Monday, July 26, 2010

Vocabs of Steel

Crunch up those vocabs! This article provides suggestions for those who want to solidify and expand their word power. Make use of dictionaries (definitions, etymology, synonyms), thesauruses, Google lookups, crossword puzzles (printable, online), and other types of word puzzles. A huge influence in building word power is curiosity about words, at least, enough curiosity to look up definitions when encountering new words. In numerous cases, text surrounding new words can also indicate meaning.

Speaking for myself, I believe a lot of my vocabulary building came from reading superhero comic books and running across new words when I was in early grade school. In these kinds of comic books, the protagonist would have dual identities—usually a disguised or costumed character (superhero) and an everyman/everywoman persona (alter ego) that allowed him or her to slip away to emerge as the superself. Common storylines included the main character's social and work interactions with lesser mortals while disguised as someone ordinary, but battling enemies while costumed. Hmmm, my idea of an archetype would be the Man of Steel himself, Superman!

I think vocabulary building benefits by reading comic books tends to fade upon readers reaching the early teens. As it's been years since I had any steady diet of comics, I don't know what level of vocabulary appears these days in spoken/thought balloons and panel-narration phrases.

In the more recent past, I had taken a humanities class that was immensely helpful for building vocabulary: The Greek and Latin Element in English. The required textbook was English Words from Latin and Greek Elements, by Donald M. Ayers and the accompanying workbook. The gist of the course was to recognize syllables pertaining to their basic Greek and Latin origins and their definitions.

A major basic resource to build vocabulary is the dictionary. Two of my favorites are Merriam-Webster Online and Dictionary.com. More major ways to satisfy word curiosity include looking at a word's etymology and synonym(s) in a dictionary. Besides viewing synonym(s) at the dictionary's entry, looking up the word in a thesaurus provides even more information. In Google, prefacing the term with "define: " narrows the results.

Additional ways to expand vocabulary are reading well-written articles, blogs, and op-eds. As a side-effect, well-written pieces provide good examples to emulate mechanics such as proper spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and style. A lesser effective means (to me) of expanding vocabulary is reading online comments, particularly at sites that often invite flame wars or result in them. Many such posts are rife with bad mechanics and incoherency, to say the least.

More to and About m-w.com and dictionary.com

Merriam-Webster Online is accessible using a URL as short as m-w.com. Note various other features of the website. At the FREE Daily Features tab, clicking Daily Crossword (Today's Puzzle) serves up links to puzzles—Universal Daily Crossword, L.A. Times Daily Crossword, and Jumble Crossword (a version of Jumbles that also has vertical terms). The downside to the puzzles are waiting out the commercials. The LA Times puzzle has parameters you can set. A nice feature is instant feedback in immediately showing your typed letter in red if it's incorrect.

Dictionary.com is accessible using a URL as short as dictionary.com. This site has a link to Universal Daily Crossword as does m-w.com, but without a commercial. While at dictionary.com, I ran across an eye-catcher question : "What word has the most definitions?"

"Set" has 464 definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary. "Run" runs a distant second, with 396. Rounding out the top ten are "go" with 368, "take" with 343, "stand" with 334, "get" with 289, "turn" with 288, "put" with 268, "fall" with 264, and "strike" with 250.

More about Puzzles

Awhile back, I wrote an article about crosswords. At that time, online puzzles had not entered my mind. In researching material for this article, I encountered online puzzles, initially seeing them as links in a couple of online dictionary sites. One online crossword puzzle site that provides small ones is at http://www.boatloadpuzzles.com/playcrossword. In case you hadn't guessed, the site owners would like you to buy the full-blown application.

A few weeks ago, I had run across a printable-puzzles site. I was unsuccessful seeking it out to cite it here. In trying to actually find places that didn't just go to other links that cited links, I resorted to and was partially successful in doing google image searches for "printable crossword puzzles for free". A reasonable replacement is Want More Crosswords?. Mouse over a puzzle thumbnail, click it to open it in a small-size window, right-click and select View Image to open the puzzle, then print it. (Recommended: Preview it and adjust scale before printing it.)

If wordsearch puzzles is more your type, find a cache at Livewire Puzzles' FREE Printable Word Search Puzzles.

Differentiations among Similar Items and Terms

I have listed some sets of words that present common definition and usage problems, accompanied by enlightening links. No doubt you can think of many other candidate sets; differentiating such terms can help boost vocabulary. One advantage of having my own blog is that I can and do publish content where I can access pet topics without needing to fire up my computer. Anyway, I have provided candidates for comparing and contrasting terms, including compare and contrast.

compare, contrast
compose, comprise
Best excerpt—
If you are confused, just say, "The rock is made up of three minerals," or "Three minerals make up the rock."
conglomerate, conglomeration
My conclusion for difference:
conglomerate: a thing composed of heterogeneous elements; mass
conglomeration: a mass of miscellaneous things
envy, jealousy
farther, further
infer, imply
indifferent, ambivalent, apathetic
Very short explanations as below:
indifferent—no feeling one way or the other
ambivalent—pulled in different directions
apathetic—don't know, don't care
assure, ensure, insure
loan, lend

The following sets pertain to animals.

butterfly, moth
Butterfly/moth differences, including a table with six physical and behavioral differences
yellow jacket, wasp, hornet, etc.
frog, toad
tortoise, turtle
rabbit, jackrabbit, hare

A special category of similar items and terms are homophones, which I discuss in my blog article. Ones that pop into mind frequently are the following sets:

to, too, two
your, you're
there, their

There are various ways to strengthen your word power; get your vocabs of steel! Reinforce, improve, and adopt methods for yourself.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ailing Fridge and DIY Door-open Alert Unit

This article is about addressing a refrigerator that wasn't optimally turning on and off and a gadget that sounds off to help prevent at least one possible reason. Three possible common causes for a sickly refrigerator are a malfunctioning compressor, dirty coils, ice inside the freezer walls, or a combination. The refrigerator part of this article discusses assessing for and resolving for ice inside the walls—defrosting the entire unit and cleaning it during the process. The gadget part (DIY door-open alert unit) of this article discusses the project.

Ailing Fridge

I've occasionally taken out an armful of items, then forgotten to fully close the door. One problem has been the compressor overworking, causing icing up inside the freezer walls, resulting in appliance underperformance. Recent symptoms indicating all was not well included the following:

  • The fridge seemed to be running all the time instead of in on/off cycles.
  • Eggs toward the back of the fridge froze or partially froze.
  • Water pitchers occasionally wound up with shallow icy layers.
  • Fresh spinach leaves froze about the upper three leaf layers.

Tweaking refrigerator settings didn't seem to always resolve the problems. The longer-term process for resolution was to defrost the refrigerator/freezer, which included emptying it out and leaving the doors open for a couple of days, ensuring any possible ice in the walls would melt and the water drip away. The main sections of the process are total defrost preparation, defrosting, and cleaning.

Preparation for Total Defrost of the Refrigerator

  1. Over time, consume all freezer items.
  2. Over time, consume fridge items that needed refrigeration. If not consuming them all,
    1. Give them away.
    2. Throw them away.
    3. Obtain dry ice to store the items in an ice chest for up to 48 hours.
    4. Ask someone a favor of storing the items.

Defrosting of the Refrigerator and Freezer

  1. Turn off all controls.
  2. If you have an icemaker, turn off the water supply to it.
  3. Unplug the refrigerator.
  4. Completely empty out the refrigerator.
  5. Empty out the refrigerator's drip pan.
  6. Leave the refrigerator's doors open.
  7. If possible, place buckets or pans underneath the open doors to catch possible melting-ice drips.
  8. Monitor for drips for a day or two. Could be messy.

Tasks to do During Defrost Wait-Time

  1. Remove shelves, crispers, and other removables and wash them. (I washed mine in the bathtub using soapy dishwater.)
  2. Wipe the refrigerator interior surfaces with a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda and 1 quart water. If your own manual specifies otherwise, follow that manual's instructions. Rinse with clean-water rinsed/wrung cloth. This stage might take several passes to wipe down all the surfaces.

DIY Door-open Alert Unit

The fridge door-open alert unit is useful to remind people to close the refrigerator door. After several seconds of the refrigerator door being open and the photocell being exposed to light, beeper emits a continuous whine. When the door closes, the sound decreases until the capacitor has been fully discharged. The device also serves as a good reminder to reduce time putting away cold groceries and also minimize dawdling in front of an open fridge.

The information and schematic for the Refrigerator Door Alarm is at http://www.techlib.com/electronics/kitchen.html. Note that the author suggests a 10uF capacitor across the battery, but doesn't show it on the schematic. (We omitted that capacitor also.) As this project is intended for a DIYer who does not require hand-holding and can fill in blanks, I have not included step-by-step information to create it.

If you are a hardware DIYer, you can obtain the parts fairly easily and breadboard and test the guts one day. Another day, you can wire and solder the discrete parts onto a project board, power the unit up, and have it operational. If you want to fancy it up, you can put the project into a metal project box, then set it in a small plastic tub to keep it off refrigerator shelves.

The parts came from hobby part drawers, Radio Shack (photocell from 5-pack 276-1657, buzzer 273-0059/273-059, 1/2 board 276-148), and Fry's Electronics (2 NTE123AP equivalents to 2N4401 transistor substitutes for the NPN Darlington transistor—seemingly not a commonly stocked part, zener diode NTE5009A). Overall packaging notes are as follows:

  • Already having a Bud Industries CU3000A aluminum project box on hand that measures 2.75" x 2.12" x 1.62"
  • Placing standoff-function hardware at the box's base to allow horizontal placement of a 9-volt battery (power source) beneath the assembled board—standoffs or spacers also suitable (Used 6-32 machine screws, nuts.)
  • Placing the buzzer outside the box for sound carrying (Used 2-56 machine screws, nuts.)
  • Drilling a hole on the box's side opposite the buzzer for light to reach the photocell

Note: In our case, we used a project box. When doing the final assembly, screwing the lid on required time that exceeded the time allowed before the alarm went off—an annoyance until the unit went inside the fridge and the noise fully abated.

Visit a lighter side of a refrigerator alert unit, which does not include a time delay before sounding off.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Convenient Cake Mix Cooky Batch--German Chocochip Bites

My convenient cooky recipe this time is my third one using cake mix. The other two have Valentine's Day and Easter themes. The German Chocochip Bites evoke German chocolate cake taste with predominance of chocolate, coconut, and pecans. The recipe yields about 55 soft and chewy cookies.

  • 1 box chocolate or devil's food cake mix
  • 1 can coconut pecan frosting
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 6 oz. chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs

Note: The stated weight for a standard-size box of cake mix is 18.25 ounces.

The following baking equipment required:

  • cooky pan(s)
  • pastry blender
  • bowl
  • measuring cup
  • measuring spoon(s)
  • small rubber spatula
  • cooky spatula to lift and transfer baked cookies
  • cooling rack for done cookies

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Pour the cake mix powder into a medium-large mixing bowl.
  3. In a bowl or large cup, combine the melted butter, eggs, and frosting.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the larger container and use a pastry blender to stir the ingredients together.
  5. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  6. Use a round tablespoon to scoop the dough so it looks more than rounded and less than heaping (about a 4-teaspoon measure).
  7. Use the spatula to turn and drop the spoon's dough onto the cooky sheet.
  8. Bake for about 13 minutes.
  9. Use the cooky spatula to lift and transfer the done cookies onto cooling rack.

If you want to make smaller cookies but more of them, level off the tablespoons of dough instead of rounding them. Bake for about 10 minutes instead of 13.

Note: My German Chocochip Bites cooky is an adaptation of a foodista recipe for Coconut Pecan Cookies, which calls for 4 ingredients: yellow cake mix, coconut pecan frosting mix, melted butter, and eggs.

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