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As social media becomes a hit with agencies, GSA plans more offerings

Source: http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20090522_7519.php

Agencies have launched social networking applications at such a fast pace that government officials said on Friday that they plan to add more applications, such as Apple’s popular media store iTunes and the career-networking site LinkedIn.

The government also is negotiating agreements with social publishing site Scribd and commenting platform Intense Debate, said Martha Dorris, acting associate administrator for the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications. The federal government has signed modified terms of service agreements to allow agencies to use social media sites Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Slideshare and AddThis, among others.

The response to the agreements has been excellent, Dorris said. Agencies have set up Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels to share information with the public. “We’re looking at taking information wherever citizens go to get information,” she said, adding GSA will consider adding more social networking sites, depending on requests from agencies.

Sheila Campbell, team leader of best practices for USA.gov and co-chairwoman of the Federal Web Managers Council, said tools such as Twitter offer the government the ability to communicate with the public very quickly in times of emergency. She cited as examples the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s use of social media during its peanut recall and the swine flu outbreak.

Despite the common perception that social media tools are used mostly by younger users, baby boomers are the fastest-growing segment of users for most applications, according to Dorris. She said agencies were inspired by President Obama’s use of new media tools during his campaign and by WhiteHouse.gov, and have applied those lessons to outreach programs.

“Government needs to provide services and information the way the public wants it,” Dorris said. “One way is to engage the citizen, get an understanding of what they want. Give them a chance to be part of the decision-making in a way they never have before.”

When asked how agencies can move beyond simple broadcast of information to using social media to collect feedback, Dorris said Obama’s recent request for public input to support his open government initiative is an example. She said requests for public comments on health care and the recovery act were other examples.

“Let the public rate comments,” Dorris said. “Then take the issues, rated and ranked and look at the top 10. I think there’s a value to that externally and internally to solicit comments and feedback within your organization.”

The Federal Web Managers Council is working with agencies to craft policies for using social media tools, but the rules aren’t likely to be much different from existing guidelines on releasing information publicly, according to Campbell. “I think the same rules and ethics apply,” she said. “If you’re on Twitter, you shouldn’t be posting confidential information, just as you wouldn’t if speaking at a conference.”

GSA general counsel Seth Greenfield said any new social media policies would only complement existing ethical standards and regular use policies being applied to the use of IT.

NIST’s LIDAR May Offer Peerless Precision in Remote Measurements

Source: http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/techbeat/tbx20090526_lidar.htm

By combining the best of two different distance measurement approaches with a super-accurate technology called an optical frequency comb, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have built a laser ranging system that can pinpoint multiple objects with nanometer precision over distances up to 100 kilometers. The novel LIDAR (“light detection and ranging”) system could have applications from precision manufacturing lines on Earth to maintaining networks of satellites in perfect formation, creating a giant space-based platform to search for new planets.

LIDAR transmits light through the air and analyzes the weak reflected signal to measure the distance, or range, to the target. NIST’s new LIDAR, described in Nature Photonics,* has a unique combination of capabilities, including precision, rapid updates from multiple reference points at the same time, and minimal “measurement ambiguity.” The system can update measurements to multiple targets simultaneously every 200 microseconds. Measurement ambiguity in a LIDAR system is due to the fact that, if the target is at long range from the instrument, the system can’t distinguish between two different distances that are multiples of its “ambiguity range.” The new NIST LIDAR has a comfortably large ambiguity range of at least 1.5 meters—large enough to check the coarse distance with widely available technologies such as GPS.

No other ranging system offers this combination of features, according to the new paper. NIST’s LIDAR could enable multiple satellites to maintain tight spacing and pointing while flying in precision formations, acting as a single research instrument in space, the paper states. Formation flying has been proposed as a means to enhance searches for extraterrestrial planets, enable imaging of black holes with multiple X-ray telescopes on different satellites, and support tests of general relativity through measurements of satellite spacing in a gravitational field. The new LIDAR could enable continuous comparisons and feedback of distances to multiple reference points on multiple satellites. There also may be applications in automated manufacturing, where many parts need to fit together with tight tolerances, according to Nate Newbury, the principal investigator.

NIST’s LIDAR design derives its power from combining the best of two different approaches to absolute distance measurements: the time-of-flight method, which offers a large ambiguity range, and interferometry, which is ultraprecise. The LIDAR relies on a pair of optical frequency combs, tools for precisely measuring different colors (or frequencies) of light. The frequency combs used in the LIDAR are based on ultrafast-pulsed fiber lasers, which are potentially smaller and more portable than typical combs that generate laser light from crystals. The two combs operate at slightly different numbers of pulses per second. Pulses from one comb are reflected from a moving target and a stationary reference plane. The second comb serves as precise timer to measure the delay between the reflections returning from the target and from the reference plane. A computer calculates the distance between the target and the reference plane by multiplying the time delay by the speed of light.

* I. Coddington, W.C. Swann, L. Nenadovic and N.R. Newbury. Rapid, precise absolute distance measurements at long range. Nature Photonics. Published online May 24, 2009.

Media Contact: Laura Ost, laura.ost@nist.gov, (303) 497-4880