National News

Harvard hangs up its landlines

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 02:00

If you want to disrupt higher education, you’ve gotta look the part.

So when the team at HarvardX,  the university’s online learning initiative, began setting up its new offices in Cambridge, down came the walls and the cubicles, in came the long tables and shared work spaces. And out went the landlines.

Or most of them anyway.

“The space was developed de novo and it was meant to have a kind of start-up feel,” said Michael Patrick Rutter, a spokesman for HarvardX.

Instead of  traditional desk phones, employees at HarvardX use their own cell phones and collect $50 per month from the university to help cover the bills.

As Justin Reich, a 36-year-old researcher at HarvardX, sees it, they’re just embracing the obvious.

“I think it’s more convenient,” he said. “I probably would have just given people my cell phone number anyway.”

The Great Landline Purge started years ago, when colleges began disconnecting dorm-room phones. Americans have also been ditching their relics. About 40 percent of American households were wireless-only at the end of 2013, up from 10 percent in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

When Harvard’s IT department set out a strategic plan in January, one of its main goals was to reduce use of “legacy phone infrastructure.” (Apparently that’s what we’re calling landlines now.)

“The landline system that the university uses is older and rates are increasing,” said Kevin Donovan, a spokesman for Harvard IT.

Donovan says the university isn’t forcing employees to dump their landlines. It’s already happening. And, true to form, Harvard has collected the data to back it up.

The number of calls from Harvard desk phones dropped 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, from more than 6.5 million to fewer than 4 million, according to the IT department.

Which means that most faculty and staff, should their department choose to follow HarvardX’s lead and dispense with office phones, are likely to respond like Reich did — with a shrug and a monthly expense report.

Matching roommates before sparks fly

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 02:00

As the university move-in season gets into full swing, many freshmen will be meeting their roommates for the first time. At the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the housing department is using a service called Room Sync to streamline the process.

Click the media player above to hear Matt Austin, Associate Director for Resident Life at UMass Lowell, in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

The software asks prospective roommates a series of lifestyle questions, allowing them to filter others by majors and other lifestyle preferences. They can then view other freshmen and choose among a list of possible roommates.  

Students can communicate through Facebook accounts, and send roommate requests similar to “friend requests.”

According to Austin, students that don’t use the site request a new roommate 8% of the time, while those who use it and find a match are only 1% likely to change roommates.

“Students that continue with the same roommate throughout the freshman year are more likely to return to housing in their sophomore year, which keeps them more engaged on campus,” says Austin, also citing statistics showing on-campus students receive higher grades.

While Austin admitted that the software may reduce the chances of students living with a roommate markedly different from themselves, he argued that the makeup of the floors and residences as a whole would still provide the opportunity for that cross-pollination of experiences. 

The dangerous trio of twitch, streaming, and swatting

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 01:00

It is arguably just a synchronicity, but I've been thinking about how two Twitch-related events that happened this week are connected.

The big one is, of course, Amazon's $970 million purchase of the live-streaming video game website, which I chatted about with David Gura.

The second is a smaller event: the shutdown of schools and some buildings in Littleton, Colorado. Littleton may sound familiar because it's near Columbine, where the Columbine High School Massacre occurred in 1999. It's a place where you could probably forgive law enforcement for reacting immediately and intensely to a 9-1-1 caller who claimed to have shot two co-workers and to be holding more hostage.

When that call came in Wednesday, it was taken seriously. But it was apparently fake -- an example of something called "swatting." Swatting is when someone with some technical chops calls 9-1-1 and makes it look like the call is coming from a victim's phone or a location in a building where something has gone very wrong, sending large numbers of law enforcement to a place where they're not actually needed. Hilarious, right?

Admittedly the popular -- get this -- video game streamer and Twitch user Jordan Mathewson, a.k.a. "Kootra" did crack a smile when heavily armed officers busted into his office in search of a shooter. Maybe it was because he realized his Twitch viewers were seeing the whole thing via his live webcam. Or maybe he was actually amused by the irony or meta layers of having your first person shooter video game session be interrupted by actual real life rifles. But Mathewson looks nervous more than anything. Here's the video, where officers burst in on the gamer just after he says "I think we're being swatted." 

Police figured out that the call was fake and luckily there were no injuries. But businesses were evacuated, and parents got a message from a nearby school saying their kids were under lockdown because of an "active shooter situation." Law enforcement now think they've found a Twitter account connected with a person who may have made the phone call. 

Swatting, which is apparently on the rise, is not a good prank. It sends heavily armed law enforcement looking for possible armed resistance to a place where there is none. That's insanely wasteful and dangerous. What is interesting about this case is that people were watching someone's live feed as it all happened.

For a cybercriminal, hacker or troll, the promise of a big live audience via a live streaming website like Twitch could be really attractive. And that might be bad news. 

Deal Reached To Sell Market Basket Chain To Ex-CEO

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-27 20:23

The New England supermarket chain that has been in turmoil for weeks over a workers' revolt and customer boycott announced that former CEO Arthur T. Demoulas will buy a majority stake in the business.

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