Archive for March, 2010

Destination: Atlanta
March 23, 2010

This is the truth. I’m landing at the Atlanta airport on Saturday and as I’m getting off the plane, the woman behind me asks me if  I’m in town to cover the Ben Roethlisberger case.

However, I was not in Atlanta for work purposes. I went to the heart of Georgia to engage in what has become a bit of passion in recent years: running. As I blogged before, I got involved in running last year and did four half-marathons ( 13.1 miles ). It went from nervousness in my first run to excitement about my final run of 2009.

This year, I wanted to start the year off with something fun and challenging … and thanks to suggestion of my best friend, Atlanta was the spot for the Georgia Marathon this past Sunday. Joe was going not run, but to support his girlfriend Lisa who was running her first half marathon ever. Joining us for the half marathon were Lisa’s son-in-law Terry Caston and his best friend, Jay Mollahan. They both live in Atlanta. So does Lisa’s daughter Sarah Caston who ran with with her friend, Jacki Brandt. These two women decided to go the extra mile … or shoud I say extra 13.1 miles and do the full marathon.

The gang before sunrise and moments before the 2010 Georgia Marathon. Yours truly, Jay Mallohan, Terry & Sarah Caston, Jacki Brandt and her father and Lisa McEwen. ( Photo courtesy: Laura McEwen )

We started in the dark, just before 7am, in famed Centennial park in Atlanta. Runners emerged by the thousands all ready to run through the streets of the city. It low 50’s but the threat of rain was in the air …. and eventually it would start falling out of the sky. Whether it was our first marathon or our 50th, there is a sense of excitement and tension as you make your way to the starting line. While the individual goals are different for all involved, the general desire is still the same: to finish and finish strong.

Off and running: Yours truly on mile 1 ( photo courtesy Laura mcEwen )

For me, it was a run for which I had not really prepared well for. The snowstorm kept me off the roads for most of February and I had only had one long run since January. However, once I was on the road and running among equals, it as like I was home. I ran through parks and neighborhoods as well as historic sites like the Jimmy Carter and the MLK house. Best sign I saw the whole race? “I have a dream. 13.1”. Best sight? A church choir came out on the street to sign and inspire the runners as they passed by.

Mother & Daughter after the race: Lisa did 13.1 and Sarah did 26.2. ( Photo courtesy: Laura McEwen )

I finished right back in Centennial Park and sprinted the final hundred plus yards. Finished at 1:45:03. Not my best time ever. It was my second best and I was pleased. I was also a full 3 minutes behind Terry and Jay ( They are younger and in their 20’s so they are supposed to be faster than me ).  What was great to see Lisa cross the finish line. She had trained so hard for the great unknown. She was nervous but worked so hard and when she crossed, her grin was from ear-to-ear. She was sore bur proud to have done something she had never done before.

The biggest thrill for all of us came some three hours later when we came back and saw Lisa’s daughter, Sarah, and her friend Jacki cross the finish line hand and hand after 26.2 miles. Someone joked they had lost their sense of humor after mile 24, but there smiles at the finish said something else.

For all of us, whether we did 13 miles or 26, there was a sense of accomplishment having pushed our bodies to a limit that we had never seen before. There was that pride that we made the commitment and saw it through. Best of all, we had an excuse to eat really bad and fatty foods afterwards.

The medal winners after the marathon and, yes, I did grab a shower. ( Photo courtesy: Laura McEwen )

Next for yours truly? I’m going to try the full 26.2 mile experience right here in Pittsburgh. I know it can be done. I’ve seen my friends do it.

Facebook Dangers
March 16, 2010

Can 400 million people be wrong?

I doubt it.

Facebook is the single greatest social networking site ever created. It connects because its connected over time periods, age groups, generations and even nations. It’s easy to use, fun to do and you can do it anywhere. It’s more personable than any site going and let’s be honest, its addictive as well. At any given time, 30 percent of the world’s web traffic is Facebook.

Oh, by the way, the site is barely six years old.

But Facebook is far from perfect and it’s those hidden imperfections that can cause problems. Maybe a better word for them is dangers. Threats to your privacy, your security and possibly your life. That may sound like a dramatic outcome for the use of a website, but that’s the problem with Facebook.

The site allows us to share everything with the people we consider friends, but the local experts I spoke with tell me its easy to build a false sense of security. It’s easy to share whatever items you want with your friends and not worry about having your privacy invaded.

However, associate CMU professor Lorrie Cranor who works in the school’s internationally known Cybersecurity Lab. She says something as simple as posting your complete date of birth could compromise your social security number. Putting your pet’s name on the page could be trouble if you also happen to use that as your password. Even your year of graduation from college could give those tech-savvy thieves a chance to evade your privacy.

Cranor’s suggestion is not to friend everyone on Facebook, which is something many do in that non-stop attempt to build a growing network of friends.

She also advises you to use the privacy setting page which will allow to control what is seen and what is not …. and by whom. She also recommends proof-reading your page. There is a function that allows you to see what your page looks like to the rest of the world. You might be surprised what you are telling people when you see it from their point of view.

Professor Michael Spring of Pitt’s information sciences department says Facebook has the potential to be the most powerful communications tool of our tome, but we also have to remember we haven’t figured out how to use it to its potential yet. We are still learning what it can and cannot do and as the site changes, we need to adapt and be careful. The newest change will allow your friends to actually see you location using a Facebook GPS system. Sounds cool, but do you want everyone to know where you live?

Much of what we have been talking about affects all Facebook users, but there is a special danger to young adults … and it has nothing to do with privacy settings. As adults, we can all remember doing something stupid, silly or embarrassing. The difference is there were not social network sites for us to post our silliness. Now there are … and veteran advisor Dave Como of Avonworth High School says that can comeback to haunt young people as young adults.

We all know employers will look at Facebook pages. That’s been a given for a couple of years, but more and more colleges are using Facebook as a source to learn about their applicants. While it’s not universal, if there are red flags in a college application, Facebook will be one way for schools to look into the character of their applicants.

All these dangers and we have yet to mention the most frightening of all: the stalker. Just recently , a group of teens in northwest Pennsylvania fell victim to a New York man who sent naked pictures of themselves to their cell phones. He says he got their numbers by contacting them on Facebook and MySpace.

Folks, the bottom line here is you can protect yourself … using common sense and Facebook’s privacy setting. We have a link to all those pages below:

Facebook safety:
Facebook security:
Facebook privacy: 
That being said, still have fun with Facebook. Just use common sense.

“Cats” By Day, “Oscar” By Night
March 9, 2010

Sunday night, I know many of you were huddled around the TV set or at someone’s place for a party to watch the Oscars. There is something about this annual display of Hollywood excess and back slapping that gets us all excited. Maybe its the reaction to winning. Maybe its the speeches in which the winner thanks every little person since fourth grade who made them what they are today.

Perhaps its even the red carpet review of the dresses though I don’t get it. Then again, I’m a guy and as long as I can find my tux, its hard for me to make a mistake.

All that being said, I had a unique Oscar Sunday. While I did go to the big Oscar bash the Pittsburgh Film Office puts on every year, I spent the afternoon being reminded where all these Oscar nominees come from. I went to see a high school musical.

North Allegheny put on the musical “Cats” for the fifth and final time on Sunday. Please don’t ask me about the plot because even I struggled to figure out exactly what was happening but “Cats” is not about the story, it’s about the songs and the performances. On this day, the performances were so extraordinary it was easy to forget the overwhelming majority of the performers were “under” the age of 18.

Some of the “Cats” that made up the North Allegheny musical production. You never know. They may be a future Oscar nominee in this bunch.

For more than 90 minutes they sang, they danced and they followed the script to the letter. They not only played roles, they lived them. The costumes were fantastic as were the sets and I later learned they did their own make-up … and it was flawless.

However, the most important lesson I learned as I lost myself in the experience was that none of these actors were getting a big paycheck. None of them was performing hoping to earn a Tony, an Oscar or an Emmy. What they all were doing was something they loved and they enjoyed. Few will go onto be performers in college but for these special group of kids, they can celebrate a flawless week of performances during that most formative period — high school.

There was one other thought that stuck with me as I exited the auditorium and worked my way through the crowd of proud parents and family. I may have seen a future Oscar nominee. Think it’s far-fetched? Well, where do you think Sandra Bullock began her path to Oscar glory … or Jeff Bridges. Do you think George Clooney just came out of college and was handed his role in “E.R.”? Meryl Steep was just a senior girl with a funny last name before becoming one of the actresses of our age.

Remember that as you attend you next high school musical … or watch your next Oscar night. All these great performers weren’t always great. They came from humble beginnings. Perhaps from your local high school. (more…)

Fighting for Air
March 2, 2010

So you think you are in good shape?

I would like you to come down to the Gulf  Tower downtown this Saturday morning for a challenge like no other. Formerly “Climb Pittsburgh”, it’s the fourth edition of  “Climb For Air”. It’s a robust run up 38 flights of steps at the Gulf Tower.

Sure, there is a race component but there is also the individual challenge of seeing how quickly you can scale the steps. It’s not easy because you quickly discover the higher you ascend, the less oxygen there is … and that’s the whole point of the event.

Taking a photo with last year’s top fundraising team on the 38th and top floor of the Gulf Tower.

You begin to understand how important healthy lungs are when you work your way up 38 flights of stairs … or the equivalent of one mile. Now this should not take you a long time to accomplish. Most people get it done in 20 minutes. You can not only do it yourself, but you can also put together a team …. and raise additional funds for the American Lung Association.

This will be my fourth year serving as emcee and making the climb. However, last year I decided to make the challenge a little bit more challenging. The Pittsburgh firefighters also took part in the climb and asked me if I would join them … equipment and all … in making the climb. Silly me, I said yes!

50 pounds of equipment can make 38 floors feel more like 76 floors. There were plenty of times I wanted to quit, but the firefighters behind me were both encouraging and reminded me that this a scenario they could face on any day during their job. Well, that’s all I needed to hear … and finished in about 20 minutes … and three pounds lighter!

So come join me and some friends as we help the lung association … and challenge ourselves. Here’s a link to sign-up … and believe me … once you are done scaling the steps, the day is all downhill from there.

Country or Crosby?
March 1, 2010

You may know that in a previous life I was a sports anchor here at WTAE and have always enjoyed the sports we are so passionate about as western Pennsylvanians. Like many of you in this sports-crazed ( or should I say “hockey-crazed” ) town, I watched the gold medal game of mens olympic hockey between the U.S. and Canada.

While my heart said U.S., my head said Canada was not going to lose to the same team twice on home ice in a week. What I didn’t expect was for the game to go to overtime and for Canada to win the game – on a Sidney Crosby goal.

While Crosby scoring may not hold much significance to the lower 48, it hits Pittsburgh in a very different way. Crosby maybe the most popular athlete in the city of Pittsburgh and walks on water after bringing Lord Stanley back to the Burgh. He’s a gentleman, a consummate pro and mature beyond his years … and he belongs to Pittsburgh. Well, at least that is what we thought.

I was curious to see what Pittsburghers thought of this development – having the home country lose to Canada and having one of our heroes score the decisive goal. As usual, I turned to my friends in Facebook nation. The simple question: “The U.S. falls, but Crosby scores. What do you think?”.

Sidney Crosby celebrates his game-winner in the Gold Medal game against Team USA. A goal that tested the loyalties of Pittsburgh hockey fans. ( AP Photo )

hat was less than two hours ago. As of this writing, I have gotten 83 responses ranging from those happy for Sidney Crosby to those who says his scoring the decisive goal against the USA bordering on treason. It was about 50-50 with half the respondents saying how happy they were for their favorite Penguin and how if the USA had to lose, it might as well be Sidney scoring the game-winner. Others were ready to “boo” Crosby the minute he returns to Igloo ice.

What the heated debate told me is something we have always known: Whether its hockey or horseshoes, we love our country and we will always pull for America no matter what. When these games started, most Americans didn’t think the USA had a chance in these games but as the competition went on, the team kept winning. By today’s goal medal game, American pride was at an all-time high and Canada, our neighbor, became our enemy for 60 minutes today.

Sidney Crosby was caught in the middle. While he is a Pittsburgh Penguins, his loyalties lie with his homeland … as they should … and perhaps he felt more pressure in these games than during any Stanley Cup contest.

Sports are great. They can make great friends bitter rivals depending on what uniform they are wearing. Such was the scene today. But sports also allow us to have our moment of disagreement and then pick up where we left off. That’s what the Pens will do when the season starts on Tuesday. Olympic success will be recognized before Tuesday’s game when I’m sure Sid, Brooks Orpik and even visiting goalie Ryan Miller will be applauded for thier Olympic success. Then, country will be forgotten and the quest will begin for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

A prize that – for those who skate in the NHL – will be as good as gold.