Sunday, March 29, 2009

Beautiful Spring Weather

The weekend started off great. Friday and Saturday were beautiful and I spent a majority of both days outside. On Friday afternoon I spoke with Simi, my green building professor, (I am her research assistant) about my teaching experience at YouthBuild Holyoke. There has been a number of calls coming into her office about this program we have going...and a lot of people are really thrilled wih us. This is great news and it got me thinking a lot about continuing teaching after this first module is over (it ends in 2 weeks - I only have 4 classes remaining). There may be more opportunities opening up as Springfield, MA is also interested in starting up this program. It will be interesting how it all plays out and it's stuff like this that really makes life exciting (not knowing what lies ahead...)

I also got to listen to Sheila Bair speak on Friday afternoon - she is the chairman (not chairwoman, as she didn't want to spend all the money it would have cost to change all the paperwork to say chairwoman) of the FDIC (the federal agency that insures all of our money, up to $250,000, in banks across the U.S.). Forbes Magazine ranked her the second most powerful woman in the world so it was pretty cool to hear her speak. The room was packed - luckily the fire department didn't come in because it definitely would have been a fire hazard. Reporters, film crew, professors, students, business people - old and young - everyone turned out to hear her speak. It was a very good speech and we had great seats (my roommate James and I snuck into the Greek Mythology class which was taking place before Sheila spoke, in the same room, so that we wouldn't have to wait outside with the hundreds of other people and press).

However, I couldn't help but realize, sitting in a room full of business people, in my former college of business that I was enrolled in for 4 years, that I no longer fit-in there. I now surround myself with people who talk more about the environment and less about the business / financials that affect the decisions we as people make. And I'm very glad I attended this lecture and realized this because I am much happier now being where I am, in Holdsworth Hall at UMass, not the Isenberg School of Management. Don't get me wrong, business is still a big part of me and it will be used in whatever I do in the future, but I like the people who I'm surrounded with now as we are much more in-tuned and on the same wavelength.

Whew - rant of a paragraph.

Then I sat outside on the porch of my couch Friday night and had some drinks, listened to good music, and had great conversations with some friends of mine. It was great coming home around 7:00 at night to see my roommates all doing yardwork and making our front yard look INCREDIBLE! The yard looks spectacular now - we all pitched in (them more than me) and we hauled away all the leaves and dead branches that were cluttering our garden and front yard. I will take some pictures of it this week and post them for you all to see.

Some good lookin dudes that I live with. A damn good lookin yard, too.

Saturday came and went but I definitely practiced my living-in-the-moment attitude. We finished the yardwork, played around with jump ropes, doing hand stands, running around, playing soccer and frisbee, and generally having a good mental-health day. In between I got some work done, sent out a TON of letters / e-mails about big brothers big sisters, and then we started barbequing around 6:00. Some friends came over and we had good conversations at the house, ate good food, and biked over to a bar in town before it closed. Great time it was.

This post is getting long so I'll wrap it up with a few things. First, the big brother big sister fundraiser is next Saturday so I'm asking everyone now for help! If you are reading this, I'm sure I have already contacted you by now, but leave a comment or send me an e-mail if you haven't heard about it and feel like donating ( On Wednesday, Sam and I will be selling lemonade in downtown Amherst. I'm going to have signs, two tables, and hopefully a lot of help from friends to make this a fun and successful few hours. I'll be calling local businesses / supermarkets to see if they are willing to donate anything for Wednesday. I'll post pictures from Wednesday when I have them. On a sad note, our bearded dragon passed away last Monday. She was good for the week+ that we had her, but I blame myself for not having proper ventilation in her environment. Sorry little dragon. If we get another, it will be better prepared the next time. Ok, on to the pictures from the weekend!

Craig raking what looks like a tumbleweed but is just leaves and dead grass.

James and his pile of sticks. We are going to have a pretty big bonfire sometime this week with all of those.

Lunch break - eating our carrots so we can see all the leaves we missed (carrots improve eyesight I'm told)

A whole bunch of ants working together (and on top of each other...) building what seems to be a massive colony. It was really fascinating to watch and if you click any of these pictures it will make them much larger - so check it out if you are interested!

Getting some work done, or trying to, when the weather is super nice. I look comfortable.

Craig looks very wise.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Outer and Inner Self

I just began talking with my roommate, Sean, about the subject of your "online self". What you choose to post online says a lot about you. For instance, I post a lot of things on here about my day-to-day activities that are important to me. Some things I select to highlight and other things I don't. How do I select what should go in my blog and what shouldn't? And how is my "online self" different from me in-person?

I've read back some posts to try and answer these two questions. One thing I've noticed is that I blog much more about my experiences than I do my thoughts. When I was traveling I also did this, however, I did share my thoughts on a lot of events. I find it difficult to translate what goes on in my head onto this blog, as doing so bridges the gap between my real self and my online image. Writing this right now I realize that my true identify is only known by me, and many people only see one part Ryan Harb. What I think I show people is that I'm a caring and compassionate person, and that I'm out trying to find a way to make a huge positive impact on the world. My family knows this, but I also share much more with them about myself than I do with anyone else in this world.

What I've thought about today, or tonight rather, is what keeps me motivated. I live a busy life here at school and each day I get up and don't let myself give up or slow down for too long. I try reminding myself daily how good I have it. I think a lot about the future and what life has in store. It's exciting but at the same time frustrating not knowing what's coming next or even where I'll be this summer. A lot can happen in a short amount of time and I am learning more about myself each day.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Weekend At a Glance

Good morning! It's Monday and I am at the UMass Admissions Office finishing up a project that I started last week. But before I start I wanted to comment on the pictures that I uploaded last night from this past weekend.

On Saturday, my good friend Patrick Barry came to visit with my Mom and Arthur. We did a walk-through of the house talking about improvements to be made when the weather gets warmer (fresh painting to prevent clapboards from warping, re-doing the ENTIRE garden, building a custom door for the basement, and a few other things...). After that we went to Bueno y Sano for lunch, ABC for a beer, and visited the UMass Sunwheel (see below).

Pat and Arthur couchsurfing at 3 Willow

Housemate and infamous journalist: S.P. Sullivan

The gang in the 3 Willow kitchen

The UMass Sunwheel:

Every 3 months there is a presentation at the UMass Sunwheel. Astronomy Professor Judith Young talks about the equinox (seen below) each spring and fall, as well as the solstice's during the winter and summer. After work on Friday I went to the sunwheel to see the sunset first hand. It was extremely cold, and the field wet, but a very cool experience overall.

Vernal equinox at the UMass Sunwheel

More bearded dragon:

Me looking goofy with my new friend

We added some outdoor sticks and branches to her terrarium.

The bearded dragon salad.

On a sad note, she hasn't been feeling very well lately. I called the vet this morning as I was getting pretty worried about her. She stopped eating after Saturday night and has begun sleeping a lot. She might be hibernating (called brumating) but she is still very young to do that. I gave her a bath in warm water this morning (making sure to keep her head above the water), put some food in her cage, lowered the temp. in her environment, added some more air holes, and put her in a cool place for the afternoon. I'll check up on her when I get home from work today to see if she's become any more active and any less lethargic. I debated taking her to the vet this morning but the price for a checkup is twice what I paid for her. I feel bad but it was a lot of money for a simple checkup. Sending good thoughts her way...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Day 2: Teaching @ YouthBuild Holyoke

The last post was somewhat vague. The reason I'm teaching is because my graduate program at UMass (green building) has partnered with a local non-profit organization in Holyoke, MA. The goal of the program is to give low-income youth a chance to excel in an emerging and exciting new field; that of energy auditing.

The federal stimulus package has alocated 5 billion dollars toward weatherization, "$4.5 billion for federal building upgrades and another $4.5 billion in matching funds to update the country's energy grid" (Croston, MSNBC Article). This has created a huge demand for energy auditors. "Low-income weatherization programs are an ideal way to start because the construction to make energy-efficient homes creates jobs... the Department of Energy's goal to retrofit 10 million homes per year for the next couple decades,"and this will create about 1.25 million "green jobs".

I am teaching 11 students the fundamentals of energy auditing in the 1st of 4 modules. In a few months they will begin to shadow professional energy auditors in the field who do air sealing, weatherization, and tightening of building envelopes on a daily basis.

One of the tools we use is called a "blower door test". This tool is used as a way to locate air leakage sites in a building so that they can be sealed (thus saving the owner/occupant money on their heating and cooling bills). Here are a few pictures from yesterday of us at YouthBuild Holyoke performing a blower door test (it was their first time ever seeing one).

Setting up the blower door.

Describing how the Pressure and Flow Guage work, and what numbers to look for.

Turning up the fan speed!

We found that the room is very leaky - it wouldn't reach 50 pascals!

I'm usually up front with the laptop/powerpoint and projector, but this class we had a "hands on" activity. They seemed to enjoy it a lot more than just sitting around listening to me blab for 2.5 hours.

Here they are using the infrared camera that our program has. This piece of equipment is worth something like $15,000 - BE CAREFUL!

Yesterday's class turned out excellent. The kids really responded well to using the equipment we have and seemed to get really excited about becoming energy auditors. Unfortunately I've already brought in most of the equipment that our program has to offer! It's going to be hard to top this class unless I can get ahold of a few solar panels for Tuesday... can anyone help me with this? A giant wind turbine would work, too...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My first day teaching...

I just arrived home from Holyoke where I spent 2 hours teaching an introductory course on energy auditing. It is the first of 8 courses and each is supposed to last 2.5 hours...a total of 20 in-class hours. I found out today that 2 1/2 hours is a long time when you are standing in front of a room talking. The class went well - I showed some videos on energy auditing and how to conduct a blower door test, and we also read a few articles (like this one):

Stimulus Package has Green for Clean Energy

Here are links to the videos I showed:

(How to conduct an energy audit)

(A blower door test)

And lastly, a few pictures of my teaching:

Lost in thought...

There's only so much talking I can do!

All in all, today went really well. It ended at 2 hours instead of 2 1/2 hours as I had a hard time gauging time up there. The kids knew very little about alternative/renewable energies and energy auditing, so when I asked them what new things they learned today their response was "everything". I guess that's a good thing, though I'm having a little difficulty trying to figure out a way to make a long class more engaging. I'll think of something I'm sure.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cookies and bearded dragon feeding with Sam!

My little brother Sam and I had a fun day of feeding the new house pet who doesn't yet have a name. We also made about 5 dozen chocolate chip cookies and rode bikes for awhile. It was a beautiful day and I think it's supposed to stay that way for at least the beginning of the week! I'll try not going to jinx it.

Here are a few more pictures as well as a video of our new friend. Check out Sam's YouTube video here:

Sam is the first person besides me to hold the bearded dragon.

She loves me already.

Thumbs up!

And lastly, for anyone who reads this blog, Sam and I are doing a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters. There is a bowl-a-thon tournament on April 4th that we are participating in and we need your help to raise money. Any amount you can donate helps. You can contribute anything you want, even $1, on the big brothers big sisters website (it is secure so you don't have to worry about giving out credit card information). Here is the website to donate:

Or you can personally mail me a check, as I love to receive mail and money.. even if it's not going to me:

Ryan Harb
3 Willow Lane
Amherst, MA 01002

Thanks everyone and more updates to come.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pictures (Bonfire, Conference, Bearded Dragon...)

This is a pictures only blog entry. First, the Bonfire at Arthurs: 3/8/09...

Mom and Pam with the fire ablaze in the background.

Brian and Jess, chillin by the fire

The sacrificial burning. We named her, but she will remain nameless.

Close up...

And she's burnin.

Man of the hour.. now check out the videos!

Learning from the master tribesmen. Lesson 1: How to spear a fire. Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Schmitt!

Lesson 2: How to burn the St. Patricks Day...chair.


NESEA Building Energy Conference 2009.

This is a picture of architect Steven Strong of Harvard, MA. He's a great speaker and very knowledgeable about solar technologies. I saw him speak at Greenbuild in November as well.


I saved the best for last. Bearded dragon pictures AND videos!

First, the "terrarium" which we built out of an old 56 inch TV that no longer works. We gutted it, sealed it up so no crickets / other critters will escape and this is what the final product looks like. We may make more "home improvements" as time goes on.

This is the bridge I made one Saturday morning. See the Golden Gate resemblance?

With a little fabric in the background, a heat lamp and some light the terrarium really comes to life. Don't you think? Notice the other TV on top of the other TV/terrarium, which also doesn't work. Good to be a poor college student.

Here she is; about 5 inches long at the moment. Within a few months she can be a foot in length. A year from now she'll be a beautiful (who knew a bearded female could be so pretty).

And this is her cage all done up. She may be perfect for breeding a year from now... laying 20 or so eggs that once hatched can sell for $25 - $40 each!

There she is eating a mealworm..with a little help from a mysterious yellow pencil.

...And last but not least...the cricket has been defeated! Hahah, I have had way too much fun by myself at my house in Amherst tonight. It's a little shaky at the start but the ending is gold!

Friday, March 13, 2009

NESEA Building Energy 09 / Three Cups of Tea

I just arrived back in Andover after spending 3 nights in South Boston and 1 in Randolph. The NESEA conference had some great speakers about many different "green" technologies and energy conservation techniques. I volunteered for about 15 hours during those three days.. I think it was well worth it. It was a little disorganized for us volunteers, and some of the information was geared toward architects / engineers, making it very hard to understand at times. But I always do a lot of thinking at these types of events and occasionally come to major realizations.

For those of you who have not yet read the book "Three Cups of Tea", I urge you to go out and buy it or borrow it from your local library. Hands down it is the most inspiring book that I have ever come across. Greg Mortensen is one of the purist people I've ever met. I like that I can say that now...he spoke in Chelmsford, MA in February and I waited outside with tea / fruit for 3 hours with some 900 other people.

Some people drove all the way from Maine, some probably from further, just to hear him speak. These people obviously "get it"...they get what Greg is doing and what his life purpose is all about. Most of the people who will read this blog also "get it", and this is why I'm highly recommending this book.

My good friend Brian is boiling some water on his gas stove for the cold people in line.

Here's a link to the article about Greg's speach in February - I was interviewed by the journalist because of the table stand we set up.

This is me meeting Greg and getting my book signed after he was done speaking.

I asked Greg a question up at the mic regarding the bombings of schools in Afghanistan / Pakistan. Apparently 470 of them have been bombed over the last decade (but only 1 of his organization's 78) because terrorist organizations are highly against the education of women. In Greg's speech he said a very meaningful quote: "Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a community." This is due to many of the boys going to the city for high paying jobs whereas an educated woman less often leaves her community and instead improves upon what is already there.

The message behind this post is searching for your dream. I've been searching for mine for years.. getting involved in a wide range of subjects matters in order to find something that "clicks." I've had many wonderful experiences and learned quite a bit during this journey.. now I'm looking to put it all together to do something big. Something that Greg would smile about. This is what I thought about the past 4 or so days in Boston. Going overseas and making the world a better place, one community at a time. The permaculture course that I am taking this summer will give me the knowledge I need to jump-start this vision.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My first non-traveling post

I felt compelled to write a short blog entry based on this very cool initiative I stumbled across. Everyone has probably heard of Dubai City by now, right? They are making islands in the shape of the world, have billions of dollars being pumped in to their infrastructure, making a super duper Disney World type theme park, have something like 75% of the world's cranes (since there is so much construction going on).

Well, due to the recent economic depression, Dubai is in terrible shape. I read an article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back about how the depression is affecting things there. People bought Audi's, Mercedes, etc. all on credit. Now, they are unable to pay off their debt as many jobs are being eliminated left and right. People are abandoning cars with notes on them apologizing for not holding up their end of the bargain. But what choice do they's either flee the country and not pay off the car loan, or be put to jail (that's the penalty in Dubai for stopping payments you are obligated to pay). And these cannot get a job ANYWHERE... so what else are they to do? And what would you do, if you came there to work from another country and your job was slashed. You'd probably go home, too.

Abu Dhabi is another city located in the United Arab Emirates. It, too, has a lot of neat things being planned. Abu Dhabi was once more recognized than its cousin city Dubai... and now I think they will once again re-take that title. It's looking more probable each day that Dubai will be the biggest bust since the Yankees dropped 4 straight in 2004 to the Boston Redsox. Masdar City, however, seems to be on the right path.

I urge you to take a look at this YouTube video as it shows what we as humans are capable of doing. I need to do a lot more research before I 100% back up this project, especially not knowing the history/background of who is funding it. But what this video shows is the amazing planning strategies that go into some of our world's most important projects.

Maybe I will end up here in a few years, or at a similar type project. I guess this post does relate somewhat to travel after all. The world is at my fingertips, right?