Friday, December 19, 2008

Delivering a 30-second elevator pitch speech on my work

Would love to make this public, but I guess not. The password is the same (if I had given to you before).

The "About Me" section on the right seems too vague. Oh well...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

1st Post-PhD employment

Bewildering - What I would describe about the array of group insurance programs (health, accident, life, retirement/pension??) I am told to choose from.

I am also eligible to participate in the state's Teachers Retirement System (a retirement plan for educators in this state), despite the temporary nature of my appointment. The details are still murky at this point, and will require some clarification from Human Resources.

I spent 90 minutes just to complete all of my employment paperwork at the HR office.

Oh, and paragraph 2 of my offer letter summarizes my job scope:

Your initial assignment, as discussed with (my postdoc advisor), will include planning and carrying out experiments, write scientific papers, mentor graduate and undergraduate student researchers, participate in the formulation and submission of research proposals, and work with sponsors.

In Hokkien, this can be expressed in 3 words - bao ka liao, or literally "cover everything".

The upside is that this is good training for potential assistant professors.


A PhD classmate, who is also starting his postdoc this week, albeit in Ithaca, was so excited about about the quality and quantity of girls in his new campus that he had to call to tell me about it. After 5 years of being stuck in a monastery, it is understandable. I hope he knows he will be working in a dungeon, but I guess life will be better since he has been assigned to mentor a SYT from China who is a 1st year grad student.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

I love the music stations for blasting out the christmas songs whole day long. They bring out the holiday cheer. The best thing to do will be to snuggle up in bed and read a good book. The Tales of Beedle the Bard, anyone?

Isn't it amazing? Just a few days ago I was sweating it out in a hot and humid urban jungle in south east Asia, and watching bikini-clad babes frolicking about by a beach.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Honoring all who served

As a MOH recipient mentioned in this documentary, "No one sets out to win the medal of honor. We were just fighting for our buddies on our left and right to stay alive."

In my mind, I was playing Vangelis' Conquest of Paradise and Warcraft III's haunting opening cinematic scene (and by extension - to LOTR's TTT and ROTK).

Monday, November 03, 2008

More Tales from the Lab

Over the Halloween weekend:

A friend was running this life/death assay on (some mammalian) cells. Cells which are dead will stain red; live ones will stain green. Then what she got was two sets of cells - one group staining both red and green, and the other doesn't stain at all.

We called the first set the living dead, and the second the ghosts.

Later she found out that she didn't add enough of the fluorescent dye.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Grad School is...

5 years of research blood, sweat, toil and tears (literally) distilled into a 150-page document (and 4 publications), 35 minutes of powerpoint presentation, and 1 hour of intense grilling by 5 experts in the field. The hope is that you will convince them enough to accept you into joining their ranks and sign the thesis approval form at the end of it all.

With this, the time has come for me to move on to the next stage of my academic career. It has been an enjoyable experience, from 1st year to admission to candidacy to ABD to final defense.

I am a little disappointed "that the heavens didn't part with trumpet-playing angels descending to announce this monumental occasion". And it had been unseasonably cold this past week.

Anyway, so long and thanks for the Ph.D.! (I like this written piece by Ronald T. Azuma). If only I knew what I know now 5 years ago...hindsight is always 20/20, but the walk down this path has enriched my life greatly somewhat.

One chapter closes, and I look forward to the next one which is about to start soon. I can finally embark on a research career. As my advisor said: "Grad school is just a nursery for budding researchers. You ain't seen anything yet."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Of Syntax and Grammar from English to Math and Science

Adapted from J. Engr Education, 2008, 97(3), 301 - 302.

Consider this:

It is very important that you learn about traxoline. Traxoline is a new form of zionter. It is montilled in Ceristanna. The Ceristannians gristeriate large amounts of fevon and then bracter it to quasel traxoline. Traxoline may well be one of our must lukized sneziaus in the future because of our zionter lescelidge.

Directions: Answer the following questions in complete sentences. Be sure to use your best handwriting.

1. What is traxoline?

2. Where is traxoline montilled?

3. How is traxoline quaselled?

4. Why is it important to know about traxoline?

- Judith Lanier

Now, anyone who is decently competent in English can answer the questions above without having any idea what the terms mean. But this judgement neglects the important point that a significant amount of grammatical and syntatic knowledge is being tested here. One could not solve these problems without understanding the differences between subjects and objects, how to identify verb tenses and endings, the role and implication of helping verbs etc.

There is a strong analogy between (the above) example and the use of mathematics in science. The mathematics in itself is about grammatical and syntactic relationships, and permits the drawing of complex conclusions about the placeholders (variables) without having any idea what those placeholders stand for.

...We not only expect students in science and engineering to be able to understand mathematics (syntax); we expect them to combine this knowledge with knowledge of what the math is talking about in a tightly integrated way to see the meaning of the symbols. This is different from straight math and can even lead to differences in the way equations are interpreted.

The Differences Between Meanings in Physics and Math: A Shibboleth

One of your colleagues is measuring the temperature of a plate of metal placed above an outlet pipe that emits cool air. The result can be well described in Cartesian coordinates by the equation


where k is a constant.

If you were asked to give the following function, what would you write?


The above is a problem whose answer tends to distinguish engineers and physicists from mathematicians. An engineer or physicist who works regularly with polar coordinates is likely to give the response T(r,q) = kr2, a result obtained by assuming the variables are related by the familiar polar to Cartesian relation r2 = x2 + y2. A more mathematical colleague is likely to respond, T(r,q) = k(r2 + q2). The function is defined mathematically by saying, “Add the squares of the two variables and multiply by k.”

The engineer will object. “You can’t add r2 and q2! They have different units.” The mathematician might reply, “No problem. I see what you mean. You just have to change the name so that each symbol represents a unique functional dependence. For example, you could write T(x, y) = S(r,q) = kr2.” Unfortunately, your more concrete friend (imagine a chemical engineer at this point) is still unlikely to be satisfied. “You can’t write the temperature equals the entropy! That will confuse everything.”

Many engineers, physicists, and mathematicians are surprised by this story. Each side believes that its way of using equations is the “obvious way” and that surely even a mathematician (or an engineer) would agree. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Each group strongly prefers its own interpretation of how to write an equation.
These two examples dramatically illustrate that in science and engineering, we tend to look at mathematics in a different way from the way mathematicians do. The mental resources that are associated (and even compiled) by the two groups are dramatically different...using math in science requires the blending of distinct local coherences: our understanding of the rules of mathematics and our sense and intuitions of the physical world.

Dedicated to those of you readers who did not get this joke.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Career options

You are given two choices:

1. A full time industry R&D position in a Fortune 100 firm which pays you very well (we are talking about being in a pay bracket at least at the 90th percentile of personal income in US), all the more so given today's tough deteriorating ecnomic conditions and in an area you are keen on plunging into or;

2. A postdoc in a well-respected lab whose PI was recently acknowledged by the US federal government for the scientific work coming out of there. The project(s) I am offered is challenging enough that will expand my scientific repertoire, and previous group members have had considerable success in finding excellent teaching positions (e.g. Imperial college, UIUC, UT-Austin to name a few).

Received a lot of conflicting opinions amongst my friends whom I consulted for their advice.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Day of rememberance

7 years ago, I remember stepping out of my "Transport Economics" class (at 9 am in the morning) and hearing fellow students in the hallway urging us to go watch cable TV. Apparently something big had happened in NYC and DC. I spent pretty much the rest of the day glued to the huge TV set the university had put up in the Memorial Union, and called home to assure my folks that I was safe and secure.

Tuesday, Sept 11, 2001. To the victims and survivors:

It is important to commemorate this day not only to pay tribute to those who lost their lives, but also to honor those who continue to live with this tragedy.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


This past week for two nights in a row I dreamt about my 1st gf. The details are fuzzy, but it is awful to wake up and to start the day in a lousy mood.

A quick check on this blog told me why. I am amazed by the ability of my subconscious mind to remember dates anniversaries.

Two years later, I still stand by the title of this entry.


Olandario, who has since deleted his blog, wrote this in 2006.

A neverending story

Now and then, I may meet an interesting new girl, and being single and desperate, I take the opportunity to get to know her better. It’s tiring; trying to know someone new always is. And as we grow older, so do the people we meet (unless you are a cradle snatcher), and there’s more to find out. And then there is the usual background research to be done.

Primary school. Secondary school. Junior college. University. Major. Favourite colour. Favourite book. Favourite animal. Favourite number. Favourite song. Favourite movie. Favourite flower. Unfulfilled dream. Biggest regret.

You labour at it, so that you may reap the rewards later in case things work out. But one after another, they fall by the roadside, and even though you stay as friends, when her birthday comes around again, you can no longer recall what her favourite cartoon character is, or what she likes to eat at a restaurant.

I no longer ask, because I no longer care to find out. No more hedging of bets, just to clog up my brain with more useless tidbits of information I won’t be able to recall when the occasion arises. But for you; I can never forget.

Jin Shan Primary School. River Valley High School. Raffles Junior College. University of Melbourne. Medicine. Red. To Kill a Mockingbird (one of them). Dog. Five. Right Here Waiting. Serendipity. Lilies (or at least it used to be). To be a singer. Not getting together with me.

It’s almost ten years since we set eyes upon each other in that classroom, almost nine years since we traded rubber bands with straws between our lips, eight years since you looked through the fourth-storey window and watch me kick a ball, and I saw you stand and sing on stage in that most memorable of Talentimes, and we got ‘married’ in civics and moral education class, seven years since I heard you cry your heart out on the phone, and we stepped through the gates of the same college, five years since you laughed at my clean-shaven head, four years since I bade you farewell at Changi, and you first got attached, almost three years since I did, one year since I broke up, and four months since you did.

A decade of memories.

There have been many times in those years when I have wondered about us, and where we will be in another decade’s time. Whether the meandering journeys we have taken since those heady secondary school days were meant to test us, and whether fate will bring us together again some day. Or as you once put it, whether we will return to square one after everything that we have been through together. If, we will ever end up together.

I already know the answer.

Happy Birthday.


And my greetings to another girl on the west coast.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Talk about school pride...

A labmate wore this T-shirt with the following printed in front to the office.

The engineers in my group: "What the heck is mjT???"

The 9 common types of PIs

J.W.Yewdell, Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 9, 413-416 (May 2008)


Writing a research statement/proposal is taking far longer (and more difficult) than I had anticipated. How would you know/guesstimate how much you can accomplish in the next 3 - 5 years? It's like writing fiction.


NTU is on an aggressive hiring spree for my discipline. The department concerned wants to expand by another 20% over the next 5 years.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Diet Coke and Mentos: Soda-Candy Explosions

Tonya Coffey and her students reported "an experimental study of the Diet Coke and Mentos reaction (made famous in a 2006 Mythbusters episode), and consider(ed) many aspects of the reaction, including the ingredients in the candy and soda, the roughness of the candy, the temperature of the soda, and the duration of the reaction." (Am. J. Phys., 2008, 76(6), 551 - 557)


1. The Mythbusters correctly identified potassium benzoate and aspartame as key ingredients in the Diet Coke–Mentos reaction. (Static water) Contact angle measurements were used to show that these ingredients reduce the work required for bubble formation, allowing carbon dioxide to rapidly escape from the soda. The small amount of caffeine in Diet Coke is unlikely to contribute significantly to the reaction.

2. The Mythbusters also correctly identified the roughness of the samples as one of the main causes of the reaction. The importance of sample roughness was shown by comparing SEM and AFM images of the samples to the explosive power of the reaction. Increased surface roughness implies a higher surface area to volume ratio, meaning that more growth sites should be present on per unit volume.

3. Samples which encounter less viscous drag and hence fall more quickly through the soda will cause a more explosive reaction. Also, for the same amount of mass lost, the eruption will be more dramatic when the reaction takes place over a shorter time.

4. Finally, hotter beverages result in a more explosive reaction. (A direct illustration of Henry's law and Le Chatelier's Principle)

The kinds of things researchers popping candy into sodas and watching them fizzle and frazzle.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Monty Hall Problem

This was shown in the movie 21. I got the answer wrong, and had a vigorous debate with a friend who was watching the show with me. It turned out she had taken a Math class on this in her undergrad. Bugger. She kept repeating - "conditional probability!".

Suppose you're on a game show and you're given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. The car and the goats were placed randomly behind the doors before the show. The rules of the game show are as follows: After you have chosen a door, the door remains closed for the time being. The game show host, Monty Hall, who knows what is behind the doors, now has to open one of the two remaining doors, and the door he opens must have a goat behind it. If both remaining doors have goats behind them, he chooses one randomly. After Monty Hall opens a door with a goat, he will ask you to decide whether you want to stay with your first choice or to switch to the last remaining door. Imagine that you chose Door 1 and the host opens Door 3, which has a goat. He then asks you "Do you want to switch to Door Number 2?" Is it to your advantage to change your choice?

Friday, July 18, 2008

F-king word play (on a friday)

From the MSN conversation with A, who prefers to call herself HG:

HG: sigh, and I kinda like this other guy... but since I've graduated, probably won't see him much anymore. Lately been wondering if I should ask him out

tk says:
fuck him lah

HG says:

tk says:

HG says:
not so fast bah hahaha

tk says:

HG says:
I don't even know if he has a gf or not... he never talks about his love life. hahahah. And I'm kinda not the person to ask. Hmm, this is going to be difficult. haha

tk says:
Doesn't matter right. Just go for it. Fuck the other girl, if she exists

HG says: >_< I just want the guy. hahah. I don't think he's attached though. Nobody else has heard of a gf

tk says: Not fuck the other girl literally

HG says: lol. I know.

tk says: But ask her to scram. lol

HG says: hahahhahahahah

tk says: fuck in these cases, have multiple meanings

HG says: Wonderful word. hahah

tk says: Yup. One of the most wonderful words in the English language.

HG says: lol. Versatile too!

tk says: Exactly

I first came across this when I was in BMT more than a decade ago. Self-explanatory.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hiring Illegals; School branding again

A friend was moving house today. He and his wife had boxes of stuffs and many were heavy, although the honor (of being the heaviest) went to the living room's sofa. We needed additional manpower, so we drove out to this strip mall area where there were many amigos (or 老墨) available for hire. We spoke to two guys and did one of these 'chicken-and-duck-talk' bargaining before agreeing on a price amenable to both sides. All payments were to be in cash.

It was an interesting experience, to say the least. The police knew the place well but no raids (as far as I know) were conducted to round these folks up for deportation. There is a demand for their services. We wouldn't know where to hire help otherwise. This is the kind of jobs that few (if any) Americans are willing to do. Some locals blame them for depressing the wages of American manual laborers. Sounds a lot like the arguments back home in Singapore.

It is a global phenomenon, a product of globalisation.


At the other extreme end of the economic/educational spectrum, there is this. The poster (sakky) has a PhD from MIT.

Prestige, prestige, prestige.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I am attracted to articulate Sg bitches women

I went to the movies last evening with two ladies from Singapore (and three other friends whose presence I we largely ignored).

While heading home after the show:

tk: Why are we walking so slowly?
girl A: We are strolling.
girl B: We are ambulating.

Sometime later, and still on the way home we ended up talking about this head at one of A*star's institutes:

girl B: She's a micro-manager who wants her PIs to present their research to her (and everyone else) at weekly group meetings. She's infamous as this neurotic/psycho bitch who goes nuclear if you attempt to answer back when she's shouting at you. It doesn't matter whether you are a senior post-doc/junior faculty-level researcher or someone fresh out from college. She will just scream at you regardless of whether there are other people in the room. It's kinda humiliating if your position is a senior one and there are college interns or people fresh out of JCs waiting for their school term to start watching you get run over by her. The whole atmosphere in the room would be very tense and silent except for her shrieks; you could almost certainly hear a pin drop. At one of those sessions, I realized that I had neckache after that. I was so afraid of even relaxing my neck muscles; everyone else froze too.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

'Allo Wolfpack! And some random walks...

Greetings from the Tar Heel State!

One of the most pressing issues facing mankind now. Also aptly the background theme of many presentations.


Nagging questions on my mind:

Is there any difference between chemical physics and physical chemistry?

What do you call someone dabbling simultaneously in research in physics, chemistry and biology?

Physical chemical biologist? Chemical Biophysicist? Biochemical physicist? Biophysical chemist?


I am leaning towards turning down the offer from Berkeley. I hope it is the right choice even though I have been given some time to think about it. Then there is an offer for me to go to NYU. Hmm...California or New York? Or neither?

Regardless of my choice, the path ahead is exciting. But the social life is extremely lacking / quite non-existent. Just got to know that my granny's friend is trying to matchmake introduce her granddaughter to me. I find it very funny. Is highly educated single guys a rare species? Why do I feel irritated during conference trips when my peers excused themselves to make calls to their spouses?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Building trust and relationships in business in E Asia

I am surprised this was only reported on WSJ recently. I thought it is an open secret.

...Karaoke in East Asia is serious, and its practitioners are far more earnest in their art than a group of giggling Americans belting out "Sloop John B" might seem.

For the unseasoned American doing business in East Asia, there is occasionally a darker and somewhat confusing side to a night of karaoke. First-time travelers could be in for a shock when they find themselves in a private room in a karaoke club -- common in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan and mainland China -- being asked to choose from a lineup of young women brought in to serve them. A visitor's first thought might be that the women are sex workers. They are young, often dressed in revealing clothes and ready to finger-feed customers fruit or whatever else they may be eating. In some low-end clubs, the women may indeed be sex workers, but foreign business travelers are unlikely to be taken to these places. At most places business guests end up, the women are simply club hostesses whose presence conveys luxury.

In some cases, it is considered rude to turn down invitations and you risk getting ostracized if you do so.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Science Comedian - Brian Malow

This guy rocks! Three of his classic jokes:

a. Some helium gas drifts into a bar. The bartender says, 'We don't serve noble gases here.' Pause. The helium doesn't react.

b. Says the bartender to a superconductor that walks in: 'We don't serve superconductors here.' The superconductor then leaves the bar, putting up no resistance.

c. Women have passed through my life like exotic particles through a cloud chamber, leaving only vapor trails for me to study for clues to their nature.

There's more in youtube where you can watch his performances.


Unrelated: Chemical Party by EU. (via lancerlord)

Monday, June 02, 2008

My Intelligences

The Rogers Indicator of Multiple Intelligences
created with
You scored as Logical/Mathematical

You like to work with numbers and ask questions. You learn best by classifying information, engaging in abstract thinking and looking for common basic principles. People like you include mathematicians, biologists, medical technicians, geologists, engineers, physicists, researchers and other scientists.















This is like so...duh.

Monday, May 26, 2008

On (potential) bondbreaker from China

An email to the graduate student body was sent out last week, giving us the names of the incoming class of 2008 and the previous institutions they attended (similar to this). There is this person from one of the Singapore universities. She is obviously PRC (I don't think Singaporean Chinese have names spelled like hers, but I could be wrong), and a google-search of her name + university showed that she had topped her undergraduate class recently.

I wonder if she is one of those foreign MOE scholars who broke/is breaking bonds to come to the US for graduate study. I intend to find out when she arrives on campus in the fall.

Now you know why there is so much ill-will and resentment by the Singaporean students towards foreign undergrads in NUS/NTU/SMU when it comes to this topic of foreign MOE scholars (leeching off the goodwill and generosity of the Singaporean tax-paying public).

Monday, May 19, 2008

Happy Vesak Day

It has not been a good year for many Buddhists, with the events in Tibet and Burma. And in the world of materials science, the Lotus Effect has been a hot area of research since Barthlott's publication in 1997. The two images below show the connection between surface roughness and self-cleaning ability.

Image Hosted by

Image Hosted by

Readers might also be interested to know about the petal effect. Surfaces are interesting, no? :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On how to win a scientific argument against your co-worker

Two professors, one an organic chemist (A) and the other a physical chemist (B), were debating the merits (or workability) of a certain synthesis pathway. Students from both groups were also present in the meeting room. Temperatures started rising when the former accused B of not being an expert in A's area and was attempting to just bullshit his way through.

B shot back: "Have you published in Science for a similar starting material? I have."

What followed was silence in the room.

Classic. A friend (later) commented: "That's just a very unfriendly way to do science."

Imagine a Nobel laureate losing a scientific argument, then s/he says: "Have you won the Nobel Prize?"

N.B. The above methods will not work if you are not as accomplished as your opponent. Then it might be better to shut up (aka the 'Asian' way of showing reverence).

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On technical competency and literacy

I had a good laugh when a fellow grad student in the department sent out the following (in pdf) asking for help in translating Russian. He wanted to know the chemicals listed. There aren't any native Russian speakers in my department, although I know a few in physics. As it turns out, universities (and by extension, colleges) are one of the best places to source for competent technical translators, especially if the said personnel had completed at least a Bachelors degree in their home country.

Image Hosted by

...Our work is critical to the scientific community, and yet remains largely invisible and poorly understood.

From individual scientists to multinational corporations, clients routinely need materials translated into many languages for information, publication or patent filings. Machine translation can't handle such complex material except for crude "gisting", often with incomprehensible results in our fields. Poor translation is costly. Errors compromise safety, intellectual property, and image as well as bottom line. Incorrect terminology in translation makes research disappear in keyword searches. Therefore choosing the right translator can ultimately save money and grief.

Being bilingual is no guarantee of written fluency or translation skill, and highly technical material requires highly developed subject area knowledge. If you don't know an alkane from an alkene - let alone understand a reaction scheme or patent abstract - chances are you can't translate it.

Translating Chemistry, CENEAR, 2008, 86 (3), 6

On a side note, I just discovered that German was required for graduation up till the 1970s in many of the chemical and physical sciences' departments around the country because so many important discoveries were published in German. Until WWII, Germany was the center of the chemical world. Already, in my research work, several important references were written in the language. Given that English is the almost universal language of science today, consider the communication problem for scientists of whom English is a foreign language. What if their native tongues is the dominant language for science and engineering? How will we feel trying to publish in their language?

As of now, I can't even write a decent Chinese essay, or a blog entry, let alone describe my experimental work using Chinese.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Alpha Chi Sigma

This boingboing post brings back memories. My dad gave me my first chemistry set as a Christmas present when I was in Primary 5. There were 6 chemicals in it, stored in opaque plastic bottles that had child-proof anti-tampering caps, along with two test tubes, a test-tube holder, a pair of tongs for handling the test-tubes and an alcohol lamp. (The alcohol was not provided, and I had no idea how to get it - the addresses of the vendors listed were all in the USA, and this was the pre-internet age). In the end, I resorted to sneaking into the kitchen late at night to use the gas stove to heat up my chemicals, and got an earful from my mum when I was found out.

Of the 6 chemicals, I remember cobalt(II) chloride, copper(II) sulfate, sodium carbonate and potassium ferricyanide. I wonder if that particular set was from the same company as that referred to by Thompson, even though this was already the late 80s. The upper primary Science syllabus given in school was very basic, and much of it devoted to botany. (Remember the Angsana tree?) It was very boring; then these chemicals fascinated me. They listed the chemical formulae, and the 11-year-old I was then couldn't fathom the combination of letters and numbers in one word. K3[Fe(CN)6]. It looked so alien, and algebra was only taught from secondary school (still into the future) onwards. But it got me hooked, and started me on my still-not-so-long association with the Central Science.

ACS recruitment letter

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Of different subconscious attitudes towards representations of our sexual organs

A friend and I were discussing about the similar attitudes (across cultures) towards humankind representation of our sexual organs.

In particular, I find this paragraph illuminating:

...We project our archetypal terrors onto the widow. It is black; it avoids the light; it is a voracious carnivore. Its red markings suggest blood. Its name, its sleek, rounded form invite a strangely sexual discomfort: the widow becomes an emblem for a man's fear of extending himself into the blood and darkness of a woman, something like the vampire of Inuit legend that takes the form of a fanged vagina.

-Taken from The Red Hourglass. Lives of the Predators by Gordon Price (pp 41 - 42).

In Chinese, the vagina is known as 阴道, or 'dark alley'.

There are other obvious ones - caves; where as children we read many stories of them being the home of malevolent creatures who would have no qualms about eating us alive should we ever be so foolish in trespassing their territory.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

And then we built phallic symbols to honor our heroes and gods. Even for my university - the most prominent landmark on campus is a penis-like structure that juts into the sky and a favorite of many official school photographs. A running (sexist) joke was that a female student could get an orgasm simply by impaling herself on it, if she could climb to the top.

Towards the end of our discussion, the friend simply summarized it as "Penis Envy". In coarser terms - the difference between 'getting fucked' and 'fucking others'. The former implies submission, subordination and weakness, while the latter simply means power and control of others. Do you want to be the ruled? Or the ruler?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Central me

God made solids, but surfaces were the work of the devil! -Wolfgang Pauli

This quote reflects the immense difficulties faced by experimentalists (ahem...) when characterizing surfaces (Rohl and Gale 2006). And the 2007 Chemistry Nobel went to a surface chemist.

So, think positively. It is a wonderful place to be in---getting paid to play with a diverse range of materials and really, there is no better company than a bunch of nerdy scientists and engineers. It's not blue-sky research, and it's comforting to know that the work will have a positive impact on increasing our quality of life.

Surfaces are the playground of Solid State Physics.
-E. W. Plummer

Or what my mentor likes to quote:

What starts here changes the world.
- (which happens to be a new theme for UT-Austin)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Internet vigilantism over the Tibetan protests

A mainland Chinese student at Duke found herself the target of her compatriots' anger after appearing to be on the side of a pro-Tibet independence protest. If you think the Wee Shumin incident was bad, this is worse. Her name, phone number, Chinese identity number and even her parents' home address and occupations were posted on the web.

Wang Qianyuan comes out at 5:16, and she's clearly standing opposite the vast majority of the Chinese students.

There's one spot in the video that's quite clear

At 7:05, a few classmates surround her, asking why she's calling for Tibetan independence, and not waving the red five-star flag

At 7:27 she retorts by saying that Hong Kong has a flag too.

Some of my cynical classmates claimed this was just her show to get a green card on the basis of political asylum.

The opening scene above reminds me of this movie (at the 8:38). Heh.

More on boingboing.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Stopping a physics experiment via...

a lawsuit. Possibly the most silly one I have seen so far.

Even CERN is compelled to have a webpage dedicated to addressing this *safety* concern.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Another geeky moment

Over the weekend, we were in a car driving towards our St. Patrick's Day destination. A fellow passenger (AP) was describing her recipe for baking chocolate muffins. I asked her about the type of chocolate that she used.

AP: No, it's not chocolate powder. It's like those you see coated on donuts in Singapore.
tk: Oh, you meant like nano-rods.
AP: OMG, you are so geeky! It's called chocolate rice, duh.

I am (still) amazed by my descriptions.

TEM image of gold nanorods, aka my description for chocolate rice

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy π day!

Time to go draw circles and eat pies...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Last Public Lecture by Randy Pausch - "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"

For those of us still middling along in life and wanting to find our niche. I hope Randy's speech will be an inspiration for you as well.

You can watch his speech on google video.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Audi Car Ad - "Break the cycle"

This TV ad grabbed my attention last week. I had a really good laugh, and the first half of the commercial reminded me a lot of my family's values.

Maybe I should get one. After all, she is already driving an A4.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Brain Drain; It's personal

Long time readers of this blog would know that this is an issue that is very close to my heart. I have lost count of the number of arguments I had with my folks over it. (These two entries are the more memorable ones.) In recent months, I have started filtering out (what my cousin describes as) such *noise* from home.

"We are all grownups and have the rights to make our own decisions. You know what you like and want to do, and you do include your family in your plans, except it's not want they want. That's good enough. You can't please everyone. Your primary responsibility is yourself.

Even if i am labeled as unfilial in their opinion, I don't care as long as i think i am right in my own opinion. I think once you get the green card and show them that you are serious about settling here, they will have to accept the fact, and respect your decision."

This bit of a comment from one of Chiang Nee's readers sums it up beautifully:

All too often, people attribute reasons for emigration to general poverty (economic, individual financial, health care, etc).
I am a Malaysian doctor, and have lived in the UK for over 13 years now. As the only and eldest son of Malaysian Chinese parents (one of 3 siblings), I am expected to return to Malaysia for various reasons. My parents aren't poor. I have just told them that I do not intend to return to Malaysia, and would like to live in London instead.
However, they are unable to comprehend or accept my decision, particularly as they lead prosperous lives in Malaysia.
Your article is particularly apt, as it illustrates that in the current day and age, there are many other reasons for emigration, beyond economic strife.
Even PM Lee Hsien Long's eldest son (and we know the importance of this person's role in the families of our culture), is contemplating not returning to Singapore.
I think people forget, that as general quality of life improve, one seeks other forms of fulfillment. That is just part of natural human development.

.. In the current 'shrinking' world that we live in, where travel and communication is almost universally accessible and available, I certainly hope that people around us will have a more open-minded perception of emigration. That it is not simply attributed to economic opportunities.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What's Your Story?

I found this while web surfing randomly earlier. How many of you know your family history?

My great-great-grandparents (at least 8 of the 16 I inherited my genes from) immigrated to Singapore from Malaysia and Indonesia. This makes me a 5th generation Singaporean. On my dad's side, his ancestors were wealthy landlords who once owned multiple pig farms in Java, and whose grandfather was a well-known playboy who practiced polygamy, dropped out of RI (the equivalent of secondary school today) and nearly squandered the entire family fortune away. His son (my dad's father) became a Chinese bookshop owner, and attended the bastion of Chinese education on the island up to Sec 4. He was visibly upset when my folks told him his alma mater was not in my list of post-PSLE schools.

My paternal granny was one of the lucky few in her generation to go to school (the one with the all-white sleeveless uniform) with a maid in tow. She still blames the Japanese for cutting short her education and having to start a family while in her late teens.

One set of my mother's grandparents were grocers; I still remember I used to look forward to the visits to my great-grandfather's shop. He pampered the young ones. There seemed to be an almost endless supply of soft drinks, cakes and the likes available for us.

For the rest of the story, much of it has been said already.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Poster for *safe* wiring practices

If you can't figure out what is wrong with this picture, then you are in trouble.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Consulting Career Expo 2008

I was at a career fair today with some of the biggest names in Management Consulting (McKinsey was absent as they start their annual recruitment cycle in Sept).

1. One company had this to say about my university (on powerpoint):

- Prestigious School
- Strong historical yield
- Track record of top performance by graduates already in the firm
- Academic direction in line with firm's strategy

And listed out our peer competitors:

- Penn, Berkeley, Wash U (St Louis)

2. Another lets slip that in this part of the US, Duke and the *college up the road* are the other core (strategic) schools they target for recruitment.

3. We also learned that applications and resumes from my school *will* be read by at least one alumnus already in the firm.

Advice was given: 'So don't try to (bullshit) us. We know the school, because many of us are alumni.'


The student consulting club actually shortlists applicants for club membership. 85 applied last year. They accepted 12.

Which is quite different from most campus student organizations (open membership). Elitism starts early. Even before you graduate.


My friend had this to say about such events.

"It allows both parties to pat each other's backs and do some joint prestige wanking together."


I-banks are pretty much absent from the campus recruiting scene these two semesters. I think it has a lot to do with the current situation in the financial markets.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Complexity + Tight Coupling = Catastrophe; Academic Job

A good overview about the current mess in the financial markets.

On Wednesday, August 8 (2007), not long after the markets closed, 200 of the smartest people on Wall Street gathered in a conference room at Four World Financial Center, the 34-story headquarters of ­Merrill Lynch. August is usually a slow month, but the rows of chairs were full, and highly paid financial engineers were standing by the windows at the back, which looked out over black Town Cars below and the Hudson River beyond. They didn't look like Masters of the Universe; they looked like members of a chess club. They were "quants," and they had a lot to talk about, for their work was at the heart of one of the most worrisome summer markets in decades.

...When the quants gathered in August, the most pessimistic among them imagined that the collapse of the subprime market could lead to a shortage of credit as banks dealt with defaults. That would chill the economy, causing worldwide job losses, still more defaults, decreased spending, and withdrawals from the stock market, culminating in a global recession, or worse.

Rumors now abound that the US government will cut the number of H-1Bs available starting this year, or next. Job openings for non-US citizens and PRs are being slashed as it is now. One is considered lucky to be able to get a job offer in industry this year.


A friend is suggesting that I apply to my undergraduate alma mater for a post doc position, in my former advisor's lab. After all, he is working on something similar to what I am doing now, plus I have prior experience with that lab.

Maybe I should just stay put in academia.


If you are considering an academic research faculty position, this will be useful.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Real life applications of STEM

Math (Geometry) for (straight) guys. (NSFW)


If there are openings for technology consultants based in Iraq, would you go? The company promises a generous salary and excellent benefits.

You would have to do quite a bit of traveling in that country though.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two Songs

Pay attention to the lyrics.

1. What Do You Do With a B.A. In English? / It Sucks To Be Me

2. Dear Mr. President - Pink

I would love to go watch Avenue Q (in NYC) one day.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Icy Igloo; Girl and her guitar

It was unseasonably warm here when I arrived almost two weeks ago. My friend picked me up from the airport in T-shirt and berms. Imagine that! In Jan! Maybe Mother Nature realized this belatedly and this weekend saw the first significant snowfall for this region this year. Temperatures dipped well below freezing; even the area newscasters admitted the weather is unusually frigid.

This, plus the fact that the central heater for the dwelling has broken down, means that I have been reduced to living an Eskimo's lifestyle in my house. The space heater I have unfortunately is only good enough for my bedroom; even at maximum heat setting I go to sleep wearing 3 layers of clothes and under 2 layers of blankets, one of which a comforter.


New tenants have moved in to the unit below mine. For the last two nights a girl was singing and strumming the guitar. I don't know who she is, but her music made me sleepy. It has been almost TWO years since someone last had that effect on me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Budget Crunch spreads to Federal Research Labs...

This is very bad news. Very, very bad news. How can they not look long-term at (alternative) energy research? Instead they waste all that money on oil.

And TFF's response:

TFF says:
come back to SG!
tk says:
haha. Why do so many of you want to go back to sg?
TFF says:
cos this is where i am born
tk says:
u are like the x-th girl to say that to me. Guess A*star will raid US labs for scientists soon.
tk says:
like what GIC and temasek holdings are doing to US banks
TFF says:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The final stretch to the PhD

It is no joke when my seniors say that the ABD stage is the hardest part of Grad School. Even the university is concerned enough to set up a Doctoral Thesis Support Group.

Dear doctoral student,

The University Counseling Center is offering a support group for doctoral students who are working on their thesis. The purpose of the group is to provide a mutually supportive environment for doctoral students to address the academic, professional, and personal challenges involved in completing a doctoral thesis.

Common topics addressed include: maintaining motivation in the face of obstacles, setting achievable goals, and working effectively with one's advisor and committee. The group ideally consists of 6-8 members who can make a commitment to attending weekly sessions that last 1.5 hours. Group members are asked to maintain confidentiality regarding group discussions.

Prospective members will have to meet with me for 15-30 minutes to determine whether the group could be helpful to them.

Warm regards,

(University) Counseling Psychologist

I must remind myself: the best dissertation is a done dissertation. Must avoid the "Dissertation as Magnum Opus" trap. This is what years of conditioning in Grad School have done to me. From someone who used to strive for nothing but As and distinctions, to one who will be happy to just pass.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Keep your options open, not closed

Seriously, why would a young, smart person want to tie himself/herself to a single employer for 6 years? In this New Age economy, job mobility and satisfaction is key. Unless you really have a passion for something that only a particular employer offers. Like the military or police force.

Oh, and if Singapore is *really* a nice place to work and live in, Lee shouldn't be worried at all. People will be making a beeline to work here. *Coughs*

Straits Times, Jan 11, 2008

MM's family also threatened by brain drain

By Jeremy Au Yong

THE problem of brain drain has hit close to home for Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

His grandson Li Hongyi, who is studying economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States on a Public Service Commission scholarship, recently advised his younger brother not to accept a scholarship.

His younger sibling, Li Haoyi, had just scored 43 out of a possible 45 for his International Baccalaureate exams.

Both are sons of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

MM Lee, without identifying the grandsons by name, related what Hongyi said in a recent letter at a dialogue session on Friday: 'He has written to his brother who has just got his Baccalaureate results, and says, 'Don't take a scholarship'.

MM Lee spoke about how Singapore was now losing talent because its English-educated population was marketable.

'Our problem now is we have an educated population, educated in English which makes them marketable,' he said.

'Way back in the 1960s we were net gainers because the wealthy countries, mostly whites, excluded Asians. So Malaysia's Chinese and other Indonesians stayed here. Now they leave.

'They go to Australia and New Zealand, Canada, US, and big open countries. Our students are now being harvested from the top colleges in the US,' he said.

As for his own grandson, it seems that despite the brotherly advice he received lately, Haoyi is thinking of applying for an Infocomm Development Authority(IDA) scholarship.

MM Lee spoke candidly about a chat he had with Haoyi over lunch at his house on Sunday, revealing that he had to ask his grandson what IDA stood for.

He was told it was the Government's agency for information technology.

'He doesn't want to work in any other,' MM Lee said.

'I said, 'Why not broaden your experience?' Anyway, I hope he does apply and he will come back.'

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Monday, January 07, 2008

07/08 crossover in Singapore

I have been in Singapore for about 3 weeks now, and have done a lot of catching up with friends and relatives. These are my observations:

1. Peers who are doing very well (financially) in Singapore now are in banking/finance/mgt consulting (apparently the US subprime mortgage crisis is still a non-issue), core civil service (earmarked for senior, superscale positions), and law. One has been made partner in one of the big local law firms, while another is slated to become CO in an infantry battalion sometime later this year.

2. IT and engineering sectors seem to suffer from wage stagnation and depression. Many of my friends in these two areas have quit to go into teaching.

3. The property market is crazy, and woe to those who got married last year (and those tying the knot this year) and want to buy their love nest. That said, two friends with their SOs bought condos in prime neighborhoods in the east without any loans.

4. H is a relationship manager in a local bank, and appears very sweet. But there is something *weird* with her actions. (No details will be provided, so don't ask.)

5. The friend's friend (TFF) comes across as very domineering and career-focused. My friend's information is outdated - she has left the ministry, and is now with one of the foreign investment banks - her portfolio covering the Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) region. We have met twice; it is unfortunate I do not have enough time in Singapore to schedule more dates.

6. In the ~half decade since graduation, the income gap is evident. Considering that we all come from a very similar top-5-JC science background, the differences now are big.

7. If you want to be wealthy in Singapore, it is very important to choose the right course in the university. If you are/will want to be stuck to this island, I recommend you stick to the traditional fields in Medicine, Management and Law. Engineers and scientists here are quite badly compensated in comparison.

8. Working hours in Singapore are insane, regardless of industry sector. And I thought America's is bad enough.

9. My cousin will be a VP. Not this one; She gave up the opportunity in order to have more time for her kids. There is actually a course in NIE for those on the principal-track. Just like the SAF (Command and Staff College, Warrant Officer School etc).


Although I am still on holiday, work emails have started to pour in. 2008 will be a busy and exciting year - I am referring to the career front of course. It will start with a 21-hour flight, and I am all geared up.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Two books this week

I re-read two books in my collection this week. The first one, Genome, by Matt Ridley has done quite a good job explaining modern genetics in layperson terms the 'formidable thicket of jargon'. All too often I have had accusations thrown at me saying I am out of touch with the society at large, and stuck inside the ivory tower doing my little nano-scale experiments.

Imagine the (human) genome is a book.
There are twenty-three chapters, called CHROMOSOMES.
Each chapter contains several thousand stories, called GENES.
Each story is made up of paragraphs, called EXONS, which are interrupted by advertisements called INTRONS.
Each paragraph is made up of words, called CODONS.
Each word is written in letters called BASES.


The idea of the genome as a book is not, strictly speaking, even a metaphor. It is literally true. A book is apiece of digital information, written in linear, one-dimensional and one-directional form and defined by a code that transliterates a small alphabet of signs into a large lexicon of meanings through the order of their groupings. So is a genome. The only complication is that all English books read from left to right, whereas some parts of the genome read from left to right, and some from right to left, though never both at the same time. (pp 7 - 8)

In some places, they call it Experimental Breeding. In Harry's world, it is banned.


The second book (actually, books) was Alice. Most of my favorite (fiction) books are children's books - including but not limited to The Wind in the Willows, Harry Potter and Pooh.

It seemed I am not alone. As Roger Green wrote in the Introduction:

"Alice, it is maintained, contains much that can be appreciated only by the adult reader; the same is true of many other writers whom we enjoyed first in childhood or youth...There is satire, allusion, even intentional symbolism in Alice that in most cases can be understood and enjoyed consciously only by older readers...These deeper meanings seem to give an added dimension, and with it some measure of immortality to humorus fantasy..."

I'd give all the wealth that years have piled,
The slow result of Life's decay,
To be once more a little child
For one bright summer-day.

(Charles Dodgeson, aka Lewis Carroll, 1853, written when he was 21)


Next on my list (to buy from Amazon) will be The Red Hourglass.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Education in Singapore

I found this at the Singapore Art Museum on Christmas Day. (Yes, I was at the museums on such public holidays... Nothing wrong with being at the museums; pondering over the exhibits beats squeezing with the crowds at the malls)

I can't remember the exact wording, but it certainly wasn't flattering...