Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wanted: Cyber Warriors

For recent college grads that have had difficulty getting their footing in the job market, you may want to head back to school to study cybersecurity. According to this article by Alexander Fitzpatrick in The Washington Post yesterday “not enough digital experts are entering the cybersecurity field to meet the ever-growing demand.”

“The government needs to hire at least 10,000 experts in the near future and the private sector needs four times that number, according to Tom Kellermann, vice president at Trend Micro and former member of President Obama’s cybersecurity commission. Booz Allen Hamilton, a private security firm in McLean, has hired nearly 3,000 cybersecurity experts in the past two years, and that trend is expected to continue.”

In The Washington Post today, Ellen Nakishima reports that DARPA, the folks that brought you the Internet, has launched a five year $110 million effort dubbed Project X  “to develop technologies to improve its cyberwarfare capabilities, launch effective attacks and withstand the likely retaliation.”

DARPA is tapping into the “private sector, universities and even computer-game companies“ to assist in the effort.

It just might be time to reconsider that degree in Art History.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Three Things about Food

Famous Daves is open again. TW and I stopped in for lunch today to check it out. The makeover that closed the restaurant down for three weeks didn’t seem to change all that much inside. There’s some new lighting and paint plus new flooring but the layout hasn't changed. More important, the Texas beef brisket sandwich with the Georgia Mustard is just as good now as it was before.

Speaking of brisket, Mama Wordbones and I went to Kloby’s Smokehouse in Maple Lawn last Saturday night. We were both in the mood for ribs and we hadn't tried theirs yet. Ever since I saw this picture on HoCo360 I’ve wondered what they were like. I’m still wondering. At 7:30 PM on a Saturday night, Kloby’s was out of ribs.

Seriously?

The place wasn’t even that crowded. How could a barbecue joint run out of ribs that early on a Saturday night?

I ended up having the brisket instead and it was delicious but to say we were overall disappointed with our first Kloby’s experience would be an understatement.

We received our first mailer from Wegmans. The mega grocer is encouraging HoCo residents to sign up for their Wegmans Shoppers Club card by running a contest for $500 in free groceries for anyone who signs up before June 7th.

There was no mention however, as to whether the winner could also use that credit in the proposed liquor store.

Writing Good

I stumbled across this neat little app yesterday that measures how well you write by using the Flesch-Kincaid system. All you need do is provide a writing sample and it will tell you what grade level is needed to comprehend your writing and how easy it is to read the stuff you write.

I was curious to see how some of our HoCo loco writers fare with this test. According to this chart from Readability Formulas, the lower the score the more difficult the read. This article by Sara Toth in Explore Howard earned a score of 33 (“Difficult’) at a 14th grade level while a blog post by 53 Beers on Tap on the same subject rated a 55 (“Fairly Difficult”). Both Marshmallow Man and I are writing blog posts at a 9th and 10th grade level respectively. My sample post also rated Fairly Difficult at 52. Tom Coale and Sara Toths writing is more college level stuff. This post by Tom was rated at a 13th grade level with a readability score of 39 (Difficult).

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reentry Day

For most of us anyway, work returned today. After being relegated to the background of our consciousness for the past three days work roared back with purpose in my world this morning. My day went from stimulating to frustrating then bounced from exhilarating to exasperating.

Others had it worse of course like the people who work in the Three Centre Park building near Route 100 in Columbia. When they arrived at work this morning the temperature in some offices was 90 degrees. Apparently a repair job on the buildings HVAC system went awry and the building ended up without air conditioning.

“The building management came by and told us there were cold drinks in the lobby courtesy of the landlord,” one employee in the building told me. “We were a little disappointed to discover that it was only water and soda and no beer!”

At least they got out early. He told me his company let them go at four o’clock when he and his colleagues found cool refuge and beverages next door at La Fiesta.

It was two o’clock in the afternoon before I even had to time to grab lunch, much less a cold soda in a hot lobby. I decided to stop by Qdoba on Dobbin Road to grab a quick bite. Qdoba is pretty close to my office and I often drop in there for a late lunch because it is rarely busy after 2:00 PM. Today it was packed. That’s because it was Tuesday.

Until today I did not know that every Tuesday Qdoba offers half price burritos from 2:00 PM until 9:00 PM for students with an ID. This little promotion turned a normally sleepy Tuesday afternoon into a happening time at the Qdoba on Dobbin.

I never really got my head around the fact that it was Tuesday because it felt like Monday. My confusion actually began first thing this morning as I left my house. About midway to the gym, it occurred to me that I had forgotten to put the trash out before I left. Our trash day is Tuesday. Then I remembered that, because of Memorial Day, this was a slide day. Trash day moved!

According to the HoCo DPW, this week Tuesday is Wednesday!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Show the Flag, Honor the Fallen: Four

Out on Triadelphia Road in west HoCo, To2C reader Andy Liberman has a real flag pole in front of his house. This enabled him to honor the tradition of keeping the flag at half mast until noon today. Andy shares that his dad was a Korean War vet who passed away last November.
My own dad, who passed away in 1966, was a World War II vet. This picture was taken of him in England just prior to the Normandy invasion.
And although my own street was flag deficient this holiday weekend, one street over from me, on Academy Road in Ellicott City, there is a profusion of the red white and blue.

There is still time to get your pictures to me. If I receive at least one more I’ll do a final Memorial Day flag post later today.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Show the Flag, Honor the Fallen: Three

Bert and Zan live in an old stone house on Columbia Pike in Ellicott City. As he describes it “when our house was built the flag only had 37 stars.”

I can’t tell whether the colors they’re flying have 37 or 50 but the three red ones on the front of the house add a nice touch.
My sister Kelly sent me these pictures from her favorite watering hole in Baltimore. It seems an anonymous patriot decided the flanking mermaids should carry flags.
Main Street in Ellicott City was a mixed a bag this afternoon. While the area around the Little French Market was notably flag deficient, the Howard House apartments had a very impressive display, the best on Main Street in my opinion.
My favorite however was this simple display in front of Wagon Wheel Antiques on Tiber Alley.
I’ve received another picture from a To2C reader early this evening so there will likely be at least a fourth post to this series.

Send your favorite Memorial Day flag pics to wordbones@verizon.net.

Show the Flag, Honor the Fallen: Two

As readers continue to send in pictures of flags on their streets this Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to share this video I saw on CBS Sunday Morning today.
I’ll put another post with more loco flag scenes later today so there’s still plenty of time to share your photos of flags flying in your community. If you want to share, email your photos and a brief commentary to wordbones@verizon.net and I'll post them here.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Show the Flag, Honor the Fallen: One

It didn’t take long for a To2C reader to respond to my call for Memorial Day flag pictures. Andrew Kanicki reports in that the flags are flying on his street. “On my cul de sac of open meadow way in long meadow development almost every house on the street has a flag flying.”
As I was driving through Columbia this afternoon I spotted this small, but effective display at the Bristol Green apartments off Old Dobbin Road.
My sister also sent me a picture from her house in South Baltimore. “With Fort McHenry down the street, it just wouldn’t be right not to fly the Stars & Stripes!”
Keep ‘em coming…

It's Up


It’s a little tattered and the mounting bracket for the pole is loose. I debated for a moment whether or not I should even bother this year.

As I stood in my driveway and looked up and down my street I didn’t see a single one. Granted, it’s early. Memorial Day is still two days away. At the same time I'd wager that many other Memorial Day tasks like pool passes and picnic stuff have likely been taken care of before the flag even gets a thought, if at all.

I decided that a tattered flag on a wobbly mount was better than no flag at all. It only needs to make it through Monday night.

So it is up now and my street is no longer flag deficient.

One More Thing: As I sit writing this I wonder about the other streets in HoCo. Are others as flag deficient as mine?

If you are one of those who are still in town this weekend and would like to share with others, send me flag pictures from your corner of the HoCo hood and I’ll post them with your notes and/or commentary over the course of the holiday weekend. If you're game send your stuff to wordbones@verizon.net.

And One More Thing Two: I realize I asked for pics from "HoCo" hoods in the note above but if your particular hood is otherwise, please consider your input just as valued. You send 'em, with a note, and I'll post 'em. (5/27 update).

Another Plastic Bag Eliminated

This spring we eliminated another plastic bag from our household, the yard waste bag. In prior years we regularly put our grass clippings and other assorted yard waste into heavy duty plastic bags before setting them out to the curb from the weekly yard waste pick up.

We've now seen the error of our ways.

It began when I noticed that the HoCo Department of Public Works was offering free paper yard trim bags (limit 2 per family). My first reaction was that we’d definitely need more than two bags to make it through the season. Then I saw this note:

Howard County encourages residents to use paper bags or reusable containers for yard trim.”

It was my “ah ha” moment. Why didn’t I think of using a reusable container before!

When we moved into our new home a little over six years ago we purchased two identical garbage cans. Our thought was that one would be for recycling and the other for regular trash. This was before HoCo gave everyone a blue bin for recyclables. Once we got the blue bin the second trash can sat unused.

No longer. It is now our official yard waste container.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Best SWM View in Columbia

Earlier this evening I received a text from Steve Tove. His band, Dead or Drunk, was playing at the Eggspectations Patio beginning at 6:30. Until tonight I wasn’t aware that Eggspectation even had a patio. It turns out that they do and it overlooks a storm water management pond too.
This might be the nicest looking storm water management pond view in HoCo. The developer, Merritt Properties transformed what would typically be a utilitarian runoff pond into a regular water feature with lush landscaping. As storm water management ponds go this is a Cadillac.

Maybe we should come up with some sort of HoCo Suburban Oasis guide to help people find places like this.

LA Bans Plastic Grocery Bags

Yesterday the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban the use of plastic bags in grocery stores. According to this story by David Zahniser and Abby Sewell in the Los Angeles Times, the new ordinance will “phase out plastic bags over the next 16 months at an estimated 7,500 stores, meaning shoppers will need to bring reusable bags or purchase paper bags for 10 cents each.”

Jean-Michael Cousteau must be pleased.

Predictably, the plastic bag people are not happy.

“An industry group warned that the council’s decision will threaten the jobs of 2,000 workers statewide and said it is keeping open the option of filing a legal challenge. “With this bag ban, the city chose to take a simplistic approach that takes away consumer choice instead of pursuing meaningful programs that encourage greater recycling of plastic bags and wraps, while preserving jobs,” said Mark Daniels, chairman of the nonprofit American Progressive Bag Alliance.”

Maybe they can be retrained to produce reusable bags.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It’s All about You

Regular readers of To2C may have noticed that I have not been that prolific with my posts lately. The other parts of my life have been a tad more demanding lately leaving me wanting for both time and inspiration. So tonight, as I sat down to steal a little time to scratch my writing itch, I found inspiration in you, the To2C reader.

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared what I know about you, well over a year in fact. As I have disclosed before, this blog employs three separate apps to determine readership, Google Analytics, Quantcast, and Site Meter.

So what do they tell me?

Some things haven’t changed much. The gender gap narrowed a bit from 55% male back in November 2010 to 51% male today. I may be getting older but you are getting younger. Two years ago 74% of the To2C readers were over 35. That has now dropped to 63%. Income dropped as well from 35% of readers making over $100K to 28% today.

Quantcast figures that there are a little over 4,200 of you and that 253 of you are using the mobile web when you visit. According to Google Analytics, the top three mobile devices you’re using are the iPad, Nook and iPhone. The top five places you visit from are unchanged; Columbia, Ellicott City, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Laurel, in that order.

Many of you come here from other loco sites. The Baltimore Sun is now the top referral site for To2C followed by Google. The third highest referral site is HoCo Rising followed by HoCo Blogs. HowChow is the sixth highest referral site for To2C.

I appreciate all who stop by here, no matter who you are or where you come from, so this would be as good a time as any to say thank you for spending some time here. I’ll endeavor to keep you coming back

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Memoriam…Jesse Thomas

Columbia resident and former Baltimore Colt Jesse Thomas passed away last Wednesday. Jesse wore #40 and played defense for the Colts in 1955, 56 and 57. He later went on to serve as Head Coach of Morgan State University.

He also found time to give back to the community. According to this story by Jacques Kelly in The Sun, Jesse “collected food from local restaurants to be distributed at homeless shelters.”

My dad was a huge fan of the Colts in that era. He once even joined in with other fans in storming the field after a big game and tearing down the goal posts. One of his prized possessions was swatch of the Colts flag he snagged after the Colts beat San Francisco in November of 1958. A month later they would go on to play the New York Giants in the greatest game ever played. The 1959 Colts were immortalized in the movie "Diner." 

Services will be held tomorrow at 1 PM in St. Johns Baptist Church on Tamar Drive in the Village of Long Reach.

Status Challenged

The high quality of HoCo schools, and to a larger extent, Maryland public schools are often cited as justification for state taxes that are above average. Money spent on public education is an investment in our future. The consistent top ranking of Maryland and HoCo schools seems to suggest that we are getting a good return on that investment.

Then again, maybe we aren’t.

In this op-ed piece by David V. Anderson and Herbert J. Walberg in The Sun, our four year number ranking from Education Week is called into question. The two researchers suggest that, based on the National Assessmentof Educational Progress, Maryland schools are the sixth best in the nation. Massachusetts, which spends almost the same amount as Maryland per student, was number 1. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Beer Me!

This weekend we opted for drinking craft beer at the lake as opposed to drinking wine in the woods. True, we could have done both. Many did, but we decided it would be better to stick with one type of alcohol. We also weren't quite up for the crowds in the woods. At the lakefront we parked with no problem and never waited in line for a beer sample or food. 
Clyde’s Second Annual Craft Beer Festival featured about fifty craft brews that ranged from delicious to “you call that beer?”
 Though my adult beverage of choice is usually a glass of red wine, I am finding the craft beer trend to be very interesting. These beers don’t resemble any of the beers I've grown up with. These are beers with complex flavors and finishes. Some of the ones I sampled yesterday were barely tolerable while others completely blew me away. The four ounce taste pours were perfect for encouraging folks to explore and experiment with beers like “Hell or High Watermelon.”

Seriously. And it was rather tasty. Mama Wordbones dubbed it a “hot tub beer.”
 
At Wine in the Woods I drink wine I’ll likely never buy. At the beer fest I discovered beers that I really liked but had never heard of before and will now give a them second look when I spot them in a store or on tap.

If I had one criticism of the beer fest it would be that the space was too small and there were not enough places to sit, much less dance!. Hopefully that will be an easy problem to fix before the third annual.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Mets First Tenant

No sooner did we bring up the topic of the new Metropolitan apartment development than our guest chimes in to tell us that he intends to be the first tenant. Rich Madzel said, that as soon as the new units become available, he and his wife Malynda, intend to sell their condo in Watermark and move the new building. He was serious.

He’ll sell his lakefront condo and rent a mall front apartment less than a half mile away. I don’t get that. I didn’t get a lot of my time with Rich this afternoon. It got a little contentious at times which surprised the hell out of me. I’ve known Rich semi socially for over ten years and we’ve always been cordial. Don’t let the picture fool you. Today we weren't always so cordial.

I think we got off on the wrong foot. Rich had actually asked Paul if he could come on as a guest. Rich has successfully built and sold a Columbia business “in fourteen days”  and has written a book to help other small business owners navigate the sale of their business. Malynda once served as the president of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. On the face of it, he certainly qualified as an interesting guest. We agreed to have him on. As we were setting up in The Mall this afternoon I asked Rich if he had listened to any of the shows. This is a question we ask every guest before a show and nine times out of ten they tell us they have, mostly because they wanted to know what to expect. Rich told us he had never listened to the show. Right or wrong, I found that to be a little rude considering that he had asked to come on.

Consequently our banter got a bit spirited at times, particularly when it came to the proposed Wegmans liquor store. He jumped on that during our news recap and we continued the discussion during our two on one time

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

Keep ‘Em Close

Yesterday afternoon the Howard Hughes Corporation held a preview of the new $100 million apartment project called “The Metropolitan.” in their offices at the lakefront. Included among the invitees were some of the most active opponents of the Columbia Town Center redevelopment legislation.

As Michael Corleone put it in Godfather II, “…keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

It seems to have worked. In this story by David Greisman in Explore Howard, Delegate Liz Bobo “called the project "very creative" and "classy."

"It has been a long haul of well over five years of, in my opinion, looking at plans that were not thought out and did not hang together. There was nothing unique in them, no really classy design," Bobo said."

Someone should have told Liz that nobody is going to spend money on a building design before they have the approvals to build. That “long haul of well over five years” she referred to was at least partly do to her own efforts to slow down the process.

At least two other outspoken opponents of the development were also in attendance, Columbia Council members Cindy Coyle and Alex Hekimian. Presumably they too will start spinning their previous positions on Town Center.

The most notable thing about this project for me is the rental rate. With some units projected to rent for almost three grand a month, these apartments will be the most expensive rental units in HoCo. The developers are convinced there is a market for this but they may find themselves competing with single family home rentals. According to this report in Citybiz Real Estate, 55 percent of new renters are opting for single-family homes and 45 percent are landing in apartments.”

That trend is largely attributable to the recent housing bubble though and may have begun to reverse itself by the time these new units are delivered in 2014.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Big Weekend On Tap in HoCo

While world leaders encamp at Camp David in Frederick County this weekend and world class thoroughbreds compete at Pimilico in Baltimore, in HoCo we’ll just be doing a whole lot of eating and drinking.

For the past twenty years spring revelers have converged on Symphony Woods for a weekend of wine, food, music and crafts at Wine in the Woods. This year a record thirty three Maryland wineries will set up tasting tents in the woods surrounding Merriweather Post Pavilion.

This year, on Saturday, there will also be a show at Merriweather during Wine in the Woods. The Route 29 Revue which features Lucinda Williams and the Drive-By Truckers with Justin Jones will begin at 6:30 PM. Your Saturday Wine in the Woods ticket is also be good for general admission lawn seating for the show.

If you are more into beer than wine you might want to check out the 2nd Annual Clyde’s Craft Beer Tasting and Festival at the Town Center lakefront from 3:00 PM to 8:00 PM instead. There will be over fifty craft brews, live entertainment and festival food like fish tacos and brisket sliders.

And speaking of food, if alcohol and music fueled festivals are too much for you, consider taking in lunch at the Franciscan Friars Novitiate in Woodbine. The Maryland Home and Garden Pilgrimage will include three stops in HoCo on Saturday, including lunch in the Refectory of the Shrine of St. Anthony. This is a rare opportunity to see inside this 1931 monastery. According to this story by Jacques Kelly in The Sun “All the main rooms have enormous hearths lined with herringbone-pattern bricks.”

No matter what floats your boat, get outside and enjoy. The weather this weekend is supposed to be close to perfect.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Executive Club

At last nights Columbia Foundation Spring Party, Courtney Watson shared a photo with me of her with Chuck Ecker, Jim Robey and her dad, Ed Cochran. As she quipped, “It’s three former county execs with one future county exec.”

Does that constitute an announcement?

Earlier in the evening I spent a little time with Chuck. I suggested that since he's now retired from his Carroll County school chiefs job perhaps he'd consider another run for county exec. “It’s the best job I ever had,” he said. “I’d have to get in shape though.”

Chuck is recovering from knee surgery so I suppose that even a metaphorical run sounds painful to him right now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Instant Bridge

The State Highway Administration plans to use a relatively new technique to replace two 63 year old bridges that carry West Nursery Road over the Baltimore Washington Parkway near the airport. According to an article today in BizWeekly the replacement spans will first be constructed in the median strip of the parkway and then moved “into place using specialized equipment called self-propelled modular transporters (SPMTs). The multi-axle, multi-wheel hydraulic SPMT can transport extraordinarily heavy loads.”

Okay, “instant” may be a bit of an exaggeration but the process is quicker and apparently safer than building the bridges in place.

“After building the 76-foot-long, 215-ton bridges in the median, crews will literally roll them into place at about four miles per hour,” said SHA Administrator Melinda Peters. “This innovative construction project is safer for drivers and crews because the work zone is out of traffic and the duration is shorter by nearly nine months.”

It’s a pretty cool process as evidenced in this animated video of a bridge replacement project in Utah.
The work is slated to be completed over two weekends this fall.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Diners Last Stand

The Forest Diner in Ellicott City is closing this month. After sixty six years, this venerable HoCo institution will serve its last meals on May 28th as the building makes way for a new mixed use development.
This is truly the end of an era. The Forest Diner may be the only true diner in HoCo. By true diner I mean real diner. Diners were originally manufactured elsewhere and then trucked to their locations. In very short order they could open for business.

Though it was modified and expanded over the years, the original stainless steel dining car is still intact. On Saturday morning I asked our server, Lisa, what was to become of the dining car when the place closes. This is a rare piece of roadside Americana after all.

“I don’t know,” she said sadly.

A note in the diner did say that the Forest Diner kitchen staff and servers will still be around. They are moving across the street to Jilly’s restaurant which will begin serving breakfast after the Forest Diner closes.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Full of Hot Air

As I climbed into the gondola of Pinwheel yesterday morning it occurred to me that some might think the balloon wouldn't have to use much gas considering all the hot air I bought on board. Captain Ray Chase took Peanut and I up for a little tethered ride in his balloon at the Preakness Hot Air Balloon Festival at Turf Valley shortly after daybreak.
This is the first time we've attended HoCo’s premiere Preakness event. Peanut and I rose early and, after stopping for a coffee and a hot chocolate, we arrived at the festival as the sun was rising over the Hialeah course.
It could not have been a more perfect day.
This is a very cool event. We will be back next year.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Brian Knows Best

At yesterday’s Board of Education meeting, school board member Brian Meshkin urged his colleagues to vote down the latest APFO chart. He suggested that voting down the chart would "drop a turd in the punch bowl" and compel the council to adopt a better way to deal with school planning. The Adequate Public Facilities Act requires that the school board approve a chart that designates which schools in which neighborhoods are “closed.” A “closed” school essentially closes that school district to new residential construction.

Brian doesn't like APFO chart as an effective mechanism for school planning. While he acknowledged that is currently the law, he believes it is a flawed law that nobody likes. He said it is even unfair to developers. “I love development,” he said. 

Brian loves development so much he's willing to contribute to the overcrowding of Wilde Lake Middle School to accommodate it. Under the current chart Wilde Lake Middle School is open. Under the chart that Brian wants to vote down, Wilde Lake would be “closed.” If a new chart isn't passed, the existing chart prevails.

In other words, if this chart gets passed, a proposed Town Center redevelopment project and the new apartments at Wilde Lake Village Center would be held up until Wilde Lake Middle School gets some relief. If it isn't passed, those projects would be allowed to proceed.

Board member Cindy Vaillancourt believes the board should leverage their vote to get free land from the developers impacted by the chart. She told her colleagues on the board that she used to work in development and that this type of thing is done all the time. Given all the community enhancement projects and affordable housing fees that the Town Center redevelopment legislation already calls for, it is highly unlikely that there is anymore blood to squeeze from that rock. Some might call this extortion.

The APFO chart requires five votes to pass and last night the vote was four in favor and three opposed. Brian, Cindy Vailancourt, and Allen Dyer all voted against approving the new chart. Ellen Flynn Giles, Janet Siddiqui, Sandra French and Frank Aquino voted to pass the chart.

Yesterday Brian won and the parents, students, and teachers at Wilde Lake Middle School lost.

Earlier this week I had a conversation with one of Brian's estranged former business partners at Salugen, a Dr. Kenneth Blum. Dr. Blum described Brian to me as the "worst human being you want to know." Some HoCo loco parents may soon find themselves in agreement with that sentiment.
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CORRECTION: I mistakenly noted that Frank Aquino voted for the APFO chart. He didn't because he was not in attendance. The fourth vote in favor was actually Tomi Williams, the student member of the board.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Al Fresco Without the Wait

Last Friday Mama Wordbones and I faced a typical HoCo Friday night dilemma, where to eat.

Before any loco “joy of cooking” types get their water boiling, a home cooked meal was not an option. We’d both had a long day and a stressful week. We felt like getting out of the house.

First, before even discussing dinner plans, we decompressed from the work week with a glass of wine…or two.

And then, before we knew it, it was 7:00 PM and we were hungry.

You may recall that last Friday night was one of those rare perfect spring nights; cool but not cold and not a cloud in the sky. We wanted to eat outside, that much was certain. Cuisine was secondary.

Experience has taught me that it is next to impossible to get an outside table at a top tier HoCo loco restaurant on an early spring Friday evening, in Columbia or Ellicott City, without an hours wait…if you’re lucky. We were too hungry for an hours wait

Our only hope in having an al fresco meal before 8:30 PM lay across the border, in Catonsville.

“What about the patio at the Candle Light Inn?” Mama Wordbones suggested. From where we live in Ellicott City the Candle Light Inn is about as close the Stanford Grill.

“I’ve never eaten on their patio.” I replied. I thought there was a good chance that it wouldn’t be crowed too. It turns out I was right. The patio was about half full. We had our pick of tables.
I lived in Catonsville from the time I was born until I was ten. Summers were spent at the Five Oaks pool, named after an estate called Five Oaks. Next door to the pool was this big white house that once served as the manor of the estate but had long been converted to a white table linen restaurant. I seem to recall that there was even an vintage Rolls Royce parked out front for awhile which only added to its high society mystique. I never ate there as a kid.

About twenty years ago, the current proprietors began offering seasonal casual dining with the addition of a covered patio just off the bar. No white linen here, just plastic chairs and plastic table cloths on brick pavers under a sky lit roof surrounded by mature trees. It beats a storm water management pond view anyway.
The food choices are just about everything you could ask for in classic American cuisine, from a crab cake sandwich with French fries to Tournedos of beef au poivre with potatoes au gratin. They also have a decent selection of wines. We went with salads…and a glass of wine or two.

Civility and Comments

Comments made to blog posts are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, having a dialogue with readers, even those who mask their true identity, adds a dynamic element to a post or story and makes it more interesting. On the other hand, some commenter’s are much more caustic online than they would ever be in a face to face conversation. As Joshua Topolsky writes in this column in The Washington Post, “Despite years of attempts to massage, curate, coax and moderate, the unbridled “discussion,” the Internet still seems mired in the kind of discourse best reserved for a bar brawl. Or that bar’s bathroom wall.”

“I think the problem with commenters isn’t so much a technology issue as a social one. Somehow we’ve rewarded, or at least learned to tolerate, a world where the drive-by insult is the norm. As we crank up the ease and pace of our “social” interaction while cranking down our standards for what actual discussion should look like, we seem to be increasingly comfortable with people simply behaving badly.”

I can certainly relate. About three years comments started getting a little out of hand here at To2C. Increasingly I found myself using the delete button. I didn't take these actions lightly. I actually appreciate it when someone takes the time to comment, even if they vehemently disagree with what I’ve written. In my view there is a very thin line between deletion and censorship. In an attempt to address that I will usually allow a nasty comment or two from a reader before I hit the delete button. My reasoning is that this type of comment says as much about the intellect of the person making the comment as the issue being discussed. Once that profile has been established however, its time to ask them to leave the playground.

Adding the Diqus commenting widget has helped somewhat. Initially it came at the expense of a drop off in comments but that seems to have leveled out now. The one thing I like about Disqus is that it allows the moderator to see if a stream of comments with different anonymous labels are actually the same person.   

That’s really just a band aid. As Joshua points out technology can’t really solve this problem.

“Maybe the way to encourage intelligent, engaging and important conversation is as simple as creating a world where we actually value the things that make intelligent, engaging and important conversation. You know, such as education, manners and an appreciation for empathy. Things we used to value that seem to be in increasingly short supply.”

And then there’s that…

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

In This Months Business Monthly

As part of the research for my column this month I did a search of “Allen Dyer” to see how many times he was mentioned on my blog. It resulted in forty six posts since 2006.

I’ve had a long run with Mr. Dyer. I even made him the subject of a To2C Aprils Fools Day post. It was the best April Fools post I’ve done so far. It even fooled the working press, albeit momentarily.

As much as I dislike the guy I’ve enjoyed writing about him. He is one of those rare polarizing figures that make the loco politico stuff all the more interesting…and admittedly a bit fun.

Though I’m happy to see him off the school board, I miss having him as a target. No doubt he'll continue to try and stir things up but his antics from here on out will have lost some luster commensurate with his reduction in rank. He won’t be as interesting anymore. I’ll miss that.

I haven’t written much about Delegate Frank Turner but what I have written would not be mistaken for flattery. I’m not a fan. On the other hand, Frank holds a pretty key spot in the upcoming special session to raise our taxes. As chair of the Finance Resource Committee Subcommittee he’ll be in the thick of the battle over the expansion of gaming, the cure for all our fiscal ills.

When I spoke with Frank at Ken Ulman’s Maple Lawn fundraiser he told me that he didn’t have time to read the blogs. It’s okay. He probably wouldn't like what he sees here any more than he’ll like what I wrote about him in this months Business Monthly.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Gesundheit!

At a commercial real estate seminar last week, Anirban Basu said that from 2003 to 2010, the biotech industry accounted for one third of all jobs created in Maryland. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Maryland lags behind San Diego, Boston, the Research Triangle in North Carolina and Seattle-Bellevue-Everett in creating a sustainable, successful biotech cluster.

It turns out that the regions greatest biotech research institutions like the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and the Food and Drug Administration in White Oak may be part of the problem. Anirban said it is a mindset problem that keeps the local biotech industry from capitalizing on opportunities.

“When someone sneezes in Palo Alto or Cambridge, researchers try to figure out how to make a buck from it. When someone sneezes in the Baltimore / Washington corridor researchers submit a grant to study it.”

Dr. Judy Britz is trying to change this. She is formerly the President and CEO of Cylex in Columbia and now serves as the Executive Director of the Maryland Biotechnology Center. She hopes to alter this grant writing mindset by embedding private sector  professionals in research departments who can recognize commercial opportunities and capitalize on them.

Gesundheit!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Laurel Mall Closed…Finally

Last November Greenberg Gibbons announced that they would soon begin demolishing the ill fated Laurel Mall. At the time a handful of retailers remained, trying to eke out a living from the dying mall. On May Day, the doors were finally locked. The mall is now "permanently closed."

According to this story by Holly Nunn in Gazette.net, the malls demise has long been expected. “The shuttering of the mall comes after five years of proposed redevelopment, as the mall’s management changed hands and funding for development projects dried up.”

Greenberg Gibbons took over the project from General Growth Properties who was managing it on behalf of Somera Capital. The reborn and rechristened Laurel Town Centre will be an open air lifestyle center and will include over four hundred residential units.

Once it gets underway that is. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, it is simply another dead mall

Sunday, May 06, 2012

A HoCo Loco Party Girl

Joan Lancos has been a regular listener of “and there’s that…” for about as long as we’ve been podcasting. She is also actively engaged in the community, specifically on land use issues. That was enough for us to invite her to join us last Friday. We learned a few new things about her too, like the fact that she prefers the label “advocate” as opposed to activist. She was a cheerleader in high school. She calls herself a party girl.

Joan is an organized party girl. She is the person who lines up the show houses for the annual Columbia Home Tour. We spent a good deal of time talking about that. Count me as one of those who could never imagine opening up their house for strangers to traipse through without having wanting someone to buy it. Apparently I am in the minority in this regard. Some people even seek out Joan to have their homes included on the annual tour. This year there is even a HoCo loco blogger connection to the tour. The River Hill townhome of Trevor Greene, the author of HoCoPolitico, is part of this year’s tour.

Joan likes her political parties too. She has been a Repub but now I believe she's a Dem. She ran against Ken for his first county council race as the Repub candidate and is currently the campaign treasurer for Ellen Flynn Giles.

In the news we bantered about the Wegman’s liquor store hearing, the latest on the CSX intermodal terminal, Jon Weinstiens fundraising efforts, the Amazing Meshkin, and more…it was a very fertile field for loco news stories this time around.

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

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Meshkin Messes Up

When I first heard about the three thousand dollar lawsuit that Steve Adler filed against school board member Brian Meshkin I knew it wasn’t about the money. In the world of commerce, a three grand bad debt is hardly worth pursuing considering alone the amount of time it will take. In most cases a bad debt like this would be simply written off.

Unless there is something else going on…

It was only a year ago that Steve and Brian were touting a new non-profit incubator for “the creation of viable start-up companies, which create jobs, and contribute to economic growth.”

They called it Venture Rapids.

It turns out that the only thing rapid about the venture was its unraveling. According to this story by Sara Toth in Explore Howard Steve “wasn't aware of any clients Meshkin may have had during the time Venture Rapids was located in Savage Mill.”

"During that period of time (when the business was running in spring and summer 2011), it wasn't happening," Adler said. "I think he just gave up on the business incubator, and was spending more time with his company in California."

Ah yes, Meshkins California business. Remember Salugen?

I’m not sure what is going on with that company but Brian now refers to himself as the CEO of Proove Biosciences in Los Angeles. On the surface at least it looks a lot like Salugen. In fact the chief medical officer for Proove, Gregory Smith, was (or still is) the chief medical officer for Salugen. On the Salugen website, Brian is also still listed as the Executive Chairman.

I’m not sure what is really going on there.

Brian has another job too. He is listed as an Organizational Strategy Consultant for Fuzati in Washington, DC. The Fuzati website says that it “creates impact for our clients by innovating at the cross-sections of viability, feasibility and usability.”

Ok then.

Brian Meshkin is quite the entrepreneur. He likes to tell anyone who’ll listen how he successfully took a tech company public. That much is certainly true. What he doesn’t say is that the company, Surfbuzz, was a classic dot com bomb. As Wired magazine wrote upon its demise, “If ever a startup embraced the whole make-a-fast-buck, dot-com ethos, it was Surfbuzz.com, an auction site that awarded expensive prizes to its customers. The only buzzing to be heard now is from the flies swarming over the corpse of Surfbuzz, which said Tuesday that it is going out of business.”

UPDATE 5/6/2012: Sara Toth has updated her story to report that Steve Adler plans to withdraw his 3K lawsuit "by mid-week". It seems that Steve and Brian suddenly resolved their dispute and now have nothing but nice things to say about each other. Perhaps Steve just wants to make sure the check clears first though.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Blue Bike

While others are studying the feasibility of bike-sharing services in HoCo, a loco developer has already begun one. BECO, the owners and managers of the Century Plaza office buildings in Columbia, now offers bike-sharing to its office tenants from something called Bluebikes.

The bikes come with helmets and locks and are offered on a first come first served basis.

That doesn’t seem to be a problem. This afternoon, while the weather was perfect for a bicycle outing, all the bikes were still in the rack.

I guess everyone was in their offices working.

Have any To2C readers used this service yet?

Local Angle

This morning, as I was driving through Ellicott City, I stopped to take a picture of the church where yesterdays shooting occurred. I wasn't the only one either. There were camera vans and reporters from WJLA and WUSA on the scene as well.
John Gonzalez, the Channel 7 reporter, approached me and asked if I was affiliated with the church. At that point I became acutely aware of the fact that I was wearing black jeans and a black polo shirt. I must have looked like a preacher. I quickly dispelled that notion. “I’m just a local blogger,” I told him.
 At this point John mentioned to me that he actually lives in Columbia. He commented that it was nice to able to pull an assignment this close to home. I suspect that it a relatively rare occurrence for a DC reporter.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Fire at the Mall

There was a fire this morning at the Sears store in The Mall. According to this story by David Greisman in Explore Howard, the fire originated “in a trailer outside of Sears attached to the store's loading dock.”

This morning, while I was enduring a commercial real estate seminar at the airport, I received an email with the following pictures of the fire aftermath from To2C netizen, Joan Lancos.

I just thought I’d share.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Store Wars

There are at least fifteen liquor stores within a three mile radius of the new Columbia Wegmans store. A good many of them showed up at the Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board last night to testify against the application for a new liquor store at Wegmans. A few came from even farther away.

I wasn’t surprised by this. The Wegmans store would be the largest liquor store in HoCo. It will also occupy some of the highest ground in liquor store retail real estate, inside a Wegmans store.
Mike Smith might take issue with calling the store the “Wegmans” store but that it is literally what it is. Mike, the HoCo licensee wannabe, owns 10% of the entity that will be leasing the space within Wegmans from Wegmans. The other 90% of the store ownership is an LLC controlled by Chris O’Donnell who also happens to be the husband of Colleen Wegman, the president of Wegmans. As if to drive the point home, last night Mike couldn’t even say for sure what the eventual name of the store will be. He was fuzzy on other details too, such as how much money he’ll need to open the store.

Wouldn’t you have run the numbers by now?

I’ll bet Chris O’Donnell has.

For the period of time that I sat in it wasn’t going well for Mike. According to this story by David Greisman in Explore Howard the opposition bought in some heavy guns, "two attorneys representing Kings Contrivance Liquor and Smoke Shop in Columbia, Glenwood Wine & Spirits in Glenwood and The Perfect Pour in Elkridge” grilled him over every detail of his application.

“Opponents also questioned whether the shop itself is legal under state law, noting that the public face of the liquor store, R. Michael Smith, a 63-year-old Ellicott City man, would only own 10 percent of the liquor store.”

The opposition is not without issues either. They simply don’t want the competition. They seem to think a public license also comes with an exclusive marketing territory. I don’t find that a valid reason to restrain competition. It is anti consumer. I’m going to go ahead and post the names of all the stores that testify against Wegmans so consumers can decide for themselves where they stand on this.

According to a study conducted by Lipman Frizzel & Mitchell the Columbia Wegmans will draw from a trade area of 200,000 households within a ten mile radius. Joe Cronyn testified that the proposed store would have a "diffuse impact" on existing liquor stores within that trade area.

As for Wegmans, come on man. Just call this store what it really is or find an experienced partner with some real skin in the game to at least make it look better.
And finally, kudos and a wag of the wordbones tail to members of the hearing board. You served your fellow citizens well last night.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Nook News

I have taken to my e-reader like a duck to water. I am now in the middle of my third book (Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson) on my Nook Color tablet and I actually think I’m reading faster.

The Nook is the fourth or fifth player in e-reader market share so making a decision to buy one includes a calculation of the likelihood of Nook becoming another Betamax and obsolete before its time.

As David Poque, the personal tech columnist for The New York Times pointed out in this column, “when you buy an e-reader, you’re committing to that one company’s catalog of books forever, because their book formats are mutually incompatible.”

“You can’t read a Kindle book on a Nook, or a Nook book on a Sony Reader, or a Sony book on an iPad. Sure, you can read Nook and Kindle books on an iPad, but when you buy an actual Nook or Kindle, you’ve just married its company forever. If you ever want to change brands, you have to give up all the books you’ve ever bought.”

On the positive side, Barnes & Noble, the developer of the Nook has a pretty deep book shelf and buying a book on their device is almost too easy. I can see how this could get out of hand like my iTunes addiction. 

If I had it to do over I wouldn’t get the Nook Color tablet again though. I don’t need an e-reader that can also play movies and surf the web. I have an iPad for the heavy stuff like that. The lighter weight dedicated e-reader is the way to go. You can read a regular book anywhere, standing in a line, lying in a hammock, or sitting on the can. An e-reader should be no different and in all those situations lighter is certainly better. Trying standing while holding an iPad, and reading a book. You’ll soon see what I mean. An e-reader should be comfortable to hold in one hand.

If I was in the market for an e-reader today I’d get the new Nook SimpleTouch with GlowLight. It’s less than seven ounces and David Poque thinks there is “no better E Ink model than this new glowing Nook. For the first time in e-reader history, you can have spectacular, crisp pages to read in any light, from beach sunshine to sleeping-spouse darkness.”

As for the survivability question, yesterday Microsoft announced that it was investing $300 million in Barnes and Nobles tablet and e-reader business in return for a share of the e-reader action, That should help keep the Nook around for at least little longer anyway.