Monday, May 31, 2010

Riding alone in HOV lanes is a Parkway North habit
Monday, May 31, 2010
By Jon Schmitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The man in the gray Pontiac who drove in the Parkway North HOV lanes without a passenger one day last week was hardly alone in thumbing his nose at the two-occupant rule.

Over a one-hour stretch from 4 to 5 p.m., 56 drivers were observed entering the HOV lanes at the Bedford Avenue gate near Mellon Arena without riders, an offense that could get each a $109.50 fine.

But probably not.

A review of records in the office of North Side District Judge Robert P. Ravenstahl Jr. turned up only three citations for HOV lane violations this year and six last year. The other North Side district judge, Derwin Rushing, has had one case this year, a staffer said.

That tends to aggravate drivers who obey the rules, like Larysa Gradeck of West View. She and her sister, Sonia Wallace of Ohio Township, commute via the Parkway North regularly. Ms. Gradeck says she typically sees three or four violators on each trip.

"It seems to be on the increase lately," she said.

State police spokeswoman Trooper Robin Mungo said citing HOV lane violators is not a top priority because troopers have so many other duties during rush hour.

"Those HOV lanes are open during peak rush hour time periods [when] all the main arteries are jam-packed and we are constantly running from incident to incident, for everything from fender benders to major crashes that clog up traffic.

"We can't afford to sit in a stationary position at the beginning or end of the HOV lanes."

Trooper Mungo said she understood the frustrations of those who abide by the HOV restrictions and see others ignoring them.

"We would hope that people obey the law" because it is the right thing to do, she said.

Court records in Judge Ravenstahl's office showed two citations were issued to singleton drivers on April 14 and one on March 5.

Last year on May 27, a trooper cited three motorists within a 24-minute period of the morning rush. There were only three citations for the rest of the year.

The HOV lanes opened in 1989 with a three-rider requirement, which was reduced to two in 1992 after complaints that virtually no vehicles were using the lanes.

That boosted HOV traffic, but Dan Cessna, the current district executive for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said the lanes remain underutilized.

"It could certainly handle more traffic. Its [value] is measured on the days it's not available" and major backups occur on the main line, he said.

In some metro areas, drivers without passengers can legally use high-occupancy lanes by paying a toll. On those HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes, the prices are adjusted upward when traffic builds to keep the lanes from getting too crowded.

While so-called "congestion pricing" has been effective elsewhere, there has been no consideration of such a model here, Mr. Cessna said.

The Parkway North is the only highway in the region that would be readily converted for variable tolling, but Mr. Cessna said "the reality is it wouldn't generate enough funds to pay for itself."

Parkway North HOV use peaked in 1992, when an average of 4,857 vehicles per day used it. But HOV traffic declined by 20 percent over the ensuing 12 years, falling to 3,861 vehicles per day by 2004. It has remained near that level since then.

In 2009, for every vehicle that breezed down the 5.3-mile HOV lanes, 25 used the mainline.

Eight Port Authority bus routes use the HOV lanes, carrying about 3,000 riders on a typical weekday.

One option that PennDOT has considered is converting the Parkway North to a more traditional HOV configuration, with the innermost lanes in both directions reserved for car pools, Mr. Cessna said. That would eliminate the need to have reversible lanes and gates.

But such a conversion would be "very expensive," he acknowledged.

Drivers without passengers can legally use the HOV lanes to travel outbound after 7 p.m. daily and on weekends, which helps ease congestion after events at Mellon Arena and the North Shore stadiums. Motorcycles are permitted to use the lanes whenever they are open.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Man who banned himself from casino must forfeit jackpot
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The Associated Press

ERIE, Pa. -- A man who won a $2,001 slot machine jackpot at Erie's Presque Isle Downs & Casino will forfeit the winnings, and be charged with trespassing, because he had previously banned himself from the casino under a state program to help problem gamblers.

The state police have not identified the 55-year-old Waterford Township man who won the jackpot Friday, sometime between 10 a.m. and noon.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board offers a self-exclusion program to problem gamblers. They can choose to ban themselves from casinos for one or five years, or for life. It wasn't immediately clear when the jackpot winner banned himself or for how long.

But under the program, banned players are charged with criminal trespass if they enter a casino and must forfeit any winnings.
DAVE: I'm not necessarily against increasing parking fines. But hasn't the City's problem with parking tickets always been the amount lost by those who simply don't pay the fines and are able to avoid getting booted?

BP: Many, many problems with the Parking Authority – that is definitely a big one.

DAVE: Do you happen to have a statistic on what percentage of those getting parking tickets pay them?

BP: Don't have it - would take awhile to get it. If they even respond.

DAVE: This may sound funny, but I've been watching "The Wire," having missed it the first time around on HBO. Is our city government as screwed up as they make Baltimore's look?

BP: It is being "handled" by a handful of people and it is all about money.

DAVE: I see. So, pretty much like everything else in the world.

I don't know how to deal with it.

DAVE: Sorry, Bill. I just realized that my last email read, "I don't know how to deal with it." I meant to say "I don't know how YOU deal with it." There's a big difference.

BP: I don't know how any of us deal with re-elect it and then elect a newer version.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

4 8 15 16 23 42 . . .

Seriously. It's been two days and my head still hurts from the final episode of "Lost." So much to think about. Still so many unanswered questions. Really, for me, the worst of it is that I don't have any more shows to which I am loyal and devoted like I was to Lost. There is nothing on my weekly TV watching schedule. Nothing like that to look forward to.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mayor's brother nominated to Alcosan board
Monday, May 24, 2010
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Fresh from his Tuesday victory in a special election for state House, Adam Ravenstahl, D-Summer Hill, is in line for another title: member of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority board.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, the new representative's brother, submitted the nomination to city council in a letter dated Wednesday. The appointment is pending council confirmation.

A seat on the Alcosan board is widely considered a political plum because members have contact with engineering and construction firms that tend to be campaign contributors.

Read more:
This is the story of Dave and Dennis, the POH Oral Health Products salesperson . . .

DAVE: I'm just an individual who prefers POH toothbrushes over the other ones available at stores, but I live in Pittsburgh, and I can't get them anywhere. I wanted to order five of the #4 Adult 4 Row 43 Tuft Bristle from the website [], but that doesn't meet the $20 order minimum. I don't want to buy 20 toothbrushes. Just five. Can you help me out?


DENNIS: I would suggest that you order some dental floss with your toothbrushes and then you would be able to make the minimum. Our dental floss is outstanding. I suggest that you try the Classic 490 NoWax first. Let's do it!

DAVE: But I don't NEED dental floss. My teeth are so close together that the only floss I've ever used that didn't shred or cut in my teeth is Glide. And if ordering your Classic 490 NoWax will get me to the minimum, then that must be some costly floss.

DENNIS: If your teeth are so close together then you should definitely try our dental floss. You will never use Glide again. Our dental floss is the finest floss known. Our Percept 420 is even thinner than our 490. Trust me, you will never want anything else after you use POH.

DAVE: Okay. I get it. $20 minimum. I guess I will have to settle for an Oral-B.

Thanks for all of your help.

DENNIS: I want you to give me your address and I will send you a couple of toothbrushes and some floss. I want you to try our floss and get back with me on what you think about our floss.

DAVE: Well, that sounds like a good plan, Dennis. I like blue and green toothbrushes, if it matters.

Thank you.

DENNIS: They will be on their way today!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

It's challenging to go back now and watch the first season of "Lost," episode by episode, and not develop a bit of a crush on Evangeline Lilly.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I found out today that my local Goodwill does not accept televisions that are older than 2000. Foolish me, I was trying to donate a Sony relic from 1992 that formerly belonged to my dead grandmother and had only recently been replaced by my first HDTV. Now it's in a dumpster outside of the Goodwill.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Today is PAC-MAN's 30th Anniversary. Go to Google and try to play a little version of the game on their search page with the arrow buttons on your keyboard. Tons of fun. And very cool, if you ask me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I think it's rather ironic that today is the day that this story appears in the Post-Gazette, given that today is Uncle Dan's big coming out party for Governor, and much of his platform is based on the fact that property assessments and, therefore, property taxes did not go up during his term as Allegheny County Executive. Given the state of the real estate market, both here and nationwide, I don't know how the new assessments will go. It is likely that most people will have their property assessed at a higher value, thus resulting in higher property taxes. Of course, the good news is that the slots casinos (soon-to-be full-blown casinos) across the state were promised by Uncle Ed to bring lower property taxes. We're still waiting on that, of course, but it was the main selling point for all of those slots parlors. So, will Uncle Dan get out of Allegheny County before the new property assessment? Go vote today and let's see how it turns out.

Allegheny County's reassessment teams prepare property visits
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Allegheny County reassessment crews will spend three to five minutes visiting each of almost 600,000 properties over the next 16 months.

The teams will begin their work June 7, county Manager Jim Flynn said at a reassessment status conference Monday.

Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. presided over the meeting. He is overseeing the court-ordered reassessment, which will include a parcel-by-parcel on-site review.

The county has been divided into four quadrants, and reassessment crews will start their work in the eastern region.

On average, the walk- or drive-by review of each parcel will take about three to five minutes, said Wesley Graham, acting chief property assessment officer.

Mr. Graham is employed by Cole Layer Trumble Co. The county has retained the company to help it collect and analyze the assessment data.

Members of the survey teams will carry county-issued identification tags. They will not have to enter homes. Officials will be notified in each municipality before the crews begin their work, Mr. Flynn said.

The initial survey team will have about 11 members; that number is expected to rise to about 30 people.

The reassessment crews will compare what they see on their visits to the information property owners have provided on questionnaires the county mailed to their homes. They also will have access to aerial and other images provided by Pictometry International Corp.

Owners of about 60 percent of the county's 511,000 residential properties have returned the questionnaires, Mr. Flynn said. Owners of about 17 percent of the county's 61,000 commercial properties also have done so.

The review of all parcels is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2011. Property owners will receive preliminary notice of the new values assigned to their homes and businesses between July and October of next year.

They can request an informal review of their assessments during the last three months of 2011 with formal appeals taking place in early 2012.

Mr. Flynn said the long-delayed reassessment project appears to be on track to be completed by the 2012 deadline accepted by Judge Wettick.

Judge Wettick scheduled the next reassessment conference for 10 a.m. July 8 in the City-County Building.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I just got online, and when I opened to my starting web page, this is what was at the top of the page. This guy may or may not make a good governor. But he sure as hell knows how to run a campaign.

Of course, he did raise a lot of money for his campaign. And I guess money gets you an ad at the top of the Quiet Observer's Home Page.
I was over at my parents' house yesterday helping my mother download photos from my niece's first birthday party earlier this month. It appears to have been quite a soiree. I was a little surprised to see a couple of photos in which Evelyn was actually wearing a tiara. Yeah, that's right. A fucking tiara. I'm wondering how my sister and Paris Hilton ended up with something in common.

Please, vast and loyal readership, I'm hoping for some good comments on the subject of the tiara.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Since Sidney has become "my mother's dog," he seems to view me as his play buddy. When I come around, it means playtime. And we play hardcore.

Friday, May 14, 2010

UPMC's Romoff took 24% pay cut in '09, to $3.5 million
Friday, May 14, 2010
By Steve Twedt, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jeffrey Romoff, president and CEO of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, received $3.563 million in salary in 2009, a 24.4 percent decrease from his 2008 salary of $4.711 million.

The numbers were posted today on UPMC's website, which said the salary reduction was part of a previously announced cut in senior management compensation "taken to ensure the organization's continued pursuit of its health care and research mission during the economic downturn."

Just when you thought it was safe to go back under the river . . .

Last night I saw a political ad in which one of Dan Onorato's Democratic challengers for next Tuesday's primary election attacked him for his involvement in what the ad called . . . wait for it . . . the "Tunnel to Nowhere." The ad had all sorts of quotes in which the whole project was criticized, including one in which Governor Ed Rendell called it a "tragic mistake." This is interesting because it might be an issue that will resonate with voters, both locally and across the state. I don't have any knowledge of what, if any, role Dan Onorato played in getting the project approved and securing millions of federal dollars (although not nearly enough of them to actually finish the project). But I do know that as County Executive of Allegheny County, he did NOTHING to STOP the project before it became the giant boondoggle that I predicted it would be many, many years ago. And now he wants to move to Harrisburg with these two damn tunnels burrowed under the Allegheny River and no completion in sight. NOBODY in this town did ANYTHING to stop the stupid project that got its birth in the Tom Murphy Administration. Except Bill Peduto. But that's another story. Will this issue stick to Uncle Dan the way the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" stuck to Sarah Palin? If Onorato wins the primary and gets the Democratic nomination for Governor, I will look forward to seeing how he responds to criticism from the Republicans about these twin tunnels under the river.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Of course these kinds of services exist, especially now with the internet. I guess they always did, just on a much, much smaller scale. Like, you got an old paper from a buddy in high school or college and used it as the basis for a paper by you. I wonder if this guy is doing it because of the economy, and he needs the money. Or despite claiming to have an Ivy League education, he so de-values education that he would do this? I don't know.

Struggling with your Online Course, Paper, Project or Assignment?
Date: 2010-05-12, 5:47PM EDT
Reply to:

If you are struggling with an online course, paper, project or assignment, it would be my pleasure to do it for you. I am an Ivy League Graduate and I specialize in Mathematics, Statistics, Economics, and Business. Over the years, I have helped hundreds of students in achieving excellent grades. So, if you think you are interested in my services, please e-mail me with a copy of an assignment you need help with, and I'll come back to you with a price quote at my earliest convenience. Fast Service! Guaranteed Results!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Playboy 'readers' get 3-D centerfold in June issue
Associated Press Writer
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
May 11, 3:50 PM EDT

CHICAGO (AP) -- Playboy readers who can only imagine what it would look like if a centerfold jumped right off the page are getting new specs to help them see into Hef's world. The magazine's June edition hits newsstands Friday equipped with 3-D glasses. Now the toy that has kids dodging dragons, meatballs and tall blue aliens at the movies will help adults focus on what is, at first glance, a very blurry Playmate of the Year.

"What would people most like to see in 3-D?" asked Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. "Probably a naked lady."

Hefner makes no secret of hoping to capitalize on the popularity of 3-D movies such as "Avatar" and "How to Train Your Dragon," even as he makes no secret of not quite getting what all the fuss is about.

"I'm not a huge enthusiast of 3-D," he said in a telephone interview. "I leave real life to go to the movies and 2-D is fine with me."

If the thought of grown men sitting back in their recliners with a pair of 3-D glasses doesn't quite say "Playboy," it should be noted that a few months ago the magazine put Marge Simpson - yes, the blue-haired animated mother of Bart - on the cover and in a two-page centerfold.

"In today's print environment you have to create newsstand events," said the editorial director of the Chicago-based magazine, Jimmy Jellinek. "Marge Simpson was one of those."

Playboy certainly must do something to get more people, especially younger people, to buy a magazine that has seen circulation plummet from 3.15 million in 2006 to 1.5 million today.

Jellinek said he hopes the issue featuring centerfold Hope Dworaczyk in 3-D also reminds people that for all the infatuation with the Internet, there is nothing quite like having a magazine in your hands.

"People want things that last and have meaning," he said.

The thought hadn't occurred to Hefner. But, now that you mention it:

"This particular picture is one example of how books and magazines are different (than computer images)," he said. "You can hold it in your hands, save them, and as Dad used to, put them under the mattress."

Hefner notes there also are plenty of good old-fashioned 2-D pictures of Dworaczyk - the 51st Playmate of the Year, for those counting at home.
3-D may be all the rage, but Hefner said he first thought of using it when he launched his magazine in the 1950s.

"I actually signed a photographer to shoot two nude women in 3-D in Chicago," he said. But he scrapped the idea when he discovered how expensive it would be to include the glasses.

This time around, HBO is helping out. HBO wanted a creative way to promote its show "True Blood," and having Playboy include 3-D glasses with the show's name on them seemed a good way to do it, said Playboy spokeswoman Theresa Hennessey.

So, do the glasses work? Well, it does kind of look like Dworaczyk is handing you the wine glass she's holding. And she says the photograph makes everything a little, well, bigger.

"It's kind of like it says on the rearview mirror," Dworaczyk joked. "Things may appear larger."
I apologize to my vast and loyal readership for having not posted anything in a few days. I went into the clubhouse on Saturday night to get a jacket, and I fell asleep in my chair. Apparently, this is a common problem for those who are 41.

Anyway, I went to the gas station today and the fucking gasoline failed to stop when my tank was full and overflowed. I stopped pumping immediately, but it was already dripping down the side of my car and forming a nice little puddle of gas in the nice little puddle of water that I was standing in. I truly hate when I get gas on myself. The smell is unpleasant, and it lingers. I don't appear to have gotten any on my hands or clothes, thank god, but the gas did get onto my shoes that were standing in the puddle within the puddle. So, my shoes smell like gas. Right now. At this very moment. Bugger.

Friday, May 7, 2010

This link requires no explanation from me. It speaks for itself. Literally.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How did Pennsylvania ever live without them, I wonder?

Can I get anyone a diet soda?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I've noticed that a lot of people are upset about the new immigration law in Arizona. Boy, that state is wacky, huh? That's where crazy Old Man McCain is from. Cuckoo. That would never happen in a cool state like Pennsylvania, right?

Legislators push PA immigration control bill
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
By Tom Barnes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG -- State Reps. Daryl Metcalfe and Harry Readshaw think Pennsylvania should follow Arizona's lead and "protect its borders and citizens" by giving local and state police more power to arrest, detain and eventually deport foreigners who have entered the state illegally and don't have proper registration papers.

Read more:
JIM: So, one of the assistant baseball coaches for my son's team died suddenly a couple of days ago. Since it was sudden and unexpected and he seemed like a basically healthy guy, so I assume that it was a heart attack or stroke, or something similar. He was 41.

About two weeks ago, a guy I went to high school with died of a heart attack (although rumor has it that it was possibly cocaine-induced). He was one year younger than me.

About a year and half ago (right around Thanksgiving), my friend Dan from college died of a heart attack. I believe he was a year older than me.

My doctor told me straight out a few years ago that if I don't do something to reduce my cholesterol and triglycerides, that I would have a heart attack and get diabetes. So what did I do yesterday? I ate four doughnuts.

DAVE: Dude, apparently you need to take better care of yourself.

JIM: I just finished eating another doughnut. Cream-filled. Honest.

It was nice knowing you.

DAVE: Lay off the fucking doughnuts. Food at the office is the worst.

JIM: I don't even want a doughnut. But I hate to see them go to waste.

So, no comment about last night's Phillies game?

DAVE: Last night's Phillies game? You mean the kid who got tasered when he ran onto the field?

JIM: There are a lot of doughnuts in our kitchen at work right now. And they will end up being thrown away if I don't eat them.

Yeah, the cop who tasered the kid.

DAVE: Eh, just another day in Philadelphia, I reckon.

JIM: That idiot got what he deserved. I hope the cops beat the crap out of him too.

DAVE: At least he called his father first to ask for permission to run onto the field. That's just good child-rearing, if you ask me.
JIM: You want a light bulb that will last a long time? The next time a handicapped person calls you on the phone selling the lightbulbs that they guarantee will last 5 years, buy a box. I had some when I moved from Pittsburgh to here in 1996. I just changed a burned out light bulb about a week ago and I realized it was one of those I had bought while still living in Pittsburgh.

14 years!

DAVE: You just reminded me that I, too, bought a handful of bulbs from an organization for disabled people probably about the same time that you did. And those bulbs did last a long time. I don't have any more of them, but I remember having them in my last apartment before I moved into the condo. They used to call me to order more bulbs, and I kept telling them that the ones that I originally ordered were still working.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Did you know that we're not supposed to dispose of everyday, single-use alkaline batteries in the household garbage? Nope. That's bad for the environment. We need to take them to a place that will recycle and dispose of them properly, hopefully for no cost. I have taken batteries from cordless phones to Construction Junction, and I think they charged me 40 cents per battery. I don't know if they take single-use batteries, but I've found a place on the South Side called the Pennsylvania Resources Council ( where you can recycle a bunch of stuff, including batteries, for free. Now, while I really don't want to schlep over to the South Side during business hours so that I can recycle batteries and empty ink cartridges, I will probably do it because it doesn't cost anything. I have a hard time with recycling programs that charge you a fee to recycle a product. I mean, a lot of places will take a little spiral, compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), but then that's it for bulbs. What about the other light bulbs that contain trace amounts of Mercury like CFLs? Where can I take those? The good folks at PRC don't take them, but they did tell me that Construction Junction does. For a fee. One dollar per bulb. These are the new-fangled bulbs, you know? The globe vanity bulbs that I formerly used in my bathroom cost me something like $6 to begin with, (then lasted a period of time that was far short of the "guaranteed to last seven years" promise) and then I have to pay another $1 when I want to dispose of them properly. I want to recycle, I want to save Mother Earth before she kills me. I just don't want to have to pay a fee every time I have to replace the batteries in one of my remote controls. We live in a time of many remote controls, and I am no exception.