Category Archives: technology

Cell Phone Controversy Towers Over Green’s Farms

5 RTM members — including 4 from Green’s Farms, the center of this issue — sent this letter to “06880.” Don Bergmann (District 1), and District 5 members Seth Braunstein, Peter Gold,  Paul Rossi and John Suggs write:

An AT&T cell tower may be located in a Residence AA Zone, close to the intersection of Hillspoint and Greens Farms Roads. The tower will be 120 feet tall. It would loom above the tree line at this “gateway” intersection leading toward our beaches. The address of the site is 92 Greens Farms Road, a private residence.

The house on the left is 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

The house on the left is 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

We write to engage the public, and to express our abhorrence of a 120-foot cell tower in a residential zone. A citizens group has been formed, and all avenues of opposition are being explored.

Cell phones are part of day-to-day living. They are convenient and, in emergencies, important. Nevertheless, the adverse impacts of a cell tower resonate with most citizens.

Cell towers generate health risks. Also, the size of cell towers, particularly their massive foundations, requires and impacts upon a large land mass.  That will be particularly so at 92 Greens Farms Road, since there are water courses that flow into a nearby pond and also under I-95 to the Sherwood Mill Pond.

The cell phone industry managed in 1996 to secure the passage of very favorable federal legislation. As implemented in Connecticut by the unfortunate creation of a State Siting Council, local communities are severely constrained in their ability to impact upon cell tower siting. Those constraints preclude challenges based upon the adverse effects from electromagnetic fields and radio waves generated by cell towers.

An AT&T cell tower.

An AT&T cell tower.

Those dangers, particularly for the young and those with certain genetic pre-dispositions, are well known, but must be ignored in any site determination by reason of the law. The law also pre-empts local zoning regulations, for example a regulation adopted by Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission in 2000.

Our P&Z regulation makes it clear that Westport does not want any cell tower in a residential zone. Sadly, the law negates the effectiveness of our regulation, except as a public declaration by Westport in opposition to cell towers in residential zones. We believe Westport does not want a 120-foot tall cell tower looming above the trees at 92 Greens Farms Road.

First Selectman Jim Marpe is pursuing avenues that he believes appropriate. However, whatever the town undertakes, public interest and concern is crucial. We need to stop this before it gets to the Siting Council. So please join in this battle. Let us or others on the RTM know of your support. Even better, contact the citizens group by e mailing:, or Hope Hageman,

Please engage. Like Joni Mitchell’s “tearing down trees for a parking lot,” this cell tower will also be a blight.

“06880″ readers, what do you think? Dangerous? Unsightly? Necessary? An issue of one property owner doing what he wants with his property, or one where the wishes of a majority of neighborhood residents should take precedence? Click “Comments” — and please use your full, real name. If relevant, include your neighborhood too.



Tommy’s Phone

I’ve been getting my hair cut at Compo Center Barber Shop for over 30 years. (No jokes, please, about why I need to.)

But until last weekend, I never noticed the phone.

Tommy Ghianuly

Compo Barber Shop’s walls are filled with photos of historic Westport. And a rotary phone sits on the counter.

It’s a throwback — to the days, say, of striped poles and barbers in white uniforms.

“It rings loud,” longtime owner Tom Ghianuly explains. “We can hear it over the clippers and whatnot.”

There’s just one problem: Younger customers can’t use it.

They warily stick their fingers in the dial holes, then push futilely. They have no idea you are supposed to turn the dial all the way, until it goes no further.

That’s okay. There’s no reason to borrow Tommy’s rotary phone.

Even 8-year-olds have cells.

Joseph Reed Gallery: Selling Art The New-Fangled Way

Joe Fortino and Reed Fagan became friends at Coleytown Middle School. At Staples, both played baseball and shared art classes.

In college the SHS 2008 grads became art majors. Joe focused on drawing and painting at Eastern Connecticut; Reed focused on jewelry (and math) at Skidmore.

Reed Fagan (left), Joe Fortino and some of the art they sell.

Reed Fagan (left), Joe Fortino and some of the art they sell.

This may not be stop-the-presses news, but after college they had a tough time finding jobs. Realizing they were not the only struggling art majors, Reed came up with an idea: create a gallery to show their work, and that of other young artists.

They couldn’t afford a storefront, though. So they went online.

Thanks in part to Westport native Jeff Seaver‘s crisp-looking web design, Joseph Reed Gallery has become the go-to place for over a dozen new artists. Most are in their 20s. One is 60, but just starting an art career.

It’s a fully cyberspace operation. (Except for the art — you can actually hang the paintings on your wall, or place a sculpture in your home).

"Cuban Building" -- glicee print on matte, by Robert Zannetti.

“Cuban Building” — glicee print on matte, by Robert Zannetti.

Artists find the website thanks to Craigslist. Buyers discover it through social media. Marketing director Christophe Esposito — another Staples ’08 grad — is a “genius,” Joe says. He’s already generated 1,000 Facebook likes, and 350 Twitter followers.

Many galleries charge artists just to show their work. Joseph Reed is free.

"Tree Lamp," bronze sculpture, by  Natalie Oikawa.

“Tree Lamp,” bronze sculpture, by Natalie Oikawa.

Many take a 50 percent commission — or higher. With virtually no overhead, Joseph Reed sometimes takes less — occasionally even nothing. “We want artists to succeed,” Joe says.

Most works on the site sell in the $200 to $400 range. “It’s work that artists put their heart and soul into, but at affordable prices,” explains Joe.

Joseph Reed Gallery is not for just any artist-wannabe. For every 10 artists who contact the owner, just 1 is accepted.

Though Joe and Reed pay no rent, and are accessible 24/7/365, there are drawbacks to running an online gallery. “No matter how nice a piece is, you can’t see it in person,” Joe admits.

They make up for that with personal touches. Joe has personally delivered artwork to customers — and hung it for them.

All of the original 13 artists are from Connecticut and nearby states. But Joe and Reed are branching out. They’re in negotiations with potential artists from California, London and Milan.

It’s virtually certain they’ll succeed.

"Peak," lithograph on paper by Alexandra Mahoney.

“Peak,” lithograph on paper by Alexandra Mahoney.

Dylan Diamond Makes The Grade

Back in the day, students learned their grades 4 times a year: the end of each quarter, when report cards came out.

Today – isn’t technology wonderful? — kids can access their grades any time they want. Some check them many times a day.

Almost as often as their parents do.

But – isn’t technology a bitch? — until recently, Staples students (and their parents) were frustrated by Home Access Center. That’s the website that works well on a desktop or laptop, but is very hard to view on a mobile device.

Sometimes – this is a true First World problem –  it doesn’t even load. Grrrrr!

Dylan Diamond

Dylan Diamond

Into that frustrating breach rode Dylan Diamond. Only a freshman  – who apparently didn’t get the memo that he shouldn’t start freaking out over grades for a few more months — he developed a free iPhone/iPad app. 

Called “MyHAC” — a clever play on “hacking” and the Home Access Center acronym, while paying homage to Eric Lubin’s very popular “My Staples” schedule-and-time app — it solves every Home Access website problem.

Staples and middle school students – and their parents! — can easily view all grades, class assignments and transcripts. It lists grades from previous marking periods. And a “Remember Me” feature means that (unlike the website) you don’t have to log in each time.

Up next: push notifications, for new assignments.

This is not Dylan’s 1st app. Last year at Coleytown, for a science assignment, he created “MyMoonPhase.” Showing the current moon phase, with a description, it’s been downloaded 3,000 times, all over the world.

The MyHAC screen shows Dylan’s grades. He had a 97.91 in Biology Honors.

The MyHAC screen shows Dylan’s grades. He had a 97.91 in Biology Honors.

“My HAC” has been out for just a few weeks, and its relevance is limited to Westport. But it’s already recorded 600 downloads. (And that’s just for iOS devices. There’s no Android or Windows phone version.)

Dylan — who is also a cross country and track team member, and worked on lighting for Staples Players’ Thoroughly Modern Millie –  is largely self-taught. He took a course in New York last summer on app development, but most of what he knows comes from research on — of course — the internet. He enjoys creating apps, because he has the freedom to do whatever he wants; the process is creative, and the final product helps people.

The toughest parts of creating “My HAC,” Dylan says, were making the app fully compatible with Westport’s servers, and ensuring that all data was secure. Once he figured that out, it took just a couple of weeks to finish.

Dylan can’t use the Westport Schools’ logo. But school officials — and his computer teacher, Nate Dewey — think it’s great. As do all those students checking their grades. at this very moment.

And their parents.

Uh Oh — If That Paypal Link Didn’t Work…

In my excitement over “06880″‘s 5th anniversary, I posted a PayPal link that did not work for some readers.

So, if you want to contribute to the website, and if the previous link didn’t work, try this one. Mobile devices still seem to have problems, though, so you can also click the  “Menu” button at the top to find a “Donate” link.

If that still gives you trouble, try; then log in, create an account, or send money from the drop-down menu by entering this email address:

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.

Sorry for the inconvenience. Definitely a First World problem.


Max Berger Has Designs On Creation

Max Berger is an uber-talented designer. His products and sculptures interact with users in exciting new ways, while blurring the line between function and fine art.

In just past the couple of years, the Westporter has created a coffee table a bit higher than most, so folks can eat comfortably at it. The back panel is missing, providing 8 square feet of storage that can be accessed while sitting on a couch.

Max Berger - coach

Max has made a handsome water bottle with a sophisticated style that monitors and displays how much water you’ve drunk throughout the day.

Max Berger - Surge

He’s designed a 3-part steel candle holder that allows fire to dance between each level, while reflecting off the rusting metal.

Max Berger - steel candle holder

The collection is remarkable for its breadth, depth, creativity and curiosity. It’s even more remarkable because Max is just a college junior.

At Staples, he was influenced by Carla Eichler’s graphic design and Camille Eskell’s art courses. For college he chose the University of Michigan, because it combined a great art school with many other academic opportunities, along with Big Ten spirit.

A Bic pen drawing by Max Berger.

A Bic pen drawing by Max Berger.

En route to his BFA, Max spent 3 months at Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Academy of Design. That solidified his desire to work for an industrial design firm.

“That field is “multi-disciplinary,” Max says. “You use art, architecture, graphics and a lot more to create physical solutions to human problems. There’s business involved too. It’s messy, and fun.”

Max’s greatest creation so far — The Cube — combines many of those elements. As part of the Integrative Product Design competition — a Michigan grad course in business and engineering that’s been featured on CNN and in the Wall Street Journal — he helped lead the winning team.

Max’s group designed and marketed the “Unit.” It’s a combination stool/storage solution.

Max Berger models the Unit he helped design.

Max Berger models the Unit he helped design.

Users buy a file online, and take it to their local maker space’s CNC machine (most colleges have one). The Unit requires no glue or nails; it takes 1 minute to build from plywood.

Once assembled, the stools stack into a multi-fuctional shelf. The top unit is customized with hooks for backpacks and coats; the bottom units are customized with shoe racks.

Max Berger - "The Cube"

Max is always looking ahead. This summer he hopes to intern with an industrial design firm in New York or San Francisco. As a senior next year, he’ll work on his thesis.

And then — well, remember the name Max Berger. You read it here first.

(To see more of Max Berger’s multi-faceted work, click here.)

Another side of Max Berger: his charcoal drawing.

Another side of Max Berger: charcoal drawing.

A Merry Marpe Christmas

First Selectman Jim Marpe extends season’s greetings to all Westporters, the YouTube way.

If there’s a Tumblr, Instagram or Snapchat version, “06880″ will let you know too!

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

“A Christmas Carol” Comes To (Radio) Life Today

When NBC presented “The Sound of Music” — the 1st live network television musical since 1959 — earlier this month, the ratings gangbuster boasted a Westport connection.

Former Staples Player Gina Rattan served as associate director.

Today (Thursday, December 19, 1 p.m.), an entire cast of Players participates in another live performance: “A Christmas Carol.”

This one’s on radio. And while the audience is a bit smaller — WWPT-FM 90.3 is the Staples radio station, though it is livestreamed worldwide — the challenges are the same as with TV. When you’re live, you get no second chances. The moment you screw up, everyone knows.

Rehearsing "A Christmas Carol," in front of the microphones.

Rehearsing “A Christmas Carol,” in front of the microphones.

The show is a combined project of David Roth’s Theater 3 and Jim Honeycutt’s Audio Production classes.

The instructors have collaborated before. In 2009, “A Christmas Carol” took 1st place at the Drury Awards — the highest honor in high school radio. Two years later, “Dracula” earned 2 Druries.

Roth and Honeycutt are using the original radio script from the 1930s — the one for Orson Welles and Mercury Theatre

Live music will be performed by 2 quartets of Orphenians.

Even the sound effects will be live: footsteps on gravel, doors opening, and wind (there’s a wind machine).

Students work on a wide variety of sound effects.

Students work on a wide variety of sound effects.

Roth likes live radio theater. “The challenge to my actors is to convey everything through voice,” he says. “They can’t rely on their body or face to convey emotions.”

(Later this school year, they’ll have another challenge: masks. That takes away their faces, so they must use only their bodies to show feelings.)

For Honeycutt’s class, the challenge is to understand how sounds are made — and recreate them, in many different ways.

“A Christmas Carol” is a holiday favorite. Today, hear this old chestnut performed a new way — an old new way.

(Click here for the WWPT-FM home page, with livestream links.)

Candlelight Concert CDs Now On Sale

If you were at Friday’s Candlelight Concert, you know it was one of the best in the 73 years the music department has been presenting this “gift to the town.”

If you had tickets to Saturday’s performances (or no longer live near Westport, but miss Candlelight greatly), you can only imagine what you missed.

Now — through the magic of the Staples Media Lab — you can listen to the 2013 Candlelight Concert forever. Or at least until CDs become obsolete.

Ordering info is below. But first, a back story that makes this year’s recording even more impressive.

The "Sing We Noel" processional has been part of every Candlelight Concert since 1940. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The “Sing We Noel” processional has been part of every Candlelight Concert since 1940. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Since 2001, audio production teacher Jim Honeycutt has produced Candlelight CDs. It’s an arduous task, but he does it because he loves the music, the young musicians and the tradition. Proceeds help fund the Media Lab.

He and senior Alex Fasciolo began to record the CD 4 days before the Friday Candlelight Concert. The next day, they lost 4 hours of recording time when school was canceled because of snow.

Honeycutt spent the next 2 days frantically preparing the CD for sale on Friday night. He and others were in the school until 11 p.m. Thursday, mixing sound for the production number. The next day, he began burning the CDs.

It not only sounds great — Honeycutt thinks the recording is the best ever — but art student Sophia Henkels’ cover is gorgeous too.

At Friday’s concert, Honeycutt had 4 of the 2001 CDs for sale, plus others from each year since. Former students and their parents were happy to replenish their supply.

But then came Saturday’s snow. Honeycutt now has a slew of CDs — and Candlelight has a ton of fans who never heard the concert.

Click below for an 8-minute sampler — or click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.

CDs are $15 each. Students can purchase them at the Staples Media Lab (Room 450, near the cafeteria). To order by mail, send a check for $15 (made out to “Staples High School”) to: Jim Honeycutt, Staples Media Lab, Staples High School, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880. Please include your name, address, phone and email.

Questions? Call 203-341-1380, or email

Middle Schoolers Rack Up Robotics Titles

Following the path blazed by Staples High, Westport’s  middle schools’ robotics team snagged 2 first-place medals at last weekend’s First Lego League state championship, held at Central Connecticut State University. They also picked up cash, from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The boys — yes, unfortunately, they’re all male — topped nearly 200 teams to win both the Robotics Performance and Robotics Programming categories.

It’s an impressive accomplishment for 12- and 13-year-olds. The event is technically difficult, and highly competitive. They worked for months after school, researching, designing and programming their robots. (They also have many other activities — 7 of the 9, for example, play soccer.)

The winning robot.

The winning robot.

What makes the gold medals even more impressive is that their coaches — Steve Diorio and Mike Durkin — know absolutely nothing about robotics or programming. The boys teach themselves, by reading and watching YouTube videos. The adults basically say, “Way to go, guys.”

There’s one more intriguing element to this story. Despite Westport’s now-global reputation in high school robotics — Staples’ team has won a world championship — there is no high school robotics course. There’s no corporate sponsorship of the club (which itself does not even have formal status).

The Middle School Robotics Club — now in its 2nd year — marks the first formal school system support of the activity.

The 1st-place team is called the Mechanical Masterminds. Members include Coleytown 7th graders Nick Ambrose, Rob Diorio, Nicholas Durkin, John McNab, Daniel Westphal, Josh Zhang and Andy Zhang, and Coleytown 7th grader Justin Schmidt and 8th grader Sunil Green.

A 2nd Westport middle school group — Team SNAP — took home the 2nd place Champions Award. They’re completely independent. Members include Coleytown students Theo Davis, Dan Kleine, Nathanael Metke, Kiran Nandagopal and Luke Sauer. The coach is Terry Sauer.

Congratulations to all the young champions. And their robots, too.

The Masterminds and SNAP robotics teams.

The Masterminds and SNAP robotics teams.