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Amtrak crash raises huge questions about transportation and infrastructure spending

The train disaster, which happened only a few miles from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, raises a lot of questions about the state of our country's infrastructure. 

Investigators into the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia are focusing on excess speed, but there is a related issue: the overall condition of Amtrak and the nation’s infrastructure. One of the reasons that American trains should not travel 100 miles an hour in many places is that the state of our rail system — like the state of our bridges, highways and airports — is not good...

Much of the problem of crumbling infrastructure has existed for years. There is, however, a new development that has made things worse. The combined money that federal, state and local governments spend on construction has dropped significantly, relative to the size of the economy, in the last five years. And only part of the decline stems from the end of the stimulus program, which temporarily lifted infrastructure spending.

Such spending now represents about 1.5 percent of total economic activity, down from about 1.8 percent on average from 1993 through 2008. It’s at its lowest level in at least 22 years. (A hat-tip to Joe Weisenthal, of Business Insider, who calculated this statistic in 2013, after the collapse of a bridge near Seattle.)

Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary and Harvard president, sent an email to us today making an argument similar to Mr. Weisenthal’s: More infrastructure spending would both make accidents less likely and bring economic benefits.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here

Universities and drug companies partner to tackle big diseases

New partnerships between universities and drug companies show promises for complex diseases. 

British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline is teaming up with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to start a research institute and a company aimed at curing H.I.V. infection and AIDS... The company and the university will each own half of the new company, Qura Therapeutics, which will have the rights to commercialize any discoveries... 

The arrangement is part of a trend in which pharmaceutical companies are working directly with university researchers. Novartis and the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, are building a research center on the Philadelphia campus to work on ways to genetically alter a patient’s immune cells to battle cancer.

But while the University of Pennsylvania partnership is already producing striking remissions in some cancer patients, the attempt to cure H.I.V. is expected to take far longer and may fall short. The $20 million being contributed is a small sum for a company like Glaxo, which spent close to $5 billion on research and development last year.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here

Three Philadelphia women get a deal in the 'Shark Tank'

Zoom Interiors, a startup run by three Philly transplants, earned a deal on the ABC show that funds promising entrepreneurs. In the end, Barbara Corcoran offered $100,000 for 33 percent of the company.

Beatrice Fischel-Bock, Madeline Fraser and Elizabeth Grover all met as students during their first interior design course at George Washington University. “We became friends instantly and worked together for the next three years of design school learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Fischel-Bock said.

The company was born after friends started asking them to design their first apartments upon graduation. However, at the time they were all studying abroad, but quickly realized they were still able to assist their friends, who were all on budgets.
“It dawned on us that this is clearly an undeserved part of the market,” Fischel-Bock explained. “The design industry had just been shaken by the recession and people were very conscious about affordability. We decided to try our new formula with paying customers.”

...After starting their business in Washington DC, where they were in school, they moved to Philly after graduation. Fischel-Bock refers to the city as “the best kept secret on the East coast.” “It has the highest rate of millennials moving in to the city and just has such an authentic feel. The startup community is very close knit and supportive and continues to grow,” she said.


Original source: The Heavy
Read the complete story here

Erie Craft Beer Week celebrates northwest PA suds

Another PA craft beer week show's the state's growing suds obsession. 

Not so long ago, having eight craft breweries would be a good number for a Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week.

But the craft-beer boom being as widespread as it is, that’s how many are collaborating on the first Erie Craft Beer Week, which started May 11 and runs through 17 in the little city on Lake Erie. That’s concurrent with American Craft Beer Week.

Four participating brewers are in Downtown Erie proper: the Brewerie at Union Station, Erie Brewing Co., Lavery Brewing Co. and the newest, Erie Ale Works. The other four are in that corner of the state: Voodoo Brewery (Meadville), TimberCreek Tap & Table (also Meadville), Sprague Farm & Brew Works (Venango) and Blue Canoe Brewing (Titusville).

But with at least two more nearby breweries set to open soon -- Millcreek Brewing Co. in Millcreek and Nostrovia Brewing Co. in Harborcreek -- Erie’s brewing scene is quite robust for a relatively small city.


Original source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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PA company Rent the Chicken taps an undercooked market

This Commonwealth company taps the growing poultry leasing market. 

"When I answer the phone and I say, 'Rent The Chicken, this is Jenn,' they giggle and say, 'I would like to rent the chicken.' And then they giggle some more," Tompkins said.

But poultry leasing has turned out to be a serious investment as more people want fresh eggs from humanely raised hens, without the responsibilities of ownership. In two years, Pennsylvania-based Rent The Chicken has expanded to three other states, plus Toronto.

The growth is not an aberration. Coop rentals are booming nationwide as residents in cities, suburbs and the countryside flock to the anti-factory, locally sourced food movement. Some families also rent fowl as an educational experience for their children.

"As a society, we don't really like commitment," Tompkins said while visiting an affiliate in Mount Holly, New Jersey. "We don't want a contract on our cellphones; we don't want long-term commitment with our cable company. With chickens, they can live to seven or 10 years, and people are a bit scared of that."

Rentals remove that risk. Prices depend on the company, location and lease duration but start around $150 month. Most basic packages include two hens, a coop, feed and phone availability to answer questions. Birds can be returned early if things don't work out — and are available for adoption if things go well.

Original source: Associated Press via The New York Times
Read the complete story here

Attracting female engineers, in Pennsylvania and beyond

Schools, including Penn State, are working hard to increase the number of female engineers both in the classroom and in the field. 

Why are there so few female engineers? Many reasons have been offered: workplace sexism, a lack of female role models, stereotypes regarding women’s innate technical incompetency, the difficulties of combining tech careers with motherhood. Proposed fixes include mentor programs, student support groups and targeted recruitment efforts. Initiatives have begun at universities and corporations, including Intel’s recent $300 million diversity commitment.

But maybe one solution is much simpler, and already obvious. An experience here at the University of California, Berkeley, where I teach, suggests that if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves. That applies not only to computer engineering but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical and chemical engineering.

I work at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, which recently began a new program that, without any targeted outreach, achieved 50 percent female enrollment in just one academic year. In the fall of 2014, U.C. Berkeley began offering a new Ph.D. minor in development engineering for students doing thesis work on solutions for low-income communities. Half of the students enrolled in the inaugural class are women. They are designing affordable solutions for clean drinking water, inventing medical diagnostic equipment for neglected tropical diseases and enabling local manufacturing in poor and remote regions...

Arizona State University said that its humanitarian engineering courses and study options have twice as many women as its traditional engineering classes. Comparable programs at the University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University and Santa Clara University also report significant increases in the numbers of women participating.


Original source: The New York Times
Read the complete story here.
 

Touring the turnpike's abandoned tunnels

Can a series of abandoned turnpike tunnels be saved? Or will they simply remain a subject of fear and fascination? 

Outside, the old turnpike road still runs straight, level and true – easily accommodating the 30-passenger bus that Thursday took a contingent of state legislators and local officials through the tunnels on a tour. Organized by the planning staffs of Bedford and Fulton counties, the tour was to introduce the tunnels – and a plan to return them to a new glory – to the officials (more on that in a story planned for Tuesday).

Inside the former maintenance areas at the head of each tunnel are the massive turbines that once pumped air into the shafts, left when the turnpike abandoned the tunnels in the mid-1960s. Today they are rusting, graffiti-laden hulks, and yet still impressive – big enough for a man to crawl inside, if his courage holds and his common sense leaves him in a moment of braggadocio.

Tour leader Murray Schrotenboer, owner of Grouseland Tours, has biked and hiked this road a hundred times. Standing on the abandoned roadbed Thursday, Schrotenboer said the abandoned tunnels are "a huge deal, and once you're on it, you understand.

"Pennsylvania has some fabulous biking trails, but there is nothing like this ... this is one of a kind."


Original source: PennLive
Read the complete story -- and check out the pictures -- here.

Philly exports its culinary legacy: Cheesesteaks, water ice, soft pretzels and Wawa

A couple Philly mainstays -- Rita's, Tony Luke's, Philly Pretzel Factory, Wawa -- look to take over the world.

The man intent on taking the Philly cheesesteak global saw a familiar sight from home on a recent trip to Florida: a Wawa.
The hoagie-making, coffee-brewing convenience and gas chain from the Philadelphia area is pushing hard into the Sunshine State, opening more than 60 stores since 2012 with another 25 planned by the end of the year.

Albie Misci, sales director at cheesesteak chain Tony Luke's, knows the idea.

He's helping take Philly's most famous culinary treat to Florida, California and even the Middle Eastern nation of Bahrain.

Other staples from the City of Brotherly Love, including its beloved soft pretzels and water ice, are also going global, as their Philadelphia-based purveyors aggressively expand into national - and international - chains.


Original source: Associated Press
Read the complete story here

Family takes epic journey from Argentina to PA for Pope's visit

A family embarks on an epic journey from South America, aiming to arrive in time for the Pope's visit to Philadelphia. 

As many as two million people are expected to be in Philadelphia for the visit by Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families in September. But it’s unlikely any of them will have a journey as long — or as remarkable — as one family from Argentina.

Packed in a 1980 VW minibus are Noël Zemborain; her husband, Alfredo Walker (nicknamed ‘Catire’); and their four kids: Carmin, 2; Mia, 5; Dimas, 8; and Cala, 12.

“It’s a very big family,” says Noël. “A very intense family experience.”

That’s putting it mildly.

In March, mom and dad ditched their jobs, drained their savings, and told their three girls and one boy that they were about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.

“We are traveling all through the continents toward Philadelphia,” says Noël. “We are meeting people, we are learning things about them, and getting to know other ways of living.”


Original source: CBS
Read the complete story here

PA's latest celebrity: A cow named 'Cardio Brisket'

A cow in Marianna, Pa., was born with a strange birth defect -- and he's doing just fine!

A calf born with its heart in its neck is thriving on a western Pennsylvania farm despite the unusual deformity.

Tom Leech, the Amwell Township farmer who owns the 6-week-old calf, researched the disorder on the Internet and found just two instances, one in Kentucky in 1903 and another in Turkey, though it's not clear when that one was born.

"No one has ever seen it, never heard of it," Leech told the (Washington) Observer-Reporter (http://bit.ly/1FQwTU0 ).

Not without a sense of humor, Leech has named the calf "Cardio Brisket" because its heart lies in its throat, just above the tender breast cut. But he's serious about keeping it healthy and, if nothing else, learning more about the defect for the benefit of other farmers.


Original source: The New York Times (AP)
Read the complete story here.

Commonwealth housing market remains strong

According to a new report, housing sales climbed 10 percent throughout all of Pennsylvania in March, and home prices are up, too.

There were more than 3,000 more closings, 28,111 vs. 25,400, in the first quarter of 2015, according to a report released Monday by the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors. Median home prices also are up from $155,000 a year ago to $158,000 in the first three months of 2015.

"We're seeing healthy activity in markets throughout the commonwealth," said Pennsylvania Association of Realtors President Ron Croushore in a statement. “While each local real estate market is unique, I think most markets are looking positive and will see a healthy increase in 2015. Consumers are showing more interest in buying homes, and sellers are often receiving multiple offers on listings."


Original source: Pittsburgh Business Times
Read the complete story here

Paste Magazine drinks its way across Philly's craft beer scene

Paste highlights 10 Philadelphia breweries, including some of our favorites. 

Philly Beer Week is swiftly approaching, but if you cannot wait until May, quench your thirst at the storied pillars of Philadelphia’s craft brew scene any time of the year. Philadelphians are as proud of their beer as they are of monuments like the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross House and the Rocky Steps. Nothing could possibly go better with a Philly cheesesteak than an ice-cold brew.

Original source: Paste Magazine
Read the complete story here

Satisfaction: The Rolling Stones come to Pennsylvania

The Rolling Stones have announced a round of tour dates, and they include a stop in Steel City. The British legends will hit Pittsburgh on June 20.

The so-called "Zip Code" tour will once again reunite singer Mick Jagger, drummer Charlie Watts and guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.

The last time the Rolling Stones played North American stadiums was during their "A Bigger Bang Tour" in 2006. They opted for arena venues for their "50 & Counting" tour in 2012 and 2013.

"We love being out on the road and it is great to come back to North America," said Keith Richards in a statement. "I can't wait to get back on the stage!"


And quite the stage it will be, including a section that juts far into the crowd, allowing the Stones to interact with fans. As is the band's practice, the stage design will employ cutting-edge technology to enhance the performance, including video screens and special effects.

Original source: The New York Times
Check out the complete list here.

Big drama on the Eagle Cam: An eaglet is born!

An eaglet is born live on the Pennsylvania Game Commission's wildly popular Eagle Cam. Check out video and images here!

Original source: Philadelphia Magazine


 

PA chefs earn James Beard Award nominations

Several Pennsylvania chefs and restauranteurs have earned honors from the prestigious organization. They include: 

Marc Vetri, Vetri, Philadelphia
Stephen Starr, Starr Restaurants, Philadelphia (the Dandelion, Talula’s Garden, Serpico and others)
Alex Bois, High Street on Market, Philadelphia
Joe Cicala, Le Virtù, Philadelphia
Rich Landau, Vedge, Philadelphia
Greg Vernick, Vernick Food & Drink, Philadelphia


Check out the full list of nominations here

Original source: The New York Times
 
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