The best of the federal blogosphere

This week's highlights: dangerous Popsicle makers; Transportation's real star; paper-based Web testing; a Twitter town hall

Airport Takes Stand Against High-Tech Popsicle Maker
Transportation Security Administration

June 29, 2010

The Transportation Security Administration’s Blogger Bob uncovers the truth behind some mysterious signs that appeared at the airport in Aspen, Colo., warning travelers that no Popsicle-makers would be allowed through security.

As it turns out, Aspen security officials were not worried about standard-issue, plastic Popsicle molds, which are familiar to kids everywhere. Instead, they were targeting new high-tech fast-freezing devices sold at a local wine festival.

“Gotta love it,” writes Blogger Bob. “This is another one of those cases that makes me long for the day that the liquid algorithm is ready to go for our X-rays so we can allow liquids and end 3-1-1 as we know it.”

Salute to a Star of the Federal Screen
Transportation Department
June 29, 2010

The "Fast Lane" blogger pays tribute to George Austin Hay, who retired in June after 55 years of public service — and more than 100 feature films.

Hay, 94, often spent his annual leave playing bit roles in movies such as “North By Northwest,” “Being There” and “The Contender.” Early in his acting career, he also got roles in New York theater, including a long run of “Inherit the Wind.”

Movie-making also plays a large role in his day job. Hay has worked as a film producer at the Federal Highway Administration since 1973. He got his first break in public service in 1956 when he began making films for the Army Pictorial Center.

He hired numerous Hollywood luminaries to narrate or appear in his Army films, including Paul Newman, Henry Fonda and Ronald Reagan.

“George, we'll miss you,” writes the "Fast Lane" blogger, “but I suspect your retirement from DOT just means we'll be seeing more of you on the big screen in the years to come.”

Low-Tech Usability Testing
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
June 21, 2010

It doesn’t matter how elegant or intuitive you think your agency Web site is, the ultimate measure of its success is whether people can find the information or services they came looking for. The best way to determine that effectiveness is through usability testing, and for that task, the Massachusetts "Commonwealth Conversations: Technology" blog offers some advice that doesn’t involve asking people to do any pointing or clicking.

Instead, the commonwealth’s tech team likes to use a paper-based version of its site for testing purposes, re-creating the navigational structure of the Web site on separate sheets of paper. Why? “Test participants interact with a version of our Web site devoid of distractions, such as banner images, search boxes, left/right columns, etc.,” writes Andrew Chan, an information architect for “As a result, they focus solely on a step-by-step 'click-through' of the high-level topics and subtopics to find the requested information.”

Team members also like to test one participant at a time instead of doing focus group sessions so that popular opinion doesn't sway individual feedback. Observers encourage test participants to talk out loud as they navigate the pages to shed light on their thought process. Those methods don’t make it very practical to have large numbers of test participants, so the focus is on quality of input over quantity.

Something to Tweet About
June 29, 2010

The team at shares some lessons learned from a Twitter Town Hall they organized for June 3, several weeks in advance of National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) June 27.

Their goal was to generate some buzz by inviting people to tweet about it using the #NHTD hashtag. All told, there were more than 1,000 tweets from 145 Twitter accounts, according to guest blogger Susan Robinson.

The first lesson is simple: Line up some influential followers. For, that included @womenshealth, with 55,000-plus followers, and @CDC_eHealth, with more than 45,000.

And don’t unplug too soon. Team members were surprised to find that their Twitter followers continued to use the hashtag weeks after the town hall was officially over.


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