NASA's fire site sizzles; NPR's page aims to be plain

It is wildfire season again, and NASA has launched a new World Wide Web page designed to bring up-to-date information about fires to the public and the scientific community.

Point your browser to modarch.gsfc.nasa.gov/fire_atlas/fires.html to view satellite and infrared images of the most recent blazes in Florida and Mexico. As new fires break out, NASA plans to post updated data and images on this page. While this site is heavily geared toward scientists, several features should interest casual users and other weather buffs. Note, however, that most of the animated features on this page require QuickTime installation.

The "Latest Images" portion of the site on the opening page is a good place to start a perusal of various recent images of wildfires. The images from Florida, where more than 100 fires broke out over Memorial Day weekend and burned about 3,000 acres, provide clear, stark images of the severity and location of the fires.

The Web page is designed not only to provide a synopsis of current fire information but to detail the effect of the fires on the global climate. Almost 175 million acres of forest and grasslands are burned worldwide each year. Using data from satellites and sensors shown on the Web page, scientists are studying how the fires affect the Earth's atmosphere. To learn more about the science behind the fires, click on "State of the Science."

Perhaps the best features of this site are the animated movies showing the massive scope of these fires in tropical environments, such as South America and Mexico. Click on "Sample Global Data Products" to view a spinning Earth image that details all the fires of the world burning over a two-year period as seen at night.

A second image is identical to the first but shows fires and other lights— such as city lights and fishing boats— as they would appear from space.

For an even more in-depth view of the specific areas of the world that have been especially hard hit by fires, click on "Regional Examples" to view animated images such as the fires that ravaged South America in 1994 and 1995.

Gutting Bureaucratic Goobledygook

Following a June 1 presidential memorandum ordering agencies to eliminate bureaucratic mumbo jumbo from public communications, the National Partnership for Reinventing Government has launched a Web site to help agencies comply.

The Plain Language Action Network (www.plainlanguage.gov) site is packed with helpful tips for agencies to craft simple, easy-to-read letters, forms, notices and other public communications. Start with "Writing User-Friendly Documents," which is located conveniently on the introductory page, and then dig down deeper with the "How To" section for more detailed information about writing clearly.

Perhaps the best resource is the "Example Library," which features several helpful examples offered up by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Posted here are old and new versions of letters to veterans and their families seeking benefits information. The old versions would challenge even the most experienced bureaucrat. The new versions, however, present the information clearly enough for even a rudimentary reader to grasp.

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