Saturday, January 30, 2016

Farewell and Rest in Peace, Prof. Twareque Ali

I was told that the flight KL810 that is bringing Prof. Twareque's body home (via Amsterdam) has just flown a few minutes ago. My prayers to him and a safe journey home back to his family.

There is a sense of relief but also a sense of guilt much in the same way that I felt way back in 13 July 2009 when my mum passed away. At the time, I had just sent back my brother Dzafa to Kuala Lumpur since I was about to leave for the conference QTS6 on July 18 and I will not be at home. I felt guilty in a way that he was not able to spend the final moments with my mum as if I had robbed him those precious moments. In the same way, I felt that by inviting Prof. Twareque here for EQuaLS8, I have robbed him the final moments that he could have been with his family. Despite as a muslim, we believe that this is fate as willed by God, still felt the same guilt and wished to be forgiven.

It was on Monday that Prof. Twareque Ali passed away and from the post-mortem it is now confirmed that it was due to a heart attack. The process to get the body released from the hospital was quite involved in a way that I did not imagine. The presence of his brother Syed Haroon Ali and his wife from Singapore later has actually helped to speed up matters and we are thankful for that. On our part, we tried to facilitate as much as we could and I must thank my staff in helping out particularly Mr. Firdaus. We also thank the police and hospital staff that had helped smoothen the process. The body finally had its ritual final cleansing on Thursday night. The funeral prayers was conducted at the UPM mosque after Friday prayers. A certain amount of relief is that we could participate directly in these prayers. There was a good crowd at the funeral prayers, together with the director, his brother and many students and staff of the institute. We hope that our prayers will help him in the next world and may Allah grant His Mercy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In Memory of Prof. Syed Twareque Ali

I write this post with deep sadness of losing a great mentor and friend, Prof. Syed Twareque Ali yesterday morning. I had invited him for EQuaLS8 for the whole of last week, not knowing that it had to end this way. He had been supporting EQuaLS since right from its beginning until now, for which we have even planned for the next EQuaLS.

Let me retell my own story of knowing him. I only knew of him by name in the beginning as far back as during my PhD studies on quantization. I believe one of his earliest papers that I have read is on systems of imprimitivity, coauthored with E. Prugovecki. He was among the selected individuals that I had kept on radar for my own study. Little did I know that I am going to meet him in person later in my life.

When I joined the Institute for Mathematical Research (INSPEM) in UPM in 2006, had the idea of continuing a lecture series that I have started in ITMA (Institute of Advanced Technology). I renamed the lecture series as Expository Quantum Lecture Series (EQuaLS). Among the earliest person that I had in mind of inviting is S.T. Ali; I was reading then his huge review article (co-authored with Miroslav Englis) entitled "Quantization Methods: A Guide for Physicists and Analysts", an article true to its name. The article itself has been cited more than a hundred times according to Google Scholar (and 45 times in the World Scientific database). Not having any connections with him before this, I hesitated in writing to him since I wasn't sure that I will receive a positive reply. Then on July 18, 2007, he wrote:

"Dear Prof. Zainuddin,
I am back in Montreal now and I am happy to let you know that I would be able to accept your invitation to come to your university and to give a set of lectures on quantization techniques, within the framework of your TSL Lecture Series 6. Since I would be in Cotonou, Benin (West Africa),
between Oct. 26 and Nov. 2, 2007, i.e., the week preceeding your meeting, I would have to make my travel arrangements relatively early, in order to get flights to the various places on the right dates. ..."

That was then a sure beginning of EQuaLS1 and his slides are still available here (we almost lose these webpages; I hope the future webmaster will keep these around).


At the end of EQuaLS1, he hugged me, saying something to the effect that I've started a good thing and it is always sad to see a good thing ended. We continued to correspond thereafter, particularly he was suggesting that Malaysia should try to host the well-known International Colloquium on Group-Theoretical Methods in Physics series during which the Wigner Medal and Weyl Prize are given (see the 2016 edition) and the sister event, International Symposium on Quantum Theory and Symmetries series (see the 2015 edition). This did not materialise (we did bid for them) unfortunately. I do get to participate in both events of QTS6 in Kentucky and Group-29 in Chern Institute, Tianjin with the help of Prof. Twareque Ali. Besides that, I had also asked my ex-M.Sc. student Nurisya to pursue her PhD under him. This brought us to closer contact with each other.

The next installment of EQuaLS, EQuaLS2 saw Prof. Twareque Ali participating voluntarily as a contributing speaker. His talk was on Coherent States and Bayesian Statistics based on his 2008 IOP paper. He had also helped me to get Paul Busch to be one of the invited speakers.


The next EQuaLS that Prof. Twareque Ali had participated was in early 2012 for EQuaLS5 in which he gave a set of lectures on "Coherent States: Theory and Applications". His slides are still available here.


Prof. Twareque Ali spent some time in the institute as a visiting scientist at the end of 2012, after which he became a speaker at EQuaLS6 which was double-billed as the 6th Asia-Pacific Workshop on Quantum Information Science (on quantum foundations). There he spoke on the work he did with Syed Hasibul Hassan Chowdhury on "Symmetry Groups of Two-Dimensional Non-Commutative Quantum Mechanics". I remembered how we had discussed on the problems of extending this to three or odd dimensions. This later led to the present research direction pursued by our PhD student Mohd Faudzi Umar on further models of non-commutative quantum mechanics, possibly interfacing with non-commutative geometry.


Fast forward to EQuaLS8, it is an event that Prof. Twareque Ali that essentially brought together speakers who came on their own travel expenses and without him, we will probably not be able to organize the event. He wasn't sure of coming in the first place but I kept on asking for him to come. He finally agreed to give a contributed talk on "Pseudo-Bosons, Complex Hermite Polynomials and Integral Quantization", which is also related to his previous work with Nurisya. For pics see here.

At the end of EQuaLS8, I told Nurisya that we should have a private conversation with Prof. Twareque Ali on possible future work and programmes with him and thus our dinner on the 24 January 2016. We agreed to have it in Seremban near where I lived. See the pics below.

There was no indications that he has any problems at the time of the dinner but I did notice he was relatively quiet. He mentioned that we should get involved in the ICTP Fellowship Programme (and I immediately pointed to Nurisya, given that I'm way too old). We ended the dinner discussion with possibility of doing projects with CRM. I mention that quantum information had revived interest in quantum foundations and was speculating the possible rekindled interest in quantization itself. He told me to write some of these ideas and my mind was already filled of thoughts of doing so. The time was about 10.30ish, and we waved goodbye to each other and told me that I should go to Montreal some time.

Our last discussion

It was just before 7am the next morning that Mr. Firdaus (INSPEM officer) rang me up about the bad news. My heart sank. He was scheduled to leave the hotel for his flight home that morning but he did not turn up. The hotel staff finally opened up his room to eventually see that he has passed away. My other half and I with my second eldest rushed off to Everly Hotel Putrajaya to see the situation. His body was brought to the Putrajaya Hospital until the final arrangements  to be made with the Canadian Embassy today.

"We surely belong to Allah and to Him we shall return". May Allah grant mercy on his soul and his contributions in science and in life in general be rewarded continuously.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

EQuaLS8 Done

Yesterday EQuaLS8 ended. As usual, there is a sense of relief as well as sadness with a feeling of incompleteness. Below are some pics from the event (more pics are available here).

EQuaLS8 group photo with all invited speakers

Martin Schlichenmaier

Teo Lee Peng

Miroslav Englis

Chengming Bai

Isamiddin Rakhimov

Riccardo Adami

Syed Twareque Ali

Syed Hasibul Hassan Chowdhury

Tay Buang Ann

All invited speakers are distinguished researchers, some of which are holding influential positions such as Prof. Englis as Vice Rector of Silesian University and Prof. Chengming Bai as Vice Director of Chern Institute. As usual, these researchers are pretty much down-to-earth (despite their positions) and were happy to be at our small event.

This time, EQuaLS8 was done on a very tight budget. We are much indebted to the speakers' willingness (both international and local) to finance their own travel without which we will be unable to hold such event. We still manage to hold a dinner for our overseas speakers at the KL Tower (Atmosphere 360^o) and another bbq dinner together with the participants and staff (see pics below). Given the austerity drive due to our current financial situation, the choice of the KL Tower might be strange to some. To thwart off critics, let it be known that the expenses will not be forked out from the event's budget or the management. In the past, we normally bring our guests to Restoran Seri Melayu which had cultural performance during the night but this restaurant is now closed, making way for more luxury hotels. Thus what we did is merely following what our Director has done for past guests. I hope there is not too much fuss about this.

I have to thank my staff for going all out to make things happen and I'm pretty certain that our guests appreciate very much what we are doing. Whatever others would like to say, I think it is good that we have gone a further mile in our efforts in entertaining our guests, living up to the reputation of Malaysian hospitality.

Perhaps another criticism is that the topics presented are way too advanced for the Malaysian audience. This is precisely the reason I started out EQuaLS. We have been always stereotyped that we are not able to handle really technical subjects. I think much of these technical things are simply a matter of getting accustomed to and yes of course a good amount of effort in learning them, and it is not impossible to learn them (despite some would like to paint them so). In the past, I have always said that while it is good to be able to understand the content of a talk on the go but some may just need to understand the ideas and the details have to be worked out later. In a way, this is why we prefer selecting good speakers for EQuaLS so that some amount of ideas cut through to even the basic audience, the very least.

A better way, is of course to prepare the participants with some background knowledge. We have been toying around the idea of a prequel programme called prEQuaLS to do just that but we have never managed to do this (hence the sense of incompleteness). With enough background, the participants may be able to ask meaningful questions during EQuaLS and hence more interactivity. For now, we have to leave this to the interactivity between the speakers themselves (much can be learned from just even this) and that's the reason we always have a few like-minded speakers to be on board in EQuaLS.

Perhaps we can plan carefully for the next EQuaLS which is tentatively scheduled in December 2017. I hope in a way my junior colleagues will gradually take over since I'm getting busier than ever. I am glad that they have shown commitment n the present EQuaLS and hence would like to thank them. A certain amount of sacrifice is certainly needed to make things work here ...

Friday, January 15, 2016

Hard Life Is Not Good For Work

I begin this post with a remark I have read from an FB post: "Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution." This is very much what I feel these days. I'm feeling uncomfortable between my job, people's comments and what I really desire for myself. I can't stop people to say whatever they want to say but on my part, I would like to rationalise matters, solve problems if there is any. If it is about ego and power play, then I prefer to shy away and continue to do my own little things that I can do.

Also, lately I have been reading news highlight of hardship of some university students and comments surrounding the issue. Some of the comments are really uncalled for, trivialising other people's problems. The issue here is about economic hardship that the students are going through, some to the extent of limiting one's meal for a day. I asked my own son who is studying in the university if he knows any such hardship cases. He personally knew one case for which he helped out by lending some money. There are some who go commenting something like if they can afford smartphones, the students should be able to spend some money on food. Little did they know (or they don't simply care) that many academic matters can only be accessed online and smartphones (as opposed to laptops) may be the best option to take, which can doubled up as a communication device. Rather than making negative comments, it would be better if they help out some of the community programs such as the freeshop shown below or find better solutions or else be quiet.

Some perhaps the matter has been sensationalised. Perhaps so, but then so are many other things. For me, it is more of the awareness of the less fortunate.

I like to recall my own student days in Adelaide. When we were doing matriculation, I remember how little we have for our scholarship (yeah, yeah ... we should be grateful and knew others don't have such opportunity). Most of the money went into rent. Note that unlike here where many students can be crammed into a single place, we have little option but to abide by the conditions of the landlord/lady in limiting our number of sharing the place. Single heavy (own-cooked) meal and snacks is the norm and by the end of the month, we usually tighten up our belt. Cucur (fritters) whose ingredients are simply flour and salt (and possibly onions) and fried eggs are among the common food. I remember, once we do not have even flour or eggs, we simply fry onions to get by. Another memory is being scolded of using copper coins (one or two cents denomination) for bus fares, but that is all we had.

Some may comment, why not work? Well, I did try with my house-mates. Once we were collecting rubbish from gardens and lawns. I was a bit unfortunate that the employer finds me too frail to do such heavy work and I was asked not come back anymore. Like any other human, I felt hurt seeing my other housemates working while I'm not. Today, I sort of jokingly say that I was not good enough to be a garbage collector.

As we went for our undergraduate studies, I vaguely recalled that there were revisions for the amount of scholarship and it was enough for us to live a student's life. All these hardship experiences to me are valuable in shaping up a good character. If one has not experienced suffering, one would be less appreciative of all the good things that we have. On the other hand, one should uplift oneself from hardship as they maybe stumbling blocks to many other good things including the proper duty that we should be doing. I envy some of my friends who are actively involved in community projects. Perhaps their skills are there. For me, I would like to think some of the sacrifice for some academic activities (like EQuaLS) is our way of contribution to a sector of the community. I have to mention at this juncture, my thanks to my colleagues and students who have helped financially or otherwise in many of our activities.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Discomfort Varia

Some days back, I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable when a schoolmate called me genius in FB for which I am not. As my colleague would say, if any of us are geniuses, we probably will not be here but somewhere else in a thriving intellectually stimulating environment. To confirm this, took an online IQ test just for fun and my IQ is below the 145 genius mark. I do work hard for my studies but not that hard (though had the record of three days without sleep). I love to laze around at home as well. I'm very much like everyone else, an average Joe.

These days I am uncomfortable about something else. Expectations. Perception. I like to do things. I like to see things work. I like to be part of something successful. I like to expand my potential though not chasing positions. I take life as it comes, a step at a time. I enjoy academic life much more than that of an administrator. Today's schedule of having four meetings consecutively with students' seminar will not be something I dream of. But if I have to do it, then I will do what I can.

Perspective of work: I would like to make it enjoyable even if it is hard work. Hard work is good for life. Hard life is not good for work. With hard work, it will make us appreciate things better. Making life difficult does not really help anyone. Of course, life can be difficult if things are not in our control, but if things are within our control, it would be silly not to take charge. Differing goals, expectations and ideas may be a source of matters not within our control. It can be extremely frustrating when our work depends on factors that are beyond our control. That is why in an organization, one must have shared goals to minimize such matters. Alignment between personal goals and organizational ones will be a step in this direction and the choice is ours to do so. I have made my own alignment and others will have to do theirs, uncomfortable or not.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016


Today, we had a small celebration for the 10th anniversary of the Malaysian Journal of Mathematical Sciences. The first issue of the first volume of this journal was published in January 2007 and presently we have just put out the first issue of Volume 10. When the first volume was published, I had just joined the institute and thus I was not there during its planning. I can't also precisely remember when did I join the editorial committee but it was almost automatic once one is a member of the institute's management. By the second volume, the journal started to receive international contributors and the number begins to grow thereafter. Initially the journal published only two issues per year but as the number of submitted articles increased, the journal has now increased the frequency to three per volume (year). I'm happy to say my little visible contribution to MJMS is in suggesting the LaTeX format of the journal. With the help of my previous postdoc, Saeid, together with Bakri, we have now a LaTeX template for MJMS. Note that LaTeX is the publishing typesetting standard for most mathematical journals. In some circles, researchers will frown on the mention of the use of non-TeX commercial word-processing software for publishing documents.

Today's celebration had the Director cum Chief Editor of MJMS giving a speech, together with a cake with the journal's cover on it and then lunch. Here are some pics:

It so happened that the event also include the occasion of transferring the duty of chief editor to my little self, which is effective in January 2nd for the period of three years. Had the letter of appointment given earlier on the day of my birthday (some birthday present!) but I did not realise it until about a week later. Was asked to give a speech. Thought I had some points in my head but things get muddled up once I start to open my mouth (always that is the case - should have a prepared text).

The main things that I have said is more or less the following:
  • Honoured to be given the trust by the university press and the MJMS committee though the duty is a heavy responsibility to shoulder.
  • Will continue with what has been carried out so far for MJMS.
  • Realising the plan to have an online submission using ScholarOne system, hopefully to be implemented within this year.
  • To increase the visibility of the journal comparable to the more established Bulletin of Malaysian Mathematical Sciences Society.
The third point is essentially part of our strategy to be included in the Science Citation Index. MJMS has already been Scopus-cited and currently is listed in Thomson-Reuters Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI). The last point being simply to benchmark against a comparable journal ranked above 'us'. MJMS are currrently being ranked by MyCite as number 12 in the Science category while the Bulletin is number 2. If I were asked to elaborate how can this be done, I would probably mention the idea of establishing a particular identity for the journal and building a community surrounding it. As in many established journals, they are known to publish articles from certain sectors of (mathematical) sciences and community from within these sciences will often flock to such journals. Such identity and community building around a journal will certainly take a long journey but it is journey we should be planning from now. A good place to monitor how the journal fare so far is here.

Having said all this, I still have fear taking up this duty and I just pray that I can perform as well as the previous chief editor.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

2016: Internal Strength and Hardship Readiness

It is now 2016. Among the matters that needs attention in a cycle of a year is the annual budget. We now know that each faculty/institute has now a much reduced budget. Certain measures, some really unpleasant, happened due to this budget cut. Anyway, it seems 2016 will have to be a year for building internal strength, keeping and improving our science wherever possible and also our services.

Some may like to paint rosy pictures of the economy and say that we are still doing fine. However, sometimes I get upset when insensitive commentators on social media begin to say what hardship is there, since all they see are people spending money on (luxurious) goods. Either they are being cynical (still distasteful) or they only see what they wanted to see or maybe spin for whoever their masters should be. I don't think these commentators will be good leaders as they can't see beyond themselves or the community they are with. Maybe things are still ok within the environment in our vicinity, since otherwise we will probably not joke about price increase and hardship. But there are those who don't, probably have no time to access social media to make a living and they may say otherwise and their stories need to be heard. Each of us has a unique experience in facing the current economic situation and often we cannot really overgeneralise only to emphasize one's own experience. Thus it is only informative to retell what circumstances do people face from different sectors of the community.

These days if some people say that they are not affected by price increase of goods and services, I will be very surprised. I used not to care about money as long as I manage to afford a worry-free comfortable life (and by comfortable, I don't mean a lavish lifestyle). This gets increasingly difficult. With the toll and utility rate hike beginning next year, it will get worse because it will entail further increase of price of goods besides the hike in rates themselves. But still one can manage and change our lifestyle as they say. In a way I do wish that those who say so also practice what they preach.

For public servants, we still have a steady pay (and it is only when certain times come e.g end of contract, then we worry). For those in the private sector, things can really be uncertain and I know this from my other half. I was told that having served as panel clinic for various organizations can be troublesome because some organizations  can even go beyond six months not paying for the clinic services and medicine. To top that, price of medicine is on the rise and pharmacies have started to pressure clinics to pay cash on delivery or shorten the period of credit. Unless one has access to relatively unlimited resources, businesses suffer if they get banged on both sides. Some clinics have to resort to ask patients, who are supposed to be covered by some organizations, to pay for their medicine and ask for reimbursement from their respective organizations. Those who are affected worse are those from poor families where they can no longer afford medical services and goods. Sometimes patients go to the clinic just to enquire how much they will be charged over the counter and leave empty handed.

This Sunday, we will be sending our third son and we have paid the boarding school fees beforehand. We were told that we had outstanding fees before that, though our own personal recollections, we have never missed one payment. So school matters may also present another form of financial pressure to some families. I'm bracing myself for the university fees of my two sons in the forthcoming semester. There are rumours that university fees will go up and I certainly hope this is not true.

I'm retelling all these personal stories to just say that things are not fine and we have to get ready for the worst if we are not careful. I pray that things will get better but in any case we must be mentally prepared.