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February 2009

February 16, 2009

The Browser, with Jonathan Butler

I've been diving back in to Twitter the past few days and just discovered The Browser. It's a new local radio show — and podcast — "about the people who bring the world wide web to btv." (That's cool-kid speak for Burlington; BTV is Burlington's three-letter airport code.)

The Browser airs every Wednesday on Burlington's low-power community radio station, The Radiator. It's hosted by Jonathan Butler, the online manager at Vermont Public Radio.

Why did a guy who works for VPR create a radio show on the Radiator? Butler explains in a blog post:

I decided to create this show for lots of reasons. I work in public radio from the online angle but I don’t really know much about making radio programming, so I took on this project to learn more about that — creating audio content, editing, operating a board, promoting — all of it.

I’m also relatively new to Burlington, Vermont. I moved to Vermont from Boston in early 2007 and only moved to downtown Burlington in April 2008. I’m more than a flatlander: I’m a newbie. So, I wanted to use this program as a vehicle to seek out the other web professionals, academics, students, thinkers, dabblers, and hobbyists and find out what’s going on in BTV.

So far, Butler has interviewed Ed Shepard, the Marketing and Design Manager at Small Dog Electronics, and Bradley Holt and Jason Pelletier of Found Line, a Burlington-based integrated marketing services firm that has done some work for VPR.

Holt and Pelletier talk a lot about usability and open source software. In his interview, Shepard discusses internet marketing — how he uses blogs, newsletters and social media tools.

Here are a few excerpts from his exchange with Butler about Twitter:

Shepard: "Twitter is great. First of all, when I first heard about Twitter a couple of years ago, I thought it was unbelievably corny... Twitter is like a microblogging platform, where you can post very short updates about what you're doing, a news story you've heard about, something that is interesting that is on your mind."

Butler: "It's like your facebook status as a blog, basically."

Shepard: "Exactly." ...

Shepard: "It's fascinating, when you follow interesting people on Twitter, since they're interesting people, you're actually getting interesting updates, you know? And so I find that the diversity of information that I'm bringing in through Twitter is much greater than just, you know, reading a news website, and so forth, or reading other personal blogs."

If this is the kind of conversation that floats your boat, check out The Browser on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. on 105.9 WOMM-LP, The Radiator. Catch the livestream at The Radiator website. I'm looking forward to hearing more.

UPDATE: Via Twitter, Jonathan Butler informs me that this week's guest is David Gibson of Propeller Media Works.

WCAX Nominated for GLAAD Award

Congratulations to Darren Perron and the rest of the team at WCAX television on their GLAAD media award nomination. GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, hands out annual awards to those members of the media and entertainment worlds who demonstrate "fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and issues that affect their lives."

Perron and crew are nominated in the Outstanding TV Journalism category for Becoming — a 3-part series discussing Vermont's transgender community. Perhaps the coolest thing about the nomination is that WCAX is the only local station nominated — they'll be up against the likes of PBS, CNN and Oprah. Not bad, eh?

The awards will be handed out on March 28 in New York City. You can read more about the nomination and check out Becoming here.

Champlain Leased Eagles Club for $1

Eagles club Champlain College leased the former Eagles Club to the Committee on Temporary Shelter for $1, according to COTS Executive Director Rita Markley.

As the Burlington Free Press noted yesterday, employees from local businesses J.A. Morrissey Inc. and Duncan-Wisniewski Architecture are converting the downtown social club, which sits on the corner of Maple and St. Paul Streets, into temporary apartments. Markley tells Seven Days that Cummings Electric, New England Air Systems, Curtis Lumber, and workers from Recyle North's YouthBuild program are also donating time and, in some cases, materials.

In a phone interview Saturday, Markley said that 12 to 16 single individuals will live on the building's first floor, and that 10 families will live on the second floor. Tenants will pay COTS 30 percent of their disposable incomes. COTS will hold the money and give it back later as a way to encourage responsible money management.

Markley said the new homeless shelter serves an acute need. That's because some of her would-be clients are staying in state-subsidized motels and unheated garages. She added that COTS intends to lease the former Eagles Club until Champlain's building permits are approved in "two or three years."

February 13, 2009

Vermont Teddy Bear Company Catches Flack on Twitter

In this week's Seven Days, I interviewed Pam Fay, a "bear assembler" at Vermont Teddy Bear Company headquarters in Shelburne. Fay was working hard, seeing as Valentine's Day is Vermont Teddy's biggest holiday.

Returning to the Seven Days office after my interview, I discovered that several users of Twitter, a popular online messaging service, were complaining about the content and tone of Vermont Teddy Bear's new Valentine's Day commercials.

"Are Vermont Teddy Bear TV ads as offensive to everyone else as they are to me?" asked Adam Mordecai, a Twitterite from Boulder, Colorado. "Besides the sexism, the pathetic acting makes me stroke out."

"Vermont bear company: your commercials are frightening. do grown women really squeal with glee over teddy bears?" added Jinni Prokopy of Chicago. "What am i missing?"

About 12 hours ago, Vermont tweeter Morgan Brown summed up a week's worth of mostly negative comments: "Moral of story: what's good for Vermont Teddy Bear, may not be so good for Vermont, particularly the brand."

Wendy Duval, PR & Communications Manager for Vermont Teddy, declined to comment for this blog post.

Online Petition Supports Leahy's Truth Commission - UPDATED

Leave it to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) — often dubbed the Cyber Senator for his embrace of web technology to reach out to constituents — to use the Internet as a way to champion a pet cause.

On Monday Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, floated the idea of creating a Truth Commission to investigate the constitutional digressions of the Bush Administration — from warrantless wiretapping to extraordinary rendition.


The idea received a cool reception from Pres. Barack Obama, who said during a primetime press conference that he's more interested in looking forward than looking back. But, if anyone is found to have violated the law, they would be prosecuted.

On Tuesday, Leahy talked directly to White House staff about the idea, according to the Huffington Post.

We'll see how that pans out.

Anyway, Leahy sent a message out to members of his Facebook group urging them to sign an online petition urging Congress to create a Truth Commission. So far, more than 17,500 people have signed on.

Here are Sen. Leahy's comments:

"We have just emerged from a time when White House officials often acted as if they were above the law. That was wrong and must be fully exposed so it never happens again.

That is why I proposed the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate abuses during the Bush-Cheney Administration. These abuses may include the use of torture, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and executive override of laws.

During the past several years, this country has been divided as deeply as it has been at any time in our history since the Civil War. It has made our government less productive and our society less civil. In this week when we begin commemorating the Lincoln bicentennial, there is need, again, "to bind up the nation's wounds." President Lincoln urged that course in his second inaugural address some seven score and four years ago.

Rather than vengeance, we need a fair-minded pursuit of what actually happened. The best way to move forward is getting to the truth, finding out what happened, so we can make sure it does not happen again."

Continue reading "Online Petition Supports Leahy's Truth Commission - UPDATED" »

COTS Rents the Former Eagles Club

Eagles club Remember last summer, when Champlain College bought the Eagles' Club in Burlington?

The college now says it has leased the building to the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS).

Last Spring, Champlain was publicly defending plans to purchase the building and replace it with apartments for 200 college students. A few months after purchasing the Eagles Club, the college made headlines while arranging to purchase the Ethan Allen Club on College Street. Both purchases are part of Champlain's plan to build new downtown housing for 600 students. That's about a quarter of the college's total student population.

Now the former Eagles Club, at 194 St. Paul Street, will become a "boarding house" with up to 40 beds, according to Mary O'Neil, an administrator with the planning and zoning department.

Does that mean it'll be a homeless shelter? And why did Champlain decide to lease the space to COTS? It's hard to say, because Champlain and COTS aren't talking to the press yet.

O'Neil at planning and zoning offered some information. She told Seven Days that her office approved a zoning permit request on January 9. The resulting permit, which was picked up on January 27, grants a "change of use" from "membership club" to "boarding house."

Burlington city ordinance states that a "boarding house" is a place where "rooms are let to individuals for compensation for a period of time greater than thirty days, and where meals may be regularly served in a common dining area." It also notes that "apartment houses" and "dormitories" are not boarding houses.

According to O'Neil, most zoning permits expire in two years, but the Eagles Club permit doesn't have an expiration date. "My understanding is that it's a temporary change of use," she explained. "However, it does not say 'temporary' in the permit."

So is Champlain planning to lease the space for more than two years? Michel George, the college's associate vice president for capital planning and auxiliary services, declined to discuss specifics of the COTS lease agreement. "We have leased the space to COTS," he said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. "[COTS] will be releasing their own statement next week."

Rita Markley, executive director of COTS, did not return multiple phone and email requests for an interview. According to figures she provided Seven Days in September, COTS turned away 42 families this summer, compared with 25 families in the summer of 2007.

Mayor Sexy

Although this video sure is entertaining, I'm still voting for my cat, Bunny.

[Ed. note: Burlington filmmaker Art Bell posted this to Facebook yesterday. Guess it's making the rounds. Anyone else have Burlington mayoral propaganda videos to share?]

February 12, 2009

Cocky Cookies

IMG_2271 Today I stopped by Nunyuns in the Old North End of Burlington and picked up a half dozen "nudies." The person-shaped cookies boast bold colored hair and don't try to hide their, um, assets.

The cookies will be available through Valentine's Day — or until they sell out — so get 'em soon!

How do the Nunyuns owners keep folks from being offended by the quirky confections? A sign on the door warns innocent eaters that there are naked pastries on the premises.

Fernando Pagés on Green Building

Pages photo This week's Seven Days features a story about Fernando Pagés, an award-winning home builder from Nebraska who writes regularly about design and construction. Pagés is the keynote speaker at the Better Buildings by Design Conference at the Burlington Sheraton, a two-day event that ends tonight.

Seeing as my interview with Pagés was so interesting (to me, at least), I'm excerpting some of it here:

SEVEN DAYS: The U.S. Green Building Council reports that 70 percent of home buyers are more inclined to buy a green home in a recession, and that almost a third of the people who bought green homes in 2008 earn less than $50,000 per year. What explains that?
FERNANDO PAGÉS: First of all, there's a lot of interest now in doing everything in general low-cost, particularly in housing, because of the crisis we're in ... But for the most part, "green building" has been approached as things you add to the house or the building, and that's why green building has [traditionally] cost more.
    My approach to green building is what you subtract: I use the other side of the pencil more than the tip in terms of design. In other words, I use the eraser ... When you eliminate things, you're using a little bit more conservative approach, in that you're eliminating the use of natural resources. You're also creating more space in the house. And I don't mean that figuratively, but literally: Creating more space between studs and in structural areas for more insulation and the very materials that create the energy efficiency of the house ...

SD: If you're a homeowner thinking of buying a new house or making efficiency improvements to an existing one, is there anything you might look for from the feds?
FP: Obama has talked about [appropriating $6.2 billion] to weatherize 20 million homes ... I think that's something to watch for. Now, you don't have to have a 100-year-old home to do that; there are a lot of energy savings you can add to a 10- or 20-year-old house just by upping the insulation values and sealing the house better. Builders have only been doing this for a couple of years.
    The other thing is, there were limits on the percentage and the amount of money that the federal government would give you as a tax credit towards energy improvements ... I think that that cap of $3,000 is going to disappear, so that if you end up with a $25,000 energy upgrade on your home, you'll be able to get six or seven thousand dollars, instead of just the three, and that'll make a big difference.

SD: There's a new federal investment tax credit for homeowners who want to install solar panels and solar hot-water heaters. Could that be incorporated in your [affordable housing] paradigm?
FP: Not for the foreseeable future; it's too expensive right now. It could be if there were the right types of subsidies and financing programs. It can be right now if it's done as a community resource. If you have, for example, a small subdivision with 50 homes, and those homes have some green space that could accommodate a photovoltaic array, a wind turbine or two, and a ground-source heat pump loop, you could spread the cost among all those homes and create a homeowners' association to pay the financing for those energy improvements. Suddenly those first buyers are getting energy at a price that's slightly below what they would get if they were buying it off the grid. And the second or third generation may get [the energy] for free.
    Are there less expensive and more expensive ways to to do it? Sure, there are all kinds of things. For example, there's the "solar-powered clothes dryer," which is very effective and one of the oldest technologies in existence. It's called the "clothesline."

February 11, 2009

If You [Heart] Your Indie Bookstores...

Bluemle Josie Leavitt, co-owner of Shelburne's Flying Pig Bookstore, emailed me about a Valentine's Day event called Kids Heart Authors. It's happening at indie booksellers all over New England, and the press release says it was inspired by "a Twitter message from Newton, MA resident and author Mitali Perkins. 'IDEA,' she tweeted. 'Indies partner with authors for a ‘give a signed book’ day, all Kid/YA authors in area show up at stores to sign one afternoon.'"

And so it came to pass. From 10 a.m. to noon this February 14, bookstores will host local authors and — the plan presumably is — sell a lot of signed books.

At the Flying Pig, the author-guests will be Elizabeth Bluemle (co-owner of the store and author of a picture book called Dogs on the Bed); Tanya Lee Stone (who's written a slew of books for kids and teens, including a picture book about Alexander Calder); Kate Messner (author of a Quadricentennial-related YA novel called Champlain and the Silent One — and, yes, she's married to the weather man); and Shannon Gilligan and R. A. Montgomery of the much-loved Choose Your Own Adventure series (based in Vermont, in case you didn't know).

Bear Pond Books in Montpelier and Brown Dog Books in Hinesburg are also participating, so check the event website for their rosters of authors.

While the point of events like this may be to keep kids reading, some of these authors write "young adult" books that are great reads for adults, too-- for instance, Chris Tebbetts' saucy online romantic comedy M or F? (He lives in Hinesburg and will be there Saturday.)

And check out this book — not by a Vermonter, but spotlighted on Bear Pond's website. It's a dystopian tale about an America where resources are running out and have to be distributed via a gladiatorial-type competition. (Why don't publishing companies put out fiction in this vein for an adult market? For whatever reason, the catalogues of YA fiction we get here at the paper are always way better reading than the adult publishing rosters full of knock-off Oprah books. I've got a hunch about how YA fiction is the future of fiction generally, because it doesn't bother with all the annoying little genre niches and the bogus literary/non-literary distinction, but I'm not gonna bore you with it.)

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

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