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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Surf Away the February Blahs

It's Groundhog Day!

Like just about everybody in Moscow, I've had enough of winter, slippery sidewalks and the flu, and I will be rooting for overcast skies that blot out the slightest semblance of a shadow when the celebrated rodent emerges from his lair Sunday.

Results of the foray will be available immediately on the Internet. Punxsutawney Phil, the phenomenal Pennsylvania prognosticator, who is considered the official representative of his species worldwide, has his own personal home-page at

Groundhog Day is one of those holidays you don't think about much; it's hard enough to remember whether the rodent "seeing his shadow" means an early spring or six more weeks of winter. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I found the site's summary of the historical lore fascinating.

It seems that Groundhog Day derives from a mix of Native American and European superstitions. The early European Christians celebrated a February holiday called Candlemas, which was a winter milestone marked by the distribution of specially blessed candles by the clergy. If the sun shone on Candlemas, winter would return for another long stint. When the Roman legions brought this tradition to the early Germanic peoples, they decided that if the hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas day, it meant six more weeks of winter.

In turn, German and Dutch settlers brought these beliefs to the new world, where the indigenous woodchuck, considered a wise "grandfather of peoples" by the Delaware Indians, replaced the hedgehog. Clymer Phreas, the enterprising editor of the Philadelphia Spirit, popularized the story beginning in 1887, and the rest is history.

The tally since 1887: He saw his shadow 88 times, he didn't see his shadow 12 times, and there is no record for nine years sprinkled across that time time span. The odds seem stacked against us, and we can only imagine what it would be like if Phil lived in Moscow, where I haven't seen a good shadow -- or the sunshine that can bring it -- since about Sept. 1. For a more scientific look at the weather, you can always resort to the Weather Channel's home-page at The forecast probably isn't much better than Phil's, but you can read scores of interesting articles about everything from hypothermia to typhoons in the South Pacific.

Aside from its bad weather and brevity, February is notable for two other holidays, St. Valentine's Day and Presidents' Day, both of which have their own cyber celebrations.One of the less commercial Valentine's Day sites, at, offers holiday history, romantic gift ideas with links to various commercial sites, and a fascinating reference on how to say "I love you" in dozens of languages. A real linguist surely prepared this section because it distinguishes between "ya vas lyublyu (old-fashioned, formal)" and "ya tebya lyublyu (best)" in Russian. The site also has eight different German dialects, and my personal favorite, "SoHvaD vIghajtaH bang," in Klingon.

If you like browsing the personals in the newspaper on Valentine's Day, or if your valentine is also a net junkie, then is for you. You can post a virtual valentine of your own or read through hundreds of other entries from several years past.

No Valentine's Day would be complete without valentine cards, which are available to order from a number of very sophisticated and interesting sites. Http:// provides a utility called the "perfect card picker", where you can click on a square in a matrix with relationship "situation" on the x-axis and "intensity" of feeling on the y-axis to choose the perfect card for your beloved. Greet Street ( has one of the most impressive on-line card sites I have ever seen which fully exploits the medium and offers just about any service a consumer might want. Their valentine selection is extensive, with cards to suit every mood, relationship, and sexual orientation. Customers can enter personal notes to be printed in a variety of typefaces on each card or valentine, and specify a precise mailing date, up to two years in advance. The FTD floral website ( also offers on-line orders and delivery with a variety of Valentine's Day specials.

Presidents' Day, the other February holiday in the United States, is decidedly more austere. While there is little to celebrate per se, it provides a good excuse to check out presidential information on the web. If you were unable to watch U.S. President Bill Clinton's inauguration a couple weeks ago or couldn't stay awake for his whole speech, the official inaugural committee home-page ( will sate your curiosity.

For purposes of comparison, copies of every inaugural address and mini-biographical factoids about each president are available at

presidents/html/presidents. html. I didn't find any remarkable "clearinghouse" sites about George Washington, but the Lincoln showcase at

html is interesting and thorough.

My guess, however, is that the groundhog is even more popular than dead presidents on the web.

Bill Fick welcomes any tips on interesting web sites or questions concerning the Internet for response in future editions of this column. Fick is co-founder of Samovar Internet Consulting, LLC. Web: e-mail: fax: 233-2261.