Archive for March, 2007

As if West Virginians weren’t already the punchline to a thousand jokes…

West Virginia University, only an hour from Pittsburgh and my alma mater, won the NIT tournament.

I know very little about basketball, but apparently this is a good thing, but not a really good thing, because WVU didn’t make the March Madness thingy this year. I’m getting the impression that the NIT tournament is kind of like a door prize for a team didn’t play well enough to have a bracket.

To add insult to the dubious honor of winning the tournament, the t-shirts for the winners were misprinted.

Sigh.

Also, if you take a look at the link to WVU’s page, above, the error has been photoshopped to spell “Virginia” correctly.

Powercasting

Nikola Tesla, one of America’s greatest scientists and technologists, dreamed of broadcast power. That is, the ability to feed electrical power to a device via the air, rather than via wires. He sort of accomplished that (radio waves are a kind of broadcast power in themselves), but not to the level he believed possible.

Well, a local company, Powercast, is taking the technology a few steps closer to that dream. They were the darlings of CES, and many technology news outlets are talking about their closely-guarded secrets.

Rather than try to squeeze their technique through my muddled grasp of electrical engineering, I’ll quote the CNET article linked above instead:

It works like this: a transmitter can be placed anywhere–in a lamp, for example, that is plugged into the wall and sits on a table. The transmitter in the lamp sends out a continuous, low RF signal. Anything with either AA or AAA batteries set within its range–and equipped with a Powercast receiver, which is the size of your fingernail–will be continuously charged.

Technology similar to this has been in use for years, but Powercast is getting a great deal of attention. With powerhouses like Phillips contracted to use Powercast’s technology, it won’t be long before we’ll have this stuff in our homes.

Although the US now lags behind countries like Norway in the long, fast march toward the singularity, companies like Powercast and institutions like CMU’s world-renowned robotics and artificial intelligence endeavors give me hope that our area might have a future beyond the decline of the steel industry.

Pittsburgh as the next Silicon Valley? It might not be as far away as we think.

Going For a Swim

Nicole Kraus is a depressed woman. Like many unfortunate people suffering from a particular kind of depression, she decided to end it all by jumping off the West End Bridge. Two hours and five miles of river water later, she washed up on the shore of Neville Island, having suffered only “mild scrapes.” [edit: according to a friend of Nicole’s, she also suffered a back fractured in three places – see comments, below]

It warms the cockles of my heart to read that nobody involved had the temerity to describe it as a miracle.

Musings on the Mon-Fayette

I’ve been assigned to UPMC McKeesport this month, which lies at the very end of the 61C. I’ve been spending a good chunk of an hour each morning and evening on that bus, watching the old grey steel towns slip past the window. (I spend an even larger chunk going absolutely nowhere on the Homestead High-Level Bridge, but that’s another matter.) A few days, I drive instead because I’ve got to get somewhere quickly in the middle of the day. Either way, it’s gotten me to thinking: how could we get more Pittsburghers to spend dollars in these communities to give them an economic boost?

One obvious thing that’s needed: make it easier to get there. The roads to the Mon Valley communities are two-lane, heavy with traffic lights, and not fast-moving. I now understand why the community leaders here think they need a highway. They have a specific highway in mind — the much-discussed Mon-Fayette Expressway. This road comes up every couple of months if you dabble in Pittsburgh politics. The planners of PennDOT and the Southwestern PA Commission want it built, because they have Federal matching dollars that can only be used for it. The fine young progressives of Pittsburgh, including Bill Peduto, have been loudly against the Mon-Fay as promoting sprawl and the hollowing out of our urban core (it’d help form a beltway around the city).

I’m no particular fan of highways or sprawl. Still, when I look West towards the airport, I see thriving businesses that feed off the airport, Robinson Town Centre, and the combination of the Parkway and the 28X. When I look southeast, I see lots of available cheap land, already built up with streets and sewerage, and Kennywood as a built-in draw. It makes me wonder whether a bit of sprawl might be a fair price to pay for bringing some of our almost-dead towns back to life.

partying vicariously

southside.jpg
Another weekend, another mass migration to the South Side. I’ll admit, I just don’t enjoy the crowds, the traffic, the glorious binge drinking the way I feel I should. So I turn to the Blog of a Good Time, wherein blogger Julie drinks beer, has fun and drops snipes that crack me up. Such as:

Friday, a gentleman grabbed me and took a picture with me without my consent. Normally I would have punched him in the face. Lucky for him I was intoxicated by the sounds of The Misshapes. I humored him for a while when I noticed he had a wedding ring on. I said see-ya and he said he had an ‘open relationship’ and then bought me a red bull and vodka. Verdict=Not annoying. Vodka=happiness. Douche level=8 – he was married and tried to grab my butt. I am not a home wrecker.

This weekend, while I tackle mountains of schoolwork, I’ll check in for more partying misadventures.

April fool

anncoulter.jpgRight-wing demamgogue Ann Coulter is coming to the University of Pittsburgh on April 1st.

(I wanted that to be a punch line, but it really is happening. At David Lawrence Hall.)

Coulter, a conservative loudmouth, recently got herself into hot water — with prominent Republicans — after using a gay epithet to deride a Democratic presidential candidate. Three leading Republican presidential contenders took her to task: Rudy Giuliani said there was “no place for name-calling in political debate,” Mitt Romney called it an “offense remark,” and John McCain found it “wildly inappropriate.” No apologies from her, though — Ms. Coulter remains unchastened.

Congratulations to Pitt’s College Republicans on booking this hideous creature — on such an appropriate day.

Flickr fun in the ‘burgh

poseidon.jpgPittsburgh has an incredibly active photo group on Flickr. While other cities have fractured photo interest, ours is, dare I say, focused? (thanks, I’ll be here all week). In the next week, Pittsburgh Flickrers have two excellent events coming up.

First, on March 31, is a photo walk in the Strip District. Photographers interested in joining the walk-and-shoot should meet at Pamela’s at 9am (at 60 21st Street, between Penn and Smallman). Next month the Cork Factory will exhibit the best photos taken Saturday.

And on Monday April 2, several of these very talented photographers will be meeting to trade prints of their photos. That’s at Kelly’s Bar & Lounge; look for the crowd of folks with envelopes and photos.

This photo was taken by DeathByBoca and is in the Pittsburgh Flickr pool.

The price of pride?

Mayor Ravenstahl was all over the news yesterday saying that his administration settled the Catherine McNeilly case because they didn’t want to pay more money to lawyers. That’s probably true, but the whole truth is more like “we didn’t want to pay more money to lawyers and lose anyway“. The plain fact is that Commander McNeilly blew the whistle on shady dealings by a friend of the mayor’s, and someone decided to try to punish her for it. That’s illegal, it’s bad government, and it’s costing the taxpayers. The administration said they didn’t want to pay more money to lawyers, but they said that after they’d already wasted a pile of our money. There’s the $85,000 they’re paying to McNeilly herself, and then there’s the city’s lawyers’ time, but there’s another cost we don’t know yet: McNeilly’s attorney fees and court costs. Depending on what they ask for and what gets approved, we the taxpayers could find this case costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s a pretty hefty price for City Hall’s pride. Mayor Ravenstahl also said yesterday that “in my opinion [it] goes without saying” that city employees still have free speech rights. Let’s hope he’s learned to really believe that, for all our wallets’ sakes.

Apartment hunting

My lease is ending soon and I, like so many other student types, am not sure: should I stay or should I go? I love my place, my neighborhood, and my landlord. But I want outdoor space, and I heat was $$$ this winter. So I’m looking, kinda.

Pittsburgh has more gorgeous old buildings than any other city I’ve lived in, or at least gorgeous old buildings that I might possibly afford. Just checking them out is amazing. I totally fell for a Victorian place with hardwood floors, a marble fireplace, 18-foot ceilings and a fortune in original woodwork — and heat included.

But there’s a catch — it’s owned by a management company, Mozart Management. When I started telling people about it I got horrified looks. Rumor has it that while they may have a fat portfolio of historic properties, they are draconian landlords. Is it true? Or do I not have to give up on the dream apartment after all?

Miracle Under Concrete

Last Tuesday, a Butler teenager and hockey player was pinned underneath a 1.5 ton slab of concrete that fell from a retaining wall. The soccer ball he had been playing with at recess had landed nearby, and Master Robert had come to retrieve it. The boy is fine, having sustained only minor injuries. Rescue crews worked for 90 minutes, eventually utilizing a crane to lift the slab away.

I take issue with the subsequent statements by the boy and his doctor.

A teenager who was trapped under a 3,800 pound concrete slab was released from Children’s Hospital today.

Both he and his doctor said his survival was a miracle.

Not an uncommon reaction to a disaster, at least in our culture. In fact, most recipients of good fortune credit God for it, from national award winners to other kinds of hockey players.
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