Category Archives: technology

The Mother Of All Diapers

Happy Mother’s Day!

Today we honor all our mothers — those who are here and those who are gone. Our own, our mothers’ mothers, and those unrelated by blood but whom we love nonetheless.

This being “06880” — where Westport meets the world — we give a special shout-out to Marion Donovan.

Marion Donovan

An Indiana native and 1939 graduate of Rosemont College near Philadelphia, she became an assistant Vogue beauty editor in New York. But after marrying James Donovan — a leather importer — and starting a family, the Donovans moved to Westport.

She was not a typical early-postwar suburban housewife. Though she majored in English literature, she inherited her father’s tinkering gene. He helped invent the South Bend lathe, a major metalworking innovation.

His daughter’s invention was — in many ways — just as important.

When her 2nd child was born in 1946, Donovan grew tired of constant diaper changes. As the New York Times reports:

With cloth diapers serving more as wick than sponge, and with rubber baby pants virtually assuring a nasty case of diaper rash, Mrs. Donovan started looking for a way to hold the dampness in without keeping the air out.

Which is how moisture-proof diapers were created.

In Westport.

Marion Donovan, with a baby modeling her invention.

The “aha!” moment came when she cut a panel out of her shower curtain. It took 3 years of experimenting at her sewing machine, but eventually Donovan devised the Boater, “a re-usable diaper cover made of surplus nylon parachute cloth.”

The Times notes another important “advance in diaper technology”: Donovan replaced “the optimistically named safety pins with plastic snaps.”

The diapers — sold first at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1949 — were an immediate hit. In 1951 she sold her rights for $1 million, and “moved on to her next brainstorm: replacing cloth diapers with disposable absorbent paper.”

However, paper company executives — all men — told her that disposable diapers were “not necessary.”

A decade later, Donovan’s idea finally led to Pampers (they’re credited to Procter & Gamble, and a guy named Victor Mills). By then, Donovan’s “diaper days were over.”

She’d moved on to other inventions, including a hanger that holds 30 skirts or slacks in a tight space; a wire soap holder that drains directly into the basin; an elastic zipper allowing women to zip up the back of a dress by pulling down from the front, and the Dentaloop (it prevents floss users from cutting off circulation in their fingers).

Not all those inventions were made in Westport. At some point she moved to Greenwich — where Donovan, who (of course!) earned an architecture degree from Yale at age 41, designed her own house.

She received 20 patents, between 1951 and 1996. Donovan died in 1998, at 81. In 2015, she was inducted posthumously into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Marion Donovan’s diaper patent. Filed in 1949, it was granted in 1951.

Her name is not well known. To the best of my knowledge, her inventions have never been honored in the town where she once lived and worked.

But on this — and every other — day, mothers (and fathers) should thank Marion Donovan.

Moisture-proof diapers are nothing to pooh-pooh.

(Special Mother’s Day hat tip to Maxine Bleiweis. For Marion Donovan’s full  New York Times obituary, click here. )

Radio And Robotics Raves

There are 12 categories in the John Drury High School Radio Awards.

Staples’ WWPT-FM was nominated in 7 of them — sometimes more than once.

Yesterday — at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois — they won 1st place in every category they were nominated for. The teenagers (and advisor Geno Heiter) snagged a total of 12 awards, in news, sports and public affairs.

Including the big one: Best High School Station in the Country.

The winners! WWPT-FM faculty advisor Geno Heiter is in shades and a beard, at right.

Congratulations to these Staples students — the next generation of radio stars:

1st Place
Best Newscast:
Cooper Boardman, Channing Smith (“WWPT News Update”)
Best Public Affairs Program: Jackson Valente, Jarod Ferguson (“A Better Chance ‘Social Justice’)
Best Radio Drama Adaptation: Staples Players and Audio Production classes, with support from WWPT (“Dracula”)
Best Sports Play-by-Play:  Cooper Boardman, Jack Caldwell (Football — Staples vs. Darien)
Best Sportscast: Buster Scher (“Knicks — Past 2 Seasons”)
Best Sportstalk Program:  Cooper Boardman and Jack Caldwell (Staples Field Hockey State Championship Show)
Best High School Station: WWPT-FM

2nd Place
Best Sports Play-by-Play:  Cooper Boardman (Basketball — Staples vs. Danbury)
Best Sportstalk Program:  Jack Caldwell (Interview with NHL announcer Chuck Kaiton)
Best Sportscast:  Luck McManus, Hunter Duffy (NASCAR championship interview)

3rd Place
Best Newscast: Zachary Halperin, Nieve Mahoney, Jack Moses (Politics — Election Reflection)
Best Sportscast:  George Goldstein, Sam Zaritsky (Fulmer Trade)

WWPT-FM faculty advisor Geno Heiter (left) and student broadcasters jump for joy after earning 12 John Drury Awards.

Also yesterday, Staples sophomores Nick Durkin, John McNab and Daniel Westphal, and freshman Nathan Wang won 5 awards — including 1st Place Overall — in the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center’s New England competition, in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

The quartet — competing as Team Curriodyssea, which is not affiliated with the high school — designed, built and programmed underwater remotely operated vehicles.

Team Curiodyssea members (from left) Daniel Westphal, Nathan Wang, John McNab and Nick Durkin.

Team Curriodyssea also won golds for Engineering Evaluation, Highest Score on the Underwater Challenges, Technical Report and Poster Display.

They advance to the international competition next month in Long Beach, California, where they’ll face 27 other teams from North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Sounds like a great story for WWPT!

Dragon Needs A Home

Thousands of Maker Faire-goers admired the dragon standing outside the library on Saturday.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

But now it’s Monday. The event is over. This is not the New York Public Library. Unlike its 2 famous lions, our dragon can’t stay here forever.

If you want the dragon — for whatever reason; no questions asked — contact Alex Giannini, the Westport Library’s manager of experiential learning (agiannini@westportlibrary.org; 203-291-4847).

You can’t beat the price: free. The library may even help you transport it.

PS: The New York lions are named “Patience” and “Fortitude.”

Our dragon should be called “Cool.”

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.