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Treasure troves

Lifestyle/Technology | Going online can help with studying the Bible, learning about the Civil War, and getting a grasp on mammoth deficit spending

Issue: "Crackdown," July 18, 2009

The internet is enormously educational if you know where to look. Four examples:

Biblemap.org, developed by He Lives Ministries, is a free Bible atlas that uses Google maps to plot geographical locations mentioned in the English Standard or King James versions of the Bible. Geographical place names are color coded to match pointers on the map. The screen displays the text and map so users can visualize an area as they read about it. Click on the pointers and more information about locations (Pontus, for instance) appears.

• Getting the "lay of the land" is crucial to understanding military battles. Civilwar.org is the website of the Civil War Preservation Trust, the largest group devoted to preserving Civil War battlefields. It has resources for teachers and students and interesting animated maps that show troop movements along with a timeline, including maps for the first day of Chancellorsville, The Battle of Chantilly, and the Battle of Fredericksburg. The website is also a rich archive of historical maps of the various battlefields.

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• A century ago Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii went to Tsar Nicholas II with a plan to survey photographically the Russian Empire. The tsar liked the idea and funded the photog's travels to 11 regions between 1909-1912, and again in 1915.

Prokudin-Gorskii left Russia in 1918, taking his photographs with him. The Library of Congress bought them in 1946, but you don't have to go to Washington, D.C., to see them. They are online at the Library of Congress website as "The Empire That Was Russia" collection (loc.gov/exhibits/empire). The photographs are sorted into groups showing ethnic diversity, architecture, people at work, and transportation.

The photographs are an extraordinary portrait of a bygone era and people-and they are in color. According to the Library of Congress, "We know that Prokudin-Gorskii intended his photographic images to be viewed in color because he developed an ingenious photographic technique in order for these images to be captured in black and white on glass plate negatives, using red, green and blue filters. He then presented these images in color in slide lectures using a light-projection system involving the same three filters." The Library of Congress has duplicated his effects using the same color filters (explanations for the process are at the site).

• A trillion is one thousand billion. According to this chart (blog.heritage.org/2009/03/24/bush-deficit-vs-obama-deficit-in-pictures), the Congressional Budget Office forecasts a ­deficit of $1.2 trillion in 10 years-that's $1,200 billion. A graphic is better than words, but video is even more powerful, and the videos posted on YouTube by a person who calls himself "Political Math" are terrific. You can find his videos at youtube.com/user/10000Pennies. His blog, where he explains the sources of the data he uses, is at politicalmath.wordpress.com.

Using pennies, one video illustrates job losses compared to the promised effect of the stimulus plan. Another one uses the metaphor of a road trip and demonstrates on a map of the United States how fast a debt car crosses the country. It has Obama piling up debt at the rate of 174 miles per hour compared with Bush at 64 mph. In another he uses water to demonstrate this year's spending and Obama's proposed budget cuts.

"Political Math" even applied his knack for visualizing data to this sentence from an AP story about the murder of abortionist George Tiller: "But the doctor's violent death was the latest in a string of shootings and bombings over two decades directed against abortion clinics doctors and staff."

On his blog, using data from the National Abortion Federation, he graphed violence directed against abortionists over the years and concluded, "Given the actual data, the characterization of this incident as 'the latest in a string of shootings and bombings' is deeply dishonest. It embeds into people's minds the idea that this is a very common tragedy, like school shootings, hurricanes, or gang-related violence. In fact, until I looked at the data very recently, I was under exactly that impression. It would be much more accurate to say something along the lines of: This incident has shattered an eight-year lull in anti-abortion related shootings, an activity that spiked to record levels in the '90s."

Art sale

By Susan Olasky

How can artists make a living via the internet? In 2004, painter Julian Merrow-Smith began selling postcard-size oil paintings by auction on the internet. Each 6-inch still life or Provencal landscape had a starting bid of $100-and he began selling most days. Now, Merrow-Smith each day sends an email to his more than 3,000 subscribers with a link to that day's painting. On average, paintings sell for between $100 and $600. To check out his website, go to shiftinglight.com. Perhaps he's found a model that other artists could emulate.

Cell division

By Susan Olasky

If your employer provides you a cell phone or Blackberry, you may see part of the yearly expense show up in your paycheck as a taxable fringe benefit. The Internal Revenue Service is proposing that a quarter of the yearly expense be taxed, unless you can prove that the phone is not used for personal calls. Congress passed a law permitting this taxation in the late 1980s when cell phones were a huge luxury. Since then cell phones have become commonplace, costs have come down, and the burden of keeping track of personal and business use is so great that few employers do it. The IRS is seeking comments through Sept. 4.

Face time

By Susan Olasky

Thirty-one states use facial recognition software to help identify applicants for driver's licenses. According to USA Today, the use of such software, which compares applicants' faces with previous photographs, has kept 6,000 fraudulent applicants from getting licenses in Illinois since 1999. When the photos don't match, the system sends an alarm-but if the facial expression is different in two photos of the same person, some facial recognition software won't make a match. That problem has led four states-Arkansas, Indiana, Nevada, and Virginia (see "Mug shots for all," June 20)-to invoke a "no smiling" policy for license photos.

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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