Sunday, May 31, 2009

Marc Fishers Last Column

Washington Post Metro columnist Marc Fisher wrote his last column for the paper today. In it he recounts the highs and lows of over his 1,250 column run and reflects on how the Web has altered “the relationship between writer and reader.” 

It’s a good read from a good writer. 

Marc has weighed in on our local scene in some of those 1,250 columns. When the poinsettia tree dust up with The Mall was going on he wrote about it twice and more recently he wrote this column about Columbia resident Judge Lynn Battaglia and her ruling protecting the anonymity of people who post on blogs and message boards. 

For his next act in life, Marc intends to put together “a group of writers whose job it will be to tell the truths of the Washington area in compelling and essential ways, combining traditional storytelling with new forms that involve and engage the people who live here.” 

A big wag of the tail to Marc and his new endeavor. We look forward to learning more about it.

Try to Keep Up

Alex Hekimian is “feeling rushed.” According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun today, Alex and his Columbia Council buddies, Phil Kirsch and Cindy Coyle believe that the county is moving too quickly on ZRA 102. ZRA 102 would change the process for altering Columbia’s village centers by, among other things, removing General Growth Properties from the role of gatekeeper. As it now stands, if an owner of a village center wants to make any significant changes to the center they most first receive the blessing of GGP. This requirement is a holdover from the early days of the planned community and may no longer be relevant today. GGP does not own any of the Columbia village centers. Most of its land holdings are concentrated in Town Center and Gateway Corporate Park

Cindy, Phil and Alex need to try and keep up. This is hardly what I would call a rush job. ZRA 102 was originally introduced last August and has been the subject of several community meetings over the past year. Additional public hearings will begin to be held on June 15th and, according to the sponsor of the legislation, Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty, “the council will schedule as many public hearings as it takes to hear from everyone who wants to voice an opinion.” 

That seems pretty reasonable to me. A year worth of debate followed by a month or so of public hearings should be ample time to adequately address this issue. If this is not enough time for Phil, Cindy and Alex perhaps they need to rethink whether they have the time and energy for public service.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Ackman Bullish on GGP Stock

Bill Ackman, whose hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management is the largest individual shareholder of General Growth Properties, believes the company “will emerge from bankruptcy reorganization in a strong enough position to benefit investors daring enough to buy its shares.” 

According to this story by Thomas M. Anderson in, Ackman told investors at a conference in New York that GGP “sought bankruptcy protection because it couldn't refinance its mortgages during the financial crisis, not because its business is unsound.” 

“Ackman thinks the stock is worth $10 a share in a bankruptcy-court decision that does not involve liquidating the company -- his most pessimistic scenario -- and as much as $30 if court rulings favor General Growth.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cyber Security Initiative

The Maryland Association of Realtors held a Commercial Symposium at the new Sheraton BWI today.  Roger Waesche, Executive Vice President and CEO of Corporate Properties Office Trust, told the told assembled commercial real estate professionals, that federal spending for the Comprehensive National Cyber Security Initiative could easily top $100 billion dollars and that a lion’s share of that money will be spent in the Baltimore Washington region. 

Tom Sadowski, the President and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore said our region already rivals California’s Silicon Valley in the number of IT professionals.

 Joe Burke, Executive Vice President and Senior Managing Director of NorthMarq Capital, said that in spite of the current recession, the “Baltimore Washington region is still considered one of the best places in the country to invest in commercial real estate.” 

All three gentlemen were on a panel entitled Climate Conditions affecting the Commercial Real Estate Market moderated by Anirban Basu of the Sage Policy Group

These were all soothing words for a group of professionals that have been feeling pretty battered for the last year.


I was driving through the intersection of Route 104 and Montgomery Road yesterday when I noticed some major commotion at the Waterloo Plaza retail center. It appears that a late model maroon Mercedes SUV lost control while backing up and creamed into these cars.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. 

As I left I noticed the familiar bumper sticker, with New Jersey tags.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Scene This Week In...

There seems to have been an outbreak of graffiti in east Columbia this spring. I first noticed this while driving past the Auto Services Park on Dobbin Road. Earlier this month, someone or groups of someone’s, spray painted graffiti on all of the service bay doors facing Dobbin Road. It looked more like Brooklyn than Columbia.

Yesterday, while driving on Oakland Mills Road I saw this graffiti attack on the Verizon building.I know that some like to refer to these vandals as graffiti “artists” but not this old dog. I see this as plain and simple vandalism

The local phenomenon of stacking rocks in rivers has spread downstream from Ellicott City. This past weekend, as Mama Wordbones and I were crossing the swinging bridge at the trail head of The Grist Mill Trail in the Patapsco Valley State Park, we noticed these rock sculptures in the water below.

A similar display of rock art in the Patapsco River became popular in Ellicott City last summer and, as reported earlier here, has returned this year. 

It is both the anonymity of the rock artists and the temporary nature of the art that makes this so cool.

We’re in the Top Five!

According to this post by Adam Pagnucco in Maryland Politics Watch, Maryland blogs are becoming increasingly popular. Yesterday Adam reported that Maryland state and local blogs “set a combined record visit count in March. Then they set another record in April.” 

MPW has been tracking 35 state and local blogs that release their site statistics, which includes Tales of Two Cities, since June of 2007. 

Surprisingly, Tales of Two Cities was cited as the fourth most popular Maryland "local" blog, year to date, behind Inside Charm City, Just Up The Pike, and Rockville Central

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Valley Forge Flag Company

One of my weekend projects was to replace the flag bracket over the garage. The one I purchased last year could not stand up to the high winds on our little hill in Ellicott City. It was Memorial Day weekend so I figured it would be pretty easy to find flag supplies at Home Depot

Once again I was wrong. It took three store clerks and a few walkie talkie conversations to accurately pinpoint where the "flag stuff" display had been moved to, which turned out to be less than a nine iron shot from where we standing. 


The only flag products available the Home Depot on Snowden River Parkway came from the Valley Forge Flag Company. With a patriotic name like that I figured these flags were made in the USA. They were. The company proudly proclaims that their flags are “100% Made in the USA.” 

But I wasn’t buying a flag. I needed the Valley Forge flag bracket. That was made in China. In fact, everything but the actual flags in the Valley Forge flag display was made in China

Maybe they should change their name to Great Wall Valley Forge Flag Company and then they could capitalize on their patriotism in two countries at once!

By the way, does anyone have a good suggestion for mounting a flag bracket on brick?

Browser Blues

This weekend I made the mistake of clicking where I shouldn’t have and ended up downloading the newest version of Internet Explorer. Is it just me or is anyone else experiencing difficulty with this latest and supposedly greatest new thing from the folks at Microsoft

Apparently not, with 44 reviews so far on CNET, it has only averaged two out of five stars. Some of the comments include, “It's the browser that doesn't browse” and “After installing it I constantly got DEP exceptions. I was sending crash reports to MS almost every page visit.” 

I’m really getting to loathe those Microsoft crash reports

A couple of months ago I started playing around with Google’s browser, Chrome. It is much faster than Internet Explorer and the more I use it, the more I like it. I think Microsoft has finally pushed me to change my default browser.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Trail Mix

This afternoon Mama Wordbones and I decided to take a short bicycle ride on one of our favorite local trails, the Trolley No. 9 trail. While it is a steady climb from Ellicott City to Catonsville, the ride back is all downhill. No heavy lifting.

In a post from two years ago I provided a link to which has a nice photo tour of some of the trail highlights. Today, as we made our way up the hill, we came across a sight that you won’t find in that grouping. I guess you might say that this trail is dog friendly.

After we got back to Ellicott City we walked across the Patapsco River Bridge and saw that the impromptu rock sculptures have returned in the river.

I love this time of year.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Busy Day

The idealized vision of Memorial Day weekend includes sand, sun and adult beverages. While many folks will indeed enjoy some version of this vision, many more will be left behind to a far different reality. It will be no weekend of complete leisure for them. Instead they will be tending to pressing items at the homestead. In a word, “projects.”

The Saturday for Memorial Day is perfectly designed for big projects. Picnics are usually held on Sunday so Saturday becomes the day to “git ‘r done.” Lawns and gardens are worked over and outside furniture is cleaned up for another summer of cookouts. For many the project of the day requires a trip to the local rental center and today, one local rental center was having a very busy day.

“It’s one of the busiest days of the year,”

As it happens, my home project required one of those rental center trips so I headed on over to the ABC Rental Center on Dobbin Road in Columbia. That’s where I met Lee Knight. I asked him what the hottest rental item was today.

“Power washers, with tillers running a close second.”

And there ya go. I'd better get back to work now before Mama Wordbones finds me on the computer.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Most Uniquely American

Newsmax magazine has named Ellicott City as one of the “most uniquely American cities and towns.” The list was compiled by Peter Greenberg, the travel editor for NBC’s Today Show. Peter ranked 25 towns that he felt “embody America’s core values.

Ellicott City was ranked 17, getting high grades in education, family friendliness and business friendliness. At least it didn’t cite being “zoned against big boxes” as one of its endearing attributes.

Ellicott City was the only town in Maryland to make the list. You can see the entire list here.

2nd Annual Land Use Summit

Last night I had a free moment before meeting up with David Keelan for my long awaited beer so I decided to drop in on the 2nd Annual Land Use Summit sponsored by Howard County Issues. As soon as I walked in the room I felt like a fish out of water. It was quite obvious to everyone that I wasn’t really one of them.

Not that there were that many of them. At most, I counted fifteen people including the organizers. Mona Brinegar, the publisher of HoCo Issues was there as was Bridget Mugane, Angela Beltram, Barbara Russell, Susan Gray and Michael Cornell. I don’t believe any of the attendees were under 40. Mona told the gathering that last year about 70 people attended the first annual summit so it appears that there has been a dramatic drop off in interest.

Among the things that the organizers were happy about was the election of Russ Swatek over James Howard in the Long Reach election for the Columbia Council. Mona described James as being“aggressively pro developer” while Russ was described being “very egalitarian minded.”

After Mona spoke, Susan Gray took the floor, or more accurately, sat on the floor while she gave an update on the lawsuit she and Paul Kendall have filed against the county in federal court to place all county zoning decisions under federal jurisdiction. This generated a round of applause from the small group.

Susan told the gathering that she is very optimistic about this suit. She thinks they have put together a very strong case. I’ve come to the conclusion that Susan is delusional.

I left around eight o’clock to meet Mr. Keelan.

Looking for a Few Good Homes

The Program for Academic Exchange is looking for forty Howard County families that would be willing to host a foreign high school student next year. PAX “brings high school students from over 40 different countries here for an exchange year. The students are chosen to participate in the program based on their academic ability, maturity level and English skills. They also come with monthly spending money, health insurance and an active coordinator who works closely with them to maximize their exchange experience.”

If you are interested in finding out more about this program please contact Nicole Modeen Hark at

Thursday, May 21, 2009

At Least someone is Working Today

I don’t know if it’s just me but it sure seems like people bug out of work a lot earlier for holiday weekends than they used to. Not that long ago, it was fairly common practice to skip out around noon on Friday before the holiday weekend. Today, my office was empty by noon.

Except for yours truly that is.

I suppose that in our technologically enhanced lives, where in theory at least, we are constantly in touch with our work, we never really leave work.

Still in my own little act of defiance at being the only guy in the office, I went home for lunch to throw on a pair of shorts. That’s when I met Mark.

Mark Sweadner was banging a stake into the ground just outside my backyard fence. The dogs were very curious about this survey activity so I opened the back door and we all went out to investigate. The lot lines in my little corner of a newly developed world can be a little screwy so I thought I’d go over and introduce myself.

It turns out Mark is a local boy. He went to Glenelg High School and his mom still lives in Woodbine where he is planning on spending his Memorial Day. He lives in Elkridge and works for Mildenberg, Boender & Associates in Ellicott City.

Actually, his office is in the Dorsey Hall Professional Center in the Village of Dorsey’s Search in Columbia but the post office considers this to be Ellicott City.


I had one last question before I headed back to my lonely office.

Redskins or Ravens?”

“Redskins! I’m a season ticket holder.”

I immediately felt sorry for him.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Belmont Blues Again

Poor Belmont. This picturesque estate in Elkridge continues to make headlines for the wrong reasons. Ever since the property was sold by the American Chemical Society to Howard County Community College for $4.8 million in 2004 it has been the subject of controversy. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun today, the college used unauthorized surplus funds to repay the “gift” from Harry “Chip” Lundy that originally helped them with the down payment for the historic property. The college has now agreed to pay that $1.7 million back to the county.

Where will the college get that money?

“When the school sells a 13-acre portion of the 81-acre property, the proceeds will be used to repay the surplus. No sale is imminent, however.”
The 13 acres the college hopes to dispose of to raise this money is the land surrounding the Dobbin House portion of the conference center campus. Dobbin House sits at the end of a tree lined drive just before the main entrance into the property. This was the property Chip Lundy had hoped to acquire for senior housing in return for his gift.

You can read my previous posts about Belmont here, here and here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Truth Sometimes Hurts

According to this article by Todd Shields in, The Federal Communications Commission has begun an inquiry into “whether Arbitron Inc. undercounts the audience for minority radio stations, potentially harming their advertising sales and ability to maintain programming for blacks and Hispanics.”

This is the direct result of the game changing technology developed by the Columbia headquartered company. Arbitron’s Portable People Meter (PPM) replaces the old written diary method of audience tracking with an electronic device the size of a pager. The PPM automatically records what radio stations an individual is exposed to during the day without relying on the participants’ memory.

The initial results have been both surprising and very disconcerting to some stations. Some speculate that, under the old diary system, a diarist would often say out of a sense of loyalty that they listened to a minority or ethnic station even if they didn’t actually tune in. The PPM system doesn’t allow for that since it only counts what a person actually listened to, not what they thought perhaps they should have listened to.

Not all minority stations are displeased though. In an article entitled “Radio Ratings Device Flawed, Stations Say,” by Paul Farhi in The Washington Post last October, Radio One, “one of the nation's largest radio broadcasting companies and the largest radio broadcasting company that primarily targets African-American and urban listeners” is on board with the program.

"Anytime you adopt a new technology, there are always short-term dislocations," said Alfred C. Liggins III, chief executive of Radio One Inc., the Lanham-based company that owns 53 stations -- including WMMJ and WKYS -- that seek African American listeners. "There's going to be a learning curve. . . . But [electronic measurement] is reality. I'd much rather get reality on the road then delay, delay, delay."

Liggins said that Radio One's stations in Houston and Philadelphia initially saw a steep drop in their ratings when the meters were introduced months ago but that they have since recovered to roughly the same ranking in the market.”

When a game changing technology like this is deployed in the marketplace there are bound to be folks who claim it is unfair, particularly if it exposes their weaknesses.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Steve Meskin Wants to Know!

Occasionally I’ll surf by the Howard County Citizens Association listserv to see what those crazy kids are up to these days. I think it would be accurate to say that I often find myself on the opposite side of their prevailing point of view.

On a recent discussion about political contributions, Steve Meskin shared an email he sent to Jared DeMarinis, the Director of the Candidacy and Campaign Finance Division of the Maryland State Board of Elections. Steve wants the state to dig pretty deep into the personal lives of people who contribute to political campaigns.

Among the things he would like to know about everyone who makes a political contribution:
- Contributors who are related to each other
- Employers of individual contributors
- Organizations for which an individual contributor is an officer

I think Steve is sniffing in places that are pretty private. Ya gotta keep an eye on those crazy kids.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

If Larry Goes, I Go

When I picked up my copy of The Sun at the end of the driveway this morning I was struck by how small it had become. This didn’t happen overnight of course, The Sun has been progressively shrinking for at least a year now. Yet somehow this morning, lying there next to the Sunday editions of The Washington Post and New York Times, The Sun looks downright pathetic.

Two days ago I paid my bill for the next eight weeks of home delivery of Baltimore’s only daily newspaper. It was $38.75. For the first time since I became a subscriber, I seriously considered cancelling. It doesn’t seem like a good value proposition anymore.

Truth is I’ve felt this way the past couple of times I paid this bill. I’ve hung in there because while I believe that it is important to support the daily paper, we all have a breaking point. I’ve decided mine is Larry, as in Larry Carson, the veteran reporter covering Howard County. I’ve completely given up my expectation of any meaningful national news from The Sun, and forget about their business coverage. It is really just their Howard County coverage that keeps me hanging on and that has now boiled down to Larry Carson, the last Mohican.

I know I’ve tossed a barb or two his way in this blog. That’s mostly because he covers our little piece of the Baltimore Washington corridor so well. My digs have all been for minor infractions, mere technicalities if you will.

So I’ve decided to make Larry Carson my own personal line in the sand for continuing to be a subscriber of The Sun.

If he goes, I go.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Zoned Against Big Boxes"

An anonymous commenter on this post questioned why I hadn’t posted anything about the latest accolade bestowed on Columbia by Forbes magazine. The article by Matt Woolsey entitled “America’s Top 25 Towns to Live Well” ranked Columbia as No. 7.

“Seventh place Columbia, Md., a 97,506-population town between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, is packed with restaurants, parks and music venues, and it is zoned against big boxes, making it exceptionally small business friendly.”

Zoned against big boxes?

Could it be that Columbia received this recognition under false pretenses?

The list was compiled by a corporate relocation consulting group from San Francisco called I’m guessing that they never actually visited Columbia.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dead Letter Drop

My favorite post office in Columbia is the one located off the lobby of the American Cities Building in Town Center. It has been there almost as long as the office building (1964) and still retains that hometown post office feel. About ten years ago or so, The Rouse Company tried to relocate this branch to The Mall but the subsequent community uproar scuttled that idea.

Yesterday, when I pulled up to the building, I noticed that mailbox was missing. Was this a sign that this postal location was once more “on the bubble.”

No worries. According to Andra (pronounced Andre’), a pleasant postal person, the old box lock broke and so the whole box was sent out for repair.

No word on how long that will take.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Out of Gas

I was serendipitously in sync with a Tales of Two Cities blog reader this afternoon. While driving through Town Center I noticed that the Exxon station at the corner of Banneker Road and Little Patuxent Parkway looked abandoned.

Turns out that it was and it looks like the last occupants left in some haste.

“I think last weekend was it.”

I saw two guys sitting in front of the Banneker Station firehouse across the street so I decided to if they knew what was going on.

“There were some executive type guys checking things out over there the other day.”

No doubt. According to the state tax records, the property is owned by the Exxon Mobil Corporation. Given the scarcity of available sites for a gas station in Town Center, I don’t suspect it will be long before the place opens again under new management.
It could use a bit of cleaning up too.

And, lo and behold, upon my return to the office I saw that Anon 1:46 PM had asked about this very thing in my previous post.

Scene This Week In…

What I really wanted to write about is the last brownie. You know that sliver of baked good that remains in the pan after everyone else has grazed through it. When I saw this sitting on the kitchen counter I thought, “That’s not even half a brownie!”

I know, I know, the joke is that all the calories reside in the last piece which is why it remains behind. We all know that isn’t true. I think it has more to do with guilt. No one likes to be fingered as the one who ate the last brownie.

But this post is supposed to be about scenes I noted in Ellicott City and Columbia this week and while the brownie sliver in question was in Ellicott City it could just as easily been in Columbia.

In Columbia I was struck by the lack of progress on cleaning up the site from the fire at Lynn’s Day Spa last December. It has been almost five months since the fire and the building still looks like it did the day after. I would think that by now at least the fire debris would have been carted away.

In Ellicott City, it was the cricket players that caught my eye. I know I’ve already posted on this but I have since learned something new about Desai Siddabathula. Besides being my neighbor and the guy who is starting a local cricket team, he and his wife Jyothi are opening a new store in Ellicott City called the Village Market and Café. The new venture will take over the space formerly occupied by Soto’s Grill which closed last summer. Desai and Jyothi hope to open this July.

And, speaking of food, for those of you still wondering about the fate of that last sliver of brownie…Mama Wordbones ate it.

Good Business

The Post 200 came out yesterday. This is The Washington Posts annual guide to the regions largest businesses and Howard County was well represented. Six of the largest publicly traded companies in the region and the largest nonprofit are headquartered in Columbia.

A healthy business environment is good for the community. Maintaining the level of services we’ve come to expect in Howard County is dependent on a solid commercial tax base. Thankfully, through both Democratic and Republican leadership, our elected officials have long understood this.

The companies that are part of the 2009 Post 200 are WR Grace & Co. (1,090 local employees), Micros Systems (857 local employees), Corporate Properties Office Trust (39 local employees), Arbitron (700 local employees), Martek Biosciences (204 local employees), Fortress International Group (156 local employees) and Medstar Health (14,000 local employees).

Congratulations to all those firms and their local workers and a special wag of the tail to local blogger Dan Beyers and who edited the Post 200.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Formula for Growth

According to this story by Julekha Dash in the Baltimore Business Journal, a local firm is poised for some pretty dramatic growth as its business grows beyond its base in infant formulas.

Martek Biosciences Corp., headquartered on Dobbin Road in Columbia, has recently inked a deal to blend its DHA oil with Nutrioli cooking oil produced by Ragasa Industries. Unlike other DHA oils that are fish based, Marteks’ oil is derived from algae making it more palatable for combining with other foods. The new product will soon be available in 1,200 Mexican grocery stores.

As a result of this deal and others like it currently in the works, Martek is adding jobs too.

“Leaders are hiring for about 25 positions, including researchers, a patent attorney, and food scientists. That is on top of the 30 positions the 591-person company added in the past six months.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Few, The Cheap, The Proud

Ollie’s is now open at the Columbia East Marketplace at the intersection of US Route 1 and MD Route 175 and judging from the traffic in the store today, it is being well received. It somehow seems appropriate that a store such as Ollies is expanding during a recession. It’s like a dollar store on steroids.

Ollies certainly breathes new life into this long troubled retail center. Originally built in 1984 as an outlet mall, the 170,000 square foot retail center struggled over the years to retain tenants. In 1992 it was purchased at a foreclosure auction on the steps of the courthouse in Ellicott City by the owners of the Burlington Coat Factory. They sold the property to the current owners in January of 2005.

More Old Dog Stuff

It has often been said that, over time, dogs begin to take on the characteristics of their owners. With older dogs this can be both amusing and a bit depressing at the same time.

About four years ago, when my Labrador was first diagnosed with degenerative arthritis, my vet suggested I start giving her a daily dose of glucosamine chondroitin for her joints. At the time I thought this was pretty funny since I had been already been taking this supplement to help ease my aches from running. We began taking our daily pill together.

After her last vet visit, Dr Shulkin suggested I start her on a daily regimen of Metamucil. So far we aren’t sharing this supplement but I don’t like the way this is trending.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Big Weekend in Howard County

As previously reported on the Columbia Talk blog, you may experience some vehicular inconvenience and delay in Howard County this weekend. Along with the 2009 Columbia Triathlon on Sunday there are the two days of Wine in the Woods on Saturday and Sunday.

And it all kicks off Friday night with Black Tie and Biker Chic, the annual fundraiser for the Columbia Festival of the Arts at the Spear Center in Town Center. The last time I checked (today), tickets were still available and it’s a good deal too. You get a full dinner, hors d'oeuvres, an open bar and a sort of big time comedian for $150.00.

Mama Wordbones has been having fun working on her “biker chic” attire. We’ve been perusing Google Images for ideas. This could get scary.

In Defense of the Suburban Yard

A commenter on a recent post took issue with the concept of a nice yard and landscaping.

“Y'all with nothing but green grass are artificial-looking, and worse, destroying our environment with toxic chemicals.”

I’ve heard this type of blather before from self proclaimed “friends of the earth.” I really have no problem with people that want to live in a more, let’s just say natural state. I feel the same way about women who don’t shave their armpits, to each his (or her) own. It comes down to a matter of personal choice.

I do have a problem with the notion that my lawn and landscaping are somehow bad for the environment. When we moved into our new home we got a lot that was scraped of topsoil, a few small bushes, a Bradford pear tree and a red maple tree all on less than a quarter acre of land. In three years since we moved in, Mama Wordbones and I have planted twelve Leland Cypress trees, a Kwanzan Cherry tree, and a wide variety of shrubs and bushes. Birds have now taken up residence in our trees and rabbits have found homes in our bushes. Our green yard has replenished the soil to the point where we can now grow vegetables.

When a person chooses to move into a neighborhood with green lawns, it is reasonable to expect that person to provide at least a minimal level of care to their yard. You don’t need to hire a lawn service to do this. You simply need to cut your grass on a regular basis. When this repeatedly fails to happen, it affects the home values in the entire community.

Of course there are other alternatives for the lawn care deficient. They could always take this approach and simply paint the lawn green.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Looking for Bowlers and Batsmen

This afternoon I came across three gentlemen practicing cricket on a tennis court in Ellicott City. It turns out that they are part of a nascent Columbia cricket team called the Maryland State Club.

“How is the level of play around here,” I asked.

“The real action is in Gaithersburg,” Desai told me. “We’re really just getting started in Columbia.”

“Are you looking for more players,” I asked.

“Do you play?”

Not this old dog but I told him I’d put something up on my blog for anyone out there who might be. If you are interested in playing cricket locally give Desai a call. His number is 443-864-2328.

Jolly good!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Spring Picnic

Last night Peanut and I attended the Worthington Elementary School spring picnic. I was fully prepared for an evening of cold pizza and happy screaming kids. What I was not expecting was a wonderful evening listening to a steel drum band.

As we arrived at the school we were greeted by the Old Mill Steel Drum Band from Old Mill High School in Millersville. Old Mill is in Anne Arundel County but fortunately for us, Mike Miller, the band director, lives in Ellicott City and has two kids at Worthington. If you have ever heard these kids you’ll know what I’m talking about. They were great.

Many folks in Howard County are familiar with Barry Enzman and the amazing talent he helps develop year after year with the Glenelg High School Jazz Band. Until last night I didn’t realize that there was another amazing high school band director in our midst capable of similar music feats. These kids were good.

Don't take my word for it, see for yourself...


Friday, May 08, 2009

The Morning After

Last night was the 27th annual Columbia Foundation Spring Party. This is a great event because it seems like everyone I know in Howard County, friends and foes alike, attends this early spring affair.

The weather gods cooperated last night and guests spilled out onto the patios overlooking Lake Kittamaqundi to enjoy the pleasant spring air. In fact the air outside was far preferable to the stuffy air instead the Spear Center. That’s where Ian Kennedy, Jessie Newburn and Bill Santos posed for this picture with some old guy.

As the sun set on the early evening party, many of the younger guests drifted across the street to That’s Amore. HoCoMoJo and the Columbia Foundation sponsored an event at the restaurant primarily for younger professionals (younger than me anyway). This kept the good vibe going after the foundation party ended at 8:30 PM. It was still hopping when I finally headed home at 10:30. The opportunity to connect with the next generation of county leaders was not missed by a few savvy politicos either. Attending the party after the party were Councilpersons Mary Kay Sigaty, Jen Terrasa, and Greg Fox. Delegate Guy Guzzone was also working the room.

Today, it’s back to work and reality. Tonight it will be a spring party of a different sort with the annual spring picnic at Worthington Elementary School. This time Peanut will be the social butterfly.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

In This Months Business Monthly

Voicemail is dead. While that may not come as a surprise to many, it was nothing short of a revelation to me. Gradually, over the past year or so, the number of people telling me that they didn’t get my voicemail message was increasing. Initially I blamed it on my phone. I really don’t like my phone.

Last month I had my “Ah Ha” moment about voicemail when I came across this story by Jill Colvin in The New York Times last month. The story helped me connect the dots of my seemingly unconnected voicemail message issues. The problem wasn’t with my phone. The problem was with voicemail itself.

Still nobody told me outright that they weren’t checking their voicemail messages anymore. I suppose I was just supposed to know. It was, after all, over a year ago that Michael Arrington made the proclamation that voicemail was dead in this article on the TechCrunch blog.

You can read this month’s column here.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Comp Lite Redux

In October of 2006, when this blog first started, I wrote a post about Angela Beltram endorsing Chris Merdon in his race against Ken Ulman for county executive. At that time Angela had reentered local politics to lead the fight against the so called “Comp Lite” zoning process.

In the comments section of that post, another local blogger, David Keelan, made a bet with me as to whether adding eighteen properties that were not included in the comprehensive rezoning process to the Comp Lite process was illegal. The bet was for a pint of Guinness at Kelsey’s in Ellicott City.

Merdon lost the election and the attempt to put Comp Lite up for referendum failed because it was judged that the petition language did not adequately describe what the petition was about. When the referendum effort was nullified, the Comp Lite opponents took their fight to the courts. As it made its way through the court system, Comp Lite gradually faded from the news.

It never left my radar though. There was a beer at stake after all.

Today I spoke with Paul Johnson in the County Office of Law. After making inquiries as to the status of Comp Lite with Dick Story and Mary Kay Sigaty I ended up at his doorstep.

Paul told me that the challenge to the authority to add those eighteen properties had been dropped. The only piece of the litigation that remains to be settled is between property owners Nancy Cavey and Kevin Campbell. It is expected that these parties will settle their remaining differences before the next hearing scheduled for May 26th.

In other words, the great Comp Lite debate ended with a whimper.

After three years, that Guinness will sure taste good.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Big Deal in Broken Land

Google Alerts alerted me to a press release for a local company that has been selected as value added reseller for the Cray CX1 supercomputer. A local company selling supercomputers sounded like a big deal to me and since I wasn’t playing golf today I thought I’d pay them a visit.

Padova Technolgies is located in a suite of offices in the Broken Land Business Center on Gerwig Lane. Keith Fischbach, the president of the company, was gracious enough to spend a few minutes with me to tell more about his deal with Cray. He explained that the CX1 is basically an entry level supercomputer that can be configured to meet some of the high performance server and storage system requirements of his government clients.

I think I got that right. I asked Keith how many firms have this kind of relationship with Cray.

“There are probably only a handful of us in the country,” he told me.

That qualifies as a big deal in my book. Padova Technolgies has been in Columbia since August of 2001.

Rainy Season

I was supposed to be heading out to Turf Valley this morning for the annual Howard County Chamber of Commerce golf tournament but Mother Nature had other ideas. We seem to have entered a prolonged stretch of rain around here.
There were a few moments this past weekend when the rain stopped long enough to get outside. One of those times was Friday evening when Mama Wordbones and I ventured down to Ellicott City for drinks and dinner. This past Friday was the season opening of the deck at Cacao Lane which is one of my favorite outdoor dining spaces in the county. The food is just okay and I hate getting my wine in a dinky plastic cup but the setting is very cool.

Before dinner we strolled up and down Main Street checking out the scene and stopped in front of the papered up windows of the previously announced Pure Wine Café. When I last wrote something about this place I thought it would be open by now. There was an email address on the coming soon sign so I dropped them a line to find out what was up. According to Paul Strain, they are wrapping up the builders punch list and expect to be open by May 20th.

And since I won’t be playing any golf today…more news later.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

“It’s Awesome out Here!”

On the border of Howard and Baltimore counties, just outside Ellicott City there is a truly bucolic spot where Ilchester Road and Bonnie Branch Road intersect. In this spot, three hills form a small ravine along the banks of the Patapsco River. I don’t posses the writing skills to adequately describe it so I’ll just quote Erin. “It’s awesome out here.”

I met Erin as she was policing the roadside on this rainy afternoon. As I drove by I noticed this young woman working in the rain and not even wearing a hat. Something in my convoluted head told me to stop. I did a u-turn and circled back.

After introducing myself and telling her about the blog she allowed me to take her picture. For someone who was standing in the rain, picking up other peoples litter, she was refreshingly upbeat.

“It’s awesome out here,” she said. That may at first seem odd. It was cold enough to require a jacket and it was raining.

But it wasn’t raining hard. Looking around I noticed that rain had created a mist between the hills. New spring growth was everywhere. The air even tasted good.

Erin was right. It was awesome out there.

Frankly Conversational

Those are the words Jonathan Pitts chose to describe Tales of Two Cities in his story entitled “Blogville, MD” in The Sun today.

The story included a sidebar listing a few of the local blogs and brief descriptions of their content. Noticeably absent was The Hedgehog Report which I consider to be the grandfather of the local blog scene. Though his blog is largely about national polls and politics, Dave frequently weighs in on local issues as well.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Split Decision

In what amounted to a "non-recommendation", the Howard County Planning Board has passed the baton on ZRA-102 to the county council. ZRA-102 would effectively remove General Growth Properties as the gatekeeper for zoning changes in Columbia. The board vote was split 2-2 with a fifth board member, David Grabowski abstaining.

The impetus for ZRA-102 comes from Kimco Reatlty Corporation, the owners of the village centers in Wilde Lake, Harpers Choice, Hickory Ridge, River Hill, Dorsey’s Search, and Kings Contrivance. Kimco is seeking to redevelop the Wilde Lake Village Center as mixed use project with a significantly smaller retail component and 500 apartments. Under existing New Town zoning, Kimco is required to get GGP’s blessing before they apply to the county for the zoning change necessary for this type of redevelopment.

It is doubtful that GGP would approve that many residential units at the village center.

According to this story in The Sun by Larry Carson, “that major infusion of residential units that seemed to spark the fierce opposition of Citaramanis and Linda Dombrowski, who fear that such a major change could destroy the village center concept and affect the whole town.”

This spit decision comes as no surprise to this old dog. The planning board has shown itself to be dysfunctional before. It will now be up to the members of the county council to resolve this impasse.

Friday, May 01, 2009

May Day

click to enlarge
There is an interesting phenomenon occurring in my neighborhood. Some neighbors, who just three short years ago paid close to a million dollars for single family homes, have completely neglected their yards since moving in.

I’m not talking about folks who may let the lawn get a little tall before they cut it. I’m talking about total and absolute neglect. The house in the picture was completed in April 2006. That’s the last time it had a real yard. Now it consists of just weeds and dirt. Notice the nice trim job around the fire hydrant.

What I don’t get is why these people bought a house with a yard in the first place. This house isn’t the only one either. Three or four doors down there is another three year old home with nothing but clover and dandelions for a yard and there are other landscaping deprived yards sprinkled around the neighborhood too. They all have another thing in common, no outside spaces like decks or patios.

These aren’t vacant homes either. People actually live in them. I know, I’ve seen them, occasionally, though seldom in the yard.