Friday, November 21, 2008

"Scone Day" comes to Davis Square

Please bear with us: this blog entry does have something to do with wind energy -- just read through!

In the wake of the election of our country's first African-American president, a Black church in Massachusetts was burned under suspicious circumstances, apparently in a reaction to the election. (Later we have learned that several others nationwide were burned -- see "Pam's House Blend" for an article on some of these acts of racism). We all feel somewhat powerless in the face of news like this, but many of Second Wind's employees this week gave their time to support an organization that is doing something to help these churches -- the National Coalition for Burned Churches and Community Empowerment.

Founded in 1997 by Rev. Terrance G. Mackey, Sr. and a handful of mostly rural, Southern, African-American church leaders and allies, this coalition is committed to helping churches respond to and recover from burnings. Rev. Mackey's own church in South Carolina was burned in 1996 and he told me that he wanted to do something to help churches and their congregations who found themselves in the same situation. Not only does the Coalition offer resources for churches who have suffered at the hands of arsonists and vandals, it also promotes research into the root causes of this problem and offers youth and leadership development programs to build strength within communities.

In my quest to learn more about the problems of church burning and how individuals -- or corporations -- could help, I had the honor of speaking both to Rev. Mackey and to Bishop Bryant Robinson of the Macedonia Church in Springfield, the church that was burned earlier this month. Both men impressed me with their dignity and determination to focus on positive deeds under the most materially and spiritually trying of circumstances.

I live in West Medford, very close to Second Wind's Davis Square headquarters, and have been doing a "Scone Day" fundraiser in my neighborhood every year since just after 9/11. It is a simple concept . . . it's like a bake sale coming to you. I bring leaflets all over my neighborhood, inviting my neighbors to pre-order scones, and then on the morning of "Scone Day" I deliver them very fresh homemade scones. By now I've gotten pretty good at scone baking and have a small but vocal group of scone fans. (For all those who have asked me over the years, I use Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe, and no, you can't have a copy of it -- buy her excellent Pie & Pastry Bible.) Each year the money Scone Day raises goes to a different organization or cause.

I had already done this year's Scone Day when we all heard about the Macedonia Church, a Black church in Springfield, Massachusetts, getting burned. With enthusiastic support from my co-workers, we decided to try the "Scone Day" concept in our business neighborhood, selling scones to raise money for the National Coalition for Burned Churches.

Unfortunately, leafletting local businesses didn't work as well as it does in my residential neighborhood. A few of us went all around Davis Square with leaflets copied on bright pink paper and we got a few smiles, but no takers. However, people inside our company (who admittedly have sampled my scones) enthusiastically ordered tons of them, and so on Monday, we will be sending a modest, but heartfelt, donation to the National Council for Burned Churches and Community Empowerment.

One of the things that struck me in media coverage of the Springfield church burning is that it was hard to figure out how to help. I left a message on the church's voice mail, and the call was returned by Bishop Bryant Robinson. Bishop Robinson told me that although insurance will cover most of the damages, his church would be grateful for any donations to help with the rebuilding project. I promised at the beginning of this blog entry that there would be a tie-in to wind power, and here it is. When most people think of scones, the first ingredient that comes to mind is butter. (Correct me if I'm wrong?) We recently learned that the White Wave Company, makers of Silk Soymilk (you know, the brand with the wind turbines on their packaging?) is the manufacturer of Land'o'Lakes butter. Bingo!

If you would like to join Second Wind's employees in trying to help churches of all denominations recover from these acts of tragedy, you may support the National Coalition for Burned Churches by visiting the Donation page at the NCFBC website. Contributions to help the Springfield church may be made by making a check payable to Macedonia Church and sending to the Macedonia Church Fund, c/o Morrison Mahoney LLP, 1500 Main Street, P.O. Box 15387, Springfield, MA 01115-5387.

Friday, November 14, 2008

We Won't Get Fooled Again . . . We Hope!

We received an e-mail Thursday that said:

Dear Sir/Madam, My name is Rev. Larry Clark.i want to order some of your product to one of my new Orphanage home in Ghana.I want to know the types of Loggers,Recorders,data loggers and recorders,Test and Measurement Equipment,controllers and Panel Meters you have or give me your website so that i will select the type of product i want to order please.i live in Florida and i am on a trip now.WHAT TYPE OF PAYMENT DO YOU ACCEPT?Thank you.Rev Larry.

What a great opportunity! A chance to sell some merchandise, and help out a worthy cause in Africa. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance? I responded as we would to any prospective customer, answering his questions promptly and courteously. He asked for 15 loggers. As we corresponded and I attempted to verify payment information and other details, his emails became increasingly more urgent. In addition, he refused to use anything other than his preferred shipping company, P K K shipping, which can be seen in another one of his e-mails here:

Thats good but i have not us that shipping before and i am comfortable with the P K K shipping company thats why i want you to mail them now please.please adviseRev Larrk

As if this weren’t fishy enough already, this part really struck a chord with us (plus, spelling your own name wrong is not helping your cause). No one around here had ever heard of P K K shipping, so we decided to investigate. Our first step was to Google 'P K K Shipping' (not to be confused with a terrorist group called the Kurdish Worker’s Party?) What we found was a huge number of complaints about the scam being run by P K K Shipping. Everyone mentioned the exact same story that Rev. Larry had sent to me about an orphanage in Ghana and traveling in Florida. Many of the people writing about it online said they were baiting him and were going to contact the FBI about him. It's also worth mentioning that I found two real Rev. Larry Clarks, presumably doing God’s work and not trying to conduct Internet scams!

Seeing there was nothing more I could do, I decided to ignore him and move on…until he called. I could barely understand a word he was saying on the phone. I mentioned that I looked up P K K shipping online, and as soon as the word scam came out of my mouth, the phone clicked dead and he disappeared as quickly as he arrived. I’ll always have a place for you in my heart, and I’m sure the police will always have a place in their cell for you my sweet Reverend Larry Clark.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tufts students visit Second Wind

Former intern Nicole Slaughter is now a junior advisor for the CSEMS program at Tufts. This unpronounceable acronym is a mentoring program for students in Computer Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (the final "S" is for Scholars. These students' workstudy job is to be mentored by faculty advisors and peer mentors, and to attend on-campus workshops and field trips. Second Wind was a good choice for a field trip because it's very close to the Tufts campus. The field trips are done during the students' lunch break, and the one van delivered them in two successive groups. Besides former intern Nicole, one of our current interns is a recent Tufts grad, and our founder and CEO Walter Sass is a Tufts alum.

It was awkward from the get-go because during lunch the office is underpopulated, so there aren't as many friendly faces to explain what they do. There was quite a bit of pointing at empty chairs. Walter toured the students through our production facility, showing them how we build and ship thousands of units from our fairly anonymous Davis Square location. He also showed them some of the Triton testing equipment, whereupon some brightened as they recognized familiar tools like the oscilloscope.

Intern Andrew toured them around the rest of the company. He spends most of his time in engineering and testing, so I filled in explaining sales. My quick summary: sales from the salespeople pay the salaries of the engineers, and if you don't want a Dilbert job as an engineer, you might look into sales or sales engineering. I also toured them through the admin area, explaining the harsh world of customer credit.

Generally, Tufts delivered us a bunch of introverts, except for one guy who not only got my "walk this way" Young Frankenstein reference, but generously walked that way. I'm not sure whether we are bad tour guides or that the students haven't learned to look interested in grownups. Hopefully we'll get feedback soon.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Blades Over Boston

What do polluted soil, wind turbines, and high-end kitchens have in common? You can find them all at Forbes Park in nearby Chelsea. An early autumn evening found a group of Second Wind employees clambering over makeshift footbridges to view the construction on this eco-friendly, brownfield conversion loft project.

We got interested in it, naturally, because of the 240-foot-high, 600-kilowatt wind turbine that sits on the bank of the Chelsea Creek. If you're driving up Route 16 you can probably see it in the distance and may have wondered what was going on.

My colleague Julie Arnold arranged a tour for a group of Second Wind employees and some of our sidekicks mostly because she thought it would be cool to see, and she was right. So we piled into our Priuses and our Zipcars and swam through the rush-hour traffic to meet the project's developer, Blair Galinsky, for a tour.

Blair is an architect/developer whose firm recently completed the Davis Square Lofts near Second Wind's headquarters. He drove up in a Mini Cooper and explained that he would rather be driving in a Smart Car if a way could be devised to power the Smart Car using the turbine's energy.

For our out-of-town blog readers, Chelsea is one of those communities that has struggled with poverty, poorly managed industry, and even a couple of spectacular fires (1908 and 1973), but has been settled by artists and urban renewal types over the last couple of decades. Chelsea has a scenic waterfront, a bunch of working-class and poor neighbhorhoods, and now a Belgian-made wind turbine.

Forbes Lofts is named after the Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company, once one of Chelsea's largest companies and the industry mainly responsible for the area's designation as a brownfield. Blair picked up chunks of coagulated ink that had been deposited on the site during a 100-year peroid and explained that the ink had been dumped, indiscriminately mixed with ball bearings, pieces of broken equipment, and other byproducts of the printing process, until it hardened into unusable chunks of junk. The turbine sits atop the part of the site that was the most unusable.

The Forbes Lithograph factory is being converted into luxury lofts, and the turbine will power the lofts and sometimes sell power back to the grid. Our three most rugged employees had been offered the chance to climb up the ladders. Somehow I thought the ladders would be on the outside and I could climb up and see Boston the way you see Paris from the Eiffel Tower. But the ladders are mounted on the inside, and the lights weren't working, so ixnay on the climb. We all were given a chance go to inside. It's pretty much what you'd expect -- you are standing in a round enclosure, with no espresso bar, no bathrooms, no ticket window, just a concrete floor and the light coming in the door, and you look up into a dark tube that gets darker and skinnier as it goes up. There's a control box (which we didn't touch) and that's pretty much it.

After not climbing the turbine, Blair took us over to the luxury lofts. This was many people's favorite part of the tour simply because the landscaping and architecture were so beautiful and well thought out. They have converted a four-story concrete structure that used to host the printing company into sixty-eight luxury live/work lofts.

As we entered the building and were offered a beverage, Blair explained to us that an atrium had been created in the middle of the building so that there would be natural light on both sides of the lofts. Concrete was used extensively in the design, partly because it retains heat and aids in passive heating and cooling. Inside, the model unit loft was so cool that I can't describe it without sounding dorky. The architecture is open plan, and super chic. I caught more than one person drooling in the kitchen.

The developers seem to have thought of every possible idea to make the project environmentally sustainable and to contribute to the community. Blair talked about plans for a covered bridge that would cross a largely industrial landscape from the lofts to a local school, so that the students could visit the park's planned environmental exhibitions. He showed us a manmade salt marsh that is being developed by one of the two living people capable of doing that kind of work. He also showed us a lighting system: inside each loft a lightbulb glows blue when electricity is free (meaning the turbine is supplying all the building's needs at at particular time) and glows yellow or orange to signify periods of high or peak usage, when electricity would cost more. He discussed plans to light the turbine in similar colors so that people in the surrounding community could learn about peak electrical usage times as well, and time their activities to take advantage of non-peak usage times.

These are just a few of the building's green features . . . for more on the "smart design" of the Forbes Lofts visit

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Get on the PTC bus!

Once again it's a roller coaster ride to the end of the legislative session and the fate of the Production Tax Credits (AKA PTC). Wind has bi-partisan support; it's not a just Birkenstock and ponytail thing any more. So it should be a shoo-in, right? But then the PTC gets incorporated into some other, bigger bill that doesn't have bipartisan support (i.e. Energy Bill). Just when we thought the financial meltdown had completely absorbed Congress, a Friend of Renewables tucked the PTC into Son of Big Scary Bailout, which is basically the same as Big Scary Bailout 1 plus lipstick. So, if the voters of America are content that Congress (and now just the House, as the Senate has already passed it) felt their pain enough to vote the bailout down last week, but trust them to vote yes this week, we will have a Production Tax Credit and a robust renewables industry next year. If not, well, see you at CanWEA and BWEA next month!

Second Wind signed onto this coalition of renewable companies in favor of the PTC - don't know if it helps, but it's worth a try. The PTC may not be the best way to encourage development of wind plants, but it's the only one we have, compared to plenty of incentives for conventional energy sources.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Second Wind is Fabulous, Part Two

I am getting ready for my second day of work at Second Wind, a company I have worked for as a vendor for over 15 years. I am sharing an office with my boss, which serves me right because my employees used to share an office with me. Actually Susan is okay, although no one's going to believe I mean this because she'll be the first one reading this blog entry. In fact she has already accused me of an unspeakable employee practice (obsequious flattery).

My favorite Susan incident came a couple years ago when I was drastically late to a meeting, having been reached on my cell phone while at Chuck'e'Cheese. I walked into the conference room (avoiding the gazes of the five people who had been waiting for me) and helped myself to a hard candy. Susan's first words? "Bold move with the hard candy."

I am joining Second Wind as a marketing associate because, after 20 years as a self-employed graphic designer, I wanted to get more deeply involved with one company rather than, as it seemed, solving the same five or six problems for different companies.

I have loved wind power since before it was fashionable and one of my prized possessions is Paul Tsongas' 1980 book, "The Road From Here," inscribed by the author: "Thanks for all the youthful enthusiasm. Don't change!"

Second Wind seems to mesh with my "youthful enthusiasm." Although the company does not actually build wind farms, we support the industry by making it more efficient and, well, sustainable. Our equipment measures wind to determine the best places to locate wind farms and turbines, and, as Susan mentions below, our engineers provide technical advice about the siting of turbines and the appropriate tools to use for particular jobs. To the wind industry, we are like geologists who say "Drill here."

I enjoyed my first day, surrounded by a productive and congenial buzz of people working towards the same goals and by the jingling of Corvo's dog tags. Corvo is, as far as I know, the only non-human on our company payroll and is welcome throughout the office (although I think his fridge privileges are restricted). The office has an atmosphere of creativity, innovation, and respect and (in the absence of a snazzier "clincher" for this entry) I'm excited to be here!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Those pesky engineers!

In today's Boston Globe, the new turbine atop the roof of Boston City Hall was unveiled. The Menino administration selected a SkyStream 3.7 from Southwest Windpower. Whether the decision was based on Southwest Windpower's offer to donate the turbine, I do not know, but kudos to them for selecting a credible turbine.

I was amused to see that "engineers" (that's us!) were credited with deterring them for installing a utility-scale turbine. They listened! We're glad to take the rap, because to the average person, City Hall Plaza is wicked windy, the kind of place where you'd hope they could harness the wind because it's such a nuisance in every other way. To a wind engineer, it's a turbulent nightmare that you'd cringe at the idea of subjecting a turbine to.