Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

I’ve been struggling to relate to how Covid-19 will affect my life, and those around me, in South Africa. We’ve largely missed the last few major new-disease outbreaks. SARS, Ebola(s), Zika, etc., surely a handful of sick holiday goers here won’t lead to anything major?

As of time of writing (13 March 2020), there are 24 confirmed cases of Covid-19. This compares against 20 cases in Italy three weeks ago. Right now, the healthcare system in northern Italy is completely overwhelmed, with over 15 000 infected. Is that where we are headed in three short weeks?

For those who still…


Central square of Baotou

Here’s a few things I know about Baotou (包头). Most of it is true, I think: It’s an industrial city of two million people in Inner Mongolia, a region of China. In the 1950s, the newly communist China’s central planning committee chose to turn it into a city, in order to produce steel; — factories that built tanks followed; more recently, two thirds of the world’s rare earth metals are refined here. Chemical complexes are used to separate ore into neodymium, cerium and other ingredients for smartphones and wind turbines, leaving behind a black sludge that’s drained into nearby lakes…


Dog who lost all their photos by Unsplash

What would happen if you lost your phone today? If you laptop hard drive crashed? If your USB-drive became unreadable?

Every few months, I see a post on Facebook where someone has lost their phone, and thus all their photos and contacts. It’s 2017 people. We really shouldn’t be having these issues.

So, what’s your plan against data loss? If you are not sure, I think this is a good place to start. I follow a few principles here:

  • Your biggest danger is damage to, and loss of physical devices that you have. This includes your phone, laptop, USB-drives, or…


Photo by Brian Gratwicke / CC BY 2.0

In my mind, there’s definitely a spectrum of when it’s OK for one culture to borrow from another. This ranges from “definitely not OK” (whatever the fuck The Color Run is), through “not so sure” (white people and dreadlocks) to “almost certainly fine” (non-Hindu people doing Yoga).

What’s the driving intuition behind this? This might be helpful: does the act or one culture borrowing from another cause it to out-compete the original, and ultimately diminish it some way? One key mechanism of evolution is natural selection, where organisms exchange traits with each other to pass down to the next generation…


Scaling up and getting fancy

This is the second of a two part series on technology available around addressable LEDs. Part one, covered different types of LEDs avaliable, microcontrollers and associated libraries

There are few limits to what you can do with a microcontroller and some LEDs. However, as you grow to a larger scale, or start looking at more complex graphics or interactivity, it becomes easier if we brought more layers of abstraction into play.

With this, comes a slight paradigm change in how we see your overall system. For smaller, LED projects, we tend to use this abstract view:

Conceptual view of smaller projects

Here, a lot of…


Me not looking too impressed. I think the distance does that.

Recently, I took part in my second Comrades Marathon. It was incredible to experience the race again, sharing the 89km route with almost twenty thousand runners. A highlight was the supporters. They lined the route, from the pre-dawn start in Pietermaritzburg, through the midday heat in the rolling hills right till the golden hours in Durban. The massive crowd offered much needed food, drinks and shout of encouragement to us throughout the journey.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive day, one element of this soured the day a bit for me. I am ethnically Han, of Chinese origins. On numerous occasions, I…


So, you want to play with addressable LEDs! Whether it’s for home decor, wearables, a hula hoop, making a video wall or winning Burning Man, they are great fun. However, once you know what you want to do with them, you need to decide what hardware and software to do it with. As often is the case, there’s no right and wrong choices, but there are better and worse choices. This can be quite daunting, so when the loud man at your maker meetup insists that “You should totally use a PixelPusher to drive some 2801s, but roll your own…

Shen Tian

Tinkerer :: shentian.me

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