Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Confederate Cavalry in Cooksville

This morning I met up with a colleague in Cooksville. TW lives in Olney so Cooksville made a convenient place to link up before we headed off together towards Frederick. I arrived before he did and as I pulled into the small park and ride lot I spotted this Maryland historical marker.

The marker commemorates a Civil War skirmish between J.E.B. Stuarts cavalry and an Eastern Shore militia led by Captain R.E. Duvall. As I have mentioned before, I’m a bit of a Civil War wonk so this was an unexpected treat. The skirmish didn’t go well for the Union troops that day as they retreated to Poplar Springs under cover of darkness. 

Captain Duvall may have gotten the last laugh though. Two days later Robert E. Lee would be surprised by the arrival of Union troops in Gettysburg because Stuarts cavalry had failed to inform him of their movement. The night before the epic battle commenced Stuart was resting from his Cooksville encounter in Union Mills in Carroll County. Captain Duvall would also arrive in Gettysburg in time to face General Stuart again on July 3rd.

The state marker is complimented by two additional panels that describe in greater detail Cooksvilles’ moment in Civil War history. This site is also part of the Gettysburg Invasion and Retreat Trail.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dyer Promotes General for Superintendent

School board member Allen Dyer doesn’t want the school system to follow state law when selecting a new schools superintendent to replace retiring Sydney Cousin. At a school board retreat last week he proposed conducting two parallel superintendent searches, one in accordance with the law and one for “non traditional” candidates that he seems to prefer.

When it was pointed out to Allen that state law defines the requirements for school superintendents, he responded that “COMAR is flexible.”

COMAR is the acronym for Code of Maryland Regulations governing state agencies. In Allen’s view state law can be tweaked to fit his whim. It should be noted that he is one of very few people who believe this.

COMAR states that any superintendent candidate must be certified in “early childhood education, elementary education, or secondary education, have a masters degree, have three years teaching experience and two years of school administration experience, and have “completed a 2-year program with graduate courses in administration and supervision in an institution or institutions approved by an accrediting agency recognized by the State Superintendent of Schools. Graduate work under §B may be applied toward the requirements of this section, provided that a minimum of 60 semester hours of graduate work is presented.”

Any candidate that the school board sends up to the state schools superintendent for final approval must meet these criteria or they will likely be rejected.

Of course Allen already has spoken to a “non traditional” candidate. At the retreat he told fellow board members that retired Major General Robert P. Steele is interested in the job. He was formerly the commandant of the National War College in DC. Allen has apparently spoken to the general on his own initiative before the search process has even gotten underway.

Monday, August 29, 2011

HoCo Hurricanes of Note

Irene doesn't really warrant a marker. Last weeks hurricane caused catastrophic flooding in Vermont but basically only wind related damage around here.

It could have easily gone the other way. As evidenced by the markers posted on this bridge truss in Ellicott City, we’ve had some real doozies here in HoCo.
I particularly recall Agnes, in 1972. It was the summer before my senior year at Wilde Lake. Along with a couple of friends we helped a few shop owners shovel the muck out of their stores.

As bad as that was, can you imagine what it was like in 1868!
That being said, Irene did produce some angry water in the Patapsco. Thankfully it wasn’t angry enough for the record books

Another Best Blog Thing

Yesterday, as I was creating a link for loco storm stud Mike Hellgren, I discovered that WJZ is running a “Most Valuable Blogger” contest. Actually the contest has been running since July 25th and the finalists have already been chosen. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Tales of Two Cities had made the cut in the “Local Affairs” category.

I was also happy to see that fellow HoCo blogger HowChow is a finalist too.

I have no idea who nominated my blog but I always appreciate the gesture. Thanks. The voting ends on September 9th.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

One Lucky Guy

Driving through Elkridge this afternoon, we spotted this oak tree laying on Frank Harmons house.
It is actually two trees  or whats also called a double leader.. Mama Wordbones pointed out that you should never let a tree do this. Early on you need to cut one of them off. “If not the whole tree gets messed up. That’s just basic tree stuff,” she added.

Somebody must've forgot to tell Frank about that.
The roots did look pretty shallow on this behemoth.
Frank was a lucky guy. He had been asleep in his bedroom when sometime around 2:00 AM the winds of Irene toppled the double oak on this house. A roof truss crashed into the bed next to him. He escaped unharmed. I can't say the same for his house.

Storm Studs

Like many other HoCo locos, we spent the better part of yesterday hunkered down at home. While riding out Irene we watched movies, drank wine and regularly checked in with The Weather Channel and a couple of the Baltimore TV stations to see how the storm was progressing. Each media outlet featured a reporter, standing in the middle of the storm, telling us how bad it was where they were.

Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel is the rock star of storm reporters. Jim has stood in front of a camera while Hurricanes Gustav, Katrina, Isabel, Rita, Andrew, Floyd, Mitch, Bonnie and now Irene,  raged around him. While others may run from storms, Jim runs to them. He is a storm stud.

The citizens of New York are storm studs. In a report on NBC news last night, Harry Smith reported from Times Square that, while all the Starbucks in the city had closed and the subways had shut down, the bars and liquor stores were still open.

We had local storm studs too. Sheldon Dutes, a reporter with WBAL gave reports from several locations in Ocean City during the storm. At times he had difficulty standing. Mike Hellgren with WJZ was in the thick of it too. I also noticed that the network weather guys had much nicer storm gear than these two guys.

The biggest storm stud of all, in my book anyway, is Frank Batten. Frank started The Weather Channel in 1982 and a lot of people thought he was nuts. Nobody would ever watch a station a devoted entirely to weather they said. In those early years it sometimes looked as if the skeptics might be right.

Obviously they weren’t. In 2008 Frank sold The Weather Channel  to NBC for $3.8 billion.

Frank died in 2009. He was the original storm stud.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Rock and Roll History of Merriweather

As I observed in this post, Merriweather Post Pavilion is an institution that binds succeeding generations of Columbias young people together. For me at least, it will forever be associated with youth, summer, music and hometown pride. Columbia may not have a professional football team but we do have a kick ass outdoor music venue that has seen the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and The Who to name but a few.

It deserves it’s own blog and now it has one.

My friend and fellow WLHS alum, Chuck Bubeck, has started “Merriweather back in the day” a blog about “memories of some great concerts at merriweather post pavilion in Columbia Maryland.” It’s good. Chuck includes copies of concert posters, ticket stubs, music links and video clips to recall the theatres storied rock and roll past.

Though I suspect Chuck has long harbored the thought of doing this, he was no doubt pushed along by the success of Sekou Walkers Columbia facebook page. Chuck has been a frequent commenter and contributer.

The blog already has posts about the HoCo loco appearances of The Who, Led Zepplin, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendricks. Check it out.

Memory Lane

When Sekou Walker launched the Columbia nostalgia facebook page back on August 5th he had no idea it would become this popular this fast. When he went to bed that night the page had five friends. When he woke up the next morning, that number had grown to 85. Today “You know you grew up in Columbia when” has 4,131 friends. As he put it “It’s outa control.”

Barbara Kellner, the Director of The Columbia Archives is one of those friends. As keeper of Columbia’s history, she has even reached out to some of those friends for copies of pictures that even she has never seen before. The personal histories from the facebook page provide a nice compliment to her work and has generated more interest in the archives.

Through all of the different generations that have grown up in Columbia the one constant has been Merriweather Post Pavilion. Merriweather opened in 1967 and its performances over forty four years have changed with each new wave of young audiences, earning the outdoor music venue a unique shared hometown experience. Consequently posts about Merriweather on Sekou’s page seem to attract comments from all age groups. Barbara told us she has copies of the playbills for every season since it opened.

We also talked about tot lots, race relations, and the challenge for young people to find affordable housing in Columbia. As a guy who grew up in Columbia it was a pretty fun show.

You can listen to the 47th episode of “and there’s that…” here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Storm Rush

“You guys are really rockin’ this afternoon.”

“It’s been like this all day,” she said.

About an hour ago I was in the Target at Long Gate, talking to the cashier. The place was packed and a bit picked over. “It looks like you are all out of large cell batteries,” I observed.

“…and flashlights, bread, and water,” she added. “I think we’re out of Nutri-Grain bars too.”

It’s that survival food thing.

Though Irene is a more than a day away, the HoCo locos seem to heeding the advice of the experts in preparing for her arrival. 

Follow the Storm

The New York Times has a very cool Hurricane Irene storm tracker. It shows the current position of the eye as well as a graph charting the wind speeds.

Unfortunately, it uses Flash so if you have an Apple product you’re out of luck.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pre Irene

I spent a good part of my day in the car. It started early when I picked up my truck from Eakles at 7:30. Driving back through Ellicott City I noticed the new Subway was open and so was the curbside parking right in front. I stopped in and grabbed a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee. I needed the fuel

Before the day was over I’d drive back and forth to Ellicott City twice, Columbia twice, then Highland, Fulton and Scaggsville before getting home at eight. 

With all that time in the car I got an earful of Irene info. I found out that Rick Meehan, the mayor of Ocean City,  had ordered a mandatory evacuation of the seaside resort, and that I should plan for being without power for up to seven days.

I was feeling pretty smug about that case of water I bought on sale Monday.

I also wondered if this could turn out to be one of those non events. You know, like when they predict a big snow storm on a school night. You believe them, blow off your homework and then wake up in the morning and find it was nothing but a dusting. You feel like you should be able to sue someone.

If this storm wimps out, some of those who had long planned to be at the shore this weekend will likely feel the same way, not to mention the owners of the restaurants and hotels.

Still, it’s better to be prepared I suppose. Tomorrow I’ll restock the wine rack and while I'm out I’ll grab a seven days supply of energy bars.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dirty Water

The thought of drinking water that was once wastewater evokes the same reaction from almost everyone. Not gonna happen. Even if you could be convinced of the science, the chances are that you are still repelled by the very idea of drinking water that was once in somebody's toilet or shower. You are not alone.

That drives engineers nuts. The treated wastewater is as good as any water, even better than some they’ll tell you. Environmentalists generally support water reuse too.

The water is fine its the drinkers that need treatment. Time to bring in the psychologists. In this story by Alix Spiegel on NPR’s Morning Edition last week, psychologist Carrol Nemeroff explains “that once something has had contact with another thing, their parts are in some way joined.”

"If I have my grandmother's ring versus an exact replica of my grandmother's ring, my grandmother's ring is actually better because she was in contact with it — she wore it. So we act like objects — their history is part of the object."

In the case of wastewater, that history is pretty gross.

"But as Nemeroff points out, there is a certain irony to this position, at least when viewed from the perspective of a water engineer. You see, we are all already basically drinking water that has at one point been sewage. After all, "we are all downstream from someone else," as Nemeroff says. "And even the nice fresh pure spring water? Birds and fish poop in it. So there is no water that has not been pooped in somewhere."

Right after I heard this segment I saw Tim Gallagher at the Coloseum Gym and asked him about it.

“Could you ever see yourself drinking treated wastewater, even if it was proven to be safe?”

“No way!”

Earth Moving Stories

(photo from
Though some have expressed fatigue over the preponderance of published reports about yesterdays seismic sashay, others seem to relish in reliving that thirty seconds.

“Where were you?”

“Were you scared?”

And so on.

I get that. Like a major snowstorm, yesterdays roll with Momma Nature was one of those shared events. It was one of those rare times that tied us all together. You could easily have a conversation with a complete stranger because you just experienced the same thing. Earthquake stories cut across racial, religious, ethnic and political boundaries.

So what was your story?

This Friday, when we tape our next podcast in The Mall, we would like to share some of those stories. If you have ever listened to “and then there’s that…” you know that we spend the first ten to fifteen minutes discussing the HoCo loco news of the past two weeks. Yestersdays East Coast Earthquake (or Mineral Earthquake) certainly qualifies as a story.

Over the next two days, we are collecting the best loco stories from yesterday for Fridays podcast. If you have a story to share you can post a comment here or email me at

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


The earthquake rolled through our offices on Dobbin Road right around 2:00 PM. My first sensation was that someone was up on the roof working. Then I thought that whoever or whatever was on the roof was very large. Then, as the wave rolled across the office, I realized this was an earthquake.

“This is an earthquake!” TW declared from two workstations away.

Indeed it was, and an impressive one at that. I once spent a couple of years in the San Francisco Bay area and this little HoCo loco seismic event was even respectable by that standard.

As quickly as it came, it was over. In our office there was no evidence that it had even happened. The phones worked, the lights were on, the computers were working, and the Internet was up. We didn’t even have to straighten any pictures.

Shortly after that I left and headed to the county offices in Ellicott City. Traffic on the roads was normal, the traffic lights all working.
Isn’t wasn’t until I arrived at the newly renovated George Howard Building that I saw any sign that an earthquake had occurred. All of the employees and visitors were standing outside. They had been evacuated.

A friend of mine told me “They told us to leave and then they told us we could come back. When I started back they told me they changed their minds."

It was a nice day to be stuck aside though. It was one of those rare beautiful August days with little to no humidity and a pleasant breeze.
I saw Councilperson Jen Terrasa. She told me she had been in the lower level of the building and hadn’t really felt anything.
While we were standing there, a guy with a walkie talkie and reflective safety vest announced that everyone could return to their desks if they wanted to. He said the liberal leave policy was in effect for the rest of the day. It was about 2:45 PM. He said that there was some concern about gridlock.

I’m thinking with a day like this and the opportunity to enjoy a good part of it, the only gridlock is going to be at the starter’s box at the golf course.

When I got back to my office, I discovered that we had lost half our power. We had no lights, no a/c, and no phones but our computers work and we have Internet. Even our CNBC feed is working.

All in all, we’re pretty good to go after the Mineral Earthquake of 2011.

Three Things about Food

I dropped down to Main Street in Ellicott City last night to grab a sandwich. I had heard that the most talked about Subway store in HoCo was scheduled to open yesterday so I decided to check it out.
Not so fast. They aren’t open yet. Originally the store had planned to open last Friday. Then, on Friday I heard that the opening had been delayed until Monday. Now it looks like it will be another week.

Undeterred I walked down to Bean Hollow and grabbed a chicken salad sandwich. I asked if they had any sides and was told it came with a pickle. I think Bean Hollow is going have to raise their game a bit if they want to compete with the new guy in town.

That's one.

 It didn’t occur to me until I was heading back to my car that I should have ordered one of the man food offerings at The Man Cave.  I’m anxious to try the Vietnamese Stir Fried Crab Rice or the Duck Spaghetti.

That’s two.

Yesterday morning, as I was sitting at the traffic light at Snowden River Parkway and McGaw Road I snapped this picture of the Wegmans store under construction.

It’s coming along very nicely. By this time next summer the place will be hopping.

That's three.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Eight Out of Ten

Eight out of the ten most expensive zip codes in the Baltimore metro area, for the first six months of this year, are in HoCo. According to this report by Jamie Smith Hopkins in The Sun, the list was determined by the papers “analysis of average sale price data from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems. Areas were included in the analysis if they had at least five home sales.”

West Friendship is number one.
Other than that it was pretty much a clean sweep for HoCo with Glenelg number two, Clarksville number three (even without a post office!), Glenwood number four, Dayton number six, Highland number seven and Fulton number eight. HoCo shared the number nine spot with Carroll because of Marriottsville which straddles the border.

It's good to spread it around a little.

Nostalgia Doesn’t Pay The Rent

Some folks in Clarksville were disappointed when the postal service didn’t immediately jump on the offer of a free site from the county. After the Clarksville post office closed on August 12th county executive Ken Ulman stepped in to offer the former Gateway School site rent free for at least two years in order to entice the postal to return. The former location closed when the landlord opted not to renew the lease.

Ironically, according to this story by Jessica Anderson in The Sun, the reason the lease was not renewed was “uncertainty over the neighboring Gateway site development.”

In other words, the real reason had more to due with future development potential. The land that the former post office sat on is now more valuable vacant than with the postal service on a long term lease.

So why the lukewarm postal service response on the alternative free site from the county?

Simple economics. Although the land would be rent free the postal service would still need to construct a temporary facility and staff it.

Though people tend to feel a special nostalgia to their loco post office, that isn’t necessarily enough to support the enterprise. As Alexandra Petri recently quipped in this column in The Washington Post, “ask anyone about the chance that his local post office might be closing, and you're wafted back to the 1950s.”

While we may intrinsically understand that the postal service has been eclipsed by technology, some still cling to an idealized post office that has little resemblance to current situation

“The last time you went to a post office -- and you realize that this is anecdotal and you may be exaggerating slightly — you stood in a line for forty-two hours and died of neglect, and your grandmother claims the cookies arrived strangely dented.”

If the postal service is going to survive they need to drastically rethink their business model.

“Meanwhile, the Post Office is stuck. It is a wildly expensive service which taxpayers do not directly subsidize — and it’s about to run out of money. It currently is obligated to provide universal service — mail six days a week, across the United States. On every day that mail is delivered, someone rides down the Grand Canyon on a mule to give mail to the person at the bottom.”

The chances are that the mail that is riding on that mule six days a week is primarily junk mail. As Alexandra concludes “when you heard your post office was closing, the odds are that you didn't send an angry letter.”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Number 569

Now that I’ve made the decision to join the eBook revolution I need to determine which eReader best suits me. To that end I decided to take advantage of the HoCo Libraries nook program in order to give that format a test run.

“You realize our nooks are the first version,” the helpful librarian informed me. “The newer versions have color."

“No matter,” I told her. “Go ahead and sign me up. I presume there is a waiting list.”

“Indeed there is,” she replied and then added, almost apologetically, “You are number 569.”

Wow! I figured the program was popular but I didn’t realize it was THAT popular. Still, I’m in no big hurry. In the meantime, since I’ve vowed to no longer buy printed books, I’m rediscovering borrowing books.  I had forgotten how much fun that can be, just browsing the racks, looking for something interesting.

I just finished “Stealing the General” by Russell Bonds and am now knee deep in “1861: The Civil War Awakening” by Adam Goodheart”

I'm a little stuck in the Civil War genre right now. I suppose its that sesquicentennial thing.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Final Chapter of the Plaza Residences

Selling a parcel of land with entitlements often equates to a higher sales price. That is undoubtedly what WCI Communities was hoping for in selling the land in Columbia Town Center where they had once planned to build a 23 story residential tower. The developer had a fully designed building and a building permit in hand when the recession hit and the company declared bankruptcy. Though WCI no longer had any intention to build the building they had hoped to sell the land, their design and the permit to build it to someone who could. I know of at least one loco developer who was interested in pursuing this.

The problem is that a building permit is not open ended. At some point you actually have to build something or else start the process all over again. For the Plaza Residences, the time has run out. According to this story by Jessica Anderson in The Sun, the Maryland Court of Appeals has determined that the developer has “lost its legal bid to keep plans for the tower alive.”

“The decision released Friday, made largely on procedural grounds, means that the company has to start over to pursue the project and would likely face stricter zoning restrictions passed in the intervening years by the County Council.”

In other words, any development on the site would now be subject to the Town Center redevelopment legislation passed last year.

The opponents of the project also won a long fought victory in the courts. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in Explore Howard the state Court of Appeals also “concluded that the 2007 complaint the developer filed in Howard County Circuit Court to get the resident's appeal dismissed based on lack of standing was premature since the Howard County Board of Appeals had not ruled on the standing issue.”

Though this actually returns the matter to the Howard County Board of Appeals it is unlikely that WCI will pursue this any further. At this point that would simply be throwing good money after bad.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wall Street Sours on Patch

Patch, the online community news outlet acquired by AOL in 2009, is seen by some Wall Street analysts as a drag on the parent company’s earnings. According to this story by Verne G. Kopytof in The New York Times, “Eliminating the money-losing service would free $160 million and lift AOL into profitability.”

“AOL’s decline in value is so great that analysts point out that the company may be worth more now broken into pieces and sold.”

That being said, Patch still has a pretty strong ally in the company. It was started by Tim Armstrong, the AOL Chairman and CEO, before he joined the company. Patch is part of his strategy for transforming AOL from an Internet access business to a content provider in order to return the company to profitability. He now expects that to take another two years.

“Frankly, AOL hasn’t delivered on its promise yet,” said Sameet Sinha, an analyst with B. Riley & Company. “It’s just been a series of stumbles.”

Oxford Square Seeks Density Increase

The developer of Oxford Square in Hanover may soon seek to increase the residential component of the project. According to Howard/Arundel Report newsletter, David Scheffenacker would like to “amend last year’s approval of the former Coca-Cola property to boost the density.”

Under the current plan Oxford Square would have 954 residential units and approximately 800,000 square feet of office and retail space. Presumably the office component would be scaled back to accommodate more residential development in an amended plan. 

Though David cites the state’s “smart growth” initiative as the justification for an increase it is just as likely that he sees more opportunity in residential development right now, particularly apartments. While investors have shown little appetite for office development in the current environment, they have been bullish on apartments as evidenced by new multi family projects in Arundel Preserve and Columbia.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Apartments for Long Reach

Chesapeake Realty Partners recently announced plans to build 320 apartments on the last undeveloped land parcel at the Gateway Overlook Shopping Center in Columbia. The site is located at the Lark Brown Road entrance to the shopping center across from Costco.

They will need an amendment to the Preliminary Development Plan first. This land was originally envisioned for a hotel or age restricted housing. When General Growth Properties sold the shopping center to WRIT last year, the undeveloped land was not included in the sale.

If approved, these units presumably would become part of the Village of Long Reach. The land is subject to the CPRA assessment.

According to the Howard/Arundel Report newsletter, the project will be called Paragon at Gateway Overlook and would consist of five 64 unit buildings. Rents would be in the range of $1,500 to $1,600.

Though somewhat isolated from most of Columbia’s amenities and open space, at least the residents will be able to walk to Trader Joe's and Fatburger.

Downyoshun @ MACo

If you want to meet with a HoCo loco elected official over the next few days you’ll probably need to head to Ocean City. The Maryland Association of Counties, also known as MACo is holding its annual summer conference at the beachfront town through Saturday.

Ken Ulman is there but he doesn't really have a choice since our county exec is the current president of MACo. Of course this also provides a great opportunity to raise his profile for the 2014 gubernatorial race. To that end he's holding a fundraiser at Hoopers Crab House this evening at $250 a head.

Earlier this week HoCo council chair Calvin Ball told me he was heading to the shore today. I didn’t ask him if he was planning to have crabs with Ken but I assume that he and the other HoCo Dems will be joining him.

MACo has come a long way since its roots as an informal gathering of county commissioners in the fifties. It now has a full time staff of eight people and its own 2,000 square foot building in Annapolis.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

No Best Places Laurels for HoCo’s Smaller Towns

Money Magazine has just published their latest “Best Places to Live” and no HoCo communities made the cut this time around.

To be fair, this years list focused on the best “small” towns with populations between 8,500 and 50,000. Last year, when Ellicott City/Columbia was recognized by the magazine as the second best place to live the criteria was for populations between 50,000 and 300,000. The population of Ellicott City/Columbia is over 155,000. 

Three Maryland communities did make it into the top 100; Montgomery Village (#40), Eldersburg (#62) and Crofton (#82).

Savage was No. 51 but unfortunately it was Savage, Minnesota, not our Savage.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer Song 2011

Every so often summer comes with a song. For whatever reason, sometimes I’ll hear a song that will seem to capture the essence of the season. Last summer it was Micheal Franti’s “Sound of Sunshine.” Since it is already mid August and nothing had really hit me yet, I was beginning to think that it was going to be one of those songless summers.

This evening I heard “Short Skirt / Long Jacket” on The Spectrum and immediately knew I had my summer song. I was surprised when I learned that it came out in 2001.

Here’s what some others think.

And here’s the song.

Anybody else have a summer song?

The Campaign for the Best

This morning at the Colosseum Gym, Tim Gallagher told me about another HoCo loco business owner who is waging an aggressive campaign in the Howard Magazine “Best of Howard” competition.

“She even collected the magazines from people’s doorsteps in order to get more ballots,” he told me. This particular merchant has subsequently enlisted fellow businesspeople in her campaign. If they agree to vote for her business, she’ll vote for theirs.

This strategy sounds similar to the recent Iowa straw poll. I’ll buy your ticket and feed you barbecue if you agree to vote for me.

I guess some business owners see this accolade as a real marketing boost. The problem is that waging an aggressive campaign to win this type of recognition seems to negate its value. If you truly are the best at what you do you shouldn’t have to shove a ballot in front of someone and ask them to vote for you.

By the way, this year the voting also includes a category for best loco blog. If anyone needs a ballot I just may be able to find one for you…under certain conditions of course.

The Man Cave

For some guys, a trip to Ellicott City with a wife or girlfriend is approached with the same enthusiasm as a trip to the doctor. Aside from the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company there are few places for a guy to hang while their significant other browses and shops.

The Man Cave seeks to remedy that situation.

“We wanted to create a place where a guy can hang out,” Keith told me. Keith is the manager of the Man Cave, a relatively new shop that took over the space formerly occupied by the Clef Notes Café. The Man Cave features a wide assortment of comic books, games, movies and magic stuff.
They also serve man food prepared by the chefs at Tersiguels but you won’t find these items on the Tersiguels menu. At the Man Cave you can get things like “Not Yo Momma’s Butt” Pork Sandwich and Drunken Fries.

Though you can eat in the cave, Keith told that they do a pretty good carryout business.

The Man Cave also carries an assortment of hot sauces.

 The store is owned by Eric Smith who also runs Hackers Ink which is right next to the store. Hackers Ink is a computer services firm that handles IT for several HoCo businesses, including Tersiguels.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Couple of Notes from the Dyer Interview

Allen Dyer sees the effort to remove him from the school board largely as a partisan attack from the HoCo Dems. Though the school board is non partisan, Allen believes that Ellen Flynn Giles, Janet Siddiqui, Frank Aquino, and Sandra French are all Dems. He truly believes that they want to get rid of him so they can get another Dem on the board.

I don’t know about Siddiqui, French and Aquino but I do know that, until very recently, Giles was a registered Repub. In fact she was a Repub each of the three times she has run for the board. She is now an Independent, just like Allen.

Before we started taping, Allen joked about how when Baltimoreans ask people where they went to school, they mean high school not college. As it happens, all of us on the podcast are products of the HoCo public school system. My co-host Paul Skalny went to Mount Hebron, our producer Dave Bittner went to Centennial and I went to Wilde Lake.

And then there's that...!

Cyber Warriors Deployed to Private ISP’s

Earlier this summer, the Obama administration deployed a new cybersecurity strategy that allows private infrastructure to tap into the cyber expertise of NSA and the Department of Homeland Security. According to this column by David Ignatius in The Washington Post, in a test initiative dubbed DIB Cyber Pilot with 20 defense contractors, “Homeland Security worked with four major Internet service providers, or ISPs, to help them clean malicious software from the Internet feed going to the contractors.”

“The experiment has been running for 90 days now, and officials say that it’s working. The ISPs have blocked hundreds of attempted intrusions before they could get to the defense companies.”

The economic potential of this program for our area is huge. Any expansion of NSA’s cyber mission is likely to mean even more jobs in and around Fort Meade.

“The National Security Council soon will be debating whether to extend this pilot program to other sectors of critical infrastructure. Obvious candidates are the big financial institutions supervised by the Treasury Department and the national laboratories and nuclear-energy facilities overseen by the Energy Department.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Road Woes

The Department of Defense has identified six road improvements that are “critical and immediate” for the expanding mission at Fort Meade. The estimated price tag for this road work is $671 million. According to this story by Brian M. Rosenthal in The Washington Post “most of those projects have been delayed at least until 2020 because of a lack of funding. Federal and state governments have contributed just $46 million for improvements.”

Traveling east on Route 175 may begin to get a little dicey.

“The numbers of cars using 175 each day is expected to jump dramatically from 2007 to 2015, growing from 26,000 to 45,000, according to the State Highway Administration.”

On the other hand, this could be seen as a small price to pay for an economic windfall.

“Officials predict the Fort Meade expansion will have a $1 billion annual economic impact on the region.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Allen Dyer Interview

When we decided to have embattled school board member Allen Dyer on the podcast I knew the end result would be mixed. Those who abhor his quixotic legal shenanigans would likely think that we were too easy on him while some of his supporters would also find fault.

In retrospect, I think we found a middle ground. It was the first time either Paul or I had sat and talked to the man. Afterwards, Paul told me he actually empathized with some of his legal arguments. My opinion of his tactics on the other hand, remains largely the same. I think Allen sincerely believes he is smarter than the other people on the school board and that what he is doing is his moral and ethical obligation. A wise barber once told me that it is unwise to argue with a fanatic. I would categorize Allen Dyer as a fanatic. Arguing with him on the podcast would achieve nothing. Letting him talk would expose his true character.

That being said, it would be unwise to call him stupid. He’s smart, just not as smart as he thinks.

There was a funny moment when he called out the four other members of the school board as being Democrats. I think his board member allies, Brian Meshkin and Cindy Vaillancourt, might be a bit surprised by this.

You can listen to the 46th episode of “and then there’ s that…” here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

More Elkridge Angst

At the risk of offending the sensitivities of the Elkridge community more than I already have, I can’t help but comment on the recent uproar over the proposed Ducketts Lane Elementary School. This is the school site that the HCPSS has offered as an alternative to Oxford Square elementary school site that the community hated.  According to this story by Sara Toth in Explore Howard, the proposed Ducketts Lane site, which sits is an established neighborhood east of I-95,  “has attracted criticism, most from nearby residents worried about parking, traffic and a lack of communication on the part of the board.”


Another rersident, Cynthia Callan went so far as to say that the elementary school would “ruin” the neighborhood.

Right now the property is a vacant wooded lot frequented by people who prefer discreet places to gather. Prior to being designated as a potential elementary school site this property had received site plan approval for over 50 units of age restricted housing. Is that what the community prefers?

At one point in my life I lived right next to Bryant Woods Elementary School in Columbia. Almost every evening I walked out my back door and onto the playing fields, tossing a tennis ball to my two year old Lab. Almost every evening I encounterd other neighbors enjoying the playing fields as well; walking dogs, throwing Frisbees, and such. From my experience, an elementary school is about as good a neighbor as you can ask for. It gives the neighborhood a big yard to play in that they don’t have to cut.

It also provides a place for a community to gather.

Some Elkronians complain that the 10 acre site is too small. According to this story by Elizabeth Janney in Elkridge Path, Leslie Kornreich, a frequent critic of the school system, believes that a larger school should be built somewhere else. 

“I anticipate that this place is going to open overcrowded,” said Kornreich. “Where are the portables going to go?” she asked.”

Ducketts Lane is actually four acres bigger than Bryant Woods Elementary School and will house twice as many students.

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Last Book

This was the book that finally pushed me over the edge. This 700 page plus tome was like lugging around a sack of bricks. It was really  a pain to hold up while reading in bed. That didn’t work for me and consequently it took me longer to finish than most books.

From this point forward, I’m joining the ebook revolution. During my recent vacation I took note of my fellow readers around the pool. I envied the ebookers as they held their  iPad,  Kindle  or  Nook in one hand and their poolside cocktail in the other. 

That being said, Hero is still a pretty decent read, no matter what format its in. The story of T.E. Lawrence and his role in shaping the modern history of the Middle East is well known. What I didn’t know much about was what happened after his “Lawrence of Arabia” years. Despite his heroic exploits and keen political insight to one of the most troubled areas of the world, he spent the remainder of his life in a self imposed exile. He died in a motorcycle accident at the age of 46.

Meet the Bloggers

Tonight, HoCo Blogs will sponsor yet another HoCo Blogtail party. These gatherings are unique to HoCo and have grown from a handful of people four years ago to an expected attendance of over a hundred tonight. It’s been pretty amazing to witness this growth. What was originally intended as an attempt to tone down some of the nastier rhetoric between bloggers with opposing opinions has evolved into something much bigger. I’m just not quite sure what that is yet.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s all good. There is a certain richness to wide variety of HoCo loco blogs that cover every conceivable topic under the sun. These gatherings provide the opportunity to meet face to face with the people who write the blogs as well as those who read and comment on them. It is also heartening for me to see, that among those expected to attend tonight, are at least three of that handful of bloggers from that first gathering in the fall of 2007.

This is by no means an exclusive group. Jesse Newburn, the grand dame of HoCo Blogs, encourages all who have an interest in the HoCo loco blog conversations to attend. The gathering will be held at The Stanford Grill in Columbia from 5:30 til 7:30 PM and is co-sponsored by The Sun.

I intend to drop by, albeit late due to a previously scheduled event with my daughter. I won’t likely make it until around 7:00 PM, but better late than never as they say. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scene This Week In…

It seems that no matter when I go by the Apple store in The Mall it is always busy. At 11 o’clock today, there were more people in the upper level cool toy emporium than any of the other 202 stores in the center.

Today, according to this report by George Anders in Bloomberg, Apple, Inc became the top ranked company in terms of global stock market capitalization. Despite the current market turmoil, Apple became “the world's most valuable company, with a stock-market capitalization of about $342 billion.”

“Just 14 years ago, Apple's business consisted almost entirely of a small and dwindling share of the personal computer market. Today, as Bloomberg's Adam Satariano points out, Apple gets two-thirds of its revenue from iPhones and iPads, two products that didn't exist five years ago. Apple keeps its growth-stock valuation because investors feel confident that the company hasn't run out of big ideas.”

I am old enough to remember when IBM was eating Apples lunch in PC sales. In the mid to late eighties, John Sculley was the CEO and the stock was selling for under six bucks a share. Of course back then I could no better afford the stock than I can now. Some things never change.

Over in Ellicott City some merchants and historic purists are chafing at the arrival of a Subway sandwich shop on Main Street. As I commented back in March, I think these people are missing the point. As Doug Miller wrote in a recent opinion piece in Explore Howard, “Subway can't kill what Main Street has going for it.”

Subway seems to be approaching their Main Street with a little respect for its unique location. The store has been branded a “Subway Café,” the chains new upscale store format. It is decidedly fancier than your run of the mill strip center Subway.

In any event, it will be a vast improvement over Sweets Bakery which formerly occupied the space.

A HoCo Haven for Hackers

If you want to recruit cyber warriors, the Defcon hackers convention is a good place to start. Last week, at Defcon 19 in Las Vegas, the Department of Defense was actively courting the hacker community for jobs at the National Security Agency and presumably the newly established Cyber Command at Fort Meade. According to this article by Andrew Brandt in PC World, attendees were encouraged to “to put their skills to use defending the country from spies, terrorists, and other criminals.”

Of course some of the more intrepid hackers attending the convention could be already be considered the enemy.

“The DOD's Christy and Tim Huff, a special agent with the FBI's Computer Analysis Response Team, fielded questions about so-called gray-hat hackers, who sometimes break the law but aren't charged. Christy and Huff made it clear that cybercriminals--even those who haven't been caught--are not likely to be invited to join the ranks of cybercops.”

Then again, the government stressed that a little youthful indiscretion in your past will not necessarily disqualify a hacker from serving their country.

"Everyone's broken the law at some time in their life, so it depends on when you did it," Christy answered. "If you were breaking the law yesterday and want to come work for the government tomorrow, the chances are we aren't going to select you, because there are a whole lot of talented people that haven't crossed over that line for seven or eight years."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Overexposed to the Sun

I first read about it yesterday in the B'More blog in The Sun and then the same story was later picked up by Explore Howard. This morning, in The Washington Post, Lori Aratani covered the story and on my way into work Elliott Francis on WAMU did a piece on it as well. Whoever handles public relations for ATR should get a gold medal.

ATR is the Columbia based company that developed a device that incorporates GPS technology with solar panels allowing the panels to track the sun thereby maximizing their ability to generate electricity. The first loco application of this is an electric vehicle charge station in the parking lot of the Wildwood Medical Building in Bethesda, over in MoCo.

In a recent post about residential solar installations I referenced an article in Wired Magazine where Bill Gates categorized solar power as “cute.” He posited that the benefits received from solar applications don’t necessarily justify the expense.

That certainly seems to be the case with these solar charging stations. According to The Sun blog post by Tim Wheeler, it was “developed through a $1.1. million clean-energy development grant, administered through the Maryland Energy Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, using federal stimulus funds.”

Cute, but hardly sustainable.

Monday, August 08, 2011


While HoCo awaits the commencement of the redevelopment of Columbia Town Center, the action right now is just over the border in AA Co. In the planned community of Arundel Preserve, adjacent to the Arundel Mills Mall, another Town Center project that features 242 apartments and a 150 room full service hotel is nearing completion. Included in the project is a new restaurant called Grillfire. Grillfire is part of the George Martin Restaurant Group and is the first restaurant they’ve opened outside of New York. It opened at the end of last month.

Grillfire bills itself as a “contemporary upscale American Grill.” I’d put in the same category as The Stanford Grill in Columbia. Just before leaving for vacation we dropped in for dinner. I’ll take a pass on critiquing the food except to say that it shows promise. 

One of Mama Wordbones pet peeves with "upscale" restaurants are unlit candles on the table. Though the place was far from busy, neither our server nor the several manager types who passed by our table took notice of this small detail. This may seem like nitpicking but when you bill yourself as upscale, details matter.

We both agreed that to call it a work in progress and give it another chance another day.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

In This Months Business Monthly

In the song “Singin’ the Dinosaur Blues,” Jerry Jeff Walker observes that “life is mostly attitude and timing.” When it comes to the future of Columbia’s Town Center the timing of the redevelopment legislation last spring could not have been better.

A little over a year, when the county council unanimously passed the Town Center enabling legislation in early February of 2010, some community activists argued that the timing for this was wrong. They openly questioned the wisdom of moving ahead with a “bankrupt developer.” The prudent thing to do, they argued, was to wait until the company had resolved their financial issues.

It’s hard to imagine how different things would have been if that attitude had prevailed. When the developer, General Growth Properties, emerged from bankruptcy last fall, it spun off part of its holdings into a new entity called the Howard Hughes Corporation. The immediate impact of that for Columbia was profound. Instead of one company controlling the bulk of the redevelopment land in Town Center there are now two, and they are competitors. More importantly, they are competitors that now have to adhere to a shared vision and plan. In other words, they have no choice but to work together for the common good.

In other words, Columbia dodged a bullet, big time. You can read this months column here.