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There's an official app for that
August 4, 2010 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Did you forget about what the TSA allows in carry on bags? Need to know if that guy behind you in line is on the FBI's most wanted list? Need to look up a zip code? Calculate your BMI on the road? The US Government has an app for that.

There's also links to and descriptions of the various governmental mobile sites, and apps for a variety of platforms, though mostly iPhone.
posted by booksherpa (33 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The TSA's rules are exactly whatever the person working at the security line says they are, including rules they make up on the spot ("No breast milk, you're going to have to drink that.") You cannot argue with TSA workers, unless you're ready for a word of abuse.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:56 AM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


All they need now is a government supported GTL app.
posted by battlebison at 10:57 AM on August 4, 2010


The postal app is useful for finding a mailbox when you need one.
posted by cribcage at 10:59 AM on August 4, 2010


Just flew back from Atlanta. Had 2 separate bags of Sculpey each about eight pounds in 2 different carry-on bags from our beach trip for the kids. TSA dumped one in the trash and never saw the other. You get to a point where you really don't care what they do if they'll just get it over with and let you get the hell away from them.
posted by docpops at 11:01 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know what would be great? An app containing an official dictionary that defined all the potentially ambiguous terms — "safety razor," "gel," etc. — using only monosyllables and pictures, so that you could teach the screeners the "policy" they have no fucking clue about before they threw your possesions in the trash.
posted by RogerB at 11:08 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know what would be cool? An app that would let you take a pic of someone with your phone camera and instantly check to see if they match the mugshot of any federal or state fugitive. And by "cool" I mean "scary as fuck."
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2010


I had considered going with "Need to check on an airport's status?" for the TSA app link, but chose the more government specific use instead, since it was a post about apps published by the US government. Now I'm rethinking that decision... sigh.
posted by booksherpa at 11:19 AM on August 4, 2010


An app containing an official dictionary that defined all the potentially ambiguous terms — "safety razor," "gel," etc. —

Yes. I wanted to take my double-edged safety razor on a trip recently, and I figured I'd need to ditch the blades and buy new ones at my destination. But I poked around the TSA website and found that what's prohibited is:

Razor-Type Blades - such as box cutters, utility knives, razor blades not in a cartridge, but excluding safety razors.

Excluding safety razors! So I packed my safety razor with a blade in, and TSA got real excited when it came through the machine.

Apparently, to the TSA, "safety razor" means Bic disposables or something.
posted by gurple at 11:20 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Halloween Jack,

Because of the potential privacy implications or because you are standing in front of a federal or state fugitive taking their picture?
posted by gagglezoomer at 11:21 AM on August 4, 2010


You know what, fuck the TSA and fuck the DHS. If you can take over a plane with a safety razor and a box of Sculpey I don't want to fly and they aren't doing their jobs.
posted by gagglezoomer at 11:23 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


cribcage: "The postal app is useful for finding a mailbox when you need one."

Weird: the app/mobile web version shows a collection box near me that's been removed since 2009 due to budget cuts, yet the USPS.com "find a location" correctly doesn't list that collection box. I wonder why they'd maintain two databases? I wish there was a way to forward this info on to them, but I don't see a way.
posted by sharkfu at 11:25 AM on August 4, 2010


Heh, I was just looking that very thing up two days ago! The wording on the TSA's site is so bad, as to make it ambiguous. "Razor-Type Blades - such as box cutters, utility knives, razor blades not in a cartridge, but excluding safety razors." So...safety razors are excluded from the list of items that are to be excluded from carry-ons? Ultimately, I decided that I will bring my Mach 3, and if they hassle me, I'm chuck the razor blade "cartridge". My fiance flew yesterday and didn't mention them hassling her about her Venus, so I suppose I'll be fine. I also learned that the rule is 3.4 ounces per container, not 3, so that means I can carry all sorts of things that happen to be exactly 3.4 ounces, such as deodorant and cologne.
posted by mysterpigg at 11:30 AM on August 4, 2010


As much as I'd love to debate the TSA's inanity, that's not what this thread is about.
posted by schmod at 11:32 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sharkfu: The FAQ page has this:

Whom do I contact if I have problems with an app?
If you have problems with an app from the U.S. government, please send us an e-mail.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:32 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not on the list: Library of Congress Virtual Tour, linked from Daring Fireball this morning (I've downloaded it but won't be able to play with it until this evening).
posted by ardgedee at 11:35 AM on August 4, 2010


gagglezoomer: since you mention the latter, both, I guess.

I should also mention that some of these are pretty cool--I used a NASA photo of Dione in front of Titan to replace the old wallpaper of a shotgun-wielding hippie Stephen King.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:37 AM on August 4, 2010


You know what would be cool? An app that would let you take a pic of someone with your phone camera and instantly check to see if they match the mugshot of any federal or state fugitive. And by "cool" I mean "scary as fuck."
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:18 PM on August 4 [+] [!]


Wouldn't that would have to come with an invisibility cloak, just in case your suspect saw you taking the picture?
posted by etaoin at 11:44 AM on August 4, 2010


gagglezoomer : If you can take over a plane with a safety razor and a box of Sculpey...

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
posted by quin at 11:59 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder why they'd maintain two databases?

To re-rail a bit, this is what's odd about all these apps: these really don't offer anything more, and often quite a bit less, than the existing web sites. All the advertising money being spent on pushing "there's an app for that" has the sad side-effect of essentially wasting a lot of programmer time that could (and should) be replaced by a simple mobile website or even just a new stylesheet. It's probably more entertaining to bitch about the TSA than talk about these apps only because the apps are so useless.
posted by RogerB at 12:01 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


A lot of them do have web app versions though.
posted by smackfu at 12:11 PM on August 4, 2010


My TSA? Since when is it my TSA? The TSA is an organization created by a President I despised, dedicated to infringing basic 4th amendment freedoms whenever I fly, even within the U.S., and staffed by officious people who at worst infringe other freedoms like free speech, and at best create an endless line like an amusement park's, without much that is amusing at the end.

In short, I will download this app on the day I decide I enjoy frothing at the mouth.
posted by bearwife at 12:26 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


> All the advertising money being spent on pushing "there's an app for that" has the sad side-effect of essentially wasting a lot of programmer time that could (and should) be replaced by a simple mobile website or even just a new stylesheet.

Not necessarily; In the case of apps like the Postal Service's, the navigation for finding sites and services is a bit more convoluted than a simple restyling could accommodate. It's also possible that, at the time the apps were approved for development, there were functional advantages to write an app that WebKit has caught up with. It's also possible that things like datasets for postal rates and recently-queried location information can be efficiently stored on the phone (they don't update often; recall is faster) but are greater than the HTML 5 local storage limit.

I've had clients who agitate for iPhone-specific apps, and I usually talk them out of it because for most businesses it's rare that an own-branded app can bring something to their customers that a well-functioning website can't. But even in the case of raw data-browsing sites like the USPS's, an app could be the better option.

Note also that some of the "apps" listed on apps.usa.gov are, in fact, mobile-client-specific websites (m.usa.gov) or exist both as apps and mobile client sites (tsa.gov/mobile, recalls.gov).
posted by ardgedee at 12:48 PM on August 4, 2010


In short, I will download this app on the day I decide I enjoy frothing at the mouth.

Rage against the machine that creates apps.
posted by smackfu at 1:08 PM on August 4, 2010


If you can take over a plane with a safety razor and a box of Sculpey...

I would pay to see this movie.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Jason Statham, with Megan Fox as the flight attendant!
posted by misha at 1:25 PM on August 4, 2010


I feel like I should send a SASE to Pueblo Colorado 81009 to download these apps.
posted by jamaro at 1:30 PM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


What not to say: "This iPhone App is THE BOMB!"
posted by Artw at 1:33 PM on August 4, 2010


Excluding safety razors! So I packed my safety razor with a blade in, and TSA got real excited when it came through the machine.

I did the same thing. SEA security didn't notice it or didn't care, but IND security made me throw the blade away and gave me a lecture. I quoted the web page to them, but my flawless reasoning was not persuasive!
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:50 PM on August 4, 2010


Thank you, booksherpa, for letting me know about this. If nothing else, because I now know what Sculpey is.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:59 PM on August 4, 2010


Good stuff. Way to go Government. I guess you can do a couple cool things after all.
posted by AHM at 2:29 PM on August 4, 2010


Tried to explore the non-apps way to "connect to government," but I made the mistake of clicking on USAGov's facebook page. What a mess.
posted by soupy at 9:19 PM on August 4, 2010


From the TSA app - I checked to see if I could bring several obviously dangerous devices on board a plane. "Flamethrower" turned up no matches. "Lightsaber" brought up this:

"Check or Carry-on. Sadly, the technology doesn't currently exist to create a real light saber. However, you can can pack a toy light saber in your carry-on or checked bag. May the force be with you."

Someone in the TSA has a sense of humor? I am amazed. That's awesome.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:28 AM on August 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


The TSA app tracks wait time at security lines, which is all self-reported by users. That's actually a fairly useful and radical thing. User-generated data about how long the lines are at the airport is going to be different than what the TSA reports officially, and I wonder what will happen with that. I just took a long trip and I diligently reported everywhere I went. If I was in the media, I would take a long look at wait times at airports and then ask the TSA about that information compared to what they officially release.
posted by micawber at 8:55 AM on August 5, 2010


Interesting. Anyone know if the environment for developing mobile apps internally within the Government is more open under Obama's administration? Granted, mobile hadn't really exploded the way it is now when Bush's administration was in power, but just curious. I know there's a lot of work in the 'Gov 2.0' movement about releasing more data and being open to transparency, but would love to know if that's encouraged the development environment for apps, or if it's a basic reflection of the marketplace demand for these products - which is the cart and which is the horse, as it were.
posted by rmm at 10:00 AM on August 5, 2010


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