A Local Startup Is Bringing Cemeteries To The Cloud

Jul 16, 2019

On today's program: Medical marijuana will soon be used to treat anxiety, but not as a first resort; a local activist pushes shopping local during Amazon Prime Day; WESA explores the impact of crime and incarceration on Homewood; how a Perryopolis startup is modernizing cemetery management and commerce; and a new documentary weighs in on how humans interact with nature. 

PA needs the feds to re-schedule marijuana
(00:00 — 9:45)

Pennsylvania secretary of health Dr. Rachel Levine says she hopes the commonwealth will become one of the nation's leaders in medical marijuana research, should the federal government allow for it. Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency means it has both a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical purpose. 

Levine says evidence shows medical marijuana is helpful to people with Tourette’s and anxiety disorders, as well as 21 other conditions already approved in Pennsylvania for prescription use. 

For a condition to be added, it must be petitioned to the Pennsylvania advisory board by a subcommittee. The board voted to recommend Tourette's and anxiety last week, which Levine approved for implementation on Saturday. She says medical marijuana is still not a first-line treatment and should not replace traditional treatments like therapy or other drugs.

Alternate Histories artist promotes small businesses over Amazon
(10:51 — 17:49)

Frenzied shoppers are clicking away at deals offered up by online shopping giant Amazon during Prime Day this week. One local artist has been an outspoken critic of the company's summer equivalent to Black Friday. Alternate Histories' Matthew Buchholz is using his platform on twitter to recommend local products from small businesses as an alternative. 

Buchholz tells The Confluence's Megan Harris his local rebuke started last year, garnering more than 200 likes on Twitter, which he promised to match with reviews and suggestions for independent makers and craftspeople. He says that task is much more difficult this year; as of this writing, the thread has earned nearly 500 likes

Homewood Bound: Formerly incarcerated residents pick up the pieces
(17:53 — 25:16)

Tough sentencing laws and a nationwide push for mass incarceration for drug offenses ravaged Pittsburgh's Homewood community. For formerly incarcerated people now returning from prison, obstacles often block the path to reentry into society. As part of 90.5 WESA's series “Homewood Bound,” WESA's An-Li Herring reports that many don’t return to Homewood at all, and some residents feel that the war on drugs took away the neighborhood’s youth.

CemSites brings cemetery management into the 21st century
(25:19 —
 34:31)

The business of death is one of the oldest and most reliable economies in the world, but the market's tech sector remains largely untapped.

CemSites, a Perryopolis startup, is adding cemetery maps and paper records to the cloud. Co-founder and chief technology officer Sean Johnson says the company started in a basement in 2012, but has since grown to serve hundreds of cemeteries in 41 states. 

But not all cemeteries are on board with digitizing their records, Johnson tells The Confluence's Kiley Koscinski

“Cemeteries have a unique business in their communities, and the business kind of comes to them, so there’s not a lot of change in a cemetery’s business over the years,” Johnson said. “So they pretty much haven’t had to change their business model century after century.”

Cemetery owners can use CemSites' applications to aggregate data, including maps, obituaries and locations of graves. He says the software is customizable to serve cemeteries of all sizes and property layouts, and also has a user interface applicable to visitors and genealogical researchers alike.

“It serves as a great local resource for research for the community, so that they can look up obituaries, and find more information about their loved ones and ancestry,” Johnson says.

Larger companies like Ancestry.com often rely on small cemeteries for this information. 

Local documentary takes a look at where the wild things are
(34:34 — 38:56)

People today sometimes see more representations of nature than the real thing. What that means for humanity is the focus of Pittsburgh artist David Bernabo’s new essay-style documentary, “Wild Human.”

90.5 WESA's Bill O'Driscoll reports the documentary looks at climate change and the human impact on nature from the lens of tourism, art and representations of the environment. “Wild Human” screens this weekend at multiple locations.

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich, Julia Maruca and Hannah Gaskill contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.