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11 posts categorized "Technology"

August 27, 2012

Vermont's Fake Twitter Accounts: A Field Guide

Twitter-bird-white-on-blue

You may have heard about @THISISVT, the new Twitter account which will be operated by a different Vermont citizen each week. It was created by the state Department of Tourism in the vein of @Sweden and @NewZealand, but hopefully without the awkward moments. Picking a citizen to temporarily act as the voice of a polity is officially trending.

@THISISVT's goal of representing Vermont through the real voices of Vermonters is a noble one. But you know what's more fun? Fake voices. More specifically, the jokey Twitter accounts that come about through anthropomorphizing the creatures and machines that populate our state. They're a critical part of the Twitter ecosystem, making sure that it can't be taken too seriously in the midst of all the self-promotion and buzzwords. Sure, they're probably a waste of time — but at least they're fun! (Usually.)

Here's a brief guide to the parody accounts that populate our local Twittersphere. Give 'em a follow if you don't already.

(Note: This list does not include Twitter accounts purporting to belong to pets or newborns. Parents, please don’t pretend to be your child on social media.)

Continue reading "Vermont's Fake Twitter Accounts: A Field Guide" »

August 17, 2012

Help Map Burlington's Neighborhoods With New Crowdsourcing Project

Where's the line between the Old North End and New North End? How far does Downtown stretch? How big is the Five Sisters neighborhood?

If you think you know the answers to these questions, your expertise is needed. Burlington cartographer Bill Morris of GeoSprocket created a tool that allows you to draw the Queen City's neighborhoods as you see fit. The results from all the submissions will be aggregated to form a consensus about where the 'hoods are. This project was inspired by a similar undertaking in Boston — check that out here.

What's the point in all this? Well, besides engendering a greater sense of neighborhood pride, it's almost time again to reassess the boundaries of Burlington's seven wards. There's nothing official or binding about this project, but it could help inform redistricting decisions. If you think it's silly to lump Lakeview Terrace and the stretch of North Avenue near Waggy's in with the New North End's Ward 7, now's the time to speak up.

Continue reading "Help Map Burlington's Neighborhoods With New Crowdsourcing Project" »

August 02, 2012

ACLU Asks Police to Disclose How They're Using Data Gathered From VT Drivers

MobileThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Vermont has called on local law enforcement agencies to disclose how they're using, sharing and storing data gathered automatically from passing motorists on Vermont's highways.

This week, the ACLU of Vermont joined affiliates in 34 other states in requesting information on police use of automated license plate readers, or ALPRs. The use of ALPRs in Vermont was first reported in a December 8, 2010 Seven Days cover story, "Digital Apprehensions: High-tech computer crime fighting has arrived in Vermont — but at what price?"

ALPRs are digital devices mounted on patrol cars or stationary objects along roadways, such as telephone poles and highway overpasses, that scan every license plate that enters their fields of view. An ALPR, which is capable of scanning several thousand license plates per hour, is connected to a computer in the patrol car that alerts the officer whenever it gets a "hit." The technology can be used to identify drivers who are runaways, have outstanding warrants, are driving under suspended or revoked licenses, or have recently fled the scene of an accident or crime.

Although ALPRs are still believed to be in limited use in Vermont — as of 2011, only six law enforcement agencies in the state had them — they have been used successfully to fight crime. The St. Albans Police, for example, working with the Vermont Fusion Center in Williston, used one in 2010 to nab a suspect believed to be responsible for a series of armed bank robberies in Franklin County in 2009.

Continue reading "ACLU Asks Police to Disclose How They're Using Data Gathered From VT Drivers" »

June 19, 2012

New Co-Working Space Opens in Montpelier for Vermont's Nomadic Professionals

Tumblr_m53tjnz7vi1rtgcyoo1_500-1In the April 25 issue of Seven Days, we explored how Vermont businesses, from lone freelancers to major employers such as National Life Group, are thinking outside the conventional cubicle ("Spaces To Roam"). We also noted a growing trend: the creation of so-called "professional coworking spaces" — such as Office Squared (O2) in downtown Burlingtion — that serve Vermonters who need a worksspace that's more than a converted bedroom but less than a permanent office suite.

This week I got word that Local 64, a proposed coworking space mentioned in that story, is now up and running on the second floor at 5 State Street, in downtown Montpelier (see photo). Owner Lars Hasselbrad Torres reports that the space, which he describes as "one part hive, another part lounge," already has 21 members, with plenty of room to grow. Local 64 will also host a solo art show opening on Friday, July 6, for art enthusiasts and/or other folks interested in checking out the space and possibly joining as members.

Need more incentive to drop in? O2 founder and owner Jen Mincar has been talking with her own members and Torres about the possibility of creating a "coworking visa" that allows her members to work in Torres' space, and vice versa. So, when O2 members are in Montpelier they can use Local 64 as an auxilliary office where they can check email, make phone calls, meet clients or just work on their laptops. Likewise, when Local 64 members visit the Queen City, they can drop by one of O2's two downtown locations and do the same.

Continue reading "New Co-Working Space Opens in Montpelier for Vermont's Nomadic Professionals" »

June 14, 2012

Shelburne Museum Opens 'Time Machines,' and Not a Moment Too Soon

Flash_Gordon_puzzleAll of the exhibits the Shelburne Museum opened last month are pretty groovy — from vintage snowmobiles to man-stitched quilts to life-size metal elephants — but the one that's arguably the coolest is finally opening this Saturday: "Time Machines: Robots, Rockets and Steampunk."

Along with other members of the media, I got a preview today, and I can vouch for its coolness.

The general idea for "Time Machines," curated by Kory Rogers, is visions of the future ... from the past. And so there is a fantastical replica Time Machine inspired by the H.G. Wells novella and realized, at least on celluloid, in a 1960 movie. There are baby-boomer-nostalgic midcentury toys in the Flash Gordon (see puzzle, right) and Buck Rogers vein. And there are post-Sputnik (1957) items of both Soviet and American origin —from "Star Trek" figures to Apollo 11 memorabilia to Russian posters.

Continue reading "Shelburne Museum Opens 'Time Machines,' and Not a Moment Too Soon" »

May 31, 2012

CCTA Bus Schedule Data Now Available on Google Maps

Google-bus.pngIt's now a little bit easier to take a trip on the bus.

CCTA bus schedule info is now available on Google Transit. That means when you're looking for directions on Google Maps between places serviced by these bus systems, Google shows you a public transit option alongside the drive, walk and bike options.

Try it out! Enter your current address and where you want to go — Google will tell you where and when to pick up the bus, which route (or routes, in the case of transfers) to take, and what time you're expected to arrive at your location. It's important to note that this isn't realtime tracking data, so Google won't tell you where exactly your bus is along its route or if it will be late. But it does make it much easier to figure out how to take the bus efficiently, especially if you're just a casual bus rider. And it works on smartphone versions of Google Maps, too.

It's not just useful in Burlington, either. Live in, say, Waterbury? Google will give you driving or walking directions to the nearest park-and-ride and tell you when to expect a LINK bus there. And if you're traveling from Burlington to Middlebury, Google's directions transition from the CCTA to Addison County's ACTR buses, which are also on Google Transit. Easy-peasy!

Getting the CCTA on Google has been a long process dating back a few years, according to Ross Nizlek,  IT and scheduling specialist for the CCTA. To integrate with Google Maps, Google needs the schedule data in a very specific format, Nizlek explains. The process includes gathering GPS coordinates for every last stop and updating how the agency stores its route data.

Continue reading "CCTA Bus Schedule Data Now Available on Google Maps" »

April 02, 2012

Mike Daisey Returns to the Stage in Burlington

Daisey4An anecdote in "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," the monologue about Apple by Mike Daisey, took on a new resonance on Saturday night. It's the part in which Daisey is in China, planning out his visit to a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen where electronics are built for Apple and other electronics companies. Daisey tells his translator that he's not a businessman — he just plans to pose as one to get into the factory. The translator, Cathy, asks him if he's going to lie. Daisey reples, "Yes, Cathy. I'm going to lie to lots of people."

When Daisey spoke that line at the Flynn Center during his performance, it seemed to hang in the air a little. Not as long as the painfully drawn-out pauses when Ira Glass was eviscerating him on "This American Life," but long enough to let it sink in. I heard a couple audience members chuckle under their breath.

Saturday night marked Daisey's second "Agony and Ecstasy" performance since "This American Life" busted him for inventing and embellishing some details about his trip to Apple's Chinese factories in his ostensibly nonfiction monologue. It was his first in a couple of weeks, since the scandal began to cool down and Daisey had a chance to rethink and rework parts of the monologue.

Sure enough, there were some differences: The guards at the factory gates didn't have guns. Daisey didn't meet a 12-year-old worker. He did not claim that someone saw his iPad turn on and called it "a kind of magic." Daisey did still say that his taxicab came to a stop at a highway exit that ended in midair.

Somewhat surprisingly, Daisey did not address the controversy directly in his monologue. It wasn't until after the show, during a Q&A with Flynn Center executive director John Killacky and UVM Lane Series director Natalie Neuert, that the scandal actually came up — and even then, no one simply said, "Mike got in trouble a few weeks back because he said untrue things on 'This American Life' and Ira Glass really didn't take kindly to it."

Continue reading "Mike Daisey Returns to the Stage in Burlington" »

March 28, 2012

Tax Storm Still Brewing for Vermont Tech Businesses

Local-cloudtaxVermont's tech "geekosystem," as Union Street Media founder and president Ted Adler termed it today, are still rallying to knock down a controversial tax on cloud computing.

I wrote about the debate — which pits the tax department against the state's up-and-coming software and technology industry — for Seven Days in mid-February. It's a complicated issue, as matters of tax law typically are, but the debate boils downs to this: Business leaders are balking at a new interpretation of Vermont tax law that applies a sales and use tax to software in the "cloud." That could include everything from doing your taxes with online software to logging on to an email service.

In 2010, the tax department issued a "technical bulletin" to clarify its interpretation of how cloud computing should be taxed. The department reasoned that software in the cloud wasn't all that different from software that customers used to buy at a store or download to a hard drive — and so they applied the same 6 percent sales tax to these products.

Tech industry advocates take issue on a few fronts. They think the tax could put Vermont at a competitive disadvantage with other states and would hurt small businesses, who increasingly use cloud computing in some form or another. They also take issue with the tax department's approach. The technical bulletin went into effect without any legislative oversight or public discussion. And it also applied to backward-looking audits, so some companies found themselves being penalized for not filing their taxes correctly for the past four years — despite the fact that the interpretation wasn't clarified by the department until 2010. 

These were the complaints that business leaders aired today at a press conference at Dealer.com's Burlington complex.

Continue reading "Tax Storm Still Brewing for Vermont Tech Businesses" »

Pulling the Plug: St. Mike's Goes Offline for Tech Fast

TextingTracking down students and faculty "fasting" from technology this week at Saint Michael's College is easier said than done.

Email? Nope. Cellphones? They're out, too. In a neo-Luddite's take on Lent, the school is encouraging students, faculty and staff to unplug for a few days. This week's "Disconnect to Reconnect" event kicked off Monday night with a screening of "Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier" and continues this week with a panel discussion and three-day technology fast. 

That means 72 hours away from computers, cellphones and video games — think truly wireless.

Anthropology professor Adrie Kusserow is not fasting right now, and did respond to an email request for an interview. She has enforced a similar ban on technology with her students for several years. She goes so far as to collect students' cellphones, which she hoards in a basket until the end of the experiment. Now, she and a group of other professors are taking the experiment campus-wide during a series of events designed to help students reflect on the impacts — good and bad — that digital media has on their lives.

"The degree of technological saturation is changing our consciousness in so many ways," says Kusserow. "Our family lives, our spiritual lives, our relationship to nature, our conceptions of time."

Continue reading "Pulling the Plug: St. Mike's Goes Offline for Tech Fast" »

March 25, 2012

An Interview With Embattled Monologuist Mike Daisey on His Apple Show

DaiseyYou may have heard about Mike Daisey by now. He's the monologuist who's spent the past year and a half performing his new monologue, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," which examines the links among Apple, industrial design and overseas manufacturing. Pieces of the monologue focusing on the harsh working conditions at Apple's Chinese factories were excerpted on "This American Life" earlier this year. It made for an incredibly compelling hour of radio.

And then this happened. Daisey made a repeat apperance on "This American Life," this time to answer to charges that he made a bunch of stuff up about his trip to the factories in China. It was compelling, too — this time in a raw, incredibly uncomfortable way as a Hulking-out Ira Glass deconstructed the lies.

After that show aired, Daisey gave a talk at Georgetown responding to the controversy (transcript here, audio here). He sounded defensive, even angry as he defended the greater impact of his work and condemned the media for focusing on him instead of the factories.

But when I spoke to him a few days later, he seemed contrite, content and ready to move on and fix his mistakes as best he could. It should be fascinating to hear him perform "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" at the Flynn Center on March 31. Will Daisey's tale still resonate emotionally with the audience? Will people still care to listen?

Click here to read the full interview with Mike Daisey.

Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

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