The Government Domain: Summer Infosnacks

Peggy Garvin of Garvin Information Consulting is author of The United States Government Internet Manual (Bernan Press) and Real World Research Skills (TheCapitol.Net).

In tribute to the short attention spans of summer, we present an assortment of federal government web tidbits. Start clicking and, before you know it, everyone else will be back from vacation.

Summer Activities

Get ideas for getting away at the cross-agency, citizen-centric portal The site links to information on local, state, and national recreation areas. Find parks by activity, such as biking, hiking, climbing, and water sports. Take a look at the US Army Corps of Engineers’ specialized recreation site called Corps Lakes Gateway, where you can search by state, lake, and activity. Don’t want to get out of the car? Head over to the Transportation Department’s National Scenic Byways Online.

After the recreation, make your way to the excellent Sun Exposure portal on the National Library of Medicine (NLM) MedlinePlus site. It is a short leap from the Sun Exposure portal to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) EnviroFlash website. EnviroFlash can deliver email notification of UV Index and Air Quality alerts.

Spending your summer trying to sort out the weeds from the wildflowers? Take a look at the Plants section of the National Invasive Species Information Center. Home in on your local invasives using the clickable US map. The site covers unwelcome plants, animals (including insects), aquatic species, and microbes. Learn about those vicious Asian tiger mosquitoes or review the FAQ for pointers on fire ants and the Asian longhorned beetle.

Asian Tiger Mosquito

Safety First

These sites are from the government, and they are here to help. The Household Products Database from NLM comes to the rescue should you accidentally ingest some wood filler putty. Foodborne bacteria is a more likely threat, so check out and its section on summer food safety.

The U.S. Coast Guard has a site dedicated to boating safety. You might think sinking would be the biggest danger-until you see this site – a screen of which appears right below:

Boating Safety has tips for fighting computer viruses and spyware, and a video about teaching kids online safety. There are sections on wireless security, identity theft, internet auctions, spyware, and phishing. Much of the site’s content is available in Spanish and English.

Read up on earthy dangers at the Hazard Programs websites of the US Geological Survey. You will find excellent coverage of volcanoes, earthquakes, and landslides.

For problems caused by water or the lack of it, see the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) pages on storm prediction, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and fires.

These weather events are all frightening enough, but NOAA’s page on lightning says “lightning is the most dangerous and frequently encountered weather hazard that most people experience each year.” NOAA warns that “lightning often strikes as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.” And did you know that lightning can travel sideways?

Screenshot of NOAA Lightning Page


A word of caution if you are infosnacking at the office: the following website launches with annoying sound effects. The Digital Television site from the Federal Communications Commission explains the mandated transition from analog to digital broadcasting. (All analog broadcasting will stop by February 17, 2009.) The site includes a DTV Quiz you can take to become a DTV Deputy.

You don’t need a new television, just a good broadband connection, to watch NASA TV. Tune in, and you may catch live coverage from the International Space Station. NASA offers much more multimedia; you can browse, listen, watch, and download at NASA Multimedia Highlights.

Webcasts and Pretty Pictures

Government websites offer an array of webcasts, and they are not all of boring meetings. NLM’s MedlinePlus site recently added pre-recorded webcasts of surgical procedures. As the site says, “these are actual operations performed at medical centers in the United States since January 2004.” Current webcasts include surgeries for hip replacements, brain tumors, gastric bypass, heart bypass, cardiac catheterization, and more. (Note: the author is too squeamish to preview any of these for you.)

The Library of Congress provides webcasts of the many lectures and programs it holds in Washington, DC. A central page for the webcasts highlights the most popular programs and organizes them (of course, this is the Library of Congress) by topic. One of the top ten in popularity is a dialogue between Poet Laureate Ted Kooser and musician John Prine about the appeal of poems and song lyrics. Another popular Library webcast discusses early copies of the Declaration of Independence; it was produced specifically for video and is full of fascinating facts on which to snack.

Finally, if all you want to do is look at cool pictures, try:

Next Month

The Government Domain column will return to serious issues of information access in August.

Posted in: E-Government, Government Resources, The Government Domain