Deriving in Singapore

I spent all day Sunday deriving in Singapore.

No, not driving. There’s no way I would drive here. It’s not that they drive on the wrong side of the road – I’ve done that before. Uncomfortable but manageable. And it’s not that the country is full of crazy, aggressive drivers like China or Taiwan – in fact just the opposite. They are too obedient here, and there are too many rules to obey. Unlike the US, where you basically do whatever you want unless there is a sign telling you that you can’t (no left turn, no parking, no U-turn), in Singapore you can’t do anything unless there is a sign telling you that you can. If I drove here I would stick out like the truculent American that I am – I don’t need the demerit points.

No, I was deriving. It rained all day on Sunday so I stayed in my hotel room and worked on equations. Am I weird? I had a blast! I’m looking for analytical solutions to the Euler-Lagrange equation of photoresist development – a particular nettlesome equation that prefers numerical solutions. Certainly the most common lithographic cases all must be solved with the aid of a computer, and those computer solutions are convenient and useful. But there is just something special about an analytical solution. An exact result in the form of a simple equation. Some results have elegance and, I have to say, true beauty. And it was beauty I was after.

I found two special cases that have analytical solutions. Hopeful these case will prove useful for some problem or another, but if not I’ll still enjoy their beauty and the pleasure that their derivation brought me.

Rain in Singapore

Thanks to the frosty setting of my room’s air conditioner, I am slowly drying out. According to my web sources, the rainy season here ends by the end of March. Apparently the weather is less well informed than the average American tourist.

Today (Friday) was a free day for me, so I took off on foot to explore Singapore. When it began to rain, I managed to find a nice bar to duck into. (Some would call it luck that I so quickly found a dry haven to wait out the weather’s harsh rebuke – I call it preparedness, a legacy of my youthful Boy Scout training.) Little did I realize that this particular bar would be so rich in historical context.

I discovered from a talkative and thirsty Englishman who was drinking his lunch at the same establishment that our current digs were previously quite popular with a once obscure but now infamous stock trader by the name of Nick Leeson. Does the name ring a bell? In 1995, using a convenient category in his employer Barings’ accounting software called ‘Error Account 88888’, Leeson hid over US$1B in trading losses – approximately equal to the total assets of the veritable English bank. The bankrupted Barings was eventually sold for £1 and Leeson served about 4 years in a Singapore prison. (By all accounts he was treated well – harsher punishments like caning are reserved for juvenile vandals who spray-paint graffiti on an otherwise pristine country.)

After three beers, the weather seemed to be letting up and my fear of drowning overcame my fear of getting wet. I only got a few blocks before the rain began again and I reached my current soaked state. [The inquisitive reader may well wonder, “In a place as humid as Singapore, where walking 100m in fine weather inevitably results in a state of being completely soaked, how can one actually tell that it is raining?” An excellent question. The practice of careful observation is needed. If the sky turns dark and the temperature drops 10 degrees and one still finds that a short walk down the street completely dampens the clothes, chances are it is raining.] I’m sure I’ll dry out shortly. When I do, it will be just in time to chance the weather again for dinner. Chili crab, here I come.

The Singapore River

My hotel is near the Singapore River – my favorite part of town. It’s at Robertson Quay (pronounced “key”, though I spent years wrongly saying “kay”), a swank high-rent district next to the ultra-hip restaurants of Clarke Quay (hey, they even have a Hooters!) and the more traditional (and thus my favorite) Boat Quay. The Boat Quay is a line of 100+ year-old buildings along the south bank of the river full of bars and restaurants. But what is so intriguing is that the backdrop to these three-story, brightly stuccoed shops are the massive steel and glass skyscrapers of the financial district – a beautiful juxtaposition of the modern and traditional that is so common in this city/state.

I’ve eaten at the Boat Quay every night I’ve been here so far. Which explains one of the reasons why I love Singapore – the food. The country is essentially a mix of four cultures – Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, and English. The English came here during their bad-old colonial days, turning this little Malay-infused island into a shipping way station. They also imported Indian and Chinese labor until those populations become very significant. Now the English-influenced style forms a pervasive backdrop to an extraordinarily wide range of multicultural traditions. And the food from every one of these traditions and more can be found on the Boat Quay. Mmmmmmm.

Walking back from the Boat Quay each night I pass through the Clarke Quay, so how can I help myself? I have to stop in at one of Singapore’s only brewpubs – the Brewerkz. Although there is not anything very “Singaporian” about the place (it could just as easily be at home in San Diego or Seattle), the beer is good. It certainly beats the bland local stuff – Tiger Beer. But it is not too hard to find a good English pub to cool off in – like the Penny Black on Boat Quay.

So what is the weather like in Singapore this time of year? The same as every time of year – 90F and 90% humidity. We’re on the equator – you can tell the seasons only from the changing displays of the chic designer shops along Orchard road. But, being from Austin, I feel right at home with the heat.

Greetings from Singapore

It only took 30 hours to get here from Austin, but I’m back in Singapore after an absence of about 4 years. I’m here to give a three-day training class on lithography to one of the local semiconductor companies. But since they want every litho engineer in the compay to take it, I’ll be staying next week to repeat the course as well (half is all the company can spare from the factory at any one time). It’s a long time to be away from home (until now the longest I’ve been away from my baby daughter has been two days), but I love to teach, so I think it will be worth it.

So if the jet lag doesn’t stop me, I might do a little blogging about this city/state/island over the next 10 days.

Puzzling over science

I am not a jigsaw puzzle addict, but I do like to dabble in puzzling, especially when around family. I guess it reminds me of my childhood, where puzzling (along with Monopoly) filled the gap now occupied by video games for most kids. In any case, I revisited my jigsaw past over the weekend with an interesting result – philosophical thoughts about science. You can read a short essay on the topic called Puzzling Over Science.

How to make SPIE papers worth listening to (a modest proposal)

The SPIE Microlithography Symposium is without question the premier annual conference in the field of semiconductor microlithography. But all is not well in litho conference land. Many of the papers are simply not worth listening to. Of course, with any event this big you have to expect a range of quality in technical papers – to get the good one must accept the bad and the ugly. As the conference has grown over the years, the very good papers have stayed very good. But the bad papers have gotten worse, and the average quality of papers at the conference has steadily declined as the conference has grown. The reason for this is clear to me: an increased influence of sales and marketing goals over technical goals. With the conference’s growth in size has come a growth in influence, and a desire by many to control that influence.

What can be done to fix this problem? I’ve written a short whitepaper, A Modest Proposal, with concrete recommendations that I believe can improve paper quality. If you disagree, please let me know. If you agree, please let the conference organizers know.

Moore’s Law for Razor Blades

You’ve got to hand it to them – those science editors at the Economist sure know how to spot a trend. In an article last week called The Cutting Edge, they showed a Moore’s law-like plot of the number of razor blades in a shaver over time. It is super-exponential, making extroplation difficult, but if the trend continues (and don’t all trends continue?) we should expect 14 blades in our razors some time between this Christmas and the year 2100.

Wrong Research Results

Don’t believe everything you read. It’s a truism no rational person would disagree with. But how does it apply to published scientific research?
When teaching my graduate level lithography class at the University of Texas, I often caution my students about excessive faith in published research. “Half of what is published in the lithography literature is wrong,” I would often say. I have no data to support this claim, but after reading thousands of published papers over the last 23 years I think that number is in the ball park. I’ve recently read a published scientific paper (yes, the irony is thick here) that puts some scientific backing to the claim that most published research is wrong. John P. A. Ioannidis’s paper “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” is fascinating – a must read for anyone involved in research. Published in the peer-reviewed open access journal PLoS Medicine (August, 2005), the paper is slanted towards medical studies, but the principles apply to all of science. When is data sufficiently strong to justify the statement that it supports either the acceptance or rejection of a proposed hypothesis? Most of the time, he claims, the data supports neither statement.
The conclusion? Science definitely moves forward, but a healthy dose of skepticism is justified.

Musings of a Gentleman Scientist