Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Santa Tracker

One of the more whimsical services offered by a government agency is the Santa Tracker provided each Christmas eve by NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command):

According to the site, "For 60 years, NORAD and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) have tracked Santa’s flight. The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief's operations 'hotline.' The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born." The tradition continues this year.

Happy holidays to one and all.

Monday, December 7, 2015

U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness

As the colder weather and the holidays approach, people often think more about helping their fellow man. If the season has you wondering exactly what the Federal government is doing to help the homeless, then exploring the site of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness may answer many of your questions:

The Council's mission "is to coordinate the Federal response to homelessness" and it's composed of "19 Federal Cabinet secretaries and agency heads." One of the many resources available on the USICH site is a database that's "a searchable source of up-to-date information drawn from around the country that federal, state, and local partners can use to further their collaborative efforts to end homelessness." So, even if you can't afford to donate money to a charity, your tax dollars are already at work helping your fellow man.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Driving in the U.S.A.

If your plans for the upcoming holidays include out-of-town travel, lower gas prices may have you thinking about driving rather than flying.  This page from the site offers driving safety tips, information for foreign drivers, and links to pages about drunk driving, car seats, older drivers, and more:

There aren't any links to pages about what to do if your relatives are driving you nuts, but I bet has one of those too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

O*NET OnLine

Whether you're trying to pick a first or a second career O*NET OnLine, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, may be just the tool you need:

It allows you to browse descriptions of occupations based on your interests, skills, abilities, and knowledge, as well as on the amount of preparation needed.  It also provides a list of jobs in the "Green Economy Sector."  Each occupational description includes information about tasks performed, tools and technology used, knowledge, skills, and abilities required, work activities, work context, and education needed.  It's often said that if you find a job you enjoy, you'll never have to "work" a day in your life.  Good luck with finding your own work-free job! 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Consumer Action Handbook

As usual, at the stroke of midnight on Halloween, Santa chased away the goblins and the holiday shopping season officially began. If you'd like to be a smart shopper this year, you might want to download or order a free copy of the Federal Citizen Information Center's Consumer Action Handbook:

The Handbook includes tips on buying cars, managing credit, going green, privacy and identity theft, travel, and even things like wills and funerals. It also provides information on how to file a complaint if that becomes necessary, along with a directory of corporate consumer contact numbers. If everyone had a copy of the Handbook, the saying might become "retailer beware" rather than "buyer beware."

Monday, October 26, 2015

Creepy Critters for Halloween

With Halloween just around the corner, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History offers this selection of frightening fish and creepy crustaceans to make us all happy we're trick-or-treating on land and not in the watery deep:

Even if yours is a Marine Halloween, stay safe, and don't eat all your candy (or plankton) in one sitting.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Time Travel

In the movie "Back to the Future II," Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrive in the future on October 21, 2015.  There will be many celebrations this week as we finally reach that once futuristic date.  This momentous event may leave you wondering whether or not time travel is really possible.  At least one scientist at NASA seems to think it is:

Hmm...I wonder if he owns a DeLorean?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Christopher Columbus

Most of us know that Christopher Columbus "sailed the ocean blue" in 1492 and discovered America.  For those who'd like to know a bit more about why he sailed, what he found, and the ongoing impact of these events, this online exhibit from the Library of Congress may be of great interest:

If you can't explore the world yourself, you can at least explore this information about one famous explorer.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Mental Health Statistics

October 4-10 is Mental Health Awareness Week.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), "...mental disorders are common throughout the United States, affecting tens of millions of people each year, and...only about half of those affected receive treatment."  To improve your own awareness, explore these statistics from NIMH on the prevalence, treatment, and costs of mental disorders:

If you believe you might be among the millions with an untreated disorder, that page also links to information about how to find help.  There's no shame in having a mental disorder, so please find the courage to request the help you need.

Monday, September 28, 2015

NAL Digital Collections

If you have any interest in the history of American agriculture, you'll no doubt be fascinated by the digital collections from the National Agricultural Library:

Publications available include, among others, the Historical Dietary Guidance Digital Collection, the Organic Roots Collection, and the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection, which presents paintings, drawings, and models of plant specimens created between 1886 and 1942.  All collections can be searched simultaneously or browsed individually.  So, if you're a hayseed from way back, now you can easily find historical publications about actual hayseeds from way back.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Real ID Act

You may have seen a news article recently that said, starting next year, residents of some states (including Louisiana) may no longer be able to use their drivers' licenses to board airplanes.  The Real ID Act was passed in 2005, but restrictions on IDs that are acceptable for boarding federally-regulated commercial aircraft won't be implemented until 2016 "at the earliest."  No specific implementation date has been announced yet, and it will be when the time comes, but if you'd like to read more, see this page from the Department of Homeland Security:

And, if your state doesn't offer an "enhanced driver's license" and you'd like to go ahead and apply for a passport as your second form of ID, here's a link to information about that:  Happy traveling!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Shared Heritage Travel Itineraries

More than 90,000 locations around the country have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.  To help the public explore these significant sites, the National Park Service, in partnership with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and various state and local organizations, has created several "travel itineraries."  Each itinerary highlights different geographic regions or important themes in American history.  This page allows you to browse the itineraries by state:

Whether you visit these locations in person or online, it's bound to be educational and may even be fun.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Suicide Prevention

Did you know that twice as many people die by suicide each year than by homicide?  Were you aware that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people 15-34?  This page from the National Institute of Mental Health provides basic information about how to recognize and help someone who might be in crisis:

It also provides phone numbers to call if you yourself are in crisis.  September 7-13 is National Suicide Prevention Week, so if you or someone you know needs help, there's no better time to ask.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

Just as nutrition labels have attempted to make it easier to know which foods are healthier than others, a federal project called the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is supposed to make it easier to know which colleges or universities will be more affordable than others.  The Sheet is a standard form that presents information about the costs of attending a particular institution and the options for paying those costs.  This page from the U.S. Department of Education provides some background on the Sheet and a list of the institutions that have adopted it:

A college education may be the most expensive thing you'll ever purchase, so educating yourself about the debt you'll be taking on might be a wise place to start.

Monday, August 24, 2015

U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission

China is experiencing an economic crisis that has affected financial markets worldwide.  Who, in the U.S. government, is keeping track of what's happening in China and its impact on us?  One group doing this is the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission:

It was created by Congress in 2000 and its purpose is to monitor and report on issues in these areas:  "...proliferation practices, economic transfers, energy, U.S. capital markets, regional economic and security impacts, U.S.-China bilateral programs, WTO compliance, and the implications of restrictions on speech and access to information in the People’s Republic of China."  To paraphrase an old saying, "Keep your friends close, but your creditors closer."

Monday, August 17, 2015

Warren G. Harding

The presidential term of Warren G. Harding was rocked by the Teapot Dome scandal, but that was hardly the only scandal associated with the 29th President.  The Library of Congress last year released a collection of love letters written by Harding to his married "paramour," Carrie Fulton Phillips:

Just last week, DNA tests confirmed that Harding had an illegitimate daughter with his later mistress, Nan Britton.  If reality TV had existed in the 1920s, there might well have been a show called "Harding's Boo Boos," or possibly "Hanging out with the Hardings."

Monday, August 10, 2015

Legionnaires' Disease

If you're of a certain age, the recent outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in New York may have you struggling to remember when the disease first made news and why it became known as "Legionnaires' disease."  This page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives a brief history of the disease, and provides links to additional information about symptoms, treatment, and so on:

Between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires' every year, so "legions" of people do get it, but that isn't how it got its distinctive name.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Looking for a quick way to find some basic information about the quality of the air and water in your area?  Maybe you're interested in toxic pollution of the land instead?  Whatever the case may be, the MyEnvironment page from the Environmental Protection Agency may lead you to the information you need:

In fact, it might provide a lead that will lead you to information about lead (or other heavy metals).

Monday, July 27, 2015

PubMed Central

Looking for information about mass shootings and mental health?  Maybe you're trying to find out why bees are mysteriously dying? If the topic you're researching is related to biology, medicine, or other life sciences, you may want to start with PubMed Central (PMC):

This archive of full-text journal literature is provided by the National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine.  It currently includes about 3.5 million articles from a variety of sources.  It even offers a special "PubReader" view to make use of the archive easier on tablets and other small screen devices.  An overview and a Users' Guide are available on the site.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


This week the U.S. re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba.  Among other things, this means that a U.S. embassy has been officially located in Havana.  If you have questions about how U.S. relations with Cuba are progressing, the Embassy's site might be a good place to look for answers:

For instance, one fact sheet on the site makes clear that, "The embargo on Cuba is still in place and legislative action is required to lift it."  So, if you were hoping that low-cost Cuban cigars would soon be flooding the shelves of your local retailers, you may be out of luck for now.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Avian Influenza

If you enjoy watching the poultry judging at your state fair, you may be out of luck this year.  At least one state (Michigan) has cancelled the judging of poultry and water fowl due to concerns about the spread of Avian Influenza (AKA bird flu).  To read more about this disease and where cases have been confirmed, see this page from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

And, if you really need to see some poultry, perhaps you can find an old Foghorn Leghorn cartoon on TV or online.

Monday, July 6, 2015


In recent months, it seems the national news has reported on severe weather and tornadoes almost every night.  Are there really more tornadoes now than there were a few years ago?  How about a few decades ago?  This page from the National Climatic Data Center may tell you everything you'd like to know:

It certainly does provide a whirlwind of information.  ;-)

Monday, June 29, 2015


Independence Day is just around the corner and most Americans are looking forward to family, friends, food, and fireworks. However, those who've recently returned from active duty in the military may get less enjoyment from the "rockets' red glare" and "bombs bursting in air."  They may, in fact, be suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  To read more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of PTSD, see this site from the VA's National Center for PTSD:

If you're aware that one of your neighbors has recently returned home from active duty, maybe you could think about going to the community fireworks display this year rather than setting off your own.  Our heroes may need a little peace and quiet.

Monday, June 22, 2015

State & County QuickFacts

Need to know how many people live in your state or home town?  Need some basic facts about the businesses in your area?  The Census Bureau's State & County QuickFacts site may fulfill your needs:

After you select a geographic area, the site provides a quick statistical overview of the population, housing, and businesses in that area, along with the number of square miles occupied and the persons per square mile.  It also provides totals for the U.S. as a whole, and for the younger information seeker, there's a link to "Student State Facts." 

In case of zombie apocalypse, it might be very helpful to know that Georgia has 168.4 people per square mile, but Washington, DC has 9,856.5.  (Wyoming, with 5.8 people per square mile, is the place you'd want to be.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Father's Day

It's almost time to celebrate another Father's Day. If you're a father and would like some tips or suggestions about being the best father possible, the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse from the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Family Assistance may be just what you need. It's a "...national resource for fathers, practitioners, programs/Federal grantees, states, and the public at-large who are serving or interested in supporting strong fathers and families:"

You can even sign up and take the President's "Fatherhood Pledge."

Happy Father's Day to all the dads!

Monday, June 8, 2015

LGBT Pride Month

Caitlyn Jenner is just one of many people celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month throughout June.  Anyone who watched the Tony Awards last night knows that the LGBT community has made outstanding contributions to music and theater, but this month recognizes their achievements in other areas of our history and culture as well.  This site from the Library of Congress describes the origins of the observation and provides links to numerous resources from its collections:

To those who are celebrating, happy Pride Month!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Hurricane Season

June 1st marks the beginning of a new hurricane season.  Even though predictions seem to agree that this will be a relatively calm season in the Atlantic, that may not be true in the Pacific.  To keep up to date on all the latest developments, see this site from the National Hurricane Center:

Not only will it show you the predicted paths of any active hurricanes, it tells you about the outlook for this season and how to be prepared.

If the predictions hold, we may make it all the way to November 30th without ever seeing hurricanes Larry through Wanda.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cooperative Extension

Here in the late spring and early summer, many people will be getting serious about their home gardens.  If you're one of these people and your garden has a problem with bugs, or root rot, or blighted foliage, who can you turn to for help and advice?  If you're lucky enough to live near a land-grant college or university, you may be able to contact your local Cooperative Extension office.  To read more about Extension offices and their educational role, see this page from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture:

Even if you don't have a green thumb, with their advice you may be able to produce some produce that will make people think that you do.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs

A biker gang shootout in Waco, Texas on Sunday left 9 people dead and landed 192 people in jail.  Outlaw motorcycle gangs are not just something you see on TV.  They are very real and they're involved in numerous criminal activities.  To read more about the major outlaw gangs, see this page from Organized Crime and Gang Section of the U.S. Department of Justice:

The prevalence of biker gangs is just one more reason to watch carefully for motorcycles as you're driving and be courteous to their riders.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Finding a Job

It's graduation season and newly minted graduates all over the country will soon be looking for jobs.  Whether they're seeking a summer job or a more permanent position, the site from the General Services Administration provides links to information that can be invaluable, especially to those who might want to work for the federal government:

Congratulations graduates and happy hunting!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tequila (Space Image)

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  One topic near and dear to many revelers hearts today will be tequila.  Much tequila, of course, comes from the Mexican city of Tequila, seen here in this "Space Image" from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California:

Many beautiful images of other locations are available if you click the "View All Images" link near the bottom of the page. 

If you're celebrating today, please remember to designate a driver. (Especially if you work for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Tequila and jet fuel do not mix.)

Monday, April 27, 2015


Even before the recent devastating earthquake, Nepal was a country facing a number of challenges.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been active there for a number of years seeking to "reinforce recent gains in peace and security, stabilize the transitional government, strengthen the delivery of essential social services, expand proven health interventions, and address the global challenges of food insecurity and climate change." To read more about the country both before and since the disaster, see this page from USAID:

To read about the additional aid now being offered by USAID, and to see how you can help too, see this page:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Electronic Cigarettes

"Mind if I vape?"  If you've heard that question, you're likely aware that the usage of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) is on the rise in America.  We don't yet know if e-cigs are a healthier alternative to their tobacco counterparts, but we do know that they sometimes explode unexpectedly.  This October 2014 report from the U.S. Fire Administration discusses incidents of fires and explosions related to e-cigs:

As for the overall health effects of these devices, the Food and Drug Administration is collecting public comments through July 2 to assist them with making appropriate rules.  See this site:  Until e-cigs are carefully studied and regulated, if you must vape, vape with great caution.

Monday, April 13, 2015

American English

Like Americans themselves, American English is complex and ever changing, which makes it a great challenge for people from other countries to learn.  The U.S. Department of State offers a variety of resources for those who are trying to learn American English, or to teach it to others, including this page on poetry:

Reading a few poems written by foreign students celebrating the wonders of education might even be motivational and/or inspirational for some of the less enthusiastic American students studying English.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Open World Leadership Center

For those of you who often wish we could all just get along, the Open World Leadership Center offers a step in that direction:

The mission of the Center is, "To enhance understanding and capabilities for cooperation between the United States and the countries of Eurasia by developing a network of leaders in the region who have gained significant, firsthand exposure to America’s democratic, accountable government and its free-market system."  Qualified organizations in the U.S. can apply for grants to host young leaders from the 18 participating countries. 

I don't know if American hosts are required to buy these young leaders a Coke and sing in harmony with them, but I suppose it's possible.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Institute of Museum and Library Services

Do you enjoy visiting your local libraries and museums?  Did you know that many of the special displays or services you've enjoyed might have been funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)?  "The mission of IMLS is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. We provide leadership through research, policy development, and grant making:"

While you may depend on your local library or museum to enrich your life, they depend on the IMLS to help them do it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Radio and TV Stations

If your favorite radio station never seems to pause for "station identification," you can likely still identify it by searching on this site provided by the Federal Communications Commission:

You can search for stations within a specific state or city, and near the bottom of the page you can even search for stations located within a certain geographic radius.  The site also offers the same information about FM stations and TV stations. 

Thanks for listening.  We now return you to your regular programming.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

National Institute on Aging

As Bette Davis famously said, "Old age ain't no place for sissies."  Along with white hair and wisdom come the aches and pains of deteriorating biological systems.  Fortunately, the National Institute on Aging has a mission to "discover what may contribute to a healthy old age as well as to understand and address the disease and disability sometimes associated with growing older."  Its site offers health advice and news, statistics, and information about things such as clinical trials:

You can fight the Grim Reaper by staying informed, and always keep in mind Maurice Chevalier's observation that "Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative."

Monday, March 9, 2015

Equal Rights Amendment

March is Women's History Month and yesterday was International Women's Day.  So, in honor of those events, let's revisit the history of the Equal Rights Amendment with this essay from the Library of Congress' American Memory site:

If it makes you want to burn your bra, please try to resist the urge.  Good bras aren't cheap.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Highway Statistics

An overabundance of snow this winter has made travel difficult for many people across the country.  If you aren't able to get out onto the highways at the moment, perhaps you'd enjoy reading about them in the Federal Highway Administration's annual publication, Highway Statistics.  It provides statistics on bridges, highway infrastructure, highway travel and travelers, vehicles, motor fuel, conditions and safety, and so on:

When spring finally arrives, you'll be able to hit the road as a much better informed driver.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Counterterrorism Fly Team

The terrorist group Al-Shabaab has recently called on its supporters to attack shopping malls, such as Minnesota's Mall of America.  If someone in your area answers that call, who could local law enforcement turn to for help?  Since 2002 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has had a specialized unit call the Counterterrorism Fly Team:

They are "A small, highly trained cadre of counterterrorism investigators—including Special Agents and Intelligence Analysts—based at FBI Headquarters who stand ready to deploy anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice." 

While it's reassuring to know that these experts exist in the real world, it also sounds like an excellent premise for a new TV show.  (Perhaps "Criminal Minds: CFT?")

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Alcohol Research

If you celebrated Valentine's Day, or Presidents' Day, or Mardi Gras with an adult beverage or two, you may have at least a passing interest in scientific research on the subject of alcohol.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism publishes (or possibly published, the latest issue came out in 2013) a journal devoted to the topic entitled "Alcohol Research: Current Reviews:"

If, on the other hand, you just need to know how to cure a hangover, this page from Medline Plus may be helpful:

Monday, February 9, 2015

National Institute of Justice

Criminals are getting more sophisticated every day.   The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is trying hard to keep law enforcement one step ahead of the bad guys.  "NIJ was created in 1969 and has been in the forefront of nearly every innovation in criminal justice research and policy ever since. Understanding the nature of criminal careers, the effects of sanctions, the ways technology can improve practice, and the operations of the criminal justice system have all been deeply influenced by NIJ research findings:"

In essence, NIJ is where eggheads and gumshoes meet to try to keep John Q. Public safe from the hooligans.

Monday, February 2, 2015

African American History Month

February is Black History Month (or African American History Month, if you prefer).  Several federal agencies, including the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration, have pooled their resources to create a site dedicated to the event:

It not only provides links to the legislative documents that created the commemoration, it also includes a wealth of multimedia materials about black history.  Since February is also American Heart Month, Canned Food Month, and National Cherry Month, you may want to enjoy some heart-healthy canned cherries while you explore.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Most people who go to Disneyland come home with just mouse ears and a sunburn, but several recent visitors have also come home with the measles.  Measles was "eliminated" from the U.S. in 2000, but it's still common in foreign countries, so international travelers bring it to the U.S. with them.  People who don't have an immunity to measles from a vaccine or from having had the disease can, and do, become infected.  This site from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information about the symptoms of measles, as well as statistics, news about the recent outbreaks, and tips to help you avoid getting the disease:

If you do contract the measles and decide to play "connect the dots," please remember not to use a permanent marker.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Project Blue Book Files

"The truth" about the Air Force's Project Blue Book has been out there for some time on microfilm (, but now a lot of it is also available online.  This story from the Air Force Times has all the details:

You'd think that since the majority of the population walks around with a camera in their hand all day every day we'd have lots more recent proof of UFOs, but I suppose you can't spot a UFO if you never look up at the sky.

Monday, January 12, 2015

SBA Learning Center

Have you been toying with the idea of starting your own small business?  Or, do you already own a small business and feel like you still have a lot to learn?  If so, the Small Business Administration stands ready to help.  In addition to all the basic information about starting and managing a small business provided on the SBA website, it also includes a "Learning Center" that offers detailed training materials like online courses, videos, and chat sessions:

Dealing with government rules and taking advantage of government assistance may be some of the biggest challenges you'll face as a business owner, so who better to learn from than the government itself?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Super Tracker

Here at the beginning of a new year many people will be starting new diets or fitness programs.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created the Super Tracker site in order to support those efforts:

It includes a "Food-a-pedia" with nutrition information about more than 8000 foods, a "Food Tracker," a "Physical Activity Tracker," and several other helpful features.  The site allows users to create a profile and track their progress toward meeting their goals.  Best wishes to those who, like me, will be trying to achieve a healthier lifestyle this year.