How to get ready for the 2063 annular solar eclipse

This morning at about 10am, George alerted me to the fact that the annular solar eclipse of our lifetime was going to be upon us presently, at 1.22pm-1.24pm SGT (Singapore Time). The next one is in 2063 and I would either be 79 years old or dead by then (cue the crying from baby Beano when she finds out that Mummies and Daddies don’t live forever), so I decided that I would quickly set up a safe viewing board for Beano (and the adults).

Here’s a diagram of my hacky setup…

A pinhole camera is doable but the output would be very dim and hard for a baby to see. Probably hard for adults to see too. So I decided to get some binoculars and build a simple projector with actual lenses. Benefits of living 5min from Mustafa is that I can waltz up to it at 11am and say to the man at the counter: “hello which is the best sub-$100 binoculars that you recommend???” And then go back with my awesome new binoculars and make a hacky job with some cardboard and tape, and get to a nearby hdb carpark rooftop by 1pm…

My top tip for people trying to build this in 2063 is to dispense with the tripod entirely and just hold it in your hands and lap as follows because ITS HARD TO FOCUS ON THE SUN IF YOU DON’T ACTUALLY LOOK AT IT.

I missed getting the ring moment on camera but I think got a pretty good view (and extremely safe view) of the eclipse anyway. I also pointed my preview camera at it and later when I looked I saw some refraction from the eclipse in my picture.

I don’t think baby was very impressed by it (possibly because she does not yet know what is SUN or MOON or SHADOW, etc) but now I have a great pair of binoculars with which to spend hours looking at the strange things people do on the streets of Jalan Besar / Little India when they think they are not being looked at…

Anodised Aesthetic and Cutting aluminium profiles at home with a small hacksaw


Can you cut small aluminium profiles / Maker Beams at home using simple tools? The answer is YES YOU CAN! I actually have never cut metal for a project previously and it sounds a bit intimidating but I decided it was high time to build with aluminium – and to use it to build the frame for my own sand turning cctv contraption.

Apple’s Anodized Product Design Aesthetic

Why aluminium? It has excellent strength and resistance for its weight and is corrosion resistant even in moist conditions. Its super light yet solid and would be totally solid even if I had motors turning a 600g box inside it. Possibly you could say I was influenced by the finishing of all the products that I’m touching on a daily basis… I spend hours each day touching the anodised aluminium of the macbook or tablets with similar finishes. So many products use anodised aluminium as a functional and aesthetic finish. So why not use extruded aluminium profiles to construct the exterior rig – surely that would be solidly functional and aesthetic.

I bought the Makerbeam XL kit (S$219) and a bunch of 100cm Makerbeam XL rods (S$15.50 each from SGbotic) and I needed to cut a few more down to my custom sizes. Previously I had built some things with much cheaper aluminum profiles but not all of them had this perfect finish, the corner cubes, and this slimness (15mm) suited the work well. The pre-cut pieces made it super fast to build a first prototype, and the longer pieces provided flexibility to cut and add on custom lengths of support.


All you need is a small hand saw, clamps, some lubricant and your kitchen table. And yes, even for those of you of ridiculously weak muscular strength, I promise that your cut rods will be of an acceptable standard. (I have zero arm muscle btw. I can’t even do a single pull up.)

All that you’ll need for this endeavour is:
A small hacksaw with a blade
A clamp
Spare bit of wood (for clamping)
Can of Lubricant

And some tissues to clean up the puddle of grease and aluminium powder you’re about to splatter on your kitchen floor, you dirty animal!

Hacksaws are basically those C-shaped frames which hold a blade using tension. You can get a cheapie (but solid) Lenox one for like $12.60, and the blades for about $2. There are plastic ones that go for even less! The blades come with a number, something like 18TPI or 24TPI (also written on blades as 18T or 24T). This stands for Teeth per inch. I happened to use the 24TPI one that was already in this random hacksaw I found. The logic behind this is that the lower TPI should be used for thicker and heavier metal. There’s apparently a whole science behind the thickness of material vs the TPI that you can read up on here. But obviously in all these cases its not just any random metal, but any kind of machinable metal (such as aluminium)

With a little sawing, the metal will bend to your will and you will have your profile lengths customised for your project! All you need now is to tap screw threads into the ends and you’ve got a perfectly usable part. If you are using the Makerbeam cubes they will very easily hide any rough cuts, or simply sand off the edges if they are going to be exposed.





You can see this work in motion at the President’s Young Talents 2018 show!

8Q @ Singapore Art Museum
8 Queen St, Singapore 188535
Gallery 3.12 (Level 3)
4 Oct 2018 – 27 Jan 2019

Using Paint and Plastics to Make Realistic Fake Cow Grass


A few years ago I wrote a series of short stories, one of which was about a social contract in which people were allowed to remain in an area if they totally blended in by wearing a camouflage suit. It was based on this story that I decided to make these red-soil-with-cow-grass ghillie suits:


In this city, all private land parcels exceeding the specified size must allocate at least 10% of green spaces on their land as a “permitted camouflage zone”. People who wish to use parts of these private gardens for their own leisure are legally permitted to do so, so long as they are in camouflage. Special camouflage suits are manufactured and sold to suit every type of urban space. Members of the public blend seamlessly into the private gardens, private landowners are unable to see the public in their parks — the suits rendering them invisible on first glance.

Some entrepreneurial individuals have been trawling through the streets collecting soil and plant material, sewing the organic material into suits for would-be park goers. In particular, homeless people have been taking the most advantage of this scheme, devising the most ingenious ways of producing a camouflage suit at almost no cost, and becoming virtually invisible within some of these parks. Many people in this city have mastered the fine art of blending in and remaining unseen whilst still in plain view.

It turns out that a clod of recently deposited soil isn’t really a realistic clod of soil unless there is a bit of grass poking out of it. The mound of soil must have grass because soil is the surface through which things intersect (light, buildings erupt from its surface, shards of greenery, etc), and without the eruption of grass from the surface it is hard to appreciate the continuity of the surface.

Like this…

So it turned out that my attempts to make a landscape work soon became a totally ridiculous painstaking endeavour to produce the most realistic cow grass by hand in artisanal small batches……

When I began conceptualising this new work, I originally intended to digitally print everything, but then as things turned out, I wasn’t quite satisfied with the quality of the digital colour once it was printed on fabric. Often digital print on textile has the odd, dullened sheen of ink deposited on the surface, dependent very much on the base that it is printed on. Mainly the fabric texture getting in the way. But colour is so important in this. As someone who has done a fair bit of digital painting, I consider myself quite knowledgeable about how digital colour or colour on screen works, but paint has always been a whole other territory. I don’t know so much about all the different mediums, or why there are so many different types of whites available in the shops, or why I should buy one brand of paint over another. So it wasn’t my first choice to work directly with colour or paint… its not a medium which I’m 100% comfortable with…

Fortunately, what I found is that one’s understanding of digital colour addition can be easily translated into real-life paint colour addition. And as it turns out – boy oh boy do I enjoy painting! I didn’t even think I would enjoy it so much! I don’t want to just paint abstract or random things, but I want to gain total mastery over the medium. To me, if I haven’t become good or precise enough to paint something ultra photorealistic at the snap of a finger, then I don’t think I could allow myself to generate any ol’ random paintings just yet. After this project is done, I think i’d like to try to master photorealistic painting. You know, obsessively painting images of thin-film interference or iridescence or something totally ridiculous like that. (But since I’m working towards a deadline, I’ll leave my idle dreams of painting images of tempered metal for another time…)

To the left, the paint, and to the right, the colour sample (some actual soil collected from outside)
It was easy to obtain an accurate colour sample for the red soil I wanted because I just kept a bowl of soil in the house for reference. However, I realised that the red of the soil was not necessarily recognisable as a familiar sight to Singaporeans – unless accompanied by a sparse smattering of grass, in particular, the grass known as “Axonopus compressus” or “cow grass”. But since grass is living material and not mineral, keeping a colour sample was harder.

Here was the grass in situ… (on a grassy mound in Buangkok)

First attempts at making a colour reference failed because I am a monster and I actually tried to laminate the fresh green grass to preserve. Not a great idea because grass obviously changes colour when COOKED, like any other plant or vegetable.

I iteratively improved the colour until it was as close as possible to the real thing. I don’t really like painting on paper. But I really LOVE painting on a transparent plastic medium. The ease of painting on smooth plastic, the way you can overlay it onto other things. I’ve tried cellulose acetate (aka OHP transparency) but that is a medium known to be vulnerable to yellowing and warping over time, breaking down into acetic acid or the plasticisers migrating outwards to the surface leaving a weird white powdery deposit. Now I’m trying Dura-Lar film which is supposed to be a mix between Acetate and Mylar – supposedly archival grade material which is partly made out of the resin Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET).

Finally, here is the colour reference I made for the plastic grass that I seem to be making in a very tedious fashion BECAUSE I HAVE TO DO THINGS THE HARD WAY.



I ended up putting some of the grass (that I hadn’t inadvertently cooked through lamination) into a dish of water and now it appears I am also growing grass at home. Maybe I will put it in the snail tank, so the snails can feed on it, and then the cycle will be complete?…

My basket of realistic fake cow grass

You can come to see the grass on the work I produced for the President’s Young Talents 2018 show!

8Q @ Singapore Art Museum
8 Queen St, Singapore 188535
Gallery 3.12 (Level 3)
4 Oct 2018 – 27 Jan 2019

Building a simple two servo walker

School’s out! Its been an extremely crazy few weeks at school so I’m falling behind in all the documentation of the random tiny experiments and projects I’ve been working on lately.

This morning I tried to make a two servo walker for fun. Something relatively uncomplicated. There are many tutorials online for one servo walkers (eg: B.E.A.M walkers) with something called a bi-core, which is a simple oscillator that allows it to produce more complex behaviours, and which also involves some gears (which I do not have). So I decided to try to build a simpler two servo walker.


This was my simple design for the walker’s feet. The script I used was a very basic edit to the default servo “sweep” script which probably needs no elaboration on how to use… because it just works.


Assembling it together – I used an Arduino Uno, two mini servos, a small breadboard, some garden wire, mounting board and electrical tape. In my mind, having the front legs go in a different rotational axis seems to make sense so that the feet will lift off the ground. [Later I did try making them on the same plane (but opposite directions) and it did not work as well… but this is a design that can certainly be improved on…]


One hour later and we’re already done!


Not terribly complex but it does walk about slowly…

DIY Wine-making with Lifepatch and Camera Hacking at L’Observatoire

On Saturday, we visited Isabelle’s fantastic little space/studio, “L’Observatoire”, near Turf club road. Set in a somewhat bucolic part of town – lush greenery, horse stables, and wide open spaces – Isabelle’s space was full of plants and specimens and some really awesome microscopes for observation. We marveled at strange little wiggly green blobs inside the cells of plants and stained sample specimens from mice and other creatures – the output from a set of optical microscopes, magnified onto a wall with a projector. It seemed a fitting setting for our friend Andreas Siagian of Lifepatch to conduct a little workshop on the process of DIY wine-making, along with other friends from Indonesia who were also visiting Singapore.


We began with a bunch of bananas. This was because bananas were the only fruit we happened to have there, and the store-bought fruit juices in Singapore almost always have strange additions to them. Naturally one could have tried using any manner of juice product as the base, but it seemed nice to start with the pure fruit. Here, Andreas explains to us the process before he begins…




We were using a packet of inoculated yeast (extracted from Soursop) which had been specially prepared by Lifepatch.



Boiled water was allowed to cool slightly and then added to a blender with all of the cut fruit. Some of the boiled water was used to rinse the containers that were to be used later as well.









The fruit mixture was strained and the larger pulp removed.



The packet of yeast was added to water, and then later added to the fruit.


A hole was drilled into the bottle’s cap, and tubing was inserted so it would be virtually airtight.



At this point, a little sugar can be added as well to make it sweeter.




The yeast eats the sugar, and turns it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is evidenced by the bubbling that will happen in the cup of water below, issuing forth from the tubing. When the bubbling has stopped, it means the yeast has finished its job. If there is excess sugar left, this makes the wine sweeter, which is why the addition of sugar can help result in a sweeter wine at the end, because there is excess sugar left after the yeast has done its course…


After the fruit-wine-mixture was prepared, what could we do? Well next Isabelle suggested we could dissect some pens. And so we did! We dissected the pens. The pens were empty, because the children use a lot of pens. We dissected them pens good, and squeezed the dried ink sponges to see if there was any more ink in them. We squeezed them until there was nothing else to squeeze.


After the pens were dissected, Isabelle took out a box of old cameras which she had been reserving for a “Tinkering Sundays” class she was conducting on 5 May 2013 for kids.



It was discovered there and then that if you give a bunch of artists/diy builders?/hackers?/programmers? some disposable cameras to take apart, they will be occupied for hours. If not days. Perhaps even weeks. They will be gluing bits of the camera lens to their smartphones permanently. I still have mine partially attached to my phone. You might have to pry them out of the work room with an electrified stick. It is truly that engrossing.








Mushroom which Isabelle picked up – with suspected beetle infestation.

[Note: Yuta’s horrifying mushroom beetle story comes to mind, he told us a story about how he had bought a beautiful ornamental hard bracket mushroom which looked a lot like this. One day it suddenly changed colour, so he suspected something was happening inside the mushroom, so he put it in the microwave, a few small beetles fell out of a small hole in the mushroom. I know, I’m obsessed with this story and you’ve probably all heard it from me too many times, but I still can’t get over it. I can’t decide which is more horrifying – the accidental death of the beetles? yuta’s decision to microwave the mushroom?? the idea that there might be lots of beetles secretly living inside these inert-looking mushrooms??? the secret life of beetles inside fungi, of which i know so little about????]


Dead Bee from my kitchen.


Dead spider from my table.


Dead wooly aphid. Yeah I brought all these insects as a present for Isabelle.
Other people bring gifts of fruits and wine when they visit friends, I bring dead insects.



The surface of some seed pods.


Basically I could go on and on and on…
Thanks to Isabelle (and her family) for hosting us at her wonderful wonderful space and spending the afternoon with us, and thanks to Andreas for conducting the little workshop! It was great to have other friends from Indonesia over (Ade, Coki, Monica) and to see Luis and Anne-marie there as well! Good times…