Month: March 2013

The Power of Touch

My sister, a Professor in Computer Science, once asked me why people often only associate improved living with health professions. Why kids say “I want to be a doctor because I want to help people live better”? She argued any profession can achieve that goal and further stressed the importance of technology. I was reminded of her visions when I chanced upon this field known as Haptography (or Haptics):

In a fascinating talk by Katherine Kuchenbecker, I am further enthused about the future that technology has in store for us. :)

Into the Kitchen: Flan

Flan is probably one of our most favorite desserts. The combination of silky custard with caramel is heavenly. The ingredients are simple and it is so easy to make. We recommend using small ramekins (or small glass bowls) because, in our humble opinion, flan is best when eaten in small servings.

Ingredients:
4 eggs
1/4 cup sugar (use 1/2 cup if you like your flan sweeter)
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Caramel:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

1. Make caramel in a small sauce pan by mixing the sugar and water over medium heat. Keep stirring until it thickens and the syrup turns deep amber in color. Turn off the heat.

2. Add the caramel (in equal portions) into 4-6 ramekins/glass bowls. Make sure the caramel is coated evenly at the bottom. You can save some caramel for topping later if you want.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

4. Add milk and sugar into a sauce pan over low heat and mix until the sugar dissolves, then turn off heat. In a big bowl, whisk the eggs until blended and add in the warm milk slowly. Add the vanilla extract and do a quick whisk.

5. Strain the custard mixture into the ramekins/bowls and place into a baking pan. *Please note that you should definitely strain the egg mixture before baking; otherwise you end up with bubbles/bumps like in the picture above.  It tastes fine, but makes for poor presentation.*

6. Pour hot water into the baking pan, about halfway up the sides of the ramekins/bowls. Bake for 50-60 minutes (until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean). Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature, then place into the fridge to chill for a few hours.

7. To serve, slide a knife around the side of each ramekin/bowl to loosen the flan, then invert onto a plate. Enjoy as is or top with extra caramel or fruits.

Recipe adapted from Rasa Malaysia

You Are What You Eat

Ever heard “You are what you eat”? Well, what if you are surrounded by only junk food services? You become junk? No, you grow what you eat! Gardening empowers us with healthier eating habits, a relaxing form of physical exercise (what oxymoron), lowering stress levels, and so much more!


While I don’t appreciate the style and [foul] language of our speaker, his message is clear – you change a community by changing the composition of its soil.

If I Knew Then: GPA Matters

I used to have straight A(+)’s.

Then… school became unchallenging and I thought letter grades were rather arbitrary. I’d rather pursue my own interests. I almost became a rebel in high school. While I still did all my homework (in class), I didn’t care to go above and beyond. I spent my time reading what I enjoyed and writing what my mind imagined.

College was not much different. I didn’t want my character to be defined by a number, a 4.0. For some classes, I didn’t care as long as I remained “above average”. I didn’t graduate top of my class. Sure, I still got a good job. Sure, I still got accepted into grad school. But…

I also got rejected. I applied to an Ivy League to work with a faculty who was very enthusiastic about me. She was on the admissions committee and I was pretty much a shoe-in. Yet, I got denied because my GPA didn’t make the cut; accepting me would mean lowering their statistics.

I also started grad school later than I would have liked because I needed years to build research experience in order to compensate for my less than stellar GPA. While in the end I still got where I needed to be, I can’t deny that my choices have been limited. This was the consequence I paid for not working toward “the grades”.

I admit it still feels silly that a number would have so much power over your career trajectory, but it begins to make sense. After all, employers and admission committees need an easy screening method to filter through thousands of applications. Don’t let a single digit number limit you. Once you’ve changed your attitude about GPA and are ready to work for the grades, read my study tips below:

1) Attend all lectures. You won’t know what materials the professor emphasized (and likely to be on exams) unless you show up to class.

2) Ask questions. No question is dumb. If it’s unclear to you, it’s unclear to someone else. They are thanking you for asking. Be their hero. If you are really shy and prefer to ask questions one-on-one instead, attend office hours!

3) Read. Why pay for an expensive textbook if you’re not going to use it? When you read, take notes on the margins. Paraphrase. Don’t highlight – that’s just an excuse to process the materials later. Process now. Synthesize now. For each paragraph, be able to summarize with a sentence or two.

4) Re-write your notes after each lecture. This may sound time-consuming, but it has saved a lot of students (I’m a TA, I know). When you re-write, you get to organize notes in a way that makes sense to you. More importantly, you get to incorporate the reading notes to your lecture notes.

5) Study at the same time everyday. Staying consistent helps you focus better. Make sure your study area has good lighting and little to no distraction. Avoid placing your desk in front of a window.

6) Write your paper now. There are no good writers. There are only good re-writers. Make sure you start your paper early enough to leave plenty of time for edits. Did you know that we offer free editing services? Take advantage! There is no catch – we simply love writing and helping others makes us happy.

7) Exercise your brain daily. A little brain teaser each day goes a long way. I like to begin my day with a morning latte and some fun brain games to help me concentrate better throughout the day.

We Say
A 4.0 isn’t necessarily a sign of a smart student, but it definitely is a sign of a diligent student. Hard work now pays off later. And everyone wants to employ a hard worker. No matter what career you choose, start with good credentials.

How to Deal with Work Bullying

First, I hope you’re never a victim of work bullying (or any other forms of bullying). Unfortunately, the prevalence for bullying is high. While we cannot control the bully’s actions, we can control our response.

Let me share with you my personal experience of being a victim of bullying:

I landed my first job post-college in a very reputable lab. I loved the work and was inspired by my employer. Unfortunately, these positive sentiments didn’t extend to all my colleagues. There is one, who we shall call X, whose mere presence brought me stress. X constantly belittled me with snide remarks, criticisms at meetings, and unwillingness to work together. While my self-esteem wasn’t hurt, I found work to be a very hostile environment. I began to dread going to work. Yet, I wanted so much to make peace, which consequently allowed X to walk all over me. My only response was to rant and cry to Thanh. This lasted for years. I held onto the hope that things would change, but they never do.

The bully must change. If not, the victim must change. I allowed X to exert power over me. If I changed my attitude – instead of giving in, but to stand up for myself – I might not have been bullied. I needed to first stop seeing myself as a victim in order for X to no longer see me as the victim. Otherwise, the vicious cycle would repeat and mentally break me down. Fortunately, I was able to escape the cycle by changing my environment. I resigned to pursue graduate studies.

Do not let anyone steal your joy. If you’re in a situation in which you can no longer navigate your own sense of joy, get out. Don’t be afraid to look for another job or seek higher education to advance your career. Know that you don’t have to put up with bullying.

Of course, I realize my advice is a bit idealistic. Not everyone has the opportunity to get another job or advance their studies. Yet, we all must make ends meet with or without a salary. So if you must settle for the less-than-ideal and temporary relief, below are tips to deal with a bully at work:

1) Show up. When we are not comfortable with our work atmosphere, we hit the snooze button three times and end up late to work. We’re simply not motivated to show up. But such attitude quickly accelerates into poor performance, which “justifies” the bully’s criticisms. Crush the bully with your work success.

2) Confront. This does not mean a rehearsed speech to be given at a scheduled meeting. This means telling the bully his/her bullying behavior while it is taking place. “X, you interrupted my report and I would like to finish.” “X, I appreciate the criticisms. How would you handle it instead?” “X, you’ve made a racist remark and I would like an apology.” These confrontations must be in the moment for the bully to understand where and when they have stepped over the line.

3) Document. If you believe that these incidents must be reported to Human Resources, they will need detailed documentations. Note the date, time, what happened (witnesses?), and how it impacted your performance and overall company success.

We Say
Stay positive. You are not the problem. The bully is at fault. It is key to always have control over your own happiness. Never, ever allow anyone to take away your smile and confidence.

A Happy Family

I once had someone told me they dislike me for my “perfect family”. We were too happy, which apparently was a flaw. So I told that person of the hardships my family went through, why we’re far from perfect, yet perfectly happy. And in many ways, we’re no different than the other happy families out there:


Bruce Feiler walks you through a business “formula” called agile programming that could be applied to families. Quite honestly, it sounds very much like Stephen Covey‘s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but simply re-packaged and given another name. Nonetheless, I find his talk applicable to the modern family’s struggles to function in a stressful and often chaotic world.

How to Cure Headaches

It’s a little ironic that Thanh is a pharmacist and yet I resist medicines until absolutely necessary. You won’t find me running for a Tylenol when dealing with the common headache. Instead, I rely on natural remedies that will not give me any side effects or drug dependency.

How to cure headaches… naturally:

1) Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to a headache (especially if you’re hungover). Drink a tall glass of water as soon as your head starts to hurt and try to continue drinking small sips throughout the day. You should gradually feel the pain start to ease. While a lot of caffeine is not recommended, you can try a cup of tea made from passionflower, rosemary, or lavender. Peppermint or chamomile tea can also help to relax you.

2) Eat. Lack of food can cause a headache, so make sure you’ve eaten something recently. In addition, some foods are thought to help alleviate headaches, such as almond and cayenne pepper.

3) Use a cool compress. Placing something soft and cool over your forehead can help the blood vessels constrict, which might ease some of the pain of the headache. This works particularly well if the problem is concentrated in your temples or sinuses. Grab a bag of frozen peas for an easy, no-brainer cool compress. Alternatively, you can soak up a sponge, freeze it in a Ziploc, and use it as a cool compress.

4) Massage your scalp, neck and ear lobes. Doing some light massage can distract you from the pain, as well as improve circulation and relieve tension.

5) Practice relaxation techniques. People around the world use a variety of tricks to distract themselves from pain. These include meditation, deep breathing, yoga, stretching, and aromatherapy.

How to prevent headaches:

1) Don’t strain your eyes. Every 20 minutes, look away from the computer screen for 20 seconds.

2) Maintain good posture. Muscle tension may cause headaches.

2) Exercise regularly.

3) Avoid or reduce MSG from your diet.

4) Stay calm. Being frustrated and angry may build up facial tension and eventually cause headaches.

5) If you experience headaches often, keep a record. This will help you identify patterns that bring about headaches, such as after a particularly stressful period at work, after communication problems, after eating certain foods, etc. Understanding these patterns can keep you from repeating them and hence prevent predictable headaches.

Good luck and stay pain free!