Category Archives: technology

Billy Shot Me — And Your Business?

There it is. After googling a business, you find — along with links and directions — a tab inviting you to “See Inside.” One click brings up handsome, wide-angle exterior and interior views of the store or office that you can pan, rotate and zoom in on — just like Google Earth.

You might think — if you think about it at all — that the owner did a nice job hiring a good photographer who can stitch photos into 360-degree views, then had his webmaster post them nicely.

You’d be wrong. As with all things Google, a very regimented, standardized tool runs the program they very boringly call “Google Business Photos.”

A screenshot of part of The Spotted Horse's virtual tour. Clicking on one of the circular arrows on the bottom images brings up the panoramic view.

A screenshot of part of The Spotted Horse’s virtual tour. Clicking a circular arrow on the bottom images brings up the panoramic view. (Click or hover over to enlarge.)

To get those images posted with a “See Inside” link — available through generic search, Business Pages and clicking on a Google Maps icon — a business owner must use a Google photographer.

The photographer’s training process takes 6 months. The certification process is very rigorous. Mistakes made at the pixel level must be fixed.

Just half a dozen Connecticut photographers have gone through the long process. Westport’s Billy Scalzi is one of them.

A 40-year area resident, he was an institutional bond broker who owned 2 companies. He left Wall Street in 1996, to become a real estate speculator. Photography is Scalzi’s 3rd career.

Billy Shot MeHis company is called Billy Shot Me. Using a DSLR camera — and the same technology as Google Street View — he takes Google Business Photos all over the state. Locally, he’s shot The Spotted Horse, Mumbai Times, Picture This and Volvo of Westport. (He’s also done all the rest stops on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway. The owner is very proud that they’ve all been renovated.)

Outside of Westport, Scalzi has shot doctors’ and dentists’ offices — even a psychiatrist’s. (“He wanted that little balloon man in Google Maps,” Scalzi says.)

Scalzi’s fee begins at $350. But that’s the only charge. Google offers its service for free. And because business owners can embed the photos on their own website and in social media, they’re available to users who find them even through search engines like Bing or Yahoo.

On his own — and gratis — Scalzi is shooting and creating virtual tours of Compo Beach, Longshore and Grace Salmon Park. He wants those to be available to anyone who clicks their links on Google Maps.

Taking a virtual tour before you go — to a restaurant, car dealer or psychiatrist’s office — appeals to some people.

To some business owners too — though not all. “It’s simple marketing,” Scalzi says. “I’m amazed that half of all businesses in the U.S. don’t even have websites.”

Billy Scalzi's 360-degree view of Picture This gives potential customers a great idea of what they'll find.

Billy Scalzi’s 360-degree view of Picture This gives potential customers a great idea of what they’ll find.

 

Cathy Beaudoin’s Amazonian Fashion Adventure

Cathy Beaudoin’s first job out of college was at Macy’s.

She hated it. The recent Trinity College (history major) grad would cry in the stock room. “My feet hurt, and I didn’t like my job,” she recalls.

Beaudoin had grown up in Westport. At Staples High School (Class of 1981) Cathy Lewis was a cheerleader, gymnast, volleyball player, and Inklings photographer.

Fortunately, the Macy’s gig did not last long. She spent the next 10 years at Ogilvy & Mather, in direct response marketing.

She laughs at her next career move: Banana Republic, in California.

Beaudoin was back in retail — but with a marketing lens. She developed a customer database, from scratch.

“I had no fashion background,” she recalls. “I was the unsexy, quantitative one” in the company.

Cathy Beaudoin

Cathy Beaudoin

Five years later, Beaudoin moved on to a much bigger job at the Gap. She was given an idea — build a shoe brand — and the result was Piperlime. It was a rare opportunity, she says, “to start something from the ground up, but within the safe confines of an established company.”

Six years ago, Amazon came calling. They wanted Beaudoin to once again create something entirely new. But Amazon is not an apparel company. They’re only the largest internet-based retailer in the nation.

Beaudoin loved living in San Francisco. She and her husband Sean, a novelist, had a new baby. But the challenge — build “Amazon Fashion,” again from scratch.

“I’ve had a blast,” she says. “I’ve never worked with people so intelligent. Every time I walk in a room, I feel like I’m surrounded by the smartest people I ever went to school with.”

Her work, the pace, the “staggering way we give our lives to it — weirdly, I enjoy it all,” Beaudoin says.

Adding fashion to Amazon was not like adding another product line — books, say, or appliances. Clothes and shoes are completely season-dependent — with a crazy timeline.

“None of the algorithms Amazon built are applicable to fashion,” Beaudoin notes. “For a company like this, which believes so strongly in its formula and playbook, this was counter-cultural.”

It was also necessary, she says.

“That’s the work I’m most proud of: being a voice in the wilderness, and making this thrive.”

Amazon Fashion logo

Beaudoin is also proud of growing her team, from 200 people to well over 1000 “amazing” people; carrying almost 3,000 different brands of shoes, clothing, watches, luggage and handbags, and achieving “astronomical” growth rates in both the men’s and women’s business.

Amazon is divided into Kindle, cloud computing and retail. Retail has 4 divisions; Beaudoin leads the Fashion portfolio from Seattle, and 2 sub-divisions based in New York: Shopbop.com and MyHabit.com.

Of course, not every idea works out. Many, in fact, flop.

“Amazon genuinely encourages you to fail,” Beaudoin explains. “If you achieve all your goals, the premise is that your goals are not tough enough. You’re not taking enough risks. That’s this culture.

“I’ve done tons of things that didn’t work. Customers didn’t care, or we didn’t execute well. There’s no shame in it.”

Clearly though, plenty of ideas work out — very, very well.

Cathy Beaudoin, in action.

Cathy Beaudoin, in action.

Yet for all she’s achieved — and her many years based on the West Coast — Beaudoin still considers Westport “home.”

Her parents are still here. But this is also the place, she says, where “I became me. I have memories of my friends, the Minnybus, pizza, the beach. It was an idyllic, wonderful place to grow up. It’s still home base.”

Many friends from Staples — Coleytown Junior High and Burr Farms Elementary School, even — have not left, or left and returned. She sees them everywhere, every time she is back. Her next visit is a few days away.

So what was Amazon Fashion’s president’s own fashion style, back in the day?

“No one in high school would have thought I had any style,” she says. “I was a fan of high-heel clogs.”

And now?

“Classic business lady-like. And spare.”

Ezra’s Video Game Went Viral. You’re Not Going To Believe What He Did Next.

When Ezra — whose parents asked that his last name not be used — was 7 years old, he attended a tech camp.

Inspired, he started developing his own game. He called it “One Line.”

Ezra worked steadily on it. Finally, when it was finished, he posted it on Scratch — an online community developed at MIT to help young kids learn the basics of coding.

It went unnoticed for 10 days. Then, Ezra’s mom says, it was highlighted in a section called “Featured Projects.”

Overnight, Ezra’s game got over 16,000 views — and more than 1000 comments. Nearly all were very positive.

A screen shot of

A screen shot of “One Line.”

Within 2 days Ezra was asked to remake Pacman for Scratch, sell the rights for an app, make a sequel, and help design other games. He’s also been warned to copyright his project, which his mother says is a good idea.

“I don’t think any of the gamers know he’s 8 years old,” she adds. “It’s all a bit overwhelming for him.”

So Ezra did what any normal, viral-game-sensation game creator would do: He turned off the comments.

And went outside to play.

(Click here for Ezra’s game. Enjoy the comments that were posted before he turned them off!)

Tough Times In A Town Of Plenty

There are nightmare scenarios no one wants to think about.

One struck a Westport man named Gary.

His wife died 7 years ago, of stomach cancer. Their 3rd child had just been born.

Gary

Gary

Gary raised them on his own, helping them move beyond their devastating loss. Proudly, he says, they are “growing as well-rounded, loving and respectful kids.”

A sales trader who deals in equities, he works on a commission-only basis. Over the past few months, business dried up.

The family lived in a very modest 2-bedroom apartment. He fell behind on his rent. Last Friday, his landlord evicted him.

Gary is 3 months behind on payments for his 2007 Jeep too. Repossession is imminent.

Two of his 3 children are living with relatives this summer. He’s spoken to Homes With Hope, but they have no housing for a single father and his family.

“I’ve done everything possible to stay positive, and provide for my children these last few years,” he says. “But I find my back up against a wall, and don’t see any other avenues to pursue.

“My credit rating suffered terribly after my wife passed, so a bank loan is not an option at present. I hope business will pick up shortly, and we will be okay.

“I am also a realist. I’m looking for new employment, but that is not an easy task these days.”

He posted those words on GoFundMe.com. It could not have been easy to ask for help like that. But he can’t think of what else to do.

GoFundMe logo

A friend asked me to tell Gary’s story on “06880.” I called Gary, to get his permission.

I warned him that cyberspace can be cruel. Some readers might make snarky remarks about a Westporter — even one who has been evicted from his home — asking for help.

He’s willing to take that chance.

And I’m betting that “06880” readers will understand that Gary’s story could be any of ours.

(To make a contribution to Gary’s GoFundMe page, click here.)

 

 

Some Of You Will Love This Video. Others Will Splutter With Rage.

A video — with the innocuous title “Welcome to Westport” — has been rocketing around the interwebs. At least, that portion of cyberspace that is interested in all things our town-related.

It certainly does not make our town look like Our Town.

Created by Nick Ribolla — a very smart, multi-talented (Players, choir) and energetic Staples High School junior — it offers a teenager’s cynical eye on his hometown. As of last night, it had been viewed nearly 10,000 times.

With jangly music, clever cinematography and near-professional editing, Nick takes on (and down) much of Westport life: our values, our diversity, our drivers, our downtown.

Nick Ribolla, introducing his video.

Nick Ribolla, introducing his video.

More than a dozen “06880” readers have emailed me the link. Some think it’s hilarious. Others have called it “offensive,” “childish” and “anti-Semitic.”

I think Nick has treated everyone equally cynically. (For the record: He’s Brazilian, and a good friend in the video is Indian.)

There are hits and misses. (Though everyone will agree the scene outside Toquet Hall is spot on.)

Driving laws, Nick notes, are

Westport driving laws, Nick notes, are “completely unnecessary.”

It’s something I probably would have made when I was at Staples if I were as talented as Nick, and had all kinds of modern technology at my disposal.

And if I had made it then, I’d probably look back on it now and say, “Wow — that was pretty good. But I can’t believe I actually said…”

Judge for yourself. Here’s the video. Then click “Comments,” to let everyone know how much you do or don’t welcome “Welcome to Westport.” (If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

Towering Over Greens Farms Road

Remember that 120-foot cell tower proposed for a private residence on Greens Farms Road?

It’s on hold — but drivers in the area have recently noticed a smaller tower, near — but not on — the property in question.

Emergency response tower - Greens Farms Road

Hold your texts and emails (if you can get a signal). This is not that cell tower.

It’s Westport’s Emergency Response System — and it’s been there since the mid-1980s. It was installed to warn residents of impending disasters (I’m just guessing, but say, a truck accident involving toxic chemicals on nearby I-95).

The proposed cell tower will be 75 to 100 feet taller than this structure.

So why are people just now noticing it?

A widening project on Greens Farms Road (including a new turning lane onto Hillspoint, visible in the photo above), and resulting deforestation of the area, has made the Emergency Response System more prominent.

As for the cell tower: neighbors, local officials and state legislators are still working to prevent its construction on private property, in a residential zone. The town continues to seek an alternative site on state DOT property.

 

The Entire Memorial Day Parade — In Less Than A Minute

Maybe you watched the entire Memorial Day parade this year. Or you marched in it, so you saw only the Y’s Men or Suzuki violinists in front of you.

Perhaps you slept in. Or you’re 3,000 miles from Westport.

Whatever happened this morning, here’s a chance to relive the entire parade — in 59 seconds.

Nick Pisarro — a Westport resident (off and on) since 1951 — created this fantastic time-lapse video.

It’s got everyone, and everything. You just have to look close — and keep your finger on the pause button.

Bedford Middle Schoolers Head To Olympics

In just their 2nd year of existence, Bedford Middle School’s Science Olympiad team won the state championship.

There’s no telling how far they’ll go now.

Well, actually there is. They’re headed to University of Nebraska, for the national tournament next month.

The 21 middle schoolers compete in a grueling “academic track meet.” They are judged in 23 events, covering topics like earth science, epidemiology, ecology, topography, chemistry, anatomy, entomology, forensics, physics, geology, environmental science, robotics, and mechanical/engineering construction.

The youngsters designed a wooden glider launched by rubber bands, as well as a robot that can pick up small objects and move them around. They’ve also studied a crime scene (including chromatography, fingerprints and soil patterns), then written an essay about who did what (and how).

The Bedford Middle School Science Olympiad team. (Photo/Casey Donahue)

The Bedford Middle School Science Olympiad team. (Photo/Casey Donahue)

The Science Olympiad program was introduced at Bedford by principal Adam Rosen — a former participant himself.

Teachers Art Ellis and Rebecca Kaplan run it as a club. Students put hundreds of hours into preparation — after school nearly every day, and some Saturdays too.

They’ve accomplished a lot. But they can’t do everything alone.

Now — as they prepare for their trip to the nationals — they’re trying to raise $30,000, to cover airfare, buses, accommodations, meals and supplies for the Olympians and chaperones. A GoFundMe webpage has started them on their way.

Team members include Mark Ballesteros, Ethan Chin, Genevieve Domenico, Tyler Edwards, Chet Ellis, Tommy Fabian, Anna Hill, Angela Ji, Vignesh Kareddy, Zach Katz, Charlie Kleeger, Augustin Liu, Maria Maisonet, Aniruddha Murali, Nishika Navrange, Swami Parimal, Sirnia Prasad, Jory Teltser, Alex Tsang and Derek Ye.

Maker Faire: Westport’s Greatest Collection Of Nerds, Geeks, And Way Cool People

Westport’s 4th annual Mini Maker Faire is in full swing today. Up to 6,000 creative, inventive folks of all ages are expected to flood Jesup Green and the library. They’ll spend the day building, designing, creating, hacking, learning, connecting, eating, drinking, listening and playing.

And that’s just at one of the hundreds of interactive, interdisciplinary, interesting exhibits.

The Maker Faire runs till 4 p.m. today (Saturday, April 25). The inspiration will last forever.

“The Great Fredini” is constructing an entire scale model of Coney Island, with a 3D printer. Faire-goers could have their own body scanned — and printed — to be included.

Anyone can play regular foosball. It takes a certain type of person to be part of a human foosball game.

Anyone can play regular foosball. It takes a certain type of person to be part of a human foosball game.

Getting set for the Nerdy Derby: a Pinewood Derby with no rules.

Getting set for the Nerdy Derby: a Pinewood Derby with no rules.

A scavenger hunt includes -- naturally -- QR codes. As noted, this event was developed by the Kids' Committee.

A scavenger hunt includes — naturally — QR codes. As noted, this event was developed by kids. Participants earned a free download of digital goodies; the randomly selected 1st prize was a gift certificate to robotics camp.

Where can you find a real live violin-maker? At the Maker Faire, of course.

Where can you find a real live cello-maker? At the Maker Faire, of course.

But sometimes it was fun just to play with a low-tech toy: the sculpture outside the library.

Sometimes it was fun just to play with a low-tech toy: the sculpture outside the library.

Come One, Come All To The Maker Faire!

It’s crunch week, as organizers get ready for Saturday’s 4th annual Mini Maker Faire.

6,000 attendees are expected at Connecticut’s largest event focused on creativity and innovation.

Naturally, you can expect the unexpected. Like a Human Foosball table, a Nerdy Derby (Pinewood Derby with no rules), and Marshamllow Shooters.

It takes human beings to design and make a Human  Foosball Table. Hard at work last weekend were (from left) Cecilia Fung, Kerstin Rao, Michael Miller, Vijay  Rao and Jeff Boak.

It takes human beings to design and make a Human Foosball Table. Hard at work last weekend were (from left) Cecilia Fung, Kerstin Rao, Michael Miller, Vijay Rao and Jeff Boak.

The event has quickly become a highlight on Westport’s annual calendar. Over 100 “Maker” exhibitors — specializing in arts and crafts, science and engineering, robots and rockets, electric cars, boats, sustainable living, even puppets — will open their arms to anyone who likes to tinker (or hang out with those who do).

It’s a family friendly day — meaning (of course) there’s food and music too.

The poster says: “Make. Build. Design. Hack. Eat. Drink. Listen. Learn. Connect. Create. Play.”

Need another reason to go? If you register for free tickets online (to help make sure there’s enough “stuff” for everyone) — and bring your printed-out ticket to the Maker Faire — you’ll be entered in a contest to win a 3D printer.

You were expecting maybe a gift certificate? How un-Faire.

The Mini Maker Faire is this Saturday (April 25, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) at Jesup Green and the Westport Library. Click here for more information.

Maker Faire poster