Category Archives: technology

Check Out These Robots!

The Westport Library long ago branched out from books, newspapers and magazines.

From a fantastic art collection to DVDs, CDs and Blu-rays, to a cutting-edge Maker space and 3D printer, our li’l ol’ library has served a broad range of interests, tastes and technologies.

Get ready now for robots.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that library officials have acquired a pair of humanoid NAO Evolution robots. The main object is to teach “the kind of coding and computer programming skills required to animate such machines.”

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)

Westport, the WSJ says, is the first public library in the nation to offer instruction using “sophisticated humanoid bots made by the French robotics firm Aldebaran.”

According to library director Maxine Bleiweis, robotics is the next big technology — so it should be made accessible to everyone, to learn about it.

Bleiweis adds that from economic and job development perspectives, this is an important step.

The library will debut the robots October 11, with programs and workshops to follow.

Unless the robots have other ideas.

(Click on the full Wall Street Journal story.)

Rick Eason Flies Under The Radar

Rick Eason graduated from Bedford Middle School in June. But the teenager knows aircraft technology, FAA regulations — and Westport skies — like a pro.

Rick has always been interested in electronics. Not long ago, the rising Staples freshman got a drone. His DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter is amazing. Equipped with a GoPro camera providing very high quality 2.6K resolution still photographs and video at 30 fps, plus 4 rotors, it tilts, spins and zooms its way over beaches, homes and fields.

Rick Eason and his drone.

Rick Eason and his drone.

Thanks to GPS it holds its position in wind, moves around a center point, and can even return to the exact spot it was launched if contact is lost.

“It’s so much fun to fly,” he says. “It’s so easy and intuitive to control.

“You can get views no one has ever seen before,” Rick adds with pride. “This is not like Google Earth. You can see your house from 20 feet above.”

Or the Westport Library. Here’s a view from Rick’s website that I’m pretty sure is the 1st of its kind:

Library - Rick Eason's drone

Rick’s dad, Tony Eason, installs solar panels. Rick’s drone helps him inspect roofs.

Drones are still pretty new. Rick saw another Phantom at Winslow Park. “06880” has posted amazing videos, taken by another owner, of Compo Beach and Sherwood Mill Pond. But right now they’re rare, and Rick gets plenty of admiring stares — and questions — when he launches his.

Drones are so new, in fact, that federal regulations can’t keep up. Though drones can rise 2000 feet high, the FAA classifies them as “remote controlled aircraft,” with a limit of 400 feet.

Technically, they can’t fly beyond the owner’s “line of sight.” But, Rick says, he can watch and control his drone through the GoPro camera, using goggles or a laptop.

Rick Eason's drone hovers over his front lawn.

Rick Eason’s drone hovers over his front lawn.

Owners need a license to make money off drones. So legally, Rick can’t charge for his photographs and videos. (That hasn’t stopped others from doing so.)

Rick has learned about privacy laws too. “When you’re 30 feet up with a fisheye lens, you might catch someone’s private home,” he says. “If they ask me, I’ll delete it.” But, he notes, “it’s really no different from taking a photograph of someone’s house from the beach with an iPhone.”

Drones are here to stay. Just a couple of years ago, they cost thousands of dollars each — and did not fly particularly well. Now, Rick says, “you can buy one for $300 at Barnes & Noble.”

Rick's drone, inspecting a roof.

Rick’s drone, inspecting a roof.

Rick loves his drone — but he’s already looking ahead. He’s saving up for a gyroscopic gimbal, to keep the camera even steadier than it is now.

Meanwhile, he’s thinking up clever new uses for his drone. At Staples, he might contribute aerial photograph to Inklings, the school newspaper.

And last Thursday Rick was at Compo, for the 2nd annual “06880” party. While the rest of us were eating, drinking and chatting, he was hard at work.

So here’s the “06880” community — 2014-style:


Westport As You’ve Never Seen It Before: The Sequel

I wasn’t planning to post another drone-over-Westport video — until I saw this.

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

The views of Sherwood Mill Pond, Old Mill Beach and Compo Cove are spectacular.

It’s one of Westport’s greatest — and, believe it or not, hidden to some — gems.

But even though of us who love the area can’t always sense its majestic scope.

Thanks to today’s technology, we now appreciate this timeless expanse of waterfront.

And boy, is there a ton of water.

Westport As You’ve Never Seen It Before

If you liked Melissa Beretta’s tribute to Westport this morning, you’ll love this next homage.

Taken from a drone a month ago, the video soars at just the right height. From Saugatuck Shores to Longshore and Compo, past Schlaet’s Point and over to Old Mill, before heading west back over the beach and Owenoke, it’s the best 6 minutes you’ll ever spend.

We all have a “mental map” of Westport in our heads. This gives you a totally new perspective on this amazingly beautiful town.

(Click the “YouTube” logo in the video above for a larger view. Try this link if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube. Hat tip to Jeff Reilly for spotting this video — which at the time of this posting had only 133 views.)

Check Out The Balloons: The Sequel

North Atlantic Towers floated 2 balloons this morning. They’re part of preparations for building a cell tower in the back yard of a Greens Farms Road home.

Here’s the view from the I-95 overpass on Hillspoint Road. The view looks north.

Cell protest

A couple dozen anti-tower protesters turned up. So — in an observational capacity — did First Selectman Jim Marpe, town attorney Ira Bloom, and state representatives Jonathan Steinberg, Gail Lavielle and Tony Hwang.

(Photos by Mary Ann West)

(Photos by Mary Ann West)

State regulations appear to allow the erection of a cell tower on private property.

But Westport seldom lets an issue like this happen quietly.


Controversial Cell Tower Moves Forward

The cell tower planned for 92 Greens Farms Road moves one step closer to reality next Tuesday.

According to a news release from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, a “balloon float” test is scheduled for June 3.

Marpe added:

While the formal application to the Connecticut Siting Council has not been filed, nor has the required technical report been submitted to the town, North Atlantic Towers apparently intends to do this preliminary balloon test. I was surprised and disappointed to receive this announcement. I have been in touch with a representative from AT&T, and he was unaware of this particular test.

Working with the neighbors, I will still be pressing AT&T and North Atlantic Towers to pursue other locations and technologies that are better suited for the town and this neighborhood.

Marpe’s press release quoted attorney Julie D. Kohler of Cohen and Wolf, representative of North Atlantic Towers. She said they would float 2 balloons. One is 110 feet high (the height AT&T needs).

The other is 150 feet. That provides “a focal point well above tree line and other obstructions during the field reconnaissance so we can locate the site in those areas where the 110 foot balloon may be at or slightly above/below the canopy (particularly helpful this time of year).”

Whatever that means.

The cell tower is planned for the house on the left: 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

The cell tower is planned for the house on the left: 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)


Lauren Kritzer: Let’s #YikYakYuck

Lauren Kritzer is a 2006 Staples grad. When she read about Yik Yak — the social media app that swept through Staples, stunning students with the virulence of anonymous posts — she was moved to respond. Lauren says:

I am the COO of a Manhattan-based platform innovation company, Applico. We started in 2009 as an app development company, so the impact of technology and innovation is nothing new for our clients and our business.

It is easy to be blindsided by innovation. News sources say Yik Yak “hits like a hurricane.” Didn’t Amazon hit like a hurricane? What about Netflix? The iPhone? SnapChat? Uber? Airbnb?

Lauren Kritzer, COO of a platform innovation company, is active in many educational and nonprofit initiatives.

Lauren Kritzer, COO of a platform innovation company, is active in many educational and nonprofit initiatives.

New York is trying to ban Airbnb, and I’m sure Blockbuster would have loved to make Netflix illegal. But you can’t prohibit innovation, any more than you can tell the average college student that drinking is banned on campus. Our approach is completely wrong.

This isn’t a hurricane; this is a wake-up call. When the principal of Staples was interviewed about Yik Yak, he said, “don’t look at it. If you don’t see it, it won’t bother you.”

But you can’t ignore the bullying, and you can’t ban the app. The plan to “geo-fence” (block people who access the app at school) will not work. These apps are powerful, easy to access, flexible and open. Not to mention, the students who are targeted can’t turn a blind eye and certainly can’t forget the damage that has already been done. So what should we do?

This is an online community like any other — Facebook, Twitter — but in its current iteration it is an abusive negative community. The people who make up that community are to blame, not the app itself.

Yik Yak

Let’s take back our community. We need to demonstrate to our students the power of their own voice in a positive way. We need to educate them about innovation, self-branding and the constructive use of technology. 

So we (young professionals, parents, teachers, principals) need to use Yik Yak in the right way!

I propose:

  1. Valedictorian Eliza Llewellyn should publish her entire graduation speech on Yik Yak in bite-sized pieces, in order to kick off this campaign.
  2. We should all start having our own positive daily conversation on Yik Yak, overwhelming the app and showing those who are bullied that the community is here for them. Let’s put the positive/bland comments on the top. Start liking!
  3. Hashtag #YikYakYuck on every post.
  4. Determine a campaign where YikYak will bring opportunities to students. Let’s show them there are two paths to go down – reactive or proactive.

We have been reactive — just like every student who read a hurtful YikYak post. They need leaders who can teach them how to be proactive. Open that app and don’t turn a blind eye. Show them how to use it to become a better version of themselves. We will not understand the changes in the school environment unless we join it and think steps ahead.

Guess what, Staples? We were hit with a hurricane, but the typhoon is coming and is far more powerful…so #YikYakYuck.

Lauren Kritzer in 2006. It's not that long ago -- but no one had ever heard of "apps."

Lauren Kritzer in 2006. It’s not that long ago — but no one had ever heard of “apps.”


Rally Round The EV

Most road rallies start with vroooooming engines.

But electric vehicles are silent. So when 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino waved checkered flags to begin this morning’s 2nd annual Electric Car rally at the Saugatuck train station, engines were very, very quiet.

The air was filled instead with music, and the excitement of a much more environmentally intelligent future.

1st selectman Jim Marpe sends the Downunder electric car on its way. Earlier this year, Marpe drove Robin Tauck's Tesla for a week. He loved i.t

1st selectman Jim Marpe sends the Downunder electric car on its way. Earlier this year, Marpe drove Robin Tauck’s Tesla for a week. He loved it.

EV owners are a proud, enthusiastic, sometimes proselytizing bunch.

They, their co-pilots and hangers-on munched on free muffins from Steam. They discussed “range anxiety,” and shared charging tips.

Robin Tauck, Robert Brickley and their Teslas.

Robin Tauck, Robert Brickley and their Teslas.

They studied 4 pages of intentionally vague directions, for their 40-mile jaunt through Fairfield County.

And then they were  off.

Very, very quietly.

Members of Staples High School's Electric Car Club pile into a small, environmentally friendly vehicle.

Members of Staples High School’s Electric Car Club pile into a small, environmentally friendly vehicle.

New York Times automobile writer (and Staples graduate) Jim Motavalli talks with a charging vendor in the Saugatuck station parking lot.

New York Times automobile writer (and Staples graduate) Jim Motavalli talks with a charging vendor in the Saugatuck station parking lot.

Dkey Oster -- owner of Steam coffee shop -- provided free coffee, muffins and music before today's Electric Car road rally.

Dkey Oster plays outside Steam, before today’s Electric Car road rally. The popular coffee shop provided free coffee, muffins and bagels all morning long.



Yik Yak: The Bad, The Ugly — And The Good

Last Thursday, for a few gruesome hours, Yik Yak swept through Staples High School.

For those who haven’t heard of it — and count yourselves lucky — Yik Yak is an app that allows anyone to post short messages.

Yik YakUnlike Twitter though, users are anonymous. And messages can be viewed only in a 1.5-mile radius. So each Yik Yak group is limited to a precise area — say, a school.

Which makes it fertile ground for gross, moronic comments about classmates, teachers and administrators.

Most of Thursday’s posts were astonishingly misogynistic. Others targeted blacks, Hispanics, Jews and gays.

Yik Yak offered a very disturbing look into the dark underbelly of the adolescent world. It’s a view adults seldom see.

Stuff that in the past appeared only on bathroom walls now infests cyberspace. Yet unlike graffiti, Yik Yak’s posts replicate virally. And unlike graffiti, they can’t be erased.

One of the milder posts on Yik Yak. (Not from the Staples version.)

One of the milder posts on Yik Yak. (Not from the Staples version.)

Several students — stunned at what they read about themselves — left class crying. Girls learned they are considered sluts, or obese pigs. Boys were threatened with violence because they are perceived to be gay. Principal John Dodig — who for 10 years has tried to create a safe, welcoming environment for all — was mocked too.

Dodig moved quickly, asking the IT staff to block the site. Soon, superintendent of schools Elliott Landon got Yik Yak to erect a “geo-fence” around it, blocking access in school. (Officials in other Fairfield County towns — and the city of Chicago — have done the same.)

Yik Yak disableBy Friday morning, Yik Yak was gone. The damage lived on though, in the form of students who were mortified to learn what others thought of them. Some did not want to come to school. Tears, humiliation, even terror continued over the weekend for some.

But this story is not about the hateful, incendiary comments some Stapleites — how many is unclear — posted about their classmates, teachers and administrators.

It’s about what happened afterward.

anti-bullyingDodig left school Thursday “disappointed and somewhat depressed.” His decade of work — trying to build a climate of inclusiveness and kindness, a school free of harassment for any reason — seemed to have crumbled.

On Friday he was scheduled for a meeting elsewhere. But he wanted to be visible. So between every class period, he stood in the halls. At lunch, he was near the cafeteria.

All day long, students approached him. Singly or in small groups, they spoke.

“I’m sorry we disappointed you.” “This isn’t who we are.” “You must feel terrible.” “This is an awesome school.” “I apologize on behalf of my classmates.”

Over and over and over again, Staples students did the right thing.

Driving home that afternoon, Dodig says, “I felt so much better. To see so many of these kids with the courage and strength of character to say this to their principal — it was very encouraging and reaffirming.”

John Dodig is a "superfan" of Staples students.

John Dodig is a “superfan” of Staples students.

Dodig’s mission as Staples principal is to try to make all 1,900 students feel known and loved, by at least one adult. He’s tried to provide a safe, warm and encouraging space for every single boy or girl who comes through the doors every morning.

The vile posts on Yik Yak last Thursday devastated him. The counter-response on Friday made him realize the positive effect he’s had on many.

Yet more work remains to be done. Dodig has encouraged his staff to continue to try to end harassment and bullying, whenever and wherever it occurs. He hopes parents, clergy and other adults in Westport will continue to do the same.

He knows it’s not easy.

And he knows that Yik Yak is not the end of the battle.

“There will always be some technology available that kids misuse,” Dodig says.

Hopefully, there will also be many more kids who — as they did last Friday — know good from evil, and right from wrong. And are not afraid to do the right thing.

(Staples senior Will Haskell — president of Staples Players — has written a brutally honest and spectacularly insightful piece, for New York Magazine. It was published earlier this afternoon on their website. Click here for an insider’s account of the havoc Yik Yak wrought.)  

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.