Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu - This is an Interactive Post

What does everyone think of this swine flu? I have some very interesting thoughts and would like to get a good discussion going via the comments section. Some food for thought:
  • Is this going to be something that dies out, like SARS?
  • Are people making too big a deal out of this or will this pandemic be a serious global problem resulting in the death of thousands (or more)?
  • Are you, personally, taking any precautions or letting this affect your life? ie: travel plans, not going to certain public places...
This is an INTERACTIVE POST: I would like to get a discussion going about this pandemic. See comments section below.

This is an e-mail from the UMass Chancellor. Apparently the swine flu has made its way to Amherst

To: The Campus Community

Today, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) identified two probable cases of H1N1 (swine) flu at Amherst College. While the cases have not yet been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the students involved are receiving appropriate treatment, doing well and expected to recover fully.

Because of the probability that the illness is present on the Amherst College campus, that school is taking precautions, including asking anyone with symptoms to seek medical evaluation, recommending pre-emptive care for individuals with compromised immune systems and cancelling a number of social gatherings.

Ongoing surveillance has not identified any cases of H1N1 at UMass Amherst and, based on guidance from the MDPH and the CDC, all activities on our campus are continuing as scheduled. Assessment of the situation is ongoing; if the advice of public health experts changes or circumstances warrant, the decision will be revisited.

Simple prevention measures remain important for all members of the community:

- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow instead of into your hands. Throw used tissues into the trash.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, to reduce the spread of germs.

- If you’re sick, stay home from school or work, and limit contact with others.

Symptoms of swine flu in people can include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people have also reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

If you become ill, call your healthcare provider. The UHS Triage Advice Nurse can be reached at 577-5229, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.; after hours, call the UHS main number, 577-5000.

This remains a rapidly evolving situation and we will continue to update you as new information becomes available. For federal, state and campus-specific information, visit the University Health Services website,

Chancellor Robert C. Holub

I've been slacking on entries

I wasn't sure if people were actually reading I purposely stopped posting for 2 weeks to see if anyone would even notice and say something to me. Well, it worked! Lori - you are the reason that I'm posting tonight instead of waiting any longer. Erica told me at soccer tonight that I need to quit slacking. For those of you who don't know Lori, she bossed me around for a year and a half at OIT (Office of Information Technologies) when I was a hardware technician AKA breaking numerous UMass students computers.

Alright, a quick summary of the past two weeks:
  • I started playing intramural soccer, as I do each fall / spring.
  • We planned a party but the weather didn't agree so only 6 people showed up. Oh well, the weather got MUCH nicer as the weeks went on.
  • My roommates and I started planning our garden. We dug up shrubs and a HUGE stump that was formerly a 12 foot tall Christmas Tree-like monster. See pictures below (before and after I'll post later)
  • I secured my summer plans: I will have a job teaching 20 students (much older students than myself) about green building. They are all originally from other countries and have a solid background in construction - now they are trying to learn the green trade in order to be more marketable in this emerging "green economy". Also, I will be doing some work as an energy auditor, going to California for a week, taking the LEED AP exam, and taking a 3 week course on Permaculture / Edible Forest Gardening.
  • I went hiking with former roommate Brian Schmitt - Mount Ascutne in Windsor, Vermont.
  • I finished my first real article, which will soon be my first publication.
  • I was asked to be a track convener for the Sustainable Energy Summit, which takes place at UMass this Friday/Saturday. My track will be "Teaching Sustainability" - which focuses on educating our younger generations about the importance of renewable energies, conservation, having less of a footprint on the world.
  • Also, I've been heading back to my class in Holyoke and listening in on Module 2 (Jonathan Bates from CET, an energy auditor/analyst is teaching where I left off). Now I get to go in there and be a student / sit alongside the kids who I just taught for 4 weeks. I like not having to do the hard work for a change!
Alright that's a briefing of what happened since my last post 2 weeks ago. I'm going to post a few pictures now.

Here's where I live - 3 Willow Lane. The front of our house gets the most light (southern exposure) therefore it is perfect for many vegetables and plants. Eventually the whole front yard will be a garden...that's right, no grass. What the hell is the point of grass when you just have to cut it over and over again? Might as well have an incredible garden that can produce food - am I wrong? That's what I'll be learning about this summer; Permaculture (permanent agriculture).

This is the front of our house. This was a few weeks ago when the weather was cold and the grass / trees were not yet green. I'll take pictures this weekend of what the garden / front yard now looks like.

This entire "garden" was ripped to shreads over the past 2 weeks. My roommates are unbelievable with the amount of work they put in. Do you see the mammoth "bush" to the right? It was about 9 feet in diameter and close to 15 feet tall at one point. 2 years ago my dad and I chopped this sucker way down (this is what a Christmas tree would look like if someone used a chainsaw to remove the top half) . Imagine: it was once than the window...reaching well above the roof!

We chopped that sucker down and this morning I used a device to haul this ridiculous root out of the ground. It was hard work and took a lot of patience. But ohh man - the feeling after getting this beast out of the ground was wonderful.

This is the whole it came from. We dug about 2 feet down, all the way around, ripped off the branches, hacked away at it with an ax, and finally today I got the motivation to go outside and beat it once and for all.

For comparison purposes, this is my roommate Sean (or S.P. Sullivan is his journalistic name - look him up because this scrawny man will be famous someday).

I'll post the Vermont pictures and some nice pictures of the yard/garden this weekend. Please leave comments so I am encouraged to keep posting / know who is reading this!

Friday, April 17, 2009


Today I worked the Open House at UMass Admissions - in April it is our job to put on a show for potential students (who have already been accepted) and try to get them to accept their invitation to UMass Amherst. There are student speakers, tours, food, lots of information sessions, and balloons!

Today I took all the balloons and attached them to the back of my bike. I was already the only person on campus riding around on a bike wearing a suit. Having 75 balloons trailing behind me added an even greater comic value. I get a kick of out doing odd things like this; everyone today who saw me, whether they knew me or not, smiled and laughed. I was by far the most popular person on campus during that 30 minute stretch. And I loved every second of it.

Tomorrow we will be having a cookout outside as the spring weather is finally upon us! My bike will make a lot more people smile, so long as the balloons don't deflate overnight.

Here are some pictures and a video my roommate and I just took.

My bike + 70 (at one time, some popped) balloons.

Trying to be like E.T.

About 50 more balloons and I would have been airborne. I rode back 3 miles from UMass campus to my house and probably made more friends in this 15 minutes than in my 5 years at college. It was somewhat difficult at times when the balloons blew in my face and even when they were behind me the wind resistance made it difficult to pedal.

Close up!


Monday, April 13, 2009

Ithaca, New York

I stayed at an Ecovillage this past weekend in Ithaca, New York. 9 UMass students and 1 UMass professor drove down to New York at 7am on Saturday morning. We returned around 9:30pm Sunday evening. The trip was fun. The tour of the ecovillage was by far the most interesting part. I'll explain it more when I have time. Also, seeing the gorges and waterfalls in Ithaca was definitely a highlight of the weekend. Below are some pictures but I don't have time right now to describe each one. Here is the website of where we stayed:

Friday, April 10, 2009

A new door opens as Holyoke wraps up?

I don't want to get my hopes up, but there is a chance that I will be teaching another class (somewhere in Springfield) largely due to the success of my first class. Stayed tuned.

Yesterday at YouthBuild (my last day) things went extremely well. It was probably the best class I've taught thus far. I knew the material well, explained it in terms that they could understand, had them participating and joking around (learning but having fun)... we went over all the material that was covered in the previous 7 classes and this proved to them how much information they've actually learned with me. I also showed them some videos about different sustainable developments overseas (see my first post in March, the Masdar City video clip). They all seemed very interested in these new green technologies and we had some really great discussions as a result.

Class started about 10 minutes late but something told me not to hurry them into starting right at 1:00pm. I waited and did other things as I knew something was up... and right around 1:10 they all came into the room and handed me a card that they had all signed. It was a really nice gesture and I consider this card something that will lift my spirits if I am ever feeling down. One person told me that I was the only teacher he could ever relate to and that he's never gotten along with any of his other instructors. A girl from the class wrote that I inspired her to become a mechanical engineer. Imagine that! Yesterday was one of those days that will stick with me for a long time to come.

We took a few pictures of the group and here is the best one that I want to share with you;

Great group of people and I feel blessed to have gotten a chance to come into their lives and try to make a difference - even in a small way.

Off to Ithaca, NY for the weekend through a program organized by a landscape architecture student. We're staying at an eco-village (sustainable community). Will post pictures upon return late Sunday night! Happy early Easter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My final days - teaching in Holyoke, MA

Today is my last week of teaching in Holyoke, MA. It has been an intense four weeks to say the least. Some lectures of mine went great, others not so good. I've met some incredible people doing this and had some great conversations with a few of the students. I would love to share some of the stories but many are too personal to post on my blog, out of respect for the students.

I have focused a lot of my energy these past four weeks on teaching these students about green building / energy auditing to the best of my ability. I learned a lot about myself and I also learned how different things are, education wise, in inner cities compared to the wealthier suburbs (where I grew up in). It was a life lesson being an instructor to these twelve students, aged 16 - 20, and I will not forget this experience for as long as I live.

The students seemed a little sad when I informed them that Thursday is my last day teaching (maybe they aren't sad, but it makes me feel good to think so). I told them that I would be back, probably sitting along side of them during the next module; field work. When the four modules run their course (culminating with the students receiving a certificate for being trained in energy auditing) I may very well begin teaching the course again. I have a feeling it will go a lot smoother the second time around as I can take what I learned in this experience and use what works / throw out what didn't.

As much work as it was, I will miss these 30 minute drives, 30+ hours of preparation, and 20 hours of teaching. Although unfocused at times, the kids were great and some I may even have had an impact on for their future life's work. The best moment was reaching out to one of the students who I deemed to be the leader of the bunch. I told him that I could clearly see his leadership abilities and that I wanted to bring this to his attention. His behavior had an effect on the rest of the class and once he realized this his whole attitude changed. He helped me control the class when they got out of line, volunteered much more often, and started shaking my hand after each lecture. We had some great conversations the last few classes and I hope to keep in touch with him in the future.

Here are some videos from the last class and I will post a group picture of us once I upload it.

Setting up the blower door.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

BBBS Bowl-A-Thon Fundraiser, Please Consider Donating!

TODAY is the 5TH YEAR that Sam and I have been bowling in the Big Brother Big Sister Bowl-A-Thon Fundraiser! We are hoping to raise $500 this year, and you can donate easily online! Please consider making a donation today, and reading about (and watching videos, below!) from our first year participating. Very fun and cool to look back on this.

This picture is from 2009 (our first year)

Thanks, everyone! You can donate at the following link:

---From 2009 (Year 1)---

Yesterday was the Big Brother Big Sister Bowl-A-Thon...the event that this whole fundraising effort was leading up to. BBBS tried to raise a total of $55,000 and have 500 participants in the event (over a two day period of renting out a bowling alley in Northampton). Sam and I arrived at 2:00 and bowled for 2 hours with Nemat (another UMass student and big brother), his little Johnathan, and a third little brother named Amari. We cheered each other on after every bowl, gutterball or not, and I can honestly say that I've never given so many high fives in my entire life. It was loads of fun and all the kids really seemed to enjoy themselves; which is the most important thing. I also lost my voice after hootin and hollerin for those two hours. It was great.

Now for the fundraising breakdown;
  • Sam contacted family, friends, and became the number 5 fundraiser in the ENTIRE big brothers organization. He raised over $400 himself. Nice job Sam.
  • I went all out for this event; putting donation jars with a write-up about the event at my places of work, creating a public facebook group and inviting (one by one) 500 people to it, e-mailing friends, family, friend's family, academia...
  • Our total amount raised was $1195. Initially we had a $200 goal, then it became $200 each or $400, then $500, then $1000. Our team, "A Couple of 'Sirs'," was the number two fundraising team in Hampshire County.
Thank you all so much for supporting Sam and I in our efforts to raise money for such a good organization. All of you are such kind and generous people to have donated money - especially given the current economic times. You are truly great people and I am so glad to have you all in my life. Here are some pictures from yesterday:

Sam, the champion bowler (I think he just got an 8). Good job, Sir.

I think Sam took this picture and it was when I got a strike. But perhaps I'm just saying that... you will never for sure without a video!

The 3 'short guys!' on our lane; (From left to right) Johnathan, Sam, and Amari

Video of Sam, droppin those pins!

Johnathan bowls a strike! High fives all around.

Here's the link to donate again, to our 5th year of participating!: