Always wandering, always lost. Mostly quite happy.

 

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My last post was in February 2016. And scrolling through the graveyard of dead drafts I see that in 2016 I made a few attempts to write something. The last draft drafted was on the 31st of December, 2016. It didn't make it. In 2017 I hadn't even tried. Well, up till tonight.

Tonight there's something racing in my head, a little Tasmanian devil spinning around and around trying to get out of my head, onto the keyboard, splat onto the screen. Tonight I feel as if I have had an overdose of caffeine, even though I haven't had coffee at all. Tonight I feel a bit of vitality seeping through the cracks of my hardened soul, and if I knock on the right places, maybe we might just break the dam and get me out of this multi-year writer's block.

I haven't written in such a while! This business of self-expression has long eluded me. When I started my first blog (in 2005), I wrote for myself, and for the people who I fancied were interested in reading about my life. Looking back, I can't imagine why they would be - I had a pretty boring life back then. Life has since become multifold more interesting, but at the same time I developed an expanding self-censoring mechanism, a result of growing consciousness of the dangers of exposing oneself in this digital wilderness. A concoction of fears - of unintended consequences due to unintended audiences, from the revelations of my hero Edward Snowden, and of leaving indelible digital footprints for ever and evermore - rendered the impotence complete.

But tonight I'm feeling brave. Exhilarated. I need to tell someone. Hear me, everyone and no one.

I actually don't know why this has come about. We can find this out together. Writing usually makes things clearer for me. So, while I write this and while you read this, we are on the same page (literally and figuratively), just separated by space and time.

Maybe it has something to do with this overwhelming high that came out of a recent Youtube channel find - Acapella Science - which tickles so many of my fancies simultaneously that I'm experiencing this extreme joy. The below video is my favourite from his collection.

https://youtu.be/ydqReeTV_vk

I must have listened to it at least twenty times by now, but I still experience this frisson from how perfect the vocal arrangement is, and how the lyrics snap into place in beautiful precision. That I am dancing to celebrate art and science, together. There's something spiritual about this. I want to never stop listening to it, but yet I am afraid to exhaust the magical energy that I'm harvesting. At least there are about 10 science songs from his channel that I'm rotating.

And the more that I think about it, the more I feel that the draw to me is not only the marriage between art and science, but how unapologetically nerdy this musical scientist Tim Blais is. The rendition is impeccable, but what shines through is Blais' strong conviction in his art and science, no matter how obscure and arcane the subject matter might be, or how niche the audience might be. More than beauty, I draw courage from this steadfastness to be true to oneself and to execute that self-expression into perfection.

The result is distilled joy. I am going to bed with a smile on my face tonight.

Maybe, just maybe, I can write again.

 

It's 10:30am and since this morning I've been tinkering with the solar cooker that I've made out of makeshift materials. Inspiration struck yesterday and I was watching youtube videos and perusing the resources from the good folks of Solar Cookers International Network - while waiting for the sun to rise today - and so here we are, with an old cardboard box lined with aluminium foil, seated in a polystyrene box, positioned in the most sun-optimal part of the house at the balcony.

The lined cardboard box is covered with a pane of glass that I happened to have lying around (yay greenhouse effect!) and in it is a black baking tin. My thermometer that measures up to 110 deg C is lying in the box as well. The polystyrene box outside is for keeping the heat in, and doubles as a convenient holder for the heat reflector (usually used in cars against windshields to keep the sun out - in this case it is amplifying the sun's effect on my solar cooker). The baking tin is black because black absorbs heat most readily.

Side view

Side view

Top view

Top view

Back view

Back view

9:30am: Temperature in solar cooker is at 29deg C.

10:15am: Took a salted egg (the type that is wrapped with black salt) from the fridge and put it into my black baking tin, as the very first thing that I am going to cook in the solar cooker. I didn't have any other cookware that was black, and the baking tin didn't have a lid - so I chose to cook something that was black as well, with no water vapour.

The temperature within the solar cooker is 30deg C. The sky is cloudy. There is some intermittent sunlight shining onto the trees right outside my balcony, but usually direct sunlight doesn't come onto my balcony till about noon, and only comes for 1-2 hours. This will change as we go further into the year, mid year we get, I think, about 5-6 hours of full sun. That is when I think I'll be able to really take advantage of the sun for cooking.

Salted egg in baking dish

Salted egg in baking dish

10:45am: Temperature is at 32deg C. It is still overcast.

10:54am: Checked weather forecast - it seems that it will rain in the afternoon. Should have checked the weather forecast earlier :(

11:03am: Temperature now is at 33deg C. A tiny sliver of direct sun is showing itself on the next wall - it will come our way in about 1.5 hour's time. It's windy and cloudy.

11:14am: It's still at 33deg C, though I thought that the glass felt a little warm when I hovered my hand over it. Leo didn't feel it though so maybe it's my brain manifesting its wishful thinking. I am now wearing sunglasses when I go check on the cooker.

11:31am: It seems to have dropped to 32deg C. I am feeling dejected and my only source of hope is the expanding sliver of sun on the next wall. I have also found some recipes on the Solar Cooking Wiki (part of the Solar Cookers International Network website).

12:07pm: The temperature is now at 34deg C. The sun is advancing, but the sky remains cloudy. The hope is that the rain will come after I get some of my full sun, just to see how high the temperature can go. I am full of regret that I didn't do this experiment a few days earlier when it was so warm. Still, my sunglasses are perched on the top of my head as I write this, indicating my adamant optimism for a better outcome every time I go check on it.

12:20pm: 36deg C, go sun, go! Incidentally, I rediscovered this product which is called the Go Sun stove, which seems to be the coolest thing for camping. I got to know about it some time ago when I chanced upon its Kickstarter page, and it looks like nowadays it's in production. It's not cheap, and I wonder if it's possible to try to make a copycat product based on same principles. I now regret that I never spent much time learning woodwork or metalwork in Kemahiran Hidup back in high school. Would be useful now when I'm life hacking.

Source: Go Sun Stove

Source: Go Sun Stove

12:32pm: 37.5deg C. Unfortunately there's a big thick rain cloud above in the sky which I observed with annoyance through my sunglasses. Taking off the glasses did not help assuage the worry that my hopes of a full sun may be dashed. Well, as long as it's not raining the solar cooker will remain standing out there. The glass does feel warm to the touch now, as it's a titch above my body temperature.

12:45pm: 37deg C. The rainclouds are really heaping in, and I'm slowly losing faith. Spot, in a gamely show of solidarity, is now camping beside the solar cooker and keeping watch.

Spot is keeping watch

Spot is keeping watch

Rain clouds :(

Angry sky being angry

12:55pm: I watch in despair as the temperature recedes to 35deg C. Spotty got bored and left. Maybe it's a sign that today's not a good day for solar cooking.

1:34pm: It's 37deg C again. The rain has not begun pelting down although it had been threatening to do so for the past hour. If the rain clouds were gone, the sun would be right on the solar cooker by this time - which probably explains the increase of temperature again, even if the sky looks pretty dark by now.

1:50pm: It's 38deg C. I doubt that we will get much further progress today though, even if it hasn't started raining - in an hour or so the hypothetical direct sun (behind layers and layers of clouds) will have deserted my balcony, and so I don't think the temperature will rise any further. I'll still keep it out there but it seems a lost cause by now.

1:52pm: Just started raining :( Mission aborted. Brought the whole setup indoors. Better luck tomorrow.

1:58pm: Started wondering if I could try to set up a project regarding rainwater as well - if you can't beat them, join them right? Maybe a rain chain? To harvest downpours of rain?

Rain chain

Rain chain (source)

Notes:

  1. Always check the weather forecast first. ;_;
  2. As a proof of concept I probably chose the worst day to test the prototype. Even though the sun wasn't out the oven's temperature rose steadily, but then it receded when the sky made clear its decision to rain on my solar cooking parade. Hence we have no idea if this thing will work or not.
  3. It was fortunate that I didn't lay out any elaborate recipe and only put a single egg into the baking tin, but this was because I didn't have a lid for my baking tin and didn't want the ingredients to steam up my greenhouse glass lid (which I assume is a problem - not sure if it is). So I gotta figure out the lid problem or get another cooking container.

The funny thing about this project is that while the sun has mostly been a source of annoyance in a major part of my tropical life (until I visited temperate countries, which was when I realised that we're lucky and ungrateful bastards in this side of the world), now I'm actually eager for it to unleash its full power on my balcony so that I can see if this solar cooker works. Goes to show what a change of perspective can do to one's likes and dislikes.

So I've finally bitten the bullet, beat procrastination, and planted some seeds. I had wanted to do it for the longest time but didn't, because of one problem or another. Either I didn't have the right containers, or I didn't have soil, or I was in Japan.

But tonight the stars aligned and I planted some cucumbers, and four rows of leafy vegetables: 奶白(Nai Pak), red bayam (spinach), Hong Kong Sawi (香港菜心)and round bayam. Writing this down to note the date. All the plants are in recycled containers - the cucumbers are in some old ice-cream cartons, the leafy greens are in polystyrene boxes that I dumpsterdived after the pasar malam yesterday.

I'm excited and cannot wait for the month or so for harvest! Getting ahead of myself - let's just first look forward to the sprouting of the seeds :D