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October 2009

October 28, 2009

Vermont 3.0 Innovation Jam Round-up

Dancing-firefly I meant to post this yesterday, but it slipped through the cracks as we were putting today's issue to bed.

The Vermont 3.0 Innovation Jam — or "the tech jam," as everyone calls it — drew a ton of people to the Sheraton on Monday. I was inside from 7 a.m. until almost 7 p.m., so I didn't see the parking lot, but I heard it was packed. Seven Days was a sponsor, and an organizer of the event, along with the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Vermont Software Developers' Alliance, the Vermont Departments of Labor and Economic Development, and Comcast.

I took a bunch of blurry photos with my iPhone, including this one, of the dancing firefly from VEIC. He's got a CFL bulb for a tail, and he's shakin' it in this photo. I don't know if it's a he, actually. Maybe there's a woman in there. Who knows.

Highlights of the day, in case you missed it:

Continue reading "Vermont 3.0 Innovation Jam Round-up" »

October 27, 2009

GWAR + costumed dogs = the best Tuesday ever!

IMG_3669 Yesterday, my coworker Dan Bolles mentioned to me in passing that GWAR, the scat, sex and sci-fi-loving shock rock band, would be judging the 14th annual dog Halloween costume contest at Burton on Tuesday. Come again? You mean GWAR, of the 3-foot protruding phalluses and gigantic swinging ball sacs? Yes, the very same. They happened to be in town for a show at Higher Ground Tuesday night. Well, I knew what I was doing on Tuesday afternoon.

Picture at right is GWAR about to devour a Burton employee's pooch.

When I arrived at Burton's flagship store in Burlington, the lobby was packed and three members of GWAR — Oderus Urungus, Balsac the Jaws of Death and Beefcake the Mighty — sat around a table, warming up the crowd before the contest, which served as a fundraiser for Burton's affliate Chill program. I'm not sure how to put into words the absurdity of the scene — hoodied bros and girls with neon wayfarers atop their heads crowding around these all-powerful interplanetary man-beasts who stood about 8 feet tall.

Without one shred of irony, Oderus, the band's lead singer, laid down the judging matrix: a 1 to 10 scale based on creativity, originality and overall costume awesomeness. Special bonus points would be given to owners who dressed like their dogs, or vice versa.

Click here for video.

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Milton scrap metal yard may be finally headed to the shredder

Milton's infamous "Junkyard Dog," aka Gil Rhoades, owner and operator of the unlicensed ABC Metals/Rhoades Salvage yard, is finding his leash getting shorter by the day. This afternoon, the Vermont Attorney General's Office filed a motion for preliminary injunction against Rhoades and his wife, Blanche, asking the court to order them to "immediately cease purchasing, accepting or otherwise receiving any junk, junk motor vehicles, scrap metal" and other refuse that constitutes the meat and 'taters of their business. Seems the state may have finally figured out a way — sort of — to deal with the scrappy junkyard dealer who's repeatedly and flagrantly ignored court orders and flouted the law for years by operating without a license for well over a decade.

Today's request for injunctive relief comes just two weeks after a Chittenden Superior Court upheld the Milton Selectboard's decision to deny Rhoades a certificate of approved location, the first step in obtaining a state license. (Rhoades has vowed to appeal that decision to the Vermont Supreme Court.) At issue for the town, among other things, is a tire pile on Rhoades' property so massive and potentially hazardous that, according to Milton's fire chief, if it ever caught fire, there wouldn't be a fire department in the state that could put it out.

Continue reading "Milton scrap metal yard may be finally headed to the shredder" »

After Lengthy, Contentious Debate, Council Votes to Put CAO on Leave

Kiss leo Perhaps it was sitting through five hours of contentious debate at the Burlington City Council last night, but nonetheless I think I can say with all due respect: Good political theater doesn't make for good government.

After hours of at times spirited and contentious debate, the Burlington City Council voted 8-6 early Tuesday morning urging Mayor Bob Kiss to place his top aide, Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold, on paid leave.

The council knows, as does the mayor and CAO (pictured right), that the council's request is not binding. Heck, it's not even allowed. The council doesn't have the power or authority to put a mayoral appointee on leave. Only the mayor can do that. And, it's clear Kiss has no intention of putting Leopold on leave.

"This is purely about politics," said Kiss.

He may be onto something. The vote broke down largely upon party lines, with Democrats leading the charge. In the week leading up to last night's vote, a number of councilors stepped forward asking Kiss to put Leopold on some form of leave — either paid or unpaid.

Voting in favor of the resolution were six Democrats: Ed Adrian (Ward 1); David Berezniak (Ward 2); Nancy Kaplan (Ward 4); Mary Kehoe (Ward 6); Bill Keogh (Ward 5); and Joan Shannon (Ward 5). They were joined by the council's two Republicans: Paul Decelles (Ward 7) and Vince Dober (Ward 7).

Continue reading "After Lengthy, Contentious Debate, Council Votes to Put CAO on Leave" »

Best Bites: Tibet Festival

Tibetan-dumpling It's not every day you can enjoy Tibetan food in Burlington. In fact, unless you have a Tibetan mother cooking for you, there's only one day. This year, it was October 24. Next year, you will have to go, whatever the date.

I had been meaning to head over for the last five years and am thrilled that I finally made it. With a backdrop of "The Spectacular Yak Dance" and other Tibetan performances, I had a killer meal.
Food was available a la carte or as a combo. Wanting to try it all, I went for the latter.

Two varieties of Tibetan dumplings, (known as momos) were piled on my plate: beef and vegetarian. The vegetarian were filled with potatoes and a refreshing smattering of cilantro. Though my new Tibetan friend Tsering said she thought the potatoes, with their samosa-like filling, had more personality, I flipped for the beef. The finely ground meat fairly sparkled with ginger flavor. The juicy bites were slightly sweetened by the presence of microscopic onions. The dough of both varieties was thick and delightfully chewy.

Also included in the $8 combo plate was a choice of beef or veggie fried rice and beef, veggie or chicken chow mein. Don't worry, the Chinese-influenced dishes bore little resemblance to your usual take-out.The fried rice was buttery and rife with the bracing taste of fresh cilantro. A little bit of cinnamon made it even more unique. The chow mein, filled with carrots and yellow peppers, benefited from the addition of some homemade hot sauce — a thick tomato-based concoction with a sprinkling of herbs. The filling meal was the perfect antidote to Saturday's chilly rain. All I can say is I can't wait for mo' momos next year. Sorry.

October 26, 2009

Why Do People Hate Safety? Or, How I Got Heckled on Friday Night

Egghead  Recently, I've been asking myself the question in this post's title. Why do people hate safety? What is so offensive about trying to be safe and not die a bloody, mangled mess? Perhaps I should explain what I'm talking about.

Photo on the right is what happens when you hate safety.

For the past couple months, my girlfriend and I have been volunteering for the Safe Streets Collaborative, a partnership between Local Motion and the Burlington Police Department, as well as other community members and organizations. The point of the collaborative is just like it sounds — to make streets safer for everyone using them. Sounds pretty inoffensive to me. Again, I ask who doesn't like safety.

Our volunteering has taken the form of "intersection intervention," or, as I call it, Bike Light Recon. Basically, that means that we and other bike nerds stand on busy corners at night and flag down cyclists who do not have lights on their bikes. In Burlington, it is required that people have a flashing white light on the front of their bike and at least a reflector in the back. Most people don't know this is a city statute, thus the point of the Bike Light Recon. It's all about Ed-U-Cation.

Also the point of Bike Light Recon: making the streets safer for cars, pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchairs, old people, people who are infirm, dogs, squirrels, etc. But apparently that is offensive to people. I'll explain.

Continue reading "Why Do People Hate Safety? Or, How I Got Heckled on Friday Night " »

October 24, 2009

Burlington City Council Set to Debate Telecom Fixes

Updated at 11:45 a.m., Monday

After a weeks-long sturm und drang over the use of $17 million in city cash to keep Burlington Telecom afloat for more than two years, the city council Monday night will debate at least two resolutions designed to shore up the finances, and public trust, of the fledgling utility.

One, sponsored by Councilor Clarence Davis (P-Ward 3), would: Create an ad hoc committee of at least five councilors to review BT's governance structure and recommend possible changes; charge the finance board with hiring an auditor to review BT's operations and finances, and have the administration present to the council by mid-November refinancing options and other investment strategies for BT.

This first resolution mirrors, in large part, the fixes Mayor Bob Kiss suggested to the council on Tuesday at a special council meeting.

A second resolution, sponsored by four Democrats — City Council President Bill Keogh (Ward 5) and councilors Ed Adrian (Ward 1), David Berezniak (Ward 2) and Nancy Kaplan (Ward 4) — would: Create an ad hoc committee of at least three councilors to prepare a request for proposals to hire an auditor to review BT's operations and finances, and create a separate an ad hoc committee of at least three councilors to prepare a request for proposals to appraise BT's value.

Earlier this month, the city council approved a resolution to allow BT to possibly provide services outside the Queen City as a way to bring in needed cash to complete its network build out within the city. It also asked Mayor Bob Kiss to tell the council how much cash has been loaned to BT from the city's "cash pool". That finance report is due Nov. 16.

At a work session prior to the meeting, councilors will discuss the funding, and hiring, of staff to help the council sift through budget materials, and other information, provided by the administration.

Continue reading "Burlington City Council Set to Debate Telecom Fixes" »

October 23, 2009

Demonstrators Press Sanders, Leahy, Welch on Congo Crisis

Wil Wilcox Does your computer look like this?

Probably not. But that hides the fact that so much blood in spilled on account of a precious mineral used to make computers, cellphones, game consoles and other gadgets we all use.

The mineral coltan is mined is the Democratic Republican of Congo and has fueled a brutal war there that's gone barely mentioned in the U.S. media since 1996. With more than 5 million dead, it may well be the deadliest conflict since World War II. Urgent action is needed to stop the killing, and Vermont's elected officials can play a crucial role.

That was the message Friday at a noontime rally organized by Friends of Congo, a group trying to raise awareness about a conflict that's destroyed a country and uses rape as a weapon of war. A few Congolese refugees joined students from UVM, St. Michael's and Champlain College, who towed wagons full of computer parts smeared with fake blood, on a march down Main Street and up Church Street.

"We're not asking anyone to stop using cellphones and computers," said Kate Bailey, a junior at St. Mike's. "We just want them to be aware that when they go into the Verizon store and buy a cellphone, there's a a connection to what's happening in Congo."

Continue reading "Demonstrators Press Sanders, Leahy, Welch on Congo Crisis" »

Councilors and Citizens Call for Burlington CAO to be Put on Leave

More Burlington city councilors are asking Mayor Bob Kiss to put Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold on leave while an audit is conducted of Burlington Telecom's finances.

As of today, six of the council's 14 members are calling on Kiss to place Leopold on some form of leave — either paid or unpaid — due to his role in loaning $17 million from the city's "cash pool" (i.e. checkbook) to Burlington Telecom.

That loan has accumulated over a period of almost two years, and is in violation of BT's license to do business — its certificate of public good (CPG) — issued by the Public Service Board. Any borrowed money had to be repaid within 60 days.

Leopold has claimed responsibility for making the loan happen, though he remains steadfast in his claim that state and city officials were briefed about BT finances and the use of the "cash pool" financing. However, he admits in hindsight that he should have been more forthright with the council and the board of finance about the violation.

Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1) was the first councilor to call for Leopold's removal. He sent a letter to Kiss on Tuesday before a special city council meeting called by the mayor. At that meeting, the mayor laid out a multi-step plan to clear the air around Burlington Telecom. Councilors also grilled the administration for more than two hours, trying to find out why the administration had failed to tell them, or the city's board of finance, about the violation for more than six months.

Now, five other councilors have joined Adrian's cause: Ward 7 Republicans Vince Dober and Paul Decelles, along with Democrats Nancy Kaplan (Ward 4), Mary Kehoe (Ward 6) and David Berezniak (Ward 2).

Continue reading "Councilors and Citizens Call for Burlington CAO to be Put on Leave" »

October 22, 2009

Quick Guide to Burlington Telecom Controversy

Tonight, the public will finally be asked to sound off on the ongoing controversy regarding Burlington Telecom and its use of $17 million in city funds to keep it afloat.

The City Council called the special meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. inside City Hall's Contois Auditorium.

Here is a quick recap of the BT controversy, along with links to past articles and blog posts tracking this unfolding story.

Continue reading "Quick Guide to Burlington Telecom Controversy" »

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