Third and final article about luminary Indo scientist Edward E. E. Frietman known both in the Netherlands and United States for his extensive work in academia, sciences, and outstanding career.
1940 – 2020: My Life in a Blink of an Eye
Part 3: Education, Research, and Career (1963 – 2020)
By Edward E. E. Frietman
Being and remaining an Indo means being true to your origins and your principles, bearing in mind that success is not a coincidence, but besides persistence, it involves hard work and constant study.
Accomplishing the Impossible
When I returned to the Netherlands from the US, I experienced one setback after another. The education that I was previously promised, at the HTS in Haarlem to become a Technical Officer, was withdrawn. The military leadership believed I had already cost enough. The specific secret knowledge about the electronics of the Nike-Hercules missile, which I studied by myself during the evenings at Fort Bliss, was not allowed to be practiced by the squadron commander in Germany where I was stationed. He thought it was nonsense that a Corporal 1st class could put these new technologies into practice and bear such a great responsibility.
Apparently, I had no future in the Royal Netherlands Air Force. As a result, I resigned in 1963 and was hired by a private company in Rotterdam. There too I was subjected to arbitrariness. For example, a colleague received the credit and accompanying bonus for a moving traffic light (still in use today in many places), that I designed and made ready for production.
In 1964 I married that sweet girl Inca from Bandoeng whom I met in 1958. At that time, she was the only glimmer of hope in the maelstrom of events. We had very little materially, but at least we could rent an attic room after our wedding.
The Director of the The Hague Radio Institute in The Hague, where I taught 4 science subjects in the evening, mentioned an available position in the electronic workshop of the Technical Physics department at TU Delft. The Manager of the electronic workshop of the Technical Physics department gave me a less than warm welcome. “Well, as an Indonesian you might have more diplomas than the rest of your colleagues, but you can forget about a possible promotion. As far as you are concerned, such a decision is a pipe dream. You must know your place by the way.”
In 1967, I was in possession of three new advanced level diplomas, but still had not been promoted, unlike that workshop manager who was now in charge of highly trained technicians. A friendly professor asked me: “Ever feel like taking charge of the electronic part of a newly established research group?” I left the electronic workshop in 1968 and switched to the Biophysics research group. For me it was the umpteenth challenge.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” said the professor who was starting up the new group. “We will get along with each other. I don’t understand anything about developing electronic devices, I would like to leave that to you. Would you like to solve problems in physics?
Thinking to myself, he is the first to ask me such a thing, I accepted very gladly.
“Say what do you actually earn? So little? We are going to do something about it immediately!” I never understood how that promotion (pipe dream) suddenly was approved. I was still the only Dutch Indies boy at the Technical Physics Department among the nearly 200 employees.
One of the projects in the Biophysics Research Group of which I am very proud, was my participation in a Rehabilitation Project providing Communication Aids for the severely handicapped (multiple and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), that eventually lead to the realization of the Eye-Letter Selector in 1975 and resulted in the Eyeball-Position-controlled Communication System EPCOS in 1982.
It was not until February 2016 that I first saw a close-up of Stephen Hawking’s communication device that seemed remarkably familiar to me. I emailed him to tell him about the history and the origin of the Eye-character selector and the research and development I started in 1975 that led to the ultimate realization in 1982 of its successor: The Eyeball-Position-controlled Communication System EPCOS. At that time, it was a very revolutionary system, developed for the severely disabled, and the publicity surrounding it in 1984 was via a broadcast of KRO-Brandpunt by Willibrord Frequin based on an interview. Unfortunately, Stephen Hawking never responded.
In the early 1970’s, when I worked in the Biophysics Research Group, I came across a so-called ‘ghost story’ that everyone working at TU Delft could also study to obtain a diploma of electrical engineering. The only way to verify this was to request a conversation with the Staff Administrator and that is what I did. The Staff Administrator, who had worked for Shell in Indonesia and still spoke a little Indonesian, was convinced that my future lay more in playing a guitar in an Indo band than studying at TU Delft. He even threatened me with executing the rules of the Civil Service Regulations if I were to study during my daily activities.
These rules dictated that all studying had to be done in the evening hours. The rules did not permit hindering a day student from his studies and from taking a 3-hour exam during the day rather a holiday-day request had to be handed in for each of the many subjects. The Staff Administrator strongly disapproved of my plans.
Determined to study anyway, I found a professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering who told me that it was under the auspices of the ‘colloqium doctum’ procedure that 30-year-olds and older, who did not have the required entry diplomas, had the opportunity to gain admission to the electrical engineering exams by taking an additional entrance examination.
When I reached the age of 30 in 1970, my health deteriorated as a result of a heart defect caused by a disease I contracted in WWII. Having to endure lengthy mandatory procedures when submitting the request to the Ministry of Education also took its toll.
Part of the admission procedure, which took place in 1971, was an obligatory meeting with a Committee of TU Delft to convince them that my wife Inca was also behind my decision. “You realize what you are getting into,” said the Chairman of the Committee. “You just have to convince me and the other committee members why you want to study so badly.” As I explained that I never had a chance to study, his reaction was: “Oh yes that chapter of Indonesia, well, a lot of people always hide behind the consequences of that period.”
Approval from the Ministry came in 1973. The study of a collection of the handbooks of the 5 exact subjects in which the exam was to take place, followed by a year of hard studying in the evenings, ended with an entrance exam of 3 hours. After 1 hour of waiting for the results, I heard that I had passed.
I started my studies at TU Delft in 1974 to obtain a diploma in Electrical Engineering. Year after year, after working all day in the electronic workshop, I had to study late into the night. Our two children were also in high school and regular homework support was needed. But Inca and I agreed that Saturdays were for the family and I stuck to that. “How did you do it and keep it up”, many people often wondered. The philosophy I put into practice was that I would rather study a subject a little longer than take exams over and over again. This is how the day students prepared for their exams, some took a course ten times, but I did not have time for that. Except for two courses, I passed all 45 courses at once, not counting the 20 practical exercises I had to do—one of which I even had to do during a Christmas vacation.
There were encouraging results, one of which was that I received my BSc degree in Biomedical Engineering in 1982. Fortunately, there were also stimulating circumstances. As a working student, professors often gave me the opportunity to do research. They allowed me to work on questions the business community had about subjects that the ordinary day student did not want to do. For example, I investigated on behalf of Fokker why satellites spontaneously changed position. The report, commissioned by Fokker, describes the phenomenon as: “Bitflip”. The end result helped to subject the memories built into the satellite to a special test, because spatial radiation causes the output of a memory to spontaneously change their digital state. I was able to do the sub-research in my own time, then carefully formulated the results and eventually presented my solution to the business community.
In 1983 it turned out that there was no future for me in the Biophysics Group. Their argument was that I had neither the capabilities nor the scientific background to delve into the physical problems they were studying in the group. I was lucky, because it turned out that the professor, who led the Hybrid Computation Group of the Faculty of Applied Physics, had already made several attempts to get me into his group as a researcher. Early 1984, in addition to my studies, I started a whole new challenge.
In 1986, after I proved myself, I was assigned to take responsibility for testing and evaluating a computer with multiple instructions and multiple data streams, the Delft Parallel Processor. Approaching R&D from a system rather than from a device level, I led a research program covering different aspects of computer architecture, interconnect topologies, and semiconductor technologies. The result was that I introduced an alternative in 1987 to solve the “von Neumann bottleneck” by designing a ‘free space oriented’ optical backplane as well as a new class of optoelectronic IC’s, known as the POWERRAM ™and hold several patents on it. In connection with these developments, the introduction of optics could start various projects to improve parallelism to the extreme.
After many years of effort, during which I often suffered from health problems and also had to combat many setbacks in administrative and scientific oppositions, I managed to graduate in 1988 and obtain my master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Electronics.
Overcoming the Impossible
From 1989 to 1991, I was appointed Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science of Delft University of Technology to investigate possible applications of neural networks to knowledge systems. Two valuable projects in Neural Network applications were the investigation of the causality of the origin of Alzheimer’s disease and the utility of Neural Networks for Preventive and Predictive Maintenance of Mechanical Assemblies.
In 1994, I was appointed Research Professor of Electrical Engineering at the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology and Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at McLeod Institute of Simulation Sciences, both at California State University, Chico.
In 1995, I obtained my Doctor of Philosophy from Delft University School of Technology on the subject of Optoelectronic Processing and Networking: A Design Study.
Since then recognition of my hard work resulted in many opportunities resulting in not only being one of the co-founders and nominated President of the Netherlands-Malaysia Association (established in The Hague in 2006) but in 2007, I was also elected member of the Board of Recommendation of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of the Maastricht University, whose research activities were than focused on Malaysian projects with auspicious prospects.
I held visiting positions at the Faculty of Applied Mathematics and Informatics
- at Delft University of Technology;
- at the Department of Electrical Engineering, Division of Telecommunication Technology and Electromagnetics at Eindhoven University of Technology;
- at the Istituto per la Ricerca sui Sistemi Informatici Paralleli, at Napoli, Italy;
- at the Faculti Kejuruteran Elektrik of the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Malaysia;
- at the Nanyang Technological Institute at Singapore and
- at the Institute for Information Technology, National Research Council of Canada at Ottawa, Canada.
I have been a Session Chairperson of more than fifty American, European and East Asian Conferences, Congresses, and workshops. For many years, I tutored SPIE Short Courses in the United States, Canada, Europe, People’s Republic of China, Republic of China, and Singapore, and lectured Short Courses in the field of Industrial Applications of Opto-Electronic Processing & Networking, Image Processing, and Neural Networks at UTM, Malaysia.
I now enjoy my retirement but continue to be involved in research activities as an independent Research & Development consultant at Flex Alert European & Malaysian Operations and investigate potential applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the request of my daughter who is the CEO of “iamProgrez”. It is most gratifying to see that my work and keen interest in the exploration of Artificial Intelligence is being used in the first worldwide assessment to articulate future proof skills.