Sunday, 17 October 2010, 2019
Over the past few months, several new specialty businesses have opened in Tallahassee. With names like Sands Internet Café and Dino Dino Internet Café, one might conclude these new shops are catering to people without home internet access or those telecommuting to work.
The primary business, however, is a new form of gambling becoming popular in Florida and other states: the computer-based sweepstakes.
After purchasing time on a computer, patrons can play casino-like games and win prizes including cash. Since the prizes are awarded to predetermined sweepstakes winners and not by chance, these establishments take advantage of a loophole in many jurisdictions' gambling laws.
As they become more prevalent, the sweepstakes cafés are not going unnoticed by some local officials. Mike Carmolingo, City Commissioner in Deltona, Florida, recently oversaw the unanimous passage of an ordinance prohibiting new internet cafés from opening for six months.
"What they really are is gambling houses," he told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. He is hoping the Deltona ordinance will eventually lead to an outright ban, like in North Carolina where internet cafés become non grata on 01 December 2010.
Earlier this year the Independent Weekly gathered information on the demographics of sweepstakes cafés in that state. Their research revealed that many of the burgeoning cafés exist in low-income minority neighborhoods of Durham, Raleigh and Burlington.
Senator Floyd McKissick, Jr. (NC-D) expressed his concern about gaming rooms masquerading as internet cafés saying, "…we need a way to identify businesses that are exploiting vulnerable populations who are using their limited resources on gambling."
Not all public officials are against the new ventures. Three months ago in Fall River, Massachusetts, City Councilor Leo Pelletier opened the New England Internet Café or "Leo's Place." It is apparently one of the few sweepstakes cafés in the state, having garnered little if any negative attention. Says customer Diane Zumuda, "We come here, go on the Internet, play some games, hang out. It's a fun thing to do."
Back at home Pat Fowler, Executive Director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, says the businesses are "hitting the state in huge numbers," which is of concern to the group. Fowler told the Tampa Tribune they have seen a sudden increase in calls over problem gaming to which they attribute the proliferation of sweepstakes cafés in the Sunshine State. In Hernando County, for example, at least fourteen have opened in recent months.
There are at least four here in Tallahassee. The first to catch my attention was Sands Internet Café at 4176 Apalachee Parkway. Formerly the location of Smokie's Barbeque, Sands appears to have the typical setup including "internet café" and "sweepstakes" signage outdoors. I do not know their hours of operation, but I drive past Sands every Sunday morning between 0200–0400 and the parking lot is always busy.
A mile west is Dino Dino Internet Café, 3618 Apalachee Parkway, occupying the former Gas Mart convenience store. Within walking distance of that, a new sweepstakes banner recently went up at NYK Internet Café, 3404 Apalachee Parkway. Finally, someone at the Urban Tallahassee forum reports the opening of Lucky Hit Internet Café last month at 3839 North Monroe Street.
So just where do these businesses stand legally? In May 2010, the New York Times reported the Florida Attorney General's position "that while it considers sweepstakes cafés to be in violation of state law, it is up to local law enforcement to decide whether illegal gambling is indeed taking place."
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulates sweepstakes, which by definition in Chapter 849 Florida Statutes cannot have an associated purchase or entry fee requirement. The statute also requires agency notification of prizes greater than $5,000, meaning this is likely the highest possible winnings amount at these cafés. Furthermore, as devices that accept coins and paper currency are expressly prohibited, players exchange cash for electronic points and cards used for gaming.
As more state legislatures take up the issue, some local law enforcement agencies have been reluctant to act while others are taking active measures. Casselberry, Florida Chief of Police James C. Ruf cites the lack of "clear direction from anyone" as one of his frustrations in trying to deal with the new businesses. Meanwhile, police in Roanoke and Virginia Beach, Virginia as well as Lynn, Massachusetts have raided and closed businesses citing violations of promotional sweepstakes laws.
At the same time, poker rooms at Florida pari-mutuel facilities are seeing record revenues due in part to the July 2010 law that eliminated buy-in limits and increased the permissible hours of operation. Legal wagering of this type is allowed at the several horse tracks, dog tracks and Jai Alai frontons operated statewide as well as at all seven Seminole casinos.
In April 2010, Governor Charlie Crist signed the Seminole Tribe Gaming Compact into law, which in addition to pumping $1 billion into the state's coffers, grants exclusive rights to operate slot machines, blackjack and baccarat games at some of their facilities.
Back in North Carolina, the Chadbourn Town Council is leaving nothing to chance. They will hold a public hearing in early December on an ordinance regulating gaming cafés, just in case the statewide ban is later overturned.
It is an uncertain future for the likes of Sands and Dino Dino. Until state or local officials decide their fate, it looks like the house will continue to win. We can only hope that the proprietors of these businesses will encourage responsible play and not blindly enable those experiencing tough financial times to flush what little they have away, all for the chance to "win it big."
|6 Comments||The House Always Wins | http://mtsutro.org?p=949|
Local News & Politics
Saturday, 16 October 2010, 2014
It was the only thing I could think of earlier today when I saw the image broadcast from a traffic camera at Blair Stone Road and Park Avenue. It certainly looks like the roadway has been completely overwhelmed by post-apocalyptic foliage.
|Add Comment||The Capital Sanctuary | http://mtsutro.org?p=948|
Sunday, 10 October 2010, 2210
In one twenty-four hour session over the Fourth of July holiday weekend in 2008, fueled by the excitement of watching Bender's Big Score, I made a music video for 30 Century Man by The Jigsaw Seen (see original article).
The DVD movie was the first of four and their popularity eventually lead to the return of the series to episodic television, an occasion which I recently marked by making the Planet Express Fail Whale.
I am not sure why Futurama seems to bring out my creative side but the music video, despite being my first attempt at such a thing, turned out quite well and received positive feedback from many people including The Jigsaw Seen's co-founder and lead guitarist Jonathan Lea.
Unfortunately after 231 days, 13,515 views, 56 likes, 53 comments and 2 favorites, the automated forces at YouTube that scan for and block potentially copyright infringing material silenced the video on 21 February 2009.
I did not go through the dispute process, but I thought I had a decent case for fair use: the character of the use was personal and non-profit; only a small amount of the work was used; and if widespread, the copyright owner would not lose money. In fact, I think the video promoted their product, if anything.
Therefore by popular demand and in celebration of creative fans worldwide, I am proud to present the 2010 re-release of "30 Century Man." The video has been slightly updated and re-rendered in high quality. I hope you enjoy it!
30 Century Man
Performed by The Jigsaw Seen
Written by Scott Walker
Directed by David July
Download WMV 43 MB
Download FLV 34 MB
Download MOV 28 MB
Problems? Try VLC Media Player
Futurama Bender's Big Score © 20th Century Fox
|Add Comment||The 30 Century Man Returns | http://mtsutro.org?p=947|
Arts Media Personal
Sunday, 10 October 2010, 0638
|Add Comment||The Collision of Worlds | http://mtsutro.org?p=946|
Wednesday, 22 September 2010, 1714
Between the reincarnation of Futurama and seeing Billy West, Phil LaMarr and John DiMaggio at DragonCon 2010 (see pictures from the panel), I was compelled to create this celebratory image to comment on the cancellation and subsequent return of the show.
|Add Comment||The Planet Express Fail Whale | http://mtsutro.org?p=945|
Arts Media Personal
Monday, 09 August 2010, 0420
When the topic of cellular telephones came up in my presence, people were often surprised to learn that I did not have one. Instead of the whole story, I would usually explain that I had good cause to cancel my last service and simply found no need to get another mobile. After all, I had a landline to use with DSL internet and did most of my talking at home anyway (see "The Paradigm Shift").
People thought I was crazy. In our modern times, it was difficult for some to imagine their lives without the convenience of smartphones. Plus it was rather inconsistent with my technical persona. If it was not for the work-issued phone I had at the time, the people I met in San Francisco might have excommunicated me or something. I mean, even the homeless there have cell phones.
It all came down to a single straightforward issue: carrier contracts. Twice I had subscribed to cellular service and twice I was on the losing end of the deal.
My first phone was the Qualcomm QCP-2760 on Sprint PCS. I was pleased with the device and service but I later found myself without a job. As I was unable to make the payments, Sprint PCS terminated my account and charged me the early termination fee. I was unable to come to any arrangement with them and so when I did get my finances in order, I went with another carrier.
That carrier was AT&T Wireless and I used the Nokia 3595. Since I had no reason to switch, I continued on a month-to-month basis after my two-year contract ended. Unfortunately, AT&T Wireless started accepting bids for acquisition in 2004. I was not pleased when Cingular took things over, but the deal breaker came when I wanted to add more minutes to my monthly allotment. They said I could do nothing to my "legacy customer" plan without signing a new two-year contract.
For the next three years, ten months and twenty-one days, I did without cell service and did not particularly feel I was missing anything. When encountering a situation where it would have been useful, I was more apt to turn my nose because of the way people behave with telephones in stores and behind the wheel. Since the rudeness of other people is no reason to deny oneself technological convenience, I was open to the idea of another phone when a friend at work mentioned Boost Mobile and their prepaid BlackBerry plan.
Given my prior experience, I was a bit skeptical when I learned Boost was a subsidiary of Sprint. There were at least three reasons why I felt compelled to give them another shot. First, my original dispute with Sprint PCS was over a contract and this is prepaid. Second, the Sprint CDMA network seems to have come along in the past decade and is now the third largest in the US. Third and perhaps most surprising, I was impressed by the Kai Ryssdal interview of Sprint CEO Dan Hesse on Marketplace.
I also understand that Boost is targeting a demographic that is largely unable to get mobile service by contract due to poor credit history and other financial troubles. It occurs to me now I might very well be the Boost customer with the highest credit score. Nevertheless, none of that matters as long as the device and network are capable of providing the desired services.
It is a simple setup. I bought the RIM BlackBerry Curve 8330 running OS 5 for $200 plus a $30 limited warranty to replace things like the mini trackball and battery. Each month, I add $60 to my Boost account by purchasing credits online. Although there are no additional fees, $4.50 in sales tax is levied when buying credits. This plan includes unlimited voice, SMS, MMS and data plus BlackBerry internet, messaging and GPS. In comparison, Verizon Wireless currently charges $90 for unlimited voice, SMS and MMS plus $30 for unlimited data. That comes to $60 or 100% more per month plus tax!
Comfortable enough with Google Voice after eight months of use, I advertised it as my new mobile number and decided not to use, learn or give out the device's assigned number. There have been only a few minor issues along the way, like when my friend Marc could not call my Google Voice number from his Virgin mobile although we could text each other and I could call him. His switching carriers resolved that. Google Voice also has trouble establishing outgoing calls if my signal is too weak, though incoming calls are not affected.
The experience has been quite positive overall and I have to admit to better understanding the reactions I got from people during my four disconnected years. I love being connected to my website and e-mail, and being able to approve comments while on the go. I love having GPS and maps in my pocket. In addition, I have been experimenting with Twitter—as you can see in the new window on the right—a service I never really understood before. I even added a new Flickr set to handle random mobile pictures. To my friends who have done all of these for many years, you may now roll your eyes.
Unless you play in the walled garden, keeping everything synched up can be a hassle. Fortunately, my current configuration between the computer, phone and Google is only slightly convoluted. Since I started using Google Contacts as my address book to get the most out of Google Voice, it was a simple matter to install Google Sync and copy all my contacts to the BlackBerry. Because Google uses one field for all address information, I added carriage returns to the entries so they would import correctly into separate fields (Address 1, Address 2, City, State, ZIP, Country). Getting the address book into Outlook 2010 is currently a manual process using Google's export feature.
For a while now I have been synchronizing Outlook with Google Calendar using Google Calendar Sync. It stopped working when I upgraded to Outlook 2010, but a helpful article resolved that problem. Since the aforementioned Google Sync comes with calendar synching too, all that data is now mobile and interactive. The 6.0 release of BlackBerry Desktop Manager expected on Tuesday, 10 August will simplify some of these processes by directly connecting Outlook 2010 to my BlackBerry, which will thereafter serve as intermediary between my PC and the cloud. I am looking forward to this new arrangement.
Having discovered only a few spotty coverage areas, I would rate my experience with the Sprint 1xEV-DO network in north and central Florida as satisfactory. Despite it launching two years ago, the Curve 8330 is a solid smartphone. It may not be the latest and greatest, but that was a concession I was willing to make in exchange for being contract free. So far, the most useful applications have been (in no particular order) Google Voice, Google Sync, BBMaps, Twitter, Shazam, KeePassBB, Flickr and the WordPress Mobile Admin plugin so I can approve comments here more quickly.
Like with any subscription service, it will take much longer than a month to gauge true satisfaction. If my experience so far is any indication of the future, Boost/Sprint may just earn themselves a long-term customer. Or if things turn out the other way, I will have invested very little and learned a lot.
|Add Comment||The String and Two Cups | http://mtsutro.org?p=943|
Sunday, 18 July 2010, 2235
I immediately thought of the two great Muppet moments in The West Wing episode "Eppur Si Muove." The first is the scene where First Lady Abbey Bartlet played by Stockard Channing gives Elmo a checkup. Having recently given up her medical license, Elmo wonders aloud if Bartlet should proceed.
"Do you have a diploma you could show Elmo? Can Elmo be frank? This laughing is not filling Elmo with confidence!"
The other great moment is the culmination of many height-related jokes at the expense of C.J. Cregg played by Allison Janney. I think this single frame from the scene during which no dialogue is spoken stands on its own.
According to the Muppet Wiki, the following politicians have appeared with Muppets on television or in person: Kofi Annan, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Christopher Dodd, Queen Elizabeth II, David Gergen, Mike Huckabee, Glenda Jackson, Jesse Jackson, Ed Koch, Wim Kok, Ralph Nader, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Johannes Rau and Christian Wulff. In addition, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen attended a movie screening with Muppets and Kermit has even appeared several times on Hannity & Colmes.
|Add Comment||The Great Muppet Politick | http://mtsutro.org?p=942|
Adverts Media Personal
Tuesday, 15 June 2010, 0054
After our successful outing to O'Leno State Park in January, I decided to join Mom and Ross on another camping trip. We were interested in trying the campground at Florida Caverns State Park; however, the Blue Hole camping area is closed for renovations from 15 March through 15 July 2010.
We instead made plans for the Memorial Day holiday weekend at the nearby Three Rivers State Park. The thirty-site camping area proved to be ideal and rather private, considering our proximity to another site, the Lakeside Trail and the small road to the campground boat ramp—which turned out to be a concrete slab suitable for small watercraft only.
There is not too much to do at Three Rivers, but it was perfect for what I wanted. The Lakeside Trail, starting behind our campsite three, offered a pleasant and mild hike through the woods and up to Lake Seminole in parts. There is also a wooden fishing pier on Lake Seminole, which was nice to visit numerous times per day.
While not exotic, we did encounter several species of wildlife including white-tailed deer, armadillos, cardinals, loud frogs and one juvenile rough green snake. Most of all I enjoyed spending time with my family while sitting next to our campfire, drinking Tusker beer from Kenya, far from the lights of civilization.
On Sunday, the second day of the trip, we drove to Florida Caverns to take the tour and explore the area. Ironically, our guide was Park Ranger Frank with whom I last toured the cave. It was nice although I was spoiled by the last visit—there were twenty other people with us this time. Afterward, we hiked the Bluff Trail and walked through the Tunnel Cave, a one-hundred-foot passage through a section of the bluff, before heading back to Three Rivers.
Though typical for the area this time of year, the weather was not particularly ideal. Periods of strong thunderstorms did nothing more than muddy the paths and campsite. The heat and humidity coupled with voracious mosquitoes made our usually leisurely hikes along the trails a bit uncomfortable.
Despite all that, we made the best of our situation and the weekend was an overall success. I am not sure when we will be able to plan another camping trip but I am looking forward to it. Possible destinations include the popular Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park if we can manage to reserve a campsite and Suwannee River State Park.
|5 Comments||The Camping Trip II | http://mtsutro.org?p=940|
Personal Photography Travel