Monday, July 30, 2012

Experiment: How long does it take a Presto electric teakettle to boil water?

Presto electric teakettle
Presto Electric Teakettle Experiment Background
I decided to do an experiment and see how long it takes this Presto electric teakettle to boil water. My wife drinks a lot of hot beverages and she likes to use this plug-in kettle to heat the water for her favorite mixes. Hopefully after testing the electric teakettle compared to our microwave I can conclude which method is most energy efficient.

Our electric teakettle is a 950-watt Presto model. The base is stamped with the model number 0270404 and also printed with the sequence 3610_2_T2, whatever that means. It is about 7.75" in diameter and about 5.5" high. The lid has a timer for steeping your tea. There is also a removable wire mesh basket for putting tea leaves directly into the kettle which I will not be using for this experiment.

electric teakettle experiment
My Pseudo-Scientific Experimental Method
Above is my "experimental method." I have 350mL of regular tap water (about 1.5 cups or 12 ounces) in a measuring cup, an NSF-certified digital kitchen thermometer, my iPhone's stopwatch, and the Presto electric teakettle. I chose 1.5 cups since it was enough to submerge the heating element inside the teakettle and is a realistic amount for putting in a 16-ounce travel mug with the drink mix without overflowing.

Taylor kitchen thermometer
To establish a baseline, I measured the temperature of the tap water. It was a mix of hot and cold water, since I didn't think it was fair to test with pre-heated water from the hot side of the tap. As you can see, our water started at 91.5 degrees Farenheit. The teakettle has not been used yet today and is at room temperature, abut 78 degrees F.

presto teakettle test
After taking the temperature reading, I immediately poured the water into the teakettle, popped on the lid, and plugged it in. There is no on and off switch on this electric kettle. When it's plugged in, it's on, when it's unplugged, it's off, which I guess means fewer parts to wear out and makes operating it when you're still craving that shot of caffeine in the morning a no-brainer. Anyway above is a picture of the test after one minute. The temperature has risen to just above 140 degrees F (if we trust the analog thermometer cemented into the teakettle wall.

electric teakettle temperature gauge
Here's a closer image of the dial on the teakettle itself. Because this is the model with the included tea basket, it also has a color-coded scale showing the recommended water temperatures for steeping various teas at right on the gauge.

Above is the test at completion. The water in the kettle has reached the boiling point according to the dial gauge. My digital gauge was temporarily shorted out in the hot steam shooting out of the spout, so I was not able to get an accurate reading there. The temp probe also is barely long enough to reach the liquid inside the kettle, so the reading wouldn't have been the best anyway.

The Result
The result is: it takes about 2 minutes 22 seconds to raise the temperature of 1.5 cups of water 120.5 degrees in the Presto electric teakettle.

2 minutes and 22 seconds is equal to 0.0394444 hours. Using our 950-watt electric teakettle for that amount of time uses about 37.5 watts of electricity.

Of course, there is a substantial margin for error each morning. If my wife doesn't measure out the water and heats more than she needs, electricity use will increase. Likewise, if she uses a slightly cooler tap water energy consumption will increase. I suppose the ambient air temperature would also influence this equation slightly. So there are a lot of variables here, and instead of being able to conclude any relevant result in the real world, I think I am going to call it a day. Based on our above experiment, there are too many variables to determine if using an electric teakettle is more energy efficient than other heating methods.

To make a relevant conclusion, I would want to repeat this experiment just as performed above at least two more times and compare the result. Then I might try it with more or less water, and with different temperatures of water. With all that data in hand, we might be able to establish some "energy factor" of how efficient the teakettle is. Then we would need to repeat all the same tests with the next heating source. Given than the whole point of my experiment was to save energy using the most efficient means of heating, performing all those tests would be quite wasteful! I'm off to drink hot chocolate!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

5 Winning Strategies for Bananagrams

bananagrams strategy
To follow up on my review of the Bananagrams word game, I thought I would share some of my winning strategies for Bananagrams. Use one or all of these tips and tricks and get ready to show your friends and family who's boss!
  1. Create a backbone. Try to create the longest word possible as early in the round as possible. This long word will form a backbone for your plays and makes it a lot easier to use up tiles as you "peel" them. Even if it takes you more time to think up a really long word, you will be able to play a lot of shorter words in a small amount of time after you assemble your backbone.
  2. Don't be scared to shuffle all your tiles mid-game. To go along with number 1, if you get to the point where you have too many three and four letter words in the middle of a hand, you might run out of easy places to play your next few tiles. Don't hesitate to shuffle all or most of your tiles and make a nice long backbone even in the middle of a hand. You can then play short words off your backbone and stage a dramatic comeback by the end.
  3. Two-letter words are gold. If you're looking to keep your opponents on their toes, dropping a freshly peeled letter tile onto your plays at right angles to an existing word to make a two-letter word lets you peel again right away. Keep it up, and you'll frustrate the other players and have letters available for more advanced plays when the opportunity arises.
  4. No dumping. Any way you look at it, dumping is a bad bargain - you always get three tiles back when you get rid of one. And most savvy players will simply assume your dumped tile is a Q, Z, or X and simply avoid it until you're forced to pick it back up. Even if you do mix it in with the other unused tiles, you might end up with it again anyway. Just become familiar with short words that use these trouble letters or incorporate them into your backbone word, and you'll be better off.
  5. Go rhyme-crazy to switch out letters fast. This isn't as obvious as the other winning strategies, but rhyming can help players of any skill level come up with words using their letters. It's also a great tactic for swapping out the starting letter of a word with a different one to free up that letter. Of course, you could always try playing more two letter words like in number 3.
That's it! Follow these 5 winning strategies for Bananagrams and prepare to take the other players to school. Of course, there's no substitute for a large vocabulary and good spelling skills, and you'll still need your own micro-strategy for getting through the "peels" at your own speed, but these tips and tricks can give you the extra edge needed to win!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bananagrams Reviewed: Forget Boring Word Games

My wife brought home the word game Bananagrams after playing it at a friend's house. Bananagrams takes its name from the cute zippered banana-shaped sack that holds the 144 letter tiles and the directions. (It also has a looped webbing "stem" for hanging it until it's ripe.) The sack measures about 10" long and is totally packable in your travel bag or a purse.

Number of Players: 2 to about 12
Age Range: Recommended for ages 7+

Bananagrams Gameplay Rules
Bananagrams is kind of like everyone playing Scrabble all at once, without taking turns. After placing the 144 tiles face down, players draw out a number of tiles to start with (the number depends on how many players are playing.)

The game begins at some arbitrary point when one of the players says "split." All players then try to connect all their letters to form words just like in Scrabble, crossword-style. Also like Scrabble, you have to do the policing on which words are and are not acceptable. There is no turn taking, making it a game that can go as fast as you want. Players are free to arrange and re-arrange their tiles whenever and however they want as long as they form words that are interconnected.

When one player has successfully connected all of his or her letter tiles crossword-style, they say "peel," and all players take another tile from the pool that remains. Then, that player must add that tile to their words somehow, and then they can say "peel" again and take another tile, unless another player beats them to it. Remember that all players can re-arrange their whole bunch of tiles however they want at any time, so there are pretty much unlimited options for getting all your letters to form words. There is also the option to trade a tile that simply doesn't work for three letters from the pool of remaining letters, called a "dump."

The game stops when there aren't enough tiles left in the pool for all the players to take one. The first player who uses all their letters says "bananas" and is the winner, unless one of the other players finds a misspelled or unacceptable word in their plays. If a misspelled word is found, the player who went out is a "rotten banana" and their tiles are turned face down and added back to the pool, and play continues as above.

My Banagrams Review
I find bananagrams to be a pretty fun game. Players aren't waiting for their turn like they might be in Scrabble, and the game goes fast. You can keep it as clean or dirty as you like, depending on who you're playing with, so this game is suitable for kids. Bananagrams is also a great way to teach grade school kids spelling and get them to think about making big words out of little ones. Of course, if a 7 year old and a college grad are facing off, it's not going to be much fun for the 7 year old, but it will be a learning experience. And get a group of college kids together and get ready to discover some new words!

One downside is depending on how many players are playing you need a pretty big flat spot. Your dining room table will work fine, but this isn't something you can play in the back of the car. Scrabble, on the other hand, always fits nicely in the space of the board. But I've seen Banagrams advertised as a camping game... you're going to need a big tent to play it in there!

At the end of the day, bananagrams is a good time. It's more lighthearted and fast-paced than Scrabble, but you still get the satisfaction of coming up with words and connecting them all together.

Distribution of Letter Tiles in Bananagrams

The following is a reference list of the tile distributions in the word tile game bananagrams. It might come in handy if you've lost a tile and want to make a new one! The total number of tiles is 144.

A 13
B 3
C 3
D 6
E 18
F 3
G 4
H 3
I 12
J 2
K 2
L 5
M 3
N 8
O 11
P 3
Q 2
R 9
S 6
T 9
U 6
V 3
W 3
X 2
Y 3
Z 2

By contrast, Scrabble contains 100 letters, more of which are vowels, so you can't play Bananagrams with your Scrabble tiles (or Scrabble with your Bananagrams tiles.) Oh well.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Accutire Model MS-4021B Tire Pressure Gauge Review

First Impressions and Images
Here's the second of the two tire pressure gauges I recently got, the Accutire MS-4021B. (The other was the Joe's Racing 32307 gauge, a mechanical dial-type gauge. Find that review here: Review of Joe's Racing 32307 Tire Pressure Gauge.)

The Accutire is a lightweight plastic model that got top marks from Comsumer Reports (not that that means much, see this post on why I think Consumer Reports sucks: Why Consumer Reports Sucks.) It has a soft-touch plastic handle, negative LCD display with red backlight, measures about 6.5" from the end of the handle to the chuck, and is made in China.

It runs on three LR44 1.5 volt button cell batteries, which can be swapped out by removing the battery cover on the back of the handle. Click here for a how-to with photos of the battery changing process. Also on the back are a sticker with what I assume is the date of manufacture and another sticker with the FCC information for the device. There is no on or off switch, the unit turns itself on automatically when you press it to a tire valve and shuts off a few seconds after displaying the pressure reading.

Here's a top view. There is a handy detent to rest your thumb on when taking a pressure, letting you apply force directly in line with the chuck. You can also see the two-part plastic construction seam that runs the length of the unit.

Here's the plastic chuck. The entire unit is fairly lightweight, but I think if you dropped it on the chuck or stepped on it by accident it would probably break. Also it does not swivel or move in any way, so it can be awkward to line it up perfectly with a valve stem. Still, it's easy enough to get a good seal, and I never had a problem maintaining a leak-free fit on the tire stem. It is actually less finicky than the Joe's Racing gauge.

The negative LCD display measures 1-7/8" x 1/2", and the digits are easy to read at arm's length, even in direct sunlight. You can't see the red backlight in these brightly lit images but it does have a reddish color when you're using it in a dim garage.

Using this Gauge
Here's a shot of the unit in action - basically, using a pressure gauge does not get easier than this. It turns itself on and off and displays the pressure clearly without any guesswork or thinking by the user. There are no moving parts to wear out. It shows the pressure for about 4 seconds after you remove it from the valve stem. It automatically calibrates itself after taking a reading (you'll never need to follow the confusing "zero set" directions on the package). It fits in a cargo pocket or your glove compartment. It's also dirt cheap, and if you accidentally backed it over or if you had a glovebox meltdown I wouldn't be heartbroken about replacing it. The package says it has a five-year warranty. You can actually replace the batteries yourself when they wear out. That's a lot of high points for a gauge that only costs about $10.

The package states that this unit measures from 5-150 psi in temps of 0-100 degrees F with and accuracy or +/- 1% + 0.5. I take that to mean that it has a 1% margin of error over the 145 psi range, or a maximum of 1.45 psi off from the true value at any given psi. This is comparable to published stats from other digital and analog gauges that cost quite a bit more, so for the price this gauge is plenty accurate.

The Final Word
This is an especially user-friendly gauge that also happens to be especially cheap. I would keep a more expensive dial-type gauge around in the garage and throw this one in the car so you always have one along. Overall I would not hesitate to recommend this gauge to anyone.

Review of Joe's Racing 32307 Tire Pressure Gauge

Images and First Impressions
I recently bought a couple of new tire pressure gauges. Here's one of them, the Joe's Racing 32307 glow-in-the-dark 0-60psi gauge. There are plenty of good reviews for this item on Amazon but none of them have photos! The unit cost me $23.99. It has a 2-3/8" glow-in-the-dark dial marked in 1-lb. increments, a 17" hose, and includes a pre-installed rubber protective cover for the gauge, preattached swiveling angle chuck and a ball-type chuck.

Here's another look at it, you can see that it also has a bleeder button that allows you to release air from a tire until it reaches the desired pressure. From this angle it's hard to see inside the chuck, but inside it has a brass thing to depress the valve stem. No worries about plastic parts breaking. The whole unit has a solid feel like it should last a lifetime.

A slightly better view of the inside of the angled chuck. It swivels, making it easy to line it up with your valve stem.

Here's a shot of the chrome-plated angled chuck and the included ball-type chuck, which is made of metal and is quite a bit beefier than most I've seen.

Here you can see the glow-in-the-dark dial. The entire dial illuminates after being in the sun or being held in front of a headlight for a few seconds. It's a nice touch.

Another shot of the dial. It's kind of different but the psi is marked in 1-lb increments all the way around the dial. No more guessing if you're at 32 or 33. It's easy to measure to the nearest 1/2-lb. and I would say if you were really inclined to you could guesstimate to the nearest 1/4-lb. of a psi.

The back of the dial and other side of the angle chuck. The rubber protective cover goes over the entire back of the gauge, making it easy to grip and absorbing bumps while it's in your toolbox. Of course, the included directions note that it will be knocked out of calibration if you drop it, so the cover is mostly just to protect it during transport and give a better grip - I doubt it would save it if you dropped it.

Here's the bleeder button and hose from the side. This is the only area where the country of origin is referenced. I believe it just means that the hose they use to make the gauge is made in the USA, so I'm not sure if the whole unit is made in the USA or not. The joint where the bleeder button and hose meet the gauge does not swivel, just the angle chuck to hose joint does. It's also worth noting that the product does not reference the Joe's Racing model number (32307) anywhere on the unit itself.

Here's the package before I opened it. There's no reference to the country of origin on the package either. Also no warranty information, but at least there is a bar code with the model number of 32307 shown. The package seems like it was done on a small-scale vacuum packaging system, it's not very fancy (yes, that is an ordinary rubber band) and the back of the package is simply a piece of plain white cardboard. The quality of the gauge makes up for it though.

Use Notes
This gauge is a joy to use. It can be finicky to get a good seal with the valve stem, but if you ensure that you are meeting the stem squarely you can hold it tightly to a tire stem without any air escaping. The bleeder button is a nice feature and works smoothly. I have not tried the ball-type chuck yet, so I can't comment on that.

I don't have the lab equipment required to determine how well calibrated this unit is. In head-to-head testing with the Accutire MS-4021B, the Accutire digital gauge measured about 3/4-lb. higher than the Joe's Racing gauge. (This was on a typical July day at about 80 degrees F, with two readings taken on the same tire a few seconds apart.) (You can read my review of the Accutire gauge here: Accutire Model MS-4021B Tire Pressure Gauge Review.)
 I would be more inclined to trust the Joe's racing gauge because it measures a smaller range and costs more. The Accutire gauge actually does list the accuracy as plus or minus 1%, and it measures 5-150 psi, so it seems like it could be off by as much as 1.45 psi, but it only measures in 0.5 psi increments.
Of course, your tires heat up to varying temps depending on the speed you're driving anyway. The change in temperature causes a change in pressure. And the ambient temperature is hardly constant between the morning and afternoon when you're commuting to work, for example.
So does the increased accuracy of the Joe's Racing gauge matter to the average Joe? Probably not.

The Final Word
If you're careful with your tools and want an air gauge that should last a long time, I'd say this one should be near the top of your list. It also seems to be plenty accurate, but as explained above that 1 psi probably doesn't make much difference.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Aldi's Milk Review - Revisited (with photos)

My previous post reviewing Aldi's Friendly Farms milk (Aldi's Milk vs. Everyone Else's Milk) probably left a little bit to be desired, so I've decided to do some more explaining and add some pictures. Above is a picture of the Aldi's milk label. I tried to find a photo of a Kemp's milk label so you could compare it more easily but it looks like I'll have to take one myself someday. Anyway looking at the label above, we see a number of things that every other milk label on gallons sold in the US has, like the red and white REAL symbol, what I think might be a variation of the Kosher dairy symbol to the right of it (K ribbon and D STAM), the usual notes that vitamin A & D have been added, the words "Grade A, Pasteurized, Homogenized, Fat Reduced from 8g to 5g", and so on. These are all the same symbols and wording found on all the other milk labels I've ever seen. Even the nutrition facts are the same.

The hormones question - does Aldi milk contain hormones?
Right at the top right, in a yellow burst, you'll see the phrase "Our Farmers Pledge NOT to use Artificial Growth Hormones*" and on the bottom of the label is the disclaimer that I guess must be attached to any product claiming that it doesn't use hormones to try and level the playing field for the rest of the milk companies that do, "*The FDA has determined that no significant difference has been shown between milk from rBST treated and non-treated cows." I take this to mean that Aldi milk contains no hormones.

The place of origin question - where is Aldi milk made?
Ok, now we know Aldi milk does not contain hormones. But if you're like me you've probably wondered where it comes from. Here's a fun trick: check out and enter the code off the milk jug. It searches an official document containing registered dairy plant numbers and then locates their address on a map. Above is an image of our Aldi milk carton, plus a slightly zoomed in photo clearly showing the plant number, 27-168. Entering that into this tool reveals that Aldi milk in my area is made at a Kemps plant in Minneapolis, MN. This is the same plant where Kemps Select milk is made - I don't have a Kemps Select jug handy but I have tried this myself. (I can't imagine it would be cost effective to have two separate milk bottling lines going for these two different labels, it would save the company a lot of money to just put the same milk in both jugs.) This at least proves that Aldi milk is made at the same plants where other milk comes from.

Conclusions and final thoughts
I have noticed that Aldi milk at my local Aldi fluctuates in price by a dime or two. One week it will be $2.79 a gallon, the next it will be $2.89. Either way this is still cheaper than milk from the grocery store, where a gallon will run me $3.69. So even if you're not saving a whole dollar a week like my original post suggested, you're still better off than the people who grab the grocery store milk. So my conclusion is... drink up!

Aldi Milk

I am not affiliated with Aldi or in any way, and I have provided their product images and website screenshots myself to illustrate, educate and entertain. Enjoy!