Thursday, 29 August 2013

Upcoming DebbieTalks in September 2013

As we reach the last two weeks before I leave Singapore, I've somehow managed to get quite a number of talks lined up. So I've made a list of them...

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FORK4: 5 People doing Curious Things

29 August 2013
Barbershop, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore

I'll be talking at this TONIGHT! YES! TONIGHT! The other speakers are also working on very fascinating projects, including and Glad to be on the lineup, Shaun, Bernice and Shree are doing some really interesting stuff as well, and I'm looking forward to meeting and speaking to other curious people doing curious things in Singapore!

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Singapore Quantified Self Meetup

2 Sept 2013
7:00 PM
The Hub Singapore, 113 Somerset Road, Singapore

Speaking at a show-and-tell at the next Singapore Quantified Self Meetup! Thanks so much to Ciaran Lyons for organising it on such a quick notice! Debbie will be speaking about her 6 year dream map collecting project, and other data geekery. Perhaps there will even be some mentions of pomodoros, fitbits, gps thingamabobs and other obsessions...

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Goodman Arts Centre Open Day - Artist Talk - Debbie Ding

7 Sept 2013
Multi-purpose Room 1, Blk B, #01-07, 90 Goodman Road, Singapore

I'll be giving a short artist talk at the Goodman Arts Centre Open House. I've shared a studio with the folks from Studio13 for the last few years, which has intermittently served as a little hiding hole for quite a few of us over the last few years... There are lots of things going on at GAC over the weekend there as well, some of which is... well... quite family-oriented. And if you're there, you can also look out for the "psychogeographical games" installed somewhere on the 3rd floor, which have somehow miraculously survived the ravages of weather and footfalls since last year...

Debbie Ding - The Cobb (Lyme Bay, 2012)

A Survey of the Singapore Psychogeographical Society - Artist Talk - Debbie Ding

7 Sept 2013
Galerie Steph, 39 Keppel Road, Singapore

Finally, I will be speaking at my solo exhibition at Galerie Steph on the 7th Sept 2013. As you can tell, I like telling stories. So I will tell you stories if you come down to what will probably be Debbie's last talk in Singapore for a while.

Monday, 26 August 2013

12 Pomodoros


Pomodoros in Rome

One thing that has really helped me reduce anxiety in the face of a mountain of seemingly insurmountable tasks is timeboxing, also known as "the pomodoro technique".

A "pomodoro" is a 25 minute block of uninterrupted work time followed by a 5 minute break. During that 25 minute block I'm not allowed to do anything else other than that task. I apply the pomodoro/timeboxing to all activities -- including time for emailing/correspondences, time for mundane things (showerodoro?), time for fun stuff (nanoblockodoro? arduinodoro?), time for food (lunchodoro? foododoro?)...

I know you're thinking this is bonkers... but it works.

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I draw up a grid visualizing my day as a series of 30 minute boxes into which I can drop in my tasks for the day and my fun stuff for the day. The goal is first to break a difficult, complex task into small, manageable pomodoros, whilst never losing track of the bigger goals at stake. Next, I draw up a grid visualizing my day and available time as a series of 30 minutes and allocate pomodoros to these slots.

I can tell you it sure feels better staring into the YAWNING CHASM OF PANIC!!!

Some things I've learnt in the process of the last few weeks is:
  • Most of my writing-related pomodoros will take more time than I planned.
  • Most of my design-related pomodoros will take less time than I planned.
  • I find writing to be more meaningful work, but I dislike how I cannot multitask on anything else while doing writing work.
  • I find design work enjoyable because I can multitask and think about the things I'm going to write whilst doing design work.
  • Replying to email and correspondences needs actual pomodoros allocated for it in the day if I am to get any of it done. On most days, I will end up doing at least 2 pomodoros of emailing/correspondences.
  • Under pressure, I can actually design and lay out an entire 224 page book within 12 pomodoros.

And so folks, brought to you by the power of fastidiously squeezed pomodoros....




More information on the book here


More Tomatoes in Rome

I wish to add that I was very excited to visit Italy earlier this year to see REAL POMODOROS. I love pomodoros, but I actually absolutely hated tomatoes as a child. I have always been particularly intolerant of strangely textured foods, bitter tastes, or sour food. Tomato fell on the wrong side of unfamiliar and was usually sour so I would reject ALL foods with tomatoes or tomato sauce. I think I once even wrote a poem about HOW MUCH I HATED TOMATOES and stuck it on the fridge. To me that was the ultimate insult I could dish out to the tomato! In my mind I wanted to be a strange and cruel vegetable vigilante who would go into people's houses and take their tomatoes out of their cupboards with my hand and smash them on the floor one by one because I hated them!! The only way you could get me to eat tomatoes would be if it was wearing a disguise! I guess my childhood experience of the tomato had been marred by substandard produce....

HOWEVER - these italian pomodoros are nothing but a thing of beauty! The smell of the vine is sweet and fragrant. It requires no persuasion, for pomodoros in italy are always a joy to eat! Sweet and juicy, after you eat these beautiful pomodoros, you will weep when confronted with the flat, dull, yellowish and tasteless tomatoes from the rest of the world... particularly the imported stuff we commonly get in Singapore...

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Dream Syntax: The Book - PREORDER IT NOW!


After days of intensive work, I'm glad to announce that Dream Syntax the Book is almost complete and ready for preorder! NOW WITH 102 MAPS FOR EACH OF THE DREAMS - the most time consuming part of this project ever. And I've even made a mockup of what it might look up above there, in case you can't imagine how the book will look like. Yes, I was so excited about it that I even photoshopped an image of what I imagined the book should look like.

Dream Syntax is the first book by Debbie Ding, containing maps and stories of Debbie's dreams, 102 of them, from the last 6 years. It is written, illustrated, designed, and self-published by Debbie. I'm only doing a small limited edition of 500, which will be individually hand-numbered, and it should arrive on 5 Sept 2013, just in time for my solo exhibiton on the 6th at Galerie Steph (MORE ABOUT THAT COMING SOON).

If you're in Singapore, you can even place a preorder for the book now at You can self-collect or add a little bit more for local postage within Singapore. I should be figuring out the postage rates for International postage in the next few days, so stay tuned. Please support Debbie's first book!

Here's a peek at the wet proof from my printer (First Printers):






So how did this book come about? Well, 6 years ago I began collecting my dreams in map form, over various notebooks and papers. Eventually I realised this could take the form of a book. The book became a never-ending project. Eventually, a line had to be drawn! I decided to arbitarily stop at 100 entries for this book. But in the course of working on the book I had two more dreams. So I added them in. And then there were 102 dreams in the book. So that was the final cap for this book. But of course, the dreaming still goes on and on and on...

This is what the first notebook looked like from 2008:


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When I was hard at work laying out the entire book at breakneck speed, I had another peculiar dream about numbers. Obviously, it did not make the date cut-off for this book, but I think its still worth a mention:

Now, I've had many dreams about words and letters, but never any dreams about numbers. But after spending hours wrestling with page numbers and entry numbers, I had a dream that was basically all about numbers. In my dream, I was at the computer, writing out another dream in which there was a character called "3" and I was known as "1". My father came into my room and saw me typing out the story, and asked me "Why do you always have to play character 1? 1 is the smallest number! Why don't you play a bigger number?" And I said, "Don't be silly, 1 is also the most important!" I also knew that "1" was merely a role, a kind of stock character that many actors might play at a certain point in the course of one's acting career, like Hamlet or King Lear. At that point I decided to go outside to buy an unagi eel for my supper (this must be because that day at dinner, Kent had been going on about how his favourite food at a certain Japanese restaurant was UNAGI fried rice). Stepping out of the house, I walked down the street and past a room full of girls who were all 7s, past a middle-aged 26 sleeping inside a clear perspex box. The person at the 7-11 was a 47. I realised everyone was actually just a number, but I just hadn't properly noticed it before because I was not looking at it in the right way. I got back to my computer and started drafting out a map of these numbers I had seen. Over the internet, I also told George this strange revelation, "people are all just numbers!" When I told him this, he asked me what number he was. But then, I realised that I did not know what number he was...

Anyway. For more dream stories like this...




First Published September 2013
ISBN: 978-981-07-7491-2
Designed by Debbie Ding
Written by Debbie Ding

Friday, 23 August 2013

Comparing English Slate and Murai Slate from Singapore


These are pieces of slate recovered from Pulau Saigon. Slate is a metamorphic rock that is composed of clay minerals that have been put under great pressure, causing fine grains of clay flakes to regrow in planes perpendicular to the compression (due to the mica in the rock). As a result it will be hard enough to "clink" when hit with a hammer, and also have a distinctive layered appearance or "foliation".



These slates are known to be slate of UK origin, brought over on a ship from the UK to Singapore to be used as a building material for (colonial) houses here. The slate may also have been used as ballast. I was unable to find a chart or guide to identifying slates, as they are technically named after the region they came from. To the untrained eye, I guess they look like the traditional grey tones of slate from Wales.

I looked for more general information about slate produced in the UK for construction, and found various information and pdf guides on the English Heritage (Officially known as the "Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England"):
"Stone slates were mined at Purbeck in Dorset, at Collyweston and Duston in Northamptonshire, at Stonesfield and elsewhere in the Cotswolds, in Yorkshire and occasionally in Derbyshire… At Collyweston and Stonesfield, the splitting was carried out by frost action. The raw block was either stored underground or taken to the surface where it was wetted and covered in earth until the frosts came. The frost then swelled the natural moisture within the stone and split it into slates. Frostsplit slates may be thinner and therefore lighter than those split by hand."

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Sidenote: When I look at this, I think all this sort of stone collecting and stone arranging must be how the romans invented crazy paving. You know, CRAZY PAVING? All broken up into all sorts of interesting shapes? (Unfortunately this joke won't be quite as funny to the majority of Singaporeans who don't get to do any of their own paving ever, owing to the fact that most people don't have landed properties to pave...)



In comparison, this is what Murai slate/schist from Singapore looks like.

murai Schist


I noticed these specimens at the Raffles Biodiversity Museum were casually labelled "Murai slate". But a geology enthuisiast in Singapore would have more commonly read about the "Murai Schist" (part of Jurong Formation) in reports about Singapore's geology. But this does look like slate because the characteristic of schist is that its mineral grains should be visible to the naked eye. And I don't see any conspicuous large grains of mica flakes here, so I am inclined to think this would be defined as slate.

In any case, the two types of rocks - slate and schist - can be observed to have other similar properties - apparently the Schist is metamorphosed more than the Slate, so they are very similar, except that the Schist is even harder, and the equivalent of cleavage or what we would call "slaty cleavage" is known as "schistosity".

Also, from the report "Geology of Singapore" (Published by DSTA):
"It is not proposed that the Murai Schist be recognised as a formal geological unit, but rather as a zone of well-developed cleavage in rocks otherwise recognised as sediments of the Queenstown, Jong ,and Tengah Facies. The Schist zone forms a belt up to 0.5 km wide in Ama keng, trending northeast from Tanjong Skopek to include the area originally described by Alexander (1950). A small schist zone was found on the north arm of the Pasir Laba Ridge (GR 295494) and another zone, not recorded on the map, was found in the Jong Facies in Jurong (GR332452)."
So I guess the brown rock above might actually be Slate from the Murai Schist. Who comes up with all these terms anyway?

Videos of the Pulau Saigon Slate:

Slate (Top view)

Slate (Side view)

See also:
The Collectors of Pulau Saigon: Murex Trapa shells, and Pyrites (Fool's Gold)
The Chert of Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River
Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Collectors of Pulau Saigon: Murex Trapa shells, and Pyrites (Fool's Gold)

Why do people collect things? Do we collect them to remember? Or do we collect things so we can examine them and understand them better. Or do people just collect things that look like each other in order to pass the time? Whatever the reason, I find it fascinating that in the attempt to relocate the present-day location of objects from Pulau Saigon, two small "collections" have come to my attention. They seem to be man-made collections of items that must have fallen into the Singapore River, resulting in us "collecting" them again, many years after they were first collected by someone else who might have been living on or near Pulau Saigon, the archaeological site from which these items were rescued. One is what appears to have been a collection of a very striking type of seashell, and the other is of some pyrites...

Murex Trapa, or Rare-spined Murex



According to a fact sheet on wildsingapore, the Murex Trapa is collected as food by coastal dwellers, and its strikingly beautiful shell is also coveted in the shell trade. It is also listed as Vulnerable and "seldom seen" today, because it is an intertidal creature that is easily affected by reclamation and over-collecting. These snails do not live in the Singapore River, so someone must have been collecting the shells from the intertidal zone and bringing them in, for there are so many of them!

[Thank you so much to Tan Swee Hee from the Raffles Biodiversity Museum for showing me the collections of the shells from Pulau Saigon and the other rock cores, meteorites, and other geological oddities from around Singapore!]




Pyrite can be used for a variety of uses such as for the production of sulfuric acid, or for uses in the paper industry. What could these have been used for in Singapore? It is not clear to me, perhaps it will take a closer study of the specific industries that used to be on Pulau Saigon to determine this. Pyrites are also used in fengshui, where they are considered to be a good fengshui stone to attract abundance. When I was young, I had a collection of semi-precious rocks and my collection included pyrites, or Fool's Gold. So I also instinctively think of pyrites as being a kind of "collector's item", having collected it before as well. So no matter what it might have been used for, it could also very well have been part of someone's collection of rocks...

For more on Pulau Saigon, see:
The Chert of Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River
Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Chert of Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River

I must confess that I had not thought much about the chert of Southeast Asia until now. Is there a lot of chert in Southeast Asia? I don't really know firsthand. Most of the accessible beaches of Singapore are artificial and made of recent sand depositions from other places, and there are no points at which I can simply casually wade in and around the gravel of the Singapore River - much unlike the Thames in London, which has many wide banks upon which one can wander about without disturbance. I have, on past occasions, observed the proliferation of chert in the River Thames, and also, the endless amounts of chert/flint on Lyme Bay. So, what sort of rock is to be found in the rivers of Southeast Asia then?


Chert/Flint with cute echinoid in Natural History Museum, London


Chert/Flint on River Thames (London, 2012)


Chert/Flint on Lyme Bay (Jurassic Coast, 2012)

To be honest, to this day I still feel that my definition of "chert" is a bit fuzzy, despite having several encounters with chert and having read up on chert before. I do know at very least that Chert is formed by the recrystallization of siliceous skeletons of marine animals into microcrystalline sedimentary rock. From what I have read so far on it, I'm going to just take it to be a more inclusive term for most of the microcrystalline quartz or silica. And as from what I saw and read at the Natural History Museum in London, flint refers to the chert commonly found in chalk or limestone...

From Wikipedia: "There is much confusion concerning the exact meanings and differences among the terms "chert", "chalcedony" and "flint" (as well as their numerous varieties). In petrology the term "chert" is used to refer generally to all rocks composed primarily of microcrystalline, cryptocrystalline and microfibrous quartz. The term does not include quartzite. Chalcedony is a microfibrous (microcrystaline with a fibrous structure) variety of quartz.

Strictly speaking, the term "flint" is reserved for varieties of chert which occur in chalk and marly limestone formations. Among non-geologists (in particular among archaeologists), the distinction between "flint" and "chert" is often one of quality - chert being lower quality than flint. This usage of the terminology is prevalent in America and is likely caused by early immigrants who imported the terms from England where most true flint (that found in chalk formations) was indeed of better quality than "common chert" (from limestone formations).

Among petrologists, chalcedony is sometimes considered separately from chert due to its fibrous structure. Since many cherts contain both microcrystaline and microfibrous quartz, it is sometimes difficult to classify a rock as completely chalcedony, thus its general inclusion as a variety of chert."

I am fed up with local people having the name "Chert", thus foiling my attempts to investigate whether Chert rock naturally occurs in this region. Anyway, the reason why I am wondering whether there is a lot of chert in the Singapore River is because of this chert specimen in the Singapore River. Knowing that some of the slate comes from the UK, I realised I had never seen THE CHERT OF SINGAPORE in person before, although I have many Chert specimens from the UK, so I wondered if this chert rock had actually come from elsewhere....



Chert rescued from Pulau Saigon, a former island in the Singapore River

How do we tell this is "chert"? Largely because of its "waxy luster" and conchoidal fractures, which produce a sharp edge. Brittle materials such as chert have this quality, allowing it to be shaped into knives and tools.



Conchoidal fractures



Waxy Luster

Today I was very fortunate to be able to spend a few hours at the Archaeology Lab at NUS, where I attempted to do a preliminary photoshoot of certain artefacts from Pulau Saigon, and began running some shots through Autodesk's 123d Catch in order to produce 3d models of some of the objects. Thank you to John Miksic and Goh Geok Yian for letting me occupy their pantry for the entire day and sharing with me about their work. It will take me some time to process all the information captured today, but you can expect more posts on the topic in coming weeks... (They always need more committed and responsible volunteers at their lab to help them sift through, sort through, and wash material, so if you're interested in archaeology in Singapore and are available to volunteer your time on Fridays between 10-5pm, leave me a note and I will pass your contact on to them.)


Pulau Saigon (PSG) Stone and Rocks






14th C Stoneware


European Porcelain

Oh and another strange thing that happened is that I encountered the word "Diatomaceous" twice within one hour today. Whilst reading the comments to an instructable about building a solar food dryer to find out if others were worried about insects getting into their solar food dryer, I discovered a comment suggesting that "Diatomaceous earth" be scattered because its tiny, light yet highly abrasive nature makes it suitable as a mechanical insecticide, making it unpleasant for tiny ants to walk upon - basically getting inbetween their tiny exoskeleton joints and absorbing lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects' exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate from the inside out rather quickly, leading to the death of the insects. A few minutes later I read that chert occurs in diatomaceous deposits and that kind of chert is known as diatomaceous chert. The word diatomaceous refers to diatoms, which consist of tiny microscopic marine phytoplankton, along with their fossils...

Which brings me to.... MICROPALEONTOLOGY, and the study of microfossils! Anything that you can study with the naked eye is probably considered a macrofossil. Micropaleontology is surely a field of study that is after my heart. A micropaleontologist might typically be a specialists in one or more taxonomic groups because it is something that requires so much specialisation to study the fossils of tiny tiny creatures. Speaking of tiny things, this reminds me of micrometeorites. And subsequently... astrogeology. I think this week if you asked me what is my dream job might be, it might be to study to become a micropaleontologist or an astrogeologist. Yeah, I can dream, can't I?

See also:

The Mineral collection at the Natural History Museum, and Flint Nodules along the River Thames
Bone, Metal, Wood, and Other Artefacts found on Pulau Saigon
Made-up Road Names and Temporary Islands
Ruins in Reverse

Friday, 9 August 2013

Kellie's Castle

Somewhere in the state of Perak, Malaysia, lies a half-built castle known as Kellie's Castle. On the last trip to Malaysia, since we were driving to Sitiawan, the parents decided to stop over to see this so called "tourist attraction" or "haunted castle". On Wikipedia, it says that this was an overambitious building project from the 1900s by a William Kellie Smith, a Scottish civil engineer who died in 1926 and then his whole family abandoned everything here and went back to Scotland, leaving the ruins behind.


We got there and before ascending the tiny hill we decided to look for a washroom first. Next to this huge sign was a building with a sign that said TOILETS. Now I do not have any pictures of this, but I went inside this darkened, powerless building and discovered a scene of absolute horror, various horrifying smears including an open baby's diaper with indistinct dark masses in it. Needless to say I did not stay long to document this visually or to further investigate this perplexing situation. Upon exiting this "toilet", a few steps away, I saw ANOTHER toilet sign looming in the distance. Fortunately, this time, it was the actual toilet.


Many people stop here because there is nothing else in the area to stop at. Its also on this big map of attractions in the area, so I suppose that many hapless people traveling through these parts look at the official maps and think, "Meh, what else is there to see here since I'm here in this godforsaken place? What, did you say there was an incomplete, half-assed attempt at building a castle on a hill? And there's nothing else for miles? Okay I guess I'll visit the Castle..." This is more or less the same reasoning that led us to Kellie's Castle on that fateful day.


We were charged a nominal RM7 because we were considered to be "international visitors" which is another word for "SUCKERS AND TOURISTS".


When you finally get to the top, you will soon realise that it isn't very big to begin with.



As you can see, Kellie's Castle is basically a very modest sized castle accompanied by some ruins.


The people conserving the place have made a good attempt at making some signage explaining to site to visitors. But all things considered, its mainly a pile of slightly old rocks. Not really old even, but slightly old I guess. It is maybe slightly more than a hundred years old. That's nothing in the scheme of things. Even the building in Rowell Road was older than this.


One of the first signs that I saw there was this thing on the corridor. Unfortunately, after I saw this, I could not unsee it. My eyes were rolling constantly after this. Yes, it has that kind of effect on one. In case you cannot read it clearly, I have typed it out here so you can share in that eye-rolling experience.


William Kellie Smith died of pneumonia in Lisbon, Portugal, and was buried in the British Cemetery. Nevertheless, it is said that his spirit roams at night, especially the corridors, guarding his great mansion.

"Oh right so Kellie died in Portugal after a perfunctory ailment but still comes back to visit Perak all the time at the spot where he spent a little bit of time building some half-assed castle."

But the next sign was to be even more mystifying...


"Oh, hmm, how interesting, a European couple from Canada? Visiting a castle built by a Scottish man who died in Portugal? Hm. Yeah. Mysterious. Very mysterious."


And this one absolutely takes the cake.

"Ghost of a child who LEFT Perak at age 6 to presumably lead a long and unremarkable life elsewhere, coming back to Perak to haunt a castle that she has never seen since then? OH RIGHT! TOTALLY! MAKES SENSE! I READ IT FROM SOME ANONYMOUS PERSON'S ACCOUNT ON SOME BLOG ON THE INTERNET, SO IT MUST BE TOTALLY TRUE! LETS PRINT IT ONTO A METAL SIGNBOARD RIGHT NOW!"


Depressed by the signboards, I stopped reading them. I went outside and tried to kick this "wooden dustbin", but it was made of concrete.


There was a mysterious thing with blank sign. How sad, now we will never know what this is.


I found a dead bat on a window sill. I guess it just died of old age, or from the perishing embarrassment being a serious bat living in a not-really-haunted castle. Who knows, bats, and what they think.


From a distance I saw an interesting assemblage of things.


When I got close up, it said "BEAR". I think this was the highlight of my trip there.


For shame, even the dustbins are trying to escape.

Debbie's Review of Kellie's Castle:
"A whole load of baby's shit."


Oh and on the way out we passed the Hindu temple which William Kellie Smith was said to have contributed towards building because during the construction of his Castle, his indian workmen were struck down by the Spanish Flu.

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For his contributions towards their temple, they made a little statue of him besides the other deities standing on top of the temple wall. Cute stuff.