Boing Boing 

Mexican artists ride abandoned passenger rails in an Earthbound "spacecraft"

Calling themselves Los Ferronautas (or "railanauts"), Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene documented the impacts of the privatization — and subsequent immediate closure — of Mexico's passenger rail lines. Their home-built vehicle could travel on the rails or on the ground, from Mexico City to the Atlantic.

[Video Link]

US to airlines: disclose all fees hidden in ticket prices to customers

The US Transportation Department today proposed air travelers be given detailed information on the fees they're being charged for each checked bag, advance seat assignments, and carry-on luggage.

Read the rest

Guilty plea in Fox News leak case shows why Espionage Act prosecutions are unfair to reporters' sources


Stephen Jin-Woo Kim. Image: Stephen Kim Legal Defense Trust.

Former State Department official Stephen Kim announced today he will plead guilty to leaking classified information to Fox News journalist James Rosen and will serve 13 months in jail.

The case sparked controversy last year when it was revealed the Justice Department named Rosen a “co-conspirator” in court documents for essentially doing his job as a journalist. But a largely ignored ruling in Kim’s case may have far broader impact on how sources interact with journalists in the future.

Read the rest

Regulating a new technology

E-cigarettes are different enough from cigarettes that it's hard for regulators to figure out how to monitor their safety and use. There's nicotine, but no tobacco. There's heating, but not combustion. Theoretically, they should be safer to use than cigarettes, but nobody really knows for sure. This piece at InsideScience is an interesting look at how we manage new technologies that don't quite fit into any previously defined regulatory boxes ... and why we'd want to regulate them, to begin with.

Intensely dramatic commercial for city council show on public access cable

The Whitehorse City Council meeting will be the most dramatic, tension-filled television you'll experience all week. It airs every Monday evening on Whitehorse Community Cable in Yukon, Canada. (Thanks, FP!)

UK government online disability benefits signup requires IE6

Robin sez,

I'm one of the campaigns managers at 38 Degrees (the UK's largest online campaign organisation). One of our members has recently started a petition calling on the UK government to update their web technology. When I saw it I immediately thought of boing boing and wondered if you could help spread the word.

To claim Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance in the UK people are being asked to use Internet Explorer 5 or 6 and other systems that are so out of date they are available on less than 2% of computers. If you want to claim online you will need to take a step back to the 1990s and hunt through second hand shops for an old PC that you can power up.

It's a crazy situation.

Update Online DLA Claim System (Thanks, Robin!)

Poop transplants meet FDA bureaucracy

The good news: Fecal transplants work well enough as a treatment for patients with Clostridium difficile infections that the Food and Drug Administration has decided to take them out of the grey area of legality in which they were previously being performed. Poop transplants for C. difficile will be legal, and the doctors doing the transplants will have to be approved by the FDA, to make sure they're getting the donor poop through safe means and not prescribing poop transplants for things that poop transplants don't help. The bad news: The approval process turns out to be ridiculously arcane and time-consuming — featuring a 30-day waiting period and requirements that are apparently secret.

Hackers prepare for first "national holiday" in their honor

“The future of technology will be largely determined by citizens who will design, build, and hack their own”

Read the rest

Play a forecasting game about the future of civic engagement

My Institute for the Future colleague Jake Dunagan is hosting a 24-hour online forecasting game to imagine the future of government services and civic engagement. It's called Connected Citizens and there are still a few hours left to play!

The near future holds epic opportunities for rapid innovation in government services. New civic technologies will be built with open data, ubiquitous cloud connectivity, and real-time sensing. Connected Citizens is a global conversation about how connectedness will change the relationship between citizens and governments, and how government services will be designed and delivered in the future.
Connected Citizens

Tax returns for 6,461,326 tax-exempt organizations now indexable by search engines and available for free downloads, thanks to Resource.org

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

If you want access to all the tax filings of US nonprofit corporations, the IRS will sell you sets of DVDs for $2580 per year of data. We acquired all of these filings from 2002 to the present, a set of DVDs weighing 98.7 pounds. I'm pleased to report that all 6,461,326 of those returns are now successfully extracted and available on our new bulk data feed.

This data really should be available directly from the IRS at no charge. Accordingly, we've drafted a deed of gift offering the system back to the government.

Until the .gov people do take it over, we're offering access to all 5 TBytes of data using the http, ftp, and rsync protocols. Our hope is that developers will come up with lots of new uses for this information. In order to make the database even more useful, we've started working with Captricity to extract data from the forms and make it available as computable data (e.g., CVS files instead of TIFF images!).

Once search engines such as Google finish indexing the data, the tax filings of nonprofits will show up in the search results. When you search for a nonprofit, the first thing you see ought to be their home page. But, the next thing you ought to see are things like how much they pay their CEO, how much revenue goes for fundraising, and if they spend money to lobby public officials.

Nonprofits in the US had $1.87 trillion in 2009 revenues and it is these periodic filings that make the nonprofit marketplace work properly, just like SEC EDGAR filings help make the corporate markets work properly.

Reports of Exempt Organizations (Thanks, Carl!)

TechCrunch launches Crunchgov to craft and pass better tech laws

Greg from TechCrunch sez,

TechCrunch has launched a beta version of a new technology policy platform, Crunchgov. Crunchgov (beta) is designed to source the most thoughtful people and ideas for the purpose of crafting smarter tech policy. The tech industry is great at getting headlines for things like SOPA but haven't been successful at passing laws--this leaves them vulnerable to the status quo on education, immigration, IP and a hot of other issues.

So, we designed two tools, which are both first for a media organization as far as I know. One is a a report card - each House of Representatives member (and soon Senators) are rated on how their voting record aligns to the consensus interests of the technology industry. To gage what consensus issues are, we surveyed the top tech lobbies, which collectively represent most of industry. Where they all agreed on a bill, we put it into our report.

We ended up with 3 bills: The Fairness in High Skilled Immigrants Act, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), The JOBS Act (crowdfunding for startups).

We also identified 10 congressmen, who were given As or Fs, based on whether they were well-known champions or threats. This will help citizens keep track of the most thoughtful people, and be warned when known threats try to co-opt important issues, such as when SOPA author Lamar Smith introduced a partisan immigration law destined to fail.

Read the rest

A report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports

This year's IgNobel Prizes were a characteristically great bunch, but as a writer, I'm particularly excited to see that the organizers awarded a prize in literature this year. The prize went to the US Government Accountability Office, for Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies, or as the IgNobels put it:

The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.

The feds didn't send anyone to accept.

Winners of the IgNobel Prize (via As It Happens)

US charges citizen with $6,500 fine for visiting Cuba

Zachary Sanders, 38, traveled to Cuba as an unauthorized tourist 14 years ago. He was 23, and had been teaching English in Mexico. He decided to travel to Cuba for a couple of weeks in 1998. "I wanted to learn about how a socialist country worked in practice," Sanders says. "I had no illusions. ... I'm not like some diehard supporter of the (Cuban) government or anything like that." The U.S. Treasury Department penalized him for not having filled out the proper forms, and a long-running legal battle ensued. Today, Sanders reached a settlement with the government: he must pay $6,500 for his mistake.

State Dept. snubs blog of Foreign Service spouse in breast cancer treatment for using n-word: "nipple."

My pal Anthony Citrano points to this outrageous story, and says: "The State Department says their staff should blog about 'individual stories', but this bullshit about your new nipple is just too much."

The tl;dr: Jennifer Dinoia, who is married to a foreign service agent, maintained a family blog that was promoted on the State Department website. She wote about her experience in treatment for breast cancer. All was fine with the blog, and its inclusion in the State Dept.'s official blogroll, until she wrote a post detailing nipple construction after mastectomy.

From Ms. DiNoia's blog post, after she realized her story was no longer welcome:

Read the rest

Appropriations Committee ignores Congress's mandate to webcast hearings

Nicko from the Sunlight Foundation sez, "Despite significant strides towards improving public access to legislative proceedings, nearly a quarter of House hearings cannot be watched online despite recently instituted House rules -- with the Appropriations Committee as the biggest offender, with 70 percent of its hearings unavailable on the Internet. The Appropriations Committee is at the heart of today's debate about the budget and is responsible for writing the chamber's spending bills."

The Sunlight Foundation tracked 200 House hearings over 20 days to determine whether they were webcast live, plus 407 hearings from January 17 to April 2 to determine whether video from the proceedings were archived online. Twenty-five percent (49 of 200) of the hearings were not live-streamed, and 22 percent (91 of 407) were not archived on committee websites...

With 70 percent of its hearings offline, the Appropriations Committee's practice appears to diverge from the House's requirement of publishing video online to "the maximum extent practicable." Nearly all other committees manage to put their proceedings online. Appropriators have a large hearing room that has cameras pre-installed. Were the committee to choose to meet in the Capitol building, it could request coverage from the House Recording Studio or meet in one of the new hearing rooms in the Capitol Visitor's Center.

Committees Make Leap to Online Video, but Approps Doesn’t Get the Picture

1942 Donald Duck cartoon funded by the US Treasury exhorts you file your tax-return

Here's a great 19412 Donald Duck toon funded by the Treasury, explaining to war-torn America why they need to all file their taxes to defeat tyranny.

Help Donald Duck File His 1941 Federal Tax Return

UK tories embroiled in Cornish Pasty row


UK chancellor George Osborne was confronted on his government's decision to charge value-added tax (VAT) on hot take-away food like pasties. Labour MP John Mann asked Osborne when he'd last had a pasty from Gregg's, a chain of bakeries. Osborne couldn't recall. But PM David Cameron was ready for the question when it next arose at a press conference, stating "I think the last one I bought was from the West Cornwall Pasty Company. I seem to remember I was in Leeds station at the time and the choice was whether to have one of their small ones or one of their large ones. I have got a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too."

The West Cornwall Pasty Company outlet at Leeds station has been gone for two years; there was another pasty baker there, the Cornish Bakehouse, but it closed last week. Patrick Wintour and Martin Wainwright explain in the Guardian:

Despite U-turns on most things this week, Downing Street stuck to its line and insisted that the prime minister had eaten a pasty at Leeds station, but the date was unclear, and possibly the purveyors had not been West Cornwall Pasty Company.

This was just as well, since Gavin Williams, the ungrateful boss of David Cameron's favourite pasty-makers, was not interested in Cameron's endorsement of his product. He wanted "clarity and leadership" from the prime minister.

But clarity is a rare commodity in this area, since it seems a pasty can avoid VAT if it is served cold at the counter and then warmed elsewhere in the shop.

Pasty row hots up for David Cameron

(Image: Cornish Pasty 2, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hammer51012's photostream)

TSA gets Bruce Schneier booted from House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing

Bruce Schneier was invited to testify about the TSA to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, but at the last minute he was disinvited, after the TSA objected to having him in the room.

On Friday, at the request of the TSA, I was removed from the witness list. The excuse was that I am involved in a lawsuit against the TSA, trying to get them to suspend their full-body scanner program. But it's pretty clear that the TSA is afraid of public testimony on the topic, and especially of being challenged in front of Congress. They want to control the story, and it's easier for them to do that if I'm not sitting next to them pointing out all the holes in their position. Unfortunately, the committee went along with them. (They tried to pull the same thing last year and it failed -- video at the 10:50 mark.)

The committee said it would try to invite me back for another hearing, but with my busy schedule, I don't know if I will be able to make it. And it would be far less effective for me to testify without forcing the TSA to respond to my points.

Congressional Testimony on the TSA (Thanks, Bruce!)

TOM THE DANCING BUG: "Hello! You've Been Targeted For a Drone Assassination!" Helpful Info From Your U.S. Government

Please always be visiting the TOM THE DANCING BUG WEBSITE, and when you are not, please always be following RUBEN BOLLING on TWITTER.

Read the rest

TSA: we still trust body-scanners, though "for obvious reasons" we can't say why

Yesterday, I wrote about Jon Corbett's video, in which he demonstrates a method that appears to make it easy to smuggle metal objects (including weapons) through a TSA full-body scanner. The TSA has responded by saying that they still trust the machines, but they won't say why, "for obvious security reasons."

As Wired's David Kravets points out, Corbett is only the most recent critic to take a skeptical look at the efficacy of the expensive, invasive machinery. Other critics include the Government Accountability Office ("the devices might be ineffective") and the Journal of Transportation Security ("terrorists might fool the Rapiscan machines by taping explosive devices to their stomachs").

Corbett responded to the TSA's we-can't-tell-you-or-we'd-have-to-kill-you rebuttal with "You don't believe it? Try it."

“These machines are safe,” Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview.

In a blog post, the government’s response was that, “For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss our technology’s detection capability in detail, however TSA conducts extensive testing of all screening technologies in the laboratory and at airports prior to rolling them out to the entire field.”

TSA Pooh-Poohs Video Purporting to Defeat Airport Body Scanners

Data viz: whom did the UK government invite to emergency talks about the health reform bills?


Dr Ben "Bad Science" Goldacre sez, "I did a really sophisticated and complex data visualisation. I think you might enjoy it. There's definitely a pattern in there, I just need to decide what statistical tests will best extract the signal from the noise."

Who is, and is not, invited to Cameron's emergency NHSbill summit? A data visualisation.

Newspaper claims Vikileaks Twitter account traced back to House of Commons

The @Vikileaks30 account on Twitter has been publishing embarrassing personal information about Canada's Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is pushing for a domestic spying law that would require ISPs to gather and retain your personal information and turn it over to police without a warrant. The Vikileaks account kicked off with excerpts from the affidavits from Toews's very ugly divorce, including his ex-wife's allegations about his abuse of his official government expense accounts. The account created a nationwide stir over the domestic spying proposal, and has caused a rare (and possibly strategic*) climbdown from the majority Conservative government.

Now The Ottawa Citizen newspaper has tricked the person behind the anonymous account into visiting a website that it controls, and have traced back the IP address used in the trap to the House of Commons, suggesting that Toews's nemesis works for the federal government. The Citizen claims that the IP address has also been used to "frequently" edit Wikipedia "[give] them what appears to be a pro-NDP bias" (the New Democratic Party is the left-leaning opposition party in Parliament).

While it's impossible to say who is actually the using the address without a full-scale investigation undertaken by the House of Commons, a trace of the IP address shows it is also used by an employee of the House to post comments on a website for fans of the musician Paul Simon.

When reached by phone, the employee said that while he frequents the Paul Simon website he has nothing to do with the Vikileaks30 Twitter account.

A spokeswoman for the Speaker of the House of Commons said she is not aware of any investigation into whether any House IP addresses are behind the Vikileaks30 account. In order for an official government investigation to begin a complaint would have to be filed by a Member of Parliament.

Vikileaks30 linked to House of Commons IP address

* "Possibly strategic" because it looks like they're rushing this to committee, which is likely to go closed-door, exclude skeptical expert testimony, and speedily conclude that the bill is just fine as-is while maintaining a low public profile (Thanks, Colin!)

Canadian MP demands trick photography to disguise rampant Friday absenteeism in Parliament

A Canadian Conservative MP has asked for an end to medium-wide camera shots in the broadcasts of Parliament on Friday afternoons. Fridays are when many MPs travel to their home ridings (districts) and Parliament empties out. The medium-wide shots used by Parliamentary broadcasts reveals a largely empty House of Commons. Worried about how bad this looked, Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski chaired a committee to revise the broadcast rules, and asked the CIO's office to end medium-wide shots, because it reflected badly on Parliament. The CIO turned him down.

Tom Lukiwski said he has heard concerns from colleagues that the empty seats picked up on camera make politicians look bad. "That kind of concerns a lot of members that it frankly doesn't look good for Parliament," he said. Friday is usually a light day in the House, as many MPs vacate Ottawa to return to their constituencies. A House of Commons committee reviewing the broadcasting rules this week heard from Parliament's chief informa-tion officer, who said wide-angle shots have been permitted since 1992 to provide some context for viewers at home. "You are on camera," Louis Bard told the committee. "If I have to focus on the chair and the member behind is sleeping, there's not much I can do."

Conservative MP worried empty seats make the House of Commons look bad (via As It Happens)

Blackberry abandoned by US gov's main procurement agency

Bye-bye, Blackberry: "The U.S. federal government's main procurement agency is issuing iPhones and Android-based devices to some of its 17,000 workers." (Reuters)

Porn in parliament ends ministers' careers

Conservative legislators in India resigned Wednesday after being caught enjoying mobile phone smut during a session of parliament.

Karnata state's Minister for Cooperation Laxman Savadi and Womens' and Childrens' Development Minister C.C. Patil were broadcast on TV sharing the porn clip, according to Reuters' Nila Bhalla. A third minister, the owner of the phone, also quit.

"We live in a country where there already is this social mindset that women are disposable commodities and are seen as transferable properties," Renuka Chowdhary, a former federal minister for women's development and a member of the Congress Party. "It really is troubling that the people who are in positions of power and have the responsibility to change things actually have the same mindset and are busy watching porn."

India ministers quit after caught watching porn in parliament [Reuters]

Polish MPs wear Guy Fawkes masks to protest ACTA

The streets of Poland have erupted in protest on the eve of the country's signing onto ACTA, the secretive copyright treaty that is being rammed through many European Parliaments this year. Members of Parliament showed up for work wearing Anon-style Guy Fawkes masks to show their disapproval.


After the signing, protesters rallied in the Polish cities of Poznan and Lublin to express their anger over the treaty. Lawmakers for the left-wing Palikot's Movement wore masks in parliament to show their dissatisfaction, while the largest opposition party — the right-wing Law and Justice party — called for a referendum on the matter.

Poland signs copyright treaty that drew protests (via JWZ)

(Image: downsized thumbnail snipped from a photo by Alik Keplicz/AP)

Open medical knowledge saves lives: Oppose H.R. 3699

Here's a terrific article by Gilles Frydman at e-patients.net advocating for opposition to H.R. 3699, aka The Research Works Act (RWA). The bill before Congress would seriously impede "the ability of patients and caregivers, researchers, physicians and healthcare professionals to access and use critical health-related information in a timely manner." (@timoreilly via @epatientdave)

Empowered health through technology: video contest with cash prize

The US Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) is hosting a Healthy New Year Video Challenge with cash prizes of up to $2,000. They're soliciting short videos with the theme of a New Year’s resolution for improving your health or the health of a loved one, through technology.

"Videos must show how you will use information technology to achieve your resolution and how you plan to maintain it," according to the contest website. The sort of topics one might address (one per video) include obtaining your health records from your doctors and learning how to read and understand their contents, finding online support communities for a specific illness, or direct health improvement actions like using an electronic pedometer to track physical activity, or an iPhone app to count calories or monitor sleep cycles.

Submissions are accepted through February 16. You have to be a US citizen over 18 to participate. More rules here. (thanks, Lygeia Ricciardi!)

EPA to fracking-polluted village: here's some clean water! 24 hours later: Oh hey, nevermind.


Image: A Dimock, Pennsylvania resident who did not want to be identified pours a glass of water taken from his well after the start of natural gas drilling in Dimock, Pennsylvania, March 7, 2009. Dimock is one of hundreds of sites in Pennsylvania where energy companies have raced to tap the massive Marcellus Shale natural gas formation. Residents say the drilling has clouded their drinking water, sickened people and animals and made their wells flammable. Picture taken March 7, 2009.

Over the weekend, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reversed a commitment to deliver safe water to residents of Dimock, PA, a small village where natural gas drilling operations have poisoned water supplies. Why? So far, federal officials won't explain why.

Only 24 hours after promising them water, EPA officials informed residents of Dimock that a tanker truck wouldn't be coming after all. The about-face left residents furious, confused and let down — and, once again, scrambling for water for bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets.

Federal Agency Cancels Water Delivery to Pa. Town - ABC News.

In ProPublica's extensive reporting series on fracking in America, Dimock has been mentioned often. Christopher Bateman's 2010 Vanity Fair piece on fracking in rural Pennsylvania is another good read, and focuses on Dimock.

Read the rest

House Speaker John Boehner orders CSPAN's cameras switched off during contentious House debate

House Speaker John Boehner's office ordered CSPAN to switch off its camers during a fellow Congressman's scathing dressing-down over the Speaker's refusal to entertain further debate on unemployment benefits. The Speaker asserts control over CSPAN's cameras and has made it clear that Americans can only expect to see their government in session when he believes it is in their interest to do so.

“We regret, Mr. Speaker, that you have walked off the platform without addressing the issue of critical importance to this country, and that is the continuation of the middle class tax cut, the continuation of unemployment benefits for those at risk of losing them, and a continuation of the access to doctors for all those 48 million seniors who rely on them daily for help.”

And that’s when the audio cut out. Seconds later, footage faded to a shot of the capitol from outside.

Moments later, someone at C-SPAN took to Twitter and explained: “C-SPAN has no control over the U.S. House TV cameras – the Speaker of the House does.”

It’s for reasons just like this, one might infer, that Boehner told C-SPAN back in February it would not be allowed control its own cameras.

Boehner’s office cuts off C-SPAN cameras as GOP takes verbal beating (via Reddit)