How to wake up fresh with a smarter alarm

Most of you might not know that your brain is in various phases while you sleep. Yes, even if you think you are a deep sleeper, you aren’t in the “deep sleep” stage the entire time you are in the bed. The brain alternates between various stages and there are times when you are in deep sleep and times when you are in the light sleep stage.

The problem with traditional alarm clocks are that it is based on a fixed time and what stage you are during that time is totally dependant upon what time you started sleeping (not what time you went to bed). Waking up to the “nuclear warning” sound of your alarm clock while you are in deep sleep is the worst way to begin your day.

You can wire up your brain and monitor what stage you are in and ask someone to wake you up at the right moment. But It is too costly and no human would be willing to monitor and wake you up every single day.

The alternative is to use the various sleep monitoring apps available for your smartphones. These apps use the accelerometer in your smartphone and detect the minor movements you make when during the lightest stage of your sleep. Using that, it can wake you up at the right stage and you would wake up refreshed and not wanting to kill everyone.

SleepTime alarm set screen

SleepTime alarm set screen

The app I use is SleepTime by Azumio, which is available for both iPhone and Android phones. All you have to do is set up a Alarm Time by which time you “should” wake up. The App chooses a 30 minute window before the set time. Whenever you are in the lightest stage of your sleep within that 30 minute window, it wakes you up. It also has nice graphs of your sleep stages and how often you woke up, etc. It is interesting if you love to measure metrics about everything.

The alarm sound is also very light and pleasant sounding (much relief to my wife) and since you are in the lightest stage of the sleep, even the lightest sounds is enough to wake you up. I tried similar apps long time before but the old android smartphones were more of a battery extractors and the phone died out before I could even finish a night’s sleep. Constantly monitoring the accelerometer is a battery drain.

But nowadays batteries are much better and on my iphone I lose about something like 20% of battery from a fully charged state. I did try this app many days and I have definitely been woken up at the lightest stage of my sleep to the lowest volume. There was an exception on a day or two, but that was because I was too tired to wake up because of not enough sleep (I am a night owl).

If you are a normal living person and want to wake up fresh everyday, do try SleepTime. You would notice a small difference in how you wake up.

Learn Social Psychology on Coursera

Ever wondered why people do what they do? How simple things that is not very noticeable, alters human behaviour. Why we like some people and dislike someone else? How some can be very persuasive when they talk to others?

social-psychology-courseraAll this can be understood from the online course on Social Psychology, from Coursera. It is a 6 week long course and the workload is about 4-8 hours per week. It is taught by Scott Plous of Wesleyan University who has also made parts of bonus materials free for students. Also students of this course get to subscribe to the Social Psychology Network for the lowest rate of $10.

The course starts from Aug 12th, though early subscribers have had the first week’s modules available as an early release. Plus, if you complete with enough credits, you could get a Statement of Accomplishment.

I have the nasty habit of starting these courses and not sticking with it after 2-3 weeks. But now I am determined to follow through as I have blogged everyday for more than a month. This shows that if I want to, I can make something as an habit. Maybe I will have to cut down on my blogging (to 1 or 2 posts a week) and spend more time on these courses and my other hobbies.

Overall this is looks like a nice introductory course to have a basic understanding of how people think and I do want to complete this course. I have already finished 6 lecture videos of the first week’s modules (released early) and must sit down for the first assignment.

Bonus: To make you interested in this course, here is a nice video (part of the course) that demonstrates the effect of Change Blindness – Colour Changing Card Trick.

Tracking your workouts using your smartphone

For a long time, I was tracking my workouts (which was just plain walking and jogging) using an iPod Nano which had a simple pedometer. It could track how many steps you take and how many long runs you do and a very simple calorie calculation.

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

It worked great as I can listen to podcasts and also silently tracked my workouts. But it doesn’t work for cycling. There are however a few options where you could buy a cheap cyclocomputer which can measure your average speed, max speed, workout time, distance travelled in a trip, etc.

If you want to track more info about the route you take, you can use some of the costlier GPS solutions which track the elevation gradient, draw your route on a map, etc.

Or if you want to just start tracking your workouts today, there is however a device which you already have in your pockets – your smartphone. There are apps for both Android and iPhone which allow you to track the speed, distance, route, etc., all using the built-in GPS.

There are two apps that seem popular among the community. Best part is, both these apps work for running/jogging/cycling.

Strava: This is a free app for both iPhone and Android. It does have a monthly subscription for premium features. It looks very polished and seem to work really great for me. Can track your average/max speed, elevation gain, calories, routes, etc. It also has social features where you can follow the activity of your friends and even compete on segments for the fastest time. It also works with some of the other GPS devices you may have.

Endomondo: It is also very similar and has the same functionality of tracking speed, elevation, route, etc. Can work on both iPhone and Android or any GPS enabled device. Free, though there are membership plans for some advanced features.

You can choose either of these and start tracking your workout easily. The only problem is having a heavy smartphone in your pocket, which is easily solved if you can get an armband for you phone.

Once you are into serious training and want to track really long distances, you can choose to get a GPS device which does its job well and integrate with your account on either of these two sites. Till then, I will be using my smartphone app to track my workouts.

Nifty BeES – the only equity investment you would need

Yesterday I explained enough about the equities market to help understand the basics. Now in this post I will tell about a single Scrip that you can invest which has low risk and can return gains equal market gains. Indian equities market has given an average annual growth of about 16% over the long term. Imagine a stock which will give you 16% annual returns if invested over 30 years.

If you don’t want to understand anything and don’t want to think about your equity investment, just remember this one sentence. It will work for 95% of people.

Buy N shares of NIFTYBEES every month.

Thats it. Simple right? For example, If you have a surplus of Rs.10,000 every month that you want to invest in equities – close your eyes and instruct your broker to buy Nifty BeES for the Rs.10,000. At today’s rate (Rs. 576) you would get about 17 shares of Nifty BeES. Investing every month, you would have a few hundred shares of it in a few years, which would continue to grow as long as you stay invested.

Now for the longer explanation.

What is Nifty BeES?

Nifty BeES is an ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) by Goldman Sachs, which tracks the Nifty Index. To explain in simpler terms, Goldman Sachs has a computer program which takes your money and uses it to buy the equivalent number of all 50 stocks that the component of Nifty Index. Each single share of Nifty BeES is priced at 1/10th of the Nifty Index.

If Nifty is at 5700, the price of Nifty BeES would be (about) Rs.570. So if you buy 1 stock of Nifty BeES, the ETF would have invested in all of the 50 shares in Nifty. But you can say one can’t buy all of the stocks with just Rs.570. Right, but when lakhs of people buy it, the fund can buy enough stocks and your returns will be weighted according to your investment.

Why not buy specific company’s stocks?

You might be very interested in investing in specific company’s stocks because thats what everyone does and the people on TV are so experienced and say that they have 100% strike rate in picking winning stocks.

Do they really? No. This is a common problem when it involved finance matter (just like in astrology). They don’t talk about predictions that failed. Instead they make you focus on how their choice of one particular stock earned them 60% returns. They don’t talk about the 10 other stocks which made investors lose more money than they earned in that 1 winning stock. People are easily affected by “confirmation bias” and it greatly affect their investments.

Remember no one can select winning stocks every time. And you won’t know in advance which prediction would work out and which wouldn’t. If you invest in all the predictions they make, you would end up making more loss than profits.

How about mutual funds?

Mutual funds are managed by humans who check the fundamentals of a company and try to guess when to invest in a company and when to exit it. But like I said they are no better than the financial experts you see on TV.

Add a small fee that you need to pay the fund manager to handle your money, called “Expense ratio”. You would end up losing money before even making a bit of profit. All this for just some mediocre stocks picked by some human.

How is Nifty BeES different?

Nifty BeES is an index fund – your value of the investment would increase if Nifty increases, and it would fall if Nifty decreases. The value of Nifty is closely tied to how the Indian economy performs. If all the industries are doing well, nifty would definitely increase.

Whenever a company is removed from the index and a new company is added to the index, the ETF automatically makes the adjustment in the investment. It is exactly as if you are investing in these 50 front line companies. When invested in the long term you would definitely have increased your investment multiple times.

How is it less risky than buying a company’s stocks?

It is definitely less risky than buying a separate company’s stocks. Because you are investing in 50 stocks spread over about 22 sectors. How much more diversification do you need? Even if one particular sector is not performing well, say metals/sugar, there would be other sectors which would be performing well, like IT industries because of higher dollar price. Your investment would grow even if a few sectors underperform. Incase of a total bear market, your investment wouldn’t fall as badly as investing in a few companies.

Why not buy these 50 companies individually?

You can buy all the 50 constituents of the Nifty Index individually and get the same effect. But the advantage of buying Nifty BeES instead is you can invest a very small amount every month and it would grow at the same rate as Nifty. To buy even a single share of all Nifty companies you would be needing a much higher investment.

Managing the weightage of the different companies and reshuffling the portfolio whenever a company is taken out of the index and a new one is inserted, would be a headache. Which is easier, tracking 50 companies in your portfolio daily or tracking a single ETF once a month, just for 5 minutes to see how much profit you earned? Thats why the ETF has computer programs which do this automatically. And since it doesn’t have any human to make any decision