Friday, December 23, 2005

No spur for the spur - part of the T expansion "postponed"

If you've read previous posts of mine, you'll see that I had opposed the expansion of the T to the new convention center from downtown. The entirity of the line would be wihthin the downtown zone and there would be no way for that project to make money. It turns out that the government agreed with me, at least for the time being. See for more on the postponement...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

More on Pittsburgh mass transit

An interesting article appeared in "City Paper" on the T system and expansion efforts to Oakland, the North Shore, and beyond. Check it out at

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I know its a bit late for me to be commenting on Katrina, but I can't believe the utter devastation that it has caused on the gulf coast. I know several people who live on the Mississippi and Alabama coastline, but they are out of contact at the moment and I have no idea how they fared.

The local, state, and federal governments all managed to drop the ball on the whole New Orleans situation. Since there was a mandatory evacuation of the city BEFORE the hurricane came, did it not occur to government officials that not everyone would have an easy way out? What about the hundreds of school buses that were in the city? What about the hundreds of city buses? Could these not have been utilized to take as many people out of the city as possible? Set up a special lane on the highway for buses or something.

The other thing that I've noticed is that the media has subtly shifted its focus from the suffering of the people at the Superdome to the suffering of left-behind pets. I think a completely unexpected reaction of the New Orleans public was their devotion to their pets. People were staying behind to make sure their pets were safe. The pets weren't allowed into the shelters and so people put their lives at risk to save their pets. I was just amazed!

The one gaudy aspect of this love for pets was the Hispanic lady who was the maid/housekeeper at a wealthy New Orleans mansion. The family evacuated in their big Lexus SUV and left the poor women behind to take care of the animals. What callous bastards!

It's been awhile!

Wow! I didn't realize that it had been so long since I last wrote! I'll have to play a bit of catch-up.

In July, Heather and I did a LOT of work on the house, finishing up a lot of the improvements that we were working on. I went to St. Louis, MO over the last weekend for the 2005 Theta Tau Leadership Academy.

In August, our exchange student, Franzi, arrived from Germany. Like most exchange students, she's had a little bit of trouble adapting to life in America, but I think she'll make it. She's a bright kid and is really a pleasure to have around. Unfortunately, our schedules dictated that she had to remain home alone for the better part of the day for several weeks. Now that school has started, I think she'll have an easier time of things and be able to enjoy herself more.

That leads us to September...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Finally moved in!

Well, we've finally moved in and get to spend the 4th of July weekend unpacking. Fun, fun!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The move continues

Well, we're still getting ready to move. The date is set for Sunday, June 26th. Heather and I have been packing like crazy for the last week or so. We think we'll be done, but we're always a little worried that we won't be...

We bought a new washer, dryer, and deep freezer this past week which were delivered today. The painter finished up today. Tomorrow, we're having cleaning people come in and clean up the kitchens and bathrooms while we're having air duct specialists clean all the dirt out the air ducts. We felt that this was particularly important because of Heather's allergies and all of the dust created when we refinished the hard wood floors.

On Saturday, we'll have a little bit of leeway to make sure that everything is packed and ready to go for both houses. Sunday is the big move in day. We're really looking forward to it!

Monday, May 23, 2005

House selling on Kamin

Before I forget, we are in the process of selling our old house. However, as we are currently in negotiations with the new buyers, I'm not planning on elaborating on the process. If you want to know, ask me!

House update

Well, it's official. On April 25th, Heather and I closed on our new house in Mt. Lebanon. Lately, we've been coordinating work with a roofer, a painter, a general contractor, a hardwood floor specialist, and an electrician to get the house ready for us to move in.

There were several projects which we were wanting to have done before we moved in. Many people have told us that it is much easier on everyone involved if the work is done on an empty house. Thus, we're actually getting more work done then we had anticipated, but we think it will be well worth it.

An example of what we are getting done is in the living room. The living room had two built in bookshelves. (See a picture here) Although the bookshelves looked ok, neither one kept the Victorian style of the house very well. What's worse is that the bookshelf on the left was actually installed over a window. That's right, someone had removed the framing of the window and installed a bookshelf flush with the wall. This was unfortunate as the room didn't really get much light in it at all. The one window at the front of the room was shaded due to a tree and the front porch. The rest of the light in the room was coming in from the dining room.

The bookshelves were removed last week. What a difference the window makes! We walked in on Saturday morning and the room was brightly lit with the morning sun. It made quite a difference on the room and we think that it will be a change for the better.

Of course, now we have to go fix the walls behind the bookshelves, but that's a different story for a different time!

Hopefully, everything will be done in about three to four weeks and we'll be able to move into our new house!

New job!

Where have I been lately? Well, I've been rather busy. I started work at a new job on Friday April 29th. My new job is working in the centralized administration group at PNC Advisors. The new job allows me the opportunity to use my legal training in reviewing trust documents to ensure that the provisions of those documents are being followed.

So far I enjoy the job and I expect that it will be a good fit for me. But, as you can guess, my new job has taken a way a huge chunk of my free time, and thus I don't have as much time to write in my blog lately. :-)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Squirrel Hill Library re-opens

See Architecture review: Firm's renovation plan writes new chapter for Squirrel Hill library

Heather and I are leaving right when the Squirrel Hill library is reopening after having closed for renovations for more than a year!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Another Downtown-Oakland transit link proposed


It seems like Dan Onorato wants to revitalize the Downtown to Oakland link up (among other things). The keys to this plan which makes it different from the Spine Line is that it goes above the ground (like the monorail system as Disney World or Las Vegas) and that it goes along the 2nd Avenue corridor instead of going along Fifth and Forbes.

What do I think about this? I actually think it might have a chance. One of the biggest problems that I had about the previous Spine Line plan is that they wanted to extend the T system out to Oakland using an underground tunnel. Tunnels are not cheap to build, especially one which would be several miles long. In this proposal, no tunnel is required.

The second avenue corridor currently is a busy one, but one with plenty of room for such a project. It has a bunch of transportation facilities on several different layers: Second Avenue on the bottom, I-376 (known locally as the Parkway East) in the middle) and the Boulevard of the Allies on top. Additionally, the Eliza Furnace Trail runs through the area. However, the big advantage is that there are no buildings in the way! No houses to acquire through emminant domain. Thus, again, the project would be cheaper.

The proposed project runs from the First Avenue T station (thus linking up with the entire T network) passing by the Pittsburgh Technology Center in South Oakland (on second avenue) and going into Oakland. How would it enter Oakland? Although the article didn't specify, it could easily make its way into Oakland using the virtually unused Panther Hollow/Junction Hollow area, a former slag area which has been quasi-restored and now features the small Panther Hollow Trail and a few sports fields. The advantage here is that Panther Hollow ends up on the underside of Oakland near Joncaire and Boundary Streets underneath the Schenley Bridge. Incidentely, this area was made popular by local author Michael Chabon. This area, generally used as parking lots and access for the B&O railroad to tunnel under Oakland, would make a perfect area for a transit station. You can connect the link directly to the Carnegie Library and Museum providing convenient access to the south campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Additionally, a link to the Carnegie Museum provides access to Forbes Avenue at this point. Finally, the stop could be right at the ground floor of the new Collaborative Innovation Center that is being built by CMU. One station could provide access to three different destinations!

Onorato also envisions that such an overland route could eventually link up with the old LTV mill site in Hazelwood and Carrie Furnace in Rankin. I'm not as enthusiastic about these destinations except that it could be build along the northern bank of the Monogahela River following the path of the Duck Hollow Trail. From there, its a short jaunt over the river to the Waterfront area in Homestead, a rather popular destination for students. Access to the Waterfront would allow people to be able to easily take mass transit from Oakland and Downtown to a large commercial district including a movie theatre, grocery store, lots of restaurants and other shopping.

In fact there's been talk of (re)establishing a river shuttle service from Homestead to the downtown area. This proposed service would take 30 minutes to travel from one to the other. If an elevated train system were used, you could probably get from Homestead to Oakland in 10 minutes or less and to downtown in 20 minutes or less.

Yes, this is similar to the previous Spine-Line project. However, it has a few things in its favor. First, its not underground which makes it a lot cheaper to implement. Second, by going along Second Avenue and Junction/Panther Hollow you don't have to acquire houses through emminant domain. Third, its destination in Oakland is easily accessible by a large majority of those in Oakland (with connecting access to Forbes Avenue to Squirrel Hill). Fourth, it provides easy transportation from both downtown and Oakland to the very popular Waterfront area. Additionally, a large park and ride lot could be built near the Waterfront and the Rankin bridge providing access for hundreds of commuters. This lot could be espcially useful if the Mon-Fayette Expressway is built as it should go through the area.

So, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Friday, April 08, 2005

Pittsburgh Talks Forum

After watching all of the endless bickering and debate on the usenet groups pgh.general and pgh.opinion, I decided to set up a bulletin board to discuss issues which confront Pittsburgh.

The board is called "Pittsburgh Talks" and can be found online at The website is temporary; I'll move it if there is sufficient interest. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

New name for blog

Incidentely, if you haven't already noticed, I've renamed the blog from "ClarkBHM's Blog" to "From Birmingham to Pittsburgh". Why the change? Well, I wanted to try to find something distinctive. Something that would tell my blog apart from the rest of the world. I looked through some stuff and found that a great many blogs out there are titled things like "Jim's blog" or whatever. Unless you know Jim personally, there's really no reason to read his blog.

I tried to take a different approach. I wanted to convey both a sense of who I am and a sense of what I'd like to talk about. After considering several choices, I settled on "From Birmingham to Pittsburgh" because it meets both descriptions. I am a Birmingham, Alabama native who moved to Pittsburgh in 2000. Even as this tells literally who I am, it also gives an idea of what I wanted to focus on in the future: Pittsburgh as the city in which I live. I wanted to be able to include the name "Pittsburgh" in the title as well so that if people will searching for Blogs on Pittsburgh it would come up. I, of course, must now endeavor to write more about Pittsburgh.

Thus, my new sense of purpose for this blog is to write about Pittsburgh and my thoughts and experiences surrounding it. This will give me a chance to analyze some of the things going on in the Pittsburgh area while at the same time sharing some of my life as a "Pittsburgher". Any thoughts? Leave a comment!

Americans may need passports to re-enter U.S. from Canada, Mexico

Check out Americans may need passports to re-enter U.S. from Canada, Mexico

It looks like the days of travelling out of the US without a passport are over. Passports will be required to go anywhere outside of the US. Go ahead and read the article and I'll make some comments...

However, I think that the article is really overstating matters. Once you get a passport, it's good for ten years. All of these people suddenly won't be able to take last minute trips? They'll only need to get a passport once! Renewal is incredibly easy as long as you plan for it in advance. I renewed my passport last year with no difficulty.

On top of this, it might actually speed things up a bit. Passports are designed to be quickly processed with all sorts of bar codes and stuff built into them. If EVERYONE crossing the border is presenting a passport instead of drivers license/birth certificates as they do now, the system can be standardized and streamlined. You won't get border guards in Buffalo trying to figure out whether or not the New Mexico driver's license in front of them is legit. Either the passport is valid or its not.

The border between the US and Mexico is a mess nowadays anyways with so called "Minutemen" so fed up with the situation that they've decided to patrol the border with Mexico themselves. The border with Canada is wide open for most of its length as it is. Anyone with false identification papers such as a drivers license, etc. can make it through US customs coming in from Canada. If Canada cannot stop terrorists from entering Canada on false documentation, the US must take action. If Mexico cannot stop people from illegally crossing the border, the US must take action.

One other person has strong points of view on this: Bill O'Reilly. Now you may or may not like him, but on this I think he has the right idea. The federal government should allow our military to patrol the border with Mexico. If that's what it takes to stop the flow of illegal immigration into the country, then I'm all for it...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Good news for Pittsburgh

Apparantly, the convention center IS getting more business then previously thought. Check out City to host 2 new large conventions. I'm still not sure whether or not we should build a hotel at the convention center though... It seems we're doing well enough attracting conventions without it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Pittsburgh Spine Line

A while ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked several different people what they think should be done to improve traffic between Oakland and Downtown. SeePittsburgh Post-Gazette - Benchmarks. Apparently, an idea that was abandoned in 1996 was to have the Downtown "T" system connected to Oakland, either by an underground light rail line acting as a subway, or as an above ground line. The cost for this expansion that was floated around was around 1$ billion dollars. My guess is that this cost was for an underground line and that it was likely to be much less if it took an above ground route.

Anyway, let's think about this idea logically. Oakland is one of the biggest employment areas in the entire state. The downtown to Oakland corridor is one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the state as well. But lets think about the people who are making that trip...

Two obvious groups come to mind: students and workers. The students making that trip are going downtown for various reasons. However, from my experience as a student at the University of Pittsburgh Law School is that the only students who went downtown for any reason at all was to go to jobs in downtown firms. No one went downtown for any other reason. If people needed to go downtown, they typically would drive instead of taking the buses.

Ah, the buses! That's the current method of getting from Oakland to downtown on mass-transit. The heavily traveled "Fifth and Forbes" corridor takes buses down both of those streets in both downtown and Oakland. This is the spine of the "spine line" idea. The trip doesn't take that long. Additionally, the trip in reverse (downtown to Oakland) has the additional advantage of continuing onwards to points east of Oakland. Oakland is a major stop on the way for most of these buses, conveniently located between downtown and points east. Thus, there is a pretty good bus system already in place between downtown and points east.

That brings us to employment. Workers are the main people who use the "T" system as it is. Workers would probably be the primary ones to use the "T" system east of downtown. So, people who live in Oakland could take the T into downtown. Alternatively, they could take the already existing bus system into downtown. Additionally, the "T" system wouldn't be much of a benefit to Shadyside. Shadyside already has a direct route into downtown via the east busway. In fact, so does East Liberty, Homewood, Wilkinsburg, Edgewood, Swissvale and Rankin. All of these are points east of Oakland and Squirrel Hill which are served by the "T". Additionally, the EBO route serves the busway and connects directly into Oakland itself. Thus, Oakland is already connected to those commuters in "points east". Commuters in "points east" are connected to both Oakland and downtown via the east busway.

Because these commuters are already serviced by the east busway, you have to think that an extension past Oakland could service Squirrel Hill and ... well, and not much else. It could turn south maybe and head towards Homestead and the Waterfront development down that way. However, if the primary focuses is commuters into Oakland and downtown, serving a shopping area doesn't meet that goal.

Thus, an evaluation of the spine line extension of the T system must focus on servicing Oakland and Squirrel Hill. Could these two places use a T system? Maybe. Are these two places adequately serviced by buses? I'd have to say yes. The Oakland area is serviced by bus routes 100, 28K, 28X, 44U, 500, 501, 53F, 53H, 54C, 56U, 59U, 61A, 61B, 61C, 67A, 67C, 67E, 67F, 67H, 67J, 69A, 71A, 71C, 71D, 74B, 77U, 81A, 81B, 84A, 84B, EBO. That's 31 bus routes serving the area. Many of the bus routes (those with a U designation, are direct routes to Oakland and don't go downtown. Many of them do go downtown (the 61s, the 71s, the 67s). Squirrel Hill is serviced by 501, 56U, 59U, 61A, 61B, 61C, 64A, 67H, 69A, 74A, W, with the first 5 routes travelling directly from the universities to the heart of Squirrel Hill. 67H is a direct route from Squirrel Hill to downtown. 64A and 74A service other areas then Oakland and downtown.

My point being is that at present, there are many opportunities to commute by bus from both Squirrel Hill and Oakland. Commuters aren't going to want to walk the extra distance to the Squirrel Hill T station if they can just walk to the corner to take the bus. Thus, unless there are drastic cut-backs in the number of bus lines which service either Squirrel Hill or Oakland, people are going to go for what is convenient to them.

In the end, if it were built, I think it will end up to be the unfortunate case of an expensive system being built to service a rather small number of people. Any projected estimates are likely to be off by many many people per day. Alas, this is the norm for projects in the southwestern Pennsylvania area. Other examples include the recently opened Wabash Tunnel, the HOV lane north of the city, the Beaver Valley Expressway, the Greensburg Bypass, and the Mon-Fayette Expressway, not to mention the famous "Bridge to Nowhere" which is now the Ft. Duquesne Bridge.

Building an extension of the T system to Oakland and beyond would end up being a waste of money. A giant project that politicians can point to with pride...until the actual ridership numbers come in. Then, they'll find someone else to blame; they'll blame us, the citizens for not riding the public transit system.

After all, when was the last time you saw the mayor of Pittsburgh on the bus?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

North Shore Connector Project

My current interest has to do with the North Shore Connector Project, a proposal by the Port Authority of Allegheny County to extend Pittsburgh's tiny subway system (Part of the 25-mile long "T" system) to service the two stadiums on the north side of the Allegheny River by tunneling under the river. A second project would extend the subway to reach the renovated convention center. Are these projects worth it?

The convention center probably isn't. This part of the project adds a .3 mile extension to the system to reach the convention center for all of the convention guests that Pittsburgh supposedly has. For what purpose? First, if convention center guests want to walk to the T station at Steel Plaza, the distance is only .3 miles. That's prety close if you ask me. I used to walk further then that from my bus stop at Forbes and Wightman in Squirrel Hill. Besides, this particular route is in the downtown "free" zone meaning that no one using this extension would be a paying customer. Visitors would ride the T to Steel Plaza for free. Then they would probably have to get off and change trains to go anywhere else. Thus, they save the inconvenience of having to walk .3 miles, but the time waiting for the train to arive would probably be longer then it would be to simply walk the distance. Additionally, where would they go? The only probably place of interest of convention center visitors is to go to Station Square on the south side of the Monongahela River. Station Square features a bit of night life and shopping that the rest of downtown doesn't have. However, even the Station Square "T" shop isn't very convenient (being across the highway from the entrance to the area, and I just don't see it as a major draw for tons of convention visitors. Further south on the "T" lines, there is nothing to appeal to the convention visitor to Pittsburgh. Not to say that there isn't anything; the line services places like the South Hills Mall and Mt. Lebanon. However, I think that the service is more of a commuter route than it is a route for visitors.

Additionally, the convention center itself hasn't had the kind of visitors that were promised to the city when it was built. We have a fine facility. However, there are no hotels at the site and no one wants to build a hotel there. "Build a hotel!" the developers cry. However, I just don't think that there is the demand for a hotel there. It's a catch-22 situation. Without a hotel, there is no demand for the convention center. No one wants to build a hotel unless people are using the convention center. Either way, I just don't see many events happening there and to spend x number of dollars to extend a subway line to the convention center is a waste of money.

On the other hand, I think the extension to the stadia is a good idea---maybe. The Gateway center station, the last station on the T line would have to be rebuilt in order to accomodate the additional traffic as currently it only has one platform for both arrivals and departures. The route would go north from there and tunnel under the Allegheny River where it would make a stop near the parking lots between PNC Park, where the Pittsburgh Pirates play, and Heinz Field, where the Pittsburgh Steelers play. Why service a park? Why not service PNC Park directly (the route goes right by the park). Well, I think there is a three part goal here. The first is an effort to get more commuters to use the parking lot between the two stadia in an effort to reduce traffic downtown. The second is that supposedly the land between the two stadiums is supposed to be developed with shops and an ampitheater. Third is that the station would be near the Community College of Allegheny County. I'd rather move the station to be closer to PNC Park personally. They have the room for it but I have no idea why they're not doing it.

The second stop at the stadiums is on the northwest corner of Heinz Field. This stop services the stadium pretty well and ensures that people will use the entrance on that corner (currently the "main entrance" is on the south side of the stadium by the river).

Why service places that will only be used a few times a year? Because as opposed to the expansion to the convention center, we know that these lines will be used. Currently, thousands of people ride the Gateway Clipper ships from Station Square to the stadium. It would be much more convenient for these thousands of people to take a quick subway trip to the same place. Additionally, we're talking about 60,000+ people for a Steelers game and probably 20,000+ for a Pirates game (of which there are many more games through the year). This will definitely reduce traffic around the stadiums as more people will be able to park downtown and at station square to go to the games. Additionally, people on the south side of Allegheny County can use the Park and Ride lots and take the T system all the way in to the city and provide them with direct access to the stadiums. This will further reduce traffic in the area. After all, isn't the reduction of traffic a desireable goal for everyone?

On that last sentence, there are people out there who never use the "T" or ride a bus and they can't stand the idea that some of their tax money is going to subsidize those service. Here is my argument... If 50,000 people commute by bus each day, aren't you benefiting? Can you imagine what the traffic would be like if there were 50,000 additional cars downtown? Can you imagine the backup through Pittsburgh's various tunnel systems if we didn't have projects like the West End Connector to allow buses to use their own tunnels to access the city? Public transportation benefits everyone, even those who don't use it.

Next time, more on public transportation and the proposed "Spine Line" to Oakland.

pittsburgh webloggers | Write here in Pittsburgh...

pittsburgh webloggers has a link to many blogs that are written by Pittsburghers. I don't know why I'm not listed, but I guess it's because I don't write on Pittsburgh often enough. I'll have to keep my eye out on Pittsburgh things about which to write. My next entries will thus be about the Port Authority and the "T" system.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Receive updates by email

I installed a new mechanism that can allow you to receive updates by email whenever I change my blog. It's called "ChangeDetection". I use the service myself to keep track of various websites.

In the box on the right, under the Archives section, there's a place to input your email address. You'll be taken to a different screen to confirm your enrollment for this particular page. Click next. You'll need to confirm your email address to make sure that others don't sign up on your behalf. Then, it's done. You'll get an email when I update my blog.

The emails look like this:
Note: Do not reply to this email!
This message was automatically generated by,
your page change monitoring service. To UNSUBSCRIBE, or for
assistance see the information at the very end of this email. Thanks!


At your request we have been monitoring the following page for

A change was detected at:

Thu Mar 24 02:19:26 PST 2005

To be directed to the page, click (or double-click) here:

If you wish to monitor another web page for changes, use this link:

Thanks for using!

- The Team

Note: if the above links do not work, try the alternate links
at the very very end of this email.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Little Shop of Horrors

Heather and I went to see "Little Shop of Horrors" tonight at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. Neither of us really cared for the stage production. I felt that the movie version was far superior, in quality if nothing else. Heather felt that the songs were neither memorable nor moving. We both felt that the plot was so basic and simple that it left a lot to be desired. Needless to say, we were disappointed.

On top of that, Heinz Hall is probably the worst place to see a production. The accoustics sounded muffled which is really odd considering that Heinz Hall is where the Pittsburgh Symphony plays.

PS - The Post-Gazette wasn't nearly as harsh. See

Updated "States Visited" map

Click to create your own personalized map of the USA

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Mt. Lebanon House

Mt. Lebanon House
Today, Heather and I put an offer on a house which was accepted. The house is in Mt. Lebanon, PA, about 5.5 miles south of downtown Pittsburgh. We're really excited about it as it was a really good value and will give us a place which we can call home for the long term. We love our current house, but it really isn't big enough for the two of us as it is now, much less if we have children running around. Anyway, you can see some of the pictures I took today on my website here. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

U2 Tour in Pittsburgh | Tours

Heather and I were among the lucky few to get tickets to the U2 concert to be held this October here in Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. We paid an arm and a leg for the tickets, but it's something we're really excited about. I last saw U2 in concert when they came to Birmingham in Fall 1992. Heather has never seen them in concert.

This will only be the fourth concert I've ever been to. The first was the U2 concert in 1992. The second was a Hootie & the Blowfish concert in 1996. The third was a Simon & Garfunkel concert with Heather last year in Cleveland. Four times a charm!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Radio Information Service

I have recently started volunteering with the Radio Information Service here in Pittsburgh. The RIS is a reading service that broadcasts the reading of print material for people who are blind, visually impaired, or have difficulty holding standard print material. If you are eligible, you can receive a special radio receiver which allows you to receive the broadcasts. Among other things, the service gives print impaired persons the means to "read" daily newspapers, magazines, and books of interest.

I had volunteered for the Radio Reading Service in Birmingham, Alabama for two or three years in high school, until I left for college. In Birmingham, I was a substitute reader for the Birmingham News, the afternoon paper.

Here in Pittsburgh, I started as a substitute reader. I started substituting for a program called "Heritage". Last week, I was asked if I would continue on as the normal reader for "Heritage". I'm excited about the opportunity!

Heritage is a one hour program featuring historical news and notes, profiles of people and places, personal accounts of historical events, restoration, historical culture. Basically, I choose several articles to read from magazines such as The History Channel, American Heritage, and Smithsonian on these topics, cobble together a one hour program, and record it at the RIS studio. My program airs twice a week, Thursdays at 5 PM and Sundays at 11 PM.

Do you want to hear what I sound like on the radio? It's pretty easy! Go to Then, click on "Listeners" at the top. Next, click on "Web Archives and Live Stream" on the left. Choose a media player appropriate to your computer, either WinAmp, Windows Media Player, or Real Player (I like WinAmp). Scroll down to "Heritage" and click it. The last five or six programs will start playing in your player with the most recent one playing first. If you do decide to listen in, send me an email with your thoughts! I'm always interested in ways of improving the program.

Davis and Sacramento, California

I recently posted pictures on my website of my recent trip to Davis, California to help out with the installation of the University of California-Davis Colony of Theta Tau. The pictures include a meeting with the colony, hanging out after installation, a formal dinner, and a day trip to the state capitol building in Sacramento. Check it out at

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Trip to Virginia

Part of my responsibilities as a member of the Theta Tau Executive Council is to visit at least one chapter per semester. Last semester, I was able to visit two of our chapters in New York, one at Binghamton University and the other at the University of Buffalo.

This past weekend, I drove from Pittsburgh to Richmond, VA to visit with our chapter at Virginia Commonwealth University. I spent an enjoyable weekend with the chapter which included eating dinner with the officers on Friday night, a cookout/football game on Saturday afternoon and a chapter meeting on Saturday evening. It was good to see the chapter doing well. I enjoyed the football game, although it was rather cold out and the out-of-shape Matthew was in no condition to play. Nevertheless, I ran and ran until I could run no more. I ended up with a bruised rib, but I enjoyed the game.

On Sunday, I drove to Charlottesville, VA with David McCall to visit our chapter at the University of Virginia. After a pleasant two hour meeting with them, I left Charlottesville at around 4:30 to try to make it home by 10:00 PM.

It wasn't meant to be. I actually had a good trip and was making decent time until I hit the Pennsylvania turnpike. Evil road that it is, if you haven't driven it, I would rate it as one of the worst interstates in the nation. The road is so old that it wasn't built up to modern standards. So state officials have to reduce the speed limit on the highway because it just can handle traffic going 65 mph. Yep, that's right! A good portion of the interstate is at the old 55 mph speed limit. Furthermore, there are parts of the road where you can't even see the lines on the highway and thus can't tell what lane you're supposed to be in. An added benefit, of course, is that you get to pay for the "privilege" of driving on it.

Anyway, I'm driving down the interstate and it starts raining. Well, it looks like rain but its actually freezing rain. However, in the car, I can't tell that its freezing rain so I assume that its raining. I've already slowed down quite a bit, partially because of the rain and partially because of the lack of lane lines as I had previously mentioned. Anyway, I'm headed up a hill at around 50 mph and see some cars ahead on the side of the road, about two cars per side. Being cautious, I slow down to make sure everything is alright. I hit the brakes gently, but I'm in trouble.

There must have been a patch of black ice on the highway. When I hit the brakes, the car angles about 20 degrees to the right, but continues straight forward. I turn the wheel to the left to compensate. The car lurches sharply to the left so I'm not headed about 45 degrees to the left. I turn the wheel sharply to the right and end up doing a 360 right in the middle of the interstate (at 50 mph!). The car comes all the way around and I end up driving off the highway on the right hand side. Luckily, this was a good place to drive off the road as the only thing there was an embankment. (Ever notice that not every place to drive off the interstate is safe? Some of them would involve quite a long fall and there is no guard rail to protect you!) The car slid into and up on to the embankment and stalled out.

Obviously shaken I was worried that other cars might hit that stretch of road and careen out of control and into my car. I drove up onto the embankment and got out of the car. I looked all around the car to take a visual survey of any damage. Luckily, there appeared to be none. I got back into the car, took a few minutes to calm down, and slowly drove off of the embankment. I pulled back into the traffic on the interstate which was crawling along by this point. I passed by several cars which were on the side of the road for various reasons. Then, the line of traffic I was in started weaving its way through the wreck area.

In the space of 1/4 mile, there were five different cars damaged from what looked like three different wrecks. Some of these cars were damaged quite extensively also, as in there was nothing left of the car in front of the windshield, or there was no trunk, only back seat. A policeman arrived as we were weaving through, but luckily no one appeared to be seriously hurt. I didn't hear of any deaths or serious injuries from these accidents on the turnpike, so I can assume that everyone made it ok.

The Somerset travel plaza was only a mile or so up the road so I made the decision to pull over, get out, and calm down. I got out of the car and had some dinner. (Burger King; blech!) Well, I got back into the car and started down the road. What's that noise? I get out and check. Ah yes, I have a flat tire. Great. Without too much difficulty, I made it to the Sunoco station at the travel plaza. I had two options. I could put the spare tire on the car and try to drive it all the way to Pittsburgh (in the crappy weather) or I could see if I could get the tire fixed or the car towed into Pittsburgh with AAA. After discussing it with Heather I chose the latter option. I called AAA and waited.

In the meantime, I used the air pumps at the gas station to refill the tire. By the time that AAA had arrived however, the tire had gone flat again. The AAA guy took the tire off and tried inspecting it for holes. He did this by overinflating the tire to 50 PSI and looking for leaks. He didn't find anything. He looked for fifteen minutes or so out in the cold and freezing rain and didn't find anything at all. He said that he thought I could make it to Pittsburgh on the spare, but I was to drive slowly and I might not make it over Ligonier Mountain.

I had thought about driving in, but since I had already narrowly avoided an accident with four good tires, I didn't feel that much more confident in driving in that weather with a spare tire on the car. After consulting with Heather again, I decided to just stop and spend the night there in Somerset. I had him put the spare tire on the car and drove two miles to the Somerset exit.

I opted to stay at the Knight's Inn in Somerset, mainly because the sign was advertising a "1-person 1-bed" rate at $35/night. I pulled into the Knight's Inn, got a room, unloaded the car, and got some sleep. By this time it was 11:00 PM.

I awoke the next morning at around 6:30 thanks to garbage trucks servicing the hotel. I tried to get some more shut-eye, but was unsuccessful. I gathered my stuff, packed the car, checked out of the hotel and drove to the wal-mart in Somerset. I figured that I needed a new tire and that I might as well get a cheap one to get me back to Pittsburgh. After all, the tire that had gone flat was virtually new with nice deep treads and was still under warranty.

At the wal-mart, the mechanic looked at the tire and declared that he couldn't find a hole in the tire. In fact, the tire had held a charge of 50 PSI since the previous night. I explained what had happened the night before and he had an idea. Apparently, when I had his the embankment, the force of the car had been sufficient to push some dirt in between the tire and the rim. This allowed enough of a gap to let the tire go flat. Once the AAA guy had put 50 PSI in the tire, there was enough pressure to seal the gap that the dirt had created. That's why he couldn't find a leak.

A simple enough procedure, all the wal-mart guy did was unmount the tire, clean off the rim and the tire, and remount and rebalance it. It was done in 10 minutes for $6.50. The guy could have sold me a new tire and I would have been none the wiser. Kudos to the Somerset wal-mart for their honesty!

With my tire fixed and the weather cleared up, I headed back to Pittsburgh. I finally made it in at 11:00 AM, a mere 18 1/2 hours after I left. Of the many trips that Heather and I have taken back and forth from Charlottesville, this one definitely qualifies as the longest one! We are both happy and thankful that I was able to make it back without any serious injury.

Wow! That took me about 45 minutes to write! I hope you enjoy the post...

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Opinion Column from PC Magazine: Free Porn Magic for You!

Opinion Column from PC Magazine: Free Porn Magic for You!

John C. Dvorak has written a interesting column which tells a lot about the needs and wants of the internet public. Just by putting certain words into an article such as "Free", "Porn" or "Magic", the ratings on a particular article will jump up and stay up. Take a read if you're at all interested...

Sunday, February 06, 2005


Well, I'd prefer a butterfinger, but a better finger will work nicely as well.

I did get my stiches off a week ago and have been healing nicely. However, I'm somewhat concerned that I've lost a great deal of sensativity in that area of my thumb. I wonder if it will ever recover?

Otherwise, things are going just dandy for me. I'll watch the Super Bowl later this evening in the hopes that Philadelphia will win. All this talk about the Patriots' "dynasty" is getting a bit annoying and I hope that the Eagles will be able to shut them up.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Stupidity and a cut finger

Actually stupidity isn't exactly the right word. Maybe carelessness is a better term. Yesterday I was chopping onions for a recipe. I had just finished cutting up a large steak and was still using the large knife for cutting. (Click here for a picture.) Anyway, chop, chop, chop go the onions. Then, my left thumb got to close to the blade and CHOP! The blade hit the side of my thumb, creating a gash about a 1/2 inch deep.

After calling Heather, we took a trip to the hospital for sutures. My reward was five stiches across the inside part of my thumb towards the tip. I'll have stiches until next Friday.

I guess I got lucky. It definitely could have been a lot worse. I didn't cut a tendon. I didn't cut it off. However, it still hurts like hell!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Les Miserables in Pittsburgh

BTW, I wanted to mention that Heather and I had the chance to see the musical Les Miserables last Tuesday when it came to Pittsburgh. Although I've seen the musical at least three other times before, it had been quite some time since I last saw it (1995?).

We really enjoyed it. I know the music by heart and actually own multiple versions of the soundtracks, in several languages. Nevertheless, most of the acting and singing was superb. My only gripe is that some of the lyrics were changed. Not really changed as much as having some select snippets of particular songs removed. I guess the writers felt that they didn't add as much to the score as they distracted. Anyway, some of those snippets were my favorites!

Nevertheless, I'd highly recommend that you take the effort to see it!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Go Steelers go!

It was "Two miracles in two minutes" at Heinz Field on Saturday. If you missed the game, Pittsburgh had every chance to lose the game, and I really think they were working for it. Game tied 17-17, the Jets marched down field and lined up for a field goal with 2 minutes left. Boom goes the kick..........CLANG! The ball bounces off the crossbar. No goal.

Pittsburgh takes over the ball and promptly throws an interception on the next play. The Jets have the ball in perfect field position to win the game. With two seconds left on the game clock they line up for another field goal. Boom goes the kick...........MISS! The ball sailed wide left. Thousands of Steelers fans worldwide yell out simultaneously. Ironically, the game started with the "world's largest terrible towel wave". Instead, they got the world's largest sigh of relief and cry of joy.

In overtime, the Jets win the coin toss. They end up doing nothing with the ball and punt. The Steelers are able to take the ball, march down field, and kick the winning field goal.

This was definitely a game that the Steelers had lost, but amazingly they won. Up next? The AFC Championship game here in Pittsburgh against the New England Patriots. This is a rematch of the Halloween game that I attended with Heather's dad earlier this year. All I can say is "Go Steelers!"

Saturday, January 15, 2005

New webpage

I have finally registered my own domain and have a new website. You can check it out at I get more space for a lower price then my previous page. Plus, it's a heck of a lot easier to find then, which makes my wife happy. Anyway, please feel free to check it out. I've merged it with my other picture page at As you can see, my web page was spread out across two or more servers. Now it's almost completely in one place!

BTW, sorry it's been so long since I've written anything substantial. I guess I just don't feel like I have much to say!