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137 posts categorized "Web/Tech"

August 05, 2011

The Google Is Coming! The Google Is Coming!

GoogleAs Congress and state attorneys general intensify their scrutiny of Google's business practices — as well as how it collects and stores users' private information — the Internet giant is coming to Vermont to offer ... free website design, web hosting and discounted advertising.

Really? Vermont? Why not California? Or, Virginia or Massachusetts — three states that have a helluva lot more businesses and tech-related companies.

Perhaps it's because two of Vermont's top pols are among Google's critics?

Continue reading "The Google Is Coming! The Google Is Coming!" »

August 03, 2011

WTF Was With All That (802) Crap On Facebook?

One of Stephen King's greatest skills as a horror writer is how he uses the misinformation spun in small town rumor mills as a character itself to expose the vulnerability of his subjects' fragile collective subconscious. Then he turns that vulnerability against them, and against us as readers. The scariest things in his books aren't vampires, plagues, ax-wielding writers or killer clowns. The scariest things are regular people and their capacity for evil when presented with mistruths. (OK, Pennywise from "It" was flippin' terrifying. But I digress.)  

Tuesday, Burlingtonites experienced a similar phenomenon, albeit far less sinister, with the first (we think) Fake Burlington Rumor Day on Facebook. Local Facebook users were prompted to update their FB statuses with fake local rumors and tag them with 802 in parentheses. (VT's area code, obviously, but also the day's date, August 2.)

Status updates ranged from inside jokes between friends to "secondhand" info about local businesses closing (or burning down, or being busted for dealing meth) to pregnancies to … well, you name it. On Tuesday, Facebook in the Queen City was turned upside down and inside out. It was as though some great hand reached down and lifted the veneer from the real, and ever-active Burlington rumor mill, exposing its twisted inner workings for all to see. It was a fascinating social experiment. It was frightening theater. For many, especially BTV expats, it was just really confusing. And more often than not, it was downright hilarious.

Continue reading "WTF Was With All That (802) Crap On Facebook?" »

July 21, 2011

An Estranged Son of Westboro's Fred Phelps Wants to Help Drive 'The Bus' to Topeka

250sota-JimLantz What do cult filmmaker Kevin Smith and Burlington playwright James Lantz (pictured) have in common? They're both taking on the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., with their latest projects — and drawing support from estranged members of preacher Fred Phelps' family.

Smith screened his movie Red State — which features a fictional antigay preacher extremely similar to Phelps — in Kansas City. Lantz wants to bring his play The Bus — a drama about teens, religion and small-town homophobia — to the "front steps" of the WBC itself.

Smith has fame capital to invest in his mission. Lantz doesn't — he's raising money on Kickstarter. But he does have the public support of Nate Phelps, who's been estranged from his father and the WBC since he left home at age 18.

Continue reading "An Estranged Son of Westboro's Fred Phelps Wants to Help Drive 'The Bus' to Topeka" »

July 15, 2011

Case Closed: Feds Drop Investigation of Burlington Telecom

Monopoly In a terse, three-sentence statement the U.S. Attorney's office announced today that it was "closing its investigation into possible violations of federal law by Burlington Telecom and related entities and individuals."

In the statement, U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin said the investigation had "produced insufficient evidence to file criminal charges, and therefore the investigation would be closed."

The office offered no further comment.

No surprises here, as Coffin intimated to Seven Days two weeks ago that he might break tradition and make a public announcement if his office wasn't bringing charges. Breaking that traditional code of silence about federal investigations signaled that the feds were likely leaning against prosecution.

Continue reading "Case Closed: Feds Drop Investigation of Burlington Telecom" »

July 06, 2011

Burlington Taxi Drivers Object to Porn Prohibition, City Councilors Say

F-taxi1 It's not every day that one Burlington city councilor tweets another about porn.

But last week, Councilor Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) fired off this titillating tweet to Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Ward 3):

@emmajmsvt how many taxi drivers have pleaded w u to allow them to have porn in cabs? I’m up to 5 #WTF #BTV #BTVCC

Shannon chairs the committee that’s presently rewriting Burlington’s taxi regulation, which, as written, would replace the city's zone pricing system with taxi meters and require licensed cab drivers to follow a host of other rules. Shannon tells Seven Days that numerous cabbies have asked her — in private conversations and at a recent public meeting — to strike the section that forbids them from using or possessing pornography in their taxis while on duty.

Mulvaney-Stanak, who notes that current regulations already prohibit porn, says two cabbies have asked her to change the rule, one of them in a hand-written letter that complained the ban infringed on cabbies' "rights."

Continue reading "Burlington Taxi Drivers Object to Porn Prohibition, City Councilors Say" »

July 02, 2011

Shay Totten Retains Crown, Alice Levitt Named Top Social Foodie on Burlington Social Media Day

Party Burlington's social media mavens came together to celebrate the second annual Social Media Day on Thursday, and Seven Days political columnist Shay Totten was once again heralded as their "social media king." Digital strategist Rich Nadworny, Earl Handy of Handy's Lunch and write-in candidate David Farré of the Burlington Free Press made valiant efforts to unseat the reigning Tweeter, but King Totten wielded his powerful iron fist and cruelly put down the rebellion. Either that, or more people voted for him in the awards contest.

The Social Media Queen crown went to Nicole Ravlin of PMG Public Relations. It was her second straight win, too. Wait, does this mean the local social media community is more like a dictatorship?

Organizers handed out the king and queen awards at a nighttime party at Bluebird Tavern. There were other prizes, too. Shay Totten also took home the award for best print media personality, and Seven Days food writer Alice Levitt was named the top "social foodie." Full results are listed at the end of this post.

Continue reading "Shay Totten Retains Crown, Alice Levitt Named Top Social Foodie on Burlington Social Media Day" »

June 29, 2011

Prosecutor: No Criminal Charges in Burlington Telecom Probe (VIDEO)

* Update below: Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss reaction * 

After a six-month investigation, a top prosecutor announced today he is not filing criminal charges against anyone involved in the high-profile case of Burlington Telecom.

At a morning news conference, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan said he decided not to prosecute city officials for “neglect of duty” as it relates to complying with a key condition in the municipal utility’s state license.

That condition required BT to repay any money it borrowed from the city’s universal checkbook — the so-called “cash pool” — within 60 days. BT ended up borrowing $16.9 million from the cash pool, which to date has not been repaid. Plans to refinance BT’s growing debt fell apart in 2008 when the global financial markets crashed. It wasn't until late September 2009 when the public first learned that BT was in such deep debt.

Donovan said the burden of proof required to bring a "neglect of duty" charge against one or more officials would be too high to guarantee a win at trial. Also, it would cost "tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of the public's money [and] cause greater division with the city and disrupt the governance of the city, all with an uncertain outcome and no possibility of restitution of $17 million."

Even if it was a sure conviction, Donovan notes, anyone found guilty of the crime would spend a maximum of only one year in jail and face a $1000 fine.

Continue reading "Prosecutor: No Criminal Charges in Burlington Telecom Probe (VIDEO)" »

June 28, 2011

Search and e-Seizure: What Police Can and Can't Do In Your Digital Domain

Know-your-rights-privacy The Vermont Supreme Court was back in the national spotlight last week when it heard arguments about how much snooping police can do into our digital drawers in the name of solving crimes.

The case involves a Burlington Police detective's investigation into alleged identity theft in December 2010. In it, Queen City cops asked the court to authorize an extraordinarily broad search and seizure of every digital device in the suspect's house, even those belonging to other people in the home not suspected of any wrongdoing.

As Seven Days reported in its December 8, 2010 cover story, "Digital Apprehensions: High-tech computer crime-fighting has arrive in Vermont — but at what price?", increasingly, Green Mountain law enforcement are relying on digital forensic work to solve major cases, raising a host of privacy issues that have yet to be fully sorted out.

Obviously, our laptops, smart phones and other digital devices contain huge amounts of personal info about ourselves, friends, families and co-workers, some of which is sensitive, confidential and potentially embarrassing enough to wreck our lives and careers (read: former Rep. Anthony Weiner). 

So, how far does the Fourth Amendment extend in protecting you if the government seeks to peruse your iPad? Do you know what to do if the cops show up at your door and want to take a little look-see?

Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Vermont case in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, published a helpful guide on knowing your rights — in the digital domain and your own living room. EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury answers a few common questions.

Continue reading "Search and e-Seizure: What Police Can and Can't Do In Your Digital Domain" »

June 22, 2011

Sanders Stars in Exposé of Conservative Billionaire Koch Brothers (VIDEO)

BernieKoch A new four-minute online film featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is taking aim at a powerful pair of billionaire brothers who the senator claims are bankrolling think tanks and politicians to spread misinformation about Social Security.

In a fast-moving online film titled "Echo Chamber" (embedded below), in which Sanders is the narrator, the independent senator offers a litany of examples in which he claims David and Charles Koch have spent tens of millions of dollars to dupe the American people into believing that Social Security is going bankrupt and needs major changes to survive.

A group of think tanks have received more than $28.4 million in Koch funding and produced more than 300 position papers distorting the purpose and effectiveness of Social Security, according to filmmaker Brave New Foundation.

The film reveals a cottage industry comprised of Koch brothers’ spokespeople, front groups, think tanks, academics and elected officials, which have built a perpetual echo chamber that Sanders argues is transforming what were once "fringe" ideas into popular mainstream public policy arguments.

Those fringe ideas? That the retirement age for Social Security needs to be increased to 70; that Social Security is already bankrupt; and that Social Security, or portions of it, should be privatized and invested in the stock market.

Continue reading "Sanders Stars in Exposé of Conservative Billionaire Koch Brothers (VIDEO)" »

June 20, 2011

An Alternate, Augmented Reality in Woodstock

-3 I've heard a lot lately about augmented reality, one of those brave-new-world-type tech trends people talk about at web conferences. It's basically the ability to create an altered version of reality that's accessible to anyone looking through the lens of a smartphone.

I had my first experience with it on Saturday. I expected that to happen in a big city, maybe Boston or New York. I never would have guessed that I'd encounter my first augmented-reality objects on a walking tour in Woodstock, Vt.

New-media artist and Pace University professor Will Pappenheimer led the tour. That morning, Pappenheimer had placed virtual, 3D, animated objects in various spots around town. At the start of the afternoon excursion, he asked the eight of us who joined him to load the Layars app onto our smartphones. Then he led us to the installation sites, instructed us to turn on our video cameras, and told us where to look.

At each site, we saw an object that seemed to be just part of the scenery. The image above, of the blue flowery thing floating inside the covered bridge, is not Photoshopped — it's a screenshot from 7D deputy web editor Tyler Machado's iPhone.

The tour was part of the inaugural Woodstock Digital Media Festival, an event that aimed to showcase "the most interesting, progressive and accessible work in the world of digital media today." Organizer David McGowan, a media executive who splits his time between Woodstock and London, hopes the festival will become an annual occurrence.

I hope so, too. I was there to moderate a panel discussion on "Digital Vermont." I was initially a little skeptical about the digital art, but every time I would start to head to the car to drive home, something else would pull me back in.

Continue reading "An Alternate, Augmented Reality in Woodstock" »

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