"Prosperity always inflates the imprudent, and worldly peace weakens the vigor of the soul." - Peter Abelard

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wellesley Student Reaches 20,000 From Attic

This story was originally published in the June 23rd issue of The Wellesley Townsman.

Chris Ulian (a.k.a. Chris Herlihy) records his show in his attic studio. Photo by Rhys Heyden.
In the attic of a quiet, picturesque Wellesley house, up two curvy flights of stairs, amid a sea of Legos, and opposite a foosball table, Chris Ulian, 15, is recording a radio show that will reach 20,000 unique listeners.

Suffice to say, Ulian’s age and appearance belie his occupation. Ulian, who records under the alias Chris Herlihy, has a passion for music that he has parlayed into a weekly online radio show, currently simulcasted by two British stations, “Off The Chart Radio” and “Galaxy 24/7.”

The Unlikely DJ

Though Ulian is unfailingly modest about his success, it’s rather remarkable that this rising sophomore at WHS has snagged such a prime gig after sending demos to radio stations for the first time this January.

“I don’t watch a lot of TV. I have a satellite radio in my room that carries a station from England called BBC Radio 1. That’s something that I listened to a lot. After I listened to that for a really long time, I got into it, and I really like what the DJs were doing and really wanted to see if I could do that myself,” said Ulian.

“I wasn’t really looking for a British or an American station, I was looking for any station that would carry me. It turned out that those were the two that seemed the most professional and exciting.”

Off The Chart is one of Britain’s largest online radio stations, and claims to reach 20,000 unique listeners per week. Ulian is in the process of moving over there exclusively from the smaller Galaxy 24/7, which he said would become official after July 18.

“The aim of our station is to give young people who have an interest in radio somewhere to work on their skills, learn and make mistakes so that they can go on and make a career for themselves professionally in the future, should they wish to. Chris is by no means the finished article but he has a raw passion for music which really comes across in his shows and a desire to improve himself as a DJ which I am more than happy to support him on,” said Tim Willet, Director at Off The Chart Radio.

Ulian is perhaps best described as a consummate professional at a small-time level. His recording equipment is spartan, but effective. He deftly navigates through GarageBand (the Macintosh program for audio production) to mix his show, but admits that he would like to use a more professional audio program like Audacity. He turns off the fan in his stifling attic “studio” to cut down on microphone feedback and authoritatively shuts the door, but acquiesces when his mother comes in and offers a glass of cold water.

The Show

During the week, Ulian chooses all of the music he’s going to play on the weekend two-hour show. He puts it all into the tracks on GarageBand, records it all on Saturday and puts his voice into it. On Saturday evening, he uploads it to the Off The Chart website’s servers. It broadcasts Sundays 9-11 a.m. and Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. EST.

The show is definitely eclectic, and when asked to define its level of “underground-ness,” Ulian quips that, “On the underground rating from 1-10, 1 being, like, ‘My second cousin put together this awesome demo, you should check it out’, and 10 being KISS 108, I think I’m about a 6.”

“I liked the style of show that he does, it's something different and because it was already airing on another station, it has it's own audience who will tune in to it on OTC as well,” said Willet.

Ulian lists rapper Donnis, rock/pop group Architecture In Helsinki, electronic rocker Madeon, and Boston pop artist Sid Sriram as some of his current favorite musicians.

During the school year, Ulian tries not to spend as much time on the radio show, and focuses on his schoolwork instead. During the summer, however, he’ll spend roughly 10 hours a week listening to music, selecting tracks, and producing his show.

Ulian unabashedly looks up to BBC Radio 1 DJs like Chris Moyles and Greg James, and points out that, “…in the UK they have a different style. They talk about more than just the music. It’s much more friend-ish than a DJ just sitting in a studio somewhere.”

“The whole idea for my show was that I was trying to use that [personal] style and do it with an American voice, and see if I could make it work. It’s going pretty well,” said Ulian with a grin.

The Future

As is the case with most 15 years olds, Ulian has little to no idea what his future holds, but is open to most everything.

“I think it would be cool to work in radio if the opportunity came up,” said Ulian, “when I started out, it was the best-case scenario that I would get onto Galaxy. When I got onto Galaxy, the best-case scenario was that I would move onto Off The Chart. So my goals just keep progressing.”

Though Ulian is clearly still a fledgling DJ (his Facebook page, much to his dismay, has only around 200 ‘likes’), he has moments of greatness that more than make up for his occasional flubs and inexperience.

“I do have a very big interview possibly coming up, so definitely put that in there,” he told me, “I won’t say what’s going to happen. I will say that it’s not Rihanna, just in case you were wondering,” he deadpanned.

It’s funny today, but one can’t help but wonder if he’ll be deadly serious soon enough.

Chris Ulian’s weekly radio show can be heard from 9-11 a.m. on Sundays and 7-9 p.m. on Tuesdays at www.offthechart.co.uk. Like him on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/officialchrisherlihy.


UPDATE: Since the time I wrote this piece, Herlihy's FB fan group has quadrupled in size, from around 50 to 200, and he has been profiled by The Boston Globe. Herlihy has also snagged an interview with Owl City's Adam Young. Best of luck to Chris and his show.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Shocking Discovery

This story was originally published in the June 16th issue of The Wellesley Townsman.

From left: WHS Biology teacher Kenneth Bateman stands with juniors Reid Williamson, Dan Wilkins, Andres Kwart, and Jacob Mingolla. Courtesy photo.
Bacteria. Mud. Water.

These are things that conjure up images of a stagnant pond or perhaps a garbage dump. An enterprising team of Wellesley High School students, however, saw something else.

Using local swamp mud filled with bacteria, WHS juniors Andres Kwart, Daniel Wilkins, Jacob Mingolla, and Reid Williamson ingeniously constructed a working microbial fuel cell, an invention that has won them substantial accolades.

The four students, at the urging of Kwart’s biology teacher, Kenneth Bateman, entered the Siemens “We Can Change The World Challenge” in April.

A few weeks later, the team found out they were state finalists.

“The fact that we were nominated as being the best in Massachusetts really came as a surprise to all of us. None of us had seen it coming. Since we had such a late start, we assumed we would be the underdogs in the competition,” said Kwart.

The Siemens Challenge, which draws hundreds of applications from teams of high school students across the country,  “…encourages student teams to identify an energy-related issue that has local, national and global implications and provide a viable solution,” according to the challenge’s website.

“It was the boys who really wanted to do the experiment. There was very little suggestion from any teacher,” said Bateman.

The microbial fuel cell designed by the WHS team attacked the problem of finding alternative, “green” sources of energy, and the fuel cell is both simple and cost-effective.

The team’s major breakthrough was their use of inexpensive graphite electrodes and dialysis tubing to capture electricity in lieu of platinum electrodes and semi-permeable membranes. This saved the team hundreds of dollars and flew in the face of what established science said was necessary for the experiment to work.

“The moment we received those first signs of voltage, we all knew we had successfully created something that could possibly play a part in our futures,” said Kwart.

As Kwart explained, the fuel cell works through a simple mechanism. Anaerobic bacteria (in the form of swamp mud) are fed glucose as fuel, which they process into energy through fermentation. Graphite electrodes capture this energy, and a voltmeter records the electrical output. The cell emits no more pollutants than healthy bacteria in a normal environment.

The maximum voltage the team recorded was about 340 millivolts, a significant, if not substantial, amount of electricity.

“We feel as though this project could be a substantial step in the production of something very significant in our increasingly eco-friendly future. Although we were not able to gather a substantial amount of energy, we believe that, if seriously researched, the microbial fuel cell could be made into something extraordinary,” said Kwart.

Although the team did not end up placing in the top three finalists, they said it was an honor just to be considered, and remain hopeful for the future of their invention.

“Maybe, even, we could one day stick two graphite electrodes into our own compost piles and generate power for our house,” said Kwart.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Mystery of The Odd Fellows Building

This story was originally published in the May 26th issue of The Wellesley Townsman.
Odd Fellows Building at 89 Central Street in Wellesley, MA. Photo by Rhys Heyden.
Sandwiched in-between two upscale retail stores in the heart of downtown Wellesley, the Odd Fellows Building seems, well, a bit odd. Who exactly are the Odd Fellows, and what is this building used for?
What: The building is the formal meetinghouse of the Sincerity Lodge #173, the Wellesley branch of the I.O.O.F. (Independent Order of Odd Fellows). The Wellesley Odd Fellows meet at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month. According to Kasper Pilibosian, the owner of the building and an Odd Fellow himself, the Wellesley I.O.O.F. is a small group of 10 or 11 people who - like the Masons or Rotary Club - promote community service work and support local businesses. The Odd Fellows building was constructed in 1875.
History & Background: The North American I.O.O.F. was founded in Baltimore, Maryland on April 26, 1819, and received its charter from the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England. It is officially categorized as an altruistic and benevolent fraternal organization. As an organization, the I.O.O.F. is based on advocating three principles – friendship, love, and truth. The “FLT” is their official motto and forms the three-link “FLT” chain that can be seen on the Wellesley building.  The official Odd Fellows website claims nearly 10,000 I.O.O.F. lodges in approximately 26 countries worldwide.
According to the Odd Fellows website, “The altruistic and friendly society [in England] came to be known as "Odd Fellows" because it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to those in need and of pursuing projects for the benefit of all mankind. It was believed that they were "an odd bunch of fellows" who would behave in such a selfless and seemingly impractical fashion.”

A close-up of the front sign. Photo by Rhys Heyden.

A Foot, A Book, And A New Hope

This story was originally published in the May 19th issue of The Wellesley Townsman.

Anne Ramsay poses with her newly published book, "Turtle Soup and Tiramisu." Photo by Rhys Heyden.
When Anne Ramsay suffered a serious foot injury three years ago, the lifelong dancer and choreographer was suddenly hobbled. While the injury effectively ended her professional dancing career, it also opened a new door.

Ramsay, eager for ideas to fill newfound free time, started a writing club for Wellesley elementary school kids and, in particular, started to write a story about a tall ship.

Three years later, Ramsay is a published author, and the story – “Turtle Soup and Tiramisu” – has blossomed into a 120-page children’s book.

“I wrote the first few pages, and the kids did some drawings in them. I read what I wrote to the kids and they really liked it, so I kept writing. Every week I would write more and more,” said Ramsay, who works as the Sprague Site Coordinator for the Wellesley Community Children’s Center.

“Turtle Soup and Tiramisu,” which is available through Amazon and select local booksellers, took Ramsay a year and a half to write and another year to edit. Though many people helped her through the writing process, Ramsay said her most invaluable contributors were the kids she works with.

“Turtle Soup,” Ramsay explained, “is in the book because when I first started writing the story we were talking about what things a pirate would eat. And ones girl goes, “Well, obviously, they eat turtle soup.” I owe the title of the book to her.”

During the writing process, Ramsay carried the journal she wrote in around in her bag, adding to it whenever an idea came to her. The kids at Sprague wanted her to write more, so she kept reading to them and getting their input.

“I absolutely love it. I love working with kids. I love that I can be creative every day and I can do art, I can do music, I can do writing, I can do cooking with the kids. The kids are always so receptive,” said Ramsay.

Ramsay, who has worked at the WCCC for 5 years, published the book herself with Amazon’s self-publishing tool CreateSpace. She is hoping to get noticed by a big-time publisher, but for now manages publicity herself, scheduling book signings and writing workshops across the state.

The book follows the adventures of the three Covenly children, who are lured onto a tall ship by Henry Sprague, a troublemaking local boy. When the tall ship takes off with the children still on it, they have to figure out a way home and fend off the mysterious Captain Upham.

Many of the characters are named after Wellesley’s libraries and elementary schools, and Ramsay said she wrote the book to be gender-neutral and accessible to a wide range of children.

“I love working with children and I love being inspired by children, and I hope they enjoy my book,” said Ramsay.

Ramsay will be doing a book signing on June 11 from 2-4 p.m. at the Wellesley Booksmith.


The Eagle Has Flown

 The famous WHS weathervane on its final flight. Photo courtesy of Roger Gurney.
This story was originally published in the May 12th issue of The Wellesley Townsman.
What’s Going On: As you may have noticed, the prominent Wellesley High School tower is currently vane-less. On April 19, a crew of seven workers and two cranes from Turner Construction Company carefully dismantled and removed the weathervane from the top of the tower. It was sawed into five different pieces, which will be reassembled later. The weathervane is now being stored at Nor’East Architectural Antiques in South Hampton, N.H., and will undergo renovations this summer before returning to Wellesley in the fall.  

Why: The historic weathervane, which was designed as a sculptural piece especially for WHS by Robert C. Dean in 1938, includes a soaring eagle along with the traditional compass points. Long a beloved symbol of Wellesley, current construction plans call for the eagle and selected other parts of the weathervane to be refurbished and featured in the front lobby of the new high school building. The renovation is expected to take several months, and the weathervane will likely be installed in the fall before the new school’s planned February opening. The weathervane is mostly made of sheet copper, with steel reinforcement, and was completely covered in gold leaf before the weather took its toll.