The Olympics and Boston

Over the past 20 years or so, whenever the topic arose–or something close enough to the topic for me to connect the two–I’ve asserted that tribal infighting, lack of vision, and parochialism would prevent Boston ever from hosting the Olympic Games. Now my prediction is being tested. Boston 2024 is barraged with criticism, observers are calling for the IOC to reject Boston’s candidacy, and Boston’s pretensions at being a world-class city are met with eye-rolling. Shirley Leung’s Globe piece today nails the dilemma.

Boston 2024’s problem? It’s not [John Fish], it’s us . . . At stake is nothing less than Boston’s reputation. So far the world knows we’re great at taking people down, making sure nobody gets too big. Instead we should be showing how a city that pulled off the Democratic National Convention is now emerging as a life sciences capital and undergoing a wholesale makeover of its skyline.

A successful 2024 Olympics should establish Boston’s bona fides as a world city of the 21st century. The Games could provide the motivation to fix the T, improve bridges, roads, and traffic circulation, update aging utility and telecommunications infrastructure, rehabilitate parks and public venues, create jobs, and invite investment. Making all of that happen would not be easy, and of course there are risks it goes off the rails. But does anyone see such necessary improvements happening within the next decade without a huge spur like the Olympic Games? Will Boston have a plausible claim to world-class status if a critical mass of such improvements does not occur?

I understand glass half-empty thinking. That’s how I’m wired. But even I see that everyone needs to get behind Boston 2024.

Half-empty glass

Don’t Enjoin the Messenger

Two weeks ago three students from MIT appeared at DEFCON in Las Vegas to present their successful hack of the Massachusetts Transit Authority’s electronic fare system–the “Charlie Card.” The MBTA went to federal court to enjoin publication of students’ presentation, claiming it would violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The court granted the injunction on August 9, only to lift it yesterday, ruling that the MBTA was not likely to succeed on its CFAA claim. Follow the story’s arc here, here, here, and here–and then read Bruce Schneier’s timely (8/7) essay from The Guardian. Schneier’s piece discusses the successful hack of the London subway’s Oyster smartcard by students from the Netherlands. The Oyster card’s maker, NXP Semiconductors, sued to prevent publication of the hack; it lost. The Oyster card uses the same chip–the “Mifare Classic”–used by Boston and other transit systems. Schneier writes “[t]he security of Mifare Classic is terrible . . . it’s kindergarten cryptography. Anyone with any security experience would be embarrassed to put his name to the design. NXP attempted to deal with this embarrassment by keeping the design secret.” In ruling against NXP the Dutch court said “[d]amage to NXP is not the result of the publication of the article but of the production and sale of a chip that appears to have shortcomings.” (Emphasis supplied)

These two cases follow a familiar pattern: Company A does a crap job designing or delivering a good or service to Company B; someone blows the the whistle on Company A’s mis- or malfeasance; Company B blames the whistleblower for leaking news of flaw instead of blaming Company A for its lousy performance. Here the Dutch court got it right, and the U.S. court is heading in the right direction.