My First Soldering Iron


Christmas comes early this year. Yesterday I drove to Sears and bought myself a new toy – an $8, 30 watt, 700°F soldering iron. I know nothing about different types of solder, other than not to breathe the fumes, so I just bought the cheapest type ($4) to get me started: lead-free 96% tin, 4% silver solder with rosin flux core.

I’ve recently become interested in electronics because it’s cool to make home-made gadgets, but mostly because I re-watched Iron Man several days ago.

The packaging of both the solder and iron is marked with warnings. The solder packaging states, “May be fatal is swallowed.” The iron’s case reads, “When used for soldering, this product produces chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.” Why only California? Do other states genuinely not know the dangers or do they just think California’s being a wuss?

Letter Frequency Analysis


This page analyzes a text’s letter frequency and is an emulation of Tyler Atkin’s page. One application is decoding a Caesar cipher. A Caesar or “shift” cipher is an encryption technique in which each letter in the unencrypted message is shifted over a certain number of positions. For example, A encodes into B and B into C. The cipher is named after Julius Caesar who reportedly used a shift cipher of three to communicate with his generals.

So how do we break a Caesar cipher? One technique is to analyze its letter frequency. In English, certain letters like E and T occur more frequently than others like Q and Z. By getting the shape of the letter frequency distribution and comparing it to the known relative letter frequencies of the English language, we can sometimes determine if a Caesar cipher was used.

Why I Started Taking Chinese Medicine Seriously


Growing up, I scrunched my nose when my mom opened the kitchen cabinet housing our supply of chinese medicine. Blackened twigs, pungent bark, shriveled roots, orange fungi, and miniature calabash gourd-shaped bottles of black beads. This trove of potions and powders looked medieval and mysterious. Enveloped during childhood by science books, I dismissed whatever didn’t have a scientific explanation, which included the seeming shamanism of Chinese medicine.

So what changed my mind? If it weren’t for Chinese medicine, my birth could’ve run into complications. The chances were slim, but you don’t want to mess around with the possibility of brain and internal organ damage.

(Used to Be) Easy to Cheat on Foursquare


Since I wrote this post three months ago, Foursquare has made their system stricter. You cannot do rapid-fire checkins and have to actually be near the venue. Nevertheless, I thought this was a pretty amusing post, so I’m putting it up anyways.

I just signed up for Foursquare and checked in several times to generate some data to experiment with their API. It’s easy to cheat.

The Wisdom of Traditional Cuisines


After reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I learned how much wisdom traditional cuisines embodied and that certain foods are eaten together not only because they taste good but because there are health benefits.

The Japanese eat raw fish, which can contain bacteria, with wasabi, a potent anti-microbial. Strong spices of cuisines originating from tropical areas have antibacterial properties because food is likely to spoil in hot temperatures. Asian cuisine often combines soy ingredients with rice because this makes these foods more nutritious than when eaten alone.

I Totally Called the Weiner Scandal


In my last post I said Weiner was most likely lying. Turns out I was right. I was, however, nearly convinced by an Ars Technica article that explained how the photo-sharing service linked to Weiner’s Twitter account could’ve been hijacked by a trouble-maker.

The news cycle moves so fast these days, that Weiner is already facing calls for his resignation by top Democratic officials. I’m still not clear on how/when Weiner had these online interactions, but my first instinct is to treat this whole scandal as frivolous political theater. If Weiner did all this on his own time in his own home, then this is a matter between him and his wife. If he was lurking around on the Internet at work and used the resources of his office to do so, that’s a different matter.

Why I Watched 24 and Heist Movies and Think SEAL Team 6 Is the Shit


I started watching the television show 24 in March. I continued watching despite lackluster dialogue and absurd plotlines for the same reason I enjoy heist movies and welcomed the news of bin Laden’s death: I love a well-executed plan.

If you haven’t seen 24, don’t bother watching past the first season, which is relatively the most believable. The show ups the ante every season at the cost of reality until Bauer is thwarting not one but three to four terrorist plots/corporate conspiracies/government coverups that include presidentiaal assassination attempts; nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass desctruction; and cyber attacks. And, yes, he does this all within 24 hours. Sometimes after just having been released from a Chinese prison where he’s been tortured for nearly two years. All on no coffee.

One of the Saddest Movie Scenes I’ve Ever Seen


I recently watched the movie Chinese movie The Road Home directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Zhang Ziyi. It’s a movie about two lovers set in the countryside of 1960s China whose courtship is interrupted by greater political events shaking the country. If you want to watch a happy, care-free summer movie, don’t pick The Road Home. It’s quite melancholy. While watching, I wrote down the absolute saddest scene of the film.

It’s Been a Great Week for Infidelity


This has been a hallmark time for tawdry exposes of cheaters, mistresses, love children, and alleged sexual aggressors. If you have any skeletons in your closet or lewd photos in your Twitter account and are a public figure, now’s the perfect time to bring them out. There such a media firestorm going on about the current scandals that hopefully yours will fly under the radar.

Here’s a recap of the biggest infidelity stories over the last two years: