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.