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Today’s column ignores Christopher Columbus and his holiday in favor
of smashing political pies and hopping into the car to follow the
Take that! It’s pie in the sky … uh, face. At Take
the Pie, you can throw a virtual pie in the face of either George W.
Bush or Al Gore. (So far, more folks have chosen to have the whipped
cream end up on the vice president’s visage.) You’ll need to have Flash
installed to appreciate the satisfying splash.
Help from the government. OK, you there in the back of the
room, stop that laughing. When you need to wade through the bureaucracy
to replace a lost Social Security card or to apply for a new passport,
government websites can be helpful. But there are so many of them —
millions and millions of pages, as a matter of fact — that it’s hard to
know where to go to find what you need. FirstGov was set up to remedy the
problem. It consolidates 28 million pages and allows you to search by
subject instead of agency.
At the same time, the guv’mint set up Workers.gov, which has the stated
purpose of “connecting American workers and their families to government
services and information.” It’s awfully basic — using the Net (how do
they think you got to their site?), resumes and cover letters, money
management, rights and protections, home ownership — sorta like those
little booklets that used to be churned out of the Government Printing
Office in Pueblo, Colo. — useful if you happen to need the
sometimes-obvious information, but dull.
More interesting, but not of interest to as many people is MapStats, which — along with
Workers.gov — can be accessed from the FirstGov home page. It provides
statistics and links to other data produced by more than 70 government
Making government easy. That’s the goal of HiCitizen, which is sort of a
privatized FirstGov. You may find its interface easier to use. If you’re
changing addresses, click on “moving and mail,” for instance. If you’re
ready to give up your job and wander the country in an RV, click on
“retirement.” It also connects to state government websites and lets you
easily access the top government forms (applying for a Social Security
card, applying for a student loan, registering to vote, renewing your
driver’s license, etc.).
Chatting about skyscrapers. On Wednesday, Oct. 11,
author-illustrator David Macaulay — who has those wonderful illustrated
books that explain how a bridge is built and a castle was constructed —
will chat at 8 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. PDT) at Yahoo chat. This is in conjunction with
the “Building Big” TV show, which airs every Tuesday night this month.
It’s fascinating if you like to learn how things work.
The Rising Sun. You know the haunting music of “The House of
the Rising Sun” and probably connect it to the Animals (a rock group
from the ’60s, for those of you too young to remember). Fans of folk
music may recall that Bob Dylan recorded it earlier, but recently the
Associated Press ran a long story that traces the origin of the song to
the hills of Kentucky in 1937 (and maybe much earlier). Seems that back
then the Library of Congress sent a researcher into the mountains to
record old songs before they were lost. My kids will tell you that
“House of the Rising Sun” is my least-favorite song (tied with “Hotel
California”), but I was intrigued by this tale, pulled it off the wires
and e-mailed it to several people I thought would be interested. Now the
AP has put the package of articles, photos, and some audio together on
the Web. “The
House of the Rising Sun” in Flash, of all things.
Leafing nothing to chance. Fall foliage season is in full
swing in many parts of the country and the Net helps you quickly locate
the latest on which areas are approaching peak. The Weather Channel lets you
see maps of areas at peak, near peak, patchy or past peak and select a
detailed report for more than 40 states. You can choose audio reports
and also see videos of fall foliage in New York’s Central Park, New
England and on the Appalachian Trail.
Yankee Magazine’s Foliage Central offers the “ultimate guide to autumn” in
the Northeast, which is famous for attracting leaf-peepers. There’s a
map of foliage times, toll-free phone numbers and Web links for
individual areas, a list of some of the picture-postcard New England
towns that are perfect for fall foliage trips and 20 dos and don’ts for
to the usual peak foliage map and current state reports fairs and
festivals connected to the leaf season and leads you to some of the best
scenic routes to see the show.
Those of us on the East Coast don’t think of California as prime
leaf-viewing territory, but there’s a website that proves us wrong, Fall Color in California,
designed for photographers.