Pic Of The Day #6

Bedford Square courtyard. (Photo copyright Katherine Bruan)

Maker Faire Makes Its Mark

You can’t keep a good geek down.

Chilly temperatures and a light rain did not deter thousands of folks from descending on the Westport Library, Jesup Green and Bedford Square, for today’s 6th annual Maker Faire.

Every type of STEM creation was represented: robots, 3-D designs, flight simulators, submersibles and more.

The arts were there too: violinists, jewelry makers, sculptors…

And of course local organizations: the Y, Wakeman Town Farm and Rotary Club were among those showing their commitment to creativity and community.

In 6 short years, the Maker Faire has become one of the biggest events of the Westport year. Now all we need is some young guy or girl who can control the weather.

Which I’m sure we’ll see next spring.

Hand-made robots were a huge hit.

Christopher Crowe’s creations drew a crowd.

What better spot to hang out in than the Westport Library’s permanent Maker Space?

State Senators Toni Boucher (front) and Tony Hwang (right) joined 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (left) and Westport Library trustee Iain Bruce at the Maker Faire.

A father gives a hands-on wind tunnel demonstration to his daughter.

Westporter Charlie Wolgast — a professional pilot — checks out a flight simulator in Bedford Square.

Beware!

Earth Day Plea: Fear “Digital Crack,” Not Coyotes

Today is Earth Day. Richard Wiese — host and executive producer of the Westport-based “Born to Explore” TV series — sends along a timely note. 

It’s co-signed by Jim Fowler — Wiese’s longtime friend, “Wild Kingdom” spokesman and Darien resident — as well as Dr. Marc Bekoff, a coyote expert at the University of Colorado who has worked with both Wiese and Jane Goodall. They say:

Nature and its wildlife are under siege. We also are witnessing a new generation of children who regard the outdoors as “a place that doesn’t get Wi-Fi.”

When Richard moved to Fairfield County almost a decade ago, he was told by neighbors not to leave his young children outside at dusk because coyotes might eat them. At the time this sounded amusing — who leaves their 2-year-olds alone anywhere, much less outdoors?

Richard Wiese and his family, enjoying the Westport outdoors.

Fast forward to the present. Not a day goes by where someone confesses that they are afraid to go outside because of the “coyote problem.” Worse yet, some are even arming themselves just in case.

There are many threats in our lives, but coyotes should rank far behind guns, alcohol, drugs, distracted drivers and even lawn mowers.

Yes, each year, 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors, and more than 20,000 are injured.

The representation of animals — especially carnivores — in the media is based on bad science or no science, which is bad for the animals. What does the available data show? Coyotes very rarely attack. To put it in perspective, meteorites have hit more homes in Connecticut than people who have been harmed or killed by coyotes.

Research clearly shows that coyotes and other urban animals fear people. Most animals don’t associate good things happening to them around humans.  Whenever possible they avoid us at all costs.

What should we fear? Or rather, be outraged by? On any given beautiful day, we have legions of children sitting on a couch hypnotized by their electronic devices. Digital crack.

We fear that we are raising a generation of children who have “nature deficit disorder “ and are totally removed from the outdoors.

Psychologist Susan Linn notes, “Time in green space is essential to children’s mental and physical health … And the health of the planet depends on a generation of children who love and respect the natural world enough to protect it from abuse and degradation.”

We should appreciate the presence of coyotes and educate ourselves on how to coexist with them, rather than instilling fear of them.  Let’s encourage the media to provide a more balanced view of coyotes (and other animals) based on what we know about them rather than irresponsible sensationalism. And for goodness sake, get your kids outside, let them track mud into the house, have grass stains on their knees and be thoroughly exhausted from fresh air and sunshine.

We need to re-wild not only our children, but also ourselves — before it’s too late.

Pic Of The Day #5

Fairfield County Hunt Club (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

End Of An Old Mill Era

Emma Morano died on Saturday, in Italy. The world’s oldest woman — and the last person on earth known to have lived in the 1800s — she was 117 years old.

Here in Westport, a demolition permit has been issued for 233 Hillspoint Road. The notice affixed to the side of the building puts its age at 117 years.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

It too has a link to Italy: Most recently, it was the site of Positano. That restaurant closed at the end of 2014. It reopened several months later at its present location, next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Positano restaurant.

Positano was the last in a storied line of restaurants at 233 Hillspoint. Perhaps its most popular predecessor was Cafe de la Plage.

In between, it was (briefly) the Beach House:

“Beach House,” by Tony Marino.

In the mid-1900s, Westporters knew it as Leo Williams’ Old Mill Restaurant:

Leo Williams’ Old Mill Restaurant, in 1954. (Photo/Bridgeport Post)

Before that, it was both the Beach Food Mart, and Joe’s:

In its 117 years, #233 Hillspoint has seen a lot. The neighborhood has changed — many times. Old Mill Beach has thrived, eroded, and come back to life.

Of course, there were floods, like Hurricane Carol in 1954 …

… and SuperStorm Sandy 59 years later:

(Photo/Matt Murray)

From these photos, it’s likely the property started out as a private home.

Once demolition as complete, that’s probably what it will become again.

But this is 2017. Not 1899.

Odds are good it will not look the same.

[UPDATE] Friday Flashback #36

Sconset Square is seldom in the news. But now — as the small Myrtle Avenue shopping center seems poised for redevelopment — Westporters suddenly see it with new eyes.

It’s been around a long time. Originally called Sherwood Square — a name with far more historical meaning here than the faux-Cape Cod “Sconset” — it included stores like the Paint Bucket, in this 1966 shot.

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Peter Barlow)

The view above is toward the west (Church Lane). As photographer Peter Barlow notes, it was an anchor store that sold many kinds of paint, decorating supplies and picture frames.

It also featured an art gallery — and that very cool “palette” sign.

In later years, these buildings became CamerArts. And wasn’t Carousel toys in there at one time too?


UPDATE: 12:25 p.m. After seeing today’s Friday Flashback, Seth Schachter sent along his own Paint Bucket photo. He’s told it’s from the 1950s, but wonders with the wild colors if it may be ’60s-vintage:

How The FAA Learned To Love Ryan Felner

Ryan Felner has many interests.

Ryan Felner

The Staples High School sophomore is on the tennis team. He’s taking AP courses. He loves photography, and making and editing videos. For the past 2 years, he’s developed websites for family and friends.

A year and a half ago — when the price of drones dropped and the market soared — Ryan started researching options. His parents agreed to fund half a DJI drone. He agreed to work, and pay back his half.

He followed Federal Aviation Administration rules, registering his drone as a Small Unmanned Aircraft System. He agreed to fly below 400 feet; not fly within a 5-mile radius of any airport, and always keep his drone in sight.

Ryan started taking beautiful photos and creating gorgeous videos, including the beach and — during family sailing trips — the New England coast. (Click here to see his website.)

His photos of his own house — with Compo Beach and the Sound in the background — were fantastic. That gave him the idea to reach out to real estate brokers, offering to shoot for them (free at first).

Word got out. He spent most of last summer taking real estate photos.

Owenoke Park, from Ryan Felner’s drone.

The Norwalk Hour ran a big story — “Student’s Drone Photography Business Takes Off” — last October. He was thrilled…

…until later that night, when he saw the comments. The story had been picked up by drone enthusiast sites. People posted harsh messages, saying what Ryan did was illegal.

Apparently, the FAA had released new regulations a few weeks earlier. To “Fly for Work,” a drone operator had to possess a Remote Pilot Certificate, and be 16 years old.

There were a few supportive comments. Some people noted that — like many operators — Ryan probably did not know about the new rules.

But he was horrified. He woke his parents, who were upset they’d allowed the situation to happen.

The next day, things got worse.

Richard Aarons — a volunteer counselor with the FAA’s safety team — emailed him. He told Ryan to contact him ASAP — and warned him he could face huge fines.

Ryan panicked. He was scared about the money. He worried his reputation was ruined for life. He feared for college, and beyond.

His parents helped him respond. Ryan said he was devastated to be out of compliance with regulations. He promised to cease all commercial operations immediately, and said he’d wait until his 16th birthday to take his pilot’s exam and apply for a proper license.

SAarons’ response was fantastic. He told Ryan he completely understood what happened, and said he was now doing exactly the right thing.

Aarons forwarded the emails to Marilyn Pearson, an aviation safety inspector with the FAA Unmanned Aircraft System division. She’d been working hard to educate drone enthusiasts, while implementing the new regs. She too commended Ryan for the way he’d communicated with the authorities.

Ryan Felner with his drone, on Martha’s Vineyard.

As Ryan’s 16th birthday approached, he contacted Pearson and Aarons. Both offered to help, if there was something he didn’t understand as he studied for his FAA exam.

On Tuesday at Sikorsky Airport, Ryan passed his FAA Remote Pilot Knowledge test with a very high score of 87.

Two days later — yesterday — he turned 16.

And tomorrow at 12 noon, in the Westport Library’s McManus Room, Ryan will give a talk at the Maker Faire. His subject: “Adventures of a 16-Year-Old Drone Pilot.”

But wait! There’s more!

When Pearson heard about Ryan’s speech, she was so excited, she said she’d come down from Hartford for it.

So before his talk — at the 9:45 a.m. Maker Faire opening ceremony, in the Taylor parking lot — she will present him with his Remote Pilot Airman Certificate.

Ryan’s spirits are sure to be sky high.

Right up there with his drone. And the possibilities for his great, professional — and now completely legal — business.

Pic Of The Day #4

Westport train station. (Photo copyright John Videler)

Crazy Donut Idea

Forget CNN. Who needs “Good Morning America”? And don’t even think about Channel 12 News.

At Donut Crazy — the new and very popular breakfast place on the eastbound side of the Westport railroad station — the TV is turned to a static shot of the Greens Farms station.

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

It’s not as random as you think.

As soon as you see your train pull into Greens Farms, you’ve got 3 minutes to get up, scurry through the tunnel, and board your ride to New York.

It’s a genius idea.

Right up there with strawberry cheesecake, cookies & cream and nutella donuts.

The Future Of Saugatuck Might Be In Your Hands

Don’t say they didn’t ask.

As part of the “redevelopment of Saugatuck” — which you may or may not realize is being discussed — a 9-month process guided by the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Design Master Plan Steering Committee will “engage community members and a team of planners, engineers, economic planners and historic preservation experts to establish design standards and a master plan to enhance this important gateway for the Town of Westport.”

They’ve hired consultants.

And that firm — Barton & Partners — has created a survey.

The committee wants to make sure that every Westporter’s voice is heard. You can weigh in (and rank) your priorities, in areas like shopping, dining, neighborhood charm, waterfront access, historic significance, green space, transportation and walkability.

So here’s your chance. Click here to take the survey.

And click here for more information on the master plan process.

Westport artist Robert Lambdin’s “Saugatuck in the 19th Century” (1969) prominently featured the swing bridge. What’s next for the neighborhood?