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.