Monday, December 16, 2013

NORAD Tracks Santa

You better watch out.  You better not cry.  You better not pout.  I'm telling you why.  Santa Claus is coming to town...and NORAD is tracking him.  The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has been tracking and reporting Santa's position on Christmas Eve since 1955.  This site explains how the tradition began, thanks to a misprinted phone number in a newspaper, and provides a link to the tracking site:

Parents can watch Santa's progress with their children and reassure them that Santa has not upgraded to delivery drones, but still delivers his toys the old-fashioned way.  Happy holidays!

Monday, December 9, 2013

U.S. African Development Foundation

The recent passing of Nelson Mandela may have all of us feeling as though we're just a little bit African.  As an African, you might be pleased to know that there's a U.S. government agency, the U.S. African Development Foundation, whose sole purpose is to help the people of Africa:

As its site says, "USADF provides grants of up to $250,000 directly to marginalized community groups and enterprises in Africa. These grants help organizations create and sustain jobs, improve income levels, and address social development needs."  Who knows, one of those grants may be helping to feed or educate the next generation's Nelson Mandela right now.  So, hakuna matata, y'all.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Economic Data Cuts

It's "The Case of the Disappearing Data," but there's no need to call in Nancy Drew.  It's quite clear that the cause of this disappearance is budget cuts.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis can no longer afford to gather and publish all the statistics it has been producing over the last several years.  You can see details about the data no longer being collected in this BEA blog post:

The situation begs the question, if the economy has gotten so bad that we can no longer track the economy, how will we know when it gets better?  Solving that mystery may require someone even smarter than Sherlock Holmes.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Oysters become a controversial topic at this time of year.  Some people think they're delicious and a vital part of the Thanksgiving menu.  Others think they taste like rubbery snot and don't want them within fifty feet of their Thanksgiving dinner.  Whichever camp you fall in, you may be alarmed to see this page from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which talks about the dramatic decline in ecologically important oyster reefs over the last few centuries:

Sadly, it may provide additional ammunition for both sides of the debate.  If things become too heated, perhaps you can distract everyone with a new debate about whether that starchy side dish should be called dressing or stuffing.  In any case, have a safe and happy holiday.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

JFK and the NLM

As we all look back at the legacy of John F. Kennedy this week, one little known chapter concerns his connection to the creation of the National Library of Medicine.  Read all about it on this page posted by the Library:

With this sort of accomplishment as part of his legacy, it's no wonder so many people remember him so fondly.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

FDA and Trans Fat

After seeing recent news reports, you may be asking yourself, "What exactly is trans fat and why is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) targeting it?"  If your self doesn't happen to know the answer to that question, this site from the FDA does:

Trans fat, found in partially hydrogenated oils, has been linked to heart disease by causing an increase in "bad" cholesterol.  As the site says, the CDC "estimates that a further reduction of trans fat in the food supply can prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and up to 20,000 heart attacks each year."  But, the FDA's decision isn't yet set in stone.  The link to the "Federal Register notice" will take you to a site where you can offer an opinion on whether or not the FDA should do what it's proposing.  Let them know what you think...right after you finish that Twinkie.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Devices on Airline Flights

Do you ever fly on a commercial airline?  Do you own a smart phone, tablet, or laptop computer?  If so, you may be interested to know that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced last week that airline passengers may soon be able to use personal electronic devices "during all phases of flight."  The new rules will be implemented as each airline proves to the FAA that its planes can safely allow the use of such devices in "airplane mode."  Read more about it in the FAA press release:

Even though you may be able to use your device before and during take-off, I'm sure the flight attendants would still appreciate it if you'd at least pretend to be listening to their safety speech.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Holiday Mail for Heroes

With the holiday season approaching people are once again thinking about sending holiday cards, and for many this includes sending greetings to our soldiers.  In years past you could send cards to a random soldier by mailing them to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  Since Walter Reed merged with the National Naval Medical Center in 2011, that program has been taken over and run by the Red Cross.  The FAQ page below gives the address to which cards should be mailed:

This page from the Red Cross provides more details: 

In recognition of Halloween, why not stop by the Red Cross and donate a pint of blood while you're out shopping for your cards.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Marine Mammal Commission

The Marine Mammal Commission is not, as the name might cause you to imagine, a group of seals, whales, and dolphins sitting around a conference table discussing how to improve life in the ocean.  It's actually "an independent agency of the U.S. Government, provide independent oversight of the marine mammal conservation policies and programs being carried out by federal regulatory agencies." One of the many useful things on the Commission's website is information about the different species that fall within their purview:

So, you can check on the status of the Steller Sea Lion or the Beluga Whale without ever getting your feet wet.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

U.S. Debt Limit

Why is everyone so worried about the possibility of the U.S. government exceeding its debt limit on Oct. 17?  What is the debt limit anyway?  Why Oct. 17?  Answers to those questions and more can be found on the U.S. Treasury's Debt Limit page:

The Oct. 17 deadline is explained in Treasury Secretary Lew's Oct. 10 testimony before the Senate Finance Committee.  Various documents on the site provide grim predictions about what would happen if the debt ceiling isn't raised.  Here's hoping we never have to find out if those predictions are accurate.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Breast Cancer in Males

Not every man has "man boobs," but every man does have breasts and may develop breast cancer.  To find out which men are at greatest risk and to read about treatment and survival rates, see this page from the National Cancer Institute.  (Like many other federal websites, this one isn't being updated during the government shutdown, but since much of the ongoing research is also on hold, it's unlikely there have been any big breakthroughs since it was last updated.)

So guys, if you feel lumps or see other changes in your breasts, put on your nicest "Bro" or "Manzier" and make an appointment to see your doctor.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

U.S. Government Shutdown

When the U.S. government shuts down, it doesn't really shut down entirely.  Various vital services will continue to operate.  Agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration and the Coast Guard continue to ensure our safety.  The mail will still be delivered and food will still be inspected.  However, many very important services will cease temporarily and federal facilities, such as the National Zoo, will be closed.  For more details about which federal government functions will continue and which won't, see this page from the site maintained by the General Services Administration:

Many government websites may also be unavailable during this time, but fortunately, does not seem to be one of them.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mutilated Currency

If you have a large stash of cash and something horrible happens to it -- like it's seriously damaged in a fire or a flood -- is there any way to get it replaced?  Possibly.  "The Bureau of Engraving and Printing redeems partially destroyed or badly damaged currency as a free public service."  The guidelines on what qualifies as "mutilated currency" and a link to the instructions for submitting a claim can be found on this page:

Once you get your replacement currency, you may want to reconsider the wisdom of keeping it in your mattress. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Brain Eating Ameba

It isn't quite Halloween yet, but this scary little monster has been in the news quite a bit lately.  Naegleria fowleri is more commonly known as the brain eating ameba.  This page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will help you learn how to avoid encounters with this potentially deadly parasite:

One thing's sure, you may want to start swimming with a nose clip again whether it looks geeky or not.

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Responders

With the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaching, you may want to stop this week and thank a first responder for their service.  One way to do that might be to make them aware of the website maintained by the Department of Homeland Security:

The site "provides first responders with information on technology, resources, products, programs, standards, testing and evaluation, and best practices."  It helps the helpers stay on top of their game.  You could also thank them by baking cookies, but this website has fewer empty calories.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Flags of the World

Sheldon Cooper isn't the only one who can have fun with flags.  With the help of the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook Flags of the World site, you can too!

The site shows dozens of national flags and gives a brief description of each, which often includes information about the history or meaning of the design.  For instance, in Afghanistan's flag "black signifies the past, red is for the blood shed for independence, and green can represent either hope for the future, agricultural prosperity, or Islam."  So, it really isn't easy being green.  In any case, read all about these flags and see which ones make you salute.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Okeanos Explorer

There's a ship.  It's mission is to explore, to seek out new life, and to boldly go where no remotely operated vehicle has gone before.  It's the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Okeanos Explorer:

It's "the only federally funded U.S. ship assigned to systematically explore our largely unknown ocean for the purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge."  It just finished a mission to explore the Northeast U.S. Canyons.  You can see photos and data from that and other recent expeditions on the Okeanos Explorer site.  Bring your shark repellant and dive right in!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Flood Zone Maps

Do you know what zone you're in?  No, I don't mean the Twilight Zone, I mean your flood zone.  If you purchase flood insurance your zone determines how much you'll pay for it.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, allows you to search for and view online your local flood zone maps from their Map Service Center:

Once you locate the map for your address you also have the option to buy print copies.  Elsewhere on the site there's a link to "Definitions of FEMA Flood Zone Designations."  With the map and the definitions, and an umbrella and some rubber boots, you should be prepared to purchase your flood insurance.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Many provisions of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) will take effect in January 2014, so now is the time to start preparing.  The site maintained by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services explains the basic tenets of the law and who will now be required to purchase health insurance.

The site's Health Insurance Marketplace won't be available until October 1, but starting your research now will give you extra time to shop and compare plans later on.  If you have questions, there's a link to chat live with an expert who can help you.  There is, of course, a remote chance that Congress will eventually be successful in its attempts to repeal some or all of the Affordable Care Act, and if that happens, this site will surely tell you about that too.

Monday, August 5, 2013

U.S. Army Bands

The U.S. Army rocks!  Literally.  The Army supports several different musical groups within its ranks.  Why?  "Army Bands provide music throughout the spectrum of military operations to instill in our soldiers the will to fight and win, foster the support of our citizens, and promote our national interests at home and abroad."  To find out more about these bands and see if one is performing near you, see the site below:

Other branches of the military support their own bands as well.  Who would have thought that saxophones were such an important weapon in our military arsenal?

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Condition of Education

The news these days about the public education system in America is mixed at best.  Some places are laying off faculty and others are giving them raises.  Tuition is going up and student loan rates are also going up.  No wait, they're going down again.  Student test scores are better...and also worse.  It's hard to keep track of what's really going on at any given moment.  But, if hindsight is 20-20, here's a look at the recent past from the National Center for Education Statistics that may help us get a clearer picture of The Condition of Education:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Extreme Heat

Steamy, sweltering, blistering, scorching, oven-like, Tabasco-y...whatever you want to call it, it's hot out there.  To find out how to protect yourself and your loved ones from the extreme heat, see this guide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

During the last few decades "more people in this country died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined."  Learn to keep your cool and you won't be one of them!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Transportation Disaster Assistance

Imagine for a moment that you were one of the survivors of Asiana Airlines Flight 214.  How would you deal with the airline, and state investigators, and federal investigators, and all the other parties involved?  Wouldn't it just be chaos?  No, not necessarily.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has a Transportation Disaster Assistance Division (TDA) that "coordinates the disaster response resources of federal, state, local, and volunteer agencies:"

They also provide assistance and advice to first responders and legislators.  So, whether it's a plane, train, or automobile that crashes, if the NTSB decides to investigate, the TDA will be there to help.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Abandoned Mine Lands

Abandoned mines have been featured in many horror movies, and for good reason.  They can be both dangerous and scary.  But, even if you've wisely decided not to explore the spooky old mines that you know about, there may be dozens more around your area about which you're unaware.  To find out more about abandoned mine lands and what's being done to make them safe, see this page from the Bureau of Land Management:

And, if you see a "Keep Out" sign, think back to the fate of the people in those horror movies and please do what it says. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sleep Apnea

Does someone in your household snore?  Do they ever seem to stop breathing entirely, then start back up again with a gasp?  Do they suffer from morning headaches or daytime sleepiness?  The cause of all these problems could be a form of sleep apnea.  See the page below from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for more information and a video that shows what happens during an episode:

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to other serious health problems, such as high blood pressure and stroke.  So, if you or a loved one have the symptoms, talk to your doctor today.  (And please, do your best not to doze off as you're driving to the doctor's office.)

Monday, June 10, 2013


Way back in 2005 Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which "enacts a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission report urging the Federal government to 'set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.'”  As of this year, many states (including Louisiana) haven't yet complied with the requirements of the REAL ID Act.  In those states you may occasionally hear that you'll soon need a passport even for domestic flights because the Transportation Security Administration will no longer accept your state's drivers' licenses as proof of identity.  Don't panic!  See this site from the Department of Homeland Security to find out why:

Still, given how slowly many government services are moving these days due to budget cuts, it might not be a bad idea to start the process of obtaining or renewing your passport...just in case.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Summer Injuries

Summertime and the living is...well, dangerous.  When the weather gets warm people tend to go outside and play, and that play often involves amusement rides, swimming pools, ATVs, grills, and other products that can cause injuries if they aren't used and maintained correctly.  If you'd like to see just how often these types of injuries occur, see the statistics provided by the Consumer Product Safety Commission: 

And while you're out playing, don't forget your sunscreen and your bug spray.  Danger is everywhere.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Great Seal of the United States

Have you ever looked carefully at the back of a $1 bill and wondered what that pyramid and eye on the left side mean?  Perhaps the words above the pyramid, "Annuit Coeptis" seem mysterious as well?  Maybe you've even wondered what that eagle on the right side is clutching in its claws?  Those two pictures represent the back and front sides of the Great Seal of the United States. This page from the Department of State includes a link to a 16-page PDF booklet that explains both the development of the Great Seal and the meaning of all the designs and words used in it: 

It also explains the ways in which the Great Seal is still used today to physically seal printed documents and correspondence.  (And, even though a new die must be cast periodically for the Great Seal, it's still much more reliable than the Great Pumpkin.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Find Doctors, Hospitals, and so on...

Need to find a good hospital?  Looking for a nursing home for a loved one?  Searching for a new doctor?  The Medicare web site will help you do all of those things, and more.  Not only can you compare doctors and health facilities in your area, you can also compare home health services, dialysis facilities, health and drug plans, and find medical supplies.  Look for the links on the left side of the Medicare home page:

Information may not cure what ails you, but it may help you find the people and services that will.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tax Reform

Have you ever wanted to give Congress a piece of your mind?  Well, here's your chance.  The Chairs of the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Ways and Means would like to hear your thoughts on tax reform and they've created a website to facilitate the process:

So, whether you favor a flat tax, a property tax, a sales tax, an income tax, a luxury tax, a thumb tax, or no tax at all, let your voice be heard.  Your idea may be the one that simplifies and improves the system for everyone.

Monday, May 6, 2013


May 6-10, 2013 is Teacher Appreciation Week.  While teachers may still enjoy the gift of an apple, what they'd really like these days is some respect.  The U.S. Department of Education is trying to give them some with its Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching (RESPECT) project.  They involved teachers in a national conversation about transforming the teaching profession to meet the needs of the future.  The results of that dialogue are discussed in more detail on the Department of Education blog.  Take a look.  I think you'll find it very...educational.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Do you know the difference between a 403(B) Plan and a 401(k) Plan?  Do you have any idea why you might want to participate in whichever one you qualify to join?  Do you know whether stocks, or bonds, or annuities, or mutual funds, or any number of other financial instruments are a good place for you to invest your hard-earned dollars?  If not, and if you'd like to know more about how to invest wisely, this site from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is here to help:

With a grounding in the basics, some discipline, and a little luck, you may actually be able to retire some day.

Monday, April 22, 2013

National Poetry Month

Each April we do celebrate our poets, bless them all.  Here is a site where you can learn 'bout those who've heard the call.  From Whitman to Penn Warren to Natasha Trethewey, read about the poets who with words do have a way:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

FBI Explosives Unit

After yesterday's horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon, you may be wondering who is leading the investigation.  The FBI has a unit dedicated to investigating these sorts of events--the Explosives Unit of the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center:

On their site you can read about the techniques that their scientific and forensic experts will be using to analyze the evidence and, with luck, track down and arrest the responsible parties.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Holocaust Remembrance Day

If you'd like to honor Holocaust Remembrance Day by learning more about the Holocaust, the best place to go is the site of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

According to the site, "Chartered by a unanimous Act of Congress in 1980 and located adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, DC, the Museum strives to broaden public understanding of the history of the Holocaust through multifaceted programs..."  The Museum also serves as a potent reminder that no matter how unhappy we may be with our government at times, if it isn't openly looting our valuables and actively trying to kill us, it could be worse.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Here on World Autism Day, at the start of Autism Awareness Month, how aware are you about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)?  Family members of the 1 in every 88 children that has been diagnosed with ASD are certainly aware of the symptoms, but may not be familiar with all the treatments that can help autistic children develop important skills.  Even those who don't have a close relative with ASD could benefit by learning more, because folks with ASD are everywhere.  The page below from the CDC is an excellent place to start learning:

As the aunt of a young man with ASD, I find it helpful to think of it this way--autism isn't really a bug in the software, it's a different operating system.      

Monday, March 25, 2013


Once you've watched the weather report and found out the temperature and humidity, that's about all you need to know about your local environment, right?  Wrong!  It's also useful to stay informed about the quality of the air, land, and water in your neighborhood.  The MyEnvironment site from the EPA will tell you all that, plus give you information about energy consumption in your area, and allow you to share good news about the environment in your town by giving a MyCommunity "shout out:"

At the moment, the good news about my environment is that I smell coffee, so I'm going to go investigate the source. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Has your microwave ever started all by itself?  Has your electric toothbrush ever shocked you?  Has your string-trimmer left big balls of string all over your yard?  If so, you may want to report these problems to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's web site: 

Your reports, and those of other consumers, can also be searched before you purchase a consumer product.  Knowing about the experiences of those who were sorry rather than safe may help you be safe rather than sorry.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

United States Government Manual

The United States Government Manual is the official handbook of the Federal Government.  It's maintained by the Federal Register Office of the National Archives and Records Administration:

The Manual provides the text of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and a description of Federal agencies, boards, commissions, and so on, in all three branches of the government.  It could be considered the "owner's manual" for the U.S. Government.  In fact, if the U.S. was a car, this manual would probably be kept in the glove compartment.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Do you ever get that sinking feeling?  If so, pay attention because you could actually be sinking.  Roughly 35 to 40% of the ground in the United States is susceptible to developing sinkholes.  The page below from the U.S. Geological Survey explains how sinkholes form and includes a map showing which areas of the country are more prone to sinkhole formation: 

All things considered, it's somewhat surprising that no one has written "Chicken Little II:  The Ground is Falling!  The Ground is Falling!"

Thursday, February 28, 2013


What do Beethoven, Charles Dickens, and Benjamin Franklin have in common with Dick Cheney?  All reportedly suffered from gout.  You can read more about this extremely painful condition and its treatment at the site below from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases:

As you'll see, one of the high-purine foods that may cause the condition is brains, so gout could well be the reason that zombies walk and moan they way they do.  (Just a theory.)