Sunday, September 30, 2012

MSMF 2012

By any measure you’d have to label yesterdays Main Street Music Festival in Ellicott City a success. The weather was perfect, the music was great and the crowds showed up.

Since I live just a little over a mile from Main Street, I was able to make two visits to the festival. I first stopped down a little after noon, just as things were getting underway. I easily snagged a parking space on the street right in front of Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. From there I walked down to the B&O Stage. While listening to acoustic artist Brian Kelm I also chatted briefly with the representatives of CSX. CSX, along with Heavy Seas, Metanoia, Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, Indigo Ink and the Ellicott City Business Association were the sponsors of the event.

Back up at the Heavy Seas Stage in the Wine Bin Parking lot I caught the performance of Root Three before heading back home for awhile.

When I returned to Ellicott City around 4:00 PM there were many more people than earlier but I still found a parking with relative ease. It does help that, as an EC loco, I happen to know a few places that the casual visitor might pass by.
This time I dropped in on the Ellicott Mills Stage in Parking Lot D where Chris Wojtal and the Hilltown Getdown were performing. I noticed that the beer line was a lot longer than it was earlier too. On the other hand a beer line is always an easy place to start up a conversation with strangers. While patiently awaiting my turn I met a woman who told me that she and her husband rode their bikes to the festival from their home in Catonsville, a little over a mile away. I suggested to her that ride home, being mostly uphill, would be a little less fun.
Back across the street at the Heavy Seas stage I wrapped up the day listening to Dirty Secret, just as the beer ran out.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nice Bus but Cash Bar

When I read that a statewide economic development bus tour was going to make its last stop at Merriweather Post Pavilion today it piqued my curiosity. This was the first I’d heard of it. Unbeknownst to me until today, a bus equipped with a recording studio, has been traveling around the state for the past three weeks inviting entrepreneurs and would be entrepreneurs to hop on the bus and record a pitch for their idea. The objective is then to take these budding businesses and try and connect them with resources.

According to this story in The Washington Post, “participants meet and receive feedback from top business leaders and have the opportunity to record a four- to six-minute business pitch inside the bus studio.”

“A panel of business professionals will judge the entries and choose several to advance to the next round. The winners will fine-tune their pitches for showcase at the Entrepreneur Expo, an event on Nov. 13 sponsored by the Maryland Technology Development Corp., or TEDCO.”

One of the major sponsors of the tour was our own Economic Development Authority, so naturally the county exec was on hand this afternoon to celebrate it’s conclusion in front of a group of approximately 100 people. The reception was held in the orchestra pit in front of the main stage and included a cash bar. Laura Nueman, the CEO of the HCEDA, introduced Ken as “our next governor.”
“Next year I’d like to see a thousand people here,” he told the assembled business people. I couldn't but think that free drinks might help that, particularly free drinks from Maryland brewers and vintners.

It seems like that would be a nice way to showcase some of Maryland's successful entrepreneurs too.

High & Dry

Last night I had the good fortune to be a guest of St. John Properties in their suite at M&T Bank stadium for the Ravens game. The experience of watching a game in one of these suites is decidedly different that the average fan experience and the opportunity is one not lightly passed up. Apropos for a real estate company (you know, the whole location, location, location thing), the St. John Properties suite is right on the fifty yard line.

More importantly last night, even in the outside seats, we were out of the rain.
Not long after the game started I heard my name called from the governor’s suite next door and was surprised to see Pam and Guy Guzzone in the front row. At half time I went over to chat with Pam while Guy was up inside the suite schmoozing.

“This is the first time I've ever attended a major sports event’” she told me.

I told her that she was likely spoiled for life. Unless you've experienced watching a game up in the nosebleed section on a cold night in the pouring rain, you can’t truly appreciate just how cushy these suite seats are.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

An Unapologetic Fan

Earlier this week HoCo blogger Duane St. Claire took issue with Raven’s fans behavior during the nationally televised Sunday night game against the Patriots. He wrote that he “couldn't help but think that this isn't something that I would want my kids to experience.”

If his kids weren’t in bed when that chant started late in the fourth quarter then they are likely old enough to have heard much worse in their own schoolyard, or even in the current presidential race.

It isn’t like this happens all the time either. Ravens fans are hardly the most rowdy fans in the NFL. A ranking of rowdy fans earlier this year by Bleacher Report put the Baltimore crowd at nine out of fifteen. It takes a lot to provoke us to profanity and after three plus quarters of bad calls by the NFL's replacement officials we were simply pushed over the edge. 

I suspect that all football fans watching all across the nation empathized with the Baltimore fans late Sunday night too. The bad officiating in this game was merely a prelude to the debacle on the Monday night game between the Seahawks and the Packers.

Perhaps this just isn’t Duane’s sport. That’s okay but his criticism of the Baltimore football fan behavior is simply unfair. After all, you’ll never see me complaining about the smell of patchouli at a hootenanny.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fun Facebook Figures

While doing some research for my Business Monthly column tonight, I ran across a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center just before Facebook went public this summer. The highlights:

  • Average number of friends: 229
  • Percentage of friends that were high school acquaintances: 22%
  • Percentage of friend requests that are accepted: 80%
  • 63% of Facebook users have unfriended someone in the last year, up from 56% the year before.

I happen think the unfriending trend is directly related to the increase in nasty political status updates, which also happens to be the main theme of my column.

I also ran across this post from earlier this month by Jennifer Moire on the AllFacebook blog in which she discloses that “Facebook identified which states were buzzing about which candidates using its “Talk Meter” tool.”

The top five states “buzzing” for Romney are: 1) Utah; 2) Washington, DC; 3) Florida; 4) Massachusetts; 5) North Carolina.

The top buzz states for Obama are: 1) Washington, DC; 2) North Carolina; 3) Mississippi; 4) Louisiana; 5) Georgia.

I think some folks in DC would take umbrage with Jennifer labeling Washington DC as a state but there you go...

Some readers may have noted the absence of my column in last months paper. For the first time in a very long time, I sat that one out. Believe it or not, I couldn’t think of anything to say.

It happens.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

You Can’t Judge a Book by It’s Civility

This evening, while waiting for a friend at local watering hole, I struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to me at the bar. In relatively short order I found out that she was a teacher in the HoCo loco school system.

“I’d be interested to know what you think of the current school board race,” I probed.

“Well,” she said, “there’s at least one candidate I don’t think very highly of and would never vote for.”

“And who would that would be?”

“I prefer not to say,” she responded. “I’d prefer to keep that to myself.”

Fair enough. I was just about to compliment her for her civil political discourse when she added, “I do like that Dyer fellow though.”

And to think I  had  almost considered her to be a rational person…

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Bullying Bandwagon

The anti bullying effort seems to attracting a cadre of what one loco wag calls “tragedtunists,” someone who sees opportunity in tragedy. First there was Brian Meshkin with this shtick and then, late last week, I spotted this sign on the back of a car on Dobbin Road, promoting something called Breaking the Silence Now. The only thing on the website so far is the name and address of a guy in Hagerstown and something called My Best Friends Magazine.

The biggest tragedtunist however, might just be Mark Harvey. He’s the doofus who ran out on the field at the Ravens/Patriots game last night wearing a cape with an anti-bullying message stenciled to his bare chest. The whole scene was filmed by someone associated his anti-bullying website.

The problem with these self promotion efforts is that they take away from the serious efforts like the one launched by the Columbia Association and the HoCo library with an assist from Ray Rice. If these tragedtunists really wanted to do something about bullying they could just as easily get behind an effort like this rather than attempting to turn the spotlight on themselves.

Instant Village

As we were leaving the Maryland Renaissance Festival yesterday, I stopped and asked a period dressed hostess how many people had passed through the gates that day.

“We had somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-five thousand revelers in the village today,” she replied.

I knew it was a big crowd but I didn’t realize it was that big. I wondered if that was close to some kind of record.

“No. We once got pretty close to thirty thousand,” and added, “that was a lot of people.”

I thought twenty-two thousand was a lot of people but the weekend period village of Revel Grove is spread out over 25 acres so it never felt claustrophobic. If anything, the large number of attendees made the overall experience more festive.

Some of those attendees go all out in getting into the whole medieval spirit thing.

There were lots of things that made us laugh too. Who knew the 16th century could be so funny?
The wooded setting is perfect too. Yesterday it was cool under the trees yet warm in the open air spots near the Kings Field jousting arena. This is one of the few places you can go to enjoy Maryland’s official sport.

There is a HoCo connection too. The festival began in 1976 on what was then undeveloped land behind Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, some of which is now the Village of Hickory Ridge and the interchange of Broken Land Parkway and Route 29.  It moved to Crownsville in 1985 where it could finally erect structures that could stay in place year round.

The 36th Maryland Renaissance Festival runs every weekend up until October 21st. If you plan on going, plan on going early. The gates open at 10:30 AM and by 11:30 the traffic begins to clog up the two lane roads leading to the site.

If you haven’t been, it is well worth the price of admission, especially on those gorgeous fall days like yesterday.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Let’s Dance

When I saw this post on HoCo Rising this morning I smiled. Earlier this week Peanut forwarded me the link to the video that inspired the midshipmans spirit dance as her latest Peanuts Picks. I told her I’d put it up on To2C over the weekend.

Gangnam Style has received over 242 million views on You Tube making it a certified internet sensation.

I had never heard of it until this week, once again showing just how out of sync I can be at times.

So, without further words from this old dog, here is the video that got the mids dancing in Annapolis

Fox in the Dem House

Some may think that being the lone Republican on the five person county council is an exercise in futility. Being one against four would seem to make it easy to be ignored, unless that lone Repub is a fox, as in Greg Fox. The fifth district council person has managed to make his role larger than the odd man out. This particular councils preference for unanimous consent on most issues gives Greg an opportunity to exert influence beyond his minority stature. That speaks well for both parties and gives county politics more balance that you might expect from a Dem dominated council.

It helps of course that Greg is no career politician. He has a real job with Constellation Energy in addition to his part time council job. I marvel at how it handles it. For example, before appearing on our podcast yesterday afternoon, Greg began his day at a Leadership Howard County kick off breakfast before heading to work in Baltimore. He then he came back to HoCo for our podcast, followed by a meeting with his boss back in Baltimore, then back to HoCo for his son’s soccer game, followed by an off tape appearance on Politics Unplugged with Bob & Kendall Ehrlich which airs tomorrow morning at 10 on WMAR Channel 2.

I got tired just writing all that!

We talked with Greg about the latest HoCo loco news, the loco GOP political scene and his recent stint as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Tampa. He told us he did not wear a silly hat, though he did hesitate for a moment when asked the question.

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

Friday, September 21, 2012

HoCo By the Numbers…Fall 2012

The unemployment rate in HoCo currently stands at 5.5%, down slightly from the same period last year and still significantly below the national rate (8.1%). During the same period of time the total number of jobs in the county rose 4.3% to 159,503.

These numbers were reported in the September 2012 issue of Howard County Maryland Economic Indicators, a joint publication of the Howard County government and the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. The report tracks data through June.

HoCo also experienced a slight drop in office space vacancy from 13.9% to 13.8% which occurred in spite of an additional half million square feet being added to the market. HoCo now has over 11.5 million square feet of office space.

Other loco economic highlights include a 7.5% increase in personal income tax receipts and a 93.7% increase in Planning and Zoning fees, though building permits declined 16.9% from the same period last year.

It’s been a good year so far for HoCo agriculture too with soybean and corn expected to produce record crops. “Beef milk and bread prices are expected to increase in the long term due to increases in feed prices resulting from the Midwestern drought.”

This release of this report comes at the same time we learn that HoCo remains one of the top ten richest counties in the country. Seven of the nations richest counties are in the DC metro area, with HoCo in the number 5 spot, down two places from last year.  According to this story by Carol Morello in The Washington Post, “Maryland has the nation’s highest household income level, and Virginia is ninth.”

“The rankings in the 2011 American Community Survey released Thursday expand Washington’s dominance among high-income households, reflecting a regional economy that was largely cushioned as the recession yanked down income levels elsewhere. Household incomes rose in most counties around Washington last year, even as they continued to sink around the country.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pardon the Interruption

Recent visitors to To2C may have received a warning message from Google about malware on the site. It turns out that the feed from the Well & Wise blog was the culprit. Once I disabled the Well  & Wise feed, the problem went away.

According to the Google report on the Well & Wise site , “Of the 227 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 17 page(s) resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 2012-09-19, and the last time suspicious content was found on this site was on 2012-09-19.”

“In some cases, third parties can add malicious code to legitimate sites, which would cause us to show the warning message.”

No doubt someone has hacked into this blog and created this mischief. The Well & Wise blog is a joint effort of the Howard County General Hospital and the Howard County library. I notified them of the problem this morning via facebook.

HoCo Digital Divide

The Bright Minds Foundation has teamed up with the Howard County Public School System to help bridge the digital divide in the county. According to Paul Brown, a Bright Minds board member, approximately 2,000 students in HoCo do not access to a computer at home.

That’s a real impediment to learning, not mention parental involvement the process. The HoCo schools Aspen system allows parents to check academic progress on a daily basis, including homework assignments and test results. Without a computer in the home these families are at a distinct disadvantage.

Paul pointed out that use of the free computers in the library is limited to fifteen minutes, hardly enough time to conduct serious research. For some of these students even getting to the library is a problem.

The foundation accepts used computers but Paul pointed out that it costs, on average, three hundred bucks to refurbish a donated computer. In other words, monetary donations are preferred.

To date, Bright Minds has provided 400 computers to HoCo families. Their goal is to close the digital divide in three years.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Politics of Gambling

Last month I lambasted Delegate Frank Turner for what I perceived to be his lack of backbone in the gambling debate. Subsequently, Roger Caplan suggested that perhaps I was being too hard on the man.

In any event, I actually do try to keep an open mind on these things. Last month I sent Frank email inviting him to join us on and then there’s that… to discuss how he “came to support the governor’s legislation in the recent special session.”

He never responded.

I can understand why Frank may not feel comfortable discussing this hot issue on our podcast but you’d think he’d at least give us the courtesy of a response.

Perhaps the delegate who proclaims that he "carries no mans water" would feel a little uncomfortable discussing how he ended up carrying Mike Millers canteen. Maybe he thought that by ignoring us we’d just forget about this and move on.

That’s not going to happen. Someone should probably tell him that we make more hay out of guests who turn us down than those who don’t. We reserve special treatment for those who won't even respond to our request. It looks like we’ll be having fun with Frank for awhile.

The Comptroller of Maryland isn’t afraid to discuss the gambling issue with us. Peter Franchot is returning to the show for a second time on November 2nd, the Friday before the election.

Maybe we’ll ask him what he thinks of Frank's backbone.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Season Opener

Last Friday we attended the preseason game for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The evening featured a sampling of the offerings of the forthcoming season which gets underway this Thursday.

I used the sports analogy because in addition to our beloved Orioles and Ravens, the BSO is a major league team. We are indeed fortunate to have a world class orchestra with an “elite” conductor less than a half hours drive from HoCo.

Marin Aslop rocks. If you haven’t seen her put the orchestra through its paces, and you love music as I do, you owe it to yourself to catch at least one of their concerts.

There is a real HoCo connection to the BSO too, as a few of the orchestra members make their home here and contribute to the HoCo loco music scene as well. For instance, according to her bio on the orchestra website, violinist Wonju Kim is “a founding member of Music in Common, a Columbia-based concert series devoted to building new audiences for chamber music that was created by her late husband, Daniel Malkin.”

This season’s line up includes Beethoven’s Eroica on October 6th, the Vienna Boy’s Choir on December 8th and Hairspray in Concert on January 25th and 26th.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ray Who?

Last Friday I took Peanut shopping on Main Street in Ellicott City. One of the first stores we stopped in was Zebop. As Peanut was looking around I struck up a conversation with the person behind the counter. “Are you excited about what Ray Rice is doing for Ellicott City,” I asked.

“Who’s Ray Rice?” she replied.

I can easily imagine that the typical profile of a Zebop shopper would not include an avid football fan. Once I explained who he was and the initiative he’s started to promote retailing in the historic district, she took a newfound interest in the Ravens star running back. “That’s cool,” she said.

Zebop has their own coolness thing going on.  As we left the store I noticed that the Zebop shopping bag appeared to be handmade from a foreign language newspaper. When we sat down to enjoy a smoothie across the street, we discovered a tag inside the bag telling the story.

“Our newspaper bags [are] made by an NGO whose main objective is to provide education and shelter to street children. This eco-friendly product is made from recycled Indian newspaper.”

Very cool.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Stand Up Cycling

Friday afternoon I spotted two cyclists by the Grist Mill Trail with very unusual bikes. I made a u-turn and went back to check them out.

Trevor and Rebecca were riding something called an Elliptogo, which is billed as more of a running device than a bicycle. They told me that they had rented them for the weekend from Leisure Fitness in Columbia. Rebecca’s was an eight speed and Trevors was a three speed.

They had just finished their workout so I was reluctant to ask them to demonstate the bikes. Fortunately I found this video on You Tube.

Blue Bin Beer

Last night at a friend’s annual Tiki party, some of the libations were offered up in this modified HoCo recycling bin. The blue bin held three taps featuring a stout, an IPA and wheat beer.

The stout was particularly yummy.

This portable blue beer delivery appliance was created by the same HoCo loco home brewer who also crafted the beers. 

Unfortunately this isn’t actually a model of sustainability. The beer eventually runs out.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Heat is On

Wegmans literally has the hots this weekend. As reported earlier by HowChow, the store is hosting a Hatch Chile Event today through Sunday. If you like hot stuff, its worth checking out.

Today, as I stopped in to pick up a few grocery items, I discovered Hatch Chili Peppers when offered a sample of a Hatch pepper cheese spread. It was love at first bite. Hatch peppers are sort of like jalapeño peppers except that the hot part sticks around for awhile instead of the hit and run you get from jalapenos. 

Before I finished shopping I had sampled a Hatch pepper stuffed with Italian sausage, Hatch pepper cornbread, and a Hatch sushi roll. For lunch, I treated myself to some Jambalaya with Hatch peppers at the prepared food bar. Talk about in-store integrated marketing!

Out in front of the store they have a Hatch Chile pepper roasting thing going on. I sampled some of those too. I also spoke briefly with Frank (the guy in white shirt waving) who told me that they had already sold four and half pallets of the peppers, each pepper pallet holding about 50 forty pound boxes of peppers.(Try saying that three times fast.)

You might even say they’re selling like hot cakes!

Intermodal Finds a Home

The news this week that CSX and the City of Baltimore had settled on a site for the proposed intermodal terminal bought a sigh of relief to some people in Elkridge. When state and railroad officials originally announced that a 90 acre site in Hanover was one of four finalists for the facility, residents organized to stop it.

They weren’t the only winners in this battle. As Councilperson Courtney Watson pointed out to me early this week, the new location in the Morrell Park area of the city will be a good deal less expensive. Initial estimates for the Hanover site put the total cost around $140 million with the state and feds picking up half the tab. The city site, expanding an existing rail yard, is projected to cost $90 million with no federal subsidy. The state has agreed to spend about $30 million on the project. Because federal monies are not part of the new equation, the project is no longer subject to the dreaded National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process which added time and additional costs. That has to be also considered a win for CSX.

So what is to become of the Hanover site?

The land remains zoned M2, HoCo’s designation for heavy industry. Already, Aggregate Management Inc. (Laurel Sand and Gravel) is moving ahead with plans for a new asphalt plant on ten acres of the site that was previously optioned to CSX. With the scarcity of M2 land in the corridor, it is unlikely that the balance of the property will remain undeveloped much longer.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Contribution to the City

Back in May I got nailed by a speed camera on Caton Avenue in the city. I was cited for doing 43 mph in a 30 mph zone. This particular location defines the classic speed trap. I was nabbed as I came off the ramp from I-95, headed downhill.

I seriously considered going to court to fight this. At the very least I figured I could get a good story out of the experience.

Then again, it was only forty bucks. For forty bucks I really couldn’t justify spending the time fighting city hall.

I suspect that is figured into the equation when the city sets the amount of the fine. It seems to be working out quite well for them too. According to this story by Luke Broadwater in The Sun, Baltimore raked in “$20 million in revenue from speed cameras over the past year — a higher-than-expected figure that is sparking debate over the accuracy of the city's budget projections and whether the camera program is more a cash cow than a safety measure.”

Ya think!

Tell me again that this isn’t about the money

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gertler, Giles, Scott, Siddiqui

In our latest podcast, we briefly discussed the challenge that school board candidates face in achieving name recognition. As these types of elections usually play out, the candidate who creates the most controversy benefits from getting their name batted about. As the saying goes, “I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.” The theory being that when an uninformed voter goes into the booth and sees a list of unfamiliar names, they are more likely to pick the name they've heard before, without considering what the context was that they heard it, good or bad.

Bad candidates often get more ink, in some cases if only for their very badness.

To counter this candidates are often reduced to standing on the side of busy roads waving signs.

This is a pretty poor method for picking the people who oversee our public school system and one of the largest employers in the county.

I’ve decided to try something different this time around. Instead of writing and talking about the candidates that I don’t like, I’m going to ignore them. I won’t write anything about them nor will I mention them on the podcast. Instead, I’ll focus my energies on the candidates that I believe will best serve our students, our teachers and those who labor to keep our public school system one of the best in the nation.

Gertler, Giles, Scott, Siddiqui. Remember those names, or at the very least, those initials, GGSS.

Unfortunately you can only vote for three of the four but that’s okay. Pick your own favorite three. All four of them are exceptional and each of them would serve our county well.

I plan to write more about these four in the next 54 days. In the meantime, you can check out their excellent interviews conducted by the HoCo League of Women Voters. Here’s David Gertler, Ellen Flynn Giles, Jackie Scott and Janet Siddiqui.

The League also interviewed the other two candidates. You can find out about them on your own. Around here, for the next 54 days at least,  it’s just G's and S's.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Flawed Comparison

HoCo has always had a split personality when it comes to the big cities to the north and south of us. Some cheer the Ravens and the Orioles while others root for the Nats and the Redskins. When traveling outside of the area and asked where they’re from, some locos will say Baltimore while others will say DC.

As far as the Bureau of Labor Statistics is concerned however, HoCo is part of Baltimore. That means job growth at Fort Meade gets attributed to the Baltimore Metropolitan area as opposed to the Maryland suburbs of DC.

Yesterday, in his column in The Washington Post, Robert McCartney pointed out that job growth in “suburban Maryland is lagging far behind” that of Northern Virginia and Washington, DC.

“The contrast in jobs performance is dramatic. Here are the figures on how many full-time jobs each jurisdiction added in the 12 months ended in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Northern Virginia: 32,200 jobs (a 2.4 percent increase);
District of Columbia: 10,000 (up 1.4 percent);
Suburban Maryland: 1,400 (up less than one-fifth of 1 percent).”

In the very next paragraph he points that employment increases in HoCo and AA counties aren't included into the suburban Maryland numbers.

“Those counties are gaining jobs as military intelligence facilities expand in and around Fort Meade, just 28 miles from the White House — but they’re counted as part of greater Baltimore. Northern Virginia includes counties such as Spotsylvania, more than 50 miles away.”

Now before you start railing about Maryland being overly dependent on federal spending remember that Northern Virginia and DC are just as dependent on those federal dollars we are, especially DC.

On the other hand, we could still stand to be a bit more business-friendly in the Free State, even if we are solid blue.

“The fact is, Northern Virginia’s advantage has been growing for years, and has been fostered by both Republicans and business-friendly Democrats.”

We just need more of those “business-friendly” Dems in Annapolis.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Troy from Columbia, Maryland

Yesterday as I was driving and listening to Car Talk on WAMU, one of the callers to the show identified himself as “Troy from Columbia Maryland.”

It’s not everyday that you hear a HoCo loco on the nationally syndicated show. Troy told Tom and Ray Magliozzi that he was the owner of a 1999 Mecury Mystique with a starter that “periodically makes a grinding sound” when he starts it or attempts to start it.

Tom called the car a “cheap piece of junk.”

If you want to hear Troys tale of automotive woe, go here and then click on Segment #8.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

A Regular Guest

On the podcast this week, we noted that it was the third time that Tom Coale had joined us on the show. It turns out that we miss counted. It was actually the fourth time in the three years that we’ve doing this show that Tom has sat down to chat with Paul and I.

We obviously like having Tom on the show.

The fun thing about Tom is that he enjoys talking about the HoCo loco politico scene as much as we do and he really knows his stuff.

The big loco politico news this week was the announcement that long serving ultra lib Liz Bobo will not be standing for reelection in 2014. Liz has been in elected office in HoCo since 1977, beginning on the county council, then as county executive and finally as a Delegate to the General Assembly since 1995.

Whether you agree with her politics or not, that’s a pretty impressive run.

The big question is who will take her place. Immediately after the announcement, Mary Kay Sigaty’s name was mentioned as the logical successor. Tom disagrees. Tom thinks that Mary Kay will hold on to her council seat through at least the first phase of the downtown Columbia redevelopment. She was the sponsor of the enabling legislation for the redevelopment, a role that put her at odds with her one time sponsor, Liz Bobo.

So who then?

The other names I’ve heard are Clarence Lam, Terri Hill, and even Joan Lancos.

We also spent time discussing the school board race, the redevelopment of Symphony Woods, the bicycle master plan, the Main Street MusicFest and more.

You can listen to the 73rd episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Census App

The Census Bureau now has its own app. It’s called America’s Economy and its bound to become a must have for politico wonks and econ wonks alike

I downloaded it this morning

According to this story by Carol Morello in The Washington Post, the app “provides updated statistics from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It includes 16 monthly economic indicators, such as house sales, personal income, international trade, Gross Domestic Product and the unemployment rate.”

“The app is the latest step the census has taken to use the Internet more in both collecting and disseminating statistics. Last month, the White House cited the Census Bureau as an example of a federal agency that is “making great strides towards putting a solid foundation for a 21st Century digital government in place.”

America’s Economy is free and available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Weather Geek

I readily confess to being a bit of weather geek. Last winter I even installed my own home weather station. This summer I relocated the stations monitoring devices because I wasn't satisfied with the readings I was getting. When any storm approaches, I constantly monitor multiple online weather sources in addition to my own set up.

I think that qualifies as being a weather geek.

Winter is high season for us weather geeks. Around this time of year, many us begin to consume whatever weather data we can get our hands on to try and figure what type of winter Mother Nature has in store for us.

It looks like it could be a cold one. Accordiing to this article by Scott Dance in The Sun, the “ forecast calls for cold weather and large systems of moisture to converge, dumping above-average snow totals along the East Coast. The timing is expected to be in January and February.”

The Farmers Almanac agrees, predicting that eastern states “as far south as the Gulf Coast – will see snowier than normal conditions and cooler temperatures.”

“We are “red flagging” February 12–15 and March 20–23 for major coastal storms along the Atlantic seaboard; storms bringing strong winds and heavy precipitation.”

Red flagging!

That’s music to a weather geeks ears. Perhaps we’ll even see a return of The Big Kahuna.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Main Street Music Fest 2012

On Saturday, September 29th, the historic district of Ellicott City will play host to the inaugural Main Street Music Fest, a day long showcase of forty of the area’s best unsigned musicians in conjunction with the annual Fall Festival.

The music fest will feature blues, acoustic, alternative, classic rock, pop, reggae and more, at five separate venues along Main Street including two outdoor stages. The line up so far includes: Sons Of The Radio (Rock), Victims of Experience (Rock), Sin 4 Sin (Rock), Cafe LaMotta (Pop), Yo No Say (Rock), The Control (Alternative), Velma, (Alternative), Mark Whiskey and the Sours (Americana), The Vault (Rock), Radiant Sonance (Electro/Dance), Garrett Anderson (Singer/Songwriter), Chasing Scarlette (Alternative).

It will be a good day for loco beer lovers too. One of the sponsors of the music fest is Heavy Seas and their brews will be available at discounted prices throughout the town.

The action will begin at 1:00 PM and its free. To keep updated on the bands that will be participating, check out the festival facebook page.

Here’s a little sample of what you can expect…

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Comings and Goings in EC

Yesterday we took a casual stroll around downtown Ellicott City and took note of a couple of changes in the historic district retail scene.
The first thing that caught my attention was this small chalkboard sign at the former Yates Grocery Store on Main Street. I’m assuming that Randy and Steve are Steve Archuleta and Randy Neely, the owners of the Good Life Market which closed in December 2010.

A few doors down Retropolitan is having a moving sale. After nine years on Main Street the store is relocating to West Annapolis.
Around corner, in Parking Lot D, we noticed a sign in the window of the former Man Cave space that read “Coming Soon Matcha Time Café.” When I got back home and did a search of the name I found that HowChow had already picked up on this back in June. His restaurant radar is much better than mine. According to this story by Brandi Jefferson in Patch, Matcha Time “will be a Japanese Tea House. Expect a selection of teas, pastries, a few coffee varieties and a retail section with Japanese crafts.”

Monday, September 03, 2012

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

Back in January I wrote that the collapsed wall in Parking Lot C in Ellicott City would be repaired sometime in the spring.

I was only off by a year.

The wall below Dohony Hall, part of St. Paul’s Church, collapsed in the aftermath of the Tropical Storm Lee that hit Ellicott City two years ago. Since then the hill has been temporarily stabilized with rocks and jersey walls until a more permanent solution could be devised. The job is further complicated by the precarious position of the 18th century stone building hanging on the edge of the collapse.

According to this story by Brandi Jefferson in Patch, "the county is negotiating with St. Paul’s Church on a plan that would ensure the safety of the Dohony Hall building, which sits a few feet from the area where the ground gave in during Tropical Storm Lee last September.”

The bottom line is that the parking spaces where six cars were once buried under the rocks will be gone forever. The new wall will extend out into the parking lot further than the old wall.

As a side note, during the trail derailment cleanup last month, this location was Ellicott City’s own version of television hill. It seemed like every media outlet in the region had a satellite truck in St. Paul’s parking lot and a camera crew on the hill.

This isn’t the only wall getting replaced either. The train derailment also took down an old stone wall in Parking Lot D. It’s likely that this wall replacement will also take away some parking spaces.
A third wall is on the county’s radar too. The stone wall behind the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company in Parking Lot E hasn’t collapsed yet but from the looks of things, it could only be a matter of time.
All of this could take some time. Replacing old stone walls in the historic district is a bit of a process

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The Salugen Story Reconstructed

In a comment made to this post, school board member Brian Meshkin took me to task for a post I wrote last year about Salugen, his former company. Brian stated that the “post is premised
on, and filled with, falsities.”

This weekend I decided to spend some time trying to find out what I got wrong. In doing so, I ended up with more questions than answers about what actually went on with Salugen.

Here is what both Brian and I agree on. In July of 2008, the company was sold to Sherbrooke Equity AG of Switzerland. A press release  on October 6, 2008 announced the sale.

SAN DIEGO, CA, October 06, 2008 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Salugen (, a life sciences company, announces today that it has been acquired by an affiliate of Switzerland-based investment bank, Sherbrooke Equity ( The acquiring entity has been renamed Salugen AG and will be based in Zurich, Switzerland.

"We believe that Salugen is the company of our future, as addiction along with other issues run rampant in our communities, both here and abroad. They can help to shed light on the problem and create solutions to these issues in our lives," said Lee Leblanc, Managing Director of Sherbrooke Equity AG. Specific terms of the transaction were not announced but the Company announced that the transaction would be accretive to Salugen shareholders and would address debt holders of the company as well.”

A month before that, on September 10, 2008, Dr. Kenneth Blum, the Chief Scientific Officer of Salugen, issued a press release announcing his resignation and that of “other key executives.”

“All other key executives of the company, with the exception of Brian Meshkin, CEO, also resigned. In accordance with Dr. Blum's agreement with Salugen, all rights to the intellectual property portfolio primarily owned by Dr. Blum and his research associates reverted to Dr. Blum, principal of Synaptamine, Inc. and other named patent holders. Key factors in the departure of the management team were not specifically disclosed however, under Mr. Meshkin's direction, Salugen was unable to raise capital, adequately perform operational activities or compensate employees and vendors.”

Brian claims that Dr. Blum was fired.

“Your accusations, based on a fraudulent press release, about alleged mismanagement of Salugen is also untrue.  Dr. Blum was terminated from Salugen a year earlier due to his own character issues preventing him from passing due diligence with an investment bank.”

 You may note that the dates don’t match up. This won’t be the first time in the Salugen story that this occurs.

In any event, Brian remained with the company and according to his own posting on, he “ Led the company to an IPO (symbol: SQZ.F) and exit for its initial investors in 4 years”  

On To2C, he pointed out  that the company went public on October 4, 2008, “the day the world stock markets crashed.”

The company on the other hand, claimed to be doing well in spite of the worldwide recession. Salugen issued a press release on April 13,2009 which painted a picture of a company prospering.

“ZURICH, SWITZERLAND and SAN DIEGO, CA USA – April 13, 2009 – Salugen® AG (, a life sciences company, announces today the successful listing of its stock traded on the FWB® Frankfurter Wertpapierbörse (the Frankfurt Stock Exchange) under the symbol SQZ (FRA:SQZ.F). Last month Salugen’s share price increased over 70 percent despite uncertain economic times affecting the overall equity markets and is currently back on its listing price.”

After that things start to get a little fuzzy.

Brian says that “About one year later – in September 2009 – the transaction was unwound.  The public entity, whose stock symbol was SQZ.F, owned by Sherbrooke Equity, was sold to a German auction company.”

To say that Salugen AG's demise seemed sudden would be a huge understatement. Two months prior to this “unwinding” Salugen issued the following press release:

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND and SAN DIEGO, CA USA – July 7, 2009 – Salugen® (SYMBOL: SQZ.F), a publicly-traded international life sciences company, announces today the launch of its Salugen Medical Group (SMG) division beginning in the State of California. In its first week on the market, the Salugen System is being prescribed for dozens of patients suffering from a specific excess craving disorder, namely narcotic tolerance and dependence. The Salugen Medical Group’s first week revenues are over $200,000, and anticipates 2009 revenues in California to exceed $2M.”

A month later the future looked even rosier:

“ZURICH, SWITZERLAND and SAN DIEGO, CA USA – August 17, 2009 – Salugen® (SYMBOL: SQZ.F), a publicly-traded international life sciences company, announces today that it is on target to achieve its 2009 revenue forecast of $3 million USD based upon July 2009 actual revenues and its pipeline for August and September.

At $3 million USD in 2009, the Company will have record high revenues. Over the next twelve months, the Company’s revenue run rate will be in excess of $6 million USD. With the recent acquisition of the CraniYums consumer functional candy product line building upon its prescription HAVEOS product in physician offices, Salugen addresses a growing $18 billion market in the USA with its clinically-proven anti-craving products in both medical and consumer markets.”

Oddly, the same press release referenced scientific studies authored by Dr. Kenneth Blum, the guy whose character issues supposedly spooked the same investment bank that was now touting his studies to support its claims.

The following month, the company “unwound.”

Brian claims that after 2009, Sherbrooke and the guys in Switzerland no longer had anything to do with Salugen. Salugen AG and its stock symbol (SQZ.F) morphed into other companies (Pactolus AG, Berger Investments AG and Mioomy AG) that soon "unwound" as well. Mioomy AG a German online auction company even listed Brian as a “member” as late as March of 2010. Brian says he was unaware of that until today.

A Google search today of the SQZ.F symbol turned up Serica Energy, PLC.

The Salugen website now redirects users to Proove Biosciences, Brian’s new company.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

I Thought This Was Over

Two months ago I wrote that the attempt by Susan Gray and Paul Kendall to overturn fifteen years of HoCo zoning decisions was finally over.

I was wrong.

After three years of losses in both federal and state courts, Kendall and Gray have been given yet another opportunity to make their case. According to this story Arthur Hirsch in The Sun, “the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed to consider whether the residents have the legal standing to challenge years of decisions by several county agencies. The two argue that the county's way of carrying out these actions deprived them of their right to referendum, constrained their free speech and voting rights.”

"I feel passionate about it, the people involved feel passionate about it," Susan B. Gray, the lawyer who represents one of the residents in the appeal, said in an interview. "These are the most fundamental rights we have."

I think this has become more about obsession than passion.