Category Archives: technology

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)


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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.

The Briggs Cunningham Watch

More than once, “06880” has honored Briggs Cunningham.

The polymathic Westporter skippered Columbia to the America’s Cup title in 1958. He invented “the Cunningham,” a device to increase the speed of racing sailboats. He competed in the 24 hour auto race at LeMans, developed and built the Chrysler C-4R racing car, owned the 1st Ferrari in America, and made the cover of Time magazine.

Briggs Cunningham II, on the cover of Time.

Briggs Cunningham, on the cover of Time.

He also married Lucy Bedford, daughter of Standard Oil heir F.T. Bedford — not a bad career move. (Cunningham’s father, Briggs Sr., was an early investor in the company that became Procter and Gamble. So the son did not exactly pull  himself out of poverty.)

But “06880” has never mentioned Cunningham’s watches.

According to a long story in Hodinkee — a website devoted to all you’d ever want to know about luxury watches — the Westporter was an American hero.

“His name means little to those outside the highest echelons of motorsport and aquatic racing,” Benjamin Clymer writes.

“But to those in the know, Briggs Cunningham and his collection of bespoke wristwatches are downright legendary.”

Cunningham’s place in horology (the art of making clocks and watches — yeah, I looked it up) is secured by his ownership of 3 Patek Philippe watches.

Briggs Cunningham's least expensive watch.

Briggs Cunningham’s least expensive watch.

All are stainless steel. (He chose that design over gold because he was a “highly active, top-tier athlete.”)

Two are unique commissions designed especially for him.

The other — created in 1949 — is still in mint condition. It sold last year for about $100,000.

The 1463 chronograph.

The 1463 chronograph.

That’s chump change compared to Cunningham’s 1463 chronograph. Made unique by its black dial with luminous markers and hands, it has achieved “mythical status since first appearing on the market,” Clymer writes.

Cunningham wore it in a photo with driver Phil Hill. They’re examining the Westporter’s Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing — the 1st one ever delivered commercially.

That combination of watch and automobile “has long made him an icon to me,” says Clymer.

That watch is on the market now. It can be yours for $1.5 million.

Briggs Cunningham, his watch, race car driver Phil Hill, and the 1st Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing ever.

Briggs Cunningham, his watch, race car driver Phil Hill, and the 1st Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing ever.

But even that is a drugstore Timex compared to Cunningham’s 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

“It is just one of just two perpetual calendars to be made in steel, and the Arabic markers are covered in black lacquer. How incredible is that?” Clymer asks.

The 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

The 1526 perpetual calendar watch.

Apparently, quite incredible. One of the most beautiful watches ever made by Patek Philippe, it sold for $3,956,159 in 2008.

The buyer: Patek Philippe itself.

I can’t imagine I’ll ever write another “06880” post about watches.

But something tells me I’ll keep discovering interesting tidbits about Briggs Cunningham, for years to come.

(Hat tip: Peter Tulupman)


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Saugatuck Digital Arts Workshop Opens Soon — In Fairfield

As a child of the 1960s and ’70s, Mike Stuttman knew Westport when it was filled with creative artist-types, and was a marketing mecca too.

He followed both paths. After Staples High School and the Cambridge School, Stuttman headed to the Rochester Institute of Technology for photography. “I loved it, but I couldn’t make ideas appear,” he says. Along the way, he was exposed to animation. So when he transferred to the University of Colorado, he majored in…

…math.

(Coleytown Junior High School teacher Otilia Malinowski had sparked that interest, years earlier.)

Mike Stuttman

Mike Stuttman

Stuttman embarked on a long career in direct marketing. He worked in New York and, locally, for the Ryan Partnership and Barry Blau. For the past 10 years, he’s consulted.

But around 2008 — when the recession hit — his phone stopped ringing. Stuttman — who’d never lost his passion for animation and computers — had an epiphany: Photoshop was just like cel animation.

He taught himself the software. Then in 2010, on a whim, he applied to New York’s School of Visual Arts, for an MFA in computer art.

It was a wonderful experience. Stuttman — newly energized — particularly enjoyed his technical classes, using software like After Effects. “I learned the craft of making digital art,” he says.

Next came a vision: replicating a space like SVA, to offer digital art classes locally. He could fill it with talented instructors, and students who want to make art with animation.

Westport — where his politically active mother Dora had run the Top Drawer store, and his father Burt owned a direct marketing firm — was the perfect spot. Stuttman — who loved the river — even had the perfect name: Saugatuck Digital Arts Workshop.

Saugatuck Digital Arts Workshop

He searched everywhere for the perfect location. He could not find one.

Finally, space became available in the old Fairfield Department Store building. It was within walking distance of the train station (he thought most instructors would commute from the city). There were great restaurants nearby.

“I’ve become that guy: a Westporter who’s a Fairfield convert,” Stuttman says.

He’ll offer software classes in computer art basics, digital darkroom, digital storytelling, digital sound for artists, computer sound, animation, editing and post-production, motion graphics, graphic design and small business marketing.

Classes typically run once a week for 2 hours, over the course of 6 weeks.

His potential audience includes “self-identified artists, and aspiring and working creative professionals” is vast: photographers, film and video makers, painters, graphic designers, musicians, sound designers, animators, editors, compositors, VFX artists, podcasters, DJs, makers and coders — and “the curious and creative.”

Students will use 8 “sexy, great and fully loaded 27” iMac workstations.

As it turns out, Stuttman has found a great pool of instructors right around here. They won’t need the train.

“And they’re excellent teachers — not just accomplished professionals,” Stuttman notes.

So when he opens right after Labor Day, why will Stuttman’s Fairfield space be called Saugatuck Digital Arts Workshop?

“I love rivers. The Saugatuck is not only in Westport, you know. I would have loved a red-brick, individual space. But it’s tough to find an inexpensive, small place in Westport.”

Besides, he’s not the only Fairfield business with a Westport name.

Saugatuck Sweets is around the corner.

(To learn more about Saugatuck Digital Arts Workshop, 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!

James O’Brien Farms Garden Technologies

The next time you see a kid hunched over a smartphone screen, oblivious to the world, don’t assume he or she is idly Snapchatting, sexting or searching for Pokemon.

If the teenager is James O’Brien, he might be listening to a TED Talk.

And learning how to reimagine agriculture.

Not long ago James — a rising Staples High School senior, Oprhenians singer and Staples Players stage star — stumbled on a TED Talk about African farmers. Caleb Harper — director of MIT Labs’ Open Agriculture Initiative — talked about changing the world food system by connecting growers with technology. His goal is to grow delicious, nutrient-dense food, indoors anywhere in the world.

James learned that a shipping container-sized computerized device can help preserve agricultural knowledge, and maximize the effects of air and water on crops and plants.

He was especially intrigued to discover that a smaller device is available, for anyone to build and learn from.

James knew nothing about farming. He has not taken Environmental Studies at Staples.

But he downloaded the designs. When school was out in June, he went to work.

James now grows lettuce — in a tiny bit of water, not soil. Software monitors every aspect of growth. Every time he looks in his box, James learns about chemistry, physics and circuitry. (He now knows, for example, that lettuce grows best with 16 hours of light, followed by 2 hours of darkness. The device controls those hours.)

James O'Brien, with his home-built lettuce box.

James O’Brien, with his home-built device. Inside, he grows lettuce.

Inspired by his lettuce — it grows much more quickly in water than in soil — he’s passing his knowledge on.

He’s shown his device to students at Mike Aitkenhead’s Wakeman Town Farm summer camp, talking with them about the importance of sustainability.

James O'Brien, talking to Wakeman Town Farm campers. Director Mike Aitkenhead is on the table at left.

James O’Brien, talking to Wakeman Town Farm campers. Director Mike Aitkenhead is on the table at left.

James has also started Workshop Garden Technologies. His goal is to use the Open Agriculture Initiative’s Food Computer platform to educate and inspire coming generations.

“I want to create a space for kids to tinker and experiment like I did,” he says.

Meanwhile, his lettuce thrives.

Next up: strawberries, beans or tomatoes.

“There are lots of possibilities,” says Westport’s newest — and most innovative — farmer.

(For more information on James O’Brien’s Workshop Garden Technologies, click here or email workshopgarden@gmail.com)

James O'Brien - logo


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!

U Drive. U Text. U Pay.

Look around.* It’s easy to see drivers everywhere in Westport using their cell phones. Texting. Probably looking for Pokemon too.

It’s easy to think there’s no enforcement whatsoever of Connecticut’s no-cell-phone law.

That’s not true. I get the police reports. I know that every week, our cops hand out a dozen or so tickets for illegal cell phone use.

Now through August 16, they’re handing out a lot more.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

Texting is so much more interesting than paying attention to the road.

The Westport Police is joining the state Department of Transportation’s “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” initiative.

For the 2nd year in a row, law enforcement agencies are adding special patrols to catch distracted drivers — especially those on their phones.

The last operation resulted in over 12,000 tickets throughout Connecticut.

At $150 for a 1st offense, $300 for a second and $500 for each violation after that, that’s a lot of money.

And — hopefully — a lot of lives saved.

(For more information on distracted driving, click here.)

*But pay attention to the road!


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!

Droning Over Compo

David Pogue lost his drone.

Brandon Malin still has his. The other day, he took it to Compo Beach.

His photos  — 2 long-range views of Westport’s iconic shore — are spectacular. So is his tighter shot of South Beach.

This weekend will be hot — mid-90s — and clear. It’s perfect beach weather.

Whether you’re headed to Compo or wish you lived close enough to Westport to go, enjoy Brandon’s photos.

Compo Beach drone 2 - July 2016 - Brandon Malin

Compo Beach drone - July 2016 - Brandon Malin

Click on or hover over photos to enlarge.

Click on or hover over photos to enlarge.

Fun fact: Brandon is a rising 8th grader at Coleytown Middle School. “06880” will joyfully run his drone shots for years to come.

 

Joe DeJesus Revolutionizes America’s Workforce

It’s a side of life Westporters seldom see, but contractors and laborers here know well: pick-up points in places like Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford, where builders and workers connect every morning.

Bosses are never sure what type of workers they’ll get. Workers are never sure if they’ll be paid what they’ve been promised. It’s a risky, inefficient dance.

A new app may revolutionize the entire process — all over the world. And it was born right here in Westport.

Joe DeJesus is a 1981 Staples High School graduate. A builder himself, he’d long been frustrated by the process of finding skilled, reliable carpenters, electricians and others to work on his projects.

Dayworks logoA couple of years ago he used Uber for the first time. He realized the on-demand idea could work for laborers too.

He pitched the idea to Andre Haroche, a friend who had brought Liberty Travel into the digital age. He signed on as co-founder.

For $1,000, coders in India created a prototype. Convinced they had something, DeJesus and Haroche plowed ahead.

Dayworks launched locally, in the Port Chester-Danbury-New Haven area.

The idea is simple. After downloading the app, workers list themselves for free. They note their specialties (plumbing, HVAC, masonry, painting, tile setting, wood flooring, etc.); the languages they speak; the minimum number of hours they’ll work: their rate. and how they want to be paid (cash only or check); whether they have a ride or need one, and if they have a license and/or insurance.

Workers can post photos of themselves too. Coming soon: video.

Bosses — both builders and individuals with home-improvement projects — can search for workers by skill. Clicking one button completes the hire.

Builders and laborers connect through Dayworks.

Builders and laborers connect through Dayworks.

A boss can also post an entire project, including conditions like start and end date, maximum hourly rate, and whether English is required. Workers can respond immediately.

Bosses rate workers. And workers rate bosses.

Dayworks makes money by charging bosses $3.99 a month, or $1 per hire. (The 1st 5 hires are free.)

It’s a win-win situation, DeJesus says. For one thing, it takes the uncertainty out of the pickup-site process, which is both time-consuming and uncertain.

For another, it offers a transparent way of offering — and seeking — pay. Rates are often standard at pick-up sites. With Dayworks, bosses can offer a bit more to clearly qualified workers. Workers — who sometimes miss out on jobs because they’re pressured by peers to not ask for less than the prevailing rate — can increase their chances of being hired by pricing themselves accordingly.

It’s also a boon to workers like electrician Andrei Petrov, who explains:

Since its launch, Dayworks has spread across the globe. Bosses and workers are connecting everywhere in the US, and as far away as Australia. (Locally — and personally — DeJesus has hired excellent people through his own site.)

Much of the growth has been by word of mouth, and YouTube videos (created by Westport’s own Bobby Hudson).

Flyers — in English and Spanish — are also handed out at job sites.

But Dayworks is not just for builders and tradesmen. Other categories include house cleaners, automotive (mechanics, detailers, etc.), boating, restaurants (dishwashers, barbacks, busboys) and catering, tech repair, even personal trainers.

Joe DeJesus got the idea for Dayworks from Uber. Soon — like the revolutionary car service — his labor finding-and-sharing app may be everywhere.

And maybe — like Uber — it will even be a verb.

(Dayworks is available free; click here for Apple and Android devices. Click here for the website.)