What’s on my Nightstand: November 2014

November 16, 2014 § Leave a comment


I used to think that I did too much of this feature, so I was surprised to see that it’s been a year since I last filled you in on what I was reading. I wasn’t as voracious over the summer as I sometimes am, but I did pick up a few books towards the end there and have been working through them. Here are the ones at the top of the stack.

Flight, Volume One

This book features 23 short comics by 21 artists, all organized around the idea of Flight. It’s interesting to see all of the ways that the artists interpret that idea. Birds are common, so are planes and other flying contraptions, but there’s an angel, too, and some animals that are typically less air-worthy (like a whale). The array of styles is radically diverse as well, ranging from the traditional three-panel lines to surreal collages, from noir tales dense with text to stories told entirely through drawings. I Wish, Formidable, and Beneath the Leaves: Jump are standouts, but they’re all worth a look.

Kicked a Building Lately?

I want to get better at being a real-life writer, so to that end I want to start reading more work by actual critics. Ada Louise Huxtable is one of the best of those actual critics. I was first introduced to her work in a Design Observer article titled “How to Be an Architecture Critic”. I’m only coming to her work now, but she’s been writing since the 1950′s, writing all the way up until her recent death. She’s well known in architecture for being the first architecture critic for the New York Times, where she won a Pulitzer for her 1969 works. She’s well known in popular culture for being a recurring character on The Cosby Show. Or maybe that was a different Huxtable. Either way, she was amazing, and her writing still resonates: Building by the System, written in 1973, sounds like it could have been written last week.

How To Be Black

I grew up in a community that was 100% white, so I was exposed to 0% of black culture as a kid. Needless to say, it was a huge shock I went got to architecture school where I was immersed in it. o wait. I have the same kind of cognitive dissonance with racism that I do with sexism, which is that I don’t consider myself a racist or a sexist, but then the more I learn, the more I notice how much racism and sexism is woven into our cultural fabric. And then I just get paralyzed, because if such and such a word is racist and such and such a pop culture reference is also racist, well, I might as well not say anything. For example, I’m pretty sure someone will call me a racist for using the phrase “black culture”. Luckily we have comment section below where, as in all comment sections, people can rationally discuss issues of race without fear of judgement. o wait.

So anyway, I did what any insecure white liberal confronted with a thorny complicated issue would do: I read a book. This one was by Baratunde Thurston. It was more of an autobiography than I expected, but including details of his life experience was crucial to making the point that the “black experience” is not just one experience. And there’s plenty of the social commentary that I was looking for, too. The book is worth buying just for the last two chapters and the afterward.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.

^ Obligatory short story collection. I really enjoyed this one. All of the longer stories are very good. The short ones (often very short) didn’t always land with me. I think that was because they deal with more specific experiences and I couldn’t relate to all of them. That never really bothered me because I could always read 2 or 3 more and end up on a high note. It lives up to my expectation for it to be smart, funny, and occasionally dirty while surprising me by being emotional at times. Sophia covers all of that ground, so give that one a read if you’re not convinced by the hype for this book.

I have a bunch more on the stack, so I’m sure it won’t be a year before the next post. If you have anything I should add, tell me in the comments. It’s almost time to start shopping for a certain holiday, after all …

2014 Basement Renovation 01 – Demolition

November 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

My updates have been a little less regular than usual. I’ve been doing a lot of reading (more on that later) and writing (more on that later). I’ve also been working to turn my basement from this:


into this:

BR01_After Demo

As you can see, I’ve taken all the opaque finishes off of the powder room walls and moved the toilet into the living area as a commentary on the illusion of privacy in the modern (digital) age. I’ve turned the sink into a piece of functional sculpture, with a wink and a nod to Marcel Duchamp. I’ve removed the bar because I’ll sip no more the devil’s drink, nor will any person in my charge.

lol jk, that’s just the demo. I want to re-use as much of the existing framing as possible (which is why the walls are still there), but other than that all of the demo is done. Expect a few more updates on this between now and the expected occupancy date (New Year’s Eve). I’ll try to only post about the renovation when there are interesting things to post about but I make no guarantees.

P.S.: Check back soon, I hope to have an exciting announcement later in the week.

New Podcast: Kahmeela Adams Friedson and the 48 Hour Film Project

October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

In case you missed it on Monday, there’s a new podcast up all about the 48 Hour Horror Film Project. In case you’re confused, the films took 48 hours to make, they aren’t 48 hours long. So you can see all 18 of them in just a few hours this Saturday. Details:

Sat Oct 25 6pm to 10pm
18 short horror films all made in 48 hours.
The Hollywood Theater $10 or 2 for $15
Complimentary beverages provided by Clique Vodka

And as always, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (link opens in iTunes)

Someday there will be a not-podcast-related post on here.


Happy Birthday / Blog Milestone: 10k views

October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Midway through October I celebrate both my birthday and my anniversary so I’ve been off schedule this week. I promise to be back to our regularly scheduled programming on Monday (spoiler alert: it’s another podcast update), but I also wanted to make the minor announcement that my blog recently passed the 10,000 pageviews mark.

The thing on the right is supposed to be a bite mark

The thing on the right is supposed to be a bite mark. And the candles are burning different colors because of the presence of demonic spirits, not because I suck at Photoshop.

So thank you to all my regular readers who make that possible, I love writing for you all and I guess you all at least pretend to like reading it. And even if you hate reading it, hate-reading is still reading! Thanks again, see you Monday!

New Podcast: PKN v19

October 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

There’s a new show up over at my other website, dipodcast.com

It’s not completely unrelated! One of the interviews is talking with a woman with some insight into the wild gardens of the Carrie Furnace.

S02E05_Carrie FernAce

Head over there for some more exclusive pictures and of course, some great chats with the local creative types, like Addy Smith-Reiman, Freddie Croce, Julie Mallis and Nikki Dy-Liacco.

And I know you’re already planning on being there, but if you don’t know about PKN:

PKN vol. 19 takes place on October 9 at 6:20 pm at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Center, 805 Liberty Ave in Downtown Pittsburgh. Admission is $15 and includes, drinks, eats, and entertainment. Presenters get 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide, to present a project or an idea. It’s a great time and you really ought to come down.

And subscribe to my podcast on iTunes (link opens in iTunes), I’m really proud of it and I think you’ll like it.

Pittsburgh Photo Tour 04 – Carrie Furnaces

September 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

Usually, when blessed with good weather, I end up squandering it inside playing World of Tanks. But every now and then I manage to get out and enjoy it, as was the case this weekend when I went out to take a tour of the Carrie Furnaces with some young architects. The tour was 2 hours long and I only brought a camera, not a notebook, so I don’t remember everything about what you’ll see here. I’ll chime in with the facts I remember which will sound like real facts, and then I’ll just make some stuff up which will be marked with an asterisk. All of the images can be clicked on and enlarged.

CFT_Site Plan

The tour starts in a big warehouse space where they give you some background on the site. Up there is the site plan, which shows the site at its height overlaid by what remains now. There are now just two furnaces remaining, Carrie 6 and Carrie 7, named for singer Carrie Underwood.* The furnaces here, built by the Fownes brothers in 1881, made iron, not steel. Business was good for nearly 20 years before the iron business at this site began to falter. In 1898 Andrew Carnegie sensed an opportunity to vertically integrate the iron produced here with the steel he was producing in Homestead. He made the Fownes brothers an offer on the furnaces and they took the money and ran, straight to Oakmont where they founded the Oakmont Country Club.


Carnegie went to work bringing rail lines to the site which would bring the train-loads of iron ore, coke and limestone to feed the endless appetites of the furnaces. The raw materials were stored in great heaps in the yard above before being brought up that tilted elevator 3 and 4 tons at a time.

CFT_Elevator ext

Originally all the unloading was done by hand, meaning workers with shovels emptied both the train cars and the buckets at the top of that elevator. Imagine standing at the top, staring down into the belly of the furnace, shoveling tons of iron-food into the open mouth as the February winds pull at your clothes.


You could work, quit, or die. Many did the latter.

I regret not asking if there were any ghosts that haunted the site.

CFT_Car tipper equip

Eventually there were improvements to the furnaces that did things like invert the rail cars to dramatically speed up the process of unloading material. The picture above is part of that machinery. There were still dangerous jobs to be done inside the furnace, though.

CFT_Firing chamber

There was no button to be pressed or switch to be pulled if you wanted to switch between which furnace was being fired. You had to manually pull that chain (low in the image and slightly to the left), exposing yourself to the hot toxic breath of the furnaces. Carbon monoxide could silently overtake you, leaving it up to your spotter to drag your lifeless body out of danger and sound the gas rescue alarm.


Before there were unions to protect workers injured workers were simply written up, resulting in suspensions and termination of employment. Here are some other warnings and signs from the tour:



CFT_Pipe labels

Once fired in the furnace, the molten iron was spilled out onto the casting floor (not pictured). Workers here stood over 1,600 degree metal in asbestos suits and used hand tools to separate the slag from the useful metal, which then flowed through sand-lined troughs into “torpedo cars”.

CFT_Torpedo car

As I mentioned before, Carnegie needed the iron made here to turn into steel at his plant across the river. These torpedo cars, loaded with 150 tons of molten iron, trundled across the hot metal bridge three to a train, where they were tipped over (to the position above) and emptied into the plants on the other side of the river.

Today, middle schoolers visit the the torpedo cars for life-size re-enactments of the Miracle of Life.*

The iron-making process above went largely unchanged until 1978. Falling demand for steel brought the industry to its knees and continuous casting (a more efficient way of manufacturing steel) dealt the death blow. The tens of thousands of workers at this site alone were cast out, joining the rest of the workers in the valley to scatter across the country in search of the few remaining jobs in the steel industry. Pittsburgh wheezed through smog and withered betwee its poisoned rivers for decades.



CFT_Car tipper out

CFT_deer photobomb

Over time, Pittsburgh healed and adapted. Clean air and rivers brought clean industries such as healthcare and technology. In its eagerness to move on and reclaim the waterways Pittsburgh razed many industrial sites like this. But the Carrie Furnaces still stand not only as monument and reminder but, through collaborations between the site stewards and local artists, it also stands as a living laboratory for the art community that grows out of Pittsburgh’s industrial cracks. There’s the famous Carrie Deer …

CFT_Deer glorious

… as well as smaller sculptural installations …



… and the graffiti commissioned for the long low brick walls:






That’s it for the tour, but I want to thank our knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide, Mr. Doug Styles. This was a guy who had spent some time working in a mill himself, and he had true passion and love for the history of steel making. You could hear the sadness in his voice as his story of the decline of manufacturing in the Mon valley echoed through the empty halls, and I heard some real resentment just behind his teeth as he recounted the checkered biographies of Carnegie and Frick.


He also beat boxes at the semi-annual, semi-illegal Carrie Furnace Raves under his stage name, Doug E. Styles, often partnering with legendary MC Slick Frick.* You’re the man, Doug.

If you want to take a tour of your own, check the dates here and bring $25 for each adult and $15 for each child. There might be tax, I forget. You can also take a Photo Safari and an Urban Art Tour which sound awesome. You get to make your own graffito on the Urban Art Tour, how cool is that?

Guest Post: Time Banking

September 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

I promised a more detailed post about time banking, and I figured, why not hear it from an expert? Phyllis Kim was kind enough to write a guest post about what time banking is and how you can be a part of one right here in Pittsburgh.


Imagine a network of artists, makers and creative workers sharing their individual talents and skills to advance each others projects.

Creative Labor Exchange is a brand-new time bank for creative workers in Pittsburgh that connects makers all across the city in the spirit of collaborative work.

A time bank allows people to exchange time, doing hands on work and sharing skills.  Each hour of time spent working on someone else’s project will be redeemed for time on your own projects.

CLX_Launch board

What better way is there to get to know your community while learning new skills?

Especially in Pittsburgh, with such a vibrant and active artist community, a time bank seems to be an important resource to have. I’ve heard so many people say over the years they wanted to learn a new skill, or needed help on a project or two. We’re hoping Creative Labor Exchange can facilitate in all kinds of exchanges.


A time bank works like this: When you need help on a project, just post a request on the Facebook page. Once you get a response you can work out the details with one of the members of the CLX community. When they come over to help you on your project, you pay them in hours instead of dollars. The same thing happens in reverse: you earn hours by helping others on their projects. Spend your hours for help on small tasks or save up for a huge undertaking. What’s important is strengthening the creative community through collaboration.

Time banking may sound like a new and foreign idea, but actually, time banking began in the early 1980s USA. Since then the concept has grown to 33 other countries with the help of Robert Wood Johnson foundation that invested 1.2 million dollars in 1990 to pilot time banking. Edgar S. Cahn, the founder of time banking, went on to study it philosophically, in particular it’s ability to solve what he thought to be three interlocking problems of America:

  1. Growing inequality in access by those at the bottom to the most basic goods and services
  2. Increasing social problems stemming from the need to rebuild community
  3. Growing disillusion with public programs designed to address these problems

According to Cahn though, the root of all these problems was the unwillingness of social service organizations to enroll the help of those they were trying to help. Time banking had the unique ability to enable both individuals and communities to help themselves.

Creative Labor Exchange isn’t promising to solve any of the above problems, but it’s an interesting approach to creating a community I want to live in. I love Pittsburgh because a stroll down the street means you’re bound to meet your co-worker’s cousin, or your ex-boyfriend’s grandma, or your barber’s boyfriend. I’m convinced everyone is nice to each other in case it gets back to their grandmother that they were rude through a cousin, or ex or barber. I like that accountability and the close-knit yet wide community I live in.

I hope CLX is just an an extension of that - an incentive to be a good neighbor.

Mr Rogers would love that.

Why I’m so excited to have a time bank in Pittsburgh:

  1. A resource to mine for skills/labor/instruction in any field.
    Have a side project you’ve been putting off? No excuses now! With every additional member your resources grow. Pour that concrete countertop. Learn how to play the mandolin. Find out why your car is making that weird sound. Dream big!

  2. Meet your community.
    Collaborate with people in your neighborhood you wouldn’t have otherwise known. This can only strengthen your community and make you appreciate where you live. Maybe Mary down the block can finally help you finish that comic book you’ve dreamt of making.

  3. Sharing your dormant resources.
    Whether you realize it or not, you’re sitting on some valuable resources. Don’t let those piano lessons you got 20 years ago sit wasted. That recipe for stuffed grape leaves that’s been in your family for ages can be exactly what someone needs. It’s delightful to find value in something you found joy in the past.

  4. Learning by teaching.
    You’ve heard it before – the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. If anybody wants to learn how to play Mad World very poorly I’m your gal! I’ll only get better I assume…

  5. Dollar saved by investing in community
    I’m still amazed that any given weekend, I can arrange to get lessons in video production, play a set of drums, or mend up all those clothes I have in my closet. For free! Or better yet, by investing time into doing something for a fellow member. Save a buck, help a neighbor.

We’ve only just begun but I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of projects come out of this. In addition to being a resource for creative labor, we hope to create a community of creative people and have more regular events to attend and meet/learn. Stay tuned for future events and keep CLX in mind next time you help on a project.

plus get some sick buttons

Boost the potential of your own creative work and Get involved in the creative process of others!

CLX_Ray with wine

Phyllis wanted me to include a picture of myself to “interest my readers”. I hope you’re “interested” to learn that I hold my glass like a moron.

Now that you know all about time banking, put it to use!


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