A profile of the person behind the Boston Police Twitter account

HuffPo profiles Cheryl Fiandaca, the bureau chief of public information for the Boston police department, a former attorney and television journalist. The @Boston_Police's "CAPTURED!" tweet was retweeted about 143,000 times. Read the rest

Surowiecki: The right way to crowdsource a manhunt

James Surowiecki in the New Yorker:
After Reddit’s attempt to find the Boston Marathon bombers turned into a major failure (for which Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin publicly apologized Monday), the over-all conclusion seems to be that the whole experiment was misguided from the start, and that the Redditors’ inability to identify the Tsarnaev brothers demonstrates the futility of using an online crowd of amateur sleuths to help with a criminal investigation. Or, as the Times’s Nick Bilton put it, “It looks as if the theory of the ‘wisdom of crowds’ doesn’t apply to terrorist manhunts.” That proposition may be true. But Reddit’s failure isn’t evidence for it.

Read the rest: "Reddit and the Marathon Bombers: The Wise Way to Crowdsource a Manhunt" [newyorker.com] Read the rest

Prediction: success from Boston surveillance in bombing manhunt will lead to more spying everywhere

"The images captured in Boston are validation of a three-year project in St. Louis to link 150 surveillance cameras into a single security system throughout the city’s central corridor, from the riverfront to Forest Park," reports Doug Moore at stltoday.com. This despite a statement by Boston's police chief that facial recognition technology system did not help find the suspects. How much you wanna bet the "surveillance imaging solved this crime" argument will lead to more forceful pushes for expanded surveillance imaging in any number of other American cities? (HT: @kgosztola) Read the rest

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev remembered by Twitter friends as "cool bro, average dude" with whom to "smoke blunts"

Laura Griffin collected some tweets from apparent real-world friends of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev. The post-bombing tweets "from four people who know him, and old conversations they had with him" suggest that @J_tsar was a real Twitter account belonging to the 19-year-old suspect. Read the rest

How technology factored into the Boston bombing investigation

If you read one article on the role science and technology played in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation, make it this one in today's edition of The Washington Post:
Quickly, the authorities secured a warehouse in Boston’s Seaport district and filled the sprawling space: On half of the vast floor, hundreds of pieces of bloody clothes were laid out to dry so they could be examined for forensic clues or flown to FBI labs at Quantico in Prince William County for testing. In the other half of the room, more than a dozen investigators sifted through hundreds of hours of video, looking for people “doing things that are different from what everybody else is doing,” Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said in an interview Saturday.

The work was painstaking and mind-numbing: One agent watched the same segment of video 400 times. The goal was to construct a timeline of images, following possible suspects as they moved along the sidewalks, building a narrative out of a random jumble of pictures from thousands of different phones and cameras.

Read the rest

Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev worked out, slept, partied after Boston Marathon attack

According to his friends, University of Massachusetts sophomore Dzhokhar Tsarnaev worked out, slept in his dowm room, and hung out with fellow students on the same day of the attack on the Boston Marathon, after the bombs went off. One student quoted in the Boston Globe who did not want to be identified said she saw Tsarnaev at a party on Wednesday night attended by some of his soccer team friends.

“He was just relaxed,” she said.

Depending on which acquaintance's quote you read, the 19-year-old either sounds normal or creepy:

Emily DeInnocentis, 23, said Tsarnaev stood out to her because of some odd behavior, like spreading messy string cheese all over her couch, and picking up her cat and carrying it upstairs for no reason.

“We just didn’t invite him over after that. How many people just pick up your cat and go upstairs?” she said.

More: "Bombing suspect attended UMass Dartmouth, prompting school closure; college friend shocked by charge he is Boston Marathon bomber." [The Boston Globe] Read the rest

Thermal video and photos of Boston bombing suspect, hiding in boat

Massachusetts state police released this video shot from their airwing helicopter hovering over a boat where the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect was found.

The secrets of bomb forensics

At the New Yorker, Paige Williams visits forensic chemist Adam B. Hall to talk about the surprising things you can learn about bombs and their makers by looking at the effects they produce — from the type and color of the smoke, to the smell that lingers in the air, to what the "boom" sounds like. I'd take Hall's speculation about the Boston Marathon bombings with a grain of salt (he's making his judgements from low-grade video and isn't part of the investigation), but the process he describes is absolutely fascinating. Read the rest

Why is it so hard to make a phone call in emergency situations?

When bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon on Monday, my Facebook feed was immediately filled with urgent messages. I watched as my friends and family implored their friends and family in Boston to check in, and lamented the fact that nobody could seem to get a solid cell phone connection. Calls were made, but they got dropped. More often, they were never connected to begin with. There was even a rumor circulating that all cell phone service to the city had been switched off at the request of law enforcement.

That rumor turns out to not be true. But it is a fact that, whenever disaster strikes, it becomes difficult to reach the people you care about. Right at the moment when you really need to hear a familiar voice, you often can't. So what gives?

To find out why it's frequently so difficult to successfully place a call during emergencies, I spoke with Brough Turner, an entrepreneur, engineer, and writer who has been been working with phone systems (both wired and wireless) for 25 years. Turner helped me understand how the behind-the-scenes infrastructure of cell phones works, and why that infrastructure gets bogged down when lots of people are suddenly trying to make calls all at once from a single place. He says there are some things that can be done to fix this issue, but, ultimately, it's more complicated than just asking what the technology can and cannot do. In some ways, service failures like this are a price we pay for having a choice and not being subject to a total monopoly. Read the rest

Interview with an expert in improvised explosive devices

At Scientific American, Larry Greenemeier has a piece about the science behind the three (possibly four) improvised explosive devices that killed at least three people yesterday in Boston. It might be easy to build bombs like these, but their DIY construction techniques also leave clues that help investigators find the people responsible. Read the rest