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

August 29, 2014 - 3:34pm Cambridge is installing ShotSpotter, a federally-funded system of microphones intended to detect gunshots. Part 1 of this series examined how ShotSpotter's lobbying and grant-writing emphasis leads to a deployment of their system in a city that has virtually no gun crime. Part 2, below, asks if ShotSpotter even works. Popular culture is full of images of magical technology solving crimes. ShotSpotter evokes those images with publicity photos of its "Incident Review Center" with banks of monitors in a dimly lit room, conjuring a technical solution that will lead to reduced violence and solve crimes. The reality is a little more complicated. Take Suffolk County, NY's experience. Suffolk's ShotSpotter system suffered so many false alarms that the company had to adjust its algorithms to be more discriminating. Even after the adjustment, a report (pdf) by Suffolk County police to the County legislature stated that, over an eight month period, only 6.5% of ShotSpotter's 212 activations could be confirmed as an actual gunshot. Over 30% were confirmed as false alarms. The remaining events remain undetermined. Suffolk County was not alone in finding that ShotSpotter did not live up to its... read more
August 19, 2014 - 11:30am The Cambridge Police Department is enrolled in the Department of Defense's program to redistribute surplus military equipment and have, according to a document released in response to a public records request, received 25 M16-A1 assault rifles in 2013. The M16 rifle, in a number of design variations, has been the primary service weapon for the US armed forces, as well as for other militaries around the world. The militarization of local police has received new scrutiny as images of a heavily armed police force in Ferguson, Missouri has reminded many of observers of US military actions in Iraq. Many of these weapons were acquired through the Department of Defense's Defense Logistics Agency's "1033" program, a program by which surplus military equipment is distributed to police agencies. Equipment distributed range from flat screen monitors through armored personnel carriers. Read CambridgeHappenings, a daily Cambridge news summary, curated from fresh, local sources. Follow @stannenb This work by Saul Tannenbaum is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. read more
August 7, 2014 - 12:29am The City Council last week passed a policy order requesting the City Manager look into the "the risks and benefits of the effects of continuing to fluoridate the city's water supply." With that action, Cambridge took a step into the conspiracy theories that have, for more than half a century, lived in the fever swamps of American politics. The order was not originally neutral. As submitted by Councilor Nadeem Mazen, the order asked that the City report on the "possible harms" of water fluoridation. Indeed, the summary of the order still reads that way. In a telephone interview, Mazen explained the "hasty drafting" of the order left out the nuances he felt it deserved. His goal, he said, was to start a discussion about the inequities in child dental health care. If fluoride were to be removed from Cambridge's water, the harms would fall largely on the economically disadvantaged, those who can't afford a robust program of dental health, he added. Mazen said the he wasn't against water fluoridation, except in the sense he felt that we should add as few chemicals to natural water as was possible. A Brief History of Fluoridation The first proposal to add fluoride to water in order to... read more
July 30, 2014 - 4:07pm The City Council Ordinance Committee considers today a zoning petition filed by its co-chair that would amend the City Zoning Ordinance to give the City Council the exclusive power to grant Special Permits for large developments, a power that hitherto had been vested in the City's Planning Board. This is a curious proposal. Rather than straightforwardly submitting a policy order to amend the zoning ordinance, Councillor Dennis Carlone chose a petition, a process usually undertaken by citizens who cannot otherwise propose policy orders. It has also gathered supporters who, not long ago, would routinely denounce the Council as being corruptly in the pocket of developers. While this might suggest that the proposal and its supporters not be taken at face value, reviewing the proposal on its merits means assessing whether this will lead to better decisions or worse. The Council's track record in regard to development doesn't provide much hope for better decisions. The Council that has, in no particular order: ignored warnings that multiple appointments to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority had lapsed, leading to the Authority having to engage in a long process to prove that it had... read more
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