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Opinion

Angry customers

I am yelling at you because it is so rare that I can ever speak to anyone in charge!” the customer bellowed before ultimately chuckling. So, I’m the whipping boy for every bad customer service experience that corporate America has ever delivered? That’s a heavy burden, and I’m not ideally suited to shoulder it. I …

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Stocks & Pedestal, Winter 2014

In the stocks: Fox Chapel Area High School When Fox Chapel High junior David Schaffner arrived at a Friday night home football game on Sept. 13, he realized he still had the hunting knife in his pocket that he’d been using in a wooded area near his home. As he approached the gate, he turned …

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The D.I.Y. dilemma

I am intrigued by my customers and their behavior. I watch as they choose between the red velvet and the tiramisu, their faces betraying them as they try to resist temptation. Their eyes scan the cases, and I wonder how much the display itself influences their decisions. One of my favorite things about being a …

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Big Things for Pittsburgh

This fall is an exciting time at Pittsburgh Quarterly and in Pittsburgh. In its Golden Quill Awards in May, the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania judged PQ to be the region’s best magazine for the seventh straight year. And I believe that this issue contains the strongest combination of stories we’ve ever produced—stories that reflect …

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Credit card fraud

“Lara, I’m at the checkout at Restaurant Depot and my credit card has been declined,” says our delivery driver on the other end of the phone. Ugh. I know what this means. It’s not that the bakery is short on funds. It’s that one of our credit cards has been compromised. Again. Of the four …

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Gettysburg: The 150th Anniversary

On a beautiful April Sunday, I got up early and drove to Gettysburg. July marks the battle’s 150th anniversary, and I had signed up for a two-hour horseback battlefield tour. I’m not a history buff, but I am an American, and Gettysburg has always held a unique gravity. We had a relative who disappeared during …

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Shale Agreement, Pittsburgh Dataworks, Air Quality, Mayor Ravenstahl

We all want abundant domestic energy, and we all want a healthy environment. For years, though, a reasonable middle ground has been absent from the Marcellus Shale debate. Finally, change is at hand, and Pittsburgh can be proud that it started here. For two years, natural gas companies and environmental groups have put aside their …

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Choosing our city

We all have a unique personal introduction, the thing a friend always says to get the ball rolling. It’s the arms around the shoulders at the cocktail party followed by “Have you met Andy? He’s from Argentina.” Mine is “This is Lara. She’s one of the owners of Prantl’s Bakery.” This elicits a short gasp …

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Keep the Home Fires Burning?

In our yard, there’s no shortage of trees that old age or wind bring crashing back to earth. I cut and split this wood the old-fashioned way—with a wedge and a sledge. And as the old adage goes, “He who chops his own wood warms himself twice.” I work at home, and on winter mornings, …

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Stocks & Pedestal, Spring 2013

This summer, when Jared Cohon retires from the presidency of Carnegie Mellon University, he will leave enormous shoes to fill. Since he took the helm in 1997, CMU has seen dramatic growth in the number of overall students—from 7,758 to 12,569—in programs across the globe; the endowment has risen from $592 million to $987 million, …

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In Jeopardy

The final Jeopardy category: Phrase Origins. My wager: $6,999—all I had. The clue: “This two-word adjective for going against accepted speech or conduct first appeared in a 1933 translation from Izvestia.” It wasn’t exactly my best subject—I would have felt more confident in, say, “The Beatles”—but phrase origins are the kind of English-major trivia on …

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You’re not the boss of me

The sweatshirt is off-pink. It has shoulder pads. “The shoulder pads make it slimming,” my mother says. “And it’s not pink. It’s burnt salmon.” We sit on my mother’s bed, two co-eds at a sleepover. My mother is just back from a vacation she wasn’t well enough to go on. She’s still dressed for the …

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Stocks & Pedestal, Winter 2013

There was a time when, if you said, “Pittsburgh is an insular city that’s not attractive to young people,” you would have been right. Not anymore. The city is actually getting younger, with more than 50 city neighborhoods increasing their population of young adults since 2000. More young people are moving here than leaving, and …

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E Pluribus Unum

This fall, Pittsburgh Quarterly had a subscription campaign. Along with many of the returned cards, a nice note accompanied the check. Three people, however, returned notes sans check, saying they wouldn’t subscribe to a magazine that supports Marcellus Shale drilling. One ended his letter: “You should be ashamed of yourself!” First, I considered the building …

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Billionaire by mistake

Thanks to a computer glitch in our online brokerage account, I knew what it felt like to be Mark Zuckerberg for a glorious few days. Last summer, my wife called to me from her den, “You’ve got to see this!” When I looked at our online brokerage account on her computer screen, the balance showed …

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The Sky Is Falling

In June I bowed to the demands of my three college-aged children and got the whole family smart phones. As I waited in line at the AT&T store, a guy behind me suggested I should get the “Siri” iPhone. “You can ask it anything, and it answers,” he said. Perhaps I should do that, I …

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Stocks & Pedestal, Fall 2012

Early four years ago, businessman and philanthropist Henry Hillman called Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon with an idea. With the wealth of information technology experts at CMU, why not apply some of that brainpower to regional transportation issues? Improving transportation-related technology could improve the lives of regional residents, build Pittsburgh’s reputation as a “knowledge” …

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Stocks & Pedestal, Summer 2012

Between Feb. 13 and April 21, 46 bomb threats struck the University of Pittsburgh. The anonymous emails closed buildings, forced middle-of-the-night dorm evacuations and cancelled classes. The threats targeted the heart of our city, taking aim at the region’s most important institution. They also bared a still-darker specter: Because of the anonymous nature of global …

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Changing the Cottage

In April, my wife and I made the 600-mile drive to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula unusually early. We went to meet with contractors to begin fixing up the old cottage. What we call “The Big Cottage” was completed for the summer of 1908, the first built on LaSalle Island along the northern shore of Lake Huron. …

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A Remarkable Time for the Region

Twenty years ago, when newspapers were strong, the coin of the realm for ambitious reporters was winning awards. A slightly caricatured general rule was: The more intractable, insoluble and depressing the issue you wrote about, the more awards you’d win. Newspapers were in the business of problems, not solutions. In 1995, I marked 10 years …

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Giving Footnotes the Boot

While I was reading an essay written half a century ago by the distinguished historian and long-ago colleague, Peter Gay, I got to thinking about footnotes. His illuminating piece turned out to be somewhat annoying to read because of all those footnotes! You get to the end of a sentence and that little superscript numeral …

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A Pittsburgh Original

At a civic event 11 years ago, I saw an unusually dapper fellow—navy pinstripe suit, rep tie and perfectly combed white hair. The fact is, I thought he was someone else. I went over and introduced myself, and he said, “Bill Dietrich.” The name meant nothing to me. But after chatting for a minute or …

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