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Amtrak offers free seats to writers, allowing for inspiration on the rails

Amtrak is acknowledging the unique writing environment a long train ride provides -- and they're turning that inspiration into a "residency" program. Sounds like a great way to travel across Pennsylvania...

What, exactly, is the appeal of writing on a train? In a phone interview with The Wire, [Jessica] Gross described the train ride as a "unique environment for creative thought," one that "takes you out of normal life." She won't find much disagreement. Now more writers (The Wire's staff included) are clamoring for their own Amtrak residency. 

“I’ve seen a billion tweets from other writers saying ‘I want one of these’,” Gross said, probably being a tad hyperbolic, but it's true that once Amtrak actually does start offering writers' residencies regularly, they're going to be very popular. Julia Quinn, social media director for Amtrak, tells The Wire that there has been "overwhelming demand" from people interested in the program – part of the reason the company is intent on turning this into a regular operation.


Original source: The Wire
Read the complete story here.

Two PA eateries make Alan Richman's best of 2014 list

Esteemed GQ food critic Alan Richman has released his list of the 25 best restaurants for 2014 -- two Philly spots made the list, Avance and Pizzeria Vetri.

Not everyone is going to appreciate Pizzeria Vetri for the reasons I do, but then I’m a fussy guy when it comes to pizza crust. To summarize: I’m no fan of the famous pies of Naples, the city considered the bastion of pizza, where every Italian will tell you to go for pizza even if his family runs a pizzeria in his own home town. The problem is that true Neapolitan pies come out of the oven with soft, puffy crusts that turn soggy in seconds.

Chef Marc Vetri, famous for a fine-dining restaurant named after him, has created a neo-Neapolitan crust. It looks Neapolitan. It tastes Neapolitan. But it’s fundamentally different, as though he did DNA research on pizza and eliminated the gene that turns the crust wet. It’s the newest step forward in the evolution of the great American pizza crust, this one light and supple but retaining a smidgeon of crispness.


Original source: GQ
Read the complete list here.

Mormon Church tackles Philly development projects

The Mormon Church has announced big development plans in Philadelphia's Logan Square neighborhood.

The development on the 1600 block of Vine Street, which is the northern border of Philadelphia’s downtown area, would consist of a 32-story tower containing 258 apartments, as well as 13 rental townhomes and the 24,000-square-foot meeting house where members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would worship and hold community events.

Designed by Robert A. M. Stern Architects, the project is planned for the block next to a Mormon temple that is already under construction and due to be completed in 2016.

While the temple will be reserved for major religious ceremonies, in keeping with Mormon tradition, the new meeting house will include a chapel for regular services, meeting rooms and classrooms for community and recreational events, officials said in announcing the project on Feb. 12.

Alan Greenberger, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, said the temple and the planned Mormon housing and retail complex — which would be built on a parking lot — occupy two “unspoken for” blocks between the business district and the northern section of the city.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Support for gay marriage grows in the state

Recent polling has shown an increased support for gay marriage in the state.

"Fifty-four percent of Pennsylvanian’s now support gay marriage," says Terry Madonna, political science professor and pollster at Franklin and Marshall College. He says roughly 70-percent of young voters believe in marriage equality and the older voters who do not support it are not as strongly opposed as they once were.

Original source: CBS News
Read the complete story here.

Rule change could be in the works for the state's distilleries

A potential rule change could make life easier for the state's growing stable of small distilleries.

Pennsylvania's small distilleries, four of which operate in the Pittsburgh area, could soon be shipping directly to at-home customers thanks to a rule change being considered by the state.

The state's Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which reviews and recommends nonlegislative policy changes, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board have been vetting a proposed rule that would "permit licensed limited distilleries and distilleries to deliver their products directly to consumers [and] retail licensees, [similar] to licensed limited wineries."

The proposed policy change originates out of Act 113 of 2011, which was passed in order to give the state's small distilleries "the same privileges enjoyed by licensed limited wineries."

At a meeting set for Feb. 27, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission will have the opportunity to affirm the new regulations based on feedback received from the Liquor Control Board last month. If the commission approves the final version, the new rules would be submitted to the Office of the Attorney General for review and approval, a process that could take up to 30 days.


Original source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Read the complete story here.

Comcast makes a move to buy Time-Warner Cable

Comcast makes another big move, making a play for Time Warner Cable.

Already the dominant player in providing pay television services to American consumers, Comcast announced on Thursday a deal to buy Time Warner Cable, which will create a behemoth that will dominate the media industry.

It is the second transformative deal for Comcast in recent years, coming just months after it completed an acquisition of NBC Universal, the TV and movie studio. And the deal, if completed, could have impacts on consumers across the country, though it is unlikely to reduce competition in many markets.

Describing the deal as “a friendly, stock-for-stock transaction,” Comcast will acquire 100 percent of Time Warner Cable’s 284.9 million shares outstanding, in a deal worth about $45.2 billion in stock value.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

Quail eggs from PA make it onto state dinner menu

The state dinner menu in honor of President François Hollande of France will feature quail eggs from Pennsylvania alongside other domestic delicacies.

In a nod to French cuisine, the menu will meld all-American food with French flair, set against a backdrop of purple irises and the music of the Bronx-raised, Grammy-winning artist Mary J. Blige.

The meal will include quail eggs from Pennsylvania and American Osetra caviar from the president’s adopted home state of Illinois, as well as 12 kinds of potatoes.

Michelle Obama’s fingerprints are especially evident in the salad course, featuring a “winter garden salad” of what the White House called petite mixed radishes, merlot lettuce and baby carrots inspired by the first lady’s kitchen garden.

The main course will be a dry-aged rib eye of beef, brought in from a family farm in Colorado and topped with blue cheese from Vermont.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete source here.

Visit the home of President James Buchanan in Lancaster

Celebrate President's Day with a trip to the home of James Buchanan in Lancaster; this feature is part of The Patriot-News' 'Not Far by Car' series.

After a brief orientation at the Lancaster Historical Society's new Visitor Center, you'll be greeted at the back door of Buchanan's brick mansion by a guide dressed as a servant, said Patrick Clarke, director of Wheatland.

Buchanan had five or six servants. Miss Hetty, his housekeeper, took care of him for more than 30 years.

Living history actors will welcome you to Wheatland as if it were the fall of 1856. Buchanan was the Democratic Party's nominee for president; his home was campaign headquarters.

Original source: The Patriot-News
Read the complete story here.


Figure skater Johnny Weir talks Sochi with Philadelphia Magazine

Fashion icon and figure skater Johnny Weir -- who is helping call the events in Sochi -- took the time to talk with Philadelphia Magazine.

Before this year, I thought Sochi was a kind of Japanese ice cream. Where is it, exactly?
Sochi is a beautiful resort town that was made famous by Stalin and the elite from the Soviet Party. It’s on the Black Sea. When I tell people I’m going to Russia, they say, “Oh my God, you’re going to freeze to death.” First of all, I have furs. But second of all, Sochi enjoys a really temperate climate.

Now that you’ve retired and reigning Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek has dropped out, I have no idea who is competing. The people most likely to be on that medal stand?
You’re looking at Canadian Patrick Chan. He’s the reigning world champion going into this Olympics, and he’s skating very well. He set world records last year and then had them beaten by Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who I believe is 18 [ed: 19, but close enough] and is just a phenom. I actually designed his costume for the free program.


Original source: Philadelphia Magazine
Read the complete interview here.

State develops app for mapping PA bridges

A new app will help the state better manage its small bridges -- and to rediscover the "missing" ones.

Pennsylvania keeps detailed information on its larger bridges because it uses federal funds to help maintain and repair those whose spans are more than 20 feet across. All smaller bridges, thousands of which exist within one of the largest northeastern states, are the responsibility of nearby local towns or municipalities. Because the state wasn't responsible for their maintenance, over time locations of the bridges disappeared from the records.

"We knew we wanted to be able to holistically view the complete road and bridge system," said Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Planning Specialist for the Bridge Program Matthew D. Long. "But we didn't have a good way to make that happen other than collecting piles of paperwork from our planning partners, which would have to then be driven into the state office."

Instead, Long and the state created an app whereby local transportation planners working for counties and municipalities could survey the roads and bridges in their local areas, and report that information back to the state quickly and accurately.


Original source: GCN
Read the complete story here.



POLITICO Magazine explores the reinvention of Pittsburgh

POLITICO Magazine takes a deep dive into Pittsburgh with a cover package on its rebirth. The lead feature is titled, "The Robots That Saved Pittsburgh":

“Roboburgh,” the boosterish moniker conferred on the city by the Wall Street Journal in 1999 and cited endlessly in Pittsburgh’s marketing materials ever since, may have been premature back then, but it isn’t now: Pittsburgh, after decades of trying to remake itself, today really does have a new economy, rooted in the city’s rapidly growing robotic, artificial intelligence, health technology, advanced manufacturing and software industries. It’s growing in population for the first time since the 1950s, and now features regularly in lists like “the Hottest Cities of the Future” and “Best Cities for Working Mothers.”

“The city is sort of in a sweet spot,” says Sanjiv Singh, a Whittaker acolyte at Carnegie Mellon who is working on the first-of-its-kind pilotless medical evacuation helicopter for the Marines. “It has the critical mass of talent you need, it’s still pretty affordable and it has corporate memory—the people here still remember when the place was an industrial powerhouse.”


Original source: POLITICO Magazine
Read the complete stories here.

Great American Outdoor Show comes to Harrisburg

Following a year of controversy, sportsmen (and women) descended on the capital this week for the Great American Outdoor Show.

Attendees waded through 650,000 square feet of space in search of the latest and greatest in outdoor merchandise, from guns and bows, to boats and quads, to stands and decoys, to jerky and stoves. There were outfitters for Canadian fishing excursions and big game African hunts, plus plenty of demonstrations and seminars...Up to 230,000 people are expected to visit the show between now and its Feb. 9 conclusion.

Original source: Scranton Times-Tribune
Read the complete story here.

PA filmmaker tackles 'Kids for Cash' scandal

Luzerne County's Robert May has made documentary about the area's notorious "Kids for Cash" controversy. 

Robert May's powerful and chilling documentary, Kids for Cash, traces the epic misdeeds of a pair of judges in Luzerne County that resulted in almost 3,000 convictions - juveniles sent to detention centers in handcuffs and shackles, often for years, for committing what one disbelieving observer would later term "typical adolescent misbehavior."

What was in it for Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, the Wilkes-Barre judges at the heart of the scandal? Well, it was that "extra judicial compensation" - $2.6 million in what the judges termed a "finder's fee," for getting a privately owned juvenile detention center up and running in the county. The fact that a sizable percentage of the youths who came before Ciavarella between 2000 and 2007 were sent to the center he and Conahan helped build seemed like a quid pro quo. When the revelations exploded in January 2009, the media pegged it the "Kids for Cash" affair.


Original source: The Philadelphia Inquirer
Read the complete story here.

New York Times takes note of new Comcast tower

The big Comcast tower news got Philadelphia some national press, including in the New York Times.

The influx of young technology employees to a building designed by a prestigious international architect is likely to encourage boosters of a city that has long harbored an inferiority complex because it lacks either the financial power of New York or the political clout of Washington.

“This new development really speaks to a more favorable outlook for the city,” said [Michael Silverman, managing director in the Philadelphia office of Integra Realty Resources].

The $1.2 billion building will create 20,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction, adding $2.75 billion to the local economy, according to Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, who announced the project, along with Comcast officials, on Jan. 15.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.

'Why is Pennsylvania so haunted' asks Google autocomplete

Type "Why is Pennsylvania so" into Google, and you might be surprised by the results: haunted, conservative, good at wrestling, weird.

We are a nation, in other words, of curious people. And our curiosity can lead us to weird places (those places including, apparently, states that are haunted). We know all this in part because of the good folks at@Amazing_maps, who ran Autocomplete searches for each of the 50 states in our Union, tracking the top search returns (as they stand as of January 2014). They then mapped those results. Those results are ... revealing.

Original source: @Amazing_maps via The Atlantic
Check out the whole post here.


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