Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Last Days of Genghis Khan

Forgive me, my sons,
gathered inside this tent
with its smoke hole open to the Great Sky.

I wasn't there to watch your feet
stretch into stirrups, or to guide your arm
as you raised an arrow to bow.

What can I say? I've failed to show
how a Mongol can make a mountain
change places with horses and men.

But even as frost leaches my breath,
I wish to be a father who fills your saddle bag
with what I've learned,

to teach how being a leader
is to master pride,
more difficult to quell than a wild lion,

or anger,  harder to subdue than the greatest wrestler.
Never think of yourself as the strongest or smartest.
When animals climb to the top of a mountain,

they cast a shadow
along rocks where they stand.
Remember to say only what needs to be said.

A loose mouth leaves crumbs for the wind
to heap upon the plates of your enemy.
Have vision and goals,

easy to throw away once a fast horse
and jewelled women adorn your arm.
Conquering an army

is not the same as conquering a nation.
You conquer an army with tactics and men,
a nation by winning the hearts of its people.

Loyalty to family is what you have as brothers
and the only thing you will ever have
in this smoky world of dreams laced with cinnamon.

Friday, November 26, 2010

It's in the Code, Sucka

"To study the history of mentalities is to enter the arena of human experience most resistant to change."
--Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft

You have to be aware of cultural differences, if marketing wants to insert periods after each letter of UK, or if the German store wants to translate into either high or low, and whether the Japanese approve of a wayward Kanji character. I start with English. There's something pastoral about baskets on a bicycle. Think Liza's flower basket festooned with posies. Jars of lemon curd, smoked oysters, a package of biscuits, a bottle of wine.  All the makings for a picnic. In the United States, we lock-up purchases behind bars and bail them out at check-out. Do time in our homes.  

Driving to work I watched clouds cast shadows over the foothills, the hide of a prehistoric animal wrapped around my internal text. Light moves closer to autumn. With GPS I moved straight toward a target, a self-directed arrow that knew where to exit. No more days of getting lost, making a right and discovering a scenic look-out, a road side stand with the best strawberries. See white rabbit enter building through rear security gate and swipe badge past the employee reader. Green. Down an orange hallway, engineers tuck laptops beneath their arms and run to take orders from the next table.

Past the mall towers of Hayward and Fremont I drive with a nail in the sidewall of one of my tires held together with goo that I'd injected through the tire's stem cell, the old Nummi plant now transmogrified into Tesla, an electric car manufacturer; past Solyndra, solar panelist that was anointed with a half a million dollars by the feds this summer to be a bright star. But what's that I hear? KZSU, companion of these 50 minute rides down to Cupertino where the deejay is having broadcast problems because she's doing homework at the same time that she's doing her show. That's her talking, not me. "Wow, it's been a really bad day. No one has called in for tickets." I pass cows. Really? Cows in Fremont, remnants.

He bent me through the prism of whomever he thought I was, which hurt. So I composed an email, which didn’t help. Soon I found my way to Lake Tahoe, which wasn’t Lake Tahoe, but the Great Salt Lake, so many conference rooms named after lakes where I was invited to sit around the table with helpings of stale pretzels and fudge cookies to thrash out the next business requirements document with team members dialing in and hooked up through a bridge. Yellow stickie notes on a white screen, an entire wall covered in arrows and boxes, petroglyphs from a high-tech era. When I returned to my desk,  my email was empty.

I got my first café latte this evening and it was good. Then I toured a management tool and visited products, parents and children gathered under one roof. In God We Trust. Scaled down design with a special spigot at the sink that offers cold drinking water. Forget your bottle. I notice a defibrillator cabinet installed outside the bathroom where toilets have both automatic and manual flushing options. Beatles today on the front cover of the web page. They look like high-tech employees, Men in Black. On the late-night shift, I talked with Elena who gathers up the day’s refuse and inserts a plastic liner into baskets and also stacks towers of cups beside the coffee maker. She’s looking for a better job in the cafeteria where it pays more.  

Time is tied to the device. There are no clocks anywhere.  I walk softly and try not to look like an idiot. At the coffee bar I wanted to sprinkle cinnamon on my coffee, but instead I dusted the counter. D'oh!  At meetings today with a Russian program manager, also with a director from England who's hoping that her boss doesn't get his knickers twisted around his neck when he hears about new due dates. My notebook floats in acronyms. Everyone says that it will take at least six months before I understand what's going on.  

Invite polarities within the container of a circle.  There's no tooling around. I'm in the throes of database archeology. Morning. Ask not for whom the grass blower whines. Outside my window and sitting on a Jeffrey Pine, a crow croaks. It's time for coffee with a dose of Dr. Oz. Working on swing shift has opened up a new world of late night television, Jewelry TV with its siren call of tanzanite and mocha diamonds. I put the program on mute. Odysseus was on to something. Boot up the computer on my living room table layered with a history of Genghis Khan whose armies made no technological breakthroughs. Instead, they passed skills through mountains, rivers, plains, from one civilization to the next. A pony express.

Wouldn't it be a century birthmark if a company chose to strategically invest its capital in developing great tools for its employees--software tools employees use to hold up the company's electronic face. Beautiful tools. A well-honed axe. A stone awl.  Is there some kind of law that says behind the face of simplicity must lie tangle, permanently in need of being untangled? But isn't Nature always using conditioner and how does she do that? It's in the code, sucka. I'm not talking about the relationship between simplicity and complexity, but an electric vocabulary that can be exchangeable, copiedleft.   Just imagine. If employees had the same wonderful tools on the inside as consumers did on the outside, a singularity, boundaries falling down.

I'm having an out-of-cart body experience. Jewelry TV says there's only 60 more seconds left on the tanzanite cross. I've passed by that station.  Genghis Khan assembled representatives from the world's religions for a theological bake-off. No side was able to convince the other of anything. Soon alcohol took center stage. Christians stopped with the logical arguments and started to sing. Muslims, who did not sing, responded by reciting the Koran, and Buddhists retreated into silent meditation. It was Shabbos for the Jews. Unable to convert or kill one another, they concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone too drunk to continue. There was a real toad strangler last night and in the morning, tree branches were clenched in prayer.

The BBC announced that on Black Friday, Americans will boost the economy by spending lots of money, cheerleaders dressed in jogging suits filling up shopping carts with different things. Remember there are no baskets at WalMart, only carts. I stood next to an Asian woman near a shelf stocked with every kind of thing a person might  need for Thanksgiving--pineapple rings, cranberries, chicken broth, baking powder and tins of cinnamon. Standing room only for jars of mincemeat and bags of marshmallows on the opposite side of the display. She circled around like a hawk, looked at me and said, "Prices are so low. I can't believe it. This is the first time I've ever been here." She turned around and walked away.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Flying Home After Election Day

First I saw a man who wore a baby on his belly like a bright bow,
a midget who carried a dragonfly on his shoulder up a long ramp,
and tourists who clustered before a plate glass window to price homes.  
On the flight back, an attendant collected  
alms  in a white garbage bag. I tossed mine in.
A loud discussion from window and middle seat people
about a bookclub and who elects what to read. 
Once I returned home, my cat tripped me  
until I filled her bowl. She believes in  one thing--
the straight meow.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

6. A Sparrow in Search of Spring

Temujin, wolf-man with cat eyes
came to me in a goat-skin cape

to replace my companion of  months,
a shadow. Now my twin flies

like a sparrow in search of spring
away to a peak covered in grass,

or like a sturgeon that leaps
with the oar of its tail.

I twist free into a deer.
Night is studded with pearls

and wraps us in black velvet.
No one sees

or can dream what we do
in each other's den,

backs are etched raw
by root and stone.

Thunder from our sated voices
makes a stream-bed.

Who we are together
Is locked in our eyes. 

The child that is mine
is now his.  

Temujin has come back.
I remove straw from his beard.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Winners and SemiFinalists in the Cleantech World

What organization has raised 280 million dollars in the last five years for clean technology companies?  A few hints: It’s an organization with nary three paid full-time staff members. The group currently runs five regular business competitions covering 22 states in the U.S.  Oh, yes in another month they plan to award $200,000 to a national prize winner.

Give up? Cleantech Open is a five-year old organization that “finds, funds, and fosters entrepreneurs with big ideas,” according to Executive Director, Rex Northen who spoke at the October 8 California Regional Cleantech Open hosted by Chevron in San Ramon, California.  At the end of the day, six new companies each walked away with awards of $18,000.

Many fledging companies have been assigned mentors and are given business plan assistance. Cleantech wants to help commercialize clean technologies. Corporate sponsors also are part of the backbone with expertise and support from companies such as Autodesk, Chevron, Kauffman Foundation, Google, PG&E, Reed Smith. San Diego Gas and Electric, and Wells Fargo, and others.

Andrew Hargadon, Professor and Soderquist Chair in Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Davis gave the keynote. Hargadon focused on assembling a network around an idea. Citing Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, neither of whom actually invented anything, Soderquist advised to “Find the path to deliver to as many people as you can as fast as you can. And if it takes several centuries that’s not scale—it’s change.”  

In the judging panels and during the “innovation exchange,” many venture capital firms were on hand, Both Nancy Floyd, Nth Power, and Nancy Pfund, DBL Investors, acknowledged that environmental companies are at the “tipping point.” Don Riley of Chevron Technology Ventures extended an open invitation for entrepreneurs “to contact me.”

I served as a scribe on the Energy Efficiency Judging Panel and heard about a slew of technologies, everything from a specialized pump and software algorithm to collect the natural gas spill-off from oil rigs, a new resin insulation for the high-speed transmission of electricity, and a social networking utility to allow people to track their carbon footprint.

Congratulations to the six regional California winners and semifinalists. Here’s how they stacked up:




Energy Efficiency

Enovative Kontrol Systems



Air, Water & Waste

Mango Materials

Green Building

Bellwether Materials

Smart Power


Intuitive Energy


Nascent Solar Technologies

The six finalists participate in the national judging on November 15th and 16th. National awards are held on November 17th at the 2010 National Awards and Expo, at Parkside Hall A, 271 South Market Street, San Jose.  

Lenore Weiss

Thursday, October 7, 2010

5. The Strongest Hand

Soldiers drink horse's blood,
fill moats with dead bodies,

pile catapults with excrement
near a thousand flickering fires.

Quivers of horn and wood
hug arrows for their intended.

Ashes of men rout a birch
with locust memories.

Now I pour ashes into my palm
and blow breath on them,

men who ride into a season of slaughter
and disappear beneath a saddle.

When I was a child,
my mother carried me on her hip.

I wore boots as soft as doeskin.
One day she found a mare

escort to a pool of water
between shoulders of earth.

The sky grew black.  I could see back
to the beginning

before I was a nub who held a horse's mane
and breathed its sweet sweat.

I sat and wondered why people kill each other 
and then scatter to the strongest hand.

Monday, October 4, 2010

4. A Wolfskin with a Silk Rope

My ears hear everything at night.
My eyes see everything during day.

I could not tell who entered my tent
through the evening smoke-hole and stood

with his legs, an arrow's width apart.
Then I saw a man.

Sky blue. Even his nose.
Maybe he was a cloud.

In his hand, several wolfskins tied
with a silk rope.

He said: From the water of your waters
will grow a nation. Four sons 

with the strength of a wolf pack
tied together.  

He placed a bundle in my lap.
When I awoke, it was my head's soft pillow.

Then I knew Temujin would come.
Who else could be the father of such men?

Part of me wanted daughters to braid my hair,
to brew tea

when news of the tangled grass
reached my ears.

Piles of dead trees like rotting bodies.
I am not prepared.

Friday, October 1, 2010

3. Wild Onion and Pear

Lying next to this man, Chilger,
through the smoke-hole of our tent,

I hear a grasshopper
burrow in the sheep dung.

He throws his hand over my chest
like a lasso pole to draw me in tight.

His breath travels up an elk-path
and comes back down, snorting.

All night, even without sleep,
I cannot rest.

I'm the one who holds his willow branch
until it topples,

and in the morning, the one who fills
a leather bucket with mare's milk

until it runs down his face
and drowns him in a white river.

I draw my lips over my teeth.
With my teeth

he wants to capture a smile.
He can bridle me. No one commands my heart.

Only the child that floats on its back
with fingers pressed against my belly.

I will dig in the ground,
feed him wild onion and pear.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2. The Lichen Clan

Stolen from Temujin to this mirror camp, days
stick in my throat and sicken me.

I see men, women, and children
with the same two arms and legs.

They walk
and wait for me to circle them.

If I remove my silver necklace,
I must bow my neck.

How long can I nurse emptiness,
a heartless child?

The fire at night warms bootless feet.
My silver gelding with a black tail does not run toward me.

I search the Altai Moutains for rising dust.
Before a cooking fire, I dry

a blanket, the same color
as an arrow that pinches the sky 

near the curved tip of a falcon's wing.
I see it.

Men come to crush each other,
and every woman and child with two arms and legs.

Stallions mash bones with hooves
into the black rock of Lake Baikal,

rock with the faces of lichen
that speak as one clan.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Loudly and Softly, Börte Keeps Temujin Alive

I am Mongol, loyal to one master. 
When that other khan

touches my cheek, it turns into a salt pond. 
Nightmares rim my eyes with darkness. 

My husband, Temujin, is a gray wolf 
who kissed my mouth.

I remember when Temujin lifted
the fringe of my silk banner

with his spear.
Now his spirit pole is gone from my tent.

I drip candle wax along the fissure of my heart,
drink warm kumis.

A woman in black sable
calls me to stand before my dream.  

Floating seeds join each other in air.
I hear them laugh.

The seed in my bowl is not his.
It doubles me.

I will slip away like the whip of a horsetail 
upon the frozen steppe. 

I was not born to die in another clan's tent.
The Blue Sky follows me between branches. 

The face of the marmot and falcon is Temujin's  
face. The birch hides my secret. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Driver Turned into a Plastic Bag

A plastic bag floats over the highway,
glances at each driver through the windshield.
Where are you headed and where are you going?
Roll down your window and bring me along. 
He looks for the opening of a moonroof,
a hand to break his free fall.

Sails above another moonroof
and scouts for a come-on on the highway,
hopes to knock out the gravity of his fall,
uses his handles as a shield,
also to propel his plastic along.
He has to keep it going.

Before the free fall,
he knew exactly where he was going,
slumped before a windshield
with a broken moonroof
stuck on the highway,
hunger as a passenger tagged along.

He shifted along-
side electrified guardrails, fell
for a woman who cursed him on the highway
to flap his wings unmotorized, an empty bag going
out of his mind for a slice of moonroof
to face the jury of a windshield.

Now a hitch-hiker who chases windshields,
he looks for a thumbs-up to grab him along.
Show him an opening through a moonroof.
Let him return as a waterfall
flows.  One day he's going
to leave the highway.

There's a shield of wind over Bridal Veil Falls
kicking up white foam, going along
where he forgets moonroof, highway, everything she ever said.

Friday, September 3, 2010

How to Impact Green Legislative Policy

SARTA   (Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance) sponsors a leadership series to give local entrepreneurs and students of emerging technologies an understanding of how green business works.

The desired outcome is to speak with state energy agencies and venture capitalists about solving real problems with new energy efficient products and saving people money.

The topic of the Leadership Series Clean Tech Track, held at Drexel University on September 2 was, “How to Influence and Impact Clean Tech Regulatory and Legislative Policy.” Drexel offers eleven doctoral and master's programs, including in all things entrepreneurially green.

The September 2 discussion included instructors
 Michael Faust, CEO and President of the Northern California World Trade Center; Will Gonzalez, Owner, Gonzalez Public Affairs; Jan E. Schori, Of Council, Downey Brand, 
and Jan Smutny-Jones, Executive Director, Independent Energy Producers Association (IEP).

Places on the Internet to start getting informed include high-priced and free publications. Possible sources with a mixture of both are: 

Don’t forget about using Google Alerts with specific keywords and TweetFeeds to get information about the energy movers and shakers of the moment.


“Get in Early, Tell Your Story, Keep it Simple”


High on the list of questions was how to go about identifying the leaders in any community once there’s a real product in hand. The advice was to:

  • Know the local Chamber of Commerce
  • Informally introduce yourself to local elected officials
  • Describe your product in non-technical terms in a way that addresses the WIFM (what’s in it for me?)
  • Query both groups about whom they consider local community leaders
  • Contact those people and talk to them

The district director of any federal or state legislator can be of tremendous assistance in identifying local leaders and subject matter experts, advised Michael Faust.


Policy Highlights


There were many other tidbits including the fact that Southern California is probably more fertile ground right now for green products since they are dependent on coal to meet a large percentage of their energy needs.  Talk with Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power if you have a solution to that particular problem.

With the coming of electric vehicles, there will be tremendous drain on “the grid” which has a whole other crop of officials grinding their teeth. Bundling home audits with grid pricing, suggested Jan Schori, may be one innovative way to package a solution in this area.

Lastly, the speakers recommended to thoughtfully attend conferences with a game plan.

Don’t feel badly if you can’t contribute money to a politician’s fund because in the long run, it won’t do that much good, said lobbyist Will Gonzalez.

And finally, even if AB32 gets clobbered with a yes vote on 23, there’s enough legislation in place to keep energy regulations going. On the other hand, said Schori, a yes vote will send a message to venture capitalists that California is turning away from its commitment to clean energy, which will not be a good.

I wanted to end this discussion on a high note. Be sure to check out the upcoming SARTA Clean Tech Showcase, Tuesday, October 26 at Sacramento State, the region's largest event highlighting the clean tech sector's innovators, investors, educators and companies. And contact Lenore Weiss if you need a great writer to communicate a strong message that will get your customer’s attention.

Lenore Weiss

Posted via email from TechTableTalk: "It's Not Over Your Head"

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Piers Plowman

Traffic grows heavy
as days thin to their core.
A candidate promises
she'll do everything except change history--

I sit in front of a computer

dressed in a nightgown of reversible darkness

that slides across my shoulder,
watch you sweat pixels 

transported across a browser,
reassembled on my home page.

Listen to pine needles stir up the morning,
see fog outline the coast--
Still no state budget.
Emptiness catches me by its hand.
Canada geese plow trees overhead.

Lilac, periwinkle, and violet
with shades of ash. When I stare
at cactus on the patio,
color shifts from green
to a crinoline.

Outside I hear a cathedral
gone mad, bangles
on a woman's skull
like a torn shopping bag
stuffed with a mall.

I watch a leaf on a linden tree
loosen its grip.
File for unemployment.
Send an application online,
someone answer me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

George II Mahogany Wing Chair

"There's no life without furniture."
Joseph Brodsky

She scouted the resale shop, picked up embroidered tablecloths,
silverware needing a shine, caved leather boots,
a white linen outfit crisp in the Bay Area heat. In the back, a lady

who had tied her ponytail with a plastic flower, stacked National Geographics
rescued from bathrooms and T.V. caddies. Then there was the chair.
Feet that could hitch a ride sticking out over the curb of a street corner.

All curves. She fell into its green silk upholstery and leaned her head
against its flank. One hundred dollars divided into four payments.
Once she loaded the chair into the trunk of the Toyota,

the ponytail lady raised a hand to her throat and watched it go.
She stationed the chair on the parquet next to the heater, but out of range.
No toasting in the dining room allowed.

Cared for the chair the way she did her family, dusted its wood,
turned over its seat cushion, ran her finger around the chartreuse
piping like a runway for fingerprints.

She felt rich, the way her body came together in one piece,
arms on wings, head pressed against its fluted back.
In the lap of others especially on evenings

when her husband remained in his bedroom, the chair 
held her close, a friend willing to be more if she needed.
Not things, although she continued to go to the resale shop,

a rotary egg beater, the kind her mother used, a pewter bread tray
crusted on the levee of other hands, 
objects with their own pyramid of touch,

a safety net for disparate thoughts
from a day of check-off lists, 
to a night of silence and closed doors.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oakland Twisted Revisited

Oakland parts company and grabs your collar.
Oakland drives people to live some where else.
Oakland thinks trees are dust mops for buildings.

Oakland hides the sky as if blue were a gang color,
Strokes its hills with purple thistle and jealousy.
Oakland parts company and grabs your collar.

Oakland can eat you like a Pop-Tart for dinner.
She can move to a groove, but don’t fool yourself.
Oakland thinks trees are dust mops for buildings.

Oakland smokes in a corner and asks for blood donors,
Gives free advice, doles out soap and celery.
Oakland parts company and grabs your collar.

Oakland is star spangled with glass, a girl
at the Paramount  acting out of impulse.  
Oakland thinks trees are dust mops for buildings.

Oakland catches me in her windowpane like a daughter
Wearing purple dreads that look falsetto.
Oakland thinks trees are dust mops for buildings.
Oakland parts company and grabs your collar.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tap Dancing on the Silverado Trail

Vineyards reach as far as a BART train 
for several stations down a two-lane highway 
stretching into night and hugging the ground 
where love walked away grabbing her hand.  

In a hybrid car she told her mother 
how a man cleaned her out with a dab of his finger,
traced her lips, the crows feet in her eyes 
then called her name to the stars in disguise.  

Together they altered weather patterns,  
changed a winter storm into a summer caftan. 
Those first few months from couch to car,  
they stirred clockwise into each other  

tap dancing on the highlights of dawn 
in rivulets, torrents, up-side-down
guitar strings stretched for several octaves  
along a fault and into mountain ranges  

leaving the bones of her smashed life set,  
injury into dust disintegrated.  
Listening, her mother understood how love   
shakes a woman down for everything she’s worth.    

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Report Drunk Drivers

He gathers empty boxes from Lucky’s parking lot to stay busy.
Across town, I read an article to stay busy.

Along the road, I see a sign to Report Drunk Drivers.
A retired engineer grows artichokes and red lentils to stay busy.

I rub lavender pellets between my fingers and release the scent to the ground.
From his window, he watches a two-year old boy chase squirrels to stay busy.

Grapevines, more green than his eyes, grow in never-ending rows.
He locks the front door and starts the Harley, cycles to stay busy.

I buy a white glass with a decal of olives and a bottle of Merlot. Go home.
Crossing my arms against the ocean, I study a seagull to stay busy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tisha B'av

The highway was closed in two directions.
Sun glinted white on dashboards.
Later I heard about a wounded police officer.

The rest of the day I waited for you to call.
I left a message on your cell phone.
We were supposed to go swimming.

Along the firetrail near my house I saw smoke puffs
of thistle. Hemlock as tall as two people.
Only daisies bloomed. I did not pick those petals.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Networking and the Spiritual Search

I've finished reading "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm glad that the author placed "eat" first in the line-up. It's important to satisfy our material needs before we can evolve up the chakra. I'm not sure I want to see the movie with Julia Roberts although I can't think of any one who could better play the leading role, a free spirit who knows what she wants. Maybe I feel that the film version would trivialize the spiritual searching aspect and replace it with a love story. On second thought,  maybe the soul-mate kind of love is the result of a spiritual search, so why be put-offish?

These days I'm trying to be frugal.  I can always wait for the DVD.

But movies are not uppermost on my mind. I'm on my own spiritual quest. I want my job to find me.  I know that's easy to say and an excuse for sitting around the pool with one hand holding a good book and the other wrapped around the cell phone, but not really. Here's why.

Depending upon who we are I think we create a network according to our own fish ponds. Simply put, my network is different (and maybe bigger, smaller) than your network. But who cares? I may like lagoons. You may like waves off the coast of Maui.   

"Hi," I say to the meeting coordinator after the event as everyone else in the audience scrambles up to the podium to hob-nob with the high-profile guests. "I'm writing up this event for my blog and I'm wondering if you can give me the speakers list? I want to spell their names correctly." And so might ensue an exchange of paper, including business cards. And more often than night, I can send the speakers a link to my blog post and engage with them in a short dialog.

I try to keep the waves rippling outward. None of this was intentional.  Duck because here comes that word authentic which is bandied about in many job club meetings. The demands of looking for a job have burned away my detritus, otherwise known as bullshit. I don't have time for my own games. I've cut back to chasing myself.

On a weekly basis I reference lists like to see what's happening and plunk these meetings into my calendar, always scheduled around visits to the gym.  Actually it's been wonderful not being required to sit in front of a computer for seven straight hours a day. Maybe I won't be visited by carpal tunnel syndrome any time soon. I've made a mental note and want my new position to allow me to work more with people and sit in front of the computer less. In scheduling my calendar I pay attention to the kinds of meetings that interest me.  After all, this is the Bay Area and there's a virtual sea of meetings. What I choose is information about me.

What I'm saying is about "taking inventory," the kind of advice Richard Bolles, job-hunting guru, and his heirs insist upon.  The primary dictum is "know thyself,"  or as Shakespeare put it, "to thine ownself be true."

If I'm like anyone else, it's difficult for me to be my own mirror. But my interactions with the world can serve as that mirror. Like when I went to a women's networking session hosted by FoutainBlue in Palo Alto and experienced the great generosity and openness of women who were all trying to be helpful, not embarrassed but simply asking, "What are you looking for?"  Yes, I enjoy working with women managers.  I made another mental note.

Every week I bobble along in my hand-made boat. I'm hoping that after being at sea with the elements, I will arrive on the other shore tanned, fit, and with a sharper knowledge of myself.

For right now, it's time to address basic needs. I fold up my towel, rinse off the chlorine, and make a favorite dish.

Avocado Row-Boats
One avocado
One lemon (or lime)
Cheese or salsa, your choice
Corn chips

Here's a quick version of guacamole. Cut an avocado in half. Scoop out the wonderful green stuff by sliding a spoon around the outside of the shell. Save the shell.  Mash up the avocado. Think like you're making devilled eggs.  Now fill each skin with the mash.  Squeeze a half of fresh lemon (or lime) juice over each half.  Top with a dollop of cheese or salsa. Serve on a plate with enough chips for scoopers.  Serve with some lovely bubbling water.

Friday, July 9, 2010

What is a Passive House?

What exactly is a passive house ? A refuge for passive-aggressives? A space where the lights are out all the time and its inhabitants sit in quiet contemplation before a burning candle? Well, actually none of the above.

I was hoping to find out more about passive houses at a talk presented by Build It Green in Berkeley. Build It Green, a nonprofit membership organization that offers training and certifications in green building from Sacramento to Downey, California.

Amid a lovely dinner served with ample bottles of thirst-quenching waters and sparkling ciders at Truitt & White, a roomful of building types gathered to hear more about the building of the first Passive House in California on a land trust in West Marin County at 11560 California 1.

According to Build It Green, about 20,000 passive houses have been designed, built and retrofitted over the last 10 years in Europe, 12 in the United States, and one in California, which may offer another reason to drive to Pt. Reyes.  

Most simply put, a Passive House receives and captures energy. In doing so, it slashes heating and energy costs by 90 percent. Of course this is a loosey-goosey definition.

There are Passive House standards that a building must meet to be certified. The Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), is a software package constructed like the popular TurboTax income tax program, allowing builders to plug in numbers and to receive automatic calculations for projections of  heat load, loss, and energy usage with updated calculations for climates around the world.  It’s a package that continually improves with updated data.

Here’s a bit of history. The notion of the Passive House (“Passivhaus”) was first developed in Germany in the early 1990s by Professors Bo Adamson of Sweden and Wolfgang Feist of Germany. They put together solar design ideas from North America with “low energy” European building standards to create the notion of a house that could maintain a comfortable interior climate without conventional heating and cooling systems. A Passive House can be operated without the help of large “active” mechanical systems (i.e. furnaces and boilers), thus the “Passive” moniker.

In 2003, Katrin Klingenberg, a German designer, built the first Passive House in Urbana, Illinois. Klingenberg established the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) in Urbana with builder Mike Kernagis. In January 2008, PHIUS was authorized by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt as the official certifier of Passive Houses in the U.S.

Got it? Now back to Berkeley where James Bill, Katy Hollbacher, and Terry Nordbye, architect,engineer, and builder who worked together on West Marin’s Blue2 House, discussed what it took to build California’s first certified Passive House that soon will be occupied by a family. All agreed that the Passive House model goes far beyond Energy Star standards, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy’s effort toward more cost effective environmental solutions. “In the past compliance, not energy usage, is what people looked at,” said Hollbacher.

Retrofitting an entire home to meet Passive House standards may not be cost effective for the average homeowner in the temperate Bay Area. However, the Build It Green presenters agreed that incorporating different aspects of the PHPP methodology may be the incremental best way to go.

In any case, it's going, going, going green. 

Lenore Weiss

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Public Good is Good Business

Everywhere I go these days seems to be lined with flower borders: white alyssum edging blue lobelia fronting on red begonias. From one condo to the next shopping mall to the museum in the city, there’s the same flower invitational. I’m not sure what to make of this. Either Home Depot was having a sale on sixteen packs for the last several weekends, or some one landscaping company has nailed down every contract within a 30-mile radius.  Flowers speak of beauty and formal order.  Outside of that ring, I find frustration.  Some is my own, but not all.

Why, for instance, did it take Wells Fargo Bank eight months to tell me that I do not qualify for the Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP) because I had in the past co-signed on a loan? I only received that bit of news after jumping through a tunnel of hoops that began with a Joe McCarthy litany: “What is the property address? Do you plan to continue to live at the residence? What is your telephone number? What are the last four digits of your social security number?” I wondered if I seemed like the type of person who moved around every two weeks.  I don’t think I could pack and unpack my boxes that quickly. 

For months, I spoke to any number of agents in the “Loss Mitigation” department who nearly caused me to lose my mind by the amount of misinformation that was ever dispensed through the handset of a telephone. Only after finally writing a letter to the Executive Complaint Department located in Des Moines, Iowa, did anyone call with helpful information.

Then there’s the thrill of having to deal with the unemployment office, otherwise known as the Employment Development Division who up until the month of May, was located in an easily accessible location with ample parking. But their offices have been moved downtown with only metered parking. Everyone knows that you can’t go in and out of EDD without spending copious amounts of time. I thought we supposed to be unemployed and were saving money?  

Sure, I’m whining, but I have a strong sense that our institutions are failing us. Somewhere there’s a bottom line that says that the public good is not good business.  I haven’t been to a civics class lately, but I believe that already has been disproved by the Founding Fathers and several Greek philosophers who created the basis for our democracy.

Okay. But what I really need to do is find a job. Then I wouldn’t have so much time on my hands to be bothered by this stuff. But this may be another part of the Marie Antoinette --"Let them pay parking" -- thing.  Keep people so tied up working one or two jobs and what happens? We don’t have time to write letters or to get our squeaky wheels out of the shop.

This morning as I edged my way to the computer I heard two phrases: “Focus” and “Go Deep.” You must know that I’ve been to a great number of career counselor motivational type speaker presentations.  Everyone, like Gypsy Rose Lee, has their own particular gimmick, advice to share with the job-seeking sisters and brothers, and like Wells Fargo, much of the information is contradictory. 

Some say to polish your resume until it shines like a diamond from Tiffany’s. Others advise not to bother, but to bet your money on networking (as though anyone can get beyond the word to understand what it means).  Some counselors think that we must brand ourselves like cattle from different box tops, offering a particular service that can be summarized in a sentence.  I could go on, but this morning as I sat in front of my laptop smelling a peculiar odor which I gathered had to be my cat relieving herself beneath my desk after sharing the apartment over the weekend with two little dogs, I realized that I needed to select what was useful from these offerings, all with their own shelf life. Here’s what I understood:

  • It was okay for me to be confused, mixed up and not knowing where to start because I had to begin someplace. 
  • Going to job connection meetings has not been a waste of time as I told myself every time I came home from a job connection meeting because if nothing else, I knew I was not alone.
  • There is no one “right way,” only useful tools and different approaches.
  • Know what you want. That’s the hard one.  So after reading the 200th job description, see which ones  start to look interesting, and try to understand why. 
  • Move in that direction.
To be continued. But right now I feel like treating myself.

Public Good Brownies
Who needs a recipe for brownies? Everyone has one.  But here’s mine that I’ve taken from the back of a chocolate chip bag with some added stuff .

2/3 cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup of butter, softened

¼ cup peanut butter
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 cups total semi-sweet chocolate chips (divided into 1 cup each)
1 cup total of miniature marshmallows (divided into ½ cup each)
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
powdered sugar, sprinkles from last year's Xmas cookies, or coconut (whatever you've got)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put 1 cup of chocolate in a glass bowl with ½ cup marshmallows. Microwave in two 1 minute sets (one minute at a time). Set aside to cool.
  3. In small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon and set aside.
  4. In large bowl, cream butters (including of the peanut variety), sugars, and until they are looking “fluffed out.”
  5. Add vanilla and eggs. Beat well.
  6. Stir in melted chocolate/marshmallow mixture.  Blend.
  7. Gradually add flour mixture to chocolate mixture.  Stir well.
  8. Stir in remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips into the batter.
  9. Spread half of the batter in a buttered 8” square baking pan.
  10. Sprinkle the rest of the marshmallows over the top.
  11. Cover with the remainder of the chocolate batter.
  12. Bake in preheated over for 30-35 minutes. Cool. Sprinkle with some powdered sugar, sprinkles, and or coconut when done.