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The Poor Man’s Solder Reflow Oven

A cheap controller and a Walmart toaster oven kept the price down

5 min read
Photo of a toaster oven turned into a reflow oven.
Easy Baking: A pic microcontroller is almost all you need to turn a toaster oven into a reflow oven.
Photo: Tom Burke

Last time I tried soldering small resistors was an experience, I’ll tell you what. They were almost as likely to stick to my soldering iron as they were to stick to the board, and I burned plenty of them in half.

Admittedly, I don’t have the world’s best soldering station. In fact, what I have is a junky old pencil iron, not much better than what you’d buy at RadioShack—no adjustable temperature control and no replaceable tips. I also don’t have US $500 to invest in upgrading my station, but even if I did, it wouldn’t help much. I’m getting older—and so are my eyes.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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