A Science Project: “Make the 486 Great Again!” – Modern Linux in an ancient PC

What is the oldest x86 processor that is still supported by a modern Linux kernel in present time?

I asked the above quiz question during the Geekcamp tech conference in Nov 2017 during my emcee role. The theoretical answer as you can glean from the title of this post is the 486 which was first released in 1989. I determined that fact from this article where support for the 386 was dropped in Dec 2012.

To get you interested, here is the result of my effort.

The white smudge on the screen is not the camera’s fault, there is really a backlight problem with my old 19″ monitor.

You can skip to 11:39 when the boot completes.

00:00 to 00:46 – BIOS

00:46 to 11:39 – Bootup. It takes almost 11mins to bootup!

11:39 to 13:14 – System specs, IP info and ALSA mixer

13:14 to 15:00 – Playing music via Sound Blaster 16

15:00 to 17:25 – SSH while playing (stuttering) music in the background. With AlsaMixer adjusting volume.

17:25 to 17:48 – Opening a webpage hosted by nginx.

18:10 to 20:13 – Git clone a repo.

20:13 to 21:13 – Using Python 3.6.3

21:13 to 21:43 – Cleanup and issue shutdown command

21:43 to End – Shutdown. It takes 5.5 mins to shutdown!

Interested in how I got a modern Linux kernel 4.14.8 (released in December 2017) to run on this ancient PC? Read on!


My First Conference Emcee Experience

Yay, conference emcee achievement unlocked! Just completed my solo emcee role at GeekcampSG 2017!

With this I have completed the double trifecta of doing the roles of emcee, speaker and Engineers.SG recorder at both tech conferences and meetups.

Preparation for this role was quite a long time coming for me. I volunteered to be the Hackware meetup emcee for about 6 times to prepare for this. Even then, no amount of practice in small evening meetups can equal to emceeing for a conference 10 times the number of people that lasts the whole day.

Mandatory proof of doing the role.

Other than the sheer numbers and the usual task of introducing speakers, a conference emcee has extra challenges that I felt first-hand. But let me first mention the good stuff of being a conference emcee.


X commandments before finding a tech-cofounder/engineer

I’ve been approached several times by many people looking for tech-cofounders or engineers to help build a product based on an idea they had. After getting so many of them over the years, I decided to write this list of pointers based on the advice I have given to those who approached me.

So here are my X commandments you should do, think about or have an answer to before looking for that tech person:


First Flight Experience in a light plane (Socata TB10)

The first time I stepped on an airplane, I was 10 and was going to Australia with my family for a holiday. From then on, I always wondered what it was like to one day be the person flying the plane instead of being a passenger. Due to several decisions which I regret today like not joining the Youth Flying Club when I was younger, I never got the chance to do.

So when my friend Joyce told me her private pilot friend Roger will be going up to the skies with his plane, I jumped at the opportunity! It is not everyday that one will see a pilot controlling the very aircraft you are on and speaking to the air traffic controller in real time.

This is the plane, a Socata Tobago (TB) 10 co-owned by Roger. French-built, 13 years old and Malaysian registered (9M-prefix). It is operated under the Johor Flying Club at Senai Airport.


Repair Kopitiam specialty electrical tools (Part 2): Short Circuit Limiter

If you have not read the previous post (Part 1) on this subject, I encourage you but it is not mandatory to do so before reading this post. I’ll still go through the fundamentals in this post. If you just want to see the raw technical details, the schematic and code of this project have been open-sourced here.

Post Objective

To show why did I build this and how it works plus the issues faced.

The clean case hides the complexity within.


I’m a regular volunteer in the social initiative called Repair Kopitiam (RK) started by Sustainable Living Lab (SL2). On a monthly basis, we teach Singapore residents how to repair their household electrical appliances, fabrics and furniture. Our volunteers are also called repair coaches.


CV of Dating Failures

Recently I wrote a blog post on my failures based on the concept of the “CV of Failures”. Inside, it contains key things or events I failed in.

I got a comment from a friend that it was still the “easy” stuff with only one line about my 3-year relationship that ended years back. Although the CV of Failures is largely career/skills based, the spirit of that concept is transferable. I missed the elephant in the room which is about relationship (attempt) failures.

Sometime back also, my female colleague once remarked “You are not even trying”. It was at that point I realised that attempts are rarely talked about. I mean people occasionally talk about their failed relationship(s) (including yours truly) in 1:1 or small groups. Much rarer are about failed attempts to start as that is considered quite embarrassing. Attempts specifically applies to men as ladies rarely make the move. (Assuming a typical heterosexual narrative here)  If typical failures are already taboo, relationship failures on the edge of being off-limits, then talking about failed attempts in asking ladies out must be hell.

So let me go to hell this time to break what we deem to be a hugely embarrassing topic. I’ll not mention all the cases just the more recent ones that happened in the last few years. I see myself as quite systematic so I’ll mention the qualities I saw in the lady to make me ask her out, how the encounter roughly went and what I learned from it.


Book Review: Neither Civil Nor Servant (The Philip Yeo Story)

“life sciences graduates are only fit to wash test tubes” this statement I heard more than a decade ago was the first time I knew of this guy called Philip Yeo. Then chairman of Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), it caused quite a ruckus I believe in Singapore at the time where there was a strong push by the government into the bio-medical field.

That line partly factored in my decision against taking up a triple-science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) subject combination in secondary school. I opted for Physics and Chemistry only.

When I recently heard from online sources of this biography of the man himself “Neither Civil Nor Servant”, I was intrigued. I admit I did not know much of this supposedly very “notorious” Singaporean civil servant. So when existence of this book came to me, I decided I had to read it.

So here is my take of reviewing this book!


CV of Failures

I recently chanced upon the concept of CV of Failures from Princeton Professor Johannes Haushofer. He wasn’t the first to do so but I guess the first that actually popularised it. Inspired by his example, I decided to write the following post. After all, it is not just success that defines us but the failures as well.

I’m obviously not as academically-credentialed as this Princeton Prof so I’ll put up key events that happened in my life in both school and outside.

For obvious reasons, this will be an evergreen post that will be constantly updated.


A Science Project: Bringing the Covox Speech Thing to 2017

The Covox Speech Thing (CST) was a sound card released in 1986 by Covox, Inc to enable computers with parallel ports to have sound capability. Unlike modern machines, proper sound support was not a given on computers in that era and the Soundblaster by Creative has yet to be released.

As you will see later, the design is rather simple so I decided to revisit this old piece of hardware and see if it is possible to get it working on modern systems.

My remake of the Covox Speech Thing with a self-wrote media player software.

Video of everything in action

Video of the talk I gave about this subject at Hackware v2.6.

Slides of the talk I gave

If you are in a hurry to obtain the raw schematics and code, everything can be found in the following links.

Verified designs: Media player code, pure Covox clone, Covox clone with amplifier

Untested work: USB to 8-bit adapter, Covox clone with amplifier and USB 8-bit adapter


A Science Project: Windows for Workgroups 3.11 on vintage and modern hardware in 2016

(This is a long 5600+ words post, I recommend reading this from a tablet or computer)

Windows for Workgroups 3.11 (WFW3.11) was an operating system (OS) released by Microsoft in August 1993 and ended support in December 2001. It is part of a series of OSes released by Microsoft at that time so it is common for people to refer to it as part of Windows 3.1x (Win3.1). The specific history behind its name and version number and be found on its Wikipedia article. Here is a brief list of first-impressions I have if I were to describe this OS.

  1. First Windows OS to have practical (installable) networking capabilities
  2. Last one to not have a Start Menu and legacy interface before Windows 95
  3. Last OS to require DOS as an initial install
  4. Last 16-bit OS


Here is a teaser screenshot showing that I managed to get WFW3.11 installed on a “modern” 2009 Thinkpad T400 with networking capabilities. Recognise some familiar applications there?

My talk on this subject

I gave a talk on this project at Hackware v2.2 on 7 September. Here are the slides and video.

Demo video

About 8 minutes of video for the vintage computing buffs. This shows the results of my work.

Why install WFW3.11?