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Feature Stories
The Shrinking Gambling Pie: Jumer’s Boosted the Local Casino Market – but It Can’t Hide the Quad Cities’ Decade of Decline PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 21 August 2014 05:28

It’s long been an article of faith with me that the seemingly perpetual growth in the number of state-sponsored gambling outlets is poor public policy. Common sense says that the amount of money people will spend on these games has a ceiling – one that we’ve almost certainly reached by now.

If that’s correct, then further expansion of legalized gambling is a fool’s errand, as the money generated by it won’t increase meaningfully. Once gambling has reached a saturation point in a region, revenues will just get shifted from gaming company to gaming company and state to state and local government to local government.

But like all articles of faith, I had no proof for my hypothesis. So I decided to test it, and the Quad Cities market seemed like an excellent laboratory.

What is now the Isle of Capri casino in Bettendorf opened in April 1995 – making us a three-casino community. (I’ll refer to the casinos by their present names throughout this article.) We now have almost two decades of gaming information with the three-casino marketplace, and a handful of variables allow us to see what happened here when this happened there: the December 2008 move of Jumer’s from downtown Rock Island to Interstate 280; the recession that hit in 2007-8; new casino competitors in eastern Iowa in 2006 and 2007; and the 2012 introduction of video-gambling machines in Illinois outside of casinos.

What I found didn’t exactly support my hypothesis of a Quad Cities gambling pie with a fixed size. Rather, the data suggest there are ways to add new customers to the local gambling market – but that the pie has nonetheless been shrinking for a decade.

 
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.”

 
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