Friday, May 27, 2011

Stellar evolution vs. biological evolution

[N.B.: This May 28, 2008, post of mine is not from my blog, but from the now-defunct Creation vs. Evolution group on MySpace. It follows from my previous post about evolution.]

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
Genesis 1:1 (NKJV)

Astronomy, the scientific study of the heavens, so far has been relatively ignored by the creationist/I.D. (intelligent design) movement, which instead focuses on biology and paleontology to make its case. Why is that, I wonder?

The more I read the threads in this group, with the responses of those from the creationist camp, the more I realize how little they seem to know about science. So, if this is you, get out of the biology discussion for a little while and read up on astronomy.

Astronomers have a lot figured out, but there are lots of topics that are not yet well understood. As one example, the star Eta Carinae, in the nebula NGC 3372, was one of the brightest stars in the sky around 1840, then dimmed below what the naked eye could see by the 1860s. It remained thus until the late 1990s when it brightened considerably. Why? Good question.

If you want to see true scientific debate going on, study this. There are hypotheses and there are theories.

(OK, review time, and I’ll say this simply: A hypothesis is an idea of what’s going on, nothing more, nothing less. You test the hypotheses, you make observations, you record what occurs, you make predictions. If the hypothesis holds up, good. If it doesn’t, you set it aside and come up with another hypothesis. Repeat. Get enough of these together that play nicely with one another and you can begin to construct a theory, a framework for hooking all these together. Meanwhile, keep on coming up with hypotheses. Each will either continue to support the theory, or maybe it will throw that framework into question again. Got it?)

Back to Eta Carinae. See this for a quick overview of the discussion as of April 2000. The Astronomy Picture of the Day for May 28, 2008, describes it only briefly, but has many links to additional information (1, 2, for starters).

Really, people, and creationists I’m talking to you here: There is no fundamental scientific debate about whether biological evolution occurs, but there are plenty of threads in this group to debate that. Here, in this thread, I merely but strongly suggest you get out of the biology debate and see for yourselves just how science is debated when there really is something to debate.

Stars evolve, too, and one line in the Bible hardly makes for a complete understanding of the subject.

Why teaching evolution is necessary (Sept. 18, 2007)

You do *not* have to believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. You don't have to believe that it explains the creation of the universe, or us.

You do, however, as a student, and a citizen of the world, have to
understand how the theory works, and how it explains how life evolves *now* -- which is why we can't use last year's flu vaccine this year, because viruses evolve. Because life evolves.

Darwin's theory is not a replacement of Genesis 1 or 2. It explains how life works
now. It has ZERO to do with how we got here in the first place. You can believe that it explains how life got here, using Darwin -- or you can not believe it. That's what freedom of belief in the U.S.A. affords us all. But you still have to learn that evolution works and how it works, and that is why we have to learn it in science classes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Message to those offended by Christianity (Sept. 12, 2007)

Current mood: hopeful

It started with an email, sent by one of the women in my church. It was one of those "if you agree with this, forward it to everyone you know, but if you don't agree, delete it" type of messages. Purportedly written by radio commentator Paul Harvey, it took maybe 20 seconds to establish that that was not the case.

I chewed on it for a bit, ate lunch, washed some dishes, then started on a reply. Below are both the initial message and my reply. Both of them are long; the initial part is 651 words; my part is 813 words. Yeah, that's a lot.

Initial message:
Subject: Message to those offended by Christianity....

Paul Harvey!

Folks this is the Month that we RE-TAKE AMERICA

********* Get Ready *********

Keep this going around the globe ... read it and forward every time you receive it. We can't give up on this issue.

Paul Harvey and Prayer

Paul Harvey says:

I don't believe in Santa Claus, but I'm not going to sue somebody for singing a Ho-Ho-Ho song in December. I don't agree with Darwin, but I didn't go out and hire a lawyer when my high school teacher taught his Theory of Evolution.

Life, liberty or your pursuit of happiness will not be endangered because someone says a 30-second prayer before a football game.

So what' s the big deal? It's not like somebody is up there reading the entire book of Acts. They're just talking to a God they believe in and asking him to grant safety to the players on the field and the fans going home from the game.

But it's a Christian prayer, some will argue.

Yes, and this is the United States of America, a country founded on Christian principles. According to our very own phone book, Christian churches outnumber all others better than 200-to-1. So what would you expect -- somebody chanting Hare Krishna?

If I went to a football game in Jerusalem, I would expect to hear a Jewish prayer.

If I went to a soccer game in Baghdad, I would expect to hear a Muslim prayer.

If I went to a ping pong match in China, I would expect to hear someone pray to Buddha.

And I wouldn't be offended. It wouldn't bother me one bit. When in Rome ...

But what about the atheists? Is another argument.

What about them?
Nobody is asking them to be baptized. We're not going to pass the collection plate. Just humor us for 30 seconds. If that's asking too much, bring a Walkman or a pair of ear plugs. Go to the bathroom. Visit the concession stand. Call your lawyer!

Unfortunately, one or two will make that call. One or two will tell thousands what they can and cannot do. I don't think a short prayer at a football game is going to shake the world's foundations.

Christians are just sick and tired of turning the other cheek while our courts strip us of all our rights. Our parents and grandparents taught us to pray before eating; to pray before we go to sleep.

Our Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. Now a handful of people and their lawyers are telling us to cease praying.

God, help us.
And if that last sentence offends you, well ... just sue me.

The silent majority has been silent too long. It's time we let that one or two who scream loud enough to be heard that the vast majority doesn't care what they want. It is time the majority rules! It's time we tell them, you don't have to pray; you don't have to say the pledge of allegiance; you don't have to believe in God or attend services that honor Him. That is your right, and we will honor your right . But by golly, you are no longer going to take our rights away. We are fighting back.
and we WILL WIN!

God bless us one and all ... especially those who denounce Him, God bless America, despite all her faults. She is still the greatest nation of all.

God bless our service men who are fighting to protect our right to pray and worship God.

2007 will be the year the silent majority is heard and we put God back as the foundation of our families and institutions ... and our Military come home from all the wars.

Keep looking up.

If you agree with this, please pass it on.

If not delete it.


My reply:
I'm not offended by Christianity, but I *am* offended by the implications of this message. First of all, Paul Harvey didn't write it, Wichita Falls TX sports columnist Nick Gholson did, in September 1999.

The implications of the message are that you have to be Christian to be American. Not so. We have freedom of religion here.

The implications of the message are that the United States of America is a Christian nation. Not so. We are a nation primarily of Christians. We are not a Christian nation. We are not an Islamic nation. We are not an atheist nation. We are not a Hare Krishna nation. We are a nation FREE to practice whatever form of belief we like WITHOUT any government interference, WITHOUT any government-sponsored "do-it-this-way"-ness. When gov't does get involved, it is almost always to stop a religious majority from imposing its views on everyone, and then only when the ACLU or someone's lawyer makes the call. Then, in our system, we have a series of courts where the matter can be heard. The ACLU does lose cases; it is sometimes wrong. But neither the ACLU nor the gov't nor someone's lawyer can just arbitrarily prevent practice of religion, any more than some religious group can arbitrarily decide that everyone present at a ball game must now pray. The point is, keep religion out of public domination (this includes public schools), and everyone will be happy.

It is this exact tussle that defines the mess in Iraq right now. For decades, the 90% Shi'ite majority was brutally suppressed by Saddam Hussein's 10% Sunni minority. The Sunnis don't want to relinquish the political power they enjoyed, and don't want to be dominated by the grudge-holding, dominant Shi'ite population. The Kurds in the north are afraid of either one of them making the rules that will overrule them, and if that isn't bad enough, the true religious minority group in Iraq -- the Yazidis -- take it from all sides. THAT's what happens when you have NO freedom of religion, no freedom FROM religion.

Contrast that with Turkey, also a nation whose dominant religion is some flavor of Islam, and like Iraq, was set up arbitrarily by treaties following World War I. There, like everywhere, there are political differences of opinion, but because the government enforces secular policies, just like us, people can practice their religion as they please. Because the political focus is on things other than religion, it is the only nation in that part of the world that gets along with nearly everyone -- Israel, former Soviet-bloc nations, western Europe, us, and most of its neighbors who don't already have a seed under their dentures about something. State mandated secularism is NOT the same as state mandated atheism, like China or the former Soviet Union. Understand the difference! It's important!

Contrast both with Northern Ireland. There, the dominant religion is Christian, but the Protestants and Roman Catholics have been killing each other for centuries. At the moment, they've called a truce, but they've been there before, too. The point is, religion matters there at the political level. It doesn't in Turkey. It does in Iraq. It doesn't, or shouldn't -- it BETTER NOT -- here. The sentiments in this missive would have it that we should, and if you can't see that, you need to associate with some people who don't think like you so that you can.

So, don't knock this freedom-of-religion thing, and please stop passing around this "oh-isn't-it-awful-that-Christians-are-so-hated" piffle. Nobody is after Christians, nobody is after Christianity, not even the ACLU. All they -- we -- everyone -- wants is for the majority to leave the minority alone.

Tolerance. Understanding. Plurality of opinion. These are Christian values, they are American values, they are OUR values.

I welcome educated discussion on this topic. Not flame wars. Thank you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What do you get when you turn "9/11" upside down? "11/6"

[Note: In 2007, when this was written, November 6 was election day. "11/6" is "9/11" turned upside down. This Tuesday, May 17, is Primary Election Day in Pennsylvania. Do your duty: Vote!]

Current mood: annoyed

For all the post-9/11/2001 flag waving, voter turnout on Tuesday, November 6, 2001, was 30% or less in several counties near Pittsburgh, the highest being 35% in Armstrong County. Source:

Flying a flag amounts to little more than lip service. However, there is no more patriotic thing an American citizen can do than VOTE.

So, what DO you get when you turn the characters "9/11" upside down? "11/6"
November 6 is Election Day, in 2001 and as well in 2007.

'Nuff said.

A house for $10K, a building lot for $500

[Note: I originally posted this Sept. 11, 2007. Aside from updating some numbers and addresses to match the reality of May 14, 2011, this blog post is essentially unchanged from almost four years ago.]

Current mood: chipper

The mayor of Braddock, PA, John Fetterman, is on a campaign to sell his community as a real place to live, work and invest. Good luck with that, dude. You got a project on your hands.

OTOH, how can you pass up being able to purchase a real house for less than a used car? Example: 307 Comrie Avenue in Braddock.

You can almost see it on Google StreetView; key in "307 Comrie Avenue, Braddock, PA 15104". It's about the fourth house on the right, almost obscured by the stop sign. Easier to see on the satellite view. The first link above is to the page on the county real estate assessment website for that house. Every house and lot in Allegheny County has such a page.

Building lots can be had for three-digit sums. Many lots have an assessed value of $500, though many have a condemned house on it. Expect to drop little more than basic grocery money to own these outright. The annual county property tax on the adjoining vacant lot, btw, is $3.28 -- yes, three dollars and twenty-eight cents -- and taxes are delinquent. It's about $142 for the house at 307. No, I don't know if the lot is actually for sale; but the house at 307 certainly is. [May 14, 2011: This house is really for sale, only $7,500. That is not a typo. Here's the ad.]

What's the catch? Well, really, there isn't much of a catch, other than there isn't much to do in Braddock, and hasn't been for a long, long time. They closed the town's hospital in 2010. There is a crime element, as there is in any run-down area, so you basically need bravery or chutzpah, but as far as I can see -- and I drove around this area just a few months ago -- that's really all that's wrong here. The mayor himself bought his house for $2,000. [link]

There is 7-day transit service here, only a six-minute walk to the bus stop, with sidewalks. It's flat, ideal for bicycling.

Oh, yes, there is one more thing: They want to build an expressway through here. I don't know if these particular houses are in the way, but the values aren't much higher on the other side of the main street, Braddock Ave. Or on it, for that matter. Nearly every storefront is boarded up. Nor is the expressway any sure thing. Some want it built (the mayor is not one of them); others simply point out the blasphemy of spending an insane amount of money for a T-shaped road that parallels two existing interstates. [2011 update: By some accounts, the expressway is dead, but other infrastructure projects in the area are being built with the expectation it will someday be built.]

Hizzoner wants artists, young people, squatters-with-an-income, empty nesters looking to get out of town without driving a half a day, and the brave, to set up shop here. And he might be right, too. I mean, yeah, $100K can get you a pretty decent house just about anywhere around here. But $10K, and own the place outright, free of mortgages and liens? How can you not consider the idea?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Three short essays I wrote just after 9/11/2001 (April 27, 2007)

I wish I'd known about MySpace back in late 2001. These short pieces were all written in one sitting, long-hand, on a long commute home one day on a bus, no later than 9/24/2001. W's "with us" quote occurred on 9/20.


Essay 1.

President Bush has placed me, a patriotic, tax-paying, law-abiding, registered voter, in the uncomfortable position of being either "with us or with them". I wonder if maybe there's a third option.

Now that we're going on two weeks into this mess, the flag waving and sabre rattling and ultimatums are making me more than a little uneasy. Doesn't anyone else understand what we're getting into?

If we do attack Afghanistan, who can blame them if they have someone retaliate from within our own borders? We go "bang bang you're dead" there, they go b.b.y.d here. All those terrorists were already here. How many more are awaiting their turn to act?

We learned in kindergarten that when a bully punches you, you don't punch back or you'll get punched back back even harder, or worse yet, yanked off to the principal's office just as culpable as the one who threw the first punch. So why are we gearing for war? That's exactly the wrong thing to do. Has nobody tried to get to the bottom of their reasons for acting?

Instead we should be determining why it seemed necessary for them to attack us, and resolve it at that level. What I am saying is simple: We should not retaliate.

No war. No violence. Peace.

Essay 2.

Maybe I didn't say it clearly enough in my first missive, so I'll say it again. Mr Bush, you cannot be against abortion on the grounds that it is murder, and then plan to go overseas and wage war. That's murder, too. There can be no distinction, given the rules you yourself laid down, that taking a human life is taking a human life, no matter what you call it, or under what circumstances.

So, Mr. Bush, if you are still bound and determined to go to war, does that then mean you are adopting your predecessor's abortion policies? If your abortion policies remain intact, then call back the armed forces. You cannot have it both ways.

Essay 3.

Let's say an official government force enters into a neighborhood, sets fire to an occupied building on official orders, and kills dozens of people inside. What does that make that government force, or the government behind it? Corrupt? Warlike? Criminal?

This is pretty much what happened on May 13, 1985, in Philadelphia, when several occupied townhouses were bombed and left to burn by city police and firefighters. This was done, it was said, for political purposes; the occupants had a political agenda which ticked off city authorities. An entire city block was destroyed, and while the city did pay the property owners, no police or fire authorities were found culpable for their handling of the destruction.

Similarly, consider what happened to the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993. They too were an organized group with a political agenda that ticked off the authorities. The B.A.T.F. gave them an ultimatum, which they refused. In the ensuing battle, hundreds died, including children. Nothing, essentially, was done to the federal officials who brought this to bear, whoever set the fire, or how.

It was this inaction, this perceived injustice, which caused one terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building, the B.A.T.F.'s headquarters, two years to the day after Waco. Perception is everything. Whether there was an injustice or not, someone thought enough that there was that he decided a large-scale terrorist act was called for.

What we are planning for Osama bin Laden and his ilk is nothing more than another M.O.V.E., another Waco, but on a larger scale.

OK, they attacked us first. Or did they? Yes, they hit us first. But to stand in the shoes of some over there, we struck first. What did we do? We exist, that's what. We're evil in their eyes. Granted, the extremists did the act, but we have a couple of extremists ourselves, incluing the current occupants of the White House.

It is wrong to strike back. That will show that we're evil, in case anyone over there doubted it.


Back to 2007. I find it difficult to believe that my words weren't prophetic here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nailbiter transfers (Sept. 6, 2007)

A transit topic, for a change. I use the term "nailbiter" when referring to a connection between buses that is not supposed to be doable. The reference, of course, is to the nervous habit of biting one's fingernails when worrying whether something is about to happen -- like missing a much needed bus connection.

I am writing a little blurb for an upcoming transit event for which I am developing some sample bus schedule formats. To explain the terminology therein, I wrote the following. Please look it over and tell me what you think. Is it clear enough to understand? Is it too wordy? Too technical? What would you change, and why?

Thank you for your suggestions.
Nailbiters explained. The timepoints given for the West View termini of the 11C Perry Highway, the 11D Perrysville, and the 500, are all in West View Park Shopping Plaza. All, however, must circulate through the plaza and 1/2 mile of West View Park Drive. The inbound 11C crosses the path of the 500 headed Downtown about two to three minutes prior to the West View Plaza timepoint, and correspondingly the 500 gets to that same spot about two to three minutes after leaving the plaza.

Therefore, even when as many as five minutes separate the two -- e.g., 11C not due until 12:49, but the 500 left at 12:47 -- it is often possible to make the transfer. However, if either one is off schedule by more than a minute or two, you may miss the connection, or have to run to make it. Practice and luck, therefore, play large roles.

So while on one hand you can save a lot of time with nailbiters, OTOH they are inherently not reliable.

* * * End original post * * *
* * * Original comments from 2007 * * *

Pittsburgh Storm
I remember this issue occurred alot with the 44L Library Shuttle with the 47S. All transfer points have to be timed and should have at least four minutes between arrival and discharge to facilitate a bus potentially being late.

Stuart Strickland
Less a matter of timed transfers, rather that the transfer point is upstream of the time point. More accurately, the *most upstream transfer point* is upstream of the time point. They usually do overlap some, but sometimes it's possible to make a connection that would not be possible if you went by the time points alone.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bicycling on the HOV lane (Sept. 5, 2007)

Safety always trumps legality. I learned that lesson a long time ago. Said another way, having to choose between doing what is right/proper/appropriate but which might get you hurt or killed, and a clearly safe alternative with little downside other than breaking the rules, screw the rules.

I had to make a trip Downtown earlier, and chose to go by bicycle. Well, not exactly chose: the car was not available, and I was not ready to leave when the one bus went by. Biking to West View was easy enough, and there are enough 11Ds and 500s that can get me the rest of the way, but none had bike racks, so I decided to bike the rest of the way, too.

Perry Highway and Perrysville Avenue are fairly narrow two-lane streets with a whole heckuvalotta traffic, so when I got to the HOV Lane, closed in both directions in the middle of the day, I said to myself, "Self, that road is closed. There are big red bars right across it with flashing lights and cones, so it's pretty clear there are no cars going down there this time of day. Nope, not one car."

Didn't say a damn thing about bicycles, though. *ducks behind gates*

It's fast. It's smooth. It's wide. It's got shoulders. It's devoid of bicyclist-killing things like speeding cars, at least between 9 and 3 (it was about 11:30 at the time).

I was off the road and onto the 9th St Bridge in less than 10 minutes. Woohoo!

* * * End original post * * *
* * * Original comments from 2007 * * *

Pittsburgh Storm

Alright BUS!!!!

You got some of that REBEL SPIRIT in you!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Gunned down on a Pittsburgh street (Sept. 3, 2007)

The following two stories are true and documented in the press, but it is not the full story.

The press would have you believe, and many do believe, that Pittsburgh city streets are unsafe, that you take your life in your hands just walking down the street. Piffle. Our city streets are probably among the safest in the nation. Well, almost piffle. These stories really did happen.

Story 1: David Mamaux walked out of his apartment on a bright and sunny Friday morning back in June 2006, headed Downtown on his day off. He waited for the bus as he often did, in front of the bank, directly across the street from the high school. It was lunch time, and so there was a good bit of traffic.

Suddenly, there was a commotion down the street, over 100 yards away. Someone ran out of the District Justice's office, bolting up the middle of the street, dashing towards a waiting car. In hot pursuit were two constables, Pennsylvania's auxiliary law enforcement personnel. The constables fired at the escapee, in so doing, sending a hail of bullets right into the crowd at the bus stop.

Dave was hit in the back of the head, and fell face first onto the sidewalk, unconscious. He spent two nights in the Trauma ICU, a few more days in a regular bed, but walked out, blinded in one eye, but alive and reasonably well. He even returned to work a few weeks later.

I know Dave well; in fact, I helped him pick out that apartment and helped him move in. He'd lived there for over five years without serious incident before that. This happened June 23, 2006. There has been no serious incident since that, either.

Story 2: On January 3, 2003, Michael Lahoff parked his car in a Downtown parking garage and leaned on the back of his car for a moment to check the diagram on the copier he had to fix. Two youths jumped him, shot him, and robbed him of $15 so they could go buy drugs. Lahoff was paralyzed. The two teens were caught, tried and convicted, and are now serving very long sentences. While I don't know Michael Lahoff, the story is still close to home for me, since I know one of his relatives.

The point I wish to make is that, with a couple of very well covered exceptions, few people come to grief on city streets from gunfire. Sure there are shootings, but most of them are on private property where the assailants and victims are well known to one another. Occasionally someone gets caught in the line of fire, but these are fairly rare events. At least as often, someone gets killed out of mistaken identity.

Each day, 140,000 people go to work in Downtown Pittsburgh, 80,000 or so in Oakland. Virtually never -- maybe one time every three or four years -- do bullets fly in the built-up areas of the city. By the same token, incidents like that occur at each of the shopping malls, at least as often. Ross Park Mall and Monroeville Mall have each had similar incidents, so don't point fingers at Downtown.

What I would like to see is someone do some research on violent crime and serious auto accidents. First, eliminate private-party conflicts such as drug deals and domestic disputes, where random passers-by are not involved. Then affix a Latitude/Longitude to each incident, and break it down statistically by Zipcode or township or voting district. I want to see, on a locality-by-locality basis, whether it is more or less dangerous to be in any one part of the city or suburbs or out in the sticks, and whether you are more likely to be cut down by a bullet, or injured in or by a car.

My hunch is that if danger is what you're worried about, that cars are far more likely to cause or be a part of the cause, than any gun would be, and that the suburbs are every bit as dangerous, in terms of guns or cars, as any part of the city, including and especially, the run-down areas.

The bottom line is, even with these stories affecting people close to me, I refuse to believe that the streets of Pittsburgh are unsafe, and nothing short of the research proposed above will convince me otherwise.

Sept. 2, So It’s Fall: How I Figure Out the Seasons (Sept. 2, 2007)

Since I have always lived in a four-season climate, living either in Pittsburgh or Buffalo all my life, I have always been quite attuned to the changing of the seasons.

I figure there are three ways of calculating the seasons. First is the calendar: More or less the 20th of March, June, September and December announce the beginning of whichever season, as most people commonly accept.

Second, as inferred by the title of this blog, I choose to observe the first day of each of those months as the beginning of the season. September's weather, even early September, usually resembles autumn weather more than summer, December's more like winter than autumn, March more like spring than winter, and June more like summer than spring. Already in September we find ourselves closing the windows at night because it's starting to get darned chilly before daybreak.

Third, I note that about one month after the official beginning of each season, the weather is the most like that season. About the 20th of October the trees are in full color (past that, farther north). About the 20th of January it is the coldest. About the 20th of April everything is green and growing fast. And about the 20th of July it is the hottest.

So here it is, September. The birds are flocking. The lines at the ice cream store are not quite as long as they were, even on the weekends. Whole days go by when the very idea of flipping on the A/C does not cross my mind. We don't need the fans running overnight. Yeah, we're past peak heat. Chances of another day in the high 90s fade with each passing sunset. I suspect we'll hear of a low in the 40s before we again see a predicted high over 95. (As I write, the predicted highs and lows for the next few days are 81-53-84-55-82-57-81-60-86-63-83-63-80.)

We're a long way from snow yet. The earliest I've seen it in Pittsburgh was October 11, 1988. The earliest big snow in Pittsburgh was the Halloween 1993 snowstorm. So winter and winter-like weather is still many weeks away. Still, that threshold has been crossed. We're done with summer.

* * * End original post * * *
* * * Original comments from 2007 * * *

Natasha Rene'e

how fantastic to live somewhere with real seasons. here in south texas we have summer and december.

  • Stuart Strickland

    And people are starting to agree with me. It's CHILLY out. The hottest it's been since I posted that blog was 91 on the 6th. It hit 50 last night, but tonight we're skipping the 40s altogether, with a forecast low of THIRTY-eight. Today's forecast high is only 61.

    I'm guessing now that we'll see frost here, near Pittsburgh itself, before the end of September (some counties near Buffalo are seeing it tonight), a couple of flakes in the air on October 30, a white coating to the grass on November 8, and enough to plow and salt for on November 14. I don't think we'll see the schools closed because of snow until 2008 sometime.

  • Stuart Strickland

    December in South Texas would be ... pls help me out here, I haven't a clue.

    December in Buffalo is not so much cold (high 43, low 31) as subject to the occasional lake-effect snowstorm. It could be blue-sky beautiful in one town, two-inch-an-hour blizzard four miles to the south.

    Summer in Buffalo would be difficult to improve upon. Daily highs in the high 80s or low 90s, with a steady 15 mph breeze off the lake. It's never once been 100 in Buffalo. (See for a brief primer to understanding Buffalo's built-in A/C unit and monster snowstorm generator.)

    December days in Pittsburgh are a tad warmer (high 48, low 30), with here and there a few flakes, but only infrequently would we get a whole lot of snow at once.

    Pittsburgh summer days feature fog in the morning, blue skies with huge clouds building somewhere all day, and a very localized pounding thunderstorm around evening rush hour, but not enough breeze anywhere else to make a difference. Later evenings it gets cool, so I turn on the window fans to cool the house overnight.

    December in either Buffalo or Pittsburgh, no windows are open, anywhere, anytime, and the furnace runs 12 hours a day.

Friday, May 6, 2011

What and how I recycle (August 31, 2007)

Current mood:hopeful

Each week, I put a single very light, very empty looking bag out for the trash. Most of its weight is cat litter. Here is what is NOT in it:

Aluminum and steel cans and glass bottles go out in the blue recycle bin, to be picked up by the recycle truck.

Plastic bottles of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 type plastic, also go in the recycle bin.

Newspapers I could put in the recycle bin, but do not. Instead, I gather all office paper, newspaper, and pure paperboard items like cereal boxes, place this in brown paper grocery bags, and take them to the green-and-yellow Abitibi paper recycling dumpsters that are all over the place. Nearly every school and library has one, as do many churches.

Vegetable matter, including coffee grounds, I gather in an old Cool Whip tub, and every couple of days, take it down to the garden, where I bury it. If I had a composting bin, I would use it.

Meat trimmings, bacon drippings, etc., I gather after each meal in a used but usable Ziploc bag, and place in the freezer. This will go in the regular weekly trash when I take it out, but will be odorless.

Of significance is what else does NOT go in the trash. Most of these can be recycled only in special places at limited opportunities,
* Compact fluorescent bulbs. These contain mercury and MUST be recycled properly. Currently I am gathering these in a small box, and keeping my eye open for where to take them. This site shows no facility near Pittsburgh.
* Alkaline dry-cell batteries. I put them all in a box, actually two boxes, one for the ubiquitous AA size, one for everything else. The Sierra Club is one organization that can get rid of them properly.
* Cardboard. I pull off as much tape and other decoration as possible, bust up the boxes, and every once in a while take the pile to a cardboard-only dumpster.
* Raw metal, such as steel, copper and aluminum, brings a good price at a scrapyard. I gather these in one corner of the basement, and once or twice a year, call someone to come get it.
* Styrofoam egg cartons and meat trays. Less that I recycle them, more that I stockpile these for some art project that comes around from time to time. If I had a good way to recycle them, I would. [Update, 2001: I can now also put styrene (#6 plastic) in the recycle bin.]

Well, that's a start. I will add to this as I think of some of the lesser items, of which there are many.

I did not at all cover how I don't generate much trash in the first place. OK I will: I don't shop much, I repair rather than pitch, I only buy stuff that lasts, and if something outlives my need for it I give it away via Pittsburgh Freecyle and The Freecycle Network.

If everyone else did what I do, though, there would be a lot less trash generated.

* * * End original post * * *
* * * Original comments from 2007 * * *

Michele James-Parham

At IKEA you can take:
- all your compact fluorescent bulbs or any light bulbs for that matter
- batteries
- packaging from IKEA products
- and the usual cans, glass and plastics

I realize that you probably don't get to Robinson Township !regularly!, but if you are ever heading down towards the airport or know someone who is or who is headed to the shopping conglomeration that is Robinson Township (we make that jaunt about once every 6 months), you could drop off your light bulbs and batteries at IKEA.

Oh and kudos to you for helping to lighten the load on our landfills -- have you tried switching cat litter to a flushable/biodegradable variety? It would mean that you'd have to order online or shop at stores such as Target, East End Food Co-op, Whole Foods or a few others in the city and I know you only shop at a few places.

Taking the 54C quiz (August 24, 2007)

This week's (August 22-29) Pittsburgh City Paper cover story concerns Pittsburgh's famous bus route, the 54C. It is, in fact, a 27-item quiz.

A year or so ago, some of the ACTC regulars suggested putting together a tour guide for various bus routes. This is essentially that same suggestion, but taken to an extreme I had only dreamed of.

Try the quiz. I couldn't answer all of the questions myself, if for no other reason than that I do not now and never did go to bars. I did get quite a few of them right, though, some by trivia knowledge, some by good guessing.

* * * End of original post * * *

* * * Original comments from 2007 * * *

Pittsburgh Storm
I read this article today. I read the first few questions of it and then tossed it.

The Port Authority is a respectable transit agency. It does offer service to and from bars, however, it not a party bus system. I felt sick that the whole quiz pretty much was about drinking.

Stuart Strickland
Good point. Given the choice, though, I'd rather be seated next to someone intoxicated ON A BUS than DRIVING A CAR -- assuming, of course, that they're not going to do something horrible (like hurl) or stupid (like punch someone).

I lost a friend to a drunk driver once, a long time ago (12/1979), and can still vividly recall the feelings that caused in me and those close to me and him. In two other situations, I was in a car driven by someone intoxicated, and cannot recall ever being more in fear of my life.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The anti-litterbug (August 17, 2007)

Attention: *"gross" alert* If you have a really queasy system, get someone else to read this blog for you. You're not off the hook, though.

This concerns litter, everything from torn newspaper pieces and 3/4 empty drink bottles, all the way down to cigarette butts. It's everywhere. Why are people such slobs? Even when there are multiple trash cans right there?

Being a bus rider, I do not appreciate having to stand in squalor when waiting for my ride. But I'm not helpless, either, so I do the next best thing: I pick it up. All of it. All the torn newspaper pieces, all the drink bottles, and yes, even all the cigarette butts. If the ride is late enough, I will gather every last gum wrapper, and stick it in whatever's handy -- a pretzel bag, a paper cup, a trash can if available.

Yes, I pick it all up with my bare hands. Yes, it's sometimes yucky. I also always carry a paper towel (often damp) with me to wipe my hands on when done. I started that habit when the kids were tiny and someone was always making a mess, but even today, I daily find a use for that damp paper towel. I also usually have a plastic grocery bag folded in one pocket, so if there isn't a trash can handy, it all goes in the bag until I find one.

What I'm saying is that everyone else should do likewise. If you're at a bus stop and have two or six or 15 minutes, then spend one or five or 14 minutes and pick up around where you are.

The bus stop in question today was at Forbes and Stevenson, right next to Duquesne University and Mercy Hospital. In my case the bus was late and I had 15, most of which time I was alone, so that stop was devoid of litter by the time the bus came along.

It's amazing just how much difference a couple of minutes of anti-littering can make. What's equally amazing is how long it stays looking nice. True, someone can trash it in minutes, but it might be days before that happens. At any rate, when I caught that inbound 67F a few hours later, which took me right past that spot, I got a nice warm fuzzy feeling seeing how neat and tidy that little piece of city looked.

* * * End original post * * *

* * * Original comments from 2007 * * *

Pittsburgh Storm

Great job, Stu! I wish there were more people like you out there!

I would still like to get a group of us together and do some cleaning. Perhaps we could leave a leaflet up saying "Cleaned by Stu and The Pittsburgh STORM" with links to our MySpace pages or "Cleaned by -ORGANIZATION NAME-".

Let me know, and keep up the great work!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My first blog since my mother’s passing (Aug. 8, 2007)

Current mood: melancholy

It's been a little over a week since my mother passed away. Here I sit, two-thirty in the morning, unable to sleep, and it's pretty clear that this is why. To date, I have yet to burst into racking sobs -- I don't know why -- seems everyone else does when a loved one passes. It's not that I didn't love my mother -- I did -- just that I seem to handle grief differently.

Several times a day, I'm overcome with waves of "coulda-shoulda-didn't", i.e., lost opportunities. Examples: I never asked her about those faces in the photo albums. I never got that recording restored which her brother sent from the Korean War shortly before he died. I don't remember if I ever apologized for that stupid thing I did 20-some years ago. The list is seemingly endless. I am heartened that, yes indeed, I did tell her I loved her.

At other times I feel a sense of emptiness, not exactly loss, more a "why-am-I-here". There no longer seems to be a mainspring in me at some points during the day. The only thing to do then is lie down, for to pursue anything of importance is an effort in futility. I might be out for 15 minutes, maybe an hour, maybe more. I can't see it coming, either. I'm working along just fine, then the emotional floor falls out, and I'm jelly. No warning, no pattern. It started the day she died, and has been a daily occurrence since.

Finally, there's this insomnia, something that started around the time of the funeral (last Wednesday) and has been getting steadily worse. Tonight also happens to be the warmest night so far this summer, which doesn't help. I took a shower before bedtime, hoping that would help. It hasn't.

Anyway, I sure hope this all flushes out of my head soon. I don't mind the memories, but all this side-effect stuff has got to go if I'm to be of any value to anyone.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Anti-TOBACCO vs. anti-SMOKING (July 23, 2007)

[Note: I am copying this old post more for historical purposes than action. Much has occurred on the legislative front in four years. Still, the philosophical distinctions and approach to the topic in general remain sound. --me, May 3, 2011.]

Current mood: hopeful

When talking about smoking, here's another important distinction to make: Someone who is anti-smoking is one who wants to reduce the amount of tobacco smoke he/she has to deal with, i.e., on a personal level. Someone who is anti-tobacco wants to eliminate use of tobacco products on a different level, typically societal rather than personal.

That distinction forms the basis between Wyoming senator Mike Enzi's anti-tobacco legislation, and Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy's FDA regulation bill which claims to be anti-smoking.

Enzi's is better, plain and simple. Kennedy's bill would cause virtually nothing to happen to reduce tobacco use, which is exactly what the tobacco industry wants, which is why they are for it. Enzi's bill would come at the problem a whole different way, and over the course of a generation, reduce markedly the amount of tobacco used by Americans.

All I can say is, it's about bleeping time something like Enzi's came along. It points out the serious distinctions between What Sounds Good versus What Will Actually Work.

Remember, absolutely every time that the tobacco industry likes something, it's a damn good idea to shoot it down, and conversely, anything they oppose should be passed. They like Kennedy's bill. They even helped draft it.

See details of Enzi's bill here.

'Nuff said.

getting 30mpg out of a 20mpg car (July 14, 2007)

Current mood:surprised

My car is a 1999 Mercury Sable station wagon with a 3.0L V6. I've been keeping track of every fill-up since I bought the car (actually I have logged every fill-up going back to 1981, but that's another story), and averaged over the last couple of years, have gotten roughly 20, maybe 21 mpg.

This week, I had to make a trip to Buffalo NY, about 220 miles distant, and for once did not have to take the whole family with me. I just went, and decided to see just how far I could get on a tankful of gas. About a half hour this side of Buffalo is the Seneca Indian Reservation, which always has gasoline for far less than anyplace else around, and it's always a good feeling to have one tankful make it at least that far. With a 15-gallon tank, the low-fuel idiot light comes on at about 200 miles, so I usually tank up there, and again on the way back.

Not being pressed for time, I not only held it to the old national 55 mph limit, I pretty much held it to 50 mph. Actually, I was holding to 2,000 rpm engine speed. I've noticed in the past that the less time I spend on the high side of 2Krpm, the better the mileage. So, most of the time going up Interstate 79, then NY 5 and US 20, I was going 51, maybe 53 or 54. It was a Monday evening, so traffic was light, and though everyone was passing me, I wasn't going so slow as to be an obstruction.

When I got to Irving NY and the reservation, I still had a third of a tank, so passed up getting gas until the return trip, a day later. On the way back from my destination, I was even less in a hurry, so stayed off the numbered roads and took Old Lake Shore Road, between NY 5 and the lake, which is posted 35 or 40.

Upon tanking up, I found I got an astounding 33 mpg! That's far beyond what I'd ever gotten in the 90,000-odd miles I've had this car.

Taking that one further, since I was returning in the middle of the night, I stayed off the interstates altogether and returned on PA 8, holding to 40 or 45 mph. When I got home, I'd managed 27 mpg, even with Pennsylvania's hills. Much of Western NY, by contrast, is fairly level, and since I grew up there and bicycled everyplace, knew the flattest ways to get around my somewhat hilly home town. But even if there's no way to avoid hills around Pittsburgh, to get 27ish miles per gallon on a normally 20 mpg car is doing pretty darn good.

The point is, I slowed down and saved gas. Lots of gas.

I have a hunch that we will sometime, again, see a mandatory national speed limit, but this time, it might be lower than 55 mph, it might be 50. I'm not advocating for that yet, as it's barely been 15 years since "I can't drive 55" was lifted. But if for some reason we are forced to conserve gas, big time, this will have to be one of the ideas to be seriously considered.

* * * End of 2007 post * * *

* * * Original 2007 comment by me * * *

How to really annoy the hell out of people: Pull away from a traffic light NOT in a hurry. In my case, I tried not to exceed 2,000 rpm even as I accelerated from a stop. Yeah, zero to 50 in maybe 20 seconds instead of 12.

Worse still for the idiot who laid on the horn at the last light because I started off too slowly, I sometimes catch up with them at the next light, sometimes passing them in the left lane because I anticipated the next stop light and was already going 15 mph while they waited the full cycle. They probably used twice the gasoline as they left me in the dust, then burned up a substantial amount of brake pad lining stopping for the next light, while I just puttered merrily along.

Can you say "tortoise and the hare"? Can you say "the majority of drivers out there"?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On a Stack of Bibles (July 3, 2007)

Current mood: contemplative

Over the years, I've come to believe that it is not good enough to read The Bible. Sure, I read it. I've read it cover to cover. I consult it often. What else I've learned over the years is that each translation of a work in a foreign language takes on a character different from every other. This is not a bad thing; one must only realize it, accept it, and comprehend their differences. The Bible is no different in this regard.

Each Bible translation, each such characterization, both adds some value to the original as well as loses some. You've heard the saying "It lost something in the translation"? What is it that got lost? What got added? The latter first: The needs of the moment, at the time of translation, colors in some way the manner of the translation. Who is the intended reader? Royalty? Children? It matters, as the nature of the education of both those who will be expected to use the translation, as well as that of the translators' manner of preparation and means of approach, define that color. This is not wrong, it just is.

As to the former, what gets lost, or can get lost, or more importantly, has been long lost, is the tone of the original. The Bible writers, whose divinely inspired work has come down to us in translation, had an audience whose culture and language differed greatly from those of the scribes and translators centuries and millenia later, and different from our own. Each original writer's shared understanding with his audience flavored that original text, resulting in thoughts and ideas that were embedded and implied, hidden thoughts that would not have been understood and conveyed by the generations of copying scribes and translators over the centuries whose work we rely on to obtain the text of the holy word we think we understand so well. Hence, we may know and understand the words used, but we cannot know all that was meant and implied by those words.

Every new translation takes on at least two additional very important aspects. First is the language of the current time. Words and phrases in our own language change; implied and understood meanings evolve with each passing decade. With practice, a reader of an older translation can begin to understand and appreciate these distinctions, but a great leap of faith and a major error occur when one merely expects the average person to have the same understanding of a passage, with little context and no explanation. Second, with each passing decade, scholarly research and archaeological discoveries allow us to understand more the language and culture that defined the age and writing style of those original authors. Not to use that information, by denying that the knowledge exists or matters, is to do ourselves a disservice in our would-be understanding of Scripture. If that in turn casts new light on certain long-held beliefs, then too bad for them! for we did not fully know what we believed. Our understanding was erroneous, however deeply held.

Given this, when I read The Bible, I employ several translations, each a different attempt to get at the full meaning of that original text. Even with four translations in hand, the task of understanding fully what was said two to three millenia ago is difficult. Allow me to illustrate:

* First, I read through one translation of a passage in order get a sense of what is going on at a high level.
* Second, I read through a second translation, glancing to the footnotes and cross-references, to get a sense of what specific terms mean, and to understand how that passage ties to others in the Bible.
* Using a third (or fourth or fifth ...) translation, I read sentences and paragraphs at a time, referring back to the first two translations for differences and similarities among them.
* Fourth, I seek to understand what was going on in the original recorder's mind. I must sift through all the language differences, peeling back the colors and flavors from the translators. I use my education in having studied literature, history, linguistics, and the history of words and languages, to arrive at some ancestral idea, that first telling that got recorded.
* Fifth, even that ancestral telling is not the full story. As I said before, that too had a setting and an audience, a language and a culture, a historical context upon which it was based. Using again my education, as described above, I try to place the passage into that setting, looking for hooks linking one to the other the original author would have used.
* From all that, understanding the whole point of what the story was originally telling in its original context, I can finally approach the idea that the speaker had in mind when so divinely inspired, and apply it toward the betterment of my own life.

It is not good enough to read The Bible. If we would truly know the holy word, we would employ a stack.