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Lifestyle/Technology | Sites can help teach grammar, create recipes, and find other useful facts

Issue: "Tiananmen massacre," June 6, 2009

Last month I wrote about websites that are useful for studying art history, Hebrew, and math. Here's a recommendation from a junior high teacher: GrammarBook.com. "I love the videos, and I occasionally send students to the computer lab to watch a quick grammar lesson. I can't explain why, but for some kids a grammar concept we have been discussing for days in class suddenly makes sense in a 60 second video."

Another helpful site: RecipePuppy.com, a search engine for recipes. Type in the ingredients you have on hand and it fetches recipes from all around the internet. The site's creator had several goals: "It should be able to search by ingredient and/or keyword at the same time. You should be able to exclude recipes with ingredients you don't like." When I typed in salsa, cheddar cheese, yogurt, and eggs, Recipe Puppy returned 147,895 recipes, including ones for Mexican Fudge Appetizer and Smoky Corn Muffins. When I added one more ingredient, black beans, my options decreased to one: Green Ranch-hand Eggs Recipe.

Here's one more good site: the World Digital Library (wdl.org/en/), which represents a partnership between the U.S. Library of Congress, UNESCO, private companies, and cultural organizations from different countries. It includes many cultural treasures, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings that can be browsed in a number of ways. For instance, under the topic religion, the Russians have made available a book called Elements of Christian Teaching, or a Short Sacred History and a Short Christian Catechism. The website gives the book's history and then links to digital photos of the text. The Bay Psalm Book, published in 1640 in Massachusetts, is also available.

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And if you are wondering just how much sugar is in that Coke you're drinking, check out SugarStacks.com. The website uses ordinary four gram sugar cubes to illustrate graphically the amount of sugar in items ranging from soft drinks to Slurpees, breakfast cereals to cookies. It's a good way to teach your kids about hidden sugar. A good place for information about birds, bird watching, bird feeders, and bird art is All About Birds, allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Show us the money

By Susan Olasky

It seems odd that the Sunlight Foundation's first place award in its Apps for America contest, which was supposed to reward the best new applications for increasing government transparency, would go to a website called "Filibusted." That website aims to "hold senators accountable for blocking legislation," and the site's front page features photos of eight "notable obstructionists," who just happen to be Republicans. I wonder if this application would have won the $15,000 first prize in the days when Democrats were in the minority and used the filibuster to prevent the confirmation of judges to the federal bench?

More useful at this time of unprecedented government spending would be more transparency about where stimulus funds are going. Scientific American reports that the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board "has warned that without ­precautionary measures, as much as 7 percent of the stimulus funds will end up in the hands of bad actors. Apply Devaney's math to the $31 billion being spent on science-by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NASA, the Departments of Commerce and Energy and the National Science Foundation (NSF) combined-and stimulus funds represent an unprecedented boost not only for science, but also, potentially, for science fraud." Meanwhile USA Today reports that Recovery.gov, the website that is supposed to track ­stimulus spending, won't "have details on contracts and grants until October and may not be complete until next spring-halfway through the program."

The good and the bad

By Susan Olasky

Pit bulls, Doberman Pinschers, and Rottweillers have earned bad doggy reputations, and some cities and housing authorities have banned them. The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers an alternative to banning entire breeds: the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program. Trained evaluators administer a 10-point obedience test to determine whether a dog acts politely in crowds, with other dogs, with friendly strangers, with joggers or other distractions, with groomers, and under supervised separation. Dogs who pass the evaluation earn a certificate, but "any dog that growls, snaps, bites, attacks, or attempts to attack a person or another dog is not a good citizen and must be dismissed from the test."

Legal stalking

By Susan Olasky

If you want to keep tabs on a U.S. senator or Congressman's votes, tweets, or YouTube posts, a convenient website-Legistalker.org-tracks them all, with updates every 20 seconds. The site, which came in second in the Sunlight Foundation's Apps for America contest, also has press articles and lists of words used. It provides a convenient U.S. map that allows users to click on a state to get a list of legislators from that state.

Own that phrase

By Susan Olasky

A blogger received a letter from a lawyer advising him that he had infringed the copyright of the lawyer's client by using the phrase "Feel the fear and do it anyway" in a post on his website. It turns out that the phrase is also the title of a book written by the lawyer's client. Leo Babauta wrote on his blog: "I wasn't referring to her book. I'm not using the phrase as a title of a book or product or to sell anything. I was just referring to something a friend said on Twitter."

According to Babauta, the lawyers "asked me to insert the ® symbol after the phrase, in my post, and add this sentence: "This is the registered trademark of Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. and is used with her permission." Babauta then poses the question: "Is it really possible to claim whole chunks of the language, and force people to get permission to use the language, just in everyday speech? What if this were taken to an extreme? What if some billionaire (say, Bill Gates) decided to start trademarking thousands and thousands of phrases, so that he could charge us for each use, or so that we'd have to link back to the Microsoft homepage with each reference? The language, in this scenario, could be entirely privatized if we allow this sort of thing."

That's unlikely to happen, given trademark law, but who knows with some judges today? As for Babauta, he writes, "I will not be adding a Registered Trademark symbol to the previous post. And no, I won't be adding a phrase of legalese to the post. And no, I won't even attribute the phrase or link to her book, as I wasn't referring to the book. And no, I won't remove the phrase. I'd rather be sued."

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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