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UPMC and Pitt make strides in robot arm study

In 1996, Jan Scheuermann was a healthy 36-year-old woman running a small business and raising two children in California. Everything changed, however, when she suddenly came down with a mysterious illness. Soon her arms and legs weakened to the point where she became confined to a wheelchair, and could no longer feed, dress or bathe herself. When she relocated to Pittsburgh in 1998, she was diagnosed with spinocerebellar degeneration, a condition that progressively deteriorates connections between the brain and muscles.

But over the past few years, Scheuermann, who now resides in Whitehall Borough, worked with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC to help develop a technology that could make a huge difference to those living with quadriplegia. In 2012, she was outfitted with a human-like robot arm that could interpret signals sent from electrodes implanted in her brain. Before long, Scheuermann was giving out high fives and feeding herself chocolate thanks to the mind-controlled appendage she nicknamed Hector.

Since then, Scheuermann has achieved a wider range of motion. At first, the arm demonstrated 3-degree control, meaning she could reach it in and out, move it left and right, and up and down. Within three months, she graduated to what scientists call 7-degree control, which includes flexing the wrist back and forth, moving it from side to side, and rotating it clockwise and counter-clockwise, as well as gripping objects. Recently, the Pitt School of Medicine published its latest findings detailing how Scheuermann used Hector to reach, grasp, and place a variety of objects, making it the first-ever instance of 10-degree brain control of a prosthetic device.

Senior investigator Jennifer Collinger credits the study’s success partly to Scheuermann’s dedication.

“We asked her to come in a couple times a week initially for a year,” said Collinger. “And she ended up coming into the lab for more than two and half years, and was extremely motivated and committed.”

The groundbreaking development means that, with the device, paralyzed individuals will not only regain an arm, but one that mimics natural movement involving more coordinated use of the individual fingers and thumb. Though Scheuermann ended her participation in the study last October, tests to improve the brain-computer interface technology will continue with other subjects, preferably outside of a lab setting.

“We’d like to be able to demonstrate this level of control with multiple individuals and have it work in a home environment,” said Collinger. “That requires not only making sure the system is more robust so that it works outside of the laboratory, but that the equipment itself is wireless and more portable.”

Who's hiring in PGH? MAYA Design, Point Park University and more!

The holidays are over, and for those looking for a new job, that means it's time to get back to business. Each week, Pop City brings you exciting job opportunities in Pittsburgh. If you have a career opportunity to list, email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "hiring" in the subject line. Let us know on Twitter @popcitypgh if we've helped you achieve your New Year's resolution of finding a new job.

The Eastside Neighborhood Employment Center (ENEC), an organization that helps East End community residents compete in today’s job market, is hiring a full-time employment coordinator. The multi-faceted position requires the ability to work in a fast-paced environment while maintaining organization and open communication with staff and the community. Areas of emphasis include youth ages 14 to 21, foster care youth, veterans, and community members with criminal backgrounds. Candidates must possess a Bachelor’s degree or at least three years of program management experience, a valid PA drivers license, proficiency in Microsoft office and database management, and security clearances. Please email resume and cover letter to employmentworks1@aol.com.

The Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University is looking for an assistant professor of dance. The tenure-track position starts Aug. 15, 2015, and requires an artist with expertise and experience teaching at the university level with a demonstrated commitment toward training young dancers for a diverse marketplace. Qualifications include a Master of Fine Arts in dance, choreography or a related terminal degree, a minimum of three years of university teaching experience and five years of professional dance experience. Interested candidates should submit a letter of application, CV, statement of teaching philosophy, list of three professional references with contact information, and samples of creative work via DVD or URL to: Rubén Graciani, Chair – Department of Dance, Conservatory of Performing Arts, Point Park University, 201 Wood Street, Suite 625 LH, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 or by e-mail to conservatory@pointpark.edu. If submitting your application by e-mail, please note that the subject line must state the position for which you are applying. Review of applications began on Jan. 5, 2015 and will continue until the position is filled.

MAYA Design, a leading design consultancy and innovation lab, is looking to fill two full-time positions. The lead designer demands someone who can collaboratively lead interdisciplinary teams, projects and client relationships, and feel at ease strategically advising clients and building relationships that foster change for individuals and organizations. The Downtown firm is also looking for a systems administrator to participate in strategy for application, desktop, network, and server support. Requirements include a Bachelor's degree in a computer-related field or equivalent experience, five years of experience supporting IT systems and users in a production environment, and strong Linux/UNIX administration and support experience.

Louis Plung & Company, a well-established regional public accounting firm in downtown Pittsburgh, is seeking a full-time marketing coordinator. The role requires a dynamic, creative professional who will assist in the development and execution of marketing-related projects and initiatives. Responsibilities include maintaining and updating the firm's blog, e-newsletter, website, and social media presence. Candidates must have a Bachelor’s degree in communications, marketing, or a related field, and two to four years of related professional experience in a similar setting.

RMU engineers take 3-D printing in new direction

For nearly a decade, the Leetsdale-based manufacturer Schroeder Industries has worked with the engineering department at Robert Morris University (RMU) to produce hydraulic filter prototypes through 3-D printing. Now the project will enter a new phase thanks to some generous funding.

RMU and Schroeder have announced plans to utilize 3-D printing in the production of actual filter components after receiving a $112,000 grant from America Makes, an organization focused on helping the United States grow capabilities and strength in 3-D printing, or, as it's also referred to, additive manufacturing. The money will go toward purchasing additional printers to create filters and other Schroeder products, which are used in machinery for a wide range of purposes, including refuse processing, steel making, oil and gas drilling, mining, defense, and forestry.

The prototypes, which are created using a plastic and ceramic nanoparticle mixture, are an essential part of the design process leading up to production. Recently, students in RMU’s Integrated Engineering Design class printed filter components for Schroeder and, through flow simulations, tested their ability to efficiently remove contaminants. Arif Sirinterlikci, the university's head of the engineering department and an engineering professor, leads the project. Sirinterlikci explains that advancements in the technology could enable manufacturers like Schroeder to save time through faster printing.

"The area used to be called rapid prototyping, and early rapid prototyping took a few weeks," said Sirinterlikci. "Now we could print in a few hours to a few days."

Currently, RMU has nine printers that fulfill various capacities. As Sirinterlikci explains, the goal is not to invest in expensive, specialized machines, but to purchase low-cost machines -- ranging in price from $3 to $20,000 -- and modify them to suit the needs of the project. The move is not only economical, but practical.

"If you bring in a printer that costs $200 to $300,000, it's hard to make modifications, and you're not going to be able to try different materials," said Sirinterlikci. "Low-cost machines allow us to experiment easily without the risks. So you don't need millions of dollars to accomplish this project or any project like this."

The ability to print real, working filters will not only benefit Schroeder, but the RMU engineering students who gain hands-on experience by designing, printing, and testing products in the classroom. If successful, the development will also make the school a pioneer in the area of 3-D printing manufacturing.

Spand-Ice offers wearable back pain relief

After years of suffering back pain due to a hyper-mobile spine, business professional and Stanton Heights resident Helen Behn decided it was time to do something about it. She used her eclectic background in retail and Internet business, e-commerce production, marketing and design to found Spand-Ice, a Pittsburgh-based startup specializing in clothing to manage back pain on the go. Now the company is ready to launch its first product, an invention inspired by Behn's trouble finding effective therapy.

"I struggled with that balance, especially having a very busy lifestyle, so I would often suffer through the pain,” said Behn. “Since I couldn’t find anything in the marketplace that could fit my needs, I decided to make a garment encompassing the best of current therapy products into a mobile and flexible design.”

After two years of research and development, Spand-Ice will soon introduce the Revive Tank, a full-zip, workout-inspired tank top that uses hot and cold therapy packs to address low- and mid-back pain. Made from a special combination of Spandex, mesh, powermesh and neoprene, the garment fits snugly to help reduce discomfort and inflammation, while still allowing freedom of movement. Research has already shown that the product works: According to an Oswestry Back Index scoring system, which gauges the effectiveness of treatment over time, 82 percent of Spand-Ice testers experienced a decrease in pain after two weeks of wearing the Revive Tank garment. 

In order to increase the company's exposure, and raise the $30,000 needed to produce factory minimums - 700 units - Spand-Ice will launch a Kickstarter for the Revive Tank on January 13, 2015. The campaign will also offer customers a chance to buy the Revive Tank at a special pre-sale price.

Behn believes that the Kickstarter platform will enable Spand-Ice to reach more people who either suffer from back pain or work closely with back pain sufferers.

“It is our plan to go after chiropractors, physical therapists and specialty back retail stores, and then potentially cross into the athletic sector,” said Behn. “By doing this campaign, it will help us learn more about our target demographic.”

Who's hiring in PGH? RAND, Veterans Leadership Program and more

If you're ready to stop shopping for presents and start shopping for a new job, here are some possibilities for you. Each week, Pop City brings you exciting job opportunities in Pittsburgh. If you have a career opportunity to list, email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "hiring" in the subject line. Let us know on Twitter @popcitypgh if we've helped you snag the job of your dreams.

The Rand Corporation, a think tank with offices in Pittsburgh, is looking to fill a variety of positions where Ph.D.'s are usually a pre-requisite. The group is currently looking for one or more Radar Experts, who know everything about radar theory and applications, electronic warfare, and signal processing.These engineers will apply their skills to emerging problems at the cutting edge of their fields and apply their insights to critical policy issues. RAND studies often pose novel challenges in analysis, modeling, design, and computing. Examples include space technology, robust communications, modeling and simulation, mathematical programming, game theory, systems analysis, and transportation problems (to name just a few). The ideal candidates would have a Ph.D. in radar-relevant engineering fields or be at the dissertation stage. The group is also looking for Public Health ResearchersCriminologistsEducation Policy Specialists and more. 

The Veterans Leadership Program, an organization that provides social services to veterans, is looking for an intake specialist responsible for providing an initial assessment of client needs, briefing clients on pertinent programs within the organization and throughout the region’s social service support network, and referring clients to other VLP staff and/or additional support agencies. This position may require occasional travel by personal automobile to meet with clients within our service delivery area, including Allegheny and the immediate surrounding counties. Hire should have at least one year of related experience and a degree in a related field. The organization is also looking to hire an office administrator.

The International Society for Bipolar Disorders, a not-for-profit professional membership organization for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, is looking to hire a program coordinator with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis on Project Management preferred or 5 years consecutive experience. The coordinator would work with committee chairs to ensure projects are on target to meet deadlines; collaborate with other ISBD staff to create and manage program budgets; schedule and take minutes for project-related teleconferences; support ISBD Awards, Education, and Research Committee initiatives; and perform office tasks. The society is also looking for a part-time bookkeeper.

Paid internship:

Neighborhood Allies, a community organization funding group, is searching for a photography and graphic design intern to work 15 hours per week for $10 per hour. The ideal candidate will be a college senior or junior with a 3.0 GPA currently majoring in photography, graphic design, journalism, fine arts, communications, or a media-related program. More details can be found here.

And if these jobs aren't enough, check out last week's listings for more opportunities.        

Lily&Strum website can predict the perfect gift

Some people are natural-born gift givers. But for the rest of us, there's Lily&Strum, a new website from a Pittsburgh-based startup. 

Visitors to the site can log on for free via Facebook and swiftly find the perfect gift by answering a few simple questions. The site works with visitors to deliver a variety of gift options based upon the occasion and the personal preferences of the gift recipient. Lily&Strum Director of Curation Lauren Urbschat said that every item suggested for purchase has been personally selected by one of the company's curators who comb the web looking for and categorizing unique and interesting items so that you don't have to search the endless Amazon rabbit hole on your own. The site provides recommendations to various online retailers so that all gifts can be purchased at the click of a button.

Despite her various discoveries while curating, Urbschat said she has managed to avoid amassing tons of cool stuff. Instead she passes on her one-of-a-kind finds to grateful friends and family members. 

Lily&Strum functions kind of like the popular music personalization site Pandora, but Urbschat said it was difficult to fine-tune the company's recommendations to make them most useful. After all, how does one categorize a hat or a book about gardening? "We did an event where we brought people together and had them shop with us so we could understand their thought process," Urbschat said, adding that the company is always working to fine-tune its suggestions.

So, whether you're struggling to come up with the perfect gift for an office mate for secret Santa or if you just don't know what questions to ask when shopping for your sister, Lily&Strum can at least point you in the right direction. What you do with their suggestions is up to you.

Who's hiring in Pittsburgh? YWCA, Neighborhood Allies, Mattress Factory and more

If all you want for Christmas is a shiny new job, here are some possibilities for you. Each week, Pop City brings you exciting job opportunities in Pittsburgh. If you have a career opportunity to list, email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "hiring" in the subject line. Let us know on Twitter @popcitypgh if we've helped you snag the job of your dreams.

YWCA of Pittsburgh, an organization dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women, is hiring for a number of full-time positions. The organization is looking for an eligibility coordinator to counsel clients and determine which public assistance programs they might be eligible for; a permanent housing coordinator to help clients find stable living situations and provide monitoring of living situations; a Women's Resource Center director to oversee the day-to-day operations of the center and manage its staff; a Women's Resource specialist to manage department databases, financial assistance funds, and internal operations, including the department manual, trainings, and professional development; director of Youth Services and STEM Education to manage an ongoing comprehensive science, technology, engineering, math and leadership program for middle and high school girls; and a STEM coordinator to ensure quality program/project development and implementation in the areas of community outreach, recruitment, enrollment, data collection and more.

The Mattress Factory, an art installation space on the North Side, is looking for an institutional giving manager with demonstrated fundraising abilities and a proven track record of securing over $500,000 in grant funding annually among other experience.

Neighborhood Allies, a community development intermediary, is looking for a program manager for lending and financial services to provide general management and oversight of all organizational investment activity, including origination, documentation, risk analysis and monitoring. The hire would work with community development partners to assess feasibility, develop realistic financing strategies, and access public subsidies and conventional financing in order to assure successful project execution and identify and develop sound real estate deals that will match specific investment targets for lending, among other responsibilities. 

Hospital Albert Schweitzer, a Pittsburgh-based hospital dedicated to serving the needs of people in Haiti, is hiring a major gifts officer responsible for stewardship of existing major donors and for identifying and cultivating new major gift prospects. Major gifts are US $50,000 and greater. This position reports to the director of development, and works closely with an active board of directors.

Rebuilding Together, an organization that repairs and renovates the homes of low-income elderly homeowners, military veterans, and individuals with permanent physical disabilities, is looking for a program manager. This position is responsible for coordinating the delivery of Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh’s construction programs through the effective scheduling and allocation of construction team staff, professional contractors, and volunteers.

And if these jobs aren't enough, check out last week's listings for more opportunities.                 

Can you breathe? Website explores city air pollution

Pittsburgh is known for many things, but its great air quality isn't one of them, according to Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Professor Illah Nourbakhsh, who worked to enable the Pittsburgh Breathe Cam website.

The website allows visitors to observe the air quality in real time from various locations and also read data about it. Nourbakhsh hopes that with information and photographs of the region's air quality, Pittsburghers will put pressure on government officials to enforce and strengthen local regulations surrounding air quality.

"The site came along because we really wanted people to start to have a community discussion around air pollution," he said, adding that 91 percent of cities are cleaner than Pittsburgh. "Other cities that were as dirty as us 20 years ago are cleaner than us now."
The site offers views of the air from cameras perched high in the Mon Valley, Oakland, the North Shore and Downtown. Visitors can scan full days of both beautiful and concerning footage, showcasing sunrises over the rivers and also the clouds of pollution that often accompany them.

"We are used to this idea of industry putting out air pollution but we don’t think about the overall public health impact this air pollution causes," Nourbakhsh said, adding that around one-quarter of all emergency room visits in Pittsburgh were related to breathing problems.

The Breathe Cam was developed by Carnegie Mellon's Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE LAB), which explores socially meaningful innovation and deployment of robotic technologies. The website allows visitors to match visual conditions with hourly reports of fine particulate matter, ozone and other pollutant levels recorded by Allegheny County Health Department air monitoring stations. Nourbakhsh said he hopes visitors will share their findings on Facebook and be moved to contact the county health department if they see and experience clouds of pollution or strange smells in their neighborhoods.

"It’s really about regulation -- we still have coke plants that have several hundred days of violation per year and our fines are really low so it’s cheaper for them to keep polluting than to clean up," Nourbakhsh said. "As if that’s not bad enough, there is a school in the North Shore that has the worst rate of asthma in the entire state." He said there was no part of Pittsburgh that was untouched by air pollution, though the air is cleaner at higher altitudes.

"The wind directions change all the time here so we need to clean up everything for all Pittsburghers," Nourbakhsh said.

Who's hiring in PGH? Sprout Fund, Mizrahi Inc., Grow Pittsburgh and more

Hope you had a nice holiday break, but it's time to get back on the job hunt. Each week, Pop City brings you exciting job opportunities in Pittsburgh. If you have a career opportunity to list, email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "hiring" in the subject line. Let us know on Twitter @popcitypgh if we've helped you snag the job of your dreams.

The Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics in West Mifflin is in need of a full-time, year-round physics instructor. Located at the Allegheny County Airport, PIA grants its students an associate degree in specialized technology along with FAA and FCC credentials. The ideal instructor will have a bachelor’s degree in physics or relevant subject area with at least three years of work experience in the applicable subject area or a bachelor’s degree in education with physics or other relevant secondary-level teaching certification. Interested candidates can send their resume to gnull@pia.edu

Downtown marketing communications and design firm Mizrahi, Inc. is seeking a web and print graphic designer with at least five years of professional experience, a strong portfolio, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts or associate degree in graphic design or a related field. The ideal candidate will have project management experience and excellent Adobe Creative Suite skills. Knowledge of and experience with HTML and CSS is always a plus. The firm is also looking for a web developer with a minimum of five years of related work experience and strong web development skills. Applicants should have a high level of competency with HTML, CSS, Responsive Web Design, Twitter Bootstrap, JavaScript/jQuery, PHP, MySQL, WordPress, content management systems and all applicable web development software. Applicants should send a resume along with relevant samples of past work to careers@mizrahionline.com

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council, a statewide nonprofit environmental organization, is seeking a controller to lead all aspects of accounting, financial reporting, and budgeting. The hire will be responsible for financial reporting duties, leading the budget preparation processes, and coordinating the annual financial statements’ audit and IRS Form 990 preparation. 
The job will require some travel. The ideal candidate will have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance or a related field and three to five years of experience in diverse aspects of an organization’s accounting, reporting, cost allocations, and budgeting processes. Experience with nonprofit finance and a CPA is preferred, but not required. The organization is also hiring a land water and trails specialist to support PEC’s statewide trail efforts. This position focuses on the Power of 32+ regional trail network, which is an effort to facilitate completion of a five-state, 1,600-mile network of shared-use trails, and the PA Water Trails Program, a statewide partnership that encourages the development of sustainable water trails. The ideal candidate will have a bachelor's degree in environmental studies, outdoor recreation, natural resource management, urban studies, communications, business, tourism and hospitality, or a related field and at least five years of project management experience.

Grow Pittsburgh, an urban agriculture nonprofit, is hiring a full-time community garden coordinator with an interest in community-based agriculture. The organization is also looking for a part-time office and membership manager to greet visitors and perform general administrative tasks. Finally, Grow Pittsburgh is hiring an urban farm apprenticeship coordinator to be responsible for the day-to-day activities of Grow Pittsburgh’s Urban Farm Apprenticeship (UFA) Program, a 10-month intensive training program that graduates aspiring new farmers annually from three urban farm sites. The UFA coordinator, in partnership with the director of educational programming, director of agricultural production, and the Braddock Farm and Frick and Shiloh Farm manager, will also be responsible for the planning, development and implementation of a long-term plan for the UFA program. In addition, the coordinator will be responsible for maintaining relationships with key food and agriculture partners in the region. 

The Sprout Fund, an organization that provides small grants to community building projects, is looking for a communications associate with excellent computer skills; familiarity and experience with a Microsoft Windows/Office work environment; working knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite applications including Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign; and demonstrated experience using digital content management systems. The ideal candidate will have prior experience managing organizational social media accounts and engaging with online communities as well as exceptional writing and editing skills, including the capacity to develop compelling story ideas within thematic and programmatic guidelines, keen attention to grammatical detail, and proofreading and copy editing experience.

And if these jobs aren't enough, check out last week's listings for more opportunities.

Built in Pittsburgh: Get off the line with NoWait app

Anyone who has ever been put on a list upon arriving at a restaurant knows the frustration of standing in line with a grumbling stomach and nowhere to go. Pittsburgh-based startup NoWait has taken aim at that problem with an app that allows customers to wait on a virtual line and shop nearby until their table is ready.

NoWait President and Chief Product Officer Robb Myer said the app is successful because it serves a genuine need. Customers don't like waiting in restaurants any more than restaurants enjoy having crowded waiting areas. NoWait also serves a broad customer base, helping seat customers at larger chain restaurants including Burgatory and Chili's, often located in areas where there are better things to do than wait.

Customers with the app can make a reservation online and are notified via text message when their table is available, without even needing to step inside the restaurant. Patrons without the app can walk up to participating restaurants and get their name on a list and receive a text when their table is available as well. For restaurants that use the service, the app provides them with data so they can see problem areas and make improvements -- for example, if they discover Tuesday night regularly has far more customers at a certain time, they can adjust service accordingly.

Myer said the NoWait app has gained such traction that last year he learned it was being used to manage lines of people waiting to meet Santa at the mall. "Rather than have people stand in line to wait for Santa, they put their name on a virtual list and could go shopping, which is of course what the mall wants them to do so it's a win-win situation for everyone," Myer said.

NoWait has expanded from its Pittsburgh headquarters to an office in Manhattan, and now offers reservations across the United States. The company claims to seat more than 7 million diners every month and is growing every day, according to Myer, who foresees many different uses for the app that may extend beyond dinner reservations. According to Myer, anytime there is a line, there is an opportunity for NoWait to make life easier.

The Etsy hot list: 7 Pittsburgh makers to shop for the holidays

When it comes to shopping local, most people assume visiting a neighborhood coffee shop or clothing store will suffice. However, Pittsburgh artists and makers of all types are increasingly turning to Internet marketplaces like Etsy to sell their wares, so we've compiled some of the most interesting Pittsburgh-made gifts you can find on Etsy. 

They may not have storefronts on Penn Avenue, but their unique wares draw shoppers from beyond the Three Rivers:

SadieFlowerDesigns creates amazing hand-painted canvas shoes featuring anything from pink flamingos to Tom Brady. Priced at $50 and up, they can feature the design of your choice. The shoes are decorated by Sadie Flower, a 21-year-old artist who lives in the Pittsburgh area. "When I was in college, I bought a pair of white Vans and sharpie fabric markers," Flower said. "A lot of people loved the artwork I did on them and wanted a pair for themselves. After doing a couple just for fun, I decided to start charging for the designs. Now, three years later, I've done about 45-50 pairs of shoes for people of all ages." You can see some of her beautiful work in the slideshow above. 

If shoes are not on your wish list, pottery sold under the name Turnbuckle Farm is quite impressive and also costs $50 and up. The seller, who goes by the name Turnbuckle D, began her shop in 2011 and makes everything from wine decanters to cups and lamps in a distinctive style, often depicting various animals. She says her work is inspired by the animals on her farm. "I was born in Pittsburgh and grew up here. Moved away for a bit but realized my mistake and moved back," she said in an email interview. She describes her studio as "a spruced-up old garden shed that opens on two sides. Chipmunks run through."

Marcy Bates turns books into sculptural objects under the name Recycled Reads. She'll fold your name or favorite Steelers logo into a book to create an unexpected piece of original art. On her Etsy site, Bates writes that she decided to make book art because she had many books to work with as the owner of a used book store in Cranberry Township, Butler County. "I often come across books that are outdated or unsellable," she wrote. "With an extreme personal need to keep these books out of landfills I began creating beautiful art out of them." Bates spent much time and effort perfecting the folding process through trial and error -- who can even imagine all the folding! Her work is priced from $40 and up. 

Stentor Danielson, who works by day as an assistant professor of geography at Slippery Rock University, moonlights as Mapsburgh on Etsy, where he carves out intricate paper designs based on local Pittsburgh maps or any map of your choice. His Etsy business started as the result of a thoughtful gift he gave his former girlfriend: a carved-out map of the distance between their houses. She liked the gift so much that she suggested he sell the delicate lacy designs on Etsy. "With that bit of encouragement, Mapsburgh was born. It provided a great way to combine my interest in art with my love of maps. (I have a Ph.D. in geography from Clark University.) I've enjoyed making maps for so many different customers, and I always look forward to the new challenges that people throw my way," Danielson writes on his Etsy site. Prices start at $24 and are higher for hand-carved maps.

If you're still scratching your head, wondering which gift is perfect for a more casual acquaintance, an old standby has always been soap. Who can't recall getting a bar of soap or giving a primary school teacher a body product from Bath and Body Works? Since you know you're going to give someone soap, why not make it Hip Modern Soap, made in Pittsburgh by Carrie Robertson and her partner John Elliff. The couple makes the soap out of their Lawrenceville kitchen in a variety of blends including rosemary mint, vetiver, lemongrass mint, wild cherry, pink champagne and caffeine buzz. They also make bath bombs and other personal care products in a cruelty-free, all-natural and all-around hip, modern fashion.

The pair came upon soap-smithing kind of randomly: "Blending the DIY ethos with a strong desire to bathe regularly, the two decided one day that 'Hey...I bet we could do that,'" they wrote about their Etsy shop. The trial-and-error phase was then underway. Drawing heavily on Carrie's childhood memories of Grandma Bina sweating over a legit cauldron of pig fat and lye, the two decided that, "Hey...I bet we could do WAY better than that." They say that they are constantly just fooling around with the concept of "Will this get me clean?" Their soaps are not only solid scrubbing agents, but also marbled art objects. And all for $6 and up.

Alternate Histories, a card maker on Etsy, is one of my personal favorites. The card company created by Matthew Buchholz takes historical images, then inserts the fantastic. "My work began with a show at WildCard in 2010, a great store in Pittsburgh, where I had the inspiration to Photoshop a gigantic monster into an old engraving of the city," Buchholz writes on his site. "Since then I've expanded with different cities, holiday & greeting cards, original works and more, all taking historic images and adding in something from a pop culture sci-fi background." You can buy art prints or greeting cards from him on Etsy with titles like "The Menacing of the Great East River Suspension Bridge," featuring a historical painting with a giant squid arm interjected, wrapping around the bridge, or a card with a giant cat pushing over the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

In his Etsy bio, Buchholz writes that he has been able to travel to different cities selling his wares, and has had his work featured as part of the Futur Anterier show at agnes b. galerie du jour in Paris. "Each piece starts with the original image. I do a lot of online and flea market research to find interesting pieces, then I look for some monster, robot, alien or other creature that fits the style of the piece. I do all this in between sessions of noseball with my dog Otis," Buchholtz writes. Prices for his work are $20 and up. 

The last Etsy seller of note is No Sleep Boutique, created by late-night crafter Alaina Dadey. She makes bows, cufflinks, bow ties and earrings by hand in a vintage style. She captured my eye with her pizza cufflinks, which I trust you, dear readers, will make best sellers. Dadey says she gets the urge to craft most often at 3 a.m. "My shop started one night when I was having trouble falling asleep. I started making bows, and I fell in love," Dadey writes in her bio. "My third floor has been converted into a NoSleepBoutique studio. My studio in Pittsburgh is my perfect adorable oasis filled with wonderful things that inspire me. Finding new and wonderful fabrics is something that truly fuels my slightly caffeinated life." With prices starting at $5, they would be perfect stocking stuffers.

Because I am compulsive and couldn't stop looking at all the great Pittsburgh stuff on Etsy, here are some of my favorite individual items: a necklace that is actually a living plant, called a "wearable friend;" a beautiful droid-inspired jeweled ring; this strange $1,800 sculpture; and these crocheted pierogies. Your holiday shopping is now done. You're welcome.

Who's hiring in PGH? Carnegie Museums, Brashear Association and more!

It's getting cold out there, but we have some hot jobs for you! Each week, Pop City brings you exciting job opportunities in Pittsburgh. If you have a career opportunity to list, email innovationnews@popcitymedia.com with "hiring" in the subject line. Let us know on Twitter @popcitypgh if we've helped you snag the job of your dreams.

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh's flower haven is hiring for several full-time positions. The Studio Phipps Manager would preferably be a Registered Landscape Architect and would manage and lead a fee/mission-based sustainable design and consulting team that extends Phipps’ mission beyond the Schenley Park campus as well as tackle landscape and design issues within Phipps. The Let's Move Director will facilitate and integrate environmental and policy changes with community partners across the areas of public health, education, food systems, social services and other related fields to better support healthy eating and active living, especially among children at risk for obesity, and their families. The Program Director will lead the same efforts internally at Phipps, working to provide leadership and promote integration of existing efforts to improve active living and healthy eating activities by partnering with community organizations. The Gift Shop Coordinator will manage the gift shop and oversee support staff, field customer questions and provide customer service. 

WESA, Pittsburgh's local NPR affiliate, is hiring a Major Gifts Officer to help with the station's fundraising activities. Under the direct supervision of the General Manager and working closely with the Director of Development, the Major Gifts Officer will identify, cultivate, solicit and steward major gifts, planned gifts and leadership level annual fund prospects. In addition, the Major Gifts Officer will help write foundation proposals. The Major Gifts Officer will nurture current relationships with major donors and foundation program officers and assist with major donor special events. The hire should be able to attain fundraising goals and will have significant experience in a prior position.

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is hiring a Design Services Coordinator to manage a variety of design projects including the printed pieces, advertising, e-newsletters, web content design, and signage. Successful candidates will be able to guide design projects from start to finish, including research and development of concepts, paper selections, rough and final designs, and production with all outside vendors. This person will maintain existing signage systems through timely placement and removal of signs for all rotating exhibitions, and ongoing maintenance and quality assurance of building signage. Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree preferably in graphic design with two years of professional experience in both print production and HTML. Other job opportunities at the various Carnegie Museums can be found here.

The Brashear Association is looking to hire a full time Case Manager/Employment Specialist to work as a member of the agency’s family services team, identifying, developing and securing employment opportunities for unemployed and underemployed residents of South Pittsburgh. The ideal candidate would be able to nail cover letter writing and know where to look for employment opportunities. Application materials must be emailed by Nov. 26.

The Carnegie Library System is hiring for a variety of positions. The Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) is looking for a Services Manager to lead a team of dedicated staff in developing and providing statewide services to fulfill the reading and information needs of patrons with limited visual and physical abilities. The ideal candidate will have a deep commitment to equity of access, understand the nature of service to special audiences, and will be flexible, cooperative and accomplished at creating and maintaining partnerships. The library system is also hiring full-time and part-time library assistants as well as a full-time web specialist for its IT department.

And if these jobs aren't enough, check out last week's listings for more opportunities! 

After Dark joins Pittsburgh's late-night museum scene

Museums searching for new ways to attract older audiences have started to open their doors at night for adults-only events dedicated to patrons who want to see behind-the-scenes attractions, supplemental programming or even get tipsy at dance parties in museum halls.

In Pittsburgh, the latest museum to offer an after-hours experience is the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which will hold its second After Dark Event on Nov. 21 with the theme "oddities," according to Program Manager Mallory Vopal. 

The event will allow adult visitors to dig for dinosaur bones unfettered by children and with drinks in hand, Vopal said. Patrons will also have the chance to see hidden gems from the museum's collection including dead head moths, the same moths featured in the film Silence of the Lambs, which will be playing in the museum's theater. "We really wanted to focus on some of the rare and unusual things that no one gets to see," Vopal said, explaining that only 10 percent of the museum's massive collection is on display at any given time. In addition to the moths, the museum will be bringing out shrunken monkey heads, Mexican dressed fleas and a beetle race to take place on a giant map of Pittsburgh. "We love coming up with the theme and finding all the little pieces that go with it," Vopal said.

Events like After Dark have been highly successful across the country as a means of drawing in patrons who might not ordinarily visit museums as well as offering something additional for die-hard patrons. Vopal said the museum's first event on Halloween sold out its 1,000 tickets quickly. "It surprisingly reaches a really wide audience of people. It really has pulled in adults of every walk of life," Vopal said.

Other Pittsburgh museums also offer after-hours programing. Every Friday, The Andy Warhol Museum stays open until 10 p.m. and offers half-price admission and a full cash bar to patrons wishing to experience museum nightlife at its best.

The Carnegie Science Center has 21+ nights, gifting patrons $15 in Rivers Casino gambling cash and allowing visitors to compete against their Air Hockeybot or launch a rocket into the air while listening to bands and drinking.

The Carnegie Museums also offer after-hours performances and will be hosting Isabella Rossellini in "Green Porno". The event is being promoted in conjunction with After Dark, but will take place at the Carnegie Music Hall and requires a separate ticket.

The Carnegie Museum of Art offers "Culture Club," adult-themed events curated to explore various aspects of the art world. 

"I think everybody has kind of been getting the idea all at the same time," Vopal said, referring to the late-night museum parties and events taking place at the Warhol, The Carnegie Museum and the Carnegie Science Center. "We have been working towards it and we kind of wanted to join in as well."

Tickets to After Dark are $10 per person and appetizers, beer and liquor drinks will be available for purchase. The event runs from 6 to 10 p.m.

CMU soft robot inspires Disney's Big Hero 6

A new Disney movie featuring an inflatable robot hero credits Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute with inspiring the Michelin Man-style character, according to the university.

The robot, named Baymax and starring in the animated film Big Hero 6 out in theaters now, was inspired by an inflatable robotic arm developed in Robotics Professor Chris Atkeson’s lab by Siddharth Sanan during his Ph.D. thesis research.

Atkeson said the film's director, Don Hall, visited the lab and was inspired by what he saw. "When Disney animation makes a movie, like academics they do research first. They were looking for a robot that was different from all the robots that you see in the movies-- like the Terminator or the Transformer -- and at the time we were building inflatable arms. We were interested in arms with no bones what so ever, so essentially ballon-like arms," Atkeson said in a video made by Carnegie Mellon University. 

When Hall saw the balloon arm, he knew the character of Baymax would be a soft robot. "It really became apparent when we saw the soft robotics that that would be our ticket to putting a robot on the screen we had never seen before," Hall told the university.

The film is described as an action-packed, comedy-adventure in which Baymax, a gentle robot designed to care for humans, is transformed into a warrior and joins a band of high-tech heroes. 

"Most people have no idea what a soft robot is and I think in a few weeks everyone will and that's going to be a huge change for our field," Atkeson said. The film is currently showing at various area theaters.

Let Spliddit figure out your tab

Hoping to make battles over bills a thing of the past, Carnegie Mellon computer scientists have developed Spliddit, a new website that promises "provably fair" methods of dividing checks, bills and goods.

Spliddit takes into account a range of factors depending on what's being split. The site even has a section dedicated to sharing credit on intellectual property, to ensure everyone feels good about contributions and attributions in group projects.

When it comes to sharing rent, the website is able to suggest who should occupy which room based upon data provided by potential occupants. Roommates can rate each room based upon individual preferences including size of the room, closet space, number of windows, and then estimate how much each room is worth to them. The algorithm then recommends who should occupy which room and how much each person should pay.

It may sound like magic, but according to Ariel Procaccia, an assistant professor of computer science who leads the Spliddit project, people in the fields of math, economics and computer science have been using complicated algorithms to divide goods fairly for years. Now, average people without high-level math skills can have access to these tools. 

"When we say that we guarantee a fairness property, we are stating a mathematical fact," reads the site's lofty About section. "Formulating fairness in mathematical terms is the beauty of the scientific field of fair division," according to the website.

Any child with a sibling can attest to the beauty of fairness.

Spliddit is a non-profit currently in its beta phase and hopes to deliver results so fair that fighting among children might even be eliminated. But, according to the site, while envy-free splitting is the desired goal, it cannot ever be 100 percent guaranteed.
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