The last mile...

 

The last mile...


Volume 4 Issue 6 News & Resources | June 2011

 

At the end of the day, the outcome will be the measure of success. In some aspect of life, the outcome acts as a feedback to improve the ongoing process. The outcome becomes the positive feedback to align all efforts to the fulfilment of targets. In some process, you need the negative feedback, as to reduce the errors, but ultimately achieving the desired future state. Yes, the finishing is the utmost important. What else is there?

We put plans in place because the strategies will help us to align our daily efforts. A floppy and lop-sided plans will certainly entails a similar outcome. We can only harvest what we have sown. This has been the rule, and will stay that way. To harvest well must be preceded with proper seeding, fertilising and nurturing. The rules must be followed and abide by. Those who understand the rule of the game and be wise enough to adapt to the elements, will certainly meet with a bountiful harvest. What else is there?

The renowned strategist, Peter F.Drucker, once said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”. Alas, this is the bad habit that we still repeat day in day out. We love to feel that we have done things, and what more doing them efficiently. But, doing things efficiently do not indemnify the failure of not doing the right thing. It is much better to do the right thing rather that just focusing on doing things right. Check; are we climbing the right wall? Or are we solving the right problem? Or are we addressing the pertinent issues? Some thinking is seriously needed here. What else is there?

The last mile is the most important phase in any research project. Of course, this is the penultimate phase where the probable outcome will start to take shape. All the constraints are merging, and we need to be more creative that before. The mind-set must be of constructive and optimist, as this is the only mental setting to ensure success. Doubts and pessimist attitudes will not help us here sir. The key is to open to suggestion and probable solution. What matters is the fulfilment of our dreamed outcome. To survive under pressure is not a joking matter. I know, because I am a diver!

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” (From a speech given in Paris at the Sorbonne in 1910 - Theodore Roosevelt)

In the oceans, organisms are classified in various ways. One of the approaches is to classify based on the way the organism moves. There are plankton, nekton and benthos-type organisms. Plankton refers to wandering organism (e.g. zooplankton, bacterioplankton and phytoplankton) – i.e. organisms with very weak or limited abilities of movement. Nekton is the swimming organism especially various species of fish. Nekton feed on plankton, including young fish. Hence, nekton are lest restricted form of life in the sea. Lastly, we have benthos, which are bottom dwellers, and tend to stay there for the remainder of their lives. So, we can choose to be a plankton, nekton or benthos-type of people. Researchers cannot be plankton-type or benthos-type. We are NEKTON! Hence, we will move and create motion. The last mile can be the most frustrating or rewarding times. It can be frustrating because of the seemingly crushing failure around the corner, after all the struggles and pains. It can also be rewarding, when thinking of the sweetness of success and glory (probably world fame – you wish!), waiting for us. The last mile is the turning point. We can only do so much. And, it is certainly useful to remember that, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly” (Robert F. Kennedy)

Go NEKTON!


Written by : 
Assc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad 
School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering 
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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The Common Agenda: Exponential growth vs. Quadratic progress

 

The Common Agenda: Exponential growth vs. Quadratic progress


Volume 4 Issue 5 News & Resources | May 2011

 

What is our common agenda in doing research and development (R&D) efforts? Surely, there is a common denominator which binds all of our R&D efforts. One which is so sublime and over-arching that is nearly impossible to be questioned, what more to be denied. Rationally, for all our R&D , we should always be asking; “Cui bono”? or “for whose benefits?”. The beneficiaries of the R&D work will be the main motivator for us to move forward and act as an important catalyst for innovation and creativity. Just look at the race to reduce the cost of genome sequencing. The initial cost of genome sequencing was USD3 Billion in 2003. It was reduced to USD2 Million in 2007, then it stands at USD350.000. Today, scientists are competing to conduct the complete human gene sequence at a cost of USD1000. This is innovation powered by clear aim to benefit humanity. A lower cost of gene sequencing will open up windows of new discoveries and breakthrough. A common agenda to all. The question that we need to be asking is, “What is the common agenda that we am working for?” The so called common agenda is the one that offer the promise of prosperity and wellbeing. Not for individual, but for the masses. Our research efforts must be geared toward this noble aim. It is very pertinent that we revisit and realign our R&D directions for this purpose. The act of bringing benefit and good has/will always create more of the same. The law of attraction (from a book by the same title by Michael J.Losier) states that: “I attract to my life whatever I give my energy, focus and attention to, whether wanted or unwanted”. So, the more we focus our efforts for the common good, we will attract more of it. So, check your targets.

Another aspect is the misalignment and discrepancies in terms of expectations. When we talk to various stakeholders, different expectations of the R&D output are inevitable. This circumstances can, potentially, be detrimental. How can we work to develop something of use when there is no common aim? It is probably very difficult to change the situation, but we can certainly opt to change our approach to things. There is a need to be firm and clear on the R&D phase that we are in, and hence the outcome we are aiming for. The common agenda can be the same, but the operational target must be specific and measurable. We can never avoid the blame game, as it has become part and parcel of R&D endeavors. The emergence of KPIs approach in R&D activities has certainly make our planning more systematic, albeit very rigid. There is this believe that you can force innovation and creativity. And even there is a saying which states “necessity is the mother of invention”. As a matter of fact, innovation and creativity can never be forced, it can only be nurtured and encouraged. No matter how great and urgent is the goal or agenda, we must provide rooms and the atmosphere for innovation and creativity to flourish. The point is, a common agenda is useful as the motivating factor, but must be worked for in a conducive environment. A common agenda promises the common good. When R&D activities are initiated, the desired end must be crystal clear. Only then that we will work on the how. Research must worked to address real issues and to explore ways to uplift the society as a whole. Research should NOT be done for research purpose per say. The common agenda will not allow us to do this. If we still proceed, then be rest assured that the research work is not worth doing.

“Begin with the end in mind”. Yes, all researchers must be clear of the problem that they seek to solve. It is inconceivable that one can proceed working without understanding the problem properly. Many a times we have tried to solve problems which are not problems anymore, if ever we take the time to read and explore other’s work. As researcher, we must ensure that the common good is our priority. Sometimes the whole aim is to match possible solutions to the real problem, or vice versa. We should not start from zero or a clean slate. Even Newton admitted that he stood on the shoulders of giants, what more novices like us. We must ensure that the solutions are provided the soonest. This is a time of exponential growth, and nobody would wait for our quadratic progress. We need to work in exponential terms in our planning and execution. The common agenda will always be there. Anyway, do not worry, as long as we serve the societal well-being, we are on the right track. And just a note of precaution, “When aiming for the common denominator, be prepared for the occasional division by zero.” Be agile and we will survive, Godwilling!


Written by : 
Assc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad 
School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering 
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Are you a pictorial thinker?

 

Are you a pictorial thinker?


Volume 4 Issue 4 News & Resources | April 2011

 

The ability to identify opportunities for new and novel discoveries is fundamental to the success of any researchers working in the discipline of science and technology. This ability can be nurtured and later acquired through proper approach and training by engaging in actual day-to-day research activities. As Louis Pasteur used to say, “In the field of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind”. Indeed, the prepared mind will always be ready to identify potentials and risks associated to sometimes mundane events.

But, how did the earlier pioneers manage to do what they did? The answer is in their ability to see the big pictures. Most, if not all, great pioneers in the science and technology domain are pictorial thinkers. Da Vinci, Newton, Feynman and Einstein are such pictorial thinkers. This means they think in pictures, or they conceptualise in pictures. As an image can capture the overview of any process, be them natural or man-made, the image can also triggers questions and queries which led to new perspectives of things. Of course, not everybody think in pictures, but most great pioneers do, and, in pioneers that we look for clues for improvement and ways for progress.

When thinking of the effect of gravity, Newton asked the question, “What happens if the moon falls?”. When thinking of the space-time warp effect, Einstein thought of the effect of a big ball at the centre of a big trampoline, and when a small round object is drop at the edge of the trampoline surface, it will accelerate towards the centre at certain variable dynamics. When thinking of the weak and strong interactions in the quantum or sub-atomic level, Feynman imagine two wiggly strings interacting with each other. And, subsequently enabling other quantum scientists to understand the unseen relationships. All these pictorial representations captured the essence of the process or observations. And, it led to the advent of the Newton Laws, Theory of Relativity and also enhancing the Superstring Theory in the domain of theoretical physic.

Pictorial thinkers are able to conceptualise the natural observation in pictures and also appreciate the simplicity of seemingly complex natural process. And, it is via the same pictorial representations that they are able to test conjectures and hypothesis. Empirical investigations are meant to prove the validity of the postulated assumptions. Of course, pictures can also be very complex and easily overwhelmed one’s enthusiasm. The only difference is that great pioneers can construct an overview with simplicity in representations, hence the omission of unnecessary parameters. Without the unnecessary clutters, one can now be very creative in grasping the potential solutions.

Most likely we tend to miss the real solution due to our lack of understanding of the overall complexity (or simplicity) of a process or system. We are inclined to rely on the existing model that we have, although the model itself may be riddled with weak assumptions and postulations. A systemic conception of the process/system will ensure that our corrective actions are aiding in improving the status quo. Pictorial representations and manipulations will assist in this crucial task. The complete understanding of the static and dynamic behaviour will now be easily appreciated, and not immediately be taken as outliers, and casually ignored. All complex process/system have its accompanying simpler representations. If only we can visualise them.

Another example is in terms of forces in the natural world. There are obviously so many different forms of forces or energy affecting our lives, directly or indirectly. But, all these complex forces and energy can be represented by four force/energy representations, i.e. electromagnetic waves, gravity, weak and strong interactions (i.e. interactions which occur at the subatomic levels). Imagine all the naturally occurring forces our daily lives can be boiled down to four different and separate forms. This is only possible with the power of visualising the overall characteristics, and simplifying its associated representations. Of course, these assumptions can be challenged, but it may not be as easy as being said.

The baseline is the need to cultivate the ability to appreciate system in terms of its wholeness and not by parts. The emerging behaviours will only occur as the parts interact and the through these activity-triggered behaviours that we learn to accept the dominant factors to be considered. A pictorial thinker will see the whole, and subsequently can decide to zoom into the role of each part that makes the system. The ability to manipulate symbolism in pictures will enhance the ability to anticipate probable outcome and possible new connections or behaviours. The quantum physicist will surely vouch the importance of visualisation of subatomic world, as physical imaging is near to impossible. Hence, the ability to imagine and “see” the proposed hypothesis will certainly be a good start. The availability of various visualisation tools nowadays should provide no excuse for the lack of proper understanding of the observed phenomena.

As a final reminder on the importance of proper visualisation, let us ponder on the words on Helen Keller; “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision”


Written by : 
Assc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad 
School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering 
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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What tools are you talking about?

 

What tools are you talking about?


Volume 4 Issue 3 News & Resources | March 2011

 

The understanding or appreciation of any new concepts or approaches is only possible if preceded by the mastery of the pertinent enabling tools. Our appreciation of a foreign culture, for example, will be enhanced by knowing and grasping the language of the culture, since language in this example is the best enabler. As language is an accumulated representation of human experiences, it really captures the spirit and beauty of the said culture. Through the mastery of associated language (i.e. enabling tools) that the full meaning and its context can be relayed. Hence, nothing is “lost in translation”.

In any spheres of human life and endeavours we can observe the need for the mastery of the tools before any real progress can be made. If we look into history, say the 17th century, we can observe the importance of Latin since it is the language of the Roman Empire, and since many books were written in Latin, one needs to be proficient in Latin before even embarking on any intellectual discourse. The monumental book, Principia, by Isaac Newton was written in Latin, even though he was an Englishman. If we look to earlier periods, the same pattern can be seen in the spread of Arabic among the Europeans, especially, prior to the Renaissance era. This was due, mainly, to the intellectual prowess of the Muslims in Al-Andalusia. The baseline is that only with right and proper tools that one can even imagine to proceed further.

In science, the language of the trade is mathematics. Scientists, since the early years, have formulated, investigated and shared their breakthrough in these terms. The language of mathematics is crowded with symbolisms and postulations which are trying to capture the essence of the life experiences. The observed natural process, or man-made experimentations are modelled and represented in mathematical symbols which are understood universally, and can easily be traced, in terms of its veracity, by others. The beauty of mathematics is that we can be speaking in two different natural languages, but we can understand or appreciate well through the symbols of mathematics.

In today’s world, there are a lot more tools available. The advent of computers and the utilisations of computer simulations have enabled those who are partially-verse with mathematics to venture into even highly mathematical-oriented problems. This is so because the nitty-gritty of the mathematics are handled by the computer, and the scientists are left with the conceptual or overall approach of the analysis. This is good is a sense that participation in scientific endeavours is widen, but the downside is that some investigations are done blindly and in total dependence on the computer simulations functionalities. The availability of high-performance computers, at affordable costs, makes this approach pervasive. Hopefully we will not see the demise of the hard mathematical analysis. The hardware and software of computers are there to assist and not to replace actual and real thinking.

If we look around us, there are so many interesting things to be studied and to be appreciated. Nature provides a repository of knowledge and potential breakthroughs. The tools available to us limit the grasps of those treasures. If only we could identify and seriously work in enhancing our tools, the next high-impact scientific breakthroughs are surely within our reach. In general, for scientific investigations, we should be proficient in the mathematical formulation and analysis tools, and also the associated computer simulations programme, especially involving computational intensive iterations. Complex iterative tools are available in various format and levels, hence, even in selecting which one to use requires proper understanding.

The post-modern era throws a myriad of scientific and technological challenges to the current cohorts of scientists and researchers. New problems require new enabling tools. The creation and explosion of new mathematical approaches with the maximum utilisations of computing power, makes the tasks solvable, or at least workable. The suitable tools are evolving as are the problems at hand. Hence, we should be aware that the tasks of acquiring and mastering new tools are not limited to a particular group of society. Everyone needs to learn something as not to be left out and out-paced. But, always remember, the tools are only part of the puzzle. The actual and ultimate puzzle is still waiting to be solved.

This narrative on the importance of the tools is emphasised because there is a tendency to bypass this basic prerequisite. The difficulties of learning new tools, especially to the more senior or mature scientists, are becoming a real strain adding to the existing pressure of performance-based evaluations. The rudimentary of learning and using the tools are now passed onto the more junior scientists or researchers. It is not a problem when the loads are shared based on real appreciation, but not otherwise. There will be a time when the tools themselves become obsolete and the cycles started anew. Hopefully we will not be disheartened with this reality. We will survive, as we have done so far.

Let us go and learn the tools, and most probably un-learn and re-learn some


Written by : 
Assc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad 
School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering 
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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The Need for Re-Framing!

 

The Need for Re-Framing!


Volume 4 Issue 2 News & Resources | Febuary 2011

 

All the solutions available to us today certainly has an air of simplicity and downright logical. Yes, all inventions do looks obvious in retrospect. Even the most complex mechanisms or systems available today are so logical in its functions and roles that we wonder why people didn’t invent them much earlier. I guess this applies to all inventions and new solutions. No matter how difficult is the problem, once the way-out is outlined, the mystery is gone, and the problem now became a norm and not more of interest to anyone, or at least most people.

Surely, it has everything to do with the courage and persistence in looking at things differently, and be brave enough to change the accepted perspectives on things. The actions of Copernicus, Kepler and Galilei have enabled the change of the geocentric to heliocentric understanding of the earth and sun positions in relation to other body in the universe. This is a major proposition which changes the way man positions itself in relation to the universe. Indeed, only those who have the courage will even consider this, especially when the power of the day is saying that you are in the wrong. In accepting the obvious blindly, we might have just lost an opportunity to discover greater things, or worse, the truth.

The ability to change our perspective is very crucial. It is so because we determine the next course of action purely on our initial outlook of the matter at hand. In research, this becomes more critical. We are encouraged to look for answers as long as we do not stop in asking and pondering. Added to the change of perspective is the power of observation. Scientists right from the olden days have relied on the power of observation, and a strong analytical approach to the process observed. The story of Newton’s observing an apple falling is a classic example. Apples have been falling from time immemorial, but Newton’s reframed the situation to derive his law of attractions between independent mass or objects. Of course, this idea of gravitational force is not unique or new in itself, but Newton managed to formulate the idea properly in The Principia, a monumental book which outlined the famous Newton’s laws. Yes, a strong power of observation, solid analytical mind and the willingness to explore new and novel perspectives. This is what we need today. Few seminal discoveries are by accident, we must work on the problems and be prepared to appreciate the outcome. Plato used to say: “I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work”.

The ability to sustain the research efforts is possible via a clear understanding of the final goal. We must not just do interesting work, but we must also ensure the work has value and clear potential impact to the masses. Doing research for the sake of research is terminal in essence. We do research for the love of humanity, and the urge to leave worthy legacies. We must not miss the forest for the woods. The ability to sense the viability of the research theme is also crucial. Many a times, researchers spend all his energy and attention, but the efforts are worthless, except in a very limited sense. The hard-work and drive are not of use if they are not applied sensibly. There is no point of being good in climbing a ladder, if we are climbing the wrong wall. Hence, the need to be lucid and focus on the final goals is a must right from the outset.

There are so many new and upcoming problems in the modern world. Ironically, the more we know about the world, the more we identify/found problems. Some of the problems are certainly not new. It has been there all the while. It is just we opened up new realities via the path of newly acquired knowledge. The real-world is, in essence, never at rest. From the quantum mechanics point of view, the sub-atomic world is a world of vibrations and endless motions, via the so-called strong and weak interactions. The subatomic interactions are never at rest. This natural behaviour is replicated, religiously, if I may say so, at the macro level. Motion relates to the changing dynamics of things. All things are moving and changing. So, the investigations or research on any phenomena must take the dynamic factor into account. And, there is a need for researcher to be dynamic (as opposed to stale or static position) in their analysis and perspectives of happenings or processes. Be open to alternate possibilities. Maybe it is time for us to re-evaluate the accepted culture of research in our surrounding. As Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (Hungarian Biochemist, 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine) said;“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought”


Written by : 
Assc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Rizal Arshad 
School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering 
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Visit Online Magazine : http://www.shelter-mag.com/