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.

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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:

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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