Wednesday, February 24, 2016

TEDxPittsburgh Issues Call for Speakers for May Event

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 4:53 PM

TEDxPittsburgh, a locally organized series meant to spark discussion and change, is seeking nominations for speakers for its next event.

The event will be held Sun., May 22, at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, in Oakland. The theme is Activate: Ideas in Motion.

According to a press release, the event seeks “speakers who have taken a spark of inspiration and ignited others to change. Speakers that take service, innovation and community-building to a higher level. The people that have overcome challenges in their field activating a ripple effect that puts ideas into action, making life better for others.”

You can nominate a speaker here. Nominations are open until Mon., Feb. 29. (And yes, you are allowed to nominate yourself.)

For examples of speakers at last year’s TEDxPittsburgh, see here.

TED (for “Technology, Education, Design”) is a three-decade-old nonprofit group that holds two annual conferences featuring both internationally known and less well-known thinkers, entrepreneurs, authors, activists and scientists; the talks of 18 minutes or less are widely disseminated online. TED's slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

TEDx is a spin-off that press materials define as “a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.” Pittsburgh has already hosted several TEDx events.

TEDx events, according to the press release, “showcase the ideas, individuals and innovations that are redefining the region.” TEDx Pittsburgh promises “an eclectic mix of local talks and videos previously recorded at TED conferences with the community.”

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Friday, February 12, 2016

App developed in Pittsburgh facilitates conversations with a "synthetic" Charles Darwin

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2016 at 11:53 AM

Today is Charles Darwin's 207th birthday, and while there aren't any birthday bashes happening in Pittsburgh today, it's worth noting that local scientists have developed an app that facilitates a conversation with a "synthetic" Darwin.

"The fundamental principles of evolution are the way biology works, and a lot of people, particularly in the U.S., have a misunderstanding about evolution," says John Pollock, a biology professor at Duquesne University who came up with the idea for the app. "It's sad that some people believe there's another side to this; but evolution is like gravity, it is part of our universe."

The app — called Darwin Synthetic Interview — recently launched on iTunes, Google Play and the Amazon App Store and allows users to ask Darwin, actor Randy Kovitz, nearly 200 questions about his life and work. Pollock says he and his colleague and fellow Duquesne professor Dave Lampe crafted the scripted answers.

Darwin Synthetic Interview app allows users to ask questions about Charles Darwin on their mobile devices.
  • Darwin Synthetic Interview app allows users to ask questions about Charles Darwin on their mobile devices.

"We referenced everything from Darwin's writings and letters," Pollock says. However, there were a lot of things that Darwin didn't know about during his life but that his research applies to today.

"If you ask our Darwin about genetics, he says he doesn't know," says Pollock. There are also a lot of social science and theological questions that users may want to ask of Darwin as well, says Pollock.

To fill the gaps, users can ask modern experts — from American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Witold Walczak to the Vatican's chief scientist —  about how the foundations of Darwin's research applies to various aspects of life today. 

"That lets it fit into a very broad audience," Pollock says.

The Darwin Synthetic Interview was created as an interactive educational tool, on exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center, in 2009 by Pollock and his team, along with Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, with funding from the National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Awards. The local company Simcoach Games adapted it into an app late last year. 

Though the full app is $9.99, a free "lite" version includes 24 of the most popular questions asked of Darwin.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pittsburgh's National Aviary gets baby sloth

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 11:44 AM

On Monday, the North Side received a new resident: a baby Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth. The National Aviary’s newest, distinctly flightless tenant is expected to be a boon for the Aviary. While the slow and steady bundle of cuteness doesn’t have a name yet, he is set for a public reveal on Friday.
Baby Sloth
Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth Baby Sloth

Baby Sloth

Click to View 16 slides

He will live in a habitat that can be seen through a glass pane near the western entrance to the Aviary. The three-month-old sloth will be a short ways down the hall from Wookie, the Aviary’s senior sloth. Wookie is doing “very well,” according to Dr. Pilar Fish, the Aviary’s director of veterinary medicine. The new sloth will serve a different purpose from the Aviary’s 15-year-old resident.

After a 30-day quarantine period has ended, the sloth will become an educational exhibit. If you’re able to stifle your strong emotional response a la Kristen Bell, you can come get some face time with the sloth. A note: The quarantine is not because the sloth is a biochemical hazard, it’s merely to make sure that the little guy is healthy. There are no known diseases that can be communicated between sloths and humans.

Video by Aaron Warnick

“They’re not really susceptible to infections in general,” says Fish. “They’re one of the hardiest animals out there.”

The quarantine serves a dual purpose. While it is important to be sure that the sloth is healthy, it also gives the sloth’s trainers an opportunity to condition him for visitors.

“He’s going to get lots of treats, lots of food, lots of positive interaction,” Cathy Schlott, the Aviary’s curator of behavioral management, says. “We never make our animals do things here, we always ask them … we’re letting him know that if he wants to come out, that he’ll get lots of treats.”

Though the sloth is adorable to photograph regardless, the meal during City Paper’s visit provided some crucial conditioning that will ensure that he will be in a good mood when visitors with cameras visit. (You’re welcome, Pittsburgh.)

“Having this baby sloth is different … He’s in a pediatric program for his health and his training ,” Fish says. “You’ll be able to get very close to him and have one-of-a-kind one-on-one interactions with him.”

The Aviary is taking reservations for interactive encounters with the sloth when his quarantine period ends on March 25.

Along with the anticipated traffic that the new sloth will bring, the Aviary has found another way for the young sloth to pay his rent. His lack of a name is not from indecisiveness or waiting to see what fits. The Aviary will auction off the rights to name the sloth. Details on this process will be announced in the coming weeks, but a spokesperson confirmed that proceeds will directly benefit the Aviary.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

New Pterosaur exhibit brings world-class fossils, casts to Pittsburgh

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 6:17 PM

The world-famous Pterosaur fossil "Dark Wing" contains one of the best-preserved wing membranes in the world. - PHOTO BY COURTNEY LINDER
  • Photo by Courtney Linder
  • The world-famous Pterosaur fossil "Dark Wing" contains one of the best-preserved wing membranes in the world.

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History
will unveil its newest exhibit "Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs" tomorrow at noon.

The exhibit boasts original fossils, casts and models of the prehistoric Pterosaur — the first animal with a backbone to fly under its own power. Often mislabeled "Pterodactyls," which are just one subcategory of the winged beasts, Pterosaurs have been extinct for over 66 million years.

"Pterosaur science predates Dinosaur history," says Paleontologist Mike Habib, co-creator of the exhibit and research associate at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

The highlights of the display include a skull cast of Tropegnathus — the largest open-ocean dwelling Pterosaur — and "Dark Wing," a world-famous Pterosaur fossil with wing membranes that are intact.

Dark Wing is a specimen that was discovered in Germany in 2001. The fossil contains the best preserved Pterosaur wing membrane in the world, complete with detailed blood vessels and muscles. This is the first time Dark Wing has been on display outside of Germany.

In addition, there are interactive displays on Pterosaur flight and an overhead life-size model of Quetzalcoatlus northropi, the largest flying animal known to man. 

Quetzalcoatlus has a beak large enough to swallow a small human and a wingspan equivalent to an airplane's wings. 

"In its ecology, it's like a stork from hell," explains Habib. "It definitely had the ability to eat small dinosaurs."

That being said, don't confuse Pterosaurs for birds or dinosaurs — they have no close relatives, though they're most comparable to birds or crocodiles.

"Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs" continues through May 22.

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is located at 4400 Forbes Ave. in Oakland.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Advocates ask Pittsburgh Public Schools to use school buses with cleaner diesel emissions

Posted By on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 at 1:45 PM


This week, advocates testified at the Pittsburgh Public Schools board meeting, asking that the district use only buses with updated diesel-emissions controls

"It's the perfect time for the school district to say, 'We only want to utilize buses with emissions controls,'" says Rachel Fillipini of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), an environmental-policy and watchdog organization.

That's because the school district is negotiating a new contract with its bus-fleet providers. GASP seized on the timing to deliver more than 200 signed postcards to the meeting as well as testimony.

Buses that are a 2007 model or newer are generally equipped with diesel-emissions controls; older models can be retrofitted.

"As we approach 2016, it is perfectly reasonable to expect all school buses being used by the district to have pollution controls. These controls can reduce toxic diesel emissions by up to 90 percent. By using this technology, your students and staff, the community, and the drivers would be exposed to significantly less pollution," Jamin Bogi, GASP's policy and outreach coordinator, said in his written testimony.

GASP also asked the school board to include in its contract language that would mandate bus companies to train drivers in Pennsylvania's diesel idling law, which prohibits commercial vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds from idling for more than five minutes. (There's an exception for vehicles with passengers still on board, to account for their heating/cooling needs.)

GASP has provided educational signs about the law for the outside of more than a dozen school districts in the area.

Ebony Pugh, Pittsburgh Public Schools public-information officer, says a new service agreement with bus companies wouldn’t begin until the 2016-17 school year. The new agreement has not been finalized and would require board approval, she says.   

"Ensuring that our entire fleet is running clean is a priority for the district. While a majority of our vehicles are 2007 or newer or retrofitted, we anticipate that by the second year of our new service agreement all vehicles will meet the standard," Pugh wrote in an email to City Paper.

But GASP says the sooner the better.

"We feel that the school board should prioritize student health, and so they should negotiate a contract with school-bus companies that allows them to get the cleanest buses possible as soon as possible," Fillipini tells City Paper.

GASP is especially concerned because of a 2013 report out of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health that identified diesel particulate matter as the "greatest single cancer risk among individual pollutants in this area." The report looked at the 10-county Western Pennsylvania region, and examined air pollutants including benzene and formaldehyde, among others.

Bogi told the board of education: "Children are especially vulnerable, as they breathe at a faster rate than adults and are physically closer to diesel-pollution sources. And since their bodies are still developing, damage now could impact their bodies and minds for years to come." 

City Paper will be following any developments in the school board's decision.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Point Park University hosts panel discussion tomorrow night on human trafficking

Posted By on Tue, Nov 10, 2015 at 2:12 PM

We often think of human trafficking as something that affects a relatively few people in remote countries. However, it's estimated that as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking. And between 14,500 and 17,500 victims of those victims are here in the U.S.

To raise awareness, the Project to End Human Trafficking (PEHT) hosts a free panel discussion, “Human Trafficking at Home & Abroad,” tomorrow night, at Point Park University’s JVH Auditorium.

Speakers include PEHT team members Mary Burke and Lynsie Clott, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Brad Orsini, photographer Maranie Staab, and the panel will be moderated by Chris Rolinson, associate professor of photography at Point Park.

The event highlights PEHT’s “Women and Children of Uganda” gallery exhibit, featuring Staab’s photographs of the organization’s work in Uganda. Staab’s photos will be on display in Point Park's Lawrence Hall through the end of December.

The Wed., Nov. 11, event takes place 6-9 p.m. at 201 Wood St., Downtown. Click here for more info.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Local organization to launch drive for two million pencils

Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2015 at 9:30 AM

It seems like everyday another scholar, journalist or parent comes up with a new way to "fix public education." See examples here, here and here.

 But what if a local school district could be helped by something as simple as pencils?

That's the idea behind #2MillPencils, a fundraising drive to collect two million pencils for students in the Wilkinsburg School District. The effort, spearheaded by local nonprofit Internationally Smart Is Cool, would provide enough pencils for 2,000 Wilkinsburg students to have 200 each for the next five years. 

"I hope that it shows that something very small can make a difference," says Jamillia Kamara, the organization's founder. "One pencil can write 45,000 words. You don’t need millions of dollars to help communities, you can give 10 cents."


According to anecdotal evidence and the results of a small survey, Kamara, a former teacher who taught first and fifth grades, says pencils are one of the main school supplies teachers say they lack.

"Students don’t have pencils ever," says Kamara. "It was identified that pencils were the number-one item that students didn’t have by teachers." 

The Wilkinsburg School School district has long struggled with poor student achievement. In 2014, the state Department of Education ranked all four Wilkinsburg schools among the lowest-performing in the state.

"We were looking for schools to partner with, and Wilkinsburg schools were really receptive," says Kamara. "There’s a great sense of community there and collaboration that I found attractive."

The pencil drive will run from Sept. 7 to Dec. 3, but right now Kamara is calling on businesses and organizations to serve as drop-off sites. Each drop-off site will also need two storage bins. Those interested in helping can donate a bin or funds to buy one. Donors can also contribute to a Go Fund Me campaign. Later, Kamara will need volunteers to help count and box the pencils and transport them.

"Right now, to get us up and running, the biggest source of help we need is funding and sponsorships," Kamara says. "The barrier to entry is low. It’s something that everyone can grab on to."

Beyond this effort, Internationally Smart is Cool is focused on serving middle-school students, a group Kamara says receives the least attention. 

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

GLSEN Pittsburgh chapter folds, new organization THRIVE to take its place

Posted By on Wed, Jul 15, 2015 at 4:23 PM

After 15 years of serving Southwestern Pennsylvania schools, the local chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has dissolved. The nonprofit was known for working with schools to establish gay-straight alliances, advocating for LGBT youth throughout the Pittsburgh region and running the popular Pittsburgh Youth Pride Prom.

A press release was sent out on July 13 that stated the board of directors had voted to dissolve the chapter.

However, no further information was provided by GLSEN as to why the chapter decided to dissolve.

Additionally, no specific information was given about what groups might replace the work of the network. The press release only had this to say: “Our decision to dissolve GLSEN Pittsburgh does not mean that GLSEN’s work is no longer needed in Southwest Pennsylvania. We are confident in our community partners to carry on our legacy locally.”

After contacting the main GLSEN office in New York, Director of Field Services Daryl Presgraves said, “Our bylaws allow for our chapters to vote to dissolve and we respect the [Pittsburgh] board’s decision.”

Presgraves also noted that nonprofit will hold all community assets for a year, in case there is interest in reforming.

“If there is interest in reforming, then we would be interested,” says Presgraves, “but we will respect the wishes of the community for now.”

Former GLSEN Pittsburgh Chair Ian Syphard said he enjoyed the work he was able to accomplish during his 10 years at GLSEN, but he does not see them reforming. He was proud that they were able to grow from working with a few gay-straight alliances, to 50-60 GSAs throughout Southwest Pennsylvania. Syphard did point to some disconnect between the Pittsburgh GLSEN chapter and the main office as for the reason to dissolve.

“At GLSEN, we have always partnered with local organizations and our fundraising arm was always volunteer and local," says Syphard, “but we had to pay a charter fee to use the GLSEN name.”

Former GLSEN Pittsburgh Chapter Director Vanessa Davis says that the new organization, THRIVE Southwest PA, will fill the void. Davis says THRIVE, which formed from a community people who have worked with state schools in June, will have more of a local focus and cover a broader spectrum of youth-focused LGBT issues.

“Our intentions were to have a more grassroots projects locally, so we can respond to the needs of the community directly,” says Davis. 

Davis says that THRIVE will work through the Duquesne School of Education and will focus on providing opportunities to youth gay-straight alliances, but she also anticipates working with parents, teachers and educators. THRIVE is currently looking for volunteers and will officially kick-off with a party in September.

Although both sides have appeared mostly cordial, some contentiousness is evident. The former Pittsburgh board never informed GLSEN of THRIVE or any other new plans, and the main GLSEN offices offered no explanation on the decision to dissolve. They even took down the Pittsburgh GLSEN branch website and Facebook page.

“I think the way it was handled was a little funky,” says local LGBT blogger Thomas Waters. “You would think that after [GLSEN] announced the closure, they would stay connected to inform people after the fact.”

With the loss of the Southwestern PA chapter, there are now no GLSEN chapters in the entire state of Pennsylvania and GLSEN has no current plans to return to Pittsburgh. And though last June’s Pittsburgh Youth Pride Prom was the unofficial send-off of GLSEN’s Pittsburgh branch, Syphard ensures that The Warhol Museum has taken over responsibility for the prom, and that popular event will continue. 

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Local author brings new translation of Homer’s Iliad tomorrow

Posted By on Tue, May 19, 2015 at 3:36 PM

Don’t know about you, but it’s been ages since we last got around to translating the Iliad.

Somebody who has managed the feat lately is William Guy, a Pittsburgh-based scholar and former educator.

Guy stops by Classic Lines bookstore tomorrow night, Wed., May 20, to read from and discuss his new translation of this foundational text of Western civ, and arguably still the greatest poem about war.

Guy, a Pittsburgh native who formerly taught at the Ellis School, is the author of several books. 

Classic Lines, Pittsburgh’s newest indie bookstore, is located at 5825 Forbes Ave., in Squirrel Hill.

The event is free.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

History Center Exhibit Exploring Pittsburgh and World War II Opens Tomorrow

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 4:29 PM

Like the rest of the country, Pittsburgh weathered World War II. But it also had an outsize impact on the war.

The exhibit includes this early jeep, made in Butler. - PHOTO COURTESY OF HEINZ HISTORY CENTER.
  • Photo courtesy of Heinz History Center.
  • The exhibit includes this early jeep, made in Butler.
We Can Do It! WWII is the title (playing off the famous Rosie the Riveter poster) of the new Senator John Heinz History Center exhibit exploring wartime Pittsburgh, during the 1940s. The exhibit is timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the war, which began with the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939.

“The 10,000-square-foot exhibit will explore Western Pennsylvania’s incredible impact on the home, industrial, and battle fronts during World War II,” according to a History Center press release. “Visitors … will learn about the development of the jeep, a uniquely American invention produced by the American Bantam Car Company in Butler, Pa., and reveal the stories behind ‘Rosie the Riveter’ and the local Tuskegee Airmen whose contributions helped to turn the tide of the war.”

The exhibit features more than 275 rare artifacts, including four jeeps, plus photography, interactive displays and interactive installations.

Four new “life-like museum figures” include local people prominent in the war effort, including Uniontown-born Gen. George C. Marshall, Tuskegee Airman Lt. Carl J. Woods, Sgt. Michael Strank and Rosie the Riveter, a figure inspired by the Westinghouse Company.

Other aspects focus on the contributions of local industry. There’s also a recreated 1940s living room and the Veterans Voices room, “featuring recordings from Western Pennsylvania [World War II] veterans and 7,000 recreated dog tags suspended from the ceiling.”

The exhibit was developed by the History Center in partnership with institutions including the Smithsonian Institution, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, Veteran’s Voices, Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival, Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Fort Pitt Chapter, the Tuskegee Airmen of the Western Pennsylvania Region, Zippo/Case Museum, Butler County Historical Society and more.

The History Center is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. We Can Do It! runs through Jan. 3.

The History Center is located at 1212 Smallman St., in the Strip District. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors (ages 62 and over), $6 for students and children (age 6-17), and free for children (age 5 and under) and History Center members. 

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