Ammonium nitrate fertilizer isn't really a dangerous explosive (most of the time)

Fertilizer can explode*. We all know that. It was a key ingredient in the bomb that destroyed Oklahoma City’s Alfred P.

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Is the "secret" room at Houston's ZaZa a voyeuristic sex-dungeon for rich weirdos?


A redditor called joelikesmusic reported that a friend of his had been checked into a weird, narrow dungeon-like theme room at the Hotel Zaza in Houston (it's got lots of theme suites -- I once stayed in their awesome space-themed one with my family, on the way to my honeymoon). When he complained, the front desk apparently told him that it was a mistake -- no one was supposed to use that room.

The ZaZa's management told the press that it was a "prison" themed room, and that there was no mystery, but intrepid redditors have been examining the pictures (especially the portrait of Jay Comeaux, a banking exec from the disgraced Stanford Banking Executive, and have been spinning out theories about secret societies and rituals in the comments.

However, one commenter called lejefferson makes a plausible case that the room is a sex-dungeon with a one-way voyeur's mirror, used by rich weirdos:

What person that you know keeps a creepy picture of a guy over their television. This is obviously a secret room either personal or for a small group of people for sexual liasons/ S&M prostitution or worse. The mirror and small space of the room also indicates there is a good chance that the mirror is two way and that people could pay to come watch the sexual/S&M events occuring. The photo of a Stanford Banking Executive, (Jay Comeaux), on the wall further indicates that this is a high society sex room. The fact that the clerk said, "This room isn't supposed to be rented out" indicates that there was a big mistake and they didn't want anyone to find out about the room. The bricks on the wall line up exactly with the placement of the mirror suggesting that they do not continue behind it but that this is a two way mirror.

ZaZa insiders question - what's up with room 322? (self.houston) (via Super Punch)

Texas student loses ID-badge case

The Texas student who sued over her school's insistence that she wear an RFID-embedded ID card has lost her appeal. The school had offered to issue her an RFID-free ID badge, but her family felt that the ID badge itself was related to the "mark of the beast" and asked the court to find that their religious freedoms were being infringed. The court disagreed. Cory

68,000 Texans no longer have to prove they're not dead in order to vote

68,000 Texans will no longer have to prove that they aren't dead in order to vote in the next election. The state of Texas has settled a suit brought on behalf of 68,000 "potentially deceased" Texas voters who shared a birthdate and a partial Social Security match with a person appearing on a federal death register. These people will now be able to vote, unless Texas can prove they're dead. Another 12,000 voters will still have to prove that they're not dead before casting a ballot. More from Lowering the Bar:

Under the previous rules, voters were identified as "potentially deceased" if there was at least a "weak match" (such as a birth date plus a partial Social Security number) between their information and the federal death records the state was consulting. The weakly matched dead made up 68,000 of the 80,000 people who received a letter from voting officials telling them they would be removed from the rolls if they didn't speak up. Under the settlement, the burden shifts to officials to prove those people are really dead; the remainder ("strong matches"), who are much more likely to be dead, will still have to prove otherwise if they can.

"Today's order [approving the settlement] is another step toward improving the integrity of the election system," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who had unsuccessfully tried to defend the state's original plan. I think it's actually the same step, but 85% smaller.

Texas Settles With Previously Dead Voters

Texas Republicans call for an end to critical thinking in schools

A meeting of the Texas Republican party in Fort Worth came out with a list of demands for the education system, including a demand that schools end the practice of teaching "higher order thinking skills" because these challenge "student's fixed beliefs" and undermine "parental authority."

In the section titled "Educating Our Children," the document states that "corporal punishment is effective" and recommends teachers be given "more authority" to deal with disciplinary problems.

Additionally, the document states the party opposes mandatory pre-school and kindergarten, saying parents are "best suited to train their children in their early development."

Texas Republican Party Calls For Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Corporal Punishment In Schools (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

56-year-old Texas grandma gets life without parole on first-time drug charges

In Fort Worth, Texas, Elisa Castillo—a 56-year-old grandmother with no prior drug offenses— has been sentenced to life without parole. She maintains her innocence, and never "touched the drugs that sent her to prison," points out the ACLU; "Her fate was sealed, in large part because she didn't have a card to play when negotiating her sentence." The Houston Chronicle has more.

Sloths, Magic and Tripping: The Art of Georganne Deen

Georganne Deen - "Song of Myself" detail

 I never thought I’d say this, but you are lucky if you live in the Dallas area. Georganne Deen is my favorite living artist and has a show at Webb Gallery in Waxahatchie, TX right now.

The Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum has an excellent exhibition up right now called In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. All of the heavy hitters are there, including Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington. Georganne Deen is heir to this legacy of wonderful (and crazy) group of women. Her work has all of the madness and magic and emotion that you would expect from the surrealists but with a wonderful awareness of current cultural cues and graphic design.

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Texas politician's internet ad features gentleman electrocuted while peeing (video)

Roland Sledge is a 66-year-old Houston energy lawyer running for a seat on the Texas state commission that regulates the oil and gas industries. In the YouTube ad above, the Republican candidate stares into the camera while standing in a pasture, and riffs on a Will Rogers quote: “Isn’t it about time we elected political leaders that have sense enough not to pee on electric fences?” You'll want to read the New York Times story here. (via Michael Roston)

Reddit-based PAC takes aim at SOPA-sponsor Lamar Smith


Test PAC, the Reddit-based PAC founded to raise money to support opponents of Lamar Smith, the author of SOPA, has placed its first billboard and is set to run its first advertisements. The materials direct people to unseatlamar.com. Ajpos from TestPAC explains:

Analytics take a few days to come in, and the billboard has been up for only about three hours.

I want to stress that the PAC has about 300 members right now and we have plans to air two commercials, so the billboard serves a few other purposes besides getting Texans to visit the website:

1.) This is an example of the internet flexing its muscles and showing that we can make political speech. This is Test PAC's first venture into the "real world" and shows that we have some teeth. The NYT, Guardian, and Forbes all wanted to do an article on us but ultimately decided not to until we've grown a bit. This is the first example of how we're growing.

2.) We hope this will generate some publicity nationally so people from other districts and states can generate more public support for the campaign. 300 members is not enough, in my opinion, to air two commercials.

3.) It also gives both Mack and Morgan something to use in their own campaigns. They can show how people besides their campaign staff are interested in them. We are a "tertiary" campaign, so we cannot do their campaigning for them, but this certainly helps.

Of course, we would absolutely be thrilled if we start getting hits from San Antonio, and I'll be disappointed if we don't, but it's not the end of the world.

That Reddit-funded billboard in Lamar Smith's district is up (i.imgur.com)

"More Awesome Than A Monkey In A Bacon Tuxedo Riding A Cyborg Unicorn With A Lightsaber For The Horn On The Tip Of A Space Shuttle Closing In On Mars, While Engulfed In Flames."


Robbo sez, "The title for the article is just a portion of an amazing thank you letter from a primary school student in Austin, Texas - sent to a local weatherman who visited the class. Includes a drawing of a unicorn delivering donuts."

'I will not make you a slave, you will live in my 200 story [sic] castle where unicorn servants will feed you doughnuts off their horns,' Flint wrote.

'I will personally make you a throne that is half platnum and half solid gold and jewel encrested [sic].'

The student, whose age is uncertain, proved he may have a career in creative writing ahead of him if either the meteorology or world domination do not work out as planned.

In fulsome praise, Flint said Ramon was 'more awesome than a monkey wearing a tuxedo made out of bacon riding a cyborg unicorn with a lightsaber for the horn on the tip of a space shuttle closing in on Mars, while ingulfed in flames'.

Flint added: 'And in case you didn't know that's pretty dang sweet.'

'More awesome than a monkey in a bacon tuxedo' - child's letter goes viral (Thanks, Robbo!)

(Image: Flint)

Reddit PAC aims to kick SOPA's daddy Lamar Smith out of Congress

Mike sez, "With the Texas Primaries coming up in May, I thought you would be interested to know that some of the Redditors that were involved in the boycott on GoDaddy.com and 'Operation Pull Ryan' (where Reddit raised money for Rep. Paul Ryan's opponent), have started TestPAC, a non-connected, registered PAC, with the goal of defeating Lamar Smith in the Republican Primaries."

You'll remember Lamar Smith from such stupid Internet laws as SOPA and the Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 (AKA "the Spy on Everyone Always Act"). He's a 25-year incumbent and a powerful committee chairman. And he's kind of a tool.

What we aim to do is a bit unorthodox: use Texas’ semi-open primary system to edge Smith out in favor of another Republican candidate. When voters identify themselves to the election officials, they must request a party’s specific ballot. As explained on Wikipedia:

Only one ballot is cast by each voter. In many states with semi-open primaries, election officials or poll workers from their respective parties record each voter’s choice of party and provide access to this information. The primary difference between a semi-open and open primary system is the use of a party-specific ballot. In a semi-open primary, a public declaration in front of the election judges is made and a party-specific ballot given to the voter to cast.

This means that Republicans, Independents and Democrats can participate in the choosing of either party’s candidate in the primary election. While Democrats who choose to participate in the Republican primaries are exempt from also voting for their own party’s candidate, it is important to note that their actions would speak volumes in regards to changing the political landscape in their district. Keeping in mind the fact that Smith has enjoyed comfortable margins of victory over the years in a district that heavily favors Republican candidates, a vote for another candidate in Texas’ open primary would possibly have a greater effect than simply voting in the Democratic primary and ultimately losing the race.

Mr. Smith Comes Back From Washington (Thanks, Mike!)

SOPA's author wants everything you do online logged and made available without a warrant

Lamar Smith (R-TX), author of the ill-starred SOPA Internet regulation, has an even dumber idea for the Internet. In the name of fighting child pornography, he wants to force ISPs to log everything you do online, then make it available to police and government agents without a warrant. Leslie Meredith has a writeup on the mounting opposition to Smith's latest act of unconstitutional lunacy:

However, under Smith’s bill, records of both suspects and ordinary citizens would all be available to any government agency at any time, no warrant required.

"This type of legislation goes against the fundamental values of our country where individuals are treated as innocent until proven guilty," Reitman said. "H.R. 1981 would uproot this core American principle, forcing ISPs to treat everyone like a potential criminal."

The bill has been forwarded from committee to the full House of Representatives for consideration, which is expected later this year. There is no sign of a Senate version at this time.

If the past is any indicator, Smith may be in for a hard fight with activists. He was also sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill that would have shut off access to foreign websites accused of hosting pirated content. But he was forced to withdraw the legislation after massive protests by many of the same opponents who likewise thought the remedy was too harsh for the problem.

Child porn law could affect everyone's privacy

Clever assemble-yourself toys and models made with laser-cutters


Artifacture Studios is a maker shop based near Dallas, TX (I met the founders at a recent speaking gig at U Texas at Arlington) that does pretty amazing stuff with laser-cutters. They are probably best known for their laser-cut Eiffel Tower models, ornate models of the iconic building cut from stiff card that use cunning slot/tab fasteners that create a robust structure without glue or tape. They've also recently launched a 30-piece acrylic laser-cut puzzle called the "Frabjous" that uses interlocking tesselations of a polygon to form a great rhombic triacontahedron, "a self-intersecting polyhedron with thirty rhombic faces."

The Eiffel Tower model is ingeniously simple to assemble, the Frabjous is challenging and elegant.

Starting with a scan of the original plans by Gustav Eiffel, this was designed to have four identical pieces that tab into one another creating a 3D model without the use of glue, tape or fasteners. Laser cut from high quality soft-touch paper. Online instructional video provided to help with assembly...

Frabjous is a sculpture and geometric assembly puzzle made from dichroic acrylic. The swirling geometric form is composed of thirty identical pieces that catch and reflect the light in stunning fashion. Mathematically, the planes of the shape are the face planes of a "great rhombic triacontahedron," a self-intersecting polyhedron with thirty rhombic faces. But the puzzle piece is a carefully designed subset of the rhombus that doesn't intersect copies of itself. Weaving the parts through each other so each remains planar is trickier than it looks. Instructions are included.

Artifacture

Bruce Sterling freebies at Austin Hackerspace

Hey, Austinites, Bruce Sterling's giving away his books at the ATX, the Austin Hackerspace, on Saturday from 5-7PM. Cory

Taxi-window sticker: our security stinks and your credit card will be sniffed


On my way to Dallas-Fort Worth airport today, I snapped this picture of the sticker on the inside of the back-seat passenger-side window of my taxi. It warns "The method used to authenticate credit card transactions for approval is not secure and personal information is subject to being intercepted by unauthorized personnel." There's some history there, I'm guessing. Consumer warnings are very nice, but I'm left wondering why they don't just update the firmware on the credit-card box with some decent crypto (unless this is because they use a CB radio to call in card numbers, which is pretty danged foolish).