The Place.. where discontent fills the content of consciousness

People like me never belong to any particular city. It seems strange for everywhere I go, I feel both familiar and strange. When I meet people, I feel like I know them while at the same time I realise I know nothing about them.

Sometimes we think, we’ve grown wiser. More mature than before. Maybe we do change. But that change is too miniscule to drive a permanent transformation. It seems like all our efforts couldn’t oust the old neuron pathways that make up bad habits and degrading traits. It is simply not enough.

Failure to commit equals failure to start. In this life, we can do anything, but we can’t do everything. There’s always a catch. We must have some form of consistency. We can’t go 1 in the morning, and turn 0 again in the afternoon.

Yet, every place brings discontents. And it’s up to us whether we’re going to let that discontentment filling up our consciousness with no empty space left. It’s easier to let them take the throne, orchestrate a coup to the wisest superego. It takes no energy.

But, to keep order in our chaotic consciousness, it requires energy. Lots of it. At the end of the day, we must not forget what brings us here. It’s the mother of all good emotions. Gratitude.

This place is the place you were longing to be at some time ago. Maybe a decade ago, two years, a month, yesterday, or maybe.. a moment ago.

So, stop for a moment. Stop your mind from wandering wherever it wants to go. Stay at this place for some time. Enjoy the scenery. For it is the place you were once longing to be.

Advertisements

On The Verge of Perfect Incompleteness

We revere super-quality in a person, yet we like to be around humble people. It is the humanity, the flaw that goes hand in hand with the beauty, and the energy brought by those people that makes us feel comfortable being around them.

We adore people who make history. The inventor of the integrated circuit and algebra, those thinkers and physicists who gave us myriad of perspectives on viewing the world. We adore the maniac in them. Their persistence in materializing their ambitions along with all their surreal talents. All those extraordinary qualities never stop to light up our brain for some adoration. What a crazy way of thinking! They are the legends. Fiction that made it to become the fact. Imagination that happened to swim across the imaginary axis to become the real part of life.

We love their stories. Their maniac stories. Our world wouldn’t be the same without them.

But, when it comes to what kind of person that we want to interact with in our daily lives, we prefer someone who can make our presence meaningful. They are people who acknowledge us and give us a real support. They may not as ‘super’ as those maniac who keep telling us to chase our passion, dream big, and not settle. They may only give us a simple cliche advice. Maybe, they are just another ordinary people. But we like to be around them. And when they are not there, we miss them.

We love them. The person. Not their stories. Our life is incomplete without them.

Well, the world may not be the same without the first kind of people. But, our lives may not be the same without the second.

And now, we have to think for ourselves: what kind of people we want to be? what kind of people that we can be? what kind of people the world needs us to be?

Last draft sebelum ngelanjutin: 21 Aug 2015

Intermission: From Sickness To Across-Paradigms View

I’ve been sick for the last two weeks. I was confined in my bedroom for most of the times. (I just realised, I did write “most of the times” instead of “most of the time” unconsciously).

I used to see being sick as a means for God to teach us something apart from purifying our sins. And now I see being sick as more than that. Maybe not ‘that more’, but I am digging deeper through the meaning of our existence and our attitude as God’s servant. Especially, demise of a friend, whom I ever met in person only for four times, feels like the part of a greater lesson in a grandeur picture of my life.

I know, I might sound overusing big words. But, that depicts how I feel. I feel so small compared to the greater plan of The Book. It looks like I have 5% free will, yet 95% of my life was ruled by The Will.

Sometimes  I feel freedom is overrated. People crave for freedom until they are trapped inside the freedom dogma. Yet,  many don’t realise, our realising that a greater law overrules us could lead us enamoured.

Normally I’d be quite concerned, but the truth is discovering one’s life has already been predetermined is ironically liberating.

Above quote is taken from a tv series that I watch. [SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS PARAGRAPH]. Legends of Tomorrow. It is a series on the adventure of a band of superheroes traveling through space and time. Ironically, they found that free will only exists on the so called “vanishing point”. So, every heroic scenes they made up ’till that moment of realisation were not caused by their agencies.

But, it’s true. In flow theory, one of the primary tasks to achieve flow is to seek a greater picture. To find some niche to move, so our psychological energy could flow seamlessly. And in science itself, some scientists try to get out of our anthropocentric view of life.

As for me, when I got sick, I must learn to let go of many things. To rethink that my time is limited. And as I understood more about time’s scarcity, I should learn to use it carefully should the power be provided. But, then during those powerless moments I realised one more thing: I need to be happy. I need to be grateful.

Only during those times, I could feel a grain of such transcendence. Many people said that true heaven is where or when you’re with God. Some sufi even sang, “Should I bring the water from heaven to extinguish the hell fire? Or should I live in hell as long as God with me”

What’s the point of having the whole universe if remembrance of God was absent inside our heart? In this short worldly life, what’s the point of having everything a man wants if God is not pleased to you? After all, we’re the prisoner of whom we seek approval to.

So, it’s ok to be ‘sick’ as long as you are with God. But, here comes the paradox. In the companion of God, there lies the cure of every ‘sickness’.

Ok enough for spiritual-philosophical sub-theme.

As for my study, I realised that I have a concern towards education. Should I connect the dots right now, trying to produce a flipped-based classroom is an interesting idea for me. How I like to learn about how people learn. How I like to create such a youtube channel. How I aspire to better Indonesia’s education.

Yet, I know PhD is a good leverage. Many of my aspirations could be easier to materialise if I get a PhD. So must continue my struggle to finish it. I couldn’t look back. I couldn’t care less about what my supervisor will say, what the world will say. It’s about me trying to pull out the best in me to defend my life’s value.

At least, that’s what I’m up for now. I couldn’t lie to myself. Despite of my realisation of greater purpose, I don’t like this array processing field that much. But, I know I like seeing across paradigms. I like seeing parallelism across many interdisciplinary fields. I am the nexus of interdisciplinary. I am the anti-discipliner. Or whatever you call it.

And now, as I was given the chance to learn a bit deeper on this field, so let it be. I must try to grow more enthusiasm. And everything must be started with the sense of gratitude. A greater part. Because life is not always centered in me. (How ironic, I just said that I am the nexus of blablabla.. ok never mind, for the night is dark and full of terror. It’s almost 2 AM mind you!)

Anyway, in case you don’t understand regarding “across paradigms” stuff. It refers to Kuhn’s structure of scientific revolution. Here’s the story. I was doing some ‘research’ on internet balkanization. Then, I found a paper on a mathematical model of IT user agencies that will determine whether internet/IT will create a global village or balkanized cyberspaces. There, they argue that voluntary balkanization could harm our society due to over-specialisation. They also use Kuhn’s term to build their arguments.

And yeah everything is about parallelism. Everything we build is based on our pattern recognition. Our model of knowledge. Our scientific paradigm. Everything is interconnected. Yet, as it was said: it is not easy to see across paradigms from within. One must release the kraken.

Additional notes:

I gained so much lesson by creating a YouTube channel. And more importantly, I still think that we need to have Indonesian version of the science stuffs channel. Why? Because I believe the world is not as flat as what Thomas Friedman says. Not because I bought Pankaj Ghemawat’s book, but because I believe its argument is closer to our condition (and it is still related to cultural/natural balkanization). At the end of the day, globalization that we have nowadays is not truly borderless. And culture owns a big stake in our learning process.

Pseudo-Prisoner of Plato’s Cave

There is always one expected question when I talk to someone who acknowledges his/her doubt of anthropomorphic-God’s existence. However, it’s just another FAQ that I could never answer. And it just came across my eyes, this very quote

“Life is too deep for words. So don’t try to describe it. Just live it.” -C.S. Lewis

Continue reading “Pseudo-Prisoner of Plato’s Cave”

Dynamic Balance of Vita Activa and Vita Contemplativa

Don’t you think there is a connection between Moore’s Law and modern people’s susceptibility to life crises? Have you ever heard of psychological thermodynamics?

I don’t know if you encounter the same case, but for me, I see many people around me experience life crises. It doesn’t matter how old, whether he/she’s single or not, how much earnings, people nowadays are prone to crises. I don’t know if it’s just because I started to notice more about people, or it is just a coincidence that they have problems and it appears before my eyes. I am not even sure whether people are less prone to be in crises in the past.

But, as a man of curiosity I tried to seek an explanation. Even if it’s not very scientific and bias-free, I hope it could give a new perspective regarding life crises. I’ll try to make it short at the expense of ambiguity (because you know, reading requires skill, without particular prior knowledge, you wouldn’t be able to grasp new ideas).

Good books are rare. And I just finished reading one of them a few weeks ago. One of the must-read modern-classics. This book is often mentioned when people discuss passion or life-meaning. The so called “flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  And in it, I discovered a new concept. A very interesting idea of psychic thermodynamics (although now the term psychological is more preferable). This concept which underlies the concept of flow somehow gets my attention while I’m finding some sort of explanation to my curiosity.

First, the natural state of our mind is in chaos. Without any practice, we are always drawn to thinking about many stuffs: suffering, pain, past memories, doubt, worrying the future, etc. When we don’t do anything, we’re talking to ourselves. Thinking. And ironically, when we are asked to think, it becomes a very demanding activity. Try to think about how consciousness emerges, and it’s gonna be a boring activity, but sometimes when you are about to sleep, you start to question EVERYTHING, ANYTHING.

But, we human dislikes chaos. So we try to seek an order.

This kind of order can be achieved through flow activity, where we find ourselves immersed and forget all the trouble that we have. We lose our self-consciousness. Yet, after the activity is done, our sense of self is expanding. As if we have found something meaningful in this life.

However, this kind of activity isn’t enough to restrict the excessive entropy while we’re busy living our lives. We build up a routine. We find a purpose. We seek a meaningful life. A life which is a unification of many flow activities and a manifestation of one big flow activity at once. A flow for the entirety of life.

But how to create a meaningful life for real? Faced with every uncertainty down the road, there are two choices for a man:

  1. to set the goals and focus acting on making them happen, and thus neglect the doubt along the way (vita activa);
  2. to think more deeply by detaching ourselves from experience so we could understand what is really valuable to us (vita contemplativa);

To put it in a simple way, the first one tries to give meaning while the second one tries to find meaning. Of course, we need a mutual-feedback between two of them to achieve a balance life, an optimal experience of life!

And where does the crisis come from? It comes from choices. Whenever we need to choose, we’re in crisis. We’re increasing the chaos, the psychological entropy, of our inner-self. The harder the choice that we have to make, the more troublesome, energy-eating, our life becomes.

Life, after all, is a set of choices. Every second, within your consciousness, you choose what to do, what to think. The very cause of trouble in both action and reflection.

Yet, this modern world offers so many options. Each kind of revolution, be it industrial, electronics, information, has lead us into cultural change, creating more new stuffs, new jobs, new thing. There comes the paradox of choices. How to choose a computer if obsolescence is inevitable? Moore’s law offers an insight on how the choices are getting more complex everyday. When something becomes double every year, it’s going to become eight-fold within three years. And one simple addition to a choice will have a multiplier effect on the universe of choices. Especially the trees of probability and uncertainty in mind (your physical body is limited, so does your action. but, your thinking is a boundless field of imagination.).

Paradox of choices.

Therefore, next time I remember Moore’s Law, I will remember what mankind has to pay for all the technological advancement. There is a price that we need to pay for all the ease of life. And unfortunately, it costs us our psychological energy to cope with larger uncertainty in this era.

And yes, the key is to keep a dynamic balance between action and reflection. Sounds simple. But, never easy. Keeping this dynamic balance requires skill, and the act of balancing itself could become flow activity when done right. 

*I keep on wanting to add more stuffs, but maybe I’ll save it for future posts.

On Piece of Writing

As much as I like to write a long post, a piece of writing can never reflect me as a whole.

Word is just a word, sometimes.

I am a believer in the concept of ‘learning by heart’, when it comes to unraveling the mystery of life at its truest. As a curious being, human has developed logic and ‘formal method’ in his/her attempt to have a clear picture of the world where he/she lives in. Except, it is not as simple as that.

This pursuit of answer is an lifelong learning process, an evolution of understanding in which so many variables need to be considered. Reading a different sentence, encountering a different person, thinking a different idea at a particular time, even in a short term, could lead into a different understanding. Let alone a specific life course that everyone has been through.

But, having said that, I believe words have some sort of power. It’s not that there is a scientific proof nor physical law behind this belief. Nevertheless, words can change someone’s mindset. Someone can acquire knowledge by exposing him/her self to words. And from this change of ideas it could gear up the chain of civilization. When one changes one’s mindset, it will eventually change one’s behavior given enough time. Given enough time too, a new behavior will produce something, some work, some achievement. And, seeing the pattern, sometimes some revolution may occur.

However, sometimes, words are not the perfect form to contain that energy. Some people could feel as if they feel the same thing, just because they are communicating through words on screen. But, the fact is not always so. In this sense, forcing other people to understand what we exactly understand is virtually impossible.

And it is the job of a human being to understand all of these in the first place. In every situation, a human must humble themselves knowing this reality. This way, there is always a doubt in everything one’s sure of. This way, there is always a mystery in which experiences and ages are fail to level us up from the beginner stage. And thus, the curiosity never settles down. There is always a new thing to learn everyday until the end of time.

And you know nothing, Jon Snow!

As one reaches tranquility, the shackles of words are destroyed. And one just uses it as a means to continue the journey. To share the least he can share. To keep the least he can keep.

Membuka Mata Tentang Riset dan Pendidikan Tinggi

Teman saya sudah punya anak istri. Dia rajin dan selalu berprestasi dari jaman S1. Saya pikir dia tidak mengalami stress di kehidupan PhD. Suatu ketika setelah bermain futsal dia bilang kepada saya tentang kondisinya. Dia sedang di ujung tanduk. Tapi, dia bilang begini, “Kalaupun ternyata nggak lanjut, gua sekarang jadi tahu riset itu seperti apa. Jadi kalau mau ngulang lagi di tempat lain udah ada pengalaman.”

Saya cukup terkejut. Saya terkadang mengeluh tentang PhD saya. Sementara saya belum punya tanggungan. Teman saya ini baru jadi Bapak, tapi dia punya ketegaran seperti itu.

Nah, yang menarik adalah tentang kata-kata dia tentang riset. Saya sering terkadang kurang bersyukur dan mengeluh. Berandai-andai kalau saya dulu ambil S2 dulu. Berandai-andai kalau saya punya fondasi yang lebih kuat, baik dalam coursework maupun research. Tapi teman saya ini menyelesaikan studi magister-nya di ITB. Tentu saja di sana dia juga akrab dengan penelitian mahasiswa doktoral di ITB. Tapi, rupanya penelitian yang dia lihat di sana berbeda dengan yang dia lihat di sini.

#Dari Bandung

ITB selama ini selalu memasang jargon World Class University. Dan selalu berbangga dengan slogan “Institut Terbaik Bangsa”, sebuah gelar yang entah sampai kapan bisa diklaim dengan kuat. Setahu saya, sampai saya masih berkuliah di sana, yang masuk ke ITB melalui seleksi nasional memang memiliki rata-rata paling tinggi. Dan sejauh ini jadi pertanyaan juga apakah sistem yang ada di ITB mampu meningkatkan kualitas peserta didiknya? Ataukah ITB hanya berperan jadi saringan saja. Menyaring orang-orang dengan tes masuk tertinggi.

Banyak hal yang saya lalui di ITB. Banyak mencoba, banyak gagal. Mulai dari bikin blueprint organisasi, menyelenggarakan TEDxBandung pertama kali, menggeluti organisasi yang menginkubasi ide, menemani teman saya bikin robot hinga muatan roket, sampai masuk tim yang bermimpi untuk membuat satelit. Saya juga masuk di MWA, berkesempatan duduk seforum dengan orang-orang pilihan. Para profesor, rektor, pengusaha, menteri, dan lain-lain. Saya cukup dekat pula dengan dosen pembimbing saya. Sempat ditawari untuk lanjut S2 dan melanjutkan riset-riset yang keren-keren.

Entahlah, dengan segala yang saya lalui di ITB (baik segi akademik, non-akademik, maupun iklim aktivisme di kota Bandung), saat lulus dari ITB seolah saya ingin mengubah dunia. Seolah saya siap mengubah dunia. Seolah saya adalah agen perubahan yang ditunggu peradaban.

Seolah saya siap membuat sebuah perusahaan teknologi berbasis riset, lalu ikut membangun ekosistem inovasi di Indonesia.

#Ke Singapura, Negara Kecil dengan Universitas Kelas Dunia

Namun, rupanya dunia tidak sesempit jalan Cisitu Lama (yang sesak oleh angkot cisitu-tegalega, yang terkadang sopirnya kencing di got hanya ditutupi oleh pintu angkotnya)

Setelah itu (setelah melewati ragam kegalauan ingin buat start-up atau berkarir di korporat) nasib membawa saya ke Singapura. Menjadi mahasiswa yang langsung masuk PhD tanpa harus S2 (dan sampai sekarang, 8 bulan menjelang deadline submit thesis, risetnya masih belum ada hasil yang konkret jaya). Di sini saya berteman dengan profesor di fakultas lain yang se-almamater, Mas Tegoeh (yang kebetulan seangkatan dengan Pak Ary-Pembimbing TA saya, Pak Heru-Pembimbing tim satelit dari LAPAN, Ridwan Kamil-walikota Bandung, dan mengenal cukup banyak profesor dan staf di Majelis Wali Amanat ITB periode saya). Saya mendapatkan banyak paradigma baru. Banyak mendapatkan wawasan yang mungkin tidak didapatkan oleh mahasiswa PhD kebanyakan.

Oh iya, sampai saat ini saya masih terkagum dengan Singapura. Negara sekecil ini punya dua buah universitas kelas dunia. Yang bukan sekedar jargon, tapi diakui oleh badan pemeringkat universitas. Dan, hal itu bukan diraih dengan hoki dan sim salabim. Negara ini memang punya visi. Dan punya rencana yang jelas untuk meraih visi itu. Memang suatu sistem pasti punya plus minus-nya. Tapi, toh pemerintah harus memilih sistem seperti apa yang cocok untuk tantangan jaman. Dan pemerintah Singapura tidak setengah-setengah untuk merencanakan sistem seperti apa yang dibangun, beserta evolusinya. (Saya semakin menyadarinya ketika ikut sebagai tim penulis Buku Mengenal Sistem Pendidikan  di Singapura)

Sementara di suatu PT di Indonesia, dulu rektornya berkilah saat ditanya tentang peringkat. Bilang kalau ada lembaga pemeringkat yang minta bayaran supaya bisa menaikkan peringkat, jadi tak usah dipusingkan soal peringkat. Bisa jadi benar. Tapi, toh, ketika ada suatu lembaga peringkat lain yang melakukan assessment berdasarkan suatu kriteria lain, dijadikan berita di situsnya.

Ya memang sih, di NTU juga sama saja. Kalau peringkat keseluruhan dunia turun, nanti yang dijual peringkat “University Under 50”, alias khusus untuk universitas baru. Dan NTU termasuk universitas yang masih muda (dan sudah mengalahkan PT tersebut di peringkat itu). Tapi setidaknya, harusnya PT tersebut lebih mawas diri ya. Harus bisa mengambil hikmah atas feedback yang ada, bukan sekedar masa bodoh. Misalnya ada mahasiswa memberikan aspirasi gitu, harusnya didengarkan dengan hati. Bukan cuman didengarkan hanya untuk menunggu giliran bicara, lalu bicara dengan mengalihkan topik dari isu pokoknya melalui kata manis. (This was one big piece of lesson I learned in my ITB life.)

Ya, terkadang seberapa progress yang dicapai oleh suatu insitutsi tergantung visi dan karakter pemimpin-pemimpinnya ya.

#Her Struggle 

Don’t get me wrong. Peringkat universitas memang bukan segalanya. NTU misalnya meskipun peringkatnya tinggi, itu diraih karena banyaknya fasilitas, banyaknya jumlah penelitian. Lebih ke quantity-based. Entahlah, kampus saya malah mau bangun mall di dalam kampus. Mungkin bisa menaikkan peringkat karena sudah ada Starbucks, Coffee Bean, KFC, McD, Pizza Hut, dan bahkan beberapa kafe kelas atas yang kalau didatangi bisa habis 4 dolar sendiri untuk sebuah camomile tea yang harga satu bungkusnya (dengan 20 teabag) bisa-bisa hanya hanya 2 dolar.

Waktu pertama masuk NTU, profesor saya memberikan orientasi kepada mahasiswa PhD di divisi Information Engineering. Dia bilang secara kuantitas publikasi, NTU memang mengalahkan MIT. Tapi secara impact? Masih jauh. Untuk meningkatkan kuantitas itu gampang ya, tinggal tambahkan banyak dana dan banyak tenaga. Kuantitas akan meningkat dengan sendirinya. Sedangkan kualitas?

Profesor saya orang Singapura, pernah studi di salah satu universitas keren di London. Dia bilang, terkadang dia juga bingung mengapa dari segi kreativitas, kita orang Asia masih kalah dengan  our Caucasian-counterpart.

Sementara itu Mas Tegoeh juga pernah bercerita. Meskipun peringkat NTU tinggi, NTU adalah nama yang asing. Banyak orang tidak tahu NTU. Berbeda dengan universitas-universitas di Eropa yang punya nama meskipun peringkatnya lebih rendah dari NTU.

Tentu saja ‘nama’ itu bukan sekedar nama. Ia mencerminkan sepak terjang di dunia akademik global. Dan nampaknya, NTU belum memiliki tempat yang sejajar dengan universitas-universitas tua itu meskipun peringkatnya melejit. Oiya, almamater saya ITB, juga punya ‘nama’ loh. Bahkan seperti yang saya pernah tulis, ikut menjadi bahan studi 3rd generation university (yang akhirnya saya sempat baca bukunya di business library NTU setelah jaman kuliah di ITB penasaran setengah mampus). Kalau profesor tua di Singapura pasti tahu tentang Bandung (ITB). Maklum jaman dulu memang ITB benar-benar dibangun, dosen-dosennya benar-benar dikader. Melalui kedekatan dengan BJ Habibie, ITB berhasil pula mengikatkan rantai dengan industri strategis sesuai visi mewah Soeharto untuk membuat Indonesia menjadi macan Asia (seperti diceritakan di buku Mas Sulfikar, sosiolog kondang dengan username sociotalker)

Back to topic. NTU benar-benar struggle untuk menjadi lebih baik. Dan semuanya mulai dari kuantitas. Meningkatkan kuantitas kerjasama dengan universitas top. Lecture dari ilmuwan top dunia, termasuk para Nobel Laureate, bukan hal yang langka. Setiap harinya anda akan menerima email tentang banyak talk menarik, dan terkadang workshop dari industri. (Saya jadi ingat nasihat Pak Budi Rahardjo waktu memberikan seminar tentang blogging di HME: kalau mau menulis caranya ya perbanyak kuantitas dulu, kualitas menyusul.)

Dan itulah visi suatu institusi yang benar-benar diejawantahkan dalam program-programnya. Bukan sekedar jargon.

#Ribut-ribut profesor

Baru-baru ini ribut-ribut soal profesor dan riset kan ya. Dulu juga saya tidak tahu tentang h-index, tentang impact, tentang citation, tentang ukuran-ukuran yang dipergunakan untuk menilai performa seorang periset.

Sekarang, mari kita ambil satu parameter: h-index, saja misalnya. Besar peluang bahwa seorang Associate Professor di NTU atau NUS, memiliki h-index yang lebih besar dari seorang Full Professor di Indonesia. Bahkan rektor-rektor di Indonesia.

Dosen-dosen yang kelihatan dewa waktu saya di kampus ITB dulu, kalau ditelusuri publikasinya di jurnal ilmiah rupanya tidak se-dewa itu. Anyway, bukan berarti dosen-dosen itu kalah pintar ya, cuman memang sistemnya tidak menuntut mereka untuk melakukan seperti itu. Sementara di sini, profesor yang baru menaiki anak tangga karir sebagai Assistant Professor benar-benar pusing untuk membuat publikasi, membukukan angka pendanaan riset yang banyak, dan mengajar dengan profesional. Mereka benar-benar harus perform, atau akan perish. Karirnya tamat di NTU.

Mendengar persaingan karir di NTU, saya sudah geleng-geleng. Betapa stress-nya hidup para profesor. Dan lebih gila lagi di universitas seperti MIT. Misalnya ada satu kursi untuk tenured professor (satu kursi untuk bisa promosi ke Associate Professor), bisa jadi ada puluhan orang yang direkrut menjadi Assistant Professor.

Oh iya, di sini, mengajar pun tidak dianggap remeh oleh profesor. Sistemnya yang membuat demikian. Saya pernah membuat soal dengan jawaban salah sebagai Teaching Assistant. Lalu, profesor yang saya asisteni bercerita bahwa dia tidak ingin sampai ada kejadian siswa yang protes ke Sekolah. Di sini siswa bisa melayangkan email ke Sekolah tentang cara mengajar dari si profesor kalau salah. Dan selalu saja ada siswa-siswa yang bermotivasi begitu tinggi dan super duper kritis. Dan email itu benar-benar ditanggapi hingga tahap tertentu. Tak jarang profesor sendiri harus ikut mengajar tutorial. Kalau di almamater saya dulu, terkadang ada juga profesor (kalau di sana sebutannya dosen ya) yang justru melimpahkan tugas mengajarnya pada asisten.

Oh iya, mengenai research funding, itu juga mencarinya gila-gilaan. Rupanya untuk bisa merekrut satu orang researcher saja, seorang profesor harus mencari funding yang angkanya tidak sedikit. Harus cukup untuk menggaji post-doc tersebut, beserta segala benefit yang harus diperoleh dan juga peralatan riset. Profesor itu selain seperti beragam pekerjaan yang digabung jadi satu (mulai dari manajer, administrator, peneliti, pengajar), juga dituntut punya jiwa entrepreneurship. Harus bisa jadi salesman juga untuk menjajakan proposalnya ke penyandang dana baik itu dari industri maupun pemerintahan. Dan, waktu saya kebagian bantu-bantu conference yang diadakan IEEE Singapore chapter, saya kebetulan terlibat di pembicaraan antara seorang profesor dengan salah satu anggota dari industri. Profesor tersebut memiliki tim yang gemuk. Dan untuk satu orang post-doc saja bisa-bisa harus mengumpulkan sekitar 100K SGD.

Ya, jumlah yang sangat banyak. Saya juga nggak habis pikir kalau Indonesia mau meniru dengan angka yang sama. It’s a huge money to burn! Sementara di Singapura memang memungkinkan untuk dunia riset yang seperti itu. Singapura yang terhitung negara berkembang menempati peringkat yang cukup baik dalam iklim inovasi, dan kerja sama industri dengan akademia menurut report dari World Economic Forum. Memang sudah punya sistem dan frameworknya yang memungkinkan demikian. Sedangkan Indonesia, masih struggling dengan berbagai permasalahan mendasar. Dan, untuk ITB, dia juga mengemban tridharma untuk melakukan pengabdian kepada masyarakat.

Dulu pernah ada edaran dari dirjen dikti tentang mengejar ketertinggalan dengan Malaysia dalam hal publikasi. Semangatnya bagus, tapi kadang saya mikir juga caranya gimana ya? Saya pernah diberitahu, ada universitas di Malaysia yang memberikan insentif 5000 (duh, sayangnya saya lupa ini RM atau SGD) per publikasi di jurnal terindeks scopus. Tapi, di Indonesia juga katanya sudah mulai diberi insentif untuk publish sih. Alhamdulillah.

#Tentang Riset dan Inovasi

Oh iya, jadi teringat tentang pernyataan Menteri di Indonesia yang bilang kalau riset harus berdampak ke masyarakat. Sebenernya itu memang agak polemik juga ya. Bagaimana dengan riset-riset fundamental? Bagaimana dengan riset di bidang sosial dan humaniora?

Memangnya teori relativitas Einstein dulu berdampak langsung ke masyarakat? Einstein dulu mana mikir tentang efek ekonomi, dia mengikuti imajinasi liar masa mudanya untuk menemukan kebenaran. Tapi, lihat efek dari penemuannya. Dengan teori tersebut, GPS yang kita kenakan sehari-hari bisa terkalibrasi.

Saya jadi teringat sih dengan kuliah tamu pada saat saya kuliah Research Method. Yang memberikan kuliah tamu profesor dari MIT, Eugene A Fitzgerald. Dia mengajak kita untuk me-rediscover fundamental innovation. Selain menyarankan untuk baca The Structure of Scientific Revolution-nya Thomas Kuhn (yang saya sampai sekarang belum baca), dia juga mengutip F. Scott Fitzgerald:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Jadi, model yang ditawarkan adalah bagaimana agar tetap berpikir tentang infinite possibilities untuk fundamental research, sembari tetap memikirkan kebutuhan pasar (yang spesifik dengan memikirkan implementasi, harga, dan bisnis plan). Model yang ditawarkan adalah sebuah proses iteratif di mana ada sebuah pengalaman transaksi dengan industri setiap akan memulai ide.

Ya, mungkin jaman memang sudah berubah. (Saya sempat juga menulis tentang kenyataan dunia riset masa kini ketika kemurnian scientific inquiry harus ditunggangi aspek ekonomi. Bahkan selevel Nobel Laureate pun ikut bicara soal ini.)

Dan ada banyak sekali model-model inovasi yang dibuat oleh para theorist. Semua berlomba berpikir out of the box. Sampai-sampai out of the box itu menjadi the new box.

#Tapi Bahkan Melakukan Riset Itu Saja Tak Mudah

Sampai sekarang saya juga masih tertarik untuk memahami proses inovasi yang berbasis riset dasar. Rasa ingin tahu saya masih besar. Saya juga ingin membandingkan dengan sudut pandang para pelaku start-up.

But, for now, even doing the research itself is very exhausting. Let alone doing a research which leads to a disruptive innovation.

http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3259

 

Riset itu sakit. Sakit karena setiap hari kita semakin tidak mengerti apa yang kita tidak mengerti. Sakit karena harus ulang-ulang simulasi. Sakit karena harus revisi paper berkali-kali.

Dan terkadang saking banyaknya yang harus dikerjakan, kita jadi kehilangan motivasi. Secara psikologis, karena terlalu banyak uncertainty, manusia jadi lebih lembam. Apalagi nature dari research adalah mengerjakan sesuatu berulang-ulang. Persis seperti mitos sysyphus.

Tapi, ya kembali ke legenda Edison. Kalau Edison berhenti di cara ke 888 mungkin dunia kita gelap. Tapi kalau ada orang mau bikin mesin waktu, udah mencoba 9876 cara juga belum tentu berhasil, apalagi pembangkit listrik tenaga hampa.

Belum lagi pekerjaan riset itu dilakukan secara mandiri. Dengan adanya distraksi internet yang senantiasa terkoneksi di era sekarang, tingkat kesulitan makin berat. Opportunities are there, and also the threats. Belum lagi persaingan juga makin ketat. Kita harus membagi peran dari diri kita sendiri. Ada kalanya kita harus menjadi bos yang membuat rencana kerja. Lalu menjadi kuli yang menjalankan rencana-rencana itu. Tapi, tak bisa dipungkiri, bekerja dengan rumus-rumus matematika, dan kode, serta grafik dua dimensi itu membosankan.

Maka saat bosan itulah saya melakukan eksplorasi yang terkadang kelewatan. Jadi semakin miris ketika melihat kenyataan betapa tertinggalnya negara kita.

#Kegundahan Saya

Di sebuah negara yang menggemari takhayul dan alam ghaib (yang kadang tak tepat konteksnya), kebenaran ilmiah belum dijunjung tinggi. Sains belum populer di kalangan orang awam. Kebanyakan orang-orang menjual pseudo-sains untuk bisnis semata.

Sedih. Kadang saya pikir, saya ingin jadi science popularizer, Mempopulerkan sains ke orang awam. Seperti Richard Dawkins, Michio Kaku, Richard Feynman, atau Neil deGrasse Tyson. But, look, they are accomplished scientists. Ya memang sih science popularizer nggak harus yang se-accomplished itu sebagai scientist. But, I think an accomplished scientist would be better off. And now I’m just a dust.

Lalu, saya juga kembali menengok almamater saya yang berperan begitu besar dalam perjalanan saya. Saya belajar sangat banyak di ITB. Dan, berkesempatan berada di badan tertinggi serta berbincang dengan profesor senior, memberikan dorongan dan harapan bagi saya. Bahwa ITB punya peran besar di Indonesia, tempat saya kebetulan terlahir.

Tapi, begitu banyak transformasi yang dibutuhkan. Optimisme buta tidak akan bermanfaat. Sebelum mengobati penyakit, harus menyadari dulu apa sakitnya. Sudut pandang tentang penyakit ini terkadang baru bisa disaksikan saat kita keluar dari sistem.

Miris dan sedih rasanya menyadari bahwa ITB terlambat memikirkan regenerasi SDM-nya. Sedih memikirkan elemen-elemennya pusing-pusing sendiri. Belum lagi sistemnya yang belum se-meritokrasi Singapura. Ada juga yang sudah menyerah dengan riset dan publikasi, ingin mencari keunggulan ITB di bidang lain. Lebih banyak lagi cuman pusing-pusing berwacana dan bagi-bagi kue.

But, having said that, I’m now clueless and have no power to bring a change. Right now, I’m just a spectator, a commentator who does nothing. Nothing significant. No impact.

(I think started from this point, this post would be emotionally written in English. More like meditative journal where I’m singing my heart out.)

So, after that year as the student representative in the Board of Trustees where I was surrounded by many accomplished people, here I am as a mediocre person. I am just an untested baby born in this world. An average PhD student who is still struggling to make his first paper in his final year.  Feels like another one bites the dust.s

It always comes back to this very cliche: if you want to change the world, start from changing yourselves. Be the change you want to see.

Even when I have got this idea to write something regarding the world of research and higher education, I’ve been hesitant. I feel incompetent. I feel hypocrite. How could I talk about h-index when I don’t even have anything ready to publish. Let alone cited journal paper.

But then I think, I need to write it down. And a professor also said it’s okay for me to write it because I’m a student. It is my position to learn to observe. And that’s also what the Vice-Chairman of MWA used to tell me. I was there mainly to learn.

And so I’m writing this up. At least I know why I’m here. I know how it started. How someone who used to skipping class (both in a good way and bad), with mediocre GPA finally chose to do a direct PhD.

Someone who nearly got kicked out of his PhD in the first semester. And in his extra fourth semester after three academic warnings, he said a prayer. He wanted to do something in the future for his beloved country. And it has something to do with academia, research, and innovation. And, he felt that he needed to stay in his PhD. So he offered the prayer hoping for God’s hand to help him get out of this academic misery.

He used to think he’s a lazy person. He never understood important fundamental concepts in his undergraduate. He never thinks that he’s so into academia. And so do people around him. Many people think he’s more into leading people. More into art. More into business. More into literature. But, have no real achievement in all. Painstakingly average.

Sometimes he feels, it is too late. He was too late to realize what he wants. Many times he wasted by running in the wrong direction.

But here he is. Because he knows he could change himself. Because he knows laziness is just a habit. Because he knows people could learn to focus despite of inclination towards easily-distracted, thought-jumper, creative mind. Because he knows that he has the potential to do everything he wants, if only he has got the persistence and perseverance. And that’s why he chose to take this PhD.  Because he knows, it’s gonna be challenging for people like him. And that’s why he’s in. To acquire self-discipline. Something he knows a very important factor for someone’s success but he’s still lack of.

And yeah, he never tries to act as if he’s the one who knows all, who have all, who can show all. He just knows there is something wrong. So many problem to tackle. Yet he still has no clue to tackle it.

As Hamming said, to make an impact, you’ve got to find a big problem with a great weapon to kill it. Knowing only the big problem means nothing if you couldn’t do anything.

Sometimes he’s wondering if being a scientist is the right thing for him. Hamming said if you have a vision for a specific solution, then scientist you are. But, if your vision is for a broader problem, maybe you need to assume leadership. Manager you are.

But, is it something can’t be nurtured. Is it fixed? He knows about the concept of growth mindset. People have muscles. Brain muscles. Idea muscles. And by setting his mind and his habit right, one day he could reap the fruits of persistence. So a struggle it is to stretch himself.

Sometimes he wonders if he could go through all the ladders to the top level. To really be the frontier, we have to be in the cutting edge of research world. But, where he is right now? And what he’s capable of?

He got so many dreams. He wants to build a school that will acknowledge uniquity of every child. He wants to build better things for his nation. Creating innovations. Writing down knowledge. He wants to live up to his name. As a bright thinker, who could bring changes to the society. Who can speak with the language of his people.

Or maybe he should just opt for being a businessman. Try to collect money to fund all this dream. Money. Does everything need money? Can logic work without logistic? But, thinking about money is the least thing he wants to do. He believes if those dreams were meant to be, everything would fall in place. And if those dreams weren’t meant to be, no matter how hard he tried, he wouldn’t reach his dreams.

But those dreams were still there. There were many times he considered to shut them off from his mind. Because all of them seemed so far-fetched. But, yet he still write these down. Not for an immediate gratification, but to remind him. To internalize his vision to himself. To his mind. To his subconscious mind. To his heart. To his conscience.

Sometimes he also questioned his past decision to directly come to NTU, pursuing PhD. Was it the right choice? But now he knows. It was the right choice. It was the best choice he has that offers many exceptional experiences. And without he being here and staying here, surviving many storms, encountering many people with many problems, he would never think this way.

Now, get back to reality. Those pipe dreams need to be converted into realistic goals. Dreams are just for dreamers. And goals are for those who committed to make it real. And now, the ONE thing he needs to do before moving any further is to finish his PhD. To make a definite plan. To execute the plan.

I hate people who have no definite plan. Fail to prepare, preparing to fail. But I hate more when I have a plan but couldn’t stick to it. It’s always hard to persist and to commit, but it’s possible.

Future is always scary though. Feel the fear but do it anyway.

Dah ah ngantuk. Capcuz!

Bonus salah satu comic favorit:

http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3554

 

[log] What I forgot about vision, flow, and decision – Motivator inkongruen dan GPA sempurna yang tidak sempurna

I have been experiencing ultimate boredom lately. It’s like books and guitars cannot help me out of this boredom. But then, as I started to make a little bet and to break from routine (though it’s not on the top of the priority list), I realized many stuffs:

  • We often forget the big picture. And when I say big picture it means not only to align our daily life with our end-goal, but also to envision the dream. And when I say ‘envision’ it means to engage in full-sensory immersion. Feel the beat, the excitement, the joy.. Let your neurons guide you to perceive it as a reality on its own. Let your brain anticipate everything.
  • Sometimes we mistake frustration with boredom. We can feel bored when we either find the work meaningless or too easy. As for frustration, we feel it because we know the work is meaningful, we have to do it, we have the potential to do it, but somehow we still could not manage to get it done.
  • Anxiety attack is there when the frustration couldn’t meet a closure. It will be there for a few seconds. You feel it on your body. But fortunately, it’s not permanent. But when your mind expects it to last longer, then it will. Because the mind gets what it expects.
  • At the end of the day, I often don’t feel like making a significant progress. I just remember it’s due to the mental exhaustion. When we need to make decision, it brings exhaustion, it drains energy. And that decision includes selecting the graphics that you want to show, case that you want to use, and so on. This is very obvious when we try to formulate a mathematical model.
  • Take your work as a game, and it’s easier to be in the zone. It’s about flow and peak performance. Sometimes, we just need to let go the pressure. Playing a serious game. Having fun with it. And after all, we know that life is just a game.
  • Life’s dynamic equilibrium lies at the edge of chaos. Have you ever noticed the paradox of life? You have to have a big vision, but must not forget to pay attention to the small things. You have to take lesson from the past, have a thought for the future, but to live at moment and make the most of it at the same time. You need to work hard, but don’t work too hard. The maximum entropy lies at the edge of chaos after all.

Sebulan sudah lewat dari batas revisi. Hari ini saya kirim progress report juga ke supervisor meskipun belum ada technical report atau paper dari hal-hal yang saya tulis sebagai progres. Tapi ya udah saya mah pasrah aja. Yang penting usaha.

Jumat dua minggu lalu Mas Oni berbaik hati mau ngasih masukan tentang paper saya. Tapi sejujurnya terlalu banyak input malah bingung (udah jadi chaos, bukan the edge of chaos). Tapi itu pun ampe sekarang belum beres juga papernya. Haha

Jumat yang lalu Mas Tegoeh bilang kalau mahasiswanya yang dia terminate rupanya GPA nya 5. Setelah dapet surat DO nya dia baru nongol ke Mas Tegoeh setelah selama ini nggak bisa dikontak. Alhamdulillah banget saya yang GPA nya pernah 1,5 ini masih bertahan ya hahaha. Sejujurnya saya tahu perasaan ingin berhenti aja pas suntuk itu datang dan pergi. Tapi beberapa minggu lalu lagi kencang sih anginnya.

Oiya sementara itu Al-Attiqi yang ikut mendengar perbincangan ikut menyemangati saya. Atau mungkin lebih tepatnya dia mendemotivasi. Sebab cita-cita dia selain menjadi demotivator profesional adalah untuk bisa terbang dan bersatu dengan internet. Kata dia, saya harus lulus PhD. Lalu nanti ke Indonesia mengkritik pendidikan Indonesia, bikin buku, jadi motivator, mirip-mirip dengan Robert T Kiyosaki yang jadi kaya dengan cara membuat buku tentang cara menjadi kaya. Idenya cukup legit sih. Serius.

Jumat lalu waktu buka puasa bareng, saya iseng nanya orang, apa cita-cita mereka:

A: belum tahu juga sih

B: dulu sih ingin jadi penguasa dunia

C: ingin jadi ilmuwan yang mengabdi untuk kemanusiaan dan membahagiakan keluarga

Menarik. Saya sudah berhipotesis sejak awal bahwa C akan memberikan jawaban yang paling spesifik. Maklum, C ini terlihat visioner dan benar-benar punya jiwa akademik. Sebentar lagi dia akan melanjutkan PhD di sebuah kampus top di US, yang supervisornya memiliki ‘genealogy’ supervisor yang ‘sanad’ nya bersambung pada Einstein, Rutherford, dan nama lain yang sering muncul di buku Fisika atau Kimia. Sejak S1, si C ini sudah riset dan bikin publikasi. H-indexnya sudah ngeri deh untuk ukuran orang yang baru lulus S1. Terus dia juga cerita kalau dia bakal pulang ke Indonesia Rabu ini. Sebenarnya Senin ini sudah cuti tapi dia masih pengen eksperimen.

Oiya A dan C sama-sama PhD student. Sama-sama lulus SMA di tahun 2007. A sudah menikah dan istrinya sedang hamil.

Duh, nulis apalagi ya. Oiya on a site note, orang yang di dunia maya kelihatannya terlalu mengkritik orang atau ribut di komen orang bisa aja aslinya baik. Kadang emang kepribadian manusia itu seperti samudera. Dari permukaan ada yang nampak ceria, tapi di palung lautnya sangat fragile dan sensitif. Tapi ada juga yang permukaannya seperti labil, tapi dalemnya stabil.

Karena kelewat bosan saya nyoba nonton suits. Menarik. Nggak tau kenapa saya selalu terobsesi sama serial yang menjual tokoh-tokoh ‘super’. Eidetic memory, kemampuan membaca orang, skill spesifik. Tapi otak memang termakan dengan superhuman. Sedangkan hati, selalu nyaman dengan manusia yang rendah hati.

Oiya, saya mencoba mulai suatu proyek. Saya pikir harus dimulai dari sekarang sih. Kalau nggak cuman jadi impian masa kecil yang nggak kunjung terwujud soalnya. Gara-gara habis ngobrol sama I juga sih.

R: gw galau nih agak ga konsen ngerjain riset. menurut lo gimana kalo gw jadi X full-time. tapi gatau jg bakal sukses nggak, nggak pernah Z juga sih

I : 100% mendukung. 200%. Mengalir aja fik, penelitian harus tetep lanjut

Lumayan bikin hari agak semangat sih.

Oiya, kayaknya teman-teman udah pada nikah punya anak, atau mau nikah. Waktu gak kerasa banget euy. Udah gitu saya jadi sering buka percakapan-percakapan sama teman-teman yang dulu akrab. Percakapan-percakapan menarik. Meski sekarang mungkin hidupnya udah beda-beda. Bahkan ada juga yang kayaknya udah nggak nganggep temen lagi entah kenapa. Konsekuensi kehidupan.

A Complete yet Imperfect Life

Yesterday*, I finally finished “To Kill a Mockingbird” while reading on train in a journey from Novena to Boon Lay after meeting up with Budi, the quintessential handsome of EL ITB 2007.

Have you ever thought that ‘perfect’ and ‘imperfect’ could be interchangeable when you change your perspective?

Conversation with Budi

Budi and I were walking from Sommerset to Novena. We discussed lots of things, mostly about love, career, and the meaning of life. Before that, he once said that I’m thinking too much about life. But yesterday, he was also showing his interest to reveal the mystery of life. He said he figured out that money and joy aren’t the stuffs we’re looking for. Up to some point, life still feels tasteless even when you could afford tasteful foods. So, that’s why he thought he need a concrete purpose, something where the milestones could be seen vividly.

We also discussed about ups and downs that we have encountered in life. We both have the same view that pain is a part of completeness in life. We once opted to pursue love, but learned about suffering instead. And only when we have felt the bitterness of life, we could then feel the sweetness that it brings. And through the event that tormented us, we found the “power up” item to make us stronger. Continue reading “A Complete yet Imperfect Life”