Category Archives: technology

Penelope And Olivia: 4th Grade National Inventors

Alert “06880” reader Nico Eisenberger hesitated to write. 

“There are plenty of kids’ achievements to celebrate here in Westport in our highly competitive, educated, and uber-connected town (many of them much, much more noteworthy, some of them maybe a bit too competitive at times),” he said. 

Yet, he added:

I’ve just returned from the National Invention Convention & Entrepreneurs’ Exposition at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan with my daughter Penelope. She is 10, and attends Greens Farms Elementary School.

She and Olivia Cohn were selected as national finalists in this international competition for inventors.

They both walked away with medals. Olivia took first for all 4th graders, and also received the “I See Her Invent” award from CA Technologies for her “Happy Ride” solution for rear seat car sickness.

Penelope took first in the “Invent Her Future Award” from the Society of Women Engineers for her “Retainer Container,” a tabletop retainer case disguised as an ordinary drinking glass coaster.

That means our Westport 4th graders were 2 of only 50 kids to receive national awards out of 108,000 inventor participants, representing 7 countries.

Penelope Eisenberger and Olivia Cohn, proudly wear their medals.

But that’s not what I am writing about.

Of the many wonderful things that came out of this experience, what stands out the most is the amount of support we all experienced from folks in Westport and neighboring towns.

Penelope’s retainer container, 3D-printed by Ethan Klein.

Beyond the countless teachers, fellow students, family members, local crafts people, shopkeepers and neighbors who helped both Olivia and Penelope develop and refine their invention (for no money in almost every instance), we also had some heartwarming competitor-to-competitor collaboration as well.

Penelope’s invention was significantly impacted by meeting Fairfield 9th grader, 3D printing expert and budding entrepreneur Ethan Klein at Westport’s Maker’s Fair this spring.

He showed her how to print her Retainer Container. Together they refined its shape and design.

He was so infected by her excitement about the invention process that he decided to compete in the contest himself. He too was selected as a national finalist, and won 2 prestigious awards.

Ethan Klein and Penelope Eisenberger

We also met a mother and daughter (Olivia Taylor) from Easton, who presented in the booth next to us. When we discovered 5 minutes before judging began that her presentation materials were missing key required information, they pulled out glue, cardboard and paper, and fixed her up a solution right there.

In addition, Neil Cohn and his family helped show us the way to secure a patent for Penelope’s invention.  We helped each other get to the national convention. There the girls were inseparable companions, as they navigated their way with 450 other smart and creative finalists of all shapes, sizes and ages.

This is all little stuff — one might even say stuff that should be ordinary human, neighborly decency. And it should.

But it stood out, at least for me, in our time of increasing atomization of communities, addiction to devices, political division, and get-ahead-at-all-cost-ism, that it was folks from Westport and neighboring towns who stood up when the need arose, and made this experience so special.

Won’t Get Fooled Again

With all the scams around — I posted a story yesterday about one Westporter’s experience, and another a few weeks ago — it would be great if someone could write a guide to the most common ones.

Wait! Someone already did!

And not just “someone” — but Westport’s own David Pogue.

His piece was published by Yahoo in 2015. Sadly, many of the scams are still around — and still working.

Click here for the full story.

PS: Despite a few heated comments yesterday — by people who resented being asked to give $1 to help the victim of an email hacking scan — “06880” readers responded generously.

As of 9 this morning, they’d donated over $3,000 toward the $6,200 goal.

 

Scammed! (Part II)

Several weeks ago, I posted the story of a Westport woman who nearly fell victim to a phone scam.

Today’s story — about an online version — does not have as happy an ending.

Yet.

The saga began when Marleen Salko — a Westport resident for 47 years — met with her landscaper. She told him she was leaving the next day on vacation. She did not say where. Then she headed out on errands. She said she was going to the bank.

On her first day in Arizona — visiting a friend, before heading to Denver to see her daughter — Marleen’s cell phone began vibrating, with calls and texts.

Dozens of friends told her: Your email was hacked. Change your password.

She tried, but could not. She couldn’t even get into her email, to warn her contacts not to pay attention to the message she had supposedly sent.

One of the calls was from her landscaper. He did not leave a message. Marleen assumed he was calling about her lawn. She had so many calls and texts, she replied only to those who left messages, or seemed concerned.

Finally — the next day — an AT&T tech guy helped her change her AOL password.

Eight days later — finally back in Westport — she emailed her landscaper. He replied: “Are you OK?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You were stuck in Manila,” he said.

She listened in horror, as the story came out. The landscaper had received one of her hacked emails. With limited English, he did not realize this stilted language was a scam:

Hope this note finds all well with you, please i really need your urgent help. presently i’m out of the country to Manila, Philippines for a short vacation and unfortunately i’m having a serious network difficulties with my bank. unable to transfer out here and can’t even access the ATM as planned. have been so stranded and confused. I’m thinking if I could get a quick loan of $2,100.00 from you or anything you can afford if not all? to enable me to complete my activities here. I promise to refund your money in few days as soon as I return, let me know if i can count on you so I can send you my details.

The landscaper knew she was on vacation. She’d told him she was going to the bank.

He had been married a few months earlier. He told his wife the story. And, he said, “A while back someone helped me out. It touched my heart.”

She advised, “Do you whatever you feel you should do.”

So he gathered his cash. In the midst of his busiest season, he left his workers. He headed to Western Union, at Stop & Shop, to wire Marleen the money.

But the scammers were not through. Using a host of excuses — exchange rates, settling the hotel bill, buying a plane ticket — they convinced the landscaper to send money 6 different times.

In all, he wired $6,248.25 to the Philippines.

“He’s very embarrassed,” Marleen says. “He thought because the email wasn’t in his spam filter, it was okay.”

She is aghast at what happened. “He works so hard. He built a business, and employs several people. He loves our plants, and our garden.”

So Marleen has come up with an idea to help. She’s created a GoFundMe campaign. But she’s not asking for a lot.

“If just over 6,000 people contribute a dollar each, we can pay him back,” she says.

It’s a great idea. There are 2 ways to help.

  • Click here to contribute.
  • Forward this story to as many people as you can, on all your social media outlets.

I’ll let you know when the $6,000 goal is reached.

BMS Science Olympians Strike Gold

When I hear “science competition,” I think of nerdy kids next to poster boards, explaining styrofoam experiments to nerdy judges.

When Bedford Middle School students hear it, they think of Science Olympiad. Which is pretty similar to the actual Olympic Games.

Instead of swimming, boxing, biathlon (and curling!) though, there are events like anatomy and physiology, hovercraft and towers.

Body tape and energy bars are replaced by duct tape and battery chargers.

But — just like the Summer and Winter Games — events are timed. Adrenaline runs high. There are big prizes for the winners.

Last month, BMS placed 1st and 3rd at the state competition in Farmington. The gold winners now represent Connecticut at the 34th annual Science Olympiad national tournament. It’s May 18-19, at Colorado State University.

Hail to the champions: Bedford Middle School’s Science Olympiad stars.

That’s no small achievement. 15,000 schools participate across the country. Teams of up to 15 students compete in 23 events, covering science, technology, engineering and math.

Some require constructing a project ahead of time. Others involve on-the-spot skill-solving. Like athletes, “SciOly” teams train for hours each week.

Fortunately, Bedford is led by a coach who is John Wooden, Geno Auriemma and Pep Guardiola rolled into one.

During the day, Art Ellis — the first student at Princeton University to seek a combination degree in engineering and public school education — teaches design and engineering.

Teacher/coach Art Ellis in action.

After school, his classroom transforms into the Science Olympiad workshop. Middle schoolers build, study, perform lab trials, make mistakes and hone their performances.

After a dinner break, he opens the room again. Students focus on different events.

On weekends he’s either at BMS, or in Glastonbury coaching his flyers for the SciOly “Wright Stuff” event.

Many of this year’s Olympians worked during school breaks — including last summer vacation. They’ve been inspired by Mr. Ellis, who teaches them exactly how competitions work.

Once the students understand how good their opponents are — and they’re very, very good — they’re hooked on beating them.

But there’s no trash talk or foul play. Bedford wins with grace. They congratulated the runners-up profusely. After all, Mr. Ellis reminded them, if the other team wasn’t their rivals, they’d likely be their good friends.

After winning a gold medal, two Bedford Middle School Science Olympians show their joy.

Mr. Ellis also coaches the Staples High School Science Olympiad team. Formed last year, they’ve already snagged a pair of 3rd-place finishes. Coleytown Middle School competed at the state meet this year too, and earned an individual medal.

There’s only one thing Mr. Ellis can’t do: create money out of thin air. The cost of sending 25 students and 5 advisers to Colorado is $35,000. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to Bedford Middle School, 88 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880 (put “Science Olympiad” in the memo line).

Congratulations to BMS Science Olympians Jackson Benner, Julia Berg, Tavan Bhatia, Aalok Bhattacharya, Kristina Chaney, Rhea Choudhury, Joshua Deitch, Tatiana Dragun, Hannah Even, Amy Ginzburg, Tanvi Gorre, Sharmila Green, Anja Gubitz, Finnbar Kiely, Lucy Livingstone, Emma Losonczy, Annabelle Luo, Colin Morgeson, Alexander Pirkl, Jeffrey Pogue, Ishan Prasad, Naomi Rosen, Zachary Rybchin, Samira Saad, Kaitlyn Seo, Tegh Singh, Clara Smith, Mallika Subramanian, Maxwell Tanksley, Whitman Teplica and Jy Xu, plus Mr. Elllis’ fellow coaches Kathryn Nicholas and Dr. Daniel Cortright.

Good luck going for another gold. And have fun along the way!

(Hat tip: Danielle Teplica)

Jack And Neal: They Got (Every) Game

It’s not easy being a high school athlete. Or fan.

You’ve got the ups and downs of wins and losses (and injuries). There’s the pressure of school, extracurriculars, family and social life.

And — thanks to weather, facilities and a thousand other factors — the game schedule constantly changes.

Jack Sharkey and Neal Soni can’t do anything about Xs, Os, concussions, sprains, rain or snow.

They can, however, make following your favorite team a snap.

And they have. With an app.

Jack Sharkey (left) and Neal Soni show off their CT Sports app.

The Staples High School seniors spent 2 months creating CT Sports. An outgrowth of their Building Web Applications class with teacher Dave Scrofani, it’s simple, clear, and tremendously useful.

Users select any of Connecticut’s 183 high schools, and any of the 27 sports administered by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

Fan of Staples sports? Here’s when and where all the spring teams play!

Instantly, you see the schedule, opponent, location, bus time and level (varsity, JV, freshman). The information is up-to-date: As soon as a change is made to the CIAC website, it appears on CT Sports.

You can add events to your personal calendar — along with reminders.

All information is pulled directly from the CIAC site. So why use this one?

“Our interface is much cleaner,” says Neal. “For theirs, you have to choose each parameter separately, each time. On ours you can save features. And it’s much easier to switch schools.”

Visually, it’s appealing too. Neal and Jack added each school’s colors to the site — tedious, but a welcome feature. (They considered using logos. But if they sell ads later, there may be copyright issues. These guys think ahead.)

The potential user base is enormous. But Jack and Neal had no sure way to reach them.

The CIAC helped. They emailed every athletic director in the state, encouraging them to send information about CT Sports to all students, parents, teachers and coaches.

Feedback was immediate — and very positive — Jack says.

A small Google ad at the bottom brings in a few dollars. But the app was not designed as a moneymaker. Neal and Jack hope to use it to build name recognition, for future endeavors.

They’ll create more apps, juggling all their other activities. Jack is president of both the Unified Sports Club and Kool To Be Kind, and is a Top Hat Tutor. Neal is president of Top Hat, and a national taekwando competitor.

Unfortunately, martial arts is not a CIAC sport. But if it becomes one, Neal and Jack will make sure you never miss a meet.

(To download the app, search for “CT Sports: HS Sports Schedules.” Right now, it is available only for iOS devices.)

Two more app functions: Choose one specific sport, or select from every high school in Connecticut.

Unsung Hero #44

When the 7th annual Maker Faire takes over Westport this Saturday (April 21), there will be something for everyone.

A record 12,000+ attendees — tech lovers, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science geeks, artists, authors, students and exhibitors — will share what they’ve made, see what others have created, teach, learn, be inspired, and inspire others.

And have tons of fun.

It’s a massive undertaking. Planning began the moment last year’s Maker Faire — which drew “only” 10,500 people — ended.

Hundreds of volunteers make it happen. But none of it would be possible without Mark Mathias.

Mark Mathias

Westport’s event– part of a worldwide movement (and of all 772 Maker Faires in 44 countries, among the top 5% in attendance) — was his brainchild.

In September 2011, his kids were fascinated by the New York Maker Faire.

Seven months later — thanks to Mathias’ work with the Westport Library, Sunrise Rotary and Downtown Merchants Association — we had our own “Mini Maker Faire.”

The “mini” is long gone. Now — with activities spread across the Library, Jesup Green, Taylor parking lot, Bedford Square, Town Hall and Veterans Green — it’s as maxi as it gets.

But the Maker Faire is not Mathias’ only local contribution. He’s in his 15th year on the Board of Education; is an active member of Saugatuck Congregational Church (with a particular interest in their mission trips), and when his daughter Nicole was at Staples High School, he was an avid supporter of the music department.

Mathias — whose professional background is in IT — is president of Remarkable Steam. The non-profit promotes innovation and creativity in the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

This is Mark Mathias’ busiest time of year. Hopefully, he’ll take a few moments out of his hectic day to accept our thanks, as this week’s Unsung Hero.

Robots galore at last year’s Maker Faire.

(For more information on Westport’s Maker Faire, click here. To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Maker Faire: Facts And Figures

This Saturday’s Maker Faire promises to be the biggest yet.

It’s also one of the biggest in the world. Last year, Westport drew 10,500 attendees. That made the top 5% of all 772 Maker Faires on the planet.

This year’s attendance could break 12,000.

A few other facts:

  • The physical footprint has tripled. Events and attractions are scheduled for the Westport Library, Jesup Green, Taylor parking lot, Bedford Square, Town Hall and Veterans Green.
  • There are nearly 200 “makers” — double the previous number.
  • 6 stages — up from only 1 in the past — will showcase talented people and organizations in the arts, sciences, music and politics.

Large attractions include:

  • Truckers Alley: a collection of large vehicles with large ideas
  • Tiny Homes Hamlet: a collection of tiny homes
  • Tiny Farmers’ Market: a taste of upcoming farmers’ markets
  • Medieval Village and Tavern: entertainment and local brews
  • PlasmaBot: the world’s largest glass and plasma marionette
  • Aviation: a half-sized model of Gustave Whitehead’s plane, plus drones and a panel
  • Air Rocket Challenge: build cardboard rockets — and launch them
  • CTNext Entrepreneurial Innovation Awards: for emerging businesses
  • Game of Drones: an exhibition of drone skills in tight spaces
  • Nerdy Derby: build, decorate and race cars
  • Musicians: an orchestra, steel band, and Israeli music
  • Artists: working in textiles, paint, recycled materials, even bones.

There’s much, much, much more, too. For details, click here.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Egg-citing News For Hard-Boiled Cooks

It’s almost Easter. Time to buy the chocolate, bake the ham, boil the eggs.

Bonnie Tyler and Sheila Torgan can’t help with the first 2 tasks. But if making easy-to-peel eggs makes your blood boil, they hop to your rescue.

The women are the brains behind the Negg. It’s “the world’s greatest egg peeler.”

That’s not me or an infomercial talking. The Negg has been praised by the New York Times and the “Today Show” — along with egg-makers everywhere.

And it was hatched right here in Westport.

Sheila Torgan and Bonnie Tyler.

Bonnie and Sheila are longtime business partners. Past projects include web design.

That’s cool. But solving one of life’s most difficult puzzles — how to make an easy-to-peel egg — can be life-changing.

The women had a great idea: Put an egg in a peeler with water, then shake it so the peel comes off. Easy as pie.

But they had to create a model. Peeling an egg is hardly high-tech. Still, Bonnie and Sheila needed a technological tool.

They found it at the Westport Library.

The Maker Space — with its computers and 3D printer — is the perfect place to turn concepts into reality.

The Negg!

Library manager of experiential learning Alex Giannini guided the women through many prototypes. Finally, they found one that worked.

From there they produced a patent-pending mold.

Since then, they’ve sold over a quarter of a million Neggs. They’re available through Amazon, HSN, Wayfair, other outlets — and of course on their website.

Sheila and Bonnie may be the hard-boiled egg queens of the world. But they haven’t forgotten their roots.

They’ve given back to the Westport Library by speaking on a crowd-sourcing panel. They hoped to inspire other entrepreneurs to fulfill their dream.

All you need is an idea.

Though a Westport Library 3D printer certainly helps.

(For more information on the Negg, click here. Hat tips: Betsy Pollak and Deirdre Foote.)

[OPINION] Optimum: Not Optimal

Alert — and frustrated — “06880” reader Luisa Francoeur writes:

In the continuing storm saga, I wonder how many people have experienced problems with Optimum/Cablevision.

Over the years I have been quite pleased with their customer service. The online, chat and even telephone assistance  has been prompt, friendly and successful.

However, now that we have cable lines down on our street, it is another story.

If you call, the online menu is designed to funnel you into a robotic answer. Unless you know to stonewall and continue saying “representative,” there is no option to speak with a person. And the system they have does not acknowledge that any problems can occur outside with their lines.

Once I got into the queue, it was so long that they offered a callback. But when I called back, they asked me again to indicate by the keypad whether I was on the line, whether I needed to actually speak to a person, or if I wanted to cancel the call.

I pressed the number request — but it didn’t work. So I waited until the end of all those options — and it still did not work.

Finally they told me I had used up all the time they allow for an answer. Just like that, they ended the call.

Net result: no customer service at all.

“06880” has heard from other Optimum customers that when their cable went out, they could not contact any actual human being (though their call was “very important” to the company). Some customers may still not have service. If you’ve had a recent experience with Cablevision — positive or negative — click “Comments” below.

Moments after sending me the story above, an Optimum repair truck appeared on Luisa Francoeur’s road. That’s the good news. The bad news is, they were there to fix her neighbor’s cable problem — not her own.

Maker Faire Makes Top 5%

There are Maker Faires all over the world.

New York has one. Rome, Paris, Beijing. Hong Kong too.

Westport’s got a Maker Faire — and a damn good one.

But what we also share with those much bigger cities is that all of them are in the top 5 percent of attendance globally.

That’s right. Of the 772 Maker Faires in 44 countries, only 37 had more than 10,000 attendees.

Our “little” event on Jesup Green drew 10,500.

In addition to 10,500 attendees, last year’s Maker Faire drew plenty of robots.

That should give organizers a smile. And it may push you to apply to be part of this year’s Maker Faire. It’s Saturday, April 21.

The deadline is this Thursday (March 15). They’re looking for the usual: “artists, musicians, engineers, craftsmen, entrepreneurs, students, teachers, businesspeople, comedians, and creative people of all ages and backgrounds to inspire attendees with what we as humans can do.” Click here for more information.

And if you’re not creative, but have a company that wants to sponsor this very popular (top 5%!) event, contact Mark Mathias (mark@remarkablesteam.org, 203-226-1791).