heating oil companies are all crooks. that's my opinion after helping my parents deal with them over the past few winters. last winter i helped them switch from atlas glen-mor to fawcett oil. atlas has some shady business practice: besides being one of the most expensive heating oil companies, they also filled up the tank one spring, when we didn't need heating oil anymore. they not only filled it up (charging their high rate), but actually spilled oil everywhere, enough so that we had to call them back and get them to take care of it. finally, when my parents did cancel their service, they had about $100 worth of credit still on the account which atlas never returned despite saying they would.

when my parents switched to fawcett end of last winter, they were happy. fawcett had cheap-to-average price, and seemed to have good service, no salespeople trying to hard sell. then this fall my parents decided to enter a service plan with fawcett with a locked-in rate for the winter. they sent over a technician who did a free inspection of their tank, and filled it up with inexpensive heating oil. all seemed well.

until last week (11/30), when fawcett came by to fill the tank and my mother saw the receipt: $2.5990 per gallon (68.5 gallons, $178.03). what happened to our locked-in earlier rate of around $2? this seemed like a switch-and-bait so i was tasked with calling them back to ask. service was good, their account person was busy, so i left my number with the receptionist.

i also called atlas glen-mor to ask about the missing credit. atlas prides itself on its 24/7 service, but whenever i call them, it's never been a good experience. the person i talked to this time put me on hold for several minutes before letting me know they weren't going to return the credit because it'd already been used. but that's impossible because we cancelled them when we still had the credit (and it was an overpayment). she said she was going to send me a worksheet of their calculation. i'm not holding my breath. the difficult part of my negotiation is i don't have the original invoices, so i don't have exact figures and dates to back up my claim. maybe if my mother finds them i call try calling again.

in the afternoon i got a call back from fawcett. the account person told me my parents were never locked in to any rates. i thought when they signed up for the service plan, it was implied that's what they wanted to do. maybe prices were too cheap back in the fall, and they weren't locking rates unless explicitly asked to. she told me the oil was still discounted, but the discount had nothing to do with the service plan, it was an early payment discount of 15¢ off per gallon if you pay within 15 days. to be fair, with the discount, fawcett oil comes out to the state average of $2.45/gallon, but still, it didn't change my negative feeling about the heating oil industry. i guess we'll know better next year.

all this heating oil business left a bad taste in my mouth so i went online and downloaded a most violent year (2014), about the dangers of the heating oil business in the early 80's. it's the only heating oil industry film i know of, and paints them in an unflattering light. it's a great movie, starring two of my favorite actors, oscar isaac and jessica chastain.

by tonight it will be day 3 of my kimchi ferment, traditionally the period where i tighten the lids and move the kimchi into the fridge because they will be ready to eat. 3 of the 4 jars were overflowing with kimchi fluid, which is a good sign; it means that carbon dioxide has been building up, pushing the cabbage upwards as the gas tries to escape. after cleaning up the jars, i pushed down the cabbage to help the bubbles escape. i tried a piece of kimchi: doesn't taste as salty as i'd feared, very spicy and garlicky, but with a slight bitter of aftertaste, which may be a byproduct of using expired chili powder. also it lost that maroon color, more it's just dark red, which is more pleasant-looking.

i was going to take the motorcycle to belmont when the engine won't start. i've been having issues ever since the weather turned cold. pulling the choke doesn't seem to help, pull it out too far and the engine hisses, it needs to be pulled out just right. but several futile attempts to start, i heard the hissing and clicking of the engine when the battery is out of juice. maybe the problem has to do with the battery as well. the battery is new, just replaced june 2015. but maybe last winter it wasn't properly maintained, with me not riding all winterlong then being gone for much of the spring. instead of being charged all the time, my father took it off the battery tender. but if i had to guess, i think it's other issues, like maybe bad spark plugs, or cruddy engine. anyway, the motorcycle wasn't going to start, so i went on my bicycle instead, get some exercise in the process.

in belmont i refilled the birdfeeder with the last remaining amount of seeds. i didn't see any birds but the feeder was nearly empty and bits of shells all around the pole. did the sparrows get to it? or squirrels? i then went around the backyard picking up dog droppings. finally, i washed a pile of dishes in the sink right when my parents returned.

the unbranded 100ml essential oil diffuser clone i bought off of ebay for $10.99 arrived today. it looks nearly identical to the anker diffuser i got for my sister ($16.79), except the unbranded diffuser nozzle is tapered at an angle while the anker diffuser points straight up. i first tried it with some cedar wood essential oil. it didn't smell that good in the bottle, but i was hopeful the scent would improve once diffused, but that was not the case. it smells chemically, almost like the scent of a cleaning product. i soon dumped everything into the sink, cleaned out the diffuser, and went with sandalwood, which is my mother's favorite. this time we managed to add just 3 drops (the oil is a little viscous, won't easily pour from the tip, cap must be removed), instead of the quick pour my mother made the last time. unfortunately i could still smell the cedar wood combined with the sandalwood, although my parents said they only smelled the latter. although it's unbranded (even the instruction manual doesn't have any branding information), on the box i found a label that said aukey. both aukey and anker sell similar things on amazon. are they in fact the same company, or is one just knocking off the other? all a mystery. aukey does sell diffusers, but none that look like the ones that i have.

my 2nd aunt is looking for furniture to populate her new apartment. the word ikea has been bandied about, but i think the first option should be to check craig's list. not only are items cheaper, but usually they're local too, so we wouldn't have to drive all the way down to stoughton (although my 2nd aunt should get a chance to visit ikea since she's never gone before). i wouldn't buy a used mattress off of craig's list (although i have picked up free mattresses), but it's okay for things like tables and chairs. my aunt needed a kitchen island, and i saw a crate & barrel belmont black kitchen island selling for $350 (retails $500) in newton. i showed my mother who loved it, then we passed it along to my aunt, who liked it as well (after some convincing from parents). i contacted the seller and bargained down to $300. a few hours later i got a reply, saying that the new price was okay if we came to pick it up either tomorrow or saturday. apparently there were other interested parties as well, and one even scheduled to come pick up the island but just never showed up.

after dinner my father gave me a ride back to cambridge. this was because i might bring home the motorcycle in anticipation of some snow either sunday or monday, and i could then ride back home on the bicycle. he could also collect the jars of kimchi after he dropped me off. he also helped me remove the dead battery from my motorcycle so i could recharge back at the house with the battery tender junior. i actually thinking of doing this in the morning, so it'd be easier to see, but then i wouldn't be able to ride tomorrow. fortunately i was parked underneath a street light which gave me just enough illumination, and i've taken out the battery a bunch of times before so it was pretty routine.

back in october 2012 i got a $50 arduino kit. besides an arduino board, it came with a bunch of electronic parts, many of which i had no idea what they were or how to use them. after resparking my SCM (single-chip microcomputer) enthusiasm this year with the raspberry pi, i'm slightly better versed in electronic tinkering (the emphasis on slightly). anyway, i dusted off the box of components and took a closer at the items. my eyes immediately caught sight of a stepper motor, the 28BYJ-48 to be precise. that was actually the stepper motor i was originally going to buy. not only that, but there was also a ULN2003 drive board, used to control the stepper motor. i can use the ULN2003 to test the broken stepper motor from the foscam webcam to see if it really is in fact broken (unfortunately i bought an ULN2003 on ebay a few days ago, but the one that i got is a fancier version, with more discreet led's, and only cost 89¢). there were other parts as well, including a keyes 5v relay module, a SN74HC595 8-bit shift register (used for controlling a 8x8 dot matrix module), and a 602A lcd display. it's cool that i can use all these parts with the raspberry pi, like discovering a box of forgotten treasures.