Category Archives: technology

Tweetless Turkey Day

Today’s teenagers don’t know life without Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. Not to mention Twitter, Yik Yak, Whatsgoodly, streaming videos from Netflix, and — not incidentally — using laptops, tablets and smartphones for schoolwork, in class and out. Staples High School’s BYOD (“bring your own device”) policy ensures that students are connected — to the internet, and each other — 24/7.

(That’s not an exaggeration. Some kids today sleep with their phones underneath their pillows, so they won’t miss any 3 a.m. notifications.)

Technology is wonderful. But it’s also awful. It causes stress. It fragments attention. Social media in particular raises unrealistic expectations. It prevents people from actually being present — connected personally, not wirelessly — with real friends and family members, in real time.

These are not Staples students. But they could be.

These are not Staples students. But they could be.

No one knows this more than Staples’ guidance counselors. They’re on the front lines, watching students battle with the demands of social media, along with the usual stresses of sky-high expectations in a very competitive community.

The guidance department’s Resilience Project is a way to help teenagers find balance, strength and direction. Counselors regularly share videos, stories and ideas with students, teachers and parents, offering strategies to ease anxiety.

This week, they’re doing more. The Resilience Project proposes a Thanksgiving technology break. For 24 hours — any 24 hours during the holiday — Staples students (and staff!) (parents too!) are urged to step away from all social media. Including (aaargh) texting.

(Graphic/Cameron Lynch, Carla Eichler's Beginnign Design and Tech class)

(Graphic/Cameron Lynch, Carla Eichler’s Beginnign Design and Tech class)

The technology break coincides with another Resilience Project initiative: Teachers are encouraged to not give homework over Thanksgiving weekend, and to delay long-term project due dates to later in the following week.

Without that obligation, and with family and friends nearby, the hope is that for 24 hours, Stapleites can engage — really, truly, not sporadically or half-heartedly — with other human beings.

The Resilience Project suggests that teachers and students discuss the technology break during Communication Time, a 15-minute period on Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

It’s a great idea. Give it a try.

And if you can’t go 24 hours without technology, at least don’t tweet during Thanksgiving dinner.

Customizable Calendar App Covers Westport sponsors a “Celebrate Westport” calendar — which, for some reason, does not include town government meetings.

WestportNow offers a calendar — with events for that day only.

A new startup hopes to become our go-to local calendar app.

Burbio — a “fun play” on the word “suburb,” they say — has spread to 30 Fairfield and Westchester County towns. Users pick and choose calendars for local organizations, non-profits and schools, customizing which ones they see. Color coding permits everyone in, say, one family to see every other family member’s calendar at once.

Burbio users can also sync information to a digital calendar, and be notified of changes or additions.

An email digest of “important school, community and school sports events” is sent to users every Sunday, a press release says. (It looks, though, as if the sports link is not yet live. It also looks pretty minimalist, as shown below.)

A Burbio screenshot.

A Burbio screenshot.

Burbio is the brainchild of Julie and Dennis Roche. The Pelham, New York couple with 4 kids was going bonkers trying to keep track of everyone’s activities. Dennis is no stranger to Westport — he lived near the beach in the 1990s.

Burbio is still finding its way. The groups currently listed for Westport are the library, schools and Farmer’s Market. So the main calendar includes events like a 6th-7th grade “can competition,” and an elementary school parent social.

A “Westport Holiday Events” page included “The Nutcracker,” craft shows — and Staples Players’ “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Okay, maybe they were thinking Chanukah.) And there are no town commission or board meetings.

Burbio is just getting started. As more people use it — and more organizations add their calendars — it will become more inclusive, more robust and livelier.

For now, check it out:


Craning For A Look At Downtown

Alert “06880” reader Alan Hamilton flew a quadcopter up from his Riverside Avenue Raveis office this afternoon.

Here’s what he saw:

Downtown Westport - Alan Hamilton

Click on or hover over photo to enlarge.

The big open pit in the center of the photo is Bedford Square.

This spring will bring a very different view.

Soundwall Hangs In Westport

For decades, sound engineers have worked to make home audio speakers better. The music in your living room, media center, wherever, is now concert hall quality.

Meanwhile, designers have tried to make the speakers themselves look nicer. They’re handsome — but not exactly works of art.

Unless they really are.

Soundwall is an innovative concept — and company — that marries original artwork with high fidelity audio. Framed art — or art made on creative surfaces — hangs on your wall. It plays rich sound. The entire canvas resonates — because the entire canvas is actually a speaker.

That’s not all. The artwork can play whatever music you wish, via any app — or audio (songs, interviews, anything) curated by the artist.

Soundwall art hangs above a sofa.

Soundwall art hangs above a sofa.

Soundwall art is handcrafted in Colorado. The office is in Tribeca. But its Westport roots are strong.

CEO Aaron Cohen has spent his career in media. A dotcom entrepreneur who sold 3 companies, he retired early and taught internet history at NYU. A year ago he and his wife Nina left the city, with their son and daughter.

They found a great house — with much more space than they were used to. “Any New Yorker could relate — we had empty rooms and empty walls,” Cohen recalls. “What goes there?”

Aaron Cohen

Aaron Cohen

Around the same time, 2 engineer friends in Boulder had created Soundwall. They asked Aaron and Nina to help.

The timing was fortuitous.

“When I looked under the hood, what I thought was a flat plane speaker company was much bigger,” he says. “I realized that the art I like the most is where I know the artist, or have a relationship with it. Soundwall was a chance to make ‘connected art’ — art that evolves, or is interactive, or takes its inspiration from its installation.”

Over the past year, Soundwall has evolved. The company now controls its own printing. They can make almost any size of artwork — and a variety of styles.

Cohen is particularly proud of a large format original Brigitte Bardot piece.


But a Westport couple also asked Cohen to turn their wedding into a Soundwall.

Soundwall’s evolution includes audio messages that go along with the artwork. So — in addition to choosing, say, a Spotify playlist — a piece can play words from the artist, or anything else he or she chooses to add.

“Art can fade into the background,” Cohen notes. “But when you add meditative music, or your own playlist, or an interview with the artist, you look at that artwork a lot more. It becomes much more immersive, and you become more engaged.”

Soundwall art in a home office.

Soundwall art in a home office.

Meanwhile, Soundwall has engaged art- and music-lovers far from Colorado, New York and Westport. Earlier this week, Prince Nikolaos of Greece and Denmark sold his Soundwall photography at Christie’s in London.

That’s a few thousand miles from Westport. But sound travels fast.

And these days, Soundwall travels far.

Soundwall logo

AED Alert!

Less than 2 weeks ago, a high school senior — a spectator, not a player — went into sudden cardiac arrest at halftime of a Staples soccer game.

The quick actions of one parent, who had an AED in the trunk of his car; another parent, who is a nurse; an EMT who raced over from the pool, and the school’s 2 trainers — who worked together to apply the Automated External Defibrillator and perform CPR — saved the boy’s life.

It was the 2nd such harrowing experience in 20 months.

Adam Greenlee today.

Adam Greenlee today.

In January 2014, Bedford Middle School 6th grader Adam Greenlee collapsed during gym class. School nurses, administrators and 1st responders used CPR — and the school’s AED — to bring the youngster back to life.

After surgery to implant a defibrillator into Adam’s chest, his parents and friends formed the Adam Greenlee Foundation.

Its goal is to raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest. It strikes over 400,000 people a year; 9 out of 10 victims do not survive.

Only 32% receive bystander CPR. A mere 2% are treated with AEDs. But when sudden cardiac arrest victims are treated quickly, survival rates climb to 38%.

Westport has taken note of these incidents. And the Adam Greenlee Foundation has taken action.

Yesterday, they announced a partnership with the Westport School District and Westport PAL. AEDs will soon be installed at all Westport public school athletic fields and gyms.

An AED on Wilton's Kristine Lilly Field. Similar devices will soon be placed at all Westport athletic fields.

An AED on Wilton’s Kristine Lilly Field. Similar devices will soon be placed at all Westport athletic fields.

Funds are also being raised to donate portable AEDs to each school, to be carried on field trips and during athletic competitions at other schools.

Every day without an AED is a disaster waiting to happen. A fundraising goal of $50,000 has been set — by November 15.

All donations are tax-deductible. 100% goes directly toward the purchase of AEDs, and the training of staff and coaches.

So don’t delay. Here’s how you can help save the life of a loved one. Or maybe your own:

Click here. Fill out your donation in the white box next to the “Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation Donation.” Complete billing information; then click “Review Donation and Continue.” On the final screen click “Add Special Instructions.” In the space provided, type “The Adam Greenlee Foundation.” At the bottom of the screen, click the yellow “Donate Now” button to complete your transaction.

You can also send checks payable to “The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation” to: The Adam Greenlee Foundation, 28 Maple Avenue North, Westport, CT 06880. Note on the memo line that the donation is for the The Adam Greenlee Foundation.

Questions? Email or You can also click here, or check out The Adam Greenlee Foundation page on Facebook.

Bye Bye, Bill!

Bill Derry retires tomorrow.

Tonight, the Westport Library honored their talented, creative and very popular “director of innovation.”

Because it’s the day before Halloween, Bill came dressed as a 3D printer.

Bill Derry

It’s not just a random costume.

Bill championed that technology — along with everything else cutting-edge and cool.

All of us — especially the young people he mentored, and who adored him — will miss Bill greatly.

Unless, of course, he clones himself using that 3D printer on his head.

This Distracted Life

Every week, it seems, WestportNow features an automobile accident that came out of the blue. They happen in broad daylight, on beautiful, clear days.

Whenever I see a photo like the one on Easton Road last week, I think: cell phone. The driver had to have been talking — or worse, texting. How else could someone hit a telephone pole — or another car — in perfect weather?

Alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor has been thinking about this too. He writes:

The other day I sat at a light at the intersection of Green’s Farms Road and Compo. It was a beautiful fall day, with trees starting to turn — what we live for in Westport. I enjoyed the scenery.

The light turned, but the car in front didn’t move. I waited patiently. I saw the driver. Her head was tilted down. I assume she was occupied by her cellphone.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

I waited 5 seconds before tapping my horn. She started up like an Indy 500 driver. There was no “I’m sorry” wave. I guess she had been transported to another place, thanks to her cell.

A few days before that, my wife and I were at a bakery on a weekday afternoon. A man in a business suit came in with a middle school-age girl.

I thought: How nice. A busy dad picked up his daughter at school; now they’ve got some quality time together.

They got food, sat down, and proceeded to take out their cellphones. They looked down as they ate, with no conversation between them.

Recently at Compo, I saw a timeless scene: kids hanging out on the cannons at dusk. But as I got closer, I realized 2 of them were staring down at their cells.

Kids using cellphones on the Compo cannons. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Kids using cellphones on the Compo cannons. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

I’m not a Luddite. I fully embrace the internet, and how we connect in ways unimaginable years ago.

But in the 1950s, television was seen as both a marvel and an innovation with downsides. My parents set clear rules about TV viewing in our home.

I would love to know what types of ground rules Westport parents set about cellphone access and use? Are they barred from dinner tables at home? At restaurants? What — if anything — are you trying to do to ensure that your kids are not only focused on what they’re doing, but that they know you’re focused on them?

Great questions, Fred! Let’s hear what “06880” readers have to say. Click “Comments” to share what happens in your house — the theory and the reality.

MakerSpace: 3 Years Old (And 3.0)

It’s a toss-up who’s more passionated about the MakerSpace: Bill Derry, or the thousands of people of all ages who have embraced it as their own.

Derry is the Westport Library’s director of innovation. The MakerSpace is the large area in its Great Hall where an eclectic, ever-changing group gathers for creation, collaboration and entrepreneurship.

The Westport Library's Makerspace has a prominent position in the midst of the Great Hall.

The Library’s MakerSpace has a prominent position in the midst of the Great Hall.

Many folks — devoted users and head-scratching passersby alike — see technology and construction in the MakerSpace, and think of it as a place for “things.” But it’s also a tight-knit community — and a place where lives are changed.

Age does not matter there. Youngsters teach adults — including some old enough to be their great-grandparents — how to use 3-D printers and gaming consoles. Doing so, they gain important skills like public speaking. By thinking about how to teach, they crystallize their own ideas.

They also gain plenty of confidence.

A middle school MakerSpace aficionado spent 2 days teaching librarians how to create and print 3D models.

An older teenager built a gaming computer in front of an audience, then was invited to teach (for pay) at Southern Connecticut State University.

A boy who has difficulty speaking stands eagerly in front of an inter-generational audience. His speech problem vanishes at the MakerSpace.

Young people teach -- and learn from -- older ones in the MakerSpace.

Young people teach — and learn from — older ones in the MakerSpace.

That collaborative, across-age-lines sharing excites Derry. “Big companies talk about new ways of working — bringing together a musician and an engineer, for example,” the innovation guru says.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing here.”

The MakerSpace has been around long enough — 3 years — that some of its most avid users have moved on. One is studying engineering at NYU; another attends Lehigh University.

“It’s like any graduation,” Derry says. “We’re sad to see them go, and there’s a real feeling of leaving a community. But we’re happy they’re in a new and challenging place.”

MakerSpace users are not the only ones leaving the Westport Library. On October 31, Derry himself retires.

Bill Derry

Bill Derry

He’s had an “incredible” run, he says. His fulfilling career at the Library followed 3 years as information technology coordinator for the Westport school system, and 6 as library media coordinator at Greens Farms Elementary School.

Now he’s ready for the next challenge.

Before he goes though, there’s one more big event. On Thursday and Friday, September 24-25, the Westport Library sponsors “MakerSpace 3.0: Retinkering Libraries.” Panels will focus on imagination, education, economic development, and community engagement. On Saturday, September 26, there’s an optional bus trip to the New York World Maker Faire.

The public is invited to the bus trip (registration required). Including, of course, all the young people who make the MakerSpace such an exciting and innovative place.

Frederic Chiu Does Debussy

Frederic Chiu is a pianist who has pushed boundaries in the world of classical music — from performance protocols and recording, to teaching and technology.

He’s also — with his wife Jeanine Esposito — host of the wonderfully eclectic Beechwood Arts salon series, in their warm, welcoming home. Check it out!

Chiu is in the spotlight once again. His latest recording combines state-of-the-art audio and video technology, masterpieces of the Western classical music canon, and contemporary works rooted in the East.

Frederic ChiuTitled “Distant Voices,” it’s the inaugural classical music release from Yamaha Entertainment Group of America.

The recording includes iconic Debussy, and music of the Szechuan-born, French- and Russian-influenced  Gao Ping. There’s both an audio CD and video DVD of Chiu performing a unique combination of favorites, and groundbreaking newer music from the piano repertoire, plus commentary from him about his background and music-making.

Chiu calls Debussy’s music “a test for the artist and instrument both.” The recording artist’s performance was captured on the Yamaha Disklavier, a true acoustic piano that incorporates fiber-optic sensing systems and the most modern technology to record and and reproduce every note with unpralleled precision.

Listeners with a Disklavier piano can replicate the performance on their own instruments.

Which is almost as good as hearing Chiu perform live, in his own Westport living room.


Virtually Oculus

Two months ago, the Westport Library bought an Oculus Rift. They lacked a computer with a graphics card big enough for the virtual reality headset that generates a crazy, immersive virtual world — but that’s the way the library rolls.

The Rift was about to hit the general consumer market. Library staffers knew it would be big. They snagged one of the last 2nd-generation developers’ kits. Then they went to work, figuring out what to do with it.

Nate Allen — a Maker Space volunteer who’s home-schooled in Fairfield — put the appropriate computer pieces together. (I asked him if it took all summer. Nope: 2 hours.)

Alex Giannini (left), Nate Allen, the Oculus Rift headset and computer.

Alex Giannini (left), Nate Allen, the Oculus Rift headset and computer.

The other day, I took it for a test drive. I’d never donned a virtual reality headset before — I’m not exactly a hardcore gamer — but despite a warning from Alex Giannini, the library’s manager of digital experience, that I might get nauseous, I opted for the Rift’s rollercoaster ride.

I have to say: It’s pretty freakin’ cool. I zoomed up, down and through some crazy Alice in Wonderland-type scenes. But with the Rift, I also looked all around — even over my shoulder — and became immersed in some great virtual reality scenes.

The Rift will be available for everyone 13 and up. But, Alex knows, the core demographic is teenagers.

“That’s great,” he says. “This will get them to the library. They’ll play video games, but they’ll stay to help out. Maybe it will inspire some of them to get into developing games too.”

The Oculus Rift headset.

The Oculus Rift headset.

The Rift will be unveiled Labor Day weekend, at the library’s Blues, Views & BBQ booth. Later this fall it will be used as part of the library’s Teen Gaming Night.

Alex loves the Rift. “It’s so far beyond previous generations of virtual reality, I can’t even describe it,” he says. “We’re on the verge of something huge.”

As usual, the Westport Library leads the way.