Another Year, Another Almanac

A while back I raised the question: Is there still room on the shelf for an almanac? in reference to the World Almanac for Kids. I thought it might be cool for some kids of the right age, if nothing else to demonstrate them (however untrue it may be) that there are still some things you can learn from that are not on line. Now, I’ve got a copy of The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2013. This is the adult version.

At first I was a little disappointed that the front cover of the 2013 Almanac has a picture of Mitt Romney (he’s so 2012) and the Olympics (they happened a year or two ago, right?) but then I realized that this book actually is supposed to have “current” facts, so the last election, last olympics, etc. are all part of that.

In fact, let’s go right ahead and try to look something up. The Olympics, for instance.

The front page of the table of contents has “sports” and right down below that is “Olympic Games” … it will be on page 856. That was faster than Googling. I write down the page number because our species has lost the ability to remember two and three digit sequences of numerals. I thumb through to page 856 and there, on old fashioned newspaper print in fine ink are the details of the Olympics from way back when (in the late 19th century) to the present, over something like 22 pages. Authoritative, accurate, well organized. I almost feel like I am in The Wikipedia but I got here without having to wade through woo and crap and other flotsam and jetsam of the Internet.

That was fun. Now let’s try another one. What percentage of Americans have internet access and how has this changed over time? The index sends me right to page 394. Only 82% at home in 2012, the last year for which there are data, up from 67% in 2000, the first year for which there are data. Now, we use the “look both ways” rule to see what else we have. It also says that the average number of hours per week spent on line at home has gone from 9.4 to 18.3 over that time, peaking in 2009 at 19. Elsewhere in the same section we see a breakdown of internet activities, a list of “informative and useful websites” such as the Federal Register, various library tools, and Wolfram Alpha. The previous several pages have data on INternet Lino (LOL), international data on Internet use, information on Internet Addresses, and more.

OK, that went well too.

The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2013 is sort of like the internet for people who like books, but it is also like a particular site on the Internet that has a roughly even level of authority and detail about a wide range of things. Some information will be easier to find and make use of in this context (until you try to cut and paste it) than, say, The Wikipedia or other one line sources, while other information may be more limiting. I suppose it is all a matter of personal choices. A must, I think, if you are planing to be on Jeopardy.