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February 2009

February 24, 2009

Tweet Meet

DSCF3656 I went to my first tweetup this morning, at the New Moon cafe in Burlington. If you walked into New Moon and wondered why there were a dozen-plus people sitting in a circle around a table covered with little name tags and a plate of yellow candy peeps, well, now you know. It was an early morning tweetup.

What the heck is a tweetup? Basically, it's a meeting of people who use Twitter, a free microblogging service that's been in the news quite a bit lately.

I've been on Twitter since the summer of 2007, and have noticed the number of local users increasing rapidly over the past few months. When I first signed up for Twitter, I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to use it.  After you sign up, you go to your Twitter page, and you see a question: "What are you doing?" Below the question is a blank box. You can type up to 140 characters into that box, ostensibly to answer that question. I dutifully typed my answers every so often, usually I texted them from my cellphone, but I kept asking myself, what's the point?

It wasn't until recently that I figured out that Twitter is most valuable when you use it to have conversations. Duh. It's not just a broadcasting tool — it's something you can use to talk with people, and, more importantly, listen to them.

People don't just use it to say what they're "doing," they use it to share the things that catch their attention — they post about the projects they're  working on, they share photos and news tips, they offer recommendations. And as the number of local users grows, Twitter is turning into a vibrant virtual watercooler for Burlington's tech-savvy set.DSCF3660

Want a more in-depth tutorial? Check out this slideshow. I found it, of course, using Twitter.

I counted 16 people at today's tweetup. It drew a different crowd than the "Twestival" last week at Vermont Pub and Brewery, probably because that group met at 9:30 p.m. at a bar. The twitterers who showed up today were mainly PR folks, and representatives from local businesses and nonprofits. Social media mavens Elaine Young and Gahlord Dewald were also present — would any Vermont new media networking event be complete without them?

 Claudia Renchy Morton, Public Relations Director at Kelliher Samets Volk, organized the event. Lots of KSV people representing there, incidentally. Claudia's Twitter handle is MonkeyHouseMama. What's with the monkeys? Claudia explained that she bought a cabin in Montgomery, Vermont, that is known as "the monkey house." "I just felt like putting out a fun name," she said.

Claudia had us all introduce ourselves, and talk about how we use Twitter. I'm following several of the people in the group, and it was good to meet them in person. I got some good tech tips from them, too, and a few leads on useful Twitter feeds to follow (i.e. conversations to listen in on).

It was also interesting to hear other people describe why they use the service. "I enjoy Twitter because it allows me to be hyperlocal for a change," said JohnCVermont. "Twitter is helping me to understand that there are things going on in Vermont that are just as cool and just as interesting as anywhere else."

DSCF3653Callmelou, whose real name I didn't actually get, also tweets as her dog. Yes, RogerDog is her dog's mini-blog. Here is one of "Roger's" recent tweets: "Whew, running around in the cold really takes it out of me! Time to sack out on @callmelou's lap on the couch, holla!"

"Dogs tweet so much more than people," said Callmelou. Cats tweet, too. And horses. "It's very entertaining," she reported.

Elaine Young explained that her students are using Twitter to connect with experts in the fields they're studying. They're having success contacting people who might otherwise be unreachable for them. "Because of the personal aspect [of Twitter], you can send them a message through Twitter and they'll respond," she said.

Toward the end of the tweetup, Mark Ray (MarkR_VT) added something that I think lots of people are feeling, too. He noted that it can be hard to keep up with the constant stream of information that Twitter generates. "It's frustrating, too, to be honest," he said. True enough.DSCF3658

I find that, with Twitter, as with any new media tool, it's important to set boundaries. You can't always keep up with everything, and you don't always want to. It's important to experiment with tools like Twitter, and play with them, but eventually you need to figure out why you're using it, what you hope to get out of it, and how to integrate it into your work (or your free time, if you're someone who doesn't use Twitter for work). It's not for everyone, but it can be useful.

Want to learn more about who's using Twitter locally? Follow some of these folks, all of whom attended today's tweetup: MonkeyHouseMama, ejyoung67, gahlord, JohnCVermont, markr_vt, callmelou (RogerDog), rnadworny, jstukey, Tursita, BirdDiva, BrewBetterWorld, ladolcevita5, Judyb007 and me, cresmer.

Ron Lewis from Computer Care was also there, but I didn't catch his Twitter feed (UPDATE: he's vtpcwizard). Anybody else that I missed? Please let me know in the comments section, and recommend other local tweeters to follow.

February 23, 2009

Trio of Quail

Winter 2009 104 Given the state of the economy, my boyfriend James and I elected to celebrate Valentine's Day at home. Since I had a six-pack of quail waiting in the freezer, I also chose to give myself the Iron Chef-level challenge of cooking a gourmet meal using only items that we had in the pantry, most purchased from Big Lots and ethnic groceries. Since cooking was done very much on the fly, my measurements are approximate. I started by marinating the Indonesian Quail the night before. Three hours before we were to eat, I started to braise the Red Wine quail. Next I breaded the Lemon-Lavender quail and began the risotto. After that, all hell broke loose. You cannot prepare ahead too much; just do what you can, when you can with this balancing act. I ended up with everything ready at once, and so can you. Here's how:

Indonesian Quail
2 quails
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon mint
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine ingredients and marinate overnight. Heat oven to 375. Cook birds breast side up for 30 minutes. Raise heat to 450 and broil until crisp.

Red wine-cranberry quail
2 quails
1 cup red wine
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup dried cranberries
pinches of thyme, tarragon and Vegeta (Bosnian seasoning, get it at Cafe Mediterano. I often use it instead of salt.)

Heat oven to 275. Sear the quails in a pan or Dutch oven with some olive oil. Remove birds from pan and add red wine. Reduce for a few minutes, then mix in stock, cranberries and spices. Reduce until syrupy. If using a Dutch oven, throw the quails back in. I used a pan and transferred everything to a schlemmertopf (covered clay pot). Braise for 2 hours. If desired, further reduce sauce on stove top in pan or Dutch oven. When crisping the Indonesian quails, toss these guys under the broiler as well.

Lavender-citrus fried quail
2 quails
One part whole wheat flour to one part cornstarch
2 tablespoons Palette lavender-citrus rub (I purchased this at Big Lots for a dollar. Go ahead and combine some dried lavender and lemon zest instead if you prefer, though I would recommend only a tablespoon and a half of the more concentrated mixture.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Canola oil

Heat enough canola oil to cover your birds in a tall pot. The quails are so small that I used a sauce pan. Combine flour mixture and spice and dredge quail thoroughly in it. When the oil is boiling, toss in a quail. Cook 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Apple risotto
1 cup arborio rice
1 small apple
about 6 ounces apple cider
about 10 ounces beef stock
1 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup Parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Chop apple very finely. I choose, for color purposes, not to peel the apple. The texture of the skin gets cooked to nothing, so it should not be a hindrance, but go ahead and peel if you prefer. Cook apples on medium heat with some olive oil until slightly tender. Add rice and saute until the whites become small within the membranes of the rice. Begin adding liquid, just enough to cover the rice each time, stirring constantly. Continue to add liquids, alternating between cider and stock until rice is tender, but slightly al dente. Grate cheese and stir in.

John McCardell on 60 Minutes

Last night, Middlebury College President Emeritus John McCardell appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" in a 13-minute segment on the "drinking age debate." As we reported in October, McCardell, founder of the advocacy nonprofit Choose Responsibility, has angered Mothers Against Drunk Driving by suggesting that the federal drinking age be lowered from 21 to 18 years old.

"Alcohol education is what we need, and that is a very important part of our proposal," he told a "60 Minutes" interviewer. "I don't mean temperance lectures, and I don't mean prohibition, nor do I mean encouragement to drink."

(BIZARRE ADDENDUM: "Song Binging," today's "Urban Word of the Day" from urbandictionary,com, is oddly apropos. It means, "To binge on a song or artist ... The act of repeatedly and obsessively listening to a particular song or artist over a relatively short period of time.")

Wheeler Parents Commit "Random Acts of Art"

IMG_2284 Between March 4 and 13, some Burlington parents will sign their kids up for Vermont's first-ever magnet schools. Both schools are in Burlington's Old North End and traditionally enroll a high percentage of poor students. The schools are the end result of much debate and planning.

According to the Burlington School District website, teachers at the "Academy for Sustainability" at Lawrence Barnes Elementary will build on an existing educational partnership with Shelburne Farms. Teachers at the nearby "Integrated Arts Academy" at H.O. Wheeler Elementary, meanwhile, will explore music, dance, theater and visual arts with educators from the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts and St. Michael's College.

To raise awareness about their soon-to-be magnet, several H.O. Wheeler parents are creating "Random Acts of Art." I saw a few of these "acts" during a recent tour of the school. One, a group of painted CDs hanging in the cafeteria window, shimmered during a parental info session. Out front, a small army of hand-painted pinwheels blew in the breeze.

Megan Munson-Warnken, a mother of two and vocal Wheeler parent, explains that the anonymous artist-parents created the ongoing demonstration in solidarity with Wheeler teachers. "They're doing such great work," she says. "We wanted to support them in that journey by taking some risks ourselves."

El Anatsui

[Ed. Note: Here's another post from Seven Days co-editor Pamela Polston.]

I was bummed Sunday morning to see that the New York Times Style Magazine used "A Stimulus Package" as its headline; we came up with our title, "Stimulus Package," for this week's Sex Survey writeup, well before seeing that (credit to Ken Picard). Oh, well, guess the economy is on everyone's mind.

Not that you could tell from the usual overpriced merchandise in the mag. But buried among the fashionista talk and outré outfits was an article about El Anatsui, the increasingly well-known Ghanaian artist (though he's long lived in Nigeria) who makes spectacular "cloth" wall hangings from discarded, flattened metal liquor caps and other found items. The piece caught my eye because Dartmouth's Hood Museum had an El Anatsui exhibit two years ago entitled "Gawu," featuring several of these works. In fact, the Hood acquired, called "Hover," for its own collection.

I had never heard of this artist before, but I'm glad to know about him now, and also to know that some of his works will be featured at the Museum for African Art in NYC in 2011, when that facility reopens in a new home on upper Fifth Ave. I've visited its current quarters on lower B'way several times — very cool place. You can see an artist's rendering of the new digs here. I learned at this site that the NEA gave the museum $100K to support the El Anatsui retrospective, which is called "When I Last Wrote to You About Africa" — let's hear it for arts funding!

I also learned that, meanwhile, the MAA and Brooklyn's Bric Gallery are cohosting an El Anatsui show of drawings this spring.

What's this got to do with Vermont? Nothing, really, except for those who like to scoot down to NY once in a while and take in some culture we don't have here. Also, El Anatsui's work is related conceptually to that of any number of artists in Vermont and around the U.S. who give new life to debris and recycled materials. For local "green" art, one need look no further than the annual CSWD show, "Creative ReUse," which just closed at Frog Hollow in Burlington. Or central VT artist Janet Van Fleet, who has long made wonderful critters out of found wood and metal bits — see her new blog here.

For powerful artwork that is both creatively recycled and antiwar, check out the new "Combat Paper" show at Burlington's Firehouse Gallery. The opening last Friday was packed, and the Iraq war vets-turned-artists will be holding paper-making workshops on six Saturdays — see schedule here. At the reception, the artists were giving out MREs in their plain brown packages. I snagged some white rice with a bunch of chemical-sounding additives.

February 21, 2009

Skydiver Survives Power Line

[Ed. note: this just in from Seven Days editor Pamela Polston...]

Wow. Today at the Brattleboro Winter Carnival, a Massachusetts skydiver crashed onto a power line, and lived to tell the tale. According to an email we received from Steve Costello at CVPS, the unnamed diver was supposed to land in front of the crowd in Memorial Park. Instead, winds caused him to detour onto the power line at the park's edge. His body came down on one side of the four wires, while his parachute went over the other. As Costello put it, "He somehow threaded the needle between all four and escaped unharmed." Shocking! Er, not.

If only all people who fall from the sky were so lucky.

Oh, and the incident temporarily cut electrical service to 3029 CVPS customers.

Here's a Fox News report from Boston.

February 20, 2009

National Education Blogger Covers Middlebury Biomass Plant

Vermont media outlets are issuing positive reports this week on Middlebury College's new biomass plant. According to a press release on Middlebury's website, the $12 million biomass plant will burn about 20,000 tons of locally-sourced wood chips per year. College administrators expect the glass-encased plant, which sits in the center of campus, to save an annual 1 million gallons of #6 fuel oil and cut 12,500 metric tons of CO2 emissions — about 40 percent of the college's 2006 metric-ton output.

The facility is part of a broader campaign. In 2004, the college's board of trustees resolved to reduce carbon emissions to 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Three years later, Middlebury President Ron Liebowitz announced the college would be a "carbon neutral institution" by 2016, meaning its net CO2 output would drop to zilch. That same year, Grist, a leading environmental news website, ranked Middlebury the second greenest college/university in the world.

Not every reporter is totally smitten. In October 2006, as Middlebury was building its new biomass plant, the Chronicle of Higher Education, a national education magazine, published a short article titled, "Truth in Advertising: Middlebury College's Biomass Plant." In the article, reporter Richard Monastersky suggested that chopping extra wood could "raise the net greenhouse-gas emissions in the area," at least until Middlebury started harvesting from its experimental plot of Willow trees.

"With the current high cost of oil, biomass plants have become popular, especially because utilities can qualify for renewable energy credits when operating them," Monastersky added. "But it is unclear whether biomass is truly sustainable because the wood used in such plants can take many years to grow."

The Burlington Free Press reports today that Middlebury is still "testing the feasibility" of its 9-acre Willow patch.

What's the Chronicle's take on the college's biomass plans?

In a blog post yesterday titled, "Striving for Climate Neutrality, Middlebury College Fires Up Its Biomass Plant," Chronicle reporter Scott Carlson claimed "sustainability advocates and defenders of Middlebury" have had "chips on their shoulders" ever since the Chronicle's 2006 piece. But in spite of that opening salvo, he didn't stoke the flames with any new critiques.

After that, a spokesperson for Colgate University commented that Colgate already burns 20,000 tons of wood chips annually, and that, like Middlebury, the upstate New York institution is hoping to harvest experimental willows.

Burlington VT vs. Huntington WV

ABC's "Nightline" aired a segment last night contrasting Burlington with Huntington, West Virginia. Apparently, we're the healthiest city, and they're the unhealthiest.

So "Nightline" followed a Huntington family and a Burlington family, and highlighted the differences in their shopping, eating and exercising habits. The Burlingtonians stop at City Market, Church Street and the Waterfront.

Check it out.

I'm rooting for these West Virginians, particularly the kid who says he wants to be a hottie. You go, bro.

Downloadable Oscar Ballot

Planning to watch the Academy Awards show Sunday night? Here's a downloadable Oscar ballot, courtesy of WPTZ.

It's basically a checklist, so that you can compete with your friends to see who picks the most winners.

Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Resigns

In an email to state committee members this morning, Vermont's Democratic Party Chairman Ian Carleton announced that he will step down tomorrow after a three-year stint in the post.

Carleton, a former Burlington city councilor, will turn the reins over to vice chairwoman Judy Bevans. Bevans will serve as acting chairwoman until either the party holds a special election or November, when the party is required to choose a new leader.

The party is also without an executive director. An exhaustive search undertaken in December yielded nearly 50 resumés and several in-depth interviews. One candidate — the interim executive director Kristina Althoff — withdrew, and another candidate who was offered the job declined it; he had been offered a more lucrative position elsewhere on the same day.

That minor bump at the end of Carleton's tenure aside, he told his fellow Dems that they have accomplished a lot in three years.

"Looking back over the last three years I am struck by the array of changes, accomplishments and milestones this party has experienced," Carleton wrote. 

He ticked off a few:

• For the first time in decades the party undertook, and completed, a comprehensive, multi-phase revision of its bylaws.
• The party tripled its executive committee and added specific positions to represent the party's political spectrum.
• The party expanded and standardized its endorsement policy so Democrats could support candidates of any political persuasion if the circumstances warranted it. This happened with Bernie Sanders during his 2006 bid for U.S. Senate.
• The party hired its first female executive director ever, Jill Krowinski. [Correction: Carleton was mistaken — Krowinski wasn't the party's first female ED.]
• The party expanded its staff and grassroots organizing under the 50-state strategy of Democratic National Committee Chairman Gov. Howard Dean, and in 2008 was able to lend a hand to Barack Obama's victory by assisting with get-out-the-vote efforts in other states.

The party certainly holds court when it comes to Vermont's elective offices. They hold four of Vermont’s six statewide constitutional offices (governor and lt. governor are the two they have failed to nab), along with both U.S. Senators and the state's lone congressman. In the legislature, Democrats control 95 out of the 150 House seats, and 23 out of 30 Senate seats.

"These accomplishments are evidence of a party that is healthy, self-aware, and versatile. Throughout my time as chair we have often discussed how important it is that we as a party reflect the ethics and principles of the society we wish to promote," Carleton wrote. "Over the past three years I think we have taken some important steps towards that goal."

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

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