Category Archives: technology

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.)

 

[UPDATE: MYSTERY SOLVED!] APB For AED

I goofed!

This just in from Mark and MaryGrace Gudis:

Please do not worry; the “missing” AED has not been used or stolen. It has yet to be installed, as we are awaiting activation of the security features.

This particular AED is one of the 100 that the Gudis Family and Norwalk Hospital donated to the towns of Westport, Weston, Wilton, New Canaan and Norwalk as part of their recent AED and CPR awareness initiative implemented after the incident last October. Iff you look closely, the picture has the Norwalk Hospital-WCHN logo on the case and a number to call if there is an issue. A vast majority of the others around Westport have been installed, including 3 at Compo Beach. So do not fear: The AED will be installed within the next few days, and will be available to save lives. (It is also bilingual.)

The AEDs purchased from the fundraising efforts of the Greenlee Foundation are in the schools and on the Board of Education fields.

The others donated by our 5-Town  initiative are in locations around town, where the selectman’s office, Westport EMS and Parks and Recreation felt would provide excellent benefits.

We are looking to expand this initiative around the state, given the response we have had by all of the towns and our local politicians. In addition, we continue to work with the Board of Ed in each of the 5 towns to implement mandatory CPR certification and training to high school students as part of the PE and health curriculum, at no charge to the school budget.

All of this is very exciting for us. We appreciate being able to give back, and hopefully save lives.

——————-

When a Staples High School senior suffered cardiac arrest on the soccer field last fall — and was saved by the quick use of a portable defibrillator — alarms were raised.

And they were not just the beeping of the device — also known as an AED.

The Adam Greenlee Foundation — named for a Bedford Middle School student who was also saved by an AED — swung into action. They raised over $85,000, purchased 75 AEDs, and gave them to schools and organizations around town.

You now see them nearly everywhere, from Wakeman Field to Compo Beach.

Many others — donated by the Gudis Family Foundation and Norwalk Hospital (see above in red) — are placed around town, from Wakeman Field to Compo Beach.

Another place was is Winslow Park.

Earlier today, alert “06880” reader/Staples soccer player/dog walker Daniel Brill noticed that the dog park AED is missing from its case.

AED at Winslow Park

One of 2 things happened.

The AED might have had to be used. While unfortunate, that’s what it’s there for. However, we probably would have heard about it.

Or someone stole it.

If that’s the case, just put it back — no questions asked.

And if you really want one of your own, just ask. I’m sure the Greenlee Foundation — and many others in town — would be happy to help.

David Pogue Loses It

David Pogue leads a wonderful life. The Westport-based tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American), TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) and author (“Missing Manual” series, “Pogue’s Basics”) has won 3 Emmy awards, 2 Webbys and a Loeb for journalism.

But even Pogue’s life doesn’t always go according to plan. The other day — well, let him describe it for “06880” readers:

I love drones. I love reviewing drones. I love filming drones!

But last week, something really crazy happened. I was reviewing the new $1300 Yuneec Typhoon H, taking it out for a test flight before the Yahoo video crew arrived next day to film my video review.

David Pogue drone

My son Kell (a Staples High School 2015 graduate) and a couple of his buddies stood on our attic balcony, checking it out. I let it hover at their eye level, just so they could see how cool and menacing-looking this hexacopter was. (It has 6 rotors. No, that doesn’t make it a sexcopter.)

From there, I flew it straight up. It hovered over the house, giving me an amazing view (on the remote control’s screen) of the Wakeman athletic fields.

Wakeman athletic fields - Pogue drone

The drone hovered 370 feet up — just shy of its 400-foot, hardwired altitude limit (also the FAA’s maximum allowable height). Then, before my eyes, the drone started drifting away. The controls did not respond!

The screen just said, “Trying to reconnect.” As I watched in disbelief, the drone drifted away over Bayberry, toward Fairfield. I was helpless.

I got on my bike and rode around, looking and looking. I never found it. There’s a $1300 drone in somebody’s bushes somewhere.

Drone flyaways are supposed to be impossible. They’re programmed to return to their takeoff position (in this case, my backyard) if they ever lose their connection to the remote. Somehow, that fail-safe system never kicked in.

A little Googling shows that flyaways do, in fact, happen. (One landed on the White House lawn last year.)

David Pogue, perhaps trying to find his drone.

David Pogue, perhaps trying to find his drone.

The company analyzed my flight logs and concluded that nothing I’d done contributed to the flyaway. But they had no explanation for what caused it.

Nobody’s ever been hurt by a flyaway drone, and companies are working on better sensors, software and electronics to prevent flyaways. But I was really rattled — though not as much as if I’d actually bought this drone. (It was a review unit.)

Friends suggested I tape “LOST DRONE” signs on telephone poles in the neighborhood. I decided, nah. That’s just be too embarrassing.

But if an “06880” reader finds a sleek black drone in their bushes: I’ve still got the remote control. Let’s talk.

Weedles, Zubats, Ekans And More: Pokemon Go Floods Westport

The tagline for “06880” is “where Westport meets the world.”

Right now, Westport — and the world — are going gaga over Pokémon Go.

I don’t know a Squirtle from a Jynx. But I do know that Pokémon Go has been downloaded more times in a week than Tinder has in 4 years. (No value judgments, mind you.) So I figured I’d capture the local angle.

Tom Bruno is my Pokémon Go go-to guy. As the Westport Library‘s new director of knowledge curation and innovation — Bill Derry’s old gig, more or less — the game is in his wheelhouse.

The library itself is not a Pokestop or Pokegym, he says. But several are nearby.

Three Pokestops are actually sculptures. There’s Carol Eisner’s “Walter the Sculpture,” outside the library’s main entrance; the big sculpture on Jesup Green, and the Post Road bridge sculpture at the Taylor parking lot entrance.

The library encourages patrons to find those sculptures by setting Lures (which of course attract rare and unusual wild Pokémon that patrons can catch).

Bruno says, “Depending on where you are in the building, you can also catch some of these Pokémon in the library as well.”

Bruno and his colleagues realized that the Levitt Pavilion stage Pokestop is on the route for the library’s annual first-ever StoryWalk along the Saugatuck River (which, happily for this publicity, kicks off Monday). Bruno took a shot of a wild Pokémon perched atop one of the signs.

Pokemon - Westport Library

The library is also placing Lures at all of those Pokestops, to help generate buzz for the giant book sale this weekend.

Though Niantic — the company responsible for Pokémon Go — is not taking requests for new Pokestops or Pokegyms, Bruno says it would be exciting to have the library community battle for control of the gym in that building.

The library is also working to add Pokémon Go to its popular “Anyone Can…” technology 101 classes. “We’d like to help people who are curious about the game get started, and join in what will almost certainly be the big summer activity,” Bruno says.

Finally — in a stroke of luck akin to finding a Charizard — the library long ago planned a partnership with Barnes & Noble on a Pokémon card game tournament. Amazingly, it’s this Saturday (July 16, 4-6 p.m.) at the Westport store.

Because — like Pokémon Go — “06880” is all about community, we’d like to hear your stories and tips. If you’ve got any game-related news, click “Comments” below. Please use your real name, not a Pokémon alias.

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Finally, if you thought the only thing local officials care about are mill rates and 8-30g applications, think again. Yesterday, they posted this on the town’s official Facebook page (courtesy of the New York Police Department):

As PokémonGo fever hits Westport, we want to remind you of some simple safety tips. As you battle, train, and capture your Pokémon just remember you’re still in the real world too! Around the country the PokémonGo craze has seen reports of accidents, injuries and even crimes where suspects have set-up fake Pokéstops.

Be careful out there!

Be careful out there!

So as you set out to capture them all:

1) Be alert at all times
2) Stay aware of your surroundings
3) Play in pairs or as a group to ensure your safety
4) Do not drive or ride your bike, skateboard, or other device while interacting with the app…you can’t do both safely
5) Do not trespass onto private property or go to areas you usually would not if you weren’t playing Pokémon Go.

Have fun AND stay safe. Good luck in your quest, and happy hatching, trapping, and training at the Pokémon Gym!

Levitt Pavilion Drones On

The Levitt Pavilion kicks off another 50 nights of free concerts tomorrow (Sunday, June 26) with the Eagles’ tribute Desert Highway Band.

Free tickets are all sold for that event. The rest of the summer, you can just stroll on in.

If you can’t make it tomorrow — or just want a unique view of Westport’s riverside outdoor amphitheater — check out John Videler’s drone shot:

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/John Videler)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/John Videler)

 

Kevin Clark’s Point Motion Rocks

Staples High School is justly famous for the number of alums who have gone on to great careers in music. (Here’s lookin’ at you, Alisan Porter!)

Ditto the legendary media lab. (You too, Daryl Wein!)

Now — in an era defined by jobs that did not exist 2 years ago, do-it-yourself technology and crowd-sourced funding — it’s natural that Staples grads make their marks melding the arts and apps.

Kevin Clark was inspired by 2 mentors: choir director Alice Lipson and audio production teacher Jim Honeycutt. They encouraged him to pursue his passions. The bullying he endured while younger spurred him to prove he could do whatever he set his mind to.

The 2009 graduate applied to 5 music colleges. He was rejected by all.

Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark

Moments before joining the military, his father convinced him to try Western Connecticut State University. He was selected as 1 of only 2 piano students — though he had only begun to play.

A year later, he applied to Berklee College of Music. Again, he was turned down.

The 3rd time was the charm. Determined more than ever to prove he belonged there, Kevin roared through the prestigious school. He was signed to Berklee’s Jazz Revelations Records his 1st semester, and last year wrote the music for his class’ graduation ceremony.

“Music has changed my life,” he thought. “Being able to create it has made me happier. What if everyone could experience this job, this sense of self-expression that often eludes us?”

Kevin likes to move. Suddenly, he realized: People need a way to create music by merely moving their bodies. He knew of experiments using  handheld or wearable devices.

But what about hands-free? That could open musical expression to everyone in the world.

With 3 friends, Kevin figured out how to connect his Kinect camera to his computer and audio production software. Then he plugged away, eventually creating entire songs using body motion, a Kinect and a computer.

The Point Motion

Point Motion

The camera tracks body movements. Data is sent to the computer, where Kevin’s app translates each motion into a specific sound or musical phrase.

There are over 1500 pre-programmed sounds and instruments. Users can also upload their own.

Kevin applied for patents, and established a company: Point Motion. An Israeli firm, Extreme Reality, liked his platform.

Together, they moved from Kinect to using common 2D cameras found on cellphones and computers. This opened up a wide range of opportunities.

Kevin is proud of the result. “For the first time in history,” he says, “people can access musical expression using motion control technology for just a $40 download.”

The first 2 apps focus on health and wellness practices (enabling expression for users with limited mobility and special needs), and creative tools for musicians (extending the creative capabilities of artists).

The 2nd app — “Puppet Master” — allows users to do things like lean forward to add distortion to an electric guitar, or raise an arm to add reverb to vocals. The system is compatible with existing music production programs.

Point Motion is now in the fundraising phase. His Indiegogo campaign has a $50,000 target.

For every donation, Kevin will donate Point Motion to a hospital or clinic in the US.

Clearly, Kevin Clark learned a lot more than music and technology at Staples and Berklee.

(For more information on Point Motion, click here. For the Indiegogo fundraising campaign, click here.)

“Good Morning” Goodbye

Staples High School teachers Jim Honeycutt and Mike Zito invented the school’s Media Lab.

From their funky studios near the cafeteria, the duo taught thousands of students — and oversaw WWPT-FM, the Staples Television Network, a recording studio and much more.

“Good Morning Staples” is one small part of what they’ve done. But since its first broadcast in 2001, the thrice-weekly TV show has had an outsized influence on the school.

Yesterday’s “Good Morning Staples” broadcast was the last of the school year — and their last ever. Both Honeycutt and Zito retire this month.

The 24-minute video offers just a tiny sampling of the work their kids did. It’s a tribute to Staples students’ spectacular energy, dedication, talent and energy.

Which, of course, was unlocked, nurtured and nourished by 2 very special teachers.

Fastest Internet In Westport

Bill Costello is the newest newcomer to Westport (and to our extended “06880” family). He’d like our help.

Bill is looking for the fastest and most reliable internet service provider. Internet speed and reliability are of primary importance. TV service and landline are secondary.

I told him we’d crowd-source this one. I’m sure he’s not the only person looking for the wisdom of other Westporters (only!) on this subject.

Click “Comments” to add your recommendations and experiences. Including which internet providers to stay far away from.

internet providers

Airbnb Floats Into Town

It’s a cliche: No one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

We may wonder about the secret lives of our neighbors. But here’s one thing we probably never imagine they do: Rent out rooms, suites — even their entire home — to strangers.

Yet that seems to be Westport’s newest cottage industry (ho ho). Airbnb — the list-and-rent lodging website — has over 1,500,000 offerings, in 34,000 cities and 190 countries.

A couple dozen are right here in Westport.

Most are near Compo Beach. A few are close to downtown. Others are spread throughout town: Roseville, Green’s Farms, Sturges, Newtown Turnpike.

"Compo Beach Beauty" is Airbnb's most expensive Westport listing.

“Compo Beach Beauty” is Airbnb’s most expensive Westport listing.

The most expensive Airbnb property (“Compo Beach Beauty,” with “views, views, views”; 2 decks, 4-5 bedrooms, 80-inch TV and “private courtyard”), rents for $1,000 a night — with a minimum 14-day stay. There are no reviews yet.

The least expensive place is touted as a “Private Room in Luxury Home” ($75).

Most of the listings cite Westport’s amenities: water, shops, restaurants, “theatre,” tennis, golf, hiking, proximity to New York and Boston (“2 hours” away).

One specifically mentions The Whelk, Tarry Lodge and Black Duck, adding, “the day pass for the pools overlooking the Sound is $10 were anyone to ever ask to see a pass.”

Another — with property backing up onto 8 undeveloped acres – noted that “deer, fox, coyote, red tailed hawks as well as cardinels, bluejays, squirrels and assorted standard wildlife are our neighbors.”

Not all Airbnb properties are on land. This offer is for a "sailing yacht."

Not all Airbnb properties are on land. This offer is for a “sailing yacht.”

The most intriguing offer — “Romantic Perfection on the Sound” ($175) — is for a “perfectly appointed sailing yacht.” Amenities include a freezer, fridge, Wifi, sterling and crystal. The owner makes clear that the rental is for “space on the mooring buoy, not a cruise, charter or otherwise.” Pick-up at the train by motorboat is a special perk.

One satisfied renter comments about the boat: “Josh truly made us feel like we lived in a movie for a weekend. This is a definitely must do, and will do again! P.S. I need that recipe for apple pancakes.”

That’s the thing about Airbnb. Some renters go all out for their guests. The owner of “Walk to town – cul-de-sac” ($100) says, “We are casual and easygoing. We will provide assistance as needed. If you are looking for privacy, we honor that as well. We have enjoyed all of our guests and was enlightened by some of the life stories.”

This Airbnb property is just half a block from Compo Beach.

This Airbnb property is just half a block from Compo Beach.

Others stay away. One renter writes, “Didn’t meet the hosts but they were incredibly accommodating and courteous of all aspects of our stay from afar. Had a bed roll available for our daughter too. Their son Tom was a great stand-in and took good care of us.”

If the mention of actual names seems intrusive, that’s the way Airbnb rolls. Some of the Westporters listing on the site use full names, and give detailed descriptions of their lives.

One says: “Married with 2 children, one in college at Carnegie Mellon, one lives in Manhattan and has a job as a associate buyer. Husband is a Physician in Westport. Basically an empty nester except for  holidays and summer.”

Another moved here from Paris 2 years ago, to open a business in the pet industry that she runs from home.

Here's an Airbnb photo for the French woman who works from home.

Here’s an Airbnb photo for the French woman who works from home.

A third is a feng shui design consultant. That’s why, she says, “it is important that our home environment is beautiful and balanced and welcoming.” She works at home, so she’s around during the day to help guests.

Renters run the gamut too. They range from the person here on a working vacation (his Airbnb spot reminded him of an English cottage, “but all the conveniences of our time”), to visitors preferring a home to a hotel, to young people passing through.

I don’t know the age of the guest who writes admiringly, “they even had a beer tap on the back patio” — but clearly he loved his Westport Airbnb experience.

All of which raises the obvious question: Is Airbnb legal here?

Town operations director Dewey Loselle checked with attorneys, and Planning & Zoning.

“We do not have a specific ordinance or zoning regulation” about this model, he says.

“If someone wanted to open a formal bed and breakfast inn in a residential district, that would require a zoning approval.” (Not long ago, such a proposal on Turkey Hill South was turned down, because it was a full-time “business use” in a residential zone.)

Westport has no regulations prohibiting short-term rentals of homes -- or of one room in a house, like this.

Westport has no regulations prohibiting short-term rentals of homes — or of one room in a house, like this.

A regulation or ordinance prohibiting short-term rentals of private property, with the owner present or not, would be “a slippery slope to start down,” Loselle says.

“As you know, many Westporters rent out their houses for the summer. Or it could be for half of the summer, or one month or even a week or two.

“Some people swap their houses for a week or two with someone in, say, France or Italy,” he concludes. “Where do you draw the line on what is acceptable or not?”

Sounds like a good answer. I myself am not willing to share my condo with a stranger, even for money.

However, a couple of nights on that sailing yacht sounds very, very cool.

(To see all Airbnb’s Westport listings, click here.)