Category Archives: technology

Introducing “06880”‘s Persona Of The Week

Earlier this year Rob Simmelkjaer — who ran for 2nd Selectman in 2017 — left his corporate gig with NBC Sports and News to pursue a personal mission.

His goal: Develop a multimedia platform giving people the tools to create and discover great interviews and conversations. His company is called Persona.

Rob Simmelkjaer

Though national in scope, its rollout begins locally this month, with a custom interview service. Today, Rob and I are excited to announce a collaboration: the “06880 Persona of the Week.”

Each week, Rob or a Persona colleague will interview an interesting member of the community. Topics and interview subjects will be varied and unlimited, from local movers and shakers to those doing amazing things well beyond our borders.

Each interview will give “06880” readers a chance to meet a neighbor, and see the amazing things that happen when people sit down to chat.

With elections looming, we decided to start with a sprint.

Between now and Election Day we’ll post interviews with each of the Republican and Democratic candidates for the Boards of Education and Finance. These non-partisan interviews will give voters a chance to get to know the candidates, and encourage Westporters to vote.

We start with the Democratic candidate for re-election to the Board of Finance, Sheri Gordon. Tomorrow: Republican Board of Education candidate Vik Muktavaram.

More candidate videos will follow, in the coming days. After the election, this feature will become an actual “Persona of the Week.”

Billy Senia: A Tale Of Two Talents

Among the many things that separate Trader Joe’s from other grocery stores, its relentlessly upbeat, smilingly chatty and genuinely helpful employees are at the top of any list.

Billy Senia is one of the many Trader Joe’s folks whom Westporters love. Whether dishing out samples, checking out customers or answering questions, he’s always got a smile, a kind word and a joke.

Few people know that this is only one of his gigs. Billy is also a longtime, well respected and very talented video editor, advertising writer and director. He’s traveled the world, won countless awards, and worked with clients like Michael Jackson, MC Hammer and Aretha Franklin.

And he loves both jobs: creative and culinary.

Billy Senia

Billy moved to Westport 26 years ago from Manhattan. He and his wife were paying $40,000 a year for their 2 young children to “finger paint in pretentious schools.”

He was already successful, making commercials and music videos. Working with top agencies like BBDO, McCann Erickson, Greg and J. Walter Thompson, he cut spots for clients like Bulova, Sears, Club Med and Disney.

Through relatives and colleagues, he heard that Westport was a magnet for creative people. They moved here, and he has not been disappointed.

Twenty years ago, Billy opened his own one-stop shop: Ice Pic Edit. He commuted to Chelsea, and built a home studio here. He was innovative, turning his laptop into a “Maserati” that he took everywhere.

But the advertising and video business evolved. Now everyone does everything — shooting, editing, graphics, sound. “It’s all solo,” he laments. “There’s no team.”

Billy is all about teamwork. So 4 years ago, he applied for a job at Trader Joe’s. He loved the company’s “spirit, positivism, food, giving back philosophy and focus on people.”

He thrives on making a customer’s day brighter, with a smile or quip (or extra sample). Working at the store — his main priority — gives him energy that feeds his creative side.

Not long ago, he joined forces with Dave Fiore. They’d worked together when Fiore was chief creative officer at Catapult in Westport. Their new company is called Massiv.

One of their first projects is “Union-Built Matters.” It’s a tribute to construction unions, and sounds an alarm against developers who cut corners by using cheaper labor.

Billy is a union man through and through. “My compassionate side is to help people,” he says. “This is not a sexy subject. But it’s very important.”

He and Dave are using social media, to get the word out that “union-built matters.”

Now it’s on to new projects.

And to serving up whatever samples Trader Joe’s offers today.

With iPads, Kids Overcome Cancer

Life was not always easy for David Gottschalk.

During his 15 years in Westport, his daughter spent time in Norwalk Hospital. In 2010, his father and mother-in-law died of cancer.

Despite his grief — and his busy work at a hedge fund — in 2011 Gottschalk searched for a way to give back to the town he loves, and the hospital he relied on.

With the help of an accountant and lawyer working gratis, he formed a non-profit: KIDSovercancer. The goal was to buy iPads, for children in extended hospital stays.

David Gottschalk presents an iPad to Dr. Vicki Smetak, chair of Norwalk Hospital’s Pediatrics Department.

Gottschalk did not realize that any technology donation must go through a rigorous approval process. “Kids will get in trouble sometimes,” he notes. “The hospital had to see a real purpose for iPads in their pediatric wing.”

Because they were new devices, the hospital added necessary protocols. Gottschalk was good to go.

His initial donations were to Norwalk, Yale, Danbury, Bridgeport, Greenwich and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospitals. Soon he added other states, including rural hospitals where youngsters may not have had access to technology before.

Gottschalk promised contributors that every penny KIDSovercancer received would go directly toward iPad purchases. There are no administrative expenses — not for shipping, IRS filings, nothing.

“It’s much more than entertainment,” Gottschalk notes. Hospitals use the iPads to teach youngsters about their illnesses, and as a distraction tool during small surgical procedures.

An iPad is a welcome distraction for youngsters in hospitals.

Eight years later, KIDSovercancer has sent tablets to over 56 hospitals, in all 50 states. An average of 100 children use the iPads a year in each hospital — a total of over 11,000 kids.

Gottschalk calls the project “the most satisfying thing” he’s ever done.

Of course, he can’t do it alone. He needs everyone’s help. Contributions to KIDSovercancer can be sent to: 606 Post Road East, Suite 515, Westport, CT 06880.

If You’ve Always Wanted An Ovni Semi-Nuevo, Here’s Your Chance!

Spotted a couple of days ago, on Facebook Marketplace:

 

 

I have no idea what an Ovni Semi-Nuevo is.

Google — which knows everything — was no help. In either English or Spanish.

So I certainly have no clue whether it’s worth $125 million or not.

But I’ll keep an eye out for it. If I see it around town, I’ll let you know.

PS: Interesting, huh, that this is posted on the 50th anniversary of the day men walked on the moon. Cue Rod Serling…

Newest Vending Machine: Library Laptops

The Westport Library opened its transformed space last month.

The big celebration was hardly a one-off. We’re in the midst of “30 Days of the Westport Library.”

Giveaways, demos, pop-up performances, movies, talks — there’s always something new going on there.

Lost in all the hubbub may be one of the coolest innovations of all.

Right there in the Hub — the center of all the activity — is a vending machine.

For laptops.

For the price of a library card — in other words, free — anyone 12 or older can check out a Mac or PC for up to 2 hours.

The laptop kiosk is activated by a library card — either the actual one, or the one on your app. The 7 Macs and 7 PCs are in the slots below.

They’re great for people who forget their laptops. For those who don’t like lugging them around. For kids, who love vending machines.

And for anyone else who enjoys the flexibility and technological innovations of the new library.

But — just as there are still DVDs and CDs on the floor — if you’re a desktop fan, the library’s got you covered. Three of those machines are available around the corner; 7 more are on the lower level.

They’re just not as much fun to check out.

Refreshing New Look For Westport’s Website

So much of Westport sparkles.

Our transformed library. Compo Beach, from the playground and pavilion to the new South Beach walkway and grills. Longshore. Staples High School. The Saugatuck River. From Harbor Road to Beachside Avenue, Sherwood Mill Pond to Mahackeno, this is a truly remarkable town.

Our website, however, sucked.

Last updated in 2011 — after 2 previous equally grim versions — it was an ugly, bloated mess. Typography, layout, massive text and lack of photos  — all that wouldn’t have been so bad, if you could easily find what you were looking for.

But you could not.

Happily, as of today Westport’s official website is as crisp, clear and clean as so many of our other wonders.

The new website landing page.

Don’t believe me? Click here!

The new site was more than 2 years in the making. First Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Website Redevelopment Steering Committee, including town staff and residents with expertise in technology, design, economic development and community interests.

They worked with Granicus, a company that specializes in website services for local governments.

Since the 2011 version debuted, users have migrated from desktops to mobile devices. The new website, all agreed, had to be mobile-friendly.

In addition, town operations director Sara Harris says, users needed quicker access to information.

“Popular services” and “I Want To…” provide quick access to information.

One key feature of the new design is a better search bar. The former “mega-menu” has been cleaned up and streamlined.

The committee used Google Analytics to rearrange the “How do I…?” section. The most popular requests — regarding, for example, beach passes, railroad parking permits, town maps, employment opportunities, open bids and bid results, and videos of town meetings — are given the most prominence.

A one-click “Popular Services” section makes it easier to pay taxes, register for programs, and get meeting agendas and minutes.

News is more prominently displayed on the home page.

There are more photos too, showing (of course) Westport at its best and most beautiful.

An “Economic Opportunity” page is aimed at anyone considering opening a business or relocating here. The goal, Harris says, is to show the town’s great quality of life, and support of business.

For the first time, Westport is marketing directly to businesses and employers.

The site now offers a 1-click link to subscribe to some (or all!) town notifications: emergency alerts, meeting information, news, you name it.

And — this is very, very cool — the Town Charter, plus every ordinance and regulation (including Planning & Zoning, the Conservation Commission, and Parks & Recreation Commission) are all available on one page.

As often happens, after the 2011 website went live certain sections lay dormant. Now, every department has a designated content manager. They’re trained on how to keep their own pages fresh and updated — and respond to users’ evolving needs.

The Parks & Recreation page is one of the most visited on the town’s website.

As part of the project, volunteers with marketing and design backgrounds — including graphic artist Miggs Burroughs; advertising creative director Rob Feakins; brand innovation principal and Westport Downtown Merchants Association president Randy Herbertson, and marketer Jamie Klein — worked to refresh the town’s “brand identity.”

Westport’s new website logo.

They eventually settled on a new logo. Designed by Samantha Cotton — who grew up in and now works here — it suggests open space, the movement of water or sails, and “open warmth and refreshing coolness.”

After a month of testing by the committee and town staffers, the new website went live yesterday.

Harris says, “We’re confident that users will be happy with the experience. We think it represents the town very well.”

She invites residents — and everyone else — to test-drive the new website. The URL is the same: www.westportct.gov.

What do you think? Click “Comments” here.

And/or email the town directly: webmaster@westportct.gov.

Of course, you can also do it from the site itself. Nearly every page has a “feedback” button.

It’s simple. It’s easy.

And that’s the whole idea behind the refreshing new website refresh.

A highlight of the new WestportCT.gov website is the Highlights page.

World Record Duck Needs A House

Last month, Westport entered the record books.

Dozens of Maker Faire-goers joined in a globally crowd-sourced art and tech project. They created the world’s largest 3D printed duck.

Now they’re figuring out what to do with it.

The world record bird will appear at the Great Duck Race this Saturday (June 1, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Parker Harding Plaza). He/she/it will cheer on much smaller plastic ducks, as they bob along the Saugatuck River.

But then what?

Maker Faire maestro Mark Mathias has put out an APB/SOS. The duck needs a home.

It must be indoors — in a place at least 6 feet tall. (Or 8 feet, if you want to keep the top hat.) Add another 5 inches, if you hang onto the wooden platform too.

Mathias’ best hope is that it go to someone who can display it for others. Wherever that is, it must stay there. Unlike actual ducks, this was not designed to move much.

It could promote something: creativity, art, even a business, Mathias suggests.

He hopes to deliver it to its new home immediately after the Duck Race. The person who loaned the trailer needs it back STAT.

If you’d like the world record duck, contact Mathias ASAP: mark@remarkablesteam.org; 203-226-1791.

Yours for the taking!

Frederic Chiu: Booked By The Library To Innovate

In its 21 years, Booked for the Evening — the Westport Library’s signature fundraising event — has brought many big names to town.

Tom Brokaw, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Patti Smith, Alan Alda and others have enlightened and entertained us, on the cramped main floor.

But now the library’s Transformation Project is almost complete. Stacks of books have been replaced by a Forum — a dramatic event space framed by a state-of-the-art stage and screen.

This year’s Booked for the Evening is the first chance for the public to see the transformed library. Organizers needed an extra-special honoree, someone as compelling as the new space itself.

Frederic Chiu (Photo/Chris Craymer)

They did not have to look far. Frederc Chiu — the internationally acclaimed, award-winning virtuoso pianist, collaborator, innovator, entrepreneur and Westporter — will inaugurate the Forum’s stage.

And he’ll do it using a spectacular new piano, with a great back story. But more on that later.

Chiu has performed on 5 continents, in all 50 states, and with orchestras like the National Symphony in Washington DC, the China National Symphony and the BBC Concert Orchestra Symphony. He has collaborated with friends like Joshua Bell.

But he’s also our neighbor.

Chiu’s introduction to Westport came in 1986, when he won the prestigious Young Performers International Competition (now named for Heida Hermanns) here.

In the 1990s he lived in Paris. Whenever he played in New York, he visited his friend Jeanine Esposito here. After they married, Westport — with its arts heritage, and proximity to New York and Europe — seemed like a perfect place to be.

Chiu loved the Westport Library. He researched music and travel. He checked out CDs, DVDs and books. And whatever he could not find, the staff tracked down through interlibrary loans.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, at home. That’s where they host their eclectic Beechwood Arts Immersive Salons.

Esposito, meanwhile, helped then-director Maxine Bleiweis develop the next phas of the MakerSpace.

Current director Bill Harmer has impressed the couple too. Recently, he announced that the library will be the winter home of Chiu and Esposito’s Beechwood Arts Immersion Salon series.

“Today, libraries are community hubs” Chiu notes. “They’re places to create bonds, where people can communicate. And they’re accessible to all.”

Chiu is excited that the Westport Library is expanding that mission by including the arts in its transformation. Audio and video production have dedicated spaces, next to the impressive new stage.

On Tuesday, June 4, Chiu’s Booked for the Evening performance debuts not only that stage, but also the library’s new Yamaha Disklavier piano.

It’s an astonishing instrument. Besides its marvelous sound, the piano is a technological marvel. It can play 50,000 songs (like a player piano). It also connects with any other Disklavier anywhere in the world.

And with its video capabilities, it allows Chiu to do something he’ll showcase on Tuesday: He can play a duet with himself. He’s chosen Chopin’s only work for 2 pianos.

Here’s looking at Chiu: The pianist stands in the Forum, while a video of him playing plays on the high-def screen behind the stage.

That’s just one piece of Chiu’s performance. He’ll play with Timo Andres, an award-winning young pianist/composer.

He also brings his interactive production of Prokofiev’s popular “Romeo and Juliet: The Choice” ballet to the stage. At the end, Booked guests vote for either the tragic conclusion, or the composer’s little-known happy ending.

But back to that Yamaha piano. It’s a gift from Stacy Bass and her brother, David Waldman. It honors their mother, Jessica Waldman, who died in January.

The donation has special meaning for Stacy, who helped start Booked for the Evening 21 years ago.

“My mother was passionate about theater and music,” Stacy says. “David and I wanted to give something to the library that really represents her. The piano will be part of the stage. She will live on every day.”

Frederic Chiu, at the beautiful new Yamaha Dislavier piano. It’s a gift from Stacy Bass and David Waldman, in honor of their mother Jessica. (Photos/Dan Woog)

Last week Chiu sat at the piano, in the still-unfinished Forum, and smiled.

“I’m being honored, and I’ll be onstage. But the soloist is always the instrument and the music. I do my best to put them out front. I’m of service to great music, and a great piano.”

Chiu notes that when the piano was invented more than 300 years ago, it “brought music to the masses. It was as much an innovation as the printing press and computer were, for bringing information to the public. Playing it is unlike any other activity people can do.”

No one plays better than Frederic Chiu.

And there is no better choice for Booked for the Evening, to inaugurate the Westport Library’s new age of arts and innovation.

(For more information on the June 4 Booked for the Evening, including tickets, click here.)

I’m Sure This Stop & Shop Scene Is Just A Post-Strike Coincidence

After all, as the sign says, human beings will still do the clean-up:

(Photos/Mark Mathias)

What could possibly go wrong?

Daria Maya Guards Water Safety

Whenever Daria Maya or her family threw a pool party, they hired a lifeguard. It was a simple matter of safety.

But as she grew up in Westport, she realized not every family was as cautious.

And when the Staples sophomore took a lifeguarding class at the high school this year — part of the physical education curriculum — her teacher told her there are not enough guards to fill demand. At the same time, homeowners who want to hire them don’t know who to ask.

Now they do.

Daria created a website — WeLifeguard.com — that anyone can use to find a lifeguard for a private event. She’s adding swim instructors soon.

Daria Maya

Daria’s list includes teammates from her Staples water polo team, and friends. To broaden the pool further, she used the iStaples app to find every student taking lifeguarding in phys. ed. Many were delighted to be added in.

The site went live in April. The popular Westport Moms platform gave it a big boost. Daria also handed out flyers. She’s already booked several parties, starting Memorial Day.

Daria is all about water safety. She’s working with Stewie the Duck — Stew Leonard’s water safety foundation — to spread the word about the importance of swim instruction and lifeguards.

Guards on her site charge $20 an hour. That’s a small price to pay for safety.

And for the ease of finding a certified lifeguard for your party.

(For Daria’s website, click here. Her email is welifeguard@gmail.com)