Thursday, December 30, 2010

"I Like Cultural Music"

The charger on Peanuts phone has been behaving badly so today we paid a visit to the Verizon store in Snowden Square. Surprisingly, we didn’t have to wait long before a guy named Chris waited on us. Chris did a quick check and determined that indeed, the charger was toast. I asked if we could buy a replacement. The short answer was yes but it turns out he didn’t have any in stock.

I wasn’t surprised, Peanut has my old phone, the one I hated. That phone is now almost two years old which is a long time in mobile phone technology. Chris did say he could order me a charger.

“How much is it?”

“I don’t know, let me see if I can find one first.”

Chris worked away at his computer and his landline phone until he located one in the Verizon kiosk at the BJ’s store in the same shopping center.

“They have two,” he told me.

“How much is it?”

“I don’t know, probably around twenty bucks.”

We crossed over to the BJ’s store. This time our Verizon guy was Nathaniel Houston. We ended up liking Nathaniel a lot better than Chris. He quickly retrieved one of the two aforementioned chargers.

“How much is it?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

I told Nathaniel that I thought it was odd that I was having so much trouble getting a price on this item. He explained that the actual price for me was dependent on whether I was eligible for any discounts. I wasn’t. The charger was thirty one bucks.

I just couldn’t see spending thirty one bucks for a charger for a phone I’ll likely replace in another year or so. I asked Nathaniel to work with me on this. He did and we got Peanut a new phone for thirteen bucks. Of course it includes a contract extension, but that wasn’t a big deal to me.

Peanut was very pleased with this turn of events. On the way back to the car she told me that she never liked that other phone either. This was the first phone she actually got to pick out. It’s metallic blue.

Driving home she scrolled through the available ringtones. She played one called Easter Island. It was sort of a reggae tune.

“I like cultural music,” she said.

Babs is Fed Up

Having failed to stop the Columbia Town Center redevelopment plans, Columbia’s self proclaimed first mother, Barbara Russell is now “fed up.” In this letter to the editor in The Columbia Flier she takes issue the members of the county council, particularly her Oakland Mills neighbor Dr. Calvin Ball who insinuate “that any citizens who don't totally support every single developer proposal concerning downtown Columbia "... have been against redevelopment from the beginning.”

Uh, I believe Barbara actually has been against redevelopment since the beginning. Of course she would counter that she isn’t against redevelopment, she’s just against this redevelopment…from the beginning.

The battle has taken it’s toll on Babs though. She is now throwing up her hands and advocating for a casino in Town Center.

“I am so enthusiastic about the possibility of a casino that I am thinking about starting a support group. I think a support group is needed because there are so many other Columbia groups supporting the environment and such and they probably would oppose a casino. I am thinking of calling the group "Columbia Today."

I suppose that having failed using scare tactics to swing public opinion, she’s now decided to try sarcasm.

Good luck with that Babs.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some Geek Talk

Instead of clearing up the mess all over my home office desk, I’m playing around with Google Analytics. One of the things that grabbed my attention tonight were the stats on visitors web browsers. The dominance of Internet Explorer as the browser of choice has ended, on this blog at least. Easily a year ago, IE commanded at 60% of the browser traffic to Tales of Two Cities. Today, though IE (34.56%) is still the number one browser in use, that dominance has been sliced in half.

The combined numbers of Firefox (29.17%) and Safari (20.44%) are actually higher.

The sleeper in this browser battle is Chrome (14.39%). Right now it’s the fourth most popular browser here. A year ago it was in the low single digits. It also happens to be my browser of choice.I believe it is a good deal faster than IE.

No doubt the debut this spring of Google laptops will only further bolster those Chrome numbers. In that computer the browser is the operating system. 

Desktop Phone Demise

I experienced one of those technology shift moments today. You know, the kind of feeling you get when you suddenly realize you've been using one technology less and another, newer technology more.

The relative quiet in our office this week perhaps contributed to my heightened awareness of things. The phones are pretty quiet and that is unusual in our office. The phone has been the main tool on my desk for as long as I have been working. It's my Swiss army knife. Sure, we use our computers a good deal but actual deals are made on the phone, talking to somebody.

That much is still true. What’s changed is the actual phone. Up until recently, when I was seated at my desk, the ubiquitous black office desktop phone has ruled the roost. The desktop phone was my default phone for work.

That is no longer the case. I’m not sure when the trend actually started but it probably goes back to arrival of phones that were truly mobile, un-tethered from cars. Before long my mobile phone found a space on my desk right next to my desk phone. The new technology had made its beachhead.

Little did I know that almost two years ago, The Gartner Group predicted that by 2011 “although most users will still also have a desktop phone, mobile phones will become more prevalent and replace desktop voice hardware to become the primary device." 

Today, the bulk of the calls I’ve received while sitting at my desk, have been on my Droid X. I also noticed that I make more outgoing calls with this phone because it’s easier.

It looks like The Gartner Group may be on to something here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Most Read Stories

I don’t think anyone would argue that Explore Howard is the most widely read HoCo loco news media. That’s what makes their list of the top ten stories of 2010 all the more interesting. In this story by Charles Schelle in the Columbia Flier we get a glimpse of what HoCo locos have really been paying attention to.

Is it Columbia Town Center redevelopment?

Not in the top ten.

Is it anything about Liz Bobo?

Not in the top ten.

Okay then, how about the HoCo elections in general; surely this was big news in 2010?

Nope, not in the top ten either.

It turns out that true crime stories is what HoCo locos really like. Number one is the story of a mother-son murder suicide in Hickory Ridge. Number two was the story of the assault of a female jogger in Jessup.

At least seven out eight of the top time were related to crime in HoCo. A notable exception was number eight, the story of the passing of Ken Hovet, longtime HoCo teacher and coach. 

The open question is whether the tenth most popular story actually qualifies as a crime story...yet

The End of Cash

Just before Christmas I stopped by the Apple Store in The Mall to buy a keyboard cover for CG’s Mac Book. Though the store was fairly busy ( everybody but me buying an iPad?) I was quickly helped by an Apple guy who led me right to the product, and then completed the transaction using his iPhone.

“Would you like a printed receipt or would you prefer I email it to you,” he asked.

I opted for the email.

By the time I walked back out of the store I received the email on my phone.

Unfortunately, the keyboard cover I bought home was black and the one CG preferred was pink. No problem. The next day I went back to the Apple store and the return was just as quick and seamless, and once again the entire transaction was handled using an iPhone.

The future of retailing is upon us.

In the December 10th issue of The Kiplinger Letter, the editors predict that by 2020, the “use of cash is likely to be a rarity.”

In our area I suspect that this will occur sooner rather than later.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The End of the Good Life

The Good Life Market in Ellicott City is closing. After six years of breathing new life in their little corner of Ellicott City, Randy and Steve are selling everything and closing up shop. Their closing will be felt in the tight knit retail community in the historic district. The Good Life Market was an anchor of the Second Sunday Markets and it’s closing casts a shadow over the viability of future Second Sundays.

I understand that these guys will be leaving Ellicott City altogether, reportedly heading to Portugal. I also understand that Monah, their Bernese mountain dog will remain in the old mill town with friends.

Edifice Complex

Ken Ulman wants the county to buy a big building in Columbia, continuing a county tradition of taking advantage of a buyers market for commercial real estate.  If Ken has his way the county would purchase 8930 Stanford Boulevard for about $26 million. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, this real estate move “is reminiscent of the county's 1992 fire-sale purchase of the Gateway office building in Columbia during the severe recession underway then, and that building, now in need of renovations, plays a role in this purchase, Ulman said. During the initial five years after the Ascend One purchase, Ulman said, the county could decide whether to sell or renovate the Gateway building.”

In 1992 the county purchased 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive for $3,720,000, a little less than $40 per square foot. The building was new, completed in 1990 but having never been occupied. The developer, Peter Issel lost it in the last big real estate meltdown. In today’s, market, even though it is need of renovation, the building could easily sell for $150.00 per square foot.

The 8930 Stanford Boulevard building was also built in the early 90’s, 1991 to be exact. It was originally constructed for a company that built simulators for nuclear power plants. The building had these large open spaces, two stories high, where they could set up and test simulators. After they vacated, AscendOne Corporation bought the property for $17 million in 1998 and proceeded to transform it into a more traditional office building. With the declining fortunes of the mortgage industry, AscendOne no longer requires a building of this size. They have only occupied half of the building for the at least the past four years. The county has leased the other half for the past two years.

The $26 million sale price works out to $163.00 per square foot. While that doesn't really qualify to be called “fire-sale” it is still a pretty good deal for taxpayers. The county would not be able to build a building for less than $200.00 per square foot.

It’s also a good building for government services. It has two large floors that provide maximum efficiency in laying out workspaces. It has loading docks. It is centrally located.

To sweeten the deal, Ken wants AscendOne to remain a tenant, for at least for a couple of years, paying a market rent to the county.

‘Under the deal Ulman wants, Ascend One would pay the county $1.1 million a year, instead of the county paying Ascend One $1.6 million in rent. That combination would more than make up for the annual purchase cost through the first few years, Ulman said.”

It’s a smart move.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wine Whine

My HoCo blogging brethren have been weighing in on the latest developments in the direct shipment of wine issue lately. 53 Beers on Tap wrote that the “Maryland Wineries Association LOVES this report, giving it a 9.5 out of 10.”

Sarah cautions that this issue is far from settled and that we should “stay tuned, I suppose, for further developments”

HoCo Rising sees a glass half full in the Comptroller Peter Franchots recently released report pointing out that “the consumer options have only been marginally expanded.”

I agree with Tom. The Comptroller appears reluctant to encourage any further marginalization of Maryland's three-tier system of liquor distribution. The Comptroller still doesn’t want us to be able to buy alcohol from an out of state retailer. According to this story by Scott Calvert in The Sun, “the report frowned on the idea of letting out-of-state retailers — as opposed to wineries — ship wine directly to consumers.”

At a news conference in Annapolis, Franchot said, "It's crucial to the passage of this bill that we not open up all of our wonderful Maryland retail establishments to just incredibly aggressive marketing by out-of-state retailers that are undercutting them on price. That is not a good component."

That is just so wrong. Why can’t our retailers use this as an opportunity to build a larger business for themselves?

The hero of Scott Calverts story is Mitch Pressman, owner of Chesapeake Wine Company. Mitch welcomes competition.

"While a lot of retailers are afraid of the competition, I welcome the competition," Pressman said. "More availability creates more interest in wine drinkers."

The 2010 Dookies

It’s that time of year once more, when we take stock of twelve months in the HoCo loco blogosphere with the annual Dookie awards. As the self anointed high priest of the Royal Academy of Dookies, it is my privilege to set the tone and get the proverbial ball rolling. As such this year, I am only offering Dookie nominations, I'll let the readers decide who is worthy enough to take home the feet of clay statuettes.

The nominations for Platinum Dookie are The Strobist and HoCoMoJo. The Strobist was recognized as one of the top blogs in the nation by Time magazine which is no small feat considering that there are well over 130 million blogs in existence. HoCoMoJo pulled off HoCo’s first ever flash mob which quickly became one of the top holiday news stories in the Baltimore area.

New HoCo bloggers are recognized by the Baby Dookie award. The nominees are Sarah Says and HoCo Politico. Sarah Says, which started off as Um Can I Just Say, has elbowed her way into the male dominated community blogging niche with 202 posts since April. Mild mannered River Hill dentist Trevor Greene graduated from guest blogger on HoCo Rising to his own political blog this fall.

And speaking of HoCo Rising, Tom gets a nomination for the Muck Rake Dookie for his excellent expose of Brian Meshkin, who still managed to weasel his way on to the school board despite Toms dismembering of his resume. HoCo Rising also gets a nomination for the Prolific Poster Dookie. He  has racked up 796 posts (and counting) in 2010. I can’t think of anyone who has posted more often.

The nominations for Caustic Commenters Dookie go to the opinion section of Explore Howard, HoCo Rising and Tales of Two Cities (yes I can nominate myself, I am the aforementioned high priest  after all). This Dookie is reserved for those blogs that actually have to delete comments once in awhile.

The Tums Dookie is set aside for those blogs that report on the HoCo loco food scene. My nominee is HowChow if only for his excellent reccommendation of those gas station tacos from the R&R Deli.

The Dookie Dearest nominees are JessieX and Robin Abello. Jessie continues to build the HoCo loco blogger community with her relentless organization of blogtail parties and, with Robin, she has created the top aggregator site for all HoCo loco blogs, hocoblogs.

There are of course many others deserving of mention and other Dookies to fit them. That’s where you the reader come in. Think up a Dookie, name a nominee (or winner) and share it. I promise only to delete those that cross the line from thoughtful sarcasm to low brow school yard taunts.

So load up those tomatoes and let ‘em rip

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Yuletide Stroll

Mama Wordbones and I took a walk along the Patapsco this afternoon. It was quiet and grey. Though we walked alongside the Old Main Line for over two hours, nary a train passed us by. We did encounter a few other intrepid souls but they were spaced out over a pretty long walk.

Before heading down the Grist Mill Trail we decided to head up river to check on the Simkins dam removal project. As we passed the old mill on the opposite bank we noticed this extraordinary graffiti mural. This was far from your run of the "mill"graffiti.

Further up the old river has taken on a new form or perhaps I should say its regained its form. With the dam removed, the water level has returned to its natural level. 

A Canine Christmas Tale

The gifts have been opened, a light snow is falling and the coffee is warm. It’s the perfect time to settle down and read a story. My favorite one from the morning papers is the story about Willis and his improbable year. In this story in The Washington Post, Courtland Milloy tells the story of a dog who disappeared just before Christmas last year and “went missing from her back yard in Portsmouth, Va., turning her holiday into a nightmare. She spent nearly a year intensely searching - posting "lost dog" fliers throughout the neighborhood, visiting shelters, contacting animal rescue organizations. She had all but given up hope of seeing him again.”

Willis had taken off on a 200 mile adventure before he wound up in a Calvert County animal shelter on death row.

“He had a fever, an injured eye, a respiratory infection and a skin allergy that made him itch so badly that he had scratched and chewed off patches of hair from his shoulders to his tail.”

This is Christmas though and so rest assured that this story does have a happy ending.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Whatcha Reading?

I’ve long accepted the fact that I’ll never to get to read all the books I want to. That still does not deter me from seeking others recommendations of what to read.

Right now I’m in the middle of “Where Men Win Glory” by Jon Krakauer. I haven’t breezed through it like my last book but it’s beginning to pick up. Krakauer, the chronicler of modern day adventurers, does a pretty good job with the Tilman story.  

My Merry Christmas to me from me is "Hero" by Micheal Korda. I heard him on Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan and ordered the book the next day. That’s my on deck book.

My best book story of the holiday season is the recommendation I received from the media specialist at Ellicott Mills Middle School. I told Kathryn Manley that Peanut is a big fan of dragons and in she in turn  recommended the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede. Peanut had just finished another book on Tuesday night, so I presented them as an early gift.

She polished off the first book this morning, hungry for book two. Ms. Manley was spot on!

So what are you reading/liking lately?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mistletoe Bliss

My buddy Bob from Pittsburgh shared this with me. It seemed an appropriate holiday greeting for wordbones….

Queen Anne’s Pretzels

“I was right there!”

I was talking to Rick Williamson this morning. We are in the middle of a lease negotiation but we usually begin our phone conversations with a little happy talk. He had just finished telling me that he had been shopping at the mall last night.

“Did you see the flash mob?”

He told me that he hadn’t really seen it as much as heard it. It went down on the fringes of his radar.

“I was in the Hallmark store around 7:30 PM. I saw all of these people outside but I thought it had something to do with that new pretzel thing they put out there.”

“Pretzel thing?”

“Yeah, you know, Queen Anne’s Pretzels.”

I mean I know those pretzels are good but did he really think they were that good?

The Bigger Picture

In HoCo, some loco activists are in up in righteous arms over a failed petition drive to overturn a zoning change as to whether a grocery store could be 55,000 square feet as opposed to 18,000 square feet. They see this as basically a violation of the constitutional right to vote. That is the legal argument from which they are hanging their continued appeals.

That’s nothing.

Just down the pike, in the District of Columbia, the new GOP leadership is about to strip the watered down voting rights of the Districts representatives. According to this story by Ben Pershing in The Washington Post, the new Republican House leadership has “decided to take away the right of delegates and resident commissioners to vote on some amendments.”

This was a pretty watered down right to vote to begin with. Their votes are limited to something called The Committee of the Whole. This gives the District representative some say on tax and spending bills but even here the vote is largely “symbolic because it does not count if it is the deciding one on an issue.”

Of course the District of Columbia doesn’t have real representation in Congress because it’s not a state. It’s a one of a kind. It is also home to 601,723 people, more people than Wyoming. The cowboys in Wyoming get two senators and one congressman who all have real votes.

On the other hand, it is smaller in land area than Rhode Island, twenty eight times smaller. It’s airports are in other states. It has more parks and libraries than any US city of comparable size.

I’m not sure what the answer is for the District and their disenfranchised voting rights. I do know that taking away what is largely a symbolic vote for political reasons just smacks me as wrong. It’s sort of like bullying with the right to vote. What end is served by this?

We don’t like your kind?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

All Flash and No Mob

I learned another valuable lesson tonight. If you truly want to experience a flash mob you need to be part of the flash mob. Showing up just to catch the show isn’t good enough. This evening I arrived at The Mall well before the appointed hour only to discover it had gone off a half hour early. If I had gone to the rehearsal I would have known this. Unfortunately we had our company holiday party up in Towson this afternoon and I didn’t get back to HoCo until about six and then I had to first go home and feed my daughter. It was close to eight by the time I arrived at flash mob ground zero.

There wasn't a dancer in sight. From a quick check on facebook with my phone I saw that Ilana Bittner had already posted the video below on You Tube.

Lesson two; flash mobs have their own timetables.

In any event, the reports I received seem to indicate that the holiday flash mob was a success. Walking around the mall I picked up a good deal of buzz about it, most notably from the younger mall patrons.

I’m really sorry I missed it. Lesson learned.

I suspect that this video is only the first taste of what may be coming from HoCoMoJo, the folks who helped pull this together with Pam Land. One easily can picture Dave at the editing table right now. Stay tuned.

And to all those who did participate, nicely done!

Head in the Sand

The counties are going to be picking up some of the costs for teacher pensions from the state. That much appears inevitable to anyone who is paying attention. The only question remaining is how much the county will be forced to pick up and whether the local funding will be allocated directly to the school board. Instead of wading into the debate over how we deal with this new budget reality, the head of the HoCo state delegation, Guy Guzzone, seems to prefer to stick his head in the sand. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, Guy told the reporter “he's not willing right now to even think about the best or worst ways of shifting teacher pension costs, because he doesn't feel they should be shifted.”

I don’t think I should take out the garbage every night but I’m well aware of the consequences for failing to do so.

Teacher pensions are a national problem that many states are grappling with. They were even discussed on 60 Minutes last week in a story on state budget woes yet, over in Savage, Guy Guzzone is in a state of denial.

"I'm not even going there," he said.”

I suggest he do so soon. This garbage is beginning to smell. Time to show a little leadership.

Martek Acquired

Homegrown biotech success story, Martek Biosciences Corp, has been acquired by Royal DSM for a billion bucks. According to this story by Gus G. Sentementes in The Sun, yesterday “Martek was acquired for $1.1 billion by Dutch company Royal DSM, the world's largest producer of vitamins.”

“Martek beat the odds against life science companies, many of which spend years as money-losing research operations. It can take years to develop a marketable product and lure a larger, deep-pocketed buyer.

Martek has been headquartered in the Columbia Business Center on Dobbin Road since the company started over twenty years ago. They have steadily expanded their presence in the business park with the most recent expansion taking place now.

“DSM officials said no significant job cuts are planned at Martek, which has 600 employees, one-third of whom are in Columbia. Both corporate boards approved the deal, which is expected to close in the first half of next year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Old Dogs and Holidays

I hung Mars stocking the other day. Today I was at Petsmart because I needed to restock her dog food. As I passed through the aisles I thought about her stocking. I considered what she'd enjoy.  In her prime, any sort of ball would have done. Any ball, lacrosse, soccer, golf or tennis would elicit pure dog joy in her. 

She doesn’t care much about balls now. She’s thirteen and a half in people years, almost 90 in dog years. She has degenerative arthritis which she compensates for by leaning a little to the right. In her prime she once ran ten miles with me. Neither of us could do that now.

Her life these days consists of getting up about four times a day, going out and walking from the back of the house to the front of the house. This is the extent of her cardio activity, except for that occasional moment when those old animal instincts get aroused. The other day she spied a young doe in the front yard. Forgetting for that brief moment her infirmities, she took off after it. Of course this was hardly a match and the deer soon disappeared into the night. Her return trip to the house was noticeably slower, leaning just a tad more to the right.

She also has enjoyed the occasional soft squeaky toy. She will work on one of these until she gets the squeaker thingy out. Once squeaky is silenced she loses interest but it does seem to make her happy, if only for that brief time. She can also play with this while lying on her bed.

Though her activity level is severely diminished she is otherwise fine. She lives in the kitchen on an LL Bean dog bed that’s right by a register. From her bed she can stare out at the backyard where, aside from the neighborhood black cat that sometimes taunts her by waltzing across the patio, it is otherwise peaceful. She still enjoys food and the thump thump of her tail against the floor is often the first sound I hear when I come downstairs in the morning.

A few months ago I wondered if she’d make it to Christmas. I should never had sold her short. 

So, along with her dog food this morning, I picked up a bag of healthy treats and a penguin squeaky toy for her stocking.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ruminations on Mall Parking

Many of us in HoCo have a sort of love hate relationship with our mall. We love that is close by but we complain because there isn’t a particular store we like. We love that is enclosed from the cold but we bemoan that it is a closed environment, walled off from the streets surrounding it.

And we love our poinsettia tree but we hate the fact every year, around this time, everyone within a three county area converges on our mall, bringing with them real traffic in our Town Center, and taking up all of our parking.

I’ve visited the mall three times in the last four days and each time was a unique parking experience. Any other time of the year, parking at the mall is a rote exercise. I automatically gravitate to certain areas that experience tells me will, generally, have empty spaces and be less than a city block from a mall entry point. This time of the year those spaces are taken. I don’t know what happens to the actual people but once they park their cars in these spots those spaces then remain occupied until the second week in January.

On Friday, I was doing the slow troll up and down the Nordstrom lot. Others were trolling around me, all of us in search of the same elusive prey. I hate this game.

 I ended up creating my own space, parked on the outside of a parking divider. Though it doesn’t say specifically that I couldn’t park there my action does create a narrowing of the passage at the tip of the parking aisle. I wasn’t the only one doing this either. In fact I considered myself lucky in scoring one of these slots.

On Sunday I opted to go for the Maple garage by Lord & Taylor. Katie Essing, the mall manager, had suggested on our podcast that this garage is one of the more underutilized during the holiday season.

The only problem with parking garages is that you fall mercy to the driver in front of you and the one in front of him and so on. Inevitably one driver stops to wait for someone with twenty bags, a stroller and two kids, to load up their car, adjust the mirrors, make sure all the kids are buckled in, and check her email, before finally backing out of the space which she will do using excessive caution. By this time the line of cars behind the stopped driver is backed up to 29.

It had to endure three of these scenarios before reaching the third level of the deck and an available space.

Today, I again approached Maple garage, coming in from the north on Little Patuxent Parkway. This time I decided I go just past the traffic light at Sterrett Place and slide in the little ramp on the right which would take me right up to garage entry. Apparently some traffic engineer has decided that ramp is not a good idea during the holiday rush and now it is blocked off. It was too late to turn around so I ended up going all the way down to entrance by Union Jacks before circling back to Maple.

I passed the third level and continued all to the top of the Maple garage, back out into the sunshine where I found a bounty of parking and a little used entry into the third floor of Macy’s.

I don’t intend to return until Wednesday night.

Crunch Time

I’m not ready for Christmas this year. Some years I do a good job getting the decorations up, sending cards, buying gifts and making plans well ahead of time, other years, not so much. This is definitely one of those other years.

This of course results in a heightened level of anxiety as I scramble to fill those holes in the shopping list and fill out Christmas cards while on conference calls. It also means that I’m one of those people endlessly circling the various shopping center parking lots in search of the elusive space only to be rewarded for efforts by long lines for everything.


Still, I try and maintain a holiday appropriate attitude. This was greatly helped by the Ravens victory against the reigning Super Bowl champs yesterday. Another fourth quarter loss would have put me in dour mood today. I partially credit my new game watching strategy. After staying up late for the Atlanta and Pittsburgh games only to be let down in the final minutes with a Ravens loss I realized I was only compounding my holiday stress levels. When they played Houston a week ago on Monday night and Houston put the game into overtime in the last minutes of regulation time, I turned off the television.

“Aren’t you going to watch the rest of the game,” Mama Wordbones asked.

“No, I’m not going to watch. If I stay up late again only to be frustrated I’ll just be mad at myself for staying up. If I don’t watch, maybe they’ll win.”

Yesterday, after blowing a big early game lead, New Orleans tied things up in the fourth quarter. I turned off the TV and left to run some errands.

They won again. I not generally superstitious but I think I might be on to something here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

HoCo Hoods by the Numbers

By now most people know that HoCo is the wealthiest county in the wealthiest state but what you may not know is how your own HoCo neighborhood stacks up against the county in general. For instance, the median household income in HoCo is $101,003 but in Wilde Lake and Town Center it’s $71,552. Asians make up 11% of the county population but they make up 23% of the population in Clarksville. 44% of the adult population in Clarksville has a master’s degree or higher while in Savage it’s only 15%.

How do I know this stuff?

I went to this cool inactive map on The New York Times website.

The map breaks down the latest US Census data by census tract. These don’t always follow recognized neighborhood boundaries but they come pretty close.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Mayor of the Mall

The Mall in Columbia is a community of its own in the center of Town Center. It encompasses almost a million and a half square feet of retail space making it the largest commercial property in HoCo. It has 202 stores and 7,200 parking spaces, and its own private police force. Since opening in 1971 it has undergone four renovations in 1981, 1999, 2001 and 2003.

Overseeing the daily operations of this retail behemoth is the diminutive Katie Essing. In the world of the Mall, Katie is the mayor and she appears to relish the role. The holiday season is high season for retailers and so it seemed appropriate for Paul and I to spend some time getting to know the malls mayor and get her take on the HoCo loco retail pulse.

We also spent a little time with Councilperson Courtney Watson getting her take on the ramifications of Greg Hamms recent departure from the Howard Hughes Corporation.

As we were wrapping up the show, David Thalheimer stopped by to say hello. David was a former candidate for HoCo School Board. Since we had already wrapped up the show we didn’t get a chance to chat with David on the air but it was still nice to finally talk to him one on one, outside of the political arena. We joked that maybe we should try to get Allen Dyer on one of our future shows. That could be interesting...stay tuned.

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

Scene This Week In…

The early season snows are the best snows. They herald the arrival of indoor time and warm fires. In December, winter is still a novelty and winter scenes like this one of Bonnie Branch in Ellicott City help set the mood.

In another month we’ll be sick of it.

I can usually sustain a modicum of winter enthusiasm through February 6th when the Super Bowl is played. After that the shortest month of the year always seems like the longest month of the year.

In Columbia it was another sign of change that captured my camera lens. Yesterday a new sign appeared in front of the former Rouse Company headquarters building in Town Center. For the third time since it opened in 1974, the Frank Gehry building has a new name out front, The Howard Hughes Corporation.

Of course there was more than a sign change at  HHC. The new company dismissed Greg Hamm who had been the public face of the companies’ efforts to transform the Town Center area over the next thirty years. Greg immersed himself in the HoCo community to craft a plan that is economically feasible and that holds true to the vision and promise of Columbia’s original planners.

This also marks a vindication of sorts for those who have supported the plan. Alan Klein, the plans most visible and vocal critic, ominously warned that the plan was unenforceable. He was Columbia’s own Chicken Little. Yet now, with a new company already replacing the original petitioner, General Growth Properties, the plan is moving forward as anticipated. While HHC has removed Greg Hamm, they kept his entire staff in Columbia who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes for the past five years on this project and will continue to do so.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow Time for Goofing Off

It never seems to fail. You decide to take a day off so you can get all these things done and before you know it the day is done and there are still items on your list that you never got to.


After putting up a short post this morning I was about to head out to the grocery store when Paul Skalny called. Paul and I are planning on doing a podcast on New Years Eve and we had hoped to have HoCo mega church preacher, David Anderson as our guest. We want to focus the show around loco New Years resolutions and we thought it might be fun to have some spiritual perspective. Unfortunately we learned today that the good reverend will be out of town and unable to join us. This led to a lengthly discussion about who we could get instead. Names were bought up, bantered about and discarded. We finally reached consensus on an old Wilde Lake High classmate of mine. I called him on my way to the store. I was now about an hour behind.

I don’t know what the situation was later in the day but this morning the Giant in Lyndwood was relatively calm. The store manager was directing one of his staff to bring more snow shovels out of the back. Shovels were selling like hotcakes today.

By the time I left the store the road situation had begun to get dicey. It wasn’t so much the snow as it was the ice. The roads were pretty slick and though I saw a few cars doing the old slip side, I didn’t see any accidents. Back home I unloaded the groceries. Making chili was on my priority list today and now at least I had the necessary ingredients.

Next stop was the Wine Bin in Ellicott City. This is no time to run low on wine. In fact Dave Carney says that his business does very well when these winter storms hit. People stop in on their way home from work before hunkering down for the night. This afternoon however, there was only one other customer in the store and it wasn’t long before Dave was uncorking a bottle of wine for us to taste. We toasted the holidays. I love this store!

Leaving the Wine Bin I crossed the street to Classic Interiors. During Midnight Madness I noticed Mama Wordbones taking special interest in an item there and so now Santa was circling back to pick it up. I ended up speaking with the store owner, Carolyn Gaughan. It turns out that Carolyn has made quite a retail journey in HoCo. Her original location was in The Mall some thirty years ago. When then mall anchor store Woodward & Lothrop closed up shop, her business took a hit and so when it came time to renew her lease she opted instead to move to Savage Mill. After several years in the mill, she moved her store to a new space in Ellicott City behind Su Casa two years ago. It’s a very unique space that seems to fit her wares well.

She said that business is good, much better than last year.

Nobody had a good year last year.

Back home I realized that I needed to clear the driveway before I did anything else. That took me right up to 4:00 PM when I needed to have a phone conference with a developer about a clients lease renewal. I didn’t get started on my chili until five o’clock.

Now, with the pot of chili slowly simmering away on the stove, I’ve poured a glass a wine and pulled out the laptop. All in all I'd have to say it was a good day; I may not have accomplished everything I set out to do but right now it seems that it was just enough.

Preemptive Snow Day

For the past week I’ve been meaning to take a day off of work to get caught up on Christmas stuff. Inevitably, the day I pick ends up being the only day that some meeting or another can be held and I end up going to work.

Last night, as I looked at my calendar, I realized that today was probably my best shot so I took it. I sent an email to my colleagues telling them I was taking a preemptive snow day.

Unfortunately, since I had to get Peanut to school this morning, I still couldn't sleep in.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More Fun with Numbers

In his daily links update this morning, HoCo Rising shared a couple of statistical nuggets from this story by Yeganeh June Torbati in The Sun, particularly the fact that HoCo is the wealthiest county in the wealthiest state in the country "with 57.2 percent of residents having completed a bachelor's degree.”

We also top the charts in the time spent getting to and from work.

“Marylanders continued to have some of the nation's longest driving commutes — about 31 minutes on average, virtually tied with New Yorkers.”

In this story by Carol Morello and Dan Keating in The Washington Post we also learn that in Northern Virginias Loudon County, “more than a third of the households are married couples with children, making it one of the country's bastions of the traditional family.”

On the other hand, the Baltimore area, less than one in ten households are made up of the traditional nuclear family.

In The Daily Record, Michaelle Bond reports that “Howard County schools had the state’s lowest poverty rate at 4.6 percent.”

That still concerns Patti Caplan.

“Just because the Howard County School Public School System has the lowest poverty rate — and is located in the county with the highest median household income — doesn’t mean it doesn’t worry about the relationship between poverty and school achievement, said spokeswoman Patti Caplan.”

“People think, ‘Well, that can’t be a problem in Howard County,’ but it is,” Caplan said. “And we want to raise awareness of the issue.”

Then again perhaps it’s best to consider what Professor Aaron Levenstien said about statistics:

“Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

White Christmas 2010

Last year on December 19th, we got hit with the first blizzard of the season which gave us the first white Christmas in recent memory. It could easily happen again this year.

According to Mr. Foot and fearless forecasters another storm could “come right on the exact day 365 days ago when on December 19, 2010 Baltimore received its’ first Kahuna of the winter.”

“The time frame for this storm, if impacted the area, would be Saturday evening through Sunday evening. Right now the team continues to analyze all the models, which shows both extremes.  One extreme shows the potential for a repeat of last December’s storm.  Others show an out-to-sea situation which would leave us with no snow.  We are fairly confident all precipitation with this storm will be snow, so the main thing to watch is how close to the coast this storm comes.”


Still, a white Christmas is always a treat. The first big storm of the season is a time for hunkering down with a warm fire and a well stocked pantry. It was also the Blizzard of 09 that acquainted me with fellow HoCo blogger Sarah when she shared this piece of blizzard reporting from Owen Brown.

The first big storm is a novelty, its those late season storms that break your back!

Meanwhile, Over in Eden Prairie

Every once in awhile I’ll check-in on the No.1 Best Place to Live in America, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, to get a feeling for what’s new in the countrys top spot. Not surprisingly, the big news this week is the massive blizzard that also took down the Metrodome in nearby Minneapolis. In Eden Prairie, they’re calling this storm “Snowzilla.”

Given that Minnesotans are no strangers to severe winter weather, for them to actually name a storm you know it had to be bad.

Cold Civility

“Morning Lloyd!”

“Morning Dennis, how’re you?”


I had stopped into the Lakeside Coffee Shop in Town Center this morning to grab a hot cup of coffee. I ran into Lloyd Knowles as I was bundling up in preparation for reentering the cold world. With the mecury struggling to get above thirty degrees and the wind whipping around every corner, “cold” seems to appropriately describe how I am.

 I figured if I saw Lloyd then Liz couldn’t be far behind. As if on cue, we passed each other in the building lobby.

“Morning Liz.”

“Morning Dennis, how’re you?”


That was the extent of our conversation, civil and short. Some people I know are surprised that I would say anything to Lloyd and Liz or they to me. I don’t know why. Sure, I view them as the enemy camp, politically speaking and I never pass up an opportunity to skewer Liz in this blog, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be civil when we pass in public.

This is the land of civility after all, even when it’s cold outside.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Other Home Town

Though I often refer to Columbia as my home town, it didn’t even exist when I was born. Fifty plus years ago HoCo was still very much a rural county where the main HoCo highway was Route 40 West. Back then my family lived just across the HoCo border in Catonsville, or more specifically “Old Catonsville.”

Old Catonsville was this week’s community in the “Where We Live” feature in The Washington Post. In this story by Laura Barnhardt Cech she identifies Old Catonsville as “an enclave with about 350 houses in the center of the unincorporated town.”

We lived on Payson Avenue between Sanford and Newburg and we could walk or ride our bikes everywhere. We walked to school, the Post Office, the library and the pool. The fireworks at Catonsville High School were close enough that we could join neighbors in a back yard to watch them. We could also walk up two blocks to catch the parade which has been held every summer since 1947.

“Weeks before the holiday, residents start putting out their lawn chairs to reserve spots on Frederick Road to watch the parade of marching bands, floats, cars and local celebrities. (Every year, at least one joker puts out a lawn chair on New Year's Day.)”

Christmas Shopping 2010

A little instructional video from the ladies...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nixon and the Irish

In the latest release of tapes from Richard Nixons days in the White House, we learn how he felt about the Irish. In this story in The Washington Post Rob Stein writes that in a conversation with Charles Colson, Special Counsel to the President, Nixon says “…the Irish can't drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I've known gets mean when he drinks. It's sort of a natural trait. Particularly the real Irish,"

The latest batch of tapes also reveals how Nixon felt about Jews, blacks and Italians.

At least we’re in good company.

Toys R Us to TJ Maxx

The recently vacated Toys R Us store in the Columbia Crossing shopping center may soon house a TJ Maxx store. The women’s fashion retailer is reportedly in the final stages of negotiations to backfill the 30,000 square foot space. Toys R Us, now combined with Babies R Us, moved across the street to Columbia Crossing II this fall into the former Expo Design Center.

Combined with other recently retail moves it would be safe to say that  retail space in Columbia continues to be a hot commodity.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Who Are These Guys?

The three guys who flew into HoCo last week and summarily dismissed Greg Hamm appear to be working for two separate companies. Daniel Weinreb, the CEO of the Howard Hughes Corporation is also listed as the CEO of TPMC Realty Corporation. Grant Hertlitz, the president of Howard Hughes is also the president of TPMC. The Director of Development for Howard Hughes, Chris Curry, is also the Chief Development Officer for TPMC.

So who is TPMC?

They appear to primarily be office developers, though they have developed a couple of retail and residential projects. Judging by their website, the closest thing they’ve come to the Columbia Town Center redevelopment is the Main Place project in Frisco, Texas and that project seems to be stalled. It isn’t even listed as a “significant” development project on the Frisco Economic Development Corporation website.

Should we be concerned?

The sudden dismissal of Greg Hamm is a bit troubling. Granted, if the guy had been caught stealing or engaging in inappropriate behavior with farm animals, a sudden dismissal would be perfectly understandable. I don’t believe that either of these was the case with Greg.

It seems to me that a wiser course would have been to transition Greg out gradually, after his replacement was already on board. His five years of work getting the Town Center redevelopment legislation passed would seem invaluable to anyone who wanted to come in and kick things“ into high gear” as Weinreb was quoted as saying in this story by Larry Carson in The Sun. This action just appears reckless and not well thought out. That’s not exactly a good way to endear yourself to the people in HoCo who have supported the companies efforts through these turbulent times.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Blogging Browser Blues

Fellow HoCo blogger Sarah Says first alerted me to this issue last night in message on facebook. She shared an anonymous message that was posted on her blog.

Please be a dear and let the two stooges at ToTCities and HOCOrising know that if they've seen a contraction in comments this week it's because of something technical. Some ppl are unable to post. Which may be a blessing in some cases. Nonetheless, they may want to know. 

First off, Sarah is a dear. I have had the pleasure to meet with her and I like her. If you haven’t checked out her blog, please do so, particularly if you have an interest in transportation issues.


I was completely unaware that there was any problem with commenting on my blog. Some posts compel people to comment, others not so much. It’s all good. So when there is a drop off in commenting, I don’t immediately take notice.

Until today that is. That’s when I attempted to post a comment on HoCo Rising about my big scoop. It wouldn’t take. I noticed that I was using Internet Explorer as my browser. I usually use the Google Chrome browser so I switched back to Chrome and the comment problem disappeared.

I am not really that technically astute so I have no earthly idea why Disqus commenting is working on Chrome but not with IE but there it is. What do you expect from a stooge after all?

In any event, I hope this gets resolved sooner rather than later. In the meantime  if anyone ever has any technical issue such as this, feel free to drop me an email at I may reach out to a friend to get some help in fixing the problem.

And So It Begins

It’s snowing. I realize that this was inevitable but still I was hoping it would hold off for awhile.

I wonder if they’ll close the schools early today.

On the other hand, I did tell Peanut that we’d go get our tree after school so at least this little storm provides a Norman Rockwellian backdrop for that.

Federal Lawsuit Update 11

One thing I’ll say for Paul Kendall and his quixotic judicial attempt to revive the Turf Valley referendum effort, he’s tenacious. After being denied by the courts at every turn, he recently took a road trip to Richmond for his last stand in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

According to this story by Kellie Woodhouse in The Columbia Flier, the plaintiffs and their attorney Susan Gray, are attempting to frame the rejection of their petition by the HoCo Board of Elections as a denial of constitutional rights.

“In her oral arguments, Gray equated the right to referendum with the right to vote. She said the current restrictions are “totally and unduly burdensome” and have “the result of circumventing the right of referendum.”

The HoCo Board of Elections and their attorney, Gerry Richmond, contends that the real issue is that Kendall, and his buddy Marc Norman, simply failed to follow directions.

"Richmond and his co-counsel, Kathleen Wherthey, thought differently. They said the issue was Kendall’s failure to follow directions.

“This was a signature case, I don’t think it’s a referendum case or a right-to-vote case,” he said.

According to Wherthey, the referendum literature asks a signee to print his or her full name.

“It’s strange to me that half of the people who signed this petition failed to do so,” she said.”

Despite attempts to try and frame this failed petition drive as an assault against citizens rights what this is really about is keeping non union grocers (Harris Teeter and Wegmans) from entering or expanding in HoCo. The food workers union employees (the majority of whom do even live in HoCo) collected over 90% of the petition signatures. The same union has continued to support the ongoing legal battles.

A decision from the Court of Appeals is expected in January.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Hamm Leaves Howard Hughes

Greg Hamm, the General Manager of Columbia for the Howard Hughes Corporation, has left the company as of today.  Greg successfully ushered the Columbia Town Center redevelopment legislation through the county council this past year and kept the Columbia development program on track through the bankruptcy of General Growth Properties. GGP spun off the master planned communities into the newly formed Howard Hughes Corporation this fall.

Greg did a great service to HoCo and Columbia and he will be missed.