Saturday, March 31, 2012

Blog Fest Spring 2012 report, part 1

The Spring 2012 edition of Blog Fest was held at Rooney's in Pittston last night, and it was a great time. We did some things differently this time around, and they worked out well. Although we've had "Hello My Name Is" tags in the past, this time we made special "BLOGGER" tags to help identify the bloggers in the crowd more quickly. We also had a blogger sign-in sheet at the door. The idea was that this would help us to say who was there when we started doing the post-fest reports and tagging the photos, but it also worked to let us know who had just walked in through the door. I met several bloggers I might not have otherwise recognized, just by seeing that they had signed in as they arrived.

A photographer from the Times-Leader and a writer from the Citizens' Voice were there. Neither was wearing anything identifying them as press, so we had to judge by the fact that one was carrying a large camera and the other was carrying a pad. (I didn't realize reporters still took notes on pads!) Maybe next time we'll make up special "PRESS" badges.

Citizens' Voice: NEPA Blog Fest draws candidates' attention

Most of the politicians didn't need badges because they were wearing their own campaign buttons. (We tried to get a picture of Matt Cartwright in front of a TV that was showing one of his ads, but we weren't fast enough.) Gene Stilp's people took the regular name badges and marked their own names, followed by "for Gene Stilp" - a very effective way of identifying their association. As far as I could tell, Gene Stilp had the largest and most enthusiastic crowd with him. Plus he had a giant inflatable pig.

In addition to  the bloggers and the politicians and the candidates, there were several people who stopped by to see if Blog Fest lived up to the hype. Several people from the Wilkes-Barre CareerLink's Job Club came to visit, and I was able to help connect them with both politicians who might speak to the group in the future and people who could benefit from taking part in the Job Club. A member of my writing group (who is herself a blogger) also stopped by with her husband, as did several other friends.

Unfortunately my persuasive speaking skills were not adequate to convince the coffee shop owner next door to stay open a few extra hours - during which time he might have doubled his revenue for the week. As the night wore on people became more and more tired of standing and straining to hear and be heard, and many would have appreciated having a quiet place to sit down and talk over coffee. This became especially obvious once the band took the stage around 9:00 and began blasting the hits of the 60's and 70's, making it almost impossible to have a conversation without shouting, even with a person sitting across from you at a table. I'm thinking for next time maybe we could arrange for a quiet acoustic act to play, something that would be more in keeping with what is essentially a mixer and networking event. (Or we could go in another direction entirely and introduce...BLOG FEST KARAOKE! Thrill to NEPA's bloggers belting out their favorite tunes! Judge political candidates based on their singing skills! See competing candidates square off in rap battles! ...hey, it could work!)

All in all it was a very successful event. I was very pleased with the number of non-political bloggers who came out, as well as with the turnout of candidates. The dynamic, as always, was very relaxed and upbeat, and I think as a mixer and networking event Blog Fest was extremely successful. As a bonus, Gort has announced the date of the Fall 2012 Blog Fest: September 21! (Though it's technically the last day of Summer...) So now everybody has nearly six months to plan around this event!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Up on the roof

This was my next-to-last week doing the Blog of the Week at PA Live! on WBRE. For the past seven months I've been parking in the Boscov's parkade next door to WBRE every Tuesday (or almost every Tuesday; those days that I was working after the show I parked at a meter across the street so I could make a quick getaway.) It's given me a reason to visit Boscov's, something I hadn't done in years. A few weeks ago I happened to park on the top deck of the parkade, something I hadn't done in over a decade. The views were beautiful, but I lost sunlight before I could get back to the car. I decided that one of these days when the sun was setting later I had to park up there and remember to bring my camera. This past Tuesday was to be the day.

The stairwell and elevator shaft on the top parking deck of Boscov's in Wilkes-Barre. I went all these years without realizing there was an elevator here. My mom never even realized there were stairs. Someone has tagged this wall. It's hard to read, but it looks like it might say "Gort."

The spires of the Irem Temple, the Masonic hangout in Wilkes-Barre. Looking East down Franklin Street.

The Westmoreland Club seen from street level. This is where the rich and powerful of Luzerne County gather to plot. I think.

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church from ground level.

The Bear Creek Wind Farm seen from the top deck of the Boscov's parkade. The white building on the left is the Bicentennial Building. This is facing east-by-southeast.

Close-up of the wind turbines.

The Market Street Bridge, looking towards Kingston. Facing north.

The backside of Wilkes-Barre. Main Street runs through the middle of this picture. These buildings, which look like so many tenements, present attractive faces to Main Street. Facing south by southwest.

The rooftop array of WBRE. A bit of chain-link fence can be seen at the lower left. This picture and the ones before and after it were taken through a chain-link fence that keeps you from falling off the side of the parkade. (No such fence is at the front, just a low railing separating you from a five-story plunge to Franklin Street. Facing south by southwest again.

Another skyline view. This is mostly to the left of the previous picture. The towers of Penobscot Mountain are visible  to the left of center. Facing south.

St. Stephen's as seen from the top deck of the Boscov's parkade. This building is so large and so close that it couldn't be captured in a single photograph. This is a composite of three photos.

I realized that a building I tried (and failed) to photograph earlier in the day (the sun was behind it) now had favorable lighting conditions. I drove a few blocks across town and took some pictures. This is one of the better ones of "THE WILKES-BARRE CO".

What does that even mean? I have no idea. Does the "CO" stand for "company?" "Colliery?" What were the smokestacks for? How many people worked here at its peak?

UPDATE: I've been informed (and have confirmed) that these last two photos are of the Wilkes-Barre Steam Heat Building, which once provided steam heat to customers throughout Wilkes-Barre. Scranton had a steam heat system when I went to college there in the mid-to-late-80's. The steel-barrel chimneys in the middle of the street, and the great gouts of dirty-smelling water vapor pouring out would have made great photos. I think I took one or two, which I'm sure I have somewhere.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Chasing the banner

It's been a while since I've read Dante's Inferno, or even Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's story with the same setting. But every one of Dante's images tends to stick with you. One of the first things we see in both versions of the story is the Antechamber to Hell. This isn't such a horrible place, as far as such things go. Those who were uncommitted to good or evil in life are condemned to run an eternal foot race here, chasing after an elusive banner while they themselves are pursued by wasps and hornets.

I once told a technophile friend that this was a pretty good image for the eternal pursuit of the next level of technology. Ten years and untold generations of technology later it still seems pretty fitting. Technology is in many ways akin to fashion; what is cool and hip or at least acceptable today becomes stupidly outdated and embarrassing in a few months.

Panels from Crankshaft, March 20-21, 2012. Because you're an idiot if you prefer high-quality CD audio to massively-compressed low-quality MP3's.
The reality is, much technology is still perfectly usable long after fashion has dictated that it is laughably obsolete. VCRs still work, you just can't get videotapes anymore, and besides, everybody has a DVR these days, right? And who needs a forgodssake phone book? You can just look up the numbers you want on your iPhone! - What, you don't have a DVR or an iPhone? Oh, you poor thing. Maybe you can pick one up at Goodwill.

With the recent release of the iPad 3, early adopters are complaining about the patheticness of their first-generation iPads, which they suppose could be used as doorstops or placemats. Ditto with iPhones. If you were to assess the strength of the economy based on the lines outside of Apple Stores on  new product release days, you would have to say that the economy is booming.

It's not. Some people are doing fine, and they're gripped by I-Got-Mine fever, and can't comprehend that anyone anywhere isn't doing as well, and if they aren't, well, there must be something wrong with them, or they're just stupid and lazy. They embrace techsnobbery, where their ownership of the latest gadget is the norm, and anyone who doesn't own it is obviously inferior and backwards. ("Phone books? They still print those?" - actual comment from Facebook.)

In the world of home computers, this is helped along by advertising. Or, more specifically, advertisements. Many older websites are built on older technologies and work just fine on older computers. But the ads displayed on these sites and throughout the Internet often employ the latest, greatest, most resource-demanding technologies. Open the same page you've visited for years using the computer you've visited it with for years, and you may find your computer crashing because the dancing, singing advertisements being displayed this week have put massive demands on your system, demands that it simply can't meet. Eventually you will decide that your little old computer just isn't up to snuff, and you'll give in and buy the latest and greatest model, which will be rendered obsolete in a few months - if it isn't already obsolete when you buy it.

And so it goes. More and more gadgets and toys wind up in the scrap heap as new gadgets and toys come onto the market. This season's must-have tech fashions become next season's "what not to wear." The folks lining up for iPad 3's this week will line up for iPad 4's next month, or next year, or whenever. They will sneer at the poor pathetic losers who struggle along with last year's technology. And they will continue to chase the banner in a never-ending race.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Curdled Sky over Cherry Blossoms

Saturday afternoon (March 24, 2012) I drove home from my writing group (from Scranton to Nanticoke) hoping I could get home before the curdled-sky clouds dissipated. I made it.

I zoomed in on the part of the sky seen in the middle right section of the first photo.
I've observed curdled skies before. Even photographed them. But for some reason, in this post from nearly seven years ago, I mentioned one but didn't show it. I guess this was from those prehistoric days when I had to take a whole roll of pictures first, and then take them to someplace to get developed.  Way back then, the turnaround time from taking a picture and seeing the picture could be weeks, or even longer. So strange...

I realized that the low-light conditions resulting from the cloud cover were ideal for close-up shots of blossoms. (Bright sunlight tends to cause the blossoms to glow so brightly that they become overexposed.) A lot of things have been blooming lately, most of them very early. Daffodils were in bloom about a week ago, before St. Patrick's Day. Forsythia were fully opened by Wednesday or Thursday, March 21 or 22.  Cherries, Bradford Pears ("Dead Fish Trees"), and Magnolias opened up yesterday (March 23) or earlier, and are in full bloom now. (Seven years ago, I noted that cherry trees were in full bloom on April 20, 2005.) Take a look.

Cherry with Forsythia in background

The Year Without a Winter felt like the Year Without a Spring for much of the last week, with temperatures in the 70's even before the Spring Equinox. Temperatures today crashed into more seasonable territory. But everyone wonders what things will be like in the coming months. Has this weather just been a series of anomalies? Or is this the new normal?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wall Street Journal on Fracking

I'm not a huge fan of the Wall Street Journal. I don't go out of my way to read it. So it was pretty odd that on Tuesday, March 13, as I was taking my mom grocery shopping, I spotted this above-the-fold headline in the supermarket's display rack:

Faulty Wells, Not Fracking, Blamed for Water Pollution

Yes, of course, I thought. Blame the water wells for letting themselves get contaminated. I decided I would look the article up when I got home.

I found was wrong in my original assumption.

(The article can be found here. If it's behind a paywall, Google the terms wall street journal fracking wells and open up the cached copy of the article.)

A. Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser with the Environmental Defense Fund who is working with Mr. Boling, agreed. "The groundwater pollution incidents that have come to light to date have all been caused by well construction problems," he said.

Both men are calling for a stronger set of standards for well construction, including better cementing and more testing to ensure that wells and cement have no leaks.

Cement failures have long plagued the industry. Mr. Anderson estimates that cement in about one in 10 wells fails to work properly and requires remedial work. 
The wells being referred to in this article are not drinking water wells, but the natural gas wells themselves. To massively simplify the process, fracking works like this: a deep shaft is drilled into levels of shale far belowground, deep beneath water tables. The shaft turns horizontally to get between shale layers, and a proprietary mixture of water and chemicals is injected into the shaft to shatter the shale and displace the natural gas trapped within. The gas, along with prehistoric water and some residual chemicals from the fracking process, is pumped to the surface through the well, where the gas is extracted and the chemically-contaminated water is put in evaporation ponds.

The problem, according to the Wall Street Journal article, is not from contamination that happens when the mixture of water and chemicals is pumped into the shale layer, since (the industry maintains) this is well below the level of the water table and is isolated from it. (This position is widely disputed, as the article points out.) The problem occurs when the gas/water/chemical mixture is being pumped to the surface. As it goes there it is transported through all of the higher levels of rock, including the water table itself. Cracks in poorly-constructed well casings allow the gas  and chemicals to migrate out of the well and into the layers above, contaminating the soil and the water table around the well and creating the effects that residents around gas drilling sites have experienced.

So, see? Fracking isn't to blame. It's totally innocent.

This seems to me to be a distinction without a difference. A Ford Pinto, for example, is a totally safe car. Crash into it from behind and it won't burn - provided there's no gasoline in it. If you add gasoline, that's a whole other matter. The gasoline is to blame, not the Pinto. Don't be hating on the Pinto for something it didn't do!

The Army Corps of Engineers, in the weeks following the September 2011 floods, declared that Northeastern Pennsylvania has some of the most complex and bewildering geology they had ever encountered. So to accept that companies that have studied fracking in Oklahoma and Texas can declare that fracking in Pennsylvania is completely safe, despite the lack of long-term studies, is naive at best. But even if we accept that assertion, we are faced with the reality that the Wall Street Journal, hardly a mouthpiece for environmentalism, has declared that many natural gas wells themselves are poorly constructed and are leaking toxic chemicals into the environment and poisoning the groundwater supplies for nearby residents. With thousands of natural gas wells in Pennsylvania alone, the industry has its work cut out for it if it is serious about protecting the environment.

Monday, March 19, 2012

NEPA Blog Fest is coming!

NEPA Blog Fest is coming! Born out of the irregular gatherings of bloggers hosted by veteran blogger Gort in a small Wilkes-Barre bar, Blog Fest has become a twice-a-year gathering of bloggers from throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. The Spring Edition of Blog Fest 2012 will be held on Friday, March 30 at Rooney's Irish Pub on 67 South Main Street in Pittston, starting at 6:00 and going until 10:00 or even later.

Past Blog Fests have seen attendance by 100 to 150 people - bloggers, blog readers, politicians, political office-seekers, and just regular folks.  Even last September's inclement weather (which included several feet of water in the first floor of the house of one of the event's organizers) didn't put a damper on things. And, new for this edition of Blog Fest, the nearby Arts SEEN Gallery (71 South Main Street, two doors down from Rooney's) will be staying open for anyone from the Blog Fest who needs to stretch their legs, get some fresh air, and take in some art!

If you're a blogger, a blog reader, are interested in blogs, or are just looking to have a fun, relaxing time with interesting people, come on out to Rooney's in Pittston on March 30 for the NEPA Blog Fest. You'll be glad you did!

Here are some posts that will give you a taste of past Blog Fests:

Fall 2011: Gort42: Some photos from Blogfest
Spring 2011: Pittston Politics: Blogfest turns out great crowd
Fall 2010: Another Monkey: BlogFest: Fall 2010 edition
Spring 2010: Gort42: Blogger meetup post game

You'll find updated information about Blog Fest on NEPA Blogs!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Coffee's Coffee now open in downtown Nanticoke

Nanticoke now has a coffee shop right on Main Street! Coffee's Coffee opened earlier this week in the old McDonald's Newsstand building (directly across the street from Luzerne County Community College's Health Sciences Center), and proprietor Kim Coffee told me she is planning a Grand Opening for Wednesday, March 21, 2012. Read all the details and see all the pictures on my Nanticoke-centered blog, A Blog of Nanticoke!

A Blog of Nanticoke: New Business in Nanticoke: Coffee's Coffee

Quick essentials:

Coffee's Coffee, a coffee shop and cafe in downtown Nanticoke, PA

71 East Main Street in Nanticoke
(the old location of McDonald's Newsstand, across the street from Luzerne County Community College's Health Sciences Center, formerly the Kanjorski Building)

Monday-Friday 6:00 AM - 6:00 PM  
Saturday 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM 
Sunday 7:00 AM - 3:00 PM

Thursday, March 15, 2012

See Venus and Jupiter after sunset!

For the next few nights Venus and Jupiter will be doing a slow, graceful pas de deux in the Western sky after sunset. They're high enough that they'll be visible for a few hours, but it's a special treat to see them in the evening twilight. With a little luck, good eyesight, and a good memory for their positions in the sky relative to the Sun, you might just be able to see them almost anytime during the day!

Jupiter and Venus over Nanticoke, 6:52 PM, March 14, 2012

Astronomy buffs of a certain age may look at this pairing and recall a similar pairing over thirty years ago: the great Triple Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn of 1981.  This was a fantastically beautiful event that took over six months to unfold, as Jupiter and Saturn appeared in the Eastern sky after sunset in the early months of the year, drew close together, switched positions, moved backwards, moved close together again, and then gradually pulled apart, all the while marching together slowly to the West in the sort of (apparent) orbital ballet that had the ancients (and not-so-ancients) throwing their hands up in despair and deciding that things like epicycles made a lot of sense. (If you missed it - well, I recommend keeping yourself healthy if you'd like to see the next one, which takes place in 2238-2239.) For reasons that are really not hard to understand, this event is also known as a Greatest Conjunction.

This isn't that. Far from it. This conjunction will be done in days, not months. Conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter aren't that rare. Still, it's a beautiful sight, and one that's worth taking a few seconds out of your day to glance at and go "wow."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Travel through time with Google Earth

I was comparing a photograph of the Scranton skyline to the Google Earth view of the same scene when I noticed something I've never seen before: a little "1992" near the lower left edge of the Google Earth window. When I hovered over it, the message "Click to see historical imagery from 1992" appeared. Clicking there. I was treated to an old-school black-and-white satellite image of the region from those ancient days before the Internet as we know it existed. But now near the top of the image a bar appeared with setpoints, and forward and back arrows. I could step through all the Google Earth historical images for this view!

The possibilities raced through my head. I thought of the questions I have had that could have been answered with such a tool. One question was, "How much has fracking changed the landscape of Northeastern Pennsylvania?" I immediately traveled to Susquehanna County near Montrose, an area in Northeastern Pennsylvania that has enthusiastically allowed itself to be fracked extensively.  I skipped through the images and found two that addressed my question. Here is an image from October 17, 2008:

And here is that same area less than three years later, on October 7, 2011:

See all the little white squares that have popped up? Those are drilling pads. What was a rolling landscape of farmlands just a few years ago is now fracking territory.

I thought of  a question closer to home. What about the huge bald spot that has appeared on Plymouth Mountain, looming over Nanticoke? It's been there for a few years, but it hasn't been there forever. But what has been there for many years, I'm told, mostly hidden from view, is a strip mine pit that caught my eye (on Google Earth) for the first time a few weeks ago. Here's that location on April 8, 1993:

You can see the strip mine pit just to the left of center. Details are hard to make out in the black-and-white photo, but it appears the surrounding area is still heavily forested.

Here's that scene twelve years and a week later, on April 15, 2005:

And again on September 21, 2005:

October 17, 2008:

And finally, on October 7, 2011:

Keep in mind that this is on the side of a mountain. The houses on the lower right are in Plymouth*, located about two hundred feet downhill from this denuded area. Notice also the erosion gashes that appear throughout the area that has been cleared by trees. Can anyone else see the potential for disaster here?

Many times people have wished they could view a landscape the way it used to be, years ago. Thanks to Google Earth, now you can. This is a potentially useful and important tool for a lot of people. Check it out for yourself!

*Or possibly West Nanticoke.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dealing in absolutes

I am somewhat disturbed that the phrase "Kelvin was a Sith!" yields 0 results on Google. (Until now.)

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Blog Fest (Spring 2012 edition) is coming!

NEPA Blog Fest is coming! March 30th at Rooney's (67 South Main Street) in Pittston, starting at 6:00!

This is going to be the biggest and best Blog Fest yet! In part that's because NEPA Blogs is bigger and better than it's ever been before, with new bloggers being added almost every day. But the venue has changed - sort of! It's still at Rooney's Irish Pub, but Rooney's has now become the cornerstone of a renaissance in Pittston, with new places opening up all around it in what used to be a run-down neighborhood. We've been informed that the art gallery Arts SEEN, located just to the left of Rooney's, will be staying open late to provide an opportunity for the folks at Blog Fest to stretch their legs and get some fresh air. And there's even a chance that the Coffee Table Cafe, located just to the right of Rooney's, can be persuaded to stay open past their usual Friday closing time of 7:00, to provide everyone with a chance to sit down and engage in conversation over coffee and maybe even a bowl of ice cream!

Blog Fest isn't just for political bloggers! We're inviting all bloggers in Northeastern Pennsylvania to come out and meet other regional bloggers! It's also a great chance for blog readers, blog fans, and people curious about blogging to come out and find out what blogging  is about. If you fall into any of these categories, please come out to meet with us on Friday, March 30 at Rooney's in Pittston at 67 South Main Street, from 6:00 to whenever!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Maps of business parks in NEPA

I wrote about this more extensively on another site. Here's a link to site that publishes information about business parks in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, and Wayne counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania. You can zoom in on each county to see the locations of all the business parks, and then zoom in more to open a Java application to get information on individual parks, including (when available) a pdf map of each park with an index showing the location and name of each tenant.

Here's an example of the level of detail you get:

Until someone gets around to publishing a list of all the employers in Northeastern Pennsylvania, this is probably the best tool for figuring out which business is where.

Saturday, March 03, 2012


A poem written for my writing group. Notes follow the break.

We put you in the back yard of my parents' house
near the woods where you and I used to play
when I was a kid
and you were already an old dog

I cried at your grave
and promised to plant you pretty flowers

But I didn't

I forgot
over time
And there were other dogs
(and cats too)

The corner where we buried you
and stuck a stone on top
became overgrown and forgotten

No one noticed the acorn
that some squirrel tucked away there
which sprouted
and became a sapling
and is now a tree

whose branches are filled with the birds
you used to love to chase

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Coming back

My blogging here has slowed down almost to a stop. That's not entirely because I've run out of things to say. I've also made a conscious decision to restrict myself from blogging - here at Another Monkey, at least - until I've managed to achieve certain goals in my life, goals from which blogging, personal blogging specifically, is a distraction.

That restriction is now lifted.

I have been blogging all this while, mainly over at NEPA Blogs. I feel like we've just gone to the next level there, knocked the lid off of it, with the discovery of hundreds of blogs in Northeastern Pennsylvania of which we were previously unaware. And the weekly appearances on PA Live! are going great, which makes the fact that I may have to leave the show in a few weeks that much more tragic. But schedules change, and it would have been unreasonable to expect to be available from 3:30 - 4:40 every Tuesday indefinitely.

I've also been taking a course in the fundamentals of solar power. I used to work in that industry more than twenty years ago, at least on the solar cell manufacturing end of things, and I would like someday to get back into it again. The main plotline for the next decade or so is going to be increasing energy demands in a world of finite fossil fuels. As emerging nations increase their demands for fuel and their willingness to pay high prices, and domestic energy producers realize that they can see higher profits from exporting refined fossil fuels to overseas markets rather than selling domestically, Americans will feel the pinch even more than they do now. Politically, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, the climate is hostile towards increased capacity for solar energy, but that will change. And when it does, I want to be ready for it. So I've also been dusting off my NEPA Solar blog.

On top of all that, I also intend to become more active with my personal branding blog. There is much to say over there that can help others, and myself as well.

For now, I have to hit the books! I'll post more when I can.