Category Archives: technology

Will Apple Just Do It?

Word on the (Main) Street is that Westport’s Nike store will close this Wednesday (January 24).

Further word is that an Apple Store may move in.

That rumor has been around for years. Apple is notoriously secretive about their plans — for everything — so we won’t know for sure until it happens.

But if it does, plenty of excited Westporters will run right over.

The Nike store on Main Street.

Sam Rocks CES

Every January, CES — originally called the Consumer Electronics Show — draws 4,000 exhibitors to Las Vegas. Over 180,000 of the biggest names in technology and electronics — the industry’s movers and shakers — roll out new products, pitch ideas, schmooze and party.

Virtually none of them are high school sophomores.

Then again, few 10th graders are Sam Gold.

Posting as Sam Henri, he’s a content creator and social influencer. Sam’s more than 11,000 YouTube subscribers love his unique take on all things techs.

He’s high enough on the food chain that Google sent a web router. Other companies regularly offer new products to review.

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

Still, that hardly guaranteed him a spot in the very adult/professional world of CES.

But — with the help of his Staples video production teacher Justin Nadal — Sam snagged coveted press credentials.

At school, Sam has already earned a great reputation with his “Good Morning Staples” tech reports. He writes, edits and creates videos as easily as you or I flick a light switch. Here’s his preview of CES:

Last week, Sam headed west.

What goes on in Vegas usually stays there.

Except for CES. Here’s Sam’s first video, posted yesterday:

Today, Sam is back in Westport. He’s studying for midterms.

But it’s clear he’s going places.

And far beyond Nevada.

Andy Kaplan Chose Wisely

In 2006, Andy Kaplan was a successful executive. But — after volunteering as an after-school tutor, and seeing homeless kids — he wanted to find a non-profit organization where his financial management skills could make a difference.

DonorsChoose was perfect. Teachers post wish lists on its website. Users find a project that speaks to them, then donate part or all of the funds needed.

Teachers take photos of the finished project. Students write thank-you notes. It’s a win-win-win.

When Kaplan — a longtime Westporter — signed on as CFO, DonorsChoose had $3 million in annual revenues. Most projects were in New York City.

At the end of 2017 — when Kaplan retired — the yearly revenue was $130 million. Teachers in 70% of America’s schools have posted at least 1 project.

And, Kaplan reports proudly, DonorsChoose has channeled over $600 million directly into classrooms. Most of the money goes to things like art supplies, technology, books, musical instruments and field trips.

There’s no limit to the amount of need in America’s classrooms.

There are literally thousands of success stories. But two close to home are particularly close to Kaplan’s heart.

In one Bridgeport high school, every student got a calculator. But there was no money for batteries.

Donors provided those funds. It wasn’t a lot of money. And, says Kaplan, “it wasn’t colorful. But it was so important to those kids.”

Also in Bridgeport, an AP Physics teacher had no money for textbooks. Thanks to DonorsChoose, his students got them.

“I lived in Westport,” Kaplan says. “Less than 10 miles up the road, there are classrooms bereft of basic educational materials.”

Andy Kaplan (far left) at his retirement dinner, with his son’s Henry and Steven, his wife Meryl,, and Steven’s friend Kelly Zee.

DonorsChoose was Kaplan’s fulltime job. But he found time to mentor budding entrepreneurs through Janis Collins’ Refinery. And he worked with or helped put together groups to aid the Hole in the Wall Gang, Wakeman Town Farm, Westport Library, Positive Directions, Westport Historical Society and children with learning disabilities.

Those kinds of efforts — and folks who volunteer at the Gillespie Center, clean up the Saugatuck River and do many other things — inspire Kaplan.

He calls Westport “the gold standard for how smart, very busy people carve out time to help others. And find opportunities others don’t see, to help others.”

Kaplan loves hearing about Westporters doing amazing things. One person raised $15,000 in 24 hours for hurricane aid in Puerto Rico. After another disaster, someone else hired a truck to deliver supplies.

“You see that time and time again,” Kaplan says with awe.

Retirement from DonorsChoose included a move to Florida. But, Kaplan promises, he’s staying in touch with his longtime home town.

“It doesn’t matter if you donate $1,000, $100, $10 or $1, or if all you have to donate is time,” he says.

“You can make a difference. And you can see results.”

Just ask any of the thousands of teachers — or millions of students — whom DonorsChoose donors have chosen to help.

(DonorsChoose lists over 100 worthy projects in Fairfield County alone. Many are in Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford and Danbury. Click here to see them all.)

Lalie’s Lullabyes

Years ago, Saugatuck Congregational Church drew Lalie Madriguera in.

She loved co-pastor Marty McMane and Alan Johnson’s sermons. The community of worshipers embraced her.

And the choir was wonderful.

The Saugatuck Congregational Church choir.

That was important. Lalie (it’s pronounced “Lah-lee”) was a singer.

She discovered her talent years earlier. Living in New York — but unsure of what to do in life — she heard a little boy screaming in a grocery store.

Without thinking, Lalie sang “Pennies From Heaven.” Instantly, the child stopped.

His grateful mother invited her to sing at the boy’s 3rd birthday party. Then she invited Lalie to share her talent with others.

“If you can calm a special needs child,” the mother said, “every parent will love you.” So Lalie embarked on a singing career that featured many children’s shows. She called her performances “Flash! Bam! Alakazam!”

At last, Lalie has recorded some of those comforting songs. “LalieByes” — a play on the word “lullabies” — is her debut CD.

I should mention here that Lalie is 76 years old.

And a great-grandmother.

“LalieByes” is strictly a cappella. After all, Lalie notes, “when a mother sings to her child, there’s no piano, guitar or orchestra.”

The songs are from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. She hopes they will soothe not only infants and small children, but elders and those with special needs.

Some of the tunes– recorded at New York’s St. Michael’s Church — are from her children’s shows. But many are different.

“They have to be calming,” Lalie explains. So she sings “Summertime,” and one her own mother sang to her: “You Were Meant For Me.”

Lalie says she is “carrying on the great American songbook. I’m trying to pass on this music to the next generation.”

Lalie Madriguera

She knows her musical history. Lalie’s father Enrico was a Spanish-born violin prodigy whose orchestra performed at New York’s Biltmore and Waldorf Astoria hotels, and on WNYC. Her mother — vocalist Patricia Gilmore — hosted a weekly radio show on NBC. And Lalie’s aunt married guitarist Andres Segovia.

Lalie’s daughter, Linda Couturas, lives in Westport. She’s a Black Duck regular, performing with Cinderella Saturday or a big band.

Earlier this month, Lalie offered “LalieByes” to Saugatuck Church parishioners — where she sings in Heather Hamilton’s magnificent choir. You can buy the CD here.

Of course, Lalie notes, many people today don’t own CD players. So it’s available to download too: just click here.

We’re in an exciting new musical world. And — thanks to Lalie Madriguera — it’s a comforting old one too.

BONUS FUN FACTS: Lalie performs her original composition “Mother’s Song” every Earth Day at the Saugatuck Church. And — as in past years — she’ll sing with Chris Coogan’s trio at the Seabury Center this Sunday, as part of Westport’s First Night.

Ryan Felner: Entrepreneur, Drone Pilot, Crain’s Hero

Last spring, “06880” chronicled Ryan Felner’s wild ride.

A few months earlier, the Staples High School sophomore bought a drone. He registered it, followed Federal Aviation Authority rules, and began taking beautiful photos. He added gorgeous videos, then built a burgeoning business providing real estate brokers with drone shots.

Owenoke Park, from Ryan Felner’s drone.

But he ran afoul of a new FAA regulation. Ryan lacked Remote Pilot Certification — and faced hefty fines.

Petrified, he feared for his finances, his reputation, his college chances and more.

With the help of his parents, he responded to the FAA. He passed the test. Federal regulators were pleased. In April — before giving a talk at the Maker Faire chronicling his adventures in dronedom — he received his certificate. It was presented personally, by an FAA aviation safety inspector.

Ryan Felner

Today, Ryan is flying higher than ever.

Particularly because he was just named a Crain’s New York “20 Under 20” star. He’s one of 20 young people — all under 20 years old — doing great things.

“Balancing homework and family obligations with business meetings, financial management and travel,” Crain’s says, they’re rising stars in the New York business world.

So what’s next for Ryan Felner?

His newest enterprise is more down to earth than drone photography — but only in its location.

He’s launching a sports training service linking high school athletes with parents seeking role models for their kids. SporTutors handles the transaction, for a small percentage of the $30-per-hour fee.

“It’s highly scalable,” Ryan tells Crain’s. And he’s already working with an app developer to expand the Westport pilot program into a nationwide network.

Ryan Felner (Photo/ Buck Ennis for Crain’s New York)

Chris Lau’s 1,000th 3-D Print

Tons of people have tried out the Westport Library’s 3-D printer.

Some have made several prints. A few have gotten into the hundreds.

Last night, Chris Lau reached 1,000.

Staff members hosted a small celebration in the MakerSpace. The library’s Transformation Project has forced its relocation to the upper level balcony, from the Great Hall. But that did not stop Chris.

For a year, he’s printed small pieces on the MakerBot. His 1,000th piece was a bright green sneaker.

Alex Giannini — the library’s manager of experiential learning — encourages everyone to try to chase Chris’ record. To schedule a training session, email

Chris Lau at work on the Westport Library’s 3-D printer.


Give Students A Break!

As they sit down for holiday dinners on Thursday, Staples High School students have much to be thankful for. Loving families, good friends, caring teachers, a wonderful community — those things don’t change.

But this year, they’ll give thanks for something else: No homework.

Principal James D ‘Amico sent this email last week:

I want to take the opportunity to remind everyone that this upcoming Thanksgiving break is a homework-free break.

As a school community we want our school breaks to truly be a break from school to the greatest extent possible. We value school breaks as an opportunity for our students, staff, and families to rejuvenate, spend time with friends and family, and generally find the time for much-needed rest.

School breaks are also a good time for those who may have fallen behind on their work to catch up, without more new assignments piling up.

Through our Collaborative Team of representative teachers, administrators, students, and parents, we developed the following simple definition of homework-free breaks:

  • No homework should be assigned over these breaks
  • Long-term project due dates, as well as tests, may not be scheduled for the first 2 days of school following one of these breaks.​

The December, February and April breaks will also be homework-free.

Additionally, we encourage everyone to take a technology break over Thanksgiving, and disconnect our devices and engage with each other.

On behalf of everyone at Staples High School I wish you and your families a happy, healthy, and restful Thanksgiving next week.

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.


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 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)