Monthly Archives: July 2010


I happen to be a pretty big zombie enthusiast.  Even if I haven’t watched, read, and played every zombie-related thing in the world, I thought that I at least knew what was out there.  And yet, it completely slipped past me that The Walking Dead graphic novels are going to be a show on AMC this October.  (Warning – if you don’t like creepy graphic zombie gore, don’t click this link to the show’s official website.)

If you could use a fix to keep you going until then, we have you covered!  (Not surprisingly, I am nowhere near the only zombie enthusiast at the library.)  Here are two thorough examinations of the library’s collection –  Pittsburgh: City of Bridges, City of Zombies by Amy and Zombie Invasion by MA.   Wes wrote a lovely birthday tribute to George Romero, and specifically mentioned The Walking Dead series in his Graphic Novel post.  The Walking Dead also appeared on Renee’s list of 100  Best Graphic Novels.  On the Carnegie Library’s website, there are two booklists about zombies and a list of movies by George Romero.

And if you’re caught up on the canon and looking for something new, there are currently over 100 books listed under the catalog subject heading Zombies — Fiction, 67 things under Zombies — Comic books, strips, etc., and 36 under Zombie Films.   I can’t vouch for most of these titles personally, so if you check any of them out, let me know what you think!


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Happy Birthday NASA!

Space ShuttleDid you know that today is NASA’s 52nd birthday?  On July 29, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to direct US space policy.

This birthday seems rather ironic though, due to the fact that the orbiter vehicles (commonly known as the space shuttles) retire next year.  Although they were not designed to fly forever, the hole left by their departure leaves many, including those who work with the orbiters, wondering what is next as far as the future of the United States in outer space. 

So when you are looking to be inspired and wondering what exactly goes on up there above the Earth’s atmosphere, and there aren’t the regularly occurring rocket and space shuttle missions to stir you, remember that you can still be encouraged by reading about NASA and outer space in books.

Here are a few suggestions…

Failure is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz

Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age by Greg Klerkx

NASA/Art : 50 Years of Exploration by James Dean and Bertram Ulrich

Scientific American Inventions from Outer Space: Everyday Uses for NASA Technology by David Baker

And a video or two…

Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon

Roving Mars


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Hugo Chávez: Happy Birthday

Today marks the 56th birthday of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. His often bellicose brand of “petro-populism” angers some, and empowers others. No matter what side of the  Chávez  argument you come down on, Carnegie Library has you covered when it comes to learning more about this polarizing political figure. We have a number of great books on the man:

The Battle Of Venezuela / Michael McCaughan.
New York : Seven Stories Press, 2005

The Chavez Code : Cracking US Intervention In Venezuela / Eva Golinger ; foreword by Saul Landau.
Northampton, Mass. : Olive Branch Press, 2006

Hugo Chávez : Oil, Politics, And The Challenge To The United States / Nikolas Kozloff
New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2006

Hugo Chávez / Cristina Marcano
New York : Random House, 2007

¡Hugo! : The Hugo Chávez Story From Mud Hut To Perpetual Revolution / Bart Jones.
Hanover, N.H. : Steerforth Press, 2007

Rethinking Venezuelan Politics : Class, Conflict, And The Chávez Phenomenon / Steve Ellner.
Boulder, Colo. : Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008

The Silence And The scorpion : The Coup Against Chávez And The Making Of Modern Venezuela / Brian A. Nelson.
Publisher New York : Nation Books, c2009

The Threat Closer To Home : Hugo Chávez And The War Against America / Douglas Schoen and Michael Rowan.
Publisher New York : Free Press, 2009

You can also get a quick biographical snapshot of Chávez using our databases. Love him or hate him, knowing a little more about this intriguing political figure could help you at your next cocktail party!


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Goulash and Fruit Salad

My wife Mara and I spent a wonderful week in Budapest, Hungary at the beginning of the month.  After suffering delays here and at JFK (as an aside you’d think terminal number whatever would have something higher caliber to eat in than a Burger King,) we arrived to a city singularly suited for visitors. That is if you like history, food, walking, convenient trains and buses, architecture, music and literature.  For bonus points you can throw in public mineral baths too.

Very sunburned men playing chess in water.

104 degree sulphur pool.

Beyond just wandering around we took some self guided walking tours and 2 quasi-organized group tours with an organization called Free Budapest Walking Tours.

Chain Bridge

Walking over to Buda.

The company ostensibly makes its money on tips.  I refer to them as quasi-organized because while the tour is scheduled and well-prepared – who comes and how many people there are isn’t.  The information simply says to meet at the Lion Fountain at Vörösmarty square at 9:30 or 3:30. (For future reference you should note that the public fountains in Budapest with cherubs, people, animals or gods spitting water are suitable for drinking from; it’s all potable and refreshing.) One of the tours we took was the Free Communist Walking Tour.  It was about two and a half hours, and was more about the whats, rather than the wheres; the specific sites were less important than learning about what happened.  The tour touched on the

Soviet Liberation Memorial

Soviet Liberation Memorial

Soviet “liberation” of Hungary in 1945, Hungary as a Warsaw Pact nation, the 1956 uprising, daily life, and the collapse of the Communist regime(s) in 1989-1990.

Our guide, Gabor, was 39 year old university educated political economist who labeled himself a “Cold War Kid.”  He gave a good overview of  the history and personalities,  as well as an honest assessment of how he grew up; what being a “communist” meant as a child, and how the collapse of the iron curtain affected him and the country.  There were only a few of us in a group of 25 who actually grew up and remembered the period.  We were fascinated to find out that his Saturday mornings were almost like ours – watching Tom & Jerry, the Flintstones, some English cartoons and Czech animations.  He never felt any sense of deprivation or that he was missing something since his standards of comparison were not the same as ours.  There were some specific socio-economic barometers he mentioned though, that were indicative of the differences between east and west at the time.

Three “events” stood out for him.  The first was the arrival of bananas, which only came 3-4 times a year and activated the universal neighborhood grapevine system (like how we all knew the ice cream truck was around.)  Somehow the word got out, and mothers across the neighborhood would send their children out to stand in line for them.  The second happening was the arrival of fresh citrus, like the bananas an occasion necessitating the use of the local grapevine and juvenile line sitters. The last indicator of ideological feast/famine were the several parades held each year.  May Day, Liberation Day and Independence Day were all celebrated with parades and mass gatherings – kind of like Red Square without the ICBMs and Brezhnev.  Why were they significant?  Balloons.  The only time Gabor and his friends remember being able to get balloons were at these parades. Of all the things we might take for granted.

– Richard

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If Google Vanished

Hypothetical speculation is a fun sport most people like to indulge in from time to time.  Some of us, for example, like to argue about who would win in a fight between a grizzly bear and a wolverine (or, Wolverine, or The Wolverine Brigade).  Others debate the comparative greatness of various sports heroes, dead presidents, or Mexican artists.  The only limits to the game are your creativity and imagination.

Library workers, being a special kind of nerdy, often consider scenarios like this one:

Google buys every major search tool and is then shut down as a monopoly, and in the same week Wikipedia goes bankrupt. Choose three freely available websites as the best starting points for the widest possible range of inquiries.

–Joseph Janes in I’m Sorry, You’re Out

Never ones to resist a challenge,  your crack team of information mavens here at Main Library pondered the question, then came up with the following list of web resources we would use to help answer your questions, in the event of Googlepedia apocalypse.
Short introductions to every topic under the sun.

An all-purpose music, movies and gaming portal.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Research Databases
Free to you, because we paid for it!

A searchable collection of popular links people like you found useful.

Encyclopedia Britannica
A notable name in encyclopedias opens up its treasury of goodness.

The Internet Movie Database
Titles, actors, roles and more, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Visual and verbal guides for doing and making just about anything.

The Internet Public Library married The Librarians’ Index to the Internet! This is their baby.

Medline Plus
The National Library of Medicine tackles all your health dilemmas.

The QuestionPoint Ready Reference Wiki
Jam-packed with useful links, assembled by librarians.
A useful, diverse, all-purpose search portal.
Dictionaries, thesauri, quotations, and a translator. Mighty!

TV Tropes
Specialized wiki for TV themes and concepts.
An excellent starting point for credible info on U.S. Government services.

Find books in libraries all over the world, or close to home.

Most of the sites mentioned here can already be found via the library’s Ready Reference Links Page, so feel free to bookmark it, or save it as a “favorite” in your browser — it contains a number of other neat and useful sources, too, like Weather Underground and GetHuman.

When do Google and Wikipedia work for you?  Where do they fall short?  What are your favorite free web resources?  Nerdy information herders want to know!

–Leigh Anne


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I Search: Dvořák and Dvorsky

Right now, the Pittsburgh Symphony is hosting an institute for teachers called Dvořák in America, developed by scholar Joseph Horowitz.  It’s a clever idea to use the visit of the Czech composer in the 1890s as a way to study American history at the turn of the twentieth century.

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

I have done some of my own research about Dvořák, though it was far less enlightening.

In 4th or 5th grade, we were assigned to write a paper called an “I Search.”  I was a classical music fan and claimed Dvořák was my favorite composer.   I also knew that I had a great-grandfather with the last name Dvorsky.  My young, naïve brain put the two together and I thought maybe we’re related!  So that became my research topic.  For the sake of my present-day pride, I hope that back then I quickly learned:

1) The Czech village of Nelahozeves (near Prague) where Dvořák was born is approximately 800 miles from Vilnius, Lithuania, where my great-grandfather originated.

2) My great-grandfather’s real last name was Dvarackas and was simply changed upon immigrating to the U.S.

3) Most importantly, lots and lots of people from Eastern Europe have similar names to Dvořák.  I grew up in WASPy suburban Denver where the phone book didn’t have the dozens and dozens of Dvoraks, Dvorchaks, Dvorchiks, Dvorskys, etc. that we have here in Pittsburgh.

Oh well.  I’m glad to see that Dvořák is still inspiring research.  Come to the Music Department to do your own Dvořák research, reading and listening, and visit the Pennsylvania Department to research your family history.

— Tim


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Rain? Let It!

Saturday, July 17, the First Floor hosted “Gardening for Water Conservation.” Juliette Jones, Education Specialist of Sustainable Programs at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, delivered a smart, engaging presentation about water in home landscapes.

Her timely talk reminded me of a chore I need to complete. Last month a plumber removed a broken cast iron pipe that one of my downspouts drained into. The clogged pipe froze last winter and cracked. Now instead of sending rain from the roof into the city sewer, I have the opportunity to direct it into a rain barrel.

As soon as I get a barrel, I’ll use collected rain to hand water nearby pots and raised beds. Since a rain storm will likely supply more liquid than one barrel can contain, Juliette Jones suggested using the barrel’s overflow to grow a rain garden.

A rain garden is dug more deeply than a conventional garden, usually four to eight inches, forming a shallow pool. Full of deep rooted plants, during a rainstorm the garden quickly fills with water that slowly filters into the ground.

Phipps Conservatory is a member of The Three Rivers Rain Garden Alliance, whose Web site explains why rain gardens are valuable elements of sustainable landscapes.

On the surface, a rain garden is the same wild flowers and other native plants you’d expect to see in any garden. But the difference runs deep. During a storm or shower, the rain garden soaks up a few inches of water runoff from a roof, driveway, or other paved surface. That water slowly seeps into the ground instead of heading for the nearest storm drain.

Why does that matter?

It’s all about runoff. As our region’s forests, farmland and other green spaces are paved over for highways, housing developments and shopping centers, the amount of impervious surface continues to grow. All this “progress” paves over the ground’s natural ability to absorb rainwater.

In many local communities, sewage and storm water systems are still connected underground. It takes as little as a tenth of an inch of rainfall to overload them, causing sewage to overflow into streams, yards and rivers. And even where storm water doesn’t enter the sewage system, runoff follows storm drains and surface paths, picking up pollutants that contaminate our rivers.

The Rain Garden Alliance provides lists of plants native to Southwestern Pennsylvania for both sunny and shady sites. These plants tolerate wet feet as well as extended dry periods. They provide habitat for birds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects, which is good for the entire garden.

From a Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy blog post, "Calming the storms in Schenley Park" with a new rain garden.

In the neighborhood 

From CLP – Main, take a short walk up Schenley Drive to visit a newly planted rain garden at the Schenley Park Café and Visitor Center. p 




Ideas and instruction

From the Library’s shelves . . .







— Julie


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Literary Dustup: Twain vs Cooper, Cather vs Twain

The year 2010 marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of Mark Twain, the 125th anniversary of Twain’s most famous work, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the 100th anniversary of his death.  Rather than highlight the same old hoary chestnuts, I thought I’d feature some of my personal Twain favorites that are less well-known.

That’s what I thought.  However, as is often the case when writing a post, I hit an interesting detour along the way.

My odds-on favorite piece of Twain writing is the essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,”  in which the famous son of Hannibal, Missouri, finds, in two-thirds of a page of the novel The Deerslayer, 114 of a possible 115 literary offenses.  Twain sets out 19 rules of romantic fiction and finds Cooper in violation of 18 of them.  This is a must-read for anyone who has suffered through even a chapter of Cooper’s infamously turgid prose.  In high school, my class was assigned The Pathfinder and, upon asking around,  I learned that I was the only one to read the complete novel, everyone else resorting to Monarch Notes (a precursor of Cliffs’ Notes).

My colleagues all got either a B or an A; I got a C-.

While beginning to write about another of my favorite Twain items, Letters from the Earth, I ran across something I’d neither seen nor heard of before: an article entitled “Mark Twain is a Slob” by Pittsburgh’s own Willa Cather.  Originally published in the Nebraska State Journal, on May 5, 1895, it begins with this blistering assault:

If there is anything which should make an American sick and disgusted at the literary taste of his country, and almost swerve his allegiance to his flag it is that controversy between Mark Twain and Max O’Rell, in which the Frenchman proves himself a wit and a gentleman and the American shows himself little short of a clown and an all around tough.

Ouch.  A little bit of karmic payback for Mr. Clemens, perhaps.  Yet I couldn’t help thinking that, if he remained objective for a moment, he might have appreciated the quality and, well, snarkiness of the grand dame’s invective.

Twain trashes Cooper, Cather trashes Twain.  Though not quite the literary equivalent of a WWE Smackdown, both articles make for mighty entertaining reading.

Since it’s Twain’s multiple anniversaries and since I’m determined to get to all those favorites I mentioned,  let’s return to him for some last words.  The premise of Letters from the Earth might serve as material for an upscale (think Bravo, think A & E) cable sitcom: Satan writes a series of letters to heaven, reporting on the current very sad state of affairs down here on Earth.  Written just prior to, and published after, his death, Twain sets out some startling invective concerning the deplorable affairs of man.    Here is the opening to Letter III:

You have noticed that the human being is a curiosity. In times past he has had (and worn out and flung away) hundreds and hundreds of religions; today he has hundreds and hundreds of religions, and launches not fewer than three new ones every year. I could enlarge that number and still be within the facts.

One of his principle religions is called the Christian. A sketch of it will interest you. It sets forth in detail in a book containing two million words, called the Old and New Testaments. Also it has another name — The Word of God. For the Christian thinks every word of it was dictated by God — the one I have been speaking of.

It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.

Of course, we must hasten to remember that this is Satan speaking, not Mr. Twain.  Oh, no, not Mr. Twain at all.

And then there is Mark Twain On the Damned Human Race, which was published in Letters from the Earth and as a separate book as well.   Herein, Twain makes his case that man is, in fact, not a higher animal, but belongs to the lower animals.  Based on “a series of experiments” conducted at the London Zoological Gardens, Twain notes that man is the only animal that is cruel, is the only animal that bands together and deals in that “atrocity of atrocities, War.”  He is the only animal who enslaves.  Man is the Religious Animal, he is “the only animal that has the True Religion – several of them.”   Man is the only animal to have the great defect: “moral sense.”    In the great satiric tradition of Swift, who proposed that man is not a rational animal but an animal capable of reasoning, Twain goes one step further: he notes that “It seems plain to me that whatever he is he is not a reasonable animal.”

Finally, in this year of Twain anniversaries, there comes a first: the publication later this year of the full, unexpurgated Autobiography of Mark Twain, concerning which Twain left instructions that it not be published until 100 years after his death.

And so, 100 years later, here it is, coming soon, to a library (not yet in our catalog, but on order) and bookstore near you.

I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to imagine what had to wait 100 years to be said, since he seems to have pretty much touched all the bases while he was alive.   Thankfully or no, we won’t have to imagine very much longer.

– Don

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What to do in the off season

You know you’ve been wondering what to do until football season starts … now you have it. 

One of the many treasures you’ll find among our craft books is:  ……………………………………………………………………………………
Rosey Grier's Needlepoint for MenRosey Grier's Needlepoint for Men, Back Cover

Rosey says it all on the back cover:

“Rosey Grier, immortalized in needlepoint – and by my own hands to boot! If anyone would have told me that I would go from football to needlepoint, I would have laughed in their face. In fact, the whole thing started as a joke, but it’s turned into one of the most enjoyable and satisfying things I’ve ever done. I try to turn other guys on to needlepoint wherever I go – from the dude sitting next to me on a plane to the guy working behind the scenes on a movie set. ‘Smile all you want,’ I tell them, ‘but if you try it once, you’ll keep on coming back for more’, and that’s the truth brother.”

I’m convinced, are you?



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A Well-Fueled Debate: Natural gas drilling in your backyard?

Marcellus Shale Gas Play, Appalachian Basin

Source: Energy Information Administration based on data from WVGES, PA DCNR, OH DGS, NY DEC, VA DMME, USGS, Wrightstone (2009). Only wells completed after 1-1-2003 are shown. Updated March 17, 2010. (Click image to go to EIA site.)

Natural gas drilling has become a hot issue recently in Pennsylvania, even as close as Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood and the Powdermill Nature Reserve.  The question of whether or not to drill raises a number of political and personal concerns as abstract as the economy and as immediate as the water we drink.

On one hand, companies and individuals could make substantial profits. Communities could benefit from job creation and funds from leases and taxes. On the other, they risk costs to enviromental and public health. Natural gas could bridge the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, since it releases 25% less carbon than coal. Extracting it, however, could also result in lasting damage to watersheds and public drinking water, and the people and wildlife who depend on them.

Typically, proponents of drilling include the companies, people, and organizations who hope to profit from the wells. Opponents include people wary of the risk to the environment and the danger of disasters. Recent accidents related to extractive industries have populated headlines with stories of  the catastrophic BP Gulf Oil spill, last Wednesday’s Clairton County coke works explosion, the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion, and natural gas-specific incidents like the Clearfield County shale well blowout and an explosion at a two-day-old gas well near Moundsville, WV.  Given these events’ casualties and devastating impact and the many questions related to drilling, many politicians and citizens are calling for more studies, cautious timelines, and regulatory legislation before new drilling endeavors proceed.

The source of the gas is the Marcellus Shale formation, which extends about 1 to 2 miles below the surface of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. This shale contains natural gas. Break the rock, and the gas releases. Recent advances in drilling techniques have made accessible areas where drilling was previously too expensive. That means that areas above the Marcellus Shale are now appealing drill sites, and companies have been approaching landowners–even in highly-populated areas like Pittsburgh–for permission to drill below their properties.

To extract the resources, drillers combine two techniques. One is horizontal drilling, which makes more shale accessible than the old drilling technique. The other, and the more controversial, is hydraulic fracturing (also called hydrofracturing, water fracturing and fracking). In hydraulic fracturing, drillers blast a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the shale to fracture it, releasing the gas into a pipeline. The fracking process raises the most alarm among those opposed to shale drilling because of the chemicals in the frac fluid. In response to public concerns, in June the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a list of the chemicals involved in fracking. Many are hazardous. Residents of Dimock, PA claim that methane released in a nearby drilling operation poisoned their well water, and some evidence suggests that fracking can also contaminate groundwater, but companies and government investigators maintain that the cause of such pollution is unclear. An article from The New York Times presents a thorough, well-balanced analysis of the many facets of the natural gas debate in Pennsylvania, including the influence of the region’s coal-mining history, the industry’s past in Texas, and New York State’s recent natural gas debate.

A source anyone reserching shale drilling is likely to come across is Gasland, an impassioned and controversial TV documentary that has sparked many people’s interest in the discussion of natural gas drilling. While the industry issued a rebuttal to the film’s claims, and some critics disagree with its approach, Gasland’s website does offer some informational material and advice about activism, and the film certainly appeals to the emotional side of the debate. (To get an idea of the radically different spins put on the issue, compare the Gasland site’s description of the fracking process with this one from an industry coalition.)

Links in this post connect to many articles and resources. For more information, also see NPR’s informative series discussing shale drilling. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lists all of its coverage related to local natural gas issues. The PA DEP also offers several fact sheets about Marcellus Shale drilling on its website. Recently, the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments developed a data-sharing tool called Fractracker to “provide citizens with a common place to share their experiences regarding natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale play.” The CLP Reference Department has compiled a comprehensive list of printed, audiovisual and web resources about energy, which is sure to be helpful to informing your opinion about natural gas drilling in PA and elsewhere.

Our city and county governments are currently planning their responses to demands for shale drilling in our community. Please do what you can to become informed and active. Whatever your stance on drilling, our drinking water, environment, and neighbors who work at these sites are too precious to take this issue lightly.



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