Category Archives: technology

Roundup: Smart Switch; Water Tanks; Panera Bread; More


Chris Scherban is quite bright. He was Staples High School’s 2017 salutatorian; he’s now at Georgia Tech. He’s a veteran of many Westport Maker Faires.

He and 2 friends have just launched a smart home startup, called Theory. With it, anyone — including numbskulls — can make any light switch (indoors or out) smart. Chris’ switch goes on top of existing one — no tools needed. It works via an app, and an adhesive strip.

Theory can be controlled through iOS, Android, Alexa, Google Assistant, even his new website. 

Now they just have to bring it to market.

A few minutes ago, they launched a Kickstarter campaign. The goal is $45,000. To help, click here.

Chris Scherban


Site work has begun on the North Avenue water tanks. A row of old trees has been taken down, offering a few of the decades-old tank that few have ever seen.

As part of the agreement with neighbors, Aquarion will eventually provide extensive landscape restoration.

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)


When the Westport Panera location looked closed — and any mention of it vanished from their website — Bitsy Higgins reached out to their “customer care” team.

This morning, they emailed her:

Thanks for your patience the West port location will reopen on 7/7/2020. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. Have a great day!”

That’s tomorrow. And the news will ensure that many Westporters (or “West porters”) have a great day.

The Panera Bread near the Southport line.


Westport was awash in red, white and blue this holiday weekend.

There was this too, at a home near downtown: a reminder of another color that is an important part of the fabric of America. (Hat tip: Hannah Spencer)


And finally … 22 years ago today — July 6, 1998 — Roy Rogers died of heart failure. He was 86 years old.

 

David Pogue’s CritterCam

David Pogue is an Emmy-winning tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American) and TV correspondent (“CBS Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”).

David Pogue at work in Westport, long before the coronavirus.

Yet in many ways he’s just another Westport homeowner. Every once in a while he tosses food scraps onto the yard. He figures some hungry critters will appreciate them.

Every morning, they’re gone.

His inquisitive mind wonders: Who — or what — eats them so promptly?

With a bit of time during the lockdown, he finally indulged his curiosity. On Amazon he discovered motion-triggered night-vision cameras (aka trail cameras).

The other night, he set one up. To test his visitors’ intelligence, Pogue put some corn cob pieces and stale bread under a mixing bowl, held down with a piece of slate.

The next morning he retrieved the memory card from the camera. He was amazed by both the number and variety of creatures who stopped by. He had no idea most of them lived nearby.

Being David Pogue, he edited the 12 species into a montage. Click below (if you dare):

Pogue says, “I’m aware that it’s not a great idea to leave food out for wild animals. Human food is ‘junk food’ for them, and we also don’t want them to become dependent.

“‘06880’ readers can rest assured that our food-tossing is an occasional experiment, not a regular practice.”

Pogue also knows that many Westporters are alarmed to see wildlife in their midst.

“I guess I’m a little different that way,” he says.

“I’m thrilled to know that despite our intrusion into their territory, so many native species still thrive, with their own active routines, as we lie asleep at night.”

Unsung Hero #145

Alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Bob Weingarten writes:

Although the entire staff at the Senior Center should be recognized for their support during the pandemic, I would like to recognize one individual who has assisted many of us seniors on how to participate in the new online Senior Center programs. While doing that, he has also called seniors just to chat and ask about our health.

When COVID-19 struck, the Senior Center made over 30 programs available online. They range from yoga, tai chi, qigong and exercise classes to French language, current events, religion class and studio art.

To take an online class a participant needs a computer, email address and internet access. But having those resources means nothing, unless you know how to use them.

Jason Wilson, in a Zoom meeting.

Jason joined the Center full time last July, as assistant program manager. He has made it his mission to help seniors — and instructors — learn new technology skills.

When I had a problem accessing Zoom for one of my wife’s classes, Jason helped. He remained online to make sure no one else had any problems.

We should all be thankful to the entire staff at the Senior Center, including director Susan Pfister  and program manager Holly Betts. The doors may be closed, by Jason is helpful — and the staff provides phone coverage Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

COVID-19 Roundup: Supper & Soul; Plants & Earthplace; Technology & Masks; More


“Supper & Soul” was a great, popular concept. The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce organized dinner, a concert, and dessert/drinks. It was a moveable feast, great downtown entertainment, and tons of fun.

It was also something you could do in a pre-COVID world. But — undaunted — the Chamber and Westport Library have partnered to offer a new, socially distant (but still very cool) “Stay Home & Soul” program.

The first one is next Friday (May 15). There’s curbside pickup dinner from any of 15 local restaurants, and a livestream concert by folk/roots rock band David Wax Museum. The husband and wife duo earned raves for their Supper & Soul concert last year. The opening act is Staples graduate and multi-talented musician Drew Angus.

$35 a person gets you a 2-course dinner, and access to the show. Want the concert only? That’s just $11.

$1 of every ticket will be donated to the Homes With Hope food pantry.

Participating restaurants include Dunville’s, Jesup Hall, Kawa Ni, Match Burger Lobster, Pane e Bene, Pearl at Longshore, Rive Bistro, Romanacci Xpress, Tarantino, The Boathouse, The Whelk, Viva Zapata, Walrus Alley (formerly Rothbard Ale + Larder) and Wafu.

For more information and tickets, click here.


Today would have been the Westport Garden Club‘s annual Plant Sale.

It didn’t happen. But the 96-year-old organization is not letting any grass grow under their feet.

Today they launch Friday Flowers. Each Friday, members will share pots and bouquets of colorful flowers at locations around town.

The first “flower bombing” is at Saugatuck Congregational Church. That’s appropriate — for years, the downtown landmark has hosted the Plant Sale.

The goal of Friday Flowers is to encourage a love of gardening, while respecting the current limits on public interaction. Providing fresh flowers reflects the club’s mission to participate in civic beautification, and its dedication to the community.

Photos of each week’s display will be posted on Facebook and Instagram. Anyone can post their own photos too; just use the hashtag #FridayFlowers.


Speaking of nature: Here’s an update from Earthplace.

“We cannot say enough how much we miss our visitors, families and students during these difficult times.

“Our building may be closed to the public, but we are very active behind the scenes. Our 50+ animals need daily care, our building and grounds maintenance is ongoing, and our critical river monitoring work continues. The Earthplace trails remain open. We hope you come visit and (safely) spend some time outdoors in nature!

“Meanwhile, our wonderful staff has been working hard to support the Earthplace community with online resources including stay-at-home activities and educational nature videos. Click below for a virtual visit of Animal Hall, and check out our new YouTube channel.”


Early in the pandemic, Dream Spa & Salon owner Lori Dodd got a surprising — but welcome — call.

A group of concerned, caring citizens were making anonymous donations to businesses in town. Dream was on the list.A

An attorney played Santa for a day. He delivered much-needed (and greatly appreciated) checks to places that met certain criteria:

  • Long-time Westport business
  • Owned and/or operated by Westport residents
  • Impacted by Covid-19
  • “Westport would not be the same without them.”

That last meant a lot to Lori. She cried — and was told other men and women did too when they got their donations. It helped a lot to keep her salon going.

And it’s still going. She’s got a Mother’s Day special: For gift certificates of $150, you can pick up a major spa swag bag (prepared of course by healthy, gloved and masked staff!). Just click here, then text 203-349-0680 to say you’ll be picking up the certificate and gift bag on Saturday, May 9 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), as opposed to the e-gift option.


Many Staples High School students have access to technology. Many students elsewhere do not.

Some of those Westporters — members of Staples’ Girls Who Code chapter –have joined a national fundraiser to provide underprivileged girls the technology they need, now more than ever. Without it — and with libraries and community centers closed — virtual learning is virtually impossible.

The effort runs through May 12. Girls Who Code’s partner Citrix will match every donation, up to $50,000. To help, click here.


Staples High School Class of 2000 graduate Shane Smith had plenty of success as an entrepreneur with Med Spa. But through a connection with one of the country’s largest laser cutters, he’s now helping provide masks to those who desperately need them.

CT (Connecticut) Masks began as a charity effort. He and partner Nuwan Foley first donated 170 masks to the Westport police department. They shared the news on social media; residents soon asked if they could buy the same type masks.

The masks are laser cut in the US, and machine packaged. That eliminates human contact, while the “no-sew” style makes them more comfortable than most. There is a lightweight “jersey” style, and a thicker “fleece” option.

Shane and Nuwan sold some, bought more, and donated even more. Up next: Norwalk Police Department, and a New York City precinct.

To order your own — and help them pay it forward — click here.

 


And finally … back in the day, Friday marked the end of a tough week. Work, school, whatever — it was all over. Time to cut loose, kick back and par-tay!

Now, Friday is just another in an endless line of similar days. You may not even know today is Friday. But it is. So cut loose, kick back, and get down with the Easybeats.

COVID-19 Roundup: OneWestport/ASF Stuff; Aztec Two-Step; Tech Help; More


Just days after COVID-19 slammed into town, OneWestport provided residents with a one-stop spot to learn which restaurants, stores and services were open — and how to access their websites.

It still does. But now — just in time for Mother’s Day — OneWestport has added a new feature: an online store.

Partnering with ASF — the sports-and-more store that supports every local team and fundraiser that asks — they developed a design matching the style Staples High freshman James Dobin-Smith used to create the look of OneWestport.

They’re selling hoodies, t-shirts, tank tops and hats, in a variety of styles, for all ages. As with most ASF merchandise, you can add your name to the sleeves.

In keeping with the site’s we’re-all-in-this-together ethos, 100% of profits go to Homes With Hope, Westport’s supportive housing agency.

It’s a win-win-win: for the organization, the store and us. Click here to see what’s available, and place an order.


For nearly 50 years, Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman were Aztec Two-Step. After Neal’s wife died in 2017, Rex started working on a song about love and loss.

He lives in Westport, and his wife Dodie Pettit has replaced Neal in the duo. Like musicians everywhere, when the pandemic hit they had to cancel all upcoming concerts

Rex and Dodie spent a month reworking and recording the song — “Words (How Do You Tell Someone)” — in their home studio. Bandmates came over — one at a time, masked — to overdub their parts. Among them: Westport flutist Joe Meo.

“With all that’s going on, it feels relevant,” Rex says. “Give it a look and listen. If you think it will help a friend or loved one, please pass it on.”


Claire Lee is a junior at Staples High School. Starting as a freshman, she volunteered at the Westport Library, helping patrons with technology-related issues.

COVID-19 has forced her to stay home. However, she still wants to help the community. And — as many folks work from home without their usual tech report, and others grapple with new technology to try to keep in touch — the need is greater than ever.

But — thanks to technology — help is at hand. Claire created Tech Check, a free website through which she offers assistance for tech-related issues.

Just click here, scroll down, fill out the info, and look for a return email from “TechCheck06880@gmail.”

Claire is available by Zoom too. If you don’t know how to use it, that should be part of your first request!

Claire Lee


More Staples news: Yesterday, the “We the People” team celebrated their spectacular 5th place finish at the national competition the previous weekend.

It was held virtually, of course — via Zoom — so yesterday’s event was equally COVIDian.

The team met in the Trumbull Mall parking lot, not far from where Suzanne Kammerman, their social studies teacher and advisor, lives.

All were spaced 6 feet apart. They cheered Kammerman; the parents cheered their kids. It was not the same as hugging and high-fiving.

But it’s still a season, and finish, they’ll remember forever.


There’s a new thing on Instagram, called Yorkshire Silly Walks. It comes from Monty Python, and includes “The Ministry of Silly Walks.”

Yesterday, Robbie Guimond’s 3 daughters borrowed the idea — complete with a sign. So if you find yourself on Riverside Avenue, in the vicinity of his Bridgebrook Marina, be warned: You are commanded to walk silly.


And finally … as the greatest city in the world starts to emerge, slowly, from the worst of the pandemic, here’s its greatest tributes ever:

Police Ground Drone Program

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas said this afternoon that after careful consideration, and in collaboration with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, the Police Department will not participate in the Draganfly drone “Flatten the Curve Pilot Program.”

The department’s recent announcement of a plan to partner participate in a test of drone technology drew public concern.

“To those who reached out directly to the police department, the selectman’s office or otherwise made public these questions or concerns, we sincerely thank you for your continued community engagement and seek to assure you that your voices have been heard,” Koskinas says.

A Draganfly drone

Marpe notes, “in our good faith effort to get ahead of the virus and potential need to manage and safely monitor crowds and social distancing in this environment, our announcement was perhaps misinterpreted, not well received, and posed many additional questions.

“We heard and respect your concerns, and are therefore stepping back and reconsidering the full impact of the technology and its use in law enforcement protocol.”

Koskinas adds, “I am always committed to bringing our community the most innovative solutions to the public safety problems that it faces. Although I see the greater potential of this technology, I will always be responsive and respectful of the concerns of our citizens in every decision that I make.

“It is a fact that the COVID-19 virus continues to spread through the global community, and therefore poses a serious and credible threat to us all now and in the future. In our steadfast commitment to public service, we remain honored to have been given an opportunity to assist in a pilot program which could someday prove to be a valuable lifesaving tool. We thank Draganfly for offering the pilot program to Westport, and sincerely hope to be included in future innovations once we are convinced the program is appropriate for Westport.

“The Westport Police Department has always made public safety its primary focus while simultaneously respecting the civil liberties of our residents and visitors. We remain steadfast in honoring this commitment.”

Drones May Help Police In COVID Crisis

Can drones help Westport flatten the coronavirus curve? Westport Police want to find out.

Chief Foti Koskinas and Captain Ryan Paulsson, head of the department’s drone program, are testing new technology, through a partnership with drone company Draganfly.

It could be used in areas where large, unsafe gatherings might occur, such as Compo Beach and Longshore. If crowds are gathered, it could make an announcement asking people to practice physical distancing, or leave.

It does not use facial recognition technology, and would not be used over private property.

Draganfly says that its software can also scan body temperature, heart and respiration rates, coughs and blood pressure. The Canadian company says the drone can detect infectious conditions from 190 feet.

Koskinas notes that such data — if it is reliable — would probably be used by health officials, not the police.

A Draganfly drone

The department has been using drones for several years already. Purposes include missing persons, motor vehicle accidents, and assisting the Fire Department.

Westport Company May Hold Key To COVID Anti-Viral Drug

Since mid-March, Westport has been known as the town where one party launched a “super-spread” of the coronavirus.

But if a small company on the Saugatuck River has its way, we may soon be known as the home of one of the first anti-viral drugs to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

The company is BioSig Technologies. It was founded as a medical technology company in 2009 in Los Angeles, primarily to treat cardiac arrhythmia.

Ken Londoner

Founder Ken Londoner — who has worked in the life sciences investment field since 1991 — moved to Westport in 1994. A few years ago he grew tired of the weekly commute to California.

Many customers for BioSig’s new bioelectronic medicine product were on the East Coast. Londoner knew this area was filled with great potential employees. Office space here was cheaper than in L.A.

In 2018 he moved his headquarters into new space on Wilton Road. (There are satellite offices in Los Angeles and Rochester, Minnesota, site of the Mayo Clinic.)

BioSig never planned to be a biotech company. But Dr. Jerry Zeldis — one of the NASDAQ publicly traded firm’s board members — was working on a long term project called Vicromax. The oral drug — a broad spectrum anti-viral — was focused on hepatitis C.

Yet by using COVID-19 samples from Wuhan and Seattle, Zeldis found it was 96.8% effective in reducing the viral effect in cell cultures. Vicromax has the potential to substantially reduce viral replication of COVID-19 — outside of the lab, in humans.

BioSig quickly set up a subsidiary — ViralClear Pharma — to work on the project, and help Zeldis bring the drug to market.

“Work” is the right word: They’re at it 18 to 21 hours a day, 7 days a week.

They hope the FDA will approve human testing before the end of May. If they show the same results with humans as with cells in the lab, BioSig could move forward quickly.

Londoner stresses that BioSig is working on oral treatments — not vaccines.

“Those take much longer to get to the public,” he says. The “18 month” time frame that has been discussed in the media is unrealistic, he believes. He thinks a vaccine available to the general public is 2 to 3 years away.

Anti-viral medications like Vicromax, however, have an enormous impact. Used as part of a multi-drug cocktail, they have made hepatitis C completely curable, HIV a manageable chronic disease rather than a death sentence, and been very effective against hepatitis B and Ebola.

BioSig is helpin unlock he mysteries of the COVID-19 virus.

Drug development is a low-key, no-glamour business. It’s off most people’s radars — until an event like a pandemic focuses their attention on it.

Most Westporters have never heard of BioSig. That’s fine with Londoner.

“We’re not hypesters,” he says. “We’re too busy for that.”

So while most of the world shelters in place, the staff at BioSig is racing forward on a solution to get us all back on track.

Right here in the town that was an early epicenter of the disease.

Q104.3 Studio Moves To Westport

In his 4 decades in radio — 3 of them as one of New York’s most popular DJs — Ian O’Malley has broadcast from many venues: the top of an Alaska mountain. The Maritime Provinces. A blimp.

Until last weekend though, he’d never done a show from his basement.

The cornoavirus has upended even Q104.3.

O’Malley usually works weekends. The commute from Westport to the Tribeca studio is not hard.

It’s a happy place. Besides the classic rock station, the 6th Avenue building is home to Z100, Hot 97, Power 105.1, Lite FM and WKTU.

But when a worker on the floor below fell ill with COVID-19, the decision came quickly: All shows would now be done from DJs’ homes.

While some colleagues broadcast from closets, O’Malley was lucky. He had already set up his Greens Farms basement for voice-over work. (You’ve heard his voice. Plenty.)

It’s well soundproofed — but not perfect. Last Sunday afternoon, he heard his young sons racing around upstairs.

His many listeners were probably unaware of the noise. Even if they heard it, they would not care. O’Malley was on the air, a familiar presence playing classic rock and telling classic stories.

Ian O’Malley did not have to dress up for last weekend’s shift.

He works mostly weekends now. The rest of the time he’s a very successful real estate agent with the Higgins Group.

He adapted to home broadcasting more easily than some colleagues. “DJs like routine,” O’Malley notes. “This was out of their element. They were nervous.”

He was too — for the first 10 minutes. Then he realized he was doing fine. He and his listeners were having fun. He was back in his groove, easily mixing music and conversation: stories about Van Halen, shout-outs, birthday greetings. “Sitting around the campfire,” he calls it.

Just as in New York, all the songs were pre-loaded into a computer. His laptop showed exactly what he would have seen in the iHeart studio.

Still, he says, this time he was completely in charge. He constantly checked his mic and sound levels.

“I really had to be on top of my game,” he says. “That makes it interesting and exciting.”

Ian O’Malley’s home studio.

Another difference: Usually, he gives away concert tickets. Those have all been postponed.

At any rate, he could not have done it from home. O’Malley did miss taking listeners’ calls.

Many listeners had no idea he was broadcasting from his basement. Those who did, appreciated hearing his familiar voice.

“They said it was calming. It makes you realize that music is important,” he says.

Ian O’Malley tells stories about many famous musicians — including Fairfield native John Mayer.

O’Malley has always enjoyed working in New York. But, he admits, “It was pretty nice to hop downstairs. During long sets, I could grab something to eat. And when I finished my show, I was done. No train. I just headed upstairs.”

He heads down to his basement again this weekend (10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday). For those 5 hours — as Huey Lewis sings — the heart of rock and roll is still beating.

In Westport.

David Pogue Zooms In On Westport

David Pogue does it all.

Our Westport neighbor is an Emmy- and Webby-winning tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American) and TV correspondent (“CBS Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”).

Those are big companies. David is the first to admit that, as creative and inspired as is, he’s got tons of production firepower behind him.

Until this month, that is. COVID-19 has made mincemeat of modern media. Rachel Maddow talk to US senators via Skype. Anderson Cooper broadcasts from home.

As for David — well, let him tell his tale.

Yesterday, “CBS Sunday Morning” aired my cover story: How to work and live at home without losing your mind.

Here’s the problem: CBS News is locked down. Nobody can get into New York City headquarters. No camera crews are available, and no travel is permitted for making stories.

So I proposed something radical: I’d write, shoot, perform and edit this entire piece at home in Westport.

David Pogue at work in Westport, long before the coronavirus.

Dan asked if I’d reveal a bit more about how the whole thing came together, for “06880.” Happy to comply!

First of all, it’s incredibly easy these days to shoot and record video that’s good enough for TV. All you need is a cheap flat-panel LED light, a digital camera, and a wireless mike.

A big chunk of my story was an introduction to Zoom, the video-chatting program that’s become a hero of the coronavirus crisis. It’s free and easy to use; the video’s very stable; it can accommodate up to 100 people on screen at once —and you can record the video meeting with a single click.

To demonstrate the possibilities, my producer arranged a historic first: All of “CBS Sunday Morning’s” correspondents on the screen simultaneously in a Zoom video. Even Jane Pauley, our host!

There’s David: top row, 2nd from left.

It was supposed to be a 5-minute deal. But it was so much fun, the call went on for over an hour. Even though we’re on the show week after week, most of us rarely meet in person.

(I’ll spare you the story of how the resulting huge video file somehow got corrupted and wasn’t openable … and how, panicking, I hunted down a Zoom PR person at midnight, who wrangled a company engineer into rescuing the file just in time for the broadcast.)

In my script I cited a new rule for the videochat era: Informal is the new normal. You’ll see kids, pets and untidy backgrounds in your video calls — and that’s all allowed now.

Imagine my delight and amusement then, when I interviewed neuropsychologist Sanam Hazeez — and in the middle, her twin 5-year-old boys burst into her office, crying. One had driven a truck over the other’s foot. (To be clear, it was a toy truck.) It was completely unplanned — but could not have made my point any better.

Well, except when Wilbur the Wonder Cat started pacing back and forth in front of my laptop camera during the interview.

Sheltering in place doesn’t mean you’re not allowed out of the house. My 3 kids are all home, of course. I corralled one of them into taking a walk with me beside the Bedford Middle School field, and another to pilot a Mavic Mini drone to film the scene. It came out great!

As it turns out, it’s even safe to meet friends face to face, as long as you maintain a decent distance. In hopes of finding examples to film, I posted a note on NextDoor.com. It’s kind of like a Facebook for neighborhoods, like Eastern Westport or whatever. (If you haven’t joined, you should. It’s free.)

Usually, NextDoor is full of lost-dog notices and “Can you recommend a plumber?” posts. But during the crisis it offers great social-distancing ideas, invitations to virtual gatherings, even a Help Map where you can see who needs errands or groceries, and you can volunteer.

My query led me first to a group of young women, all sent home from college, who gather in the parking lot of Weston Middle School, where they had been together years ago. They park their cars in a circle, sit on their trunks, 15 feet apart, and just hang out. It’s glorious. I filmed it from overhead, with my drone.

I also heard from Westport Library fundraiser Barbara Durham, who lives in an apartment building in Bridgeport. She told me that some evenings she gathers with her neighbors across the elevator lobby, each pulling a chair into her apartment doorway, for “Cocktails in the Foyer.” I drove over to film one of these wonderful social-distance parties.

I love how the story came out. I’m grateful to everyone who helped, who allowed me to film them, and who believed in the idea. (That includes my bosses at “CBS Sunday Morning,” who took a leap of faith in trusting me to deliver a story they wouldn’t see until it was finished.)

Once we’re allowed to be close to each other again, I’ll thank you all in person —with a tender, heartfelt elbow bump.

But enough about David’s back story. Click below for his piece — and Westport and Weston’s contribution to surviving in our new work-at-home world.