Where the Punter Hits Like a Free Safety

Occasionally I tell people that Hines Ward epitomizes Pittsburgh: He's a wide receiver who likes to hit defenders. Not just block them. Hit them. And he gets up smiling.

this same ethic may explain the Steelers' drafting Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda. Chris points to this video. Our man is the punter -- and the tackler. Can Chris Gardocki do that?

First Cupcakes, Now Ice Hockey

I labor long and hard to shine a light of reason on Pittsburgh's technology economy, and what gets traction? Cupcakes, and now ice hockey.

Check out Michael Berube's comment on Siva's post, crediting me with inspiring the Rangers' win over the Sabres in Game 3 of their series. Above all other things, academics live to be cited, but to be cited *and* to be credited with influence -- especially in a field in which I have ackowledged in print that I'm a complete neophyte -- this is incredible. Believe me: I'm going to tell my Dean!

Since my status as an Allegheny County resident compels me to conclude that that the Rangers win was an aberration, I might as well also point out that Pittsburgh, home of Jagr's former employer, all but invented the industrial proletariat. One might even say that but for brief interruptions occasioned by the Steagles (NFL, 1943), and the premiere of Striking Distance (Columbia Pictures, 1993), western Pennsylvania, like western New York, has been a locus of a continuous and authentic class struggle since the latter part of the 19th century. Professor Berube attempts to distinguish the Sabres (and, by implication, the Penguins) by situating the Rangers in modern critical Marxism, citing their authorship of a recent study of the 1980 Soviet hockey team. Yet that study overlooks Jagr's complicity in the decline of a Pens team coached by Herb Brooks, the same Brooks who led the Americans to their triumph at Lake Placid. The implication should be clear: Tretiak or no Tretiak, the triumph of the proletariat was historically inevitable. (The commentary attributed to Al Michaels was, accordingly, unjustified hyberbole.) The attempt to displace responsibility onto the shoulders of the Soviet bureaucracy is inaccurate. Sabres in 5, but of course I'm pleased to have made Professor Berube's blogospheric acquaintance.

Bag It

Time marches on; society loses skills deemed necessary in an earlier, pre-technological age.

Today's case in point: Bagging groceries.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, the highlight of my trips to the local grocery store was watching the groceries get bagged. Fhlap, fhlap and a new paper bag was unfolded on its end. An expert bagger would put one hand in the bag and flip the groceries inside with the other, all the while scanning the checkout stand with one eye and winking at me with the other, or so it seemed. Mirabile! When we got home and prepared to put the groceries away, each bag was a near-perfect solution to a three-dimensional puzzle. Boxes and cans and jars were neatly and seamlessly stacked and nestled together. Fruits and vegetables and bread and eggs were carefully cradled to avoid being crushed. Baggers must have trained for in-store service as if they were going for the gold. There were, I think, bagging competitions.

Today, the tyranny of the plastic bag means not only a crush of idiotic plastic bags, each one holding only a couple of cans. It also means that when I ask for "paper, please" (all the better to hold my newspapers on the way to the recycler), I get a sullen look from the "bagger" who now has to do something more than simply dump things indiscriminately, and two at a time, into a plastic hole. I also get paper sacks into which my groceries are dumped, more or less indiscriminately, three or four at a time.

True, this is more likely to be a problem at stores such as Giant Eagle, which hires high schoolers to bag and doesn't train them well, than at stores where wages, benefits, and training are better. And bad bagging is a problem that I can cure myself -- by bagging my own, which I've been known to do. (In fact, the presumption that the store should bag may be a purely American thing.) In the small and subtle observations that make up our daily lives, I'm not ranting so much as noticing, and this isn't nostalgia so much as a brief and qualified elegy for a lost art. I've undoubtedly met sullen and incompetent baggers before, but the one I met last Saturday reminded me that something distinctive, not to say important, is disappearing.

Shameless Promotion

I get email from PR flacks from time to time, asking me to use the blog to promote this or that Pittsburgh-related product or service or new company. I almost always ignore them.

Today, though, I got an interesting message from a rep for Maggie Leffler, one of three Pittsburgh-area women with new books. I don't have any plans to buy her book, but the message prompted me to take a look at Maggie's bio, and it turns out that she's from Columbia, Maryland.

Which is interesting solely because earlier today I learned that Michael Chabon is also from Columbia, Maryland. Chabon has a well-known Pittsburgh-area connection and also has a new book to promote.

Pittsburgh and the Arts

The Associated Press put out a terrific promotional piece this afternoon on Pittsburgh's growing artistic footprint:

"Old Steel City embraces the arts"

No longer the smoky steel town of days past, the hometown of pop artist Andy Warhol is increasingly becoming known for its thriving arts community. This year alone, the city will host three national and international arts conferences, including a yearlong celebration of glass art and a gathering of museum directors.

"Many people from the outside still remember Pittsburgh from its steel days. It's really transformed itself," said Jason Busch, curator of decorative arts at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Busch helped organize a decorative arts symposium in April for members of The Decorative Arts Trust, a national nonprofit group made up of collectors, museum professionals and others.

"There's a rich artistic and cultural heritage to Pittsburgh and that's something we will really show through in this particular visit," Busch said. "For many people, it will be their first visit to Pittsburgh."

[Spotted at cnn.com]

A Manifesto of a Different Sort

Back in the 19th century, they really knew how to write a Manifesto. Here in the 21st century, however, the spirit of communism has been transmuted into neoStalinist revisionist criticism of certain hockey teams. Check out some academics with too much time, political theory, and hockey on their hands: Michael Berube, for the Rangers, and my pal Siva Vaidhyanathan, for the Sabres.

Since Berube celebrates the Rangers' freedom fighter Jagr, all good western Pennsylvanians are duty bound, I take it, to rally around the Sabres.

Who's your proletariat now, baby?

The Athens of the Alleghenies

Following a casual conversation on my travels last week I received the following image, which I am told represents the master plan proposed in 1912 for the Western University of Pennsylvania -- now known as the University of Pittsburgh. (The Carnegie Library hosts its own copy of the image.)

Imagine . . no grey Gothic tower dominating Oakland. Instead, a neoclassical Acropolis!

Demographics of Pittsburgh Migration

Chris's work gets a nice plug in this recent story on migratory patterns in Time magazine:

Baby boomers' parents who took up travel or fled to the Sun Belt a decade or two ago are coming home. Nearly 18% of people over 60 who moved across state lines say they are returning to their hometown, according to the Census Bureau. Demographers Christopher Briem of the University of Pittsburgh and Peter A. Morrison of the Rand Corp. found that more than one-third of the elderly who moved to Pittsburgh from 1995 to 2000 had relocated from Florida.

Link: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1609780,00.html

While I Was Away

I was out of town for several days last week. Interesting things that I missed:

The American Economics Association is consolidating its publishing activities in Pittsburgh. If only local economists could count on a home town advantage in the publishing process!

The Riverlife Task Force got some nice PR for its efforts.

According to Pop City, Pittsburgh's Life Sciences Greenhouse and Cleveland's BioEnterprise are partnering on unspecified economic development projects in the biosciences.

Pittsburgh got to pat itself on the back with its selection as a "City of the Future" by a panel convened by Foreign Direct Investment magazine. (Post Gazette coverage) (Pop City coverage). The Allegheny Conference must be handing out the SPF 50. The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades!

Actually, I shouldn't be cynical about this last thing. Once in a while, it's a good thing for Pittsburgh to stand up and agree with the rest of the world. This really is a pretty nice city.

Tracking Virtual Pittsburgh

Here is a small contribution to the manifesto, though it clearly is a work in progress: The animation below is a brief animation of where migrants leaving Pittsburgh have been going over the last decade.

Destinations of Pittsburgh Outmigrants 1995-2005

Next Steps for the Manifesto

The Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh has gotten a little traction in the blogosphere -- not only in the comments here, but also at the CEOs for Cities and Planetizen blogs. Thanks for noticing (careful -- the CEOs for Cities blogs seems to open fine in Firefox but may not work in IE)!

What's next?

Russell and Morris and I and a few others locally are working on some infrastructural tools, trying to flesh out a tech platform that the Manifesto and related content can live on, and identifying and bringing more visibly into a meta-Pittsburgh network some of the Pgh diaspora communities that we know are out there.

Beyond that:

At its core, the Manifesto is a call to the grass roots: Seize the day! If you have ideas for moving the Manifesto and the new Pittsburgh forward, let the world hear about them. Better, get a couple of friends and get out there -- blogging, volunteering, working, whatever with the time and resources you have. If you're already doing this, so much the better. In both cases, link to us and to each other. The new Pittsburgh gets built one project at a time.

Spread the word!

UPDATE 4/18: The Manifesto spreads via Global Culture, and it's been noticed in the Philippines. 4/25: Rich Florida gave us a plug.

Yinz got gorp?

I cringed when I read that "slogan," but I love the spirit behind this op-ed in today's Post-Gazette:
What's the difference? Attitude. A robust approach to the Great Outdoors is the only thing that keeps Western Pennsylvania from attracting hordes of enviro-tourists, just like Vermont.

Vermont embraces its foothills and forests, sometimes to the point of snobbery. Vermonters live almost competitively progressive lives, flaunting their wilderness knowledge and eco-friendly houses. Pennsylvanians (specifically Pittsburghers) seem to forget that the wilderness exists. We pretend that Pittsburgh is a sprawling megalopolis, rife with urban problems that can only be fixed with urban solutions: new arenas, more nightlife, slot machines, smoking bans, a city motto.

But the solution also should include a broader redefinition: Pittsburgh would make the perfect granola town.

Whenever I describe the virtues of Pittsburgh to friends who have never visited, I begin with outdoor recreation. Hiking, biking (yes, biking), boating, rafting, skiing, fishing, hunting (if you hunt) is accessible and inexpensive here in quantity and quality that blew me away when I first moved to the area. Little of it is as good as you can find anywhere, but most of it is good enough and -- this is important -- it's easy to get to.

There's more than an attitude issue here, though, and "yinz got gorp" or "steel our forests," which I like a little better, gets at the problem. It's language, and metaphors in particular, and the connection between language and history. Vermont houses a bunch of granola-chewing enviros; Pittsburgh houses a bunch of beer-swilling, steel-making football fans. (Today, they're hockey fans.) Reverse those stereotypes. Make sense? Obviously not. But start to talk about the town differently; attitudes can follow. (I can't say "will follow"; the stereotypes may be too deeply embedded for any of this to change. But it's fun to speculate.) What's Mike Tomlin's favorite snack?

Ten years ago, before I moved to Pittsburgh, I was involved briefly with an environmental group out West that was trying to save a stand of old-growth redwood forest owned, as it happened, by a publicly-traded real estate and timber company. Typical enviro public pressure had no effect on these people; the only language they spoke was green -- as in, cash. So the environmental group found an unlikely ally: a sizable shareholder in the company which didn't like its investment tied up in environmental litigation over trees. That ally was the United Steelworkers Union. Steelworkers and enviros found some unexpected affinities. A large number of the trees were saved.

Could a metaphorical steel/enviro coalition emerge in the 'Burgh?


A crash course in "social media 101" for individuals, businesses, and not-for-profits, BootCamp PGH is coming up on April 21 at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

More info at the program website.

The Charm Bracelet Project

An upcoming talk prompts me to collect some information:

"Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is sponsoring The Charm Bracelet Project, an international ideas program that seeks to build upon the strength of Pittsburgh’s North Side amenities by improving connections among them, encouraging creative projects and enhancing family experiences."

Link: http://tinyurl.com/ysj6bj

This is the talk (material copied from the Children's Museum site):

The Art of City Making with Charles Landry
Thursday, April 19, at 6:00 pm

"Charles Landry is an international authority on the future of cities and the creative use of culture in urban revitalization. He has worked in over 30 countries, advising city and cultural leaders and multilateral institutions such as The World Bank. He has lectured widely in Europe, America and Australia and is founder and senior partner of Comedia, Britan's leading cultural planning consultancy.

Mr. Landry's lecture is part of the Charm Bracelet Project and is sponsored by the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, the Community Design Center and CEOs for Cities.

Funding provided in part by the Heinz Endowments."

More on the Charm Bracelet Project from the Post-Gazette

And yet more from the City Paper

Don't Buy a Sears Lawnmower

For years, I've bought major appliances at Sears, and I've always had good results. This week I learned that my good fortune may have been limited to Sears in California. My recent experience with Sears in Pittsburgh has been disastrous. Sometimes working through Pittsburgh's problems takes big ideas; sometimes it takes little anecdotes. Here's a little anecdote. Don't buy a Craftsman lawnmower.

Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, I did. A self-propelled push model. It seems to work fine, most of the time. This spring (and it is spring, notwithstanding the cold), it came out of the shed and needed a tuneup before the first mow. Sharpen the blade, check and change the oil, filter, etc. So we took it to the Sears Service Center in McMurray. This is a Craftsman mower (a Sears brand), and it's only a couple of years old.

Sears Service took the mower and kept it for a few days. They called and said that the mower was ready to be picked up. Went down to retrieve the mower. No service had been performed, they said; the mower had been shipped from facility to facility and then returned to McMurray, but Sears could not figure out what the model number was. No model number, no service. Remember, this is a Craftsman mower, and it's only a couple of years old.

Unhappily, the mower came home, and we went to the file and pulled out the instruction manual that came with the mower. A manual that has a picture of the mower on the front and the model number in big black letters and numbers.

Back the mower went to the Sears Service Center in McMurray. This time, the folks there refused to accept the mower because the mower had no plate attached to it that included the model number. What about what you said before? What about the instruction manual that we retrieved and delivered with the mower? But the wise souls in McMurray would not budge. No service.

I could get upset and refer to the staff at the Sears Service Center in McMurray as incompetent, obtuse morons. But I won't; that would be disrespectful to people who suffer from true disabilities. And the Sears staff doesn't suffer from any genuine disability.

Instead, I'll be calm and note that the real problem is that the Sears Service staff in McMurray choose to be self-absorbed and stupid. They could care about their customers, and they could remind themselves that they are, after all, in the service business. These people at Sears are simply too dumb and lazy and rude to do so. What about those people people who bought large Craftsman machines from Sears and who reasonably expect that a Sears Service Center will actually service and repair them? Remember, this is a Craftsman mower -- it says so, unambiguously, on the mower itself -- and it's only a couple of years old. Does Sears -- Sears! -- have some kind of catalog that might actually list the mowers that the company has sold over the last couple of years? Care to look inside? Or how about trusting the fact that the person who brings in the mower AND the instruction manual WITH THE MOWER PICTURED ON IT might be entitled to a bit of courtesy? Go ahead. Sharpen the blade and change the air filter. Make my day.

I don't suppose that these mindless Sears nitwits are representative of Pittsburgh's service economy. Some of the merchants I visit in Mt. Lebanon, for example, are the models of what a fabulous neighborhood business should be. But Sears doesn't do Pittsburgh any favors, and that's the point. When I lived in California, my Sears Service reps knocked themselves out on my behalf. You want an economy and a culture to move forward at anything greater than a snail's pace (actually, in Pittsburgh sometimes, even a snail's pace will do)? Then everyone -- and I mean everyuone -- needs to get with the program. It's a service economy. Meanwhile, I'll look for a different shop to service my mower (if you know of a place in the South Hills that does a good job with Craftsman mowers, let me know). And under no circumstances should you ever, ever, buy a large appliance at Sears in Pittsburgh and have the company expect to stand behind its product.

UPDATE and a happy ending (April 14): We decided to take matters into our own hands, literally, by recovering a sense of mechanical do-it-yourselfness (changing our own plugs, points, and oil) that came more naturally to us before we had kids. We bought replacement parts (oil, filter, plug, blade) at Sears (South Hills Village), where the staff was everything you would want a sales staff to be (that is, appalled by the behavior of their Service Center colleagues). Total cost: $30. The lawnmower will live to mow for several seasons more. Still, I can't recommend the Craftsman models unhesitatingly; there is something to be said for a brand that can be serviced anywhere -- if you can't service it yourself.

Pittsburgh's New Big Thing

Chris Briem and I are trying to come up with a metric for recognizing Pittsburgh's Next Big Thing. Specifically, how will we know when we have a new FreeMarkets, Fore Systems, or Respironics on our hands?

Of course, looking for the Next Big Thing is precisely the Wrong Thing To Do, because it emphasizes "looking for Pittsburgh's industrial savior" over "building a sustainable new economy."

Still, it's fun. And Chris could put the question in the New Pittsburgh Stock Exchange.

If Pittsburgh were a Silicon Valley and rich in companies About To Hit The Big Time, we could set a numerical bar: The next company to cash out -- IPO, sale of the company, etc. -- for some big number. Or we might say: Some big sales number, some number of quarters in a row.

Do either of those metrics make sense here, and if so, what would the thresholds be? Low enough to be makeable; high enough that crossing the line would measure something distinctive and significant. I'm inclined to dismiss things like money raised in venture or angel rounds, but perhaps we could measure something like successive up rounds, or percentage increase in company valuation from round to round.

Or should we use a different metric?

Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh

This is something that I've been working on for several weeks, along with Pgh bloggers Jim Russell (Burgh Diaspora) and Jim Morris (Jim Morris's Thought of the Week). It's a not-so-Modest Proposal, a Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh. It's a little ponderous, but we're serious. In time, and with some colleagues, we hope to transition this platform into something a little less blogospheric and a lot more concrete. In the meantime, we welcome feedback and suggestions and amendments and (of course) links.

We describe a set of principles that we believe should guide the future growth and evolution of the city of Pittsburgh and Southwest Pennsylvania through the 21st century.

The principles are general. They are animated by a single, overarching idea. The future of Pittsburgh depends on the region’s recognition of its dependence on other cities – and regions – and countries. And it depends on their corresponding recognition of their connections with Pittsburgh. In the 21st century, connectivity is key and king, and in that connected world, Pittsburgh has a unique asset, which we call the Pittsburgh diaspora: the thousands of people who live around the world yet who still identify closely with the Steel City. They grew up in Pittsburgh, worked in Pittsburgh, or have family in Pittsburgh. By identifying with Pittsburgh they energize it emotionally. We believe that it is possible to translate that emotional energy into economic energy. Pittsburgh can, should, and must recapture and benefit from the intellectual, economic, and cultural capital associated with the Pittsburgh diaspora. That capital is distributed geographically, but it can be invested locally.

Finding concrete ways to put this Manifesto into action is, we believe, the key to Pittsburgh's future success. We call on the Pittsburgh diaspora to embrace these principles and to partner with the residents of Pittsburgh today in moving the region forward.

Seven Principles: Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh

1. Connect and reconnect with the virtual Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh must replicate its famous bridges, by building metaphoric bridges to other countries, states, companies, and groups and above all to the diaspora of people and institutions with historic ties to Western Pennsylvania. We must build a global Pittsburgh.

2. Bring new resources to the region.

Pittsburgh’s diaspora is flush with social capital, which is on full display whenever and wherever the Pittsburgh Steelers play. Pittsburgh needs to use its metaphoric bridges to broaden the sources of that capital and to convey it back to Western Pennsylvania in the form of intellectual and economic capital. The diaspora can contribute time, money, and ideas to the rebirth of the region.

3. Energize Pittsburgh’s culture and community.

Pittsburgh’s position as a world leader in science, art, and culture should get extended across populations both young and old and across virtual and material media. Building the global Pittsburgh means extending excellence in computing, music, and sport and embracing the economic and social value of global community in domains beyond Pittsburgh's traditional strengths.

4. Listen for new voices.

For too long, Pittsburgh has heard the same voices in public political, cultural, and economic conversations. As part of reaching out to the Pittsburgh diaspora, Pittsburgh must enfranchise new and marginalized voices.

5. Change the face of Pittsburgh.

With new people come new opportunities. East Asian, South Asian, and Latino populations, among many others, are bringing much needed energy and human and financial capital to cities all over the United States. Building bridges to the Pittsburgh diaspora means reaching out to a 21st century global Pittsburgh of many colors, nationalities and ethnicities.

6. Build on the best of Pittsburgh’s past.

A connected Pittsburgh brings change, and change and novelty must respect the strengths of the old. Pittsburgh has rich heritage of industrial and human success to be blended with the capital contributed by the diaspora.

7. Recognize the geopolitics of the neighborhood.

The traditional localism of Pittsburgh politics should give way to an accommodation of that localism in the context of 21st century globalization. The global Pittsburgh should exist at many scales, from the region to the city to the neighborhood.

Pittsburgh Technology News

No cupcakes today. Just small companies moving forward:

Powercast, in Ligonier, appears to be on the verge of a breakthrough with a commercial form of wireless (RF) power. I was at a conference this weekend and spent a lot of time trying not to trip over a next of power cords, so this news comes none too soon.
CNN Money coverage
Company website

LunaMetrics, in Mt. Lebanon, does "web analytics," and now it's working with Google Analytics *as an Approved Consultant* -- one of only two PA firms in that position.
Company website


Without intending to, I pulled off an unusual double in today's Post-Gazette: I have a byline on the first page -- and on The Next Page -- of the paper's Forum section.

On the front: The Birth of Penguins Nation (with Chad Hermann, a/k/a Teacher. Wordsmith. Madman.). In his 4/1 post today, Chad describes how this piece came about. It's a nice little story in itself -- old media; new media; virtual collaboration; civil and civic discourse and public fellowship. Chad and I each have a new colleague, and we both had a bit of fun. Thanks to Greg Victor at the P-G running the essay. And for anyone who hasn't figured this out: Chad is the hockey fan. I'm the one who hasn't been to an NHL game in 30 years.

On The Next Page: The Cupcake Class and its Contentment. More fun at the expense of, and on behalf of, the region's cupcake creators and consumers. On the same page, Chris Briem offers typically insightful cupcake econometrics; he elaborates (and rightly blames/credits me with the phrase "Cupcake Class" as a derivative of "the Custard Class") in his post today. Our third collaborator, leavening the academic tone of the whole affair, is Rachel Kramer Bussel, who blogs at Cupcakes Take the Cake and who writes on a variety of, um, other topics. Her contribution lends a new dimension to the Cupcake Class, perhaps even to Pittsburgh's future as a whole. In the spirit of Rachel's principal line of work, I'll let you fill in the details on your own. Thanks to John Allison (who edited the page and coined the witty, J.K. Galbraith-ian headline) and Stacy Innerst (for the illustrations). Happy April Fool's Day.

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About Pittsblog

Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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