Category Archives: technology

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.

[OPINION] Ugly Cables Mar Westport

Marliese Aguele — a Westporter since 1980 — writes:

How many more cables must we accept? On one post alone, I counted 16.

Major communication companies have installed heavy cables. Wrapped around them are additional rolled-up cables, adding more weight with metal tanks and other contraptions.

Cables are attached to leaning poles that threaten to collapse. Other cables droop dangerously low.  Who gives them the right to hang those cables so low?

Last month, these cables hung low on South Compo Road. (Photo/Morgan Mermagen)

Why does the town accept sloppy workmanship? Doesn’t anyone take responsibility for what happens here?

We can no longer enjoy an unobstructed view of the sky. Cables crisscross from street to street, and house to house.

When I asked about this, I was told they’re mandated by the state. I doubt it. Greenwich does not allow cables.

I’ve also learned that the town receives sizable revenue from these companies.

We’ve been sold out by our elected leaders, to technology and greed. Our trust in our representatives to be good stewards for town residents has been betrayed. The charm of Westport is destroyed.

Anyone with a sense of aesthetics must agree. Visitors to Westport must be astounded.

Cables crisscross the crowded Post Road/Roseville/Hillspoint intersection.

Westport citizens must demand that unacceptable cables be removed. We also must demand an ordinance to ensure responsibility and accountability of our elected representatives. Stop this now!

Is Marliese alone in her concern? Do the benefits of cables outweigh how they look? Click “Comments” below.

Scammed! (Part 3)

In 2012, “06880” profiled Larry Perlstein. The longtime Westporter wanted to make a difference, in an uncertain economy.

The next year, with continued difficulty finding a job, he formed a consulting practice. In 2014 he added teaching duties at Pace University.

Life stabilized. But in February 2017 his wife Jacquie Marumoto — just 49 — suffered a stroke. When she returned home after 6 months in the hospital, Larry became her full-time caregiver, and parent to their 10-year-old daughter. He took on small paid and pro bono projects.

Larry Perlstein and his wife Jacquie Marumoto.

Last August, he received an email from a firm like those with whom he’d done focus groups and market research. The offer was simple: Help Western Union evaluate their operations at 2 nearby locations.

Perlstein would receive instructions and a check by mail. He’d take out his fee, send a Moneygram to 2 people, then complete a survey on his experience.

Perlstein is well educated, and tech savvy. He knows about financial scams and cybercrime.

But this request was well executed. The instructions were professional. He texted with the contacts offering the work.

Still, he was uneasy when he got the first package, with a $2700 check. He told a Citibank teller the check might bounce. She suggested calling customer service.

A representative told him the deposit had cleared. Perlstein completed the tasks. He was pleased: He figured he made $300, for an hour’s work.

Four days later, he got a letter from Citibank. The check had been returned as “Fictitious.” He was out $2,700.

The Post Road West branch manager told him that endorsing a check releases the bank from any liability.

Perlstein reported the scam to the FTC, FBI and state government. An attorney said that recovering the funds from the bank would be futile.

Undeterred, he sued Citibank in small claims court. The case is scheduled for June 29. Perlstein will argue that the bank had a responsibility — if not a legal liability — to protect its customer’s interests. They betrayed that trust by not advising him of the vagaries of check deposits — even when told twice of concerns about the check’s validity.

He hopes that telling this story will raise awareness of the scam. After writing about it on Facebook, he heard several similar tales. All but one person had been too embarrassed to tell anyone of their loss.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is,” Perlstein notes.

“Don’t rely on any institution to protect your interests. Educate yourself. And if you fall prey, don’t beat yourself up. Scammers are sophisticated. They take advantage of any vulnerability.” You can visit the FTC website for more scam information.

Perlstein suffered another blow earlier this month: His 87-year-old father died suddenly.

These days, Perlstein is focusing on his family. And — at a time when he needs it — he thanks everyone who supported a GoFundMe campaign covering his wife’s medical and rehabilitation costs.

Schools’ Innovation Fund Completes Successful 1st Year

Within days of announcing a new Innovation Fund last year, applications poured in to the Westport School District.

Students, staff, even community members were encouraged to submit ideas that foster new ways of thinking, and nurture creativity. The $50,000 fund covered equipment, time and resources that fell outside the normal education budget.

The school year is now over. The totals are in: More than 600 students and 2 dozen teachers, in every Westport school, have been impacted by the Innovation Fund.

Partnerships were established with the Westport Library, Westport Historical Society, world renowned artists and experts, and 2 Bridgeport high schools.

Students worked as scientists, anthropologists, historians, programmers, event planners, marketers, bloggers and live remote broadcasters. Teachers participated as researchers, data collectors and analysts.

Projects included:

Digital Portfolios. 2nd graders at Saugatuck Elementary School shared writing, art, music and more with each other using an app called Seesaw.

Composers Workshop. Sean O’Loughlin worked with middle school orchestra students to compose 3 pieces of music. They Skyped and met in person, then performed together in May. Students wrote about the process, and its impact on them.

Michele Anderson rehearses her Bedford students. Composer Sean O’Loughlin watches in the background, via Skype.

Google Expeditions. Students in various schools explored international museums, undersea caves and outer space using the fully outfitted Google Expedition Kit.

Hollywood Movie Music Production. Local recording artist/musician Andrew Smith worked with Kings Highway Elementary, Bedford Middle and Staples High Schools in movie music production, recording and editing. The final project is a queue written at a professional studio, performed, recorded and edited by students.

Saugatuck Story Festival. Coming this fall: 2 Staples teachers are working with the Westport Library on a 3-day literary festival and writing conference. It will show real-world applications of reading and writing, and involve well-known authors.

Think, Make, Innovate With Drones. Middle school students work after school and in summer programs, using coding software and drones to solve real-world challenges, and explore future uses of technology.

Grant applications are now open for the 2018-19 school year. Any Westport student, staff member or resident is eligible. The deadline is August 4. For more information and the application form, click here.

Penelope And Olivia: 4th Grade National Inventors

Alert “06880” reader Nico Eisenberger hesitated to write. 

“There are plenty of kids’ achievements to celebrate here in Westport in our highly competitive, educated, and uber-connected town (many of them much, much more noteworthy, some of them maybe a bit too competitive at times),” he said. 

Yet, he added:

I’ve just returned from the National Invention Convention & Entrepreneurs’ Exposition at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan with my daughter Penelope. She is 10, and attends Greens Farms Elementary School.

She and Olivia Cohn were selected as national finalists in this international competition for inventors.

They both walked away with medals. Olivia took first for all 4th graders, and also received the “I See Her Invent” award from CA Technologies for her “Happy Ride” solution for rear seat car sickness.

Penelope took first in the “Invent Her Future Award” from the Society of Women Engineers for her “Retainer Container,” a tabletop retainer case disguised as an ordinary drinking glass coaster.

That means our Westport 4th graders were 2 of only 50 kids to receive national awards out of 108,000 inventor participants, representing 7 countries.

Penelope Eisenberger and Olivia Cohn, proudly wear their medals.

But that’s not what I am writing about.

Of the many wonderful things that came out of this experience, what stands out the most is the amount of support we all experienced from folks in Westport and neighboring towns.

Penelope’s retainer container, 3D-printed by Ethan Klein.

Beyond the countless teachers, fellow students, family members, local crafts people, shopkeepers and neighbors who helped both Olivia and Penelope develop and refine their invention (for no money in almost every instance), we also had some heartwarming competitor-to-competitor collaboration as well.

Penelope’s invention was significantly impacted by meeting Fairfield 9th grader, 3D printing expert and budding entrepreneur Ethan Klein at Westport’s Maker’s Fair this spring.

He showed her how to print her Retainer Container. Together they refined its shape and design.

He was so infected by her excitement about the invention process that he decided to compete in the contest himself. He too was selected as a national finalist, and won 2 prestigious awards.

Ethan Klein and Penelope Eisenberger

We also met a mother and daughter (Olivia Taylor) from Easton, who presented in the booth next to us. When we discovered 5 minutes before judging began that her presentation materials were missing key required information, they pulled out glue, cardboard and paper, and fixed her up a solution right there.

In addition, Neil Cohn and his family helped show us the way to secure a patent for Penelope’s invention.  We helped each other get to the national convention. There the girls were inseparable companions, as they navigated their way with 450 other smart and creative finalists of all shapes, sizes and ages.

This is all little stuff — one might even say stuff that should be ordinary human, neighborly decency. And it should.

But it stood out, at least for me, in our time of increasing atomization of communities, addiction to devices, political division, and get-ahead-at-all-cost-ism, that it was folks from Westport and neighboring towns who stood up when the need arose, and made this experience so special.

Won’t Get Fooled Again

With all the scams around — I posted a story yesterday about one Westporter’s experience, and another a few weeks ago — it would be great if someone could write a guide to the most common ones.

Wait! Someone already did!

And not just “someone” — but Westport’s own David Pogue.

His piece was published by Yahoo in 2015. Sadly, many of the scams are still around — and still working.

Click here for the full story.

PS: Despite a few heated comments yesterday — by people who resented being asked to give $1 to help the victim of an email hacking scan — “06880” readers responded generously.

As of 9 this morning, they’d donated over $3,000 toward the $6,200 goal.

 

Scammed! (Part II)

Several weeks ago, I posted the story of a Westport woman who nearly fell victim to a phone scam.

Today’s story — about an online version — does not have as happy an ending.

Yet.

The saga began when Marleen Salko — a Westport resident for 47 years — met with her landscaper. She told him she was leaving the next day on vacation. She did not say where. Then she headed out on errands. She said she was going to the bank.

On her first day in Arizona — visiting a friend, before heading to Denver to see her daughter — Marleen’s cell phone began vibrating, with calls and texts.

Dozens of friends told her: Your email was hacked. Change your password.

She tried, but could not. She couldn’t even get into her email, to warn her contacts not to pay attention to the message she had supposedly sent.

One of the calls was from her landscaper. He did not leave a message. Marleen assumed he was calling about her lawn. She had so many calls and texts, she replied only to those who left messages, or seemed concerned.

Finally — the next day — an AT&T tech guy helped her change her AOL password.

Eight days later — finally back in Westport — she emailed her landscaper. He replied: “Are you OK?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You were stuck in Manila,” he said.

She listened in horror, as the story came out. The landscaper had received one of her hacked emails. With limited English, he did not realize this stilted language was a scam:

Hope this note finds all well with you, please i really need your urgent help. presently i’m out of the country to Manila, Philippines for a short vacation and unfortunately i’m having a serious network difficulties with my bank. unable to transfer out here and can’t even access the ATM as planned. have been so stranded and confused. I’m thinking if I could get a quick loan of $2,100.00 from you or anything you can afford if not all? to enable me to complete my activities here. I promise to refund your money in few days as soon as I return, let me know if i can count on you so I can send you my details.

The landscaper knew she was on vacation. She’d told him she was going to the bank.

He had been married a few months earlier. He told his wife the story. And, he said, “A while back someone helped me out. It touched my heart.”

She advised, “Do you whatever you feel you should do.”

So he gathered his cash. In the midst of his busiest season, he left his workers. He headed to Western Union, at Stop & Shop, to wire Marleen the money.

But the scammers were not through. Using a host of excuses — exchange rates, settling the hotel bill, buying a plane ticket — they convinced the landscaper to send money 6 different times.

In all, he wired $6,248.25 to the Philippines.

“He’s very embarrassed,” Marleen says. “He thought because the email wasn’t in his spam filter, it was okay.”

She is aghast at what happened. “He works so hard. He built a business, and employs several people. He loves our plants, and our garden.”

So Marleen has come up with an idea to help. She’s created a GoFundMe campaign. But she’s not asking for a lot.

“If just over 6,000 people contribute a dollar each, we can pay him back,” she says.

It’s a great idea. There are 2 ways to help.

  • Click here to contribute.
  • Forward this story to as many people as you can, on all your social media outlets.

I’ll let you know when the $6,000 goal is reached.

BMS Science Olympians Strike Gold

When I hear “science competition,” I think of nerdy kids next to poster boards, explaining styrofoam experiments to nerdy judges.

When Bedford Middle School students hear it, they think of Science Olympiad. Which is pretty similar to the actual Olympic Games.

Instead of swimming, boxing, biathlon (and curling!) though, there are events like anatomy and physiology, hovercraft and towers.

Body tape and energy bars are replaced by duct tape and battery chargers.

But — just like the Summer and Winter Games — events are timed. Adrenaline runs high. There are big prizes for the winners.

Last month, BMS placed 1st and 3rd at the state competition in Farmington. The gold winners now represent Connecticut at the 34th annual Science Olympiad national tournament. It’s May 18-19, at Colorado State University.

Hail to the champions: Bedford Middle School’s Science Olympiad stars.

That’s no small achievement. 15,000 schools participate across the country. Teams of up to 15 students compete in 23 events, covering science, technology, engineering and math.

Some require constructing a project ahead of time. Others involve on-the-spot skill-solving. Like athletes, “SciOly” teams train for hours each week.

Fortunately, Bedford is led by a coach who is John Wooden, Geno Auriemma and Pep Guardiola rolled into one.

During the day, Art Ellis — the first student at Princeton University to seek a combination degree in engineering and public school education — teaches design and engineering.

Teacher/coach Art Ellis in action.

After school, his classroom transforms into the Science Olympiad workshop. Middle schoolers build, study, perform lab trials, make mistakes and hone their performances.

After a dinner break, he opens the room again. Students focus on different events.

On weekends he’s either at BMS, or in Glastonbury coaching his flyers for the SciOly “Wright Stuff” event.

Many of this year’s Olympians worked during school breaks — including last summer vacation. They’ve been inspired by Mr. Ellis, who teaches them exactly how competitions work.

Once the students understand how good their opponents are — and they’re very, very good — they’re hooked on beating them.

But there’s no trash talk or foul play. Bedford wins with grace. They congratulated the runners-up profusely. After all, Mr. Ellis reminded them, if the other team wasn’t their rivals, they’d likely be their good friends.

After winning a gold medal, two Bedford Middle School Science Olympians show their joy.

Mr. Ellis also coaches the Staples High School Science Olympiad team. Formed last year, they’ve already snagged a pair of 3rd-place finishes. Coleytown Middle School competed at the state meet this year too, and earned an individual medal.

There’s only one thing Mr. Ellis can’t do: create money out of thin air. The cost of sending 25 students and 5 advisers to Colorado is $35,000. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to Bedford Middle School, 88 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880 (put “Science Olympiad” in the memo line).

Congratulations to BMS Science Olympians Jackson Benner, Julia Berg, Tavan Bhatia, Aalok Bhattacharya, Kristina Chaney, Rhea Choudhury, Joshua Deitch, Tatiana Dragun, Hannah Even, Amy Ginzburg, Tanvi Gorre, Sharmila Green, Anja Gubitz, Finnbar Kiely, Lucy Livingstone, Emma Losonczy, Annabelle Luo, Colin Morgeson, Alexander Pirkl, Jeffrey Pogue, Ishan Prasad, Naomi Rosen, Zachary Rybchin, Samira Saad, Kaitlyn Seo, Tegh Singh, Clara Smith, Mallika Subramanian, Maxwell Tanksley, Whitman Teplica and Jy Xu, plus Mr. Elllis’ fellow coaches Kathryn Nicholas and Dr. Daniel Cortright.

Good luck going for another gold. And have fun along the way!

(Hat tip: Danielle Teplica)

Jack And Neal: They Got (Every) Game

It’s not easy being a high school athlete. Or fan.

You’ve got the ups and downs of wins and losses (and injuries). There’s the pressure of school, extracurriculars, family and social life.

And — thanks to weather, facilities and a thousand other factors — the game schedule constantly changes.

Jack Sharkey and Neal Soni can’t do anything about Xs, Os, concussions, sprains, rain or snow.

They can, however, make following your favorite team a snap.

And they have. With an app.

Jack Sharkey (left) and Neal Soni show off their CT Sports app.

The Staples High School seniors spent 2 months creating CT Sports. An outgrowth of their Building Web Applications class with teacher Dave Scrofani, it’s simple, clear, and tremendously useful.

Users select any of Connecticut’s 183 high schools, and any of the 27 sports administered by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

Fan of Staples sports? Here’s when and where all the spring teams play!

Instantly, you see the schedule, opponent, location, bus time and level (varsity, JV, freshman). The information is up-to-date: As soon as a change is made to the CIAC website, it appears on CT Sports.

You can add events to your personal calendar — along with reminders.

All information is pulled directly from the CIAC site. So why use this one?

“Our interface is much cleaner,” says Neal. “For theirs, you have to choose each parameter separately, each time. On ours you can save features. And it’s much easier to switch schools.”

Visually, it’s appealing too. Neal and Jack added each school’s colors to the site — tedious, but a welcome feature. (They considered using logos. But if they sell ads later, there may be copyright issues. These guys think ahead.)

The potential user base is enormous. But Jack and Neal had no sure way to reach them.

The CIAC helped. They emailed every athletic director in the state, encouraging them to send information about CT Sports to all students, parents, teachers and coaches.

Feedback was immediate — and very positive — Jack says.

A small Google ad at the bottom brings in a few dollars. But the app was not designed as a moneymaker. Neal and Jack hope to use it to build name recognition, for future endeavors.

They’ll create more apps, juggling all their other activities. Jack is president of both the Unified Sports Club and Kool To Be Kind, and is a Top Hat Tutor. Neal is president of Top Hat, and a national taekwando competitor.

Unfortunately, martial arts is not a CIAC sport. But if it becomes one, Neal and Jack will make sure you never miss a meet.

(To download the app, search for “CT Sports: HS Sports Schedules.” Right now, it is available only for iOS devices.)

Two more app functions: Choose one specific sport, or select from every high school in Connecticut.