Essay Collection eBook!

PW Guidebook

The Essay Collections now provides the series of model essays pitched at A-Levels which I’ve written over the years put together with the essay guide for Economics which I’ve written and still available for download. With the A-Levels fast approaching, we are slashing the prices for those who are genuinely interested in sprucing up their essay skills in double quick time; just follow this link.

The book cover featured on the Gumroad sales page is designed by Amelie Kam and will make it to be the print cover if the book goes to print. For now, to keep the costs low, the distribution is done solely through the eBook format.

Here’s an old version of the essay guide captured by this essay collection so you get a sense of the contents before making the prudent purchase.

Breaking out of Jail

As it turns out, unlocking phones to use SIM cards of other networks where the phone is not purchased from is actually illegal. And more ludicrously, this deed is criminalised by copyright laws. The Economists thus concludes that this may be evidence intellectual property laws have become rather anti-competitive and even potentially against innovation.

I wrote an essay regarding the early roots of the patent institution of America and described the major feature of the institution that made it a remarkable success in terms of fostering innovation. Zorina Khan has written much about what makes this early American institution superior over its counterparts in Europe. I personally believe it is the act of disclosure that encouraged innovation and by extension to that, the more subsequent restrictions produced by the intellectual property rules should not produce that much impediments to inventive activities.

Looking at this case, it appears that the real world might be more complex, and these impediments guides market evolution in a specific way judging from the lack of sophistication in the plans offered by these mobile carrier firms in US as compared to their counterparts in Europe where competition is more intense in the telecommunications industry following much deregulation.

Impact of social networks on non-disclosure injunctions

RIP non-disclosure injunction
The impact of social networks?

It is safe to say that almost every youth in Singapore is on the social network bandwagon. Using my personal experience as a typical sample, some youths will start their day by logging into their Facebook account and reading the world news from their news feed. Typical news include articles on the invasion of Gaza Strip, the spread of Ebola virus, and the deadly natural disasters happening abroad. Further, you will learn many personal things about your friends from Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The capacity of social networks to distribute (worldly and personal) information is astounding. Indeed, with the emergence of social networks, anyone can publish information to an extensive audience. But how does this affect the law?

My first instinctive thought is that social networks will pose significant challenges to enforcing legal information controls. One example of such controls is a non-disclosure injunction whereby the court restricts a party (or parties) from publishing certain details. In privacy actions, such injunctions are vital remedies since the private nature of information cannot be restored once such information is leaked into the public domain. However, by examining several UK cases, it is observed that social networks have rendered non-disclosure injunctions increasingly pointless in preserving the secrecy of private information.

One oft-cited example is the case of CTB v NGN. Ryan Giggs, formerly a prominent football player for Manchester United, obtained a non-disclosure injunction to restrain a newspaper company (NGN) from naming him as the footballer that entered into an extra-marital affair with model Imogen Thomas. In the court judgments and news reports, Ryan Giggs was therefore anonymised as CTB. Unfortunately, the purpose of the injunction was frustrated when numerous social network users on Twitter exposed CTB as Giggs. Within days, many people could now discover CTB’s identity via appropriate Internet searches. Indeed, this case example shows how influential social networks can be. Interested readers may also look at other similar examples including the Trafigura incident and Jeremy Clarkson’s frustrated experience with obtaining a super-injunction.

Why are social networks so effective in undermining non-disclosure injunctions? First, social networks transform every user into a publisher, thereby increasing the variety of information sources. Without the gate-keeping function role of mainstream media or the advice of their in-house lawyers, social network users are able to distribute potentially harmful content that may breach non-disclosure injunction. Secondly, the viral nature of social networks enables users to communicate with an extensive global audience; once private information is published, the original recipients may share or re-tweet the information to a much broader audience. Thirdly, the contents posted on social networks are often long-lasting as they remain archived and searchable long after the original post is deleted. The combination of these features limits the potential of non-disclosure injunctions in stemming the online distribution of information.

However, all is not lost. One can make the argument that non-disclosure injunctions are not completely devoid of utility. Whilst the non-disclosure injunction may be losing its effectiveness in preserving a secret, it can still serve a useful function by preventing further intrusion and distress. If the mainstream media were to further distribute the private information available on social networks, this would cause additional distress for the protected party. As reminded by the English judge in CTB, the “modern law of privacy is not concerned solely with information or secrets: it is also concerned importantly with intrusion”.

By now, you would have noticed that I have not mentioned any Singaporean examples. Whilst social network users in Singapore have not undermined any non-disclosure injunctions granted by the local courts, nothing can be taken for granted in this digital age. It remains to be seen whether non-disclosure injunctions will remain effective in Singapore.

PW eBook!

PW Guidebook

The Project Work eBook that has been work in progress for a couple of years now and it is finally complete! The 2014 edition is the very first edition of this Project Work guidebook and since students taking the assessments should already be half way through, we are slashing the price by more than half for those who make the purchase through this link.

The book cover featured on the Gumroad sales page is designed by Amelie Kam and will make it to be the print cover if the Project Work Guidebook goes to print – a very likely possibility for the 2015 Edition if sales goes well and content receives a dose of update. For now, to keep the costs low, the distribution is done solely through the eBook format.

Here’s a preview to check out the contents before making the prudent purchase.

Novel Review – Kite Runner

ERPZ rarely get to the literary stuff but I’m sharing around a bit of my old reviews done on my old blog. So here goes.

Kite Runner
A Thousand times over…

It was a very abrupt purchase. Harris was giving it a 50% discount together with another book by Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns. I just bought both together since they’re pretty decently priced for fiction. I normally don’t like to own fiction books because they’re usually printed on lousy paper for paperback versions and mostly because they have no particular reference value unlike non-fiction (not to mention the fact that I don’t re-read books).

Kite Runner is one of the rare good books that gives you a story based on a setting and culture very foreign to our own. As Asian, I can understand the way females are treated and how some of the traditions are somewhat biased against them although they are fortified with justifications usually based on the idea of ‘protecting’ the women. In the book I get to see the Pashtun people’s version of such in Afghanistan. I’ve long read about the Pashtun people in one issue of The Economist long time ago and I understood how they were more or less more abiding by their traditions and customs than that of the Muslim types of law (please don’t correct me if I’m wrong because I wrote all that based on my impression of what I’ve read in the article and I shan’t take responsibility for making any mistakes here).

In essence I saw the book as a narrative to learn about the lives of people in Afghanistan before the Soviet Occupation and all the subsequent wars fought there. I learnt the excuses of the different warring parties and I learnt about the lives of the people there after that. Otherwise, the narrative is about brotherhood, betrayal, ethnic discrimination and foreign cultures. It is definitely refreshing to get a dose of fiction amidst all the non-fiction reading I’ve been doing, including a ‘Apache, mySQL and PHP in 24 Hours’ (which of course I didn’t even read for 5 hours not to mention attempting to learn the entire book in 24 hours).

I’ll recommend it to people who’d like to know more about the Middle East, the diversity there, the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan in terms of the people. Alternatively, people who would like to see the people’s perspective of Afghanistan through their modern history would most likely be interested to explore the book as well. At times you’d find their cultures weird, extreme and slightly unnecessary but you will also find a thick sense of ties and kinship that you’ll almost find nowhere outside Asia.

“Professional” Research

Tales, Tall or Short?

After a long hiatus of sorts, I return with a link-share on the state of academia – sort of. With the whole ‘publish or perish’ culture in academia, the way people deal with knowledge now gradually approaches the way banks and other financial institutions deal with trust that is placed on them by the public or the users of their services. The Economist runs an article about this problem in science research. But I think the same can be said of many other disciplines though their results might sometimes have less impact.

That said, to continue my academia-finance analogy, the consumption of ‘research knowledge’ is gradually turning a blind eye towards quality the way. Following the recent launch of Malcolm Gladwell’s “David & Goliath”, there was an onslaught of reviews suggesting some kind of ‘abuse’ of theories discovered by social scientists. Chris talks about the trouble with Malcolm Gladwell’s stories, pretty boldly suggesting that they bordered bareface-lies. Whereas Steve more politely implies that Malcolm thinks too lowly of his readers (which is put across more bluntly by Chris). In this age of moral relativism and fluidity of the concept of what constitutes facts, people, it seems, are more interested in being entertained than the truth; and that is just utmost unfortunate.

Mostly Whinning

Can’t miss them!

After 3 years away (with roughly 4 months of being back home in-between) from Singapore, I came home with great anticipation; in particular I was excited to be a tourist in my homeland (checking out the new developments/attractions I’ve been missing out) and catching up with friends. Unfortunately the atmosphere that greeted me was one different from what I expected. We don’t go around expecting to be disappointed but being a fresh graduate from London does imbue me with that urge to change things back home in Singapore. And the feeling got stronger when I got back and began feeling slighted by all sorts of little nitty-gritty things here.

People have been talking about the disconnect between the rulers and the voters since the elections in 2011 and to be honest, I would hesitate to take any sides. Indeed, the concerns of the government is often grand and noble while that of the people humble and sometimes almost mundane. The brilliant minds working in our government would naturally incline themselves towards the ‘big’ matters of steering the economy, of attracting foreign talents or ensuring competitiveness while the common man just wants to bring enough home to feed his family, and perhaps hope that his children does well in school so they get better jobs than him. The leaders have aspirations for the country and recognizes the costs yet in making the trade-offs on behalf of their countrymen, and attempting to justify them, the concerns of the common men have been ‘aggregated’ and then slighted.

The process typically works this way: (1) Identify major concerns; (2) Aggregate and highlight main ones; (3) Come up with a strategy, decide on an indicator to benchmark the strategy, set targets; (4) Go all out to hit targets, even in the expense of the original concerns that generated those targets. A simple example could be such: People wants better lives and jobs, so the strategy is to attract foreign companies to set up shop in Singapore. To do so, the needs of these MNCs becomes important so policies are formulated to attract them and targets on amount of inward investments are set. GDP growth targets are set as a proxy to improvements in standard of living. Public servants go all out to achieve these targets. Often it may mean bringing in more foreign talent to satisfy MNCs needs, giving them tax-breaks or tax holidays (and then financing the government through higher GST that hurts the common men more). The focus on performance figures outstrip the initial concerns that have driven them.

Not that this happens only in Singapore. A while back, the NHS in UK had waiting time targets to ensure patients sent to the hospital’s emergency departments were attended to as fast as possible. However, during busy periods when the emergency rooms are swarmed, waiting is inevitable and in order to continue meeting targets, patients were left in ambulances so that they could not be logged as having ‘reached’ the emergency department. The targets becomes such an obsession that the initial concerns resulting in those targets becomes ignored.

The sort of asian stigma against questioning authority in Singapore accentuates this problem. We follow goals and targets ‘imposed’ on us from the top without understanding the bigger picture. There is no time for those explanations, we are told. But then we are allowed to be embroiled in hours of senseless meetings where the most trivial decisions are made and presentations of unalterable past results are delivered in a bid to win stars and stand out in front of the bosses. It’s time we delegate the job of accounting for the credit we should get to our bosses and concentrate on delivering results rather than demonstrating them in the most superficial way.

I’ve written on the whole issue of signals and substance in the past, but I felt I needed to be more forceful in showing how badly we suffer from this here in Singapore.

Owl Cove

Stare some more?

I promised Jerrold a couple of months ago to promote his website, Owl Cove but I must say it took way too long for this to happen. Owl Cove is an ambitious project by Jerrold and his team to publicly catalogue random ideas and musings about studying, life, career and striving while inviting everyone to share their notes and ideas. In other words, Owl Cove can properly constitute a realization of what I’ve dreamed up for ERPZ.

But perhaps not yet. Perhaps not before you visit to ‘Learn, Share, Discuss’ (as they would put it); and really just to contribute to the community there. There is still an amazingly long way the Singapore’s education landscape need to change to lift up the weaker students to the level worthy of being audience of such sites. And the ‘elites’ need also to take time to reach out to others and help them before they can engage them as peers.

ERPZ have been really quiet for the past few months because I’ve been away traveling and I guess I’m looking forward to publishing some articles on traveling and complaints about Singapore transport on Owl Cove now that I’m back – at least for the while…

Of Notes and Other Things

With many of the contributors to the blog largely on hiatus (myself included), and Kevin getting increasingly busy, one might wonder much about the future of ERPZ, especially with the various note-sharing sites that Kevin has mentioned – OpenLectures and NotesAcademy. I’ve been in contact with both sites, and I’ve friends who help out at these sites – I know the founder of NotesAcademy through some extremely interesting encounters, and he’s a friend now :) Stuff like that happens when you’re from a big college filled with interesting people, and these sites have one thing that gives them an edge – a strong team of people helping to run their sites and keep them vibrant. Here at ERPZ, it’s a challenge since we’re a little short-staffed.

Despite all the sites and apparent “competition”, what ERPZ offers is that of specialized and curated A Level content, post-As advice and life tips, a gap that has not been filled by many of such sites. Admittedly, the content needs a bit of an update, especially since many of the subjects have gone through a SEAB revamp in terms of the syllabus content, but we’ll work on it. We’ve got the PW eBook coming up, and I’m working also on General Paper Topic Summaries that are summaries of common topics tested in the A Levels – it’ll be hard to grasp such wide topics, but there’s no harm trying to condense them and provide good examples that students will be able to use in the examinations.

With Common Tests coming up after the June Holidays, many students will be looking for notes, and hopefully ERPZ will be able to accomodate that. It’s a bit of a stretch since ERPZ is very much short-staffed, but we’ll work on bringing an ERPZ that’s better to you. On a personal basis though, I’m looking to blog a lot more, partly to help Kevin out, but also for my personal growth as a writer. Life’s been busy for a lot of us here at ERPZ, but we’ll still want to keep this page alive and useful for years to come.

Learning & Hacking Studies

Other sites...

There are so might sites online about studying and publishing/distributing notes that seem to be getting pretty redundant. We’ve so far been operating on a one-man show kind of way despite having multiple authors (who are mostly non-contributing to be honest). Scott seem to do the same as me when it comes to blogging except I guess he does it better and categorizes stuff in better ways than me. He publishes eBooks (some of them free) as well! And that is quite an inspiration given that I’m hoping to write a PW Guide soon – check out our Facebook page where I challenged myself to finish the book before we reach 1000 likes. Not such a tall order since there isn’t that many likes yet but it does put pressure on me especially when I’m studying for exams this period.

Then there is Notes Academy, which was featured on Straits Times going the ‘open source’ style where they mostly curate and moderate while waiting around for kind people to contribute notes. That’s not so different from me as well since I’ve been asking for contributions for some time and we’ve gather some stuff from kind souls here and there. But then they are a radical departure from the way we moderate content so strongly that contributions are slapped with our site logo before being uploaded though we’ve made exceptions now and then. I guess the fact that Notes Academy is a little more O Levels oriented means that I’m not exactly in direct competition with them anyways. The fact they’ve got a team to do all that work is admirable though.

Of course, who can forget Open Lectures who have just revamped their site. They’re a pretty geeky bunch with quality content (clearly carefully produced and curated), which is on the other side of the spectrum compared to Notes Academy. I don’t really know where sit at anymore. In any case, a potential criticism that can be levered on them (and also relevant for me) is their content is skewed towards Economics probably because they’ve more of their team dabbling with that area. They definitely need to gather more MOE scholars who’re not planning to break bond (ie. not doing ‘practical’ subjects like Economics or Engineering but dealing more with Literature, hard Sciences).

For those who thinks publicly available stuff are crap (or that there are no goodies in freebies), there is Darryl, who is taking the more exclusive ‘coaching’ path for studies. He offers quite a fair bit of coaching content and has worked a bit of money into building and putting together his entire suite of ‘formula’. The thing is I believe it’s suitable for people who actually looks up these stuff and have a more or less keen desire to excel – not someone who believes in shortcuts, simply one who believes in doing things smart.

Having said all that, the future of is wondrously uncertain. All my notes might end up somewhere like Notes Academy and I’ll continue blogging random ramblings while perhaps doing some eBook writing. Or maybe the site will become something all together different. There are ideas to crowd-source for ideas on what to do but I’ll have to come up with proposals first. But for now, my exams comes first…