Table Top Tesla Coil

Nikola Tesla is directly responsible for lighting up our world after developing the alternating current supply system to transfer electricity.  It became the standard for electrical power generation and remains so today.  The Tesla coil is one of his most famous inventions.  It is essentially a high-frequency air-core transformer.  Tesla coils are unique in the fact that they create extremely powerful electrical fields.  Large coils have been known to wirelessly light up florescent lights up to 50 feet away.  Since the electric field goes directly into the light and doesn’t use electrodes you can even get burned out florescent lights to glow.

This true father of the electric age sold several patent rights along with his alternating-current machinery to our famous resident George Westinghouse.  It is understandable why Tesla has such a loyal following in Pittsburgh that 2014 heralds a new Tesla Club.  I just knew this was going to be a year of great beginnings along with legendary weather.  If you want attend the first meeting, just show up at HackPittsburgh on Thursday, January 30, 2014 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM.  They are located at 1936 5th Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA in the garage around back on Watson.  Just look for their flag above the door.  It is free and open to the public.

HackPittsburgh member Geno will show off a powerful musical Tesla coil and play various midi songs using lightning/thunder.  They even take song requests! A keyboard piano will also be connected to the Tesla Coil so that people can play their favorite song on it.  The will discuss the purpose of the club, its mission, its goals, and plans for various events.

If you want to learn more about Tesla and his famous coil I strongly suggest that you read The Genius Who Lit The World and join this club.


Free Drum & Dance Performance

The best way to fight cabin fever is to embrace the cold and venture forth in search of entertainment.  The place you want to be on Sunday, January 26, 2014 is the Quiet Reading Room in the Main Library First Floor at 4400 Forbes Avenue.  I am a big proponent for all our local libraries and love to promote the wide scope of events they offer.  They are known for digging up the best talent in Pittsburgh and offering it to the public free of charge.  If you show up between 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM you can catch a performance of a unique African arrangement.

In December of 2007 Yamoussa Camara formed Camara Drum & Dance to perform the music and dance of Guinea and West Africa.   He includes unique and exciting arrangements of West African music punctuated by original choreography and authentic costumes made for the group in Guinea.  Camara was born in the village of Boke, Guinea, West Africa in 1966 and took to his drum at an early age. In 1995 he immigrated to the United States. He taught drum and dance at Yale University for 10 years then traveled the U.S. teaching, performing, choreographing and polishing presentations for various dance ensembles.  We are indeed fortunate that he has decided to call our region home and join the huge base of talent our city holds.

Mito Camara

Yamoussa Camara currently resides in Pittsburgh and teaches West African dance at Carnegie Mellon University, the African Drum Ensemble at the University of Pittsburgh and West African drumming at The Irma Freeman Center for Imagination.  This is a busy guy with lots of positive energy you can absorb from every performance.  Hey, maybe you even want to take a class.   He teaches drum and dance workshops for children and adults.   This Renaissance man can be contacted for private classes or performances as well.  What better way to warm up on a cold winter night.   You can reach him at 412-403-7502 or check out his website


Third Annual Bad Art Sale

There are a lot of talented artists in Pittsburgh.  When I worked at CMU people would strategically watch the dumpster outside the College of Fine Arts and unabashedly dumpster dive when the students threw out their unwanted masterpieces.  This was mainly due to sheer volume and space issues.  Those art students produced a lot of work and a dorm room can only hold so much.  Plus, those large canvasses are not that easy to haul around.  I’m sure that someone has an early Andy Warhol or Burton Morris treasure squirreled away from this sought after quest.  I was never able to time it right to find anything since the artwork disappeared within minutes and I don’t doubt that people staked out spots in sleeping bags to get to the best pieces first.


The main thing is that art is subjective.  A student’s rejected failure may be the best piece of art you’ve ever seen.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure literally.  I think that is the reason that the annual Shaw Gallery  bad art sale has become such a wildly popular event.  It will take place on Friday, January 24 and Saturday, January 25 from from 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.  These are pieces that gallery owner Kurt Shaw has secretly procured and hidden away over the past eleven years.  He is adding to the booty this year by including used art books, art supplies, mats and frames.  I think he may be a bit of an obsessive compulsive buyer.  You can find him and his bounty at 805 Liberty Avenue in the heart of the cultural district.  In fact, there is a gallery crawl this weekend where you can check out lots of great places in this artistically restored downtown section.

So warm up with a bottle of wine and gaze at the new painting of the Côte d’Azur you just picked up for a steal at the bad art sale.  Build a fire and bundle up.  Great art soothes the soul.

Meditation with a Monk

Meditation is a great way to improve creative thinking, success, energy and stress levels.  Studies show that it improves a variety of psychological areas that include istress, anxiety, addiction, depression, eating disorders and cognitive function.  There’s also research to suggest that it can reduce blood pressure, pain response, stress hormone levels and even cellular health. But most people aren’t easily convinced to try it and there are a lot of misconceptions about how it really works.  For one thing it changes our brain. The cells and neurons in the brain are constantly making new connections and disrupting old ones based on response to stimuli – a quality that researchers call experience-based neuroplasticity. This affects the neural circuits of the brain which in turn affects how we respond to situations. It also affects the actual structure of our brains – thickening some areas and making others less dense.  Yes, you read that right, meditating can really make structural changes to the brain.  It can change the way neurons talk to each other by creating new circuits.

Just take it from Dr. Hedy Kober a neuroscientist who who studies the effects of mindfulness meditation which she has practiced for 10 years at her lab at Yale University. She admitted during a TED talk that she started meditating to deal with a break up but found that it helped her handle stress and unpleasant feelings in all areas of her life.  What a great way to start out the new year.  I am always looking for new things to try and leading a more peaceful existence is definitely at the top of my list.

Monks have been meditating for centuries and now you have the opportunity to learn from them.  Just check out the Meditation with a Monk Series that starts February 4th at the Oakmont Library  on 700 Allegheny River Boulevard.   It will take place every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. through May 27.  The course is free but sign up now to make sure you retain a spot.   This Introduction to Meditation is designed for beginners as a gradual training program and as a secular meditation practice. It covers how to find your seat, ways to maintain awareness with body movements, techniques for breath meditation and ways to face common challenges in meditation such as physical pains, drowsiness and distracting thoughts. Although the instructor is a Buddhist monk, the meditation techniques that will be taught are secular and are appropriate for all adults regardless of your other beliefs or religious affiliations.  At the end of the course participants will be able to be familiar with basic meditation techniques to gradually calm our mind and to develop a sense of equanimity and loving kindness.

I hope you are able to fit this into your schedule or explore it on your own right.  It truly is a mindful way to start the new year and keep yourself centered.

I Have A Dream

Martin Luther King Junior’s I Have A Dream speech is the most moving piece of verbal delivery I have ever heard. I had a lot to compare it to since I took rhetoric in college and studied a lot of famous speeches. But Dr. King was a natural speaker with a persuasive ability that cannot be taught. He also spoke from the heart and was as passionate about promoting peace as he was compassionate about human suffering. He was a great man and an admirable leader.

Carnegie Mellon is one of the few universities that does not close on Martin Luther King Day but they do have a good rationale. They call it a day on instead of a day off and offer events throughout the day to honor this great man. All classes are also cancelled after 12:30 p.m. The events are free and open to the public. These are great events to take your children to since they are off from school and will prove to be an enriching cultural experience.  This is also a great chance to see the Josh & Gab Show that I blogged about recently.


Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, Jr.!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rangos Ballroom, University Center

Join President Subra Suresh for a special listening tour dedicated to the university’s commitment to diversity.
12:30 pm -3:00 pm

Children’s Programs/Activities

Check the information desk at the University Center located beside the football field for exact locations but most events will be held in the same building.  Activities and presentations appropriate for children of all ages will be offered. The Josh & Gab Show team will present a special Anti-Bullying Musical Comedy program for kids at 1:30 pm.  The Children’s School will feature arts and craft activities and story time. Children will also be decorating a Freedom Mural and a collage to be on display in the University Center. Snacks will be provided.

Connan Room & Wean Commons, University Center
12:30 pm– 1:30 pm
15th Anniversary Celebration for MLK Writing Awards

Rangos Ballroom, University Center
The School of Drama will feature a special chorale tribute in celebration of Dr. King.  Local high school and college students will also read personal narratives dealing with individual experiences with racial difference and discrimination. The students are recipients of writing awards sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon Creative Writing Program, Student Affairs and Office of the President.
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm

McConomy Auditorium, University Center

Students in Service: Habitat for Humanity Presentation –  there are nearly 2 billion people around the world who live in slum housing and more than 100 million are homeless. Habitat helps to building or renovate simple, decent houses in partnership with those in need.  This event will feature representatives from the HFH of Greater Pittsburgh and a local family. Learn more about how you can get involved with HFH local build opportunities, Habitat ReStore and student alternative break experiences – 2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.

Danforth Lounge, University Center

Story Circles: Social Justice & Community – circle stories provide a nexus for artistic, educational and culturally relevant conversations. This informal conversation will feature local Pittsburgh community leaders who are engaged in innovative social justice issues- 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.

Kirr Commons, University Center
Join teens from the Arts Greenhouse hip-hop program who will feature music and prose celebrating art and culture while exploring the bitter-sweet relevance of Martin Luther King, Jr. to Pittsburgh youth. The Arts Greenhouse is a music education outreach program for facilitated by Carnegie Mellon – 3:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. For more information, visit
Rangos Ballroom, University Center – Keynote Address and Dessert Reception
Featuring Jendayi E. Frazer, Ph.D – Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, CMU Distinguished Service Professor, Council of Foreign Relations
‘Leading with Courage and Conviction” – 4:30 p.m.


Skibo Cafe, University Center 8 p.m.
MLK Late Night Spoken Word – Transcending the Dream “Force though Speech”

Presented by SPIRIT in conjunction with Pittsburgh Poetry Collective – this event will showcase spoken word artists from our campus and the surrounding Pittsburgh community. The featured poet for the evening will be William Evans of Columbus, Ohio. For more information about the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective/Steel City Slam, please visit

To find out more details about these events contact 412-268-2075.

Fun Free Family Sundays

Weekends are the times we want to reserve for quality family fun.  It is essential to keep children active and interested despite the challenge of dipping temperatures that lead to limited outdoor activities.  There are lots of things to choose from in Pittsburgh but it is worth the venture to check out the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. It really isn’t that far.  I used to work with someone who traveled from Westmoreland County to Oakland every single day.

The Westmoreland Museum of American Art was established in 1949 at the bequest of Mary Marchand Woods.  She was was a long time resident of Greensburg interested in the arts. This visionary founder bequeathed her entire estate for the museum to be built.  It sits 35 miles east of Pittsburgh and opened its doors to the public in 1959.  It focuses on American and Southwestern Pennsylvania art.

It is known for its many award-winning, curriculum-based educational programs which have reached thousands of students in the region and have received both state and federal funding. The innovative programs utilize the Museum’s collection to teach students in grades Kindergarten through high school about art and history.

But one of the best things going are the free Imagine Nation Studio Sundays.  Every Sunday from 12-3 PM children of all ages and their favorite adult can stop by the Museum for a free themed art activity. Kids learn about art and have fun creating their own art project in the studio. There is a different art project featured each week.

Imagine American Art

January: Shine On – We are drawn to shiny objects like large metal sculptures, pieces of jewelry, mirrors and glass. So, lets bring in the New Year all bright and shiny by making art from materials that reflect, glimmer and sparkle.

February: By Design – A simple line can be just vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Or this line can go on an adventure to create shapes, patterns, textures, and movement. Bring your imagination to the studio each Sunday this month and see what interesting art can be created with lines.

March: You’ve Got to Move It – The world in which we live is full of moving objects of one kind or another. Artists have been inspired by movement in nature and man-made items to create forms of art. Let the winds of March carry you into the studio and make art projects inspired by movement.

April: The Primaries – A splash of color here, there and all around as seen every day and its all brought to you by the primaries; red, yellow and blue. These are the colors that make all others happen. Youll mix and match colors to create 2D and 3D art that contrast and complement each other, and even set a mood using music.

May: Building Blocks – Wood is very versatile piece of art material. It can be carved, assembled, and formed. The studio this month offers you a chance to use these various techniques along with painting, fusing and transfer of other art materials to make unusual and interesting masterpieces to go.

Pittsburgh’s Best Kept Secret

The Cathedral of Learning is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and sits in the center of the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus.   This Late Gothic Revival Structure stands  535 feet with 42 stories making it the second tallest university building  in the world.  It is also the second tallest gothic-styled building in the world.  It was commissioned in 1921 and ground was broken in 1926.

A 42-story Gothic Revival skyscraper

It functions as a primary classroom and administrative center of the university but is also home to the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.  There are also many specialty spaces including a studio theater, food court, study lounges, offices, computer and language labs.  The entrance contains a cavernous half acre four-story vaulted Gothic study and event hall. Throughout the building are noted examples of stained glass, stone, wood, and iron work and is often used by the University in photographs, postcards, and other advertisements.

But one of the best kept secrets in Pittsburgh are the 29 Nationality Rooms that embody the architecture and artifacts of the different nationalities that settled here.  The first four rooms reflect the Russian, German, Swedish and Scottish heritages. The amazing aspect of the project is that each ethnic group was asked to raise the funds to complete the room. Some cost as much as $300,000 but recent additions have upped the price to $500,000.

The rooms are used as classrooms but can be toured for $3.00 per person. The period depicted in each of the rooms including cultural artifacts and architectural design elements must be prior to 1787 – the year the US Constitution was adopted. The variety of styles and ingenious design concepts displayed are truly amazing. The Polish Room is themed to the Polish Renaissance and Wawel Castle during Poland’s Golden Agew during the reign of King Sigismund the First. What makes the tour even better is the fact that visitors can also take the elevator to the top floor of the towering building and take in a panoramic view of the city.  This site is a Pittsburgh “must-see.”

Pittsburgh Mansion Book Captures History

In the 19th century Pittsburgh was recognized as a major manufacturing center.  The subsequent rise of the steel industry created a wave of prosperity that prompted a wash of extravagant residences to be built.  What better premise for a book.  Pittsburgh’s Mansions explores the stately homes of prominent residents from the 1830s through the 1920s.  The author is making a rare appearance at the Oakmont Library on Saturday, January 25 at 1:00 p.m.  Melanie Linn Gutowski is a writer, historian and lifelong resident of Pittsburgh. She has published many history features in western Pennsylvania and national publications.

As a child Melanie  took art classes at Baywood, the Alexander King estate in Highland Park. The experience left her with a lasting love for art and the grandeur of old houses.  The 30-year-old author grew up in Stanton Heights and now lives in Sharpsburg in a red-brick, Queen Anne-style house from 1905.  She has a BS  in the History of Art and Architecture from the University of Pittsburgh and an MS in Professional writing from Chatham University.

Below is a design by architect George Orth completed in 1900. Wilpen Hall was the Sewickley Heights summer estate of William Penn Snyder Sr. who was the founder of Shenango Furnace and Shenango Steamship Companies.  It was designed by architect George Orth and completed in 1900 is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Shadyside Hospital founder Dr. James H. McClelland lived in the  house that is now a bed and breakfast on Fifth Avenue in Shadyside called Sunnyledge. Across the street from it is the the restored English manor of Willis McCook who was Henry Clay Frick’s attorney. The McCook mansion is now part of a boutique hotel called The Mansions on Fifth.

Sunnyledge Boutique Hotel & Tea Room

On the North Side sits the West North Avenue mansion of department store founder Russell Boggs which was restored in 1998 and became the Inn on the Mexican War Streets.

The book’s cover shows Lyndhurst as the Squirrel Hill home of William Thaw Sr.  His daughter Alice Cornelia Thaw was married in the house in 1903 to the Seventh Marquess of Hertford and became the Countess of Yarmouth. Lyndhurst was demolished in 1944 so this book is the only way you can capture the integrity of this estate.  You will simply gasp when you see the entry hall embellished with a grand staircase trimmed in ornate ironwork, tapestries and stained-glass panels.  But all of these mansions will take your breath away.  This 127-page book serves as a wonderful visual tour for the precious estates that were restored and the unfortunate ones that were demolished.

Free Kid Events at Frick

The Frick Art and Historical Center is definitely one of the hidden gems of Pittsburgh.  It is tucked away on Penn Avenue with a reverent air of old world class and charm.  I am always surprised by the number of people who live in Pittsburgh and have never been to this gracious old home with such an historical past.  When I first moved to Pittsburgh Helen Clay Frick was still living in the mansion where she spent her childhood.  She decided to return to her birthplace in 1981 after living for many years in New York.  Her family had relocated there in 1905 but she always considered our city home and was excited to return.

Her long-time wish was for her home and the surrounding estate to be preserved and opened to the public.  The mansion is known as Clayton from Henry Clay Frick’s maternal side of the family. Helen had The Frick Art Museum constructed in 1970 to allow the public to enjoy  her art collection.  You can tour the art museum for free with the price of  a mansion tour which runs $12.00 for adults and $6.00 for children.  However, the Car and Carriage Museum is always open for free.  It is one of my favorite places on the estate and includes Henry Clay Frick’s 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost touring car and Howard Heinz’s 1898 Panhard (reputed to be the first car in Pittsburgh).


Check the schedule for free  kids programs on the first Saturday of the month that are focused on art and history.  On January 4th you can check out the galleries for cool colors and shifty shapes.  You can then put your good ideas to work and make a calendar to help you keep track of 2014 for free.  They also have great films for free at The Frick Art Museum.  Check on The Red Badge of Courage on Friday, January 10 at 12:00 p.m.

If you can’t make it this weekend, be sure and check out one of the following.  There is no better way to spend time with the family and learn something in the process.  It is a worthy endeavor that will ensure lasting memories.

GreenKids: It’s For the Birds

Saturday, February 1

11:00–11:45 a.m.

Meet at Lexington Education Center

Even in the coldest weather, the Frick’s trees are home to birds.  Come learn about birds in winter, and make a feeder to take home for the feathery friends in your own backyard.

Free, drop-in program.

Art Kids: Mad about Mardi Gras

Saturday, March 1


Meet at the Frick Art Museum.

Liven up your Saturday morning with a festive Mardi Gras celebration.  The gallery’s fanciful shapes and vibrant colors serve as inspiration for cool and creative mask making.  The real fun begins with a spirited parade around the museum. Free, drop in program.

March Madness at the Frick for Families!

No, not basketball—it’s just the chance to get out of the house and try something new as winter turns into spring.

ArtKids: Mad about Mardi Gras

Saturday March 1


Meet at the Frick Art Museum. Free.

Family Fun Day: American Adventure

Saturday, March 15
11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.

The Frick Art Museum. Free.

Family Kite Workshop: Make It! Fly It!

Saturday, March 29

10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.

Ages 7 and up with an adult. Free.

CarKids: Merrily We Roll Along

Saturday, April 5

11:00–11:45 a.m.  Meet at the Car and Carriage Museum.

See what road trips in the 1890’s were like compared to family travel today as we check out the Frick family carriages and cars.  Make a travel game to take on your next journey.

Free, drop-in program.

There is no end of fun to be had in Pittsburgh.  Brave the cold and seek forth on an adventure.