Thursday, December 20, 2007

Objects in the distance may be larger than they appear

Photo of 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge holiday tree as seen from First Avenue
There seems to be no end of grumbling about the size of the Tarentum-Brackenridge holiday tree this year. I guess people don't want to complain about genuine issues, such as the number of people who are experiencing homelessness right now, or the fact that young people they know are far away fighting a war that was started with dubious justifications.

The holiday tree for Tarentum and Brackenridge was planted along the boundary between the towns in an open park area. The absence of any other points of reference nearby make the tree look particularly small and lonely, especially when viewed from the distance of First Avenue.

I've heard people swear that the tree cannot be taller than six feet. They should take a short walk and stand next to it. The tree actually is eight to ten feet tall, as was intended by those who obtained it.

It is a living tree; it will grow each year. I like it.

Photo of 2007 Tarentum Brackenridge holiday tree from a closer viewpoint
In the past Tarentum has had cut trees so tall that it was a challenge to decorate them. This year's tree is decorated evenly from top to bottom.

If you have an opinion about the tree go ahead and vote in my poll or leave a comment.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Brrr! it's cold

It's so cold ...
... that even the robot rolling the halls of the Allegheny Valley Hospital has turned into a snowman!

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

An unexpected guest at the manger

Robot dog that appeared in a creche scene

Of course none of the guests at the manger were exactly expected.

This was the scene that confronted me when I made my way to the back of the church at the conclusion of the service this morning.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Will you be renting that cat or would you like to eat it here?

Yellow page ad for Cat Rental Store appearing below display ad for a Chinese buffet

The advertisements above appear on page 171 of the November 2007 Verizon Yellow Pages for New Kensington, PA.

It was hard to convince two cat-deprived children not to call the store that offered to rent cats.

But no one noticed the display ad that appeared immediately above the ad for the cat rental store.

Whoever does the layout for the yellow pages must have a bizarre sense of humor.

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Learning a little bit about headhunting on the web

Central Presbyterian Church of Tarentum is looking for a part-time administrative assistant.

In the course of starting up this search I have learned a few new things about how the web can help us in the search.

I knew the obvious: we can post the information on our own website. So I posted the most informative help wanted advertisement on our own site, with a link to it from the site's entry page. That was something we also did a few years ago when we were looking for an organist.

Also, as we had done in the previous search, I set up a special email address that any interested people might use to contact us about the position.

As in the previous search we also used our internal publications and word of mouth, letting members of the congregation know through an announcement in the bulletin that we were looking, and encouraging them to tell people they know. The announcement encouraged people to go to the website for more information.

I also knew the somewhat less than obvious: There are places where job listings can be posted on the web for free. One such place is the classified ads on Topix. So I took out a free ad on the page for Tarentum. This is the ad on Topix.

Pittsburgh Presbytery has a page on their website where its churches can post their announcements about positions they wish to fill. So I asked for a short notice to appear there. It was up in a flash.

In addition to the internet we knew we would have to bite the bullet and take out a paid classified ad in the local paper.

What I didn't expect was that the ad in the paper would be picked up by HotJobs. Ordinarily we would have to pay to get a listing there. I could tell that HotJobs got it from the classified ad, because the listing slavishly matched the classified ad right down to the hyphenation inserted to keep the ad short. This is the way we are listed on HotJobs. The connection between the newspaper and HotJobs seems to have been a TribTotalMedia company called

So far the responses to our job listing include: one person who found us through word of mouth, one who found us through HotJobs, two who found us through the printed newspaper, and one who did not identify how she learned.

If I were to do all of this over again, one thing I would change is the hyphenation in the newspaper ad. Knowing that the text that appears in the newspaper could be picked up and replicated elsewhere, I'd rather spend a couple extra bucks on an extra line in the ad than have hyphens appear where they are totally unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the search goes on. If you know someone who would be interested in a part-time position as an administrative assistant in a small membership church in Tarentum, let them know about us.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The sustainable border conflict

Rice said the border needed to be drawn up in a way that was "sustainable" for both sides.

If this is accurate reporting of what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, there should be no wonder that the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea seems to be heading nowhere good. It is not the drawing of the border that needs to be sustainable. Rather, it is the ways the parties relate to one another about the correct border that needs to be sustainable.

In 1998-2000 the two countries fought a war that took 70,000 lives over this border. They ended the war with an agreement to submit their dispute to final and binding arbitration. The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, part of Permanent Court of Arbitration, established the legal description of the boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia, but the two countries did not permit the boundary to be demarcated.

Rice's statement as reported by Reuters is likely to be heard by Eritrea as further evidence that the US is backing Ethiopia's desire to re-open the whole question of where the boundary is or ought to be. Constantly re-opening settled questions is a sure recipe for sustained conflict.

Imagine you were having a boundary dispute with your neighbor. Thorough surveys of the legal descriptions of your property establish that your neighbor has built a fence, or a garage, or an extension of his own home, across the boundary between your property and his. There is nothing unsustainable about establishing where the boundary legally is. But once you and your neighbor know where the line lies, you will be in a position to work out what the consequence of his -- or your -- trespass should be.

The undemarcated boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia will have consequences for the people who live and work on each side thereof. The time for talks about how sustainable relationships can be established around the border is after its demarcation, once all those involved can see exactly where they stand with respect to the border.

Sadly, Ethiopia and Eritrea have opted to allow the border not to be demarcated, and have each moved large numbers of troops into the border region. There was a much better way to resolve this dispute.

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