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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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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Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2016 at 2:22 PM

Hold on to your steering wheels everyone — the ride-hailing company Uber is expanding into Hazelwood to further test its driverless-car technology.

At a Feb. 23 meeting in front of more than 100 concerned citizens at the firefighter’s union hall in Hazelwood, the San Francisco-based company detailed some of its plans to lease and develop parts of the Almono site, the former LTV coke works site, which sits along the Monongahela River in Hazelwood.

click to enlarge Dan Beaven of Uber presented the company's plans to develop a section of the Almono site in Hazelwood. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
Photo by Ryan Deto
Dan Beaven of Uber presented the company's plans to develop a section of the Almono site in Hazelwood.
Uber will become the first tenant of the Almono site and will focus its development at the southern edge near Tecumseh Street. The Regional Industrial Development Corporation manages Almono and president Don Smith said Uber committing to the site is a “very special occasion.”

“The vision of Almono has been to create a world-class sustainable development that extends the commercial impact of the region’s major research centers,” said Smith in a statement on Uber’s website. “The partnership announced today is the first major step in realizing the vision.”

This 42-acre, Tecumseh section of the development will include “complete streets” infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, bike lanes) and will be used for testing self-driving cars for 3 to 5 years. After that, Uber is planning to vacate the space, and housing and parks are planned to go up in its place. Smith says the Uber development will create access to the site by next year, which can help facilitate other companies coming into Almono.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

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.

click to enlarge 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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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Jan 14, 2016 at 11:04 AM

Tomorrow, Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science debuts a new exhibition, Ivan Sutherland's Trojan Cockroach, at the Posner Center.

click to enlarge Ivan Sutherland rides his original "Trojan Cockroach," a six-legged hexapod walking machine. - DANIEL PILLIS
Daniel Pillis
Ivan Sutherland rides his original "Trojan Cockroach," a six-legged hexapod walking machine.
The free exhibition celebrates Sutherland's "Trojan Cockroach," a six-legged hexapod walking machine that the computer scientist developed with six CMU graduate students in the 1980s.

Sponsored by the Posner Center Internship Program, the display will focus on the origin of legged robots and their ability to replicate biological skills. In addition, the exhibit celebrates CMU's history of computer graphics. Sutherland — widely acknowledged as the father of computer graphics — will be in attendance.

A free opening reception takes place at 5 p.m. tomorrow.

The Posner Center is on CMU's campus, 5000 Forbes Ave., in Oakland. For more information, call 908-902-9559 or see

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