* judging from the solar production this morning, i assumed my father cleaned the snow off the panels. but not all the panels because i could see the ones on the eastern side had lower production compared to the others, but at the very least the sunroom panels were cleared.
* went down to the cafe at 11am to investigate sister's internet issues
* set up RT-AC68U router with port forwarding and reserved address for foscam FI9821P v2 internet web camera. unfortunately wasn't able to set up camera because it won't allow me to access the admin page for some reason
* my 2nd aunt was at the cafe when i arrived but was gone by the time i got back. my old roommate came to the cafe for lunch. my godmother showed up and was about to leave when my mother and my sister's godmother came back home after a boston shopping trip. my mother is obsessed with her activity tracker (especially the sleep tracking), and wanted to know why it hadn't sync'ed up with her xiaomi phone in the past few days. i fixed the problem by rebooting the phone.
* my father showed then made me deice the commercial freezer with a blowdryer. i melted the ice in record time.
* fixed my father's cafe printing issue by uninstalling the samsung printer and reinstalling brand new drivers
* late lunch dan dan noodles
* already raining by the time i biked home by 3pm
* continued debugging webcam issue. couldn't access web UI but could still sent commands to the camera via cgi-bin scripts. was able to change the password. finally solved the problem by installing a foscam safari plugin for masOS high sierra (v22.214.171.124) which finally allowed me to access the camera's built-in admin interface. i still needed to use the UI to set the wifi settings (but i probably could've done that also through cgi-bin commands).
* my halogen replacement LED under cabinet light bulbs arrived today. though advertised as dimmable, when i have the lights in the low setting, they're flicker enough to create a strobe effect. in the high setting they're perfectly fine. also one bulb is white while the other is yellow. not worth returning, but it's a $10 lesson: LED bulbs are not designed to be dimmable. not every light needs to be upgraded to LED.
* the replacement amazon visa card finally arrived. after activating it by phone, i went to various accounts and updated my auto-payment credit card information.
* end of day production 15.41 kWh.
* weird dinner: leftover vodka sauce pasta, leftover salad, and grilled some asparagus with salt garlic olive oil.
* although i didn't get the asus RT-ACRH13 yesterday, i was thinking about getting a new modem for the cafe, one with multiple SSID capabilities, so we can have a private network and a public network. it doesn't have to be fancy, and the asus RT-N12 looks good enough at 300Mbps and currently for sale on amazon for $20 after a $10 rebate (expires at the end of the month). then i learned you can install DD-WRT on a tp-link TL-WR841N router, which means i can upgrade the firmware on the spare router. DD-WRT has the ability to create a guest network SSID.
i wrote lucas this morning, asking if it was possible that an electrician could come out this week and fix the broken revenue grade meter. he replied a short time later, forwarded to his project managers as well, that the repair probably wouldn't happen this week, but "hopefully soon." that doesn't make me very confident, and "hopefully soon" might not even mean next week. but what lucas didn't know was i already had a fix. i called solaredge and got one of the technicians to turn temporarily disconnect the revenue grade meter from the layout, which was somehow affecting the numbers. as soon as that was done, all the data returned, including numbers from the yesterday and today. now there's no rush for the electrician to come by.
not that it mattered too much today, a very cloudy and cold day that also snowed for a few hours in the late afternoon into the early evening. to think: it was just 75°F yesterday. the production was just 5.86kWh, after 5 consecutive 25kWh+ days.
i went to the basement and replaced all the 60W incandescent bulbs, of which half the lights were still using. it wasn't a big priority in the past, but that was before paul started camping out in the basement every day, sorting through his boxes of personal effects and photos. i replaced them with old compact fluorescents, which themselves were replaced when i upgraded to LED's bulbs. a CFL bulb uses 14W; an LED bulb (60W equivalent 800 lumens) just 8.8W (though LED bulbs i bought last time used 9.5W). eventually i'll replace all the basement bulbs with LED's. it's only a few watts difference, but LED bulbs have also other advantages, like turning bright immediately.
i wasn't very hungry and didn't have lunch until 2pm, where i ate a yogurt. afterwards i had a bowl of salad and some hot tea. i went out briefly, to bring in the trash cans, and to star market for some snacks, where there was a sale on popcorners. i also got some garlic, as the ones i have at home have all dried up.
i have another new project: building an arduino-based ESP8266 wifi water sensor that can alert me via e-mail or text if there's a leak in the house. it can also be done with a raspberry pi but it'd be a waste of a good micro computer, more efficient to use a simpler board. i went online in search of parts (ESP8266 and water sensor).
later in the evening i finally got around to creating a sitemap file for google search to crawl through. i thought i needed to make an XML file but sitemaps can also just be a list of links, which i managed to generate with some php coding. another thing i learned was sitemap files need to be 60K or less, and the one that i created (links to blog posts dating back to 2001) was nearly 300K. i was going to break it apart into smaller files, but i discovered that sitemaps can be compressed (via gzip). the final sitemap.txt.gz was just 17K. hopefully future searches of my blog via google will be more accurate because i created a sitemap.
for dinner i finished the other half of the vodka sauce rigatoni. i had a carb overdose and couldn't finish the final few bites, saving them for tomorrow for lunch.
in the evening i watched the women's figure skating final, a battle between russians medvedeva and zagitova. i was rooting for medvedeva, who at just 18 years old was the more seasoned older skater compared to 15 year old zagitova, who seemed to be faster and stronger and totally fearless. it's the age old battle between youth and experience, and in the end youth won out when zagitova took the gold.
i spent the day agonizing whether or not i should upgrade my router (tp-link TL-WR841ND). i set an alert on camelcamelcamel to let me know when the asus RT-ACRH13 was on sale and i got a notice this morning that the price was down to $50 ($70 retail). i've been impressed with the asusWRT admin software and corresponding apps, and this particular router had a USB 3.0 port that i could use as a NAS. however, unlike the RT-AC68U, this router didn't have a firmware that could be flashed with a custom firmware. in the end, i couldn't justify buying a router touting 400Mbps/867Mbps speeds when my comcast internet service is only 30Mbps at best. my tp-link router isn't that old: i bought it back in november 2014 (from newegg) after upgrading from a purple linksys WRT54g with DD-WRT. sure, occasionally it drops the wifi and needs to be manually reset, but it doesn't happen that often enough to be annoying (yet). when that day comes, i'll definitely be in the market for a new asus router.
my annual physical was today at 10:30am. my father stopped by earlier because he was on his way to market basket and forgot his credit card so borrowed my last remaining debit card. temperature was in the 60's before i left, warm enough to bike in just a short-sleeved polo shirt. by day's end the temperature will soar to 75°F, a record high temperature for the month of february.
i was kind of nervous, getting a physical is like getting a report card, and i was anxious of bad grades. they saw me right away, i didn't even have time to complete the health questionnaire they always have me fill out. the nurse took my height, weight, blood pressure, oxygen level, and temperature, and brought me to one of the exam rooms with windows.
the doctor came in and asked me what's been going on since my last visit a year ago, and i couldn't really answer him since nothing much has happened since then. there was less examination and more just chatting. we talked about my blood pressure, my snoring, and my persistent cough. he scheduled an MRA because he thinks i may have renal artery stenosis, which could explain my high blood pressure for the past 2-1/2 decades, as he noticed my regular pulse rate is typically high and i have elevated levels of renin. he had to game the request and put me down as at risk for a few more potential kidney diseases before the computer would authorize the scan. finally he checked out a growth which may or may not be a wart but better to get it removed to be safe. before i left he had me chat with nurse cathy, who walked me through on how to properly use my blood pressure monitor. i went downstairs to the lab to get my blood drawn for my lipid and metabolic panels (later i found my results online, cholesterol now up to 253 mg/dL).
as a rule, my cholesterol number is lower during the summers when i'm active, and higher during the winter when i've put on some weight and been cooped up in the house for months.
by the time i finally left MGH, it was already 12:15pm. i was hungry, but riding home made it worse as i passed by people eating lunch outside, enjoying the warm weather. when i finally got back, i heated up one of my blueberry muffins in the toaster oven.
i finally got around to installing turbotax on my computer. besides my own taxes, i'm also in charge of doing taxes for my 2nd aunt, my sister's godmother, and maybe my grand uncle (just to alert the IRS that he's passed away). my parents have an accountant that does their taxes, and my sister does her own after i share my turbotax software with her.
for dinner i made my vodka pasta sauce with rigatoni. the last time i made this was august 2016. it's the only reason why i have a bottle of cheap vodka in my kitchen. it's from this recipe though i've opted not to include any chopped celery and used a whole pound of prosciutto. the pasta dinner was very filling, though afterwards i was reading up on the ketogenic diet, and one of the things you can't eat is carbohydrates (so no pasta). i could never do that diet!
more than a week left in february and the temperature today hit 71°F; it's supposed to be even warmer tomorrow. i opened all the windows to ventilate and warm up the house. one of the best things about an unusually warm winter day is there aren't any bugs so i don't have to worry about letting insects inside.
it was cloudy this morning but by noontime the sky went clear. however, taking a look at the graph line showed that we lost too much production to reach another 30kWh+ day (about 6kWh less compared to a clear day).
i cleaned my aquarium in the late morning. it's only been a week and a half since the last cleaning, but in that time there's been an outbreak of green thread algae. unlike hair algae which i've experienced a long time ago (when that stuff starts growing on your plants, it's easier just to throw the plants away), green thread algae is more delicate and actually looks kind of pretty swaying in the water current. the algae has taken up all the excess nutrients from the tank and now i have zero cyanobacterial slime, so it's not all bad. over time, when my plants reach a certain size, they will take up all the nutrients and the algae will disappear on its own. in the meantime, i can continue to do frequent water changes and possibly add more plants if possible.
i went to market basket for some groceries, some baking supplies (flour, sugar, blueberries), some ingredients for making a vodka sauce for dinner later. i'm still waiting for my new replacement credit card to arrive so i only had my debit card, which i rarely use nowadays. i made sure i didn't lose that one, otherwise i won't have any debit/credit cards.
i made another attempt at blueberry muffins (5th version), what i called a "lazy muffin" recipe because i didn't bother to cream the sugar and butter, which is the most labor intensive part of the recipe. instead, i just added all the wet ingredients together and mixed them all at once: a stick of butter (left out overnight, cut into smaller chunks), 3/4 cup of sugar, 2 eggs, teaspoon of vanilla extract, 1/2 cup of buttermilk. at first i thought it was working, but once i stopped mixing, many small chunks of butter floated to the surface. maybe that's why you cream the sugar and butter, to reduce the butter to a consistency where it's runny instead of clumpy. i nearly started over, but decided to continue with the recipe. the other new thing i did this time was to mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. the batter was thickening, but as soon as i added the frozen blueberries (1 cup large, 1 cup wild), the batter really hardened and it was very hard to stir.
i baked at 425°F for 10 minutes then 375°F for 30 minutes. if i really wanted to be lazy, i would've just baked at one temperature. the final product looked like. i packed up 4 of them immediately and left for the cafe to deliver them to my mother. however when i arrived she wasn't there, having gone out for a walk. also because i didn't have a good container, two of the muffins got crushed a little bit. my father and i shared one of the broken muffins, still warm from the oven. they tasted like the muffins i made last time (v4), it'd be difficult to tell them apart. the butter chunks didn't seem to matter in the end, since all the butter melts anyway during the bake.
i left the cafe before my mother came back. once i got home, spent a some time cleaning the grime and rust from my bike gears and chain. i sprayed some foaming cleanser and washed it up with a bucket of water i filled from the kitchen sink. bike parts really take a beating from all the winter road salt. my cassette/freewheel is relatively new, just replaced back in july 2016, and already they're pretty rusty (prior to that they were replaced in november 2011). the chain is also relatively new, replaced on july 2016 as well.
we nearly made another 30kWh+ day but solar production stopped at 29.61kWh. still, not too bad given how much clouds there was this morning. there was a surprising increase in production in the late afternoon, when production usually drops pretty fast. when i checked the monitoring app again, something weird happened: all the numbers in dashboard were zero. i checked my other phone as well as on the browser, and they were all the same. was something wrong with the server? so i contacted solaredge's technical support hotline via the live chat feature on their website. i was the 6th person on a waitlist and when my time came up i chatted with a tech named jake. he took some time to check out the problem, and at one point i thought he forgot about me. when he finally came back, he took a few more minutes before he finally fixed the problem, said it had something to do with a stray meter.
30 minutes later the problem came back, and i went back on live chat. i didn't get jake this time, it was somebody else, and he was pretty clueless. i stayed online with him for nearly half an hour, he couldn't fix the problem, just told me to contact my installer instead. not satisfied, i called the solaredge technical support hotline this time and talked with a tech named alexis. she took a time trying to figure out what was wrong as well. it was strange, because it took jake just a minute to fix the issue after he figured it out, but these other techs were having a lot of problems. eventually alexis told me i needed to talk with my installer, that the problem had something to do with a CT (current transformer). even then i was still pretty confused. if it was hardware-related, why did it suddenly break now, and not earlier? that's when i noticed something: in logical layout view, there was a production meter block in the flowchart that i never seen before. could that be the problem?
i wrote lucas telling him our monitoring was broken, and i just noticed a new production meter. i wasn't expecting him to reply until tomorrow, but he wrote me back and said it was something he did, that he contacted solaredge today and asked them to add the production meter because he noticed it was missing from the layout. he himself saw that the dashboard was broken, but the tech he was talking to told him to wait until tomorrow. if it was still broken by then, then it's probably hardware related and the wires of the actual production meter needed to be adjusted. lucas also assured me that we won't lose any production numbers.
weird thing is even though the dashboard is broken, i can still see production numbers in the physical layout, just no graphs. for the time being that will have to suffice until lucas can get this fixed.
by then it was 8pm. i was too tired to do any cooking, so i just heated up a pair of french bread pizza in the oven. i ate dinner while watching the olympics coverage, including the women's figure skating and the amazing battle between russians medvedeva (18) and zagitova (15).
i've converted most of the lights in my house to LED's. the biggest upgrade i made was back in june 2016, when i changed the 10 halogen recessed lights in my kitchen to 10 LED's. but there are still a few places in the house that don't use LED's: the under cabinet above sink light in the kitchen and the vanity light in the bathroom. both use halogens. i recently just changed the bathroom lightbulb with a new 50W 950 lumens halogen. a comparable LED replacement bulb of that equivalent lumens currently doesn't exist. in the kitchen, the above sink light uses 2 20W 200 lumens halogen bulbs. fortunately 20W equivalent LED G4 bulbs do exist. i ended up buying a pair from ebay, CBConcept side-pin G4 dimmable LED bulbs 1.8W 220 lumens for $9.82. they have a clamshell design with the LED's facing in one direction; i looked to make sure there's enough room to fit in these LED's.
i tried one of my latest blueberry muffins (v4) yesterday morning but i was in such a hurry i didn't have a chance to document how it tasted. i ate another one today, microwaved for a minute to soften and warm it up. soft, moist, strong blueberry flavor, good crusting. when i showed up in belmont in the early afternoon (along with one last container of fresh squeeze orange juice, 4 minneolas and 1 jumbo navel), my mother actually asked me how many more muffins i had left.
i had some savory rice porridge for lunch. my parents left for the airport to pick up my sister's godmother, back in boston after spending several months (including chinese new year) in taiwan with her family. she wasn't even here when my grand uncle passed away back in december, even though she lives upstairs. she also wasn't here when we got solar power.
today was more sunny than it was cloudy. riding on huron avenue, i spotted yet another house with solar panels; i never noticed it before because the southern side doesn't face the street, but i spotted the edges of panels while i rode by. after 2pm it was a production freefall as the sky became progressively darker. unlike yesterday, it turned dark and stayed dark. i put the bike away in the garage when it looked particularly threatening of imminent rain.
something else needed repairing today: one of the bedroom lamps has started to flicker. my father said he changed the bulb and the problem still persisted, so he thought there was something wrong with the corded dimmer switch. there were replacement switches for sale online (a few dollars) but my father thought he could bypass the switch (involves desoldering the wire connections) and have the lamp always be on since it's connected to a remote controlled outlet plug anyway. but i did some testing and found out the lamp works just fine plugged elsewhere, just not on that bedroom power strip. we thought the problem had something to do with a faulty USB charging plug sharing the same strip, because the light stopped flickering after i removed the USB plug. but moments later when i tried the lamp again, it began flickering. then i thought maybe the power strip was damaged. long story short, i fixed it by switching LED light bulbs. my father said he tried it and it didn't work, but then he couldn't remember if he actually did it or not. there's something a little weird with the electricity in the house and i don't exactly understand why, just know that whatever i did fixed it for the time being.
it turned out sunnier than i expected, and we managed to reach 30kWh+ again with 33.26kWh, the 5th 30kWh+ day of february, the 3rd consecutive day of 30kWh+ production, just a few kWh shy of 35kWh+ (we've only had two of those this month).
there was only a misting at most after dinner so i managed to bike home. steve and paul were outside when i got back, saying good bye to a friend who was leaving. i politely ignored them as i put my bike away. paul told me that they'd be gone for the next 10 days. i asked him where, he said the bahamas. a vacation for them is also a vacation for me!
my alarm went off at 8am this morning so i could get ready for when my father came to pick me up at 9am so i could help him shovel the sidewalk around the cafe. first i had some shoveling to do of my own, couldn't depend on my upstairs neighbors as they were seemingly not here this weekend.
it snowed about half a foot worth of wet snow that didn't seem all that much as it was all quickly melting on this clear warm day (temperature climbing into the 40's). snow clinging to tree branches were falling, creating another round of precipitation. afterwards i squeezed out some fresh orange juice and waited. my father also woke up early to clear the snow off of the solar panels so we could take advantage of the bright sun. i could see the moment he cleared the panels as the monitoring app went from zero production to suddenly several kW worth of electricity.
i wasn't that helpful as my father by himself with the snowblower pretty much cleared the sidewalk and parts of the parking lot where the hired snowplow truck couldn't clean. i shoveled a few places that the snowblower couldn't easily reach, ferried around the gasoline container, opened gates, and moved cones.
driving to belmont, i checked out all the other solar panels we passed along the way. some were clear (roofs with steep angles) but most were still covered in snow, and nearly all of them too high up and inaccessible for homeowners to clean on their own (unlike us). it didn't matter since the combination of the sun and warmth will melt all that snow soon. we just wanted to get a headstart on our solar production game. we also did some shoveling around the house, clearing the driveway and the sidewalk. it wasn't a lot of work but i haven't shoveled in a while and i'll probably still be a little sore tomorrow.
while i was eating rice porridge for an early lunch (i ate one of my homemade blueberry muffins back at my house before i left), i noticed large patches of low altitude clouds suddenly moving across the sky, eclipsing the sun. the effect was pretty dramatic as we noticed intermittent darkening of the sky followed by brightness again. our hope of another record setting day was dashed; would we even be able to reach 30kWh+?
we went to the waltham costco around noontime. it was busy, but wasn't as busy as we'd imagined. my parents bought two suitcases for their trip next month (a large and a small). i left with half a dozen warm-white LED light bulbs for $5 (normally $15 but there's a $10 instant energy rebate). i also saw boxes of sunkist navel oranges on sale for $13.99 (24 count); that comes out to 58¢ per orange, still more than double the price i get from haymarket, but i think these are better quality.
back at the house, i went around searching for any lights that still used compact fluorescent bulbs. we even found a light (hallway) that still had a 60W incandescent bulb (if we lit all 6 LED light bulbs it still wouldn't equal 60W). by the time i switched out all the old light bulbs, i was left with just one LED bulb for myself. while doing the inspection, we also came across some old LED bulbs, back then when they were still trying to figure out the technology, and a single LED bulb would cost $10+, not less than $1 like it is now.
after convincing my father that the toilet was indeed still leaking, we installed the new flapper & replacement flush valve seat combo we got yesterday. normally the flapper attaches to the overflow pipe, but the part we got has the flapper attached to the replacement flush valve seat. the hardest part was just turning off the water main (the shutoff valve under the toilet wouldn't close completely) and drying the tank before attaching the new valve seat. the bottom of the seat has a sticky putty that we simply pressed onto the old valve seat. we then turned on the water. it still looked like it was leaking, but minutes later after we came back, the tiny trickle of water had stopped. leaking toilet fixed!
despite the intermittent clouds blocking the sun, we still managed to produce 30.58 kWh of electricity, just the 4th 30kWh+ day of february. it won't be as sunny tomorrow, and the day looks to be cloudy, with possibility of some showers in the evening. hard to say what sort of day production wise, my prediction is somewhere between 10-15kWh if it's just partly cloudy.
i started making version 4 of my blueberry muffins around 10:30am, figured they'd be done in an hour and i'd be able to bring fresh muffins to my parents around noontime. this batch would include slightly more baking powder (3 tsp) in an attempt to get a better rise and an initial bake at 425°F before dropping down to 375°F.
i left a stick of butter out overnight so it'd be ready come morning. creaming the sugar and butter is the hardest part of the recipe, and i'm no better at it even on my 3rd attempt. i still got chunks of butter stuck in the mixing attachments. i did the best i could, before mixing in the eggs then adding in the dry ingredients. i didn't bother mashing any blueberries this time, just added 1 cup of wild and 1 cup of normal frozen blueberries. i realized that the reason why the batter gets so stiff at this stage is a result of the frozen berries causing the butter to solidify. i baked for 10 minutes at 425°F, didn't notice any significant rise, before baking for 20 minutes at 375°F. the tops were still a bit raw so i baked for another 10 minutes until they were golden brown. the finished muffins had a dome higher than what they were at the 10 minute mark, but nothing so significant that i'd say the extra teaspoon of baking powder did anything.
for my next blueberry muffin attempt, i'd like to streamline the recipe. i think creaming the sugar and butter is a waste of time, and it'd be easier if i can mix all the wet ingredients together (butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract) instead of doing it in stages. i also wonder if i can use whole milk instead of buttermilk, as whole milk is more versatile and i use it for other things besides just for making muffins. in a future recipe i'd like to increase the flour portion from 2 to 3 cups for a bigger muffin (though careful not to make them too dry). i also learned i'm mixing dry into wet ingredients, instead of the proper way which is wet into dry.
before i was about to leave i discovered i lost my credit card. i looked everywhere in the house and couldn't find it. i used it yesterday at market basket so i biked back there to check lost & found. they brought out a box full of cards (apparently a lot of people are forgetful): credit cards, bus passes, driver licenses. however, my card was not in the collection. i think the worst part is not knowing. if it's still somewhere in the house, i wouldn't mind, i could just get a duplicate card. but if i lost it outside, then i'd have to cancel the card first before getting a replacement card. fortunately, it's not the first time i've lost my credit card, so i wasn't in any panic, just a little annoyed over the inconvenience. i went online to check if there were any suspicious activities on the card, which there wasn't. i then reported the card as lost and had them issue me a new one which will arrive in about a week.
i didn't have any containers to put the muffins so i put 3 of them in one of the used round pyrex bowls i found, layered a paper towel on top of them, and put everything in an insulated tote bag strapped to my rear bike rack. i didn't get to belmont until 1pm. i had some rice porridge for lunch.
a few things around the house needed fixing. first there was a basement light with a broken pull chain. my father and i had to shut off the electricity so he could reattach the change. then there was a leaking toilet which my mother said she's been complaining about for months now. a small nearly invisible trickle of water continues to flow into the bowl long after each flush. we fixed it about a year ago, replacing the flapper, so it was unusual that the fairly new flapper would already been broken. we tried cleaning the flush valve seat and the flapper, but none of that worked, so we needed to replace the flapper.
we went to home depot, where my father returned the LED ceiling light he bought weeks ago for the kitchen that turned out too big (15", the kitchen light diameter is 11"). we went back to the lighting department to see our options. we were in the wrong section, which was all LED ceiling lights with warm glows, until we discovered all their commercial lighting section further back, which had a more neutral white glow, like the circline fluorescent bulb we currently have at home. we ended up picking an 11" low profile round LED light for $20 which uses 14.3W and puts out 1100 lumens. in the plumbing department, we picked up the same flapper we had before ($5), even though we saw an option for a flapper + replacement flush valve seat ($7).
back at home, we replaced the toilet flapper but it didn't fix the leak. that meant we needed to replace the flush valve seat. i told my father we should return to home depot now, saving us a trip tomorrow. before we left, he wanted to try out the ceiling light. instead of installing it, he manually inserted the wires into a socket to turn it out. the thing we noticed right away that it wasn't very bright. but to really know for sure, it needed to be ceiling-mounted, so i grabbed an extension cable so my father could raise the light to ceiling height. our initial observation was correct, 1100 lumens just wasn't that bright. i checked the light value for a typical circline fluorescent bulb and it was around 1800 lumens at 32W. we needed a stronger ceiling light.
so back we went to home depot, returning everything we just bought an hour ago. they had a 14" flush mount LED light that was 1600 lumens at 24W for $50. they also had even brighter lights - 13" LED versi lite with 1985 lumens at 28W for $50. however at that rating, it comes awfully close to the circline fluorescent we currently have, so it may be better to keep the fluorescent instead. we decided to postpone upgrading the kitchen light until another time. as for the plumbing, we got the flapper + replacement flush valve seat combo we saw earlier. when we returned home, my father said we should wait to repair the toilet until tomorrow, since it involves shutting off the water main.
we set another new solar record today, the most productive day by just 0.01 kWh. there was some hazy high altitude clouds and it got progressively darker by the afternoon (the approaching snowstorm scheduled for later tonight) but it made no difference as we'd already generated the bulk of our electricity. notice that compared to the previous record productive day 2 weeks ago (feb. 3rd), production is starting earlier as the sun begins to rise earlier: sunrise feb. 3rd was 6:56am, but this morning it was 6:38am, an increase of 18 minutes. compare that with june, when the earliest sunrise will be around 5:06am. my mother was doing laundry and running the dryer all day to take advantage of the free electricity. they didn't run the space heaters because it wasn't that cold.
we had leftover hot pot for dinner, which looked similar to sichuan maocai. afterwards i helped my parents book cruise tickets for august.
* riding home in the snow
my mother called this morning asking how many more blueberry muffins i had. apparently the ones i made yesterday - the ones that she thought were sort of throwaways and gave 2 to my 2nd aunt - were amazingly delicious when my mother finally tried it today. i asked her what was the difference. she said it wasn't very puffy, but the balance was just right, not too sweet, with a lot of blueberry flavors. i finally tried one myself for lunch. the crust and sides were a little hard, but i actually like a thicker crust/sides. though not puffy, the muffin inside was still very soft, and the combination of normal and wild blueberries along with some crushed blueberries mixed into the batter gave it a strong blueberry flavor. though the batter was purple, the muffin interior wasn't purple at all.
if yesterday's solar production was bad, today was worse: 5.82 kWh. not only were there clouds today, but at certain times of the day it actually darkened the sky so much it felt like twilight. i went out in the afternoon to get some more frozen blueberries so i could make another batch of muffins (12 oz. whole frozen blueberries $1.99, 12 oz. wild frozen blueberries $2.19). however, i decided to make them tomorrow morning, so i can bring a fresh batch to my parents' place afterwards.
i spent the evening consolidating more photos. i still need to transfer nearly 900GB worth of images from one drive to another, which will take a few more hours. for dinner i made one last italian sub combined with a mango lassi followed by some nian-gao.
why does the motor vehicle excise tax even exist? every year i'm already paying for registration, insurance, and inspection, why do i have to pay even more? that's something i've been wondering recently, as the annual invoice for my motorcycle arrived in the mail a few days ago. it's only $15, but when i went to pay online, there was a 40¢ convenience fee. it used to be that if you paid using a bank account instead of a debit/credit card it was free, but i see now the city of cambridge has gone all in on the service/convenience fee racket. 40¢ isn't a big deal but it's the principle of the matter. so i decided to pay the bill directly at city hall just to avoid paying the 40¢.
it takes 8 minutes to ride the 1.4 miles to central square. i was just at city hall a few weeks ago to get a death certificate for my grand uncle. there was a panhandler sitting outside, nonchalantly holding a cup for change. i made no eye contact: if i wasn't going to pay 40¢ to cambridge, i definitely wasn't going to give money to a panhandler. after making sure they weren't going to still charge me a convenience fee for paying in person, i wrote them a check and left. attached to one of the benches outside was a red box with a solar panel on top and the words "soofa" painted on the side. i looked at it briefly, trying to figure out its purpose. it didn't seem to have any lights but there were two holes pointing to the ground where light could've shine. in the end i determined it was an art installation and snapped a photo. later i learned that it's actually a solar-powered usb charging station, and the two holes if examined closely are actually waterproof usb ports. it's an interesting idea but seems like a waste of bench space. i'm all for solar-powered charging stations, but the panels should be mounted high so they don't get vandalized.
returning home, i checked out a box of unwanted kitchen supplies somebody had left on the side of the inbound bike path. i picked up 2 glass bowls in good condition (one of the a pyrex made in france) and a mistmatched square glass lid for possibly a casserole dish. i cleaned up the bowls with a brillo pad; i rescued a glass lasagna dish one time covered in baking stains and brought it back to near new condition all thanks to the scouring powers of brillo, which is great for glassware.
i received a text letting me know the library book i ordered had arrived, hatheads by trond anfinnsen. it's a book on my wishlist for a while, and i was almost tempted to finally buy it, but i saw it was available via the minuteman library network from the wellesley library, so i put in an order. had the text arrived earlier, i could've gotten when i came back from city hall. now i had to go back in the afternoon, right when cambridge ridge & latin high school were getting out next door, so the place was packed with kids.
it was a bad day for solar, with the clouds seemingly threatening rain at any moment but never did come. end of the day we made 9.82 kWh, not even breaking 10kWh+, the 4th worst day production-wise for february.
after the success of yesterday's blueberry muffins (v2), i went ahead and made a new batch (v3) in an attempt to improve the recipe. instead of thawing the butter in the microwave, i left a stick outside to warm up naturally. since my daytime indoor room temperature is just 60°F, the butter wasn't going to warm up too much, so i put it on top of my LED aquarium lights, which i hoped was a bit warmer. i also thawed a quarter cup of frozen wild blueberries for the recipe. nearly 3 hours later, it was time to make the muffins.
i thawed the butter because it's supposed to make it easier to cream with the sugar. i also mashed up the butter first, cut it into manageable chunks for easier mixing. immediately i ran into the problem where the butter would clog the beater attachments. i kept having to dig out the trapped butter with a spoon. once i began to add the sugar i was hoping it'd improve but the sugar-butter mix kept clogging the attachments. in the end i gave up. maybe i warmed up the butter too much. or maybe i still didn't mix it enough to the point of creaming. on the advice of my mother, i used less sugar less time, about 1/2 cup less, so just 3/4 cup of sugar.
once i added the 2 eggs whatever my attempt at creaming the butter and sugar became the start of a wet batter. into the mix i also added 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and 1/4 cup of mashed blueberries. the berries turned the batter greyish purple with little flecks of darker blueberry skin. at that point it didn't look appetizing, more like the kind of thing a child would make by combining a bunch of random ingredients.
i added the dry ingredients, already mixed in a separate bowl (2 cups flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt). it lightened the batter, turning it more purple than grey. 1/2 cup of buttermilk was added in between portions of flour addition to moisten the batter when it seemed too dry. then i added more blueberries: 1 cup of normal berries, 1/2 cup of wild berries. there was no reason for these portions other than the fact that i had these ingredients in my freezer. i know i can get cheap fresh blueberries from haymarket for $1 a container (sometimes even less), but i'd be afraid of accidentally mashing the fresh berries when i mixed them into the batter. one day i'll try making a batch of muffins with fresh berries to see if they taste better, but for now i prefer frozen since they don't break as easily.
into the oven went the blueberry muffins, baked at 375°F for 35 minutes. i was excited when i took them out because there was a better rise compared to yesterday (though nowhere as good as blueberry muffins v1). i set them out to take a photo, but the tops still looked underbaked. so i put them back into the muffin pan and baked them some more, this time for 425°F. i went out briefly to get some beer for tonight's hot pot dinner, and turned the oven off when i came back about 15 minutes later.
by that point the muffins looked overbaked, brown all over, none of that light muffin crust. i didn't bother tasting any just yet, but instead left them on the rack to cool, taking 3 of them with me to the cafe for my parents to try out.
before i left, i also juiced up another 5 navel oranges. originally just 4, i added a 5th because it didn't produce as much juice. i also transferred some liaoning photos i took back in 2013 to my google photos account to show my aunt and uncle before their trip with my parents to northeast china. that involved digging out my backup hard drive and finding the photos. they're cataloged, but because i shuffled the folder structure, the catalog wasn't smart enough to locate the photos, so i had to rebuild portions of the catalog again. then with my 5Mbps upload speed, it took a while to upload the few dozen photos.
finally, a package was waiting for me on the doorstep. the box was about the size of a toaster, i didn't remember ordering anything that big. but before i opened the box, i suddenly realized what it could be: my halogen bulb. sure enough, inside that big box was just a small light bulb (higuchi JC5043 50 watt bi-pin GY6.35 12 volts). i plugged it into my above-sink bathroom light fixture and once again the bathroom was bathed in bright light. i've been struggling with that halogen light for months now, ever since i noticed it was flickering. was it the light bulb, or was it the light itself? and wouldn't it be more economical if i just replaced that whole fixture with an LED light instead? but i had replacement halogen bulbs i've bought many years ago so i put in a new 50W bulb. that one was flickering too, but it took me a long time to realize that, because it was subtle, and for the longest time i thought maybe my eyesight was going bad (i do a lot of reading in the bathroom). i then replaced the 50W with a spare 35W, just to test if it was the bulb or the fixture that was going on. although 35W is not as bright, i haven't noticed any flickering the past few weeks, so it was definitely light bulb related. finally i ordered a replacement 50W halogen, took about another week for it to arrive today.
i left for the cafe a bit before 5:30pm. my 2nd aunt and 2nd uncle were already there, she was helping out, while he was just standing around waiting to eat. while i was parking my bike, i saw my aunt arrive as well. i gave my mother the new blueberry muffins and the orange juice but they got lost in the shuffle of food. i set up the action camera to take a time lapse video (only to realize after we finished eating that it didn't record, either something wrong with the power cord or ran out of memory). my sister showed up then disappeared, only to come back much later after we all started eating. we waited for matthew before we started, who was delayed on the red line.
my 2nd uncle spent a lot of time scolding my 2nd aunt, seems like everything that came out of his mouth was to critique her. here is somebody who never contributes anything to our family dinner and only comes here to eat and the only reason why he's even invited is because of my 2nd aunt. later there was additional drama when my sister arrived and got really confrontation with my father, forcing him to change his seat with my mother who now couldn't reach the spicy side of the hot pot. if it was me i would've asked my sister to leave. fortunately the two most disliked people left early: my 2nd uncle went home after he finished eating, my sister did the same (something about her dog).
i ate standing up just like during thanksgiving, because i can more easily reach all the different food. even then, there were some items i missed completely. despite buying two different kind of tripe on monday, my parents forgot to thaw them out so there was no tripe. we used a whole package of chongqing hot pot base (brick-form), and although it was okay, it was authentically chongqing because there was hardly any peppercorn (i should've brought some from home). hot pot is a smelly affair (that's why we haven't eaten it back in belmont in many years), and i reminded my mother before we began to take down some of her knits otherwise they'll absorb the stink. originally my parents wanted to turn off the light above where we were eating because it was too bright, but with that light off, it felt like we were eating in the dark. finally they turned on a pair of pendant side lights, which gave us just enough ambient lighting. i had my 28mm f/1.8 which performs best in low light situations. one of the astrophysicists living above my sister's place called her to let her know they were having people over making dumplings for chinese new year dinner so it might be a little noisy. my mother felt guilty initially for not inviting them, but happy to know they were having their own celebration. when my sister left she brought some food my mother had made for the astrophysicists.
my aunt and uncle left, taking with them some leftovers (fried taro, nian gao). my parents would give my 2nd aunt a ride home. she left with two of my blueberry muffins (which i've yet to try). she gave me a hong bao before she left even though i refused at first. i rode my bike back home.
i spent the rest of the evening watching winter olympics coverage and consolidating my photo backups. some photos have triple backups, especially those i took while living abroad in china, as i gave my parents a hard drive to take back home for safekeeping. after consolidating, i managed to free up one 2TB drive entirely. i'll use that as a media backup for movies.