Boing Boing 

Massive fertilizer plant explosion in West, TX

A fertilizer plant in West, Texas caught fire and exploded last night. According to one eyewitness, "Every house within about four blocks is blown apart." The small town is north of Waco, and the early details are horrifying, including the collapse of a crowded nursing home. People reported hearing the explosion 45 miles away. The tweets have more detail, as does this MeFi thread. A sense of the size of the explosion can be garnered from this video.

Unicorn farts: the smell of April Fool's day


Lizzy writes from Austin's magnificent toy emporium Toy Joy:

Here at Toy Joy, April Fools Day smells like Unicorns! Specifically, Unicorn Farts! Not only is April 1 celebrated globally as a holiday of mischief, it also happens to be the best day for harvesting the rarest of poots: Unicorn Farts! Currently offered both in store at Toy Joy and at ToyJoy.com for the low price of $2.95, this enchanted product is sure to bring a smile to your prince or princess.

* 100% Organic Concentrated Unicorn Farts
* Unique Addition to Most Fart Collections!
* Important Ingredient for Magic Spells.
* Handy Household Fragrance.
* Delicious on Salads!

We anticipate a high demand for these rarest of odors, and recommend stocking up on this magical product. Unicorn Farts won't be around forever!

Please feel free to contact the wizarding team at Toy Joy for additional information on this product, or the harvesting process. Send all emails to questions@toyjoy.com.

Texas cop repeatedly tazes the Statue of Liberty

A Fort Worth, TX cop told a guy in a Statue of Liberty suit to move along from the road-median where he was advertising Liberty Tax Services. Lady Liberty did not immediately comply ("Get away from me! What are you doing? Go talk to my boss!") so the cop tazed the Statue of Liberty. Three times. As Lowering the Bar points out, this has bad optics.

People in Liberty suits have rights, too, but not the unrestricted right to solicit customers from a median. While this does implicate the First Amendment, it would be the kind of time, place, and manner restriction that usually passes muster. The situation would be different if a local government tried to completely ban the use of such "moving signs" or (as I prefer to call them) "business mascots," which of course is something that has happened before. See "The McHenry Code," Lowering the Bar (Sept. 6, 2006).

b Coincidentally, that incident (which happened in Illinois) also involved "Lady Liberty," as well as the Verlo Mattress Factory's "Mattress Man," a 4-by-3-foot ambulatory mattress with "comically large hands." McHenry's city council had decided that such "live moving signs" were distracting drivers (which is part of the point of having one) and causing a nuisance because people honk at them. (The council also threw in an alleged "safety risk" to the person in the costume, saying they might get heatstroke.) If I recall correctly, the council later reversed itself on the complete ban, thus giving Liberty some limited freedom.

You Know, It Just Sends the Wrong Message When You Tase the Statue of Liberty

Makerspace at SXSW

Aaron sez, "SXSW Create is a free and open to the public event during SXSW Interactive that will showcase local and national hackers, makers, and creators. It is a hands-on, interactive, and exciting event intended to showcase creativity and innovation that will inspire and encourage others to create themselves. It is located at 101 Red River, directly behind the Austin Convention Center."

Reversible Hello Kitty Hamburger

Like I mentioned in the Blooming Flower post, I'm headed home with a suitcase full of dirty laundry and toys for my five year old. Another awesome score from this trip is the Hello Kitty Reversible 8" Plush: Hamburger, a plush Hello Kitty toy that inverts and forms a Hello Kitty hamburger. It's a thing, then it's another thing! (And there's a turkey version, too).

This thing is pretty spectacular in person. I bought it on recommendation of a nice sales clerk at Austin, TX's Toy Joy, where you can buy bats by the scoopful marvel at the Spider Duck.

If you're headed to SXSW, you should really get all your friends in a taxi and ride out to Toy Joy and then eat some of the spectacular barbecue at Ruby's BBQ, kitty-corner from the shop. It's pretty much the perfect outing, and at least as cool (if not cooler) than anything you'll actually see presented on the conference floor.

Secure documents


More scenes from a book tour: SECURE DOCUMENTS!

Secure documents do not enter sign, Pasadena High, Houston, TX, USA

Spider Duck


Scenes from a book-tour, part sqrt(-1): the SPIDER DUCK, at Austin's magnificent Toy Joy.

Spider Duck, Toy Joy, Austin, TX, USA

Cory in Austin tonight!

Hey, Austin! I'm in town today, doing an event at Book People at 7PM, and then an EFF-Austin benefit. Saturday, I'm in Portsmouth, NH, then on Sunday I'm in Nashua, NH.

Junk food


Scene from a Houston grocery store, courtesy of a touring author's life. I did not buy any of these things.

Junk food, grocery store, Houston, TX, USA

Floorplan for supposed sex-dungeon in Houston's Hotel ZaZa


Remember the potential weirdo sex-dungeon in Houston's Hotel ZaZa? A reader with inside knowledge writes,

That "two-way mirror" in 322 hangs on the bathroom wet wall for the more spacious suite 321 next door. So in the "secret voyeur room" case, you'd be standing in the bathroom next door and looking through a piping chase full of sanitary and domestic water lines. The bricks are a veneer that they decided to stop at the frame of the mirror. It doesn't seem like this room was specially built for secret sex shows or whatnot. At least, no more than any other hotel room with potential for pinhole cameras and so on.

I think it really is just an awkwardly placed and sized room, dictated by adjacent suite and service elevator lobby/shaft requirements. (See attached snippet from floor plans.) The associated balcony sits in a corner, so it is in fact larger than the balconies in the adjacent conventional rooms, as the ZaZa rep claims. I have no explanation for why some owner, architect and/or interior designer thought this would be a good theme for a room, though.

Cory in Houston today!

Hey, Houston! I'll be at Brazos Bookstore tonight at 7PM with my new novel Homeland. Tomorrow, I'll be in Austin at Bookpeople and then a benefit for EFF-Austin, and then I'm heading north to New Hampshire where I'll be at RiverRun Books and the Liberty Forum. And there's still many more cities!

New Orleans schools ban teaching Creationism, reject Texas Creationist "science" textbooks

The Orleans Parish Public School Board has rejected the Louisiana Science Education Act, which followed Texas's lead by putting Creationism into the state's schools. A Board decision prohibits the teaching of Creationism in science class, and forbids the use of Texas's revisionist, Creationist "science" textbooks.

The policy says: "No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the state of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories."

It stresses the separation of science and religious teachings:

"No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach any aspect of religious faith as science or in a science class. No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes."

Orleans Parish School Board votes to ban creationism [Tania Dall/WWLTV] (Thanks, Patrick!)

The TSA is an irredeemable shitshow, part ten bazillion

This time it's TSA at DFW, who detained a weeping 12-year-old girl with a genetic bone disorder in a wheelchair, separated from her family, on public display, for an hour. Her hands had tested positive for explosive residue, but it was a false alarm. No apologies from the TSA. Oh, and if she was the world's sneakiest suicide bomber, congrats, TSA, you kept her right there among all the other travelers for an hour, while you believed that she was about to blow herself to kingdom come. The Shitshow Agency, indeed.

Hotel break-ins blamed on flaw in keycard system

Back in August, I blogged about a presentation at Black Hat, where a security researcher named Cody Brocious presented a paper on a vulnerability in hotel-door locks made by Onity, showing a method for opening many hotel-room locks with a simple, Arduino-based device.

Now comes the first reported case of a hotel-room break in using this technology "in the wild." A Hyatt in Houston's Galleria district was broken into using this method, according to the hotel, which had not replaced its locks even though it knew about the vulnerability.

In a statement sent to me, a White Lodging spokesperson says the company became aware of the vulnerability in its Onity locks in August, based on reading one of the stories I wrote about Brocious’s lock-hacking technique over the summer. But White Lodging says Onity only implemented a fix for that flaw in its locks after the September break-ins at the Houston Hyatt, around two months after I first alerted Onity to Brocious’s work.

Following those September incidents, White Lodging resorted to plugging the port at the bottom of its Onity locks with “epoxy putty,” according to the letter it sent to guests at its Houston location. The hotel company says it’s now working with Onity to put a more permanent solution in place, either plugging the locks’ ports or replacing their circuit board at every location it manages. “We sincerely regret that these thefts occurred, and hope that measures we have taken satisfy your concerns,” reads the letter to guests from White Lodging vice president Thomas Riegelman.

Security Flaw In Common Keycard Locks Exploited In String Of Hotel Room Break-Ins [Forbes/Andy Greenberg]

Texas student suspended for refusing RFID tracker


A student in San Antonio, TX, has been suspended from school for refusing wear a RFID tracking device on privacy and religious grounds (she believes the tracker is somehow related to the "Mark of the Beast"). The school's funding is based on student attendance, so they use prisoner-style trackers to follow students' movements. A judge has temporarily reversed the suspension.

The suspended student, sophomore Andrea Hernandez, was notified by the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio that she won’t be able to continue attending John Jay High School unless she wears the badge around her neck, which she has been refusing to do. The district said the girl, who objects on privacy and religious grounds, beginning Monday would have to attend another high school in the district that does not yet employ the RFID tags.

The Rutherford Institute said it would go to court and try to nullify the district’s decision. The institute said that the district’s stated purpose for the program — to enhance their coffers — is “fundamentally disturbing.”

“There is something fundamentally disturbing about this school district’s insistence on steamrolling students into complying with programs that have nothing whatsoever to do with academic priorities and everything to do with fattening school coffers,” said John Whitehead, the institute’s president.

Student Suspended for Refusing to Wear a School-Issued RFID Tracker [David Kravets/Wired]

San Antonio students and parents upset at mandatory radio-tracking snitch-tags

Chris Matyszczyk on CNet rounds up a variety of reports on the outrage over the schools in San Antonio, Texas, which have insisted that their students wear radio-tag trackers. The schools are using every conceivable technique for coercing their students into submitting to wearing the technology, which reminds me of the tracker anklets that paroled felons wear. For example, one student was told she couldn't cast a vote for homecoming queen unless she submitted to the tracking regime. The schools say that the students are being tracked to reduce truancy, which will make them money -- presumably by saving them on the cost of tracking and punishing students. The practice is old hat in Houston, where students have been chipped for some time.

What some might find truly beastly, though, is that his daughter, Andrea, claims that she was told by a teacher that without the ID badge, she couldn't vote for homecoming king and queen. At least that's what Catholic Online reports.

Some might find it odd that Hernandez also reportedly claimed that the school only wanted to co-operate with his feelings if he stopped publicly criticizing the tagging.

His daughter told The Alex Jones Channel that the tags don't make her feel safer.

"I feel completely unsafe knowing that this can be hacked by pedophiles and dangerous offenders," she said.

She added: "I walk home. Dangerous offenders can pick up on my signal."

For the record, I don't think that this is a very realistic fear. On the other hand, I think that there are very good reasons to want to enjoy the privacy of being un-tracked -- for example, the fundamental freedom of association is compromised if your snitch-tag tells the administration who you hang out with.

No homecoming queen vote if you don't wear RFID tag? (Thanks, Dave!)

Columbia Human Rights Law Review devotes entire issue to wrongfully executed Carlos DeLuna


The entire current issue of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review is given over to the tragic wrongful execution of Carlos DeLuna, an almost certainly innocent man who was murdered by the state of Texas on 8 December 1989. DeLuna's case is one where "everything that could go wrong did go wrong" in the words of Columbia law Professor James Liebman, who, with 12 students, wrote the 436-page issue. None of the evidence that would have exonerated DeLuna was considered by police or the prosecution, and the likely culprit, a man who was also named Carlos, and who was frequently mistaken for DeLuna, went free. It's a nightmarish account of a man whom the authorities "knew" to be guilty, who was killed despite his innocence. It's a chilling reminder where laws like the UK's stop-and-search rules (which allow police to stop and search without suspicion, if they "just know" there's something wrong) and the no-fly list (which allows for the arbitrary removal of the right to travel without any public airing of evidence or charge, when authorities "just know" you're not safe to fly) will inevitably end up.

From a Guardian story by Ed Pilkington:

From the moment of his arrest until the day of his death by lethal injection six years later, DeLuna consistently protested he was innocent. He went further – he said that though he hadn't committed the murder, he knew who had. He even named the culprit: a notoriously violent criminal called Carlos Hernandez.

The two Carloses were not just namesakes – or tocayos in Spanish, as referenced in the title of the Columbia book. They were the same height and weight, and looked so alike that they were sometimes mistaken for twins. When Carlos Hernandez's lawyer saw pictures of the two men, he confused one for the other, as did DeLuna's sister Rose.

At his 1983 trial, Carlos DeLuna told the jury that on the day of the murder he'd run into Hernandez, who he'd known for the previous five years. The two men, who both lived in the southern Texas town of Corpus Christi, stopped off at a bar. Hernandez went over to a gas station, the Shamrock, to buy something, and when he didn't return DeLuna went over to see what was going on.

DeLuna told the jury that he saw Hernandez inside the Shamrock wrestling with a woman behind the counter. DeLuna said he was afraid and started to run. He had his own police record for sexual assault – though he had never been known to possess or use a weapon – and he feared getting into trouble again.

The wrong Carlos: how Texas sent an innocent man to his death