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

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
March 14, 2014 - 12:53pm We accept unprecedented surveillance, Dr. David Lyon told an MIT audience, because routine surveillance has become so much a part of day to day life. Delivering the 2014 Arthur Miller Lecture on Science and Ethics, Lyon, Professor and Chair of Surveillance Studies Queen's University, Canada, reviewed some of the revelations from Edward Snowden, placed them in historical context and outlined the corrosive harms to society from surveillance regimes. Lyon defines surveillance as the "focussed, systematic and routine attention to personal details for the purpose of influence, management, protection or direction." Modern surveillance technology is nothing new, said Lyon, with its roots in the mid 1800s, with the invention of the telegraph, the telephone, and the camera. Even detailed tracking of customers began with department stores in the early 20th century. Lyon recounted awkward conversations he has with his colleagues in Queen's University's business school where they are talking about the same techniques. He calls them "surveillance", his colleagues call it "marketing." The rise of digital technology does change things, Lyons said. Digital surveillance is less expensive, hence... read more
March 4, 2014 - 3:43pm "The business model of the internet is surveillance." – Bruce Schneier"Data and data analytics are a powerful new fuel of the American economy." – Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker "Assume you have collected data" is an inauspicious way to start a privacy workshop. But that's how Monday's Big Data Privacy Workshop organized by MIT and the White House began. And like extractive industries that take natural resources from the ground, the emerging big data industry is more interested in preserving value than the condition it leaves those from whom that value has been extracted. The workshop, intended to "advanc[e] the state of the art in technology and practice," is part of a 90 day review, announced by President Obama in response to Edward Snowden's disclosures of the data collection practices of the National Security Agency (NSA). It was a full court press by the administration, featuring Counselor to the President John Podesta and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. MIT used it as an opportunity to showcase its research on maintaining the security of already-collected information. But privacy interests start prior to the collection of data. To that point, this workshop was... read more
February 21, 2014 - 4:23pm In Cambridge, as in most of the United States, the free market has failed to provide broadband service that meets the needs of a thriving, innovative city. It has, as well, failed to provide service to the economically less fortunate, adding yet another barrier to the climb up the economic ladder. When the market failed to provide ubiquitous electrical and phone service, the government stepped in to address those market failures. It's time for Cambridge to step in and provide municipal broadband, building a state-of-the-art network and using Cambridge's vast wealth to subsidize service for those who can't afford to pay. The State of Internet Connectivity in Cambridge Broadband in Cambridge is offered by a single monopoly provider, Comcast. While the City has tried to solicit other broadband providers, none are interested. As Susan Crawford, currently a Visiting Professor in Intellectual Property at the Harvard Law School, documents in her book "Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry & Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age" large telecommunications companies have effectively divided markets in ways that avoid competition. Verizon, which has halted all new investment in its FIOS... read more
February 18, 2014 - 5:47pm They've put me out of business. Three winters ago, I got into the business of mapping unshoveled sidewalks. I was just getting my feet under me as a citizen journalist, writing about the Public Works Department when a winter of snow started. I discovered, almost by accident, that Cambridge had an online website to report unshoveled sidewalks. Chatting with a NeighborMedia colleague about it, he joked that, in all likelihood, nothing came of a report. Having just taken a day long seminar from Boston University's New England Center for Investigative Reporting, I realized that the complaints were public records, I could request them, and see what happened when a report was made. Thus started an odyssey which I was able to turn into a run of presentations at technical conferences. The website was so terrible that it functioned as a visual joke. And the City's response was humorous. Paying a public records fee in an envelopes of cash in the back of a public meeting? A City Council resolution asking for the data that impeded, rather than facilitated, my access? I turned a technical presentation about Google Fusion Tables into something funny. When Cambridge created its iReport app, my... read more
February 12, 2014 - 5:10pm Despite a bus fleet that is overdue for replacement and a capital budget proposal that provides no funding for that replacement, the MBTA is installing what it says is the most extensive surveillance system on a major transit system in the country. As reported in today's Globe, a total of 225 buses will be equipped with three cameras each, capable of providing live, high definition video feeds to the MBTA's control center as well as to MBTA police cruisers. While many buses already have surveillance cameras focused on fare boxes, the MBTA's Senior Director of Security and Emergency Management, Randy Clarke, complains to the Globe that, because the video is stored on the bus, investigators must go to the crime scene, the bus, to retrieve the video. Now, he says, "we can see it instantly." Not satisfied with live, instant high definition video, Clarke also told the Globe he seeks to recruit the entire mass transit public, saying, "What we’re trying to do is make everyone on the bus work as an extra set of eyes to help report suspicious behavior or criminal activity." But as Transit Police Superintendent Joseph O'Connor notes, "crime is relatively low on buses." According to the... read more
January 11, 2014 - 10:35pm During the last three decades, the average income of a Cambridge resident has more than doubled while the percent of the population living in poverty remains unchanged. Despite this, Cambridge has neither an identifiable anti-poverty program, nor has fighting poverty been established as a goal by the City Council. Indeed, the Council goals seem more aligned with fiscal conservatism than progressive Cambridge. Many Programs, Little Focus A review of the City current budget, a 600 page document, shows that the word "poverty" appears nowhere. "Low income" appears 13 times, with multiple mentions of low income senior housing in Riverside, low income fuel assistance, and the Cambridge Health Alliance's service to low income patients. This is not to say that Cambridge doesn't have a myriad of programs that provide assistance to low income residents, the homeless and at risk families, senior or others. Assistance includes food pantries, fuel assistance and job training for the "unengaged". Ellen Semonoff, Assistant City Manager for Human Services, acknowledges that there is "no one focused effort on poverty" but points in particular to two of the over fifty programs listed on the Human... read more
December 31, 2013 - 2:41pm It is one of the more persistent legends on the Internet, thoroughly debunked, internally inconsistent, yet repeated again and again. No, Sophia Stewart did not, as reported by a Cambridge Community Television (CCTV) blogger last week, just win a judgement that the movie "The Matrix" was stolen from her, nor has she ever. According to, Stewart filed a lawsuit in 2003 alleging that the ideas for The Matrix, as well as the The Terminator, were taken from her 1983 novel, "The Third Eye". The case, according to court documents, did not go to trial, the defendants being granted summary dismissal because "Stewart's admissions concerning the lack of similarity between her works and the Terminator and Matrix films establish the absence of a triable issue of fact regarding striking similarity." Stewart, that is, couldn't even establish there was enough similarity between her works and the Matrix to allow for a trial. Because Stewart failed to provide any evidence that would substantiate her claims, the judge found that she was liable for over $300,000 in court costs. The full judgement is included below. reports that misinformation about the case stems from a since... read more
December 18, 2013 - 4:21pm Raise the cost of surveillance, Bruce Schneier told a packed crowd at Harvard today, and you'll reduce the amount of surveillance the National Security Agency (NSA) can do. "The NSA is not made of magic", he said, but is governed by "economics, physics, and math." If we all take steps to make the bulk collection of our data harder, Schneier suggested, the NSA will be forced to rethink its "collect everything" strategy. Schneier, a well-regarded computer security technologist, is one of the few people to have full access to the cache of documents released by Edward Snowden, the 30 year old contractor whose leak of 1.7 million NSA documents has triggered a wide ranging scandal and public review of intelligence practices. Last week, Chas Freeman, who was George H.W. Bush's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told an MIT audience that the surveillance practices exposed amounted to a "turnkey totalitarian state". Schneier cautioned the audience at a lunch seminar held by Harvard's Center for Research on Computation and Society that NSA surveillance is "robust" in the technical, political, and legal senses. The NSA uses multiple means to get at particular data streams, each involving different... read more