Online Almanacs: Why Turn to a Quirky Online Publication like an Almanac?

Article excerpt

There are two kinds of almanacs, according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. It defines the traditional type as "a publication containing astronomical and meteorological data for a given year and often including a miscellany of other information." The other is a "publication containing statistical, tabular, and general information."

You can find both types on the Web.

For example, the Old Farmer's Almanac, published in print since 1792, offers a companion site (http://www.almanac.com) that's been online since 1995. It provides traditional almanac content, including astronomical info, weather forecasts, and gardening tips.

An example of the second type of almanac is CNN Daily (http://www.cnn.com/almanac/daily). It offers general information, including news highlights, details on upcoming national and international events, and a list of historical happenings for each day of the year. Many other online almanacs offer both useful and useless information.

Traditional Almanacs

The Old Farmer's Almanac (http://www.almanac.com) gets more than 2 million hits per month, according to its editors, who describe it as "a mixture of practical, historical, and quirky information."

The following is an overview of the site's features:

* Weather pages offer detailed 5-day forecasts for thousands of cities and towns across the U.S. and Canada. A searchable weather history database contains weather conditions for 1,500 locations for any day since Jan. 1, 1994. Weather Lore pages explain such phenomena as tornadoes and droughts.

* Gardening pages include frost charts, planting tables, and source lists for seeds and flowers.

* Astronomy pages offer charts and tables for various celestial events, including moon phases, comet and meteor appearances, and rise/set times for the sun, moon, and planets.

* Cooking pages feature tips, recipes, and cooking charts.

* Household pages include tips and charts for homeowners.

* Forums on gardening, astronomy, cooking, and other topics let you get involved in online discussions with other site visitors.

* An online Country Store allows you to buy almanacs, related publications (such as The Old Farmer's Almanac Favorite Cookies), calendars, charts, and even music (like the musical "Celebration of the American Farm").

You will find some of the same features at a similarly named site: the Farmers' Almanac (http://www.farmersalmanac.com). The editors of this site update their Weather, Gardening, and Best Days pages a few days before the beginning of each month. Also available are household tips; astronomy information; a message board; and fishing, gardening, and other calendars.

Look in the site's collection of FAQs for information on such topics as how to get skunk spray off a dog, why ladybugs try to get in your house, how to use cricket chirps to tell the temperature, and how to get wax off a rug. The site includes an online store where you can buy not only printed editions but also downloadable almanacs and weather forecasts.

With so many databases, encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines, and other serious reference resources available on the Web, why turn to a quirky online publication like an almanac?

The Farmers' Almanac editors provide a pretty good answer: "With an ever-increasing use of the Internet as a source for information, people sometimes ask us how the Farmers' Almanac will fare as we continue to move into a world of technology; We simply say--as many of our readers tell us--that our success lies with the Farmers' Almanac's usefulness, its wit and wisdom, and its charm of days gone by."

This Day in History

The CNN Daily Almanac is a good place to go if you want today-in-history trivia. For instance, when I was researching this article in March, I discovered that on the same day in 1802, Congress passed an act calling for a library to be established in the U. …