Best must-have accessory for record collectors
Budai/Ray-Min tote bag
Thanks to Three Rivers Arts Festival's increased commitment to local vendors, lucky vinyl-hounds snapped up this limited-edition homegrown beauty this summer. The colorful canvas tote was sewn up by Ray-Min Shoulderware, and sports an illustration by Pittsburgh's king-of-the-silkscreened-concert-poster Mike Budai. What wax-head wouldn't want this tote, perfectly sized to hold vinyl LPs, emblazoned with the spooky-groovy image of analog-music ghosts? (A limited number are still available at www.raymin.bigcartel.com.)
Best place to learn skills without incurring massive student debt
You don't have to fork over a few grand to get an education in this city; you just need a little time and willingness to share what you know. That's where CommuniTeach comes in. It's a free platform based in Pittsburgh and Chicago that pairs people who want to learn something with someone who can teach it -- no special requirements/degrees/certifications necessary. The website is a social network that connects people in person. You plug in what you want to learn, and what you want to teach ... and people sign up accordingly. CommuniTeach provides the space and equipment. Homebrewing, marathon running, yoga and speaking Spanish ... all have been the subjects of local "LearnIts." You can even learn to make a laptop bag out of bubble wrap. And you also meet new friends: Most of the LearnIts are in group settings and public spaces around the city.
Best Place for Sci-Fi Books
Duncan Comics Books & Accessories 1047 Perry Highway, McCandless. 412-635-0886 or www.duncancomics.com
If you're looking for a comic book or action figure, Pittsburgh pretty much has the nerdiverse covered. But what if you're looking to overdose on sci-fi novels, those red-headed stepchildren of the literary world? That's where Duncan Comics shines. They have comics and action figures, but they also have in the neighborhood of 20,000 used books -- and roughly half of those are science-fiction. They also carry horror and mystery/thriller titles. If you're looking for something by Asimov, Ackerman or even something a bit more obscure, there's a good chance Duncan has it.
Most skillful use of social media by a public agency
Port Authority's Twitter account http://twitter.com/pghtransit
Let's face it: The Port Authority hasn't always had a great reputation for communicating with riders. Bus drivers are often curt, T vehicles sometimes stop for five or 10 minutes without explanation. And good luck trying to find the hand-schedule you need. But the Port Authority's Twitter account came into its own during Snowmageddon, offering timely dispatches about service disruptions. Nowadays, it keeps riders informed of parade detours (more than you'd think), system breakdowns, weather dramas and what passengers can do to help Port Authority stay solvent -- from tweeting feedback to attending talk-backs. Now if they could just set up a Paypal account to fill the massive deficits they'll be facing next year ...