Category Archives: technology

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…

Westport Moms Own WestportMoms.com

Westport moms have lots of options.

Also, lots of questions.

How do I find the right summer camp? What activities can I do with my 2-year-old? Where can I find a place for a great brunch with my husband?

Up to now, those answers were scattered all over the Googlesphere.

Starting a couple of weeks ago, they’re aggregated all in one place.

Fittingly, it’s called WestportMoms.com.

The site is the work of (duh) Westport moms. Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post are the type of active, plugged-in women friends often turn to for advice.

Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post enjoy a WestportMoms event, at The Cottage.

Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post enjoy a WestportMoms event, at The Cottage.

When Megan and Melissa heard about GreenwichMoms.com — the brainchild of Layla Jafar — and similar pages for Darien and New Canaan, they realized it was a perfect platform for Westport too.

And they’re the perfect partners to produce it.

Megan and Melissa are responsible for all local content. (Which includes Weston and — at least for the moment — Wilton and Fairfield.)

The other day, the home page included “M&M Picks” (All Birds Sneakers for moms, Mad Mattr for munchkins); a New Year’s resolution on cooking healthier meals (with recipes for, um, pizza quesadillas and baked chicken fingers); a story on chef Brian Lewis, the man behind the wildly popular restaurant The Cottage, and a “Meet a Mom” feature with, actually, 2 moms (the founders of Granola Bar).

The rest of the site includes an events calendar (heavy on story time for toddlers); lists of public, private and preschools plus summer camps, and a resources page with links to activities, attractions, babysitting and nanny agencies, pet care, fitness health and beauty (from gyms to botox), pediatricians and pediatric dentists, restaurants and specialty food stores (there are plenty!), shopping and products.

Part of the home page of WestportMoms.com

Part of the home page of WestportMoms.com

WestportMoms.com makes money from advertising partners and sponsored listings.

The graphics are spare. That’s fine. Moms who log on want information, not splashy photos.

And to answer everyone’s question: Sure. There’s tons of good info on WestportMoms for Westport dads too.

Cayla Yang Wears The Pantsuit

Donald Trump’s election took a lot of people by surprise. Many were “paralyzed or scared,” says Cayla Yang.

“I don’t do well with those emotions,” says the 2009 Staples High School graduate. “I’m not like, ‘woe is me.’ I’m more, ‘what can I do?'”

Cayla Yang

Cayla Yang

Cayla — a Staples field hockey player and yearbook editor who graduated from Northeastern University and now lives in Weston, while working as a consultant for a cloud computing company — always assumed that politicians would take care of her.

Now she’s not so sure.

But instead of paralysis, she chose action.

In the aftermath of Trump’s win, she reached out to Pantsuit Nation. The group of nearly 4 million (mostly) women had used Facebook to share stories of their support for Hillary Clinton. After her loss, it became a place to vent, express fears and frustrations, and find hope.

It also spun off local organizations, where (mostly) women began working together to do more than talk.

The Fairfield County group is called PSNCT — Pantsuit Nation without the actual name. And Cayla is one of its leaders.

“Telling stories is incredibly important. But this group is about advocacy,” Cayla says. “It’s about issues, concerns, and how to help.”

PSNCT has forged connections with politicians. A recent Town Hall meeting with Senator Chris Murphy in Bridgeport was “fantastic,” Cayla says.

Congressman Jim Himes came to an early PSNCT meeting. He discussed his priorities, and offered his assistance.

A photo posted to the PSNCT Facebook page shows a statue of PT Barnum in Bridgeport, "supporting" Saturday's women's march on Washington.

A photo posted to the PSNCT Facebook page shows a statue of PT Barnum in Bridgeport, “supporting” Saturday’s women’s march on Washington.

“We’ll do local fundraisers, and put our money where our mouth is,” Cayla promises.

“We recognize we have a privileged position here in Fairfield County. We want to use our influence to help people and organizations that don’t have our resources.”

Though Pantsuit Nation was created by Hillary Clinton supporters, Cayla says, “we shy away from labels. We want Republicans like Gail Lavielle and Toni Boucher” — state legislators representing this area — “to speak to us, and break down barriers.” Rep. Tony Hwang — a Republican state senator — attended Murphy’s Town Hall session.

As Inauguration Day looms, Cayla says PSNCT is focused on the days after.

“We’re looking to do good, and do it well,” she says.

(Click here for the PSNCT Facebook page. Hat tip: Julia McNamee)

Lifestyles Of The Rich And Efficient

Congratulations!

You’ve just been given the keys to your new 10,000-square foot house. It’s beautiful!

You love the kitchen, with its high-end appliances. The master bathroom, with its fancy his-and-her showers, tubs and whatnot. The pool (and poolhouse!)

The last thing on your mind is how to maintain all that stuff. Not to mention the irrigation, roof and security system.

Plus everything else.

It’s the last thing on your mind because 1) you haven’t even finished unpacking; 2) you are a wizard of Wall Street but not an electrician, plumber, roofer, tile man, lawn guy or locksmith, and 3) you don’t even know what you don’t know.

Who you gonna call?

EfficientLifestyle!

It's tough to maintain a home like this on your own. Right?

It’s tough to maintain a home like this on your own. Right?

They’re a brand-new company — as modern as your home. Since moving into their breathtaking space overlooking the Saugatuck River in November (actually, for a while before that), they’ve been preparing to launch a web-based platform that will make Angie’s List look like the Yellow Pages.

And make the Yellow Pages look like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Tye Schlegelmich — founder and president of EfficientLifestyle — is an ex-hedge fund guy. He moved to Westport in 2010, and is passionate about his new role: making life more efficient, safe and fun for (among others) hedge fund guys.

Bill Green — vice president of operations — is a 1976 Staples High School grad. He’s spent his career building high-end homes in the area (and in similarly upscale locales, like Telluride).

Tye Schlegelmilch (left) and Bill Green, in their sun-filled riverside office.

Tye Schlegelmilch and Bill Green, in their sun-filled (and very efficient) riverside office.

At the heart of EfficientLifestyle is the belief that while everyone talks about the Internet of Things — the system of interrelated computing devices that in theory allows you to manage every aspect of your home digitally — the reality is far different.

You still have to change your air conditioning filters. Winterize your sprinklers. Clean your gutters. (Well, not necessarily “you.” Someone.)

And even if your house can tell you it’s broken, which local service provider around here is knowledgeable — and reliable — enough to fix it?

“Think of EfficientLifestyle as ‘Facebook for your house,'” Green says.

When you log in — after, that is, your address and credit cards have been verified — you see not a photo of you on the beach at Turks and Caicos, but a photo of your house.

The "home page" for your home.

The “home page” for your home.

You also see photos of your furnace, generator, oven, and many other appliances and pieces of machinery. That’s because the first thing Efficient Lifestyle does is send a “surveyor” to your home.

He takes those images — along with shots of the little plates bearing serial numbers — for 2 reasons. One is to create a database for your home.  The other is to make it very easy for service providers to provide service. If they know exactly where the water shutoff valve or control box is, they don’t have to spend valuable time searching for it. Or asking you where it is. (This also saves you from embarrassment, if your answer is, “Um….”)

Schlegelmilch notes another efficiency: Knowing makes and models allows service providers to pre-load trucks. The amount of time saved by not making multiple trips back and forth for 29-cent widgets on clogged I-95 is insane.

In his 90 to 120-minute inspection, the surveyor looks at everything: the roof, siding and interior of your home.

So far, Green notes, nearly every inspection has turned up something the homeowner did not know about, including chimney cracks, wiring problems and leaky pipes.

When you log in, you’ll also see a customized list of scheduled maintenance tasks — everything from exterior maintenance to moving outdoor furniture in for the winter.

There’s another list for unscheduled maintenance (uh oh).

Efficient Lifestyle also tracks major projects.

Efficient Lifestyle also tracks major projects.

To access a provider for any service — there are 47 categories — you click on the menu. Up comes a short roster of vendors, with pertinent information and reviews.

All have been vetted well. Very well. It’s an A-list for sure.

Once they’re approved — their licenses and certifications checked, their business reviews run — service providers get plenty. There’s full calendar integration. Payment processing. And an email/text system that allows customers and service providers to communicate quickly and efficiently. (No more voicemail, telephone answering services and other 20th-century technology.)

Currently, there is no fee for homeowners. EfficientLifestyle will be rolled out to other communities soon — but even if the firm eventually charges other homeowners for the initial survey, Schlegelmilch promises that Westporters will “never, ever” pay.

The list of repairs includes

The list of services you can access is long and comprehensive. It includes exterminators, generators — even garage doors.

The company charges service providers 5% of their fee.

It’s an efficient way to manage your lifestyle. It’s equally efficient for the service providers who make the cut.

And though the first part of this story talked about “your new 10,000-square foot house,” EfficientLifestyle can make life easy for any homeowner.

They know a thing or two about old places.

After all, their headquarters — 49 Riverside Avenue — was once Horace Staples’ lumberyard. Back in the 1860s.

You know — before electricity, Sub-Zero wine cellars and swimming pools that can’t survive a Westport winter on their own.

(To reach the EfficientLifestyle website efficiently, click here.)

Babysitting Solutions — The Modern Way

You need a babysitter. It’s getting late. Your regular — and your 2 back-ups — have not responded to voicemail or texts.

It’s a scene every Westporter who has — or had — kids can relate to.

Who you gonna call?

Starting soon, no one.

You won’t need to call. There’s an app for that.

Bambino Sitters is the brainchild of Sean Greene. Last year, the California single father of 3 realized while driving around his neighborhood, worrying about a sitter for that night, that behind many doors were sitters eager for work.

He just did not know who they were. And they did not know him.

Greene’s app could be called “the Uber of babysitting.” After downloading it to your iPhone or iPad, you create a profile as “sitter” or “parent.”

If you’re a sitter, you set your own schedule and update your availability.

Two screens for sitters...

Two screens showing sitters…

If you’re a parent, you sign in via Facebook. That allows you to see friends in your neighborhood — and which nearby sitters they love.

You don’t have to text 20 sitters. You just punch in “6-10 p.m., Thursday night,” and send a request to the sitters you (or your friends) like. When someone responds, it’s a match made in babysitting heaven.

The app tracks the time a sitter spends at work. All payment is done through the app too, so there’s no fishing around for money or change.

...and 2 for parents.

…and 2 for parents to click on. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

Last summer, Greene launched Bambino Sitters in Pacific Palisades. He’s since rolled it out to Santa Monica, Brentwood and several other neighborhoods.

So what — besides similar demographics — does this Southern California story have to do with Westport?

Bambino Sitters’ director of marketing is Sara Snow. She’s Greene’s friend, and former neighbor.

For the past year and a half, Snow has lived in Westport. She came East for her husband’s job. (Why Westport? Her college friend Missy Zahler lives here, and sold Snow on it.)

Sara Snow (upper right), with her children and mother. With Bambino Sitters, mom won't always have to babysit!

Sara Snow (upper right), with her children and mother. With Bambino Sitters, mom won’t always have to babysit!

This area will be the first national extension of the app. It goes live here over the next few days.

Katie Hill serves as Westport’s launch director. She moved here with her husband and 3 elementary school-aged kids. She’s a natural — as both a user and an executive.

Once Westport and Fairfield County are Bambino Sitter-ized, it will be rolled out in other towns and cities nationwide.

It’s a great app for any area with anxious parents and eager sitters. In other words, almost everywhere.

But we’ve got it (almost) first.

Country Curtains: The Closing

Yesterday, I wondered whether the reason for Country Curtains’ closing later this month was because of low sales volume or higher rent.

Peter Jennings, director of Bayberry Property Management & Leasing of CT — the manager of the small shopping center that includes that store, Stiles and Carvel — writes:

Country Curtains is closing due to a drop in business. Doing more in internet sales these days, like everyone else in this virtual world.

It took me 3 years to convince them to come to 06880. This ended up being their #1 store in the chain for many years, but always a top producer. It’s owned by very nice folks in Massachusetts.

Another nearby tenant was The Great American Stamp Store. They moved across the street, but are closing too — for the same reason.

So now you can get your rubber stamps and curtains online.

Along with everything else you once bought locally, from nice, helpful folks.

Country Curtains photos with -- unfortunately -- plenty of empty parking spots.

Country Curtains with — unfortunately — plenty of empty parking spots.