going into too much detail, it anthropomorphizes five basic feelings, joy, sadness, disgust, anger and fright. It describes how the various functions of the brain are operated by them primarily focusing on the memory functions. It is a really great watch.

Moreover, it is quite legit. Checkout this post that details on the level of research that has gone into making the movie. BUT BEWARE! SPOILERS INBOUND! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

-Akshar Rawal

Some of the more intriguing questions of life explained with videos

Here’s something to end your Friday and kick-off your weekend.

Have you ever wondered how much energy the internet takes up? Or that why you always have to press the BIG RED BUTTON and send the world into self-destruct? Or that 5 of the last 7 presidents were lefties (left-handed)? Or why does the damn toothpaste make everything taste bad?

Head on over to Gizmodo to watch their compilations of videos that answer some of these questions.

-Akshar Rawal

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