Christine O'Toole

Christine H. O'Toole Based in Pittsburgh, Chris contributes to newspapers and magazines around the country. She's written two travel guidebooks to Pennsylvania and reported from twelve countries. Next up: Cambodia.

What Drives Red Whittaker?

In January, Carnegie Mellon University professor Red Whittaker set a goal that had nothing to do with robotics: to best a field of competitors in an indoor rowing race. The ergometer competition, a 2,000-meter battle on stationary machines, marked the first time the 69-year-old Whittaker had rowed since his college days at Princeton. Since then …

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Monsignor Rice’s trampoline

To understand how I, a lapsed Catholic from the East, came into possession of a small, slightly cracked trampoline that used to belong to Pittsburgh’s most famous “labor priest,” you must begin, as South Hills summers always do, with the St. Anne’s Fair. Glimpsed from a seat on the outbound Castle Shannon T, the fair …

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Learning by the lake

The motto painted on the wall of Chautauqua Institution’s outdoor amphitheater exhorts the audience to “Share Your Light.” It’s a message that Chautauquans take seriously, returning annually to the lakeshore community to debate, learn and generally immerse themselves in ethics, arts, music and current events. But as the lakeside institution just over the New York …

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The Formidable Frick

One hundred and twenty five years ago, the eastern side of Pittsburgh’s East End—its grand villas powered by electricity and surrounded by gleaming motorcars—was arguably the richest and most tech-savvy neighborhood in the country. Within a half-mile stretch between Point Breeze and Wilkinsburg dwelt a dazzle of shrewd self-made millionaires: Henry Heinz, the Carnegie brothers, …

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Pittsburgh Mayor: Who is Bill Peduto?

For his first vacation after his victory in the May mayoral primary, Bill Peduto booked his own stops, packed his own bag and took only one close companion: his iPhone. Within 24 hours, traveling between Helsinki and Stockholm, he used it to tweet the following: Great lunch meeting w/former Finnish diplomat to Baghdad 90-91 & …

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The Arts Engine

On a cold spring night in April, arts traffic streamed along Penn Avenue in several frenetic directions. Downtown, patrons for the PSO’s performance of Bach’s beloved Brandenburg Concertos poured out of restaurants toward Heinz Hall, dodging ticket-holders for the sold-out “Book of Mormon” at the Benedum Center. Four miles miles east, the cheap end of …

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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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Pittsburgh’s Newest Immigrants

Blackberry in hand, Tek Rimal counts the minutes as he rides the bus from his job at BNY Mellon to his Bellevue apartment. Like many young families, Tek and his wife Chandra tag-team the care of their son, Anuj, with precision timing. Tek rushes home from his day shift so his wife can work a …

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High-Tech Sylvania

On a cool morning late in 2006, the phone rang in Esther Barazzone’s office, a suite overlooking Chatham University’s cozy Shadyside campus. Preoccupied by the re-accreditation of the undergraduate women’s program and preparations for new graduate degrees, the president was unprepared for the question she heard on the line from Dan Onorato’s office: Would Chatham possibly …

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A Touch of Gray

A thick report called “Boomers in the ’Burgh” arrived the other day, proposing that the city pitch AARP candidates on retiring here. The newest twist on the most-livable-city theme rang a bell. Back in the day, I wrote copy for a local inventions marketing firm, detailing the vast potential for improbable new ideas at $25 …

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