memorial day weekend is ruined. originally it was just going to be a rainy week but the weekend weather would be nice. now it looks like the rain will be parking offshore and will drench the greater boston area for much of this weekend. i'd planned to make a trip into boston tomorrow to visit haymarket and chinatown, but decided to go today instead, since the forecast calls for rain for much of tomorrow. it was supposed to rain today as well, but not until later in the afternoon, and i figured i had a brief window of opportunity.
riding into boston, i already felt rain drops, which wasn't a good sign. i did bring my umbrella, so worst case scenario i could always pull over on the side of the road and wait out any impending downpours. since haymarket is only opened on fridays and saturdays, i only went to an asian supermarket to grab some chinese sausages for rob's barbecue on saturday.
coming back, i stopped briefly in boston common to admire the field of planted flags in honor of memorial day (here's a 2.3MB mpo file to download and display if you have a 3D HDTV). there were 33,000 flags total. it was a good opportunity to field test the fuji 3D W3. i'm still not used to the camera, and there were a few photos were i accidentally had a finger covering up the right lens. all those flags fluttering in the wind, it's a photo i wouldn't have been able to take with the 3D capability on my panasonic ZS20. it's also nice to a bit of zoom (3x), although the 20x zoom on the ZS20 has spoiled me for anything less.
little did i realize it at the moment, but the overcast sky - though it was threatening rain - was great for photography.
i continued onwards onto the charles river bike path, on the lookout for more photo opportunities. i crossed over into cambridge via the mass ave bridge. prior to inman square i took a detour on prospect street to mail off some health insurance forms at the union square post office (in hindsight, maybe the central square post office was closer).
my obsession for this week is number stations. i have memories of listening to them on a shortwave radio when i was visiting taiwan in the late 80's. i never knew what they were, maybe somebody practicing their english numbers on the radio. it never dawned on me that it could be coded spy transmissions. so i wanted to listen to some again (even though post-cold war there aren't too many stations left). i have a small shortwave radio (grundig mini world 100 PE) but i'm afraid it's not powerful enough to receive many shortwave stations (plus i live in a reception dead zone). that got me into looking for a cheap and small shortwave radio. in the meantime, i downloaded the conet project, a collection of number station recordings.
a package from china arrived in the mail labeled "electronics." i couldn't remember what i ordered but tore open the packet to find out. turns out it's the pH test strips i ordered 10 days ago off of ebay. i wanted them to test the pH of my kombucha.
i didn't test the jar of kombucha i'm currently fermenting since it's not ready yet, but i tested the mason jar of finished kombucha. it had a value of 3 or 4 depending how which color one thinks it matches on the color chart. i then tested a few other liquids. water - no surprise - was a neutral 7. i tested some apple cider vinegar and was surprised it so closely matched the color of the kombucha, which i now think has a pH of 2. what i probably need are short range test strips that only show acidic values. however, the kombucha doesn't taste like pH 2 at all, it still has a very mild and slightly sweet flavor, almost reminiscent of honey.
i also tested some vodka, which not surprisingly has a 7 pH value. some 409 cleaner showed a pH of 9 (it contains ammonium chloride). finally, i wanted to know what the value of black tea was: about pH 6.
approaching rush hour, i walked down to harvard square to test out the fuji 3D camera some more. one cool feature is the continuous shot mode, which can take up to 40 images with just one click. i thought this was a pretty advanced feature and wondered how fast the internal chip was to process so much 3D data. turns out when the camera is shooting continuous, it's actually shooting at the smallest size (1920x1080, 2 megapixels). it's not downsized resolution either, so the quality isn't very good, compared the high quality setting (3584x2016, 7 megapixels). however, if you're only going to display it on an HDTV, it looks fine since an HDTV can only display anything larger than 1920x1080 anyway (regular HDTV, we're not talking 2K or 4K).
besides all the things one must think about to take a good photo (lighting, white balance, composition, etc.), there's an additional component exclusive to 3D photos: layering. the best 3D photos have multiple layers. you have things in the foreground, midground, and background. i tried to think of places i could go where i could find large groups of people, preferring doing interesting things. the 3D camera will be good for the parade season.
i wish the fuji W3 had a wider lens. on my panasonic ZS20, the only option for 3D is at the widest angle of 24mm. this is a great for landscapes, which is a great use for a 3D camera. unfortunately, with its 35mm (widest) lens, the fuji W3 is really designed for people photography.
although the ZS20 can do wide angle 3D photos, it takes them at the lowest resolution (1920x1080). like i said before, that's not a big deal if these photos are destined to be displayed on an 3D HDTV. but say one day you want to upgrade to 4K resolution, or maybe even print a large-sized lenticular copy of a favorite 3D photo, then you'll need the extra resolution.
i finished all my red leaf lettuce and asparagus and walnuts for dinner. i ran out of smoked salmon, so i used half a can of tuna instead. i finally found a site that compared the difference between the 3 different lettuces: iceberg, red leaf, and romaine. besides aesthetics, red leaf actually has more nutritional values than iceberg. but romaine is even more nutritious (and that's the kind of lettuce i usually get for my chicken caesar salad).
i caught game 4 between the bruins and rangers. boston would sweep new york with a victory tonight. but the bruins had a 3-1 lead over the maple leafs and toronto took that series in a game 7, so boston has a history of not being able to close out a series. the bruins have 3 more tries though to get it done. i also watched another new episode of hannibal. lecter almost killed will, but ended up making him an accomplice in the coverup.
while browsing one of the fuji W3 message boards, i discovered my camera has an old firmware (1.0). i ended up updating it to the latest version (1.2). the latest version can playback MP files from other cameras (which i can already do) and there's a new economy HD video mode (not that i'd really use it since shooting HD video drains the battery).
the mail arrived earlier than usual (late morning instead of mid-afternoon), and along with it came my ebay-purchased used fuji finepix real 3D W3 camera. fuji introduced the camera in the summer of 2010, replacing the earlier W1 (introduced in 2009), which was one of the first 3D cameras, but had so many things wrong with it, that when fuji finally updated the 3D camera, they jumped a number (W3) to sort of put some distance between the new and the old camera. if you're in the market for a 3D camera, the W3 is pretty much it. i know panasonic has its own 3D camera (introduced 2012) but the distance between the 2 lenses seems to be too close and it lacks something that the fuji W3 has: a lenticular LCD that can actually display back the 3D photos.
the camera came with the original box plus a battery and charger, but that was pretty much it. missing were the manual, the CD-ROM, and the USB cable. the battery arrived completely drained, so i had to recharge it for 2 hours before i could finally play with the camera.
for a used gadget, the camera itself seemed to be in okay shape. a few small nicks and scratches on the edges (nearly invisible), and some of the buttons seemed fade. however, the thing that irked me the most was the couple of scratches on the LCD screen. although it doesn't affect the performance of the camera, had i known about the scratched screen, i probably wouldn't have made a bid for this "almost mint" (seller's words) camera.
as you would expect with a newly 3-year-old camera, the W3 is sort of big. part of the problem is having 2 lenses, which need to be set approximately 2.5" apart, the optimal distance for 3D photography (the distance between 2 eyeballs). the W3 lenses are actually set closer to 3". the camera is roughly the same size as an iphone, but a little bit longer, and 3 iphone thick.
the battery compartment is not very well designed so you can actually put the battery in the wrong direction without realizing it. that might've happened to me earlier before i decided to just simply recharge the battery. i discovered this design flaw when i put in the fully charged battery and the camera didn't work. at first i had a moment of panic, like maybe i bought a dead camera. but then i checked the camera and realized i put it in wrong. after i flipped the battery, the camera whirled to life when i slide the front cover down.
the way the camera turns on my sliding the lens cover makes it very easy to accidentally touch the lenses with a finger or block the lenses when taking a photo. playback mode can be turned on without sliding open the cover, but in order to turn off the camera, you have to then slide open the cover and slide it closed.
the first time i used the camera was kind of trippy. the 3D lenticular display suddenly adds another dimension to the photos and for a moment my eyes didn't know what they were looking at. it almost seems like a magic trick, like the first time you ever seen a hologram. normally the camera displays in 2D (unless you're in playback mode), but once the shutter is pressed down halfway, the camera goes into 3D mode, so you can see what you're shooting (it's also a good way to check that no fingers are blocking the lenses).
i went through and changed all the settings, starting with the date and time. i turned off the beeps but the camera still makes noises from the zooming and focusing. i changed it so that it only saves MPO files and not a complimentary JPG as well (later i'd turn this feature back on because my cataloging program can't read MPO's so it won't import them for indexing). the user interface is okay but there are issues. for example, commonly changed settings like white balance is buried in the menu and takes at least 4 clicks to set. there are also some useless animations like a pixelated dissolve for deleted images that just wastes time.
the 2 internal 1/2.3" CCD's have the 4:3 aspect ratio. that means when you take a 16:9 photo - which is the size one would take for display on a 16:9 HDTV - it's actually using less of the CCD's (7 megapixels instead of the full 10 megapixels). the 3x optical zoom has the 35mm-format equivalent of 35-105mm. with that medium range, the optimal shooting distance is 4-13ft. any closer, the you run into parallax issues and the 2 images overlap so much they don't merge; any farther, and you don't really get an 3D effects.
fortunately the camera has a few manual 3D shooting options, all using just the left lens. first there's interval shooting, where the camera takes 2 quick photos based on an adjustable time period. it can either do it without delay, or you can set it to however many seconds. apparently this is used for taking photos from a fast moving vehicle. the second option is individual shutter 3D, where you take one image, and the camera superimposes that image onto the screen so you can shift the camera yourself to take the second photo. this is the only option if you want to do macro photography.
the camera has 34MB of internal memory. i discovered this when i turned on the camera without a memory card and saw there were a few photos still on the camera. photos of the girls basketball team and 2 boys dressed up like they were going to the prom.
i was glad to discover that the fuji W3 will also display MPO files taken with other cameras. the images have to be in the right folder in order for the camera to read it, but once loaded the lenticular LCD shows them just fine. playback is a little weird though: when i went to sort them via date, the order was a little messed up when i viewed the photos in sequence.
i also shot a 3D video, although it's proprietary AVI format isn't supported by my panasonic 3D HDTV. the videos can only go as high as 720p. i did notice there was a large dead pixel in the middle of the video however (that doesn't show up in photo mode).
i was going to give the seller a neutral rating on ebay, but after playing around with the camera a little bit, i was in a more forgiving mood. i wrote him to let him know i would rate the transaction as positive, but i was happy with a few things, like missing manual/CD-ROM/cable and more importantly the scratches on the LCD he never mentioned in his "almost mint" listing.
i knew getting the fuji 3D W3 that it'd be more of a toy, since its one trick is primarily to shoot 3D photos. the lenticular LCD is really cool, i doubt anyone can not be impressed when they see it. the thing that the W3 does very well is shooting medium range action. it has no problems with moving objects with its dual-firing lenses. i'm hoping to take it out the next few days and do some exploring with the camera.
i had big plans for this week - like going out to do some naturing - but with intermittent strong showers (the sort of weather pattern that turns daylight in nighttime), i haven't gone very far. in fact, i didn't leave the house at all today, even though it didn't rain (just a dreary overcast). the city is repaving sections of oxford street so they turned my street into a detour route. it wasn't bad until rush hour, when it looked like my small one way street was getting more traffic than mass ave.
i knew the little 1000 mAh battery wouldn't be enough power, especially since i've been playing with the W3 all day. by evening it was already flashing the low power warning icon until the battery finally gave out. while i recharged it, i also went online and bought 2 spare batteries off of ebay ($3.88 each, NP-50, 1400mAh).
for dinner i had some more asparagus smoked salmon salad. this time i added some cranberries to add another flavor layer. the fun thing about eating asparagus is the smelly pee afterwards, and i finally noticed it tonight.
the kombucha scoby is a little too big for the glass jar so it's sorted of wrinkled. in addition, there are actually 2 scoby's stacked on top of each other, and parts of the scoby is sticking out of the tea, which makes me worried that it might get moldy. also the new baby scoby that will form on the surface will have holes in it. having a pretty scoby shouldn't be my primary concern however, as long as the fermentation goes off without any problems, and it seems to be doing well, with plenty of carbon dioxide gas bubbles. i switched out the paper towel cover with a piece of cotton rag.
i had an overwhelming desire to eat something healthy for dinner. after doing some research online, i came across an asparagus and smoked salmon salad recipe that i thought was worth trying out. i bought asparagus and red leaf lettuce, 2 items i'd never purchased before. i don't know what the difference is between red leaf and regular lettuce, except it's more expensive ($1.49/head, romaine was 99¢/head) and has a different color. i also don't know the going price for asparagus, but apparently they're not cheap, selling at $3.49/lb. i ended up getting about a pound worth. the recipe also calls for pecan nuts but i got walnuts instead because they were 2x cheaper ($3.99/bag). on top of that i also got a quart of yogurt ($1.89) and a box of granola ($3). the only thing that was out of place in my healthy mix was a package of bacon ($3.29).
i had yogurt and granola for lunch. the market basket brand plain whole milk yogurt contains the following live cultures: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, which is pretty much standard for all yogurts; an unspecified variety of Bifidobacterium, L.acidophilus and L.casei (the culture in yakult drink).
i went to my community garden in the afternoon to plant some seeds: one mound of zucchini, one mound of cucumbers, and 2 mounds of acorn squash. i also did some weeding, pulling up a bunch of wild morning glory and asiatic dayflower seedlings. my garlic patch is so overgrown that the leaves are falling over each other. while trying to straighten them out, i saw the small garlic bulbs emerging from the ground. i still waiting to harvest the garlic scapes, but afterwards i may dig out some plants to eat.
not a single snapdragon from last year survived into this season. i had so many flowers though, i should at least have some seedlings, given how prolific snapdragon seeds will germinate. there are these tiny seedlings in my plot which may be snapdragons, i won't know until they get bigger. but i should really start to consider whether i want to put up some cover for my plants before the mulberries start falling, because the rotting berries will definitely bury any seedlings.
when evening came i went about making my asparagus and smoked salmon salad. instead of peppered salmon steaks ($4.99), next time i may just use canned salmon chunks instead. i only picked enough asparagus to eat, saving the rest for the rest of the week. i might've overcooked them because they tasted kind of soggy in the salad. or maybe i should've rinsed them with color water afterwards. they sort of remind me of avocados in that they don't really have a strong taste. i'm sort of impartial to asparagus, but i do know they're pretty nutritious (as are most vegetables and greens that i seem to avoid in my usual diet). the best part of the salad were the roasted walnuts. i'm tempted to begin putting roasted nuts into everything i eat because it dramatically improves everything.
i watched game 3 between the bruins and rangers (in madison square garden). the more hockey i watch, the more i'm getting into it, swear shouting at the HDTV whenever boston failed to score. bruins ended up winning, now they're up 3-0 in the series. is it time to start thinking about the finals?
when the hell is my 3D camera supposed to arrive? the original estimate was today, but the seller took so long to send it out (not until monday) that the new expected delivery date is tomorrow. i keep on checking the track number on the USPS website every few hours, waiting for the status to update, but the package is still in philadelphia.
i'm sensitive to caffeine so i was afraid i'd have trouble falling asleep after drinking a container of black tea. but i went to sleep like normal, although i didn't go to bed until almost 3:00 (blog writing takes time, especially after an evening of television). i like the flavor of regular black tea, there's a simplicity about it, and it makes me think this is how people hundreds of years ago drank their tea. also when i drank some leftover black tea from last night, it was still pretty mellow, which is good, because i like to steep my tea for a long time, and i don't like teas that get bitter with oversteeping.
monthly street cleaning was happening on the opposite side of the street this morning. i almost didn't think it was going to take place because i didn't hear them announcing it on the bullhorn earlier and there were still plenty of cars parked across the street. all those car owners are going to have a bad day when they return home and discover their vehicle had been towed. street cleaning is a municipal scam, pure and simple. actually cleaning the street is secondary; their primary goal is to ticket cars (money for the cops), tow cars (money for the tow companies), and store cars (money for the storage lot). the racket continues tomorrow when they clean my side of the street. why can't they just ticket only like somerville? but there they clean the streets twice a month, so i don't know which is the lesser evil. more the reason to just own a bicycle.
my father dropped by this morning to deliver the kombucha scoby and a jar of kombucha juice undergoing a 2nd fermentation. after washing and drying my hands, i removed the scoby from the jar and dropped it into the jar of sweet tea. the scoby is actually a mother and baby, but because they were both stuck together, i didn't bother separating them. also they're a little bigger than the diameter of the jar, but they're soft so they fold up. the new scoby baby that will be created will be jar diameter.
i then poured the leftover juices (about 2 cups) into the sweet tea jar. it was a little full, so we scooped out more than a cup's worth with a clean plastic ladle, a drank the leftover. it was sweet with a little tartiness from the added kombucha juice. my father seems to really love kombucha, telling me how he could feel the bacteria working in his gut but in a good way. he felt a little gassy, but not bloated, but that's how he knows the probiotics is working its magic. and over time, the more his body gets used to it, the less gassy he becomes. i told him about the continuous brew method to making kombucha, he seemed intrigued, but that requires a large glass fermentation jar with a spigot.
maybe it has something to do with being in a smaller container compared to the larger container, or maybe a byproduct of the fermentation process (whether through the initial fermentation or second fermentation), but the jar of finished kombucha is much lighter in color than the sweet tea i brewed last night. also the finished sealed kombucha was hissing from the escaping carbon dioxide. that may be due to the shaking from the transport, because an hour later it stopped hissing.
my father also brought over 2 large stock pot from the cafe: one of them is the 20qt aluminum pot with heavy stains on the inside, the other a 16qt stainless steel (but too small for what i want to do with it). after seeing the one i bought last week, he said it was better to keep it because i can do other things with a large stainless steel stockpot, like making my korean kimchee.
in the early afternoon i returned to the liquor store to redeem my power ball ticket. "cash?" the clerk asked me, after feeding the ticket into some machine. "yeah," i said as he handed me $4. "i'll try again next time." being in the house all day, i was blissfully unaware how humid it was outside. this is the first time this year where i've felt this kind of summer-like humidity, where for a split second i thought about installing the air conditioner (this is a lie, even in the dog days of summer i rarely think about the AC). this is one of the times where i'm glad it's so cool and dry inside my house (for the time being).
after watering the plants in belmont, i planted some more seedlings: 4 mixed hot peppers into RB2, and 2 of each sweet basil in RB4 and RB2, in between the tomatoes. i'm getting impatient to see the peonies bloom. the newly-transplanted peony behind the garage produced a single flower bud but being a first-year transplant it's not going to flower and i can already see the bud shriveling up. better luck next year. the peonies on the western side of the yard are producing a lot of flower buds. buds also show up laterally, but those shrivel up naturally so the terminal buds become even bigger.
when my parents came back from the cafe, i went with my father to my aunt/uncle's place in arlington to plant some more of our surplus seedlings: 4 roma tomatoes, 2 cherry tomatoes, 3 sweet basil, and 1 kung-pao pepper. the garden bed seems to have a lot of peat moss, some compost or manure will need to be added soon to give the plants something to feed on. so counting arlington, we now have 5 different gardens: my own community garden, my parents' backyard, my grand uncle's backyard, and the belmont victory garden plot. none of these gardens are perfect, sunlight is always at a premium. for once i'd like to have a garden that gets sun all day long, instead of only certain hours of the day due to blockage from nearby trees/houses.
when we left for arlington we saw the breaking news about an impending tornado due to touch down near oklahoma city. when we got back we saw the aftermath. i haven't seen destruction like that since the japanese tsunami, with cars stacked on top of each other and whole neighborhoods just flattened.
temperature was in the 80's with high humidity. nothing was on the radar but suddenly a cluster formed over the city and there was a sudden burst of hard rain. after dinner i hurried home during a lull in the showers.
there was a letter from the massachusetts IRS department waiting for me when i got home. at first i thought it was my refund check, but the envelope felt thick so i had a feeling it was something else. most of the time when you get a letter from the IRS it's not a good thing. turns out i must've left out a 1099-MISC form, and they won't process my returns until they receive a copy. they didn't say which one, just that some pertinent documents were missing. it's funny, when i pay taxes they never say anything, but when it comes time for them to pay me, they drag their feet. i scanned my 1099-MISC's from last year and will send it out tomorrow morning.
arlington was having its own bike ride event this morning, one that i planned to go, even though it was a 5 miles ride just to get to the starting point between upper and lower mystic lakes. however, i got the schedule mixed up and thought the ride started at 11:00 when it fact it began at 9:30, too early for my blood on a sunday morning. so instead i slept in and woke right around the time the ride was starting.
after covering up my motorcycle (i heard it might rain in the early evening), i rode my trek cargo bike to the cafe. maybe it's not as fast as my trek allant, i figured i might meet my grandmother there, but my mother had already picked her up and taken her to belmont. i ate some wood ear mushrooms with dates and some steamed eggs before continuing to my parents' place.
with her bad feet, my grandmother can't really go anywhere these days. my mother was in the sunroom chatting with her, showing her all the things she's knitted/crocheted, and then putting on some korean soap opera on the ipad for her to watch. later they watched a dvd on the laptop of my grandmother's 80th birthday spent in taiwan 6 years ago.
i spent a few hours in the backyard, first with the weeding, followed by the watering. it was a warm 70's day, and i just had on my t-shirt. i planted some zucchinis in the southwestern corner of the yard, in 2 manure mounds. while stirring the compost, i managed to snap the very old wooden handle in half. i was also going to trim some of the hedges eclipsing the front of the house, but i was already too tired by that point, and the temperature got cold after the sky went overcast.
and i'm still not quite sure what that tree is that seemed to have sprouted next to the pussy willow. based on the flowers, i said it was a black cherry, but we have a black cherry in our belmont community garden plot, and the leaves don't look the same. plus, i'd never seen berries of any kind on this backyard tree, but it could just be because animals eat them all.
i discovered my pair of russian-made (sehfeld brand) binoculars that i bought more than a decade ago at a bazaar in urumqi. i don't remember how much i paid, but it was fairly inexpensive (i want to say US$20). they always seemed like a toy, with its kitschy soviet motifs like the hammer & sickle and AK-47 rounds. the lenses are also coated red, and it even comes with a handy compass and eyepiece-embedded measurement marks. however, surprisingly, they're actually pretty good binoculars. the red-tint coating does give images an unnatural bluish-green hue, but the large optics - 8x50 i believe - offer amazing clarity and eye relief. it's not the sort of binoculars i'd be caught using in public though.
i watched game 2 between the bruins and rangers in the late afternoon. it's definitely piqued my interest in ice hockey, although i'm still pretty much a fair-weather fan and i still think it's wrong that the finals occur so close to summertime. the last time i watched hockey was during the winter olympics. i still don't know all the rules. when is it off sides? and i thought icing happened when they needed to resurface the rink. i like that hockey is kind of like soccer on speed. i don't like the inherent blind spot in the foreground of the rink do to safety barriers; maybe the broadcast can be improved with some sort of overhead flying camera that can televise from different sides of the rink. anyway, bruins won, 5-2, against a rangers goalie that i heard was the best in the game, but didn't seem very effective against boston. i also like all the strange names, an amalgamate of french canadian, russian, yugoslavian, and other exotic ethnicity. zdeno (slovak). marchand (halifax). lucic (serbian). tuukka rask (finnish). wasn't he a star wars character? my favorite though: veteran jaromir jágr (czechoslovakia). that name is just fun to say, "ya-MEER ya-GER."
the owners of the chinese restaurant next to my parents' cafe heard that my grandmother was in town visiting and treated everyone to a free takeout dinner, which my father brought home after work along with my 2nd aunt. when you reach a certain age, you pretty much do away with formalities, and that was the case with my grandmother, who started eating right away, even though it was still early (5:00). we stood around briefly to watch but then everyone decided to join her, figured might as well eat while everything was still hot.
after dinner my father and i bottled one of the 2 jars of kombucha we've been fermenting for a week (3 jars if you count the small container of oolong kombucha). we managed to fill 5 empty 24 oz. atlas mason jars (from classico pasta sauces) with enough kombucha left over to cover the scoby's. the mother and baby were too stuck together that we decided not to break them apart.
all 5 jars we capped for a 2nd fermentation to create more carbonation, and 2 jars we added some candied ginger and dried apricots (respectively), for some flavored kombucha. like when i tried it yesterday, our batch of kombucha tasted very mellow, not like the kombucha juice i got from jimmy, which was super tarty. but having tried the sour kombucha first, everything else pales in comparison, and our batch seemed too watered down. maybe it'll pick up a bit more tartiness from the 2nd fermentation. we also have another 1 gallon worth of kombucha (in a 2 gallon jar) that we're going to let ferment for maybe another week.
my father tried to get my mother and grandmother to try some kombucha, even adding a little bit of sugar to offset the sourness. neither of them seemed to be interested, only my father and i seemed to be full probiotics converts. he said it'd be nice to be able to test the pH; i told him i ordered some pH test paper (1-14 range) a week ago, soon to arrive.
i returned home during a lull in the drizzle that started happening as early as late afternoon. my father told me he'd stop by with the jar of scoby after he dropped off my grandmother and 2nd aunt a little bit later.
i decided to brew a batch of sweet tea for the eventual kombucha fermentation. unfortunately i only had green and oolong tea, no black tea. so i went across the street to buy some from the supermarket. i've always been a herbal tea drinker, so i've never purchased black tea before. i wasn't even sure how much it'd cost, but i figured about the same. i wouldn't need much, just enough to make a batch, and then maybe later in the week i'd go down to chinatown to buy more since i assumed they'd be cheaper in an asian supermarket.
first thing i learned is black tea isn't even called black tea. black tea is so generic, it'd sold more according to brand (if a tea doesn't specify, chances are it's probably black). they also didn't come in small boxes of 14-18 teabags like i'm used to; black tea comes in bigger boxes of 80-100 bags. black tea is also cheaper for said amount, costing anywhere from $2.50 to $4.00 (a box of herbal tea goes for $2.50 but for much less teabags). one thing that confused me was many packages mentioned something about orange pekoe. certainly i don't want orange flavor in my tea! but i figured it was just a variety of tea, and hopefully no citrus were involved.
finally it came down to picking the brand. for some reason i wanted a british brand, because i figured the best would come from england since they're known tea drinkers. i ruled out lipton, thinking they were an american company, when in fact they're actually british. there was tetley, which did advertise itself as a british brand, but the packaging made it look like i was buying soap and not food, so i passed on that (it was also one of the cheapest at $2.50 for a box of 100 teabags, but i figured it was so inexpensive because it wasn't very good). there was salada, which i've seen before, but i could tell where they were from and just assumed it was another american company (half correct: american by way of montreal).1 in the end i picked red rose, which seemed to have an english ring to it. it was actually one of the more expensive brands ($3.99), but not by too much. turns out red rose is actually canadian as well, originally from new brunswick.
i bumped into paul, who was behind me in line. we were both lost in our own worlds that we didn't even notice each other until i finally recognized him. he was buying some claritin tablets and asked me if they were anything like sudafed. after so many seasons of breaking bad, i immediately knew the answer, and told him he was looking for something that had pseudoephedrine, which requires the showing of id to purchase. he said his doctor told him to find some sudafed, but he also told me it was for something other than allergies, but didn't elaborate. i told him to check out rite aid, which carry what he was looking for. walking back home, i saw a girl wearing a red chipao going to dinner at zoe's (must be some sort of graduation dinner thing).
so here's something cool about red rose tea: they're like crackerjacks, each box comes with a little toy in the form of a miniature glazed ceramic figurine. over the years the trinkets change; the current series is nautical wonderland. i got a porcelain seagull (i would've preferred the diver's helmet or the seahorse or the mermaid).
i grabbed a stock pot, poured in the supposedly 1 gallon of water that i had in my large glass jar, and fired up the stove. i devised a way to steep the teabags (8) by tying them to a long bamboo skewer and suspending them in the boiling water. i also added a cup of sugar.
my father called me soon afterwards, said he dropped off my grandmother but forgot to bring the jar of scoby, and would bring it tomorrow morning.
after several hours with the sweet tea cooled down, i poured it all back into the glass jar. now all that's needed is the scoby and i should have my own batch of kombucha juice in about a week.
i finished the evening with episodes of game of thrones and mad men. there are only 2 more episodes left of GoT! regardless, the season will end unsatisfactorily, and i may have to reread book 3 in the series to regain my fix. it was a weird episode of mad men. don gets injected with speed and becomes completely ineffective in his manic state, while still trying to get back together with his mistress. i guess no-drug policy is a good thing to have in an office? and then the burglar tricks the draper kids into helping her rob them? that was creepy. wonder if it's based on a true story? they said they caught the thief, and needed them down at the station to reclaim their stolen valuables.
the turnout for the cambridge sweet ride was more than for the somerville industrial ride last weekend. there must've been 160 riders compared to the 50-60 from last week. maybe it has something to do with the fact that somerville asks for a donation while the cambridge one is completely free. not only that, but one can score all sorts of goodies, including free bike bells, reflector strips, t-shirts, bottled water, and candy. cambridge, you have some deep pockets.
the rendezvous site was 10:00 at the cambridge public library. i should've gotten there earlier because by the time i arrived, all the free t-shirts and reflectors were gone. i did manage to pick up a spare bike bell and a bottled water. i didn't recognize anyone there until renee showed up with her developmentally-challenged son dani. he must've been complaining earlier, because she used me as an example when she told him, "look, tony's here too, and he doesn't like crowds either." i love crowds.
riding in a large group, it's easy to just turn off my brain and simply follow, give myself up in the joy of just biking. here and there i'd recognize where we were, but there were also plenty of time when i was completely lost. it was one of those times, on franklin street, where i heard somebody call my name from the sidewalk. i saw a couple pushing a stroller but i still couldn't recognize who it was. turns out it was rob and anna and their baby leo. i stopped to chat with them briefly, but then somebody else stopped as well that i recognized as rob's friend dave! he was on the ride as well and said he saw me earlier but wanted to see how long it'd take before i noticed him. we could only chat for less than a minute since we had to follow the group. i told rob i'd see him next saturday for anna's phd graduation party.
dave and i ended up riding together and chatting. i told him about my kombucha and distillation projects. he told me he was looking to buy a place this year, preferably in cambridge, most likely in more affordable somerville. he didn't even know about the sweet ride, and only tagged along when some of his friends told him about it. his bike was in the shop so he ended up with a loaner bike (which actually used to be his bike before he gave it away).
we made it back to the cambridge, which was only the eastern half of a double loop. next up was the western loop. dave sat out the second half to hang out with friends. i took out my ZS20 camera and attached it to my handlebar mount. a few other bikers saw it and admired the setup. i then shot 2 long movies while biking, which ended up being an ass cam. i learned a few things: filming from a bike only really works on wide angle. when i tried to shoot using a slight zoom, the increased zoom combined with the vibration from the bike causes the video to be super-shaky despite the image stabilizing.
instead of continuing onwards back to the cambridge library for refreshments, i veered off and went home when we passed by my street after riding through porter square. i grabbed my things and rode to the cafe to meet up with my mother. my father wasn't there, having left to plant some vegetables at my aunt/uncle's place in arlington while they're on vacation. my mother and i biked back to belmont.
my sister was waiting for us to come home, on standby to leave for winchester fells the moment we arrived. the main objective was to do some birdwatching with the new binoculars, but also to look for some white ladyslippers.
birdwatching requires a lot of patience. they're hard enough to see in early spring when the leaves aren't out yet, they're pretty much impossible to see in late spring when the leaves are all out. most the birds i've spotted over the years have just been through sheer luck, and not because i was searching for them. in my experience, i see more birds when i'm not looking. so there we were, each one of us armed with a pair of binoculars (in my father's case he had my old kenko 8x32 monocular), and the only birds we saw were robins and grackles, birds we see everyday in the suburbs. when it comes to birdwatching, you might have the right equipment, but if you don't know where to find the birds (the when and where), you're not going to see very much.
what the fells lacked in bird sightings, it made up for in ladyslippers (thank goodness flowers can't fly). it's still not peak bloom yet (from the numerous empty petals we saw), but still enough to be impressive. we tried looking for the spot where we saw the white ladyslipper last spring but couldn't remember where it was. as far as other wildflowers, pretty much all the ones i saw last spring i saw this year, so there was nothing new. i noticed the mosquitoes were out too, but they seemed sort of lazy, and i didn't get bit even though a few circled me when i stopped to take photos (i didn't wear any bug repellent).
back in belmont i did some gardening:
may's backyard flower show has already begun, but more is yet to come. lilacs, buttercups, dianthus, lunaria, irises (bulb), wisteria, strawberries, lilies-of-the-valley, and black cherry (maybe) are all flowering at the moment. but in a few weeks, these will emerge as well: peonies, lilies, snapdragons, geraniums, sage, delphiniums, daisies, and irises (rhizome).
here on 6 day of the kombucha fermentation, we finally tried some, drawn from the smaller 1 gallon jar with a porcelain soup spoon, about a cup's worth. definitely lighter than jimmy's kombucha, tasted more watered down but also slightly sweeter. i hadn't seen the kombucha since monday, and since that time (today being saturday), the baby scoby's floating on top having grown to about 2-3mm thick. rising carbon dioxide bubbles have lifted the scoby in certain parts. underneath, strands of yeast byproduct drape from the scoby's. my parents left the mason jars at the cafe so we can't bottle the kombucha until tomorrow.
there wasn't much to eat in the house and nobody wanted to cook, so dinner came in the form of simple noodles mixed with some spicy flavor packets. i returned home on my trek allant, wondering to myself why i don't ride this sweet bike more often (the reason is because i don't have to worry about my junky everyday bike; knowing what i know about my neighborhood, leaving a decent bike locked outside is a good way to lose it).
a neighbor few houses down was throwing out a pull-up bar. i grabbed it, making it the second one i own. the door frame and the molding on my 100+ year old house is just too thick to clip on the pull-up bar unfortunately. what i need to do is to drill 2 additional holes in the metal tubing so i can move up the rubber brace by a centimeter, giving me enough clearance to finally clip the bar onto my old door frame. now that i have 2 there's no excuse not to give it a try. unfortunately with my still healing collarbone, i don't know if i'm allowed to do any pull-up exercises without reaggravating the injury.
tonight was the drawing for the $590 powerball lottery and i couldn't resist going down to the local liquor store and buying a single ticket ($2). if i won that sort of money, i'd give every friend and family a million dollars each. i won't move to a bigger house, but would buy a piece of land with good sun so i can grow a nice garden. i have inexpensive tastes. anyway, while i was there, i also bought a 6-pack of pear-flavored woodchuck hard cider. it's one of their flavors i haven't tried; they also had a special summer blend but the only difference was it had blueberries, and i'm not too big on blueberries. the best woodchuck i ever had is their special limited edition autumn brew. hopefully i can score some come fall. since i love hard cider so much, i should thick about making my own when apple season gets here.
walking back home, i looked inside zoe's (weekend nights they're super busy) and saw a familiar face: david fitzgerald! i haven't seen him since andrew invited us to his old newton home for pizza lunch. i think about him all the time, especially since my motorcycle route coming back from the assembly square mall passes by his house. he told me to knock on his door next time, he might be home. he said he's going to hong kong come june, followed by thailand.
when 11:00 came around, they televised the powerball drawing live on television. when the first number didn't match, i knew i wasn't going to win the jackpot, so i wasn't paying attention. but when they got to the final ball - the eponymous powerball - i got a match. i won! yes, only $4, but it's still something. a lucky night indeed.
so much for the mattress cover: after sleeping on it for less than a minute, i ended up taking everything off the bed just so i could remove the cover.
for the third straight day i went back to the christmas tree shop, this time to replace the defective 20qt stock pot. i left the old one on the service counter and went to the kitchen department to get a new box. the clerk let me open it up to check and make sure this one wasn't defective as well.
i planned on going to haymarket after eating some lunch, but my mother called me to let me know my grandmother might be taking another afternoon nap, so i should go down to the cafe as soon as possible if i wanted to catch her. after i finished my oatmeal, i went down to see my grandmother. she looked exactly the same as when i last saw her, except her hair was in patches of black, brown, and white.
i also dropped off one of my gallon glass jars (which my father said could be used for fermenting rice wine, most just to hold kombucha) plus half a dozen empty 24 oz. classico pasta jars. in the cafe basement, i found a large thick-walled stockpot which looked like it might be 5 gallons, but i think it might be aluminum, which may or may not be safe for distillation depending on who you ask. i tried to carry it back with me on the bicycle but i didn't have the right bungie cords so i left it behind.
on my way home i stopped by the community garden to water the plants.
i noticed my bike brakes weren't stopping as well as it used to, particularly the front brakes. i was just going to replace the pads but after some readjustments i had full stopping power again. while i was at it i wiped down the chain and oiled it again. the bike seems to ride better with a clean chain but that could all be just my imagination.
i went to market basket to deposit some cans and pick up a few more grocery items. after taking a shower back at home, i fell asleep on the couch for half an hour while watching the news. it was sort of cold inside the house so i used my laptop to warm me up.
today was another big transplant day, where i was planting my 2nd wave of homegrown seedlings. i started by moving most of my young plants outside to let them get used to the sun first. this also allowed me to shut down half of my grow closet. now the only things left growing inside are the korean melons, cucamelons, and a few early thai basils.
in the late morning i went back to the assembly mall. temperature reached into the 80's today and i was dressed in a short-sleeved red polyester shirt i found. i returned the bottle of performix rerack when i realized my dishwasher wasn't as rusty as i'd thought. then it was off to the christmas tree shop, where i picked up 2 additional fido glass jars. i also got a 20qt (5 gallon, $20) stock pot which i will use to cook my mash. with my jars and stock pot purchases, i felt pretty suspicious. carrying everything back with me presented a challenge: i put the jars in the saddlebags and tied down the stock pot (in a box) to the back of my motorcycle.
a 5 gallon stock pot is a lot shorter than i'd imagine, and doesn't seem all that different in size compared to a 4 gallon stock pot. filled to capacity, a 5 gallon stock pot weighs over 40 lbs. any larger and it wouldn't be able to fit on a conventional stovetop. this one came with a steamer/colander basket that fits on the inside, used for steam-cooking lobsters.
after some oatmeal for lunch, i grabbed my tray of seedlings and went down to the community garden. there was nobody there except for half a dozen cambridge city workers doing something to the sidewalk directly outside the garden. they were a rowdy crowd, seemed like they were there more to joke around and hang out instead of actually working.
i ended up planting: 3 sweet basil, 3 thai basil, 5 delphiniums, 2 butterfly weeds, 2 mixed hot peppers, and 1 rosemary. now the only thing i have left to plant are some squashes (from directly sown seeds) and my cucamelons (when they get bigger enough to transplant). i also reattached my chicken wire trellis with a staple gun.
the garden looks so empty at the moment. it's always a shock to compare the start of the garden to what it looks like towards the end of the summer, when everything is growing. it looks so clean too, but that's because i weeded recently. without some sort of mulching, the weeds will come back in a matter of weeks (if not days). and once the mulberries start falling? it's going to be a real mess. i'm still trying to figure out whether or not i should set up some sort of tenting to protect my plants.
i went to the supermarket to pick up a few items and quickly raced back home. i'd been watching an auction for a used (but in mint condition) fuji 3D W3 camera and wanted to wait until the last second to make my final bid. it was important enough that i set an alarm for it on my cellphone and made a reminder on my computer calendar just so i wouldn't forget this event. i ended up winning it for $130 plus an additional $7 for shipping (out of a total of 14 bids). i've been eyeballing the camera ever since i discovered 3D photography. the cheapest i've seen it new is $190. there was another used one (boxed) on ebay last week for $150 but i missed the auction deadline. this fuji is one of the few 3D cameras on the market, but it has numerous drawbacks. it can't really do macro and the wide angle isn't very wide. but it can do something my panasonic ZS20 can't do, which is to capture 3D action (since it doesn't require pan-and-scan because it has 2 lenses). it can also display 3D images with its lenticular display (which is its own sort of magic - 3D without glasses!). it's a total toy but i'm going to have some fun with it once it arrives.
i inspected my new 5 gallon stock pot more carefully and discovered a small gash near the top of the container. i don't think i'd ever fill it up that high, but a small hole would mean the alcohol vapors would escape which can mean less alcohol production but could also be fire hazard. so looks like i'm going back to the christmas tree shop once more tomorrow to exchange it for a new pot.
i didn't get a chance to see my grandmother today. i was going to ride down to the cafe in the late afternoon but my mother told me my grandmother was sleeping off her west coast jet lag. i'll try to see her tomorrow.
washing my bedsheets gave me a chance to try out my new mattress cover. it took a long time to slip on because i did it with the mattress still on the bed frame (would've been easier if i just stood up the mattress). turns out i don't like it very much, it's very crinkly, like sleeping on a paper bag. maybe it'll get better over time, but if not i'll take it off the next time i change my sheets. i've never used a mattress cover before, no reason to start now. my fear of stains shouldn't outweigh my need for sleep comfort.
i finally got around to washing my aquarium. i did a thorough cleaning, taking out the one lone tetra first, then removed the driftwood with the java ferns growing on it, then hand picked the globs of algae growing on the gravel, scrubbed off the algae growing on the glass, before finally siphoning off 2 gallons worth of dirty aquarium water. what happened to my java ferns? there was a time when they were growing so well, i almost didn't have enough room. but now the tank has been taken over by algae. i wonder if it has something to do with the light, that it's not strong enough, or maybe the wrong spectrum? or maybe the water is just too dirty which makes an ideal breeding ground for algae? if i can do a daily water change for a week, maybe that will stop the algae from coming back.
i had a bottle of yakult today. i know they're popular in asia, but was always curious why market basket would carry them as well, but apparently they're pretty big in brazil (something to do with the large japanese immigrant population). i knew it was a yogurt drink, but i didn't realize there were real live culture inside (Lactobacillus casei). it must've helped my digestion, because after i had the last of my pulled pork sandwiches for dinner tonight, i wasn't as gassy as i was yesterday. i ate while watching game 1 between the NY rangers and the boston bruins. boston ended up winning in overtime (which i did see, because i was watching hannibal instead).
finally, with our kombucha almost finished fermenting, we have to figure out how to bottle it. in the meantime, i've hoarded several dozen assortment of glass jars which we can use as temporary containers. i ran them through the dishwasher to sanitize them.
last night i put in an ebay bid for some kefir sutherland grains. the lowest price i've seen online is $5 (including free shipping) for just a single teaspoon of grains. a teaspoon is enough to make a cup of kefir, and as time goes on, the grains grow bigger (and split apart) and bigger batches can be made. however, there's one seller from reno who was selling 2 tablespoons for just $6 (including shipping). i waited until there was just an hour left in the auction before putting in my bed and going to bed.
when i woke up this morning, i discovered i lost the bid. not only that, what there was a small bidding war, and 2 additional bidders got in on the action within the last 10 minutes of the auction (they didn't push up the price too much, only by 50¢). i'm actually glad i lost, because i don't know if i want to commit to taking care of kefir grains. it's the sort of live culture where you get friends and family to "babysit" for you when you're away, like a real pet (but one where you can eat). that seems like a lot of hassle for a supposedly healthy beverage i knew nothing about up until a few days ago and i've never even tried before. plus, in a few more days i'll have more kombucha that i'll know what to do with. one fermentation project at a time please! however, if i still want to score a lot of grains, the same reno seller has additional auctions for the same amount that will expire later tonight.
i went to the assembly square mall in the late morning in search of glass jars to ferment my kombucha. i knew best bath & beyond carried the 1 gallon anchor hocking glass jar ($9.99) which is the perfect fermentation container, but i was hoping some of the other stores might have them in different styles or perhaps cheaper.
the christmas tree shop had some promising candidates. they had various sizes of italian-made bormioli rocco fido glass jars with locking lids, including one that looked to be around a gallon. unfortunately none of them were marked with sizes, but the large jars were selling for only $5.99 each, so they were a real bargain if they were indeed gallon-size (or 4 liters, since they use european metric measurements).
i went to best bath & beyond to look for those anchor hocking jars. what i failed to realize was the ones i thought they carried were only available online, and would require shipping cost. i visited a few other stores. tj maxx home goods had glass jars, but they were more ornamental, at best plastic cookie jars with metal lids. k-mart didn't have anything either.
that's when i decided to get at least one fido glass jar from the christmas tree shop. at that price, even if it was the wrong size, i could still use it for other things. earlier, i'd already gone to home depot where i picked up a packet of lavender seeds ($1.19) and a rosemary plant ($3.48). i also checked out prices for copper tubing: 10ft length with 1/2" diameter is around $10-13 depending on wall thickness (thicker is better for bending).
back at home, i used one of the quart-sized empty yogurt containers to fill up the fido glass jars. i knew from the first quart of water that it was at least a gallon. even when filled to a gallon, there's still enough room on top for another quart (although it'd probably be too full). so i'm assuming this is a 4-liter glass jar, which is perfect. the locking lid is also good if i want to do some anaerobic fermentation (e.g. carbonation), but just as easy to remove (the wire hinges can all be removed). i noticed a fork and wine glass symbol, which is an international mark for food safe containers.
with some rain clouds passing through in the late afternoon, i covered up the motorcycle and wheeled the bike into the basement. since it wasn't raining just yet, i decided to give my chain a thorough cleaning by removing it from the bike and soaking it in some degreasing solution. i cleaned it in the kitchen sink with an old toothbrush, and managed to get some grease splatters on my t-shirt (it was an old t-shirt anyway). i also fixed the bent wire on one of my rear baskets. i tried banging it back into place with a hammer but that didn't seem to work. finally i realized i could just bend it back with my bare hands.
i continued with the leftover pulled pork sandwiches for dinner. for the rest of the evening i was a bit flatulated. maybe the pork's gone bad. i also did some late night cleaning, with my grandmother coming to town in the late evening, she'll probably want to stop by my place the next few days and i wanted to tidy up.
i was eager to go down to the community garden and check up on the status of my tomato plants after last night's mid-may frost warning. so after lunch, after planting my surplus hosta (in the back, near the sheep laurel bush) and irises (in the front), i went down to the garden with my spare tomato cage.
why was i even worried? my tomatoes were fine. a check of the other gardens revealed i'm not the only one with tomato plants now, at least 3 other gardeners have planted tomatoes as well, but they all seem store-bought. i pride myself in raising my vegetables and flowers from seeds.
i chatted with sharon who built a miniature brick stonehedge in her plot. she's thinking about growing some corn this season, as well as some morning glories to climb the wire fence behind her garden. she told me as a rule, here in new england, tender plants (like tomatoes) aren't planted until after memorial day.
after watering my plants, i went around to the other gardens, taking both 3D and dSLR photos of the pretty flowers. walking back, i picked up a copy of the motorcycle diary dennis had left for me on his doorstep.
originally i was going to meet up with my parents in the afternoon after work and together we'd bike down to the mt.auburn cemetery to do some birdwatching. but they drove to the cafe this morning, so we decided to postpone the trip.
i spent some time photography the 2 for-sale road bikes again. i haven't written up the postings yet, trying to figure out what angle i should advertise them as and how much to ask. at this point i just want to get rid of them, i'm willing to take any reasonable offer.
the $13 bushnell 8x21 binoculars arrived today. they feel well-made, with a rubberized metal body to give it some heft. alas, with it's paltry 21mm optics, images aren't as clear or as bright as with my 8x42 binoculars. the image quality is also a bit hazy even in bright light. they're good if you're in a pinch, or just want something small to carry. they're inexpensive, so if they break or get stolen, it's not a big deal. they make good presents for children. the neckstrap is just a thick cord that's actually embedded into the frame of the binoculars so not sure if you can replace them. i have a kenko 8x32 monocular that i sometimes bring with me when i'm naturing, and that thing is a lot clearer when compared to the 8x21.
for dinner i had some leftover pulled pork from last week. i was toasting the onion rolls and heating up the pulled pork in the microwave when i lost electricity. i played around with the GFCI outlet but couldn't get the power back. so i went downstairs to check the circuit breakers but nothing had popped. turns out the power strip i connected everything to might've burned out.