Wednesday, December 27, 2017

NCPP and "Zarah dan Daya 2017"

More than a month ago, I received an invitation to speak at a local event "Zarah dan Daya 2017". The event was organized by the National Centre for Particle Physics (NCPP), based in University of Malaya. Was brooding over what talk should I give there for weeks since my area is not quite in high energy physics. It was only sometime last week that I've decided that it will be on "Geometry in Particle Physics" (later, regretting not having the topic a bit more specialised).

So, yesterday I was there at the event almost the whole day. The event was opened by Emeritus Professor Dato' Dr. Muhammad Yahya, Fellow of the Academy of Sciences, Malaysia, who sits on the board of NCPP. This is followed by an opening speech by Prof. Dr. Wan Ahmad Tajuddin, the Director of NCPP. Below are the group photos (courtesy of Prof. Shahidan Radiman).

The event itself is rather informal (see the simple program book below) and seems closed (no webpage as far as I know). I had wished that it could have been publicised more for reasons I will discuss below.

The list of invited speakers are shown below:

I knew those who are from UPM and of course Prof. Shahidan who was at Cavendish when I did Part III of Math Tripos, but the rest are new to me. It is nice to see people from Nuklear Malaysia, UiTM and UIAM to be there as NCPP needs to grow as a national centre. This is also mentioned by Emeritus Prof. Dato' Dr. Muhammad Yahya in my chat with him before the opening as well as his opening speech. In a way, NCPP is not really known outside certain academic circles and perhaps a good publicity drive may be beneficial. 

I can see the groups in UM with their international collaboration are progressing well, some of which was only known to me through this event. This makes me reflect on our institute with our opportunities of collaboration with foreign institutions and researchers. While I understand that there is a difference in the collaborative culture of the maths community (in comparison with that of high energy physics and astrophysics that may even have very large groups), I do think that the institute could be more aggressive in pursuing international relations. In fact, the opportunities are already laid down there for us and much of my hope goes to the younger researchers who will have many more years ahead of them and we really need more for a better critical mass. I hope we can emulate NCPP in this respect.

I had to leave the event earlier since I have to be somewhere else. Hope that there is more 'Zarah and Daya' events in the future but made more publicly known and more engaging questions & answers.

Friday, December 22, 2017


I have turned 55 today. I would have retired if I were to follow the old scheme of retirement age. In some ways, I do feel like retiring given the ever-increasing demands. On the other hand, I felt I need to achieve more in all spheres of life particularly of my own academic career.

The birthday, this time round, seems to be surrounded with gloomy matters. For a few days since last Saturday, I have been receiving news of death of people I know. There was Prof. A.K.M. Azhar who left us on Saturday and just two days ago, it was Prof. Mahiran. While I am not that close to them, I can't help feeling sad about their departure (and reflecting of one's own). But it was my wife's niece who passed away on last Tuesday morning that made the most impact. She was the one who had a brain tumour that I have mentioned here. She had brain surgery sometime in September and was on life-support or critically dependent on medications since then. She never recovered from the surgery and her suffering ended that morning. With sadness we went to JB that early morning for her funeral. She had just turned 16 a few days earlier. May Allah grant forgiveness to her and that her soul be placed among the righteous and pious.

Besides death, I was brooding over a decision of the lab that was not in my favour. About a month ago, I received a nice surprise request for a position in our research group by someone I had known only by name earlier. For this, I tabled the proposal for him to be a research fellow in our lab. Unfortunately, the proposal faced objections from the lab members. The applicant's "sin" was to take up the invitation of an earlier research position by someone well-known in what is deemed a controversial place. While noting that one must take political sensitivities into account, I would have thought that scientific matters will take more priority, but alas the objections grew. Our theoretical physics group was disappointed with  the decision. All this while we had been accommodative in accepting guests and appointments that are not in our areas but this person who is very much within our research interest comes along, things get to be hostile. For us, it was very much a lost opportunity and led us to question many matters. We were hoping that with this applicant in our group, he would instill a breath of fresh air in our group, but instead we were left with the stale air that I have been providing all these years. Him being internationally known, we thought that we can bring our group to the next level and even add international visibility to the institute. I have to reveal this matter here for otherwise the voice of the theoretical physics minority will never get to be heard. As usual, we will let time heal the situation. We will continue to build our theoretical physics efforts here in this university irrespective of all the obstacles, no matter what and contribute to others when we feel welcomed.

Let me end this birthday post with something more cheerful. It was nice to have colleagues, students and friends who still remember you that help build our sense of belonging here. First, during the group meeting, my students bought pizza for our group meeting. Today, after the institute's meeting, the staff had me cut a birthday cake (see pics courtesy of Nurul below). Thank you again for all these.

I leave this post with this article on Bohm's "On Dialogue" that I have just found on FB, something worth reflecting on. Yes, I'm back on that social media watching all the dialogues that kept us together and apart.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Back Episodes and the Curve in Me

Friends and colleagues in my office would probably have noticed that I took more leaves in the past few months, much due to my back problem. I was experiencing more frequent back problems in the period. In a way, some of them coincide with episodes of depression. My guess is some of these are correlated. Not being able to do much may lead to depression. My bad back is not a new problem. I knew that I had hem even before I joined INSPEM.

With me complaining frequently about my back to my other half, we decided to do another check with the back specialist, both at Columbia Hospital and KPJ Hospital, end of September. The specialist at KPJ told me that there is no need for back surgery as the MRI pics do not show severity. However, I can opt for an RF injection but it will cost more than RM10,000 and the pain may recur after several months. We decided that it is not worth it. About four years ago, I have gone to a chiropractor in Sri Hartamas and there were improvements. Knowing that there is a new chiropractor right in Seremban, we decided to try this. We also thought that we should bring our two children who have flat feet. So we did.

The chiropractor's clinic Chiro Practice is situated at Seremban Gateway shopping place and the doctor there is Dr. Torben Boennelykke. Our first meet is merely to get him to check externally our physique and for him to give recommendations. He told us that what we have is essentially genetic, runs from my family line. I knew this to be true since I remember my own grandmother having back deformity. What surprised me then, he told me something other doctor had not said before. I had shown him my old x-ray and mri slides and he could spot irregularity in my lumbar discs indicative of Scheurmann's disease. This was the first time I have heard of this and no other doctor has told me this. In fact, I had toask Dr. Boennelykke again to ask for the spelling of Scheurmann to properly 'google' it up. The disease is simply a genetic disorder that makes the spine bones to grow into the space of the lumbar discs that further helps the spine to curve. In a way this helps convince me that I am in the good hands of a knowledgeable doctor instead of the usual chiropractors (sometimes with a twist of mysticism or even mumbo-jumbo) that may ask one to have complete faith in them without questions. Dr. Boennelykke also told us that back in his home country, Denmark and some other European countries and the US, chiropractic has been accepted within normal medicine practice especially for back pain treatment. I googled up again and look for medical degrees involving chiropractic practices. Found one under the name of clinical biomechanics. He told us again in Malaysia, chiropractic is still considered as an alternative medicine and the treatments will not be covered by insurance (and possibly tax relief).

His clinic treatments are quite costly and they come in packages suited to the protocols that the doctor suggests on initial check-up. There was initially some uncertainty whether to take this up but I decided to have faith in the knowledge that he has. Another factor that convinced us to take up the treatment is that his clinic has sophisticated equipments like the Huber Lab machines (see the pic of my youngest son on it below, taken sneakily).

Now, my treatment has three parts: decompression, rehabilitation, realignment. I'll explain later what all these are but the last one is the usual practice that involves bone crackling. In other places that I've been to, it simply involves manual manipulation of the spine without any aid of machines. In the clinic of Dr. Boennelykke, he has beds with collapsible parts to do this. Thus when applying short impulses to the body, the bed still supports one's body, lessening risks of mishaps. He also informs us that his treatment is one that involves proper spine alignment and it will take time, unlike often-made claims of (almost) instant relief. I was given the minimum of 18 sessions for which the earlier parts should be done in close intervals (twice weekly). This is to ensure whatever treatments given will not regress by one's own bad practices. Once there is steady improvement, the frequency can be reduced to once a week. Now the decompression part is essentially spinal traction for which they have a few machines for this. The traction is usually gradual and there is a panic call button if it ever gets painful. At times, I do feel a bit tense down my back but rarely painful. For the rehabilitation, it is merely physical exercises to help build physical strength to help the back.

Currently, there is an overall improvement of my back problem. I am able to sit for longer hours than usual without much problem and lesser numbness in my right leg. In the past, I had to lie down every once in a while to ease the pain and discomfort. To a certain extent, it had me under some form of depression before for not being able to do work. The doctor told me that I can't do much with the damaged nerves and whatever curvature of the spine that developed all these years but I can lessen their deterioration.  Now, I'm more concerned about my arthritis than my back. My right foot swell when I go for long hour standing and when I had to walk quite a lot. It can be severe till I can't really properly walk. This usually happens on Wednesdays when I had to lecture for around three hours. To help me with this problem, I took glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. I do hope with all these treatments and medications, I will recover my working-self if not fully, then at least partially.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

MJMS: CREAM Award and The Changes

Another major happening during my quiet period was the surprise award to the institute's journal Malaysia Journal of Mathematical Sciences (MJMS), published by our university press, Penerbit UPM. We knew about the CREAM award since last year (when we didn't win). CREAM is the (twisted) acronym for Current Research in Malaysia Awards given to academic journals published by publishers in Malaysia. When MCC requested our journal's data, our publication officer Azlida simply submit the data but we did not pin any hope of winning anything. Then sometime in September, we received the surprise letter from MOHE stating that MJMS is a recipient of the CREAM award. We were told to keep this under wraps until the event on 5th October (see pic below).

The event was held at PICC and unlike the previous year, the setting in the hall seems to be a high-tea setting with invited guests sat at designated tables. I found myself sitting together with Prof. Rozehan who is the chief editor of the Bulletin of Malaysian Mathematical Society, which was also one of the recipient.

I found myself a bit nervous since this is probably the first time I am going up the stage in a high-profile ceremony. Also feeling awkward, I was wearing batik while most of the other recipients are wearing coats and ties. Finally the moment the award was announced, and I braved myself to go up the stage to receive the award from the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Mary Yap Kain Ching.

The award includes a grant of RM9000 for the use of the journal. Besides, the CREAM award there was also the announcement of the Malaysian Research Star Awards for which UPM bags a few.

Thereafter we took some group photos.

After the event, we received many congratulatory messages. Thanks to the MJMS team that we are able to get this far. We also received belittling remarks but I guess these days some people just need to feel good or superior themselves with the easy way of belittling other people's achievements. Pity.

Having given this recognition, I guess we must take note whatever changes that we have made to the journal's practices. The good ones, we need to continue them. When I joined the editorial team years ago, it was still publishing two issues per year. In 2015, we increased it to three issues per year. Besides that we have also started publishing special issues for conference papers. Thereafter, I was then asked to be the Chief Editor in 2016 for which I accepted, not knowing of the responsibilities to come. There was a little ceremony of handing over the task which you can read it here. Soon after the event, I got to know that an applied mathematician was unhappy with my appointment, perhaps due to my affiliation with the Physics Department and not the Maths. It is embarrassing that one needs to show credentials for this but here goes. My B.Sc. (Hons.) was from the Department of Mathematical Physics in University of Adelaide. Later I joined Part III of Mathematical Tripos at Department of Applied Mathematics & Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge. My PhD was from Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Durham. Here is my mathematical genealogy. Still not maths enough? Anyway, I'm not that bothered about the boundaries of any particular discipline; they often blur when reaching frontiers. Having said that, I will be happy to relinquish the post once my term is finished.

To continue, the other thing that we did was to adopt ScholarOne for managing our journal article submissions. This was right after I took over, when our University Press decided to adopt the system for the other journals. It took sometime for us to be familiar with it. Presently we receive most article submissions through the system. The special issues are however not done through this system but will be managed by the conference (scientific) committee. We have developed guidelines for us to publish special issues. We have also limited the number of special issue at maximum the same number of regular issues. Proliferation of special issues might not augur well with our attempt to get into JCR Web of Science.

As Chief Editor, I look into the overall process of the journal submissions, reviews and publications. To avoid conflict of interest, I have barred my students from publishing articles in the regular issues of the journal. Before an issue is out, I look into each paper for mostly visual checks. Occasionally, I do find mistakes and even change in decision. The most time consuming task is to look into the articles' references, to make sure they are correct. This is most important for citation indexers. In the future, we hope to adopt DOI (Digital Object Identifier) and that will require more inspection. With DOI, our articles will be more visible and accessible to readers worldwide. We hope that our journal gets selected for the MCC grant in adopting DOI.

What possible future changes and improvements that we would like to see for the journal? Well, we hope to have better international coverage (with respect to submissions from all countries worldwide). We hope that we get more willing reviewers that will keep the quality of the articles high. Sometime in the future, we hope that the journal can increase its frequency to four issues per year. Most importantly, we hope that the journal will develop some form of character to which there will be a steady community of followers.

Monday, November 20, 2017

MICEMS Development: Genta & Adami's Visit

It has been a year since the inauguration ceremony of MICEMS and just a few months ago, the Rector of Polito, Prof. Gilli and Prof. Adami made a visit to INSPEM to further boost MICEMS development. On 19-22 September 2017, once again we received a delegation from Polito that informs us a newer development on MICEMS. Our Polito's guests are Prof. Giancarlo Genta, a professor of automotive engineering (with his wife accompanying him) and Prof. Adami, making this his third visit.

Prof. Genta's visit is perhaps dues to UPM's interest in his solar sails project via Prof. Renuganth Varadarajoo, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Industry and Community Relations. Sometime last year, Prof. Renu had sent his PhD student to Polito to work with researchers there and hence the connection.

A meeting was held in our institute with our management members to discuss the development of MICEMS. Below are some pics (the full album can be seen here).

From the meeting, there was reassertion of stationing an Italian here to carry collaborative research with us. Prof. Adami mentioned the question of which area to begin with and I was glad that he told me that mathematical physics was one option. However for now, with both Prof. Genta's and Prof. Renu's interest, there is high possibility that the Italian stationed here will be close to automotive and aerospace engineering. It also presented to the institute an opportunity to work closer with the field of engineering industries. Hopefully this initiative can later also be expanded for other fields but it is important to start off with whatever is more realizable the soonest.

In the afternoon, I chaired another Prof. Adami with the rest of the members of the institute. In particular, I asked Dr. Nurisya who has worked with Italian mathematical physicists to come along. The discussion is mainly to get to know each other and Prof. Adami reiterated some points mentioned in the morning. More pics below.

Later, after the meeting, our Italian guests had a taste of durian.

The next day, they had a meeting and lunch with the new Italian ambassador. In the afternoon, I have arranged for a seminar by Prof. Adami. Unfortunately, that day, I wasn't well and I could not come for his talk (my apologies to Prof. Adami). Here are some pics.

The following Friday was Awal Muharram which is a public holiday and they left for Italy that day.