Village of Pittsburgh

by mo on 06/27/2010

Two weeks into my internship in Pittsburgh, I have learned many things. Most notably, Pittsburgh is not a city. Not really even a town. I prefer to refer to it as a village. On multiple occasions, I have met someone randomly at a cafe or on a bus, and then seen them < 24 hours later, in a completely different part of Pittsburgh. I swear this is not normal. So why the Pittsburgh stuff anyway... this summer, I'm doing research at the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center, which means I'll be an expert on Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh by the end of July, as well as learning a thing or two about learning science, misconceptions about decimal arithmetic, and specifically how examples with errors in them might help you learn.

Carnegie Mellon

Kinda looks like this:


The campus is really nice, pretty small, and you can see the Learning Cathedral from, well, everywhere (the tall thing in the background):


The best part of the engineering buildings is that they’re all connected by bridges. The downside is that you never know what floor is ground level – it can be anywhere from floor 1 to 4 depending on what building you’re in, and the bridges aren’t on the same floors either. After 3 weeks though, I’m confident that I could survive without actually going outside in the winter.

The Gates building is the wackiest looking, but it does have a bunch of nice couches and a balcony that I work on sometimes, when my lab’s lack of sunlight is getting to me (get it, there’s a lot of windows in the gates building… ha…)


The bridge to the Gates building is cool…


…especially at night.


(we had a mini photo shoot there last night):




But the CMU campus is not all fun and games. In fact, there is one horrible, horrible thing going on here… a giant, slanted pole in the middle of the main quad area, with people walking up it:


This thing actually creeps me out significantly. Why are these people walking up into the sky?


Any why must these creepy fake people watch them from the ground? Sometimes there’s real people staring up at the pole too, but I assume they’re fake… as was happening when I took this picture… spot the real boy!



So I started work on June 7. My second week of work, however, was effectively lost, because I ended up volunteering for ITS2010, a conference going on at CMU this year about Intelligent Tutoring Systems, which is pretty relevant to the research I’m doing. Also I was interested in participating in a non-reflections|projections conference and seeing how they do things. There’s a bunch of pics from the conference here. The conference basically involved:
– lots of cool talks about intelligent tutors (computerized educational software that is ‘intelligent’ in some way, usually adjusting to the student somehow)
– lots of free cheese & wine, and a constant supply of coffee
– meeting lots of new people from all over the world who research the interesting stuff mentioned above (yeah, my Japanese knowledge DID come in handy!)
– A kickass banquet, with more of the above-mentioned free foods, plus, pretty plants with little aliens in them! (Banquet was at the Phipps Conservatory)


And Jack Mostow singing…


…and us singing with Jack Mostow:

Pittsburgh Wisdom

Here’s what I’ve figured out and noticed so far…

Public Transportation: The bus system leaves a lot to be desired. There’s not really enough buses to begin with, but the service makes the experience even more unpleasant. Buses don’t stop for you unless you practically jump into the middle of the street and wave at them (and even then, they stop like 30 feet in front of the bus stop), they love to yell at you about you paying at the wrong time (going one direction you pay before the ride, going the other direction, it’s after, god forbid you don’t know which to do). While the occasional bus driver will be extra friendly and help you find your way, asking simple questions to most drivers incites severe rage, such as when we asked about Highland Ave., and the bus driver snapped back at us, “What about it!?” Come on, lady, we’re on a bus, what do you THINK we want to know about it…? or the other day when we got on a bus that had opened its doors, only to be yelled at because apparently it stops and waits before we can get on the bus… let’s just say, I avoid the bus whenever possible, because it just makes me depressed.

Taxis: The lovely bus system ceases to function after around midnight, which means you’re stuck trying to find a taxi. Yeah, good luck with that. The first weekend here, I was stranded with my friend in Southside, the main go-to for nightlife. At 2AM when everything was closing down, we tried to flag down a cab, but there were very few, and the ones that did drive by were full. Upon calling a cab company, they claimed they wouldn’t send me a cab, because I was in a busy area where you’re supposed to “just flag them down.” We had to specifically find a more remote location to wait in order to call a cab, and even so it took 45 minutes for said cab to show up. I have a feeling this is not the last time I will be stranded somewhere in Pittsburgh.

Food: Don’t expect too much. Pittsburgh seems to be really good at bar food, especially half-off late-night food (Fuel & Fuddle is excellent, though getting a table for 14 people at 11 PM does prove to be challenging), but if you’re looking for ethnic food (and I am) you’re pretty much out of luck. There’s a thai restaurant in shadyside that’s good but far too expensive, but that’s kind of the only asian restaurant for almost miles… other than the CMU trucks, which are actually pretty decent. More on them another day.

Weather: Just carry an umbrella with you, all the time. It will be totally sunny, then start pouring for half an hour (right when you need to walk outside, too)…so be warned.

Bubble tea: A major issue for any new place I live in… and Pittsburgh has by far the worst bubble tea situation out of any place I have ever lived. I have tried four places now and only one has been good enough that I might go back.
Stay away from:
– The kiosk in front of the learning cathedral… not enough boba, flavor was eh.
– Lulu’s: possibly the worst bubble tea I’ve ever tasted. Threw it out halfway through.
– Oriental Express: Probably the best option in walking distance of CMU, but still pretty eh. I liked the Taro, but have heard bad things about fruit flavors (which I never get).
The only good option so far is the Rose Tea Cafe in Squirrel Hill. It had your standard bubble tea that one might expect from every bubble tea establishment… not enough flavors, but I’ll take what I can get.

Paper towel dispensers: I have never been to a city that has such a hard time with dispensing paper towels in bathrooms. Across the city (including my own dorm, and places at CMU), the dispensers just don’t work, the paper gets stuck inside, or whoever is restocking the paper just completely gives up and there’s just a roll of paper sitting on a countertop, outside of the dispenser. WHY IS THIS SO HARD, PITTSBURGH!?

Mt. Washington/The Incline: Is definitely worth going to after dark for an awesome view of the city.




Lots more Pittsburgh insights later, DC next week, and more. Peace out.