A British Pens fan visits Pittsburgh

Written by James Bird, Special to Pittsblogh on .

Earlier this year, Pittsblogher Kim Lyons wrote about the British Pens Fan Club, aka "Brinzers," a devoted group of hockey fans who cheer for the Pittsburgh Penguins from across the pond. One of their members, James Bird, visited the states last week and took in three Penguins games, two at Consol and one in New Jersey. We asked James to write us a little dispatch about his visit (and left in his British spelling for the sake of authenticity). 

November 19th started like most days, I woke up at around 9 a.m. GMT, got out of bed and took a look out the window. The difference being instead of gazing out at a residential street in Bedfordshire in the east of England, I was looking out over Point State Park from the 19th floor of my hotel at about 4 a.m..

And it was a hockey night in Pittsburgh! 

I should probably start with why on earth a 23-year-old Englishman from the old mill town of Burnley in Lancashire is a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Well it all started with a PlayStation and with my favourite animal being the penguin, there was only one team that was ever going to catch my eye. I fell in love with the computer games and gradually the game it was based on. In the late 1990s and early 2000s watching hockey in the UK wasn’t always easy, especially not when you weren’t allowed up beyond 10p.m.! I would print out and stick pictures of my favourite players into a scrapbook every week, hoping that one day I’d get to watch my heroes Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Morozov in the flesh. I didn’t even get to listen to a game until I stumbled on Pens Radio in May 2001 when, as a 10-year-old, I sat at the family computer captivated as I listened to an early face off between the Penguins and Sabres. Fast forward seven years and I was watching every game of the 2008 playoffs in the middle of the night, and it’s been that way ever since. 
Now on to my trip. I should mention this isn’t my first visit to Pittsburgh, as I came over in mid-March earlier this year for three games. But this one was a bit more special, as the British Penguins Fan Club had built up a much larger following, with many living in the city itself. One of our Twitter friends, Angela, had arranged to meet up with me for lunch and as we ate in Il Pizzaiolo, she pointed out that several Pens had just come in to eat. So once we and they had finished eating I approached Robert Bortuzzo, explained I had come over from England and asked if they’d mind having a picture with me. Obviously, they were more than happy to and I ended up with a fantastic picture of me, in a British Penguins t-shirt, with several members of the roster! 
On to the evening and the game against the Flyers. I had the best seats I had ever had at Consol and was two rows from the glass in the corner. The big difference you notice as someone who rarely sees a game other than on TV is how much quicker the game looks up close, in particular the big stars like Sidney Crosby, who make what they are doing look so effortless. Another big difference to UK sports is how friendly everyone else in the crowd is. This only became more evident when they heard a British accent, and it was amazing to see how pleased people were that someone had travelled across the Atlantic to see the Pens. The result wasn’t what I hoped for and it was disappointing to see my first Penguins loss, but the experience was still worth the long journey because of all the people I met during the intermissions and the fantastic Bob Grove of Pens Radio. 
Thursday was a rest day from hockey and I took in the Carnegie Museums, a big difference here for someone from Britain is that you have to pay?! Most of our museums are free but the Carnegie was well worth the $20, as it has an impressive collection and takes several hours to explore properly. A few drinks in the bars of the South Side that night polished off the only hockey- free night of my trip, and then it was game day for the Nashville Predators game. 
I took my seat in the upper bowl to watch the 4-1 win, which was a big improvement on Wednesday night. It was also interesting to see my first live fight when Tanner Glass dealt with his opponent after receiving the challenge. The only downside to the game was hearing the woos for the fourth time at Consol. 
That was all for the Pittsburgh portion of my trip and I had an amazing time, ate several fantastic Primanti’s sandwiches and met a lot of fantastic people in the friendliest city I have ever spent time in. I was sad to be leaving a city that has been so welcoming to me not once but twice, but the game at New Jersey and the Kings @ Rangers game were ahead of me as well as seeing the sights of New York.
One thing is for sure, I’ll be back, Pittsburgh! 
Follow James on Twitter at @burnley_penguin, and the rest of the British Pens Fan Club at @BritPensFanClub


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Twitter games: What if...

Written by Mila Sanina on .

Journalists on Twitter and other denizens of the twittersphere played many 'What-if' games this week. It's been a week of anniversaries: Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the 50th anniversary since JFK's assassination, the arrival of Mason and Dixon to Philadelphia.

Owners of rich imagination thought, "What is a better way to relive those moments than to commemorate them with tweets... describing those moments as if they were happening today?"

Imagine, if Twitter existed when President Lincoln was addressing the nation on November 19, 2013 rather than 1863.

So a Twitter version of the long-deceased president -- with a twitter handle @Mr_Lincoln -- live-tweeted, so to speak, the 200+ words, 10 sentences, in 140-character chunks...


And off... he went... I mean, tweeted, the @Mr_Lincoln, that is...

And today, NPR launched a Twitter account with a handle @todayin1963 to live-tweet last moments of John F. Kennedy's life. 

It's hard to imagine what the day of November 22nd, 1963, would have looked like had Twitter existed back then. It surely would not have been limited to tweets from a few accounts.

By definition, however, there is no such thing as alternative history, as David Shribman says. It is what it is. Human nature is such that we will continue to explore, but never agree upon, what-if scenarios.

Today, social media is a place where people are not only reliving that day but sharing and preserving common memories of the man who was larger than life, a role model, a profile in courage, even for people who never lived through that haunting day...

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250 years ago Mason and Dixon arrived in Philadelphia and began their survey work

Written by Pete Zapadka on .


What a fascinating period in U.S. history we're commemorating this week. We're pausing to look back, often with awe, on significant events that shaped the nation we know today.
Of course, the appropriate focus is today's 150th anniversary of the famous Gettysburg Address. The address was delivered by President Abraham Lincoln on the heels of the battle on Pennsylvania soil in which tens of thousands of Americans, in armies of the North and South, died.
The Battle of Gettysburg widely is believed to have been the turning point of the Civil War, a bloody dispute in which the Union claimed victory over the Confederacy.
But as a local historian and a long-time amateur astronomer, I'm also aware of another historic milestone with significant roots at this time -- the 250th anniversary of Mason and Dixon arriving in Philadelphia to begin their famous survey work.
Both men were well-versed in astronomy and, in fact, used astronomical observations to draw with astonishing precision their famous border, essentially the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland, and later, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The actual anniversary of Mason and Dixon's arrival in Philadelphia was Nov. 15, and the two men began their planning work almost immediately.
In "The Journal of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, 1763-1768," they reported that on Nov. 16 they had "attended a meeting of the Commissioners appointed by the Proprietors of Pennsylvania to settle the boundaries of the Province." On Nov. 17, they reported they "Wrote to his Excellency Horatio Sharpe, Esquire, Governor of Maryland, signifying our arrival at Philadelphia."
20131119pzmasondixon 01Charles Mason's handwriting in "The Journal of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, 1763-1768."
During the rest of November, Mason and Dixon spent time inspecting their instruments that, like the survey team leaders, had made a long sea voyage from England. On Nov. 30, the men met "the Commissioners appointed by Lord Baltimore to settle the Boundaries of Maryland came to Philadelphia." 
By Dec 14-15, Mason and Dixon were ready, but unable, to begin their actual survey work because of rain and snow. It was cloudy Dec. 17 and 18, but on Dec. 19, they made astronomical observations of the stars Delta Persei, Chi Ursae Majoris (below the bowl of the Big Dipper) and Capella (the brightest star in the constellation Auriga).
Mason and Dixon first had to determine the southernmost point of the city of Philadelphia -- colonial officials had agreed the boundary line would be drawn 15 miles south of there. Once that point was found, the team moved 31 miles west to a location near Embreeville, Pa., to start the next leg of their work (had they first gone 15 miles due south of Philadelphia, Mason and Dixon would have had to cross the Delaware River and ended up in New Jersey).
From their now-celebrated Star Gazer's Stone near Embreeville, the team surveyed the required 15 miles due south to the latitude of the Mason-Dixon Line.
20131119pzstargazersstone 03Star Gazer's Stone near Embreeville, Chester County, Pa., marking the site where Mason and Dixon did work related to their survey (Pete Zapadka/Post-Gazette)
20131119pzaboutstargazersstone 04 1Historical marker describing the significane of Star Gazer's Stone near Embreeville, Chester County, Pa. (Pete Zapadka/Post-Gazette)
For much of the next four years, Mason and Dixon conducted their survey work, finally halting in October, 1767, atop lofty Brown's Hill, about three miles southwest of Mount Morris, Pa. They were about 22 miles short of their goal -- the present-day southwest corner of Pennsylvania. Unrest among local Native American tribes prompted the survey team to stop.
20131119pzsouthphilly 02A state historical marker unveiled over Labor Day weekend in Philadelphia to mark the city's southernmost point in Mason and Dixon's day (Pete Zapadka/Post-Gazette)
So for the next four years, we'll be celebrating 250th anniversaries of Mason and Dixon milestones. By 2017, there will be events near the Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.Va., areas, to mark the 250th anniversary of activities on "The Line" in our region. 
Even as history buffs turn their eyes today to the powerful Gettysburg Address, it is important to remember the Mason-Dixon Line actually was drawn about a century before the Civil War. It is a common inaccuracy that the two are related. Find out more about "The Line" beyond the popular misconceptions.
In addition to almost four decades at the Post-Gazette, Pete Zapadka spends time beneath the stars and exploring the western end of the Mason-Dixon Line -- the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border some 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. He operates the website


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Celebrating women of Pittsburgh & the world

Written by Mila Sanina on .

How the hell did they do it?

How did Brazil, Ireland, Burundi, Ecuador, Philippines, Finland, Liberia, Argentina, Kyrgyzstan and so many other countries managed to put a woman in the president's seat? And the U.S., one of the most wealthy and developed democracies on the planet hasn’t? Why?

That's the question Heather Arnet, CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation in Southwest Pa., was determined to find an answer to in Brazil, which elected its first female president, Dilma Rousseff, in 2010. Ms. Arnet wanted to know, so she went, she asked, and then created a documentary about her quest.

The first audience for Arnet’s film was, fittingly, the Women and Girls Foundation (WGF) gala held in the August Wilson Center on Saturday. The event celebrated women of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania who brought the world to Pittsburgh, and put Pittsburgh on the map for people from all over the world. Among those in attendance were many accomplished, inspiring, and smart, women who could be candidates for the presidency themselves. By the end of the evening it seemed like Heather Arnet's question echoed in all their minds; all wondering the same, "Why haven't we had a Madame President yet?"

Many of the 18 women honored that night -- educators who made Pittsburgh an attractive place to study, business leaders that attracted global investors to the city, Pittsburgh doctors who saved lives here and fought cancer on the frontiers of Latin America and Africa, female leaders helping disaster-stricken and war-torn communities in Haiti and Afghanistan, empowering girls in Zimbabwe and Liberia -- have been trailblazers and living role models for women in their professions.


There were exemplary young women on the stage too: Laila Al-Soulaiman, who after having lost 15 family members in Syrian Civil War, has been working to bring awareness of the violence happening in Syria. There was Sarah Pesi, who after being harassed by a man at age 13, discovered that she could not obtain a restraining order in Pennsylvania because to do so "she had to be related to or have dated the man," and since neither described her case, she took it upon herself to push anti-stalking legislation.


Each of their life stories was humbling and breathtaking. I, for one, kept wondering, how the hell did they do it? It was clear that these women weren’t working on these issues because they earned a living from it, rather, they worked to enrich the world with achievement and hope, to serve as examples of what’s possible and one day (perhaps) be able to tell their daughters and granddaughters, "One day you too can become the U.S. president."

But the loud trumpets heralding the women and girls' achievements in Pittsburgh and the world could not drown out the sour notes of reality:  In Pennsylvania's General Assembly, out of 253 members, only 45 of them are women. Many Pennsylvania companies and institutions have never had a female chief executive, and policies and efforts designed to limit girls' and women's freedoms and opportunities abound.

Take, for example, birth control. In her documentary, Heather Arnet interviewed a young woman from Brazil, who recently moved to the United States. She told a story of how she went to a pharmacy in the U.S. to get birth control pills over the counter only to find out that they were not available without a prescription, and then for only one month at a time. In her native Brazil, she was able to buy enough for a year without any prescription, no questions asked.

There were more examples in the film which highlighted the gap between the United States and other countries where women are equal partners in policy design, law-making and leadership roles. They all lead to one conclusion: we are lagging far, far behind.

The crowd of inspiring women who gathered at the August Wilson on Saturday proves through their actions every day that a lot has been accomplished. But Ms. Arnet’s film is a reminder that there is still a lot to be done.

 Let’s answer the question: How the hell will we do it, ladies?



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Will we see Comet ISON in our morning sky?

Written by Pete Zapadka on .


Let's be clear: Comet PanSTAARS was an astronomical disappoinment earlier this year. Astronomers had hoped the interloper to this corner of the solar system would put on a brilliant display in the skies over Earth.
But it barely reached naked-eye visibility in mid to late March.
Fast-forward to Comet ISON, also expected to be a brilliant visitor starting later this month. Chances are you've heard about it.
The comet's visit to our area of the solar neighborhood has been anticipated greatly since its discovery in September, 2012, by the 16-inch reflector of the International Scientific Optical Network near Kislovodsk, Russia.
Comet ISON will make its closest approach to the sun on Thanksgiving Day at just 1,150,000 miles, awfully close to our star's searing heat. How will the comet, which effectively is a dirty snowball visiting the inner solar system for the first time since it left the distant Oort Cloud, react to its close pass to the sun? Will it survive or break apart? Will it become brilliant or will it fizzle?
Time will tell. Until recently, ISON looked as though it would be another . . . well, to coin a phrase used by astronomers, a dud. But breaking news! Comet ISON has brightened over the past few days to a point at which observers in very dark sites can see it without using binoculars or a telescope. Keep up the faith -- maybe, just maybe, it'll be a brilliant object soon in our morning sky.
NASA offers this view of what might come from the comet. It's wise to stay updated with reports from Sky & Telescope, amateur astronomy's top magazine.  It'll offer finder charts and more for Comet ISON.
While your eyes are on the sky, don't forget about Comet Lovejoy. Sky & Telescope is a good source for follow it and other comets visible now.
Remember: turn off the TV and turn onto the night sky.
(Pete's astronomical tweets are available at
          (A recent photo of Comet ISON by the Hubble Space Telescope)



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