National Mall hooks up tourists and townies with free Wi-Fi
The Smithsonian Institution announced Aug. 21 that free public wireless Internet access is available at several hot spots on the Mall, in the Castle’s Great Hall and at the adjacent Enid A. Haupt Garden.

The Smithsonian said it will extend outdoor Wi-Fi access this fall to the National Museum of the American Indian plaza and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Additional indoor hot spots will appear in early 2007 in several museum cafeterias, auditoriums and conference rooms. New Orleans-based Gulf Coast Real Estate Consultants, a small, minority-owned business, designed the system with the help of local wireless service providers.

NASA division takes award for aviation gridlock management software
An air traffic management tool developed by NASA’s Airspace Systems Program has won the space agency’s 2006 Software of the Year award.

The Future Air Traffic Management Concepts Evaluation Tool can rapidly simulate the flight routes of more than 15,000 aircraft on a single computer, helping the Federal Aviation Administration and airlines direct traffic flow throughout the United States. The software combines real air-traffic data and weather information to predict trajectories for aircraft climb, cruise and descent phases. Developers at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in Moffett Field, Calif., designed the technology.

NASA began the Software of the Year competition in 1994. All software entered in the contest must be the intellectual property of NASA, of commercial grade, and available to commercial users or dedicated to an agency mission.

FirstGov tops annual government Web site survey
The official search engine of the federal government, FirstGov, outranks all federal agency Web sites, according to Brown University’s seventh annual roundup of 1,564 state and federal government sites.

“All of the services are listed in alphabetical order by topic, which does not stress out the users while they search for the service they need,” the report states. Its author is Darrell West, a public policy and political science professor at Brown.

West highlights FirstGov’s capacity to find government auctions nationwide for buying new, seized and surplus merchandise. “We can tell that the government is willing to speak to and help its citizens, which is one telling reason why the FirstGov portal is ranked as the No. 1 site for this year,” he writes.

The runner-up is the Agriculture Department, with its “I Want To…” section that lists the most popular information and services available online. The site can also be personalized via the MyUSDA tool.

Coming in third, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Web site features an archive of agency broadcasts on topics such as home buying and community development.

A number of intriguing findings surfaced this year in Brown’s analysis:

  • Fifty-four percent of federal sites, an increase from 44 percent last year, and 43 percent of state sites, up from 40 percent last year, meet the World Wide Web Consortium’s accessibility guidelines.
  • One percent of government sites are accessible via personal digital assistants, pagers or mobile phones — the same percent as last year.
  • Sixty-four percent of government sites are written at the 12th-grade reading level, which is much higher than the level at which most Americans are comfortable reading.
  • Sites with user fees rose from 2 percent to 12 percent in the past year.
  • Among the online services that states are now offering:
  • Indiana, Montana, Utah: live chat for help.
  • Alaska: Webcam of Department of Motor Vehicles waiting rooms so citizens can see whether the offices are busy.
  • Michigan, Kentucky: report a pothole.
  • OASIS elects new leaders
    The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) announced voting results for its board of directors and Technical Advisory Board (TAB) on Aug. 21. The board of directors manages the organization and defines policies. TAB provides guidance on interoperability and the scope of OASIS’ technical work.

    Elected directors who will join existing board members:

  • Paul Knight, Nortel Networks.

  • Ed Cobb, BEA Systems (re-elected).

  • Robert Glushko, University of California, Berkeley (re-elected).

  • Frederick Hirsch, Nokia (re-elected).

  • Jeff Mischkinsky, Oracle (re-elected).
  • New TAB members:

  • Abbie Barbir, Nortel Networks.

  • Bill Barnhill, Booz Allen Hamilton.

  • Jacques Durand, Fujitsu.
  • Andy Lee, China’s Changfeng Open Standards Platform Software Alliance.
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