Sermon Notes

A Christian in Academia

Some quick bullets from Emanuel Presbyterian Church, Sermon Notes 20160424

Quick sharing from an academic, Irene Loh that Sunday

Modeling human behaviour is hard! So much selfishness and the general human condition

God has placed a dissatisfaction in her so she can pursue elegance and perfection

One day in the new earth, we will stop having to run optimizations and simulations because God will make all things optimal


Watched a video about palliative care for children last night. One 18 year old dealing with relapsed cancer since 13 told his mom not to resuscitate him if anything happened because he felt like he had been through enough aggressive treatments and to let him go. She replied

“I’m not ready to let you go”

Who would be ready right?

They felt he wisely left it as that but prepared for the inevitable in his own quiet ways by getting them to help with tasks like disseminating gifts to his friends after he passed.

It raised some thoughts I’ve been having about picking up too much during our lives and not being able to let go when the time has come. Considering the end of things can bring the pain of the future into the present but it can help us live better, be less wasteful with our money, emotions and efforts.

While painful, perhaps that’s how we grow as people, picking up things with heavier and heavier consequences hoping they won’t crush us one day.

Stuff I Did, Travel

Katz’s Delicatessen


Katz’s Delicatessen

Katz’s has been around since 1888¬†and has endured in the hearts of both locals and tourists alike. I found myself wandering into the area after running an errand at REI and thought that I would drop by to see what the fuss was about.


This is a small crowd

The food at Katz speaks for itself, as does the line of people outside that does not seem to shrink whatever time of day I pass by, whichever day of the week it is. The service is lovely and the experience unique. While it might be confusing and intimidating the first time to see the mass of people waiting at the counter. There is a method to the madness so to speak.


My golden ticket to the king of pastrami sandwiches!

Upon arrival at the door, a gentleman opened the door and ushered me in saying “The fastest way to get something to eat is to head straight to the counter”. He then hands me a yellow ticket and I correctly conclude that it works dim sum style. You order everything you want, the service staff marks it down on your ticket and you get the bill shock only at the end. Well actually the bill isn’t that shocking since all prices are upfront but I shall get to that later.


Cutting edge service at the counter

There are six counters serviced by men of a variety of ages and races. They wield large forks and sharp, long knives. I headed to line 6, the furthest, shortest line where the server was a smaller built guy with the aloof demeanor of a seasoned pro. Looking around nonchalantly, he swiftly carved up a hunk of meat with great efficiency, packing it all in between two pieces of bread with a generous helping of mustard.


I wait patiently behind the 4 others in front of me, observing the people in front of me carefully lest I be “one of those” clueless people. While they work with speed, I didn’t feel hurried at all. I spied the man ahead of me tasting two chunks of pastrami sliced and slathered with fresh mustard. Do they allow tasting? Is he regular? Should I eat the brisket? or pastrami? Is Rye the only kind of bread I can have? Should I have cow tongue? Is this place cash only?

“NEXT VICTIM PLEASE!” hollered the man at my line as he struck his knife on the chopping board swiftly a couple of times. Chunks of meat from the previous cut dislodge themselves from the knife in preparation for the next carve. Moving up, I decide to go with the most tried and tested item, a pastrami sandwich for the princely sum of $19. Yes. Nineteen bucks for what is essentially a sandwich. However, I always believe in giving an establishment the best chance of impressing me on their terms. Getting the hot dog or something cheaper isn’t going to be fair to them. I don’t mess with whatever they say works and if I don’t like it, I just don’t come back.


Mustard is a must

He carved up some meat in front of him and then deciding it’s not going to be enough, he turns around and spears a new piece from a cabinet full of meat and lands it on the cutting board, chopping and carving away again. He drops 2 rough cut chunks on a small dish in front of me at the counter and asked me if I want mustard. Yes please.

He carries on chopping up the meat and leaves me to it. The meat is steaming hot and the smokey rub falls off in bits and pieces when you handle it. I grab a piece and push it into the mound of mustard freshly wiped off his knife onto the plate. The meat falls apart. With much of the rub clinging to the surface it tastes really great. I mop up the bits that fall off with my fingers and finish the second piece as quickly as the first. My goodness. Coupled with the mustard it really makes a great combination, satisfying and rich. You just have to try it yourself. I suppose they let you taste the meat on the spot as kind of a way to tell you “the meat was this good at the point I carved it up, it’s not my fault if you eat this 3 hours later and decide it’s only so-so”. He stuffs the meat in between 2 slices of rye bread and places in a on a plate, accompanied my 2 different kinds of pickle before taking my ticket, marking it with the total cost and hands it back to me.

My marked-up ticket

My marked-up ticket


The sandwich. It’s thickness is roughly 2 inches so prepare to unhinge your jaw

I finished half the sandwich and packed the other half for YX while having a great conversation with a couple from Boston, Mass. They share a slice of cow tongue with me and point me to a sign above my head that marks the very spot where Harry met Sally. It was a nice conversation followed by a 360 photo, probably a story for another time.


I haven’t watched this but I will

While a definitely great sandwich for meat lovers, everything just feels a bit pricier than I would prefer. However, considering the cost of an average meal in New York, the service you get and the quality of the meats in addition to the fact that it’s really more of an experience than a meal, it was a very worthwhile eating experience from the time I stepped in to the time I left. Comparing it to the salt beef sandwich from the Brass Rail, Selfridges in London just seems unfair as this one is infinitely more meaty, substantial and leaves you with a fuller belly and more of a story to tell.

Parting pro-tip: You can pay by card at the very end of the service counter as the exit only takes cash.


Ghost in the Shell

Watched an autopsy late last night (cos everyone does that when they can’t sleep right?) that was¬†after I binged on¬†a few¬†episodes of Star Wars: Rebels and a couple of episodes of Tested on youtube. What was a moment of morbid curiosity became a heavy pressure that dulled the meaning of this present¬†life.

[1] The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. [2] Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. [3] What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? [4] A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. [5] The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. [6] The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. [7] All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. [8] All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. [9] What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. [10] Is there a thing of which it is said, ‚ÄúSee, this is new‚ÄĚ? It has been already in the ages before us. [11] There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 ESV)

I saw the hopelessness of our situation. What used to be a person lying on the table, maybe a promising life, maybe already a success, was being reduced to a bag of organs in skin. I suppose it was an unnatural death so the body was analysed like how a mechanic would an old car, stripped to nothing effortlessly and a post-mortem conducted to check for injuries and cause of death. Care was taken to preserve the outer appearance but everything internal was just taken for inspection.

A voice says, ‚ÄúCry!‚ÄĚ And I said, ‚ÄúWhat shall I cry?‚ÄĚ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. (Isaiah 40:6 ESV)

Perhaps in a different situation ¬†the individual would have been parted out as spares for those who would have need of it. The¬†culmination of a series of unfortunate events for the deceased¬†would be turned into¬†a shot at life again for the recipient of whatever life-giving organ was viable. Honestly I’m a little afraid to be an organ donor now after watching how the cadaver was treated. Don’t get me wrong, there was no disrespect. Just effortless efficiency, dispassion, a drive to move swiftly and quickly without any pause to reflect or think. Why would they feel the need to right? This person wasn’t home anymore. Her body was there but her ghost had¬†have moved on.

Having seen worse,¬†the gore was completely manageable. However, meditating on the choices which would have faced the living made it tough to¬†internalise what was happening. Perhaps this person’s relatives had to make the super tough decision to take her off life support? What would that be like for them? What would it like to be the deceased being parted with so much speed? It’s just the body, but the body in combination with the ghost had been a person.¬†How much of a person is his ghost? and how much of him is the body? If you swapped bodies with someone, how much of you would still be you?

Interestingly enough, the sermon on Sunday would be about death. Some quick notes from Tim Keller’s Sermon.

“Hope in the Face of Death” from the series “What we are Receiving: The Gospel Goods”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

  • How people deal with death: 1)Stoic, shut down emotions. 2)The modern approach: deny that it’s a bad thing, death is ‘natural’, circle of life stuff
  • We are afraid because 1) death takes away things that are meaningful and love relationships and 2) we are not sure what happens after
  • Jesus wept at death of Lazarus. Death is unnatural, grieving is an okay and appropriate response
  • We were made for eternity
  • Grieving is okay but add in hope, like salt and death becomes the doorway, not a tomb
  • Love is perfected in our new life
  • Our body is perfected in our new life

Some heavy stuff huh!


Sous Vide Arduino

After moving to NYC, we acquired an egg eating habit. While I scramble them most of the time, at some point we were starting to make soft boiled eggs daily when we managed to get our hands on some dark soy sauce.

Daily inconsistencies in quality didn’t go away much even after removing variables such as egg temperature by placing eggs on the counter, standardizing the amount of boiled water and the time spent in the water. Somehow the eggs would be over or under.. and also due to the initial high temperature, the outside whites would also be set while the inside whites hadn’t. When we did 4 eggs instead of 2, there was an even greater variation in outcome.

Obviously the thing most suited for the job is a sous vide machine and having built one in Jan 2014 with a proper PID controller, I wasn’t keen on building another until I realised how few parts I required from the plans here¬†and the code here. I already had 2 arduino UNOs on loan and the rest of the parts would be cheap as chips considering I already had the rice cooker. I would just strip out everything unecessary including the display, the buttons and hard-code¬†it just to make eggs at 60¬įC.

I had to stuff it into a small box that used to shelter pineapple tarts as I had nothing else.




  1. I particularly like how he did not implement a PID algorithm as they are really difficult to tune but rather wrote the code to operate the heating element according to how a human would operate it by switching the power on and off while doing some simple calculations about how fast the temperature was rising and falling. The setup really nailed the temperature in my tests and measurements with a Thermopen.
  2. Changed Piezo Pin from pin 13 to pin 7  so I could use pin 13/onboard LED as a status indicator
  3. Added a Status Indicator on PIN13. Flashes onboard LED to let user know what state the Arduino is currenty in
  4. Flipped RELAY_OUT_PIN from active HIGH to LOW for an active low relay I purchased. I think the original creator had a relay which activated when the voltage was high
  5. Hardcoded temperature to 60 deg celcius
  6. Aliexpress is crazy crazy cheap

Next improvement will be to control it from¬†Home Assistant¬†hosted on a raspberry pi so I can set it to make eggs remotely and switch it on when the time is right. I’m going to be using ESP8266s communicating over MQTT. The parts are slowly making their way from China.. ūüôā



YX and I made a snowman last night. It started with a quick walk outside to show YX around at about 11pm since she isn’t that mobile. In the end we stayed 2 hours building a snowman. Probably our first and last for now, it was a ton of work! Had the boy from upstairs with 2 older ladies come ring our doorbell the next day telling us the snowman was “so awesome he didn’t wanna eat it”. Thanks!

Photography, Stuff I Did

Mr Snowman