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. You follow me on...
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Recently posted by stannenb

January 29, 2015 - 12:31am Boston 2024, the private group organizing to bring the Olympics to the Boston metropolitan area in 2024, released many of its bid documents last week, bowing to public pressure to make their effort more transparent. With these documents, it's possible to assess what part Cambridge will play. Thematically, Cambridge serves as a counterpoint to Boston's historical depth. Olympic organizers note that one can see America's past in Boston historical sites and its future in Cambridge's innovation economy. Cambridge hotels will also serve Olympic visitors, with Cambridge's walkability trumpeted as giving access to MBTA stations. But the real impact lies elsewhere. Magazine Beach Magazine Beach has been chosen as the site for aquatic events and the triathlon. A 2500 seat temporary stadium will be constructed, along with the support infrastructure necessary, for example, a scoreboard and media areas. Construction of the venue would start in March 2024, a test event would be held, follow by the Olympics then the Paralympics. No date is proposed by which Magazine Beach would be returned to community use. The triathlon course would leave Magazine Beach, head down Memorial Drive to Mass Ave,... read more
January 26, 2015 - 10:49am The Cambridge City Council delves into street design tonight, considering a Policy Order sponsored by Councilor Tim Toomey and Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan that requests that the City Manager instruct the Community Development Department (CDD_ to cease consideration of one design option for the planned reconstruction of Pearl Street. If passed, and if City Manager Richard Rossi heeds the request, the CDD would be forced to design Pearl Street for the past, not the future. Cars hold a special place in the Cambridge political economy. Rather than view them as a competing need for limited street real estate and tax dollars, the invocation of “parking" usually comes with the assumption that the temporary storage of private property trumps other equally legitimate public needs. Parking is not only assumed to be a right, but it’s a right that’s expected to be taxpayer funded. For a city that prides itself on environmental consciousness, its continued prioritization of automobiles is a striking blindspot. Parking is a short term need. Car ownership is declining in Cambridge. Transportation network providers – Uber and Lyft – are growing in popularity. Bridj, a company that creates on-demand... read more
January 6, 2015 - 3:39pm A hacker identified by the Twitter handle "@ulzr1z" defaced 15 subdomains of the MIT Media Lab in an apparent commemoration of activist Aaron Swartz. Swartz committed suicide almost two years ago after having been charged with 13 felonies for downloading academic papers from publisher JSTOR using the MIT network. Panel Admin Massachusetts Institute of Technology, #MIT #Hacked Acces to all other subdomain — 0x50776e6564 (@ulzr1z) January 3, 2015 The Media Lab is a curious choice of a target. The Lab has long employed Swartz's father Robert as an intellectual property consultant. The Lab organized a remembrance for Swartz shortly after his death. The Center for Civic Media, a collaboration of the Media Lab and MIT's Comparative Media Studies/Writing program, has held two hackathon's in Swartz's memory. And Civic Media's faculty and staff have been at the forefront of advocating for changes in MIT policy intended to protect student innovators, most recently advocating for MIT's intervention when the New Jersey Attorney-General started an investigation into a student programming project. "ulzr1z" did not immediately respond to a... read more
December 29, 2014 - 1:20pm Side by side in the Boston Globe, the day after Christmas, 2014. 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
December 14, 2014 - 2:42pm The Cambridge City Council will discuss, Monday, a Policy Order introduced by Councilor Leland Cheung that requests the City Manager "initiate a program to deploy body cameras for police." But Cambridge, a city that has rejected fixed surveillance cameras operated by the Police, should think twice before it deploys a new surveillance technology. [Update Dec 15, 2014: Councilor Cheung has withdrawn his order, saying that it was erroneously sent to the City Clerk when it was intended only for his staff to research issues, including the ones raised in this article.] Based on events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, body cameras have a strong emotional appeal. We don't know exactly what happened when Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. But, because of a bystander video, we're able to see how a chokehold, employed by a New York City Police Officer killed Eric Garner, as the officer attempted to arrest him for the crime of selling cigarettes. But, despite the video, Garner is still dead, and accountability for that act remains elusive. The most salient fact of a body camera is that it doesn't actually surveil police officers. Instead, it surveils... read more
December 9, 2014 - 6:25pm The Cambridge City Council voted Monday evening not to cooperate with the process the seeks to bring the Olympics to the Boston area in 2024. Debating a Policy Order offered by Councilors Leland Cheung and Craig Kelley, which would have withheld Cambridge's support for an Olympic bid until there was a public process, Councilor Timothy Toomey called the idea of hosting the Olympics "insane", offered a substitute instructing the City not to expend time and resources on Olympic planning. Referencing a discussion of priorities the Council had earlier in the evening, Toomey didn't see how we could ask the City to focus on its own priorities while a decade-long Olympic plan took shape. Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan said that he attended a private Olympic planning breakfast at MIT and that he was one of five people of color in the room. He said he mainly agreed with a NeighborMedia story outlining five problems with hosting the Olympics and that the planning committee had much work to do with respect to inclusiveness and public participation. Cambridge, he said, could start those discussions. Mayor David Maher said the that "volunteers" planning a Boston Olympic bid were offering just a... read more
December 7, 2014 - 9:55pm In a rare moment of candor, David D'Alessandro, the former John Hancock executive who brought mega-sponsorship to the Boston Marathon, tells us what we need to know about Boston's bid for the 2024 Olympic games: don't believe anything the organizers tell you. Writing an op-ed in the Boston Globe, D'Alessandro advises us to relax because "[t]he details of the bid will change." Of course they will. Olympic bids are developed in haste, with organizers unable to obtain commitments for what they promise. The bid is an aspiration, not a plan, and is subject to ongoing modification as reality sets in. But, as those who've studied the Olympic process have noted, bids are made by groups dominated by private interests who have the most to gain from them. As the bid gets changed by these groups, it's the public, unrepresented in the process, who will get shortchanged. And there's little doubt that hosting the Olympics is a terrible idea that won't end well. Monday, the Cambridge City Council has an opportunity to add its voice to those urging skepticism about a Boston Olympic bid. A Policy Order sponsored by Councilors Leland Cheung and Craig Kelly resolves: That the Council go on record in... read more
December 6, 2014 - 1:48pm Marchers protesting the killings of unarmed African-Americans and the subsequent failure to indict the police officers who killedmade their way through Cambridge Friday evening. The peaceful march disrupted traffic along Mass Ave, as demonstrators, organized by Tufts University students, marched from Davis Square to the Mass Ave bridge, staging die-ins at each major square. As the march approached Central Square, the crowd, initially estimated in the few hundreds, seemed to have grown. Patrons at Central Square bars and restaurants stood outside to join in chants of "Black lives matter" and "This is what democracy looks like" as pedestrians raised their arms in the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture that has come to symbolize these protests. Cambridge Police stopped traffic to clear the way and the marchers lay down, filling the Mass Ave/Prospect Street intersection. This die-in, like the others along the route, lasted 4.5 minutes, symbolizing the 4.5 hours that the body of Michael Brown stayed lay on the street after being shot by Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson.According to the National Journal, the "die-in", a tactic that evolved from a longer history of sit down strikes... read more
November 26, 2014 - 4:13pm Since the original publication of this article: The Cambridge City Council voted not to support a "Boston" Olympic bid. The United States Olympic Committee has chosen Boston to represent the United States bid to host the 2024 games. While the full bid made by Boston 2024 is still not public, more details have been leaked. MIT's Killian Court is the proposed archery venue. MIT is also the proposed host for fencing. The budget is, apparently, $4.4 billion. This is widely regarded as a joke. Similar numbers were projected for the London Olympics whose real cost ended up to be 2-3 times as much. The insurance policy for cost overruns, which was touted by organizers to show they really meant it with a "frugal" Olympics, was revealed to actually cover only $25 million, and only under conditions of breach of contract. John Fish, the construction executive leading the Boston Olympic organization, has recused his company from bidding on any Olympic construction Boston's Mayor, Marty Walsh, has announced a series of public forums about the Olympic bid. No public meetings in any of the other communities involved – Cambridge, Somerville, Lowell, Foxboro – have been announced. The Olympics... read more
November 21, 2014 - 12:09am When Uber, the livery company that promises to be everyone's private driver, introduced itself to Cambridge, its sharp elbows were apparent. CEO Travis Kalanick said Cambridge had "some of the most anticompetitive, corrupt transportation laws in the country." But now Uber, as its grown from scrappy startup to an $18 billion dollar behemoth, is facing questions about its own culture and business practices. When Uber senior executive Emil Michael suggested to Buzzfeed's Ben Smith that Uber might spend "a million dollars" to look into the the personal lives and families of journalists critical of Uber, he thought he was speaking off the record. No one had told Smith that, so he did what any reporter would do, reported the story. According to Smith, Michael was particularly focused on Silicon Valley journalist Sarah Lacy who has written about a culture of "sexism and misogyny" at Uber. She could have added "creepy" to that list. Take a March 2012 blog post from the Uber data team analyzing what they call "Rides of Glory". Uber analyzed their data to identify what they believed were rides to and from sexual encounters the Uber riders came to regret, defined as " a ride between 10pm... read more
November 7, 2014 - 1:00pm Saying that "secret courts with secret decisions are incompatible with American traditions," Microsoft's General Counsel Brad Smith called for the reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court Tuesday. Smith told a Harvard Law School audience that, in order to regain trust in technology companies and US intelligence and law enforcements more transparency was vital and that FISA reform was "paramount" in that effort. The FISA Court, established in 1978, reviews requests for warrants targeting foreign intelligence agents in the United States. The requests and decisions remain secret and the Court's reach has only become apparent after Edward Snowden leaked secret National Security Agency documents to the press. The difficulties a democratic society has in even discussing its intelligence agencies was demonstrated almost immediately in Smith's talk. Asked by moderator Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain about PRISM, a large NSA internet data collection program revealed by Edward Snowden, Smith said that no US official had ever talked to him about something called PRISM, speculating that PRISM was an internal code name and that another name is used to discuss it... read more
October 26, 2014 - 5:04pm Edward Snowden decided to provide classified National Security Administration (NSA) documents to the press when he came to believe that the system of checks and balances envisioned in the US Constitution had irretrievably broken down, he told an audience at the Harvard Law School on Monday. Interviewed via video-conference by Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law and Leadership at the Harvard Law School, Snowden pointed to two specific events that convinced him that whistleblowing, something he described as a last resort, was not only justified, but required. In early 2013, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case called Amnesty et al. v. Clapper which held that the plaintiffs, who included a variety of nonprofit organizations, individuals, and news organizations, had no standing to bring suit against warrantless wiretapping because they could not demonstrate that they had been spied on, let alone harmed, by a program whose details remained secret. In March of that same year, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked under oath by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) "[D]oes the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper... read more
October 18, 2014 - 10:02pm John Giles is a railroad man. Starting out as a locomotive engineer and fireman in his early twenties, he worked his way up through the industry while earning business degrees in college. After retiring from CSX Transportation in 1999, where he was its Vice President of Strategic Planning, Giles became a rail financier, working with private equity companies to invest in struggling railroads and return them to profitability. Railroads that have track where people want to move goods should make money, he believes, and if they don't, they're doing it wrong.John Giles Safety, says Giles, is just good business. While there will always be bumps and bruises, it's possible to run a railroad without injuries. He points to the numerous American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association safety awards won by railroads he's run. You need to embed safety in the culture, he says, make sure people don't take short cuts, and create incentives for safe operation. Make it in everyone's financial interest to follow the rules and you have a self monitoring and correcting system. The real world, however, makes this hard. In an earlier railroad venture, Giles planned what he thought were common... read more
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. Update: The discussion of community water fluoridation in Cambridge will be held from 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM Wednesday, February 4, 2015 in the Citywide Senior Cente, 806 Massachusetts Ave. The panel discussion on fluoridation of the City’s drinking water supply, with an opportunity for public comments and questions, will include: Deborah Klein Walker, Cambridge Board of Health Chair and former Asst. Commissioner Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Dr. Myron Allukian Jr., Harvard professor of public and President Mass. Coalition for Oral Health; Dr. David Brumley, chair of the Duxbury Board of Health and a practicing family practitioner; and Sam Lipson, Director of Environmental Health at the Cambridge Public Health Department. The order was not originally neutral. As submitted by Councilor Nadeem Mazen, the order asked that the City... 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