Category Archives: technology

Fancy Meeting You Here!

The tagline of “06880” is “Where Westport meets the world.”

One part of that world: South By Southwest.

David Pogue and Mark Mathias at SXSW

Westport Board of Education member/Maker Faire founder/tech enthusiast Mark Mathias and Westport resident/tech writer/video star/guru David Pogue met each other by chance earlier today, at the annual kick-ass tech/interactive conference in Austin.

No word on whether they discussed the next big thing in technology, or how SoNo Baking Company will compare to Java.

Tom Sachs: Boombox Master

Tom Sachs is a noted contemporary artist. He’s interested, Wikipedia says, in “the phenomena of consumerism, branding, and the cultural fetishization of products.”

Tom Sachs (Photo/Ben Sklar for the NY Times)

Tom Sachs (Photo/Ben Sklar for the NY Times)

He’s featured — fittingly? ironically? — in a 3-page spread in today’s ad-filled New York Times Style Magazine. The hook is Sachs’ current show: “Boombox Retrospective: 1999-2015,” at the Contemporary Austin museum.

It’s a tribute, the Times says, to “the portable music players that occupied center stage in popular culture from the mid-’70s to the late ’80s, from the golden age of disco to hip-hop.”

Sachs was growing up in the middle of that — glorious? horrible? time — right here in our town.

It was in Westport, the Times reports, that the budding artist first “improvised a tape deck by attaching his Sony Walkman to a pair of mini-speakers using scraps of plywood and Velcro.”

Since then, the story continues, “all of his art has been an elaboration on that little contraption. Sachs is a tinkerer, a man for whom tinkering doubles as a virtuoso craft and a spiritual pursuit.”

"Presidential Vampire," one of Tom Sachs' boombox creations. (Photo/TomSachs.org)

“Presidential Vampire,” one of Tom Sachs’ boombox creations. (Photo/TomSachs.org)

All of the boomboxes in Sachs’ Austin show actually function. Each has a different –appropriate? thought-provoking? — playlist, created by the artist, his friends and exhibit visitors.

“The boomboxes flaunt their usual Sachsian scars, the rough-hewn edges and glops of silicone and epoxy,” the Times says. “They are witty; some of the pieces make you laugh out loud.”

Author Jody Rosen adds:

The boombox was a symbol of protest, defiance and youth; it symbolized the aggressive swagger of rap, which began its conquest of the cultural mainstream in the early 1980s. It was a flashpoint of racial politics: The derisive term “ghetto blaster” was coined by critics who associated boomboxes with lawlessness and urban decay.

But more than rebellion, the boombox represented community and communication. It was a talisman linking the black and Latino creators of hip-hop, and a beacon calling to outsiders like Sachs, who were seduced by the new music and the vibrant culture surrounding it.

And it all started for Tom Sachs back in the Gerald Ford years, on the mean, boombox-filled streets of Westport.

(To read the entire story — “Grandmaster Sachs” — click here.)

Tom Sachs' "Toyan's" was inspired by Jamaican street parties. (Photo/Ben Sklar for NY Times)

Tom Sachs’ “Toyan’s” was inspired by Jamaican street parties. (Photo/Ben Sklar for NY Times)

 

Happy Anniversary To Me. Now Pony Up!

This week, “06880” turns 6 years old. My blog has already lasted longer than “The Twilight Zone” (5 years). And it will soon surpass “I Love Lucy” (6).

Both of which — as alert readers know — have very strong Westport ties.

That’s the thing about “06880”: You never know what you’re going to get. But whatever it is, there will be some connection to this town.

When I hurled my 1st post into cyberspace in 2009 — click here for that baby — I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

If spring ever comes, you'll read about it first on "06880."

If spring ever comes, you’ll read about it first on “06880.”

I thought I’d offer some moderately interesting stories about the people, places, events and history that make this town our home. My goal was 1 post a day.

I had no idea — even though my tagline was “Where Westport meets the world” — that I would find connections everywhere: from Broadway to the Boston Marathon bombings, from Saugatuck to Syria.

I had no idea either that so many talented, accomplished people could suck so bad at parking. I did not realize that — right here at home — so many amazing people are doing such amazing things. Children, teenagers, busy businesspeople, retirees, merchants, volunteers — this town rocks the universe.

That 1 post a day is now, sometimes, 4 or 5. In 6 years, I’ve posted more than 4,200 stories. You’ve read this far, so I’m guessing you like at least some of them.

For me, “06880” is a labor of love.

But like any love, it takes work.

As “06880” has grown, so have the hours I spend on it.

Will work for food.

Will work for food.

There’s writing, sure. But also interviewing, researching, responding to comments (public and private), moderating comments (removing those from people who do not use full, real names), taking and sizing and framing photos, and scouring the web for appropriate (and occasionally inappropriate) graphics.

I spend a few bucks too. I pay to keep “06880” ad-free. I pay for domain mapping. I pay for photo-editing software.

So, once a year — on my anniversary — I put out my tin cup.

If you like what you read, please consider supporting “06880.”

Am I worth $1 a month? $1 a week? Perhaps (my choice!) $1 a day.

If my 4,200 stories are worth a penny each, that’s $42. If half of them are worth a dime each, that’s $210. I’ll leave other calculations to you.

I hope that if “06880” has ever

  • made you laugh, cry, think or wonder
  • spurred you to go to an event, read a book, try a restaurant or patronize a store
  • kept you up to date in a blizzard, hurricane, windstorm or power outage
  • alerted you to a new housing or zoning development in town
  • delivered news about a favorite person or store
  • galvanized you to support a cause
  • helped publicize your event, book, appearance or concert
  • published your photo
  • paid tribute to someone you loved or admired
  • connected you to your hometown from many miles away
  • opened a window on Westport’s history, helped you think about its future, introduced you to someone in town you never knew, or helped you look at someone or someplace in a new way
  • given you a voice in the “Comments” section
  • inspired you
  • made you sit up and say “Wow!” (or “holy f—!”)

— you will consider tossing something my way.

Only a suggestion.

Only a suggestion.

Thanks for 6 great years. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, whether anyone sends an anniversary gift or not.

We’ll still have our now-annual summer “06880” party at the beach. Plus the weekly photo challenge.

But hey. You tip a taxi driver you don’t even know for a 5-minute ride, right?

You can donate by PayPalclick here. It’s easy (and safe)! You don’t even need a PayPal account. If you get an error message, try www.paypal.comthen log in, create an account, or send money from the drop-down menu by entering this email address: dwoog@optonline.net. Or click the “Donate” button on the home page of “06880.”

Checks may be mailed to:  Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880.  Put “06880″ on the memo line.  It won’t do anything for the IRS, but it may help you remember at tax time why you sent me something.

Is this a great town, or what? (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Is this a great town, or what? (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Library’s Latest Shout-Out: Forbes.com

Forbes may be “the capitalist tool.” But it’s got a soft spot for a certain everyone’s-equal space: the Westport Library.

Forbes-logoForbes.com carries a story — “Remarkable Lessons in Innovation From a Public Library” — by Westporter Bruce Kasanoff.

He begins: “There are two ways to run a public library in a small town: the traditional way, or the Maxine Bleiweis way.”

After praising the director for being “a vibrant tool for bringing out the best in others,” he cites her for not knowing the definition of “can’t.” Her library, he says, can be “noisy, boisterous, provocative, outrageous (and) entertaining.”

Kasanoff adds that Bleiweis’ best talent may be bringing out talents in other people. He cites these traits that we all should emulate:

Boldness: If it will benefit the library, Maxine will ask anyone to do anything. She enlists CTOs of Fortune 50 companies, top journalists, famous authors, and a huge corps of enthusiastic volunteers. Just as importantly, she always has a bold idea and a few “asks” ready; if she spots you in the library, the odds are 100 to 1 that she’ll tell you about her latest projects and how you can help.

Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis has often enlisted the help of David Pogue. The Westport-based tech writer-video star-guru happily obliges.

Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis has often enlisted the help of David Pogue. The Westport-based tech guru-writer-video star happily obliges.

Warmth: The Westport Library is partially funded by the town, and also depends on donations from its supporters. There’s never enough money, especially now that the library is embarking on a capital campaign to reshape the building to be much more of a gathering, social and performance space. Leaders in such an environment don’t get to bark orders. Maxine leads with warmth, charm and enthusiasm. She understands that her role is to be uplifting and aspirational.

Imagination: What if we turned the middle of the library into a Makerspace? Could we teach kids to program computers by buying two Aldebaran robots for them to program? Maxine discovered the answers to both these questions was “yes.”

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

The Westport Library’s Makerspace has a prominent position in the Great Hall.

Kasanoff concludes:

Maxine taught an entire town not to be limited by outdated conceptions of what you or your organization is supposed to be doing. She showed an entire generation that you are limited only by your own imagination, creativity and willingness to whatever it takes to bring your dream to life.

Most importantly, she showed us what happens when people with diverse talents, abilities and interests work together to uplift a community. The answer, of course, is that magic happens.

Maxine Bleiweis: A Library Winner, In Every Way

When Maxine Bleiweis was young, she says, “I was not a very successful library user.” She learned through hands-on experiences, not books. And she liked to talk.

If she were a kid today, she’d thrive at the Westport Library — an institution run by the now-grown Maxine Bleiweis. It’s a place filled with noise — of chatter, programs, and the hands-on learning, exploration and invention being done in the innovative MakerSpace, smack dab in the center of the place.

When Maxine was younger too — just starting out as a library director — she was influenced by Charlie Robinson. As head of the Baltimore County system, he believed that libraries did not have to follow a “business as usual” model. Rather than assuming libraries were arbiters of community taste — deciding unilaterally which books to purchase; decreeing that users must be silent everywhere — he said, essentially, “give ‘em what they want.” Even if “they” had no idea what it was.

PLAIn June, Bleiweis receives the Charlie Robinson Award. The Public Library Association honor goes to one innovative leader, risk taker or change agent each year.

“Having my name under his on that award is pretty amazing,” Bleiweis says.

It’s also fitting. For the past 17 years, she’s been a pretty amazing director of the Westport Library.

As she prepares to leave her post — she’s “retooling” (not “retiring”) as of July 1 — she spent time recently looking back on a career she’s embraced with a gusto that may once have seen out of place, back when librarians’ main job was to tell patrons “ssshhh…”

Her innovations — the basis of that Charlie Robinson Award — stem from her philosophy that a library should know what people need from it, even before those people know it themselves.

Everyone, she says, “has a need and a right to succeed at, and be validated by, this miraculous institution: the public library.”

Maxine Bleiweis

Maxine Bleiweis

To do that, she’s “taken herself out of” the building. That’s allowed her to reimagine what it could look like, unencumbered by preconceptions and conventions. It’s enabled her to advocate for, and introduce, not only the MakerSpace but advanced technology, TED Talks, wide-ranging programs and events that draw the community together. A true joy, she says, is “watching 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds exchange ideas and information.”

A library, according to Bleiweis, is no longer just a place to get reading material. Anyone can do that anywhere. It’s a place to “debate, discuss, discover.”

Among those most memorable debates: the night Westporter Phil Donahue showed a documentary he produced on the Iraq war. A fight nearly erupted, in the SRO crowd. Bleiweis — wedged against a wall — grew worried. Finally — “in his best talk show host voice” — Donahue defused tensions by saying, “I think this is the part of the program where we all hold songs and sing ‘Kumbaya.'”

An important discussion came soon after a disastrous, alcohol-fueled Staples Homecoming. The library provided a place — “outside of school,” Bleiweis notes — to share community concerns.

Teenagers feel welcome at the Westport Public Library.

Teenagers feel welcome at the Westport Library.

As for discovery, Bleiweis recalls a panel of pioneering feminists. “They were wonderful, but at the end they looked at the audience and said, ‘We’ve done our job. What about you?'”

On the spot, a group formed. Out of that meeting came a grant proposal for a program in which college women would mentor high school girls. In turn, they would mentor middle school girls.

What ideas did not work? Bleiweis can’t think of any — because that’s not the way she measures success.

“We’re always in beta test mode, always in tryouts,” she explains. “The library doesn’t really lead. It just provides fertile ground for people to grow things. Inviting in people is more important than making sure all our i’s are dotted and our t’s are crossed.”

One of the Westport library's new robots. (Photo/Danny Ghitis for the Wall Street Journal)

One of the Westport Library’s new robots. (Photo/Danny Ghitis for the Wall Street Journal)

But, the director notes, “the more this community realizes what a library can be, the more we’re struggling with a building that was not built to facilitate that.” She is proud of the innovative role the Westport Library has played, but knows it will be increasingly difficult to continue, given the constraints of the present building.

In every institution’s life, Bleiweis says, there are junctures where decisions will be made by the person who will be there to see them through. The Westport Library, she believes, is at one of those points.

She’s put forth her vision of what the facility should look like, and how it should function. But many more decisions must be made. And — based on the demographics of her staff — many hiring decisions lie ahead.

Those are part of the reasons behind her decision to step down now. Her personal life plays a role too. Bleiweis’ mother is 98; at the same time, Bleiweis is a new grandmother. “I need a bit of flexibility in my life,” she says.

As handsome as the Westport Library is, it was not built for 21st-century technology -- or the needs of 21st-century users.

As handsome as the Westport Library is, it was not built for 21st-century technology — or the needs of 21st-century users.

Asked what she would say to her successor, Bleiweis offers: “You’re absolutely blessed with the most vibrant, thinking community anywhere. Listen hard; the answers are within the conversations you’ll hear.”

In the 4 months before she leaves, there is still plenty of work to do — and energy to harness.

Plus, of course, there’s that Charlie Robinson Award to pick up. It’s presented at the American Library Association’s annual conference, in San Francisco. That’s the last week in June — which happens to be Maxine Bleiweis’ final week as director of the Westport Library.

Talk about a storybook ending!

Customer Service (Blizzard Edition)

Someone must have told companies that — before a major weather-related calamity — they should email their customers: “We might not be here for you. But we’ll try.”

CL&POur inboxes were stuffed yesterday. CL&P told us they were already bringing in extra line crews. My condo’s management firm said they expected lots of calls, so be patient (and watch out for snow and ice).

Cablevision offered this stop-the-presses piece of advice: “If you lose electrical power to your home, your Optimum services will not work.”

Meanwhile, Frontier — which in just a few short months has accomplished the nearly impossible task of making customers wish they had AT&T back — advised, “Make sure you have food supplies, water, flashlights and a battery powered radio in case you are unable to leave your home.”

Sage advice. Except the email arrived at 9:08 p.m. — long after the snow started, and 8 minutes after Governor Malloy’s travel ban went into effect.

This works in a power outage -- though you'd have to teach your kids how to use it.

This works in a power outage — though you’d have to teach your kids how to use it.

To give Frontier credit, they did offer information that many folks (including non-Frontier customers) might not know: Customers with cordless phones who still have a traditional cordless phone can plug it directly into a wall jack.

Corded phones do not require electricity. They’ll still operate during a power outage.

Of course, by 9:08 p.m. it was too late to buy a corded phone if you didn’t already own one.

But Frontier is Usain Bolt compared to CVS. At 10:03 p.m. last night, they breathlessly emailed me: “Dan, Snow is On The Way! Don’t wait! Get storm essentials & an emergency checklist.”

It was a little late for that. But in a pinch, I could call them on my corded phone.

 

 

Supervising Kids’ Cyber Lives: What Can Parents Do?

Like whack-a-moles, social media concerns pop up all over the school landscape. Middle school teachers and administrators often deal with cyber-bullying. Last spring, the anonymous app Yik Yak caused an uproar at Staples.

Recently, after a cyber-bullying incident via Instagram, an elementary school principal sent a letter to parents, then followed up with visits to each classroom. A parent at the school then sent this letter to “06880,” hoping to share it with a wide audience. Here it is:

Though Instagram requires children to be at least 13 years old, our children sign up, posting pictures and remarks which could lead to permanent consequences. A 10-year-old most likely does not understand the importance of reputation management. One inappropriate post can cause them a lifetime of unfortunate consequences, not to mention hurting other innocent people.

Instagram is not the only concern. Other social media vehicles (Facebook, Yik Yak, Twitter, Vine, to name a few) pose the same threat when misused.

Instagram is a popular social media platform for teenagers -- and younger children.

Instagram is a popular social media platform for teenagers — and younger children.

As parents we are in a tough spot, balancing granting our children the internet access their peers seem to have through mobile devices and computers with keeping them safe (not only from online predators but tarnishing their own reputations for unthoughtful behavior). Now the schools are asking our help in keeping our children’s cyber-activity responsible.

We can put on parental controls, talk to them about internet safety practices, even have them sign contracts. However, I think we need to take more responsibility to closely monitor their activity and be in the know of where our children really are online.

Giving our kids devices with internet access without supervising is no different than allowing them to throw a party, advising them not to drink and then voluntarily leaving the house. We need to choose to either prevent their access to devices that access the Internet (highly unlikely — most kids in our community have handheld devices by 11 or 12 years old, and at the very least a computer at home), or take responsibility to monitor their online activity across all devices.

cyber controls

Many friends ask me if I feel guilty looking at what my kids are doing online. My response? With the alarming increase in children’s cyber-crimes, I have a responsibility to be a parent and be in the know. While I don’t micromanage every last online action they take, I have the ability to  perform regular spot checks or at least check it any time I feel concerned.

We can’t afford not to monitor our children online as they access the internet, and especially as the internet accesses them. Too many cyber-crime stories involving children and unaware parents have been reported after it’s too late.  The risks are way too big.

What do you think? How do you monitor your children’s online activities? What’s appropriate for what ages? Click “Comments” below to contribute to this important conversation.

If “Jingle Bell Rock” Makes You Want To Set Your Hair On Fire…

… and you seriously think about moving to North Korea every time you hear “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”: Help is at hand.

From now through Christmas, WWPT-FM is broadcasting 20 hours of Candlelight concerts. The newest is last week’s. The oldest stretches back 50 years.

To avoid “Hallelujah Chorus” overload, after every 3 Candlelights ‘PT runs this year’s Players/audio production broadcast of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

A collage of Candlelight Concert album and CD covers. The 1964 and '66 concerts are in the top row, starting at left.

A collage of Candlelight Concert album and CD covers. The 1964 and ’66 concerts are in the top row, starting at left.

This is not the 1st time the Staples radio station has provided a holiday listening treasure. But new this year are the old 1964, ’65 and ’66 Candlelight Concerts.

Media production instructor Jim Honeycutt digitized, edited and exported Barbara Sherburne’s vinyl records of those 3 performances. There are 17 Candlelights in the rotation: The 3 from the ’60s, then 2001 through 2014.

WWPT-FM can be heard locally at 90.3 FM. But the livestream is available everywhere. Just click on www.wwptfm.com, then go to “Listen Live” and “Click here to access the district stream.”

If you want to actually see the 2014 Candlelight concert — and you’re a Cablevision customer in Westport — it’s on Channel 78 nightly at 7:30.

And here’s a gift for out-of-towners: “It’s A Wonderful Life” is now on YouTube, too. Just click below.

Happy holidays — from George Bailey, Jim Honeycutt, WWPT and Staples to you!

 

“It’s A Wonderful Life” Indeed!

Take out your earbuds. Move over, Spotify. You’re so old school, iTunes.

Staples students are embracing a cutting-edge new technology: radio.

But not just any radio: a 1940s-style radio drama.

WWPT_logoTomorrow (Friday, December 19, 11 a.m.), Jim Honeycutt’s Audio Production class and David Roth’s Theater 3 Acting class collaborate on a radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

They’ll use the original 1947 script — including advertisements from that long-ago time.

Two years ago, a similar WWPT-FM production won 1st and 2nd place awards in the John Drury national high school radio competition. Check it out:

It’s a phenomenal event — and a great undertaking. High school students incorporate live drama skills, sound effects and radio production into an entertaining, uplifting performance.

You can hear it locally on 90.3 FM. Or — in a modern twist unavailable during the Truman administration — you can listen to the livestream anywhere in the world. Just click on www.wwptfm.com, then go to “Listen Live” and “Click here to access the district stream.”

It is indeed a wonderful life!

Westport Library Serves All Types

Westporters take pride in our cutting-edge library. The Maker Space, 3-D printer — if it’s creative and new, Maxine Bleiweis and her staff are all over it.

But sometimes you just need a typewriter.

Again, the library rides to the rescue.

An old IBM Selectric sits all alone in a cubicle overlooking Jesup Green, just waiting for someone to peck away.

Kids: Do you know what this is?

Kids: Do you know what this is?

Still, the library draws the line somewhere. Long ago, the wooden card catalog went to that great reading room in the sky.

(Hat tip to Fred Cantor)