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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Generator Maker Space Prototyping Face Shields for Hospitals

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2020 at 3:23 PM

Jake Blend showing off one of his prototype face shields - COURTESY OF GENERATOR
  • Courtesy of Generator
  • Jake Blend showing off one of his prototype face shields
Burlington maker space Generator has begun prototyping personal protective equipment for area hospitals in response to nationwide shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of the maker space are currently working on designs for face shields, N95 masks and ventilators — all of which are in short supply as hospitals prepare for an expected hike in patients due to COVID-19.

The face shields — which allow health care professionals to wear a single mask for longer durations — are ready for mass distribution, according to Generator's executive director Meg Hammond. Officials from the University of Vermont Medical Center planned to test out the prototypes Thursday afternoon, she said.

"If we get approval, then we can immediately start going into production," Hammond said.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Vermont Sues 'Dystopian' Facial Recognition App Maker Clearview AI

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2020 at 3:06 PM

Attorney General T.J. Donovan and staff at Tuesday's press conference - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Attorney General T.J. Donovan and staff at Tuesday's press conference
Controversial software-maker Clearview AI, a secretive company whose existence was publicly revealed by the New York Times in January, is facing a legal challenge in Vermont.

The Attorney General's Office filed suit against the face-search company on Tuesday, alleging its practice of scooping up billions of online images to build a facial recognition app violates Vermont's consumer protection statute.

The civil suit is also the first legal test of a provision in the state's data broker law, which was the only one of its kind when passed in 2018.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Burlington, Schurz Communications Announce Investment in Tech Economy

Posted By on Tue, Oct 15, 2019 at 3:03 PM

Mike Loucy (right) and Mayor Miro Weinberger - COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • Courtney Lamdin
  • Mike Loucy (right) and Mayor Miro Weinberger
Burlington Telecom will invest $3 million in the local tech economy over the next 10 years to boost startups and nonprofits in Burlington.

The telecom's general manager, Mike Loucy, made the announcement Tuesday at the kickoff for the fourth annual Innovation Week, a series of events hosted by BTV Ignite that celebrate Burlington’s tech businesses.

“Depending on how well that goes, it could endure past that,” Loucy said at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies office on Main Street. “But that's our commitment out of the box, just to see how it works."

The Community Investment Funds were one of several incentives promised by BT's buyer, Schurz Communications, during contentious negotiations with the city. The Burlington City Council selected Schurz's $30.8 million bid to purchase the city's telecom in 2017, but the sale was only finalized this past March. A group of community activists have sued over the sale, arguing that the terms don't provide the greatest return to taxpayers.
The money will be funneled into two separate pots. The Burlington Telecom Innovation Fund will invest $250,000 a year in a Burlington company in the startup or growth phase, and the STEM & Technical Skill Fund will provide a $50,000 annual grant to a nonprofit or similar organization that promotes technical education and workforce development.

“Even though Burlington Telecom is not a city department anymore, it is continuing to move the community forward in numerous ways,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said. “This is an exciting example of that."

The innovation fund will be disbursed at the direction of an Investment Committee, a group of seven entrepreneurs that was established through the BT sale process. Priority will be given to businesses led by women, people of color and those with disabilities.

“This isn't just the usual suspects getting funded,” Weinberger said. “We'll look back in a decade and really see that this has moved the needle in important ways."

BT will retain some equity in the selected companies in return for its investment, but the committee has not determined what percentage, Loucy said. It will ideally start accepting applications by December, he added.

The BTV Ignite board will open the STEM grant competition on October 15. Applications will be accepted through November 27, according to its website. The award could be split between more than one entity each year; winners should be announced before year’s end, according to BTV Ignite project manager Adam Roof.

The announcement marked Loucy’s first public appearance since he was named BT’s president and general manager in May. He most recently worked at the Vermont Electric Power Company in Rutland for 10 years as a senior manager focusing on business development and VELCO’s fiber optic network, according to a BT press release. He also worked for Unicel and Sprint.

Loucy replaces Stephen Barraclough, who had served as the telecom’s GM since 2010 and is largely credited with improving BT’s financial standing.

Loucy said he’s excited for the community fund rollout, adding BT is committed to helping new businesses grow.

"It will give incentive to new startups that are like, ‘Where can I start right out of the box?’ It doesn’t have to be somebody established,” Loucy said. “That’s really the goal of both of these funds: Have a nice, diverse group.”

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Winooski-Based BioTek to Sell for Nearly $1.2 Billion

Posted By on Thu, Jul 11, 2019 at 8:00 AM

Briar and Adam Alpert at BioTek's Winooski headquarters - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Briar and Adam Alpert at BioTek's Winooski headquarters
The family that founded one of Vermont’s largest tech firms has reached a blockbuster deal to sell it to a publicly traded California company.

Agilent Technologies, a Silicon Valley spinoff of Hewlett-Packard, plans to acquire Winooski-based BioTek Instruments for $1.165 billion this fall, the two companies announced Thursday morning.

The late Norman Alpert, a University of Vermont professor of physiology and biophysics, founded BioTek in a Charlotte garage in 1968.

“We have accomplished extraordinary things,” said Alpert's son, BioTek president and chief executive officer Briar Alpert. “I think we got to a point where, to make the next step — to really become a true, global leader — we needed to partner with someone who had a reach and a scale … to take BioTek to the next level.”

A BioTek device at the company's Winooski headquarters - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • A BioTek device at the company's Winooski headquarters
The Vermont company, which designs and manufactures life science instrumentation used in research and medical settings, had revenues of $162 million in 2018 and expects to grow by 10 percent this year, it said in a statement. BioTek employs 500 people worldwide, 300 of whom work out of its Tigan Street headquarters in Winooski.

Representatives of both companies said the deal would not imperil Vermont jobs.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Software Firm Serving Vermont Towns Penalized for Security Problems

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2019 at 6:17 PM

  • David Junkin
A firm whose software is used by all Vermont cities and towns will pay the state $30,000 to settle allegations that it failed to safeguard sensitive data.

Software from the New England Municipal Resource Center, based in Fairfax, had left taxpayers' bank information and municipal employees' Social Security numbers exposed and vulnerable to theft for years, a Vermont technology consultant told Seven Days in February. Municipalities use the firm's products to compile grand lists, track accounts payable and receivable, maintain general ledgers, and administer property taxes, among other tasks.

South Burlington-based IT firm simpleroute first reported the bugs to NEMRC and then disclosed them publicly on its website. The findings raised questions about whether municipalities could safeguard data.
The Attorney General's Office said in a press release Thursday that it brought in a team of security experts from Champlain College after learning of the problems. In about an hour, they were able to crack an algorithm that the software used to encode sensitive data.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Schurz Communications Seals Burlington Telecom Deal

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2019 at 4:40 PM

Mayor Miro Weinberger - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger
It's official: Schurz Communications has finalized its purchase of Burlington Telecom by signing paperwork and paying $30.8 million.

Mayor Miro Weinberger announced the deal at a press conference in his office on Wednesday afternoon, calling it "progress far better than was thought possible seven years ago." Schurz representatives did not appear at the press conference, though the company did have officials in Burlington on Wednesday, according to the mayor.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Fire Consumes a Tesla Model X on Iced-Over Shelburne Bay

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 at 10:56 PM

The burned Tesla Model X - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • The burned Tesla Model X
Updated at 2:07 p.m. on March 1, 2019.

Out on the ice of Shelburne Bay Thursday, past the fishing shanties and frozen-in-place moorings, a burned-out mass of metal resembled a leftover prop from the set of Mad Max: Fury Road.

It was no prop. But the refuse was, in a sense, futuristic: It was the remnants of a 2019 Tesla Model X that went up in flames Sunday on Lake Champlain.

Shelburne Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet said his department could do little when members responded around 8:15 p.m. that night. The blaze was hundreds of yards from the nearest access point at the Shelburne Bay Boat Ramp and, while the ice was thick, "It's nothing we're gonna throw a 50,000-pound fire truck on," he said.

Ouimet called in the Charlotte Fire Department, which responded with an ATV equipped with a portable pump and hose, but the electric-powered SUV was already beyond saving.

"There was no way we could get anything out there," Ouimet told Seven Days. "As a firefighter, I've never felt so helpless before."

The operator told police and firefighters that he'd been driving in South Burlington when he thought he hit a rock or big piece of ice on the road. The man stopped to check for damage and couldn't see anything, though he thought he smelled something "strange," according to Ouimet.
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • The remains
The driver, whose identity Ouimet did not know, then drove his Tesla onto the bay to go ice fishing. He was out of the car when he heard a hiss, and the $82,000 vehicle went up in flames.

The man had gotten a ride to shore by the time police and firefighters spoke with him, according to Ouimet.

"He seemed ... more in shock than anything," the fire chief said. "He was hoping we could do something, but when we told him it was out of our hands, he was a little distraught."

The U.S. Coast Guard also responded to the scene, according to Ouimet, and the authorities called the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department to report the incident. Ouimet said it'll be the driver's responsibility to get the husk of the car off the ice.

It was still out there Thursday morning, not far from where two ice fishermen had set up. Erick Wallace told Seven Days he'd assumed the burned mass was the remains of some kids' driftwood bonfire. Dave Steele said he'd heard about the car fire and was concerned that pollutants from it would leach into the lake.

The Shelburne police officer leading the probe has spoken with the owner, according to Sgt. Josh Flore, but the incident remains under investigation. To try to learn the cause of the fire, authorities will need to take a look at the burned shell of the car once it’s removed from the bay.

"There’s a lot that plays into this. When’s the last time you heard of someone driving a Tesla out on the lake?" Flore said. "I think everybody’s trying to figure out what happened. Unfortunately, we won’t have more of an idea until the car’s off the ice."

Flore declined to identify the owner, citing the incomplete report.

"Could the guy have been going ice fishing? Maybe, maybe not — who knows," Flore said. "And we won’t know the answer to that until the investigation is concluded and the officer can make a good, informed decision on the path he’ll take."

The incident has gotten attention online after someone posted about it on the Tesla Motors Club forum. The website Electrek later picked it up, as did Jalopnik and Popular Mechanics.

For good reason. Ouimet said the call was unique for his department.

"It was an interesting situation," he said. "That was a first for us."

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Seven Questions for Nick Floersch of Code for BTV

Posted By on Fri, Oct 12, 2018 at 1:20 PM

Nick Floersch speaking to Code for BTV coders - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Nick Floersch speaking to Code for BTV coders
Monday is the start of Burlington’s third annual Innovation Week. Colleges, nonprofits and companies will host a series of events designed to draw attention to the local tech scene.

This year’s offerings include the Road Pitch finals, in which startups from across the state compete for a $5,000 grand prize, as well as a panel discussion about blockchain technology, the second Vermont Investors Summit and a conference on healthcare innovations for treating substance abuse. Full disclosure: The final event is Seven Days’ 12th Vermont Tech Jam.

Innovation Week begins on Monday night with the first Sector Mash, an arts and tech sector puree featuring three-minute talks from organizers of various events and entities — think Champlain Mini Maker Faire, Big Heavy World, Internet of Things meetup, Vermont Arts Council. It takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. at Generator, Burlington’s community maker space. Nick Floersch is helping put it together.

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

HuffPost: Notorious White Nationalist 'Ricky Vaughn' a Waterbury Native

Posted By on Thu, Apr 5, 2018 at 5:57 PM

A social media profile image of "Ricky Vaughn" - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • A social media profile image of "Ricky Vaughn"
Updated at 9:36 a.m. April 6, 2018, with a statement from the Mackey family.

An infamous white nationalist troll who went by the online moniker "Ricky Vaughn" is a 28-year-old Waterbury native whose father is a prominent Montpelier lobbyist, the Huffington Post reported Thursday.

The man known as Ricky Vaughn, whose online profile grew during the 2016 general election, is actually Douglass Mackey. He graduated from Harwood Union High School and Middlebury College, and now lives in Manhattan, the Huffington Post reported.

His father, Scott Mackey, is a partner at Leonine Public Affairs and served on the Harwood Union School Board.

“We were devastated to learn this week of Doug's beliefs and on-line activities as reported in the Huffington Post," Scott Mackey said in a statement released Friday. "They are antithetical to the values we hold and with which he was raised. We are still trying to understand how he could have done something like this and hope he will find some way to make amends for the harm he has caused.”

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Walters: CoverageCo Floats Comeback Plan That Requires State Assistance

Posted By on Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 5:59 PM

Richard Biby testifying before the Senate Finance Committee as Sen. Randy Brock looks on - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Richard Biby testifying before the Senate Finance Committee as Sen. Randy Brock looks on
The interim chief executive of CoverageCo says the rural wireless network is still alive — and needs a little help from Vermont officials to stay that way.

CoverageCo provides 2G wireless service along 150 miles of rural highway and in 26 small communities, but it's been losing money on basic operations and is carrying an unknown amount of debt. Vermont Public Service Commissioner June Tierney told a House committee last week that CoverageCo would effectively cease operations this past weekend.

It did not, thanks to the intervention of Richard Biby, a former CoverageCo executive and telecommunications engineer who has been hired by the company's investors to lead the firm through what he hopes will be a successful recovery effort.

Biby, who lives in Virginia, has been in Montpelier since Monday, meeting with Gov. Phil Scott, administration officials and key lawmakers, pitching a plan to keep CoverageCo in service while a long-term recovery plan is worked out.

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