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Rating Congressional Web sites

The Congress Online Project today posted their report on second annual report on congressional Web sites. The report:

  • Briefly describes the methodology and process we used to evaluate all 610 congressional Member office, standing committee, and leadership Web sites;
  • Provides a detailed assessment of the overall performance of these sites;
  • Identifies the 75 best Web sites on Capitol Hill — the Congress Online Gold, Silver, and Bronze Mouse Award winners — which can serve as models for offices wishing to improve their own sites;
  • Identifies five fundamental building blocks for effective Web sites — and explains how offices can incorporate them into their own sites; and
  • Describes the mistakes congressional offices are making with their online practices.

Lots of useful info here, though I wonder why the authors would talk to citizens to develop the methdology of the study, but not as part of the actual analysis itself.

>  3 March 2003 | LINK | Filed in ,

Routing

NYC transit help in the wings

Transit Application
Transit Application
Transit Application
Click for a full size view.

“New York City averted a public transit strike recently, saving commuters and residents a metropolitan-size headache of getting around. But if it had come to that, the city was ready to help idle people find their way.

A week before the scheduled strike, the city’s Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, and Frankfort, Ky.-based PlanGraphics Inc. designed and developed an interactive online map that enabled users to view various alternative transportation options and vehicular restrictions.

The application, which took about a half-day to design and a week to develop, was activated from Friday evening, Dec. 13, to Monday noon, Dec. 16, the deadline for the strike, said Mike Wiley, a project manager for PlanGraphics in New York City. During that time, users viewed more than 70,000 custom maps with a peak of about 6,000 maps served up Sunday evening. Although the application was subsequently deactivated, it’s available should a similar situation occur in the future.

The system can highlight bicycle and pedestrian access sites, carpool staging areas, rail lines and stations, ferry stops and routes, including contingencies, as well as carpool-only routes and other road restrictions.

The application is based on the city’s Emergency Management Online Locator System, which allows New Yorkers to find hurricane evacuation routes or cooling centers during a heat wave.

PlanGraphics, which has a seven-year working relationship with the city, also helped develop an online map of the area around the World Trade Center shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Sometimes twice daily, the company or the city would update what areas were accessible by motor vehicles or pedestrians in the area and provide other information.

The company is also planning to update the city’s “My Neighborhood Statistics” application, which allows users to view 14 selected performance statistics about their community, such as air and noise complaints, structural fires, infant mortality, clean sidewalks, felonies and certified teachers. By the end of January, the system, which went live in September 2002, will show 80 different metrics.

The city also recently awarded PlanGraphics a three-year, $15.4 million contract to continue to develop and upgrade the city’s GIS data repository, and provide greater access as well as more customized applications for the public and city agencies.”

Other non-interactive maps were posted, but the site vanished from the Web as quickly as it was posted.

MapQuest has driving instructions, Staphangers .org used to have a working subway route finder, and the Department of Transportation has PDF of NYC bicycle routes, but I’ve not found anything that ties together NYC’s many transportation alternatives into one online application.

In a struggle that shook the City, the Transport Workers Union stood up to the Mayor’s intimidation and successfully fought cuts. They also pushed the City into developing the most comprehensive New York City route finder I’ve seen. The screen shots I found indicate that the target audience were those who work in lower Manhattan and Wall Street, but such a tool would be useful for everyone — and would indicate which neighborhoods are underserved. I hope they put it back online, with subway and bus info added.


Update, 9/12/2003: The lack of a integrated route finding system in NYC has prompted one New York City resident to build his own. It needs work, but integrates bus and subway connections quite nicely.

>  28 February 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , ,

Joe President

Joe Lieberman for President

Joe Lieberman for President satire site.

Saw this a couple of weeks ago. Had a surprisingly hard time finding it again just now, so decided to link it here.

A faithfully mocking copy of the official site. They really nail the design and chatty tone, though I find the humor a bit obvious and the criticism rather dull. There’s so much more damning information in his voting record alone.

>  25 February 2003 | LINK | Filed in ,

Graphic Designers Against the War in Iraq

Poster

ANTI-WAR.US is dedicated to the free distribution of anti-war graphic material.

As creative individuals trained in methods of mass-communication, we can make a real difference by providing clear anti-war messages.

All materials on this site are created voluntarily and distributed free to activists around the world.”

A nice idea. I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it. Will send one of my own poster ideas shortly.

I do hope they will excercise some curatorial judgement, though. I’m a long-time admirer of Charles Wilkin’s design work. I’ve even used one of his fonts, but painting President Bush in the same league as Stalin and Hitler does not help the credibility of your cause.

via American Samizdat. Image above by M. Musri, Fabrica.

>  20 January 2003 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Korea’s Internet Election

In South Korea, it’s the mouse that roars

New breed of politician taps the country’s love affair with high tech

“The winning candidate in last week’s South Korean presidential election had little need for mass rallies or traditional campaign tactics.

When Roh Moo-hyun’s organizers wanted supporters to vote on election day, they simply pressed a few computer keys. Text messages flashed to the cellphones of almost 800,000 people, urging them to go to the polls.

During his campaign, millions of voters absorbed Mr. Roh’s message from Internet sites that featured video clips of the candidate and audio broadcasts by disc jockeys and rock stars. Half a million visitors logged on to his main Web site every day to donate money or obtain campaign updates. More than 7,000 voters a day sent him e-mails with policy ideas. Internet chat groups buzzed with debate on the election....

Almost half of South Korean voters are below the age of 40 — a prime demographic for users of the Internet and cellphones. Until this year, many were apathetic politically, put off by the country’s traditional political machinery. But Mr. Roh reached out to voters with one of the world’s most sophisticated Internet campaigns, and the vast majority of the younger population voted for him.

Until a year ago, Mr. Roh was best known for his repeated failures to be elected to parliament. Self-educated, he came from a poor family and had been jailed for helping dissidents fight the military regimes of the past. But young voters admired the lawyer for his integrity and his image as an independent outsider, and they formed an Internet fan club to promote his future.

The Internet allowed Mr. Roh to liberate himself from ‘black money’ — corporate donations that are South Korea’s traditional form of campaign financing. Largely through Internet-based campaign groups, Mr. Roh raised the equivalent of about $1-billion from more than 180,000 individual donors.”

President-elect Roh checks his email
President-elect Roh checks his email under the headline “Who should be first minister? Internet recommendations exceed 300 within first 24 hours.”

I’m impressed by the apparent influence of the grassroots fan club site. And 7,000 users a day sent the guy policy ideas? It will be interesting to see how President Roh fulfills his promise “to use the Internet to make the government more open and transparent.”

Otherwise, though tech angle is interesting, the article totally takes it out of context. Who else was running? What issues were being discussed? Mr. Roh’s popularity is not just due to his “repeated failures to be elected to parliament” but to the fact that he repeatedly chose to run in districts where he knew he would lose in order to make a statement about the regional election machine. Many Koreans vote for candidates based primarily on what district they are from. Mr. Roh’s campaign runs were a principled stand against this.

Cartoon
Cartoon from the ultra-conservative newspaper Chosun Ilbo criticizing online participation in Government as a generational conflict. The title says “Netizen Government.” The sign above the kiosk says “Participaing in Government Affairs.” On screen President-elect Roh says: “Please type in ID and password.” The old people are grumbling because they are computer illiterate.

Mr. Roh’s popularity is also due to the fact that he was a leader in the pro-democracy movement against the dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan, was imprisoned for his political activism, and has a solid record as an advocate of human rights. As a lawyer he could have chosen a much more lucrative career instead of defending labor unions, students, and the poor. And, unlike his political rivals, wants to engage more with North Korea. (See the BBC’s profile.)

The real shock of the election is that a liberal candidate was elected after decades of conservative rule. In the past, the three powerful conservative newspapers have pushed hard against liberal candidates, for instance playing up skirmishes in the DMZ around election time to scare voters away from liberal candidates who might not be as tough on the North. In Korea, the “liberal” label has even more sting than in the U.S. Being associated with Communism in the press could end your political career.

But the younger generation does it have the same relationship to the War or the military dictatorship as the older generation. And the under-30 crowd seems to have less aversion to leftist ideas or engagement with the North. The relevance of the Internet is part of the generational and ideological shift of the voting population in Korea.


In addition to a few facts about the Internet in Korea, the Globe article is a lot like typical U.S. election reporting. All tactics, no substance. Who displayed the most charisma? How much did they spend? Who endorsed them? Meanwhile, the chat rooms in Korea are buzzing with debate. I look forward to the day when the decentralized, online discussion is as influential as our mainstream election coverage.

>  10 January 2003 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

CarnivorePE

CarnivorePE (Personal Edition) turns your computer into a personal data surveillance tool. Use CarnivorePE to run Carnivore clients from your own desktop, or use it to make your own clients. Read the FAQ, or view a screenshot of CarnivorePE in action with Mark Napier’s ‘Black and White’ client.”

CarnivorePE LogoCarnivorePE is a packet sniffer designed by the “Radical Software Group” to emulate Carnivore one of the FBI’s email wiretapping systems (at least according to what we know about it.) CarnivorePE allows artists to translate traffic on a computer network into abstract visuals based on customizable filters.

While CarnivorePE does call attention to Federal wiretapping and, to a degree, how insecure networks can be, I find it utterly complacent. The project actually makes no comment about data insecurity or FBI surveillence. Instead it takes it as a departure point, as a given, makes it pretty, and even wins cash and props (see the praise of the art press and the list of funders at the bottom of the page.) The project does practically nothing to educate users about Internet security or to encourage better security habits. The project does nothing to push for greater disclosure of government surveillence or greater restrictions. In fact, the equation seems to be that more surveillence means more pretty art.

Whether you go for the technical fix or the political one, there are more constructive ways to apply your technical and creative talents. Why not develop entertaining and easy to understand materials to teach about computer and Internet security, privacy, anonymity? Encourage the use of encryption? Take action in the campaign against the FBI’s use of Carnivore? Or join Project Vegan, an anti-Carnivore set of Free Software tools in much need of contributers?

>  30 December 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Forget About It

WQXR Web site, before WQXR Web site, after

Drapetomanic sent me a link to a page on Eszter Hargittai’s Web site that has a couple of screen caps of Web sites before and after September 11, 2001.

The three site designs feature the Manhattan skyline whose twin towers were quickly airbrushed from the pages. What’s striking is that the changes occurred within three months of the attacks, as if the polite thing to do is to immediately pretend the towers did not exist.

...

On the flip side, the official Operation TIPS Web page has vanished. Here’s a cached version. The disappearance is probably related to Section 880 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 which declares that

“Any and all activities of the Federal Government to implement the proposed component program of the Citizen Corps known as Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) are hereby prohibited.”

Though that didn’t stop New York State from starting their own.

...

Also gone from the Web is the scary logo and much information from the site of the Defense Department’s Total Information Awareness program. See a couple of screencaps of the site before and after. From news.com:

“If fully implemented, TIA would link databases from sources such as credit card companies, medical insurers, and motor vehicle databases for police convenience in hopes of snaring terrorists.

Total Information Awareness LogoFirst, biographical information about the TIA project leaders, including retired Adm. John Poindexter, disappeared from the Defense Department’s site last month. A mirror that one activist created from Google’s cache shows the deleted information included four resumes listing past work experience but no addresses or contact information.

Then, sometime in the last week, the TIA site shrank still more and some links ceased to work. The logo for the TIA project—a Masonic pyramid eyeballing the globe—vanished, a highly unusual step for a government agency. So did the TIA’s Latin ‘scientia est potentia’ slogan, which means ‘knowledge is power.’...

The disappearing documents come as the TIA has become a lighting rod for criticism and as online activists have been turning the tables on Poindexter by reposting his personal information and home telephone number as widely as possible....

The TIA project became public early this year when President Bush chose Poindexter, who was embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandal, to run the Information Awareness Office. But criticism of the project from privacy advocates and newspaper editorial pages has spiked in the last month, and the Web deletions appear to have been in response to the increased public scrutiny.”

>  13 December 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Doh

The Yes Men, corporate trouble makers and designers of the WTO parody site, marked the 18th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster with the launch of Dow-Chemical.com, a straight-faced parody site using the design of the original, and a cheeky press release in the voice of the corpoation. Unfortunately, their cleverness got the best of them and the site was brought down in a matter of days. (Mirror sites are now up.)

bleeding Dow logoWhile funny at first, in context the parody Web site feels a bit thin. Sure it’s fun to parody the public relations language used to bathe coroporations in the soft glow of environmental and corporate responsibiliy. But also marking the anniversary were thousands of people marching in the streets of Bhopal.

An estimated 500,000 people were affected when 40 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticide factory in Bhopal in 1984. Today, the number of deaths stands at 20,000. Virtually nothing has been done to clean up the site, and the water used by people for everyday needs is still contaminated. And via Reuters:

“Former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson faces charges of culpable homicide and Indian courts have repeatedly asked New Delhi to seek his extradition from the United States where he now lives in retirement. Anderson, considered a fugitive from Indian law for refusing to face charges in its courts, could be jailed for 10 years and fined if found guilty.”

So what of design and social change? Well, a bit of design forensics determined that it was a failure of design that led to the disaster. On December 2, New Scientist published an article on their investigation of the accident and recently released documents that identify the reasons for the failure and show that the company that built and owned the Bhopal plant cut crucial corners and safety features from its design of the plant.

“Union Carbide was forced to release the documents last month by a court in New York state that was hearing a class action suit filed by Bhopal survivors in 1999. According to New Scientist, Carbide’s 1972 memo specified that the US headquarters would either perform all design work for the plant, or approve designs done elsewhere. The report said that on the basis of fresh evidence, the US Company could be tried for negligence only if the Indian government joined the campaigners in the US lawsuit.”

...

Further info via rtMark press release:

“Burson-Marsteller, the public relations company that helped to ‘spin’ Bhopal, has meanwhile sued college student Paul Hardwin for putting up a fake Burson-Marsteller site, http://www.bursonmarsteller.com/, which recounted how the PR giant helped to downplay the Bhopal disaster. Burson-Marsteller’s suit against Hardwin will be heard next week by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Hardwin, unable to afford a lawyer, has composed a dryly humorous 57-page rebuttal to the PR giant’s lawsuit. On page 7, for instance, the student notes that Burson-Marsteller’s stated goal is

‘to ensure that the perceptions which surround our clients and influence their stakeholders are consistent with reality.’

Hardwin goes on to assert that his satirical domain is doing precisely that, by publicizing

‘academic and journalistic materials about Burson-Marsteller’s involvement with and relationship to, for example, Philip Morris and the National Smoker’s Alliance, a consumer front group designed to create the appearance of public support for big-tobacco policies; Union Carbide and the deaths of 20,000 people following the 1984 disaster in Bhopal; and political regimes such as that of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and more recently Saudi Arabia following the events of September 11; and to properly associate them with the relevant Trademark so that they may be understood accordingly by Internet users.’

In response to the suit’s claim that ‘a substantial degree of goodwill is associated with [the Burson-Marstellar Trademark]’ Hardwin offers much ‘evidence to the contrary’ including ‘a newspaper headline in which the Complainant is characterized as “the Devil.”’

The primary goal of RTMark is to publicize corporate subversion of the democratic process. Just like other corporations, it achieves its aims by any and all means at its disposal. RTMark has previously helped to publicize websites against political parties, political figures, and entities like the World Trade Organization and the World Economic Forum.

>  7 December 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

HIV / AIDS / WWW

“Each December 1, World AIDS Day, the creative community observes A Day With(out) Art, in memory of all those the AIDS pandemic has taken from us, and in recognition of the many artists, actors, writers, dancers and others who continue to create and live with HIV and AIDS.

A Day With(out) Art was created by the group Visual AIDS in New York City. Link and Think For the last several years, Creative Time has organized a Day With(out) Art observance on the worldwide web, encouraging diverse website designers and administrators to darken their site and convey AIDS prevention and education information to their visitors.

In 1999, more than 50 webloggers took part in a project called a Day With(out) Weblogs. In 2000, nearly 700 personal weblogs and journals of all sorts participated. In 2001, the number was over 1,000. The personal web publishing community — weblogs, journals, diaries, personal websites of every kind — has continued to grow and diversify.

Once again, everyone who produces personal content on the web is invited to participate a global observance of World AIDS Day. In recognition of the variety of sites participating — E/N sites, weblogs, journals, newspages and more — and to differentiate it from other, similar endeavors, a Day With(out) Weblogs became Link and Think.”

Despite the corny name, Link and Think is one of the more effective online grassroots marketing campaigns I’ve seen. While a Day With(out) Weblogs was more of a memorial and show of solidarity, Link and Think also takes a more forward looking view.

Of the Web logs I check regularly, MetaFilter posted decent set of links. The facts, stories, and images are chilling, but it’s also nice to see a bit of perspective — for instance, asking why AIDS dominates the public health debate.

>  1 December 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , , ,

Steal This Book

Starting A Printing Workshop

“Leaflets, posters, newsletters, pamphlets and other printed matter are important to any revolution. A printing workshop is a definite need in all communities, regardless of size. It can vary from a garage with a mimeograph machine to a mammoth operation complete with printing presses and fancy photo equipment. With less than a hundred dollars and some space, you can begin this vital service. It’ll take a while before you get into printing greenbacks, phony identification papers and credit cards like the big boys, but to walk a mile you must start with one step as Gutenberg once said.”

...

Underground Newspapers

“Food conspiracies, bust trusts, people’s clinics and demonstrations are all part of the new Nation, but if asked to name the most important institution in our lives, one would have to say the underground newspaper. It keeps tuned cover in on what’s going on in the community and around the world. Values, myths, symbols, and all the trappings of our culture are determined to a large extent by the underground press. Each office serves as a welcome mat for strangers, a meeting place for community organizers and a rallying force to fight pig repression. There are probably over 500 regularly publishing with readerships running from a few hundred to over 500,000. Most were started in the last three years. If your scene doesn’t have a paper, you probably don’t have a scene together.”

...

G.I. Papers

“A heavier scene than even the high schools exists in No-No Land of the military. None-the-less, against incredible odds, courageous G.I.’s both here and overseas have managed to put out a number of underground newspapers. If you are a G.I. interested in starting a paper, the first thing to do is seek out a few buddies who share your views on the military and arrange a meeting, preferably off the base. Once you have your group together, getting the paper published will be no problem. Keeping your staff secret, you can have one member contact with someone from a G.I. coffee house, anti-war organization or nearby underground newspaper. This civilian contact person will be in a position to raise the bread and arrange the printing and distribution of the paper. You can write one of the national G.I. newspaper organizations listed at the end of this section if you are unable to find help locally. The paper should be printed off the base. Government equipment should be avoided.”

...

Guerrilla Radio

“Under FCC Low Power Transmission Regulations, it is legal to broadcast on the AM band without even obtaining a license, if you transmit with 100 milliwatts of power or less on a free band space that doesn’t interfere with a licensed station. You are further allowed up to a 12-foot antenna or the use of carrier-current transmission (regular electric wall outlets). Using this legal set-up, you can broadcast from a 2 to 20 block radius depending on how high up you can locate your antenna and the density of tall buildings in the area.”

...

Free food, housing, education, and independent media. Shoplifting, pipe bombs, medical care, draft counseling... and graphic design.

It’s all there in the hipster slang of 1970. While downloading the complete Steal This Book as one big 413 Kb HTML file, read a little about its provenance.

The title joke still makes me laugh. Steal this book about destroying capitalism. But, while some items in the book are still relevant to movement building and perhaps real social change, others seem more like cheap thrills than liberation. 30 years later, Hoffman’s catalogue of techniques of resistence reads as a vision of a life of struggle. The introduction breezes through a snapshot of the ills of America, but get your nuanced political and economic analysis elsewhere — this is just a practical guidebook. Perhaps for those without a nuanced political or economic analysis? “The purpose of part two is not to fuck the system, but destroy it.” By fighting violence and theft with violence and theft? And then what?

Found via Boing Boing.

>  29 November 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,



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