Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rebonding

One of the troubling things that I see today is our fractured society divided into many different categories of lines and it is utterly disappointing to see some individuals that further aggravate the situation. It is thus our responsibility to do our little parts to harmonise relations wherever we can. My earlier vulnerability led me to rethink many matters and motivate me further to do what I can in my little ways, rebonding relations. For instance, after 'Eid I decided to restart our family whatsapp group Keluarga Zainuddin Udin to ensure that we are constantly in touch with each other.

Yesterday, I had two wedding invitations and tried my best to go for it. One is from Prof. Azmi; the wedding is in Cyberjaya. There, I met Zul (our present head of department) and a very senior ex-UPM professor Ithnin Bujang, now retired.



I didn't get the chance to meet the rest of the Department's members since I had to go to the other wedding. For the readers, I have been away from the Department for about thirteen years now due to my appointment in the institutes (Institute of Advanced Technology and Institute for Mathematical Research). Due to commitments at the institute, I am rarely in the department and only if I'm free, I'll go to whatever functions are there in the Faculty.

The other invitation is from a senior of mine, Dato' Ahmad Sharifuddin Abdul Kadir in my Adelaide days and it was held in Dewan Banquet UPM. His wife, Datin Noormala was my school-mate in Daws Road High School (matriculation year) and later we shared several courses in Mathematics during our basic degree. Many of my colleagues (senior, same batch and junior) have grown to have successful careers, carrying titles like Dato' as the person above. One of them is my own house-mate during Matriculation year, Dato' Sri Suhaizan Wahid; he is actually younger than me. Another prominent one, which I read in the papers and was able to recognise him clearly (was on a trip to Sydney with him) is President/Chief Executive Officer of Petronas, Datuk Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin. With such luminaries, I must say, I was thinking twice of going or not. In normal circumstances, I tend to shy away from high-ranking officials, superiors etc. I tend to be more at ease for instance, with my own staff in comparison to say, the university officials. However I realise that I am going there to meet friends, rather than to be aware of our economic-social status. It has been over 35 years since I've met them. Thus, there I was with my family at the wedding and the first person I met was Meor, a senior whom I was close with (listening to music and things). They didn't recognise me at first (because I've grown wider). Here are then some photos taken at the wedding ceremony.




Dr. Hamid (also my senior) whom I met several times (as a patient and friend) at Seremban Columbia Hospital was also there too. I spend some time trying to meet everyone I could; missed a few since I didn't wait quite to the end. It was fun seeing them again.

During the night, another rebonding occasion with my sister-in-law's family having dinner while watching Dato' Lee Chong Wei in the Olympic badminton single final. He gave a good fight to his contender Chen Long. For me, what had me tingling me all over was to see Malaysians unite in supporting him regardless of race, religion or political side. Here is the pic:


Today, my other half went to see her own best friend whom she had not met for so many years, who was here in Seremban for a conference. Another rebonding occasion. After the meet, we went over to see our son at the boarding school, who will be facing his trial exams these coming weeks, as sign of support.

A weekend well-spent!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Innovation Day: Internationalization and Multidisciplinary Opportunities

Today we had our annual event of Innovation Day for the institute. This is the day where we get to honour the high achievers (and the ex-staff) of the institute and we renew our pledge for the institute. This is probably my last as my appointment ends before June next year. My involvement was really minimal (only text editing) since the staff members knew what to do best for the event given their past experience.

Dato' Kamel Ariffin was named as the Leading Figure (tokoh) of the institute this year since he has led the institute for the last 13 years or so. He also gave the invited lecture for this event where he reminded us on the vision and mission of the institute, which we most often read but not properly paid attention to. The vision of the institute is the following:

It is the vision of the Institute for Mathematical Research to become a renowned institute in mathematical sciences research, contributing towards the development of progress and well-being of mankind.

It is certainly similar to the vision of many other institutes/centres but the challenge is how can we realise it. What are the gaps? For me, we can't do without international recognition and to have recognition as such, we have to be technically on par with established institutes (the prominent ones were mentioned in Dato's talk). Having international networks can be part of the process to get such recognition and I believe, I have mentioned it in one of my presentations a few years back (though later I found out it wasn't very well-received by some). Now, I say "part of the process" because at the heart of what matters are the content/output that we are producing. This is very much dependent of the context of how we are evaluated. For instance, Isaac Newton Institute (INI) is an institute that are based on research activity programmes carried out there (see here) and hence their goals or KPIs are different from ours. We are still subjected to the common set of KPIs that are given to the other faculties/institutes of the university and hence must be addressed as such. This can be difficult given that some KPIs may not really address the strength of mathematical sciences. Nevertheless we will soldier on. Back to international recognition, a key point to address is our research, addressing questions of common interest to the international community or if it is a niche area, commonly accepted at the level of international standards. This should be done every now and then as new topics come into favour and old ones might die out. In the past, privately I also have suggested that we should start the culture of submitting preprints of our papers to international repositories like the arXiv. In this way, our work gets wider international exposure and possibly more citations. This is not part of our practice just as yet.

Talking about international content, another matter raised is multidisciplinary topics and in particular the use of mathematics in biology, perhaps due to the university's tradition in agricultural sciences. I couldn't agree any better with this one and I have been mentioning the need to go beyond our strict disciplines (even within the mathematics subdisciplines themselves). Perhaps even closer to mathematics than biology are physics and computer science. Mathematics and physics historically have been close partners and in the institute, we have areas like nonlinearity and secure communications that could have been developed together with the physicists. Computer science of course even had shared department with mathematics before; while now separated into different faculties, closer co-operation could still be maintained and new areas could be explored (such as the ones that have been proposed earlier with University of Auckland) and in particular data science/mining. During my visit to UMT earlier, I had mentioned the same thing. Even with mathematical biology, many leading experts have (theoretical) physics background. For instance, Reidun Twarock (see the INI video in the given link above) whose group-theoretical work on virus structures is well known, had an earlier background on quantization. Coincidentally, Twarock was a guest of the institute during the mathematical biology conference that I had chaired sometime ago (see her article in this conference proceedings). For agricultural sciences, we had earlier close contact with Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland (BioSS) which could have been put into advantage but now that our researcher, who had this contact, has left the institute, the co-operation has now slowed down. Thus, we had many opportunities to follow the multi-disciplinary route as suggested but again we need willing partners.

Presently, we have an upcoming big opportunity with the Malaysia-Italy Centre of Excellence for Mathematical Sciences, whose office is in the same building as the institute. We could not be any closer to an international entity than this and from what I have heard, the focus research areas are may be industrially driven, requiring multidisciplinary outlook. I look forward to what can be done with the centre and I suggest this to be our main focus in the near future since such opportunity is very rare. With only a few years of service left with the university, this has to be taken up mostly by our younger colleagues. I do wish that my younger colleagues will take up the opportunity with the Italians and also meet the challenges posed here and by Dato'. This will certainly pave the way for the institute to be of international repute. I wish the institute all the best in its future undertakings.

I end this post with the multimedia presentation made earlier for our Innovation Day:

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Not in Langkawi

This week I should have been in ICWOMA 2016 but instead I was grounded at home. The air-ticket that I had already bought will be forfeited with no chance of reclaiming. The reason was that I had difficulty moving due to what I had thought my bad back conditions and was advised by my other half not to go. The recent weekend had my other half going to a conference in Terengganu with my two elder kids. I was left at home with my youngest since he is schooling (they left on Friday and to return Monday). I was busy then trying to settle bills and other chores in time before my flight on Monday night. Did a lot of walking for this and taking my son for meals. That developed into my bad back with numbness and throbbing pain in my right leg, and at some point I was feeling a bit feverish. On Sunday, I dragged myself to the university to do the closing for a Mathematics Camp at the institute. Wasn't in the mindset to do the closing speech and I guess the audience can see me visibly shaken. It was on returning home, while I was trying to perform my prayers, I felt great pain in bending my right toe. Tried to ignore this and took pain killers, hoping it will go away the next morning. The pain did not subside and I discovered swelling in my right foot the next morning. You can see this in the pic below (excuse my dirty feet - just to show that it is true).


It was then, I decided not to go to the conference. Waited for my other half to come back (since I had difficulty stepping with my right foot and hence driving) and went to the hospital. My other half said it could have not been directly due to my bad back. Had my foot x-rayed to eliminate other causes. The doctor then told me that it could be gout or some irritation on the tendons. I am more inclined to believe the latter since I had excessive walking before. The former is also possible given that my last blood test showed that my uric acid was slightly above the normal level, but that was during Eid when we had a lot of meat and peanuts. I've cut these down after my angiogram findings and hence my earlier suspicion. Anyway will wait for my next blood test to confirm if the uric acid level is still high.

I was then given two-day medical leave and I will take further leaves to ensure that I am well-rested. In saying so, let me just say that I still do work at home and in fact probably even better with more focus. Felt a little guilty though that I had asked my student to go to the conference while I, myself am not going.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Star Ideals and Stark Realities

Recently my students were surprised that I was awarded the "5-Star and Role Model Supervisor" by the university (see pic below). Well, frankly speaking, I am surprised too. In any case, I'm honoured and grateful by the award, but I don't intend to make a fuss out of it.



I already knew I was a "4-Star" supervisor before and I know they have some criteria for all these ratings, but I have never aimed to be "4-star" or "5-star" or any form of glorification. It is just part of my job and in many parts visioneering in science. In reality, supervising is not a clean-cut matter but it is in fact a wilderness and we are often met with many problems, many ups and downs, frustrations, setbacks and of course hard work. It is only at times that one gets a surprising jolt of success. So, if somebody asked me what did I do to receive this rating, I don't really have a clue. What I can see that could be a common thread to what I have done so far is to look into problems that I considered interesting and these tend to be very hard. More often than not, students will not reach the intended problems that were set for them but they picked up interesting things along the way. Many of my students tend to go beyond the recommended duration of studies, trying to do this (running counter to the GoT KPI currently abuzzed). At times we are lucky that the solved problems attract interest of the international community and they get published in international journals. At other times, we just kept ourselves busy trying to do interesting things and some results may not even get published.

Digression from the block universe:
Have you GoT time?
Where GoT time?
Oh my GoT!

Perhaps another factor contributing to the rating, is the number of students that I have and had. If I want to be frank, it is more than I can really cope and indeed, at a given time, more than the average number that a theoretical physicist usually have (I can't find any study that confirms this but this is what I've gathered each time I meet with my international colleagues). Ideally, I could have limit myself to only a few students at a time by being more selective. In practice, this is harder to do due to
  • expectations of higher number (irrespective of fields) from our superiors - we have some minimum KPI;
  • the number of (supervising) theoretical physicists in the country is still small and I often get requests and appeals from potential students.
The other challenge was the background of the students; it tend to be not sufficient enough to embark on serious theoretical research and this often led to the lengthening of the duration of their studies. Until our theoretical curriculum matures to a better degree in the future, I guess, one just need to cope with this for some period of time. This is in a way, one of my hopes and wishes that the institute here could help - paving a way for better environment for theoretical sciences.

The institute in the past had many international visitors and they inject new ideas and a sense of urgency to be internationally competitive. Such intellectually motivating and international environment had helped many of our students. We hope indeed to be able to continue this tradition just like many other renowned international institutes. Lately, bringing international visitors here tend to get more and more difficult, particularly in the wake of recent reduced fundings. Facing the current reality, I dread the idea of going into a contraction phase and wish for some bright ideas or miracles to come along. For now, we simply have to strengthen up our local expertise.

This is our recurring theme of meeting ideals with realities. We often have good and sometimes grand plans in mind but reality tends to have this strange way of waking us up and meet harsher conditions and be spiritually hardened.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Eid Gathering at Central Park

It is common here for people to say that Eid-ul-Fithri in Malaysia is celebrated for a month. The religious obligation is actually to celebrate the 1st of Shawal. I guess the one-month celebration is a recent local custom in part to aid people to spread out Eid visits over the whole month as (extended) families tend to spread geographically than it used to be. Another phenomena is the Eid open houses. This again perhaps an emerging local custom to help people organize Eid visits to their homes at one specific time rather than arbitrarily done over the month of Shawal.

I had my own open house invitation to friends, staff and students last weekend. The decision to do this was rather spontaneous in part due to my term at the institute will end before the next Eid. Here are the pics:



























Glad to say that this time round, very little leftover food - no wastage. The 'laksa Johor' (curry laksa) and 'satay' were among the favourite and first to run out.

Not everyone that I hoped for them to come, came. Hopefully I will have again another opportunity for Ramadhan and Eid invitation next year.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Eid Gathering at Avant Court

In my previous post, I revealed part of my vulnerability. Taking it easy now and have also shifted my priorities. As my colleague mentioned yesterday, the country and university can go on without me easily but my family will be terribly affected. So, I have to prioritise more on what I leave behind for my family and what I bring to my next life. I will still contribute to the university to the best of my (constrained) ability. I believe our theoretical physics group still needs further development and hopefully I can contribute during whatever is left of my services.

Last weekend saw me meeting some of my brothers and sister for Eid at Ina's place in Avant Court. Here are some pictures.






I have not yet seen another two of my brothers and hope very much to be able to see them this weekend.

As a bonus, we received a rare CD of Geng Wak Long from the husband of my niece, who is a professional musician, now a lecturer in UiTM (see pic below). Currently, I'm playing the CD on my way to work and back. The CD is currently not available locally (I think) but there are plans to have it distributed locally.




Just like theoretical physics in the country, Malay traditional music has not always been appreciated as it should. I would like to see our traditional music, not only preserved, but also be further developed to more contemporary settings. The group Geng Wak Long has tried to do this and I wish them further success. Perhaps I should reconsider my musical venture in the future?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Eid 1437

We celebrated Eid 1437 on the Wednesday, 6 July 2016. Like many Muslims, it is a day of celebration, but deep inside we still miss Ramadhan. I was in Segamat with my family on this day at my sister-in-law's place. Here are some pics:






On the second day of Eid, we were supposed to head off to KL to meet my brothers and sister, but something happened. I had some throbbing pain in my left part of chest and it grew numb. Complained about this to my other half and she decided to send me to Segamat Hospital (most private clinics are closed for Eid holidays) for which I got admitted on suspicion of a heart problem. They did an ECG, which I knew the right bundle branch block will appear and it did. This signal had appeared before in my previous ECG back in 2014 and in 2006, but it was diagnosed as inconclusive. In 2009, I had already done a CT angiography for which there seems to be no major blockage at the time. I wasn't sure this time and wanted to do the check back home in Seremban. So we requested for a discharge (at our own risk) so that if I were to be hospitalized, it will be nearer to home. Note also that at the time the hospital was so full that I was 'warded' along the corridor. The discharge (with a letter for the next hospital) came in late evening and thus we had to postpone our trip back home the next morning (Friday).

Reaching home on Friday late morning, we decided to postpone our intended trip to the hospital until Monday. The nearest hospital to our home is the private hospital, Columbia-Asia Hospital. If we were to go there on Friday, I'll be warded and the angiography will not be done until Monday. I will then be paying unnecessary expenses on my own. On Monday, we went to see the cardiologist in Columbia-Asia Hospital and him knowing that we will be paying our own, allow me to do the angiography as an outpatient (which still costs a lot to me). The process took almost the whole day partly because my heart-beat rate was too fast for me to undergo the CT process. Had to take the pill to slow down my heart beat rate twice before a successful scan is done. We finally got the results near 5pm. As I expected all along (though I hope I didn't), there were partial blockages in three arteries. I had been experiencing some throbbing and at times piercing left chest pains all this while but I have ignored them mainly because I have also gerd problems which can also show the same symptoms. Given the present results, I listened to the cardiologist's advice. He said there are two options: go on medication and see how this progress or take up angioplasty; both according to some studies abroad are equivalently effective for such cases like mine. We opted for medication. I was given a week's leave with me trying to adjust my 'new' conditions and the medication; one of them (imdur) is giving me frequent headaches.

Today was the institute's Eid celebration and I was invited to be there. I almost can't make it since last night, I was experiencing another numbing chest pain more severe than the ones before. At the time, we have already decided to do further check-ups at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre. In the meantime, I will rest as much as I could and am looking forward to an Eid gathering this weekend to see my brothers and sister.