Ireland: please say No.

27 04 2012

At the end of May 2012, Ireland is going to vote on a referendum to amend the constitution to include austère economic policy. If I were Irish I would say: NO.

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5 years already

6 07 2011

Our little angel would be 5 today. Unfortunately he wasn’t to live more than 13 1/2 days.
So how are we coping 5 years on?

It’s still sore! Not the sharp pain that it was then but that numb residual pain that you know will be there forever. Have I come to terms with it? Not really. I have accepted the death of my child but I still resent the attitude of the medical corps during and after Pierre’s life.

The nurses that looked after Pierre in intensive care did all they could to make Pierre comfortable and faded into the background when we were around. They really did care.

The same cannot be said for the paediatric doctor that dealt with Pierre and us. as far as I’m concerned an executioner shows more compassion towards the condemned than this man. Somehow he became a doctor. it certainly wasn’t for his human interaction capabilities.

I don’t know how it’s done in other countries but still today I find that being asked as a parent to turn the ventilator that kept Pierre alive off was the worst thing to ask from anyone. How can any parent make such a decision? To this day I still don’t know how we did it.
All I know is that I, the father, took that final decision as I don’t think a mother should ever have to make that one. Mothers give life, they don’t take it. Did I really take the decision or did I trust the doctor’s advice that Pierre’s brain haemorrhages had probably caused irreparable damage and that he would never wake from his coma? It was the latter of course. All I decided was the when. Once all the members of family who had access to Pierre had had the chance to say goodbye to him, and we as parents had done the same, I nodded to the nurse and doctor. I then waited with Pierre in my arms, my right hand’s index and middle finger on his little heart.
I still see the poor little guy, struggling for the last few breaths of air, his heart  slowing down, and then finally stopping. During all that time I tried to comfort him by singing the lullabies I sang to him for the previous two weeks. My wife was knelt in front of me, stroking his head, his little hands, a few kisses now and then but utterly distraught. As was I.
To this day, I still don’t know if giving the doctor the go ahead was the right thing to do. And based on the interactions we had with him after Pierre’s death theses doubts only grew.

I trust in science and the scientific method but when a doctor tell you and your wife that because Pierre’s condition was a genetic disorder and because it is carried on the chromosome inherited from the mother’s side, we would NEVER have healthy boys and daughters would be carriers of the gene. He might as well have cut us open without any anaesthetic, it wouldn’t have caused more pain. He made this statement before having tested my wife’s DNA.
As it turns out he was wrong. He had never considered the possibility that Pierre’s condition was a random genetic mutation. I did and we didn’t wait for the results from the DNA tests to try for another child.

We now have two healthy boys: 3 1/2 years old and 9 1/2 months.

Today, Pierre, you’d be 5 years old. We would have a lovely party for you. A nice cake, lots of presents and laughter. Instead I’ll be standing at your graveside singing those lullabies that I sang for you.

Life goes on but the pain never leaves…

Mathematics, Science and Engineering

2 03 2011

I used to hate mathematics at school. Math was a four letter word worse than any other F-word could ever be. It wasn’t because I didn’t understand the subject, it had a lot to do with having to sit through continuous assessment tests every 2 weeks. It just took me longer than two weeks to fully assimilate the new concepts and make them part of my knowledge base. I never preformed well at those short term tests. My hatred for the subject also had a lot to do with the fact that our teachers taught maths for the sake of maths. Never really relating things to the real world and what the terms meant.
It took a very practical approach to maths for me to fall in love with two rather complex concepts at university. The maths lecturer drew a simple RLC (resistor, inductor, capacitor) circuit on the black board and asked us to give the circuit’s output waveform equation based on a step input. My eyes glazed over at having to solve those differential equations. After a few minutes of all of us sweating over the problem at hand he stood-up in front of us and said:
“Right! Anyone have the answer?”
Only one lonely hand was raised. Our maths buff thought he had the solution…
“Why is such a simple circuit so difficult to analyse? Because you have the wrong tool for the job! You’re trying to put a nail in the wall not with a hammer but with a JCB! You’ll get there but it will take you a lot more effort than necessary.”
He then proceeded to solve the problem by changing the problem’s equation space. Instead of solving differential equations he just did some arithmetic. and about 30 seconds later he had the solution.
I loved the simplicity of it. I loved the fact that I didn’t need to solve a differential equation again when designing a filter or a control loop.
The Laplace transform became one of the most powerful tools in my design arsenal.
At the test that followed a number of weeks later I obtained my best score in Maths ever! 105% No this isn’t a typo I completed all of the questions and the bonus one. I had for the first time in my life fallen in love with a mathematical abstraction, not because of its inherent beauty, but because of its practical applications.
The same thing happened for Fourier transforms and to a much les

Smith chart. Used for circuit analysis and tuning.

ser degree Z-transforms.
I have long forgotten how to solve differential equations but I still use Laplace, Fourier and Z-transforms on a regular enough basis in my job as an embedded system designer.

I probably would have performed really well at school if the practical side of Mathematics had been taught to us rather than doing Maths for the sake of Maths.

Like any language, mathematics needs to be useful to be understood. It needs to be practised in the real world. Physics is such a domain. One can understand most basic physics concepts quite easily but mathematics helps in explaining why this has to be so. Even the the special theory of relativity can be explained in layman’s terms, but it rarely is!

I intend on teaching my children mathematics at the same time as they learn to read and write. Hopefully being familiar with the “alphabet” of mathematics early on they won’t be scared off by them when it comes to sitting learning at school. Hopefully they will be as fluent in mathematics as in any other foreign language that I’ll be passing on to them.

Do I love maths now? Not really, I’m still scared off by differential equations and integrals, but I know where to go to help me solve them…

I mathematics important for a career in science or engineering?
I would have to say it is. But I’d qualify that by saying that practical mathematics is important. Theory for the sake of theory only serves to scare off people.

Just think of every day life and how mathematics can help you solve problems more easily.

Are you a Casino goer? Learn statistics! You’ll realise that the odds are in favour of the casino, not by a huge proportion but just enough to ensure that you’ll always loose more than they do. Roughly they are ahead by 1.5% in the odds. Some statistical analysis of the table you’re at might improve that to 1% in their favour. That small bias of odds towards the casino is what makes them rich and you poor. If you think you have a system that will break their bank: learn statistics and you’ll realise that overall you’ll only end-up loosing your hard earned money. All you can do is maximise the time it takes for you to run out of money…

Buying a house? Maths can help you compare the market. List the features you are looking for in a house (price, number of rooms, size, garden, local amenities etc…) and give them a relative value based on how important the particular item is on your “shopping” list. This multiple variable equation will describe your market and you’ll be able to compare houses more efficiently.

Want to invest your hard-earn cash. Mathematics will help you maximise your return on investment by comparing the various investment options available.

And there are many more applications of calculus to every day life.

He’s gone

1 03 2011


The next generation... Great-Grand-Father

“C’est fini!”

This short exchange of words signalled the end of a lifetime of  love and affection. My Grand-Father passed away after a month in hospital following a stroke.
I had gone to see him in hospital shortly after his arrival there. The initial shock of seeing this old man asleep in his bed I sat down next to him and held his hand. While alone with him in the room I thanked him for having been there to raise me with his wife. if it hadn’t been for them taking me into their home and giving me their unconditional love and support I certainly would never have become the man I am today.
I do miss my weekly chat with him on the phone even if in the last few months prior to his stroke he was repeating himself a lot and a number of times he couldn’t quite remember who he was talking to. Was it his son or his grand-son? Well although genetically I am the latter, our shared lives and affection made me the former in his eyes.
I still have some of the letters he sent me while I was studying abroad. Quite a few of them start with “Cher Fils” (Dear son). Already then it was a tear jerking opening! I read one of them a few months ago and the flood gates opened. I guess my bladder is just too close to my eyes. His writing style was very easy-going, he spoke of their  daily activities, his activities in the garden, their encounters with my friends and/or their parents. In other words he made me part of their daily routine. And I loved reading those long letters. They didn’t help in making me feel less home-sick but they gave me the strength I needed to complete my studies.
I wanted to show them that they were right to have supported me all those years, that I would succeed in whatever I took on. That I DO NOT QUIT.

He never spoke to me in his hospital bed, the stroke had affected the right side of his body and his speech. But I know he understood everything I told him as on my penultimate visit to him I told him to behave himself and not charm the nurses. He smiled! Well not the teeth showing smile but the barely visible one that only rarely he displayed.
He never woke again after that. He didn’t need to any more, he’d done all he could do in one life time.

I don’t think I’ll ever have times where I won’t miss him or my Grand-Mother. But that’s OK: I can always walk down memory lane.

Today, he would be 90 years old… Que Dieu te garde mon p’tit Grand-Pere.

Role models

26 02 2009

I’ve been silent on this blog for quite a long while now. Life just took over and let’s face it, I had better things to do than spend time on the net. I’m not sure if I’ll start regularily posting or not, nor what subjects I’ll be posting about. Time will tell I guess.

I’ve had the following post in my drafts folder for nearly a year now and never knew whether to post it or not as it’s quite personal. But then I used some of the material in a speech I gave at Toastmasters, so I felt what the heck, just post it. You don’t have to read through it, if you do, you’ll have a good insight as to why I am the way I am. If you don’t, that’s OK too, thanks for stopping by.

Role models can inspire us to aim for goals and achieve ambitions which we think are beyond ourselves.

Tiger Woods, Bono, Mahatma Ghandi are quite often given as role models. Does this mean that to be a role model you have to be famous? Or can an ordinary person be a role model to the people around them?

Well I’ve got two role models and most of the world don’t know them, never have heard of them. They are a couple that at the age of 58 accepted to take on raising a 7 year old child as their own. They didn’t say to the child’s father: “We’ll take him for the holidays, but certainly not put him through school. We’ve been there with you and your siblings, we’ve earned the right to enjoy our retirement.” Nope they didn’t say that at all, although I’m sure that somewhere deep inside them they probably fleetingly thought it. What they told the child’s father was this: “OK, we’ll take him for a year, let you sort yourself out, get a stable position and then next summer he’ll come back to you.” well that’s the cleaned up version as there was quite a lot of giving out to the man who was giving up his only child.

So who are these folks? My grand-parents. And I will never ever be able to thank them enough for “saving” me from the life I would have had with either of my parents. I’ve had a brilliant childhood, in a very protected and loving environment. I got the education that I was capable of following. I never ever went hungry again, I never ever got beaten, all I got was unconditional love. They never pressurised me to be the best, they left that to myself. I always felt that because they were looking after me when really they didn’t have to, I had to show them that they weren’t wasting their time with me. So I tried to do well at school, I tried to be a gentle, caring person, I tried to stay on the “right” track of life so that they wouldn’t be disappointed. After all their own son had done that before me.

I wasn’t the best at school but I wasn’t the worst. I got through university and got a degree from an English university, which considering that English is not my mother tongue, was quite an achievement.

I wasn’t an angel either. I did the usual little mischief that a boy gets up to, but all fairly harmless and in hind sight quite funny.

My grand-mother died one day short of her 80th birthday and it devastated me. Even more than when my mother died a year and half prior. I suddenly felt like an orphan. The woman that cared for me all those years, that nursed me back to health whenever I got ill, who hugged me when I needed hugs, who congratulated me when I did something well.  She wasn’t going to be there anymore. And it left a huge hole in my heart. But at the same time I knew that for as long as I lived, she would live on in my memories.

My grand-dad is still alive and although I live in another country and don’t see him that often I feel quite close to him. I had the great pleasure of introducing him to his first great-grand-child: our son. Boy was I proud! And I was even prouder when he called me son, in front of his own son (yes four generations of the same family were in the same room).

So what’s the point of this blurb? Well, my grand-parents are my role models. They didn’t break any records, they didn’t make the headlines, they didn’t conquer the useless… They did way more than that: they raised me to become the man I am today.

So you see, you don’t need to become rich and famous to be a role model. Just be compassionate, loving and caring of those around you and, as far as I’m concerened, that’s the best role model anyone can ever be.

A question of etiquette

17 07 2008

I was just wondering about the following after our little boy burped to the delight of his parents:

At what age does it become socially unacceptable to burp in public?

Corrolarry to this question is why?

After all we need to eliminate the air trapped in our stomach and when this air is released it does create sound. What’s so disgusting about it? It’s a natural phenomenon.

Lisbon treaty, the Irish NO

20 06 2008

Well as pretty much everyone expected, Ireland said No to the ratiffication of the Lisbon treaty. Being in favour of the treaty, I’m a bit disappointed by this, but that’s democracy… At least Ireland asked its people for their opinion.

I would have loved to give my opinion on the subject too but my home country chose not to ask its citizens but instead asked its parliament (elected by the people) what they thought, assuming that since the representatives of the nation had been elected by the people they represent the opinion of the people. Clearly not always the case as Ireland just proved.

So what’s the way forward from here? For starters, the treaty will not enter into effect on the 1st of January 2009 since at least one of the signatories did not ratify it. The Nice treaty rules will stay in force until a new treaty is signed.

Will the union’s 27 members have to renegotiate the whole thing again? Probably not as it takes too much time to go through a whole treaty negotiation. What I think will happen is that Ireland will negotiate certain opt-outs from the Lisbon treaty in order to appease some of the concerns that were raised during the referendum campaign and resubmit the revised treaty to the Irish electorate.

Now there’s the tricky part, a survey showed that the main contention points raised during the campaign weren’t the dominant reasons why Irland voted no. Surprised? A bit but not that much. The real reason, it appears, is that the Irish population said no to its politicians and the bureaucrats everywhere. This is quite interesting and will be the main hurdle to overcome if a second referendum on the issue is to be had.

How can the “establishment” ensure that the citizens approve of the treaty? By engaging directly with them! Not in forums and televised debates, but by talking to people in the street, knocking on their doors, taking the time to explain the importance of the treaty and answer any concerns people may have. This takes time, a lot more time than the political parties allowed for before this referendum. The no side did that though! They were out there since before Christmas telling people to vote no. And that’s what won it in the end.

There are a number of questions people still need to answer:

  • Why did the “yes” camp wait so long to come out in force to promote the Lisbon treaty?
  • Why did the “yes” camp allow the “no” camp nearly six months of free reign?
  • How did the “no” camp’s Libertas group finance its operations and who gave them those finances?

The later one is of particular interest as the main figures of the organisation work for an American contracting company. Although they assure us that they followed the letter of the law in their sourcing of finances it seems extraordinary that a group that was unknown a year ago managed to have the largest campaign budget. In fact more than all the other participants put together! Let’s hope it wasn’t from foreign sources as this would mean they broke the law.

Then again maybe this would be a way around it. If the “winning” side was financed from outside of the state, then the validity of the referendum could be questionned and an unmodified treaty re-submitted to the Irish electorate. Now there’s a thought…

The next few months will be interesting. The whole thing will in a sense re-kindle the Irish’s interest in European affairs.