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Filed Under: default || By jt3y

October 31, 2006 | Link to this story

Trick, or Treat?

Category: default || By jt3y

I don't know why you haven't heard about this yet, but I assume it will make the papers soon.

I stopped at my local grocery store (Almanac readers know it as "The House of Rancid Lunchmeat") the other night on my way home from work. It was only a few minutes toward closing time and the place was almost empty.

I just needed a few things, so I grabbed one of those plastic baskets and started getting the bare essentials --- bread, milk, cookies --- but I pulled up short as I entered one aisle.

There was a man with a butcher knife, slashing open the boxes.

For a second I thought he worked there, but only for a second, because as I watched, he stabbed one of the boxes on the shelf, spilling the contents everywhere. He didn't see me, so I ducked back around the end-cap and peeked through and saw him stab another box, and then another.

Quietly as I could, I went up to the little office at the front and told the clerk what I saw. She picked up the phone to call the cops, and then asked me something that really chilled me ... could I keep an eye on him until the cops got there? She didn't want him to get away.

I didn't want her to think I was a chicken, so I said OK, and I very carefully went back to the aisle and spied on the guy with the knife --- by now, he had slashed a couple of dozen boxes open, and the floor was a mess.

Bless their hearts, two borough cops showed up within a couple of minutes (it seemed like hours). Hands on their pistols, they approached him from opposite ends of the aisle, and before he knew it, they had him in custody.

Thank God no one was hurt.

The cops asked me to stick around as they made out their report, and the worst was yet to come.

They called the guy's name and address into the 911 center, and it turns out he was a wanted man.

In fact ...




... he's a cereal killer.

(Ya-da-ya-da-ya-tah, ya-da-ya-da-ya-tah, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da-boom-boom-boom!)

Anyway, Happy Halloween. I have a very special treat for you tonight --- check back after 6 p.m.

And thank you to the waitress at the Denny's on Lebanon Church Road who first told me that joke. I laughed so hard that the booth I was sitting in is probably still wet.

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October 27, 2006 | Link to this story

You'll Get a Bang Out of This

Category: default || By jt3y

In most places, when there's a duel ...

Wait, stop --- because no one has duels. What year is this, anyway?

OK, so, hypothetically, if people were still holding duels ... which they're not ... but if they were, the accepted custom is "pistols at 10 paces." On the "field of honor," no less.

But in Versailles Borough, they use shotguns behind Tygart Steel.

Aaron Burr must be rolling in his grave.

According to published reports in the Post-Gazette A Local Newspaper, two men were arguing over a woman. They agreed to settle their differences mano-a-mano, down at the riverside. One brought a baseball bat. The other brought a shotgun.

(Helpful tip: Don't bring a baseball bat to a gunfight.)

The slugger wound up with a neckful of birdshot and was treated at UPMC McKeesport hospital. Both are now charged with aggravated assault, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment by Allegheny County police.

I've said it over and over again: We are in no danger of needing a Mon Valley chapter of Mensa any time soon.

. . .

Speaking of Versailles: Was anyone aware that there is a hydrogen fuel cell manufacturing and research laboratory in Versailles?

I was down near Tygart Steel a few weekends ago (just neb-nosing, not participating in any duels) and noticed that the former National Carbide Die plant at the Juniper Street railroad crossing is now occupied by something called "HydroGen LLC."

HydroGen describes its products as a spin-off of fuel cell technology originally developed by Westinghouse Electric Corp. in the 1990s. When Westinghouse began disintegrating, the rights to the fuel cell products apparently changed hands several times and wound up with HydroGen.

My old cow-orker Dan Reynolds wrote an article in the Pittsburgh Business Times about HydroGen a few months ago, but I'll bet most people in the Mon-Yough area have no idea that it's there. (I haven't seen anything in either A Local Newspaper or the Greensburg Astonisher.)

There are 25 employees, and according to Dan's article, HydroGen wants to recapture hydrogen produced by manufacturing processes like coke production. Hmm, where locally do they make coke? You got it --- U.S. Steel's Clairton Works.

The Westinghouse connection, and the proximity to Clairton Works, go a long way toward explaining why HydroGen is in Versailles.

Over the summer, investors agreed to purchase more than $25 million worth of common stock in HydroGen, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and HydroGen has signed a five-year lease in Versailles. According to its annual report, the company is also partnering with Case Western Reserve University's Wright Fuel Cell Group. (That explains the Plain Dealer's interest ... HydroGen has also moved its corporate office to Cleveland to take advantage of a $1 million grant from the state of Ohio.)

Don't take my word for it. Download HydroGen's annual report and read more for yourself. If this technology pans out, and if we can keep HydroGen in Versailles or vicinity --- right now, those are big "if's," I suspect --- this could be a major asset to the Mon-Yough area.

Even bigger than, say, our current flea-market based economy.

. . .

To Do This Weekend:

  • Lots of big football games on tap. Duquesne (5-3) is trying to keep its playoff hopes alive when it takes on conference rival Wilkinsburg tomorrow at home. Kickoff is 1:30. ... my alma-mater, Serra (7-1) plays Geibel down in Connellsville at 2:30 p.m. Saturday ... it's a grudge match tonight on Mockingbird Hill as traditional rivals Norwin and Penn-Trafford go at it. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. ... and your McKeesport Tigers play the Big Macs of Canon-McMillan tonight down in Worshington County.

  • Elsewhere, Bootsie's on O'Neil Blvd. hosts the Dallas Marks band tomorrow night. There will also be a costume party, with prizes. Call (412) 672-1120.

  • And it's the last weekend for the McKeesport After Dark Haunted House, located at 503 Fifth Ave., across from City Hall. Hours are 7 to 11 p.m. tonight and Saturday. Donation: $5 per person.

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October 26, 2006 | Link to this story

Music, Music, Music

Category: default || By jt3y

"They're applauding Beethoven's Fifth," my friend hissed Saturday night as the audience gave a standing ovation to the McKeesport Symphony Orchestra.

Beethoven's Fifth is the hamburger and fries of classical music --- it's not very challenging to the listener. Even someone who knows nothing about classical music (like me) can recognize it, and student musicians can usually tootle their way through it.

"Yes," I said to her, "but this is McKeesport. We have simple tastes." Personally, I don't appreciate any piece of classical music if I can't imagine it accompanying Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry.

The MSO's opening concert last week also featured Brahms' "Hungarian Dance No. 5," which I can't hear, unfortunately, without silently adding Allan Sherman's lyrics: "If you like Hungarian food, they have a goulash that is very good ..."

That's not to say Saturday's performance was banal --- not by a long shot. The MSO now has a composer in-residence, Todd Goodman, and the symphony played three new pieces for strings that he wrote based on paintings of his hometown, Bedford, by artist Kevin Kutz.

Nor am I implying that the MSO isn't good --- in fact, it's very good, composed of professional musicians who are in many cases educators at local colleges or high schools, or who also perform with other orchestras. (I took the mother of me, who is a classical music aficiando, to the last concert of the 2005-06 season. Partway through the first half, she grabbed my arm and said, "Why didn't anybody tell me we have this in McKeesport?")

But I am trying to say that if your idea of classical music begins and ends with "Kill The Wabbit," the McKeesport Symphony Orchestra is a very accessible way to learn more. Before and during every concert, maestro Bruce Lauffer discusses the pieces and points out things that the audience should look for. And Lauffer or symphony principals are usually available after the concert to talk with the audience in the lobby. (Concerts are held in the very 1960s auditorium of McKeesport Area High School --- what it lacks in visual appeal it makes up for with excellent acoustics.)

The fact that it's close to the Mon Valley, and that parking is free, means it's also a good way to introduce kids to classical music --- you're not on the hook for an expensive trip to Heinz Hall.

Plus, this being the Mon Valley, there's usually a raffle.

The only drawback? Unlike downtown Pittsburgh, your choices for a drink after the show are pretty much limited to the Viking Lounge or Bootsie's (the old Lionheart), so don't plan on formal dress.

Otherwise, I can't think of a single reason you shouldn't go: The next concert is Saturday, Dec. 2, and will be holiday-themed. There will also be a performance by the Mon Valley Children's Choir and a sing-along.

The Festival of Trees will be going on at the exact same time, just across Eden Park Boulevard at the Jacob Woll Pavilion. Nobody asked me, but a trip through the trees, an MSO concert and dinner afterward (say, Tillie's?) sounds like a good way to spend a Saturday night.

. . .

I was listening to WDUQ-FM yesterday afternoon when they announced that Walt Harper had died. Aw, hell.

I'm a little too young to have gotten into either of Harper's famed clubs, and I never did get a chance to hear him perform, but I do own all of his recordings, dating back to the late '50s.

Pittsburgh and the Mon-Yough area have produced a number of jazz legends (Earl "Fatha" Hines was from Duquesne, after all), but Harper never quite had a national following among the cognoscenti.

Having read about Harper over the years, and talked to people who knew him, I suspect there are a couple of reasons for that. First, I think Harper never really wanted to leave Pittsburgh --- which is not exactly the entertainment capital of the world --- and that no doubt hurt his career.

And second, Harper's style could best be described as "crowd-pleasing." Whether leading a small combo or a big band, Harper had a tight, upbeat sound that's very entertaining, but it wasn't quite unique or avant-garde enough to grab much critical acclaim.

Yet just as the McKeesport Symphony Orchestra makes classical music accessible to the unwashed masses (like me), Harper made jazz accessible, too. "I don't like jazz," a lot of people say --- but a lot of those same people liked Walt Harper's music.

Harper liked to say he wanted to move jazz in Pittsburgh out of smoky bars and restaurants and into the mainstream.

Well, Western Pennsylvania has a pretty strong jazz scene --- outside of Chicago, New York and New Orleans, not many American cities do --- and I tend to think Walt Harper had something to do with that.

If his local celebrity didn't translate into a worldwide fanbase buying hundreds of thousands of records, like those of fellow Pittsburghers and jazz pianists Ahmad Jamal and Erroll Garner, then the world's loss was our gain.

Requiescat in pace, Walt Harper. You're swingin' with the angels now. I sure hope St. Peter likes "Satin Doll."

. . .

The Valley Mirror, the weekly newspaper serving the Steel Valley and Woodland Hills school districts, celebrated its 25th anniversary last week. At 35 cents, it's still the best bargain in the Mon-Yough area, providing a mix of short news items, chatty local gossip, sports results and society columns.

Founder Earle Wittpenn sold it several years ago to the publisher of the Braddock Free Press, Tony Munson, who merged the publications together, but Wittpenn's column "Earle's Pearls" still runs on the editorial page. And even if I do disagree with Wittpenn's politics (he's just to the right of Louis XIV), I enjoy reading it.

And now, in honor of this occasion, I'd like us all to sing along to this song, which was printed on the front page of the Valley Mirror in 1997. I've never seen it anywhere else, so as far as I know, it was an original to the paper. I clipped it out and have saved it ever since:

God bless Al's patio,
It's termite-proof
And it's whiter
And brighter
'Cause it seems there's no beams in the roof

There's no basement
There's no footer
And the walls are made of foam!

God bless Al's patio,
Attached to his home,
God bless Al's patio,
His foam sweet foam!

. . .

Finally, speaking of the Homestead area, U.S. Steel Corp. has returned to Munhall after an absence of two decades. The company's research and development center is moving from Monroeville to a new building along the Monongahela River, not far from the Rankin Bridge.

The building that USS is occupying was supposed to be a fuel cell manufacturing plant for Siemens-Westinghouse. The company decided in 2004 to focus its "energies" on its facility in Churchill instead.

The plant is within 100 yards, by the way, of the old pump house and water tower of Andrew Carnegie's Homestead Steel Works.

In a bloody skirmish in 1892, striking steel workers drove off Pinkerton guards who attempted to land there. They won that battle, but lost the war; the state militia and paid strikebreakers eventually crushed the union in Homestead, allowing Carnegie to lower wages and institute longer hours.

All I'm saying to the U.S. Steel employees in Munhall is this: If you see a barge full of Pinkertons coming up the river, best grab a shotgun and a pitchfork first and ask questions later.

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October 24, 2006 | Link to this story

Help a Tiger (or a Wolverine, or a Gladiator) Out

Category: default || By jt3y

Many employers are running United Way campaigns right now. Back in 2004, I compiled a list of eligible United Way agencies from the Mon-Yough area. That list is now out-of-date, so I've added a few agencies and deleted others.

By the way: Many of these agencies only receive United Way money if you specifically write their code number onto your United Way form. So if you want your pledge to go to a specific organization in the Mon-Yough area, make sure you say so, and if you can throw a few sheckles their way, I'm sure they'd appreciate it.

If you know of any other local groups that are participating United Way agencies, add them in the comments section below, please.

City of McKeesport ("Our Fair City")

American Cancer Society, Mon-Yough Division: 1311
Boys & Girls Club of McKeesport: 7051
Long Run Children's Learning Center*: 406
Lutheran Service Society (Meals on Wheels): 3040
McKeesport Hospital Foundation: 888454
McKeesport Collaborative: 9514
Mon Valley Education Consortium: 2910
Mon Yough Community Services, Adult Training Center: 1490
Salvation Army, McKeesport: 4875
UPMC McKeesport hospital: 360
UPMC McKeesport Diabetes Center: 9354
UPMC McKeesport Oncology Center: 4905
YMCA of McKeesport: 112
YMCA Camp T. Frank Soles: 7263
YMCA of McKeesport Residence Program: 1455795
(* --- formerly McKeesport Pre-School for Exceptional Children)

To see a list of United Way participating agencies located in the Mon-Yough area outside of Our Fair City, click on the link below.


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October 23, 2006 | Link to this story

Real Estate Pop Quiz

Category: default || By jt3y

After writing Friday's Almanac, it occurred to me that I had some material that I'd forgotten to run.

So, this is pop quiz time. Where do you think the house in this picture is located? Mt. Lebanon? Fox Chapel? Sewickley Heights? West (By God) Newton?

The answer will surprise you.


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October 20, 2006 | Link to this story

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! I Forgot

Category: default || By jt3y

The McKeesport Recreation Committee asked me to announce:

  • The McKeesport After Dark Haunted House is currently under way and operating Fridays and Saturdays in October from 7 pm to 11 pm. Located directly across from City Hall at 503 Fifth Avenue. Donation: $5 per person.

  • The McKeesport Children's Halloween Parade is slated for Saturday, October 21, 2006 at Renziehausen Park. Parade is scheduled to start at 12:00 noon by the Park Office. Children should be accompanied by an adult. Rain Date is Sat. Oct. 28, 12 Noon.

That must be why someone just asked me "if I've got my funny face on."

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October 20, 2006 | Link to this story

Our House Is a Very, Very, Very Cheap House

Category: default || By jt3y

I saw something in the Valley Mirror the other day that made me laugh. Homestead Borough officials were excited because a bunch of new houses are being built on 13th Street.

Sorry. I don't mean to be a wet blanket, but I laughed.

Yeah, that's just what Homestead or any Mon Valley town needs --- some more houses. If it wasn't for that pesky thing called the U.S. Constitution, it might be a good idea to go through a lot of neighborhoods and tear down every third house.

I know someone in Our Fair City who's selling a house that they've lived in for most of their life, in a neighborhood that was pretty nice not very long ago.

It's still OK, but I'd say it's at the tipping point. Three houses on the street are vacant --- in one case the owner died, and the heirs haven't decided what to do with the property; in another, the owner is in a nursing home. The third is for sale.

By next week, there will be a fourth.

The problem in the fourth case is the house next door, which has been a rental property for almost 15 years. It's currently owned by a limited-liability corporation, which bought it cheap, and they rent it cheap, to whomever can scrape up two months' rent.

They've done no repairs beyond the minimum required. Consequently, they get whatever tenants they can.

The last tenants used the back yard as a garbage dump. With the tenants before them, the grass was usually too high to see if there was garbage there. The current tenants were recently busted for having 15 people in a single-family home.

I am told that the city has been actively involved in trying to keep the situation under control. Code-enforcement has cited the landlord many times. Yet the people I know have decided "enough is enough," and they're moving.

(Personally, I'd be damned if I'd let someone chase me out of my house. But I can't blame them.)

They're listing the house for $45,000, and they'll be lucky to get it --- especially if the prospective buyers visit when the hillbillies next door are sitting on the front porch smoking, drinking and carrying on.

In fact, chances are, some other real estate investment speculator or limited-liability company will buy their house, and rent it for a few hundred dollars a month.

Eventually, after making no repairs, they won't even be able to rent it, and they'll abandon it. If the neighbors are lucky, someone will come along and try to fix it up. If they're not lucky, the house will sit there until the city tears it down, at taxpayer expense.

Chances are at least one of those other three houses on the street that are vacant also will wind up as a rental. And the decline will accelerate as other neighbors give up and move. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That's how you wreck a neighborhood. Wreck enough neighborhoods, and you'll wreck a city.

Take Jenny Lind Street. I went to grade school at St. Mary's German on Olive Street, one block away. Back then, the houses on Jenny Lind were old, but the neighborhood was hanging on.

Walking or driving up Jenny Lind now makes my stomach hurt, and the rot has spread, year by year, block by block.

If I sound frustrated, I am, because I have no solutions to offer, and no observations other than obvious ones.

Bad Joe Pesci movies aside, you can't force someone to live in the properties they own. They have a legal right to rent them.

Although there are health and safety codes that can be enforced, there is no law that says a property has to be attractive, or that you can't rent it to obnoxious tenants.

These aren't McKeesport-specific problems, of course. You can see the same problems in Jeannette, Washington, Beaver Falls or any of the urban areas around here.

They're oversupplied with houses, and the supply increases every time some farm in Union Township or North Huntingdon gets plowed up for another residential development.

We need to increase the demand for the houses we have, and if I knew how to encourage people to move to the Mon Valley, I'd print it up on handbills and pass it out for free. We need to break this cycle.

First we need jobs, I guess, and the new Rite Aid going up on Walnut Street isn't exactly what I have in mind.

And we need some good people willing to take a chance on our communities and make an investment in one of the good older homes around here. Maybe instead of buying a half-acre McMansion for $500,000, they could buy a real mansion (we have a few) for $50,000.

There's no pithy punchline here --- just an attempt to stay positive on a cold and gloomy Friday.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Hey! Why don't you move to the Mon Valley? We don't lack for amenities. There's country line dancing tonight at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street. Call (412) 678-6979. ... Tomorrow, the McKeesport Symphony Orchestra opens its 2006-07 season with Rossini's Overture to La Gazza Ladra, Brahms's Hungarian Dances, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, and a special performance of a work by MSO composer-in-residence Todd Goodman. That's at 7:30 in the auditorium of McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd. Call (412) 664-2854. ... Or, you could twist your blues away with the Pittsburgh Area Jitterbug Club at the Palisades, starting at 8 p.m. Saturday. Call (412) 366-2138.

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October 18, 2006 | Link to this story

Stranger Than Fiction

Category: default || By jt3y

There's nothing really to add to this story from the Uniontown Herald-Standard, is there? I don't know whether to laugh or cry:

Embattled U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said America has avoided a second terrorist attack for five years because the "Eye of Mordor" has instead been drawn to Iraq.

Santorum used the analogy from one of his favorite books, J.R.R. Tolkien's 1950s fantasy classic, "Lord of the Rings," to put an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq into terms any school kid could easily understand.

"As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else," Santorum said, describing the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth.

"It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S.," he continued. "You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States."

The 12-year Republican senator from Pennsylvania said he's "a big Lord of the Rings fan." He's read the first of the series, "The Hobbit" to his children (he has six).

But spokesman for Democratic opponent Bob Casey Jr. questioned the appropriateness of the analogy.

"You have to really question the judgment of a U.S. Senator who compares the war in Iraq to a fantasy book," said Casey spokesman Larry Smar. "This is just like when he said Kim Jong Il isn't a threat because he just wants to 'watch NBA basketball.'"

According to a
Patriot-News editorial, Santorum said the North Korea dictator "doesn't want to die; he wants to watch NBA basketball" as a reason for why Iran is the bigger nuclear threat.

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October 17, 2006 | Link to this story

Funny ‘Peculiar,’ or Funny ‘Ha-Ha’?

Category: default || By jt3y

In the comments to yesterday's Almanac, Alert Reader Bill points out one of my favorite blogs, Josh Fruhlinger's The Comics Curmudgeon: "Comics are mocked regularly, including 'Mary Worth,' 'Rex Morgan, M.D.,' 'For Better or For Worse,' 'Family Circus' and 'Cathy,' among others."

Yes, indeed. Bill also mentions that "Zippy" was sent off to the Pinhead Retirement Home some time ago by the Post-Gazette A Local Newspaper.

Cue Dana Carvey as Johnny Carson: "I did not know that." That shows how much attention I pay to the Newspaper's comics pages; I get most of my laughs from the news these days.

As Bill points out, the Newspaper also tried several new strips lately in place of Aaron McGruder's "Boondocks."

(McGruder, who is my age, recently announced that he was giving up the comic strip, apparently because the strain of supervising a ghost-writer and a ghost-artist to do his work for him was just too much effort. I can understand, Aaron. Personally, I'd like to get someone to press the buttons on the TV remote for me.)

"Of the tryout strips by the Local Paper, I liked 'Lio,' 'Watch Your Head,' and 'Red and Rover,'" Bill says. "'Baby Blues' and 'Over the Hedge' are good but they are already in the Greensburg Astonisher, and in color, so I'd not like to see them duplicated in the Local Paper."

I agree with all of that, though "Red and Rover" leaves me flat sometimes --- I see it in the Washington Post. I've been following Cory Thomas' "Watch Your Head" and Mark Tatulli's "Lio" online since they debuted, and they're both wonderful.



"Watch Your Head" is set among the undergraduates at a historically all-black college, and reminds me a lot of early "Doonesbury," with less political content and more social commentary. Storylines typically take a couple of weeks to play out, but Thomas is a heck of a writer, so it's worth following.

Besides, he knows well enough to get a gag into every strip. (Like today's punchline: Ouch!)

"Lio" is a bizarre, wordless strip that's very much in the style of the old Charles Addams cartoons. "Lio" is a little inconsistent, but when it's good, it's very good. (The Oct. 12 strip really reminded me of Addams.)

Finally, today, some more recycled radio show content --- this is from back in August, and it's offered as proof that I do more than make dumb political jokes. I make other kinds of dumb jokes, too.

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October 16, 2006 | Link to this story

Your Hit Parade

Category: default || By jt3y

Deep thoughts from my shallow mind:

  • Bob Casey Jr. (D-Daddy's Boy) and U.S. Sen. Rick Torquemada Santorum (R-Penn Hills, Va.) meet tonight for another televised debate ... or as I like to call it, Jackass 2.

  • Old colleague Eric Heyl found a silver lining in the Route 65 mudslide ... as long as one homeowner can rent a dump truck.

  • Following Friday's Almanac, an Alert Reader noted that the Post-Gazette had no problem back in August mentioning the proper name of the Daily News. Perhaps instead of its real name, I should start referring to that publication on the Boulevard of the Allies as A Local Newspaper.

  • The Post-Gazette A Local Newspaper announced on Sunday that it's surveying readers to find out their favorite and least-liked comic strips. I can call that one already: "Mutts," "Blondie" and "Garfield" at the top, and "Doonesbury," "Zippy the Pinhead" and "Get Fuzzy" at the bottom (although I wouldn't be surprised to see a hip, "with-it" feature such as "Beetle Bailey" make it to the top of the poll --- the kids today love 1950s-era Army hijinks).

  • The president of the National Cartoonists' Society says polling readers about comic strips is a dumb idea:

    First, newspaper readers tend to be associated with an older demographic. Older readers tend to vote more often and for the favorite strips they’ve been reading --- sometimes for decades. Younger readers tend not to participate in comics polls, so you’re left with a skewed result.

    Even if you had 90 percent participation from readers, polling is a lousy way to choose a feature. No contributors in any other part of the newspaper are subjected to this arbitrary and unfair practice. No newspaper asks its readers to vote on a columnist or sports writer based on two or three lines of their writing.

    Features editors make decisions daily as to what goes into the newspaper, yet they abdicate this responsibility when it comes time to choose a comic. The readership and professional cartoonists would be better served if editors did the job they were hired to do and made the best choice of comic strips for their newspaper.

  • Here's a radical thought: Instead of catering to a demographic that --- by definition --- is getting smaller every year, perhaps A Local Newspaper could find some new comic strips we haven't heard of? After all, aren't the first three letters in "newspaper" "n-e-w"?

  • Or, they could keep printing wire stories that we saw on the Internet or TV yesterday. Let me know how that works out.

  • I was kind of worried about implying that A Local Newspaper's readers are set in their ways until I realized they're unlikely to find their way to the Internet.

  • Don't blame me! A Local Newspaper said as much. In the article that appeared in Sunday's paper, the writer noted that "if you don't have a computer" you can vote by regular mail. That line didn't make it into the online story --- thank God. The logical paradoxes that would have opened might have destroyed the universe.

  • Except for the lack of "Classic Peanuts" and "Doonesbury," I think the Tribune-Review Greensburg Astonisher has a superior comics page to the Local Newspaper. And the chances of "Doonesbury" ever appearing in that newspaper are roughly equivalent to the chances of me being named "Archbishop of Canterbury."

  • On the other hand, the Astonisher runs the truly awful (bad art, bad writing and not funny) "Mallard Fillmore." I'm not sure, but I think "Mallard" is part of an affirmative action program for Republicans who can't draw.

  • For an example of a funny conservative comic strip, see "Prickly City," also in the Astonisher.

  • And yes, I realize the inclusion of "Classic Peanuts" violates what I said about finding "new" comic strips --- but the 47-year-old "Peanuts" strips running right now are still fresher than most of the current strips. That says as much about how far Charles Schulz was ahead of his contemporaries as it does about the dullness of most current comics ("Pluggers"? "Pickles"?).

  • Schulz had a real knack for angst.

  • In light of the Sienna Miller flap, Chris Potter notes that Picksbergers are their own worst enemies when it comes to defending their home tahn: "If someone wanted evidence that Pittsburgh is a hick town, they wouldn’t need to hear Miller’s remarks. They could just listen to the city’s response." (A tip o' the Tube City hard hat to another former cow-orker, Jonathan Potts.)

  • In an off-line conversation, Jonathan correctly noted that there's a long tradition of bigger towns dumping on smaller towns, including in our area. How many Picksbergers haven't cracked wise about Our Fair City? Hell, people from McKeesport mock Glassport, and people from Glassport mock Clairton. That doesn't make it right, but jeez, Picksbergers: Grow up!

  • Now, the only thing I can't figure out is who the hell Clairton mocks ... maybe, Finleyville?

October 13, 2006 | Link to this story

P.M. Update: There's a Contrast, All Right

Category: Politics || By jt3y

I'm watching the debate right now between Rick Santorum (R-Penn Hills, Va.) and Bob Casey Jr.

I can't say that Bob Casey reminds me of Winston Churchill or Franklin D. Roosevelt. He's a politician. But he looks OK. He's certainly cool under pressure. He's self deprecating. He's relaxed. He's willing to take criticism. I think those are all useful qualities in a politician.

I wish Casey would punch back harder. He keeps asking Santorum to "tell the truth." You can be more plain than that, Casey --- say that he's lying. If Casey can't tell Rick Santorum he's lying, how is he going to speak truth to people in Washington?

But Santorum is just a blustering, swaggering bully --- he tells outright lies, he talks over people and he puts up straw arguments and then knocks them down.

And every time he's told "time's up," he keeps talking. He ignores the rules. The rules don't apply to him --- just like he took tax money from the residents of Penn Hills to send his kids to school in Virginia. He takes whatever he wants.

I also like how Santorum's eyes never meet his questioners, or the camera. What does it say about a political candidate who can't even look you in the eye? Hell, they teach you that on the first day at political candidate school.

I hadn't seen Santorum in action lately, except in his lovely TV ads, and consequently I had forgotten just what a bullying fraud he is.

To quote Rock Ridge's schoolmarm, Harriet Johnson, in Blazing Saddles, Rick Santorum is the leading a--hole in the state.

A conservative Republican friend of mine told me recently he'd like to wipe the smirk off of Rick Santorum's face.

I think that when Santorum passes away (hopefully, many, many years from now), a team of undertakers is going to have to work around the clock for three days to wipe that smirk from his face.

I don't know if Casey will be a great U.S. senator, but I'm willing to give him six years. After all, we've given Santorum 12 years.

Anyone who votes for Santorum --- and thinks he's a good representative of the people of Pennsylvania --- is a damned fool. I think he's an embarassment.

Santorum began his closing remarks by saying "there's a big contrast in this race." There sure is. Bob Casey seems like the kind of a guy I'd like to talk to. Rick Santorum seems like the kind of guy I'd avoid.

No, I'm not going to outline exactly which Santorum positions I disagree with (frankly, I disagree with most of them).

Am I calling names? I guess. This is strictly my personal, visceral reaction. Santorum turns my stomach. I don't like the man.

However, this is not about being a Democrat or a Republican: I voted for Rick Santorum years ago. I could never vote for him again.

He's a jerk. He's a bully. He represents everything I have hated my entire life.

I'm voting for Casey. And that's why.

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October 13, 2006 | Link to this story

In Other News

Category: default || By jt3y

I want to thank all of you, by the way, who took the time to email me regarding what I wrote Thursday night --- including those of you who said it was unadulterated rot.

To borrow a phrase from Art Buchwald, that's not true. I write only adulterated rot.

Speaking of adulterated rot, I had some fun with Photoshop after work yesterday, and my adulterations made Nancy Nall's blog. It's the highlight of an otherwise mediocre career, frankly. (Mine. Nancy's had a fine career.)

. . .

In Other Business: Our Fair City is pistachio'd at Penn State.

We all saw this coming, and unfortunately, I can't say I blame the city one whit. Because of the decision to change the name of the McKeesport Campus to "Allegheny Campus," Penn State will no longer be allowed to sell its ice cream at International Village:

Mr. Segina said it wasn't just Penn State that irritated him, but the letters in the local newspaper from people who grew up in McKeesport, graduated from Penn State McKeesport and now live in White Oak who applaud the name change. ...

Councilman Dale R. McCall had a longer-term idea. He noted that the city had named the street leading to the campus University Drive, which gives the campus a University Drive address.

(Aside: The "local newspaper," Ann? Gee whiz, does John Robinson Block cough up a furball if someone writes the McKeesport Daily News? I assume that's the "local newspaper" she meant, unless the Clairton Progress went back into print and I didn't notice.)

Anyway, did the Almanac call it, or did the Almanac call it? This name change is driving a wedge between the city and Penn State. That didn't have to happen. It shouldn't happen.

God bless Mayor Jim Brewster, who's trying to see if cooler heads (no pun intended) can't prevail; according to Ann Belser in the P-G, he's asking council not to change the name of the street as he tries to get the university to reconsider.

As for me? I like Reinhold's anyway.

. . .

To Do This Weekend (besides moving to Maryland or someplace else where your choices aren't Casey or Santorum for Senate): The Haunted Hills Hayride, located on Route 48 in North Versailles, just north of Route 30, continues through Halloween. It's open at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Cost is $10, and proceeds the Autism Society of Pittsburgh. Call (412) 824-1214. ... North Huntingdon Township holds a fishing derby tomorrow from 8 to 11 a.m. Children 14 and younger are welcome. That's at Indian Lake Park on Clay Pike. Both township residents and non-residents may participate. Call (724) 863-3806.

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October 13, 2006 | Link to this story

On This Date In History

Category: default || By jt3y

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Mazeroski’s ninth-inning homer enabled the Pittsburgh Pirates to beat the New York Yankees, 10-9, Thursday and win the World Series. He gives his impression of the game in the following dispatch.

Special to United Press International

PITTSBURGH (UPI) — A cold chill ran down my back a moment after I hit that ball in the ninth inning.

For a second there, I didn’t know quite what to do. But the message finally got to my legs and I set sail.

I can’t begin to describe how I felt when I saw the ball clear the fence. Time seemed to stand still for a minute. Then I ran.

Nobody told me what to do when I went up to hit in the ninth inning. The score was tied, 9-9, and I knew the only important thing was for me to get on somehow.

I let the first pitch go by. I was waiting for a high, fast ball. The second pitch was a fast ball—much like the one I hit for a homer in the first game—and I knew I got good wood on it.

That was some scene when I came into home plate. It looked like half of Forbes Field was there waiting for me. I didn’t care, though.

The umpire (Bill Jackowski) cleared a path for me. I made doggone sure to touch home plate, though. I wouldn’t miss that for the world.

Getting back to the clubhouse was a real struggle, but I enjoyed every minute of the way. All I could see was a lot of faces in front of me. It reminded me of being downtown on New Year’s Eve.

When I finally was able to get into the clubhouse, I felt like I had gone 15 rounds with Floyd Patterson. I was really pooped.

In all honesty, though, we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the pitching of Vern Law, Elroy Face and Harvey Haddix. Everyone on the ball club did his share.

I’m glad I was able to contribute a bit, too.

(Mazeroski story from The Daily Courier, Connellsville, Oct. 14, 1960. Top: Indiana Evening Gazette, Indiana, Pa.; middle, The Valley Independent, Monessen. Sorry, no, I don't have The Daily News!)

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October 12, 2006 | Link to this story

Good Government On The March!

Category: default || By jt3y

I think I speak for many Mon-Yough residents when I say that we're happy that Pittsburgh city officials are getting all of the bad press right now.

In fact, there's been a shocking lack of shoddiness from our local governments lately, but that doesn't mean that competence has broken out everywhere.

So, despite popular demand, it's time for another installment of that copyrighted, award-seeking Tube City Almanac feature called "Good Government On The March!" This time, we cast our sights on fine examples of public service from across the county!

. . .

Dateline: North Bittyburg! That's where your humble correspondent lives. He recently received a letter that caused his heart to sink. It was in an "official use only" envelope from Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein, and proclaimed that it had "important tax information" enclosed.

Egad! Had your editor's property tax assessment gone up --- or was it being appealed?

No! Treasurer Weinstein was merely writing to say that your correspondent's county taxes had been paid by the mortgage company. Back in February, in fact. Of course, the letter arrived in mid-September.

Your humble correspondent already knew the county taxes were paid. He receives a statement from the mortgage company every month, and back in March, that statement noted that the real-estate taxes had been paid.

Of course, even if he hadn't, your humble correspondent could have looked up the information, for free, on the county's website.

Still, it was kind of Treasurer Weinstein to have his staff take the time to send a colorful, laser-printed letter to your humble correspondent --- at taxpayer expense, of course.

So your correspondent did some quick calculations. It cost 29 cents to mail this notice, plus the cost of the envelope (about 2 cents, but the printing probably adds 1 or 2 cents), plus the color laser-printed letter inside (about 12 cents, according to Hewlett-Packard), plus the labor to print, fold and send the letter (about 42 cents --- figure two minutes, at about $13 per hour, since administrative assistants in Allegheny County start at $2,083 per month).

Put more simply, that adds up like this:

Postage: 29 cents

Envelope: 3 cents

Letter: 12 cents

Labor: 42 cents

Total: 86 cents

There are 360,036 owner-occupied single-family homes in Allegheny County. Since I presume that every one of them got one of these letters, I would estimate that sending these letters cost the taxpayers $309,630.96.

County Treasurer John Weinstein's office is one of only four row offices that wasn't eliminated in 2005.

Only a cynic would point out that Mr. Weinstein will be running for re-election next year. How convenient that all of the 360,036 owner-occupied single-family homes have received helpful reminders of Treasurer Weinstein's name! That's what we call ... Good Government On The March!

. . .

Dateline: East Liberty! That's where Maria of 2 Political Junkies is encouraging progressive voters to turn out this Sunday to support a progressive candidate to leadership of the state House.

The candidate is a noted government reformer, state Rep. Mike Veon, Democrat of Beaver County.

Maria notes that Representative Veon is rated as "good on environmental and conservation issues."

Your correspondent wonders if he'll be driving to Sunday's events in his state-funded 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, which according to Brad Bumsted and Debra Erdley of the Trib Astonisher, costs Pennsylvania taxpayers $650 per month, plus $157 per month in insurance.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited gets about 15 miles to the gallon, according to the EPA.

(Far be it from your correspondent to criticize anyone else's gas mileage --- his sleek, gray, V-8 powered Mercury is not known for its delicate thirst, though it does get better mileage than a Jeep Grand Cherokee.)

In fact, the mileage of a Jeep Grand Cherokee does sound pretty "good" from a conservation standpoint, especially compared to, say, a jet airplane --- which Representative Veon used last year 70 times at the taxpayers' expense, to the tune of $23,000, according to Erdley and Bumsted.

The event on Sunday is at the Shadow Lounge. I hope Representative Veon can afford the drinks there, since the state General Assembly repealed the pay raise (he was the only state representative to vote against the repeal).

Well, he sure sounds like a progressive to me ... and another example of ... Good Government On The March!

. . .

Finally, Dateline, Findlay Township! Your correspondent greatly enjoyed himself last Saturday at a special party to celebrate the opening of the six-mile "Findlay Connector," the first segment of the planned "Southern Beltway" that would connect Pittsburgh International Airport with the planned Mon-Fayette Expressway (or as the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat calls it, "the MoFo Excessway").

Alas, I might not get to attend any other such parties. It seems that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has run out of money for the Southern Beltway and doesn't know where it can find the funding for the remaining $3.5 billion.

For now, the Southern Beltway connects Route 60 with U.S. Route 22. The new Findlay Connector will provide a quick way to get from Champion to Bocktown, thus bypassing that terrible congestion on Potato Garden Run Road.

Boy, not a day goes by that I don't hear someone saying, "Gee, I wish there was a quicker way to get from Champion to Bocktown." The Findlay Connector sounds like an excellent use of the tolls that people pay to use the Turnpike ... and yet another example of ... Good Government On The March!

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October 10, 2006 | Link to this story

More Fun With Audio

Category: default || By jt3y

This just in: Jimmy Buffett was fined by French customs officials who say they found drugs on his airplane.

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Jimmy Buffett accused of using drugs? I don't believe it. Next thing you know, someone will tell me that Paris Hilton is "a little bit trampy."

In lieu of doing anything creative today, I'm instead recycling some more radio show content. As you'll hear, I am an equal opportunity offender.

Incidentally, if you listen to that bit, understand that I don't have anything against Neville Island. I spent some time in Neville Township in 2003 and got to know some people. It's a great little unappreciated part of Allegheny County. Drive along the waterfront in Neville Island and you might think you were 100 miles north of Pittsburgh, not seven.

I just needed a pun, you dig?

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October 09, 2006 | Link to this story

Desperately Seeking Clueless

Category: default || By jt3y

News broke over the weekend that for the past two years, some genius has been sending threatening letters to the two synagogues in White Oak and borough police Chief Joe Hoffman.

Do you know anyone who collects old stamps, has lousy handwriting and hates Jews? Then call the White Oak police or the FBI in Pittsburgh.

I don't know the rabbis involved, but I've met Joe Hoffman, and he's not a man to trifle with. If I'm ever in White Oak and I'm getting my butt whupped in a fight, I sure hope Chief Hoffman is one of the guys who shows up.

Anyway, sending threatening letters to synagogues or churches (or anyone else, for that matter) is a sign of disturbed behavior, but sending them to the cops rises to the level of criminally stupid.

According to the news coverage (Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review Greensburg Astonisher), the sender has also enclosed white powder on a number of occasions, apparently in an attempt to make the recipients think they're receiving anthrax or some other virus bioterror agent. Cute.

The stamps used have pictures of antique toys on them that were sold in 2003, which postal inspectors think may indicate that the person writing the letters doesn't send much mail. The handwriting is a mix of childish-looking capital and lower-case letters.

The FBI speculates that whoever's sending the letters is purposely trying to disguise their handwriting, but based on the age of the stamps and the appearance of the handwriting, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it's some 70-something crazy old coot. I've gotten my share of crazy old coot mail, and that's what it looks like.

The postal police think the sender may have bought the stamps in bulk. There's something exquisitely sick about buying bulk stamps showing pictures of old toys, and then using them to send hate letters.

Seriously, if you have any information, drop a dime and stop this crackpot. The next letter they write should be from jail, or at the very least from a place with really soft walls:

  • FBI Pittsburgh: (412) 432-4000

  • White Oak police business office: (412) 672-9727

  • U.S. Postal Inspection Service: (412) 359-7900

This has been your Dick Tracy "Crimestoppers" tip for today. Tune in your two-way wrist radio tomorrow for the Dick Tracy "Rogues' Gallery" featuring Pruneface.

Speaking of "Dick Tracy," the comic strip (which doesn't run in any of the local papers any more) turned 75 years old last week. The strip has never revealed the name of the city where he works, but I know one thing: They have a really lousy police pension fund.

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October 06, 2006 | Link to this story

Pet Peeves: Today's List

Category: default || By jt3y

Lazy Reporters: My friend, the late Dick Cadwallader, a longtime curmudgeon who mentored me in the ways of misanthropy, once cautioned me never to become an "expert" in anything. "An 'ex' is a former nothing, and a 'spurt' is a little squirt," he said. I have tried to remain a dilettante ever since.

That hasn't stopped a number of reporters from contacting me to interview me as an "expert" on various issues ... based solely on opinions expressed in the Almanac.

The latest was a reporter from National By-God Public Radio, who wanted my "expert" opinion on a bill before the Pennsylvania General Assembly. I kid you not. I didn't even return the message.

Here's a hint: Just because some jerk can afford a modem and a computer, and can start a website, does not make him an expert on anything.

At best, he might be a frustrated former newspaper reporter who gets his jollies by still playing "journalist" once in a while, and who does (more or less) actual research.

At worst, he might be a complete flake. (I'll leave you to decide which one I am.)

Look, if I write about something --- whether in my professional life or when I'm spouting off on the Almanac --- I generally try to look up a few facts and get some actual information. Call me old fashioned, but it's kind of my job.

So, please, reporters: Don't be so damned lazy. Your job doesn't begin and end when you punch a few terms into Google and find some jerk with a blog.

You're a reporter: Go report something.

. . .

Kamikaze Bicyclists: I try to sympathize with bicyclists who complain about the condition of our local roads, and how unfriendly they are to bikes. Hell, they're unfriendly to cars and pedestrians, too. And people using the local bike trails are one of the few sources of tourism money in Our Fair City.

But I've had it up to my eye balls with the kamikazes who populate some roads.

Look, when you're operating a bicycle on a public thoroughfare, you're expected to behave according to the same rules of the road as a motorized vehicle:

(a) General rule.--Every person riding a pedalcycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title, except as to special provisions in this subchapter and except as to those provisions of this title which by their nature can have no application. (75 Pa. C.S. 3501)

Cripes, most of us learned that in elementary school! That means stopping at stop signs and red traffic signals, obeying one-way street rules ... and not plowing through crosswalks while people are crossing.

One of these biking nitwits nearly ran me down the other day as I crossed the street, legally, on a green light. He came charging through a red light, right at me ... and apparently didn't have any brakes. I reached out my right hand and caught the center of his handlebars just before he ran me down.

"Whoa," he said. "Sorry, dude."

"Sorry, dude"? You could have broken my head, you jerk, and I need it! (It keeps my ears the proper distance apart.)

Worse yet is the current trend of bike riders to use sidewalks instead of streets. I understand that we don't have very many dedicated bike lanes --- we should, where space permits --- but that doesn't mean you're supposed to ride on the sidewalk. In fact, riding a bike on the sidewalk is verboten, too:

(b) Business districts. -- A person shall not ride a pedalcycle upon a sidewalk in a business district unless permitted by official traffic-control devices, nor when a usable pedalcycle-only lane has been provided adjacent to the sidewalk. (75 Pa. C.S. 3508)

Twice recently I've nearly been run down while strolling along, minding my own business, on a sidewalk. There's a shouted "onyouright!" and then whoosh! comes some clown on a mountain bike. If I had a cane, I'd stick it through the spokes.

If you're going to ride on the sidewalk, dimwits, then I reserve the right to drive on your bike trails. So if you see a Mercury Grand Marquis hauling tail and spraying gravel down the Yough River Trail some weekend, that'll be me. I'll stick my head out the window, though, as I pass: "Onyouright!"

. . .

Other Wheeled Menaces: I know a business owner in Elizabeth Township who's had to make hundreds of dollars in repairs to the walls and steps outside his building because of damage caused by skateboarders.

My employer recently was forced to install stainless steel clips over the edges of the marble sills, walls and flowerpots around one of its buildings because these shredding goons were ruining them.

And then I read a story like this one in a local college newspaper, and my blood boils. According to this writer (who's admittedly closer in age to most skateboarders than I am), skateboarders just want to have fun, but they keep getting harassed by police and "skater-haters."

Well, no offense, but they get harassed because so many skaters behave like jerks. I frequently walk through the area where the skaters in this story hang out --- the curbs are ruined. The walls are ruined. The sidewalks are completely blackened in places.

Some of the skaters weave and dodge through pedestrians and passing cars, daring them to hit them. And if you dare to say something, you get "a frosty glare from the curb and two middle fingers," as the story puts it.

Too many skaters are thugs and vandals who aren't paying taxes, who are disrespectful to people who live in the neighborhood or have legitimate business nearby, and they're destroying other people's property --- and I'm supposed to feel sorry for them? Feh.

That's right: Feh, say I!

I hope they collide with a kamikaze bicyclist who's on his way to write a newspaper story based on something he saw on a blog. That'll teach 'em.

. . .

There are many other minor, petty annoyances that cause me to become irrationally irritated, but "Wheel of Fortune" will be on soon, and my mush is getting cold.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Two big high school football games this weekend. Bethel Park comes to Our Fair City tonight having won three in a row. Both teams are undefeated in the conference; the Tigers are 4-1 overall. Kickoff at Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium is 7:30 tonight. ... Meanwhile, my alma mater has a must-win game tonight that could decide its conference championship as Serra travels to Beth-Center, also for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Both teams are currently undefeated ... Pittsburgh Area Jitterbug Club holds its regular dance at the Palisades, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Call (412) 366-2138.

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October 02, 2006 | Link to this story

Important Announcement

Category: default || By jt3y

We all know, now, that the Internet is not a truck. It's a series of tubes. And it's clear to everyone now that these Internet tubes are just going to keep becoming larger and larger.

In fact, Dr. Pica Pole, director of the Tube City Online Research Laboratory, predicts that soon Internet tubes will be as large as the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, connecting computers with upward of 50,000 transistors each that are capable of reading up to 800 80-column punch cards per minute. (Dr. Pica Pole has been hitting the sauce pretty heavily.)

Because of this, I've been considering adding some more ... er ... well, commercial activities to the website, as well as multimedia. Right now, Tube City Online is stuck in 1996, design-wise. I suspect I'll be dragging it all the way up to, say, 1999. Maybe January 2000.

Since the Dementia server --- where Tube City Online has been hosted for free for all of these years --- isn't a commercial server, this all means I need to seek commercial webhosting. High school classmate Tom Schroll, currently operating a small webhost company called Skymagik Internet Services, has agreed to start hosting Tube City Online.

That means I had to select a URL for the site. After thinking about it for upwards of 10 seconds, was purchased. (Don't bother visiting it just yet --- there's just some things up there for testing purposes only.)

What does this mean to you, our loyal if not particularly interested reader?

Very soon, pages currently hosted at are going to be duplicated at Then, many web addresses at will start redirecting to addresses (The Almanac will land at, for instance.)

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Eventually, you are going to have to update any links you have to the Almanac and other features, but not just yet.

And what types of spiffy new features do we envision? Well, I mentioned audio. Some of you know that I dabble in local radio. Here's a little something I put together for a show two weeks ago. (You'll need to have Quicktime installed.)

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