Category Archives: technology

Bullying And Cyber-Threats: The (Teen) Experts Speak

“Stricter parents make sneakier children.”

That was one of the gems offered Thursday night. The Westport Arts Center and Anti-Defamation League presented a workshop on “What Children Wish Their Parents Knew About Bullying, Cyber-Bullying and Name-Calling.” It was part of the WAC’s current “More Than Words” exhibition, about that topic.

Marji Lipshez-Shapiro — ADL-Connecticut’s director of education — led the event. But the high school panelists stole the show.

They’re the ones who delivered insights like the one about strict parents and sneaky children. The speaker above was explaining that because teenagers’ technical skills far outstrip their parents’, mutual trust makes that relationship work.

Johnny Donovan and Megan Hines — co-presidents of Staples’ Kool To Be Kind group — and fellow K2BK members Gavin Berger, Brian Greenspan, Isabel Handa, Ben Klau and Emerson Kobak — reassured the 100 parents in attendance that they’re raising their kids well. They praised the school system and town for their bullying prevention and intervention programs.

The panelists also presented some scary previews of what’s ahead.

Brian Greenspan, Ben Klau, Gavin Berger and Emerson Kobak were part of the Kool To Be Kind panel at the Westport Arts Center.

Brian Greenspan, Ben Klau, Gavin Berger and Emerson Kobak were part of the Kool To Be Kind panel at the Westport Arts Center….

Among their thoughts:

One Stapleite said that Instagram is a good way for 7th graders to start on social media. Facebook can be added in late middle school. Beware: Snapchat can be “dangerous.”

But another said, “Let kids discover social media on their own. Putting on age restrictions makes something seem taboo.”

When one panelist’s parents gave her a smartphone, they asked for her passcode — and told her they could check it any time. They don’t — but she realizes they can. “So I know the boundaries,” she concluded.

Parents should teach their children that the cyber world is not private. Middle schoolers “don’t know that innately.”

Some parents limit their kids’ technology use by making sure phones, laptops and other devices are charged each night in the kitchen — or parents’ rooms. One K2BK member was actually relieved by that rule. “I would’ve gotten no sleep in middle school if I could have texted all night,” he said. Another explained, “It’s not healthy to be distracted all the time.”

...And so were Johnny Donovan, Megan Hines and Isabel Handa.

…And so were Johnny Donovan, Megan Hines and Isabel Handa.

Stresses on tweens and teens are real. “Don’t say ‘get over it,'” one of the panelists noted. “That doesn’t help at all.”

As for bullying: Classmates and older kids are not the only perpetrators. “The meanest thing anyone ever said to me was by a teacher,” one boy noted.

When should parents call other parents about an issue between their children?

“It ends at elementary school,” one girl said. “After that, kids need to learn to fight their own battles.”

“It’s never too young to encourage your child to have her own voice,” another member added. “But you still have to let them know you’ll always be there for them.”

Bullying can take place in person, or in cyberspace.

Bullying can take place in person, or in cyberspace.

Megan gave a particularly powerful presentation. Speaking personally — as someone who does not take Advanced Placement or Honors courses, and who has been called “stupid” because of her passion for fashion merchandising — she spoke articulately, and at times painfully, about her journey to believe in herself.

Ultimately, the panelists agreed, raising a child who can stand up to name-calling; who does not bully, and who can navigate the complex world of cyberspace, is a comes down to trust.

“My parents gave me the stage,” one of the Staples students said. “And they let me tell my own story on it.”

Immersive Synesthesia Experience Set For Sunday

Slowly, steadily, over the past 5 years Beechwood Arts & Innovation has built its “immersion salons” into a Westport institution.

Several times a year, Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito open their lovely Weston Road home — once owned by Morris Ketchum, and featuring a magnificent beech tree. They invite audiences to listen to, watch and learn from an ever-changing cast of artists, dancers, chefs and other creative types.

Beechwood House is a perfect place for salons.

Beechwood House is a perfect place for salons.

But this Sunday’s event (October 30, 2 p.m.) may be the most collaborative, wide-ranging and eclectic of all.

“Synesthesia” — which means feeling one sense by stimulating another — brings together traditional artists, along with technology makers. It’s a true celebration of STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

It’s multi-generational too, including young engineers and artists, and students from Cecily Gans’ advanced culinary classes at Staples High School.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, in their Weston Road home.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu

And “Synesthesia” is cross-cultural. Frederic and Jeanine have invited a young refugee from Tanzania; a nationally known Hispanic storyteller, and an African American peace activist/singer.

“Synesthesia” — the word — refers to the crossing of sensory wires. Sounds stimulate colors; numbers stimulate shapes; words stimulate smells.

“Synesthesia” — the salon — will stimulate all who immerse themselves in it.

(For more information or tickets on Sunday’s event, click here.)

Follow The Cops!

Back in the day, you needed a scanner to keep up with police activity.

Now all you need is a cellphone.

The Westport Police Department has created 3 social media accounts. They’ll include arrest reports, road closures, hazardous conditions, upcoming events and press releases.

You can like and follow the cops on

Kim Kardashian: Eat your heart out!

Police - Town of Wp home page

Great News From World’s Greatest Scavenger Hunt

In August, “06880” reported on Tia Pogue’s summer. The Staples High School senior was competing in The Greatest Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen. Suffice it to say, she was not searching for restaurant menus.

Earlier this month, we added details about one of her quests. She and her team had to get a child to write a letter to the universe. Then launch the letter into space. And provide video proof too.

Yesterday, Tia and her diverse, around-the-world group — they call themselves Team Raised From Perdition — got the news they’d been waiting for:

They won!

Perdition beat out more than 2,000 teams — that’s over 30,000 people — to take 1st prize.

Which is: an all-expenses-paid trip to Iceland.

That makes sense. Tia’s already taken care of outer space.

Tia and David Pogue, in their Yahoo video of their outer space adventure.

Tia and David Pogue, in their Yahoo video of their outer space adventure.

Below: Tia Pogue plays a human piano:

(To see Tia’s complete team page, click here. For their spreadsheet, click here. For more information on the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen, click here.)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Happy Columbus Day!

Columbus Day is a holiday that’s fallen out of favor.

Christopher Columbus didn’t “discover” America. It was here all along, as every Native American knows.

He wasn’t even the first outsider to find the continent — not by a few centuries.

Today, Westport schools were not even closed.

Back in 1957 though, Columbus Day was a Big Deal.

In Mark Groth’s Saugatuck Elementary School 2nd grade classroom, Pat Bonardi — a 1st year teacher — had her students create a replica of the Santa Maria. They used packing crates, drawing paper and flower pots.

The Westport Town Crier immortalized their work:

Mark Groth stands proudly on the far left of the Santa Maria. Next to him are Ann Denues, Doug Golden, Paula Cairo, Sarah Waldo and Richard Fell.

Mark Groth stands proudly on the far left of the Santa Maria. Next to him are Ann Denues, Doug Golden, Paula Cairo, Sarah Waldo and Richard Fell.

Mark thanks his mother for saving that clipping, 59 years ago. He also thanks — and remembers — Miss Bonardi.

“When the time came around to pick 2 students for the Audio-Visual crew (rolling 16mm or filmstrip projectors around to classrooms), I had my hand up first,” he says.

Now he’s just retired — after 40 years as media producer at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

He worked with all kinds of fancy equipment there. And 2nd graders today — at the “new” Saugatuck El, on Riverside Avenue — probably use desktop animation software and tablet apps to create a 2016 version of the Santa Maria.

If they still teach about Christopher Columbus in school.

David Pogue Really Loses It

Most of David Pogue’s Yahoo videos are short.

The tech guru has made a career — one of his many — providing bite-sized information on topics like how to open Windows 10’s secret start menu. They’re little snacks, to help you navigate your tech life.

The other day though, the Westporter posted a full-course meal. It’s 9 minutes long — and fascinating.

The SparkNotes version is that Pogue’s daughter Tia — a Staples High School senior — was deep into the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen.

One item she needed: Get a child to write a letter to the universe. Then launch the letter into space. Oh yeah: Provide video proof too.

Tia — with a little help from Dad — managed to do it. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was really, really hard — as the video shows.

Tia and David Pogue, in their Yahoo video.

Tia and David Pogue, in a screenshot from their Yahoo video.

But it’s well worth watching, for both the technology and the surprises. Pogue is a gifted storyteller.

There’s even a cameo appearance by Tia’s drone operator. He’s Brandon Malin — a very talented Westporter.

Brandon is also an 8th grader, at Coleytown Middle School.

Yahoo!

(To watch the video — and/or read David Pogue’s story — click here.)

Monica Lewinsky In Westport: More Than Just Words

When I heard that Monica Lewinsky will speak in Westport on October 6 — as part of the Westport Arts Center’s bullying exhibition — my first thought was: “Huh?”

But that’s the whole idea. For nearly 20 years, she’s been defined by what happened between her and the President of the United States.

Lewinsky is no longer a 24-year-old intern. She’s a 42-year-old woman who spent 10 years in self-imposed silence (several of them outside the country).

Now she’s speaking out. She talks about a subject she knows too well: internet shaming.

Lewinsky has tried to move beyond her image as the young woman in a stained dress. She’s now a social activist, contributing editor to Vanity Fair — and ambassador to BystanderRevolution.com.

Lewinsky has first-hand knowledge of the “culture of humiliation.” She is an expert at the effects of cyberbullies.  Anyone — and everyone — can become, like her, a target of the digital playground.

Her 2015 TED Talk — “The Price of Shame” — has been viewed millions of times. In it, she describes losing her reputation instantly — and globally — via the internet. “Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop,” she says.

In Westport, Lewinsky will build on themes underlying the Arts Center’s exhibit. It examines the topic of bullying within a broad cultural context that considers how perceived imbalances of social, physical — or political — power can be abused to marginalize others.

Sadly, it seems just as relevant in 2016 as it was in 1998.

(Monica Lewinsky’s talk at the Westport Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 6 includes a panel discussion. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here or call 203-222-7070.)

 

Library’s Transformational Plan Rolls On

Quietly — but energetically, and with great excitement — an entirely new library is taking shape downtown.

It’s got the same footprint, at the same wonderful riverside location. But that’s the only part that Westporters might recognize.

Bill Harmer

Bill Harmer

Since arriving as executive director 14 months ago, Bill Harmer has been speaking with patrons, staff members and town officials. He learned that the 30-year-old facility is no longer state-of-the-art. Even worse, it’s ill-equipped to offer what 21st-century users want and need.

“It’s hard to believe that even though it was built in 1986 — the year I graduated high school — the library did not focus on human interaction,” Harmer says. “The physical layout is very static and fixed.”

The Westport Library offers more than 1,700 programs a year. But there is only one real function area — the McManus Room — and with 140 seats, it’s sometimes too small.

The Maker Space is a huge success, but noise often disturbs folks looking for quiet contemplation or study.

The building lacks electrical outlets — a must in today’s wired world — and the HVAC, plumbing, elevators are failing.

A previous plan would have involved a major renovation of the entire structure. The new design will address all the challenges, creatively repurpose the building — and keep it open during the 2-year renovation.

Best of all: It’s just half the cost of that earlier proposal.

The new library design flips the current building upside down -- figuratively speaking, of course.

The new library design flips the current building upside down — figuratively speaking, of course.

Harmer’s eyes light up as he describes the new design. “We’re going to flip the library upside down,” he says.

Not literally, of course. But it might as well seem that way.

The books that now fill the main floor will be moved down to the river level. In their place, Harmer envisions a new, flexible, people-dominated Great Hall that includes an intriguing “Forum.”

Blowing out all the walls downstairs opens up 10,000 square feet of flexible space. That’s enough space for most of the books. New windows, natural light — and a new entrance — will connect people much more closely to the river right outside.

The new lower level will take great advantage of the riverside views -- and will contain most of the volumes now located one floor above.

The new lower level will take great advantage of the riverside views — and will contain most of the volumes now located one floor above.

Removing the book stacks opens up enormous room on the main level. The new plan takes full advantage — with the added advantage of flexibility.

The large “program space” accommodates up to 400 people — and includes a Times Square-like tiered grandstand, plus an LED screen behind the stage.

One configuration of the "Forum," with grandstand...

One configuration of the “Forum,” with grandstand…

Everything in the area is on wheels, for easy movement. That makes the newest addition to Westport’s public space also the most flexible.

A “new” 130-seat McManus Room, a green room for presenters, several small- and medium-sized conference rooms, 7 small study rooms, an AV media lab, acoustic tiles and improved lighting are also planned for the main floor.

The very popular MakerSpace, meanwhile, will be relocated — and becomes mobile. It can be moved anywhere in the library (as needed) from its new corner spot.

Next to it is a “hacking space.” A laser cutter, lathes and other machinery will allow users to actually machine ideas they create in the MakerSpace.

A separate entrance to that area allows it to be used 24/7. Harmer envisions this as an “incubation space” for makers, authors, or any needing after-hours access to computers, printers and other technology. He’s not aware of any library anywhere that offers anything like this.

Oh, yes: There are plenty of electrical outlets everywhere.

...and another.

…and another.

Harmer says that the “Forum” area is perfect for “work, study, play, learning, enhancing skills and incubating idea.”

But that’s only part of what’s planned for the main level. The other side — “the Hub” — features a curated collection of popular books, Blu-rays and the like.

A new entrance — fronting Jesup Green — will bring users directly into the main level, adding to what Harmer calls the “energy” of the Forum.

A new Jesup Green entrance (with a handicap accessible ramp) will "activate" that area. It will also tie in with the parking spaces currently near the police station.

A new Jesup Green entrance (with a handicap accessible ramp) will “activate” that area. It will also tie in with the parking spaces currently near the police station.

The large reading room in the northwest corner remains, but with more flexibility to accommodate 90 people for programs. The smaller reading rooms will be renovated too — and their river views enhanced.

But wait! There’s more!

The cafe will expand threefold. An outdoor terrace, and after-hours entrance, will add to its appeal.

On the upper floor, the narrow balcony will be expanded by 5 feet. That allows up to 40 people to perch, looking out on the energy of the Great Hall.

Expanding the 2nd floor balcony will allow users to "perch" over the Great Hall.

Expanding the 2nd floor balcony will allow users to “perch” over the Great Hall.

One element will not change: the children’s library. “We like it where it is,” Harmer says. “It anchors the library. The river views are spectacular. And it’s safe and secure there.”

Harmer and his board of trustees hoped to bring the new plan in for under $20 million. The current estimate is $19.5 million. They’ll ask the town to contribute $5 million — a figure that has been in the long-range capital budget for a while — while the other 75% will be raised by the library.

For the past few months, Harmer has been talking to elected officials, and current and prospective donors.

“Everyone loves the plan,” the director says. “If we raise $5 million privately by June, we’ll get it done. The momentum is here. We’re already well on our way.”

One thing won't change: the view of the Westport Library from across the Saugatuck River.

One thing won’t change: the footprint of the Westport Library.

The Planning and Zoning Commission and Architectural Review Board both gave preliminary approval in June. The Downtown Plan Implementation Committee approved it unanimously.

An initial meeting last week with the Board of Finance went well, Harmer says. He’ll ask for an appropriation in early November, following hoped-for final approval by the P&Z next month.

Contracts are already in place with an architect, construction manager and owner’s agent.

If all goes well — and so far it has — Harmer says there can be shovels in the ground next August. Construction would take 2 years. The library would remain open throughout — something that was also not possible in the previous plan.

Harmer calls this library proposal “creative, opportunistic, energetic and transformative.”

Exactly like the Westport Library itself.

“Lost Film” Resurfaces

In the 3 days since it was posted on YouTube, a “Lost Film” has rocketed around the internet.

Well, at least on Facebook groups filled with folks who grew up in Westport in the 1960s and ’70s.

The 4:30 color video — grainy and jerky, with scenes of teenagers, Weston center, downtown (including the old YMCA and Mobil station, now Vineyard Vines), a 1-light cop car and the 9-building, 1-story Staples High School — is made much more compelling by dream-like music. For those who lived here then, it’s almost like stepping into a time warp.

A scene from "Lost Film." The Main Street building on the left -- now the Gap -- was then a furniture store.

A scene from “Lost Film.” The Main Street building on the left — now the Gap — was then a furniture store.

It’s safe to assume that “Lost Film” — the YouTube title — means that whoever shot it finally found it, decades later.

The story is stranger than that.

It turns out that in 1970 or so, Staples Class of ’72 member John S. Johnson and 2 friends — Wayne Vosburgh and John Fisher — found the 16mm film on campus.

Because home projectors then were 8mm, they asked the librarian for help. She set them up in a room. They did not think much of what they saw.

For the past 46 years, the spool remained in Johnson’s dresser drawer. He sometimes thought about transferring the film to video.

Walking downtown, by Westport Taxi. It was located a few doors down from what is now Tiffany.

Walking downtown, by Westport Taxi. It was located a few doors down from what is now Tiffany.

Last week — before leaving on a trip to Westport — he dropped it off at a local shop to get it done.

After viewing the digitized version, his perspective changed. Johnson realized each scene went by too quickly to dissect and reminisce.

He slowed it down about 50%. Then he added the ethereal music.

The video says “circa 1967.” Johnson now believes it was made around 1969.

It shows teenagers in Westport in a very specific point in time.

But it’s also timeless.

(Hat tips: Bill Scheffler and Mary Gai)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Our Town Crier Gets An Upgrade

Back in the day, the Town Crier was Westport’s must-read, twice-weekly newspaper. It covered all the usual local stuff — politics, sports, entertainment — as well as lots that would never be in a paper today. (“New Folks in Town” described new arrivals’ jobs, hobbies and religions. Police Reports included stop sign violations. And Divorce Reports cited names and reasons: abandonment, intolerable cruelty, whatever.)

The Town Crier is still around. And — though it has nothing to do with its predecessor, except the name — it is equally compelling reading.

Our Town Crier is Betsy Pollak’s website. It’s filled with business listings, upcoming events, classified ads and more — just like an old-fashioned newspaper. Of course, it’s a lot better looking. And much more interactive. (The calendar is searchable by day, week, month, and categories like “kids” or “music.”)

Our Town Crier - 2

Now, Our Town Crier has been upgraded. That’s good news for local business owners. Any store, restaurant, veterinarian, personal trainer, yoga instructor — you name it — can have his or her (or its) own page.

Non-profits are welcome too. The Westport Woman’s Club, Westport Historical Society and Homes With Hope are on there already.

And it’s absolutely free.

(The fine print: It’s free if you create it yourself — which is astonishingly simple. If you want Betsy to do it for you, there’s a small fee.)

On your business page, you can post info about hours of operation, sales, featured merchandise, new hires, photos, videos — whatever.

Our Town Crier is open to all Westport, Weston, Fairfield and Easton businesses. It’s limited to mom-and-pops though — locally owned, in other words. No big-box stores allowed!

Our Town Crier

Betsy’s upgrade has been accomplished with help from several Staples High  School interns. A couple of talented Westport women have helped too.

A lot of businesses don’t have their own website, Betsy notes. Our Town Crier becomes their web presence. Party Harty is a great example.

Click here for Our Town Crier. It’s a worthy successor to the newspaper of the same time.

Though without the divorce news.