Monday, October 31, 2011

Scene This Week In…

It has been awhile since I’ve updated the STW pics in the right hand column. There is a reason for that of course. I just don’t want to throw any old thing up there. I try to make these pictures at least mildly interesting or amusing.

And there has be two pictures, from two separate parts of HoCo. When I originally conceived this idea I was going to limit it to Columbia and Ellicott City scenes.

I don’t do well with limitations, particularly the self imposed kind. This time around the scenes are from Savage and Ellicott City.
The Savage scene comes courtesy of my Biz Mo colleague, George Berkheimer. George spotted this new Parks and Rec sign on the recently reopened Patuxent Branch Trail and emailed it to me.

Who knew that nudity was a problem on HoCo trails!

George speculates that it may have something to do with the popularity of the Savage waters for swimming and cavorting.

“I suppose some people don't bring swimming suits and just strip down, but I haven't seen it myself and also haven't inquired about the reason for that particular prohibition yet.”

I note that in the graphic that the female figure is only holding the bottom portion of a swimsuit. Does this mean it’s okay to go topless?

Keeping with the same theme, I spotted this bumper sticker a car in the parking lot of Ellicott Mills Middle School last week. According to this article by Chris Mercer in Beverage Daily wines that depict an animal on the label tend to sell more to the "younger, fun-seeking consumers.". I wonder if a suggestion of drinking in the buff works the same way?

No matter, you can’t do either on the Patuxent Branch trail anyway.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

In Memoriam…Bob Beaumont

I was in college when the CitiCar made its debut. The two seat electric car was really more like a big golf cart. Though initially it only had a top speed of about 40 mph, it was still street legal. The inventor was Columbia resident Bob Beaumont.

According to this obituary by Nick Bunkley in The New York Times, Bob “thought every home should have an affordable electric vehicle in its driveway and sold more than 2,000 of them, the tiny, trapezoidal creation known as the CitiCar, decades before General Motors and Nissan came up with their own versions, died on Monday at his home in Columbia, Md.”

Jim Rouse had a yellow one. In the late seventies you would often see it parked in front of the American Cities Building in Town Center.


Though it never was a commercial success, thirty plus years later the CitiCar still has a loyal following. I found this video from a “International Gathering" of CitiCar owners held in Columbia in May of 2009.

Bob was just a little ahead of his time

Octobrrrrrrrr!

The rudely sudden onslaught of winter yesterday caused many HoCo locos to hunker down for the day rather than venturing out for autumnal activities. According to this story by Emma Brown and Michael E. Ruane in The Washington Post, “Reagan National Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport reported a high of 42 degrees Saturday, and Dulles made it to 39 — the coldest Oct. 29 temperatures on record, said Capitol Weather Gang meteorologist Jason Samenow.”

You certainly didn’t need a meteorologist to tell you it was cold.

The faces in the sparse crowd at Byrd Stadium watching the Terps fourth loss in row looked pretty miserable too. According to this story by Eric Prisbell in The Washington Post it was "the second-coldest Maryland game played since 2000."

 "The weather and poor records of both teams made for a less-than-coveted game ticket; before the game, two lower-level tickets were offered on StubHub.com, an online vendor of already-purchased tickets, for 1 cent each."
Peanut and I ventured out around 1:30 to grab a late lunch at The Phoenix in downtown Ellicott City. Parked outside the restaurant we spotted this pickup truck bed loaded with snow. While snow accumulations in HoCo were generally insignificant this was testament that in other nearby areas it was a different story.
On the positive side, the winter in autumn weather event created some beautiful loco scenes. We snapped this picture off of Bonnie Branch Road.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

HoCo Schools Duped in Ravens Scam

A firm headed by an ex con duped at least three HoCo schools into paying for an appearance by a Ravens players at school assemblies. The problem was the players knew nothing about it. According to this story by Joe Burris in The Sun, while the HoCo schools and several other schools in the metro area paid the Odyssey Group, headed by Joseph Gill “thousands of dollars, it did not provide the players as promised and hasn't refunded the money.”

“In 2006, Gill was charged in Maryland with violating the terms of his release from federal prison in Cumberland. He had been convicted of bank and wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Vermont in 1998.”

Not surprisingly, the Ravens aren't too happy about this either.

“Patrick Gleason, Ravens media relations manager, said, "The Ravens do not have any affiliation with this company whatsoever," and added that any type of community appearance that involves players goes through the team's community relations department.”

This isn’t the first time Mr. Gill has been involved in this type of scam either. According to this story by Mary McGuirt in Severna Park Patch, in 2007 he ran a similar scam with Steelers players where “he booked athlete appearances at schools, didn't deliver, and made off with the money.”

“In 2007, a reporter from WPXI—a Pittsburgh-based news station—spoke with the PTA president of a school in the Bethlehem Center School District in Pennsylvania who said she couldn’t reach Gill after he booked former Pittsburgh Steeler John Banaszak to appear at the school and the player never showed up.”

As far as I’m concerned there is a special place in hell for people who scam kids. Mr. Gill has obviously not rehabilitated himself.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Transitions

I cancelled my print edition of The Sun today. It wasn’t easy. I’ve been a loyal print subscriber for over twenty years. Picking up the paper from my driveway in the morning has been part of my daily routine for as long as I can remember. I really didn’t want to end this relationship either. They made me do it.

Last month, the paper announced that they were going to begin charging for online content. I have no problem with that. Yet unlike The New York Times which began charging for its online content earlier this year, The Sun did not offer online content free to print subscribers. They did offer a discount for its print people but it still felt like paying twice for the same content.

They also didn’t make the transition easy. When I called to cancel my print subscription I was told I had to call another number to activate my digital subscription. When I called the second number I got routed back to the print subscriptions.

I hung up and signed up online.

I should be happy because I’m saving money. Instead of paying $5.17 a week I now pay $1.92 and I don’t have to tip my carrier either. In time I suppose I’ll grow accustomed to my new digital date with The Sun but right now it feels sort of like losing an old friend.

Dyer Loses Round One

Allen Dyer’s attempt to quash the effort to remove him from the HoCo school board was dealt a setback Wednesday when administrative law judge Douglas Koteen refused to dismiss the case. According to this article by Joe Burris in The Sun, Dyer’s attornery, Harold Burns, had argued “that the complaint against Dyer has no merit because it does not give details or evidence to support the charges against him.”

“In his decision issued Wednesday, Koteen said that a June 24 letter from the local school board that was sent to Dyer and the state board provided additional information regarding its removal request. He said the letter included the meaning of the charge of misconduct in office and examples of alleged violations.”

The judge has scheduled a five day hearing to begin on May 7th. Until that time Dyer will continue to hold his seat on the board and presumably begin campaigning for another term.

A New Neighborhood is Born


Last night, at the Public Submission for the first Town Center neighborhood to be developed under the new redevelopment legislation, the public got a glimpse of how the existing areas around The Mall will be transformed. The new Warfield neighborhood will wrap around the cinema side of the mall with buildings ranging in height from 4 to 9 stories. It will also include six amenity areas totaling 1.88 acres, three of which already exist in some form.

They now have names. The plaza in front of L.L. Bean will now become Warfield Plaza. It will also be expanded to “accommodate intense and planned public events, such as frequent markets, festivals, fairs and similar.”

The existing plaza in front of the cinemas and the Cheesecake Factory will be rechristened as Warfield Plaza and is envisioned to complement Warfield Square and “uniquely accommodate young families, children and young adults from Warfield, nearby neighborhoods and the broader community of Columbia.”

The existing sidewalk that runs up the hill from Nordstrom to the Evergreens age restricted apartments will get a makeover and become Warfield Mews, “a small linear green affording residents, shoppers and office workers a place to sit, stroll or walk the dog.”

It is interesting to see how these existing areas will be worked into the new plan and the detail provided here is only a small snapshot of the overall program. The amenity plan is part of the neighborhood design guidelines contained in a 270 page book covering everything from architecture to storm water management. The developer has already provided copies to the media and has promised to post them online as well. For anyone interested in community development it is a treasure trove of information. I’ll provide a link when they become available.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

TMI

“What is your email address?”

Seriously?

I was buying a greeting card at the Papyrus store in The Mall. As the sales clerk rang up my purchase, she asked for my email address.

Really?

That’s going too far. I've grown accustomed to being asked my zip code when making a credit card purchase but the email request takes this privacy intrusion to a whole new level. The last thing I want is to be on another mass email list. Already, easily eighty percent of the email I receive could be classified as junk.

I understand why the retailers want this. It’s not like it costs anything to send an email to someone. It’s basically free advertising.

“I’m not doing that,” I told her politely.

At this point she apologized and said that she had to ask the question. It was obvious to me that she liked asking this question about as much as I liked getting it.

No Bones about It


Last night, at her Oktoberfest fundraiser, Councilperson Courtney Watson made it clear that she will be running for county executive in 2014. After noting that “she didn’t see any reporters in the room,” she told her supporters that the time was right with the current exec likely moving up to a “statewide office.”

There may not have been any reporters in the room but there were at least three bloggers including yours truly.

Of course it wasn’t really an official announcement, it was more like a restatement of what her loyal supporters already knew.

The nod to Ken was a little surprising, considering that these two HoCo loco pols have seldom been on the same policy page. It is also well known that Ken would prefer to see Guy Guzzone as the next exec. Though he had left before Courtney spoke she explained that it was because the exec had to be in Baltimore to receive The Daily Record's Innovator of the Year award.

This type of uncharacteristic politico nice nice always makes me a little suspicious.

Peter Franchot was at Serafinos too. I don’t know if he and Ken got a chance to catch up but he did come over and spend a few minutes with his other buddy on the council, Calvin Ball. I chided Dr. Ball a bit about his own political ambitions. Since he is so close to both Ken and Peter, could a statewide office be in his future too?

Calvin quipped that people had been pegging him for all sorts of future politico jobs lately, including Congressman. The scenario that makes that plausible is the retirement of Barbara Mikulski which entices Elijah Cummings to seek that seat which in turn creates the District 7 House of Representatives opening for Calvin. For now, he told me, he’s perfectly content with where he is and may even consider running for a third term on the council.

Yeah, whatever.

Someone said Delegate Jimmy Malone was there too but I didn’t see him. I think he was at the bar while Courtney was talking. 

And speaking of the bar, Courtney noted that only in the melting pot of HoCo would an Oktoberfest event be held in an Italian restaurant.

And last but not least, see that tall guy to the left of Courtney in the picture. That’s former District 4 county councilperson Paul Farragut, the loco poltico that bought us Wine in the Woods twenty one years ago. My kind of guy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Show Me a Sign

This morning, at the intersection of Dobbin Road and Route 175 in Columbia, I spotted this lone activist flashing a series of signs.

I think I got all of them.
Though the messages on the signs are a bit confusing, this much is clear: The lone activist doesn’t care much for the the economic theories of Milton Friedman.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Common Ground…Or Not

The tea party movement and the occupy Wall Street movement are not necessarily as inflexible as many perceive. In fact, the two seemingly opposite ends of the political spectrum share some common ground. According to this article by Marc Fisher in The Washington Post, that, while the two populist movements sometimes see other as “misguided or even evil,” Marc found that  “in interviews and online discussions they repeatedly share many of the same frustrations, as well as a classically American passion for fixing the system.”

“No one expects the tea party and Occupy movements to merge forces, but their adherents are discovering that their stories are often strikingly similar: They searched for jobs and came up empty. They found work, but their pay barely covered food and rent, with nothing left over even to buy an old car. They saw their towns empty out as young people moved away in search of money and meaning.”

In today’s paper, Jon Cohen shared the results of a Washington Post Pew Research Center poll that revealed “profiles of Occupy supporters and those who back the tea party expose traditional red-blue splits, not mainly a new divide.”

Still, there are similarities. Both movements are dominated by southern white males aged 30 to 64.

My Motherboard Mambo

When my laptop imploded earlier this month I fully anticipated that the repair situation was going to be stressful and it certainly lived up to my expectations.

The first diagnosis was a failed DVD drive but a new DVD drive did not resolve the problem. The next suspect was the motherboard and so that was replaced as well yet the problems persisted. As a last resort, the hard drive was replaced and that seemed to do it.

At least for a few days anyway. Before long my computer blues returned and I was no longer able to connect my network cable at work.

Today I got another new motherboard.

The good news is that when I purchased this machine I bit the bullet and signed up for the extended warranty that covered everything but my personal angst.

It was a close call though. The warranty expires at the end of next month. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Three Congressmen for Elkridge

Last night I had a chance to spend a few moments with Jim Robey at the Taste and Auction of HoCo. We spoke very briefly about the congressional redistricting and the special session of the General Assembly. I got the distinct impression that he was not exactly proud of the results of their efforts.

That’s understandable. The partisan gerrymandering that shapes these districts is almost juvenile. It has nothing to do with serving the people and just because the Dems crayons were used this time around don’t think for a minute that the Repubs crayons would draw any better picture. This is just how politics plays, always has been and likely always will be.

Since HoCo will now have three representatives in Congress, I was curious to see if my district had changed. Fortunately, the state has provided this handy little interactive map that allowed me to plug in my street and zip code to find out my district.

I discovered that, with the exception of the new Shipley's Grant neighborhood, most of Ellicott City remains in District 7 which is currently represented by Elijah Cumings.

Elkridge, on the other hand, got chopped up into districts two, three and seven.

As if this community needed any more division

The iPod and the Auction

Last night Mama Wordbones and I attended the 26th Annual Taste and Auction of Howard County. The event features a smorgasbord from twenty five HoCo restaurants along with live and silent auctions. This year, the auctions had a new twist. Each attendee was provided an iPod to bid with. Instead of the paper tallies that usually accompany silent auction items, each item had a code. All you had to do was punch the code into your personalized iPod and bid away. As soon as someone outbid you, you received a notice on the iPod.

This new twist received mix reactions. Some liked it, others not so much. Vic Broccolino told me his wife Tina liked it but he didn’t. “I can’t see how much she’s spending,” he said.

We thought it was pretty cool. The technology means that you don’t have to keep running back to the item tables to see where you stand. I’m thinking that this leads to more robust bidding too. Unfortunately, I was outbid on every item I went after, including this photo donated by HoCo blogger David Hobby. The framed and signed print was over six hundred bucks when I dropped out.

I was told that this is the largest fundraiser for Gilchrest Hospice and may be one of the largest single night fundraisers in HoCo. It was also a lot of fun and the food was exceptional.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Tax Man


Growing up in Maryland the office of Comptroller of Maryland and Louis Goldstein were synonymous. Governors came and went but the comptroller stayed the same. When he died in 1998 he had served in the office for 39 years. As further evidence of the stature of this office, his predessor was William Donald Schaefer who was elected comptroller after serving two terms as governor. Many expected that Schaefer would also live out his years as Maryland’s CFO.

Except perhaps Peter Franchot that is. In 2006 Peter became the 34th comptroller in Marylands history after defeating Schaefer and former AA Co county executive Janet Owens in the Democratic primary. He was reelected last year.

Peter is a skilled politico in the ways of Annapolis, having served for 11 years in the House of Delegates representing the 20th legislative district in MoCo.

He is also one of those stealth candidates for governor in 2014. He sees himself as “fiscally conservative and socially progressive.”

On the podcast he shared his views of the challenges facing Marylands state budget and his efforts to involve the private sector in making state government more efficient. The first time I met Peter was at a Courtney Watson fundraiser and I know he campaigned with her in the last election. On Friday however, the loco politico that he singled out was Calvin Ball for his efforts to improve financial literacy in the public schools.

When we got into a discussion about the recent dust up over using proceeds from the new alcohol tax to fund artificial turf fields at a couple of HoCo high schools he called out the Balto Co county executive for his amazing lack of politico subtlety. In testimony before the public works board Kevin Kamenetz openly admitted that he was directing his counties share of these proceeds to districts where the delegates supported the tax. 

The only time we threw off this seasoned politico was when we asked him how the Jeffs were doing this year. It took him a second to register that we were referring to his D3 alma mater. Actually the Lord Jeffs had a pretty good day yesterday defeating Wesleyan 24-10.

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

Only in HoCo


Dave Bittner snapped this picture the other day and quipped that “only in HoCo does the pizza delivery guy drive a BMW.”

He did note however that is was only a 3 series. In the truly wealthy communities it would have at least been a 5 series

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Exec and the Intermodal

During the question and answer period at the HoCo EDA commercial real estate breakfast earlier this week, I asked Laura Nueman why the EDA has been so silent on the intermodal issue. I pointed out to Laura that while it is good and fine to promote the county as a center for cyber security we still have 9 million square feet of distribution space in the county that would benefit directly from an intermodal terminal being located here.

Laura response was that with contentious issues such as this, the EDA is “Switzerland.” In other words, they would remain neutral.

Of course I wasn’t about to drop this so easily. I replied that one of the things that businesses look for when considering where to locate is certainty and consistency in loco government. In this case, the majority of our loco elected officials have vowed to try and prevent CSX from locating at the Hanover site, even though that site already has the requisite zoning. That's not what I'd call being certain and consistent.

At this comment, Ken Ulman stepped in and said that not all loco businesses supported having the intermodal locate in Hanover. I believe he was referring to the developers of Oxford Square who successfully rezoned another Hanover site from M2 to Transit Oriented Development last year. The new guys don’t want an intermodal terminal in the same neighborhood as their apartments.

That doesn’t sound right. As far as I’m concerned the rezoning of the former CoCo Cola land was just a bad idea to begin with. The property is surrounded by warehouses, railroad tracks and highways. The link to the nearby MARC station is tenuous at best. To say that this use should take precedent over existing industrial uses is an affront to every distribution business in the county.

To be fair, Ken did say that he thought the other proposed HoCo site on Montevideo Road was a better fit for the intermodal and he also agreed that it would be better to have it in HoCo than an adjacent county.

The thing is, as long the required zoning is already in place at both sites, that should be CSX’s call not the execs.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Carved In Stone


If you've ever contemplated what you’d like written on your tombstone, now you can actually test out a phrase or two and see how it looks with this Tombstone Generator.

Just in time for Halloween too!

HoCo Loco Econ Update

According to the September issue of Howard County Economic Indicators, jewelry sales in HoCo are doing surprisingly well. Retail performance in the county overall has been “mixed bag” but jewelry sales “are doing surprisingly well,” along with hardware, major appliances, automotive items and sporting goods.

It’s a different story for women’s clothing, office supplies, and lawn and garden stuff.

The report had a couple of other interesting observations. Realtors are “busy” though prices “are continuing to come down.” New home sales are up compared to a year ago and HoCo continues to be the exception in the metro region in this regard. Single family home sales increased 48.4 % over last the same period last year with an average selling price of $460,170.00.

Office vacancies climbed slightly from 12.2% last year to 13.9% today. The report notes that, so far at least, "direct impact from BRAC has been muted." While I generally agree with this observation we have seen a marked uptick in Fort Meade related activity in the past few weeks.

Mirroring the national outlook, the report concludes that “the local economic outlook has become less optimistic as uncertainties about the future remain.”

And then there’s that…

Note: Howard County Economic Indicators is a joint publication of Howard County Government and the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Roadblock Rage

When the signs first went up announcing the closure of the eastbound ramp to Route 175 from Route 29 I thought to myself, “How long could this be?”

This is a major connecting point after all. Surely this would only be a matter of days I reasoned.

As someone who regularly traverses this route, this closure presents more than a minor inconvenience. As the closure stretched on for weeks instead of days I would sometimes forget about it until it was too late. This usually meant traveling pretty far out of my way in order to circle back to where I wanted to go. Inevitably this would occur when I had precious few minutes to spare.

Arrghh! These unanticipated detours have even occasionally led to case of roadblock rage.

It’s now been over a month.

Last week I finally had enough and emailed Calvin Ball to find out what was up.  It turns out that he didn’t know either. Forget about school boards and charter reviews I told him, this is the kind of HoCo loco stuff that people really care about! He promised to look into it.

Yesterday, I received a special construction edition of the Calvin Ball Bulletin. In it, the District 2 councilperson informes us that we can expect the ramp to reopen sometime around November 14th.

Weather permitting of course.

Thank you Dr. Ball. 

The Blogger in the Room


This morning, at a breakfast meeting for commercial real estate brokers hosted by the HoCo EDA, Ken Ulman singled me out as a blogger.

Of course he was right but it still felt a little funny to be labeled as such in that setting because I was attending this function as part of my real job.

On the other hand, I realize that this is my new reality. Since I regularly post about HoCo loco politics, the exec now sees me as more of a blogger than someone who is actively engaged in commercial real estate. It actually took one of my colleagues to point out that I also represent the one of the largest new office developments in the county.

This was the first time Laura Nueman has hosted one of these quarterly gatherings and I think she presented her vision of the EDA quite well. In seven short months Laura has wasted no time in putting her own stamp on the county’s economic development efforts, including a wholesale restructuring of the staff. Under her leadership the EDA is launching a new Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship and recently completed a sales trip to Palo Alto to promote the county’s cyber security efforts in the heart of Silicon Valley.

The meeting was held at the new Robinson Nature Center in Columbia. It is pretty obvious that the exec is proud of the eco friendly facility too. On this rainy morning he was quick to point out the impervious features of the centers parking lot. I think this is an important ancillary benefit of the center. It provides developers and commercial real estate practitioners’ a real world demonstration of sustainable practices for development.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Calculating While Driving

Last night, as I was driving home, I was thinking about the economics of a particular deal that I’ve been working on. When I pulled up to a traffic light I pulled out my phone and launched the calculator app to run a couple numbers.

As I sat there at the light it suddenly occurred to me that what I was doing could just as easily be construed by an observer as texting. That of course would be illegal but I wasn’t so sure if calculating while driving was covered under this law.

Years ago, when I was living in New Jersey, my ex-wife worked for a check authorization company. Every day she drove all over northern New Jersey and into New York City visiting her retail clients. She was a pretty scary person behind the wheel. It was not uncommon for her to be drinking her coffee, doing her nails and writing letters as she navigated some of the most congested highways in the country.

The thing is, under Maryland law, what she was doing wasn’t necessarily illegal either. Sure, if she had crashed into someone it's likely she’d have been found violating some statute or other but I used to joke that the accidents were always behind her. Her actions may have caused an accident or two but she would have been blissfully unaware of it as she rolled down the road multitasking.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Mobbies Are Back!

Nominations are now being taken for the The Baltimore Sun's Mobbie awards recognizing the best in the Baltimore metro blogoshere. This year they made some changes to the categories, notably the addition of a best HoCo blog and elimination of the Best Politics Blog.

The Best Politics Blog was a HoCo favorite. In 2009 Tales of Two Cities took home the politico Mobbie and last year The Hedgehog Report took the honors. It now looks like this particular Mobbie honor will be retired in HoCo.

You can nominate your favorite blog until next Wednesday.

Take a Hike, Have a Muffin


Somehow I missed the news that The Breadery had relocated from Route 40 to Oella, even though the August move was more than adequately covered by both HowChow and Ellicott City Patch.

So, when Peanut and I were biking up the Trolley #9 Trail outside of Ellicott City yesterday, I was surprised to see their new location just off the trail.

I’m a big fan of Mike Lanasa's stone milled breads. When he first started baking in HoCo over 15 years ago I regularly stopped by to pick up his muffins and sweet breads. In fact I liked them a little too much. I had to curb my Breadery habit before I ballooned out of control.

His new location however just might bring me back to those sinful pleasures like his apple cinnamon muffins. I figure that if I take the approximately mile and half hike up the trail from the Trolley Stop in Ellicott City, I can reward myself with a baked good and a cup of coffee. The best part is that the walk back is all downhill.

Ironically, his new location Oella is actually closer to my Ellicott City home than his old Ellicott City location. It’s also pretty close to one of the best butchers around, J.W. Trueth &Sons.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eco Harvest


Yesterday the HoCo Ofice of Environmental Sustainability held one of their “shredding events” at the Meadowbrook Park & Ride in Ellicott City. They also had a dumpster to collect unwanted electronic stuff.

Looking at the collection of computers tossed in the bin I was once again reminded of how old I am. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that some of this stuff was cutting edge.

A public works guy named Allen told me that county collects about 70 tons of this stuff every month. I asked him it all goes E-Structors in Elkridge.

“We used to send it there but now it goes to a company called Creative.”

Instead being deconstructed in HoCo, the electronic cast-offs now travel to a Creative Recycling facility in Allentown.

According to Allen, E-Structors was charging the county five cents a pound to take the stuff while Creative pays the county two and a half cents a pound.

That makes cents.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Millions for Stink Bugs

The US Department of Agriculture is spending $5.7 million to find a “non-chemical” method for dealing with stink bugs. According to this press release from Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, the money will be used to “advance the critical effort to develop non-chemical Integrated Pest Management (IPM) controls of this invasive species, halyomorpha halys, also known as the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug or BMSB.”

"The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug poses one of the greatest threats to agriculture.  Chemical solutions are just temporary fixes. It is imperative that we find a non-chemical solution so that more successful and less expensive integrated pest management controls can be reestablished in our area.  Hopefully, this $5,739,966 grant will lead to development of permanent controls before BMSB populations become established in other parts of the country.”  

I wonder how many Purple Pitchers you could buy for that. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Siri vs Human

When Apple introduced their latest version of the iPhone, the 4S, many Apple aficionados were disappointed. Apparently they had been expecting to see an iPhone 5.

I’m not sure what great technological advances the iPhone 5 was (or better yet “is”) supposed to deliver but the reviews coming in for the iPhone 4S are pretty good. Particularly a new voice recognition feature called Siri. Presumably that’s what the “S” is about.

Siri is more than voice recognition software. It includes artificial intelligence, making it a sort of virtual assistant.

Today I ran across this funny little video from The New York Times that pits Siri against a human assistant.

I think it’s a draw, but then how many of us have a human assistant...

Another Village Loses a Grocery

The long predicted closing of the Long Reach Safeway is now official. According to this story by David Greisman in Explore Howard, the grocery anchor in the Long Reach Village Center “will close Saturday, Nov. 5, according to a company spokesman.”

“That the Safeway will close did not come as a surprise to Rita Seidelman, the village community association's assistant administrator.

"Their shelves haven't been very well-stocked in a long time," Seidelman said. "The store seems very empty."

The closing may actually be a blessing in disguise. The article also notes the village centers new owner has indicated that another grocer may take over the space after Safeway leaves.

“Long Reach village board member Nina Basu said the shopping center's owner, America's Realty, noted in a letter to the village administrator that another grocery store would replace the Safeway. Though the letter didn't name the company, Basu said the new tenant was described as "a high-end store" that will have a café with wireless Internet inside.”

Perhaps this could be another opportunity for Green Valley Markets.

WAPO and the Blogs

When The Washington Post unveiled their redesigned web presence back in March, I noted that they appeared to have dropped their local blog directory. As it turns out the directory eventually reappeared, though it was buried deep within the site. Consequently, the Post barely registers as a referring site for Tales of Two Cities. By comparison, The Sun is now the top referring site here.

That may be about to change. Earlier this week I received an email from Andy Smith and Katie Rogers announcing that The Post will soon “launch a Local Blog Directory with new navigation and a new design that will help us better feature links to your sites and posts.”

That would be cool.

HoCo is a real tweener market with roughly half of the population aligned with DC and half with B-More. It would seem to make good business sense for a media company like The Post to reach out to the voices in the HoCo loco blogging community.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tales Turns Five

Five years ago today I started this blog. Appropriately enough that day was a Friday the 13th.

The first post was actually the one and only time I’ve had a guest post. My long time friend Jim Binckley had written a letter to the editor of the Columbia Flier that the paper wouldn’t print. He was told it was too long. I read the letter and liked what he had to say so I ran it here.

And thus my blogging journey began. I have now written over 2,100 posts. I’m obviously enjoying myself.

At the blogtail party on Monday, Mickey Gomez told me she writes a blog because she enjoys writing and uses blogging as a way to “practice”. She’s right about that .I learned long ago that the best way to improve your writing is to write something everyday. Before blogs came along that usually meant keeping a journal.

I never got much satisfaction from the journal thing.  Blogging is much more interesting and fun.

When I started this blog I was inspired by the original HoCo loco bloggers, Ian Kennedy, Dave Wissing, and David Keelan. Today, a whole new breed of HoCo bloggers like HowChow, Tom Coale and Sarah Husain enriches my HoCo experience.  HoCo loco blogging has opened me to world of new writers and ideas. For that I am grateful.

I am also most grateful for those who read and comment here. You are the ones who make this better than keeping a journal. Thank you. I hope you’ll stick around for another five years…or so…

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

School Board Reform Sidelined

Delegate Frank Turner issued a press release this afternoon saying that he is withdrawing the “emergency” legislation that would replace the current seven at large elected member board with a hybrid model of elected and appointed members. This hybrid model was championed by the county exec as a way to increase diversity on the board. Frank was carrying the execs water on this one.

As Councilperson Greg Fox told me on Sunday, “nobody likes this idea.”

Apparently not. At last nights state delegation public hearing the Dem controlled HoCo delegation found that out in a big way. This morning I ran into Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty at the Lakeside Coffee Shop in Columbia and she told me that easily 80% of those who testified were against it. I was able to watch some of it online this afternoon and from what I saw she may have been a bit generous.

This is the second political smack down Ken Ulman has suffered recently. Last week the council dealt his Clarksville road plan a major setback. Some pundits have even begun to openly question Ken's loco political judgement. It was only a year ago that he seemed downright invincible.

Ken isn’t the only loser in this fight. This legislative defeat spreads some collateral damage to his cronies in the state delegation, notably Delegates Turner and Guzzone. Although Guy wasn’t out front on pushing this unpopular reform initiative he still takes a hit because of his tight relationship with Ken. His silence was deafening.

The clear political winner was State Senator Allan Kittleman. At last nights hearing he wasted no time in establishing where he stood. He jumped in Franks face right away and clearly rattled the District 13 delegate.

It should be noted that Allan was front and center on the Clarksville issue as well. Senator Kittleman seems to be setting him self up nicely as the anti-Ulman.

So much for my prediction that this was a lock!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Gathering of the Tribe

After two years of taping our podcasts on Friday afternoons, we moved out of comfort zone in order to share our 50th show with our brethren in the HoCo blogging community.

There is a good reason it’s called a comfort zone. When Paul and I met up at the Riverside Coffee Shop yesterday afternoon before the blogtail party it felt just a little uncomfortable. After doing forty-nine of these shows we have developed our own circadian rhythm. 

This wasn’t actually the first time we’ve deviated from that Friday afternoon time slot. Back in August of 2010 we taped an early evening show at the HoCo Fair but that was over a year ago.

Still, it was fun to share our fiftieth with the dynamic HoCo blogging community and once we slipped on our headphones we slid right back in our well-practiced groove.

There was a good mojo in the room too. About 100 bloggers, blog readers, and even two county councilpersons showed up at the Stanford Grill to help us celebrate.  That was very cool.

For this episode we decided to forgo our usual format. To spice up the HoCo loco news recap we asked Tom Coale and Lindsey McPherson to join us for some spirited banter about the hot loco topics like school board reform and goose poop. After that HowChow sat down with us to share some of his observations on the HoCo loco food scene. He even offered some HoCo loco suggestions for things to bring to your Thanksgiving dinner.

After all that we took the show to the party, walking around with wireless microphones picking out partygoers at random to chat with.  For the most part this worked out well except for a moment when I suddenly started picking up the signal from WAMU on my transmitter.

This ended up being our longest show so far, almost an hour.

Thanks to all who came out and made it work. Sometimes stepping out of that comfort zone thing can be pretty refreshing.

You can listen to the podcast at the party here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Mosaic of HoCo


By now most readers are already well aware of the HoCo Blogtail Party at The Stanford Grill this evening. Yesteday, as I was chatting with some HoCo locos at Allan Kittlemans fundraiser, I discovered that some folks think these gatherings are just for bloggers.

Originally, they sort of were, but that was about four years ago. Today, thanks to uber HoCo loco hostess JessieX, they have become much more. These blogtail events are now more about all the things that make our community so great, be that food, politics, religion or raising kids.

If you haven’t already made plans for this evening, you may want to consider stopping by. You might be surprised at what you'll find.

You can find more info here.

The Minority Report


At his fundraiser yesterday, Repub Senator Allan Kittleman lambasted the congressional redistricting map that has been proposed by the Democratic leadership in the General Assembly. “It splits communities and that’s wrong,” he told his assembled supporters.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a congressional redistricting map that didn’t strike me as ridiculous. Call me a cynic but I have seen enough of these efforts to reaize that this game will never change, no matter which party holds the crayons.

This has never been about governing or keeping communities together. It’s always about winning.

I also spent some time talking to the counties lone Repub on the council, Greg Fox. We spoke about a bit about the school board overhaul that the exec is pushing. “I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks this is a good idea,” he told me.

I think he’s right about that. Whenever I’ve mentioned that I think the entire school board should be appointed people have looked at me like I have two heads.

That’s how former school board Diane Mikulis reacted anyway. She was at Allan's picnic too. Diane says that appointing school board members is going against national trends.

Whatever, I still think this passes. If Ken can this this approved by the county delegation to the General Assembly it passes. Right now I’m counting that vote as 7-4 in favor with the vote going pretty much along party lies with the exception of Liz Bobo. I say Liz votes against it.

As I was getting ready to leave Steve Adler introduced me to Daniel Bongino, a Repub who hopes to unseat Senator Ben Cardin. Good luck with that Dan.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Occupy Main Street

Last night, at First Friday in Ellicott City, we spotted this HoCo loco version of Occupy Main Street.

What it lacked in numbers it tried to compensate with enthusiasm…

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Pulse of the Nation

Over four thousand people have chimed in on this New York Times interactive feature about the state of the economy. What makes this ireally interesting is that the age groups of people in their twenties, thirties, forties and fifties are almost equally represented. The same holds true for men and women.

Judging from this sample, people are generally pessimistic, particulary about next year.

That being said, so far at least, the men tend to be more optimistic than the women.

Check it out and play along...

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Second Acts

This weekend is the second weekend in October and in HoCo that’s become sort of a big deal. On Saturday Alice Anna kicks off a new season of the Second Saturday Café at Oliver’s Carriage House in Columbia Town Center. The Second Saturday Café has been hosting local music acts over the fall and winter months for over ten years.

According to this article by Anthony Sclafani in Explore Howard, Alice Anna is “five-member, Baltimore-based, piano-rock” band.

“Alice Anna exemplifies the type of fringe band 2nd Saturday specializes in bringing to town. The group is proving popular in the region, and the series is giving the musicians a forum and potential new audience in a different locale.”


Oliver’s Carriage House is a unique stone barn originally constructed in 1830. The building was renovated in 1977 after it became home to the Kittamaqundi Community Church. It’s a pretty cozy place to catch live music. The café also sells beer and wine with all proceeds go to support Agape House. Tickets are twenty bucks and you can make reservations online.

The Second Sunday Market in Ellicott City will also be held this weekend. According to an email I received from Kimberly Kepnes today, this months market will include Nathans Famous French Country Breads, exotic vegetables from Tersiguels, fresh meats and eggs from Down-to-Earth Farm, jams, jellies, nuts, pork barbeque, and lots of other good stuff.

Since this Sunday is a bye week for the Ravens you won’t have to worry about missing the game either.

I’ll second that!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

In This Months Business Monthly

Writing a monthly column is different than writing a blog post. Blog posts are great for quick thoughts or short observations. Columns, on the hand, require more content.  And if you want someone to read it, the content should be at least mildly entertaining. That isn’t always easy to conjure up. I figure that in a good year I get it right about half the time. Last month I graded my effort as mediocre.

This month I feel a little better about the end product.

As usual I approached the deadline without a cogent theme to build a column around. By the time the absolute final drop dead deadline was upon me and I still hadn’t come up with anything, I started to panic. Two mediocre columns in row is one column away from getting the hook.

Fortunately I found my muse after attending Peanuts Back to School night. The icing on the cake came the next morning when Elijah Cummings spoke at the Base Business Imitative meeting and shared a story about his daughter and her once favorite restaurant. When he offered to take her there recently she told him that she no longer liked the place. Elijah was surprised at the sudden change in her opinion of the establishment so he asked her what caused it.

“The last time we went there,” she replied, “I didn’t think they treated us nicely.”

The congressman pointed out that this small business lost a once and future customer that night because they dropped the ball on customer service. The key, he told the assembled small business people, is not to get bogged down in what is going on in the rest of the economy and instead “focus on that which you can control.”

I sort of felt he was being a little condescending with this remark. It’s easy for him to say. He isn’t out there on the front lines of the economy. There could be a whole range of reasons why his daughter thought they weren’t being treated nicely that are out of control of that business owner. Their server could have just gotten some bad news that put them in a sudden funk. Stuff like that can happen with a snap of a finger in a small business. By the time you realize an otherwise good employee has suddenly become postal some damage has likely already occurred.

And what can we really control anyway?

That is the question I pose in this months column.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Computer Blues

My computer sort of crashed today. It seems to be having some difficulty getting through the boot process. This meant that I spent the better part of my day on the phone with our company tech guy while he tried to troubleshoot the thing remotely.

That didn’t work. Tomorrow he’s going to pick it up and take it back to his shop for some intensive care. That means another day of improvising…or not.

Tonight I’ve commandeered Peanuts iMac in an attempt to get caught up on all the things I couldn’t get done today.

This isn't going so well either. I’m a longtime PC person and the Mac is a decidedly different animal. I keep trying to right click the mouse. 

Fall Fundraising Season

The fall fundraising season for HoCo loco politicos is kicking into high gear. As winter approaches the incumbents are stocking their larders for campaigns as yet unannounced.

Allan Kittleman kicks things off this Sunday with his 5th Annual Kittleman Family picnic at the family farm in West Friendship.  Unlike some of the other events, Allan’s is a family event complete with the requisite moon bounce. The state senator is presumably building his war chest just in case he decides to run for county exec in 2014.

Next Thursday Mary Kay Sigaty is throwing a little shindig at The Coho Grill in Hobbits Glen. Her gathering will be an early evening affair with adult beverages. I’m not sure what Mary Kay is considering for her next move. She may decide to run for a third term on the council but some HoCo loco pundits think she might have an eye on a desk in Annapolis.

On the 26th Courtney Watson will hold an Oktoberfest at Serafinos in Ellicott City. It’s no secret that Courtney also covets the county exec job in 2014. She’ll need to have a few more fundraisers to catch up with Guy Guzzone who is the current execs handpicked successor.

And speaking of the current exec, Ken Ulman is also on the fall calenadar with a fundraiser scheduled for November 10th in the Spear Center in Columbia Town Center. We already know what he’s running for.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Getting Crushed By Their Own Weight

I read two stories this weekend about legacy infrastructure in the dissemination of information and its crushing cost.

In The Washington Post, Patrick B. Pexton offered a behind the scenes look at the manpower and infrastructure involved in getting a printed newspaper delivered to “several hundred thousand” doorsteps by 6:00 AM, every morning, every day of the year. It is “one of the biggest home delivery operations in the country, and it remains crucial to The Washington Post.”

“At 2:45 a.m., two tractor-trailers pull in, carrying 50,000 newspapers from The Post’s Springfield printing plant for this distribution center, one of 28 The Post has in the metropolitan area.”

Twenty eight distribution centers! That is a lot of real estate and expense. No wonder The Baltimore Sun is moving away from the printed paper!

How long before cost pressure force the Post to follow their lead?

In a way, it’s funny. The Post prides itself on delivering your paper by 6:00 AM. They even strive to do better than that.

“Honestly, the aim is more like 5:30 a.m. because carriers are increasingly faced with “empty driveway syndrome”; commuting times are so long that subscribers leave for work that early, and they want the paper before they go.”

Online that doesn’t even matter.

In The New York Times Randall Stross compares the travails of the USPS with that of the Pony Express, a contract mail carrier that was in and out of business in eighteen months thanks to the telegraph. Like the Pony Express, today’s postal service is swimming against the current tide of technological advancement.

“Now, 150 years later, the United States Postal Service is engaged in another race with technology, one it can’t possibly win. But because the service is a quasi-independent government agency, it continues to maintain the huge human and mechanical infrastructure that was assembled for a pre-Internet age.”

The postal service makes that newspaper distribution infrastructure look downright puny in comparison. The USPS is the “nation’s second-largest civilian employer, after Wal-Mart.”

“The service runs 215,625 vehicles, the world’s largest civilian fleet. Those vehicles traverse 1.25 billion miles annually and consume 399 million gallons of fuel. Its carriers serve 151 million homes, businesses and post office boxes.”

It’s likely to take a lot longer than eighteen months to wind that down, even a notch. It doesn’t help matters that the service is a quasi-independent governmental agency which basically means that it can’t make the hard decisions without meddling from the government.

“In 1861, it was easy to decommission the Pony Express, a technologically obsolete, privately owned delivery service. A century and a half later, we have a delivery service whose raison d’être is rapidly vanishing before our eyes. This one is owned by all of us, however, and we are paralyzed, unable to decide what to do.”