Category Archives: technology

David Adipietro Helps California Rise

The day after devastating fires swept through Napa Valley, David Adipietro was upset.

The Staples High School junior had friends in Calistoga. Over the summer, he visited them. The house he stayed in had burned to the ground.

David’s classmates in Carla Eichler’s Advanced Design class were working on a travel poster project.

David Adipietro, at work in Carla Eichler’s Advanced Design class.

He scrapped his initial plan, which included photos he’d taken in northern California. By the end of the class period, he’d transformed his concept into a fundraising campaign.

Within days, he’d created a website. He posted his designs. The theme is simple: “Let’s Rise from the Ashes.”

His photos are available for sale on the site, as downloads. David is donating 90% of the proceeds to charities in California. The remaining 10% covers his costs.

A Yosemite poster available on David Adipietro’s website.

Eichler’s Advanced Design class is great. It appeals to clever, creative students.

And, apparently, to at least one very caring and compassionate teenager.

(Click here for David Adipietro’s “California, Let’s Rise” website.)

Bloch That Cell Tower!

Stephen Bloch and his wife moved to Stonybrook Road in 2002. He’s a partner in a Westport venture capital firm. In an earlier career, he was a practicing physician.

The Blochs have spotty cell service at home. There’s a dead zone in the area, not far from Earthplace.

Verizon wants to enhance coverage. You’d figure the Blochs would be happy.

They are anything but.

The company plans to put a mini-cell tower on a utility pole in the couple’s front yard, 60 yards from their home. Verizon says that’s the best place for it.

The Blochs — and their neighbors — disagree.

Vehemently.

The Blochs’ home (left), and the utility pole (right) where Verizon hopes to install a mini-cell tower.

Bloch — who, you will recall, has a medical degree — is concerned about possible biological effects of radio frequency waves emitted by the mini-tower.

And — just as disturbing — Bloch says that Verizon refuses to share any technical details about performance and safety of the devices.

“There’s no information about shielding, direction of the beam – nothing.”

“We’ve gotten no specs” from the company, he adds. “So we can’t even tell whether it’s compliant” with existing laws and regulations.

Bloch notes that current rules were written for large cell towers — not these new mini ones.

“Whenever I ask, all they say is, ‘We follow FCC regulations,'” Bloch says. “I’ve asked them to demonstrate the need for these. I’ve never gotten any answers.”

Bloch says there was “a big uproar” in Palo Alto when Verizon proposed a similar mini-tower. Ultimately, he says, the utility got what it wanted.

A typical mini-cell tower.

“They want to do this here by fiat,” says Bloch. They hide behind legal precedent, and a weak appeals process.”

The appeals process requires them to spend a day at Public Utilities Regulatory Agency headquarters in New Britain. They’re slated to meet December 15. Verizon must appear that day too.

But, Bloch says exasperatedly, “Just getting that appointment was incredibly difficult.”

He says there is only one other similar mini-cell tower in Westport: in front of Ned Dimes Marina at Compo Beach. That’s much further away from any homes than Verizon’s proposed Stonybrook site.

First selectman Jim Marpe and town attorney Ira Bloom have written letters supporting the Blochs, and helped propose alternative pole locations either on public land or further away from houses. But, Bloch says, “Verizon will not consider it.”

He doesn’t think Verizon will listen on December 15 either. But, he notes, “PURA has to consider public comment.”

He doesn’t expect Westporters to flock to New Britain to support him and his wife, in their battle against a large utility company.

But, he says, “we welcome public comment on ‘06880.’”

 

Bob Bowman Leaves MLB

The New York Times has been busy covering Westport sports figures.

First came the news that Kyle Martino is running for US Soccer president.

Now the paper reports that Bob Bowman is leaving Major League Baseball.

Bob Bowman

The Times calls the longtime Westport resident “the person most responsible” for making MLB’s digital and video arm “one of the greatest success stories” in all of American business.

The 62-year-old will leave as president of MLB business and media at the end of the year.

Under Bowman’s leadership, the Times says, Major League Baseball Advanced Media became “the envy of every sports league and one of the most important companies as the broadcast world transitioned to digital streaming.”

Bam, the paper adds,

has consistently been at the bleeding edge of technology, and transformed how fans consumed sports. Bam bought MLB.com and redesigned the league’s website; centralized and ran each team website; created MLB.TV, allowing subscribers to watch out-of-market games; and created the At Bat smartphone app, “the highest-grossing sports app of all time,” according to the league.

Most important, the technology Bam developed to stream games simultaneously to hundreds of thousands of fans has underpinned some of the biggest internet streaming services. ESPN, HBO, WWE, Fox Sports and Hulu are some of the companies that have hired Bam to run their back-end streaming operations.

Before joining MLB, Bowman served as Michigan state treasurer, and was a top executive at ITT.

(Click here for the full New York Times story. Hat tip: Jeff Mitchell)

Train Station Shuttle Adds App, Rolls Out Marketing Campaign

Westporters watch steadily increasing traffic in Saugatuck. With plans for more development in the area, and possible modernization of the Cribari Bridge, we worry there’s more to come.

Meanwhile, Waze and other apps contribute to clogged side streets everywhere, as commuters seek alternatives to the jammed-up Merritt Parkway, I-95 and Post Road.

For years, Metro-North riders have been able to ease the hassle by taking shuttle buses to the train station. But many potential customers are unaware of routes or options. Others don’t even know they exist.

The Westport Transit District has launched a marketing campaign to fix that. It involves emails, posters and route cards.

It also includes the rollout of a new MyStop app. Users track shuttles in real time, so they can step out of their house moments before it arrives. MyStop is available in the iPhone and Android stores, or by clicking here.

A screen shot of the myStop app shows Westport routes — and the location of the nearest shuttle.

The email portion of the marketing campaign targets railroad parking permit holders, people on the wait list, and those on the Parks and Recreation list. Messages will be sent this coming week, with follow-up emails planned for early next year.

The posters and cards — showing shuttle routes and other info — will be placed at the train stations, and throughout town.

The campaign was developed by Westport advertising executive Rob Feakins. Jyoti Dasgupta added fresh designs. The Railroad Parking Division is assisting the Westport Transit District with the initiative.

Look for the emails, posters and cards. Download the app. Try the shuttle.

It won’t make all the traffic go away. But perhaps your trip to the train will be a little less miserable.

 

 

Quite A Waze To Go

I admit it: I use Waze not only to get me from here to an unfamiliar place, but to bypass traffic whenever my route gets jammed.

You do too.

So do tons of other drivers. Even when there’s no major accident.

Which led alert — and frustrated — “06880” reader Jessica Newshel to send this photo:

(Photo/Jessica Newshel)

It shows Park Lane at 8:45 this morning. For the few who don’t know, it’s the narrow, winding side road that — unfortunately for residents — connects Post Road East with South Compo Road.

It’s been a shortcut for Westporters for decades. Now — thanks to Waze and similar apps — the whole world knows it.

And uses it, every day.

Jessica writes:

I’m used to people using my street to bypass traffic on Post Road, but this morning reached new levels. Apps are sending cars through local streets that can’t handle the volume. I know Park Lane isn’t the only one, but it’s getting worse each day. The town needs to address what’s happening.

Can the town do anything? If so, what? And even if it could — should it? Click “Comments” below.

Just for fun, tell us how often you use shortcuts like this.

And how often you use Waze.

WestportWrites — And Adds Espresso Machine

The Westport Library is a place to do many things beyond reading: Hear book talks and concerts. Work in the MakerSpace. Check out DVDs. Get coffee.

Add to the list: Learn to write.

WestportWrites is a year-long program. Monthly mini-conferences and workshops all lead to a writers’ conference next fall.

Rachel Basch (“The Listener,” “The Passion of Reverend Nash”), literary agent Dawn Frederick and a panel from Westport writers’ groups kicked things off earlier this month.

This Monday (October 16, 6 p.m.), Patrick McCord talks about the brain’s role in the creative process. Future topics include the feminist young adult voice, screenwriting, memoirs and more.

As part of WestportWrites, the library is partnering with Staples High School’s English department. Jessica Bruder (“Nomadland,” “Burning Book” spoke to 225 students there, prior to her library appearance).

Plans are underway to collaborate on next fall’s conference. Teachers are excited about opportunities for talented writers — and those who might be turned on to an activity they never considered before.

But any library can sponsor workshops. The Westport Library is taking writing a giant step further.

A generous anonymous donor helped them buy a new Espresso machine — and it has nothing to do with coffee.

This Espresso is an on-demand book publisher. Authors provide PDFs for the text and cover (the library has templates). Espresso prints in black-and-white or color. It adds a soft cover, and trims the pages to different sizes.

In other words, it allows authors to self-publish.

This Espresso machine has nothing to do with coffee.

You’re not going to get Jane Green-size press runs. But it’s perfect for printing small numbers of books. You can also prototype a larger run — avoiding costly mistakes with pagination, or putting the Foreward at the end (true story).

Westport Library manager of experiential learning Alex Giannini, and program and events specialist Cody Daigle-Orlans, are enthusiastic about their new tool. They offer short consultations on it with interested authors (email westportwrites@gmail.com for more information).

There’s also a Westport Library in-house graphic designer to help with the cover (for a fee).

If the Espresso machine sounds like something that belongs in the MakerSpace — now moved to the balcony area during the library’s Transformation Project — it does.

In fact, Giannini says, the goal is to make next October’s writer’s conference and book fair be at the same level as Westport’s April Maker Faire.

Write on!

 

Westport Schools’ Innovative Innovation Fund

The Westport Public Schools want students to think creatively and innovatively; to approach problems in ways no one else conceives of. That’s an important part of education — and crucial for success in the 21st century.

To do that, teachers must model that type of thinking.

And to give everyone extra encouragement, the district is putting its money where its mouth is.

Literally.

A $50,000 Innovation Fund is available to all students, faculty and staff. The goal is to encourage exciting ideas, foster new ways of thinking, and nurture an ongoing culture of creativity.

It’s not a new concept — districts like Wilton, Trumbull, Chappaqua and Scarsdale — have similar funds. But they’re usually run by third parties, such as foundations.

But, according to director of elementary education Julie Droller and technology director Natalie Carrignan, the Westport district wanted to select the best ideas itself. Board of Education member Mark Mathias was an early proponent of the fund. Superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer was also a strong advocate.

“We’re looking for solutions to problems that we otherwise would not have the equipment, time or resources for,” Droller says. “We know there are lots of great ideas out there.”

Just a couple of weeks after the fund was created, applications are pouring in.

Proposals include new ways of using technology, novel activities and requests for physical devices.

Drones are fun. They can also be educational.

One example: enhancement to the middle school STEM curriculum by using drones and coding software to solve real-world challenges.

Another: Teachers using technology to help them reflect on how they’re doing in the classroom. It’s similar, Carrignan says, to coaches who use game film to analyze performances.

The Innovation Fund is available to anyone in the district. One 3rd grade parent asked for more information, for her child.

A committee meets this week to review the first batch of requests. To learn more, click here.

Political Battles On Front Porch

Facebook teems with local groups. With names like Westport Moms, Westport & Fairfield Parents and What Up Westport, they’re great places to ask questions, share tips and (virtually) hang out.

But Jane Green was tired of reading about strollers and nursery schools.

So a year and a half ago — hoping to shine a light on local businesses, events and goings-on of interest to an audience broader than just kids’ parents — she started Westport Front Porch.

The front page of Westport Front Porch.

It wasn’t like she had tons of time. She is that Jane Green — an internationally known novelist, TV/radio personality, chef/entertainer — but she was passionate about using social media to create community in her adopted hometown.

Westport Front Porch has over 3,800 members. Most of the posts, Green admits, are “anodyne.” Recent discussion topics included bat removal, orchards and TV installation.

Green monitored comments carefully. She did not want the “discord and drama” so often found online these days.

But moderating comments is time-consuming. Gradually she pulled back. Jerri Graham took over day-to-day operations of the Porch.

In between writing, being a mother, running a household — and appearing on TV — Jane Green finds time to run Westport Front Porch.

As election season approached, some Porchers posted about politicians. Green began monitoring comments closely again.

“It felt fine to have the type of political discussions neighbors might have once had on their front porch,” Green says.

“I thought, let’s open the Porch up. There are real political issues in towns — about traffic, pedestrian safety, water towers. Let’s have those conversations.”

She posted guidelines. Civility topped the list. “Call me Pollyanna,” says Green.

Throughout that first day, Green moderated the comments. She removed some. She tried to keep the group “safe and comfortable.”

That night, Green woke up at 2 a.m. She took a quick look on Facebook.

“It was a nightmare,” she recalls. “Threads had exploded. People were duking it out. Insults were flowing. It was absolutely inappropriate.”

She does not point fingers at any one political party. Supporters of Democratic, Republican, independent — probably Whig and Know-Nothing — candidates fired away.

Green closed the Porch to all political comments.

“I love Westport. I believe in this community,” Green says.

“But in this age, we’re all locked behind technology. We hide behind screens. It’s become too easy to be nasty, in a way we never would be face to face.”

Green adds, “These are contentious times. We’ve forgotten how to communicate politely, and how to connect. But as humans we long for connection.”

She feels badly that Westport Front Porch devolved into a politically toxic site overnight. She is sad that she had to cut off comments about important town issues.

But she has not given up.

Jerri Graham proposed a political meet-and-greet. Now she and Green have partnered with Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post — founders of the Westport Moms group — who had already planned a political candidates event for October 18 (Westport Country Playhouse, 7:30 p.m.).

Politics as it should be, Westport style: Republican First Selectman Jim Marpe and his challenger, Democrat Melissa Kane, enjoyed the “06880” party in July. Two others are running for first selectman: John Suggs and T.J. Eigen. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

It’s a chance to talk with office-seekers, ask questions — and, presumably, do so in a polite, up-close-and-personal way. First selectman candidates will offer a few words; those for all other offices will be available to mix and mingle.

“Westport is a small town,” Green says. “We’re all friends and neighbors. But I’ve seen friends and neighbors no longer talking to each other.

“I’ll listen to anyone, so long as they talk about what they think is best for the town  without blaming or shaming,” she says firmly. “If we come together for the greater good, and are willing to listen, great things can happen.”

Sam Gold: Apple’s Archive Savior

When Sam Gold was 13, his parents gave him a bar mitzvah choice: a party, or a trip.

He went to San Francisco. But he wasn’t interested in the Golden Gate Bridge, or curvy Lombard Street. He wanted to visit the headquarters of Apple and Google.

Sam is now a Staples High School sophomore. He hasn’t lost his fascination with some of the most innovative companies on the planet. If anything, he’s teaching them some lessons.

Sam Gold recently, at Google’s pop-up shop in SoHo.

Sam has already made a name for himself on YouTube. Posting as Sam Henri, he’s a content creator and social influencer. Sam’s 5,800 subscribers love his unique take on all things techs.

He’s high enough on the food chain that Google sent a web router, and Philips shipped WiFi-enabled light bulbs, for him to review. Check out his channel — he’s going places.

Sam is also a very talented graphic designer.

Sam Gold had fun editing this photo. Yes, that’s him on the wall.

But it’s as an Apple fan that he may be most impressive.

From age 3, when he got his first iPod Nano (from his Nana), he has loved all things Apple.

So last April — when the man running the biggest Apple archive on the internet suddenly terminated his channel — Sam took notice.

And instantly flew into action.

He’d already spent years using tools like the Wayback machine to archive over 800 Apple-related videos. They included ads, keynote speeches, even weird internal training tapes.

The earliest video was from 1979 — decades before Sam was born.

In 2001, Steve Jobs introduced the iPod. Sam Gold has that video — and many others.

Within 24 hours he’d uploaded them all to his own, new unofficial Apple archive YouTube channel.

As you’ve figured out by now, Sam knows his way around the internet. Before posting his 80 gigabytes of videos, he checked YouTube’s Terms of Service. He was sure his archives were legit.

But a week later YouTube flagged Sam, for violating their TOS. They called his Apple channel “spam” — although he was not charging anyone, or making any money off it.

Repeated requests for clarification from YouTube went unheeded.

So Sam turned to the tech-savvy Reddit community. Suggestions poured in.

His archives were not gone, of course. He kept them on a disk. That was perfect for one Reddit user, who had a petabyte worth of storage on his server. (A petabyte is a million gigabytes. Or, in layman’s terms, “a shitload.”)

He offered it to Sam. The teenager quickly transferred his archives from a disk to the server. That’s where — right here — they are now, available free to the world.

Apple’s amazing video archives — all in one place, courtesy of Sam Gold.

But that’s not the end of Sam’s story.

A reporter for Vice heard what happened, and contacted Sam. That led to a front-page story on Motherboard, Vice’s tech platform.

Which, in turn, led to the possibility of Sam freelancing for that well-read, edgy and influential site.

Which leads to this “06880” request.

Later this month, Apple makes a big announcement. They’re expected to announce the next generation iPhone.

Sam has tried to get on the press list. So far, he’s been unsuccessful.

So: If any “06880” reader has Apple connections, please help Sam travel (once again) to California.

It’s the least Apple can do for the kid who saved their entire video archives.

BONUS FUN FACT 1: In addition to Google and Philips, Apple sent Sam some products. Unfortunately, it’s not an iPhone or other device. The largest information technology company in the world gave him a hat, pen and water bottle.

BONUS FUN FACT 2: This summer, Sam decided to see how many certifications he could get online. He is now an official Universal Life minister, ordained to perform weddings, funerals and (I am not making this up) exorcisms. Sam declined to get certified as a lactation consultation, however. He saved that $35 fee — perhaps for his upcoming trip to California.

GoKid! Get This Carpool App!

Like many New Yorkers, Stefanie Lemcke started looking outside the city for schools for her children.

She and her husband took day trips here. When they realized “wow, people actually live in Westport!” they made the move.

Like many new arrivals, she loved the town. And — like many — she had to adapt to becoming a chauffeur. “No one told me I’d do so much driving!” she says.

Like no one else, however, she turned that mind-numbing chore into a flourishing business.

Stefanie Lemcke

On the Upper West Side, Lemcke walked her kids to school. Here, she had to learn to navigate carpools. Emails, Excel spreadsheets, texts — there had to be a better way.

Having worked for years with companies like Uber and Lyft, she thought instinctively of an online platform. She had not been involved on the tech side, but she became “obsessed” — her word — with her idea.

Her solution: a secure website that allows families to connect easily with others in their school, and identify carpool opportunities. She called it GoKid.

Lemcke hired 2 freelancers in California to write the initial code.

Techstars — a Detroit-based startup accelerator — accepted GoKid. That helped her raise over $1 million in funding.

She hired the best people she could find — wherever she found them. Lemcke’s team includes 3 developers in New York; 3 Argentines; a London COO, and one guy who travels in a truck.

Despite very little marketing, growth as been explosive. Over 50,000 carpools have been organized, in more than 25 countries.

But GoKid — which works on a desktop, smartphone and other devices — is very much a Westport company. Its official address is here, and visitors to the site see photos taken all around town.

Many of GoKid’s promotional photos were shot in Westport. This scene is at Staples High School.

GoKid fills a clear need. For budget and other reasons — one bus route averages $37,000 a year — over 50% of all school districts no longer use buses, Lemcke says. In California, just 17% do.

Of course, Lemcke notes, “Kids still have to get to school” — and their many other activities. GoKid allows users to organize carpools by neighborhood, grade, even kids’ interests. It’s a way to find trusted drivers beyond a small group of friends.

Last week, GoKid rolled out advanced features, like “recent participant” and “recent location”; the ability to set up return carpools with different participants, and customized alerts and notifications. It’s now available on Android devices. And it’s making its first marketing push.

The screenshot on the left shows text messages regardiing a carpool event. The one on the right shows a carpool map.

Lemcke knows the carpooling problem first hand. She lives on North Avenue — a few feet from Staples High and Bedford Middle schools. “Everyone drives their kids, even though we have buses,” she notes.

But the founder of an app that makes carpooling easier is not convinced that’s the only solution in her home town.

“It would be nice to create an initiative here around walking and biking,” she says.

“This is a progressive community, with great schools. But we’re backward when it comes to transportation.”

Of course, parents will continue to drive their children. That’s a fact of Westport life.

“Given the traffic and congestion, we welcome the opportunity to work with  Westport schools to help parents save time and reduce traffic,” Lemcke notes.

(For more information about GoKid, click here.)