Category Archives: technology

Maker Faire Makes Its Mark

You can’t keep a good geek down.

Chilly temperatures and a light rain did not deter thousands of folks from descending on the Westport Library, Jesup Green and Bedford Square, for today’s 6th annual Maker Faire.

Every type of STEM creation was represented: robots, 3-D designs, flight simulators, submersibles and more.

The arts were there too: violinists, jewelry makers, sculptors…

And of course local organizations: the Y, Wakeman Town Farm and Rotary Club were among those showing their commitment to creativity and community.

In 6 short years, the Maker Faire has become one of the biggest events of the Westport year. Now all we need is some young guy or girl who can control the weather.

Which I’m sure we’ll see next spring.

Hand-made robots were a huge hit.

Christopher Crowe’s creations drew a crowd.

What better spot to hang out in than the Westport Library’s permanent Maker Space?

State Senators Toni Boucher (front) and Tony Hwang (right) joined 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (left) and Westport Library trustee Iain Bruce at the Maker Faire.

A father gives a hands-on wind tunnel demonstration to his daughter.

Westporter Charlie Wolgast — a professional pilot — checks out a flight simulator in Bedford Square.

Beware!

Earth Day Plea: Fear “Digital Crack,” Not Coyotes

Today is Earth Day. Richard Wiese — host and executive producer of the Westport-based “Born to Explore” TV series — sends along a timely note. 

It’s co-signed by Jim Fowler — Wiese’s longtime friend, “Wild Kingdom” spokesman and Darien resident — as well as Dr. Marc Bekoff, a coyote expert at the University of Colorado who has worked with both Wiese and Jane Goodall. They say:

Nature and its wildlife are under siege. We also are witnessing a new generation of children who regard the outdoors as “a place that doesn’t get Wi-Fi.”

When Richard moved to Fairfield County almost a decade ago, he was told by neighbors not to leave his young children outside at dusk because coyotes might eat them. At the time this sounded amusing — who leaves their 2-year-olds alone anywhere, much less outdoors?

Richard Wiese and his family, enjoying the Westport outdoors.

Fast forward to the present. Not a day goes by where someone confesses that they are afraid to go outside because of the “coyote problem.” Worse yet, some are even arming themselves just in case.

There are many threats in our lives, but coyotes should rank far behind guns, alcohol, drugs, distracted drivers and even lawn mowers.

Yes, each year, 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors, and more than 20,000 are injured.

The representation of animals — especially carnivores — in the media is based on bad science or no science, which is bad for the animals. What does the available data show? Coyotes very rarely attack. To put it in perspective, meteorites have hit more homes in Connecticut than people who have been harmed or killed by coyotes.

Research clearly shows that coyotes and other urban animals fear people. Most animals don’t associate good things happening to them around humans.  Whenever possible they avoid us at all costs.

What should we fear? Or rather, be outraged by? On any given beautiful day, we have legions of children sitting on a couch hypnotized by their electronic devices. Digital crack.

We fear that we are raising a generation of children who have “nature deficit disorder “ and are totally removed from the outdoors.

Psychologist Susan Linn notes, “Time in green space is essential to children’s mental and physical health … And the health of the planet depends on a generation of children who love and respect the natural world enough to protect it from abuse and degradation.”

We should appreciate the presence of coyotes and educate ourselves on how to coexist with them, rather than instilling fear of them.  Let’s encourage the media to provide a more balanced view of coyotes (and other animals) based on what we know about them rather than irresponsible sensationalism. And for goodness sake, get your kids outside, let them track mud into the house, have grass stains on their knees and be thoroughly exhausted from fresh air and sunshine.

We need to re-wild not only our children, but also ourselves — before it’s too late.

Robots Invade Westport

For 5 years, a robot has served as the mascot for Westport’s Mini Maker Faire.

The event grew so big, it shed the “mini” moniker.

So this year the robot mascot invited his friends.

Boy, does he have plenty.

The other day, they gathered outside the Westport Library — which is part of where next week’s Maker Faire will be held (Saturday, April 22, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

It will also sprawl over to Jesup Green and the Taylor parking lot, and on to Church Lane and Bedford Square.

Look for them soon all over town.

Then see real robots — and lots more — next Saturday, at the Maker Faire.

(For more information, click here.)

Sandra Long Is Totally LinkedIn

Sandra Long did not like my LinkedIn profile.

At first, I didn’t care.

In my social media life, the networking website ranked far below Instagram and Facebook (not to mention “06880”). It hovered just above Google Plus — but not by much.

Yet when Sandra — a longtime Westporter who offers LinkedIn training for businesses and individuals, as well as profile makeovers for executives, consultants, attorneys and other professionals — offered to spruce mine up, I said, “why not?”

Yet I was about as enthusiastic as when I had a root canal.

Sandra Long offers LinkedIn training to individuals and organizations.

Sandra Long offers LinkedIn training to individuals and organizations.

But then I met Sandra. And once she went to work — drilling down through my profile, into my life, work, passions and dreams — I was all in.

All LinkedIn, I should say.

I had been agnostic about LinkedIn’s potential. But Sandra is a true believer. “You’re missing lots of opportunities,” she said.

I considered myself a freelance writer. I didn’t see how LinkedIn could help. Yet Sandra had already stalked me — I mean, done her homework — and thought that tying together everything I do would help my overall “brand.”

“You write. You coach soccer. You’re an expert on Westport. You’re an LGBT activist and mentor,” she noted. A stronger LinkedIn presence — including keywords, which I sorely lacked — could help people find me, leading to paths I never expected.

And, she pointed out, my entire internet presence was a mess. My LinkedIn profile was not, um, linked to my Amazon author page (which, she added with a sympathetic smile, was pretty weak itself). My YouTube channel did not even showcase my speeches.

There was some good news. My name is unique enough that I could really capitalize on it. Sandra would have a fairly easy time finding my scattered web life, then tying it together.

My LinkedIn main page before Sandra Long got to work. Sure, it says 500+ connections. But I hadn't really "connected" with many of them in years.

My LinkedIn main page before Sandra Long got to work. Sure, it says 500+ connections. But I hadn’t really “connected” with many of them in years. Plus, my photo was from before LinkedIn was even born.

Quickly, we got to work.

Talking about myself was sort of like going to a therapist — without the anxiety.

Sandra is a master at asking the right questions, analyzing the answers, and organizing it all in a coherent, presentable fashion.

I am not (for example) an “independent writing professional.” That was my old headline. My new one is much more inclusive.

Turns out I’m a “community builder.” My writing, coaching, LGBT and Westport work — all of it develops community. Who knew?

Part of my new banner. Ta da!

Part of my new banner. Ta da!

I should note here that Sandra drew from me that 2 sidelines are teaching writing, and consulting on writing projects. Somehow I had forgotten to include that on LinkedIn. Oops!

Also, my photo sucked. Thanks to Sandra: not anymore!

On we plowed. She rewrote my (very important) personal summary; added “Experience” sections with new titles, descriptions and images, as well as more publications, organizations and awards; rejiggered my “Skills” section; gave me a way-cool background banner of Westport scenes; threw in my contact info and a customized URL — and linked to “06880.”

All that was just for LinkedIn. Soon, she worked similar magic on my Amazon and YouTube pages. For the latter, she discovered videos about me in cyberspace I never knew existed. Fortunately, they’re good ones.

My Amazon author page before Sandra Long went to work. Only 2 of my books were listed -- and I had no author bio.

My Amazon author page before Sandra Long went to work. Only 2 of my books were listed — and I had no author bio.

The process took just over a month. It was empowering. It was also painless. (At least for me. I was the duck you see on the surface. Underneath the water, Sandra paddled furiously.)

My new Amazon page. It has many more of the books I've written -- and every "06880" story appears as soon as it's posted. Crazy!

My new Amazon page. It has many more of the books I’ve written — and every “06880” story appears as soon as it’s posted. Crazy!

The results were impressive — and not just to look at.

Throughout the process, Sandra kept telling me that I underestimated the power of LinkedIn. I was missing opportunities, she preached (always, thankfully, with a smile).

The day after my fresh, comprehensive, tied-together profile went live, I got a “notification.” I clicked it. (Sorry, Sandra, but yeah — the first time I’ve ever done that).

A woman developing a new website about sports had searched for “soccer,” “writing” and “community building.” My name popped up.

She liked my “interesting bio,” and wondered if I’d be interested in working for her.

Instantly, I felt linked in.

(Sandra Long’s Post Road Consulting has offices in Westport and Stamford. Click here for more information. To learn more about Sandra’s book, “LinkedIn for Personal Branding: The Ultimate Guide,” click here.)

Bonus feature: My new YouTube channel.

Bonus feature: My new YouTube channel.

 

Okay, So First You Head Down State Street…

Alert — and confused — “06880” reader Jaime Bairaktaris was looking up an address on Google.

The world’s largest search engine — which supposedly knows everything — took Jaime’s “Post Road East,” and turned it into “State Street East.”

It’s right there on Google Street View too:

state-street

That’s the internet search equivalent of your grandmother telling you to close “the icebox.”

Jamie wonders: “Is State Street still the legal name of Post Road East?”

I’m guessing no. That would be “US 1.”

Town Site Needs Help

If you had to use one word to describe the Town of Westport’s website, what would it be?

Mine is “utilitarian.”

For one thing, it’s a town site. It’s not supposed to be exciting.

For another, it was last redesigned in 2011. In technology terms, that was when fish first crawled out of the sea.

But the site is being upgraded soon. It will be coded for use on those newfangled smartphones and tablets, as well as desktops and laptops.

And the designers want us to help.

Users can offer feedback on how they use the current site — and what they’d like to see in the future — by answering a quick survey. The basic questions are kind of blah, but the opportunity to expand on your answers at length is a good one.

Click here for the survey. Your town government wants to hear from you!

(My 2 cents: Get rid of that tagline “New England in tradition; cosmopolitan in outlook.” Yikes!)

Everything you need to know about the Shellfish Commission is on our town website. But not one photo of a clam!

Everything you need to know about the Shellfish Commission is on our town website. But not one photo of a clam!

YouLobby: Staples Grads Power Grassroots Democracy

The Trump election — particularly the aftermath of his inauguration — spurred yuuuuge numbers of Americans toward action.

Amid the marches, rallies and Facebook posts, a common theme emerged: To effect change, people must engage in the political process. Protests are one tool — but actually contacting elected representatives is key.

So who you gonna call?

For folks engaging in their first form of activism — anyone, really — knowing how to reach your legislators is not always easy. (That was true during America’s previous protest movement too: the Tea Party.)

That’s where YouLobby comes in.

The home page of YouLobby.org.

The home page of YouLobby.org.

The website is a 1-stop shop to help citizens contact their senators and representatives. It offers a range of issues — healthcare, climate change, education, women’s rights, immigration, civil rights, the Supreme court, constitutional crisis — to weigh in on.

And it provides a sample call script, for users who can’t find the right words to convey their disappointment/distrust/dismay at the latest news.

YouLobby is the brainchild of Aaron Eisman and Kira Ganga Kieffer. Both are Staples High School 2004 alums; both graduated from Brown University 4 years later.

They took very different paths to their current project.

At Staples, the 3-year Authentic Science Research course (and mentor Dr. A.J. Scheetz) sparked Aaron’s curiosity. He also served as yearbook editor.

brown-logoAt Brown he concentrated in applied math, with a focus in economics. He did biochemistry research at Yale for 2 summers.

After college he worked for 5 years as director of technology at an asset management firm,where he taught himself to code, and manage online data and cloud computing.

Then he made a career change, into medicine. Two years working as a research coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital reawakened his passion for science research, which he continues to do at Brown’s Alpert School of Medicine. He’s in his 2nd year — while also doing research in biomedical informatics. The aim is to use healthcare data to improve clinical outcomes.

Kira was a 4-year writer (and senior co-editor-in-chief) for Inklings, the Staples newspaper. Steve Rexford encouraged her to do investigative reporting, and break stories that might be unpopular with administrators. She co-founded an after-school reading club for girls at Beardsley Elementary School in Bridgeport, and worked for United Way — early experiences in social outreach and community engagement.

A history and religious studies concentrator at Brown, she became passionate about studying evangelicalism and politics. She examines those very timely topics now, as part of Boston University’s doctoral program. In between, she spent 6 years in corporate marketing.

Kira and Aaron, at Staples High School's senior prom.

Kira and Aaron, at Staples High School’s senior prom.

Oh, yeah: Aaron and Kira dated as Staples seniors. They’ve been together for almost 13 years — and got married in 2015.

Over the past few months, politics was all they talked about. They grew increasingly concerned about the health of American democracy; threats to women’s, LGBT and civil rights; the need for universal healthcare; the denial of climate change; the importance of environmental protection and industry regulation; immigration and refugee crises; racial and religious intolerance — you know, all those minor issues.

After the election, the couple began calling their representatives. They attended the women’s march on Washington. It was their first protest, and they were hooked.

“We decided these causes are worth fighting for,” Kira says. “We needed to work to make our country work better, and treat all people witih respect.”

While struck by the massive crowds of diverse people, all standing in solidarity, Aaron and Kira worried that grassroots energy might fizzle out. Driving back to Massachusetts, they talked about the importance of engaging their representatives.

They decided to make a tool to help. They came up with the “YouLobby” name, and when they got home they bought the domain name. Aaron put his coding skills to work. Kira did the same with her marketing talents.

Kira’s mother gave important feedback: She said the daily script made it easy to call.

Two weeks later, they launched.

Kira Ganga Kieffer and Aaron Eisman in Washington, the day after the inauguration.

Kira Ganga Kieffer and Aaron Eisman in Washington, the day after the inauguration.

The website is simple. Other sites do similar things, but without the ease of use, visual appeal and social media presence of YouLobby. A Facebook page sends out daily updates, and the pair use the hashtag #EveryCallCounts on Twitter and Instagram.

Aaron and Kira’s site also offers important bullet-point facts and arguments, and a homepage “Issue of the Day.”

Reaction was overwhelmingly positive — and instant. Within 24 hours, users from 29 states were calling their representatives. Over 500 zip codes have already been entered.

These days, Congress is inundated with phone calls. Citizens turn up in record numbers at town halls and constituent meetings. YouLobby is doing what it can to keep the pressure on.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. And no one knows that better than Kira’s mother.

She had never called a representative in her life. Using YouLobby, she now calls every day.

And the aides who answer the phones know her by name.

Free Detail At Westport Wash & Wax!

Well, at least for one person.

Alert “06880” reader Jaime Bairaktaris spotted this sign at our town’s favorite (okay, only) car wash:

westport-wash-wax-tesla

Intrigued, he asked the cashier for the back story.

Apparently, Tesla vehicles cannot be put into neutral and pulled through the car wash tunnel — unless someone sits in the front seat.

Because every Westport Wash & Wax customer must get out of the car, this causes quite an inconvenience. As soon as you step out of a Tesla, it stops moving.

So a free detailing awaits any geek who can figure out how to let Teslas remain in neutral, even without anyone in the front.

Gentlemen, start your engines!

Maker Faire Moves From Mini To Massive

Six years ago, Mark Mathias and a small group of believers brought an intriguing event to Connecticut.

They hoped 800 people would share and enjoy interactive, interdisciplinary, interesting exhibits.

They got 2,200.

The event — called a Mini Maker Faire — grew each year. Over 25,000 folks — of all ages, genders and from 100 miles away — have come at least once.

Interactivity is a major draw for the Maker Faire.

Interactivity is a major draw for the Maker Faire.

This year, Mathias expects a record 10,000 attendees. It will be especially notable for 2 reasons:

  • It’s set for Earth Day (Saturday, April 22), and …
  • It’s no longer “Mini.” The event is now an honest-to-goodness, full-fledged, grown-up-but-still-way-cool “Maker Faire.”

maker-faire-logoMathias is very excited about this 6th annual celebration, at the Westport Library and Jesup Green. He and his crew have drawn together a community of young and old males and females of all races, religions and economic levels. They’re technology enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, artists and students. All share a love of creativity, innovation, tinkering and fun.

Some show off their work, in a dazzling variety of fields. Some wander around, observing and questioning and learning. Some do both.

Small businesses find customers, inventors and suppliers. Large businesses showcase their products and employees — and find talent and ideas.

"The Great Fredini" is constructing an entire scale model of Coney Island, with a 3D printer. Faire-goers could have their own body scanned -- and printed -- to be included.

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

The theme for this year’s Maker Faire is “Earth.” Organizers hope it will be Fairfield County’s main Earth Day celebration.

As the Maker Faire has grown (and shed its “mini” status), Mathias and his fellow devotees have continued to do yeoman’s work. Right now they’re seeking makers (those who showcase their work); volunteers (who make it all happen), and sponsors (corporations, philanthropists and foundations).

To be a maker or to volunteer, click here; then select the “Participate” menu. If you’d like to be a sponsor, email mark@remarkablesteam.org, or call 203-226-1791.

See you at the Faire!

David Pogue Kicks “NOVA” Into High Gear

In his books and columns, through his videos and with his talks, David Pogue teaches all of us how to navigate the world. He seems to know everything, about everything.

But the tech and life-hack expert — a longtime Westport resident — is worried. He needs a favor from “06880” readers. David writes:

I love the PBS science show “NOVA,” and not just because I’ve served as its host in 16 episodes.

David Pogue hosting "NOVA." He's standing behind a periodic table "table."

David Pogue hosting “NOVA.” He stands behind a periodic table “table.”

For 2 years “NOVA” has been planning a new, educational, entertaining, 2-hour special called “Beyond The Elements,” which I’ll host. The plan is to ask the public to help fund it, through Kickstarter. This is historic: a public TV show seeking help directly from the public!

(Ordinarily, the government provides about 20 percent of public television’s budget. The rest we have to raise from grants, gifts, foundations, and of course “viewers like you.”)

In the middle of gearing up for this quest, current events suddenly overtook us. Both science and public broadcasting are under political attack. Our leaders have expressed a desire to de-fund both.

These trends break my heart. I truly don’t understand the anti-science movement. When it comes to solving the world’s problems — from dropped cellphone calls and stuttering Netflix, all the way up to climate change, feeding the population and fighting epidemics—science is all we got.

My guess is that rapid advances are tapping into something primal in us: fear of the unknown. We no longer understand our world — our car engines, our televisions, our phones, our medical treatments — and it’s terrifying.

That’s what gets me up in the morning (early!) on “NOVA” shoot days. Once someone takes the time to explain these concepts, they won’t seem unfamiliar — and therefore won’t be frightening.

David Pogue searches for the "super battery" on "NOVA."

On “NOVA,” David Pogue searches for the “super battery.”

Which brings me back to our Kickstarter campaign. The new show is a sequel to one I hosted in 2012 (“Hunting the Elements”), which has been watched over 10 million times. It’s become a teaching tool in thousands of public school classrooms (including Staples)!

I know that many Westporters are concerned about the direction of the country. I truly believe that a contribution toward this “NOVA” campaign is a gesture of support for both science and public broadcasting. If we’re successful, it will send a message that we, the people, can take matters into our own hands.

With Kickstarter, we have 30 days to raise the money. If we reach our goal, then we make the show. If we don’t, no money is collected; it’s as though the whole thing never happened.

The donation is partly tax-deductible. It comes with various “rewards,” ranging from a T-shirt to lunch with me (though I’m not sure if that’s a reward or a punishment).

I hope “06880” readers will pitch in to our campaign, or at least watch the pitch video here.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blogging…