Friday, May 29, 2009

World Economic Summit in September Will Highlight Pittsburgh's Progress & Global Status

Words can barely express the importance to the Pittsburgh region of the announcement that the next meeting of the Group of 20 World Economic Powers will be held in the city this fall. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this may be the big break we've been waiting for.

The eyes of the world will be on the Golden Triangle when the leaders of the world's top 20 countries come to Pittsburgh on Sept. 24-25, 2009. And even before that, in the months leading up to the big event, the news will be full of stories about the city's recovery from the dark period of the early 1980s, when the steel industry collapsed and the local economy lay in ruins.

All too many people remember those days of 18 percent unemployment, home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies that make today's world economic environment look like a walk in the park. Well, almost.

Some may have heard the chuckles in the White House press corps when it was announced on May 28 that Pittsburgh would host the G20 Summit. That's OK, we're used to people who misunderstand Pittsburgh. They're the ones who need to be schooled on the tremendous progress that has been made in the area in recent years. They're the ones who will be coming to Pittsburgh in September and they're the ones whose editors are already saying "Hey, we need a story about Pittsburgh. Why don't you put something together."

That's where the opportunity comes in for everyone in the Pittsburgh region, and all of the city's many fans around the world, to talk up all the positive things that have been happening here in the past 25 years or so.

GlobalPittsburgh knows that the Pittsburgh region is home to tens of thousands of new Americans and others born in foreign countries who have come here to work, to play, to study and to invest. More than 40 distinct international communities can be found in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and more than 300 international firms from 26 different countries operate offices, research labs or manufacturing facilities in the region.

Bill Flanagan of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development likes to start off his talks by reminding people that the number of total jobs in the Pittsburgh region is 70,000 higher than in 1979, when the steel industry was at its peak. And he also points out that the local unemployment rate is currently below the national average.

Pittsburgh is a world leader in health care, thanks to UPMC and Allegheny General Hospital, and an innovation hub thanks to Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh and the many business spinoffs they have created. In addition, more than 125 corporate and federal research & development centers are located here, along with 90 billion-dollar-plus companies.

There's the world-renowned Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the championship sports teams, the wide range of international restaurants, and the many recreational activities on and off the water. And if you want to get away, we're a day's drive from half the population of the U.S. and Canada.

On top of that, it's an affordable, accessible, safe and increasingly cool place to live. Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood has been called "the next Williamsburg," referring to the Brooklyn section that grew from gritty urban wasteland to ultra-hip oasis. And don't forget the South Side, East Liberty, Squirrel Hill and Bloomfield.

We all know people who have moved to Pittsburgh from other parts of the country who are amazed at how much house they can get for their money and how safe it is and easy to get around in (unless you count the fact that you'll often get directions based on landmarks that have long since disappeared - "Turn left where the old Isaly's used to be.")

We can all be ambassadors for GlobalPittsburgh in the months to come. We can help in the continuing efforts to change the minds of those who chuckle when they hear about Pittsburgh. We all have a lot to be proud of and we have the right to boast about the changes that are taking place here every day.

Learn more about the Pittsburgh region at and

- Thomas Buell, Jr.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NOVA Chemicals Creates Sustainable Building Products Business in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh-based NOVA Chemicals said it has created a wholly owned subsidiary to serve the global building and construction industry that fuses material science with innovation to create efficient, affordable, environmentally sound structures that offer builders and architects the flexibility to build in a responsible way.

The newly formed company, Syntheon Inc., specializes in high-efficiency construction systems and advanced materials component fabrication. Syntheon is also headquartered in Pittsburgh.

"Syntheon's building systems and products deliver sustainable benefits through the use of EPS - an efficient building material that produces energy savings, emissions reductions and increased R-value," the company said.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy and other government officials were recently briefed on advances in sustainable building technologies at Syntheon's Pittsburgh office.

The meeting provided an opportunity for Syntheon to demonstrate several of its sustainable building and construction technologies, including:

* Accel-E® Steel Thermal Efficient Panel (S.T.E.P.) wall system - an innovative construction product from Syntheon's Acceleratated Building Technologies unit that fuses cold-formed steel framing and expandable polystyrene (EPS) insulation into lightweight composite panels for interior curtain walls
* Elemix® Concrete Additive - specially formulated polymers for use in concrete to deliver durable, lighter weight sustainable structures
* Geofoam - a lightweight, sustainable and easy-to-install engineering solution for highway construction and rehabilitation

"Our story resonates well with those seeking to improve local infrastructure," said Andy Claypole, President of Accelerated Building Technologies. "Accel-E wall panel meets the changing needs of the construction market in terms of rising material costs, shortage of skilled labor, increasing waste disposal costs and rising energy costs."

Syntheon’s global business is headquartered in Pittsburgh, with wholly-owned subsidiaries and joint venture partners in Chile and Mexico.

"Syntheon is a building science company - our vision and products align closely with the work Governor Rendell and others are doing to support sustainable building technology throughout Pennsylvania and the U.S.," said Tony Torres, Syntheon's Vice President Building and Construction Ventures.

For more information, go to READ FULL ARTICLE

Learn to Thrive in Global Economy at Duquesne Entrepreneur Conference June 4

Giorgio Coraluppi, founder, president and CEO of Monroeville, PA-based Compunetics, Inc., will be the keynote speaker at the 11th annual Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference hosted by the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center on June 4, 2009.

Italian-born Coraluppi started Compunetics 40 years ago and has built it into a global player in the fields of printed circuit design and manufacturing and worldwide teleconferencing.

Since its debut in 1998, the Entrepreneur’s Growth Conference has been providing ideas and information designed to spark business growth for new and seasoned entrepreneurs.

Over the past 10 years, the EGC has risen in prominence and is now among Pennsylvania’s pre-eminent entrepreneurship events, annually attracting more than 500 attendees, many of whom return year after year to reignite their entrepreneurial spirit and receive the latest information on building entrepreneurial growth and wealth.

For anyone starting a business or transitioning one to the next level, this is a once-a-year opportunity to discover the latest business-building tools, resources and ideas – information that you can implement in your business the very next day.

Why Attend?

  • Dozens of Expert-Led Workshops on the Hottest Topics in Business Today, and Live Demonstrations.
  • A Business Building Tradeshow Featuring More than 50 Support Organizations
  • Unparalleled Networking Opportunities with Entrepreneurial Veterans, Top Level Service Providers and the Region's Most Promising Entrepreneurs
  • World-Renowned Keynote Speakers

Who Should Attend?

The EGC attracts a diverse audience of entrepreneurs—from start-ups through million dollar ventures and everything in between—across a wide range of industries. With workshops designed exclusively to serve specific size companies and market niches, the EGC is a valuable resource for the entrepreneurial community at large.

Specifically, the event features workshops for new ventures, million dollar enterprises, growth-oriented companies, technology and life science enterprises, sole proprietors and other specialized market segments.

In addition to business owners, the EGC is a desirable destination for service providers, aspiring entrepreneurs, and corporate executives and employees interested in capitalizing on the newest entrepreneurial trends and ideas.

All programs are being held on the Duquesne campus located on the edge of downtown Pittsburgh at 600 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15282. Registration and general sessions will be on the 2nd floor of the Student Union Building.

For more information, call 412-396-6233 or go to


Video Technology Developed in Pittsburgh Allows Penguins Fans to View Video Highlights on Cell Phones in Arena

The Stanley Cup Finals are coming back to Pittsburgh, and a world audience will learn about YinzCam, a “free experiential mobile video technology for sporting events,” that was developed in Pittsburgh.

Using YinzCam right from their seats with wi-fi enabled cell phones, Pittsburgh Penguins fans can select and view live video feeds from unique camera angles, catch and create their own instant replays from multiple angles, access game-time information, player bios and personalized content.

Originated as a research project by a group of Carnegie Mellon engineers led by Prof. Priya Narasimhan, Director of CMU’s Mobility Research Center, the group's first success came with the pilot of YinzCam for the 2008-09 NHL regular season for the Penguins, and for the 2008-09 NHL Eastern Conference playoffs.

YinzCam plans to specialize in innovative, experiential, in-arena mobile technology for sporting and entertainment events around the world.

In addition to providing live-action footage, the system also has many other features, such as On-Demand, which enables users to view video clips from previous or current games; player rosters, which provide player statistics; and schedules, which allow users to find out when the next game is.

As an added bonus, the system also has two unique features known as “Restroom Cam” and “Food Cam,” which show users how long the lines are at concessions stands and restrooms.

Developers had to overcome several challenges during the creation of the Yinz Cam system. The Wi-Fi network needed to cover the entire arena and also needed to be able to handle up to 17,500 users. Security was also a concern, since content could not be taken out of the arena due to conflicts with broadcasting rights with the television networks airing the game.

As Pittsburghers know, the term "yinz" is the local derivation of the original Scots-Irish term "you ones," and is commonly used to represent the plural form of "you."

For more information, go to


Friday, May 22, 2009

TradeRoots Program Promotes Importance of Global Business for Pittsburgh and the State

Foreign trade is responsible for creating and retaining thousands of jobs in the Pittsburgh region and the rest of Pennsylvania, and a new program called TradeRoots has launched an effort to spread the word about the importance of international business.

TradeRoots PA is a year-long, private sector initiative led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the PA Chamber of Business & Industry, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, and other key chambers and business groups.

Exports, imports, and foreign direct investment are fundamental to the success of the Pennsylvania economy. The goal of TradeRoots PA is to educate consumers, businesses, workers, farmers, families and elected officials as to the importance of international trade in all aspects of the economy.

"Openness to international trade encourages productivity gains and improved competitiveness," according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Doing business internationally has allowed U.S. businesses, including small and medium-size enterprises, to grow in markets outside of the United States and prosper globally."

Representatives of TradeRoots PA visited Pittsburgh this week during a road tour which also included stops in Philadelphia, York/Harrisburg and Erie. Each stop included a plant visit, news conference and town hall forum.

For information about TradeRoots PA, contact Roger Cranville, Sr. VP at the PRA, at or by calling 412.392.4555 ext. 1030.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How NAFTA Has Helped Pittsburgh and the State of Pennsylvania

The 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, and free trade in general, emerged as hot campaign issues in the Democratic primary race. This is particularly odd in Pennsylvania because the state economy has done very well in exporting manufactured goods — something that would have been quite difficult if Canada and Mexico had not agreed to reduce their tariffs on U.S. goods.

Pennsylvania shipped $9.2 billion worth of export merchandise to Canada in 2007 — 32 percent of the state total — and $2.2 billion of goods to Mexico, according to the International Trade Administration.

Pennsylvania's exports to Mexico rose 81 percent from 1993 to 2003 and exports to Canada rose 61 percent. The ITA notes that export-supported jobs linked to manufacturing account for an estimated 4.3 percent of Pennsylvania's total private-sector employment. Nearly one-sixth (16.5 percent) of all manufacturing workers in Pennsylvania depend on exports for their jobs.

At the national level, Canada accounted for nearly 16 percent of all U.S. imports of merchandise last year, but also 22 percent of American exports. Mexico accounted for 11 percent of U.S. imports, but 14 percent of U.S. exports. Oil and gas accounts for over 16 percent of American imports from Mexico and (including electricity) nearly 26 percent of our imports from Canada. The dollars we spend on Canadian and Mexican imports are mainly used to buy U.S. exports — mostly goods, but also investments and services provided by such Pennsylvania giants as Vanguard, Cigna, Mellon and PNC Bank.

Technology (computers and robots) has long been shrinking assembly-line manufacturing jobs in virtually every nation. If we exported manufacturing jobs, it must have been to the moon. A 2006 Banco de Mexico study worries that in recent years employment in (Mexican) industry has been decreasing whereas the employment in the service sector has been increasing. Even China eliminated 10 million manufacturing jobs from 1991 to 2003, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Some U.S. jobs are lost every year, even as more jobs are added, because some businesses shrink or fail. Critics of NAFTA toss out anecdotal examples of job losses, which they loosely blame on import competition, rather than on competition from other states. For example, U.S. Steel (now USX) has its headquarters in Pittsburgh, but many of the company's 49,000 employees are now in Indiana, Alabama, Minnesota, Illinois and Texas.

One of the biggest things NAFTA accomplished was to cut steep Mexican tariffs on U.S. goods. Half of all American imports from Mexico were already duty-free before NAFTA because of the 1976 Generalized System of Preferences. Mexico, on the other hand, imposed brutal tariffs on American goods. The U.S. tariff on Mexican cars was 2.5 percent; the Mexican tariff on U.S. cars was 21.5 percent.

NAFTA slashed the Mexican tariff on Heinz Ketchup from 20 percent in 1993 to zero since 1998. In exchange for such dramatic reductions of Mexican tariffs, the U.S. agreed to cut an 8 percent tariff on tomatoes and cut flowers, a 26 percent tariff on frozen orange juice, and a 35 percent tariff on canned tuna. As a result, U.S. consumers saved a lot of money at the grocery store.

Tariffs don't protect jobs. They protect monopoly profits. Tariffs just raise the cost of living and the cost of production, making consumers and producers poorer. Nasty U.S. tariffs on sugar, nuts and milk, for example, impose huge costs on Hershey.

The mutual reduction of trade barriers between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. made all three economies more efficient and more affluent. And, yes, NAFTA was unquestionably good for Pennsylvania.

By Alan Reynolds,
Senior Fellow with the Cato Institute

More by Alan Reynolds


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Should Be Allowed to Continue Helping Grow Economy in Pittsburgh and U.S., Says Venture Capital Association Chief

Foreign-born entrepreneurs have consistently contributed to our economy, to innovation and to new job creation.

This could not be more true than in the Pittsburgh region, where foreign-born entrepreneurs have started such success stories as Thar Technologies (Lalit Chordia), Compunetix (Giorgio Coraluppi) and Vivisimo (Raul Valdes-Perez and Jerome Pesenti).

But current immigration policies are jeopardizing our ability to attract and retain these talented and highly driven individuals, said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association.

"If the best talent can’t come here and stay, they will surely take their skills, ideas and companies elsewhere," Heesen said. "The game is ours to lose. To maintain our competitive edge, we have to remain a magnet for global talent. Shutting our borders to these entrepreneurs is counterproductive. The more of them we can attract, the more jobs for everyone."

According to “American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness,” 25 percent of the venture-backed public companies that were established in the last 15 years were started by one or more immigrant founders, reaching 40 percent in the high-tech sector.

"Foreign-born workers willing to leave their home countries tend to be risk takers and have the drive to start a business," Heesen said.

"The aggregate market capitalization of these companies, which includes Intel, Google, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems and eBay, exceeds $500 billion. The 'American Made' study found that of private, venture-backed start-up companies in the U.S., some 47 percent have immigrant founders. Just 10 years ago, such companies would not have been able to grow outside the U.S., but that is no longer the case.

"Foreign-born entrepreneurs have been particularly successful in the start-up community for a number of reasons. First, these individuals, by their immigrant status alone, tend to be risk takers. Leaving their home countries suggests a level of tenacity and drive that is conducive to starting a business. Many have scientific backgrounds, and the focus and ability to invent breakthrough products and services. We want them here as students, workers and company builders.

"While immigration policies have encouraged foreign-born nationals to get a higher education here, they have discouraged highly-skilled immigrants from staying here once they have their degrees. There are serious issues with the current H-1B visa program, but the limited number (65,000 a year) has prevented start-up companies from getting the talent they need to grow. At the same time, countries like China and India are aggressively nurturing their technology start-up ecosystems because they understand how America has grown its economy and want to do the same for themselves."

Read a related article by Audrey Russo, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council by CLICKING HERE READ FULL ARTICLE

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kazakhstani Group Learns From Pittsburgh About Disability Rights Through Open World Program

A delegation of social service administrators from the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan recently spent a week in Pittsburgh to study the latest practices and programs for assisting people with disabilities.

“We are very interested to learn the kinds of programs that are available to people with disabilities, and we can try to create this kind of program in Kazakhstan,” said group member Lyubov Alekseyevna Dudchenko, deputy chair of the Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities, a non-governmental organization in the city of Karaganda.

Speaking through a translator during a visit to Life’s Work of Western Pennsylvania, a vocational training and employment program for people with mental and physical disabilities, Dudchenko said that many programs serving the disabled were discontinued after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“We have nothing like this [in Kazakhstan],” Dudchenko said, referring to the vocational training programs at Life’s Work.

Sponsored by the Open World Leadership Center at the Library of Congress, and hosted by the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors, which designed and implemented the itinerary to address the visitors’ goals and interests, the seven group members and their traveling contingent visited several local companies, government agencies and non-profit organizations to discuss and observe different approaches to accommodating people with disabilities.

During its May 9-17 visit, the delegation also visited the Allegheny County Department of Human Services; 501(c)(3)2, a nonprofit consulting company; PNC Park, the most accessible major league sporting facility in the U.S.; a clinic for patients with special needs at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine, supported by the FISA Foundation; Every Child, Inc., which serves children and parents with disabilities and special health care needs; Three Rivers Adaptive Sports; The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh; The Children’s Institute; Pitt’s Center for Assistive Technology; Three Rivers Center for Independent Living; United Cerebral Palsy of Pittsburgh and Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh.

The Open World Program is a nonpartisan initiative of the U.S. Congress designed to build mutual understanding between the United States and Eurasia. Over 12,000 Open World participants have been hosted in all 50 U.S. states since the program’s inception in 1999. Delegates range from members of parliament to mayors, from nonprofit directors to journalists, and from political party activists to regional administrators.

Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1936. The country’s population is currently 15.3 million people.

Home stays with local residents allowed the Kazakhstani delegates to experience American family life. They also took part in several cultural and community activities, including visits to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, and dinner at the Hard Rock Café in Station Square.

For more information about Open World, visit

For information about the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors, including home stay hosting opportunities, go to

By Thomas Buell, Jr.


Pittsburgh Symphony Tours of Asia & Europe Provide Valuable Economic Development Opportunities

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of its new music director, Manfred Honeck, is currently touring in Asia, and will tour in Europe later in the year.

PSO tours have become a major economic development opportunity for the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the marketing affiliate of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which joined the PSO on the Asia tour, and will do the same on the European tours.

Past PSO tours have led to connections with several companies that have located operations in the Pittsburgh area.

“Recent PRA successes in partnering with the PSO, a world-class cultural icon of the region, have demonstrated the ability of the PSO to open doors to international audiences of business leaders and influencers," the PRA stated. "This partnership with the PSO is an important part of the PRA’s long-term, multi-year Opportunity Asia and Opportunity Europe strategies. These aim to unlock business opportunities abroad for Pittsburgh region companies; to expand bilateral trade; and to position the Pittsburgh region as a preferred US investment destination."

The tour to Asia includes performances in Beijing and Shanghai, China and Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The tour is the Orchestra’s first international tour with Honeck at the helm. The National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing – also known as "The Egg" – was the site for two concerts on May 14-15.

A concert on May 16 at the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center marked the Orchestra’s Shanghai debut. The Orchestra also makes its debut in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Kaohsiung will host the 2009 World Games in July, and the PSO has been invited to open the World Games Stadium with a concert on May 20.

Later in the year, Honeck and the PSO make their European debut together in performances to close the renowned Lucerne Festival in Switzerland in September. Also part of this trip are two concerts in Germany – one at the Philharmonie Essen and one at the Beethoven Festival in Bonn.

During the 2009-2010 season, Honeck leads the Orchestra in a one-night only concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter as soloist on February 9, 2010. A tour of Europe, including performances at Vienna’s Musikverein, is currently being planned for later in 2010.

This is the PSO’s first performance in Beijing since 1987, its only prior performance on mainland China.

Read an article about the PSO Tour at


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pittsburgh Tech Council Members Dominate Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist List

The Pittsburgh Technology Council proudly boasts that 13 out of the 25 finalists for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards for Upstate New York, Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia are card-carrying members of the organization, which was founded 25 years ago and represents more than 1,400 firms with more than 270,000 employees.

That's good news for the Tech Council and for Pittsburgh. Winners will be announced on June 19 at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. Tickets are available.

Check out these amazing and creative Council member finalists:

More info at the Tech Council blog or the Ernst & Young website. READ FULL ARTICLE

New Paris Flight Creates Opportunities For Area Businesses & Wine Lovers Starting June 3

The new direct flights from Pittsburgh to Paris resuming June 3 on Delta Airlines have created a wide range of opportunities for the business-minded as well as those with a nose for fine wines and European culture.

A day-long seminar will be held Wednesday, May 20 at the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center to explore business opportunities in France. CLICK HERE for more information.

The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance is offering special business travel and networking packages for the business community to kick off the new service to Paris Charles de Gaulle. It comes with special itinerary and arranged meetings with business representatives in France. CLICK HERE to read more.

And Pittsburgh Wine Blogger Dave DeSimone said he'll be on one of the first flights to sample some of his favorite wines.

"Every wine enthusiast dreams of visiting great European vineyards," he wrote in his blog "The Wine Rack."

"Beginning June 3, 2009, the trip becomes just a little bit easier even with a tough exchange rate. Thanks to new, non-stop Pittsburgh to Paris flights on Delta Airlines, the hassles of missed connections and long layovers in Newark International will become experiences of the past."

Delta will offer five flights per week to and from France, which represents is a $600 million export market for Pennsylvania. Flying to Paris will open up a gateway to do business with the European Union. From Paris, flight time to Germany is one hour, 30 minutes to Belgium and one hour to the Netherlands.

More information on the Paris flight is at READ FULL ARTICLE

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yahoo! Selects Four CMU Grad Students as Future Thought Leaders in Computer Science

Yahoo! has named four Ph.D. students in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science among the 20 students selected as winners of its inaugural Key Scientific Challenges program, which recognizes outstanding graduate-student researchers with the potential to become thought leaders in their fields.

Pinar Donmez of the Language Technologies Institute (LTI) and Yi Zhang of the Machine Learning Department (MLD) were cited in the Machine Learning and Statistics category, while Jaime Arguello of LTI and Polo Chau of MLD won recognition in the Search Technologies category. No other university had as many winners in the program as Carnegie Mellon.


"We received an overwhelming number of outstanding applications and the competition in this first year of the Key Scientific Challenges program was very keen," said Ken Schmidt, Yahoo! director of academic relations. "We clearly were impressed by the quality of the applicants from Carnegie Mellon and believe Pinar, Yi, Jaime and Polo each hold great potential for making significant contributions as researchers."

Each recipient receives $5,000 in unrestricted seed funding for their research, exclusive access to certain Yahoo! data sets and the opportunity to collaborate directly with Yahoo! scientists. This summer, they will attend a Yahoo! Graduate Student Summit where they can present and discuss their work with some of the top minds in academia and industry.

Applicants to the program each outlined research efforts that addressed one of five key areas: community infrastructure and information management; computational advertising; economics and social systems; machine learning and statistics; and search technologies.

Donmez focuses her research on proactive learning, in which a program must evaluate information obtained from multiple sources that may not be equally reliable or available and may have varying costs. In particular, she is developing a framework that would choose the most cost-effective information elicitation strategy to help improve learning.

Zhang's research concerns how models assembled by statistical machine learning algorithms, such as a profile of a person's interests based on Internet activity, can be compressed into a concise, more usable form.

Arguello studies how to combine content from specialized search engines, such as for news, travel, or images, and in his most recent work, is investigating how to determine which of these search engines is most likely to contain information relevant to a given query.

Chau conducts research on integrating data mining and human-computer interaction to enable interactive mining of large graphs, such as social networks. His system helps analysts explore, visualize and understand large graphs, and pinpoint patterns, anomalies and interesting properties among them.

More information about the Yahoo! Key Scientific Challenges program is available at


Monday, May 11, 2009

Welcome Center Marks Four Years of Assisting New Immigrants & Internationals in Pittsburgh

The Welcome Center for Immigrants & Internationals helps new arrivals to the Pittsburgh region with a variety of issues, ranging from housing and employment to starting a new business, accessing affordable health care, assistance in filling out forms, or even taking a driver's license exam. Most of the services are available at no cost.

The Welcome Center works actively with community partners and service providers who bring to the table their own areas of expertise. For more information, go to

Welcome Center staff, many of whom speak several languages, provide recommendations about English as a Second Language programs in the area, and provide job placement assistance, housing or home repair information, small business advice and guidance on immigration and naturalization issues.

The idea for the Welcome Center grew out of university research indicating the positive impact of immigration and its role in promoting economic development and building a multicultural diverse community in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

In the words of Dan Onorato, Allegheny County Chief Executive, "Our region has a rich history as a destination for large numbers of immigrants, and I believe that we can benefit from new initiatives that attract immigrants, as well as international businesses. Not only would the Welcome Center help to revitalize our region and strengthen our economy, it will also help hard-working individuals and families thrive in our region."

Founded in May 2005, the Welcome Center offers services over the telephone using a toll-free number (866-774-2201). The Center’s staff members speak more than 15 different languages, serving clients from 100 different countries.

Southwestern Pennsylvania has a long and rich immigrant history. Today, the number of foreign-born people living in the metro Pittsburgh area is 62,000.

Immigrants continue to arrive for a variety of jobs at all levels in almost every field of work. The immigrants arriving in Pittsburgh come from many parts of the world including East Asia, India, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and numerous African countries.

Click on the links below to see some examples of where selected foreign-born populations were living in Allegheny county, according to the last census:

For map of Chinese immigrants and internationals, click here.

For map of Indian immigrants and internationals, click here.

For map of Italian immigrants and internationals, click here.

For map of Mexican immigrants and internationals, click here.

For map of Russian immigrants and internationals, click here.

For more information on WCII programs and services, contributing time or financial resources or partnering, call 412-422-8795 or 866-774-2201, or email

The Welcome Center is located in Squirrel Hill at 5743 Bartlett St.,
Pittsburgh, PA 15217


Friday, May 8, 2009

Local Architecture Firm Raises Standard for Hospital Design with New Pittsburgh Children's

The Pittsburgh-based architectural and engineering firm Astorino has set a new world standard for hospital design with the revolutionary new Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Astorino used a unique process that gained insights into the hearts and minds of patients, families and staff. The result is a healing space that meets the deepest needs of all who will inhabit this 10-acre campus for generations to come.

To prepare the plans, Astorino used deep design research from its affiliate company fathom to address the innermost needs of patients, families and staff. To best determine what those needs were, fathom used a market research tool originated by Olson Zaltman Associates, a Harvard University-based company.

The Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET) is a unique one-on-one interview process that invites participants to find images that represent their deepest thoughts and feelings about a given topic. Through this research study, key metaphors for the ideal experience at Children’s emerged; Transformation became the overarching theme and Control, Connection and Energy were identified as supporting metaphors.

“Children and their families go through incredibly trying times at hospitals,” said Louis D. Astorino, FAIA, CEO and Chairman of Astorino. “Unfortunately, most environments today do little to aid in the healing process because they are not designed with people’s deepest needs in mind. The design of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC is intended to alleviate stress and enhance the transformative healing process that patients and their families experience when in a hospital.”

For example, patient rooms were turned into kid-friendly spaces that are intimate and private, and allow children to take control over things like lighting and display of personal items. Floor plans also were organized to maximize usable space, increase productivity and reduce medical errors (i.e. care team stations were decentralized so staff is never far away from their patients; they were also designed with private and confidential areas for nurses and doctors to conference).

Children’s design connects patients with the outside world, themselves and others and alleviates the sense of isolation often felt inside hospitals. For example, the building’s rich and colorful interior and exterior – with lively red, blue, yellow and orange colors – provides an emotional connection for children.

"Healthcare is rapidly changing – from the way people receive care to advances in medicine – and architects need to be more nimble than ever to be able to respond to these changes," Astorino said. "At Astorino, we believe design can play an active role in the healing process and we hope that our work at Children’s will not just prove this, but inspire others to create designs that meet the deepest needs of users and pave the way for better care.”

For more information, go to


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pitt Launches Center for Global Health to Promote International Research

The University of Pittsburgh announced that it has established a Center for Global Health to promote multidisciplinary international health research and scholarship.

The center, led by Donald S. Burke, MD, associate vice chancellor for global health and GSPH dean, is based on partnerships with schools and centers across the university to address the most pressing health issues for people around the world. It was officially launched at reception on May 6 at the University Club in Oakland.

“This new center is an important symbol of our University’s tradition and standing as one of the world’s leading institutions for global health research, and it will enable our scientists to push forward with exciting work having the potential to significantly improve the human condition around the world,” said University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg.

Recognizing that most global health problems result from a combination of social, economic, political, and environmental inequalities, center staff will work with faculty and students in the areas of research, education, service, and policy.

“The current swine flu outbreak is yet another example of the need for a global response to address health issues that impact all of us,” Burke said. “Our center will build on Pitt’s track record of significant discoveries and interdisciplinary partnerships, and will draw on a range of expertise to work toward solutions to our most challenging problems.”

The center will promote and support ongoing research projects at the University of Pittsburgh, projects as diverse as pandemic preparedness in Thailand, improvement of children’s health in India, control of mosquito-borne viruses in Brazil, and treatment of HIV/AIDS in Mozambique.

On the education front, the center will provide grants to students and faculty to support their projects in international health, enabling their travel to low- or middle-income countries where there are significant health needs; sponsor the federally funded Fogarty International Center Framework in Global Health Program to develop curricula in global health; and host an ongoing lecture series with health experts from around the world.

The center, directed by Joanne Russell, MPPM, RN, CCRC, is guided by a global health advisory committee comprised of deans from Pitt’s health sciences schools and other partner schools across the university.

For more information, visit


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pittsburgh-Based Semiotic Technologies Develops Training Programs Using Video Game Technology

Pittsburgh-based Semiotic Technologies is capturing world attention by developing programs that use video gaming technology for individualized group training and development.

Semiotic Technologies makes game-based learning environments - virtual worlds - that can be adapted to corporate, industrial or emergency response training models.

"Trainees are engaged beyond merely information intake by 'learning through doing;' they are engrossed in consequence-driven and, therefore, active learning," Semiotic says.

"Whether the learning objective is financial literacy or selling cars, the learner enters a world that focuses his or her efforts on achieving proficiency and understanding" the company says.

The programs seek to move away from training programs that are neither engaging nor effective.

"We use the power of interactive game technology to significantly increase decision-making skill and magnify content retention in the light of real-world scenarios and pressure.

"When the words 'video' or 'Computer Games' appear in the media, it is generally in association with violence, addiction and/or falling moral values. What is not mentioned is the tremendous power of 'Serious Games', or games with an agenda beyond mere entertainment (education, activism, artistic expression, and training). Games, much like their simulation counterparts, open the door to enormous potential and possibilities.

"Serious Games present information in different ways than current training materials. The information is ever-present and the trainee (player) is able to explore and interact with it in the way that best suits his or her learning style. Due to their high level of engagement and personal investment, information retention increases dramatically."

Semiotic Technologies says its games "maximize an employee’s efficiency; they learn and retain more in a shorter timeframe, providing the best bang for the buck. Semiotic distributes customized Games for Learning that are highly individualized and self-adjust to groups of any size. Our Games are not just an evolution of the current e-learning market, but a revolution of the training industry as a whole."

Read more at the Semiotic Technologies website.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

CMU Qatar Tech Conference Features Bill Gates

Carnegie Mellon University’s Qatar Campus hosted the Third International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies and Development (ICTD2009), which featured Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and other noted speakers.

Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told the conference he was excited about how information technology research and projects are being used to help the poor around the world and excited about countries like Qatar who are investing in the future.

"ICTD is all about using the power of high-tech computing and communications to help the people in the neediest parts of the world build better lives," said Chuck Thorpe, Dean, Carnegie Mellon Qatar. "Hosting this conference at Carnegie Mellon gives us a chance to show the world all that Qatar brings to this area: the technology of a rapidly-developing knowledge based society, combined with the heart to reach out to less fortunate people."

ICTD is the premiere conference for innovating technology accessible and relevant to developing economies. It is a multidisciplinary forum for academic researchers and practitioners designing, deploying, and evaluating computing technology solutions. The three day conference attracted more than 350 scholars and practitioners from around the world.

This is the first time the conference was held in the Middle East. By hosting the event at Carnegie Mellon Qatar and leveraging its strong computer science programs and impact in the region, Pittsburgh-based CMU said it will be more involved in developments in the ICTD field.

ICT comprises computing devices, technologies for voice and data connectivity, the Internet, and related technologies for domains including healthcare, education, agriculture, poverty alleviation, enterprise, general communication and governance.

Carnegie Mellon University was the hosting organization for the ICTD 2009 conference, with the TechBridgeWorld research group at Carnegie Mellon taking the lead organizing role.

Carlos A. Primo Braga, Director, Economic Policy and Debt in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network at The World Bank, also delivered a keynote presentation.

At the invitation of Qatar Foundation, Carnegie Mellon joined Education City in 2004, creating a world-class center for scholarship and research that is the ideal complement to Carnegie Mellon's tradition of innovation through collaboration. Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar offers its highly regarded undergraduate programs in business administration, computer science and information systems to students in Qatar and the Gulf Region.

For more information on the ICTD conference, visit


Monday, May 4, 2009

World Energy Conservation Trend Boosts Pittsburgh-Area Window Maker VEKA

The global trend toward energy conservation and “green” design will provide a big boost to window maker and PVC extruder VEKA, Inc., based in Fombell, PA, just north of Pittsburgh.

VEKA has just announced the official launch of its commercial window and door program.

“With recent and upcoming energy code changes and government programs like LEED, there is a greater demand for more energy efficient products like PVC windows which is unparalleled in the residential window and door industry as far as thermal performance is concerned,” said Kevin Seiling, General Manager of the commercial window division.

The German-owned firm said has been working with these products for close to a year in an effort to test the potential of these European style windows and doors for the commercial market.

“The most recent bill signed by congress, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), tremendously helps this segment of our business as we have the perfect product that meets the energy codes that will be an important part of this act,” Seiling said. “We plan on attacking this market vigorously and will prove the viability of PVC in the commercial market place.”

The PVC products being introduced by VEKA are all steel reinforced and will be manufactured in the Fombell facility, as well as other partners in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

VEKA is a world leader in PVC extrusion technology with 18 plants worldwide, with world headquarters in Sendenhorst, Germany.

More information at the VEKA website


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Braddock Firm Sells Kits Worldwide to Run Vehicles on Vegetable Oil

Braddock-based Fossil Free Fuel makes and sells kits in the U.S. and around the world to convert cars and trucks to run on environmentally friendly vegetable oil.

Founded in 2006 in this up-and-coming suburb of Pittsburgh, Fossil Free Fuel “offers the latest in two-tank renewable fuel system retrofits for diesel engines.”

That means the vehicles start up using their diesel engines and then automatically switch over to run on vegetable oil, officially known as biofuel, when the engine reaches a temperature of 180 degrees, according to FFF Shop Manager Adam West.

The vegetable oil comes mainly from restaurants, West said. Another local outfit called Steel City Biofuels, a program of Allegheny County Cooperative Extension of Penn State University, offers an interactive map of places to buy the biofuel.

The cost of converting a passenger vehicle to biofuels is about $1,500, while the cost of converting a truck is about $2,000, according to the FFF website. The company operates a 9,000-square-foot shop in Braddock where installations take place.

For more information about Fossil Free Fuel, go to

Steel City Biofuels’ vision is “for southwestern Pennsylvania to become a national leader in the biofuels industry through increased support for the research and development of sustainable feedstocks, production and vehicle technologies, significant public and private investments in production and distribution infrastructure, and the development of aggressive Federal, State and local legislation.”

For more information about Steel City Biofuels, go to READ FULL ARTICLE

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pittsburgh-Based Astrobotic Technology and CMU Shooting for Moon-Landing Prize

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology, Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University have teamed up to launch a private, unmanned mission to the moon and win a multi-million-dollar prize.

Formed by Red Whittaker, CMU professor and roboticist, Astrobotic is among 17 teams competing for part of the $30 million Lunar X prize being offered by Google.

The Astrobotic team seeks to become the first privately funded team to send a robot rover to the Apollo 11 site where NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first made contact with the lunar surface four decades ago.

As a part of the competition, the robots must land on the moon, travel a distance of 500 meters (1,640 feet) and transmit about 18 minutes of high definition video and still images back to Earth.

The prize can be won at any time. The first team to reach the moon will receive $20 million if the mission occurs before December 31, 2012, at which point the first prize sum would drop to $15 million through December 2014, after which the prize is eliminated.

The second team to reach the moon will receive $5 million, and Google is offering another $5 million to teams for bonus achievements.

Slated for December 2010, Astrobotic’s "Tranquility Trek" plan relies on "Red Rover," a small, wheeled rover about the size of a riding lawnmower that is expected to be able to complete the challenges in one or two Earth days.

Astrobotic last month reported a NASA-sponsored study that concluded its small robots could work to safely prepare a landing site for NASA’s Moon outpost.