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Feature Stories
Squeezing the Craft-Alcohol Industry: How Archaic Booze Regulations Hinder Small Producers PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 10 July 2014 05:39

Steve Zuidema, the co-owner and brewmaster at Davenport’s Front Street Brewery, called the byzantine state laws regulating alcohol distribution “laughable now. But getting them changed is going to take some lobbying and some money, because I think the distributors have a great lobby.”

He was talking about the Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association, and for proof of that organization’s influence in the state legislature, look at the situation faced by the Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire.

If you’re wondering what beer distributors have to do with producers of distilled spirits, you’re on the right track.

 
Cops and Cons: Dominic Velando and Jarrett Crippen at the QC Planet Comic & Arts Convention PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 02 July 2014 06:00

Jarrett Crippen as the DefuserIf you’re the parent of a child who’s a voracious consumer of comic books, don’t make the mistake of worrying that he or she won’t grow up to be anything. That child could, after all, grow up to be an artist. Or an educator. Or a detective. Or ... a superhero.

At least, those are a few of the career titles held by Dominic Velando and Jarrett Crippen, two adult comic-book lovers who will be presenting workshops at this year’s QC Planet Comic & Arts Convention on July 13. The fifth-annual event will, of course, boast dozens of comic-book, action-figure, and graphic-art vendors with publications and collectibles for sale, plus adult and children costume contests and a silent auction held throughout the day. But it will also feature educational presentations by Velando and Crippen, who, in a pair of recent interviews, shared some thoughts on public art, eccentric teachers, Stan Lee, and the perils of aging into one’s Spandex.

 
Fostering Failure – in a Good Way: The Putnam’s New Science Center Opens April 12 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 03 April 2014 05:03

Socibot and the infininty mirror. Photo by AJ Brown Imaging.“Look into my eyes and keep still,” Socibot says to me in its pleasant but mechanical voice. Before I can do anything to comply with the command, the Putnam Museum’s machine continues: “I would say you are a 44-year-old man.” I laugh. “Your face is happy,” it says.

Clearly, Socibot needs to learn that when it comes to age, it’s better to guess low – as I’m on the cusp of 43, thank you very much.

This was a demonstration of Socibot’s facial-recognition feature, but the talking, moving head is no one-trick robot. It does impressions – including of some famous cinematic artificial intelligences (2001’s HAL 9000, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg from the Terminator series). It can play card games using QR codes – which can also be employed to tell visitors about other features in the Putnam’s new Science Center.

But mostly, it shows the complexity of human expression. Using the “compose” touch-screen interface, users can program Socibot to communicate – not merely typing the words it will speak but controlling its voice and nonverbal cues that impart meaning, from the movement of the eyes and head to flushed cheeks to the set of the mouth.

This teaches the challenges and skills involved in getting machines to complete multifaceted tasks. Nichole Myles, the Putnam’s vice president of education and exhibits, noted that Socibot allows visitors to “experience what early coding and programming is.”

And because the Science Center is geared to children – with the goal of getting them interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers – Socibot has also been programmed to chide users who try to put inappropriate words and phrases into its mouth.

Socibot is undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated (and expensive) components of the STEM center, and you could spend a few hours trying to fine-tune the proper expressions involved in, for instance, Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” monologue.

But given the breadth and depth of science-related experiences available at the Putnam’s Science Center, to spend too much time at one station would be wasting opportunities. There’s the feature that visibly demonstrates turbulence; the lift-yourself-up pulley; the airways fountain; ferrofluid; the gravity wall; the lever tug-of-war; the 3D-printing station; robot vision; the dinosaur dig scheduled to open this summer ... .

I’ve spent a lot of time as a kid, a kid at heart, and a parent at children’s museums and science centers, and the Putnam’s STEM center is a marvel – especially considering how quickly it came together and how little it cost.

 
The Drug War’s Collateral Damage: Support for Industrial Hemp Grows – Even in Congress PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 25 July 2013 05:46

By most standards, Jason Kakert’s Iowa Hemp for Victory page on Facebook is a modest grassroots political effort. He started the page in 2011, and this week it had only 58 “likes.”

“This is just getting started out,” the 31-year-old graphic artist said last week in his studio at the Bucktown Center for the Arts. “Right now this is kind of a one-man show.”

But Kakert (a former River Cities’ Reader intern) is an eloquent advocate for industrial hemp, and he’s part of a movement that’s gaining significant traction. Last month, the U.S. House – by a vote of 225 to 200 – passed an amendment to the farm bill that would allow “institutions of higher education to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for the purpose of agricultural or academic research,” according to the amendment’s summary. “The amendment only applies to [the nine] states that already permit industrial hemp growth and cultivation under state law.”

The amendment is now attached to the House-passed farm bill, but its fate is uncertain at best; the larger politics of the farm bill dwarf this particular issue.

Yet the amendment’s passage represented a major surprise victory for hemp advocates. As Tom Murphy, the national outreach coordinator and a board member of the not-for-profit organization Vote Hemp, said in an interview last week: “We were expecting a 50 to 375 defeat.”

 
Enter the Reader’s 2013 Short-Fiction Contest: “Great Beginnings” PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 24 July 2013 21:25

Admittedly, some of our previous short-fiction contests have been a bit cruel.

So we’re making it easy for our 2013 contest, which runs through August 20. (Our favorite entries will be published in the September 5 issue of the River Cities’ Reader.)

All you need to do is start with one of the beginnings below and finish your story in an additional 250 words. And we’ve been extremely generous, giving you 50 options!

I should probably wait to tell you that the previously mentioned beginnings come from the Bible, Moby-Dick, Infinite Jest, A Tale of Two Cities, The Color Purple, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone ... . And one – offered here in its entirety – might be the shortest story ever written.

 
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