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Saturday, February 23, 2019

How did the waffle iron get its name?

This question was answered by Kelly McCorkle, our library intern! 

A patron wanted to know how the name “waffle iron” came about. Digging into the history of the waffle iron, we learn from Electronic Component Magazine (ECM) that modern waffle irons date back to the late-1800s. On August 24, 1869, Cornelius Swartwout of Troy, New York applied for a patent for his invention: the stovetop waffle iron. Created for wood or gas stoves, Swartwout hinged together two cast iron plates to create what would forever be known in America as the “waffle iron.”

While the waffle iron did not become patented until 1869, ECM cites the Netherlands as the place of origin in the 1300s. Waffles were cooked over an open fire using a long, wooden-handled device consisting of two iron plates. corroborates this story.

Furthermore, waffle irons have come a long way since the 1800s. states that the Charles M. Cole of Oakland, California improved upon the waffle iron design in 1926. His invention was electric, and it allowed two waffles to be made at once.
While the waffle iron may not be made of cast iron anymore, the name remains the same and people all around the world still enjoy them. In fact, August 24th is National Waffle Day in celebration of the day Swartwout patented his waffle iron invention. Be that as it may, waffles are good any time of year!

For waffle recipes and information about other inventions, please consult the following books: 1001 Muffins, Biscuits, Doughnuts, Pancakes, Waffles, Popovers, Fritters, Scones, and Other Quick Breads by Gregg R. Gillespie and The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years by John Brockman.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

What's the weather like in Alaska during the summer?

This question was answered by Kelly McCorkle, our library intern!

A patron considering a trip to Alaska wanted to know what the weather is like and the time difference from Ohio. To answer the weather question, provides a month-by-month view of the historical average temperature for each day. Looking at June, we learn that the average high temperature ranges from 62-67 degrees with an average low of 46-52. July has an average of 68 for the high and average lows in the 50s. In August, the temperatures at the beginning of the month start out in the high 60s, but steadily decline towards the end of the month. Similarly, states that daytime temperatures range from 60-80, depending on the area with nighttime lows in the 40s and 50s. also notes that Alaska experiences exceptionally rainy summers. That being said, it explains that the best time to visit Alaska weather-wise is June 15th to July 15th. One of the biggest perks of visiting Alaska during this time is the extra daylight hours. June 21st is the longest day of the year everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, but because Alaska is so far north, it receives more sunlight than most places. So from late May to late July, Alaskan tourists can experience what explains is called the “midnight sun” because it stays light so late into the night.

To answer the question about Alaska’s time difference, we head to This website states that Alaska is four hours behind Ohio.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Why are hedgehogs illegal in Pennsylvania?

This question was answered by Kelly McCorkle, our library intern.

While attending college in Pennsylvania, an Ohio native and Newton Falls Public Library patron became aware that it was illegal to have a pet hedgehog in the state of Pennsylvania. However, she did not know why this was the case. To answer this question, we started with a simple Google search which led to the website for The International Hedgehog Association, a non-profit organization devoted to creatures. IHA reports that hedgehogs do not emit odors like most small rodents, are easy to litter train, have a gentle demeanor, and require no immunization shots. Given these rather positive characteristics, why would hedgehogs be considered illegal?

A news article on about illegal animals in Pennsylvania provides the short answer to this question. According to the article, the concern regarding hedgehogs is that “they could hurt the local ecosystem if they were somehow released into the wild.” Furthermore, states that the law was originally intended to prohibit the importation of hedgehogs into Pennsylvania but that breeders continued to do so which led to banning hedgehogs entirely.

The current Pennsylvania Law against the importation of wildlife can be found in Title 34: Game under Chapter 21, Subchapter D, and Subsection 2163. However, this law does not specify hedgehogs or any other animals directly. 

We found our information on the IHA website, the article These pets are banned in Pennsylvania” by Teresa Bonner, and the article “Places Where It’s Illegal to Own Hedgehogs and the Laws Around Them," as well as the Pennsylvania Law on wildlife importation. General information about hedgehogs can be found in the following books: Hedgehogs: Everything About Purchase, Care,and Nutrition by Sharon Lynn Vanderlip, GuideTo Owning an African Pygmy Hedgehog: Housing, Feeding, Breeding, Exhibition,Health Care by Dennis Kelsey-Wood.

Friday, November 16, 2018

What are the black spots on stingrays?

“I was at the aquarium and I noticed that the stingrays all had patterns of black specks on their backs. Was something wrong with them?”

After doing some research, we found that there was probably nothing wrong with the stingrays. Most likely, our patron was seeing the rays’ ampullae of Lorenzini, special sensory organs shared by sharks, skates, and rays. The ampullae are pores leading to jelly-filled canals that end in nerve endings, and they can act as electroreceptors, sensing the electrical pulses given off by the muscle activity of other creatures.They can also detect changes in temperature and water pressure. If our patron had looked closely at the underside of the ray, they would have seen many more ampullae, most clustered around its mouth. These help the rays find food on the sea floor.

The ampullae were first discovered by Marcello Malpighi in 1663, but were not described in detail until 1678. Stefano Lorenzini was the first to describe them, which is why they’re named after him. Though scientists were aware of the ampullae, they did not understand their purpose until the 1960s.

We found our information in Michele Debczak’s article “10 Stunning Facts about Stingrays” on Mental Floss, Barbara E. Wueringer and Ian R. Tibbetts’ research paper comparing the ampullary systems of shovelnose rays in Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries, The Encyclopedia of Sharks by Steve and Jane Parker, and Sharks: Ancient Predators in a Modern Sea by Salvador Jorgensen.

Friday, August 31, 2018

What is this yellow fungus on my lawn?

A patron came in and described something that had appeared on their lawn overnight. At first, they’d thought a dog had been sick in their yard, but on closer inspection it seemed to be an ugly yellow fungus. The patron reported that when it rained, the mass released a smoky-looking cloud of spores. It also appeared to bleed.

We had noticed something similar growing in the mulch in front of the library a few weeks earlier. It had eventually disappeared on its own, and we’d never tried to identify it, but we knew what our patron was describing. Because we thought the yellow mass might be a fungus, we checked The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, David Arora’s Mushrooms Demystified, and Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms. However, we couldn’t find what we were looking for.

Searching on Google for an image of yellow fungus led us to an article by Susan Mahr on the Wisconsin Master Gardener Program website. There were several pictures that our patron recognized as the organism growing on their law, which the website identified as the “dog vomit slime mold.” Technically, it’s not a fungus at all. While scientists used to place slime molds in Kingdom Fungi, they were moved to Kingdom Protista, which serves as a catch-all for eukaryotic organisms that are not plants, fungi, or animals.  

According the Mahr, the dog vomit slime mold begins its life as a spore. These spores develop into cells, which join up to form the slimy-looking yellowish-brown plasmodium. The plasmodium creeps across the land, consuming the bacteria and other organisms that thrive in decay. When it runs out of food or gets too dry, the plasmodium transforms into an aethelium, or a “fruiting body” – the puffy yellow mass that will release spores and begin the cycle anew.

The aethelium will continue to develop, hardening and darkening in color. It may start to liquefy in spots, which can make it appear to bleed, as our patron noticed. Once the hard crust is broken, it will release its clouds of spores. This may have been the “smoking” that our patron noticed.

Despite its unappealing name and appearance, the dog vomit slime mold is almost entirely harmless. (The spores may aggravate asthma or allergies.) It will eventually dissolve on its own after a few days, though it can also be broken up. A slime mold needs moisture, so they’re usually spotted in hot, humid weather. Watering less, or raking up damp mulch, can be another way to be rid of them.

Friday, April 13, 2018

What does lorem ipsum mean?

“I was setting up a newsletter on the computer, and all the examples were in a foreign language! Why?”

After asking for more details, we found that the language in question was lorem ipsum, not a language at all.

Typically beginning “lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetueur,” it’s a pseudo-Latin nonsense phrase mostly lifted from a treatise on ethics written by Cicero in 45 B.C. According to the Microsoft support website, the original phrase by Cicero is “Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit,” which translates as "There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain."

Lorem ipsum, however, has had letters added and removed to the point where it’s no longer proper, meaningful Latin. For example, according to, a webpage for generating lorem ipsum and other text, sometimes the letters K, W, and Z are added randomly, just to give an idea of what they would look like.

Because it’s meaningless, lorem ipsum is often used as filler text in design, such as in our patron’s newsletter example. It’s supposed to give an idea of what the finished product will look like without distracting the eye.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Why do I have to tell the computer that I'm not a robot?

“Sometimes when I’m online, a website will ask me to type in a bunch of weird letters and numbers, or pick out all the pictures that have a car or a street sign, or just click a box that says ‘I’m not a robot’ before it lets me go any further. Why does this happen?”

These are a few different examples of a CAPTCHA, an acronym that stands for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart.” According to Architects of the Information Age, edited by Robert Curley, the CAPTCHA was developed in 2000 by computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University. Yahoo requested their help keeping bots (which are automated computer programs) out of their chat rooms. The bots were collecting personal information and filling the rooms with spam. However, the programs couldn’t recognize distorted text. By asking users to identify twisted or crossed-out letters before they could enter the chat, Yahoo ensured that only people, not bots, could enter their chat rooms.  

The official CAPTCHA website gives us a few more examples of what it does. It can prevent bots from sending spam comments, stuffing the ballot boxes of online polls, and slowing down email services by signing up for thousands of accounts at a time. If you forget your email password and have to make a few guesses, the site may ask you to solve a CAPTCHA. This protects your account by keeping bots from running through every possible password until they get in.

There are ways to circumvent CAPTCHA. Artificial intelligence has gotten good at solving the ones that are only text, which explains why newer CAPTCHAs can involve images. There are also CAPTCHA solving services, where workers are paid approximately fifty cents to a dollar for every thousand CAPTCHAs they solve.