DIY henna paste, designs, and thoughts on culture

Lately I’ve been on a fashion-y bent. I want to gain the basic skills needed to express my feelings about myself and the world (namely feminism, and often a lot of anger at the status quo).

I ordered from supplies to make enough henna to last me probably years.20150718_221031

1 x Cajeput Oil 1 ounce (30 ml) $6.60
1 x Jamila Henna Powder – 2014 crop – 100g body art quality henna $8.00
1 x Pros Aide Cream Refill – Small 1/2 ounce $5.00
1 x 10 Gram Glitter Poof Bottle – Prismatic Gold $3.95
1 x Mica powder – Pixie Purple $4.00
1 x Lemon Sugar Aftercare Spray – 1oz $1.99
Sub-Total: $29.54
United States Postal Service (Priority Mail™): $6.69
Total: $36.23

I also explored a bit of the “medical grade adhesive” (Pros Aide Cream) for sticking glittery powder on myself.


I made the paste with help from Marcela. It was straightforward, although there are long waiting times so it’s not an instant-gratification thing.

We followed the instructions here, or as below:

Marcela helped me with this. We dumped all the powder (100g) from the Jamila bag into a bowl.


added a cup of lemon juice


and mixed it


and then covered and waited 12 hours.


The next day (after the 12 hour wait) I added in 1oz (the whole bottle) of cajeput essential oil


and mixed.


After another 24 hours, I poured the mixture into an ice cube tray.


Then I stuck it all in the freezer in a plastic bag inside aluminum foil (to keep the light out).



I offered henna at one of my parties. Ankur drew a narwhal


and Julian drew electrical engineering symbols / circuits. It’s shiny because we used a spray bottle filled with lemon juice and sugar (to make the lemon juice sticky)


This is what it looked like after a day (the darkest is day 2).


On my other hand Marcela drew a tree and I doodled a robot.


I felt a little awkward about it (someone asked me if I’d gotten these at a wedding… which was not the case).


I chose to apply it with a cake decorating bag and some reallly realllllly fine cake tips from The idea is that with the coupler, changing out tips would be very fast. The Ateco coupler worked with with the wilton tips and the ateco tips I got.

  • Ateco Tip 00 $1.39
  • Ateco Tip 000 $1.39
  • Ateco Coupler $.079
  • Wilton Decorating Tip #1 $1.39
  • Shipping $4.95

However, in practice, I think in the future I would go with rolling my own cones to have more control over the tip. I’m told you can cut at a slant and that way, by controlling the angle and pressure of application, vary the line width a lot.


I also gave some thought as to the cultural appropriateness of doing this. In the end, I think I concluded that henna was used in enough different cultures that as long as I stayed away from traditional / religious designs that I didn’t understand / wasn’t a part of, it was ethically okay.

Wearing everyday clothing from another culture as daily wear (i.e. appropriately) is not necessarily appropriative, though it is privileged in the sense that you will not be treated as “fresh off the boat” when you do so. (

I agreed with the sentiment

Nonetheless what I really want to convey is that the meaning behind cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is being inappropriately used and instead of holding an angry, vindictive attitude towards others, we should be the wiser person and teach them and show them the beauty of culture.


and want to strive to be more in accordance with it. For a while I was offended at the idea of adding cheese to dumplings, until I talked to my dad who thought it was a great idea (just like easy tacos!) and realized perhaps my sentiment derived out of an insecurity about how Chinese I was.

Overall, I really liked the xojane article below.The basic idea here is that our parents had everything to gain by their culture being accepted, while as 1st generation (for me, “ABC” or “american-born chinese”) we may overcompensate for being “between cultures” (and others, not me,  have had the experience of being mocked for their culture) and be hostile towards other people adopting our culture.

I think mostly, China and Chinese culture is doing pretty well right now, so I don’t feel particularly defensive about it.

Rainbow Hair w. Joico + Waterfall braid (OHSummit projects)



I haven’t had rainbow hair in a while.

I bleached it once for 90 minutes and then again in three sections, the shortest section was 30 minutes and the longest 80 minutes.


The ombre effect didn’t really come out. I suspect the first bleaching needed to have been part of the gradient as well.


The bleach I did myself, but I had Holly J.’s help with the hair coloring. It didn’t look like much at first (wet)


But dry it looked pretty nice.


I used

Joico Vero K-PAK Color Hair Color – Red                     1   9.79
+ orange, yellow, peacock green, cobalt blue, amethyst purple (yes that adds up to a lot >__>). It was from
(shipping took about a week).

I chose that after reading the reviews on this site

I was a little underwhelmed with the intensity of the colors (they’re not super BRIGHT), but they’re very nice colors (they look very … soft and natural in the sunlight). I choise Joico after reading the reviews on this site:

The hair bleach I got locally, from Sally Hansen’s Beauty Supply store near Target in Somerville / Union Square. It probably cost me around $25.

The hair looks really nice with a waterfall braid

socks! as my grandma would say, “you’re murdering the scenery!”


Here for instructions:

Here’s how my hair looked after two days in french braids. So fluffy! Haha.


Open Hardware Summit Nails: Water Marbling (success with solid colors)

My theme for Open Hardware Summit 2015 was rainbow — hair, nails, and dress.


I also tried drawing with the white nail marker (on my right hand, pictured below) — here are some “color associations”, like apple for red. However, I think overall that added too much busyness to the nails, so I didn’t do it on my left hand (above).


For the process, I used $22 of nail polish from Target. The Sally Hansen “Hard as Nails Xtreme Wear” kind worked well ($2.9), as did Sinful Colors ($2.3 per bottle). I got all the colors of the rainbow plus black.

All important vaseline!

The procedure involved

  1. clean off prior nail polish with acetone and cotton swab
  2. paint nails white
  3. fill disposable cup with water to a level that I could easily dip even my thumb or pinky nail into
  4. unscrew all the caps, apply Vaseline around fingers from the tip up to the middle joint
  5.  drop in 7 or 8 drops of nail polish color concentrically (so at the center of the previous drop). After the first few drops, where the color of the nails polish diffuses a lot, the colors will become more solid
  6. Blow on it to dry the nail polish a little until it’s tacky, then take a skewer or toothpick and streak the design a little
  7. Pick an area I like and dip my nail into the polish, keep the nail down and swirl around until I get a clear patch big enough to bring my nail out. Avoid the walls of the cup or you’ll get a big white spot!
  8. Using paper towel and qtip, swap off nail polish on finger. This should come off easily if you applied vaseline. If not, it should wash off after acetone or in a day with normal water if you’re lazy
  9. Voila! Water marbled nails!

I also dabbed rainbows of colors onto my toenails (painted them white first) using part of a makeup sponge and tweezers.

20150918_140310  20150918_140050

p.s. If you haven’t seen it yet, this is highly recommended. It’s a similar technique, but in academia it’s now called “hydrographic printing” 🙂

Slides for Open Hardware Summit 2015 “The Rise and Fall of an Open Source Hardware Startup”

I’m posting the corrected version, with movies and font embedded.


In .ppt:

In .odp (the preview in google drive is messed up, but this file opens in libreoffice just fine):

@orangenarwhals on twitter if you have questions.

Infinity Dress Attempt in 8 hours


I wanted to replicate a dress I have for Open Hardware Summit (which I’m using as an excuse to start and finish a lot of projects, from heels to dress to earrings), but found it too difficult. Instead, I found this super-easy dress, which consists of just four pieces:


It is called an infinity dress because of all the ways you can wear it



My attempt came out more like a miniskirt due to some errors I made and lack of additional cloth. It also falls strangely on the front due to the lack of cloth pulling it down. So it goes.



To remedy it, since I have no more of that cloth and the store that sold it (Sew Low) is now closed (owner retired), I can 1) sew a different color underneath 2) wear a slip underneath 3) wear dark tights.

Additionally, the stretchy orange fabric causes… issues when it’s stretch thin. Ala wet tshirt problems. 🙁

It was all pretty straightforward. I’ll just document my measurements and cloth dimensions here.

  1. height 64.5”
  2. waist 31.5”
  3. chest center to armpit back 10.5”
  4. bottom of ribcage to top of breasts 6”

For the circle, my inner radius was 4.25” and my outer radius was 19.75”. Here is a picture (with the inner circle unfolded to show that the cloth is folded into quarters). I made the waist smaller than intended and it fit fine on my waist without falling down or being too small (although it did get on the smaller end of acceptable after I finished sewing everything to it).


I mark it, I used a piece of chalk and a tape measure, then anchored my right hand at the center of the circle and swung the tape around.




My rectangular cloth was 10” by 28”.


My long straps were 10.5” by 97”. I pinned them extensively down their entire length and the cutting was straightforward, although extremely tedious. The mat actually helped a lot, since I could line up the clean edges on the mat and actually see through the fabric to the white lines on the mat and mark down the entire length.


I used a single stitch, the straight stitch, no zigzag stitch needed (the second row on the machine), because the orange fabric was super stretchy.


The only part I found tricky* was which side to sew the rectangle (turned into cylinder) on onto the dress. I almost sewed it on the wrong side. It should be sewn with the top part of the right side is facing you and the bottom part of the right side is facing the mat, and the wrong side is facing itself on the inside. That way, when you put on the dress, the right side is facing out. The right side of the cylinder is facing the wrong side of the straps. The right side of the straps is facing the right side of the skirt. The bottom part of the right side of the skirt is facing the mat.



*I messed up on the skirt mostly because I wasn’t really paying attention and was listening to a podcast 🙁 I folded it in half and cut out the quarter circle, instead of folding it into quarters. Unfolded, I got two useless halves of cloth instead of a circular skirt.

All told it took me 8 hours to go from first reading the instructions to wearing the dress.

[the end]

Origami Acrylic High Heels — Rapid Prototyping on the Lasercutter

20150908_023610Click for larger image.

The Open Source Hardware summit 2015 is coming up. In preparation for that, I tried to make origami acrylic heels on the lasercutter.

To start with, I traced an existing pair of heels that fit my feet (although I eventually want to modify the design, the straps are tough on my 4th toe).

I took a picture of the heel and then using inkscape “select continuous region by color” (shortkey: U) and the quick mask mode (to edit the selection more easily), (shortkey: shift-q I think) made a selection of the outline of the shoe. Then right click > Selection > To Path. In the paths toolbar tab, right click > export path and save as SVG.

Screenshot from 2015-09-07 23:52:44

Open in inkscape.

Screenshot from 2015-09-07 23:58:16

Ctrl-L to simplify.

Screenshot from 2015-09-07 23:58:11

Now for the origami part. Credit for the idea goes to my friend M. We drew it out and prototyped it on paper first.


After scratching our heads a bit about the bending radius of the acrylic,which can get sharp 90 deg on the inner bend, we decided to go ahead and cut it out.


Now for the annoying manual bending step.I used a heat gun on hi for this, and would run it back and forth along the bend for about 40-50 seconds.

First I got some practic and some calibration in. Mark half-inches


then bend.


Now to try it on the heel. I thought I should bend one side first


but still ran into issues when it was time for the other two bends, since they interfered with any attempts to clamp them for heating.

20150908_020552Also, I may not have heated both sides of the acrylic enough, since the acrylic became bubbly when I bent it. . You also have to hold down the acrylic for a while while it cools, with something heat-resistant, or else it springs up a little. Here’s a picture of the issues with the second bend, which I couldn’t get as sharp


On the final bend, the acrylic outright cracked.


At this point,  I gave up. Here’s a picture of what it should look like, with me manually holding the pieces in place, and without testing by stepping on it and walking around in it.


I think I’ll be going with a 3d printed heel and have LEDs in it. I might return to this if I ever feel like duplicating the LaserOrigami setup.

I wrote the author of LaserOrigami for more documentation, who kindly replied

I only have the paper:

The most important things are the following:
– you need to move the cutting table far away to defocus the laser (I set the z-value to 50mm or more to get a thick stripe where the material gets warm)
– the laser comes from above and thus heats the material from the top. to have it bend, the material needs to be warm from the top and bottom, so you need to run the laser a couple of times back and forth with low power so that the heat has time to sink through the material. only when the material is warm at the top and bottom it will bend.
—> if you have too much laser power, the material will be too hot at the top (you will see heat bubbles) and not yet warm at the bottom. reduce the power or increase the speed and try again.
– be aware that if you have a filter running, the air suction will cool the material a bit. so settings are different depending on how much you turn on the filter (best is to decide upfront how much you have the filter on and stick with it). the settings are also a bit different if you cut close to the air suction slit or further away.

Nails Sept 2015

I played extensively with gradients (ombre) this time around. I think I need to find some China Glaze, a lot of the nail polishes were very dilute, so I had to go back and dab more on to fix the gradient.

I also used a nail polish pen to draw summer / water themed decals on top of the background gradient colors. I’m most proud of the one with the conch shell, though you can’t see the colors too well in this picture.





No USB MTP/PTP menu? Just dial *#0808# to enable USB Storage Connection Mass Storage Mode — Android 4.4.4 (Samsung Tmobile Galaxy Note 4), Ubuntu 14.04, Windows 8

Wow. Just wow. I spent three or four days just trying to get my phone to show up on my computer, and even rooted my phone. I tried everything — booting into windows and installing kies, mucking around with “mtp-detect” and “adb devices” and more on ubuntu, editing rules files.

Everyone kept saying “enable USB debugging” or “install mtpfs” or “sudo vi /lib/udev/rules.d/69-libmtp.rules ”  or “it doesn’t work on usb 3.0 ports” (I have a lenovo thinkpad x1, gen 2). Worse was the “just go to Settings > Storage >click three dots in top right > USB connection mode > Select MTP”

In the end, all I had to do was dial *#0808# to get at a menu that was completely, utterly hidden on my phone. I’ll say it again,

Just dial *#0808#

And select “MTP”


and now, when my USB is plugged into the laptop, I actually get the “select MTP/PTP” menu.


Solution found on

Prithiviraj Thambiras, thank you so, so much.


Screenshot from 2015-09-10 01:46:29

Setup Notes:

Phone, T-Mobile Galaxy Note 4 SM-N910T LTE on Android 4.4.4 KitKat

OS, Ubuntu 14.04 and Windows 8

Before Fix:

My phone showed up as a ttyACM0 device under dmesg | tail:

Screenshot from 2015-09-10 01:53:07

With no “…” under storage:


Harvard MindEx conference, this Saturday, 9/12 @ Sander’s Theatre

I’m helping with a conference this weekend (it’s free and at harvard saturday) with a pretty sweet speaker lineup, and has lots of topics on mental health, which i thought some of you might be interested in.

Please join us for an event focused on the brain and mind research: the MindEx conference, on Sept 12, at Sanders Theatre at Harvard. And join us on Sept 13 at Kendall Square for PG-Palooza – a hands-on, brains-on labs day!

Full agenda here:

The event is free, and more details are included below.

the keynotes are

9:25 am Dr. Martine Rothblatt
What I Learned from Being Labeled Mentally Ill and My Views on Some Challenges Facing Cyberconscious Minds

2:00 pm Dr. George Church,
The Current State of Personal Genomics

Other speakers include Ed Boyden, Co-Director of MIT Center for Neurobiological Engineering; and, Dr. Jordan Smoller, Professor of Psychiatry at HMS, whose research focuses on identifying genetic determinants of childhood and adult psychiatric disorders.