Atchafalaya Swamp

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Friends in High Places

INSTEAD OF FEELING the need for speed, like my hyper six-year-old often does (he has actually completed PS2's Need For Speed:Carbon, no kidding), I too feel the need . . . to trumpet a few things.

Mat Salo indeed has friends (not too many) and foes (plenty - just check out the politicians) in high places and this is a good time as any to give them their due. I'm not even going to bother checking with them if this is a good idea, because hey - that's what friends are for, right?

Today on perusing TheStar's Biz Section (Maybank Appoints New CFO) I was pleasantly surprised to read that a batchmate of mine, Beghat (nickname on account of his rather stupenduos male-centric accessory), was appointed the second-most powerful position in Maybank. No shit, Sherlock.

So I sent him an sms which goes like this: Hey Beghat.. Congrats & I hope I'm not the last to wish you. Woi! Now can u pls get your housing loan ppl to get off my back?
Comes in handy to have a buddy up there, I guess.
But the good Lato' Haji had the cheek to reply: thanks bro', but when you sold me those fotos back in kolek how come you never give me discount? And for the final nail in the coffin, signed off with a heh-heh.

An explanation is in order. I have been into photography ever since I was in Form One and it fell on me to catalog a piece of my batch's history and also to profit from it. So I'm the nerd with camera slung around the neck and was charging 20 sens (1975 dollars) for a 3R copy. And that was just for the black and white ones! I developed and printed them myself at the club's darkroom below the stairs near the science lab. The camera, all manual shit with no auto-anything was of course the club's property, along with the developer fluid, enlarger and photographic paper. For color prints I have it sent across to Yong's Photo down on Kuala Kangsar's main street where I would apply the appropriate mark-up to my fellow victims. At the end of the day, that was what the good Dato' remembered.

The bloody profiteering.

And the bloody profiteering is why The Bank has posted record profits --- and why its employees are now busily picketing with round badges over their breasts crying, "Thief!"

Anyway here's a photo of MBB's Number Two as a thirteen year-old preserved for posterity by yours truly.

©Mat Salo 1975

Payback time, eh Lato'? No man, am real proud of you, dude!

Actually I was into photography way longer than that (but why I'm still taking crap photos is anybody's guess). It all started in primary school when I was classmates with Mr. Heng FM whose dad owned the Film Star Photo Studios on Jalan Trus, Johor Bahru. As a ten-year old boy I was impressed that FM had a professional dad who photographed Ministers and Sultans.

Which brings me my next story, FM himself.

Couple of months back FM was also featured in The Star in his capacity as Managing Director of an SME IT company called Ceedtec in Penang, poised on the brink of greatness, MESDAQ and all that.

As per normal trumpet procedure, Mat Salo was the first to have caught this scintillitating item and had forwarded it to my primary school STAR2 JB e-groups where FM was forced to answer some uncomfortable questions.

For many years FM worked in the 'kilang sector' and while with HP had a big hand in putting cameras into phones. But it surprised me to know that FM, being unworthy of his dear father's profession? - shoots only with a compact camera? What-the-f%&*? An Olympus I think. Hard to believe he hasn't got an SLR when Heng Sr. was probably the most respected photographer back in the wild and swingin' JB Seventies.

At press time FM is actively enganging an "ODM Partner" (whatever that means) and having talks with "VC's" (Venture Capiltalists). Anyway, seriously, I do wish him luck. I hope to cash in if his tech company hits the jackpot. And do remember, you read it here first!

And my final story is about a guy, also from way back in JB who has now, some speculate, succumbed to the Dark Side*. Zikri is the guy in blue.

©US Department of Energy - Argonne National Labs

Zikri Yusof, PhD., is an "Accelerator Physicist" at US's prestigious Argonne National Labs near Chicago, Illinois. In our "JB" e-groups, Z, like his illustrious English College schoolmate FM before him, also had to answer lots of uncomfortable questions - namely from nincompoops like me. Z's breakthrough has directly impacted our lives by making more efficent x-ray machines using less energy.

Who knows, this Towering Malaysian might perhaps one day win a Nobel.

If that happens I can then smugly say, hey, I know that dude!

Please read Argonne's Press Release

And if you're like me, who never paid much attention to secondary school physics, I asked some rather silly questions because the press release was sheer gobbledygook. So Z was forced to email us a detailed explanation which I shall reproduce below in its entirety.

Since several of you have expressed some curiosity regarding the nature of this work, I will spend a few minutes describing what it is, and how, in fact, the advancement here could actually have an impact on a lot of people, beyond just the immediate application to high energy physics.

The whole idea here is to make a better accelerating structure to accelerate charged particles, in this case, electrons. Our current technology uses copper cavities to do that. However, we can only put so much gradient inside this cavity before we destroy it (roughly 30-60 MV/m). So in order to accelerate particles to higher and higher energies (such as the one about to be turned on at CERN), the accelerator facility needs to be longer and longer so that we can stack more and more of these copper accelerating structures to get to the energy that we want. Unfortunately, this also means that such facility will be horrendously more expensive. The proposed International Linear Collider, which will be about 40 km long, is estimated to be about US$10-15 billion! At some point, we just can no longer build such monsters.

Thus, several groups around the world have been working on new acceleration schemes to make smaller structures able to produce higher accelerating gradients than the conventional ones. Our group, the Argonne Wakefield Accelerator, is one of them.

The physics here is actually quite simple [emphasis mine]. Imagine you have a boat moving on water. What you see behind the boat is a wake left behind that was generated by the boat. The larger and faster the boat, the larger is this water wake.

In our case, the boat is a bunch of electrons, and the "water", which is the medium that the wake is generated in, is a dielectric (insulating ceramic) hollow tube, and the wake field itself is the electric field. We can generate an accelerating mechanism in 2 ways:

1.We pass a large bunch of charge (we call this the drive beam) through our dielectric tube. It creates a large wake field. Then before that wake field decays away, if we pass a small bunch of charge at just the right moment, it will experience an acceleration through the tube. This second bunch is the bunch that you want to accelerate (we call this the witness bunch since it is "witnessing" the wake field). This is like a transformer ratio – large current, low voltage being equal to low current, high voltage, with the power being the same. In our case, it is large charge, low gradient going to low charge, high gradient. The drive bunch has a high charge, creating all the wake field, and this causes a witness beam of low charge to be accelerated by a large gradient.

2.But that’s not the only means of doing this. Since the wake generated is nothing more than a classical wave, we know that classical wave can add constructively. So, if we smart enough, we can make use of that. And we do! If, after the first drive bunch has passed though, if we can add a SECOND drive bunch just at the right time, the wake field generated by the second will ADD to the wake field generated by the first, thus creating an even larger wake! What if we have 4 drive beams, 8 drive beams, 16 drive beams, 32 drive beams… etc.? You can already see that if we can have a "bunch train" of drive beams spaced just right, we can create quite a large wake to accelerate the witness beam.

As you can imagine, the construction and the details in producing all this aren’t trivial. That’s why it took the group almost 20 years just to get to that 100 MV/m milestone. We’re hoping that since we now understand things more (and we also know what dielectric to use), the next series of progress won’t take as long.

Oh, how does this impact you? If everything works, it means that we can produce a cheap, compact accelerator. Accelerators are used in a lot of things, including to generate x-rays. There are medical accelerators to generate x-rays already in used in hospitals and doctors’ offices. In principle, this technique can create more compact, cheaper medical x-rays for not just diagnostics, but treatment as well.

Whoa! I’ve written way too much and have probably put all of you to sleep! Still, I’m sure you can understand by now the excitement surrounding this, and why I think this is quite fascinating.
Take care!


Damn, Z. Whatever. Now people... do you find this fascinating? Especially about the "physics is simple part"?

Anyway, heartiest congratulations to my friends Beghat, FM and Z.

And about the "embellishments" in this blog . . . all this is in jest, eh buddies?


Uh-uh, got another one to make. An addendum. Because as soon as I posted this one up another interesting snippet came up in The Star today. This involves blood, my kah-zen, Man, the 'white sheep' of the family. No need to tell you who the 'baa baa blackie' is, eh?

This last-in-the-minute-past-deadline-post does the title justice - Friends in High Places - literally.

Anyway, Man, or referred to in The Star's story as Mejar Azman Jantan, is the first to fly the 'Ferrari of fighter jets' - the Sukhoi SU-30MKM - training with the famed Russian Knights since last July in Moscow. The reason he appeared in today's Star was because he did some aerobatic display at yesterday's LIMA in Langkawi. The paper quoted him as saying:

"...the Sukhoi could stall in midair while making swift turns, noting that it could also bank 90 degrees in the air and tail-slide down at ease.

“Apart from making flat spins like a falling leaf, the aircraft can also do a fantastic spin role on slow speed, dropping from 270 knots to 50 knots in less than five seconds,” he said.

Mejar Azman said the RMAF was looking for young and talented Malaysians to become pilots.

“Hopefully, by Lima 2009, we could have our own aerobatic team using all 18 Sukhoi aircraft,” he said.

Ea-sy kah-zen... gotta run that one by our current DPM first.

Anyway Man was already making news even from the late 80's when Mat Salo was busy scrubbing the deck of junk 25-year floating rust bucket. He did the family proud and even managed to further cement Mat Salo's reputation as the 'blackie'.

Man who had then just graduated from the Royal Military College (RMC) became the first ever Malaysian to be inducted into the famed Colorado Springs US Air Force Academy. The mother of all Top Gun schools which has produced 34 astronauts, famous Vietnam POW's and a host of US generals. There were Malaysians before him who went into West Point and the Naval Academy in Maryland but USAF? Not yet laar...

The USAF's is not only a military boot camp but a top-notch 4-year engineering undergraduate institution as well. Let's look at what it takes to get into one:

All qualified candidates may apply for nomination by either of their state’s two U.S. senators, their U.S. congressional representative, or the vice president of the United States. Children of armed forces personnel (on active duty or retired) may apply for nomination by the president of the United States. Nominations are also available to qualified enlisted members of the Air Force and Air Force Reserve. Qualified children of Medal of Honor winners . . . [as quoted in MSN's Encarta ]

Ok, Man, proud of you, 'cuz. I look at it this way, without white there can be no black. Without evil there can be no good. So it takes all kinds . . .