Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wrapping Up 2011

Last night, after listening to the discussion about Ken Ulman and his failed attempt to reform the school board, Mama Wordbones made an interesting comment.

“Even by losing he won,” she said.

Her point being, that even though the county exec failed in his attempt to create more diversity on the elected school board, he still wins because he tried. The effort alone will score him points with minority groups, critical to his expected bid for statewide office.

Other than that, she only marginally cared for the rest of the podcast. Politics really isn’t her thing so listening to a forty eight minute podcast of four people discussing HoCo loco politics is something she does more or less to humor me. Relationships, especially successful ones, are often like that.

Still, she did listen and her comment about Ken’s political instincts told me that she also paid attention, so it couldn't have been all bad.

It was a fun panel. I’ve known Len Lazerick since he was a political reporter for the Columbia Flier, before it became part of the The Sun media empire. He was also the first guest on our inaugural podcast back in 2009. I’ve only gotten to know Lindsey McPherson over the past year after meeting her at a Blogtail party. This was her second appearance on the show too. Back in October she joined Tom Coale in a discussion of loco politics for our 50th episode show. The combination of Len’s statewide politico perspective with Lindseys loco politico perspective provided informative and at times entertaining dialogue.

In fact, for loco politico wonks like me, the show may have been too short. While we did cover school board reform, Allen Dyer, the intermodal, gay marriage, and Frisky's, we never got around to other 2011 highlights like Diane Wilson and private swim clubs.

You can listen to the 56th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, December 30, 2011

I Spy

Going through Costco earlier this week I stopped at this display for a home security camera system. It wasn’t the first time I have seen one of these systems but it was the first time I actually could imagine buying one. Up until this point I pretty much thought of these things as overkill for the seriously paranoid.

My perception of this technology began to change when I read the story about the “preppy burglar” in September of 2010. A home security camera system caught the preppy perp on tape and he was arrested and charged within weeks along with some of the stolen loot.

Earlier this year, a late night mailbox mauler was wreaking havoc on curbside mailboxes in our community. People were waking in the morning finding their mailboxes trashed and tire marks on the lawn. This continued unchecked and unsolved until he hit a home rigged with cameras. In short order the mailbox mauler was nabbed and charged.

Last month, certain neighborhoods throughout HoCo were plagued by daylight thieves stealing UPS boxes off of front porches. Eventually, the thieves hit a home with the cameras and now the police have a better idea of who they are looking for.

Last year, my neighbor was broken into. Though it appears his home was targeted, it was still a little too close for comfort. I don’t think they’ve caught his crooks yet.  In October there was even an armed robbery just down the street. And this is supposedly a nice neighborhood!

What intrigues me is the very proliferation of these relatively low cost systems may in and of itself, deter more property crimes like these.

Put another way, if someone ever breaks into my home, a five hundred buck camera system would seem a very small price to pay to get a good look at the jerk who did it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Dubious Distinction

Maryland may be the most gerrymandered state in the union. According to this story by Len Lazerick in Maryland Reporter, the Free State has “the least compact and most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation.”

This was the finding by Azavea, a geograhic information systyems company that has ben studying the compactness of congressional districts nationwide using the Polsby-Popper ratio, which “measures the area of the district to the area of the circle whose circumference is equal to the perimeter of the district.”

The study singled out our 3rd Congressional District as especially egregious.

“The least compact congressional district is Maryland’s 3rd, represented by John Sarbanes, singled out by a federal three-judge panel in an opinion last week. It scored a lowly .0333.”

None of this comes as a surprise to those of us who live here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Now About That Discount…

I received an email this afternoon from The New York Times asking me to reconsider cancelling my subscription. They were offering me 50% off the regular subscription rate for the next 16 weeks if I’d come back.

The problem is I never left. After getting the email I checked my last bill and determined I was paid up through the middle of next month.

I called the number in the email. I wasn't even given the option to wait. Instead I got a recording telling me to call back later. Apparently they were getting quite a few calls about this. According to this story by Matt Schifrin, in Forbes, “about 8 million other readers mistakenly got the same email…”

Later this afternoon I got another email from The New York Times telling me to disregard the earlier email and apologizing for “any confusion this may have caused.”

Well okay, but what about that discount?

“I imagine some heads are rolling at the NY Times circulation department tonight and I assume plenty of longtime readers like me will be either demanding 50% discounts for 16 weeks or considering switching to the cheaper digital only subscription option.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It’s Dookie Time

Yes folks, that’s right, it is time once again for that modestly recognized year end collective roast of HoCo loco blogs, the Dookies. Since their inception back in December of 2006, the Dookies have continued to rise in loco stature, or perhaps I should say we've attempted to raise a bit of a stink. In fact, just last year, transit wonk blogger Sarah, helpfully pointed out that the word “dookie” is often used to describe feces.

How oddly appropriate is that?

Our Dookies are HoCo homegrown. It was started by a once promising loco blogger who subsequently sold his soul to The Man. He blogs no more and therefore he shall hence remain nameless and even more sadly, soulless. Pray for him. He has young children.

Before departing to the dark side, he that shall remain nameless, passed me the torch of Dookie.

But enough about that. Time to get things rolling. The rules are simple because we make them up as we go along. I am the high priest of the Royal Academy of Dookie and in my role I "will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger" those entries that cross a certain line.

And where is that line you ask?

You let me worry about that.

To start things off…

“He’s everywhere, he’s everywhere…” was the oft heard refrain from the Chickenman series. In honor of the intellectual contribution of that show to our culture, I nominate Tom Coale and HoCo Rising for this years Chickenman Dookie. Over the past year our prolific morning links news commenter was everywhere in HoCo, speaking, governing, sitting in meetings, all while ending homelessness. All I can say is that Brian Meshkin is no Tom Coale.

Kermit the Frog will often lament that it’s not easy being green. Coming up with important topics to discuss and offering brief liberal commentary in the wee hour of the day, everyday is enough to make anyone green. Take a look at the post times on almost every one of Duane St. Clair posts on HoCo Connect; 5:43 AM, 4:36 AM, and so on. What is that all about?

“I can’t sleep therefore I blog.” I think Duane makes a pretty compelling case for the Left Handed Green Frog Dookie. We finally got our lefty blogger.

It’s the best book that nobody's read. I hear its good though. I did read some it in his blog posts. I am referring of course to the book by Frank Hecker, uber geek HoCo loco blogger. Frank spent hours of painstaking research and analysis putting together a modern history of Howard County politics and political divisions. It reads like Tolstoy. Though you can buy it on Amazon, its only in Kindle format. Sorry Frank, I'm a nook man. I think I’ll just wait for the Cliff Notes. This year I nominate Frank Hecker for the “Will There Be A Test On This” Dookie. .

And finally, you know how it is when somebody recommends something to you or suggest you try something. If the person making the recommendation is someone you otherwise admire and trust you’re probably going to give it more weight than something you'd get, say, from one of the Dobbin Road panhandlers you just handed a buck to. The thing is both can be wrong. When the wrong recommendation involves food, it becomes particularly memorable. Before I go any further I’d like to stress that I DID NOT GET SICK. I like HowChow but from now on I’ll buy in smaller quantities first. For 2011, my nomination for the “Don’t  Play With Your Food” Dookie is HowChow.

Now its your turn….

Number 172 Moves Up

Yesterday I went on the HoCo library website and removed my name from the waiting list for a Nook. I had moved all the up to 171 on the list after starting at 569 last August. As it turns out, Mama Wordbones came through for me first, giving me a Nook Tablet for Christmas. As I took my name off the list I wondered how many others in HoCo were doing the same thing. Sales of eReaders this year were expected to be three times that of a year ago. Who knows, maybe number 172 took their name off the list yesterday too.

So far my personal eReader experience is a bit mixed. Unlike some well known tech products, my out of the box Nook experience was not good. A software glitch required me to return to the store yesterday to have the factory settings reset before I could use the thing. Still, it wasn’t a big issue and was easily remedied by the tech in the store. I suppose that it’s just the kind of thing that happens when you rush a product out the door.

Even though it is now fully functional, it will still be awhile before I’m likely to read a book on it. When I visited my sister over Thanksgiving, she sent me home with "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand in what Beth Tribe calls a “tree book.” Since I was still finishing "Top Secret America" by Dana Priest and William Arkin at the time, Unbroken got put aside until now.  I’m not going to buy an eBook until I finish this tree book.

On the other hand, I figured could at least borrow an eBook from the library in the meantime just to test it out. I soon discovered that the only available library eBooks that I found even remotely interesting were all unavailable. 

It appears I’ve simply moved from one library waiting list to another

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sliding By Christmas

“I don’t remember getting a 2011 schedule.”

I had just returned from the garage with news that the slide question was not answered by the slide schedule postcard pinned on the garage wall. Mama Wordbones had asked if this was a slide week or not. Christmas was, after all, on a Sunday. Today wasn’t a holiday. Or was it?

The schedule on the wall was for last year when Christmas fell on Saturday and regular Saturday collections were slid to Monday, skipping right on by Sunday.

Undoubtedly the 2011 slide schedule postcard prematurely ended up in the recycling bin in a flurry of a junk mail purge. I had to go the HoCo Department of the Environment website.

As it turns out, this is a slide week. If, like me, your normal garbage day is Tuesday, this week it's Wednesday. The website informs us that for HoCo trash collection, this year Christmas Day is “observed” on Monday, December 26th.

This is no small thing on the week after Christmas, a big week for solid waste collection. There has been whole lotta waste generation going on in HoCo this past weekend. As a result, throughout greater HoCo, regular curbside receptacles will be augmented by various in sundry disposable containers that offer weak resistance against certain nocturnal scavengers. Garbage like this left out a day early is like setting out an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord with a big sign saying “free.”

These uninvited guests are notoriously bad at cleaning up after themselves.

Merry Christmas (observed)!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Weather Station Wordbones

One of the items on my Christmas list was a weather station. Frankly, it was one of those things I think I just casually mentioned to Mama Wordbones once. I usually endeavor to keep evidence of my inner geek in check but every so often something slips out, such as my interest in a home weather station. 

As it happens it’s not just the political winds that interest me. There's still nothing like the real thing.

If I hadn’t received one this Christmas I likely would have bought my own home weather station before long. As it turns out, Mama Wordbones and my sister, GyspyPalace, succeeded in surprising me yesterday with a Weather Channel Professional Weather Center which I immediately opened and installed. The Winding Ross Weather Station is now active.

Right now it’s informed me that the pressure is dropping and wet weather is on the way. I’m in heaven.
Merry Christmas. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Streets Unsafe for Gingerbread Men

Coming out of The Mall earlier this week I spotted this snarly beast. Gingerbread men and other fictional characters beware!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Even Santa Had to Wait In Line

The line at the Heavenly Ham store in Dorseys Search Village snaked out the door and along the sidewalk this afternoon. For many HoCo locos like me, getting a ham on December 23rd is just part of the holiday tradition. This ritual comes complete with its own unique hierarchy. Are you an A, B or I?

A's have people.
To their credit, the Heavenly Hamsters keep things moving pretty smoothly considering.The people around me were in good spirits too and that made the twenty minute wait go by rather painlessly. Instead of burying our heads in our collective smart phones, we engaged and shared a smile or two. I'm met a couple of new friends.

I was just thankful I didn’t get caught behind this guy. I can’t begin to imagine how long it would take to fill his order.

The Latest Rap on Wrapping.

I'm not very good at wrapping gifts. I can't tie a decent bow with a ribbon to save my soul and the art of neatly folding wrapping paper around gifts has largely escaped me. If it's an odd shape, I find myself reduced to wrapping tissue around it. Needless to say that gifts from me generally stand out under the tree. No need for a "from" label.

So it was that I was heartened by the latest research on gift wrapping. The bottom line is don't bother.

According to this report by Bob Moon (no not that Bob Moon) on Marketplace, "test subjects who got presents tied up in brown paper were actually happier than they were with flashy packaging. And you might just want to skip the wrapping altogether.”

This was the conclusion drawn by Nathan Novemsky, a marketing professor “at Yale University's Center for Customer Insights.”

It’s all about managing expectations.

“…you can imagine that -- especially as a gift that's wrapped sits under the Christmas tree for, you know, days or weeks, for example -- you start to imagine what's in there and you get pretty expectations. And when Christmas finally comes or the time comes to finally open that wrapping, you're imagining something great. Where as if I just say, "Here is something for you" and hand you something that you can immediately see, there's no chance for those expectations to creep up.”

Kind of like that little box that sort of looks like a jewelry box but ends up being a wine stopper.

“Oh, just what I wanted…”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Port Lands a Very Big Deal

The future prospects of the Port of Baltimore for container shipping got a big boost this week. The world’s fifth largest container shipping company, Hapag-Lloyd has chosen Baltimore over other east coast ports, to be a major US shipping hub. According to this story by Candus Thomson in The Sun, state officials, who had lobbied hard to woo Hapag-Lloyd to Baltimore, claimed this “will boost container traffic at the port of Baltimore by roughly 10 percent, increasing the number of waterfront jobs and further raising the region's profile within the maritime industry…,”

Good news indeed. There’s a HoCo loco angle to this story too.

“For stevedores and other workers at the Seagirt Marine Terminal, operated by Ports America Chesapeake, the additional containers will serve as a warmup for the expected arrival of the so-called post-Panamax ships, the world's largest cargo vessels that will use the Panama Canal after a widening project is completed in 2014.”

This is one of the reasons why a loco intermodal terminal could be a boon to some of the HoCo loco companies involved in the distribution of goods. There is approximately six million square feet of HoCo loco warehouse space housing a variety of distribution firms. I really don’t care if its Montevideo or Hanover as long as its here it will be good for those jobs.

CSX actually helped sell Baltimore to Hapag-Lloyd. James White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration explained “a team that included Ports America Chesapeake and CSX as well as the port of Baltimore made a presentation to Hapag-Lloyd…”

“Ports America was able to emphasize the deep-water, post-Panamax berth and cranes, its efficiency in unloading ships and the open land next to Seagirt, on which a warehouse could be constructed. CSX outlined its $160 million commitment to finishing the National Gateway rail project, which will allow double-stacked freight trains to deliver goods to the Midwest.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

First Day of Winter

Count me as one of those who always thought of December 21st as the first day of winter. Science was never one of my strong suits so I was a bit surprised to discover that this year it actually occurs on December 22nd. It’s all tied to the Winter Solstice of course, that day when the sun is as far away from HoCo as it gets during the year. This means that tomorrow will be the shortest day and the longest night.

It's also tradition in some circles to dance around a fire naked tomorrow night.

The good news is that on Friday the days will start getting longer again. As someone who is not exactly a fan of winter, this is a hopeful sign.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cracks in the Bedrock

In an ad currently airing on television, Wesley Foster, the CEO of Long & Foster real estate, states that his company was founded on the “bedrock of honesty and intregity.” He then goes on to say that those are the qualities “that I’ve always seen in Creig Northrop.”

In a lawsuit filed on December 9th against the Creig Northrop Team of Long & Foster, several families in the Baltimore area are now challenging that assumption. According to this story by Jamie Smith Hopkins in The Sun,  the suit “alleges that the defendants used a complex scheme to get clients to buy new homes without first selling their old ones, requiring two new loans rather than one and netting more fees and commissions for the companies. The defendants fabricated documents to make these deals possible, the lawsuit also alleges.”

Apparently this isn’t the first time this year that Creig and his team has found itself defending its “honesty and integrity” either.

“In the earlier lawsuit that settled in March, a Fulton couple said they were victimized by a similar buy-now-sell-later scheme. G. Russell Donaldson, who represented them and is one of the attorneys involved in the new suit, said the settlement terms were confidential.”

I’m betting that Mr. Donaldson is not on the Creig Northrops team Christmas card list.

The Great Divide

Just when I was beginning to think that the lines between Columbia and Ellicott City were becoming blurred, last nights County Council Legislative public hearing gave me a big dose of reality. For at least fifty three Ellicott City residents, who attended the hearing dressed in red, the notion of being part of a Columbia council district is abhorrent.

Wheatfield resident James Weidemann went so far as to use images of babies and puppies saying “not me” to drive home his neighborhoods opposition to being moved from District 1 to District 2.

Jonathan Branch, the president of the Columbia Democratic Club, sparked a heated exchange between Courtney Watson and Greg Fox when he testified in favor of the recommended district changes. Greg said that the proposed changes “did the worst job of addressing existing political boundaries." Courtney responded that was only one of the criteria and suggested that Greg was unfairly attacking Mr. Branch. Greg responded that Courtney didn’t seem to have a problem attacking the people who testified against these changes in a previous public hearing. That generated a round of applause from the red shirts.

I getting the feeling that Courtney and Greg and aren’t getting along very well these days.

My favorite testimony however came from Sherman Howell. Sherman said that Ellicott City residents are afraid of Columbia because Columbia is “too progressive.” He went on to insinuate that an African-American doesn’t have a chance to win an election outside of Columbia “because of the progressive nature of Columbia” which predisposes Columbia residents to support black candidates more than Ellicott City residents.

Wow!  Is he suggesting that Ellicott City is inherently racist?

I’m sorry but to me this all seems so silly. Perhaps what we need is another effort like Bridge Columbia to get a bridge built across Route 100.

Note: I tried to embed the video clips of this testimony but there was something screwy with the code. After several attempts using different browsers I gave up. I even attempted to provide a link but received the message "Permission Denied." What's up with that?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Least Worst

 For those of us who continue to struggle through a weak economy there is some comfort in knowing that it could be worse. According to this story by Lindsey McPerson in Explore Howard, Anirban Basu recently described the HoCo loco economy as the “least worst, and least worse of course is the new excellent…”

While the HoCo unemployment rate is the lowest in the state, we are still feeling the effects from the slowdown in government spending.

 “More problematic for Howard County, he said, is that the Washington metropolitan region, which is largely tied to federal government employment, has only added 5,600 jobs in the past year. Basu said the shrinking of the government sector is not good for income growth or the housing market in the area.”  

Fortunately, a couple of HoCo loco private sector businesses are picking up some of the slack. In this article by Danielle Douglas in Capital Business, Columbia based Micro Systems and Medstar Health were both singled out for adding jobs in 2011.

“Micros Systems in Columbia is one company that added jobs. It brought on 23 new, local employees in the past year, boosting its headcount to 1,016. The company, which provides the hospitality industry with cash registers and computer applications for back-office functions, is projecting revenue north of $1.1 billion this year, a 10 percent increase over the prior year.”

“MedStar Health, a Columbia-based regional health care provider, grew its local employee roster by 25 percent to 15,559 people. The company manages a network of nine hospitals and 20 other health-related businesses in the area, including Washington Hospital Center and Good Samaritan Hospital.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Trading Places

Taping the podcast at The Mall two weeks before Christmas presents a special set of challenges, not the least of which is parking. Last year, when Katie Essing, the malls general manager was our guest just before Christmas, she suggested that the top level of the Maple garage always has spaces available. On Friday, as I leaving Nordstroms heading to our podcast set up, I passed Katie sitting at a table with our guest, Laura Neuman. Katie had just finished giving the new EDA chief a mall tour. After exchanging pleasantries, I made a crack about parking.

“Did you remember what I told you last year about the Maple garage,” she replied.

Indeed I did. While I appreciated the tip I told her that parking garages at malls during the holidays have their own special angst. It is not so much the availability of parking spaces as it the process of getting to them. Navigating three levels of parking means dealing with three levels of stopping and going as incoming shoppers block the flow while waiting for an outgoing shoppers to vacate a treasured close in space. The situation is further exacerbated when the outgoing shopper, oblivious to logjam, takes their time leaving, checking receipts, checking their phone and whatnot.

Needless to say I didn’t park in the Maple garage.

It is no secret around town that Laura Neuman and I did not get off to a very good start when we first met. On Friday we got past that and were able to have a congenial discussion about her background and her vision for the counties economic development efforts. 

My favorite part of the show however came at the end when Paul ranted about holiday gift baskets he’d received in his office.

After we wrapped up and I was heading to my car in the Nordstrom parking lot, Courtney Watson pulled up and rolled down her window.

“Are you leaving?” she asked with a distinctive tone of desperation in her voice.

We carefully choreographed a parking space swap even as other hungry space seekers hovered nearby.

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

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sharkey’s Back in Town!

When Sharkey’s closed up back in April, I thought we’d seen the last of Sharkey in HoCo. The proprietor of the funky little second floor pub on Main Street in Ellicott City had told me back then that he was headed off to Chicago and then, who knew where the winds might blow him.

Looks like they blew him right back here. Last night when we dropped into Café De Paris for a nightcap we were surprised to see Sharkey tending bar. 

“I’ve been here since July,” he told us. I think Sharkey has a thing for French restaurants. Before opening his own joint he tended bar for years at Tersiguel's.  

Sharkey also said he regrets having given up his former namesake establishment. It’s now a church.

He told us that even though Café De Paris is only six miles away from Main Street he hadn’t seen that many of his former Ellicott City patrons at his new place.

Give it time Sharkey. They just haven’t found you yet.

It’s Miller Time

Only in HoCo would five hundred people stand in the cold for a new library opening. Even Congressman Elijah Cummings commented on the surprisingly large turnout. The unexpected Saturday morning traffic on Frederick Road almost caused him to miss the ceremony.
I was one of those in the crowd. I had attended the groundbreaking for this building back in February of 2010 and so I naturally wanted be there when it opened. Mama Wordbones on the other hand opted to stay in bed on this overcast cold morning. She said she’d join me at the library after the opening stuff was over. As it turned out, there were so many people crowding inside at 10AM that I called her and told her not to come. We decided to take a walk around Centennial Lake instead and come back later when the crowds had thinned out a little.
The ceremony was nice though. A couple of students from Mt. Hebron High School played holiday music to warm the crowd up and the Boy Scouts presented the colors and led everyone in the pledge of allegiance. I did notice that during the pledge, Delegate Frank Turner did not remove his hat though he didn't seem to have a problem taking his hat off for the photo op ribbon cutting. I’m sorry but I’m old school when it comes to this. He should know better.
Anyway, after our lake walk we decided to drop by the annual holiday train garden at the Ellicott City Volunteer Fire Department. Visiting a train garden during the Christmas holiday has been a tradition for me as far back as I can remember and the garden in the firehouse on Montgomery Road is one of the best. The layout changes every year too so it never gets old. 
After that we finally made our way over the new Miller Branch library. At one o’clock it was still busy but by this time the crowds were much more manageable. It is really a nice facility. My favorite area is the periodicals section on the second floor. I was tempted to plop down on one of the chairs and read a magazine or two. Next time.
On our way out we ran into Valerie Gross in the lobby who was still beaming like a proud new parent. I asked her what was to become of the old library next door. The plan is for that building to house the library administrative offices which are currently split between the Central Branch and the East Columbia Branch. Doing this would also free up more program space in those two heavily used buildings.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Word of the Year

On NPR’s Morning Edition this morning, Linquist Ben Zimmer talked with Renee Montagne about the American Dialect Society “Word of the Year” competition. Last year the society choose “app” as its word, the year before that it was “tweet” and in 2008 it was “bailout.”

The front runner for this year is “occupy.”

If you think another word from popular American culture is worthy of consideration this year, you can send in your own nomination.

“Nominations can be sent by email to, tweeted to the Twitter user name @americandialect or using the hashtag #woty11, or they can be posted on our Facebook page.”

My nominee is “unfriend.”

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Quieter Airport?

The Maryland Aviation Administration has plans to sell off excess property around BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport that it acquired over the years as part of a noise zone program. According to this story by Alexander Jackson in the Baltimore Business Journal, the MAA has identified 190 parcels of land that are “no longer needed as noise buffers.”

“The MAA obtained FAA approval of a reuse plan in June 2010. That approval will allow it to sell the 190 parcels over the next five years.”

I was curious to see what had changed with the airports noise so I went to the FAA website and found this noise zone map from 1998.
When I compared it to the new noise zone map I discovered one interesting development. In 1998, a large portion of the Oxford Square development in Elkridge was in the noise zone. This would have prohibited a fair amount of the projects residential development, not to mention making it an even less attractive site for a middle school.

Fortunately for David Scheffenacker, the 2007 map moves the noise zone line to just outside his development.

I suppose this means the airport has gotten quieter over the years, even as passenger traffic has increased.

And finally, just for fun, I ran across this video of airport take-offs and landings...

Dress Rehearsal for Gridlock

For anyone who regularly travels McGaw Road, the arrival of Wegmans can’t come soon enough. The road work related to the market's construction have created nothing short of chaos lately at the intersection of McGaw and Stanford Boulevard.

Think of it like sort of a dress rehearsal for the store's opening day.

I’ve pretty much avoided this area but then I got an email from Tales of Two Cities netizen Interested Party yesterday informing me that the sign was now up on the building.

Indeed it is

As the countdown meter on HowChow reports, only 184 days to go…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Selling of the Sun

Look closely at the photo that accompanies this story by Sara Toth in Explore Howard about the ribbon cutting for the new solar farm adjacent to Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City. Notice that the ceremonial scissors and the ribbon itself are emblazoned with the logo for SunEdison. Curiously, you won’t find anybody from SunEdison in the picture.

You also won’t find any mention of the company in the article.

This is interesting because SunEdison is the actual owner of this new solar installation. SunEdison will be selling the power generated by these panels on the former county landfill, back to the school system.

SunEdison was the indirect recipient of almost a half million dollars in taxpayer funds to build this project, in addition to getting the land they sit on at no cost. They were unquestionably the big winner yesterday but no one from the company spoke at the ceremony. It was almost as if the county was attempting to downplay the true economic nature of the project. The school will not be getting free energy from sun. They will be paying for energy from SunEdison that benefited from hefty government subsidies. In his remarks, County Exec Ken Ulman only made a passing reference to the fact that the school would be buying the power at “below market rates.” He never even mentioned SunEdison.

One of my pet peeves about this project is that it cut off a nice half mile trail that, despite the No Trespassing signs, many local residents used for daily walks or runs until SunEdison came along. On my way into the solar ceremony I ran into Josh Feldmark, the Director of the HoCo Office of Environmental Sustainability. I asked him if, now that the project was completed, would the county allow public access back to that half mile loop.
“Uh sure,” he said.

We’ll see. Perhaps I should have asked the representatives from SunEdison instead.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ringing That Bell

My buddy Tim Gallagher spent three hours ringing the bell standing next to a Salvation Army red kettle last Saturday. This is the third year in a row he has volunteered for bell ringing duty. The folks at Wells Fargo Mortgage in Columbia got him started and it has now become part of his holiday tradition. Kettle bell ringing is a big deal in this Wells Fargo office, with employee volunteers vying among themselves each year to be the top kettle producer.

Tim said he is pleasantly surprised at the generosity of HoCo folks. During his stint at the Centre Park Giant he saw more than a few fives and tens dropped in his bucket. “The bigger donors tend to be a bit older,” he said. He noticed others however, who seemed to go out of their way to avoid him.

He was also very complimentary of Giant. “More and more places won’t allow the kettles, so we really appreciate those that still do.”

Last year Giant received some criticism in the media when they limited the time that the bell ringers could spend in front of their stores. Earlier this year the grocer made a $75,000 donation to the local Salvation Army in honor of their 75th year in business.

I happen to like the bell ringers and their red kettles. For me, those kettles with their sentinel bell ringers are as much a part of the holiday season as Santa Claus. They’ve been out on the street in towns across America every December since 1891. Nowadays they are found around the world as well. This year they received a Top Rated ranking from CharityWatch.

“Of the over five-hundred charities currently rated by CharityWatch, only a select number qualify for our listing of Top-Rated charities based on our rigorous analysis. Groups included on the Top-Rated list generally spend 75% or more of their budgets on programs, spend $25 or less to raise $100 in public support, do not hold excessive assets in reserve, and receive "open-book" status for disclosure of basic financial information and documents to CharityWatch.”

Tim said had a good time too and not just standing there ringing his bell. He also spent the afternoon interacting with strangers and helping the occasional shopper with their groceries. One lady he assisted was trying to manage four rotisserie chickens fresh out of the oven, in addition to her assortment of other grocery items.

“You must really their chicken,” he quipped as they loaded them into her car.

“Actually these aren’t for me,” she told him. “I’m giving them to some other less fortunate families today.” 

A buck in every kettle, a chicken in every pot...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Speed Trap State

In a very short period of time, Maryland has become a national leader in the deployment of speed cameras and quickly gaining the reputation of being a speed trap state. According to this column by Jay Hancock in The Sun, “of the 12 states that allow the devices, only in Maryland and Arizona are there more than a dozen cities and counties deploying them, according to the highway safety institute.”

“In Arizona, a speed camera can ruin your day in 17 jurisdictions. In Maryland there are no fewer than 29. That's a fourth of all the jurisdictions nationwide using speed cameras.”

“The excuse, of course, is safety. Speed cameras are ranged near schools and work zones. Studies have shown they reduce accidents. But they're also an easy and addictive way to raise revenue.”

It’s big money too. According to this story by Ashley Halsey III in The Washington Post, almost 400,000 speed camera tickets were issued in work zones alone between January and October of this year “valued at $16 million.”

Now tell me again that it's not about the money...

Fire Draws Heat

The last thing that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wants to see in the middle of the holiday shopping season is bad press for the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet. Unfortunately that’s what he got in this article by David Streitfeld in The New York Times. Describing the Fire as “less than a blazing success,” he notes that the “most disgruntled are packing the device up and firing it back to the retailer.”

“I feel the Fire is going to be a failure,” Mr. Nielsen, of the Nielsen Norman Group, a Silicon Valley consulting firm, said in an interview. “I can’t recommend buying it.”

This of course makes me feel even better about the tablet choice that I put on Santa’s list.

Cheap Eats

Last week I found out that the cafeteria in the Micros building in Columbia Gateway was open to the public. I was touring the building next door with a client when the building leasing agent, Dan Callihan, touted the fact that tenants in the building could just walk next door for lunch. This was news to me.

On Friday, my colleague Bill Harrison and I went back to check it out.

Java City, as the cafeteria calls itself, is located on the ground floor of the Micros building in Columbia Gateway. We made the mistake of trying to get in by the back door, closest to cafeteria only to find that it is card access only.

No problem, we simply waited a moment until some employees exited and slipped in the open door. If you’re not feeling that adventurous I’d suggest using the main entrance.

This isn’t a fancy place, it’s a cafeteria after all. That being said we were both pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food, not to mention the prices. I had a shrimp etouffée with four nice sized shrimp for $5.79 and Bill had a turkey sandwich made to order for $4.75.

I don’t know that I would make a special trip to go back but it was a fun discovery nonetheless.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nothing Like The Real Thing

This year, more homes will have artificial Christmas trees than real trees. According to this story by Darryl Fears and Robert Samuels in The Washington Post, this Christmas, in homes across the country, it will be “50 million fake trees vs. 30 million fresh ones,…”

In our home it will be both. Seven years ago, when Mama Wordbones and I combined our households, the Christmas tree debate was an open issue. She had a fake tree and I was old school, nothing but the real thing for me. We were equally and emphatically committed to our positions so the only reasonable compromise was to have two trees.

Her reasoning on the superiority of fake trees is backed up by a study conducted by the American Christmas Tree Association which concluded that “fake trees have a lower carbon footprint — if consumers hold on to fake trees for six to 10 years — considering the energy it takes to chop, water and transport fresh trees annually.”

Real tree people have their own advocacy group, the National Christmas Tree Association. Of course, the NCTA has also studied the issue and found that purchases of real trees “encourages farmers to keep planting acres that absorb carbon dioxide from the air, soak up storm-water runoff full of nutrient and sediment pollution before it pours into waterways such as the Chesapeake Bay, and provide habitat for wildlife.”

They also refute the carbon footprint argument.

“The real trees also have a smaller carbon footprint than ones made with plastic and shipped mostly from factories in China, said Stephanie Flack, Potomac River Project director for the Nature Conservancy. “This time of year, while people are thinking of gifts they get from under the tree, they should be thinking about the gift from trees,” Flack said.”

For real tree sellers in HoCo, yesterday was Black Saturday, the busiest day of the season for real tree transactions. As we have for the past seven years, Peanut and I visited the Groundshog stand at the YMCA in Ellicott City to pick out our real tree. The man at the stand told us that he expected to sell somewhere around 650 trees this year, a little better than last year. Between his Catonsville location and Ellicott City, Ellicott City does more business.

For now, in HoCo at least, real trees seem to be holding their ground.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Seasonal Serenade

Last night, as we were enjoying our dinner at Clyde’s, a group of well dressed high school students approached our table and asked if they could sing us a song. After we agreed, they presented Mama Wordbones with a menu of song choices that included many holiday favorites like Silent Night and Winter Wonderland. She decided to go with a non holiday song and picked Java Jive instead.

That did a fantastic job. They were smiles all around.

The singers were the Wilde Lake High School Chamber Singers. They were working the tables to raise money for a spring trip to a choir gathering in Virginia Beach. I told them I was a Wildecat alum and tipped accordingly.

We watched as they worked their way from table to table and didn’t see anyone turn down the opportunity for a tableside serenade.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Intermodal Makes for Odd Bedfellows

It wasn’t that long ago that certain resident activists of Elkridge were up in arms about the proposed zoning change to the former Coca Cola property in Hanover. Three years ago, David Scheffenacker asked the county to rezone the 122 acre rail served property from M2 (heavy industrial) to TOD (transit oriented development). Scheffenacker made his case for mixed use based on a tenuous easement connecting the property to the nearby MARC station that dates back to the 1700’s. Residents were further outraged that the school board was considering putting a much needed elementary school in the new development because of its proximity to a CSX mainline.

Councilpersons Courtney Watson and Greg Fox even voted against the rezoning. As Larry Carson wrote a year ago in this article in The Sun, “they argued, industrially zoned land should not be changed for residential use and Elkridge is too congested already.”

Courtney and Greg ended up losing that battle in a three to two vote. County Executive Ken Ulman heavily championed the project and prodded his Dem colleagues on the council to approve the zoning change.

What a difference a year makes. Now that David has gotten his zoning change, he wants to change the complexion of the rest of the neighborhood too. That means no intermodal terminal in Hanover, just a little over a mile away from his development. If the proposed CSX intermodal were to land in Hanover, the trucks servicing the terminal would roll right past his tastefully designed entrance, around the clock. That could certainly put a damper on the upscale "Oxford" image he is attempting to sell. Note that he didn't call the project Hanover Square.

And that’s why this development should have never been approved in the first place, It’s a residential project plopped down in the middle of an industrial district.

But I digress.

The activists in Hanover opposed to having the intermodal terminal in their backyard suddenly have a new ally. According to this article by Elizabeth Janney in Elkridge Patch, David has pledged his legal team to help the community in its fight.

"After talking to your [GECA] committee for the intermodal, we have hired four attorneys to fight this," said Scheffenacker at the Dec. 6 meeting, "and we’ve decided it would be good if our attorneys were your attorneys, too."

As the Arabic proverb goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

I haven’t figured out yet if this also means that these residents are now on board with the notion of a middle school being located in David’s development. Less than two months ago they thought this was also a bad idea. David needs that school in order to move his project forward.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

In This Months Business Monthly

One of the amazing things about being a parent for me is how fast things change. For us grown ups, change comes slowly and reluctantly. In my now teenage daughter, change comes enthusiastically, in quick bursts.

Lately, when I have determined that she is ready for the next step in independence and responsibility I find that she is at least one step ahead of me, ready to challenge my parental knowledge.


Our recent Thanksgiving trip really bought that notion home. We have been traveling alone together since she was five. In those early years I was basically her loyal Sherpa, carrying all manner of kid stuff like a car seat, extra stuffed animals and a bag of distractions to keep her occupied on a long flight. I attended to her every need. Nowadays she carries her own stuff and looks to me for entertainment and conversation only during those times that she is unable to use her iPod. I’m still her Sherpa of course, still expected to take of care of things that a princess can't be bothered with.

It’s all good.

I often tell friends that the only good thing about getting older is gaining perspective. My interactions with my daughter also causes me to think objectively about things in order to, hopefully, make a point and impart some of that wizened perspective to her without being preachy.

Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t.

You can read this month’s column here. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

See Ya Around Doug

Doug Miller has written his last piece for Patuxent Publishing. In this column, Doug announced, that after twenty three years on the HoCo loco news beat, next week will be the “last with this newspaper, which has been home for most of my professional life.”

I feel like I was just getting to know him. It was less than a year go that we had our “Wine Summit” after he wrote a blog post entitled "Why I Hate Social Media". When Sarah wrote a follow up post on her blog questioning his hatred, he admitted in a column entitled "Facebook Frenzy" that he still "didn't get it".

That's when Tom Coale reached out to him and suggested that the three us get together for a drink instead of talking through columns and blog posts. He readily agreed.

I found him to be a pretty nice guy and his skepticism about technology genuine. The guy doesn’t even own a cell phone!

That night I think we all came away with a better understanding of each other. I love it when that happens.

Good luck Doug, wherever your next venture takes you. If you ever want to grab a drink again, give me a call…on your landline of course. 

Speed Cam Cynicism

Whenever I make a cynical comment about how the the new speed cams in HoCo are really just about money, someone inevitably comes to their defense. A commenter named Alan in this post suggested that perhaps I should stand next to a school crossing guard one morning “and then get back to me, or one of our super brave crossing guards, with your "money grab" accusations.”

Okay, I get that, but what about those places where there are no crossing guards and no crosswalks?

How about those schools where no kids even walk to school?

How do you justify a speed cam van in these locations as anything other than a revenue generator?

I offer Ellicott Mills Middle School as Exhibit A. At Ellicott Mills, not only are there no crosswalks or crossing guards, there are no sidewalks either. In spite of this, since the warning period for speed cams expired less than a month ago, speed cam vans have been stationed in front of the school, along a busy stretch of Montgomery Road, all day, at least twice.
I snapped this picture at noon today. At six this evening, long after school was over but prime time for evening commuters,  the speed cam van was still there. I would be curious to know the number of times the speed cam vans have spent the day in this location compared to those where the “super brave crossing guards” are stationed.