If you've been following our facebook page, you'll notice that we've put up a whole lot of notes over the past few months. To check out the new notes we have. Simply click the "Newest" tab on Learn.
It's amazing to think that all of them were user-contributions. Changing attitudes takes time. It seems that we are slowly but certainly moving towards a more collaborative future.
We'd also like to say that as of this year we are also accepting O level notes. If anyone has notes or friends with notes to share, do take note (pun intended). Putting them on owlcove will help your notes reach the ~4000 monthly users that visit.
It's 2016 and nearing our third year in business :)
When we first started out, we were worried about many things: what if no one shares any notes? What if nothing we have turns out to be any good?
We've been very surprised and happy to have received lots of top notch contributions from students past and present. Some of the content we've received are so meticulously designed and well put together - they're far beyond what we expected. They show how much we can really do as students.
We'd like to think that owlcove has helped in some subtle way to inspire more and better sharing within our community. That has been our only aim all this time.
As it turns out, we now have lots of notes to share, and its time we pushed things even further.
We're going to be shifting things around, tinkering with parts of the site, tweaking stuff that didn't quite work out, and making our best features shine - all the while making sure we continue to provide great notes and articles for everyone.
In this period of re-construction, we do apologise for any inconvenience caused.
If anyone has got any suggestions or ideas for us, do tell.
We've been so busy maintaining the site and dedicating our time to upkeeping owlcove's core functions that we didn't notice our second year quietly and coolly passing by. It's been phenomenal.
Our focus has always been on substance over marketing (that helps no one), and if you'd notice new notes and to a smaller extent articles continue to appear on the site.
Recently, a student messaged us on facebook asking if the site was still being updated. That caught me off guard. I'd assumed this was beyond question. Then it occurred to me that a brief look at our blog - not frequently updated because none of us admins are the blogspot/instagram type - may really give someone the impression that we've stopped working on owlcove.
Exactly one year ago we launched owlcove. By “launch”, I mean changing “closed = true” to “closed = false”. It felt good.
I remember we were in a MacDonalds in Ang Mo Kio. We launched the facebook page too. We shared it. The project we had spent almost a year on – learning, building, developing, having fun.
If you asked me where I saw owlcove this time last year, I have no clue. Everywhere, perhaps, or maybe nowhere. But that’s a trick question. The trick is it doesn’t matter where you are now as long as you know where you’re headed. And you have a plan for getting there.
We did have a plan. We didn’t follow it – not to the letter. Because none of us ever did something like this before. We had no idea what to expect.
I’d say more happened than I expected, and also less. More, because we never thought our notes and articles would become so popular. Less, because we always hope for more than we actually get. And we still have a lot left to do to get where we want to be.
It's been exactly seven months since we launched owlcove. Wow.
I have to say the journey has been exhilarating. On centre stage, our notes have exceeded 8000 downloads combined. Last week we registered our 2500th user. Zhicong's econs package has, by itself, gotten 1500 downloads. If ever something purely meant for mugging could go viral, I'd bet on that.
But numbers aren't the star of the show. What matters is helping people, and helping people help other people. We've were very, very happy to receive great contributions from friends, acquaintances and people we've never met before. An ex-teacher of mine has come forward and offered to proofread some of our notes. We've also been very fortunate to have connected with cool people like the ones behind Fiveless and Erpz, who are like us working to improve education. What success we have thus far we owe it to everyone who's helped us and shared about us. 3 people could never make such an impact without more.
And there were all the other amazing things that happen out of spontaneity. Like when our haze meme went slightly viral, or when something I wrote was actually shared far more times than expected. Just last month, we shared owlcove on some forums and the response and kind words we got was hugely encouraging. We've also managed to get interviewed about owlcove, twice! (Second one's not published yet btw)
And believe it or not, we've had hacker issues too (which coincidentally occurred last month). That was pretty exciting, especially for zhicong, as he raced to fight the threat. It turned out that no data was lost and the problem was actually with the main hosting providers. We were still wondering when we became important enough for hackers to target.
So just like that, we've 'weathered' our very first A-levels too. I do hope our efforts did help people own the exams upside down :)
And now that it's over (and my own exams are over too XD), we're gonna be taking everything we've learnt and gained thus far and putting it all into making owlcove way more awesome for the upcoming year. We've got slightly more than a million ideas of things we're gonna build on owlcove, so stay tuned.
Our vision was and has always been to make studying about learning, sharing, discussing and thinking rather than mugging and memorising. I'd say this year has been one small step for us and for owlcove, but its a step towards a collaborative future that we believe is not only possible, but inevitable.
Happy Holidays, and thanks for all the likes :)
(P.S. If there's anything you'd like to see on owlcove, you'd want to tell us immediately :) )
Giving is receiving, and if you take you should also give. Really?
We've been told this a thousand times. Every charity, every parent, every teacher trying to teach us compassion and kindness.
But if it's really so great, if giving is the best way we receive, why do people who give nothing sometimes receive everything? We live in a time where those who do good don't always get paid, and those who get paid don't always do good.
Still, I think our teachers and parents are right: Giving is receiving, though probably not in the way you think.
Giving is a great joy. But if we give only to receive, when giving doesn't promise an immediate reward the only logical action is not to give.
Amidst compulsory service requirements and corporate social responsibilities, we should remember that you don't need a reason to help others. This line came from a video game character. Perhaps only a ficititious person could ever believe such an unreasonable thing.
Does altruism really exist? Economists have struggled with this for ages, for it flies in the face of an assumption central to modern economics - that people are completely rational and self-maximising.
One nobel-prize winning economist has this to tell us: Happiness comes from two distinct, separate parts of us - the remembering self, and the experiencing self.
While both bring us happiness, we place far too much priority on the experiencing self. The person who goes on an amazing holiday, where everything goes smoothly as planned, has his experience entirely ruined if things turn sour on the last day - maybe his flight gets delayed, or his plane seat was uncomfortable.
By contrast, the person who goes on a mediocre holiday, with ups and downs along the way, feels on a whole happier when the last day turns out fine.
Our current experiences can unjustifiably overshadow good memories. But how is this related to giving?
Supposed you're hungry, and you have a large cheeseburger in front of you. You want it, but your sister sitting next to you does too. You could eat it, and it'd be a great experience. But later you're hungry again, and the happiness you experienced from eating the burger vanishes.
Or you could give it to her. And you'd go hungry for the moment while you find something else to eat. The next time you're hungry, you remember that you give your sister that burger the last time, and you feel slightly proud of yourself for that. Next week, perhaps, when you're hungry again, you still remember what you did, and can still feel happy about it.
The things we do to make ourselves happy vanish the moment we feel sad again. But the things we do to make others happy - that time we returned a lost wallet, when we helped a friend pass his test, when we really made a difference in someone else's life - these moments last forever. Even if that person we helped feels sad right now, we can still feel happy recalling what we did.
Memories are what keeps us going through route marches, exams, and other stressful periods. Every time we give, we create another irreversible memory for our remembering self to keep.
In the end, giving is receiving, not because receiving is something which follows from giving, but because receiving is something naturally inherent in giving.
There's always that irritating classmate who keeps hogging the teacher's attention. There's always that burning question we decided wasn't worth the risk. We've all felt that disapproval when someone offers a really irrelevant answer that wastes everyone's time. And, most importantly, we've all asked ourselves: "What did that other guy say?"
Now imagine if, every time your teacher asked a question, everyone could answer at the same time. You wouldn't even have to speak up if you were shy. And every valuable thought shared was recorded so you could remember exactly what happened in class, along with the number of classmates who agreed with that thought.
We designed Boards based on what we felt was really lacking in classrooms today - no, not a chalkboard, but the ability for anyone and everyone to participate, and the recording of thoughts shared for future reference.
We thought it'd be cool to actually have a discussion board (pun totally intended) that could help us not only find answers to questions we have, but seek a whole variety of different views and perspectives from different people.
That's why we built in a character limit - so that you wouldn't always have one really lengthy and sometimes irrelevant answer crowding out everything else. We also built in a plus and minus feature that's totally anonymous, so you wouldn't have to feel bad giving an honest opinion, and you'd be safe in the knowledge that the person you disagreed with wasn't going to hunt you down.
We also wanted to make Boards as fun as possible use, because what's the point of learning if you don't enjoy it? That's why we used chalkboards as the basis of how the Boards look. And if you remember how fun playing with the custom animations one Powerpoints was the first time you needed to do a presentation, you'd know why we made the Boards animate.
And that's why you should come on Board (pun totally intended again).
Note: Boards are currently in beta, and if you want to help us test it out, you could drop us a message on Facebook or Twitter.
Let’s say you and your friend are arrested by the police. Neither of you have any idea what you did. Maybe it was that hilarious prank you pulled on your teacher two years ago. Either way, now both of you are kept in separate cells, and you have two options:
Rat on your friend. Accuse him of doing everything. They promise you if you do this you’ll be let off scot free, whilst your friend gets 3 months in prison.
Flatly deny everything and hope the police can’t charge you. Your lawyer says given the how little evidence the police have, you’d get 1 month max if neither of you rats on each other. He warns you though, if you don’t rat and he does, you’d be getting the short end of the stick with 3 months whilst your friend gets away scot-free.
Now you know your friend faces identical options. What would you do?
You’re not sure, but you happened to have a brilliant lawyer who also did a little bit of economics and game theory. To help you visualize what you should do, he draws this table, which shows the four different outcomes of this situation.
The choice is actually pretty simple. You don’t know what your friend will do, because he could be a total jerk on the inside. But regardless of what he does, you'd get a lighter sentence if you sold him out – you’d get 0 months if he denies, and 2 months if he rats, compared to 1 month if he denies and 3 months if he rats. Therefore, you have a dominant strategy to totally betray him – it makes perfect sense.
Your friend is no idiot either, and he realizes he should totally do the same. End of friendship and two months later, both of you are released from prison. But the situation could have been so much better if both of you were a little more bro-ish and simply not sold each other out. You would’ve just gotten 1 month each.
You and your friend are now the latest victims of the prisoner’s dilemma.
This theoretical situation actually has practical applications. Two companies in a duopoly can earn higher profits if they agree to set prices high. In this case, the companies can also choose to betray each other by lowering prices of their own goods to capture higher market shares. Is it possible to cooperate in reality, you ask? Well, if you are still paying a thousand dollars for Galaxies and iPhones, then yes.
We’re caught in such situations all the time, but that doesn’t mean we’ll always end up getting two months. That’s because, in theory, the prisoners' dilemma is simultaneous - both parties make a decision not knowing what the other would do, and because the situation occurs only once, you wouldn’t see any point of keeping your friendship in the face of a prison sentence.
In reality, however, parties can give signals to indicate their interest in cooperation. You could, for example, pass your friend a secret note telling him you’re going to deny. Or, better, call upon your underworld connections and threaten him with untold misery if he rats on you. Ok, maybe not, but you get the idea. Also, when the situation is repeated, several strategies can lead to cooperation, notably the Tit for Tat strategy.
Wait, so what has this borderline geek concept got to do with…
Why you should contribute to owlcove?
Let’s say a class has an upcoming test. Grades would be awarded as a bell curve. If the students don’t study, they’ll get their grades according to their ability anyway, without putting in effort. However, just as in the prisoner's dilemma, the students study for the test because that is their dominant strategy. In each student's perspective, studying always maximises their chances and yields the better result for them, regardless of what the others do.
Remarkably, students have actually managed to pull off cooperation, albeit in a slightly different test condition.
It’s not that you shouldn’t study. And we can't guarantee to improve your grades either, because there’s no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to things like results. (Yes, despite how tuition centres want you to think.) In a bell curve, grades can't go up for everyone.
Rather it’s about making it easier to do what you're doing and get what you’re getting. In that way, your lives become freer, so you can focus on your CCAs, competitions and commitments, have more family time, or simply pursue your hobbies, see more of the world.
At first thought, contributing notes seems to be at your own expense. Let's face it – as much as we are willing to help others, we need to take care of ourselves too.
The good news, however, is it doesn’t take much effort and time. All you need to do is upload some notes you would already be making, or contribute some thoughts and ideas.
A common doubt when it comes to this is whether the people you help will get better than you, overtake you, and stamp you down into the abyss of never-ending failure and doom. That is extremely unlikely, so don’t worry.
Firstly, your performance won’t drop simply because you help others. We ourselves studied together as a group, eventually doing better than we would have if we didn’t. Relative to each other though, we were pretty much the same. If my friend was better than me in Physics but worse in Math, he was still going to do at least as well as me in Physics and I was still going to do at least as well as him in Math. The truth is students are good at different subjects, and helping a weaker student isn't going to make him good at it suddenly. But it's going to make it less difficult and less challenging for him.
Secondly, when you help others, you help yourself too. Making notes and teaching others are good ways to revise and reinforce your own understanding. Just as soccer teams play friendlies, competition doesn't have to be destructive.
That’s how we did it. Let's say this concept has 4 steps of reasoning. Maybe it’s a math question. I know how to apply Step 1 and let x be this variable, but I'm stuck at Step 2. My friend understands Step 2 and helps me with it, but now he can't help me with Step 3 because he doesn't understand why x can be equated to y. Luckily, my tutor taught me this in class so we clear Step 3, and subsequently, Step 4, together.
It's like having two people instead of one solve a jigsaw puzzle. Too often, we are so engrossed in our own puzzles we don’t realise we are working on the same one.
Essentially, we are trying to extend the study group concept to encompass an entire community. So why hasn't this been done already? The fact is after graduating from one school, life only gets busier. Everyone who has graduated has his or her own grievances with the education system, but they wouldn’t have any reason to do anything about it because they’re out of it already.
That’s why it takes people who don’t mind doing the counterintuitive and illogical. To do things that seem to have no practical value other than perhaps it being good and the right thing to do.
On top of this, we want to make learning social and fun. When students want to study, you hear "deactivate Facebook" and "delete DotA". Obviously, studying is far from what anyone would call fun. We are missing out on how awesome it could be, and that makes us very unmotivated.
I am eternal. I live in hearts and minds. I live in books. I live in Art. I live in museums, diaries, advertisements, experiences and memories. I am ubiquitous and unstoppable. You can create me, but once I live I am almost impossible to destroy. To deny me to is deny logic and to deny the truth.
I am powerful. I've built the past, permitted the present, and I will change the future. I liberate. I am the difference between schooling and education, wanderlust and wisdom. I empower minds and galvanise thoughts. I create.
I am meant to be shared. To the economists, I am unrivalled. Consuming me does not deplete me. I thrive in virality. I am the flame that sets a thousand others ablaze and burns ever brightly.
But I can also be wasted. I can be hidden and concealed. I can become selfish. I can be stolen, abused, manipulated and disfigured. I am a tool that can be used as a weapon. I can be denied from those who deserve me. I cannot be killed, but imprisonment for me is worse than death.
I am Knowledge. I am eternal, I am powerful. I am meant to be shared. I am power. And like all power I am meant to be put
Some nights I lie in bed unable to sleep. Thinking about so many things. What we could add to the site, what we’re doing right, what we should be doing, what we should stop doing.
Sometimes I get a great idea, and suddenly I’m up at 2am writing down my thoughts and bringing its entire concept into this world. I draw out how it will look, how it’ll tie in with the rest of the features, and, most importantly, how I think it’ll help.
Other times I start forming paragraphs in my head for articles that don’t have titles yet. Stories which haven’t gained enough traction in my mind for me to start writing, but persist nonetheless. And then I’m up again, writing these thoughts down in case I fall asleep and lose them to my dreams.
Some nights I don’t even go to sleep at all, till it’s very very late. I spend my time looking at the stats on our Facebook page, numbers which Google analytics gives me, and the number of views, recommends, and comments our articles get. After a while I refresh the page, as if my doing so would encourage the numbers to jump. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I feel happy nonetheless, a wanderer amidst this virtual landscape we’ve created.
Sometimes I go on a pilgrimage into the infrastructure of the site. I look at the lines and lines of variables, properties and syntax I’ve come to see as a completely different language. These characters are the building blocks of what we’ve created. The code – in more ways than one.
Mostly I see imperfections and make tweaks to the site which contribute all the more infinitesimally into making it as perfect as I can make it. A typo here, a broken link there. One starfish at a time I throw them back into the sea.
Is this what keeps all parents awake at night? Wondering, worrying, wishing for their children, their creations? Is it obsession, or is it passion?
Creating owlcove required close to zero of the content knowledge we acquired from school. Some of us had taken short modules on Photoshop and CSS before, but none of it taught us to do anything good enough for our own expectations, not to mention put online.
What we did use, however, were a great deal of the soft skills. Thinking about problems mathematically was one, and so was being able to write in grammatically correct sentences. At the end of the day, though, the most important skill that we used was something that schooling not only taught us, but trained us to do exceptionally well. And that is the secret of how we went from clueless A level grads to self-proclaimed web designers and programmers.
Rather than explain it to you, we decided to show it to you directly.
Every time we came across a problem we couldn’t solve or something we didn’t understand, this was our answer. And when we say you can find anything on Google…we mean anything and everything. Once we got a little bored of programming and decided to dream a little bigger. So we searched, “How to be an astronaut juggler” and found this video tutorial...
At the end of the day, the answers are all somewhere out there, and it’s up to us to find it. Thanks to search, we are the most knowledge enabled generation of all time. So the next time you come across something you can’t solve by yourself, think about how that problem has probably already been solved by Google.
It’s about making a difference because you can. Because when you can do something that not everyone can, then you have the duty to do it. If you can see further, tell others where to go, and if you can run faster, help the rest move along. We’ve always progressed this way.
It’s about helping others because you should. Not for any particular reason because you don’t need a reason to help others. It’s just something you should do. There’s no need to prove it or reason it out. It’s a feeling innate in all of us.
It’s about helping yourself when you help others. Because when the entire community progresses, you do too. You’re part of this community. Even if you don’t, it doesn’t matter because you’ve made the lives of so many others better. And knowledge is not individual but collective. Now, more so than ever, projects, tasks, papers, facts and wisdom is being created on the collective scale by co-operation. Conflict and competition were once the faster ways to individual success, but that is not as obvious now.
It’s about proving yourself and proving to others that it can be done. Because when you have a vision and you build it from scratch by yourself, without the need for any external help, funding, approval or resources, you show others it’s not difficult to reach their goals. You show yourself you can do what you want to do. You show the world what possible means.
Most importantly, it’s about people. The people you work with to create something of value. The people you are trying to help. The people who support you. The people who don’t support you. Those who agree. Those who disagree. The people you inspire. At the heart of all this is the truth that you are trying to drive change, to make a positive dent in the universe and no matter what happens people will come out of this better. People will learn new skills. People will come up with new ideas. People will see it, learn about it, and react to it. People will build their own legacies. A ripple can create a tidal wave.
We made owlcove because we wanted to and we knew we could. Because we believe that it is time for education to change. Because we believe we can change it. Not by ourselves, but by creating and inspiring a community of others to believe it should and can be done. If a few friends with no prior experience and no institutionalised backing could decide to do something good together, and teach themselves the necessary design, programming, and writing skills to achieve their vision, surely someone else can do the same. The tools are all there, and it's up to us to make the most of them.
There is hope, and it lies in the good men who do something.
Do you like your name, or secretly wish you could change it? A name is more than what others call you by – it’s who you are, what you are known as, and how others will remember you. It can even affect your behaviour, your thinking, and define you.
Up to three months after we started discussing owlcove, we still didn’t know what to call it. We’d refer to it mostly as “the site”, and despite many attempts to put a name to our brainchild, we just couldn’t find one that stuck.
Thinking of a name
We knew how important a name was, not because we’ve had to name babies or anything, but because we’ve had much experience in naming things from e-mail accounts to MMO characters to forum avatars.
It’s something you have to get right from the start. We needed it to represent everything we wanted owlcove to be…in one or two words.
We took…a really long time. We’d spend entire days on it. Our method of finding a name was mostly the all-time favourite of ‘trial and error’, shaped slightly by ideas on what images and ideas we wanted the name to portray.
Picture hours on end brainstorming about what to call your character, and when you finally think you’ve got something good, something that’s so pure genius that you must have it, you key it in and click enter only to find that it’s been taken. For us, that was equivalent to web domains being already taken up.
After a while, thinking gets to you. In desperation you start coming up with the weirdest names thinking they’re great. Names like MugClub, NotesCafe and Beenotes. Fortunately, we had the good sense to realise they aren’t capturing what we wanted owlcove to be.
It was a fateful Thursday evening, one of us was on the MRT (the MRT is a really great place to think, it seems) and the image of an owl materialised in his head. We’d been talking about a name which could be made up of the first letters of various words we wanted to include – like how the word TREE can mean “They Regulate Earth’s Environment” – but stopped short when we realised Learn Share Discuss shortens to LSD.
“Owl”, however, arose because MRT dude was thinking about how our site was about Open Web Learning. Yes, this is actually what the owl in owlcove stands for. Owls also happened to be associated with knowledge, wisdom, hard work, and burning midnight oil – the life of a typical student. Most importantly, owls were cute and lovable too.
We took another two weeks to find the word 'cove', but we eventually did because someone suggested owlfresco (as in alfresco) to show fun and vibrancy. We ended up looking through the list of words beginning with ‘al’, and the word ‘alcove’ caught our eyes because an alcove (which Google defines as “A recess, typically in the wall of a room or of a garden”) tied in nicely with what we wanted our site to be.
What was great too was that “cove” also implied that tranquil beachfront haven that we all need. This is exactly what we want our site to be – a cosy getaway space for everyone to do some open web learning in a relaxed and conducive environment.
It’s been close to a year since we started work on owlcove, and frankly we’ve surprised ourselves at how far we’ve come. It’s not that we think the site is the best site of all time and we’ve done an amazing job creating it. In fact there’s still a long way to go, both for us and for owlcove.
What we’re impressed by is the fact that we actually got it up.
If we told you that we were trained web designers and programmers, that we had lots of experience building websites and knowing what’s right, and that we had funds, resources and lots of spare time to put into this project, we’d be lying.
It started with a simple idea. Maybe all things do. But we didn’t start out thinking we’d build owlcove. We started out thinking we wanted to do something. Really, that was it. We wanted to do something. What was that something? No one knew. How would we do that? Uhh...No one had any idea, but we knew we didn’t want to do nothing. We wanted to make something out of our ideas and what we believed we could do to make things better.
And so a simple idea – to do something – began to take root in our minds. And that got us thinking. Normally we’d preoccupy our day thinking what to eat for lunch, what to do for the weekend, what tweets to post next. But with that idea in the picture…well, we still thought of the same things. Except, sometimes, when we couldn’t sleep at night, or when we were standing on the MRT, we began to think, “What can we do? How can we do it?” Thus we began our search for answers.
What can we do? That question was the centre of our initial discussion. We thought about how we lacked any practical experience in most things, about how we felt as students, about the ideas we had about how we could make learning better.
Slowly, the concept for owlcove began to take shape. We all realised that we had similar thoughts on learning, studying, and education. From our own experiences, we knew that discussion, debate and the sharing of knowledge were a big part of what helped us tide through the exams, and we wanted to share this experience.
After months of thought, discussion, and crashing each other’s homes, we agreed that we should build a site with three functions. And these three functions revolved around what we believed were the three most important concepts in effective education:
Learn, share, discuss.
And we built the entire site on the cornerstone of these three ideas.