Daily Archives: September 10, 2010

Meet The Newsroom

Published September 10, 2010

WBUR’s departing summer intern, Chase Gregory, sketched a portrait of the newsroom to show her gratitude. Can you find me?

Click the image to enlarge. You can view it on our Facebook page to learn who’s who.

The WBUR Newsroom (Chase Gregory)

We’ll miss having you around every day, Chase. Happy Friday, everyone!

Where Are These Animals Coming From?

Published September 10, 2010

Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium (satosphere/Flickr)

Jellyfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium (satosphere/Flickr)

First, a Concord woman discovers she is surrounded by thousands of jellyfish in Walden Pond. Who knew there was such a thing as fresh-water jellyfish? And can someone tell me how they got there? (WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer said she saw one in the pond two weeks ago.)

The Globe explains:

It is not that the tiny jellyfish are rare; after probably hitching a ride to the United States in the late 1800s on Asian water hyacinth or other ornamental plants, the jelly fish are believed to have spread to lakes and ponds throughout the country because of activities of fishermen and waterfowl.

But because the tiny jellies can lie in a dormant state for years — perhaps decades — and bloom en masse suddenly before disappearing just as quickly, people rarely come across them or do not know what they are looking at when they do.

Alligator sign reading "Do not feed or molest." (Dennis Sitarevich/Flickr)

(Dennis Sitarevich/Flickr)

The jellies have never been spotted at Walden Pond before.

On the same day, we get word that a canoeist spotted an alligator on the Charles River in Beverly. How did an alligator get there?

A quick Google search turns up this AP story from late last month:

Gators Found In Northern US Are Most Likely Abandoned Or Escaped Pets

Experts say it’s not the latest sign of global warming. Instead the creatures almost certainly were pets that escaped or were dumped by their owners.

“People buy them as pets and then they get too big and at some point they decide they just can’t deal with it,” said Kent Vliet, an alligator expert from the University of Florida who tracks media reports about the reptiles.

In the past three years, he said, there have been at least 100 instances of alligators showing up in more than 15 states where they’re not native. North Carolina is the farthest north that alligators are found naturally, Vliet said.

Let’s not forget about the alligator crossing the road in Brockton, wearing a spiked collar and dragging a broken leash.

People, if you can’t keep a pet anymore — especially if it eats live animals for dinner — please don’t set it free. Though I’m not sure where you would take an alligator.

PS: For a daily dose of funny and occasionally heartbreaking pet news, follow the Animal Rescue League of Boston (@ARLBoston) on Twitter.

Would You Put Your Kid In An Online School?

Published September 10, 2010

I tried an online class once. Never did it again. Too easy to, well, skip class.

A baby interacts with another baby using a laptop and a video camera. (Tyron Francis/Flickr)

Yo, you wanna go to the virtual prom with me? (Tyron Francis/Flickr)

That was virtual college, though. Would you put your child in front of a computer screen for virtual first grade?

That is now an option for students in the Greenfield public school system. It’s called the Massachusetts Virtual Academy, and we’re discussing it today at 3 p.m. on Radio Boston.

Enrollment is open to any child in the state for K-8. Only Greenfield residents can “attend” the online high school. The academy’s FAQ covers some of the obvious questions, such as:

  • How much time do students spend on the computer? (20-30 percent of the time)
  • How do students interact socially? (students are invited to frequent outings)
  • Will this program intrude into my home? (no home visits required)

The program is meant for the super-gifted and for kids with severe emotional problems.

As I have written here before, I was bullied relentlessly, particularly after I made the excruciating transition from a private Lutheran school to an inner-city public school in sixth grade. I considered home school for a time. But I’m so glad that didn’t happen.

I am curious to know what you all think. Should kids just “work it out” alongside their peers on the playground? Or is virtual school a godsend for kids with serious developmental troubles or disabilities?

On Radio Boston, we’re talking with a parent whose 8-year-old and 10-year-old will be “attending” the new virtual school.

Google Trike Comes To Faneuil Hall

Published September 10, 2010

Daniel Ratner, a senior mechnical engineer, rides his invention, the Street View tricycle. (Courtesy of Google)

Daniel Ratner, a senior mechnical engineer at Google, rides his invention, the Street View tricycle. (Courtesy of Google)

There’s something kind of creepy about a Google Street View car driving down your block and snapping pictures of your house. Citing privacy concerns, some communities have tried to ban the nosy vehicles. Consider this Times of London story: Village mob thwarts Google Street View car.

But put a 360-degree camera on a tricycle, and suddenly it’s… charming.

“A lot of people right away go, Oh, wow, Google Street View, that’s how you guys do it? Wow, how cool, can I ride it?”

Daniel Ratner, a senior mechanical engineer at Google, invented the Street View tricycle to cover the places a car can’t reach. He has pedaled through Legoland California, LA’s Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica Pier.

“Very, very often we get asked if we have ice cream,” he told me. “All the time. Really, all the time. Poeple ask, adults and kids ask if we happen to have ice cream.” (They don’t.)

At the moment, this is the closest you can get to Faneuil Hall on Google Street View.

At the moment, this is the closest you can get to Faneuil Hall on Google Street View.

Today, by popular demand, the trike comes to Faneuil Hall Marketplace. (Street view can get you nearby, but not really inside the promenade.)

A few months ago, the company announced that some 20,000 Internet users voted for the trike to visit the marketplace over the Navy Pier in Chicago or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Imagine: Anyone, anywhere will be able to peruse the chowdah stands and merchandise shops once frequented by our founding fathers.

(A note to the privacy-sensitive: Faneuil Hall invited the trike cam. And Google’s face-blurring algorithm will work there, too.)

Ratner doesn’t ride the Google trike anymore — the company hires “drivers” for that — but he has fond memories of his heavy and awkward invention.

“I don’t know know if you’ve ever been on a trike of any kind, but they are goofy,” he said. “On, bikes whether we know it or not, when you go to turn you lean. … When you’re on a trike you can’t lean.” Once his brain adapted, Ratner said, he was flying up mountain bike trails.

A "Street View" of Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, British Columbia.

Only a Google snowmobile could capture this.

Ratner seems to embody his company’s desire to capture and share everything. His other invention, by the way, is a Street View snowmobile. He is proud of the stunning imagery at Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, British Columbia. (The little stick man wears skis!) His team hopes to capture the South Pole.

Of course, that voyeuristic ambition gets Google in trouble. Today the Boston Herald interviews a Newton lawyer who is suing the company for collecting private data from home Wi-Fi networks with its Street View cars. The lawyer says it’s “galling” for Google to be rolling into Boston again.

But Ratner is a nerd, not a policy guy. He invents stuff. I asked him for details of his next top-secret project.

“I hope you get back in touch with us in the coming months,” he said.

I offered to go off the record.

Please come back and talk to us in, like, six months.”

Update: I talked about this on Radio Boston, and intern Huw Roberts put together a great slideshow!

Related Stories:

Friday Morning: Brady, Brady, Other Stuff

Published September 10, 2010

What’s news in Boston on a — how the heck is it Friday already? — morning:

Tom Brady Signs $72 Million, 4-Year Contract

That average annual value of $18 million makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history in terms of average salary, though that could be short-lived once Peyton Manning signs his new deal with Indianapolis. (Globe)

Driver In Brady Crash Has Long Record As Scofflaw

The Brockton driver who allegedly blew a red light and caused a scary wreck involving Patriots hero Tom Brady is a chronic scofflaw with a six-page roadway rap sheet littered with accidents, license suspensions and other violations, records show. (Herald)

Also: BPD releases the accident report but does not name those involved.

Enough Already About Tom Brady

Tom Brady early morning T-boning of a minivan in the Back Baycaused a cyber-panic that rivaled US Airways Capt. Sully Sullenberger’s water landing on the Hudson River last year. The hysteria was soooo bad, the QB/QT’s ever-elusive agent, Don Yee, was forced to issue a statement. Talk about DEFCON 9. (The Inside Track)

NOW Wants Paul Levy Gone

Cleared by the state attorney general of misusing funds, Hub hospital honcho Paul Levy is now feeling heat from the nation’s most powerful women’s group, which is demanding that his board sack him over his controversial relationship with a former female subordinate. (Herald)

Harvard Endowment Gains 11%

Harvard University’s endowment climbed 11 percent for the year ended June 30, adding $1.4 billion to the school’s wealth but underperforming other large funds and the stock market. (Globe)

Swimmer Finds Thousands Of Jellyfish In Walden Pond

“It was incredible, amazing,” said Gwen Acton, a Concord resident and pond frequenter. (Wicked Local Concord)

Globe Gets Hyperlocal In 6 Boston Neighborhoods

The six sites launched yesterday cover Allston-Brighton, Jamaica Plain, Back Bay, Dorchester, South Boston, and the South End. More sites for the city are planned in the coming weeks. (Globe)

What stories did I miss?