Wednesday, May 31, 2006

D minus 7

I do not expect there to be much notice of the 62nd anniversary of D-Day coming up in a week. But I have something to think about:

This picture is USS LST 1, the Navy's first WW2 Landing Ship Tank. She was made in Pittsburgh at the Dravo Corp. shipyard. I am trying to come up with an exact number for how many of the LST's that participated in the D-Day landings were actually made in Pittsburgh. This picture is probably from somewhere within the Pittsburgh region soon after the ship was launched. I would love to know if anyone has an idea of where exactly she was when this picture was taken. Some of the shoreline is fairly clear but it does not narrow it down much for me. You can click on the picture for a larger image.

290 of the 1051 LST's built in WWII were built here in Pittsburgh. My quick check of records tells me that none of the Pittsburgh-built LST's are still around, the last one was stricken from the Turkish Navy just a few years ago in 2001. However, LST-325 was built in Philadelphia and has been restored. Following some international cruises she is now berthed in Evansville, Inidana just down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh. Could LST-325 visit Pittsburgh? I think there are still a fair number of the generation that built and served on these ships around. It could be quite an event if she could sail up the Ohio for a short visit.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

State of the Map - Pennsylvania Version

I wasn't at the PAGIS conference earlier this month, but a concise summary of the current state of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Pennsylvania is written up by Adena Schutzberg, the Exective Director of Directions Magazine, in a recent article: GIS in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. One of the fun things mentioned is some innovative community mapping and local government applications being implemented by Wansoo Im of Vertices.com. You can learn a little more about what he is up to in this blurb in the New Yorker from March.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day....


... is actually tomorrow Tuesday May 30th fyi.


From the Department of Veteran's Affairs
Fact Sheet on America's Wars:

America's Wars Total:
U.S. Military Service During War..........43,185,893
Battle Deaths...........................................652,696
Other Deaths (In Theater)..........................14,416
Other Deaths in Service (Non-Theater)....525,223
Non-mortal Woundings.......................1,447,281
Living War Veterans............................18,155,573
Living Veterans (War & Peacetime).....24,387,036

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Over on Pittsblog

I have been drafted to help my friend Mike Madison, of Pittsblog fame, over the summer. I put over there a long post on the state's role in promoting entrepreurship. Specifically I comment on a report just out: Seed and Venture Capital: State Experiences and Options, by the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds... so as not to repeat posts, if you want to hear more of my thoughts on this, head over to the post on Pittsblog.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

State of the Brew II: Ode to Rolling Rock

I am far too left brained to have ever come up with this from Slate. Check out:
"All of the Words on a Bottle of Rolling Rock Beer in a Different Order" by Demetri Martin

but has anyone noticed the recent proliferation of ads on radio for Straub's Beer. Maybe it's just me, but I never noticed them before. Could it be a strategy to become the beer of record for central PA now that Rolling Rock is set to become a "foreign" beer.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Is "Aerotropoli" really a word?

I mentioned earlier a publication worth reading: The Next American City. Given the focus on the airport as a nexus of economic development, this quarter's issue has a locally relevant article: The Rise of the Aerotropolis. "Aerotropolis (de facto pl. aerotropoli?) being a euphemism for airport driven commercial development (pdf file). The article focuses on Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport which may not be a fair goal for Pittsburgh or most anywhere else. Anyone who has ever flown into or through Schiphol, which is truly an international hub, will testify that it is a veritable city unto itself.

Also I mention again, they are planning an issue focused on the Green Building Movement which seems a perfect subject for Pittsburgh authors. See their main page for more info.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

State of the Brew I: Water in, Water Out

It clearly has not been a good week for beer in the Burgh. There has been enough comment, but remarkably not as much gnashing as one would expect, over the news that Rolling Rock will no longer be produced in Latrobe once Anheuser-Busch completes its purchase of the brand's assets.

but Iron City's future is not clear either... the future of which could also impact the virtual hometown brew: Stoney's, formerly of Smithton. Despite the news yesterday that the Pension Benefit Guarantee Board is taking over Pittsburgh Brewing's pension fund, serious issues remain. New York magazine The Deal explains this week that one major legal hassle has been over the company's sewer bill. Aparently we all get billed for sewer services based on the amount of water we consume. Water consumption is metered, while sewer usage is not, but the assumption is that water-in must in some way equal water-out. That is probably true for almost all of us, but may not be the case for Pittsburgh Brewing's Lawrenceville Plant where a lot of that fine-tasting Pittsburgh tap water leaves the building in barrels and does not get drained into the sewer (at least not without further 'downstream' and highly distributed processing). In the balance are bill's in the $millions. At least it gives the accountants and lawyers something to argue about.

but the real question is whether Anheuser-Busch will they reveal why the "33" is on the label??

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What election?

So its been a week since the Harrisburg meltdown, which means the public interest is abating. Below are some quick and dirty maps of last weeks primary results for some of the contested state house races. Note that this is not a Rorschach test:

District 20
Percentage Purcell
Percentage Banahasky
Percentage Walko


District 21
Percentage Bennington
Percentage Pistella


District 24
Percentage Gainey
Percentage Preston
Percentage Anderson


District 25
Percentage O'Donell
Percentage Markosek


District 35
Percentage Gergely
Percentage Matta


District 39
Percentage Rhoderick
Percentage Levdansky


District 38
Percentage Jabbour
Percentage Kortz
Percentage Ruffing

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Greyfields are getting bigger every year, or Who Remembers Zayre's

So I note this story by Jon Delano:Pittsburgh Mills' Future Could Be In Doubt. The full timeline of the Pittsburgh Mills project is included in Mike Yeoman's: Pittsburgh Mills muscles its way into landscape.

Brings to mind: Allegheny Center Mall. Which remarkably is not included here: http://www.deadmalls.com/

but overall it makes you think, how many development projects are driven more by inertia than anything else.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

State of the Spectrum

Do you want your HD Radio? Digital Radio exists in Pittsburgh, but I really wonder how many people have the equipment to receive the signal. iBiquity, the company which seems to own the technology standard for digital radio in the US lists all stations in Pennsylvania currently broadcasting digital radio, 6 of which (WDUQ,WLTJ,WPGB,WQED,WRKZ and WWSW) are in the Pittsburgh media market. These stations are either simulcasting both in analog and digital or are multicasting, providing additional content in their digital feeds. Given the low penetration of digitial receivers though, it's hard not to compare digitial radio to the proverbial tree that falls in the woods: does it really make a sound?

Digital radio is supposed to have lots of advantages including clearer sound and better reception, but the real goal is to free up a chunk of the radio specturm for alternative uses. A digital audio signal uses a fraction of the bandwith of an analog signal now being used so its possible for existing stations to convert to digital, broadcast multiple feeds, yet still use less bandwidth than before.

Is anyone out there listening to terrestrial digital radio, i.e. other than via satellite?

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Orange Belt..... 'nuff said.


From Skybus to the Mon Valley Expressway, transportation planning in Pittsburgh is one of the few things to elicit as much emotional debate as once did Kordell Stewart's passing rating. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission has just released its report on its current long range vision for transportation. Transportation planning is one of those things where you really have to look well into the future. (Highways last a really really long time.) Likewise you can learn a lot from transportation planning of the past. So if you are interested, here is the 1967 Allegheny County Rapid Transit Study(warning - large file), but also worth a read is this paper by Coleman, Houston and Muller: SKYBUS Pittsburgh's Failed Industry Targeting Strategy of the 1960s. Also relevant is the Spine Line Corridor Study from 1993.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Repeat after me: Gaz-bee...

So I don't usually read USAToday, but it's in the hotel I stayed at last night. The front page story is all about the national problem of large pending health care liabilities just for public sector retirees. Basically, changes being proposed by the Government Accounting Standards Board (i.e. GASB), in particular GASB rule 45, are mandating (a misused verb when it comes to government accounting) that retiree health care costs be accounted for actuarially the same way retiree pension costs must be accounted for. The bottom line: money should be set aside now to pay the big bills that are coming due down the line. The problem is that few local governments have anywhere near the resoruces needed to put extra money into a fund for future retiree health care cost. Per the USAToday, New York City is socking away a billion dollars just this year for just this reason.

Just because of the scale of population and workforce downsizing in the city of Pittsburgh, this may be a bigger issue here than in any other large municipality in the country. The city now has something like 4,500 retirees right now, so the bills coming due are real. It's not a new story here. However, it is only beginning to be addressed. It is true that GASB rules are not binding for the most part on local governments. Thus the City need not actually start setting aside cash for future health care costs, but with the rash of Act 47 or otherwise induced retirements in recent years, the retiree health care bills are coming in much quicker than anticipated.

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College-burgh

I do not have a teenager looking at colleges but nonetheless the following web site is pretty COOL. See the Department of Education's: College Opportunities Online Locator (COOL)

I of course must data-mine this (a bad word these days I realize… let’s call it data-mining with a lower case “d”… no fuzzy logic pattern matching or teraflops needed). You can plug in a zip code and search for institutions within 100 miles of downtown Pittsburgh (zip 15222). I get 228 such institutions with, by my count, a combined enrollment of 352,145.

and just out is this table from the Department of Education showing that Pennsylvania has the single largest net (IN)migration of recent high school graduates who matriculate into 4 year colleges.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Not the T it used to be

There is an awful lot written about the impact of Hmong immigrants in Minneapolis who started to move there from the perpetual recession otherwise known as Fresno, California in the 1990's. But its good to see some attention being paid to the Hmong of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

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Fodder for Sebak

The PG ran an AP story yesterday about a steel mill in Sharon that was still standing after some efforts to demolish it with explosives. It brings back a memory of the first attempt to bring down the South Side’s Brady Street Bridge (to be replaced by the Birmingham Bridge). It was a big event in town, even carried live on TV in May of 1978. The problem was that when the smoke from the explosion cleared away the bridge was still standing. Was a big controversy at the time. Imagine if Three Rivers Stadium had not come down after this. My vague memory tells me they then had to import explosives from Germany to try again, but on the 2nd attempt the bridge dropped into the river as it was supposed to. A few weeks earlier it had been bigger news when some heroic paramedics, firefighters and doctors had to amputate the leg of an ironworker, who had been working to prepare the bridge for demolition, from atop one of the trusses when he became trapped by movement in the steel beams he was cutting.

Funny thing is... if directions around Pittsburgh weren't confusing enough, I still unconsciously sometimes tell people to go over the Brady Street Bridge. Usually leads to the blank stare.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Water Arbitrage?

So you have heard of Oil Trading, there is also an international market for coal. Now they are talking about trading water. It seems that the EPA is planning a conference on Water Trading in Pittsburgh next week. I wonder what the futures quote is for a barrel of mid-Monongahela heavy?

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Calling Green Authors

Usually a worthwhile read is the magazine The Next American City. Note they are currently accepting submissions for the next issue focused on Green Building. Hopefully Pittsburgh, which is considered a pole of the Green Building Movement, will have a strong presence in the issue. Local authors should see their submissions page.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Cuno no mo'

It comes as no real surprise that the Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiffs (and thus in favor of state tax credits) today in the case of Cuno v. DaimlerChrysler. That ruling was foreshadowed completely by the justices questioning during oral arguments.

As I said in my oped on this earlier in the year, no matter how this case turned out there are still fundamental issues that need to be debated as to the role of tax incentives in local economic development.

The Bloomberg article on this seems to say the ruling was based narrowly on the issue of taxpayer standing and did not address the fundamental issue of whether there was any constitutional issue with these incentives. So they took the out they gave themselves when they took the case. So the issue could come again before SCOTUS, it's unlikely it will be anytime soon.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Whalers Redux

I'm unclear if this is new news, but the publication Bankruptcy
Inside
r has an article out suggesting that Connecticut Casino/Resort Foxwoods Inc. has approached the Penguins to buy the team if the Isle of Capri proposal to build a casino and arena does not go through. This is in addition to interest shown by Northland Investment Corp, also of CT, to buy the team as reported in the Trib last month.

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Freakonomics goes multi-media

So this may be an incongruous first post in that it has little to do with Pittsburgh per se... but it is too cool to pass up. Whatever one thinks about Walmart, Thomas Holmes at the Univ. of Minnesota has put together this online video worth taking a look at. See: "The Diffusion of Walmart and the Economics of Density" (.wmv file)

Of course now we need someone to put together "The diffusion (and dissipation) of Isaly's". If there is a Pittsburgh related issue, it raises the question of whether the rumors of a Walmart in East Liberty will someday resurface. Someone is clearly thinking about it.

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Post Zero

How narrow is the gap between being a technophile and being a luddite? A lot closer than you think these days. It has been pointed out that my long-standing web page is now considered somewhat archaic. My defense is that it has been a decade since the first version of that web age was first put online and over the years it has generated an interesting set of responses from literally around the world. So maybe it was a proto-blog at one point, but is now showing its age. So we will try something new (for me) with this blog.

So, where does one start. It seems obligatory to begin with the question of what this blog is about. Everything and nothing is the easiest answer. It will clearly be focused on, but not limited to, topics on Pittsburgh and its environs. Since that doesn't really narrow it down much it will more often than not be focused on the things I care about: the region's economy, its population and labor force and local public finance. Beyond that it will just be what blogs are probably meant to be: musings and other streams of consciousness that don't really belong anywhere else. Hopefully it will have items of interest that readers will not get elsewhere. The great thing about blogs is that the audience is entirely self-selected. You can ignore all the blogs you want, but if you choose to peruse what I publish here: welcome.

Just to be clear. The thoughts expressed here are purely my own and reflect no official position of any employer or client of mine: past, present or future.

That being said, let's begin.

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