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The final solution to $8-a-gallon gas

| Sunday, May 25, 2008

Pittsburgh's out of its regional mind over hockey, but the Stanley Cup final series between the Penguins and the Red Wings has some serious competition over at the Carnegie Science Center.

As the Pens get ready for Monday night's game two in Detroit, the science center is hosting the RoboCup 2008 U.S. Open -- aka the Stanley Cup of robotic soccer.

A news release from the science center makes RoboCup 2008 sound more exciting than soccer itself.

It boasts that "A new breed of athlete -- composed of circuits, switches and sensors -- will take to the soccer field at the RoboCup 2008 U.S. Open," a round-robin tournament that ends Tuesday with championship bouts.

The science center, which has cleared room on its second floor for the contests, says the RoboCup features "teams from universities competing in four categories of robotic soccer -- from autonomous, soccer-playing Aibo robotic dogs to small cylinder robots less than six-inches tall, which are capable of 'kicking' a soccer ball more than 30 miles per hour."

The RoboCup series is included in the price of admission. But don't bother bringing binoculars to get a close-up of the action.

Some of the robots -- the nanobots -- are so small you'll need a microscope to see them.

A dreamy international environmental group we've never heard of before says it has "a cure for high gas prices" -- "Carfree Cities."

No kidding.

The World Carfree Network 's Web site ( ) says the group is "dedicated to promoting alternatives to car dependence and automobile-based planning at the international level and working to reduce the human impact on the natural environment while improving the quality of life for all."

It will hold a Towards Carfree Cities conference next month in -- where else• -- slow-growth, auto-hating, density-loving Portland, Ore., to promote "practical alternatives to car dependence -- walking, cycling and public transport, and ultimately the transformation of cities, towns and villages into human-scaled environments rich in public space and community life."

The focus of the conference is on "strategy, collaboration and exchange, assisting the practical work of conference participants -- whether it be organizing carfree days, promoting urban cycling, or building the carfree cities of the future."

One question: Will it be OK to catch a taxi from the Portland airport to the hotel or do we have to ride a bike?

BAD SCOUT . Remember Derek Walker , the Republican congressional candidate whose campaign went into a nose dive after he was charged with felony burglary and criminal trespass, among other charges, five days before last month's primary?

Walker, whose TV ads touted his Eagle Scout background, at the time blamed mudslinging, claiming the charges were politically motivated and vowing he would be cleared of allegations. He was one of nine candidates seeking the GOP nomination in a sprawling north-central Pennsylvania district and, alas, Walker lost.

Whatever political future the man from Bigler, Pa., might have had got flushed into oblivion last week.

Clearfield County District Judge Michael Rudella told The Associated Press that Walker last week pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors, disorderly conduct, invasion of privacy and harassment, and summary trespass, stemming from an encounter with an ex-girlfriend last year. Two felony charges and another misdemeanor charge were dismissed. Walker's sentence includes no contact with the woman and fines and costs of nearly $400.

ROOSEVELT WILL NOT RUN. Besides facing a firestorm of criticism over his plan to close Schenley High School, city schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt has also been the target of rumors about job opportunities elsewhere.

Roosevelt told Whispers he wants to dispel the gossip once and for all.

"I've been approached about a lot of jobs," he said. "I'm not interviewing with anybody. There was one job I got into deep discussion about, but it was not a superintendency."

Roosevelt declined to specify what that job -- or any of the others -- was about or where it might have taken him.

I LOVE ME. Even though Westmoreland County state Rep. Jess Stairs is calling it quits after 32 years, it doesn't mean he's done squandering state tax dollars.

Residents of the Acme Republican's 59th District recently received a glossy, photograph-filled newsletter -- all at taxpayers' expense, of course -- highlighting Stairs' life. There are numerous photographs of Stairs -- one shaking the hand of House Speaker Dennis O'Brien , a Philadelphia Republican, and another (of guess who?) speaking at a recent gathering of vocational educators where he was honored.

Of course, there's no mention in the gushy newsletter of Stairs' inaction on the 2005 legislative pay hike. Although he voted against it, he was roundly criticized for not using his leadership role to fight it.

And as his legislative colleagues scrambled to control damage from the issue, Stairs decided to accept the raise with the intention of donating the money to charity. Pushed by the public outcry, he changed his mind and stopped taking the unvouchered expenses.

Records show that he repaid the state treasury the money he had collected.

Last year, Stairs, who had served as a board member of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency since 1991, was among that agency's legislative members who came under fire for lavish spending, including junkets paid for by the college loan agency.

Also, reports disclosed that Stairs and his wife, Joan , were regulars between 2000 and 2005 on eight retreats at resorts that included Nemacolin Woodlands in Fayette County, The Greenbrier in West Virginia and Meadowood in California's Napa Valley.

Stairs reimbursed the agency for some of the expenses incurred. Maybe photographs from those junkets will be contained in his taxpayer-funded fall newsletter.

POINT OF AGREEMENT. Although Westmoreland County Commissioners Tom Balya and Tom Ceraso have been at odds recently with Westmoreland County Community College President Steve Ender , that doesn't mean they don't agree occasionally.

Commissioners recently appointed planning director Larry Larese , assistant county solicitor Tim Andrews , former Greensburg councilwoman Kathy Burkley , and Anthony Vigilante , a solicitor for the New Kensington-Arnold school board, to the 15-member WCCC board to keep an eye on Ender after Larese's wife, Betsy , was turned down for a job as head librarian at the college.

But according to recent campaign expense reports, Balya, Ceraso and Ender did agree on at least one thing last spring. The trio contributed to Democrat state Senate hopeful Tony Bompiani 's campaign.

Balya and Ceraso commissioner campaign committees each donated $200 to the Youngwood chiropractor's campaign while Ender gave him $100. Bompiani defeated Greensburg attorney Chris Huffman for the primary nomination and will challenge incumbent Republican state Sen. Robert Regola of Hempfield in the fall.

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