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Friday, August 28, 2015

Where can I go to brush up on Microsoft Excel?

Microsoft Excel is a computer program for making spreadsheets and processing data. It’s used in many offices, so it’s good to be familiar with it. The Newton Falls Public Library has several resources available to help people learn more about using Microsoft Excel and computers in general.

Brooke Mayle, our computer instructor, teaches 90-minute classes three Mondays evenings and one Saturday afternoon each month. The classes cover everything from computer basics to e-media, including basic and intermediate Microsoft Excel classes. She also offers one-on-one sessions.

For people who can’t make it in to the library for the scheduled classes, provides free online classes on Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint, and more through LearningExpress. The classes are split into sections and can be watched at any pace from any computer, whether at home or at the library. While setting up an OhioMeansJobs account allows people to track their progress, it isn’t necessary to use the service.

Finally, we have a selection of books on computer skills, including several versions of Microsoft Excel, all available for borrowing. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Are eels nocturnal?

One of our patrons was reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, on which the HBO television series Game of Thrones is based. Presumably to give things a more fantastical flavor, Martin made up his own system of telling time, having characters refer to times such as “the hour of the bat,” “the hour of the wolf,” and “the hour of the eel.” “I understand the wolf and the bat,” our patron said, “because they’re both associated with night. But why the eel? Are they nocturnal?”

While we can’t explain why Martin makes the writing decisions he does, we could find information about eels. We looked them up first in the World Book Encyclopedia. It didn’t tell us anything about when they were active, but we did learn that they undergo several metamorphoses over the course of their lives. American and European eels travel to the Sargasso Sea to lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into transparent larvae shaped like willow leaves. The larvae change into small transparent eels, called glass eels. By the time they reach the coast, the small eels have developed a greenish-brown color. No longer baby glass eels, they’re now juvenile eels, called elvers. The elvers travel inland and grow into yellow eels (though they’re more yellow-green or yellow-brown). During this stage, which can last many years, they reach their full size, three to five feet for females and around one-and-a-half to three feet for males. Eventually, they reach sexual maturity and turn black and silver. Now, they’re called silver eels. They fatten up for their journey back to the Sargasso Sea to mate. (They don’t eat on their voyage, and their digestive system actually starts to break down.) After mating, they die. Because they are born in the ocean, grow up in fresh water, and then go back to the ocean to spawn, eels are catadromous, and they’re the only such fish in North America.

As interesting as this is, it didn’t answer our question. We found that information on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. Freshwater eels are indeed nocturnal, at least during their yellow phase. They come out at night to eat crabs, fish, insects, eggs, clams, and frogs. They have small teeth and weak jaws, so to break off pieces of food that’s too big to swallow whole, they’ll grip it in their mouths and spin their bodies. They can spin up to fourteen times a second, almost three times as fast as an Olympic ice skater. Eels can move just as well forward and backward, and they can move over land through wet grass and mud because they’re able to absorb oxygen through their skin.

For more information on eels, James Prosek’s fascinating Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World’s Most Mysterious Fish is available through CLEVNET. George R.R. Martin’s books that inspired this question (as well as the television series inspired by the books) are both available at the Newton Falls Public Library or through CLEVNET.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What do I do if I never got a phone book?

A few patrons have contacted the library lately wondering what to do if their phone books never showed up. The easiest solution is to try calling the phone company. (The customer service number is typically printed on the top of the bill.) However, keep in mind that they’ll probably only be able to send you the book for the area you live in.

We have the most recent copies of the Newton Falls, Trumbull Countywide, and Youngstown/Warren Regional phone books here at the library for people to peruse. We also have a copy of the latest Warren/Trumbull County Polk City Directory, which patrons can use to look someone up by address, last name, or phone number. Anyone who needs a phone number is welcome to contact the library; we’ll do our best to find it. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

What is cream of tartar for? Can you substitute anything for it?

A patron came across a frosting recipe calling for cream of tartar and they were wondering what exact purpose it served. One of our librarians recalled using it in sugar cookies and one remembered using it in meringues, but neither knew exactly what it did in the recipe or if there were substitutes. We looked in Baking Illustrated, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Baking Bible and on for more information.

Cream of tartar, also called potassium bitartrate, is an acid by-product of making wine or grape juice. It will last indefinitely as long as it’s kept away from moisture.

In the kitchen, it can be used to stabilize egg whites (as in the meringues) so they can be whipped more without collapsing. It will also prevent caramels and sugar syrups from crystallizing, making them creamier. (This may have been its purpose in the frosting recipe.) When mixed with baking soda and a liquid, it acts as a leavening agent. Its acidic properties can also help certain foods, like red cabbage, potatoes, and cauliflower, keep their color when boiled. As to substitutions, a bit of lemon juice serves a similar purpose in stabilizing egg whites, though, being liquid and less acidic, it doesn’t do the job as well.