Category Archives: technology

Techno Claus Comes To Town. Wait — He Already Lives Here!

One of the highlights of the holiday season — far better than fruitcake, much less stressful than holiday parties — is Techno Claus.

That’s “CBS Sunday Morning”‘s annual present to viewers. “Santa” — who for some reason has a New York-ish accent — offers viewers a whimsically rhyming musical look into some of the season’s more intriguing high-ish tech items.

It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out that Techno Claus is really David Pogue.

His clever patter and fun piano playing are no surprise. The nationally known tech writer/journalist/author/TV star majored in music at Yale, then spent his first 10 years after graduation working in New York, with a theatrical agency, and as a conductor and arranger on Broadway.

Pogue is also a longtime Westporter. Yesterday’s gift to viewers had a decidedly local flavor.

Nearly all of the scenes were filmed at his house: inside, in front and out back.

The only other locale was Granola Bar. That was for a segment on a reusable straw. Okay, it’s not exactly high tech — but it is important.

Click below to see Pogue’s Santa’s take on a speaker with scents; a spy camera for pets (it dispenses treats too); a keyboard for phones, and a wallet with tracker.

Ho ho ho!

Co-Workers Swarm To Westport’s Hive

Co-working sounds like a high-tech concept. Folks sit hunched around their laptops, earbuds in, collaborating remotely with people they may never actually meet.

Nope, says Luke Scott. That’s not it at all. Co-working is all about being together, with other intriguing folks, in a space that is not an actual office.

Luke should know. The 1991 Staples High School graduate — whose real gig is owner of MadisonMott, a funky, kick-ass branding, advertising, digital and social media agency– also created, developed and runs B:Hive. That’s the cleverly named 5-year-old co-working space that’s helped bring great energy and creativity to downtown Bridgeport.

Luke just opened his 2nd co-working Hive. This one is in an even more cool, fun space: the old Sasco Mill, straddling the Westport/Southport line.

B:Hive — the rear view, from Sasco Creek and Bulkley Pond.

Over the decades the historic structure morphed from a cider mill to a yarn shop. Now it’s ready for its 21st century turn.

Owner Gerard Bernacchia had been looking to convert part of his building into a co-working space. David Cusa of Peoples Bank connected Gerard with his Staples classmate and longtime friend Luke.

Things moved quickly. Designers Madeline Rhodes loved the interior space. She worked with tech director Jordan Rabidou and creative director Marcella Kovac (Luke’s wife). Their design brilliantly blends features of the mill with the demands of technology.

There are 2 levels — both bright and airy, all equipped with high-speed WiFi.

The Hive boasts original beams — and the latest video conferencing technology.

When Luke gives a tour, he starts on the street level. He shows off the big individual desks, conference rooms, private phone booths (for cell calls), printer, storage space and kitchen.

It’s an inviting space — perfect for folks who work on their own but find a home office too limited and/or distracting, and crave just-enough contact with other human beings. (The business connections made with other co-workers is worth the monthly fee itself.)

But when Luke takes visitors downstairs, the Hive really hums.

There’s a long communal work table. Just beyond, large windows look out on a spectacular Sasco Creek waterfall.

The communal table looks out on a gorgeous waterfall.

If that doesn’t inspire you, you deserve your miserable fluorescent-lit cubicle.

The Hive opened just before Thanksgiving. The first co-workers, Luke jokes, were a great blue heron and white egret.

Humans quickly followed. They include writers, advertising and PR pros, an event planner, an apparel businessperson, a media consultant and a non-profit executive.

There’s an intriguing mix of ages and backgrounds. Right now, women outnumber men.

Among the features and amenities they enjoy: 24/7 access; free coffee and snacks; guest visits; access to the Bridgeport B:Hive; onsite printing; networking and social events, and mail service.

Oh, yeah: Kayaks and bike sharing.

And an Airbnb upstairs (for guests).

Luke Scott. Don’t be offended — this sign is in the bathroom.

Luke is a huge Bridgeport booster. That’s where he opened his first co-working space — just around the corner from his MadisonMott agency.

But he also loves his home town.

He’s excited to bring his 2nd Hive to the beautiful mill and waterfall on the Southport border.

And proud to offer a co-working space that is Westport’s latest buzz.

(For more information, click here; email swarm@bhivecoworking.com, or call 203-873-2008.)

[OPINION]: Maker Faire Is An Inspiring Economic Engine

Mark Mathias — founder and chair of Maker Faire Westport; founder and president of Remarkable STEAM, Inc. — writes:

Seven years ago, Maker Faire Westport launched in Westport. We had no idea what we were starting. It sounded like fun, and was meant to be a party for geeks.

Organizations such as the Westport Library and a handful of volunteers put on the event. The Sunrise Rotary Club gave us the seed money, along with other sponsors.

That first year, we hoped for 800 attendees. 2,200 showed up.

After 7 years, Maker Faire Westport is the largest single day event in Connecticut. This past spring, it attracted 13,500 attendees. 15,000 to 20,000 are planned for the 8th annual event on April 27, 2019. Of more than 770 Maker Faires globally, Westport is in the top 5% of attendance.

From its geek roots of 3D printers and robotics, Maker Faire Westport has become the “go to” event for creative, innovative people, and a showcase for what Connecticut has to offer.

In 2015 “The Great Fredini” constructed an entire scale model of Coney Island, with a 3D printer. Faire-goers could have their own body scanned — and printed — to be included.

Companies such as Sikorsky (helicopters), Electric Boat (submarines) and ASML (semiconductor chips) demonstrate the types of high tech manufacturing going on in Connecticut.

Colleges and universities like Sacred Heart, Fairfield, University of Bridgeport, Housatonic Community College and Norwalk Community College show off their educational programs and graduates.

And organizations such as the Westport Young Woman’s League and League of Women Voters showcase their good works in the community.

The value of what Maker Faire Westport is doing was cemented in my mind when I was invited by the Italian government to attend Maker Faire Rome in October.

Produced by the Italian Trade Agency and Rome Chamber of Commerce, it promotes and highlights Italian innovation and businesses around the world.

Delegations of reporters and businesspeople were flown in from around the world. They joined 115,000 attendees, 700 selected projects and visitors from 61 countries.

Mark Mathias at Maker Faire Rome.

Italy is not alone in its vision. China has 3 large Maker Faires, which also promote economic activity.

What is offered at Maker Faires is far more than just geeky fun. It’s a showcase of human capital, businesses, vibrancy, and a place where people will want to work, live and invest. Maker Faires are inspiration, substantiated by proof.

In other words, Maker Faire is a way to help grow an economy: businesses, schools, libraries and communities.

For the 8th annual Maker Faire Westport, we will continue to embrace creative people and showcase the best that Connecticut offers. We will work to let the world know and see that value.  We will continue to inspire local people to learn about opportunities for personal growth, skills and career opportunities.

We welcome all who want to be a part of Connecticut’s economic and social future.

If you have an initiative already in place, we can work with you to leverage it on a larger scale. If you want to gain visibility and access to people who should know about you, we can work with you. If you have a vested interest in the success of Connecticut, work with us to help realize your success. If you have a quirky or unique hobby, talent or project, we want you too.

Planning is underway for next year’s Maker Faire Westport.  Please contact me to discuss how you can benefit from this initiative: mark@remarkablesteam.org; 203-226-1791.

Mt. Kisco Takes Our Tesla Taxes

The other day, David Pogue — the tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American), TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) and author (“Missing Manual” series, “Pogue’s Basics”) — reported a Tesla story.

Pogue is also a devoted Westporter. He decided to localize his piece, exclusively for “06880.” After all, our town is (supposedly) the Tesla capital of Connecticut. He writes:

These days, we’re seeing a lot of Teslas on Westport streets. And no wonder: These electric cars are gorgeous, fast, and unbelievably smart. They’re far better for the environment than internal-combustion cars. You never need gas. There’s no engine and no transmission, so there are no oil changes, tuneups, or emissions checks. You get a total of $10,500 from the state and federal government, in cash and tax credits, to help you buy one.

And in Westport, there are free charging stations all over town — in the sweetest electric-car-only parking spots.

But every time you see a Tesla in Westport, remember that its owner drove to Mount Kisco, New York to get it.

That’s right: You’re not allowed to buy a Tesla in Connecticut.

Robin Tauck’s Tesla license plate sends a message.

Connecticut and 15 other states have an ancient law on the books. It bans a car maker from selling directly to the public, as Tesla stores do.

The law was designed 80 years ago to protect local franchises — the traditional car-dealership model — from having to compete with stores opened by the car makers themselves. Local Ford dealerships, for example, didn’t want Ford to open its own store across the street and run them out of business.

Of course, the law never envisioned a car company, like Tesla, that didn’t use the franchise system. (Why doesn’t Tesla use the normal local-franchise dealership model? It believes that electric cars require more explaining and patience than a traditional dealer would bother with.)

A number of states have recognized the anachronism and overturned the ban—but not Connecticut. Every time the ban comes up for a vote in our state legislature, our legislators continue keeping Tesla out of the state.

That’s a result of lobbying work by CARA (Connecticut Auto Retailers’ Association). “They’ll be the legislators’ best friends,” says Bruce Becker, president of the Electric Vehicle Club of Connecticut. “What some dealers do is, they’ll actually man the campaigns. They’ll have a campaign headquarters in their dealerships. There’s one dealer who’s actually running the campaign for someone who’s running for governor.”

He says that there’s a simple reason why car dealers want to keep Tesla out: because electric cars threaten their profits. Car dealerships make most of their money on service (3 times as much profit as they get from selling cars, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association). And as noted above, electric cars require almost no service.

“You’ve got these entrenched special interests that have really pushed hard, and they seem to be more entrenched every year, because they see the risks to them personally,” Westport state senator Toni Boucher told me. “There’s such an enormous amount of opposition.”

20 Saugatuck Avenue was considered recently as a site for a Tesla service center.

So what’s the result? Connecticut loses jobs, sales, and property tax to surrounding states.

This protectionism will make it difficult to reach Connecticut’s environmental goals (to lower emissions to 45 percent of 2001 levels by 2030).

“This is the unfortunate thing about CT politics: So much energy goes into creating these monopolies and protecting and limiting trade, as opposed to innovating and creating a more efficient economy,” says Becker.

I did a deep dive on this topic in my Yahoo Finance column this week. I interviewed not only Bruce Becker and Toni Boucher, but also Westport’s state representative Jonathan Steinberg; Tesla’s head counsel Todd Maron, and car-dealership lobbyist Jim Fleming, president of the CT Auto Retailers’ Association.

It’s a surprisingly fraught, sensitive, contentious issue, filled with back-room deals and arguments on both sides about what’s best for the consumer.

Meanwhile, next time you see a Tesla driving by, nod in acknowledgment to the trip its owner took to Mount Kisco.

TEA Talk, Otocast Blend Art And Technology

Before he became a famous New York Times/CBS/Yahoo/PBS technology expert, David Pogue was a musical theater geek. Fun facts: His Yale degree is in music, and he spent his early year conducting and arranging Broadway musicals.

David Pogue

So it didn’t take Einstein to enlist Pogue — a Westport resident — as moderator of this Sunday’s TEA (Thinkers, Educators, Artists) Talk (October 21, 2 p.m., Town Hall).

Nor was it a quantum leap to design a theme (“The Arts Go Viral!”) or find speakers like Jerry Goehring, (producer of the off-Broadway musical “Be More Chill,” which became a hit on viral media), and pianist/arts educator/  Westporter Frederic Chiu to dive into the pros and cons of how technology affects art (and vice versa).

But it is a stroke of genius that Sunday marks the official launch of Otocast. It’s a mobile tour app that lets any Westporter or visitor explore our town’s long arts, cultural and historic sites.

Like Sunday’s TEA Talk, Otocast is a project of the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. First unveiled in a soft launch at this summer’s Arts Festival, it’s now ready for prime time.

Otocast — available free for iPhones or Androids — includes audio, photos and info on a wide range of interesting sites. Location-based, it shows users whatever is closest to where they are.

Three separate “guides” are already live.

“Downtown Westport” offers details on Town Hall, Veterans Green, the Tunnel Vision arts installation, Westport Historical Society, Main Street, Saugatuck River, Jesup Green, the library, Levitt Pavilion, Westport Woman’s Club, Westport Country Playhouse and more.

“Our Creative Community” provides information on theater, film, non-profit organizations, schools and many other groups.

“From Saugatuck to Riverside” covers Westport’s original center, all the way to the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

Westport artist Robert Lambdin’s “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” is the kind of artwork that can be seen — and heard about — on Otocast.

The app blends audio commentary (from well-known voices like 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, natives like Sam Gault and others) with maps, photos and artwork.

It draws extensively on Westport Public Art Collections. Users learn, for example, of Howard Munce’s Remarkable Book Shop painting, and one of the old Westlake restaurant. They hear about — and see — art at Town Hall, Fire Department headquarters, the Parks & Recreation office, and of course Westport schools.

They learn about the history of the Doughboy statue on Veterans Green, and the nearby Honor Roll — a painting of which hangs in 1st Selectman Jim Marpe’s office.

Stevan Dohanos’ “Honor Roll” painting has a place of honor in Town Hall. Now it’s on Otocast too.

They also watch a video of Sally’s Place — the beloved record shop — and see changing views of Main Street. They listen to Charles Reid talk about Famous Artists School.

Two more Otocast guides are in the works: one on Westport’s Natural Beauty (Compo Beach, mini-parks, Earthplace, the Saugatuck River, with compelling artwork from the 1930s through now), and one focused exclusively on the WESTPac collection.

Otocast is the perfect app for residents and visitors to tour Westport. Of course, you can also download it and enjoy it in the comfort of your home.

It’s great too for former Westporters, relatives who live elsewhere, and anyone anywhere in the world who wants to visit us virtually.

In other words, Otocast is a superb mix of art and technology. Just like Sunday’s TEA Talk.

(For more information on the TEA Talk, click here. To download the app, search for Otocast on the App Store or Google Play.)

High-Tech Toy Needs Beta Testers

At first glance, FlairFriends looks low-tech: a keychain, like the kind every kid has on her backpack.

But this is 2018. Your refrigerator knows you’re running low on milk. Your doorbell can talk to an intruder.

So when you hear that FlairFriends is the brainchild of Westporter designer Alli DiVincenzo and her tech partner Geoff Meek — developer of the original Guitar Hero — you’ll realize that it’s not just a decorative fashion trend.

Every FlairFriend comes with a unique code. Typed into the FlairWorld app, it unlocks 3 things:

  • That particular character’s animation, voice and story
  • An education adventure around Flair World, and
  • A social connector.

That last part is particularly cool. When a child shares the code, and someone else scans it into his or her account, they’re connected.

Friends who are connected in the app can compare collections, and show where they’ve traveled around FlairWorld and how they like to decorate their online “rooms.”

It’s a safe, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act-compliant online connection. These real-world friendships and interactions teach younger children positive digital behavior — before they’re exposed to the social networks designed for older youngsters.

Kids like to play — with high- and low-tech toys. Check out those FlairFriends! (Photo/Irene Penny)

Sound complicated? “Kids these days get it,” Alli says. “They were born with devices in their hands.”

By age 4, there is “almost universal” exposure to screens and apps. But, Alli says, very few toys bridge “the gap between real-world playing and wholesome online gaming.”

She, Geoff and Staples High School interns spent several years developing FlairFriends. It was released late last month for iPads.

Now that the beta testing phase is underway, Alli needs “play testers” (ages 4 “to 104”), to try it for free and provide feedback. Click here for details.

Meanwhile, Alli and  Geoff headed to the Dallas Toy Preview. That’s an important part of FlairWorld — and the real tech/toy one too.

Now Hear This!

Alert “06880” reader Dick Lowenstein writes:

I did not know I was hard of hearing until my uncle asked me to face away from him at the end of the hall in my grandmother’s apartment. He asked me questions to which I did not respond. I was 6 years old.

Doctor visits and hearing tests, followed by experimental radium and X-ray treatments, until finally what made a difference: lip reading and speech lessons.

Not until I was a 16-year-old high school senior did I get a hearing aid. That helped me comprehend college lectures. I wore that pendant receiver around my neck, with an earpiece to transmit amplified sounds, reluctantly.

As time progressed my hearing worsened. But technology progressed, and the aids became smaller. I went to binaural (both ears) aids built into my eyeglass template pieces, and finally to behind-the-ear models that I wear today. I function pretty well with them, but not in wartime or water!

New technology — better than what I currently use — is now here. Bluetooth and cell phone captioning are 2 examples. This Tuesday (October 2, 11 a.m., Westport Senior Center) the local chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America sponsors a presentation on these new technologies.

The event is free, open to the public — and captioned.

(For more information, email mczola@optonline.net)

A Bluetooth hearing aid is indistinguishable from other Bluetooth devices.

Listen Up!

In May, “06880” highlighted the life of Mike Joseph.

After a long career as a  recording engineer, record producer and club designer — he collaborated in Nat King Cole’s Hollywood studio with Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Blue Cheer and others — the 1971 Staples High School graduate built a production studio in his Kansas City home. He digitizes vintage analog tapes: concerts, weddings, lectures. And — of course — old music recordings.

Most readers thought “that’s interesting” (or “who cares?”).

Jane Nordli Jessep said, “Wow! I wonder what he can do with my tapes?”

Jane Nordli, back in the day.

For decades, a dozen old reel-to-reel tapes had sat in the 1965 Staples grad’s cabinet.

Years ago, she tried to turn them into CDs. She was told they were all gummed up, unplayable — forget it.

One of the tapes was from her days as a Manhattan School of Music student. “My singing career was very spotty,” she says. “So this meant a lot to me. And it was really a fantastic performance by the entire cast.”

Wondering if she really could revisit the past, she emailed Joseph. He said he might be able to help. He told her how to pack up the tapes, and where to send them.

Mike listened to everything. Some had old family moments, from Jane’s childhood. Another came from her senior year at Staples High School, singing folk songs with then-boyfriend Steve Emmett. (“And generally being silly, young and foolish!” she adds.)

Joseph worked his magic on those tapes — including the conservatory one. He converted them all into great CDs.

Listening to the “new” recording of her 1976 Manhattan School of Music performance of Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene,” Jane says, “I couldn’t believe how wonderful it was, vocally and dramatically.” Several cast members, she notes, went on to important performing careers.

“Thank you for sharing Mike’s story,” Jane says. “Your post ended up generating a wonderful, unexpected delight in one of your reader’s lives.”

“06880”‘s tagline is “where Westport meets the world.” Maybe it should be “the soundtrack of Westport’s life.”

Jane Nordli in “Street Scene,” one of the recordings Mike Joseph resurrected for her.

Rising Talent Records At Studio 8

You won’t find Brody Braunstein in Westport this week. He’s in Australia, singing and touring with Staples High School’s elite Orphenians.

Music is the rising junior’s passion. He is also a member of the Fairfield County Children’s Choir, has sung at Carnegie Hall, and is lead singer for the popular band Kill the Chill.

In addition to singing, Brody plays piano, keyboard and guitar. He’s taken college classes in music production software. He’s a published songwriter. And he built a sound studio in his house.

Yet Brody understands that he can’t work creatively alone.

“Technology is great. It’s pretty much given everyone access to the tools they need to make music,” he says.

Brody Braunstein

“But just like in real life, technology in music can be isolating. You’ve got all these amazingly talented aspiring artists sitting in their bedrooms creating music on Garage Band. There’s access, but no connection to other people. No give and take.”

A few months ago, Brody heard Edge say that much of U2’s early creative process took place in the recording studio. The band went in with a vague idea and rudimentary tracks — and emerged with something they loved.

Unfortunately, Edge noted, that does not happen much today. Studio time is too expensive.

Brody — who realizes how lucky he is to have so many resources — had a flash of inspiration.

The result: Studio 8.

It’s a not-for-profit collaborative recording studio for teens. And run by teens.

No, it’s not a full, professionally equipped studio. But it has everything a young artist needs to record, mix and master their music.

It also has Brody to help.

And it’s free.

Brody Braunstein, at work in his home studio.

It’s also just one part of what Brody does. This fall, he’ll begin working with youngsters at KEYS. The Bridgeport organization provides music education to underserved communities.

It’s an amazing group, as Brody knows from previous experience. He’ll work with the choir this year — and hopes he can get them to record in Studio 8.

Meanwhile, Brody invites young people in the area to lay down tracks, test out a new piece, flesh out a cover or record something for a college portfolio.

He’s also looking for videographers, social media experts and sound editors (especially those into rap or EDM) to join Studio 8.

Brody is Down Under until July 21. Once he’s back, you can reach him by email: Studio8Collaborative@gmail.com.

(Studio 8 is free — but donations to the KEYS program are gratefully accepted. Use Brody’s email above for more information.)

Charles Adler Gets His Degree

The last time “06880” checked in with Charles Adler, the 1992 Staples High School grad was a co-founder of Kickstarter.

Since 2009, 6.4 million users have used the online platform to pledge over $2 billion, funding more than 75,000 creative projects in areas ranging from film, music and stage to comics, journalism, video games, technology and food.

Adler left Kickstarter in 2013. Five years later — still in his early 40s — he’s the recipient of an honorary degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

That’s impressive.

Even more impressive is that this is his only college degree.

That’s right: Adler is a college dropout.

He left Purdue University — where he was studying mechanical engineering — to co-found Subsystence (an online music, photography, art, poetry and fiction site), and the design and technology studio Source ID.

Then came Kickstarter — and Forbes’ designation of Adler as one of the 12 Most Disruptive Figures in Business.

Since 2013, Adler created and developed Lost Arts, an interdisciplinary laboratory, workshop, atelier, incubator, school and playground occupying 25,000 square feet on Chicago’s Goose Island.

Now comes the honorary degree from IIT — a doctorate, no less — in recognition of Adler’s “outstanding contributions to the field of design.”

Charles Adler, with his honorary degree.

Growing up in Westport more than 25 years ago, Adler recalls, he was interested in architecture — and passionate about electronic music, punk rock, skateboarding and cycling.

College was not right for him. He tried a second time — because he needed an undergrad degree before entering a graduate design program that interested him — but again he dropped out.

So, parents of Westport students who may not be taking a traditional path during or after Staples: Don’t worry.

Your kid too might one day earn an honorary degree, even if he or she lacks a college diploma.

They just might need a kick start.