Karen Klinger

Cambridge MA
I'm a career journalist who has worked at the San Jose Mercury News, United Press International and Agence France Presse and as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers. I came to Cambridge originally for a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT and loved the city. I've also received...
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June 22, 2011 - 7:44pm To mark the opening of the rebuilt Kendall/MIT station in 1987, the MBTA installed a three-piece musical sculpture by Groton artist Paul Matisse between the outbound and inbound platforms, where it provided entertainment for tens of thousands of passengers who could activate it by moving wall-mounted handles. But years of heavy use and the sculpture's intricate mechanics eventually rendered each piece silent, despite Matisse's painstaking efforts to keep his creation working. In 2010, a commuter named Seth Parker decided the music needed to be heard again, and set in motion a series of events that led to the formation of the "Kendall Band Preservation Society," a group of MIT students under the leadership of instructor Mike Tarkanian, who spent a year disassembling, cleaning, fixing and reassembling the largest and most complicated of the pieces, a set of pipe-like bells and mallets Matisse named "Pythagoras." On April 30, 2011, a rededication ceremony marked the first time in years that its tones could be heard ringing out again, to the accompaniment of musicians from MIT. Tarkanian's students still have to restore the other two parts of the set, "Kepler" and "Galileo," a task... read more
June 16, 2011 - 2:43pm By Karen Klinger Long before celebrities such as actor Alan Alda and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson became hosts of science programs on public television, there was John Fitch. From 1963 through 1966, the understated, deep-voiced Fitch provided introductions and interviews for one of the world's first televised programs devoted to exploring science and technology, a co-production of MIT and WGBH called MIT Science Reporter. In over 100 programs produced on a relative shoestring, he interviewed some of the most prominent figures in their fields of the mid-20th Century for the now little-remembered National Educational Television (NET), the forerunner of PBS. In half-hour segments shot in black-and-white videotape in a single day, Fitch asked scientists and engineers to provide explanations of their work that could be easily understood by a general audience. Among his interview subjects were Harold "Doc" Edgerton, the "father of high-speed photography," hydrogen bomb co-developer Stanislaw Ulam, psychologist Jerome Bruner, a leader of the "Cognitive Revolution" of the 1960s, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Charles Townes, architectural designer and futurist Buckminster Fuller and... read more
May 19, 2011 - 1:15pm New England Forests, a permanent multi-media exhibition that explores the history and ecology of the region's forests, is scheduled to open May 21 at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge. Drawing on the museum's collections and the expertise of scientists from across the university, the exhibit features research about how forest communities work, respond to climate change and invasive species and cycle water and carbon. Located in the new Zofnass Family Gallery, the displays will allow visitors to explore the environment of woodland wolves, caribou and other wildlife and look deeply into the life cycles in and around a forest pond, from tiny aquatic insects to large moose. As an extension of the exhibition, the museum plans to offer a series of lectures and symposia in the fall of 2011. For more information about this and other exhibits and activities at the museum, go to www.hmnh.harvard.edu or call 617-495-3045. Image: Harvard Museum of Natural History read more
May 17, 2011 - 5:08pm By Karen Klinger He was a fervent orator and abolitionist, civil rights visionary, best friend of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, victim of a notorious near-fatal beating on the floor of the U.S. Senate by a fellow member of Congress and a man historians call one of the foremost champions of African Americans before, during and after the American Civil War. When he died in 1874, thousands attended his funeral and walked alongside his casket from King's Chapel in Boston to his gravesite in Cambridge's Mount Auburn Cemetery. Today, in the bicentennial year of his birth, a statue of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner occupies a place of prominence in Harvard Square on Massachusetts Avenue. And yet, despite being one of the most famous Americans of his time, Sumner in the 21st Century is so little known that it's probably a safe bet that few people passing his bronze visage could name the man or what he did to deserve such an honor. In an effort to change that, a number of organizations in Cambridge and Boston have sponsored events in the past several months celebrating Sumner's life, slated to culminate May 19 with a rededication of his statue, followed by a discussion of his relevance... read more
May 8, 2011 - 4:58pm By Karen Klinger A brightly-colored inflatable sculpture on the Charles River spelling out "MIT," glowing orb-shaped seats along the riverbank and a devilishly clever "mood meter" that reflects the mindsets of passersby, as well as stars floating above the university's Great Dome, were just some of the attractions May 7 in a spectacular culmination of MIT's months-long arts celebration coinciding with the last two days of the Cambridge Science Festival. Called FAST Light for the school's "Festival of Art+Science+Technology (FAST)," and intended as a highlight of MIT's 150th anniversary celebration, the event--free and open to the public--continues through May 8 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. (To accommodate the activities, a portion of Memorial Drive will be closed from 6 p.m to 10 p.m. For information including a map of locations, a schedule of evening guided tours and brief descriptions of the artwork and names of their creators, go to: http://arts.mit.edu/fast/fast-light/). Sky Event by Otto Piene The centerpiece of the first night was "Sky Event," featuring two huge, brightly-lit inflatable stars that slowly lifted up over MiT's dome and Killian Court to the beat of a band of... read more
May 6, 2011 - 2:42pm By Karen Klinger Owlchemy Labs cofounder Yilmaz Kiymaz swears he never anticipated the media storm unleashed by the recent release of his company's first video game, Smuggle Truck, which requires players to act as drivers of a virtual truck carrying illegal immigrants to go over, under, through and past obstacles including tunnels, hills and explosives, any of which could result in the occupants being tossed to their deaths. "We thought the satirical nature of this would be obvious. But then Fox News brought it into the spotlight and everything happened from there," Kiymaz said, showing off his company's creation as he stood in the MIT Museum on May 5 at an event called "Video Games 101," part of the 2011 Cambridge Science Festival. Among the things that happened was that Apple Computer rejected the game as an application for its popular iOS systems, which include iPhones and iPads. And immigrant rights groups, among others, criticized the game as insensitive, at best. To his dismay, Kiymaz found his tiny Watertown-based company, established with a small amount of "bootstrap" money, to be tabloid fodder. "We never imagined this would happen," he said. " We were trying to get out... read more
April 29, 2011 - 2:53pm By Karen Klinger Want to have lunch with a Nobel Prize winner? How about operating a robot with a design inspired by insects? Or taking part in a science trivia contest, learning about the "science of the perfect steak," peering through telescopes outside of Cambridge City Hall, chatting up science enthusiasts at a "Nerdnite Nerdtacular" or watching a light show on the Charles River? You can do all of that and much more during the nine days of the 5th annual Cambridge Science Festival set to run from April 30 through May 8. Touted as the first event of its kind in the United States (followed by numerous science festivals popping up in other U.S. cites), the festival is presented by the MIT Museum with the support of the City of Cambridge, universities, schools, community groups, museums and companies. This year the festival will feature over 200 events (for a schedule, go to www.CambridgeScienceFestival.org) with the kickoff coinciding with MIT's 150th anniversary open house celebration (http://www.cctvcambridge.org/MITOpenHouse). The first big event, though, will take place April 29 from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Harvard University when 10 noted researchers are slated to give... read more
April 28, 2011 - 2:43pm As a centerpiece of MIT's ongoing celebration of its 150th anniversary, the university will throw its doors open April 30 with a day-long, campus-wide event featuring hundreds of activities for visitors of all ages who will be able to do everything from operating small space satellites to taking part in scavenger hunts, watching a scientist make a room glow with pickles, understanding the mathematics of origami, touring research laboratories, listening to hi-tech show and tell presentations, getting their golf swings analyzed with high-speed video and enjoying student performances ranging from folk dancing to gospel music. Called Under the Dome: Come Explore MIT the open house, free and open to the public, is the university's first such undertaking since 1978 and is part of the kickoff of the Cambridge Science Festival, which runs from April 30 through May 8. MIT is touting it as a chance to take an expansive look under the hood--or the dome in this case--and see "where tomorrow is being invented today." Said MIT President Susan Hockfield, "With Saturday's Open House, we're welcoming our neighbors of every age and from across Greater Boston to explore how we think and what we're... read more
April 13, 2011 - 6:42pm By Karen Klinger If cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness, then the volunteers who turned out on sunny day April 9 to clean up portions of Porter Square had every right to feel virtuous. Up and down both sides of Massachusetts Avenue, including the MBTA park and plaza, they removed the detritus of urban life carelessly cast aside, from fast food containers and newspapers to plastic shopping bags to--worst job of all--cigarette butts that had to be painstakingly picked up one by one. It was, to coin a phrase, dirty work but someone had to do it. The question, of course, is why? What is it in the human psyche that makes some people think its OK to toss aside their cigarette butts in public spaces when, presumably, they would never do that on their own property? Is it really that hard to carry a used coffee cup or Metro paper a few yards to a trash bin? Who do the litterers think cleans up what they've left behind? And at what cost to the environment and the taxpayers? First, kudos to the heroes of this story. About four dozen people drawn from the Porter Square Neighbors Association, the Ward 10 Democratic Committee, Lesley University and St. James's Episcopal Church (plus some... read more
April 7, 2011 - 5:06pm The long, snowy winter has left behind a mess of debris and sand, so it's time for some spring cleaning. Please join volunteers from the Porter Square Neighbors Association, together with Ward 10 Democrats, Lesley University and St. James's Episcopal Church for a "Clean Up Porter Square" event April 9 from 10 a.m. to noon. Participants will meet at the Porter Square T Plaza at 10 a.m. and afterwards, Christopher's restaurant will treat everyone to appetizers and coffee. Tags Hardware will donate some broom/dustpan combos and the city will provide gloves and trash bags. If possible, volunteers also are asked to bring their own gloves, brooms and dustpans. This is a good chance to meet neighbors and fellow Cantabrigians, get some exercise and spruce things up now that spring has finally sprung. Good weather is forecast! read more
April 6, 2011 - 5:35pm By Karen Klinger With its eclectic mix of small stores, restaurants, university-owned buildings and Victorian houses, many Cantabrigians consider the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Porter Squares to be the most interesting portion of the city's main thoroughfare. But that doesn't mean it can't be improved, and a report by residents suggesting how that could be done has been embraced by city officials who are holding a series of meetings seeking additional public input. In March, the city sponsored a public round-table discussion of the avenue's problems and some proposed solutions that included consultants and the authors of the report, titled "Massachusetts Avenue, Harvard Square to Porter Square: A Proposal for Sustainable Improvements" (http://www2.cambridgema.gov/cdd/cp/zng/psq_cc/psq_cc_proposal.pdf). The event included an overview of Mass Ave's strengths and weaknesses by Cynthia Smith of Boston's Halvorson Design Partnerships and suggestions from residents that ranged from making it more bike and pedestrian friendly to creating pocket parks, adding crosswalks, planting more trees and adding greenery to the median strip. Future Art Institute of Boston... read more
March 25, 2011 - 6:57pm By Karen Klinger For a man who has faced a seemingly unending string of problems since he became general manager of the MBTA 12 months ago, Richard Davey comes across as remarkably upbeat. "It is a pretty exhilarating experience to know that 1.3 million people count on us every day" to get where they need to go, Davey told an audience gathered at an event sponsored by the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston March 24 at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He may feel exhilarated, but the fact is that Davey faces a nearly Sisyphean task keeping the country's oldest public transit system operating to meet anything near the satisfaction of riders. Burdened by $8.6 billion in debt, the agency is facing a $136 million budget deficit in the upcoming 2012 fiscal year. There are an estimated $3 billion in repairs needed, but no funds to carry them out. Current worker pension obligations total $58 million. Of the $1.6 billion annual budget, about one-quarter goes right off the top to servicing the debt (or "paying off our credit card bill," as Davey put it). Richard Davey/Photo: MBTA And that's just the money side of things. Little more than a month after the youthful T chief took... read more
March 15, 2011 - 5:20pm By Karen Klinger The little park next to the Porter Square "T" station in Cambridge has never gone by any commonly used name, and to look at this desolate piece of urban landscape architecture gone wrong, that's understandable. Who would want to lend their name to it? The Cambridge police, who have often been called to deal with incidents involving street people and the homeless who tend to congregate there in warm weather, refer to it as the "pigeon park," for the numerous pigeons sometimes seen looking for handouts. But on a recent day, there wasn't a pigeon in sight, and who could blame them? They may be known derisively as "winged rats," but it's hard to see why any self-respecting city bird would want to hang out in a place that has not only been habitually neglected by its owner--the MBTA--but after a brutal winter has been left in a state that can only be described as derelict. One of this winter's storms knocked down a large tree limb and it's still there, untouched. It has been there so long, in fact, that the downed branches are now entangled with garbage that includes a rusting, bent bicycle wheel. Walk amid the detritus and you'll see trash receptacles overflowing,... read more
March 11, 2011 - 12:19pm By Karen Klinger To many Cambridge residents, they are the first signs of spring. No, not robins or crocuses. Potholes. Those nasty, gaping holes in the road that can wreck the tires and wheel rims of cars and bicycles (and worse, toss cyclists over the handlebars), cause accidents by forcing drivers to swerve around them and often seem to appear and reappear at this time of year with maddening frequency on the same stretches of the same streets. Why do they happen and what can you do about them? The city's Department of Public Works has the answers (most of them, anyway) on its website: http://www.cambridgema.gov/theworks.aspx. And the DPW's headline offers some good news: "Pothole Repairs are Underway." First a little background. The city's pothole primer says these roadway "defects," as it calls them, are often caused by water that manages to seep under the pavement, either through cracks or from the side of the road, making the material under the pavement erode and sink. During winter and early spring, freeze and thaw cycles make the pavement contract and expand and often, crack. Once cracked, the pavement can deteriorate rapidly under the weight of traffic, sometimes making... read more
February 25, 2011 - 4:22pm By Karen Klinger When Melvin Konner started working on his latest book, "The Evolution of Childhood," the oldest of his three children was an infant and he had not long before spent two years conducting groundbreaking research among the hunter-gatherers known as the !Kung San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, forming ideas about the way in which the interaction of genes and environment affects the human experience across cultures and geography. Today, that eldest chid is in her early thirties and Konner's long-awaited, nearly 1,000-page tome has been widely lauded by reviewers as a work of monumental importance. As one commentator put it, his research shows how "you simply must think about our biological past to understand our psychological present." Recently, the anthropologist and neuroscientist returned to Harvard University, where he once taught and received Ph.D. and M.D degrees, to discuss his research and answer questions about issues ranging from the mysteries of a teenager's mind to similarities and differences between children living in the United States and the Kalahari. Anthropoligist Melvin Konner The appearance by Konner, now on the faculty of Emory... read more
February 15, 2011 - 4:56pm By Karen Klinger Answer: It's the size of 10 refrigerators, has a 15-trillion byte memory, is estimated to have cost up to $2 billion and when it plays "Jeopardy!" it is represented on stage by an avatar and uses a mechanical finger to press a buzzer. Question: What is Watson, IBM's supercomputer, battling against the two best human "Jeopardy!" players ever in a much-hyped showdown of man versus machine? The contest drew a large crowd February 14 to an MIT auditorium at one of the universities that has played a key role in a development process that aims to demonstrate a computer's ability to use and understand the kind of "natural language" that is innate in humans, but difficult for even the most advanced electronic device to master. At the end of the first round of a three-night, two-game tournament, Watson was tied with "Jeopardy!'s" all-time top money winner Brad Rutter (earnings of $3.25 million) at $5,000, with Ken Jennings, who won a record 74 games and $2.5 million in 2004-2005, bringing up the rear at $2,000. The games were prerecorded at IBM's research center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., with the results kept secret until the match's conclusion February 16. The winner... read more
February 12, 2011 - 11:36am By Karen Klinger When Americans look back at the events of the spring of 1861, their focus is generally on the start of the Civil War, with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12. But just two days before that happened, something else took place with an enduring impact for the country and especially, for residents of Massachusetts and Cambridge. Because it was on April 10, 1861 that the state approved the charter for a new college to be called the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, known today around the world as just MIT. To mark its sesquicentennial, MIT is celebrating with a variety of events in coming months that include symposia, exhibits, an open house, an arts festival and concerts, many of them open to the public. MIT President Susan Hockfield, the 16th person and first woman to hold the job, recently called the 150th anniversary "a call to action. We can demonstrate to the nation and the world that progress is possible against the great problems of today and tomorrow--energy, climate, water, poverty and disease--through science and technology deeply informed by wise policy and pursued headlong with the can-do culture of MIT." The institute has... read more
February 1, 2011 - 9:12pm By Karen Klinger It's the depths of winter and the snow seems to be unrelenting. You'd like to get outside and do something, but both the spirit and the flesh need some encouragement. Which is exactly what programs sponsored by Green Streets Initiative, a Cambridge-based non-profit organization that promotes alternative modes of transportation, and Harvard University's Center for Wellness aim to provide. Green Streets recently kicked off its 2011 activities with a breakfast gathering at the Holyoke Center in Harvard Square that coincided with the group's January Walk/Ride Day, an event that happens on the last Friday of each month and features activities such as convoys of bicycling commuters and special efforts to encourage children and their parents or caretakers to walk, bike or use some other method of getting to school that does not involve a motor vehicle. On the plaza outside Holyoke a number of like-minded organizations set up tables to promote activities such as car-sharing, a rewards program for using "green" means of transportation and training in schools for kids to learn the rules of the road for bicycling. Inside, volunteers dished out food and passed out literature... read more
January 28, 2011 - 3:14pm By Karen Klinger Give the person who placed the wicker arm chair in the parking spot cleared of snow on Dudley Street in North Cambridge a few points for style. While nowhere near as creative as the (now legendary) bust of Elvis someone used as a space saver in Boston a couple years ago, it was more novel than the proliferating garbage cans, orange traffic cones, folding chairs and (least inventive) old blue recycling bins being used throughout the neighborhood near Russell Field to claim--and retain--spaces on public streets in the wake of the latest storm that has made January 2011 one of the snowiest on record. At least the chair offered any tired pedestrians who happened by a chance to sit down. While South Boston has gained a reputation over the years as the region's undisputed epicenter of post-snow storm space-saving ("I shoveled this out. It's mine. My furniture/bin/etc. marker means 'Don't park here' "), it's a trend that seems to be increasingly evident in Cambridge, much to the displeasure of City Councilor Craig Kelley, for one. "It's wrong, it's bad, it shouldn't happen, and all that. And it's hard for the city to deal with it," Kelley said while attending a breakfast... read more
January 17, 2011 - 8:32pm By Karen Klinger This is when you want to be a kid again. After the first snow storm of 2011 dumped more than a foot of the white stuff on Cambridge, most adults likely looked out and imagined the headaches to come: digging out the sidewalk and the car, the traffic snarls, wondering if workplaces and schools would be open the next day. For kids? "Great! Let's have some fun!" Thanks to cold, clear weather that largely prevented melting, the blizzard turned parts of Cambridge into a winter playground through at least the Martin Luther King holiday, although the forecast was for a warming trend the next day, bringing rain and sleet. At Danehy Park, the city's largest, kids with sleds and a few adults on cross-country skis could be seen zipping down a hill created from decades of dumped garbage. In this mostly flat city at sea level, the 55-acre Danehy is the site of the former city landfill on Sherman Street, which was closed in the 1970's. Thanks to all that refuse, and excavation fill trucked in when the MBTA's Red Line was being extended from Harvard Square to Alewife, it is the highest point in Cambridge. While it could hardly qualify even as a bunny slope at a ski area, the... read more

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