Category Archives: technology

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, 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, 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)


David Pogue’s “Duh!”

Imagine if you drove a car for years, but never knew that by lifting the little thing on the side of the steering wheel, you could let other drivers know that you planned to turn left or right.

Or if you thought that you had to use the up and down arrows on your TV remote to change channels, rather than simply clicking on the numbers.

Yeah, laugh now. When it comes to computers, laptops, smartphones, e-readers, printers, browsers, email and social networks, we all don’t know certain basics.

For instance:

  • Hitting the space bar is the same as clicking on the scroll bar — and a lot easier.
  • You can silence your cellphone immediately by clicking any button — volume, the on/off switch, whatever.
  • Google can act as a currency translator, flight tracker and Roman numeral converter.

You probably knew some of that. You probably did not know all.

And — until now — no has one collected all that “basic-except-no-one-ever-told-me” information in one place.

Pogues Basics - book coverThe job fell to David Pogue. The Westport resident — who has spent his career explaining technology to the masses, via books, videos, the New York Times and now Yahoo — has just written “Pogue’s Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life.”

It will be published tomorrow (Tuesday, December 9). The tips are a lot shorter than the title.

Pogue first realized the need for a manual — a “driver’s ed course” for tech — a decade ago. He watched in horror as a receptionist agonizingly tried to highlight one word in a Word document. Her cursor kept missing it.

Finally, Pogue asked, “Why don’t you just double-click on the word?”

“Oh my God!” she screamed. She had no idea.

In 2008, Pogue wrote a Times piece on his 25 favorite tips. The comments section exploded, as readers shared their own I-thought-everyone-knew ideas.

Two years ago, Pogue gave a TED talk. In 6 minutes, he raced through 10 tips. It was clear that very few folks in the highly educated, high-functioning audience knew that during a PowerPoint presentation, hitting “B” on a keyboard blacks out the screen, allowing everyone to focus on you and not your slide. (Bonus tip: Hitting “W” whites out the screen.)

David Pogue, hard at work. Did you know that if you open a laptop, you can access all of its features?

David Pogue, hard at work. Did you know that if you open a laptop, you can access all of its features?

The book followed. Now everyone — well, everyone who buys it — will know that hitting the space bar twice on a smartphone automatically inserts a period and space, then capitalizes the next letter you type. (You knew that, right?)

I told Pogue that I don’t know 95% of what Microsoft Word does. I can create columns, insert tildes and Greek letters, and get word counts, all of which I’ve been asked to share by clueless others. But they know other Word tricks I don’t even know I don’t know.

“That’s fine,” Pogue says. “No one uses more than 5% of Microsoft Word. It’s not your fault. My job is to make sure you know which 5% to use.”

Microsoft Word

Click on Pogue’s Basics to order this immensely helpful guide. It’s available in print or as an e-book. And if you don’t know all the ways to get the most out of your e-reader — well, what are you waiting for?

PS: I’m sure you know this, but on the very off chance you don’t:

  • “Airplane mode” charges your phone twice as quickly.
  • Both iPads and Androids have ways to keep your tablet screen from rotating.
  • On YouTube, hitting “J” on your keyboard jumps the video back 10 seconds; “L” moves it ahead 10 seconds.

(Click on this TED video to see the talk that started it all.)

Westport Robotics Team Helps Solve World Problems

The Coleytown/Bedford Middle School robotics team has once again advanced to the state final.

Ho hum. The “Mechanical Masterminds” do that about as regularly as you or I breathe.

It definitely is a big deal. This year’s FLL World Class Competition challenged more than 265,000 children from 80 countries. Teams must solve a problem that requires research, creative thinking and robot programming skills.

Each team designs, builds and programs a robot; poses a question that addresses the annual challenge; researches the topic, and develops a solution.

The Mechanical Masterminds, with Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles (left).

The Mechanical Masterminds, with Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles (left).

The Mechanical Masterminds chose to research the question: How can we help young people and their families in developing nations learn basic solutions to life challenges, in a way that hasn’t been done before?

The team developed a unique teaching app. It can be used on a solar-powered Samsung tablet, and distributed through existing networks to some of the poorest countries in Africa.

The app — which can run without Wi-Fi access — can teach someone without basic literacy skills how to build and deploy simple solutions to complex challenges like a lack of clean drinking water; food insecurity, and communication and public health issues.

For example, app users can build a mini-wind turbine out of simple PVC piping and wire to create enough energy to power a light bulb, cell phone or other small electrical device. They can also learn how to desalinate water.

The group met with Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles, and were in touch with executives at Google, Samsung, the World Bank and Coca-Cola as they prepared their project.

Presenting the app to Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles (right).

Presenting the app to Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles (right).

The state final is this Sunday (December 7) in Shelton. Good luck to team members Nick Ambrose, Rob Diorio, Ben Jia, Daniel Kornbluth, Justin Schmidt, Joe Xiang, Josh Zhang and Andy Zheng, head coach Steve Diorio and assistant coach Mark Kornbluth.

Remembering Chou Chou Merrill

Chou Chou Merrill hadn’t lived in Westport for decades. But today, countless Westporters mourn her death.

The Staples Class of 1970 grad died suddenly in her sleep Saturday night. She was 62 years old.

Thanks to Facebook, thousands of people knew and loved Chou Chou. She created, administered or was an avid contributor to a variety of online communities: “You Know You’re from Westport, CT If …” “Exit 18 – Westport CT Residents and Ex-Residents.” “Save Westport CT From Itself!”

The indomitable Chou Chou Merrill.

The indomitable Chou Chou Merrill.

Not long ago, she founded another group: “Westport CT Artists and Craftsmen.” It was a site for local creative folks to display their works.

That was no casual interest. Her father, Jason Raum, owned an operated “Jewels by Jason” on Main Street for many years. It was upstairs in the handsome stone building next to what is now Tavern on Main, across from Oscar’s.

That Westport connection meant a lot to Chou Chou. So did many other connections. She reveled in her childhood and youth here — the memories she shared, the friendships she nurtured, the opportunities she was given.

Her mother-in-law was Bette Davis. She seldom mentioned it. But not long ago, without saying whose it was, she posted a photo of the actress’ home on Crooked Mile Road. Chou Chou admired it not because of who owned it, but because of how lovely it looked.

As a board member of the Bette Davis Foundation, Chou Chou awarded scholarships to aspiring actors, and other talented students in the entertainment industry.

A couple of days before she died, Chou Chou Merrill (4th from left, black outfit) joined classmates and other longtime Westport friends at Mario's. It was the perfect spot to celebrate "old" Westport, and she highlighted the event on Facebook.

A couple of days before she died, Chou Chou Merrill (4th from left, black outfit) joined classmates and other longtime friends at Mario’s. It was the perfect spot to celebrate “old” Westport, and she highlighted the event on Facebook.

Chou Chou made her mark on her adopted hometown — Brookline, Massachusetts — too. She was a successful real estate broker there, and served on the Town Meeting (the equivalent of our RTM) for over 25 years. She was past co-president of the League of Women Voters Brookline, a member of the Flag Day Parade committee, and a contributor to Little League, the Senior Center, Library and Brookline Community Fund.

Today, many Facebook pages are filled with tributes to Chou Chou. Geoffrey Glaser wrote: “She inspired so much thought with her postings…. She was the glue that held Old Westport together…. She created conversation that introduced us to new friends and reintroduced us to old friends.”

Thanks to Chou Chou Merrill, Westport lives on in words and pictures. Thanks to Facebook — and her thousands of friends and admirers —  she will continue to live too.

Scott Pecoriello: You Do Need This Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

In kindergarten, Scott Pecoriello was curious about rain. His parents showed him a radar map. Hooked, he checked it every day.

The next year he drew a map of the Northeast, and colored in storms. Soon, he was trying to figure out how tornadoes form. (He was completely wrong.)

Scott Pecioriello drew this map -- freehand -- when he was 10 years old.

Scott Pecioriello drew this weather map when he was 10 years old.

From there Scott advanced to the Weather Channel. Then came online forums like AWE (the Association of Weather Enthusiasts), filled with people who share his passion. He taught himself all about meteorology.

Three years ago — as a Staples High School freshman — Scott got tired of sharing his maps and forecasts with a few family members. He started a blog called Wild About Weather. It drew about 12 followers (mostly family members).

When he started a Facebook page, his audience exploded. With each storm he forecasted correctly, his followers grew. With Hurricane Irene, the numbers snowballed (so to speak). During one blizzard last winter, he had a web reach of 2.3 million people.

Sure, you can get your weather forecast anywhere. Folks flock to Scott because he makes it interesting. He breaks down every element, so people can learn. He’s enthusiastic, and his blog and Facebook page are personal.

Scott proves himself during big weather events. You or I might fear a hurricane or snowstorm. Scott revels in them. He’s gone 2 days without sleep. He studies every element, explains each one, then forecasts what’s next.

Scott Pecioriello in his element: measuring snow last year.

Scott Pecioriello in his element: measuring snow last year.

Scott’s biggest success was Hurricane Sandy. But, he notes, “everyone got that right.” He’s prouder of a storm last winter, when he predicted conditions in every Northeastern city with 94% accuracy.

His biggest failure? Also last winter: a dud snowstorm. On his “Know Snow” app, he apologized. And — as he does whenever he gets something wrong — he explained why.

On the app, Scott predicts school closings for each area town. Last year, he was 91% accurate. It would have been higher, he says, but Westport and Fairfield closings are extraordinarily difficult to figure.

Far more often than not though, Scott gets the closings — and his entire forecast — right. That’s why professional meteorologists follow him on Twitter. They respect him, and he in turn learns from them.

Media star Scott Pecoriello, being interviewed on CNBC.

Media star Scott Pecoriello, being interviewed on CNBC.

Another fan is Staples principal John Dodig. Teachers follow him too. But Scott — who in his spare time mentors an autistic boy through the Circle of Friends, and counsels elementary school students about food allergies through a group he helped start — downplays his passion with his friends. “I don’t want to be known as the ‘school weatherman,'” he says.

Okay. But how about a sneak preview of winter for “06880”?

“It will be similar to last year,” Scott says. “A lot of snow in Siberia early correlates to the polar vortex we saw before. If the southern jet stream is active, we could get some big snowstorms.”

Speaking of active, Scott is very. He’s just hired a few assistants, to help launch his new premium service on Wild About Weather.

Here’s my forecast: Scott Pecoriello’s future is very hot.

(Scott is not the only young Westport weather whiz. Jacob Meisel — a 2012 Staples graduate, now at Harvard — has just expanded his own website. He’s branched out to New York and other places from southwestern Connecticut, and is offering subscription services. Click SWCT/NY Weather to learn more.)


Slow Slog With Sprint

Frontier is not the only phone company Westporters have issues with.

I should have known things would not go well when I called Sprint this morning to cancel my mother’s service. (She got an easier-to-use phone, not that it matters.)

I punched in her number. A voice chirped, “Sorry! I did not get that!” Which did not instill a lot of confidence in this particular telecommunications company.

After navigating the complex (and repetitive) phone tree, I reached an actual — though heavily accented — human being. When I said I wanted to cancel the service, I was disconnected. Instantly.

downloadI called again. Again, the voice “did not get” the number I punched in. Once again, I eventually was answered by an actual person. Once again, when I said I wanted to cancel, the line mysteriously went dead.

I called a 3rd time. This time, I started by saying I’d been cut off twice by a phone company. The representative apologized, and took my number to call back “in case it happens again.”

I asked how that could possibly happen. She agreed it shouldn’t, but said by way of explanation that all cancellations must be handled by a supervisor. Of course!

I listened to gruesome music for 6 minutes. Then — silence.

Luckily, she had my callback number. Two minutes later, my phone rang.

My mother has a Toyota. Perhaps you've heard of it?

My mother has a Toyota. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

To make sure I was legitimately calling to cancel an account — perhaps this is a wide-ranging scam — she asked for the make of my mother’s car. “Toyota,” I said.

“Can you spell that?” she asked.

NO, I COULD NOT, I replied (yes, using capital letters.) I told her it was like the best-selling car in the world. She let it go.

She assured me I would not be disconnected again. When I asked how long it would take for the supervisor to pick up, she said, “One to 3 minutes.” No problem! That’s a sprint!

Eight minutes later, the music stopped. I was — yet again — disconnected by a telecommunications company.

This time, there was no callback.

Angry businessman killing the phone

I went online. I did not have an account, so I filled out a form. The password I chose was “SprintSucks1.”

The next part of the form was “Set access level.” I was happy to, except:

  1. there was no way to do that, plus
  2. I had no idea what that meant.

I clicked “Help.” A popup message said, “Questions? Check out our support site with answers to your questions 24/7, or chat with us.”

Which I was happy to do. Except, there was no way to access the support site from the page I was on.

Once more — a mere 50 minutes after starting — I called again. I explained everything I had been through since I started calling THIS TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY. 

The representative pretended to be sympathetic. Miraculously, he did not need to contact a supervisor. He could handle this exceptionally difficult request — cancel the service — all by himself.

Which he did, after taking down my callback number just in case we were disconnected.

sprint-tether-hotspot-300x274It was a simple process, with only 8 or 52 repetitive questions.

At last, it was done.

He had just one last question. Would I like an upgrade?

Why not? Yes! Of course!

I want Sprint to upgrade their !@#$%^&* customer service. Just kick it up a notch — from, say, “atrocious” to “abysmal” — and I’ll be ecstatic.

But I sure won’t call back to tell them that.