Nineteen Eighty-Four and a Half

This page written circa 24 March, 2013.

Frequent is the comment that one's house never looked so good as when one is trying to sell it. Bywater Grange looks great. We have played in the pool, bathed in the spa, drunk beer in the pristine garden, taken the Japanese students for a spin in the Typhoon, and I write this seated in the now-sunny window seat in the clutter-free lounge under the party tree, rain a distant memory, while all but Ms M and I are out hiking. She and I like being alone together. There is such a ferocious, unprecedented drought that NZ looks like CA, but our creek continues to carry water. Hey, we may not even sell Bywater any time soon.

If I have not written much commentary lately, part of the reason is that I spent November, December and January on leave at NICTA in Sydney, in the Bio Implants Group, soon to spin out as Saluda Medical. Peter and I managed there to create a full nonlinear SPICE model of an electrode in saline. Previously the best model was linear, and it was not fitted into SPICE. The model contains fractional capacitors ("constant-phase elements"), and memristors, two of the latest buzzwords in circuit theory. We can predict currents in an implant electrode with ppm precision. Impedance is key to implant battery longevity. I have a very sharp grad student replicating and automating our original work, and scaling the model with salinity and complexity of the electrolyte. We plan measurements in bio-fluids in vivo and in vitro. I am hoping this success will convince Saluda to embark on an ongoing relationship.

I am enrolled in a course in Leadership this semester. It has a higher-education emphasis. A lot of research studies have been done on leadership specifically in higher ed (HE). Their results are sad. HE leaders, that is high-school principals, professors, deans, and so forth, have a phase of their careers absent from the careers of leaders in other tracks, namely a phase of disillusionment. We read that CEOs may retire satisfied, but Deans long to return to teaching and research. Most Heads of Departments are the sole applicants for their jobs. Beyond transactional, transformative, authentic, and other styles of leadership there is a literature on distributed leadership. As I am reading the papers my discomfort crystallises when I realise that this 'distributed leadership' is not an emergent property of complexity in organisation but nothing more than a social-anthropomorphic study of what intelligent agents do when faced with a leadership vacuum. At best it is a recourse when no adequate leader can be found, say when purview is beyond anyone. Think when there is not time to place a leader (soldiers of equal standing suddenly meeting to do a task), no leader smart enough exists (think of leading the top scientists on the Manhattan Project), or when no sensible person would want the job (think academia). I eventually found papers saying that distributed leadership theory was disappointing, but I stopped reading completely when I found a paper on distributed leadership in capuchin monkeys. If leadership scholars have taken as many years to posit what a skeptical reader might suspect in days, you can't imagine it's an incisive, outcome-oriented field like electronics.

I am now almost through my tightest 6 weeks for years. It is always busy when I teach both first and final years of electronics, requiring overlapping lab classes. I am the chief supervisor for 8, soon 10, grad students. Two are on the verge of producing brilliant results, and of running out of time. I am reviewing text from two who are writing up. Just a bit of pressure.

I would not mind if I thought it was the same for everyone, but I think only a few of us are doing a lot, and there is not much reward or appreciation. I believe mankind has forgotten the value of universities, apart from improving an individual's employment prospects. A thought keeps flickering into my mind, and there is a steadily-flashing yellow warning-light on the dashboard of life: Academia is not the place to be. So far it's not red.

However, in the current global circumstances, we are doing superbly. Al Jazeera has a lovely story on what it is like to be homeless, as are 16,000 kids in the school system in Chicago alone. Colleagues tell me how hard jobs are to find in Sydney. I bet the pay is scant for a rogue heating engineer.

| Home | Up one level |