Category Archives: technology

Maker Faire Makes Its Mark Next Weekend

The 8th annual Maker Faire gallops into Westport this Saturday (April 27).

Part science fair, part country fair, part carnival, it’s an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, artists, students and commercial exhibitors.

They show off what they’ve made, share what they’ve learned, and geek out with a few thousand other like-minded folks.

Over 100 makers have signed up already. They include:

  • “Game of Drones” (sponsored by Sacred Heart University Engineering): flight simulators, plus drone building, training and programming
  • “The Future is Now” (David Adam Realty): home automation, electric vehicles (and a live band)
  • “STEM on Wheels” (University of Bridgeport): Connecticut’s first mobile laboratory bus, with robotics, coding, imaging systems and more
  • “The Great Duck Project” (Westport Sunrise Rotary): Help build the world’s largest 3D printed duck!
  • “Nerdy Derby” (Stanley Black & Decker): Build, decorate and race a custom car
  • “Sustainable Pathways”: Hands-on activities and exhibits, geared to making sustainability part of daily life.

Makers will be joined by artists, musicians, stage performers, speakers, entrepreneurs — and of course food trucks.

(The Maker Faire takes place this Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Veterans’ Green and in the Baldwin parking lot. Opening ceremonies take place at 10:45 a.m. Admission is free. For more information click here, email mark@remarkablesteam.org, or call 203-226-1791.)

The Maker Faire’s “Game of Drones”

Don’t Text And Drive — Even At A Red Light!

An alert — and now $175 poorer — “06880” reader writes:

The other day I got a $175 ticket while sitting at a red light for entering an address on Waze on my phone.

I had no idea it was against the law to check your phone at a red light. The officer was very nice, and I mentioned to him that I felt like specific cell phone usage laws aren’t well publicized.

I know you can’t text and drive, and it makes sense you shouldn’t check your phone at a light either. I just didn’t know.

I have no idea whose job it is to publicize driving cell phone rules, but no one I mentioned this to had any idea you couldn’t check your phone or enter an address in Waze at a red light.

I’m curious if this is well known. Or maybe I’m just an idiot.

Texting while driving is illegal — even at a red light.

The Men On The Moon: Basil Hero’s Heroes

Only 24 men have traveled to the moon. Just half are still alive.

Their experiences have been told often, in movies and books like “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13.”

We know nearly everything about their missions: the risks, the challenges, the triumphs.

But we know little about the astronauts themselves. And even less about how their space experiences changed them, as human beings.

Until now.

Westporter Basil Hero’s new book The Mission of a Lifetime: Lessons From the Men Who Went to the Moon is the first time this elite group of men reveals their inner selves.

They talk about courage, leadership, patriotism. And also spirituality, God, earth, and the entire universe.

It’s a remarkable book. It’s remarkable too that no one has heard these legends — men like Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, Bill Anders — speak so eloquently about these ideas before.

Why not?

“No one asked,” Hero — the marvelously named author — replies. For half a century, journalists have focused on the technical aspects of space flight.

But ever since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon — when the New York Times published a special section with quotes from world leaders about how that event would change man’s relationship with the cosmos — Hero has been fascinated by what he calls “the bigger story”: what it means, deep in one’s soul, to walk on or orbit the moon.

Buzz Aldrin, on the lunar surface.

Though it’s a vast distance from the earth to the moon, Hero’s long-lived idea got a boost from nearby: his next door neighbor.

Bill Burrows is a noted aviation writer and Pulitzer Prize nominee, for publications like the Times and Wall Street Journal. He does not know any Apollo astronauts personally. But he mentioned the idea to former space shuttle astronaut Tom Jones, who helped Hero send an email blast to his Apollo colleagues.

Bill Anders was the first to respond. On December 24, 1968 he took the astonishing “Earthrise” shot. It’s been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever.”

Anders was intrigued. He invited Hero to his Anacortes, Washington home.

Bill Anders in front of his P-51 Mustang, last year. At 86, he still flies his own plane — at least an hour a day. Frank Borman — now 91 — flies his own vintage plane too.

The visit went well. Anders was so impressed with Hero’s approach and questions, he called his fellow Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman. Retired now after stints as White House liaison during the lunar landing and CEO of Eastern Airlines, he told Hero to come see him in Billings, Montana.

That interview went well too. So Borman called Jim Lovell, the 3rd Apollo 8 astronaut, commander of ill-fated Apollo 13, and the first of only 3 men to reach the moon twice.

Lovell gave Hero one of the most astonishing insights in a book filled with them. “We don’t go to heaven when we die,” he thought to himself while orbiting the moon. “We go to heaven when we’re born.”

Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn.

As one astronaut recommended Hero to another, the project took shape.  The author understands how important those personal contacts were.

“These guys get a lot of requests,” he says. “Some of them are in their 90s. They were tired of talking about their missions. They liked the intellectual approach I took.”

Each man asked Hero what he wanted to do that had not been done before. He told them, “I want ‘The Right Stuff 2.0’ — their story from the philosophical, spiritual side.

“They loved that. It’s a function of their age. Soon, the men who walked on the moon will be walking into the history books.”

During their careers, the astronauts had been happy to follow NASA’s directive to not talk much about Big Ideas.

“They didn’t want to appear too ‘intellectual,'” Hero says.

But, he says, “they are very deep thinkers. That separated them out during the selection process, even if no one realized it at the time.”

Hero says that the astronauts take the idea of “the common good” — duty, honor, country — very seriously. “That can sound quaint and outdated — like the ancient Greeks and Romans,” he notes.

But, Hero continues, “once they were in space, and saw the earth from the moon, they saw ‘the common good’ pertaining not just to country, but to humanity, and the planet. They came back to earth as humanitarian citizens.”

Bill Anders’ “Earthrise” photo — taken on Christmas Eve, 1968 — helped human beings see their planet in an entirely new light.

There was a lot they never said — at the time.

Anders’ Catholic priest was at Cape Canaveral when Apollo 8 blasted off for the moon. Six days later, he returned to earth an agnostic.

Hero paraphrases the astronaut’s epiphany: “To think that God sits up there with a supercomputer is bunk.”

On the other hand, Jim Irwin — the lunar module pilot for Apollo 15 — “found Jesus while walking on the moon,” Hero says.

Over and over, the astronauts talked to the author about their belief in “someone — or something — greater than oneself. These are very deep thinkers.”

The deepest of all, Hero says, was a man he never got to interview: Neil Armstrong. The first man to walk on the moon died in 2012.

Basil Hero

Hero is inspired by the Apollo astronauts. He always knew they were physically brave. But what comes through just as strongly in The Mission of a Lifetime is their moral courage.

Hero’s book should be read by everyone. He is particularly hopeful that it becomes a staple for high school and college students. He wants them to learn about the notion of “the common good.”

Reviews have been excellent. Amazon picked it as a Book of the Month. The Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt. Jane Pauley wants to interview him.

The timing is perfect. July marks the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s one giant leap for mankind.

And after half a century — thanks to Basil Hero — the real story of the Apollo space program has finally been told.

Kami’s Kloud Krosses The Ocean

Everyone in Westport, it seemed, knew Kami Evans.

In 6 years here, she made quite a mark. She started several community Facebook pages, and became an “influence marketer.”

Two of her most popular pages were Westport and Fairfield Parents, and Fairfield County Friends and Family. Readers asked about — and recommended — the best local places to shop, upcoming events, and other resources.

Then came “Kami’s Kloud.” She connected businesses with non-profits and charities, helping build community. Soon, she launched web-based Kloud9TV.

Last July, Kami and her family moved to England. Her husband is British; they always knew they’d go back.

Kami Evans, in her new digs.

In her new town — Trentham — she noticed the same desire for community engagement she’d found here. Once again, she began developing Facebook pages and a video presence.

At the same time, her Westport friends stayed connected with emails and calls. She tried to connect the two towns across the pond, but realized social media was not the best way to do it.

But an app might be.

The other day, on a visit here, Kami talked about her new Kami’s Kloud app.

The goal is to bring “hyperlocal communities” — Westport, Trentham — together. There are 2 ways: by posting information on little shops, interesting events, and the like.

And by having users in one community share information, ideas and insights with those in others.

(From left): Kami Evans, Shari Lebowitz of Bespoke Designs and Natalie Toraty of Noya Fine Jewelry. The local merchants look forward to having their events featured on Kami’s Kloud.

Kami is all about community. Westport still feels like home. She wants the best for it. And she wants people here to get to know people in Trentham, and vice versa.

Kami’s Kloud launched softly on March 22. By April 15 she hopes to add Google Maps, push notifications about nearby events, and more. She’s partnered with Waze too, so when you’re stuck in traffic, you can check out nearby events.

It’s available for both iPhones and Androids. On both sides of the Atlantic.

Rob Simmelkjaer’s Ground-Breaking Persona

As a kid, Rob Simmelkjaer’s grandmother always told him: “If you’re going to open your mouth, the best thing is to ask a question.”

Questions are “a sign of respect, curiosity, a way to learn,” notes the Westporter. “They’re more than just an opening.”

Simmelkjaer has had lots of chances to ask questions. He’s a former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a 2017 candidate for second selectman.

Rob Simmelkjaer

He’s been an on-air contributor for NBC Sports, and as vice president of NBC Sports Ventures was involved with the radio network and podcasts. He previously worked at ESPN and ABC News, where as anchor and correspondent he covered the Virginia Tech shootings and President Ford’s funeral.

Simmelkjaer — who majored in government and philosophy at Dartmouth College, and holds a law degree from Harvard University — is a huge fan of NPR’s StoryCorps. In those short Friday segments people interview relatives and friends, unearthing tales rich in drama and inspiration.

So it’s no surprise that Simmelkjaer — who was NBC Sports’ “in-house entrepreneurial expert” — is now striking out on his own.

Or that his new venture — Persona — is all about asking questions.

Simmelkjaer calls Persona “the first social video platform dedicated to interviews.” It’s like Instagram, he says — but with conversations, not photos.

The app makes interviewing easy. It helps interviewers frame great questions, makes sharing interviews easy, and enables users to discover interesting interviews on similar (or totally unrelated) topics.

Rob Simmelkjaer is at ease in front of a camera. Persona will make the rest of us feel comfortable too.

Persona is not yet ready for prime time. Simmelkjaer is developing a prototype. He’s slowly releasing content on other platforms, like YouTube, to grow the brand.

It’s an exciting project. Just the other day — in the aftermath of the massacre at a New Zealand mosque — Simmelkjaer interviewed Imam Mohamed Abdelati of the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center.

Westport is an important part of Simmelkjaer’s process. Interviews with people like State Senator Will Haskell and attorney Josh Koskoff Takes On The NRA — interesting folks with intriguing insights — are part of the plan.

Simmelkjaer’s very first Persona interview was with Victoria Gouletas. She’s the ZBA member who was paralyzed a year ago, when a heavy tree branch fell on her during a windstorm.

Gently but insightfully, he asks Gouletas about the accident, how she handled the devastating news, and the effect on her family. As she talks about her children, they chatter in the background. Despite the tragedy, the interview is warm, personal and uplifting.

That’s Simmelkjaer’s goal with Persona. It launches officially later this year.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

And when you open your mouth, follow Rob Simmelkjaer’s grandmother’s advice: Ask a question.

Peter Stern’s Apple TV

The world watched yesterday as Apple announced several new initiatives: Apple News+, Apple Arcade and Apple Card.

But the biggest rollout was Apple TV+. And the man introducing it was 1990 Staples High School graduate Peter Stern. He took the stage after an introduction from Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Peter Stern, on stage at yesterday’s Apple event.

To industry watchers, Stern — whose title at Apple is vice president of services, which includes video, news, books, iCloud and advertising — needs no introduction.

After majoring in music and English at Harvard, then earning a law degree from Yale, Stern joined McKinsey. One of his first projects was Warner Music Group. He commuted between his Westport home and Los Angeles.

He joined Time Warner in 2001, rising to executive vice president/chief product people and strategy officer. Much of his career has been spent at the intersection of media and technology.

Digiday notes that media executives who work with Stern call him “sharp and impressive.” Cheddar CEO and founder Jon Steinberg says he is “smart, direct, fast, (and) delivers on what he promises.”

Peter Stern

Stern oversees business operations for Apple’s services unit, which Digiday says has been “elevated to new levels of importance by sagging iPhone sales.” 

In a long 2015 interview for the Cable Center Oral History Project, Stern –then  still with Time Warner — talked about his upbringing.

He left Freehold, New Jersey — the home of Bruce Springsteen — when he was 5 or 6. He went all through the Westport school system (and his family had one of the first VHS systems, introducing him to video technology).

For a long time while living in this area, Stern — who had been a supremely talented violinist at Staples — served on the board of the Stamford Symphony.

Since joining Apple, he’s relocated to Silicon Valley.

But Westporters — and the rest of the world — can see him on stage in yesterday’s Apple video. Click below for the mini-version (Stern starts at 4:17), or click here for the full event (Tim Cook introduces him at 51:30; he takes over quickly).

(Hat tip: Brian Strong)

FreshDirect Expands To Westport

Recently, it seems like every newcomer to Westport has moved from Manhattan or Brooklyn.

They give up a lot to come here: 24/7 life. Every necessity within walking distance, including a Duane Reade on every corner. FreshDirect.

We can’t provide the first 2 (and all we’ve got is CVS and Walgreens.)

But on March 25, Westporters gain access to the online, custom-preparation grocery delivery service. FreshDirect offers fresh meat, fish, produce and specialty items in 7 states.

Up to now, Connecticut next-day service was available only in Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan and Darien. Now — thanks to new headquarters in the Bronx — FreshDirect is expanding here (and Fairfield, Southport and Norwalk).

The FreshDirect website says that it does not deliver to zip code “06880.”

But “06880” readers know that’s stale news.

Mark Lassoff: A Framework For Technical Education

WWPT-FM — the Staples High School radio station — dates back to the 1960s. The first TV production class was held in 1982.

Both programs were flourishing in 1988, when Mark Lassoff moved to Westport. He still remembers guidance counselor Paul King proudly showing off the  studios, to the incoming freshman.

Lassoff had never thought about TV or radio. When he graduated 4 years later, he’d made a major mark in both. He also starred on the wrestling team.

After the University of Texas — where he majored in communications and computer science — Lassoff stayed in the Lone Star State. He worked for himself, training startup companies’ staffs about technology.

Ten years ago, he moved back to Connecticut.

Mark Lassoff

His timing was fortuitous. Almost immediately, Lassoff was diagnosed with colon cancer. Here, self-employed people could get health insurance. In Texas, that was impossible.

Though he’d traveled far and wide for work, cancer kept him close to home. So he developed online courses. He started with Introduction to JavaScript, then added more. He was one of the first entrepreneurs to sell $1 million worth of courses online.

Over the past decade though, the business model changed. As the barrier to entry got lower, more courses flooded the market.

Lassoff found a new platform in digital TV. Roku, Hulu, Amazon Fire — all seemed ripe to deliver technical education.

So Framework TV now offers tech ed streaming videos on the web, and online. The goal is to prepare people for jobs in the digital world.

And, Lassoff says proudly, it’s done “at prices people can afford.”

Mark Lassoff (upper right), as part of a Framework TV offering on Roku.

In fact, the first step — certification in HTML – is free. Users can move on to professional-level certification in areas like CSS and upgraded JavaScript for $10 a month. Then come deeper dives into web development, iOS and Android.

Lassoff recently opened a studio at the Palace Theater, the newly renovated and very funky South Norwalk space.

Among the Framework crew: video editor Jack Smith, a 2011 Staples grad. After taking TV and radio production at Staples — like Lassoff — he majored in digital media at Sacred Heart University.

Jack Smith, at work in Framework’s South Norwalk studio.

Today, anyone can access Mark Lassoff’s technical education courses, from any device anywhere in the world.

But he could not be happier providing it just a few miles from where his love affair with TV and technology all began: the Staples High School media lab.

Westport’s Goal: A World Record Duck

Each spring, a giant inflatable duck floats in the Saugatuck River. It’s a fun, funny promotion for the Sunrise Rotary Club’s Great Duck Race.

This spring, he gets a companion.

On April 27, the 8th annual Maker Faire features a Great Duck Project. Attendees will try to set a world record for the largest 3D printed duck.

It’s “the first of its kind global crowd-sourcing science and art initiative,” says Mark Mathias. He’s the founder of the Westport’s Maker Faire, and a Sunrise Rotary member.

Artist’s rendering of the 6-foot 3D duck.

“Global” is no exaggeration. People from around the world are invited to 3D print and submit pieces. They’ll be combined into a 6-foot tall, 476-piece duck.

Mathias takes “around the world” literally. He reached out to the McMurdo station in Antarctica, to see if they’ll participate.

He even went galactic, asking if the International Space Station could print a part, then return it to earth on a supply mission. (Party-pooping NASA said no.)

But keeping the Great Duck Project terrestrial should be interesting enough.

Don’t have your own 3D printer? No sweat. There are plenty around, in libraries, schools and offices.

Once the world-record duck is printed, it won’t disappear. You can see it at the Memorial Day parade — and, of course, the Great Duck Race.

Quack!

(The Great Duck Project is a collaboration of the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club and Greens Farms Academy, which serves as the “technical lead.” For more information or to participate, click here. or contact Mark Mathias: mark@remarkablesteam.org; 203-226-1791.)

VanGo Paints A Pretty Transportation Picture

Once upon a time, parents (aka “mothers”) hauled their kids all across town, to all their different activities, all the time.

Then came Uber. It’s a great, easy-to-use driving service. The downside is: You’re never really sure who is driving your kids.

Enter VanGo.

The app is — well, an uber-Uber. Aimed specifically at the pre-teen and teenage market, it addresses the sketchy-driver question head-on.

Drivers are nannies, teachers, babysitters — and especially mothers. In fact, 85% of all drivers are moms.

Each is carefully vetted. They must have at least 3 years of childcare experience. They’re fingerprinted, and their driving records checked. They must supply references. Their vehicles are inspected too.

VanGo is the brainchild of Marta Jamrozik. (The app’s great name was her husband’s idea.)

Marta Jamrozik

Marta lives in Norwalk; her parents are Westporters. A former management consultant with a Fortune 500 company and a Forbes “30 Under 30” honoree, she’s intimately familiar with the pressures of suburban parenting — including how to get your kid from Point A to Points B, C, D, E and F, then home for dinner.

While dads do their share of driving, Marta knows the burden falls disproportionately on women. By easing it for them — and hiring so many women as drivers — she calls VanGo “a feminist company.”

Since the June launch, the app has been downloaded over 1,000 times. Many of those users are Westporters.

“There are so many working parents” here, Marta notes. They use VanGo not just to manage their schedules — to stay later at work, for example — but to manage their personal lives too. A parent who is not chauffeuring can squeeze in a yoga or fitness workout, she notes.

VanGo is not just an after school service, Marta says. Parents also use it during those stressful mornings, when driving a child to school may clash with an early train or meeting.

A VanGo screenshot.

More features: Parents can schedule “recurring rides” (say, ballet every Wednesday from 4 to 5 p.m.) with ease. They can book in advance. And they can track each ride from start to finish, via GPS.

Feedback has been strong. A single mother of a pre-teen son was frustrated with Uber. “They often get our address wrong, do not wait, and are really not geared toward younger riders,” she says.

VanGo’s drivers wait. Her son often has the same drivers. And when she speaks with them, “they’re parents themselves — so they get it.”

It is a little more expensive than Uber. But, this mother says, “the peace of mind is worth it to me.”

Slide over, Uber. There’s a new driver in town.