with today's weather looking to be clear, i continued working on the front porch this morning. the temperature was brisk but it was supposed to warm up soon (into the 50's). i patched up a few holes on the risers (side effects of some overly-aggressive snow shoveling from my upstairs neighbors) with the wood plastic. after an hour i sanded and started to paint. instead of a bristle brush i ended up using just a foam brush since there wasn't very much to do. the foam brush picked up more paint and allowed me to do more detail work.

for lunch i had some scrambled eggs and some kielbasa sausages. i love the kielbasa but every time i make it, it stinks up the house afterwards. i used to prepare them in the toaster oven, but the oil would splatter everywhere on the inside creating a mess. nowadays i cook the kielbasa on the foreman grill, but it still smokes up a little bit. i ate while watching more of the v series marathon on syfy.

in the early afternoon i went with julie to microcenter to buy a webcam because she wanted to do some video chatting. there was a wide selection for the PC but finding a mac-compatible webcam was a bit of a challenge. there are third party driver software that allows the mac to use non-mac-specific webcams, but it was just easier to find something designed for the mac. julie went with the icecam2 ($30) from macally. it was much smaller than the photos we saw online.

afterwards we did a bit of shopping at trader joe's before julie dropped me off at my place.

there was some confusion as to whether or not the webcam would work on julie's G4 since the company website specifically said G4 machines weren't supported. i think the problem was the icecam2 requires a USB 2.0 connection, and the older G4's just had USB 1.0. fortunately julie installed a USB 2.0 card a while ago, so there was no problem getting the icecam2 to work. we tried ichat first, which worked flawlessly. since she was still using tiger (OS 10.4), her version of ichat didn't have the video effects that i had (using leopard OS 10.5) but she could still see them when i used them. next we tried skype. at first i could only see julie but couldn't hear her but then she managed to fix the problem. unfortunately, she could only hear me but not see me until i upgraded my version of skype.

my dealextreme order finally arrived from hong kong, at least half of it anyway. i made the order sometime back in september and it's only now arriving. inside the package were 2 sets of LED bicycle lights: a pair of RGB 5-LED 7-mode stainless steel wheel lights ($4.28 for 2) and a pair of motion activated purple + red multi-effects 5-LED wheel lights ($3.71 each) . the lights screw onto the valve stem of each tire and display a cool glowing pattern when you ride the bicycle at nights. the RGB version (a fancy way of saying it has 3 different LED colors - 2 reds, 2 blues, 1 green) turns on with a button switch while the red-purple version is both motion and light-sensor activated (it'll only turn on at nights while moving). i can't wait to try them out but i won't be able to see it properly since i'd be on the bike itself. the instructions said these lights were also suitable for motorcycles. i have my doubts, since a motorcycle tire spins much faster than a bicycle tire, and i think the centrifugal force would damage the electronics inside. also, the valves on my motorcycle tires stick out at a 90° angle so nobody would be able to see the light show unless you were looking at the bike head on or directly from behind.

i'm still waiting for a camera lens cap and a bicycle bell from dealextreme. their stuff may take a long time to arrive, and they don't always let you know if an item is backordered, but the (international!) shipping is free anyway, and their prices for little electronic gadgets and toys are the cheapest you'll find anywhere, so i'll still continue ordering from them.

since i didn't use that expensive paint brush i bought yesterday, i went back to the watertown home depot to return it and to grab a few more foam brushes. i also got a small cheap bristle brush for the stripping project i wanted to work on when i got back home. with less than an hour left of sunlight, i applied a second (and final) coat of paint on the porch. the repaired work was so well camouflaged that i had a hard time finding the patched spots. the porch looks brand new now, and it'd be difficult for anyone to find where the real wood ends and the plastic wood begins. now i'm waiting for the next rainstorm to see how well the patch and paint will hold up.

i finally got around to stripping the paint off of the old porcelain insulator the contractors removed from the house when they replaced the few damaged shingles. i had to decide whether to use paint thinner or stripping gel. i decided to go with the gel because it seemed less work. i got a container of citristrip safer paint and varnish stripping gel a few weeks ago. i got it because it seemed more environmentally friendly, but to be honest, how safe can any chemical be that can strip off paint and varnish? it also had a pleasant smell and i was momentarily tempted to eat some. with the little brush i just bought, i coated the insulator with a layer of citristrip. i wasn't sure how much to use but as long as i covered everything i figured i was fine. it takes just 30 minutes for citristrip to remove the old paint but 15 minutes into the process and the old paint was already starting to fall off like dried skin. when the time was up, i scrubbed off the paint under the sink with a plastic brush. there were a few spots where the paint was still clinging on. i scraped off what i could with a fingernail, and then used steel wool to polish off the rest. i was afraid the citristrip would damage the ceramic glaze underneath but the finish was unharmed. i was shocked by the result, like having a brand new porcelain insulator! as for the brush, i cleaned it off by swishing it in a jar of soapy water a few times.

i made a chicken tortilla soup for dinner, figuring something hot and spicy on a cold night would really hit the spot. i was actually going to make this recipe last week but i still had some much leftover lasagna to eat that i was all set for food. it's based on an online recipe i found, with some modifications: instead of condensed chicken broth i just used 2 cans of low-sodium chicken broth, a cup of israeli pearl couscous instead of hominy (i didn't even know what hominy was, had to look it up), and instead of fresh corn i just used frozen corn. the finished product was super hearty, almost more gumbo than soup. i finished a large bowl while watching the series premiere of the rebooted v.

if the 1980's v was about fascism, then the 2009 v is about conspiracy theories and terrorism. all the wars and the tanking economy and global warming is all due to alien sleeper cells wrecking havoc on human society so we'd be more receptive when the alien mother ships finally show up? the best scene is when the alien leader anna informs her human interviewer minutes before they go live on the air not to ask her any questions that'd paint the visitors in a negative light.