Category Archives: technology

Roundup: Barak, Broadband, Bees …

Today is Primary Day in Connecticut.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are fielding candidates, for a variety of statewide offices.

Polls close at 8 p.m. Click here to find your polling place.

Turnout was very light early this morning, at the Greens Farms Elementary School polling place. (Photo/John Karrel)

 

=======================================================

It’s a beautiful day — if a tad bit hot and humid.

There’s no wind. No storm.

Yet this morning, for no reason other than (probably) old age, a large tree toppled onto Punch Bowl Drive.

Be careful out there!

Tree down on Punch Bowl. (Photo/Tommy Greenwald)

======================================================

In 1964, Martin Luther King spoke at Temple Israel.

Nearly 60 years later, the synagogue prepares to host another internationally known guest.

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak will speak on September 20 (7:30 p.m.). He will discuss current events, including Israel’s coming election and the war in Ukraine.

Click here for details, including in-person and livestream registration.

Ehud Barak

Barak, who became the most decorated soldier in the history of the Israel Defense Forces over a 36-year career, served as the nation’s prime minister from 1999 to 2001.

He also has held other prominent posts in Israel’s government, including as defense minister and as minister of internal and foreign affairs.

For more information, contact Temple Israel at 203-227-1293.

=======================================================

“06880” has been buzzing recently with stories (and comments) about broadband (and prices).

Western Connecticut Council of Governments — a planning organization for 18 area town, including Westport — is conducting a quick survey on internet service and pricing.

Residential and business customers can complete the survey. Click here for the link.

==================================================

Speaking of buzzing … Hans Wilhelm writes:

“In our Weston garden stands a majestic old Japanese pagoda tree (also called scholar tree).

In summertime when it is in full bloom, you can ‘hear’ the tree from far away. It is the happy humming sound of thousands of busy bees. They are not only in the tree but also on the ground, which is covered with blossoms. It’s not a good idea to walk under the tree at that time.

“But during the last years we noticed a sharp drop in the bee population.

“This summer the tree is again in full bloom –- but completely silent. Hardly any bees at all. Sadly, the prophecy made by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book ‘Silent Spring’ has come true — right here in our garden, where we never use insecticides or herbicides.

The usual swarms of bees are gone from Hans Wilhelm’s garden.

======================================================

For nearly 75 years, Westport PAL has served youngsters with sports programs and scholarships. That’s impressive.

And for 60 years, they’ve raised funds through the Chief Samuel Luciano Golf Tournament. That’s impressive too.

This year’s event is September 12. The day includes continental breakfast, lunch, morning and afternoon shotgun starts, cocktails, dinner, a raffle and prizes.

Single, twosome and foursome spots are available. Click here for more information, including registration and sponsorships.

====================================================

Sunday’s New York Times included a great review of Mary Rodgers’ new memoir, “SHY: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers.” Jesse Green continued working on it for years, after her death in 2014.

Mary Rodgers Guettel is Richard Rodgers’ daughter. They lived in Fairfield, just over the Westport line. She became an apprentice at the Westport Country Playhouse in 1950.  She later earned fame writing the music for “Once Upon a Mattress.”

In 2009, the Playhouse honored Rodgers Guettel, at their annual gala. Among the celebrants: Stephen Sondheim, a fellow 1950 apprentice.

Also on hand that night: Weston’s Jim Naughton, and Westporter Kelli O’Hara.

Rodgers’ son, Adam Guettel, wrote “Light in the Piazza.” The musical starred O’Hara — whose father-in-law is Naughton.

The memoir includes references to Rodgers’ internship. She describes their intense work schedule (which she enjoyed), and that afterwards they wanted to go drinking.

However, she wrote, “In Westport, everything closed up tight as a drum at one in the morning.” So the interns frequently  “ran our own bar at Frank Perry’s house at night, often accompanied by a low-stakes poker game.”

Yes, that Frank Perry. The future film director (“David and Lisa,” “The Swimmer,” “Diary of a Mad Housewife”) was another member of that amazing Class of 1950 Westport Country Playhouse apprentices. (Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Richard Rodgers’ daughter (2nd row, 4th from left) posed with other Westport Country Playhouse apprentices in 1950, at the Jolly Fisherman restaurant. Other notables in the photo: Stephen Sondheim (crouching, top of photo) and Frank Perry (front row, left).

=======================================================

Today’s stunning “Westport … Naturally” egret Sherwood Island Mill pond photo comes courtesy of Dan Johnson:

(Photo/Dan Johnson)

======================================================

And finally … Olivia Newton-John died yesterday, after battling breast cancer. The versatile singer was 73. Click here for a full obituary.

(“06880” is fully reader-supported. Please click here to contribute.)

Cutting Cable: The Decision Tree

Last week’s post on Optimum drew plenty of comments.

Some “06880” readers recounted their own experiences. Others offered alternatives.

But none went into as much depth as this one, who requested anonymity (to avoid being barraged by questions). He writes:

We are probably one of the last in Westport. But we finally converted from Optimum Cable to streaming. We will save about $150+ per month.

We now use Hulu to get all live national and local channels. We still use Optimum internet and home phone service. We also subscribe to a range of streaming services, but this is a separate decision.

Here is why we made the change:.  

  1. The $320+ monthly bill
  2. The complicated need for multiple controllers for regular TV, cable, and streaming programs. Only one controller per television is required for Hulu.
  3. After comparing other internet services, we chose to keep the Optimum 300 mps service, which right now is by far the best in the area. Optimum also offers a 400 mps or 500 mps service for an additional charge. You must have a good, strong internet signal to use this streaming option (and other streaming services).
  4. We also have Eero Pro 6 network mesh installed to improve internet signals throughout our 3-story home. You can buy Eero at Best Buy. The system is easy to install; modules plug into regular electric wall outlets on each floor. We have 3 modules, and it does improve reception.
  5. Using consumer and certain technical reports, etc., we evaluated various streaming services (YouTube, Sling, etc.). We chose Hulu as the best with the live national and local networks, the common cable CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CNBC, local) channels, and other stations in place.
  6. In addition, the Hulu service has all the record, playback capabilities, and back episodes of television like Dateline, American Greed, CNN specials, unique programming, etc.
  7. The streaming services you choose are a separate decision. Most people will be okay with Amazon and Netflix. We have a lot of interest in others: HBOMax, Apple, Disney+, etc.

Here’s our decision process:

  1. I called Optimum. They sent me to the group responsible for those people that want to cut off cable service.
  2. Within a few minutes I was given an offer to reduce my BASEB $285 per month to $185 for one year. During my second call, they offered another $30 reduction in price. Discounts were all for just one year?  Some people may just want to stop here, and not go through with the total conversion. The decision to switch to digital here does not save you that much money. But what happens after one year? And we would still have 3 cable boxes and 2 controllers per television.
  3.  We asked about just retaining the 300 mps Optimum internet and landline only (my wife wants a landline), and received a $99 per month offer. In this case, we wanted to shut off the cable and return the 3 cable boxes ($11 each per month). An internet connection is needed to run the streaming services. After doing my research I discovered that Optimum is by far the best Internet service in our area. Yes, you would get to retain your Optimum e-mail.
  4. I changed over to Hulu, and worked with Hulu to make sure I understood exactly how to operate the Hulu service. It is very easy to use for live services, and offers many great streaming features including original programming.
  5. I left both Optimum and Hulu in place for 2 weeks while we tested the new Hulu service, and made sure we could operate all 3 TVs.  Hulu customer service is outstanding (and 24/7).
  6. We now need only 1 controller per TV. Digital operation is easy.
  7. I returned all cable boxes and controllers to the Norwalk store.

The financial decision is basically a wash; each service costs about the same.  But we decided to change because of the digital ease of use, one controller, removal of the cable boxes for every television, and Hulu’s much greater versatility in terms of live and streaming services and unique content…..

Other considerations: If you have televisions over 5 years old, you will have to add the Roku or Apple TV accessory to your set to adopt Hulu streaming. We bought a new digital Samsung 50-inch 8000 series television for $464 on Amazon. We put the Apple TV accessory on our older 50-inch Samsung. This Apple accessory also improves image quality.

The selection of streaming options like Amazon, Netflix, Disney+, HBOMax, AppleTV, etc. does not change this decision analysis. The selection of streaming services is a different part of your own financial decision.

(Here’s a decision that’s not hard: Support “06880.” We rely completely on reader donations. Please click here to help.)

Optimum Online: The Sequel

Last week, “06880” featured a hard-hitting story about issues afflicting Optimum customers in several Westport neighborhoods.

What happened next?

Randi Nazem writes:

After our story was posted, a reader commented with contact info for the CEO of Optimum.

My husband reached out, told him our issue, and sent him the “06880” article.

The CEO immediately sent word to all the head honchos  at Optimum, at the corporate level. Within an hour, the head of Optimum in our area called us. He sent a head technician out the next morning.

The tech did a ton of troubleshooting. He spent many hours testing each of our devices, to see what was causing the interference in our WiFi. They pinpointed the issue, and fixed it on Saturday. The same tech gave us his cell number, and said if there were any issues to call him.

All day Saturday all we had strong WiFi, with no drop in service. On Sunday, the same. S

On Sunday afternoon, the tech called to ask if all was ok. I told him all seemsed good, and that he fixed the issue.

But it didn’t stop there. He called again Monday morning, then stopped by to fix one thing he had forgotten to recconnect in my husband’s office. He went above and beyond anything Optimum had ever done for us.

After he left, the head of corporate followed up with a call. He said our bill will reflect a credit for the days we did not have WiFi. He also lowered our monthly bill by a few bucks. Did you know that if you have auto bill pay you get $5 off your monthly bill? We didn’t, and no one ever offered or told us🤣 )

Simply put, the service we have received from these top guys has been nothing short of top notch. We owe it all to “06880.” Thank you for taking time to post our issue — and to the reader who offered the CEO’s contact information too.

(“06880” is a full-service blog — and fully reader-supported. To help fund us, please click here.)

Roundup: Cell Tower, CBD, CT Challenge …

Yesterday’s Roundup gave an incorrect date for the Connecticut Siting Council’s public hearing on the cell tower application for 92 Greens Farms Road.

The correct date is next Tuesday, August 9.

The Zoom meeting begins at 2 p.m. with an evidentiary session. Public comment follows at 6:30 p.m. Click here for the link.

To participate in the 6:30 p.m. public comment session, email siting.council@ct.gov with your name, email address and mailing address, by August 8. Public comments may also be submitted to the Council by email (see address above).

A cell tower been proposed for the property on the left: 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

=======================================================

New England Hemp Farm — the CBD and hemp shop in Brooks Corner — will close on August 31.

But its many customers will still be able to buy rubs, drops, gummies and more, online.

Business is great, says owner Matt Bannon. His landlord has been good. But rents are rising, and as online sales rise, that’s where customers can find them.

“We give great thanks to this community,” Matt says. “When we first came to Main Street, knowledge of the benefits of CBS were a big unknown. The open-mindedness of this town was refreshing.

“We’ll miss the people most. We made thousands of friends, who support us in person. We look forward to continuing to serve and support them online.”

New England Hemp Farm is the approved vendor for Northeast Pharmacy Service. They represent almost 300 independent pharmacies.

Meanwhile, Matt continues to look for a local store that will carry their products. Interested owners can email matt@newenglandhempfarm.com for information.

New England Hemp Farm started as a pop-up store, in Brooks Corner.

======================================================

Last weekend’s Roundup noted that Wafu – the Asian fusion restaurant in Southport — is closed. But based on a phone call I made to the Westport location, in Bedford Square, which called itself “Korean BBQ,” I added that it was still open.

Yesterday, “06880” reader Clark Thiemann was dining at Amis. He noticed this sign:

(Photo/Clark Thiemann)

To which we can only say: Wafu, WTF?

=======================================================

Last night’s screening of “The Sandlot” at the Remarkable Theater drive-in was perfect family fun.

The Imperial Avenue parking lot was filled with families like this one.

Baseball, movies, a gorgeous night — what’s not to like?

Tomorrow’s feature: “Mamma Mia!” (Wednesday, August 3, 8:15 p.m.; gates open at 7:15). Click here for tickets.

=======================================================

An “06880” reader warns recently learned of 5 unauthorized withdrawals from his wife’s debit card. The amount stolen was $520.

All took place at the ATM at 1460 Post Road East — while his wife was in possession of the card. She has never given her PIN to anyone.

Keep an eye on your statements. And on that ATM.

=======================================================

United Way of Coastal Fairfield County has given funds to 17 organizations. The goal is to increase equity and opportunity in 3 areas: health, education and financial stability. Amounts range from $5,000 to $20,000.

Among them: Westport-based Positive Directions. Click here for a full list.

=======================================================

The CT Challenge — a bike ride of varying lengths, in part through Westport, to raise funds for programs for cancer patients and survivors — always draws thousands of participants and spectators.

Every one has a story.

Last weekend, Dave Lowrie heard this:

“On a random bike ride, I came upon two men about to finish their second “Century Ride” (100 miles). When I sat with them after they finished, I learned that Alec Fraser, age 62, and Danny Faryniarz, 58, rode for Team Julian. It is named for Alec’s son, who succumbed to cancer at age 19.

“Julian was a student and water polo athlete at Santa Clara University. So last year Alec cycled across the country, from Connecticut to California in his honor.

“When he arrived in San Francisco, Alec was joined by 50 of Julian’s water polo teammates. They rode together the final 3 hours to Santa Clara, where the water polo pool was re-named for Julian.

“The foundation in his name (https://teamjf.org/ includes events throughout the year.

“On top of that, after Danny’s first 100-mile Challenge ride, he discovered he had type 1 diabetes. In spite of that he finished that and Saturday’s races. These guys are inspiration personified!”

Danny Faryniarz (left) and Alec Fraser. (Photo/Dave Lowrie)

=======================================================

Carl McNair is an avid environmentalist. He — and his family — walk the talk, in all that they do.

But even Carl was impressed by a guy he saw the other day, at Compo Beach.

“He rides his e bike — and tows his human powered surf ski,” Carl marvels.

He gets a good workout, too.

(Photo/Carl lMcNair)

=======================================================

Rikki Gordon and Allen Peck’s beautiful Aussie Chloe is a perfect model for an early August “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

=======================================================

And finally … this is International Clown Week.

So unless you suffer from coulrophobia — smile!

(Here’s a serious subject: “06880” relies entirely on reader support. If you’d like to help, please click here.

Roundup: Cell Tower, Walking Tours, Wafu …

Tarpon Towers II and AT&T are proceeding with plans for a 124-foot cell tower in the back yard of a private home, at 92 Greens Farms Road.

Neighbors, meanwhile, are proceeding with their fight against it.

A petition cites environmental and aesthetic concerns with the proposal. It’s already garnered over 200 signatures.

Verizon is an “intervenor” in the case. They’ll join AT&T in leasing space on the tower.

Stephen Goldstein says: “Verizon admits that only ~1.5% of its calls in the area get dropped (vs their “target performance” of less than 1% – pretty darned close…) – and they say the reason for this tower is ‘primarily’ to increase coverage on I-95.  That’s a tough pill for the neighborhood to swallow, for sure.”

The Connecticut Siting Council will hold a Zoom meeting about the application on August 9. It begins at 2 p.m. with an evidentiary session. Public comment follows at 6:30 p.m. Click here for the link.

To participate in the 6:30 p.m. public comment session, email siting.council@ct.gov with your name, email address and mailing address, by August 8. Public comments may also be submitted to the Council by email (see address above).

A cell tower has been proposed for the property on the left: 92 Greens Farms Road.

=======================================================

Baseball and ’70s/’80s music are the stars of this week’s Remarkable Theater offerings.

Today (Monday, August 1, 8 p.m.; gates open at 7 p.m.), the Imperial Avenue drive-in screens “The Sandlot.” Besides baseball, the film includes treehouse sleep-ins, a desirous lifeguard, snooty rivals, a travelling fair and a ball-eating dog..

“Mamma Mia!” needs no introduction, beyond one word: ABBA. It’s set for Wednesday (August 3, 8:15 p.m.; gates open at 7:15). Glittery costumes are optional.

Click here for tickets, and more information.

======================================================

Like many Westporters, Nancy Wilson is intrigued by the “Destination Westport Walking Tours” signs popping up all over town.

(Photo/Nancy Wilson)

Like most people, she drives — not walks — past them.

She’d love to know more. However, the QR code does not work on a photo like the one she took (above).

And there’s no other info on the signs, as to a sponsor, date, or anything else.

So although these signs are posted on major roads, they all lead to dead ends.

=======================================================

Wakeman Town Farm’s bee team harvested a big batch of home-grown local honey yesterday. Overseen by beekeeper Jaime Smith, WTF worker bees 🐝 spun 11 boxes, which they then turned into golden nectar.

The process begins with opening up the capped comb by scraping off the wax, then putting the frame into the extractor. Once the extractor is filled with frames, the spinning begins.

Erika Smith, hard at work. (Photo/Jerri Graham Photography)

Honey drips to the bottom of the tank. It is then poured into storage to be siphoned into glass jars.

It’s a sticky process. But the result is delicious — and it’s sold at WTF’s farm stand every Saturday (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Sweeeeet!

Honey-making at Wakeman Town Farm. (Photo/Jerri Graham Photography)

=======================================================

If you’re not aware: AWARE is a wonderful Fairfield County-wide organization.

The acronym stands for Assisting Women with Actions, Resources and Education. Each year, members partner with a local non-profit. They volunteer with that group, organize an educational event and host a fundraiser.

Among AWARE’s past partners: the Cancer Couch Foundation (health), International Institute of Connecticut (human trafficking), Mercy Learning Center (education), Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes (veterans) and Malta House (pregnant and new mothers).

The other day, AWARE volunteers gathered at Compo Beach. They celebrated the work they do, their commitment to helping other women — and the beautiful sunset they felt lucky to enjoy.

AWARE, at the beach.

=======================================================

As Old Mill Grocery celebrates its first week in operation, Westporters continue to give thanks for the revival of the neighborhood deli/market.

And by “Westporters,” we mean humans of all ages.

And man’s best friend.

(Photo/John McGrath)

======================================================

In June there was a shooting at Wafu — the Asian fusion restaurant just over the town line, in Southport.

Then the state suspended its liquor license.

That was just Wafu’s latest problem. In the months before, Fairfield police had been called there numerous times, for public urination, underage drinking, and a bouncer allegedly pepper spraying a crowd.

Now it’s permanently closed. Chris Grimm snapped this photo, noting that the sign with its name is removed.

(Photo/Chris Grimm)

The Westport location in Bedford Square — which calls itself a “Korean BBQ” restaurant — is still open.

There have been no reports there of shootings. Or public urination, underage drinking or a bouncer using pepper spray.

======================================================

“06880” readers are sharp.

When I posted a “Roundup” item about Jillian Elder’s Westport-themed t-shirts, hoodies and tumblers, a number of you quickly spotted a misspelling: “Patrick Wetlands,” not “Partrick.”

Clicking on the link provided, several also noticed that “Greens Farms” was rendered as “Green Farms.” There’s plenty of debate about an apostrophe — both Greens Farms and Green’s Farms are used — but there’s no doubt there’s an “s” at the end.

Jillian quickly apologized — and printed new shirts. She thanks all who pointed out the errors.

To order a correctly spelled item, click here.

====================================================

Speaking of eagle eyes:

“06880” reader Jill Haymes was watching yesterday’s Yankees-Royals game.

This “Veteran of the Game” came on:

(Photo/Jill Haymes)

Thanks, Seaman First Class Wall, for your service.

And thanks, Jill, for helping us honor him today.

======================================================

Wendy Levy spotted this bee on hydrangea at Little Barn. We’ve run some “Westport … Naturally” plant and insect photos before.

But never from a restaurant.

(Photo/Wendy Levy)

=====================================================

And finally, on this date in 1876, Colorado was admitted as the 38th US state.

 

Optimum Offline

Optimum boasts: “#1 in customer satisfaction.”

In neighborhoods all around Westport, customers beg to differ.

Social media was filled this week with complaints about the long-time cable provider.

Randi Nazem came directly to “06880.” Describing the situation off North Avenue, she writes:

We have WiFi sometimes, but it drops intermittently throughout the day. On Tuesday, for example, we had it all morning. Around 1 it dropped, and didn’t come back up until after 6 p.m.

This past weekend it dropped every few hours, for 10 to 15 minute intervals. It’s bizarre, and very frustrating.

This has been going on for 10 days. I’ve had Optimum on the phone 10 times. I’ve spoken to managers and the supervisor. They came to check and said everything ‘looks’ fine, yet my home (and many others) have no or only intermittent service.

Meanwhile, my $300 bill is due this week. I have to pay it, right?

Randi’s husband works from home. Without WiFi, that’s impossible, she says.

Randi reached out to “06880” because nothing else has helped. They need senior-level attention.

I received another email, this one from a woman in the Old Hill area. She said:

We have not had regular/consistent internet for the past 10 days. It sounds like this is pervasive in Old Hill, from an informal neighborhood poll — often out for more than an hour at a time).

I missed an important job interview due to the outage, and then had to reschedule and do it at the library.

My husband and I both work remotely full time, and have 2 children under 2. I monitor my newborn’s breathing through internet while she sleeps.

Our alarm system doesn’t work without internet, and we receive very little cell reception here so we need Wifi to make calls.

Optimum has a monopoly. They are content to do nothing and provide nothing to customers that have no choice.

This is fundamentally impactful to all of our lives. This affects the entire Old Hill neighborhood. The town needs to intervene with Optimum. This puts safety as well as ability to work at risk.

Randi sent screenshots of social media posts from other areas in Westport.

A plea — from 2020. (Photo/Aurea de Souza)

A second Old Hill neighbor reported: “Optimum gave us a new modem, and fixed most of it. Still some issues connecting our devices to Wi-Fi though.”

A woman on Imperial Avenue added: “I’ve had this issue for the last 2-3 weeks. We have all the best equipment on every floor of our house, yet we have full-on blackout periods every single day for hours. I’m losing my mind.”

Another person said: “We’ve had similar issues with daily outages this week. Optmum is the worst company I’ve ever dealt with, and our only option for high speed internet. I can’t wait for the day when there is another reliable, and likely cheaper, option.”

Some commenters suggest it may be an issue related to line work Optimum is doing. Others discussed the pros and cons of the Eero Mesh wifi system.

Bottom line: Optimum has some very unsatisfied customers, all over town.

They’re looking for answers.

Or at least for someone in a position of authority to care.

(Here’s one thing you can rely on: “06880.” Please click here to support this blog!)

 

Burt Grad: Univac Pioneer Looks Back, And Ahead

For many older Americans, technology is wonderful. They FaceTime grandkids, stream videos, and stay in touch with the online world.

But they’re not digital natives. They rely on those grandkids for technological help. There’s always fear of pushing the wrong button. Computers can seem like a foreign language.

Not to Burt Grad, though. He’s spent his life around technology. He was in on the ground floor of some of the first computers — literally.

And now — at 94 years old — he’s working on a project to save as much of its history as he can.

Burt Grad, at his 85th birthday party.

His office is in the Westport home he shares with his second wife, Carol Anne Ances. There’s a computer, of course, and a cellphone. It has exponentially more power, he says, than “the whole building” that housed the original machines he worked on.

They were at GE. The company bought the first commercial-use Univac 1 computer ever made. There were only 2 others in existence: one at the Census Bureau, the other used by the Air Force.

Its main memory consisted of 1,000 words, of 12 characters each. Grad points to his cellphone — with exponentially more power — and laughs.

Remington Rand’s Univac 1, at the US Census Bureau in 1951.

He grew up in Washington. The summer after graduating from high school, in 1945, he worked at the Pentagon doing statistical analyses of Army Air Force training flights. It was his introduction to punch cards.

Grad earned a scholarship to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and majored in management engineering. He was hired by GE, headquartered in nearby Schenectady, New York.

Burt Grad, 1959.

Working there, then in New York City and Louisville, he created the first commercial business applications on that Univac, helping automate factories.

Moving on to IBM, he managed the development of over 100 application program products. He represented IBM in the software industry trade association.

IBM’s legendary former chair Thomas Watson once said that the maximum number of computers that the world needed was 17. “He was slightly wrong,” Grad notes.

As great and important a company as IBM became in computers, Grad adds, it missed the boat with software. They saw it only as a way to sell hardware — not something with intrinsic value.

His third career was in consulting. In a 3 decade-plus career, Grad worked for over 200 clients. He did strategic planning, due diligence studies and valuation projects for software and services companies.

An industry titan, he recognized the need to compile some of the history he was seeing (and participating in). As co-chair of the Software Industry Special Interest Group at the Computer History Museum, Grad has collected oral histories and pored through files from software pioneers from the 1950s through the ’80s.

Software — not hardware — is the force that truly powered the computer revolution, Grad says.

And this has been more powerful than the previous seismic one. “All the Industrial Revolution did was change how we move physical objects,” Grad says. “Now, we move ideas around the world.”

The computer revolution began in earnest in the 1970s. In 1971, when Burt Grad’s future stepson Michael Ances was 1, he played with this IBM 3270 terminal, connected to an IBM mainframe computer. Michael’s mother Carol Anne worked with Grad at IBM.

“Software” is a hard-to-define term, of course. “Google is really a software company,” Grad says. “So is Amazon. The only reason we use them is because they’re online.”

By that definition, Uber may be a software company too. And what about banks? They spend a significant amount of money on computing, Grad says.

Documenting the importance of software is one of the Westporter’s several passions. He has recorded 130 oral histories — each lasting 2 to 6 hours — for the Computer History Museum.

Topics include the development of spreadsheets, word processors and desktop publishing.

Why is it important? “Why is the history of the Gold Rush important?” Grad counters. “This is an incredible industry. It has impacted nearly everyone’s life. Except for a couple of people, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, it wasn’t being captured.”

There’s an irony to his work. During the Gold Rush, people wrote letters and journals. Those physical objects remain, a century and a half later.

Thanks to software itself, we have very little physical documentation of the development of that software.

Burt Grad, at work.

Grad knows a lot — and at 94, his mind is as sharp as it was when he was devising the first commercial applications for Univac 1.

But he draws the line at predicting what’s next.

“I’m not smart enough to do that,” Grad says. “No one is. No one in the 1960s and ’70s knew where we would be in 30 or 40 years. No one knows where we’ll be 10 years from now.

“I won’t be around then. But my kids, my grandkids and great-grandkids will be.”

Whatever world they live in, they’ll have Burt Grad to thank for helping them live in it.

And for keeping its history alive.

(Hat tip: Michele Solis)

(“06880” relies on reader donations. To support this blog, please click here.) 

 

Roundup: Grace Salmon Park, Garbage, Gerber Baby …

The other day, David Meth was at the transfer station. He saw a resident take 2 perfectly good children’s bikes from her SUV. He writes:

“I offered to take them to Cycle Dynamics because Charlie, the owner, donates them to churches in Bridgeport. However the attendant, who was very nice and very afraid to get in trouble because there are cameras everywhere, refused to allow me to take them because they were placed on the ground near the attendant’s booth.

“These bikes were in excellent condition. Why allow them to be trashed? Why not have an area to ‘exchange’ items that could sustain a small economy elsewhere, yet are thrown away here without another thought. It is very wrong.

“Cardboard, glass, cans and paper are recycled for future use. Food scraps are recycled. Leaves and brush are recycled. Why not recycle perfectly good, even repairable goods and equipment, to benefit others?

“This is an awful policy in a town that prides itself in helping others. It can be changed, and it should change soon.”

Sign at the transfer station.

======================================================

Speaking of trash:

A reader who loves Grace Salmon Park — but thinks it needs a bit of care — sent several photos of benches overgrown with weeds. Here are 2:

He adds: “Want a seat by the river? Bring your Claritin.”

=====================================================

Ann Turner Cook — the original Gerber baby — died Friday. She was 95 years old.

The reason that’s “06880”-worthy is that — nearly 100 years ago — the iconic sketch was “born” here.

In 1927, artist Dorothy Hope Smith made a charcoal drawing of her 4-month-old neighbor, Ann Turner. Ann’s father, Leslie, was an artist too; his comic strip “Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy” ran in 500 newspapers every day.

The original charcoal sketch of Ann Turner, and Ann Turner Cook today.

The original charcoal sketch of Ann Turner, and Ann Turner Cook in 2010.

The next year, Gerber needed a face for its new line of baby foods. Smith entered her simple drawing in the contest. She competed with elaborate oil paintings — but the company loved it. By 1931, Ann Cook was the “official trademark.”

She was on every Gerber ad, and on every package, since.

But no one knew her. In fact — in an effort to appeal to both sexes — for many years Gerber did not even say if the baby was a girl or boy.

As years passed, several women claimed to be the Gerber baby. To end the discussion, Gerber paid Turner — by then married, named Ann Cook –$5,000 in 1951. That’s all she got — no royalties, nothing. (It’s better than Smith, though. She earned just $300 for her efforts.)

The Gerber baby at work -- and all grown up today.

The Gerber baby at work — and all grown up, some years ago.

Cook left Westport long ago. She had 4 children, and spent 26 years teaching literature and writing in  Tampa. After retiring in 1989, she wrote 2 mystery novels.

But nearly a decade ago, when she was 88, she was rediscovered. Oprah profiled Cook on her “Where Are They Now?” series. Huffington Post picked up the story.

Neither Oprah nor HuffPo mentions Westport. Nor does the official Gerber website. ( For a full obituary, click here. Hat tips: Deej Webb and Jonathan McClure)

=======================================================

“Challenger Recognition Day” is always fun.

The Westport Baseball program for players with disabilities includes an announcer introducing each batter, and calling play-by-play. Dustin Lowman did the honors, and hit it out of the park.

A pizza party ends the day.

Congrats to all who made yesterday possible — and a tip of the baseball hat to all the players!

Jonah Atienza and his dad. (Photo.Beth Cody)

======================================================

Yesterday’s 1st-ever Drag Show was anything but a drag.

A sold-out crowd at MoCA Westport — including many families with young kids — enjoyed 4 drag queens who strutted, danced, engaged the audience and even provided a bit of LGBTQ history.

The event was sponsored by Westport Pride. Next up: a townwide Pride Month celebration on Jesup Green, next Sunday (1 to 3 p.m.).

Getting in the swing of things. (Photo/Jerri Graham)

Weston High School senior Zac Mathias served as MC. (Photo/Jerri Graham)

Ambrosia Black (Photo/Jerri Graham)

======================================================

The Westport Book Shop’s guest exhibitor for June is Kerstin Rao.

Known to many for her years as a gifted teacher of gifted students at Bedford Middle School, Rao is displaying 4 prints, plus a QR code through which you can see each piece being created via time-lapse video.

Rao’s work is hyper-local. Her pieces begin at the Westport Farmers’ Market. They’re scanned in Westport, and printed in Norwalk. Her art business, Vivid Cottage, offers luxury stationery and home good based on her original artwork. It’s available online, and at the Westport Book Shop.

Rao majored in fine art at Vassar, and earned a master’s in special education at Bank Street College. She moved from teaching to art during the pandemic. She also volunteers at the Westport Library, facilitating author panels and book talks, helping and helping plan events. She was a founding member of Westport’s Maker Faire.

Kerstin Rao, with her prints at the Westport Book Shop.

=======================================================

Speaking of art: MoCA’s next show — “Women Pulling at the Threads of Social Discourse” — is a collaboration with The Contemporary Art Modern Project (The CAMP Gallery) and the Fiber Artists Miami Association. It explores how female artists, utilizing textiles as their medium, subvert the social expectation of crafting by lambasting this soft medium with political and social awareness.

It opens June 30 with a 6-8 p.m. reception, and runs through September 4.

Several local artists are in the exhibition, including Camille Eskell, Susan Feliciano,  Sooo-z Mastropietro and Norma Minkowitz

For more information, email liz@mocawestport.org or call 203-222-7070.

“Red, White, and Pink: The Colors of Politics” (Laetitia Adam-Rabel). Thread, yarn, ink, acrylic on canvas.

=====================================================

On a windy, rainy Friday, Westporter Nathalie Jacob was on a boat with a friend. Suddenly — off the Darien shore — she realized her Gill sailing jacket (with iPhone 11max in its pocket) was gone.

She figured a gust of wind blew it into the water. The weight of the phone must have pulled it to the bottom of the Sound.

Her friend tried “Find My Phone.” Nada. Nathalie figured it was gone forever.

But 12 days later, her husband got a call. The caller said he’d spotted the jacket that day, in Westport waters — a mile from shore. He found the phone, took it home, plugged it in — and called the emergency contact number on it.

That’s right: After nearly 2 weeks in salty, wavy water, the iPhone still worked.

The jacket was full of live crabs and seaweed, Nathalie adds. But after 3 washing cycles, it’s usable too. She loves her Gill jacket.

PS: She brought a bottle of whiskey to the man who found it.

Nathalie Jacob …

… and her Gill jacket and iPhone.

======================================================

Staples High School’s senior prom — the first “normal” one after 2 COVID years — was held last night at the Greenwich Hyatt.

Most attendees were too busy having fun to take photos. But “06880”s great senior intern, Lyah Muktavaram, sent this photo along.

I’ve heard from 3 students who were there that it was a great one. I’m sure when they wake up — late this afternoon? — they’ll enjoy this image.

(Photo/Lyah Muktavaram)

=======================================================

Nile Rodgers’ home here is still on the market.

To avoid realtors being there when realtors showed potential home-buyers through the house — or, more probably, because who can turn down an invitation from Buckingham Palace? — the international recording star/producer was in London, not Westport, last night.

He had an important gig: performing at Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee coocert.

Just one more day in the life of our soon-to-be-former neighbor.

Nile Rodgers, at the Queen’s Jubilee. (Photo/Ellen Wentworth)

======================================================

Former Westport Woman’s Club president Natacha “Nat” Sylander died last month. She was 86.

The Auburn, New York native earned her bachelor’s degree in hotel management from Michigan State University. She then moved to Chicago to work at the Palmer House.

In 1960 she married Dick Sylander, and became a mom. In 1967 the family moved to Westport, where they lived for 44 years. She was a teaching assistant at Bedford Elementary School before starting a company with her husband in 1976. R.L. Sylander Associates did custom computer circulation fulfillment. They ran it for 25 years, until they retired.

Nat was active in the community, including president of the Westport Woman’s Club and chair of the Yankee Doodle Fair. She was a member of the St. Luke Church choir for many years. She was a wonderful cook and loved to entertain, with a flair for storytelling.

She is survived by her children, Rick of Milford, Karen of Chicago and Beth of Long Island; as well as a grandson, Owen Hammond, serving overseas in the Army.

A funeral service is set for Saturday, June 11 (11 a.m., St. Luke Church) with a Mass of Christian Burial. A reception follows immediately. Interment will be private. Condolences may be left online. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Westport Woman’s Club Scholarship Program, 44 Imperial Ave, Westport, CT 06880.

Nat Sylander

=================================================

This guy crawled onto Molly Alger’s deck, then posed for his “Westport … Naturally” closeup:

(Photo/Molly Alger)

=======================================================

And finally … one famous “baby” deserves another:

 

Internet Speed: A Quick Read

A year ago, alert “06880” reader — and Westport MakerFaire mastermind Mark Mathias — emailed us about Altice/Optimum’s latest offer: fiber for the home, with 1 GB internet access.

Mathias had it installed. He dropped all other services — including broadcast and cable TV channels — to buy only internet service.

He got 1 GB symmetric (the same upload and download speeds) for $79 a month. That introductory pricing included equipment, taxes and more.

His speeds are “generally very fast.” here’s a test from the other morning:

Typical cable speeds are 300 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up, Mathias says.

“Why does this matter?” he asks.

He answers his own question: “Most people use Netflix, Disney+ or similar services. Higher resolutions, such as 4K, require more bits to make an image. If multiple people in a home or office are consuming this high-bandwidth digital content, fast Internet speeds are needed.

“But what I like is the increased upload speeds. Whereas it used to take hours to backup to a cloud service like Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive, they now take minutes. Posting video content to YouTube, Vimeo or something similar is also much faster.”

Yet Mathias thinks $79 a month is too high. He’s found 2 other companies “claiming to offer fiber internet service to the home.”

GoNetSpeed is new to the area, and deploying fiber in neighboring towns.

Frontier also advertises fiber internet speeds up to 2 Gbps. However, Mathias says, they can’t give him dates for when it will be available.

“The good news is that truly high-speed internet is currently available in Westport,” he says.

“Hopefully, competition for our business won’t be far behind.”

“Shopping” For Tech Ed

Back in the day, an out-of-the-way section of Staples High School was devoted to “shops”: automotive, electrical, metal, wood. Students — well, male students — learned practical skills there. Some learned trades.

Over time — following a national trend — enrollment decreased. Counselors steered students to more “academic” pursuits. The shops were converted to other uses. One remained; it was devoted to boat-building.

In the 17 years since Mike Sansur arrived at Staples from Ansonia High, he’s revamped the curriculum. With help from counselors and former principal John Dodig, he created courses that teach hands-on skills, while integrating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) into his projects.

And it’s not just boys who flock to Sansur’s classes. His room is filled with girls. (A few doors down, the culinary kitchens — formerly “home ec” — attract plenty of guys. That’s another story.)

Junior Parker Pretty, in the tech ed. classroom.

Sansur’s goal in revamping the program (now known as “tech ed.”) was to encourage students to unearth talents, learn lifelong skills, and discover further courses of study or career paths.

One example: a mock-up of home electrical wiring. Students create and test AC/DC circuits, learn how circuit breakers work, and apply their knowledge to special projects.

Shane Lozyniak created especially complex circuitry — and earned a full scholarship for electrician training. He and a classmate wo worked with him are both now employed in a field they love.

In bridge engineering, students compete to research, design and construct a bridge that will hold the greatest amount of weight using the least amount of materials. Results are often “amazing,” Sansur says. Students will email him over the weekend with ideas. A number go on to engineering careers.

For those who are interested in architecture or construction management, Sansur offers this option: design and build a model house.

Architecture and construction management skills are part of the tech ed. curriculum.

Another favorite activity involves small engines. Students learn automotive technology — including the use of appropriate tools — by dismantling an engine, identifying every part and each function, rebuilding it and mounting it on a test stand. And, of course, getting it to work again.

Former students often tell Sansur how much tech ed. has meant. They ask to be guest speakers, describing their career paths. This month Hunter Duffy — about to graduate from college with an engineering degree — will visit.

Working collaboratively to solve tech ed. problems.

Yet whatever goes around, comes around. In the same room that was once the auto shop, Sansur is designing a unit covering basic automotive skills: jump starting a car, changing a flat tire, checking vital fluids, interpreting dashboard signs, and other important life skills.

But he’ll add lessons on the transformation underway in the automative industry, from fossil fuels toward electric cars.

That’s tech ed., 2022-style. For all his male — and female — students.

Freshman Isabella Baltierra gets in on the tech ed. ground floor. (Photos/Mike Sansur)