Category Archives: technology

Roundup: Sound App, Y’s Men, More

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There’s an app for everything. Including remote audience and applause sounds.

Westporters Mark and Faith Sargent have developed iCrowd. It allows anyone — by themselves, or with just a couple of people — to make the same crowd sounds as if they were attending an event in, well, a crowd.

You can applaud with different levels of enthusiasm, boo, groan or make other crowd sounds.

The sounds selected by all of the users are transmitted to the cloud, then combined using the Sargents’ proprietary algorithm to form an aggregate crowd noise, which is transmitted back to each user.

Each user hears a combination of the sound they selected, and the combined crowd sound.

The crowd sound can be played over speakers where the event is taking place, so athletes, performers or others can hear the sound of the remote audience.

There’s also a chat for each event. So members of the remote audience can comment on the sound — or anything else — in real time.

The possibilities are endless. It’s great for sports events, plays and music performances (even those done virtually, like Facebook Live), or a TV show watch party. Politicians can use it for speeches too. Family members celebrating an online birthday can add applause and cheers when the cake is cut. Office workers can react to the boss’ presentation.

And if COVID knocks out our annual “06880” party again this summer, we can use iCrowd to make some noise.

To learn more, click here.

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The Y’s men continue to hike — COVID, age, and gray skies be damned.

On Friday, a group of septuagenarians covered 14,500 steps and over 6 miles, despite the weather.

They were socially distant, of course. But close enough to talk about the coronavirus vaccine, and how to get it.

Interesting in joining the hiking group? Email mhehen@gmail.com.

From left: Brian Fradet, Peter Eyes, Mike Johnston, Sal Mollica, Chris Lewis. (Photo/Michael Hehenberger)

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And finally … Howard Johnson died last week in Harlem, following a long illness. He was 79.

A tuba player (among other instruments) and arranger, his work transcended jazz, rock and pop.

He played with Charles Mingus and McCoy Tyner; contributed arrangements and horn parts for John Lennon and Taj Mahal, but was best known as an original member of the “Saturday Night Live” band.

And you’ve gotta Howard Johnson’s joyful work with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream.”

FUN FACT: It was written in 1927 by Howard Johnson — but a different Howard Johnson. And neither of those 2 are related to the Howard Johnson who later created the restaurant franchise that boasted 28 flavors of — yes — ice cream.

Roundup: Churches, Safety App, GFA Athletes, More


For many years, Saugatuck Church collected baby gifts during their 5 p.m. Christmas Eve pageant. They were donated to women and children, through the Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Norwalk.

Tonight, that worship is online. However, the church continues its tradition of gathering gifts to benefit women and children in crisis. And you don’t have to be a parishioner to help!

Just stop at the white church downtown (245 Post Road East) between 4 and 5 p.m. today. Pop your trunk; a volunteer will retrieve your gift.

This has been a very tough year, for women, children and the DVCC itself. Items needed include supplies and pajamas for babies, as well as crafts for older children.


Yesterday’s “06880” Roundup noted that Tony Award-winner Kelli O’Hara is starring in a PBS holiday special.

She also did a much more local performance, at (and for) Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. (Her daughter Charlotte is a junior chorister there.)

You can enjoy Kelli — and many others — starting at 6 p.m. tonight. Just click on the CHT YouTube channel or Facebook page.

Kelli O’Hara at Christ & Holy Trinity Church.


M13 has led a $1.8M seed round in Prepared, a company building technology to keep school campuses safer. It was co-founded at Yale University by Staples graduates Dylan Gleicher and Neil Soni.

Prepared’s 1-touch mobile alert system enables administrators to instantaneously alert both the entire campus and 911 dispatchers to an emergency. Click here for a full story.

Neil Soni and Dylan Gleicher


Three Greens Farms Academy student-athletes from Westport have committed to colleges, to continue their academic and sports careers.

Connor McDonald will play tennis at Boston College; Piper Melnick plans to row at the University of California-Berkeley, and Mark Roszkowski heads off to Tufts University’s baseball team.

Congratulations to all 3 Dragons!

From left: Connor McDonald, Piper Melnick and Mark Roszkowski.


And finally … as always, The Band is there:

And Now We Pause For Techno Claus

Each year at this time we all gather ’round
“CBS Sunday Morning” — Techno Claus does expound
On gifts that delight, excite, awe and thrill
They are light-years away from mere run-of-the-mill.

For all these are tech-y, hip, neat and way cool
The kind of a present that makes us all drool
Like a special Zoom lamp and self-heating mouse
And a tiny Alexa for all parts of the house.

So why, you must ask, is Dan shilling this show
On his all-about-Westport “06880”?
Well, the great Techno Claus has gone North Pole rogue
In fact he looks just like our own David Pogue.

So wherever today’s special TV show reaches
From mountains to mesas, and cities to beaches
The whole USA sees ol’ Claus jogging down
The street that he lives on in our little town!

Roundup: Real Estate, Good Deeds, More


We all sense it. Now we have proof.

Jason Mudd of Cindy Raney & Co. realtors sends a Bloomberg statistic: This fall, Fairfield County had the fastest-rising real estate prices in the country.

Sales rose 80% in September county-wide from a year before. The median home price increased by 33%.

Westport saw a 72% rise in all sales, from January 1 through October 27, 2020, compared to the same time frame a year earlier. It was highest (135%) in the $2 million-plus price range.

Jason hears the same thing as realtors all over town: As quarantine cases increase, buyers (many from New York City) want more space — in their yards, and in their ability to work from home.

They want good schools for their children — and room for their kids to spread out, if they need to learn remotely.

Interestingly, open floor plans are not always the most popular. With families increasingly confined to their homes, “nooks and crannies” enable people to separate from family members for privacy.

Westport is attractive for many reasons, Jason says, beyond space and schools. There’s a vibrant restaurant scene. Plenty of shopping.

Another selling point: proximity to New York. Though the railroad station parking lot seems abandoned, the ease of hopping a train to the city is a big selling point for our town.

Plus it’s just a really pretty place, with tons of great people. But we already knew that.


Among the many people moving from New York to Westport (see above) is Maxx Crowley.

It’s a return home. His father Steve is the longtime owner of SCA Crowley Real Estate Services, and Maxx has joined the family business.

He’s also a new Westport Downtown Merchants Association board member. It did not take him long to help beautify Main Street and environs. He and his dad helped repurpose the summer barrels.

They’re also providing the holiday community tree. It goes up tomorrow, just outside Savvy + Grace.


Just in time for the holiday season: Good Deeds.

Westporter Bill Pecoriello launched the cashback app on Tuesday.

Good Deeds lets shoppers earn cash back while accessing their favorite brands and retailers, then automatically give some or all of those earnings as donations to the causes and nonprofits they care about.

Bill created the app after facing challenges raising funds for his nonprofit Sweet P Bakery, and The Porch to sell those baked goods. For more information, click here.


For 3 decades, ABC News correspondent and anchor Jay Schadler reported around the globe for “20/20,” “Good Morning America,” “Nightline” and “World News Tonight.”

He hitchhiked 20,000 miles across America.

On Tuesday, December 8 (7 p.m.) he lands in Westport.

Virtually, anyway. The Westport Library and “Live at Lincoln Center” producer Andrew Wilk team up for this online presentation.

“I come not as a teacher or a guide, but as a fellow traveler who’s still somewhere between being lost and finding his way home,” Schadler says.

Wilk adds, “I worked with Jay when he anchored the National Geographic Channel. I developed great admiration for his talent as a storyteller. Storytelling is at the heart of what we do in television. There aren’t many in Jay’s league.”

Click here to register for the free event.

Andrew Wilk (left) and Jay Schadler.


 

And finally … On this day in November 19, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. In just 271 words — at a time when the nation’s very existence was in doubt — the president reminded listeners of our highest ideals.

He concluded by urging “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

CT App Aids COVID Contact Tracing

Since March, Connecticut residents have primarily learned of possible exposure to someone with COVID-19 by phone calls and word of mouth.

Now there’s a third: a smartphone app.

“COVID Alert CT” is completely confidential. No personal information is shared. And it’s free, for Apple and Android users.

After downloading (click here), Bluetooth senses whether your device has been within 6 feet — for 15 minutes or more in one day — of someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

If so — and that infected person is also using the app on their personal device — an alert is triggered.

A notification is not triggered if 2 devices pass by for a short duration, or stay more than 6 feet away from each other.

If a user tests positive, a contact tracer from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, their local health department or their higher education institution will ask if they are willing to share the “close contact” codes their app has logged while they may have been contagious.

If the user agrees, a contract tracer will provide them with a verification code.
Once that code is submitted through the app, those individuals who came within 6 feet of that user for more than 15 minutes and who also are using the app will receive a notification on their device that they were in close contact with someone with COVID-19.

Sharing this status is secure and private. The app will never reveal who the user is to anyone else.

During COVID, A Westporter Connects

As the coronavirus swept across America, the news was filled with brutal stories. Among the worst: so many nursing home residents and hospital patients dying alone.

Deprived of personal visits, men and women — if they were lucky — drew their last breaths watching loved ones on iPads and cell phones. In the midst of so much chaos and death, doctors, nurses and support staff brought their own devices from home, so those they cared for could have slightly less lonely goodbyes.

Most of us shook our heads sorrowfully; this was one particularly awful horror, in a cascade of them.

Kara Ivy Goldberg wanted to do something about it.

Kara Ivy Goldberg

At Staples High School, the 2004 graduate had been a tennis star — and a volunteer at Norwalk Hospital. She studied economics and environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, where she spent 2 years as chapter president of Best Buddies.

After moving west for a job in tech marketing, Kara joined the board of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Bay Area.

Three years ago she returned to the East Coast. She continued her tech marketing career, and also worked in commercial real estate.

In mid-March, COVID crushed all of that. Kara and her fiancé had just arrived in Colorado, to see his sister’s new baby. Their planned 3-day stay turned into 6 weeks.

While there, Kara heard of a project started by a good college friend and her colleagues. COVID Tech Connect. The idea is simple: source, donate and ship devices to hospitals, senior care facilities and hospices, to facilitate video calls between pandemic patients and loved ones.

Google donated thousands of Pixel devices; Facebook contributed Portals. COVID Tech Connect ships 4 to 15 devices per facility. Funding came from Google, a GoFundMe page, and a large anonymous donor. Ellen DeGeneres gave a substantial grant too.

Kara is one of 2 full-time employees. She handles all hospital communications, and pretty much anything else that needs to be done.

There’s a lot. Hospitals need to be aware of the program; there’s shipping, security, setup and trouble-shooting too.

COVID Tech Connect has worked well. So far, 6,600 devices have been shipped, to 778 facilities. The goal is 20,000 devices.

But the videoconference platforms being used — Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams and more — were designed for consumers, not dying patients and healthcare facilities that must deal with things like HIPAA.

So Kara and her team are designing a free, universal platform to address those issues.

The focus so far has been on public and underserved hospitals. Feedback has been fantastic.


Margie Ulman — one of the first patients in Georgia to die from COVID-19 — was also the first to use a device provided by COVID Tech Connect to communicate with her family. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Joanne Kuntz)

As the coronavirus surges again, COVID Tech Connect plugs away. “As long as there’s a need, we’ll be available,” Kara says.

They continue to send devices — and to make sure that doctors, nurses, administrators and IT people know the program is available.

COVID Tech Connect provides a brilliant connection, at a time when we all need one.

Including Kara Ivy Goldberg.

One of her devices was sent to the healthcare facility where her grandmother lives.

(For more information on COVID Tech Connect, click here. If your facility would like to request devices, click here.) 

[OPINION] Verizon: Wrong Number!

Alert — and angry — “06880” reader Lawrence Weisman writes:

For reasons not relevant here, I wanted to change my cell phone account from one provider to another, while retaining the phone number I used for many years.

I went to the Verizon store in Southport. After an hour and a half I was told by the sales associate that an account had been opened, and my number would stay the same. She even placed a test call to that number to confirm it worked.

But when I returned home after a brief surgery, I discovered that in fact my number had been changed. No one had been able to reach me in my absence.

I revisited the Verizon store. The same associate reviewed the paperwork. She assured me she was not at fault — but alas, she did not know how to solve the problem.

I then spent almost 4 hours on the phone with what is euphemistically called “customer service.” I listened to elevator music (with the phone on speaker long enough for me to shave and shower), only to be told that nothing can be done to remedy the situation.

However, I should rest assured that the department involved was not at fault. That was followed by the requisite: “Is there anything else we can do to be of assistance today?”

So, Verizon has established to its satisfaction that the sales associate was not at fault, the department involved was not at fault, and they are therefore absolved of all responsibility.

I am stuck with having to inform dozens of people, credit cards and internet providers that I have a new and unwanted phone number. And I have no remedy, beyond sharing my outrage and frustration with your readers.

Let’s Meet! But Where?

Michael Calise is a native Westporter, Staples High School graduate, former Marine, and a realtor. After a lifetime here, he knows how the town works.

And he keeps an eagle eye on it.

Calise is a frequent meeting-goer. At least, he was until the coronavirus hit, and Westport’s boards and commissions moved online. 

They’re still there.

The other day, Calise wrote to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He said:

I am sure you are aware of the level of frustration endured by all of us regarding the inability to attend a public meeting.

Zoom meetings do not adequately convey the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way. The sense of where the commissioners or other deciding members are is missing. It is as if you are speaking to a blank wall.

Mike Calise

This is not to downplay the fortunate fact that we have Zoom and other internet- based meeting venues. I fully recognize their value, but I think we need to do better. With the total decline of print media and other valuable sources of information in the face of ongoing important decisions being made, the entire structure of our community is under a great deal of stress.

With all of this in mind I suggest  that you consider an outdoor venue such as Levitt Pavilion for town meetings. I believe it would be a positive and productive step forward as we transition back to normalcy.

Marpe replied quickly. He said:

As much as anyone, I would like to return to the past meeting structure that we were all used to for the reasons you note. However, we are still in the midst of the greatest public health crisis any of us have ever experienced, and it is unclear when we will be able to conduct public meetings as we have in the past. As a town, we are slowly and cautiously working our way toward incrementally re-establishing “normal.” But “normal” is still going to be different from the past for some time to come.

The elected and appointed leaders of Westport have a responsibility to balance public health requirements, the health of our employees and state-mandated protocols, along with the Freedom of Information Act rules, against the desire for some to meet “in-person.”

The reality is that we have received very few requests for a return to full, in-person public meetings. In many ways, Zoom meetings are more accessible for the majority of the public, because they can be viewed from anywhere there is internet access, which is why we have focused our efforts on the Zoom technology.

Most board, committee and commission members and the related staff members have found a way to work effectively and in a fully informed manner in this new environment. Moreover, they appreciate the commitment by the Town to their health and well-being. And the boards, committees and commissions continue to hear from members of the public via written comment as well as by phone.

In August, superintendent of schools Tom Scarice addressed the Board of Education via Zoom.

Since mid-March, Town Hall has been closed to the general public, even though our employees have continued to work there or from home on behalf of our residents. We are currently moving forward to re-open Town Hall later this autumn for individual daytime appointments.

From a public meeting standpoint, Town Hall presents many challenges.  The auditorium is problematic because of the need to sanitize the space after each meeting to a level of confidence that the various surfaces will not harbor the virus.

The other traditional meeting rooms in Town Hall present the problem of accommodating the typical number of attendees at an appropriate level of social distancing as well as sanitizing.

We ae exploring the possibility of using the Library Forum for some public meetings because the hard surfaces there are easier to sanitize and the space lends itself to easier social distancing for a significant number of people. I will note that the Board of Education has conducted in-person meetings in the Staples cafeteria with no members of the public allowed (similar surfaces and flexible space as the Library).

The Board of Finance will conduct an “in-person” meeting in the Library next week (face coverings and socially distanced), although the public will still need to attend via public access TV or internet streaming.

If all goes well, we may consider opening the Board of Finance meetings to the public for future meetings. That said, we have to recognize that even the Library will be limited in its capacity to host public meetings given its own programming and activities.

The scene at Town Hall, when meetings were held there.

I want to stress that having in-person public meetings in the time of social distancing also presents Freedom of Information Act challenges. FOIA requires that no one be turned away from a public meeting. However, if we go over the 25 person indoor gathering limit, which includes board members and staff as well as the general public, we face having to choose between FOIA regulations and the Governor’s Executive Orders and related public health guidelines.

Your suggestion of conducting public meetings in outdoor venues such as the Levitt will quickly become impractical as autumn and winter weather begins in the coming weeks. Notwithstanding the practical challenges of streaming / televising from outdoor venues, weather concerns would work to prevent many residents from attending and actually limit the possibility of public participation. Ironically, this also presents its own FOIA issues.

We will continue to consider practical, inclusive alternatives to conducting the town’s public meetings in ways that maintain the public health and FOIA standards we must observe.

In the near term, that means that most public meetings will continue to be conducted via computer technology and public access television with ample opportunity prior to, and during the meetings for the public to submit their written public comments. Outdoor venues may become possibilities when the warmer months return.


Speaking of meetings: I have been thinking for a while of adding meeting coverage — Board of Education, Board of Finance, Planning & Zoning Commission — to “06880.”

I can’t do it alone. I need help.

If you’re interested in covering meetings on an ongoing basis — and you are knowledgeable, objective, and can write well and quickly — please email me: dwoog@optonline.net. 

Let’s chat!

 

Roundup: Mental Illness, ABC, WAS, More

 


Luisa Francoeur — a longtime Westporter, and a sister and parent of people with mental illness — reminds “06880” readers that this is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Local resources include the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Connecticut chapter, and Positive Directions.


A Better Chance of Westport’s “Dream Event” is one of the highlights of our fundraising year. It’s a chance to honor the students, graduating seniors and alumni of the program, which brings youngsters from underserved schools to Staples to study, and Westport to live.

COVID pushed the gala back from June to November 13. However, with restrictions still in place, organizers must cancel altogether.

ABC welcome scholars back last month. Resident directors and tutors returned too. They’re all adjusting to the “new normal,” including hybrid learning at Staples High School.

Cancellation of the Dream Event is a big blow to the organization, which relies heavily on community support. Click here to learn more.


Talenthood is a new app that connects families with children (K through 7th grade) and Staples students with talent in different areas. The focus is on sports, music, technology, creative hobbies and academics. There are also babysitting and lifeguard services.

A portion of the profits goes to charities. Amanda Rowan — a Staples student directing the service, who loves working with youngsters — has chosen the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Pink Aid.

Click here for more information.


Dr. Bob Dempsey — flight director for the International Space Station — Zooms into Westport on October 20 (8 p.m.) for an online talk.

The Westport Astronomical Society-sponsored event is open to the public. Click here for details. It’s also available on the WAS’ YouTube channel.

The online talk is open to the public: we are one of the few things you cando in Westport that is free and greatly expand your knowledge.


After 57 years of broadcasting from the University of Bridgeport, WPKN (89.5) has moved. The new studio — recently renovated Bijou Square, in downtown Bridgeport — will be the new home for Westporters like programmer Ina Chadwick, fundraiser and development director Richard Epstein; Staples graduates like communications guru Jim Motavalli, and the station’s enormous stable of Westport fans.


And finally … we won’t have ABC’s Dream Event this year. But we can have:

 

Roundup: Sunrise Rotary, Dylan Diamond, Wildfires, More


Every year, Westport’s Sunrise Rotary raises nearly $100,000 from 2 events: The Duck Race, and a wine tasting gala.

Eighty percent of the proceeds are donated to organizations that serve the health, hunger, safety and education needs of adults and children from Stamford to New Haven. The other 20% funds disease prevention, health, peace promotion, education and economic development across the globe.

COVID -19 forced the cancellation of both fundraisers.

To partially fill the gap — and provide safe, fun activities that may also attract new members — Sunrise members collaborated with the Remarkable Theater. They showed “School of Rock” on the Imperial Avenue parking lot screen. The famous yellow duck — and a duckling — were there, welcoming movie-goers.

More events are planned. To learn more about membership, email
info@westportsunriserotary.org. To support charitable giving, send a check to
Westport Sunrise Rotary, PO Box 43, Westport, CT 06881-0043.

Nothing is wrong. The convertible’s driver adjusted its hydraulics, for a comfortable viewing spot at the Remarkable Drive-In.


As a Staples High School student, Dylan Diamond made frequent appearances on “06880.”

At 15, he built an app that allowed classmates to view their schedules and grades — then rolled it out nationally, with hundreds of thousands of downloads.

He followed up with apps that helped skiers find buddies on the slope, and let users book everything from babysitters and yardwork to concert tickets.

Now Inc. has taken notice. He and Wharton School classmate Max Baron have gone all-in on Saturn, a calendar app.

Inc. says “they are working to build community around the calendar in high schools, with a big vision fueling them: to own the time layer of the internet.”

To hear Inc.’s podcast — in which the two discuss “why retention is social, how living together has given the co-founders an ‘always on’ mindset, and what they learned from their early work experience at Tesla and Havas” — click here(Hat tip: John Dodig)

Dylan Diamond, in San Francisco. While still a Staples High School student, he scored a coveted invitation to Facebook’s F8 conference.


How bad are the wildfires out west?

Peter Gold notes that Connecticut has 3.548 million acres.  As of Saturday, over 3.2 million acres have burned in California this fire season alone. In addition, 900,000 acres burned in Oregon, and over 600,000 more in Washington.

“It’s hard to imagine an area almost one-and-a-half times the size of Connecticut burned in just 3 states,” he says.

Battling a blaze in California.


Jane Mansbridge is a professor of political leadership and values at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

A recent Harvard Gazette story traces her “jagged trajectory” from her youth in Weston, and years at Staples High School (Class of 1957) to her current role as one of the world’s leading scholars of democratic theory.

She loved growing up in a small town. But, she says, she was bullied in Weston and at Staples for being “bookish and a smart girl.”

Realizing that not everyone liked the kind of person she was, or the values she held may have contributed to her later drive to find out more about people who were not like her, she says.

Click here for the full story. (Hat tip: A. David Wunsch)

Jane Mansbridge (Photo/Stephanie Mitchell for Harvard staff)


The porgies are in! This was the scene yesterday, at Sherwood Island State Park. Of course, fishermen always observe social distance.

(Photo/Roseann Spengler)


And finally … On this day in 1814, Francis Scott Key watched a British bombardment of Maryland during the War of 1812. Inspired by the sight of an American flag still flying at daybreak, he wrote a poem. “The Defence of Fort M’Henry” was later set to music. In 1931 “The Star-Spangled Banner” became our national anthem. One of the most famous versions was sung by our wonderful neighbor, Weston’s Jose Feliciano, before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series in Detroit. It was controversial at the time; no one had ever delivered such a non-traditional rendition.

His performance nearly ended his career. But 42 years later — in 2010 — he was invited back to Detroit, to perform it again. This time, the crowd roared.