Tuition Services!

I’ve got loads of friends looking for tuition jobs and I thought I might as well advertise for them here. I’ve included their contacts and subjects to be taught under our services page (in case you didn’t know we have one). But here’s a reproduction for readers:

Other Tutor’s Services (former students of top JCs)

Wei Si is interested to give tuition for Economics, Chemistry and General Paper at JC Level. English, Chinese and Chemistry available for Secondary School student too! Interested students, please contact her via email: stardustt.14 [at] gmail [dot] com

Ruiyuan is hoping to give tuition for Economics and Geography at JC Level. Geography and Chemistry available for Secondary School student too! Interested students, please contact him via email: stainless.rui [at] gmail [dot] com

Jia Hao hopes to give tuition for Chemistry at JC Level. Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry available for Secondary School student too! Interested students, please contact him via email kel_ojh [at] hotmail [dot] com

Yan Min is providing tuition services for Chemistry at Secondary School level. Chinese (and Higher Chinese) and Mathematics for Primary school student too! Interested students, please contact him via email: dwellerz [at] hotmail [dot] com or call him at 97293953.

Vertical Thinking

Lateral Thinker
Lateral Thinker

I finally found a copy of Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking, published in 1970s. It collects his earlier insights about Lateral Thinking and reflects his more original ideas about the subject. The books he published much later are more or less repetition of these earlier ideas, presented in alternative means – some acting as encouraging creativity, others at simplicity of thought and some plainly about motivation and happiness.

I’m not exactly a fan of De Bono – I think he exploits his authority in the area of lateral thinking pretty well and have managed to set himself apart from the general ‘creative thinking’ bunch. I think his Six Thinking Hats programme made him quite a lot of money and his success in trying to frame his concepts into thinking in the business realm means more money. Still, he offers much valuable ideas that are untapped by the masses.

He highlights some problems with Vertical Thinking that we traditionally use to think about problems and perceive our world; these problems are intricately woven with the advantages of this system of thinking so the point is to be aware of these inadequacies and counteract them with Lateral Thinking. Here are some of the problems with our thinking system I would like to share and explain how they might impede us in our daily thinking:

1) Our thinking creates patterns that helps create an efficient system of memory that relies of amazingly few details to trigger the recollection of an entire experience. Unfortunately, they become established ever more rigidly since they control our attention; we’re constantly searching for patterns to fit into our experience to make sense of things. These patterns are also difficult to change once they become established.

This is the case of conspiracy theorists who see patterns in places people don’t and form elaborate theories of conspiracies even when they are just a series of coincidence. The pattern that these conspiracy theorists establish in their minds direct their attention to particular details that reinforce their beliefs in their theories. It’s difficult to convince them that their ideas are flawed.

2) Our system of thinking tends towards ‘centering’ (a term used by De Bono), which means that anything which has any resemblance to standard pattern will be perceived as the standard pattern. Because the information that is arranged as part of a pattern cannot be easily used as part of a completely different pattern, it is hard to change the way one perceive the same set of information to interpret them differently.

This is a case of stereotyping on steroids, best exemplified by the character Mr “Everything Comes From India” in the BBC Sketch Comedy, Goodness Gracious Me. Here’s an Youtube clip showing how he makes his arguments that frustrates his poor son.

3) There’s also marked tendency to ‘polarize’ in our system of thought, moving to either extreme instead of maintaining some balanced point between them. This implies that even when the choice between two competing patterns are very fine, one of them would be chosen with another being completely ignored.

Using the above example of Mr “Everything Comes From India”, we notice that his thinking is such that there’s only the two extremes of ‘Indian’ and ‘Not Indian’. He thinks little of the effects of globalization and the influence of culture on each other or the possibility of overlapping rituals between different cultures.

Finally, patterns that we accumulate can get bigger and bigger, resulting in declarations like, “There are only 2 kinds of people in this world…” People package a whole lot of individual patterns and lump them within a bigger pattern, that immediately trigger off other perceptions that are unreal or not observed. Of course, there are advantages to this system, with it’s roots in instinctive fight-or-flight responses when efficiency of generating a response is more important than producing a precise/correct response.

The idea is to know when we should make use of what sort of thinking. In pondering over important issues in life and generating ideas for a project and such, one should suspend our typical system of thought in favour of lateral thinking that has the advantage of proliferating more ideas even if they don’t appear to be quality on first impression.

Another Week

Another Week Mail
Another Week Mail

The weeks seems to be passing faster as the entries on ERPZ becomes more frequent. The one-entry-per-day rate now is not exactly very sustainable without additional support from guest writers and contributors so I’m once again calling out for interested parties to leave a comment with your emails so I might be able to contact you and get your contribution up.

This week’s reading delves into some less-read areas, namely consumer choice. Knowledge@Wharton recently ran an article about How Assortment Size Influences Healthy Consumer Choices. Earlier, they discussed how environmental cues influence consumer choice too.

The linked article mentioned about the ‘paradox of choice’, which is the topic of Barry Schwartz’s talk on He explains the disadvantages of being offered too many choices and the problems associated with the implications of having too many choices in the first place on the psyche of the person after making the decision, citing Dan Gilbert’s presentation in the same TED conference.

Barry is another great speaker, mixing humour consistently throughout his talk with a steady flow of cartoons. The point he makes in our escalating expectations is very real and worth pondering over for anyone who wants to exert discipline on their thinking to keep their mind healthy. He claims he wrote the book, The Paradox of Choice to explain to himself why he felt worst when he got a better jeans than he previously did.

Chemistry Notes!

I’m not sure if this is long awaited, but ERPZ finally started a Chemistry Notes Section! I guess everyone would be more grateful if this was up a couple of months back when people are preparing for A Levels. Well, I haven’t found Zhuoyi’s website then and I was unsure about my handwritten notes then. So now, there’s only 2 sets of notes available, one kindly shared by Zhuoyi, which I’ve consolidated and reformatted into a single document. I might soon put up individual links to each set of Zhuoyi’s notes if readers are interested.

The other set is by me; it’s mostly handwritten with typed pages here and there. For those who might be interested, I’ve added a set of handwritten instructions on how you can make use of your Graphic Calculator’s statistics functions to perform calculations for reaction kinetics at the last few page of the document.

Enjoy Learning!

Making Judgments

Go on and strike!
Go on and strike!

Just a few days back I was discussing how we have to hold contradicting ideas as social science students; and it dawned on me that some students after training themselves to do just that, fails to make a judgment using the ideas. To them, it seems that everything is equally right and there’s no quantitative means of assessing which side is better. I hate to say this but then you actually have the power to decide what is right. After all, politicians, social scientist, economists and such are always at loggerheads and as I mentioned in that earlier post, no one is exactly right – at least we’ll never know what is truly right. We can only be sure of approximations to the right thing but then again there are high estimates, low estimates, depending on how things turn out.

The fact is we all make many decisions these way. There’s no way to know for sure that a plan will carry through and we have default positions, knowing all well what they rest upon and how they might change. We might wake up at 10am every Sunday Morning but then we adjust accordingly when we have appointments around that time on that day. You know that your priority is with the appointment and not with sleep; so unless your priority is the other way round, you’ll compromise. Likewise, when confronted with the question as to whether a Monopoly is harmful to consumers you might have to consider your priorities. You might be concerned with net transfer of wealth from consumers to the monopolist and thus against the theoretical supernormal profits. In that case you’ll argue that while the firm might be a natural Monopoly and the only one serving the market, it is harmful as long as it’s not taxed such that it only earn normal profits (with the tax revenue redistributed to the consumers).

On the other hand your sympathy might lie with consumer choice and welfare so you believe that as long as the monopolist exhibit some sort of dynamic efficiency, innovating and proliferating the market with variety then you’re fine with the Monopoly. After all, it is giving the consumers what they want that earn them the profits. But in an event when it becomes complacent and exhibits some sort of inefficiency (not in the P=MC sense though) then it needs some competition injected. Following that line of argument, some might choose to take side with competition right from the start and argue that as long as the market is a rather contestable market, with huge players ready and able to enter anytime (despite high barriers to entry), then the Monopoly need not be too closely regulated. The above arguments would all make sense and they could well be right answers for economics essays but then the question is whether you’ve presented your case convincingly by showing what are your priorities or principal considerations.

In other words, you do not make judgments when you’re analyzing or dissecting the ideas but when called upon, you’re able to demonstrate your principal concerns and judge the ideas in accordance to them. You should be comfortable with changing your stand when you adjust your judging guidelines and not cling on too hard to your positions. Karl Albrecht, author of Practical Intelligence believes that the open-mindedness so essential to learning and the path towards intelligence require this ability to see opinions/positions and separate from ourselves. So learn to pick up opinions from making judgments but readily drop them and learn to justify what prompted you to do so (new information input, changing circumstances, difference in judging guidelines).

Age of Turbulence

Words of the Wise
Words of the Wise

I read the review of Alan Greenspan’s book 2 years back in The Economist, but didn’t buy it until late last year when I went on a book-shopping spree. The book gone on to stay on my book table (yes, I seriously need a bookshelf) for another year or so before I dusted it two weeks ago and began reading it. In any case, I bought an updated version, which features an epilogue detailing Alan Greenspan’s take on the Subprime Financial Crisis and his prescriptions.

I was immediately surprised by Alan Greenspan’s clear writing and simple style so contrary to his famous inscrutable public announcements about the Fed. It is this that earned The Economist’s rare praise:

Sub-heading of the book review: “Not many surprises in this memoir-cum-essay except that it is an unexpectedly enjoyable read.”

Book Review Quote: “[D]espite everything, the book turns out to be first-rate. It engages on different levels: it is intelligent in a way that few popular books on economics manage or even try to be; and, wonder of wonders, it is a good read.”

The book begins as a memoir, detailing Greenspan’s childhood, interest in music, schooling, economic/technical inclinations and his long career in the Federal Reserve Bank where he was Mr Chairman. His memoir ends somewhat abruptly in retrospect at the eleventh chapter, The Nation Challenged. Beginning with the chapter, The Universals of Economic Growth, he went on with his economy essays and analysis of various economies, industries and trends. Like what The Economist says, Age of Turbulence is a good read, his memoir was very neutral and he was very humble about his work at the Fed. His accounts of the workings of the Fed provides non-American readers a good starting point to learn about their system. Greenspan’s essays on the world economy and economics stays faithful to his belief in the power of free markets and respect for the freedoms and rights that the American Founding Fathers have sought and preserved.

He defends his views that no one can possibly identify a bubble and actively sought to burst it before it gets too big and cause a crisis in its subsequent burst. As a matter of fact, this is the case because anyone who can confidently identify the bubble can profit from it by going against the flow and thus end up defusing it before it builds up. At times, when the so-called ‘irrational exuberance’ exerts too powerful a market force then regulators wouldn’t actually be able to defuse it anyways. He seem to sigh at the voter’s expectations that the government is almighty and is disappointed by typical politicians who doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of ‘trade-offs’. These are typical economist’s perennial concerns about the world in democracies that never seem they’ll ever go away.

As a pragmatist, Greenspan shows great appreciation for the rule of law that has maintained the workings of the market and fostered a culture of trust so essential to capitalism. And reflecting on that, Greenspan gives suggestions on how the emerging economies need to improve their governance and legal systems to catch up with their prosperity and march towards developed status. These are valuable insights gained from Greenspan’s 19 years of being the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. Indeed, Greenspan confesses that he knows little about international economics until he took on this role since his work at Townsend-Greenspan & Company (which closed following his nomination to that post) deals little with the economies of other nations.

Overall, Age of Turbulence provides wonderful insights into workings of the capitalist system of America and great ideas about emerging economies, the direction the world economy is heading to – knowledge significant to any economics students and economist-wannabe.

Another sort of Criticism

Dropping more coins...
Dropping more coins...

After penning the entry on Yuan’s appreciation, I come to observe another sort of criticism that is used on China that does contribute to the global imbalance and probably needs more attention than the currency but is an issue the Chinese government have way less control. That is the lack of spending by the Chinese, which is something repeated time and again. The Economist’s Banyan column recently compared India to China:

Levels of capital and infrastructure investment [of India] compare favourably with China’s. And, much more than in China, the hot story in India is domestic demand. India is no mercantilist adding to global imbalances. It imports more than it exports, creating much needed global demand.

Although the article goes on to discuss the flaws of the Indian economy, especially its lack of participation in the supply chains that link up much of the emerging economies of Asia as a result of their focus on exporting services rather than industrial goods. Industrial production in India remains largely in the hands of a huge number of medium-sized enterprises.

Anyways, back to the fact that China is under-consuming; James Surowiecki explains on The New Yorker why the Chinese don’t spend. He briefly ponders over culture, but goes on to focus on the nature of their economy, and the structures that are reducing access to credit and thus raising the need to save, which means perenially low consumption.

In a sense, the culture revolves around the idea of investment for the future, saving first so that one would be able to spend them. The long history of struggles and uncertainty means the Chinese are probably more risk adverse than their Western counterparts and reluctant to take on debts. In a period of growing wealth, the Chinese naturally hopes to put aside money for the future (be it studies, starting a business, a family or just for rainy days).

As the economy develops, it’ll mature and eventually shift towards higher credit and lower savings. The large investment that the government is pumping into the economy will have to induce greater efficiency in use of capital to help speed up the maturity. Till then, Americans will still get the chance to complain about Chinese inability to spend in the consumer sense.


No more air...
No more air...

The recent entries seem pretty obsessed with money markets and the more talked-about economies. I’m keeping up with my readings of The Economist and that probably explains. Following the article I previously mentioned about Japan’s looming deflation. They probed further and devoted a recent article in the leader section to the issue.

The Economist followed up with an article highlighting the problems associated with the return of deflation. Japan is encouraged to loosen their monetary policy, worry less about inflation and more about deflation. Interestingly, they even tried to draw parallels between Japan and some other developed economies’ experience today.

Decaying Plastics, Melting Ice

Dripping Off
Dripping Off

We are dependent on oil not only for energy but something almost as ubiquitous in modern day products. Shaking off other aspects of our dependence on oil is thus as important as diversifying sources of energy. And some Koreans just found out how to make an alternative kind of plastic way faster.

Meanwhile, Brian Palmer wrote a piece on about how we might be able to overcome bacteria resistance to anti-biotics, a problem we have faced since the invention of anti-biotics. Fighting evolution is not the ultimate solution, as Palmer argued; he believes we need to adapt the rules of evolution and manipulate the bacteria with other strategies to overcome the problem.

Johann Hari writes on moreIntelligentLife about how Arctic is changing as experienced by the Inuits living there. Many of us may know about climate change and perhaps some of the sciences behind it but our lives goes on pretty much the same except for periodic violent weather we might intuitively attribute to climate change. To climate scientist, arctic is at the front line of this phenomenon and Hari writes convincingly about the reality of climate change in the arctic and how the lives of the Inuits are affected. The writing reflects a deep respect for those who lives in the arctic; something lacking in most other appeals for attention to global climate change. Ultimately though, it reflects how people are all looking at the problem with different lenses and focusing on different consequences. If anything is to be done at all, we’ll have to connect the different groups together.

On other green matters, Nina Shen Rastogi asks on, Should You Flush Your Drugs Down the Toilet?

Package for the Week

Hidden from sight
Hidden from sight

Reads for this weekend are here. Farhad Manjoo muses whether anyone would be able to stop facebook. From expanding, that is. The site has really amassed a huge group of user in a short time and people have been wondering if it would be able to generate revenue and such. Truth is, Facebook has really changed the stuff we do online quite very much and helped the Internet leap ahead as a tool for social networking.

Daniel Gross wrote about his tour to China’s most important dam and muses over his inability to find a chocolate bar there. He got readers to send in excuses for not being able to find a chocolate bar in China. Examples included:

“Your quest for chocolate at the Three Gorges would be like me looking for Chinese dumplings at the Hoover Dam,” wrote one Beijing resident.

Jokes aside, for your watching pleasure, check out Shashi Tharoor’s recent talk on about soft power, with particular reference to India.