Saul Tannenbaum

Cambridge MA
A Cambridge resident for 30-ish years, I recently retired from a long career doing Information Technology Architecture and Planning for a local university. I'm interested in issues involving Central Square, the Cambridgeport neighborhood, government, politics and technology.
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Recently posted by stannenb

July 8, 2014 - 3:30pm The National Security Agency (NSA) targeted the Cambridge-based TOR Project as well as a server at MIT, a report by German Public Television has revealed. That report included what was said to be the source code for part of the NSA's internet monitoring efforts, code that showed specific interest in TOR and both its projects and users. TOR's privacy enabling software is designed to mask the source and destination of internet traffic. Originally funded by the US Navy as "The Onion Routing protocol" to help government operatives and employees working in potentially hostile areas, it has come to be used by a wide range of activists, dissidents and journalists around the world. The TOR Project's metrics show that the TOR network is used by over 2 million people each day. The State Department provides funding as part of its "Internet Freedom" initiative to support "counter-censorship and secure communications technology [...] for people facing Internet repression." Other government funding comes from the National Science Foundation and continues from the Department of the Navy. TOR, according to forms filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, receives up to 60% of its... read more
July 1, 2014 - 10:39pm Despite having only two confirmed gunfire incidents during all of 2013, the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) is deploying a microphone system designed to detect and locate gunshots. Paid for by a two-year grant from the Boston Urban Areas Security Initiative, the ShotSpotter system will, according to the CPD, install microphones in areas of "historically highest incidents of gunfire." The microphones will be connected to the ShotSpotter Incident Review Center which will, in turn, relay incidents to police dispatch and patrol. According to a report by City Manager Richard Rossi to the City Council, 23 microphones will be installed in a 1.25 square mile area including parts of the Mid-Cambridge, Inman/Harrington, Riverside, Area 4 and Cambridgeport neighborhoods, and in Central Square. Cambridge's gunfire problem Cambridge has had recent tragedies by gunfire. In 2012, there was the still unsolved murder of Charlene Holmes. In 2013, MIT Police Officer Sean Collier was gunned down in his cruiser. But, compared to other cities in which ShotSpotter has been installed, Cambridge's gunfire rate is extraordinarily small. It will take Cambridge well over a century to have as many gunshot... read more
June 18, 2014 - 5:01pm If, a number of years ago, you told people that social change might be accomplished by typing the pound sign and a few characters, you'd have been thought to have taken leave of your senses. If, even a year ago, you said that hashtag activism would come to Cambridge municipal government, you'd have been laughed at. It's not that hashtag activism hasn't had an impact on the world, it's that Cambridge government would have been thought insensate, not even noticing that it was a target of an online campaign. This blindness to technological modernism was in evidence two years ago when Cambridge made Uber, a service that pairs riders with drivers, a target. Treating it as it would a rogue operator of unlicensed taxis, Cambridge used a sting operation to demonstrate what Uber proudly advertises: you can summon a car with a smartphone app and it will take you where you want to go. That led to a spate of bad publicity for Cambridge, intervention by the Governor's office, a lawsuit, City Council hearings, all leaving the impression of a regulatory regime more interested in preserving the taxi industry than facilitating new business models. When Uber CEO Travis Karalnik tweeted that "... read more
June 8, 2014 - 9:09pm The City of Cambridge unveiled its Open Data Portal last week, reversing years of policy that made access to data difficult. Retired City Manager Robert Healy dismissed this sort of effort as a "fad" which the City would not pursue. While access to data was possible, it required a Public Records request along with a payment for expenses, or, perhaps, a City Council resolution. The portal which can be found at currently includes 113 datasets, covering a wide range of city activities. According to the City, it's making data available to provide greater access, increase transparency, improve the delivery of City services, and spark the creation of innovative businesses and services. Cambridge's data portal not only allows the download of datasets for analysis, it provides its own basic tools for display, visualization, and sharing on other web sites. All the data displayed in this article were created with those tools. The datasets cover the following categories: Assessing Budget/Finance General Government Geographic Information (GIS) Inspectional Services Planning Public Safety Public Works Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Some data is certain to be... read more
May 27, 2014 - 1:47pm The fall of 2011 should have been a busy one for regional counterterrorism officials. Having been warned twice by Russian security forces about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and having had a triple murder occur on the evocative date of September 11th, 2011, one might expect the local Fusion Center, created in the aftermath of 9/11 to help share intelligence, to be busily engaged to see whether the dots connected. But, as reports from Congress and the intelligence community's Inspectors General show, they were largely oblivious. So what kept them from paying attention to what evolved into a clear and present danger? Thanks to The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), we now know. The PCJF has obtained and released 4000 pages of documents compiled that fall by Fusion Centers around the nation. In the Boston area, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), according to PCJF "devoted significant resources including deployment of intelligence analysts to a detailed monitoring and cataloging operation, issuing twice-daily “Situation Awareness” Bulletins on Occupy Boston." To get a flavor of what BRIC found worth monitoring, below is a selection of Cambridge-based activities that found... read more
May 8, 2014 - 10:29pm The City of Cambridge is forming a Task Force to examine broadband for the City, seeking to increase competition, reduce pricing, and improve speed, reliability and customer service. This Task Force comes after a call in this space for a group to study city-owned broadband, and a subsequent City Council policy order requesting the City Manager act to create such a group. */ A series of events have put new focus on broadband options. Earlier this year, a Washington DC appeals court overturned federal "net neutrality" regulations, the policy that requires internet providers to treat all network traffic equally. Comcast, the nation's dominant internet and cable TV provider, announced its intention to merge with its largest rival, Time Warner Cable, thus further consolidating a highly concentrated industry. Then, Federal Communications Commission chair Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries announced that he would support "fast lanes," a policy by which well-heeled companies could buy faster access to homes and businesses. Cable TV is already among the most reviled industries. The fear that Comcast's concentrated power as well as the industry's apparent... read more
April 27, 2014 - 4:17pm An amendment to the proposed Commonwealth budget introduced by local legislators seeks to establish a 10 year moratorium on trains carrying highly flammable ethanol through densely populated areas of Cambridge and surrounding towns. While there is no current proposal to allow for ethanol trains, a legislative standoff stymied efforts to block the trains. And, in Washington, testimony this week by the American Association of Railroads calls safety standards adopted voluntarily in 2011 to be inadequate. While federal law precludes state regulation of rail cargoes, in order to receive ethanol by rail, Global Petroleum needs to repair and enlarge the rail siding located at its blending facility on the shores of Chelsea Creek. Because the rail siding is located on that protected waterway, this construction requires a license under Chapter 91 of state environmental laws, the portion of the law that governs the building of structures on protected waterfronts. When Global's plans first came to public attention, environmental organizers in Chelsea spearheaded an effort to require a safety study prior to any licensing for Global's facility. That study showed that communities along... read more
April 24, 2014 - 8:44pm Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, came to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on the anniversary of the Marathon bombing not to explain how the government failed to prevent the tragedy. Instead, she came to explain how preventing "domestic radicalization to violence" is the responsibility of the Muslim community. The government, Monaco said, is rarely in a position to observe the early indicators of violent radicalization. These could include, according to Monaco: [P]arents might see sudden personality changes in their children at home—becoming confrontational. Religious leaders might notice unexpected clashes over ideological differences. Teachers might hear a student expressing an interest in traveling to a conflict zone overseas. Or friends might notice a new interest in watching or sharing violent material. Monaco did not elaborate on how one might distinguish these behaviors from normal teenage rebelliousness. Once a community detects these signs of "radicalization to violence", Monaco called for: a comprehensive prevention model that allows us to work with communities and intervene with at-risk individuals before... read more
April 14, 2014 - 12:05pm The die landed on a six, meaning heavy local rain. Combined with the heavy upstream rain - a five on a previous roll - this meant flooding. The early warning system on which I had spent most of my resources had predicted a 40% chance of flooding, but having few remaining resources, I had chosen not to make preparations, that is, spending a bean to preposition supplies. Instead, I had to spend 3 beans on disaster response. This, said Pablo Suarez, Associate Director for Research and Innovation for the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, is very much the way it goes in the real world and is a key point of this "Paying for Predictions" game. Resources are spent on prediction and then, for a variety of reasons, crisis managers never see them, don't understand them or discount or ignore them. I escaped a crisis when, after another round of flooding, a disaster relief fund - a pile of beans - were left for the taking without any clear rules for allocation. They were in arm's reach so I took them, spending them for more disaster response. Perfectly valid, said Suarez, noting that disaster relief funds were often dispensed not by need, but by relative influence. As the game played,... read more
April 3, 2014 - 4:48pm The media are filled with reports that MIT technology might be used to help in the search for BigFoot, the name given to an ape-like creature that some believe can be found in the forests of the Pacific northwest. Bigfoot research, if that's the right term, is stalled. Matt Knapp, who runs a major Bigfoot web site told Boston Magazine's Steve Annear that "[t]he facts are that in terms of progress, the Bigfoot research community has ultimately made none. We are no closer now to proving these creatures exist than we were 40 years ago.” Some might take that as suggesting the creatures don't exist. Instead, Knapp believes that "Eurlarian Video Magnification", technology invented by MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, could help the analysis purported Bigfoot videos. While it may seem disconcerting to read "Bigfoot research" in the same sentence as "MIT", this is not the first time MIT technology has been used to search for creatures many think are mythical. In the early 1970s, MIT's legendary Harold "Doc" Edgerton participated in the search for the Loch Ness monster, the supposed aquatic beast living in a lake in Scotland. Edgerton, who invented the electronic... read more