Sometimes, medium is everything

I sucked at arts and crafts. So when my primary school arts teacher told the class to come up with our own art projects to submit, I wasn’t too happy.

Luckily, I had a children’s encyclopedia (yes, it was still a thing back then…) and I flipped through the arts and crafts book… And found something interesting.

It was a woven seat. Basically you take strips of newspaper (the printed kind. Yes, it was still a thing back then…) and weave them together. I believe there were 2 sets of the weaves, and then you weave them together at the edges. Each strip was maybe 4 layers of newspaper, so the whole thing turned out to be quite bulky. And soft due to the material used.

My arts teacher was positively ecstatic, probably because my newspaper woven seat was one of the few original projects in the class. However, the “dirtiness” of the woven seat bothered her. You know newspapers are (were?) printed with ink, and newspaper ink can, you know, smudge your fingers.

So she asked me to make another one, but use construction paper instead.

That was hard. Construction paper is rougher and less pliable than newspaper, so it’s harder to weave. In the end, the one made with construction paper didn’t have the seat-feel to it.

A simple solution to the newspaper woven seat being “dirty” would be to wrap it in clear plastic. This way, the texture is retained, the softness retained, the “artistic” look retained, yet it remains “clean”.

Construction paper is just not very suitable for this particular art project. Sometimes, medium is everything.


My Open XML spreadsheet class is starting next Monday, 2 July. I’ve written a programming guide on the topic, but this is the first time I’m writing a study course curriculum on it. I’m excited!

Singularity Magazine June 2011

Singularity magazine June 2011

The June 2011 issue marks the birthday (birthmonth?) of Singularity! This is the 13th issue, and I thank you for reading the magazine. Download this month’s issue (about 7MB).

Behind the scenes

So I found a solution to my cat ride problem. I negotiated heavily with my cat, and she decided (rather imperiously, I might add) that she shall have 1 back massage per month.

“I thought I give you back massages!”
“Oh yeah, I haven’t done that for a while…”
*swipe claws*
“AARRRHHH! Whaddya do that for?”
“Ok, fine.”

So now I have fairies as hired help, but I have to feed them and they are allowed cat rides. My cat shreds junk email and I persuaded her to give cat rides. In return, I have to give her back massages. What have I gotten myself into…

I do landscape drawing too

For whatever reason, I was seized by the urge to try drawing. I was browsing in a Times bookstore, and I happened on this drawing kit. It consisted of a CD of about an hour of an artist teaching you how to draw. There’s also an instruction book for you to follow along. That was interesting.

But I didn’t buy that. After a couple more visits to the bookstore, I finally searched more on learning artwork. And I found a huge thick book by Barrington Barber, called The Complete Book of Drawing (Amazon affiliate link).

The complete book of drawing by Barrington Barber

After some self debating, I decided to buy that book instead. After flipping through a few pages, I sense I’m going on an awesome adventure. And then I went out to buy some minimal art supplies.

Art supplies

I practised on the drawing exercises. It was tough. I had trouble keeping my eye on the tip of the pencil as I drew. Eventually, I felt I could try imitating some of the tough-looking drawings in the book. And this was my landscape drawing:

Landscape pencil drawing
[click for larger picture]

I think I’m better at landscapes.

Lament of an artist

I recently came upon a tweet by Kathy Sierra. Here it is:
Mathematician's Lament tweet from Kathy Sierra

So I went ahead and downloaded the PDF file and read it through. Man did it resonate! Here’s a quote that practically captured the essence:

Mathematics is an art
– Paul Lockhart

Lockhart was describing how the current education in America was eroding the sense of wonder, discovery and thrill of mathematics in children and young adults. First, go download his article Mathematician’s Lament (about 25 pages) and read at least the first and last few pages if you’re in a hurry.

I don’t know much about the American education system, but the way it’s described, it’s bad. And the Singapore education system (at least with regards to math) is similar (well, at least from what I remember when I was studying). The sense of discovery just wasn’t there.

When I was about ten (I think), my parents bought me an encyclopedia set, Childcraft. The first book I went for? The one on mathematics.

I gorged myself on the puzzles, stories, thought experiments in the book. For example, there was that crossing of river puzzle, with a farmer and a sheep and a wolf. There was a story excerpt of Flat World, where Points and Lines meet the 2 dimensional Squares and Pentagons. And there’s a “proof” of the non-existence of vampires. And … wait, what? You want to know the proof?

Ok, suppose vampires suck blood out of victims and the victims become vampires themselves. Suppose there’s only 1 vampire in the beginning. On the first night, he bites one person. By the next day, there are 2 vampires. 2nd night, each vampire bites another person. So there are 4 the next day. I’m sure you can see how this goes… at some point, the doubling vampire population simply overshot the entire world population. But we’re still here, aren’t we? Hence no vampires.

Of course, that proof goes out the window if vampires don’t need to bite every night… or if they can control who to turn into a vampire… ok, moving along…

Oh yes, with this encyclopedia in hand, I learnt about the fun parts of mathematics. I learnt about the magic numbers of 3, 4 and 5 forming a standard 3^2 + 4^2 = 5^2 Pythagorean triangle long before I actually knew what Pythagoras’ Theorem was. I read about how the ancient Greeks were racking their brains for how to get a right angle, and they used a length of rope with evenly spaced knots. They found that a triangle with sides of 3 knot length, 4 knot length and 5 knot length, created a right angle at one of the corners. That was fascinating.

There was also this section on Fibonacci numbers, and a story about rabbits. The algorithm behind the sequence was presented with an interesting back story of an expanding bunny population. I remember in university, my professor mentioned the sequence and I exclaimed, “Fibonacci sequence!”. And my friend, who’s sitting beside me, turned to me and asked, “You know about this?”. Really? A math university student who don’t know about Fibonacci sequences?

I don’t know about you, but for all the talk about Asians being better (at math) (here and here), I think most of us still don’t get to see math as an art, as something beautiful to contemplate. I started out seeing math as fun, then later on as something scientific and not-so-fun. And after my service in the military, I went to university, and suddenly it’s fun again. I guess it took me a fresh perspective to view math once more…

And I think programming is like math. No, I’m not bringing in the meta-blogging type of “This blog topic is something like that” and go off on some far out analogy. I mean programming, like math, requires one to see the abstract, manipulate pieces of information in the mind’s eye, come up with solutions in the ether, and then bring forth the solution into the world.

Right now if you ask me about math, like really hard core math, I’d probably stumble. Partly from a long disuse of the principles, but mostly because unconsciously, I’m trying to capture that sense of wonder again. That requires me to shed some undesirable shackles and discipline, and allow myself to not know everything on the topic. Math fun is back in vogue.

P.S. The next book in the Childcraft encyclopedia I pounced on? The one with stories. I guess I’m a sucker for fiction. *smile*

Market of artists and designers

Also known as MAAD. It’s held at the Red Dot Design Museum (in Singapore) every first weekend (Saturday and Sunday) of the month. My friends brought me to this place, and it’s amazing!

Hand-painted shoes, intricately sewn clothes and detailed design in jewellery. What caught my eye was the stall on origami. The artist’s specialty is in flowers. They’re beautiful! Stand a few metres away, and they look like real flowers. I’m not sure if I could just take pictures of them though. The artist’s name is Kelvin Atmadibrata (origami artist).

Kelvin Atmadibrata name card

That’s the name card. Yeah, my phone camera sucks…

Further into the museum, was this awesome sight. About 20 or so artists sat resolutely in front of a model. Every one of them was either sketching, or inking, or water colouring. You can get a portrait of yourself after modelling for 10 minutes. If you like any of the paintings or drawings, you may purchase it at 8 Singapore dollars. You are of course welcome to buy all of them, each at that price.

Here’s one I particularly like. I don’t know the model’s name, and from the signature, I think the artist was Felis.

Unnamed by Felis?