Friday, July 22, 2011

Defining the topfreedom debate (Feb. 11, 2008)

Current mood: enlightened

In a blog post from a few months ago, I briefly mentioned topfreedom, the concept by which any female can strip to the waist in any location where a male may do so, without being arrested. While I only became aware of this late last year, I've read many arguments both for and against in the time since. Typically those who want it feel it is discriminatory for men to have a freedom women do not (even men did not have this freedom in the U.S. until the 1930s), while those against it believe the sight of female breasts, or portions thereof, will corrupt the morals of minors and lead to sexual wantonness. Many, many other side issues enter into it as well, on both sides.

My point here is not to take sides (though I have), nor to convince anyone else to take a side (though you may already have), but merely to focus the discussion. What IS this debate about, really? What is it NOT about?

What the debate IS about:
* Criminality. Women's bodies are not criminal, any more than men's are, but that's not what many U.S. state laws say.
* Choice. Men can wear shirts, or not. Women have no such choice.
* Commerce. Businesses make money selling women's bodies. If breasts were routinely visible, what would do the selling?
* Empowerment. Women who dare to go topfree are solidly in control of themselves, and thus least likely to appear weak and victimizable.

What the debate is NOT about:
* Nudity. Bare-breasted women are not nude. They have pants on, or at least a swimsuit bottom. Is a shirtless man nude?
* Hygiene. Assuming she has taken a shower recently, a topfree woman is not dirty. Same goes for any such man.
* Genitalia. Breasts are not genitalia. Swimsuit bottoms cover genitalia in both genders.
* Breastfeeding. Though closely related, that is a separate discussion.

Another important distinction: Topfree vs. Topless. Topless is women at strip clubs earning money for taking clothes off in front of a predominantly male audience. That is entirely off topic. Topfree is about going out to walk the dog, lie in the sun, or go swimming in a public pool, that sort of thing, sans a top. Other people present are irrelevant.

Some topics require more than a sentence. Sexual intent, for instance. Women determine whether they are being sexual, and when, and where, and with whom. A topfree woman taking the dog for a walk or reading a book in a chair at poolside is not being sexual. It is NOT in the eye of the beholder. Any such response in said beholder is the responsibility of the beholder, not the woman, and we already have rules that deal with that (assault, battery, stalking, terroristic threats, etc.). If the woman IS acting intentionally in a manner to stimulate a sexual response, that has nothing to do with whether she is wearing a top. Therefore, sexual intent is off-topic, and must be left out of the discussion.

More on the criminality aspect. In some locales, state law concerning indecent exposure is closely tied to those concerning sexual predation. Pennsylvania is one of them (18 Sec 3127 [may have to page down to 3127],and Ch. 31 in general), Thus, as I currently understand it (IANAL), if a woman goes out to walk her dog wearing only a pair of jeans, she could be forever forbidden from setting foot on public school property. If her voting district is in a public school, as mine is, that even further extends the reach of this discrimination.

Obscenity often comes up. Opponents of the idea believe the very sight of breast skin is obscene. Unfortunately for all, this is a subjective term, and we could spend all day arguing why X is obscene but Y is not, and still have no resolution. So that we can have a reasonable discussion at all, then, the discussion must declare off-topic all matters which are purely subjective. Morality is another. So is public acceptance. So is attractiveness. These may matter, but not in an objective discussion.

As I said, many other important topics come into play, some of them plausible ramifications of both the status quo and topfreedom. It's too much to get into here. All I wish at this point is to raise the issue, direct the discussion to just the relevant points, and plead for people to keep an open mind. Here in culturally backward suburban Pittsburgh, we're not even starting to get started on this yet. But we will. This isn't the first curve that I've been ahead of.

My daughter, the wrestler (Feb. 2, 2008)

Current mood: triumphant

So my kid comes home from school one day back in October, and having completed the cross-country season, decides to go out for a winter sport.


I do not refer to my son. No. My 14-year-old daughter.

I would post a photo of her, but she doesn’t want her picture on the Internet in any form or fashion. (She doesn’t even want me to mention her name.) But the stats speak for themselves: She’s 5’7", 131#, solid muscle, and has a real give-’em-hell attitude about her.

Oh yeah, she likes the makeup and the long & flowy dresses, too. Think Taylor Swift. So, if anyone is going to turn Western PA middle school wrestling on its collective male ear, it’s going to be her.

In her first interscholastic match back in early December, she did get pinned, but it took well over a minute. In the previous match, though she didn’t play, her first-string teammate in that weight class got pinned in 30 seconds. In her second match, she went well over two minutes. In practices, she’s gotten pins on 160-pounders. I’d say she’s doing pretty well. She isn’t first string, but she’s only in her first year.

She’s one tough cookie, too. While she can be the dainty lady anytime she feels like it, she can also be a Tasmanian devil, which makes life around here certainly interesting. A few weeks ago, she and my wife were rebuilding the floor under the downstairs commode, an all-couple-day project. Call a plumber? Naaah, the women have everything under control, so kindly please stay out of the way, thank you.

The biggest problem so far has been her diet. She really, really needs to build up muscle mass, on the way to developing raw power, so needs to concentrate on consuming protein. The problem is that she [was at that time] a vegetarian (with eggs, milk & fish OK), which strictly limits what she can consume. Since she now has to watch her weight, too, to maintain her current weight class, she can’t just eat anything willy-nilly. Sarah has figured out a lot of the requirements and restrictions, but holding to it is quite another thing.

Being female is a lesser but significant issue. Pound for pound, males tend to have more muscle without even trying, so she’s at a natural disadvantage. She can make up for it through education, strategy and physical training, but it’s a lot of work. Wrestling is a full-body workout. So far, so good.

We get lots of questions from parents about her choice of winter sport. First and foremost, why wrestling? The fast answer is that she got the impetus to try this from a book, There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock, by Jerry Spinelli, about a 13-year-old girl who joins the boys’ wrestling team. It came up for discussion a couple of times in 2007, and we indicated that if she wanted to go for it we wouldn’t stand in her way, so off she went. Are we worried about her getting hurt? No, and in fact, the day before she joined, she did get hurt in an ice skating accident -- a pure girly-girl activity, from her perspective -- and ended up with a huge bruise. But wrestling is a contact sport. Of course you’re going to get hurt, or at least deal with a considerable amount of pain. The key is in learning how to minimize the chance of injury, while maximizing the chance of pinning your opponent.

Then we get the questions about modesty, about touching body parts and being touched. (Sigh.) It’s a controlled activity -- fighting, really -- in front of at least a couple dozen people, dressed in a uniform, with a referee on the mat just inches away. I fail to see why the subject is important, or even significant, and if it is, why it’s OK when two boys are in the same positions. If some boy does try to pull a feelie on her, it will get her mad, which will work to her advantage. She knows this. She also knows boys won’t touch places they might otherwise, which is also an advantage to her.

No, what she’s doing is knocking down barriers, and in so doing, messing with people’s heads. That’s something she’s good at. I just wished she’d had the opportunity to get into it a few years earlier. Like any first-year wrestler, she’s learning an entirely new sport, new rules, new moves, new everything. It would have been a lot easier for her if she’d started at 5 or 8 like a lot of the other kids. Her coach and team as well have to learn to deal with having a girl on the squad, as it’s the first time a girl has stayed with it for more than the introductory meeting and maybe one or two practices. In school district history. And this is a huge district, with well over 700 in a graduating class, which makes it all the more amazing that she’s the first.

The fun part about going to her meets, even if she doesn’t wrestle, is watching the looks on the faces of opponents and coaches when they figure out she’s a she. Guys turn red. Or blanch. You can almost hear them gulp. Coaches do a double take. Overhearing a couple of wrestlers as she came out of her locker room just before one match, exchanges like "What weight class is she? Gee I hope I don’t have to!"

So why don’t more girls wrestle? Parents, mainly. Just after her daily practices, the pee-wee team practices. Not a single female is to be seen. At that age, the gender differences are minimal, and girls would really have a fighting chance (pun intended). So as I see it, if you’re going to get more girls wrestling, you need to get them in when the boys do, between 5 and 8. To get that to happen, the minds of parents would need to change. Sexism starts early. Like at birth. I remember being asked when she was born whether I wanted a boy or a girl and answered a baby, and why would it matter? Anything open to one gender was open to both -- then -- to us.

Someday. Meanwhile, at least one girl is out there, showing the boys she can too wrestle.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sidewalks after a brief snowstorm (Jan. 24, 2008)

Current mood: hopeful

Long title or executive summary: If you even half try to clean a sidewalk after a snowfall, you will be rewarded in time with a bare, dry sidewalk. Not even to do that means you are endangering the safety of a lot of people, many of whom are bus riders. This discourages bus use and makes our use of cars more entrenched.

A couple days ago, in my blog post about traveling to a friend's calling hours, I mentioned the sloppy snow that came down that day here in Pittsburgh. There wasn't much, not quite two inches. In the next 36 hours, though, it first got sunny, then very cold. That snow didn't so much melt as turn to slop when it hit ground, then froze solid.

That in turn has made for some particularly nasty conditions for bus riders. Few things in pedestrians' lives are less pleasant than frozen slush.

Last night, I made an unexpected late evening trip home by bus and got to experience a variety of sidewalks first- ... um, first-foot. I started in Oakland, Pittsburgh's second Downtown, changed buses Downtown, then hoofed it about a mile across a school campus and along a couple of sidewalk-less suburban streets, before making it to my house.

The parking lot where I started was heavily salted, so was bare and dry. The place is visited daily by a large contingent of physically handicapped individuals, so of course its walkways will be sacrosanct when it comes to snow and ice removal.

Crossing the street, I first waited at a bus stop in front of an in-city convenience store (Centre at Neville, for you natives). The owner, or someone, had cleaned the sidewalk off pretty well. I hardly noticed any. Thank you, whomever!

Downtown, I had a five-block stroll between buses, all on major streets which tens of thousands of people trod each day (Sixth Avenue at Wood, then to Liberty Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, then 9th itself to Penn Avenue -- an 81B-to-12A/1D transfer). Where there were empty storefronts, there was no snow removal at all. Other places were not only bare but dry, or had just scraps of frozen slop around objects like lamp posts and mailboxes.

At the next bus stop (9th at Penn Avenue), on the side of a corner pizza shop, apparently nobody cared to clean off the walk on 9th, though the front on Penn was quite clean. Clearly this owner cared about his shop traffic, but not one whit about bus riders. This was very treacherous, not only along the building wall but right up to street edge, where people have to step in order to board the bus. Only a path along the walkway, parallel to the street itself, was bare.

I do not know if anyone got hurt here, but it was so icy it was difficult to stand. The thing is, five minutes with a broom yesterday would have made it so much easier.

When I exited, I was in Car Heaven, the suburbs. Not a sidewalk to be seen, at least along a road. The school's parking lot and sidewalk were bare, though.

Finally, I faced my usual nemesis, Perrymont Road. Strangely enough, it wasn't that bad. The postman's delivery truck had made a nice path along the entire what-passes-for-a-shoulder, so it was fairly clear. I ran most of this, mainly because I was only wearing a sweater, and no cap, so in 21°F cold I was freezing. I was probably in the actual road for a lot of it, too, since it was dark and I could see oncoming traffic for hundreds of yards ahead. The road, of course, was spotless by this point.

Moral of the story, it doesn't take much to clear a sidewalk. Up to an inch or so, even a broom will do a decent job. Get it clear, including up to curb edge if you have care of a bus stop, and when the sun comes out, as it does even in snowy Pittsburgh, every last trace will magically disappear. But left to itself, it will get mushy then freeze, making for a very slippery, very unstable surface. Even we healthy adults have trouble negotiating this. Imagine what trouble it is for blind, lame, or heavy individuals, who cannot recover from even a minor unexpected weight shift.

As long as it is easier to get around by car, we will keep driving everywhere. My goal in life is to make it easier to get around by bus, even when it isn't convenient or would be the obvious first choice. Clear sidewalks would help so much!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How not to travel to Monroeville (Jan. 22, 2008)

This afternoon I made a trip to Monroeville, attending the calling hours of a former co-worker. The funeral home was maybe 200 yards from my eye doctor's office, to which I had traveled by bus and bike on a nice day in October.

By contrast, today was snowy and sloppy, not unlike the conditions for my January 2 trip Downtown by bike, but I had no burning desire to douse my $90 dress pants in slush and slop. Instead, I simply walked a mile from bus stop to funeral home in my $90 dress pants, along Routes 22 and 48, after earlier hoofing a mile and a half to catch the bus into town, and another almost half mile Downtown transferring.

Amazingly enough, my pants stayed clean and dry. Chalk it up to a lot of experience dodging puddles and slop. Yes, it can be done. Having sidewalks makes it easier. PA48, though, is plust jain mucking fiserable. At one point, you have a choice between thick mud, or walking in the posted-45 driving lane.

I am blogging, though, to tell you about the bus connections. I got there; I got back. It wasn't pretty. I didn't spend a pile of time ahead of the trip trying to figure this out in exquisite detail. I just knew to get Downtown on a 12A, see if I'd just missed a 67A, and if I had, to catch an EBA to Wilkinsburg where I could catch that same 67A.

It almost worked. Almost. What I did was 12A-EBA-67A, but the EBA I caught got stuck in a driver changeover at the East Liberty Garage, making me just late enough to miss the 67A in Wilkinsburg. Had I caught the 68D that zinged out the busway that preceded the EBA, and gotten off at the first non-Busway stop in Wbg, I might've made it. Oh well, live and learn.

Going back, I got a ride from the funeral home to my old dear stop at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, from which I'd caught hundreds of HP Holiday Park Flyers over the years. Despite the park & ride lot being closed, I boarded with two other people there -- for an afternoon inbound trip -- so it's still a popular stop.

The unforeseen problem with the normally placid HP was having to get booted off the bus at the Herron Avenue stop on the busway because the bus lays over 15 minutes prior to arriving Downtown. Oh bother, that didn't used to happen! So I stood in a drippy snowy rush hour greyness waiting for yet another EBA to ferry me the last two miles into town. This delayed me maybe another 10 minutes. Grumble grumble. All this time, of course, there must have been 15 buses flying inbound on the busway, either not yet in service, or other inbound expresses, none of which could be expected to do the EBA's work. I can understand this, but it's still damn irritating. I'm just glad it wasn't a minus-ten chill factor.

Anyway, once Downtown, I simply hiked over to my usual 13C stop and caught my usual 5:20 trip home. I was the last one on, so stood all the way to the park & ride, but I didn't mind. At least that was a known devil.

Total trip time traveling to there: Left at 12:25, arrived 3:25, most of an hour being spent at the Wilkinsburg Library, writing. Total trip time back: Left at 4:25, home 5:55, almost ordinary considering that I used to do this daily for four years. I think the median trip time then was 89 minutes, so that's right on schedule. I just zone out and read the paper or study or pay bills or something.

Anyway, the trip was do-able, just not very pleasant on the mid-afternoon part. We need sidewalks everywhere. The trip home was spot-on unchanged from 1992, perfectly acceptable in my book.

What that IRS form with Payer 38-1798424 really means (Jan. 12, 2008)

[2011 update: This is another post I am porting more for completeness than anything else. When I wrote it, I had an incorrect assumption, but the error was confirmed by a call to Citizens Bank, so they were as wrong as I was. The take-away here: Don't believe even confirmed information. You have to get the correct information.]

* * *

Current mood: enlightened

[Pre-Script: This blog now shows up in Google searches using the text "38-1798424". If that is how you ended up here, and even if you did not, please read the last comment at the end of this blog. Citizens Bank is not at fault here. That said, I will leave the original post untouched, though I have updated the title and "mood".]

"Not Your Typical Bank" is the slogan of Citizens Bank, a large chain of retail banks serving the eastern U.S., and noted here in the Pittsburgh PA area for having bought the retail business of century-old Mellon Bank a few years ago.

Today's snail-mail brought an I.R.S. notice. At least it sure looked like an I.R.S. notice. It was printed on I.R.S. letterhead (even if it was clearly computer generated on thin paper), had an I.R.S. return address, and paid for with "Presorted First-Class Mail, Postage and Fees Paid, IRS, Permit No. G-48". Sure sounded like our taxpayer-fed I.R.S. to me!

Inside was a Form 1099, a simple statement from the I.R.S., not my bank, that "Recipient" (with my Social Security number) had been credited with [dollar amount] of interest in calendar year 2007, by "Payer's Federal Identification Number" of 38-1798424.

Say what? The amount sounded like the interest I might have earned on my paltry savings account, so I called their toll-free number, and yup, sure 'nuff, that's exactly what it was about, and who it was that had paid it.

OK, so why in tarnation is the I.R.S. sending this out? At the government's -- the taxpayers' -- cost? Cannot a privately run bank, who I alone am sending hundreds of dollars in interest each month on various loans, shell out the postage to send out routine Form 1099s, like in every previous year that I've gotten them?

No, not your typical bank at all. This one gets the taxpayer to pay for sending out its own private mail.

Am I the only one who sees something wrong here?

* * *
From the 2008 blog post comments:

Kathy I find your article on this quite interesting. I received one of these as well with my name, social security number and the same exact Payers Federal Identification number that was on yours.

What is odd is, if this is from Citizens Bank, I have never had an account with Citizens Bank ever! So what's up with this? I called the IRS regarding this notice to ask what this was about and I couldn't get a straight answer. They never told me it was Citizens Bank. I only figured that out when I saw your blog and the Payer's Federal ID number was the same.

Stuart Strickland Turns out what this is is indeed IRS-related, but not what I thought. Citizens Bank had nothing to do with it.

Remember last income tax season when many of us asked for a refund of excise taxes on telephone charges over the previous couple of years? The money that we got to deduct is considered by the IRS to be income.

More info here:

Bus? Bike? Walk? It shouldn’t be this difficult (Jan. 8, 2008)

Current mood: creative

I have to make a quick trip to the other side of town in the next day or so, pick up a package, and return home. Sure, sounds easy, right? Just jump in the car, drive over there, drive back. That's what everyone else would do. Nope, not this nut case. Me, I'm planning on using anything and everything but the car.

The problem is figuring out how. No, more than that, the real problem is figuring out the best way to do it, and to have a backup plan in case something doesn't work. It is this lack of ability to have options that keeps people from trying to use transit, and the most difficult piece to solve. Allow me to illustrate, as best I can.

The place in question is in the Chartiers Village neighborhood in Pittsburgh's West End. I have a specific address, but for privacy's sake will not reveal it here. Let's just say there's a bus stop quite near the address, and one bus route that goes from Downtown right to the place. The problem is that there are very few trips for that route. Miss the one I want, and then what? And how do I get back once I get there?

Turns out there are two other routes that get maybe a half mile away, and two routes beyond that which get maybe a mile away. Put them all together, and there actually is quite a bit of service. A mile is quite a hike, even a half mile is a hike, so I'd really like to minimize walking, if possible.

Making things both easier and harder, there actually is one more bus route that goes right to the place, but it doesn't start Downtown. I'd have to take one of the fairly frequent Busway routes, then transfer. As with the one direct-from-Downtown bus, service is quite infrequent. I could probably walk from the Busway faster than wait for the direct ride, about half the time.

Back to that half-mile or one-mile hike. Now add the concept of using a bicycle to help make the trip. A half mile or so on a bike is nothing! So! Get Downtown with a bike, mount the bike on one of the buses, and I get either right to the place or with a couple-minute ride, and then bike right back. Heck, it's not that far that I could actually bike all the way there from Downtown in about a half hour.

Do you begin to see the complexity involved here? In a couple of very rare cases, I can bus practically to the door of the place. In a couple more cases, if I can time it right, I can hit the place in two quick bus rides. But starting from Downtown at any given point in time during the day, I might be better off walking a half-mile to a mile, rather than wait most of an hour for a connecting bus.

Now double all that, because after three or four minutes, I have to make the return trip back Downtown, with package in hand. All of this, both directions, changes with each passing moment. Straight bus ride? Bus-bike? Bus-bus? Bus-hike? It's enough to make one's head spin -- and I'm the one who knows what he's doing! And I would have everyone do this? Darn tootin' I would! Every day!

My mission, Jim, now that I've chosen to accept it, is to put all these pieces of bus rides using six different routes, bike rides, and maybe a long walk, together, so that at any given time of the day, I will know which choice is the best at that moment, and if something does go wrong, that I will know what to do.

What I really need is someone to pay me to figure all this out, creating a tool that we all can use. It's what I want to do, and the whole country needs this very thing, if we ever want to reduce our dependence on oil, foreign or otherwise. We have billions we can spend on tools and toys for our cars. How about throwing a tiny fraction of that my way, so that I can save us trillions?

* * *
A couple days later...

Unicycle In Transit strikes again!

I made the trip, but did not go with the plan, which was not finished to the extent I wanted (and probably won't be for a few days, but the trip couldn't wait). I did have enough info to make the trip, though, just by picking up the right timetables once I was Downtown.

What I did was tuck the unicycle under my arm as I got on the bus, and used it to zip between bus rides, and to get from that half-mile-out bus stop to my destination. The unicycle allows me to roll along at about twice a walking pace, maybe half bicycle speed, but with very little energy expenditure.

Turns out that half-mile-out stop is actually closer to a mile, 0.9 to be exact. Even so, with the wheel, that was only seven minutes there, nine minutes back, the difference being that going there is downhill. So, yeah, chugging along on the unicycle is roughly a jogging pace, only with a lot less sweat.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The "Icycle Bicycle" ride that wasn’t (Jan. 1, 2008)

Current mood: warm

"Icycle Bicycle" is a 30-year Pittsburgh tradition of cyclists taking a spin on New Year's Day, no matter what the weather. Today's (Jan. 1, 2008) weather in Pittsburgh was to provide no joyride -- cold (20s), gusty winds, the promise of snow. While the white stuff ended up not being much of a factor, those winds were fierce, making the wind chill close to dangerous.

That notwithstanding, I planned to join them, and in fact started off to do so, but it didn't happen. I jammed a chain about four miles out, an irritation that took almost a half hour to untangle. I've had that bike over 30 years and cannot ever recall getting it that jammed.

Anyway, by the time I was back in action, I would have been almost a half hour late, so just turned around and went home. At least I got seven or eight miles in, though, on a day that I well could -- should -- have just stayed indoors. If I ever do have to venture out in truly cold weather, though, I will know to wear a pair of socks over my gloves. That wind chill went right through just the gloves alone.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Welcome to 1930! Happy New Year! (Jan. 1, 2008)

Current mood: thoughtful

Last night in the hours leading up to midnight, I tuned in Radio Dismuke, an Internet radio station that plays music from the 1920s and early 1930s. While they normally are DJ- and commercial-free, 24/7, last night they had a special program broadcast live. Among the recordings they played was the lead-up to midnight as 1929 became 1930, as captured by some dance hall of the era.

This was fascinating, as it caused me to reflect upon the new technology of the era, what effect it was having, and what was about to happen. Consider:

* Broadcast radio was new to the 1920s. By 1930, stations and radios were all over the place. In a couple of years, President (F.D.) Roosevelt would speak to the nation each week over the radio. With shortwave, stations could be heard all over the globe (and still can).

* The electric microphone around 1926. Prior to that, nearly all recordings were some variation on singing or playing into the horn on the master phonograph recorder, and your sound etched the wiggles in the record. With the electric mike, you no longer needed to be loud to make recordings, and resultingly the music changed. Soft crooners, and vocalists with a band as backup, became the norm.

* Motion pictures with sound, in 1927, replaced silent films. Need I say more?

* Automobiles were truly commonplace. Four-lane paved highways and traffic jams become daily irritations.

* Commercial air travel, including trans-Atlantic flights, shrunk the world.

So back to 2008. What big changes have we had in the last couple of years? Where are they taking us?

* YouTube
* Security cameras everywhere
* Cell phone cameras
* RFID chips implanted in your body
* Retinal scans to prove identity in a non-invasive manner
* Automobiles that do not run exclusively on petroleum
* Being able to hop on a bus anywhere and not have to figure out how to get around to the Nth detail to avoid getting lost or stranded, so that we don't need cars.

(OK, the last one isn't there yet. I'm still working on it. And I think I'm the only one on earth who is. Can someone please help me?)

Back to reality, though. Just sit back for a minute and be in January 1, 1930, as I was. Where are we going, really?

Friday, July 15, 2011

My "X of the day" routine (Dec. 31, 2007)

Current mood: enlightened

One of the first things I do every day is to look at a set of websites that I call "X of the Day". In essence, it is a collection of sites which change on a daily basis. Here's a quick rundown:

Astronomy Picture of the Day. This shows off a beautiful picture of something in the heavens, along with an explanation anyone can understand. Sometimes it's planets, or the moon, or something in deep outer space like distant galaxies, but just as often they show something here on earth.

Earth Science Picture of the Day. Like APOD, but focusing on our own planet, such as geology or weather.

Merriam-Webster Word of the Day. One word, explained, used in a sentence, and given its history. A great way to increase not only vocabulary, but understanding.

Interesting Thing of the Day. Always interesting, this page highlights an oddity of culture, language, history or an obscure term. Written mainly by one man, Joe Kissell, who grew up in Western Pennsylvania, and occasionally writes about it. [Added in 2011 update.]

Latin Word of the Day. While I added this to help with my daughter's Latin class, I've come to like it myself. Very short, it shows a couple of forms of one word from Latin, and what English words derive from it. In case you missed the previous day, that word is shown, too.

Pot-Shot of the Day. Pot-Shots, a one-panel strip found on the comics page of many newspapers, features an original, simple quip written by a man whose real name is Ashleigh Brilliant. He's been doing this for 40-some years. Each is 17 words or less. All of them are quotable. Many of them are hilarious.

Quotes of the Day. A little more elaborate, this page shows a quote from four famous people.

The Official SAT Question of the Day. Written by the people who write the standardized college board exams, this is one question, straight from a past exam. Hints are available, you get a couple of tries at it, and whatever answer you give, you get an explanation. I find that it keeps me on my toes.

I recommend any of these for parents with children. Granted, young children may not understand a lot of this stuff, but setting a routine for learning each day, and being exposed to information early on, will help them immensely later.

In addition, most of these have an archive. APOD's is particularly nice.

For browsing, I recommend Mozilla Firefox. What makes it so easy to look at all these websites is that I have the set bookmarked together, which I can then "open in tabs", meaning that all seven of them open at once in a single window.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Three Rivers Storytelling Festival

[updated, July 13, 2011; original post, Dec. 30, 2007]

Current mood: happy

I wish I had written this back in August when it happened, but before the memory is gone altogether, I'll record what I can remember. That said, I'll keep this short & sweet.

The event was called the Three Rivers Storytelling Festival, and was held August 10 & 11 (2007) at Northland Library, in Pittsburgh's North Hills. Storytellers traveled from all around the area, around the state (Philadelphia), around the continent (Toronto), and around the world (Ireland), to tell stories with one another, and to whoever showed up. Much of it was held outside, and fortunately the weather was just perfect.

What can I say about storytelling? Done well, it's riveting entertainment! Done even half decently, it's just plain fun. The thing is, it isn't possible to do it poorly. If you can speak, you can tell stories. If you have ears, you can listen to them. No iPods, CDs or boom boxes necessary, though having a mike helps if the crowd or venue is large.

For me, the high point of the show was my own family. My daughter told a story written by my son, not once but three times, to the assembled throng. At show's end, when the five out-of-town tellers took the stage for final bows, they had her come up onstage and join in receiving the applause. Truly cool.

Some of the stories transported me to different places and times, to other universes. Some had me laughing so hard I almost wet myself. Others reduced me to tears. They all cut through whatever cultural differences existed, showing us that under whatever color skins we have, we're all the same.

I only wish thousands could have attended, though we filled the tent quite a few times. There will be another one, I'm sure; check for details. (July 13 2011 update, yes, it's posted: Friday, August 12 and Saturday August 13, 2011.) Meanwhile, there are smaller storytelling events going on all the time. Yes, the place is handicapped accessible, though public transportation is lacking (3/4 mile hike from the 12 McKnight bus). [calendar] [directions] [Contact me for public transit and bicycle instructions.]

Any other upcoming storytelling events anyone knows about, feel free to post the details in a reply!

The movie rating system (Dec. 27, 2007)

Current mood: awake

As a young child, I recall going to a half-dozen movies before there was such a thing as a rating system. Not that my parents would have taken their nine-year-old to see a movie that today might be rated "R", but in 1967 and early 1968 there was no real guideline that anyone paid attention to, just a vague warning like "suggested for mature audiences".

Along came the original four ratings -- "G", "M", "R" and "X" -- which meant roughly general (G) audiences, i.e., anyone could see it, mature audiences only (M), restricted (R) to adults and children with an adult along, and off-limits to children (X). The M rating got changed two or three times in the next few years, evolving into the PG and PG-13 ratings we use today [more detail here], with G films for a time being so squeaky "clean" that nobody went to see them.

What else happened along with the ratings was an evolution toward allowing violence but restricting sex. This affected television as well. Since I grew up in Buffalo NY, within range of several Canadian TV stations, I always found it interesting how differently the same movie was edited for broadcast in Canada vs. the U.S.A.

The main difference was in sex vs. violence. In the U.S., violence was left in but sexual scenes were cut, whereas in Canada, they were edited equally if at all. In fact, late at night, as late as 1976, it was possible to see movies on the Canadian channels showing full nudity and sexual intercourse, with no apparent editing whatsoever. Later in 1976 I went off to college, out of range of Canadian TV, and in a couple of years had essentially stopped watching TV altogether.

There have been hundreds of movies with implied sexual encounters (i.e., you know they're doing it but they don't show it), and thousands with PG and R ratings with all the preamble to sexual encounters. (Hint: What do you think kids learn from, anyway?) Yet all of them, it seems, show plenty of violence, and the same goes for TV shows.

Here's what I don't understand: Why is it OK to show people being killed onscreen, but not OK to show people being made onscreen?

God rest ye MERRY. What does that mean, actually? (Dec. 22, 2007)

Current mood: peaceful

What a difference a comma makes!

"God rest ye merry, gentlemen!" <--Isn't there something wrong here? Shouldn't that comma be one word to the left?

Actually, no. The word "merry", which derives from the Old English myrge or myrige, originally meant pleasant or agreeable. The current meaning -- joyful, full of fun -- dates only from the 1300s. The term "rest you merry" meant, simply, rest (or sleep) peacefully, take it easy. Shakespeare even used it (Romeo & Juliet, I ii 62).

"Let nothing you dismay." Let nothing dismay you, i.e., don't let anything get you down, a simple restatement of the foregoing. And why not? Perhaps you've forgotten:

"Remember Christ our saviour was born on Christmas day ..." Yes, that is a comforting thought. However, that is not all of the sentence.
"... to save us all from Satan's power when we have gone astray." Now there's news! And what's another word for news? Tidings, of course!

"O tidings of comfort and joy!" Yes, everyone, take comfort and have peace, knowing that we are protected, saved.

So, let's take it from the top:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we have gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy!

Now doesn't that give you an agreeable sense of peace?
Oh, and there's one more place you often find that word:

- Merry -

Like a trumpeter at a harp concert (Dec. 19, 2007)

She got on the bus one stop after I did downtown, along with five other friends. She was 13, give or take a year, a little heavy but not overly so. Nothing remarkable about her face or body. She sat in the back, and the six of them formed a little horseshoe so they could chat. Nothing wrong so far.

Then I heard her voice. Piercing. Searing. Not exactly fingernails on a chalkboard, more like tearing something with a shard of glass. Yeah, a little louder than her friends, but not that much louder. She wasn't singing, just talking, yet I feared for the integrity of the bus's window glass.

How do some people get voices like that?

How to describe it? Like a trumpeter at a harp concert. Maybe a better analogy is someone playing an oboe reed at a harp concert, minus the oboe.

As I've said many times, I've ridden well over 15,000 trips on public transit. Rarely have I had to cover my ears when someone 15 feet away spoke. Gawd, was I happy when she exited that bus.

It was that bad. Yeeeesh.

Monday, July 11, 2011

123,457 (Dec. 18, 2007)

Current mood: disappointed

I knew it was coming. I missed it anyway.

Yesterday, my car's odometer read 123,456. I was behind the wheel, had two family members in the car, and had given everyone a heads-up a couple miles ahead. Yet we all missed it.

It happened on the way back from a trip to a local mall, itself a fairly rare thing, as I detest shopping at malls, especially at Christmas, especially at rush hour. That might have been part of it, actually. We got stuck in traffic behind an accident, and between all the flashing blue and red (police) and yellow (tow truck) lights, not to mention the brake lights of the car in front of me, the last thing on my mind was the odometer. By the time we were clear of the scene and I looked down, it read 123,457.

Oh well. I'm only about 2,500 miles from the point of having owned the car for 100,000 miles, so I guess that's the next psychological milestone.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Brief story about two of my bus stops (Dec. 13, 2007)

Good news, bad news. Fortunately, the good news is permanent, and the bad news is temporary.

At the other end of my road is McKnight Road, the main business thoroughfare through Pittsburgh's northern suburbs. It's about a 3/4 mile walk, but since bus service there is much better than the much closer Perry Highway, I make the long hike at least as often as the short.

First the good news. Last week, I discovered with glee that the Perrymont stop has a bus shelter. Yay! I've been standing in the mud and weeds there for 16 years, not that I had much choice. The only real alternative was to stand right on the curb, where I could easily fall into the path of fast moving traffic. On occasion I would trample down the burdocks and goldenrod, but mainly I put up with it. But no more!

Now the bad news. One stop downstream is Malibran Drive, a short hop across a dry cleaner's parking lot and the edge of a gas station. This bus stop matters because some buses arrive from a different direction and so do not pass by the Perrymont stop. Getting there requires an extra 30 seconds travel, but on weekends the buses only use that one.

This morning, as I was filling the tank of my two ton tin can, I noticed water spouting from under a manhole cover in the corner of the gas station near the bus stop. Upon closer inspection, that was the sanitary sewer that was overflowing, and all that crud between the cover and the bus stop sign was ... well, you can guess. Aaackkk!!! Fortunately, the mess went right down a storm sewer 20 feet away, but still ...

I called 9-1-1 from my cell phone, and in 5 to 10 minutes, a town cop stopped by to check it out. Just what had happened to cause it, I do not know. It had been raining pretty hard a bit before, but that should not have caused the sanitary sewers to overflow.

It's possible to avoid the mess by sticking to the grass. I sure hope, though, that whoever uses that bus stop later chooses to use the muddy grass to get to the stop instead of the paved lot. It'd be cleaner.

Aaacckkk again. Bleah. *shivers*

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Read (or see) The Golden Compass: A review of the book trilogy (Dec. 6, 2007)

Current mood: impressed

Book review: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman (series name: His Dark Materials).

Here is a message for those people who object to this trilogy, or the movie based on it, because someone in your church, or through the religious media, told you it was evil. I will politely but strongly suggest that you actually read it before you solidify an opinion.

I have read the books. More accurately, I have listened to the entire series in book-on-tape format. The full-cast productions of the complete, unabridged text require 10 or more hours apiece listening time for each of the three books. Even so, the stories are so compelling, I might listen to or at least read them again.

While they categorize as children's literature, the target audience is the older child, probably 10 or older, as the main character, Lyra, is a girl in the neighborhood of 11. As the trilogy progresses, she ages to about 13, as do Roger and Will, the boys who accompany her.

Here is why these books make such wonderful reads and are so highly recommended:
  • It is a story about pluck and courage, of stick-to-it-iveness.
  • It is a story about honor, and why that is so important.
  • It is a story about trust – and what can happen when someone breaks that trust.
  • It is a story about believing in the rightness of a cause, of using that vision to light your way in the deepest, darkest moments, of fighting to the death when necessary to defend that cause.
  • It is a story about learning when to speak up, when to hold your tongue, how to develop strategy, and when to act decisively.
  • It is a story about building alliances that will help you overcome the toughest adversary.
  • And finally, it is a story which tramples self-serving authoritarianism, and replaces it with a rugged individualism armed with the courage, honor, trust, vision, wisdom, planning, and alliances, that will conquer any barrier, defeat any foe.

Do we not want our young people to grow up with these attributes? What would we have them grow up to be, if not that?

Perhaps it is the last item that causes the most concern among those who take issue with the book. Faith is a wonderful thing, but so often it is handed to us from on high, with strict orders to believe this or else, replete with innumerable verses from Scripture to remind us. Perhaps it is the idea that there might be something better that scares off the holy minded.

But don't stop there! Get beyond all that and look at any of the three books, and the series, for what they really are: Love stories. Lustful love is almost absent (where it does appear, bad things occur), but in its place there are hundreds of cases of brotherly love and admiration, of self-respect, of respect towards others. Towards the end of the trilogy, we learn how to use this to build the foundations for choosing a life's mate, and knowing how to walk away from a doomed relationship before it's too late. Again, what would we have our kids learn, if not that?

Still not convinced? Let's tackle the "killing God" bit, which does not happen in the first book, nor even the second book, The Subtle Knife, but well into the third book, The Amber Spyglass. It is not God that Will and Lyra conquer, but death itself, on their way to creating a new world, free of the corrupt and all-powerful religious authority she fights from the first pages of Book One. How they pull this off is what makes this a story for the ages.

What makes the story so compelling for me are the multiple parallel universes, which the second and third books explore in depth, and the idea of a daemon which accompanies every person through life. Those two concepts alone make the trilogy a "must read" for the youngster learning how the current world really works.

Really, though. Read one book, at least. You will never see the world quite the same way ever again – unless, of course, some authority tells you you are not allowed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It’s winter, so I gotta insulate. You should, too. (Dec. 5, 2007)

Current mood: chipper

Being green at heart, I try to conserve in any and every way possible. I walk or bus or bike instead of drive, I recycle or compost everything, I replaced as many lights as feasible with compact fluorescents, and long ago put a lot of insulation in my attic. I also drilled several dozen holes on the interior side of my outer walls a few years ago to install blown-in insulation. This house is tight.

The hardest thing to do, though, is prepare all the windows for wintertime. Not long after I bought the house in 1991, I replaced many of the windows, which had wavy, wasteful, single-pane glass that dated to the 1950s or earlier. Unfortunately, I bought on price, and got what I paid for. Even when shut, the "new" windows, most of which date to about 1993 or 1996, let pass nearly as much cold as the old ones.

What I have to do is two things. Three, actually, though the third is simply a good cleaning, which I try to do on those last nice days in October. But here I am, sneezing along with the freezy breezes, and the other two tasks are not done yet.

Task 1: Clay rope. This stuff, easily located at any hardware store, can just be jammed in every crack and space around every window. It comes in brown and grey. The point is to prevent the freezy breezes from getting in in the first place. For those window spaces equipped with storm windows, I find it helps to clay them first. Then I close the inside window and clay that, too. Per window, it doesn't take too long to do this, maybe 10 minutes. Then that window will not be opened until springtime.

Task 2: Clear plastic sheet. I was able to order rolls of this straight from the manufacturer a couple of years ago, but mainly you can buy boxes at a hardware store. Along with double-sided tape, this step fully insulates the window by preventing all outside air from getting in. I apply the tape around the window frame, then measure out enough plastic sheet to cover that space, and chop away. With the inner side of the tape showing, I apply the plastic to the tape, lightly at first, until I have it flat and mainly wrinkle free, then I tamp it down good. Follow this with a hairdryer to eliminate all the rest of the wrinkles. This step takes a while, maybe 20 to 30 minutes a window.

The doors, too, need some attention, mainly clay and maybe other products that are amazingly inexpensive. The plastic costs $10 to $20 a box, the clay about $5, the tape $5 to $10. You will run out of tape first, so get a couple of rolls. I recommend Scotch (red label) because of several factors. It's the most expensive, and worth it.

Once all this is done, though, the difference is remarkable. With the drafts gone, the floors are much warmer. The $30 you spend on the project will be recouped in a matter of weeks, but the comfort level will rise immediately.

So, there you go, a little can go a long way towards making for a warm home when it's ccccccold out!

It’s December, so it’s winter (Dec. 2, 2007)

Current mood: cold

Back on the first of September, I blogged about it now being autumn. Now that it's December, by my reckoning, it's now winter. And it is, to look outside.

Last night, we had sleet and freezing rain, and although it has warmed up a bit, the steps and walks are still a bit icy. About 3/4 of where you put your feet are just wet, but if your weight happens to land on the remaining 1/4, you'll slide an inch or five. Healthy adults and kids won't have too much trouble dealing with this, but if you have any other sort of disablement, including being inattentive, overweight or carrying a package, you're very much in danger.

We haven't had a big snowstorm yet, just a couple of nice dustings that turned the yard white. Temperatures have hit the teens (°F) a time or two, overnight temps go to freezing or lower regularly, and most days barely get out of the 40s. That's winter already.

Cleaning up the rest of the driveway of fallen leaves, the words of the Mamas and Papas song "California Dreaming" come to mind: "All the leaves are gone / And the sky is grey". Yup, that's about right.

Pennsylvania dreaming on such a winter's day.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rights, Freedoms and Privileges (Nov. 29, 2007)

Not long after I posted my blog post on breastfeeding, I had a telephone conversation with one of my readers, inquiring as to why I categorized breastfeeding as a right and not a freedom. That point, you will recall, was changed in the final wording of the Pennsylvania law.

So what is a right, anyway? What is a freedom? What's the difference? While we're at it, do either differ from a privilege in any substantive way?

Think of a right as an ability to act, an ability that already exists which is worth going to war to defend. As Americans we have rights to vote, to speak freely, and to worship as we choose, among many others. We go to war to defend these basic rights of citizenship, rights denied to citizens of other countries.

With privileges, you start at zero. These are earned in the eyes of some authority, and thus granted as well as revoked. Driving is a good example. You have to prove yourself worthy to be able to drive, and then adhere to agreed upon rules in order to continue the privilege. A lesser example is having a library card which allows you to borrow books and other materials. If you break the rules, e.g., you don't return what you borrowed, or damage them, the library revokes your borrowing privilege. The key here is that some formal process is administered by some authority. In general, you need to be a citizen to exercise either rights or privileges, though they may also be extended to legal resident non-citizens. (I am staying out of the illegal immigrant topic in this blog post.)

Freedoms lie somewhere in the middle. Just by being here, you get to exercise them, but some constraints might be imposed from time to time. Freedom to travel, for instance. You can pretty much go anywhere you want, but police may need to cordone off some area because of an emergency situation. On a personal basis, if you have run afoul of the law, perhaps you have had your freedom to travel restricted by means of court order, and issued an ankle bracelet that tracks your movements.

Back to breastfeeding. I described this as a human right, which falls into a category even more fundamental than a right to vote. Nothing and nobody should interfere with a mother feeding her child, for any reason, anywhere she and the baby are otherwise legally entitled to be.

Contrast that with the topfree movement. Proponents world-wide take issue with requirements that women's breasts always be covered. The argument goes like this: Anyplace a man can go shirtless, women can, too, and if some locale requires that a woman be covered, then so must men. This has nothing to do with breastfeeding -- nothing, that is, except exposed breasts. Constraints are imposed on a general basis; e.g., "no shirt, no service". But to deny women the ability to take off their shirts, if the situation allows men to, is making a distinction based solely or primarily on gender, which is never OK. (This topic needs a separate blog post. [July 2011 note: This one is still on MySpace.])

Whatever its merits, this is a freedom, not a right. There is no civil guarantee that either men or women have any legal right to remove their clothing. Nor is there any license to go topfree, whether male or female; hence neither is it a privilege.

To sum up, I will list a few of these in a simple table, and add to it as I think of others or as suggested by my readers. These are not in any order.

Human rights

Citizenship rights




Universal voting

Domestic travel


Emergency health care

Free speech

Live anywhere that you can afford to.

Professional license (nurse, engineer, etc.)

Compulsory education of children

Place and type of worship

Topfree women if men allowed to.

Public library usage

Fire and police protection

Other specific rights listed in the U.S. Constitution or its Amendments

Attend schools of choice.

Preferred banking rates on loans and other products

In making comments, I prefer to limit discussion to the distinctions at hand, not go into the relative merits of the examples given. Say what you want, though, as I'll incorporate any ideas into a future blog post. Thank you for reading this, and thanks in advance for sharing your ideas!

Monday, July 4, 2011

changing MySpace blog colors (Nov. 27, 2007)

Current mood: creative

I got tired of the default MySpace-issued "uniform" so made my first foray into changing the "look and feel" of my layout.

First to change was the font size, from "medium" to "large". Even I had trouble reading it.

Next, for the green background, I lifted an RGB value from the website for a product I used to use a lot, but hardly touch anymore. I always liked its color, though. You're welcome to guess which product, which might be easy if you knew me in 1979.

The gold-ish colors of the link fonts came from the same website. I figure if the combo works for the professionals, then I can use it, too. All they are are RGB values.

The pink-ish font is a work in progress. I started with the bit-for-bit opposite of the green, but that looked too pink, so backed off the R value some. (I'm assuming you all know how RGB values work.) It still looks a bit too pink for my tastes, but there are a bunch more things I haven't fiddled with yet.

One thing I'm not doing is adding a pre-packaged layout. Most of them are impossible to read. They also take far too long to load, both in sheer amount of data, and in the amount of code each user's CPU has to crunch. I figure that everyone's still using a 400 MHz Win98 machine over a dial-up line, and if you happen to have more power than that, well, consider yourself lucky.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Breastfeeding in public (Nov. 23, 2007)

Current mood: moody

Let me start by stating that there is no more fundamental women's right -- no, start over.

There is no more fundamental human right than for a woman to feed her child.

Engrave that in marble for the world to see and affix it to a large steel beam anchored in concrete! Perhaps, however, we also need a smaller, more portable version of it to beat people over the head with when they try to deny women that right.

Such is the case with breastfeeding. Far too often, a woman trying to feed her child is told she cannot, or is in some way restricted, or simply removed altogether from that location.

In a few jurisdictions, women not only are guaranteed to be able to feed their children in any way they deem fit, but are also given legal recourse against anyone who does try to deny them. This means three things:
  1. A woman may display any amount of skin for any amount of time, anywhere she is legally allowed to be;

  2. Any form of obstruction is off limits, including but not limited to leering by teenage boys, objections by other customers, and any request by anyone in authority to the woman to alter her behavior, covering, location or position;

  3. Should anyone give the woman a hard time, she has legal grounds to sue.
Pennsylvania has finally adopted some protective legislation, with the passage of Act 28 of 2007, signed into law by Governor Ed Rendell on July 8. It is not without its drawbacks, among which are:
  • It is considered a freedom, not a right.

  • Localities may still act to prohibit the practice.

  • Neither promotional nor tolerance incentives for employers have yet been agreed upon.

  • No legal recourse wording was in the final document.
No restrictions and full recourse are as it should be, but even that is not enough. Should anyone have a problem with the woman's behavior, covering, location or position, it should be theirs to do something, not the woman's, and that something should be to change their mind on the issue. People need to be educated on this, and specifically learn tolerance and support.

The reasoning behind this is simple. A lactating woman who feels she is being intruded upon will find it difficult to initiate or maintain the "letdown" reflex which allows milk to flow. It's instinct. Policies must do more than merely allow breastfeeding; they must support and defend it. Changing the laws to protect this basic human right must be a priority, without any regard to politics, religion, or anyone's idea of modesty.

On this sole issue, American society today continues to live in some medieval Dark Age. At once we tolerate if not celebrate female skin displays and covered breast movements, while simultaneously going ballistic at the slightest appearance of an areola or nipple at rest. At once we turn a blind eye to the woman disciplining her kid to within a hair's breadth of involving CYF, but pounce on the silent, nearly motionless woman in the corner feeding her child. At once we become indignant over anything that smarts of female immodesty, but rarely have a cross word against shirtless, overweight men whose breasts often exceed the size of many women's.

It's wrong. It needs to change. Pennsylvania has a nice start, at long last, but it still has a long way to go.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I was the first to cross the 31st St Bridge! (Nov 21, 2007)

Current mood:accomplished

For the last couple of years (since February 2006, to be precise), PennDOT has been rebuilding the 31st Street Bridge, which connects PA 28 with Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh's Strip District. It had been in deplorable condition, with pavement bad enough you could see into the river in a few places, and noplace to walk or bike.

This morning was the ribbon cutting, officially opening it to traffic. I've been to ribbon cuttings before (Mon Incline, November 1994), but I had never been first in line to use the new whatever-it-was. When I heard about this morning's festivities, I decided I had to be part of the action.

As late as 9 a.m. I was still taking care of household chores, but then hopped on the bike and headed for Millvale, and by 9:45 had made it to the 40th Street Bridge. I guessed that the throng of dignitaries would be on the south end of the bridge, but decided not to join them. Instead, I continued down PA 28 to the north end of the bridge, where there is almost zero space to queue for such an event -- just perfect for a bicycle.

[July 2011 update] Historical note: PA 28 between the 40th and 31st Street Bridges used to be pure hell. The sidewalks were somewhere between useless and dangerous, and in some places the washed gravel and the weeds stretched right out over the sidewalk into moving traffic. It was absolutely unsafe. As of mid-2011, this area is being entirely reconstructed so this old sidewalk no longer exists. Fortunately, the river trail is a viable alternative.

By 10 sharp I was at the orange barrels, but between them and the crew that was blocking both lanes, still fixing the traffic lights, I wasn't getting across any sooner than they were going to let me. This ended up being a full hour.

A while before they rolled the barrels out of the way and moved one truck to let the flow of northbound dignitaries through, a group of cyclists thought to join me for my trek. They opted to try to make it across the 40th in hopes of joining the throng, so I ended up being all by myself. Sounds like they made it, too, judging from the info coming across the construction truck radios.

I was waved on through, and true to form, there wasn't a single car behind me. The trucks still had the lane blocked, at least for a few more minutes. I zipped past a KDKA-TV camera crew, but they didn't notice me. About mid-bridge I encountered Pat Hassett from Pittsburgh City Planning with a still camera, and paused briefly to chat. He congratulated me on being the first vehicle, wished me well, and I continued on my way.

If you've never been on a brand-new roadway, it feels different, like there's a bit of fine sand underneath. The pavement actually shined (shone?) in places.

At the south end, I encountered WTAE's TV news crew, looking like they were getting ready to pack up and go home, so went over to talk with them. They were only too happy to put me on camera and have a two-minute interview, complete with the obligatory ride-the-bike-up-the-street scene. I related that I was the first vehicle -- a bicycle was the first vehicle -- to cross the bridge from north to south, and that this was great news for bicyclists since the north end of the bridge is right next to the river trail.

If I'd been paying better attention, I would have noticed that the bridge is, in fact, quite a bit wider, and there is actually space to ride a bike in either direction without getting run over. I finally noticed this when I rode back across.

Upon reaching the River Road / 30th Street light, I dropped down to the river trail and rode to the Millvale Industrial Park, where I hopped on Evergreen and rode the rest of the way home. I did have a 1D Mount Royal bus schedule, but it was such a nice day I thought I'd ride the whole way home. And that I did! Babcock Boulevard is a very nice bike route, indeed!