Category Archives: technology

Water, Electricity From Westport And Israel Transform Uganda

Nearly every day, the “06880” tagline — “Where Westport meets the world” — is proven true.

Today’s story takes us to Uganda.

Last year, the Kaners — 2nd selectman Avi, his wife Liz and their 3 kids — were looking for a new charity for their family-owned supermarket to support.

Innovation: Africa seemed perfect.

Drinking water, for many Africans.

Drinking water, for many Africans.

The 8-year-old non-profit uses Israeli solar technology to bring electricity and clean water to African villages, dramatically improving and transforming lives in 7 nations.

Morton Williams Supermarkets’ annual golf tournament raised enough funds to develop a solar-powered system in Bukaduka, Uganda. Pumping water from deep underground, it saves women and young girls from walking several kilometers, many times a day, to fetch parasite and worm-filled water, shared by livestock, that causes diseases like cholera and typhoid.

The water is also tied in to a drip irrigation system, which provides food and income for farmers and their families.

That’s great stuff. But the Kaners did not stop there.

Last month, Liz — an extraordinary volunteer with a variety of local organizations — and her daughter Julia headed to Uganda. They got a first-hand glimpse of the lives changed by their water system. It pumps 16,500 liters of fresh water a day in the village.

The water supply today, thanks to Innovation: Africa.

The water supply today, thanks to Innovation: Africa.

Touring Bukaduka and other villages, the pair saw the incredible impact solar-powered water and electrical systems have on schools, orphanages and religious institutions. Hospitals too — lights have replaced kerosene lamps, while refrigerators can store medicine and vaccines.

The Kaners were greeted with skits, songs and dances. They were presented with homemade gifts.

But none of those gifts compared to the smiles on the faces of the men, women and children Liz and Julia saw — and the water and electricity that flowed — as they traveled to the remote Ugandan villages that now enjoy the fruits of innovation.

Liz and Julia Kaner, with some new friends.

Liz and Julia Kaner, with some new friends.

Watch Liz and Julia Kaner turn on the solar-powered fresh water system for the first time in Bukaduka Village, Uganda:

Watch Julia speak to the villagers during the water system dedication:

(Click here for many more photos and videos from the Kaners’ journey.)

Everything You Need To Know About Your Generator

With snow and high winds predicted for tomorrow, some Westporters may lose power.

Alert “06880” reader Bart Shuldman wants his neighbors — particularly those with new generators, or those who have not thought about their old ones in a while — to be prepared. He passes along these tips:

If you are lucky enough to have a generator, you need to know it needs oil. Depending on the size and type, when running it will need oil once a day, every other day, or every 3 days. Your generator will stop running if and when the oil pressure drops.

Here is how to see how much oil you have — and if necessary, how to change it:

Open the panels that surround the generator. Find the one where the electrical panel is. If the unit is on, turn off the unit first — not the breaker. Your switch should have a middle “off” position. Once the unit is off, wait 30 seconds — then turn the breaker off.

Once everything is off, look for the dipstick. Pull it out, wipe it clean, replace it and see if the oil shows up on the stick. There will be minimum and maximum marks. If below the minimum, add oil.

Find the oil turn cover on top of the unit. Open it up and add the oil (you may need a funnel). Add half a can, then use your dipstick and look again. Add until the oil is close to maximum level.

Once finished, replace the oil cover and put back the oil dipstick.

When starting your generator again, turn on the unit first — not the breaker. Wait a few seconds, then turn the breaker on. Then replace all covers. Your generator will work for at least another day.


Introducing Westport’s Newest Newspaper: The Independent

A new newspaper debuted yesterday: the Westport Independent.

But it did not roll off the presses.

It’s a simulation video game.

Billed as “about censorship, corruption and newspapers,” the idea is this: You’re the editor of a paper in a fictional, fascist 1940s post-war country. What do you do?

You can spin articles a certain way, or censor them. According to the website Kotaku:

The choices you make — which also include how much to spend on marketing in different politically aligned neighborhoods — will either make the Westport Independent seem like a propaganda tool for the draconian Loyalist government, or express sympathies for the Rebel insurgency trying to defy their rule.

Westport Independent

PC Gamer describes:

As editor, you can choose to support the government or encourage rebellion, and you’re in control of which stories get published and how they read. You can switch between different headlines, altering the intonation of each story.

Don’t like that line about a study being government funded? Chop it out. The same article can be about a burglar being apprehended, or a homeless man being assaulted. These choices are determined by your moral compass (and how comfortable you are with your staff getting a compulsory manicure from the secret police).

I have no idea why the developers call this the Westport Independent. But between this game, and the new Showtime hedge fund drama “Billions” set here, our town is fast becoming the media and financial capital of the world.

(For more information — or to buy the Westport Independentclick here.)


Kanye West’s Westport Easter Egg

You may or may not have clicked on SoundCloud for Kanye West’s new song, “Real Friends.”

Even if you did, odds are astronomical you did not click on “view source code” or “show page source” in your browser’s developer menu.

If somehow that happened, you’d have found an Easter egg (an intentional joke, message or feature in an interactive work — not the traditional dyed egg).

The cover art for Kanye West's "Real Friends."

The cover art for Kanye West’s “Real Friends.”

Lying beneath the ASCII art representation of the “Real Friends” cover art is marketing information for Lane Goldberg and David Baker, the site’s designers.

Lane is a former Staples High School student and 2008 Cornell University grad. He now owns BuiltByLane, a Brooklyn-based development/design firm. Besides Kanye West, clients include Tribeca Film Festival and fashion stylist Micaela Erlanger.

Lane’s style is minimalist, as you can see by clicking here.

But — as any good web designer knows — it’s what’s under the hood that counts.

(Hat tip: The Daily Dot. For the full story, click here.)

Lane Goldberg -- a self-portrait.

Lane Goldberg — a self-portrait.


Fireworks Over Westport

Sure, this photo is 3 days late. But it’s worth the wait.

On New Year’s Eve, ace Westport photographer John Videler launched a drone.

Hovering over the Westport Arts Center, it captured this spectacular view of the First Night fireworks celebration. (Click on or hover over to enlarge.)

(Drone photo/John Videler)

(Drone photo/John Videler)

If 2016 is anything like this First Night “first photo,” we’re in for an astonishing year!

Candlelight Kiosks Add To 75th Anniversary Joy

More than a year ago, “06880” posted a request. The Staples High School music department was preparing for its 75th anniversary Candlelight Concert — 13 months away — and needed old programs and recordings for a display. They figured a few might trickle in.

The trickle became a torrent. Audio recordings — records, tapes and CDs — of every concert since that year (except 3) poured in from across the country. So did most printed programs since ’53. (It’s uncertain whether any programs or recordings were made between the very 1st Candlelight in 1940, and 1952.)

Then the fun began.

As anyone who has ever attended a Staples performance knows, the music department does things in a big way. Concertgoers tonight and tomorrow will see a lot more than a simple display.

Staples parent Jeff Hauser spent weeks processing the files. A Brooklyn company digitized the old vinyl LPs. However, they returned only 1 computer file per side. Someone had to hand-split those sides into individual songs — and consult the programs to find out the name of each one.

Staples senior Devon Murray volunteered many hours creating elegantly written software. It allows everyone to click on a particular year, then listen to whatever they want. He’ll be in the lobby, standing near laptops to help anyone (from the Class of 1953?)  who needs help.

In 1979, the annual concert was already 39 years old. Some of those performers -- now with their own children out of college -- will return this weekend.

In 1979, the annual concert was already 39 years old. Some of those performers — now with their own children out of college — will return this weekend.

Staples parent David Pogue took time off from his PBS Nova/CBS Sunday Morning/Yahoo tech jobs to cut apart songs from some of the 1950s concerts. He also loaned the laptops and headphones for the kiosks.

Pogue had fun watching Candlelight evolve. He says, for example, “what we consider a lovely soloist has changed a lot over the years. In the ’50s they were usually given to girls with light, warbly voices, with very fast, fluttery vibratos.”

Pogue also noticed changes to the printed programs. In the 1960s each program says at the top: “Please do not applaud during the program, since the entire concert is being recorded.”

These days, he notes, the show is recorded ahead of time, “without any pesky audience members to ruin the effect.”

The front of the 1962 Candlelight program.

The front of the 1962 Candlelight program.

The audio and program displays are two more added attractions to this weekend’s very special 75th anniversary concert. But if you don’t have tickets, don’t bother going. They were sold out weeks ago.

On the other hand — as noted before, Staples’ music department does things in a very big way. Tomorrow’s (Saturday, December 19, 8 p.m.) performance is being aired live on WWPT-FM (90.3), and broadcast live on Cablevision Channel 78.

If you don’t live within range of radio or TV — no prob! Just click here for a livestream.

You can enjoy Candlelight anywhere in the world. All you’ll miss is the kiosk.

Night Light Flight

Last night, alert “06880” reader Alan Hamilton sent his quadcopter soaring over Westport.

He captured this spectacular view of downtown, looking south along the Saugatuck River to the Sound:

Westport from air - Alan Hamilton quadcopter - December 5, 2015

Here’s another angle, pointing north. Our new landmark — the crane over Bedford Square — is in the distance. The library and Riverwalk are on the right:

Westport from air 2 - Alan Hamilton quadcopter - December 5, 2015

Click on or hover over to enlarge. Enjoy these views that — till now — only Santa, his elves and reindeer have seen.

San Bernardino Tragedy: Westport’s Lil’ Mamas Connection

In just a couple of years, Lil’ Mamas has grown into a big community.

It’s a robust, no-holds-barred, tell-all online family. Thousands of women laugh, cry, rant, and figured out what motherhood is all about, side by side. They answer each other’s questions, and support one another through sleepless nights, diaper explosions, and every other time moms feel so alone.

Ali Porter, and her son Mason.

Ali Porter, and her son Mason.

Lil’ Mamas has a strong Westport flavor. It was started by Ali Porter, a Westporter who left Staples in 1998 to act, work on music and hang with her boyfriend in Malibu. She’d already played Curly Sue in the film of the same name, then went on to Broadway (Urleen in “Footloose,” Bebe in the 2006 revival of “A Chorus Line”).

Celia Behar, who was Ali’s babysitter in Westport — that is, she babysat her — is Lil Mamas’ president. Several frequent contributors are Westporters too.

Women across the country are devoted to Lil’ Mamas. But as they advise each other, and follow one another’s journeys through motherhood, they feel as if they’re part of a small town.

And when tragedy strikes, the site’s many followers come together as if they really do live right down the street.

On Wednesday afternoon, group member Renee Wetzel wrote: “Please pray. My husband was in a meeting and a shooter came in. There are multiple people dead/shot. I can’t get a hold of him.” Her husband was in San Bernardino.

Renee continued to post throughout the day. Eight grueling hours later, she learned that her husband Michael was dead. He left behind 6 children.

Michael and Renee Wetzel, with their 6 children.

Michael and Renee Wetzel, with their 6 children.

The Lil’ Mamas community swung into action. In addition to providing emotional support — prayers, thoughts, loving words — Ali and Celia set up a fund.

The original goal was $25,000. They reached that in just a couple of hours. The new goal is $250,000. Right now, they’re just a few dollars shy.

Lil’ Mamas treats motherhood as less than sacrosanct. Contributors and commenters can be irreverent, sassy and saucy.

But — as Ali Porter and Celia Behar prove — Lil’ Mamas can also have big ol’ hearts.

Especially when the heart has been torn right out of one of their own.

(Click here to contribute to the Wetzel Family Fund.)

Lil Mamas logo




David Pogue Says, Basically: Have A Great Life

Last year, David Pogue offered his millions of fans “the basics”: tips and shortcuts about technology that some of us use every day. Others are gob-smacked by them.

None of us know everything. For every person with no clue that pressing any button on the side or top of a phone instantly stops it from ringing (duh!), there’s another who is amazed to learn that double-clicking any word is the best way to highlight it (whoa!).

That book — Pogue’s Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life — sold so well that his publisher gave him a contract for 2 more.

David Pogue BasicsThe Westport-based tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American) and TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) has just published the follow-up: Pogue’s Basics: Life/Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying Your Life.

Why expand from technology to life?

“I went for low-hanging fruit,” Pogue admits. “I’m a shortcut person. I know a lot about things like health and restaurants.”

And cars. In Basics: Life, you’ll learn how to find which side of your rental car the gas tank is on. Just look at the gas-pump icon on the dashboard. A little triangle points to the left or right. Wow!

Food, too. Wrapping a cucumber or lettuce in a paper towel, then placing it in a plastic bag in a refrigerator keeps it from getting soft and gross. Holy mackerel!

As for cleaning a microwave of caked-on, exploded food: Put a bowl half-full of water inside. Turn it on high for 5 minutes; wipe with a paper towel. Who knew?

Pogue crowd-sourced these tips through Twitter. Several dozen folks contributed ideas. There is wisdom in crowds. But no one is wiser at passing them along than David Pogue.

So what will his next book be?

Well, he has 3 kids. Perhaps essential tips to raising teenagers that no one bothered to tell you.

That could be his best seller ever.

(To buy Pogue’s Basics: Life on Amazon, click here.)

David Pogue passed along some favorite tips at a recent TED Talk.

David Pogue passed along some favorite tips at a recent TED Talk.

Tweetless Turkey Day

Today’s teenagers don’t know life without Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. Not to mention Twitter, Yik Yak, Whatsgoodly, streaming videos from Netflix, and — not incidentally — using laptops, tablets and smartphones for schoolwork, in class and out. Staples High School’s BYOD (“bring your own device”) policy ensures that students are connected — to the internet, and each other — 24/7.

(That’s not an exaggeration. Some kids today sleep with their phones underneath their pillows, so they won’t miss any 3 a.m. notifications.)

Technology is wonderful. But it’s also awful. It causes stress. It fragments attention. Social media in particular raises unrealistic expectations. It prevents people from actually being present — connected personally, not wirelessly — with real friends and family members, in real time.

These are not Staples students. But they could be.

These are not Staples students. But they could be.

No one knows this more than Staples’ guidance counselors. They’re on the front lines, watching students battle with the demands of social media, along with the usual stresses of sky-high expectations in a very competitive community.

The guidance department’s Resilience Project is a way to help teenagers find balance, strength and direction. Counselors regularly share videos, stories and ideas with students, teachers and parents, offering strategies to ease anxiety.

This week, they’re doing more. The Resilience Project proposes a Thanksgiving technology break. For 24 hours — any 24 hours during the holiday — Staples students (and staff!) (parents too!) are urged to step away from all social media. Including (aaargh) texting.

(Graphic/Cameron Lynch, Carla Eichler's Beginnign Design and Tech class)

(Graphic/Cameron Lynch, Carla Eichler’s Beginnign Design and Tech class)

The technology break coincides with another Resilience Project initiative: Teachers are encouraged to not give homework over Thanksgiving weekend, and to delay long-term project due dates to later in the following week.

Without that obligation, and with family and friends nearby, the hope is that for 24 hours, Stapleites can engage — really, truly, not sporadically or half-heartedly — with other human beings.

The Resilience Project suggests that teachers and students discuss the technology break during Communication Time, a 15-minute period on Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

It’s a great idea. Give it a try.

And if you can’t go 24 hours without technology, at least don’t tweet during Thanksgiving dinner.