Monthly Archives: June 2010

Nickisch: Go Get ’Em, USA

Published June 26, 2010

A Ghanaian, Americans and a German for Ghana in 2006. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

A Ghanaian, Americans and a German for Ghana in 2006. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

Curt Nickisch, WBUR’s biztech reporter and Revs season ticket holder, has a prediction for today’s can’t lose USA game against Ghana: USA 2, Ghana 0.

For Curt, the game stirs up bitter memories of the last USA-Ghana World Cup match-up, in 2006.

I was at the last World Cup in Germany when Ghana knocked the Yanks out, winning 2-1. The first half in Nuremberg was thrilling, with New England Revolution star Clint Dempsey tying the game when he rocked the ball into the net at my end of the stadium. Those were some of the most intense seconds I’ve ever experienced.

I waited in vain during the second half, for Ghana had retaken the lead on a more-than-questionable penalty, and a frustrated U.S. team seemingly meekly tried to score again. Their World Cup was over.

Here’s why Curt thinks it’ll be different this time: A different U.S. team, a different Ghanaian team, a stronger U.S. goalkeeper and the insatiable quest for revenge. Read Curt’s blog post for the full rundown, where you can also hear his report Saturday morning for the BBC World Service.

Meanwhile, check out this story pitch we received from someone at Global Leadership Adventures about how a Boston kid helped, well, level the playing field for Ghanaians:

We have a student in the Boston area who was part of a group that traveled to Ghana last summer and volunteered in a local school (1st-8th grade). When the GLA students asked the school what they needed in terms of support, the school requested they build a soccer pitch (field) which they did! They had a budget of $200 but managed to level the field by clearing tress. They purchased soccer balls and at the end of the project played a game with the school.

If you need a place to watch the game, Bostonist has a great roundup of football-friendly bars and pubs. Game time is 2:30 p.m. Eastern, ABC.

How Easy Is It To Sniff One's Packets?

Published June 25, 2010

Since writing about the Google data mining case, I’ve been wondering just what kind of information we’re broadcasting into the air — and how easy it is to intercept those bits. I called Richard Smith, a software forensics expert in downtown Boston.

Even if you’re on an open, unsecured Wi-Fi network — say, at a coffeeshop or an airport — your most sensitive data is usually still secure, Smith says. That’s because virtually all e-commerce sites and banks encrypt user names, passwords and secret numbers in the Web browser.

The real danger lurks in your e-mail client, he says. Maybe Outlook on Windows, or Mail on Mac OS. Too often those connections aren’t encrypted, and the latte-sipper across from you could be, erm, sniffing your packets.

“An e-mail address and a password can be the keys to the kingdom,” Smith says. With those two bits of information you could break into virtually any site with a “forgotten password” request.

I remember the old days of Wi-Fi. They called it “wardriving” — cruising through a neighborhood, laptop in hand, looking for open wireless networks and using freely available software to see what you can intercept. I was amazed by how insecure people left their data.

“In general I think a lot of people have gotten the message about Wi-Fi security,” Smith says. Most routers now ship with encrypted passwords set by default. But there is still a lot of unencrypted data floating around out there. One of my neighbors — I don’t know who — runs an Apple wireless network wide open. I could easily use software bundled on my Mac to log on, change the settings, add a password and lock the out the owner. I wouldn’t, but I could. Anyone could.

I suggested doing some wardriving myself as a part of a story to demonstrate this — but Smith said I might be breaking federal wiretapping laws. Never mind that idea.

“Try wiretapping yourself,” he suggested. Two computers, a “hacker” and a lovely assistant, all connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

That’s exactly what I am going to do on Monday, when I meet Smith at Downtown Crossing for a little experiment.

Your Boston Weekend: June 25-27

Published June 25, 2010

With so much going on in Boston every weekend, how does the culture lover choose, or even find, the best of what Beantown has to offer? Let Hubbub do some of the sleuthing for you.

Got barbecue? Phantom Gourmet does, all weekend long. (

Got barbecue? Phantom Gourmet does, all weekend long. (

Oh hey June, where’d you go? We’re officially in the thick (read: thick, muggy air) of summer in Boston, and as they say, if you can’t cool down, then succumb to the heat and have the most fun possible (or that’s what I say, anyway). From celebrating the height of sticky-sweet strawberry season to walking, biking or dancing in the streets, it’s a great weekend to be sweaty in the city. Continue reading

NPR Covers BPD 'Gang' Flier

Published June 24, 2010

NPR’s Tovia Smith reports on the Boston Police Department’s latest tactic to combat gang violence — shame. Earlier this month, I asked whether fliers that look like “wanted” posters might infringe on alleged gang members’ constitutional rights. People I spoke with about the story were outraged that more people weren’t, well, outraged.

From the NPR story:

Bishop Filipe Teixeira, who works with kids in Boston, says the fliers will make those pictured into targets, putting them and others at even greater risk.

“You don’t shame a brother. . . . By shaming me, you make me more angry, more upset and more violent,” Teixeira says.

Teixeira says the fliers also raise questions of due process. They look like “wanted” posters. There are no names — only mug shots — and instructions to call police with any information about the young men who are “known to associate with criminals and gang members.”

But none of the 10 faces an arrest warrant.

“Anytime you have guilt by association as a kind of smear campaign, especially when done by a police department, which has the power of the state behind it, it should raise alarm bells as a matter of civil liberties and fairness,” says Carol Rose, head of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union.

Hubbub archives:

Found: Tilted Boston

Published June 24, 2010

I made a lovely discovery while searching for photographs of the work of Ralph Adams Cram, the neo-Gothic architect who designed BU’s Marsh Chapel and the Bourne and Sagamore bridges. (We’re talking about his legacy today on Radio Boston — after all, his bridges are the gateway to summer for tens of millions of people every year.)

These are images of Boston from above, all taken with tilt-shift lenses, which are normally used to shoot architecture but can be manipulated to capture ethereal, dollhouse-like scenes. Flickr user RawheaD Rex says he captured these images for a yearlong project called “Tilted Boston.” I particularly love the aerial view of the Christian Science Center.

Music for a Tilted Generation

I don’t own any tilt-shift lenses, which can cost thousands of dollars, but I have tried my hand at fake tilt-shifting before. (Check out the Flickr group.) You can try faking it yourself with help from this tutorial or this super-simple automagic Tilt-Shift Maker.

Twitter, Circa 1913

Published June 24, 2010

This edition of The Newtown (Conn.) Bee is dated Jan. 3, 1913.

This edition of The Newtown (Conn.) Bee is dated Jan. 3, 1913.

One hundred years ago, The Newtown Bee, a community newspaper for the town about 20 miles north of Bridgeport, Conn., was way ahead of its time.

Will Smith, our Web developer, discovered a copy of the newspaper dated Jan. 3, 1913. It belonged to his great, great, great grandfather, Botsford H Peet.

In the second column, right on the front page, there they are: trivial status messages — updates no more than a couple hundred characters — about what people are doing.

Tweets. There are even little advertisements, disguised as regular tweets, throughout the list. Promoted Tweets, if you will. Consider this sample:

Miss Louis Bigelow, Warren Yard and George E. Wilson have sleighs bought of A. M. Briscoe & Son.

Mrs R. N. Betts has been prostrated with a hard cold.

Misses Minnie and Elizabeth Sinnott of Hartford are guests of their brother, Rev George T. Sinnott.

Pratt’s poultry food, Pratt’s conditioner for horses and colts, Pratt’s hoof ointment, Pratt’s ointment and Pratt’s cow tonic are remedies to be relied on. Corbett, Crow & Co. sell them.–[Adv.

Miss Anna May Betts, who has been ill with an attack of tonsilitis, is convalescent.

Mrs Daniel Honan has been ill with the grip, under the care of Dr Kiernan.

Another gem in Will’s newfound collection is a Boston almanac, published in 1848 and authored by the “eminent mathematician,” Dr. Wistar. In an article about tuberculosis, the good doctor poses the question, Can pulmonary consumption be cured? The answer is Yes! The cure is in a bottle of Dr. Wistarm’s Balsam of Wild Cherry, which is on sale now at your local druggist.

Google Wants Your Private Streaming Bits

Published June 23, 2010

A Google Street View vehicle in Copenhagen (Christian Johannesen/Flickr)

Massachusetts has joined the legal fray in the ongoing case of Google v. Privacy, this time with regard to those Street View cameras that capture the burning house, the kissing teenagers and, apparently, your e-mail password and other private information. Google admitted to “accidentally” capturing a lot more data than intended.

Attorney General Martha Coakley recently joined with 30 states in investigating the breach, and a Massachusetts company called Galaxy Internet Services is filing a class-action suit.

EPIC, the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, has been on the case from Day 1, having aggregated an unbelievable amount of research on Street View in 30 countries. I talked to privacy activist Marc Rotenberg, the Boston-born executive director of EPIC, about the case.

Was this really “accidental?”

“It’s a difficult question to answer, because a large part of the data collection was clearly purposeful. Google said yes, we intended to collect all the Wi-Fi information. … We weren’t intending to tell anyone. … And along the way, we may have collected more information than we needed. There’s no way you ‘accidentally’ record this kind of data in 30 countries.”

Rotenberg believes Google deliberately misled investigators about the range and amount of private data it collected.

But people left their Wi-Fi routers unencrypted — the data was there for the taking, right?

“In terms of the laws of physics, that’s correct,” Rotenberg said. “People can do that. Just like people can break into your house if they want to, because locks are not impregnable.”

In other words, it’s still illegal, he said. Rotenberg believes Google broke federal wiretapping laws. The company not only intercepted wireless data packets but stored them on hard drives.

“There’s no question that the largest search company in the world, that has pinpoint addresses and mapping functions and detailed personal information, would be able to associate you with a device … which makes the device information personally identifiable.

“From Google’s perspective, there’s no doubt that more information is better. A lot of the privacy battles have been about whether they’ve gone too far.”

A classic case of security versus convenience, I concluded, almost as an aside.

Rotenberg fired back: “I don’t believe in trade-offs. We deserve convenience and security. That’s what these laws are for.” Otherwise, he said, “we’d all have to have lead walls.”

What Is 'Texting,' Anyway?

Published June 23, 2010

Fail. (AP)

Fail. (AP)

We all do it. You and I and everyone else with a cell phone, especially a smart phone, have momentarily compromised our very lives while driving to reply to a text or switch up the iPod. If you say haven’t done it, you’re lying.

Some research shows it’s more dangerous than driving while drunk, because reaction time is slower. Other research shows that’s an exaggeration, but it’s still very dangerous. Even Oprah weighed in with her own experiment. The point is, you’re taking your eyes off the road for, like, five seconds. We know it’s dangerous. But we still do it.

Massachusetts may be late to this party, but the all-but-official texting ban is the most comprehensive I’ve seen anywhere. So maybe the letter of the law — the threat of a $500 fine and license suspension — will get us to stop. Under the state Safe Driving Act, the following would be illegal:

  • Texting while driving
  • Texting while sitting at red lights and stop signs
  • Googling, e-mailing, tweeting, Google Mapping, Shazaming while driving
  • Using the phone at all while driving, if you’re under 18

Under the proposed law, texting is shorthand for “any message that includes a keystroke entry sent between mobile electronic devices.” OK, so I can still talk on the phone while driving. But can I dial a number? How would a cop know that I’m looking up a number to call my buddy, and not sending him a WHERE U AT?

I want your confessions in the comments. Have you had any close calls? Worse, have you or your loved ones been involved in an accident because of distracted driving? We’ll share your confessions as part of a conversation today on Radio Boston.

Update: The bill cleared the Massachusetts House; on to the Senate.