Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ellicott City Gets another Accolade

Ellicott City has been recognized as the number one place in the country to raise a family by Kiplinger. The Kiplinger editors said the county seat was “exemplary of a ring of great communities surrounding Baltimore that combine family-friendly living with proximity to big-name employers.”

As I’ve said before, these types of accolades should always be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, it is still nice when others acknowledge what those of us who live here have long known.

This time Eden Prairie didn't make the cut.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Bobo Klein Beat Down

In their endorsement of Mary Kay Sigaty in the District 4 council race, the umbrella group, African Americans in Howard County had some harsh words for Liz Bobo and Alan Klein. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in the Columbia Flier “the group did not agree with some of Sigaty’s positions when she was running four years ago, but it endorsed her now because it believes she has been a effective council member over the past four years.”

Then they went to town on Liz. Though she got the endorsement it came with a pretty strong left hook.

“It seems that Liz Bobo has become part of a growing local segment of ‘reactionary anti-progressive liberals,’ all having to do with opposition to affordable housing,” according to a statement from the African Americans in Howard County. “And this endorsement is being given in the hope that Liz Bobo begin to mend her ways understanding that it’s far past time for ‘lip service’ to African Americans and working class families to enjoy Jim Rouse’s dream of racial and economic justice throughout Columbia and Howard County — especially when it comes to economic development and housing.”

That’s akin to endorsing someone while holding your nose.

Alan Klein was criticized both for his position on Columbia Town Center and his lack of a rational plan for affordable housing.

“Turner said Klein “has just not been articulating issues that would support affordable housing.” While Klein has mentioned that he would like to see affordable housing in downtown Columbia, he has not presented a “rational plan” for affordable housing there, Turner said, or in any other area of Howard County.”

And that’s supposedly one of his major issues.

It seems as if Alan is starting to become a liability for Liz. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Fabricating Jobs

A commenter named Yeahright in this post accused me of fabricating “ever forthcoming jobs.”


Today, Cybercore Technologies, a company based in Elkridge, announced that they have fifty job openings in their newly expanded facility in the Meadowridge Business Park.

But wait there’s more.

Hanover based Ciphent, Inc, is looking to add 40 people in the cyber security field this year. Proteus Technologies in Annapolis Junction is looking for 25 software engineers, preferably with those with clearances. This is just a sampling from the list of local companies with job openings that was compiled by Carolyn M. Proctor in the Baltimore Business Journal this week.

That list doesn’t include the 2,900 construction jobs that will be created in Crofton over the next four years.

Fabricating ever forthcoming jobs?

Yeah right.

Scene This Week In…

The almost year long dredging project at Lake Elkhorn in Columbia has transformed a sylvan setting into more of a green slime setting. The parts of the lake that aren’t being choked by vegetation are now covered in a green film. Close to shore this green slime is also sprinkled with trash and the occasional soccer ball.

Some areas have a rather pungent odor as well.

Last week we learned that this project is also $1.2 million over budget.

Still, there are signs that the lakes eco system is coping with this extreme makeover. Yesterday we spotted turtles sunning themselves on the yellow skimmers crisscrossing the lake and the ducks and the herons were out in full force. We also spotted two young deer enjoying an afternoon drink in the wetlands by the power lines.
With school back in session today the retailers are experiencing a sort of return to campus as well. When Peanut and I hit the Target at Long Gate Shopping Center in Ellicott City last week I noticed that the lighted “R” in the Target sign was out. It read TA GET.

That’s appropriate. There is a bunch of stuff “ta get” for our returning students. Peanut now seems to grow out of shoes every three months and fine stores everywhere are bustling with parents their ubiquitous school supplies list.

Don’t forget the box of tissues for the homeroom!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Other Terminal

Mama Wordbones and CG arrived back at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport Thursday night after a seven day jaunt through London and Paris. I was there to greet them in the International terminal.

The International terminal is not like the other terminal. It is the lesser terminal in many ways. There are no shops. It’s big. It’s empty. The lower level arrivals area is even bleaker, more closely resembling a bus terminal.

Everyone who is there to greet someone must wait until the newly arrived spend a little quality time with the US Customs Service and emerge through the translucent glass doors. It doesn’t happen all at once. Every time the doors part all eyes turn to the opening to see if this time it will be their people, most of the time you just sit and wait.

The only distraction in this otherwise drab environment is the Freedom Shrine, copies of historic documents protected by a Plexiglas shield.

An app saved me. True, I have been critical of apps since becoming a smart phoney, but Thursday night, while hunched over on a backless metal bench in the International terminal, I began to see the possibilities. I watched a series of ten minute NFL highlight videos. I was happy.

Last week Verizon sent me a notice on my phone that I could download the NFL app for free. I didn’t get an opportunity to check it out until that Thursday night in the bleakest part of BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.

I was just finishing my fourth video about Chase Daniel, the third string quarterback for the Saints who had a break out game against the Texans, when Mama Wordbones and CG strolled through the open doors.


In Today’s WAPO Magazine

The current issue of The Washington Post Magazine features a cover story by Annys Shin about Elkridge resident Frank Cho. Frank is a comic illustrator that is described by Alex Alonso, an editor at Marvel Comics as “a once-in-a generation artist."

"He was put on this Earth to draw beautiful women," Alonso says. Alonso places Cho in a long line of illustrators associated with "good girl art" -- im-ages of attractive women mostly in skimpy attire -- that include Frazetta and Wally Wood, whose work remains popular and coveted by collectors.

"His women have a light and intelligence behind their eyes you rarely see," Alonso says. "Others can draw a curvaceous body. What he does is different. It's the difference between a classic beauty and a Playboy centerfold."

In Gene Weingarten’s column in the same issue, Gene lists things that are now worth less than buck. Item number 12 takes aim at one of my favorite targets, the phone book.

“It still arrives at one's house, thudding onto one's driveway unordered, unwanted, unneeded -- an obsolete compendium of land lines in a cellular world, a nine-pound slab of irrelevance that the average household will need to consult less frequently in their lives than they will, say, a cat dentist. For some reason, two days after this item arrives, you get an automated phone message making sure it was delivered promptly. To my knowledge, no one has ever not hung up on this call.”

Saturday, August 28, 2010

No Excuse

The last ditch attempt by Taxpayers Against Giveaways to put the Columbia Town Center redevelopment legislation before the voters this fall died with barely a whimper Friday. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, “Judge Richard S. Bernhardt granted a county motion to dismiss the case, on grounds that the group Taxpayers Against Giveaways never submitted a required memorandum explaining its legal arguments despite months of notice.”

“Kevin M. Joyce, the attorney representing the group, conceded, "There's no excuse," but said confusion caused the gaffe.”

Another fine showing from what has now become known as the gang who can’t shoot straight.

Fox News

Our guest on the podcast this week was county councilman, Greg Fox, a truly citizen politician. His job as county councilperson for District 5 is a part time job. His real job is with Constellation Energy Projects & Services Group as a Director of Business Development. If he left office tomorrow one gets the sense that he would simply pick up where he left off before becoming an elected official.

Though he’s the lone Republican on the council he’s actually found ways to be a fairly effective councilman. Instead of standing alone on the outside railing at the majority he’s found a way inside to work with his Democratic council colleagues. In a way, he views the real loco politico battle as being between the council and the executive, particularly in matters concerning the county budget.

Coincidentally, our open mic guest this week was one of the longest serving elected Republicans in HoCo, Kay Hartleb, the HoCo Register of Wills. In yet another example of how small our county is, Kay’s daughter Holly went to high school and college with my sister Maura, better known as Mumball. It was a message through facebook from my sister in Florida that originally put Holly in touch with us to get her mom on the show. As they say, it’s a small world but I wouldn’t want to paint it.

You can listen to the 22nd episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Vaillancourt Concerned about Students in Libraries

Every so often I drop in on Allen Dyers Yahoo discussion group, howardpubliced, to check out the latest rant. The discussion group is primarily focused on education issues in HoCo.

Today I ran across a posting by school board candidate and Dyer disciple, Cindy Vaillancourt about students “hanging out” in the HoCo public libraries.

“We have to do better. There are so many exciting things we could be doing to engage kids all year round in learning and enrichment activities--- and it wouldn't have to cost a fortune. Of well, maybe next summer.”

That’s a great idea Cindy. Maybe we could encourage them to go to the mall instead.

Alan Klein County Council

I killed a little time last night playing with Google. Google told me that one the most frequent search terms for Tales of Two Cities is “tale of two cities blog,” and while that is fairly unremarkable, the number two keywords were “cynthia coyle maggie brown.”


When I wrote this post about the growing influence of the loco blogs in loco politics I found out that if you type the words “Liz Bobo” into a Google search, the sixth item in the results list is a blog post I wrote over two years ago. That made me wonder what would happen if I did the same for Alan Klein.

Alan Klein is a much more common name than Liz Bobo so I added “County Council” to the end of his name in the search bar. Despite the perception by some that I spend an inordinate amount of posts on Alan, none of the top ten search results were for this blog. This time the number six slot was claimed by HoCo Rising with this post.

Alan has just too many things going on. His absence at the League of Women’s Voters candidate’s forum was the subject of the second, and eleventh search result. A post by 53 Beers on Tap about Alan was number 13 and the fourteenth search result was also about the missed forum.

Tales of Two Cities was all the down at number 35 in the Google Search for “Alan Klein County Council.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Visit to the Inner Sanctum

Last night I attended a State and Local Partner reception at the National Security Agency campus at Fort Meade. The invitation suggested that I arrive at 4:30 PM for the 5:00 PM reception “to pass through the check-in process.”

I needed every bit of those thirty minutes. Guests, who were required to register well in advance and provide some cursory security information, had to pass through three checkpoints with armed guards before parking their cars. Once inside the OPS 2B building we were escorted in groups the short distance to the reception room while even more guards stood at each corridor along the way to keep anyone from wandering off.

The event was put on by the Fort Meade Alliance, a “non-profit independent community membership organization created to promote and support Fort George G. Meade, its 80+ government agencies and organizations and surrounding areas as an economic asset, to promote the well being of the region with programs that support FGGM priorities, and serve as a resource to help facilitate connections that make a difference.”

The event was limited to 400 attendees and was completely sold out within six hours. There were at least another 200 people on the waiting list.

The meeting was largely a networking opportunity for the business community serving NSA but the politicos were there as well. Congressman John Sarbanes, State Senator Jim Robey and Delegate Warren Miller were all in attendance.

General Keith Alexander, the head of NSA and the newly created cyber command welcomed the assembled group and quipped that he was selected to lead the cyber command “because he already had an office.”

He said that when the cyber command “stands up” this fall it will already have 1,100 people in place at the fort and that while much of the mission of the cyber command is classified, he could say that it is “huge.” I wrote that down. It reminded me a business outreach symposium that NSA sponsored about five years ago where they showed an escalating bar graph without data points. We were told those were classified too.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Brookfield Takes the Helm

As General Growth Properties emerges from bankruptcy this fall the newly created company that will take over GGP’s master planned communities will be headed by a management team from Brookfield Advisors. According to this story from the Dow Jones Newswires, Brookfield will “prepare the company to separate from the nation’s second-largest mall owner and become publicly traded, according to papers filed Monday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan.”

Brookfield already has a sizable presence in this area. The company owns Keswick Homes and over seven million square feet of office space in Silver Spring, Bethesda, Reston, Arlington, Virginia and Washington, DC. They are also developing two master planned communities in Arizona; Brookfield at Verde Santa Fe, a “480-acre Master Planned Golf Course Community located in Central Arizona. Set at a beautiful location between scenic Sedona and historical Cottonwood” and Brookfield at Fox Creek, a “750-acre Master Planned Community located on the Bullhead Parkway across the Colorado River from the excitement of Laughlin, Nevada. A 750-acre Master Planned Community located on the Bullhead Parkway across the Colorado River from the excitement of Laughlin, Nevada.”

Brookfield is investing $8.55 billion into the restructured GGP and will own 16% of the new company that is temporarily known as Spinco.

It is likely that this new management group will keep the Columbia development team intact but will likely add a few new players as well. They have a pretty good bench after all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Short List

There are eleven candidates vying for four open seats on the Howard County School Board this year. The primary on September 14th will winnow the field down to eight. Parsing the list to eight was actually relatively easy. Making the final choice of four will be a bit harder.

The good news is that there appears to be eight good choices.

What I look for in a school member is someone who is capable of working with others. No one school board member can affect good policy, it takes a collaborative effort. Contrarians like Allen Dyer sometimes may make good press but rarely good policy.

David Thalheimer and Cindy Vaillancourt are little too close to Allen Dyer for my comfort. They both appear to be smart but after watching them during the League of Women Voters candidate’s forum and sampling some of the posts on their Yahoo group, howardpubliced, I came away with the impression that they just don’t play well with others. As a parent of a child in the schools, that’s not what I’m looking for on the school board

Marcelino Bedolla’s proposal that the schools use volunteer labor to paint classrooms and cut the grass made me think he is a little detached from the reality of the size HoCo school system. Not only is it doubtful you could ever get enough volunteers to take on this labor, just coordinating a volunteer effort of this scale would probably cost the school system even more money.

My short list for the school board includes (in no particular order of preference) Leslie Kornreich, Frank Aquino, David Proudfoot, Larry Walker, Robert Ballinger, Brian Meskin, David Gertler and Sandra French.

After the primary I’ll pick my final four.

Monday, August 23, 2010


I was so inspired by the photograph of Liz Bobo and Alan Klein on the Explore Howard website that I decided to try my hand at loco politico photo satire.

As I was saving my completed masterpiece to a file on my laptop I inadvertently named it “lizal.” This might be even better than Klobo.

Monday Morning Memo

This is the last week of summer vacation for HoCo public schools. I tried to convince Peanut to get up for an early morning hike with me but she demurred, preferring to savor this final August Monday morning of sleeping in.

Leaving her to her morning slumber I headed down the road to my neighborhood Dunkin Donuts for my first coffee of the day when I spotted Bob Flanagan working the street. No doubt Bob was somewhat energized by Larry Carsons story about the District 1 contest in The Sun this weekend and his recent endorsement from his former boss, Bob Ehrlich.

I don’t think Courtney Watson is actively seeking an endorsement from the current guv.

Back at home I sipped my coffee while watching the Board of Education candidates’ forum online. With eleven candidates seeking four open seats there is a lot to digest in order to thin out this herd. Since the school board is so important and also receives so little play in the printed press, I’ve decided to hold off on making my endorsements for those four seats until after the primary on September 14th. I will, however, help voters to winnow down the eleven for the primary by making my picks for the eight who will stand for election in November. Look for those eight picks sometime this week.

Midway through watching the forum my coffee ran dry so I took another break and headed down to the old town for my second cup of the day. Fortunately, I ran into Ellicott City impresario, Kimberly Kepnes and asked her the question that has been on HowChows mind.

“Just what is The Blue Goose?” I asked, referring to sign in the window of the former Sarah & Desmonds café on Old Columbia Road.

“It’s a home goods store,” she informs me.

Then again, by now he already knew that.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Business and our Loco Legislators

In their 2010 Roll Call publication, the Maryland Business for Responsive Government rates every senator and delegate in the Maryland General Assembly based upon their votes “that have practical or philosophical importance to the widest possible range of Maryland businesses, trade associations, and chambers of commerce.”

“In order to compare a legislator‘s score with his or her colleagues, both Senate and House members have been ranked by percentiles. The percentile represents where a legislator‘s 2010 MBRG % rating ranks in relation to other legislators‘ ratings. For example, a Senator with a percentile ranking of 78 has a 2010 MBRG rating greater than 78 percent of his or her fellow Senators during this time period.”

It will probably come as no surprise that in HoCo, all the business friendly legislators are Repubs. The highest ranking loco politico is Warren Miller with an 89 followed closely by Alan Kittleman with an 87. The next highest was Gail Bates with a 75.

The highest ranking loco Dem is Ed Kasemeyer with a 57, followed by Shane Pendergrass with a 39. Guy Guzzone, Frank Turner, and Liz Bobo all received a rating of 17 while Jim Robey earned one of the lowest ratings in the state with a 2. He did a little better with his cumulative rating of 40% while Liz Bobo’s cumulative rating was 25%, a distinction shared by only a handful of her fellow state lawmakers.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Problem with Preseason

I really don’t care that much for preseason NFL games. If you are lucky you may get to see a quarter of football with the starting squads on both teams and most of that time you spend hoping one your guys doesn’t sustain a season ending injury in a game that means nothing.

I think it is outrageous that teams charge full price for a ticket to these games too.

That being said, I’ll still have the TV on this evening when the Ravens take the field against the Redskins. I just can’t help myself.

Go Ravens!

Santa Heim Merriland?

Savage is the featured community in the Where We Live section of The Washington Post today. In relating the storied past of the mill that is the centerpiece of the District 3 town, Laura Barnhradt Cech describes the period just after World War II when the mill was transformed into a Christmas village by Harry Heim. “He even went so far as to ask state legislators to change the name of Savage to Santa Heim, Merriland.”

It’s a good thing Shane Pendergrass wasn’t around then. Could you just imagine the desk slamming that would’ve gone on in the House of Delegates if that had come up under her watch?

Savage blogger Janis Markopoulus also got a nice little shout out.

Friday, August 20, 2010

In Memoriam…Bob Russell

A Columbia icon passed away yesterday, Bob Russell. Bob was an original member of the Longfellow Friends of the Traditional 4th that, among other things, gave Columbia it’s longest running and uniquely Columbian 4th of July parade.

He served on the Columbia Council representing Harpers Choice for six years.

He emceed every big thing at the lakefront.

He was a Benjamin Franklin impersonator.

He was not married to that Barbara Russell, ever.

He had what people refer to as a ready smile.

I liked that Bob was hip to the times as well. He has a HoCoMoJo page. He even ran a blog for a short period documenting the battle for his life.

He will be missed by many in the town he loved so well.

More on that this weekend…

In researching Liz Bobo’s standing in the business community I stumbled across a small treasure trove of data on loco politicos.

For instance, while Jim Robey (east county) has one of the lowest rankings from Maryland Business for Responsive Government, Allan Kittleman (west county) has the highest. Both ends of the spectrum right here in little old HoCo.

A house divided?

Stay tuned

Liz Biz Vid

Delegate Elizabeth Bobo has consistently received low rankings from Maryland Business for Responsive Government. Out of the six delegates representing Howard County in the Maryland General Assembly, Liz has the lowest cumulative rank from her fifteen years in office. I suppose that is why she felt compelled to create yet another video showing how much she empathizes and relates to business people.

In a staged and seemingly heavily edited video on her deck, she has a roundtable discussion with Brian England of British American Auto Care, Dr. Terri Hill, a plastic surgeon and Richard Duetscham, a vice president of GroSolar. Curiously though, she spends most of the video promoting government created jobs as opposed to private sector job creation.

It is also interesting to note that none of her roundtable business people actually operate a business in her district. This is interesting because her district covers all of Town Center with about a million square feet of retail and almost two million square feet of office space. Couldn’t she find a business in all that space in her district that likes her?

There are so many other things odd about this awkward business discussion. It seems that just when it could get interesting something gets edited out.

Liz seems to enjoy these staged and edited interactions better than facing real questions from informed questioners. She is still the only local politician from either party who has declined to be a guest on our podcast.

And then there’s that…

Day Off

This past week has been a fairly busy one for me in my real job. This is a good thing because commercial real estate activity can be a leading economic indicator, particularly in the case of the prospect we are talking to for our office building in Emerson. If we are successful and a lease is signed this fall, it will still take the better part of a year before actual bodies are working in the building.

Yesterday, our 150 pages plus proposal was delivered to the client and so now I can come up for air and get back to more prolific posting here. One of the things I will be dissecting later today is the latest campaign video by Liz Bobo. This time Liz lets us know she likes business people. I am grateful to Liz for continuing to provide fodder for this blog.

Apparently Patuxent Publishing likes Liz too only in a different way. The paper is rapidly losing street cred as an impartial observer in the loco politico scene.

With the proposal now put to bed and nothing left to do but wait, I’ve taken this gorgeous Friday off. Peanut and I are headed off for a hike this morning on one of the lesser traveled trails in Patapsco State Park.

More news later…

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Walgreens Site Sold

Now that the hard work of getting all the necessary entitlements for a stand alone Walgreens have been completed, Bavar Properties has sold the site at the corner of Thunder Hill Road and Route 175 before construction has even started. 5585 Twin Knolls LLC purchased the property, along with the Walgreens lease, last month for just over $6 million.

Bavar Properties purchased the former BB&T bank branch four years ago for $2.7 million. After entering into a contract with Walgreens to build a 14,820 square foot store on the property, Bavar had to address traffic concerns and Barbara Russell in order to get a new site plan approved.

Columbia based Manekin Construction is handling the development and construction of the new store.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Magic Johnson in Hanover

MARC Connection to Oxford Square

Magic Johnson and his Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds invested $17.1 million into the Oxford Square development project in Hanover. Oxford Square was recently rezoned from an M-2 industrial zone to a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zone allowing for a mix of apartments, offices and retail as opposed to warehouses.

Preston Partners was able to convince the Zoning Board that the development qualified for the TOD designation despite being located on the opposite side of MD Route 100 from the MARC station. Preston Partners uncovered an easement dating back to 1749 that provides direct access to the train station from the 122 acre parcel off of Coca Cola Drive which they used as justification for this change.

It remains to be seen how many people will use this easement underneath the highway to actually walk to the train station.

I wonder if the development will now include a movie theatre too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Blog Was That Liz?

In her endorsement announcement this morning Liz Bobo made reference to a blog. According to this story by Lindsey McPherson in The Columbia Flier, “Bobo said the timing of her endorsement also had to do with a negative comment about Klein on a blog, saying that his endorsement by the Sierra Club should be dismissed.”

I wonder which blog she was referring to?

She still didn’t mention anything that Alan has actually done for the HoCo environment. We’re still waiting on that.

The Alan and Liz Show Goes Public

At a press conference in her home this morning, Liz Bobo formally endorsed Alan Klein in his primary bid to unseat Mary Kay Sigaty for the District 4 county council seat.

This endorsement comes as no surprise to anyone who follows the loco politico scene. Liz has been miffed at Mary Kay ever since Mary Kay found her own voice on the issue of Town Center redevelopment and, despite his claims to the contrary, Liz was instrumental in his decision to get into the race.

In many ways, Alan Klein is Liz’s creation. Shortly after the formation of CoFoCoDo and his self anointment as spokesperson, Liz shepherded Alan around to every homeowners association in Town Center that would grant them an audience.

Liz has often said that Alan speaks for her on issues related to Columbia Town Center. Now it appears that she wants him to be her proxy on the county council as well.

Now if he can only show up

Super Fresh Shuttering Stores

The parent company of SuperFresh, The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, announced that they will be closing 25 stores before the end of the year. According to this post by Andrea Walker in her Consuming Interest blog, “The closures are "absolutely necessary to strengthen A&P's operating foundation and improve our performance going forward," president and CEO Sam Martin said.”

The chain had already closed stores in Bowie and Bel Air back in February.

Closing stores in order to survive is rarely a good sign for a company.

There is no word yet as to whether the Ellicott City or Elkridge stores would be included on the hit list. In Ellicott City they will soon be facing even more competition from Target at Long Gate which is expanding to offer more grocery items including fresh produce.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Saving Ms Lucy

Leaving my neighborhood on Sunday, I spotted a dog up ahead that appeared to be unattended. This was on one of the central arteries in our little community, busy, but not overly so. As I got closer and slowed the dog started wandering back and forth across the road. Judging by her slow, unsteady gait I ascertained that this was an old dog. I pulled over and got out.

She was a brown and white Springer spaniel with a pink collar. She was definitely old and more than a bit confused. She wouldn’t come to me and kept wandering back in the road while I played crossing guard to the occasional passing car. Soon enough one of those occasional cars rolled to a stop. The woman rolled her window down and asked if she could help. I quickly explained the situation as I knew it. She just so happened to have some liver treats with her. We used these to get a closer look at that pink collar. This had to be somebody’s dog.

No tag.

Another car stopped. This time it was my neighbor Melanie, One Eyed Jack’s owner.

“That looks like Lucy,” she says as she approaches. If it is Lucy her house is less than a nine iron away. I run up the street and find Lucy’s owner, Brittany, in the driveway. Yes, Lucy is in fact missing, she somehow got out, the kids are suspect.

Lucy is an old dog Brittany tells us as she takes the dog up in her arms. She’s fifteen and senile. She said it would be awful if the dog went out by being hit by a car. I immediately thought of Mr. Bones in the book Timbuktu.

As Brittany and Lucy headed back home I turned to Melanie. Her eyes were reddened. She still misses Jack… a lot.

This day however, she helped another old dog to live another day.

Snow Stories in August

The legacy of the Big Kahuna snow event this past February is still very much with us. Five months later, in the heat of August, the bills from the storm are still piling up. According to this story by Sarah Breitenbach in The Columbia Flier “the county paid out about $44,000 to replace other damaged property, such as parked cars, according to figures provided by the county.”

I can certainly understand the county reimbursing the cost of a damaged car, so long as it wasn’t parked in a snow emergency route, but the county is also paying for mailboxes damaged by a plow. If a plow took out your mailbox you may be eligible for up to a $75.00 reimbursement from the county.

“County spokesman Kevin Enright said there were so many damaged mailboxes, the county could not investigate each claim, and so reimbursed residents up to $75 per mailbox.”


It seems to me that in this day and age of tight county budgets, individual homeowners should just suck it up and consider a mailbox damaged by a snowplow the same as a tree or shrubbery that was damaged by the heavy snow.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

HoCo Fair Number 65

Last night Mama Wordbones and I decided to drop by the fair before heading to dinner at Bistro Blanc. She is a country girl at heart and she had not been to the fair yet this year. On the drive out to West Friendship we talked about the various things that people can get ribbons for at the fair. “As far as I’m concerned a cucumber is a cucumber,” she said, “I don’t know what makes one more worthy of a blue ribbon than another.”

Maybe she should talk to Vicki Ambrose. She won this year’s blue ribbon for her cucumbers.

Our arrival at the fair coincided with the float parade. Leading off was a group of young folks and their animals. My favorite was this little girl all decked out in pink. Her lamb bayed continually as she led it by its neck.

Of course any parade in an election year is going to attract swarms of office seekers and their supporters. Even HoCo’s past politicos turned out. 2006 Republican county executive hopeful Chris Merdon donned a fox costume for Greg Fox and I’ll bet he was glad that the humidity had cleared out last night. I suppose that once a political animal...
Former county executive Ed Cochran marched in support of his daughter, Courtney Watson. I’d have to say that Courtney’s entourage was the most color coordinated of the bunch.

Four people walked down the midway holding a “Western Howard County Democratic Club” banner. I joked to Mama Wordbones that this was probably the entire club.

From their joint float in the parade, it appears that Cindy Vaillancourt, David Thalheimer, and Leslie Kornreich have formed a slate for their campaign for school board.

I hold a special place in my heart for nurses so when I spotted these “Nurses for Bob” I had to take a picture.

After the parade, as I was talking to Greg Fox, I was bumped from behind by fellow HoCo blogger Free Market. I didn’t get a chance to speak with him though before he ducked into the 4-H exhibition building.

As soon as the parade was over we left the fairgrounds for dinner. It was our first ever visit to Bistro Blanc and having heard so much about it we were anxious to check it out before we ruined our appetites by succumbing to the temptations of deep fried Oreos.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Liz Likes Young People

Liz Bobo has a new video on her campaign website that appears to be an effort to prove that she’s in tune with the younger generation of Columbians. In a staged setting at the Wilde Lake boathouse, Liz has a light discussion of issues with Brianna Wertz, Sharlene Ferguson, and Brent McBride.

In the video Liz, who has served as a State Delegate since 1995, tells Brianna that sustainable living is about preserving Wilde Lake for future generations. It is sort of ironic that she says this just as we learn that, despite a $3.4 million cost overrun in the planned dredging of the lake, the lake will still have an algae problem. How come she didn’t procure “shovel ready” funding from the state for this project?

Sharlene Ferguson wanted to know what Liz could do to help her find a job. After fumbling on Charlene’s major Liz proceeds to talk about green jobs…for a criminology major!

Brent McBride needed a civics lesson. He wanted Liz to explain the difference between her role as a delegate and the role of the county council. Liz took this opportunity to talk about Symphony Woods which she says will become a “somewhat more active park, still passive but more active...”


She also talks about the café in the woods that, according to CA’s own documents, will be in a “future phase” perhaps as late as 2014, if then.

Liz Bobo is also now calling herself “an agent for change.”

That’s a pretty big stretch for an incumbent that’s been in office for fifteen years.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Picture This

I just became aware of a new local blog, HoCo360, “a hyper-local visual journal.” If future shots are as good as the first two posts it will be a welcome addition to the mix.

Welcome HoCo360, a feast for loco eyes. I hope you post often.

Tavern Talk

Back in the spring of 1990, Fred Glassberg and his partners broke ground for the Meadowridge Business Park in Elkridge. To mark the occasion the partnership threw a tent party on the site for local dignitaries and the industrial real estate brokers. It was less than a year before the 1990-91 recession and at the height of the preceding boom. They hired Roger Caplan, who had just started his own business, to put the event together. There was a live band, a catered buffet and an open bar.

As the early evening affair wound down, a group of industrial brokers decided to take the party across Route 1 to the Pine Log Tavern. I thought of the Pine Log Tavern today when I read this article by Larry Carson in The Sun about the impending demise of the 999 Tavern just south of Meadowridge on Route 1. The Pine Log wasn’t as nice as 999. Its regulars included blue collar workers, bikers, and a few of those whose ship had passed by. The place had real character.

When a group of thirty something young men, all in dark three piece suits, full of alcohol and confidence, pushed through the door that early summer evening, the place suddenly got very quiet. In an attempt to immediately neutralize the turf, the young guns announced a round of drinks for all at the bar. I mean how badly could they get hurt? This was a PBR crowd.

All went well until it came time to settle up. The presentation of a credit card was met with a frown as the bartender pointed to dog eared beer stained sign by the cash register that read “In God We Trust, Everyone Else Pays Cash.”

Somehow they had missed that.

There was a bit of panic as the boys emptied their pockets of all available cash to the snickers of the old timers. Thankfully the pot was made right along with an honorable gratuity for the innkeeper.

The Pine Log Tavern was torn down around 1998 and a new business park was built in its place. The recession was finally over.

Political Correctness and the Farm Queen

Last night we did our podcast at the Howard County Fair. Our first guest was Tess Gavigan, the 2010 Farm Bureau. That’s right; Tess is this years “Farm Bureau.”

Up until about 2006, the Howard County Fair had a Farm Queen but in this age of political correctness the queen title has relegated to the dust bin of political incorrectness and replaced with a bureau. Call me old fashioned but I think this is ridiculous. Even Tess lamented the fact that she doesn’t get a crown like her predecessors did.

I’m with her. Tess is a lovely young lady who has a passion for animals and is a self described country girl. In my book she is more of a queen than a farm bureau.

All in all it was a great night at the fair and we had lots of fun with the various vendors and exhibitors. There are still two more days to head to West Friendship and perhaps check out a deep fried Oreo, but if you go visit the animals, be sure to watch your step.

You can listen to our 21st episode here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gas Station to Go

One of the key elements of Kimco’s redevelopment proposal for the Wilde Lake Village Center is the elimination of the gas station. This particular gas station holds the distinction of being Columbia’s first gas station. It was built back in the sixties when gas stations were known as service stations.

Today gas stations are more about selling milk and cigarettes than they are about servicing cars. Gas is more often than not seen as a loss leader to draw people into a convenience store.

In Columbia’s original concept, a gas station with service bays in a village center was seen as important as the village center grocery store. Every village center included one and yet I haven’t heard anyone, with the notable exception of the station operator, complain about this change in village center concept. Even when a developer proposed putting an office building on the former gas station site in the Oakland Mills Village Center, nobody insisted he include a gas station in the design.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Careening Out of Control

After reading this post on Columbia 2.0 about the Symphony Woods redevelopment you have to seriously wonder if Liz even read her own bill.

Even more troubling is Cynthia Coyle’s understanding of the scope of work. Cindy is the chair of the Columbia Association and this is her pet project.

First it was the $3 million computer software fiasco, today we learned about the $3.4 million dredging cost overrun. I can only imagine what will happen with the $4.5 million park makeover.

Heat Retreat

Sometime Monday evening there was an electrical power surge in the Dobbin Road area that toasted our new offices air conditioning system. When I arrived at the office around 8:00 AM it was already 80 degrees inside.

Fortunately I had to attend a meeting in Annapolis Junction for most of the morning but when we returned just past noon the inside temperature had risen to 88. The rest of my colleagues had already bailed to go work at home. We expected that it would be fixed by this morning. Our expectations were not met. We came to find out that our office had been somehow mysteriously been removed from the list of suites that were sans a/c. With beads of sweat dripping from his brow, Bill informed the property manager that this was in fact inaccurate.

When I left just before noon today it was already 84. I’m not going back until conditions improve. These are salad days for HVAC contractors.

Klein’s Kommandos Commandeer Candidates Forum

Arriving at the League of Women Voters candidates’ forum last night you might have thought that you were going into an Alan Klein campaign rally. His campaign signs along the entry road into the Board of Education building and into the parking lots far outnumbered the signs for the other candidates. Klein volunteers were standing by the door wearing Klein t-shirts and handing out flyers which predominantly displayed the Sierra Club logo.

Inside the board room there were even more Klein supporters in Klein shirts. In fact, the only thing missing was Alan Klein. He was unable to attend because he was away on business. This of course raises the question as to whether he will be able to make the time commitment required of a county council person should he be elected.

I suppose his supporters were trying to over compensate for his absence. They were a bit aggressive too. When I tried to take a picture of his empty seat next to Mary Kay Sigaty I was told by a woman who I assumed was with the league that picture taking was forbidden “because it interferes with the television cameras.”

I told her I wasn’t using a flash but she insisted that it would still interfere and therefore was not permitted.

It is interesting to note that nothing was said earlier in the evening when I took several pictures of the county executive candidates on the dais. I’ve also taken lots of pictures in this board room at county council public hearings without a problem. Last night, with the Klein Kommandos running things, new rules were applied.

All in all the evening was basically a campaign appearance. Only the county executive candidates were questioned by the LWV while the county council candidates were simply allowed to give four minute speeches. The highlight of these was Dr. Moonbeams all out attack on Greg Fox. The pediatrician left her beside manner at home and went straight for Greg’s jugular. Choose civility indeed.

The loco blogging community was also well represented at last nights forum. Sarah Says and HoCo Rising posted their observations last night.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Internal Affairs

I’ve received information from a knowledgeable source that the board of the Columbia Association has quietly launched their own internal investigation to the computer software fiasco. This source tells me that the board has empowered a two person investigative team to look into this matter for them. This team supposedly includes the wife of one of the board members.

Apparently their investigative techniques have had more in common with the Spanish Inquisition than with good forensic accounting. This actually may have been the impetus behind Steven Sattler’s sudden resignation.

Don’t Call Me, I’ll Txt You…

The phone conversation is becoming almost as rare as a telephone booth. According to this story by Ian Shapira in The Washington Post, “Nearly all age groups are spending less time talking on the phone; boomers in their mid-50s and early 60s are the only ones still yakking as they did when Ma Bell was America's communications queen.”

Texting has now become the preferred method of communicating. I suppose that explains why my smart phone is at best mediocre for conversations yet excels at messaging.

“Not only are people making fewer calls, but they are also having shorter conversations when they do call. The average length of a cellphone call has dropped from 2.38 minutes in 1993 to 1.81 minutes in 2009, according to industry data. And between 2005 and 2009, as the number of minutes people spent talking on cellphones inched up, the number of cell phone messages containing text or multimedia content ballooned by 1,840 percent.”

Deborah Tannen, best selling author and professor at Georgetown sees the potential for a serious communication breakdown in this trend.

“Tannen, 65, worries that texting may fall victim one day to the same neglect that phone calls now face. Her generation's feelings, she said, are perfectly captured in a recent New Yorker magazine cartoon that shows two older, balding men sitting at a bar. The caption reads: "I used to call people, then I got into e-mailing, then texting, and now I just ignore everyone."

And then there’s that…

Monday, August 09, 2010

The State of HoCo Loco Blogs

Four years ago, during the last election cycle, I was the newcomer amongst a cadre of local bloggers commenting on the loco politico scene. In 2006 the blog heavyweights were The Hedgehog Report, HoCo Hayduke, David Keelans’ Howard County Maryland Blog and Evan Corens’ Howard County Blog. FreeMarket and Columbia Compass were in the second tier. I was somewhere in the third tier with fineline and Phil Marcus.

2006 was the first year that local blogs began to play a role in an election. Those four top blogs even got together and sponsored an online candidates forum for local and state races. It is doubtful whether their efforts had any impact on the election. In 2006 blogs were still considered a little “out there.” A few voters took note, most didn’t.

Four years later the blog landscape has changed completely. Hayduke ceased blogging in November 0f 2005 after a futile attempt to balance loco politico blogging with his new role as an insider, Evan’s blog began to fade away shortly after he was elected to the Columbia Council in 2007. Howard County Maryland Blog hasn’t had a new post since this past March and Hedgehog rarely posts on local issues anymore.

This time around two of the top loco politico bloggers were not even blogging in 2006 yet the readership and influence has noticeably increased. In 2006 most politicos paid little more than lip service to the nascent blogging community. This time around loco politicos not only read the blogs they also see the blogs as an important conduit for their messages.

It’s a shift of sorts, not a dramatic shift but a shift nonetheless and if it has the effect of reaching more voters and expanding the dialogue on local issues, it’s a good thing. Case in point is HoCo Risings post today on the Taxpayer Protection Initiative and the HoCo GOP. That is the sort of commentary that is best suited for this media.

The players may have changed but loco politico blogging is alive and well in HoCo.

Special Prosecutor for CA?

The recent resignation of Steven Sattler from the Columbia Association has raised more red flags about the computer software fiasco that has so far cost Columbia lien payers about $3 million and is nowhere near being complete. According to this story by Jennifer Broadwater in The Columbia Flier, Sattler was responsible for “the development and launch of a Customer Service System, information management software under development since 2006 and intended to be launched earlier this summer after multiple delays.”

Some have suggested that there is much more to this story than is being disclosed.

While I am certain that the current CA board would prefer to simply move on I think it might be helpful to have an independent investigation into what exactly caused this train to run off the tracks. The CA board owes that much to the Columbia property owners who are footing the bill for this mess.

Scene This Week In…

This past Saturday, while enjoying lunch outside at Johnny’s Main Street Bistro in Ellicott City, we were suddenly surrounded by a wedding party. The wedding photographer was posing his subjects in a variety of settings up and down Main Street prior to the wedding ceremony. Fortunately for all concerned, Saturday was not s typical summer scorcher and as a result they actually seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Fellow loco blogger Bill Santos gave me the heads up about this odd tableau of political signs along Ten Mills Road in Columbia. Three signs, one for gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich, one for State Delegate Liz Bobo and one for her Republican challenger Bob Wheatley, are all in front of the same house.

Politics makes strange bedfellows indeed.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Thank you, May I Have Another?

Last month, after I posted about finishing my last book I cast about for recommendations for my next read.

The next day when I arrived at work I found The Big Burn by Timothy Egan lying on my desk. My colleague Bill had dropped it off. I read a few pages and I was hooked.

The Big Burn chronicles the largest recorded wildfire in US history. It coincided with the arrival of the first US Forest Rangers in the west and the fire was a defining moment for the agency that forever changed their stewardship of our public lands.

As it turns out this month is also the 100th anniversary of the fire that claimed 86 lives and consumed over three million acres of virgin timberland. The story of the fire and the people who fought it is also the story of the America. It includes the heroics of first generation Americans from Europe and a platoon of Buffalo Soldiers from Spokane.

“On August 20, 2005, a day when the sun baked the Bitterroots with not much of a breeze to break the heat, top brass from the Forest Service assembled along Placer Creek, less than a mile from Wallace, Idaho. They came to northern Rockies to remember that other August 20 nearly a century before. An honor guard in crisp green uniforms and while gloves marched in single file along the road to the creek. They carried flags and blew bagpipes, the sound filling the forest and the steep slopes of the mountains. They also carried Pulaskis, shiny and chrome plated, holding them across their chests like riflemen clutching their weapons.”

All in all an excellent read. May I have another?

District 5 Council Endorsement

I will be the first to admit that District 5 is the least familiar turf of HoCo for me. Even though Mama Wordbones was a longtime resident of District 5 before we moved to Ellicott City six years ago, what I mostly knew of the western part of the county I learned from the seat of a road bike from Sunday morning rides the rural roads of the west.

That being said, HoCo is a small county and I suppose I still know the rural west better than many east countians.

For the past four years this district has been represented by Greg Fox, the lone Republican on the county council. Despite being the lone opposition party member, Greg has had an outsized influence on county issues. He fought hard to insure that commercial development the Columbia Town Center redevelopment legislation kept pace with residential development. Greg understands the importance of those ratios in maintaining the county’s high bond rating. Commercial development helps keep the bond rating high because commercial properties don’t demand the same services as residential properties. and typically pay for more than they get back.

Despite being outnumbered, Greg has shown he knows how to work with his Democratic colleagues on the council to best serve the interests of the residents of his district and HoCo in general. It can’t be easy being the odd man out but for the most part Greg has found a way to be more than just a voice of opposition.

The Democratic challenger for the District 5 seat is a newcomer to loco politics and so far has demonstrated that she really doesn’t understand the role and functions of the council much less the important issues in her district. I applaud Dr. Beams for getting involved but maybe she should have started her loco political career in the farm league like the school board. She’s just not ready for primetime.

For the District 5 council seat I support Greg Fox for reelection.

Sierra Stupidity

The Howard County Chapter of the Sierra Club has endorsed Alan Klein in his primary bid to unseat Mary Kay Sigaty in the Democratic primary for the District 4 council seat. According to this article by Larry Carson in The Sun, Sierra Club spokesperson Nancy Davis called Klein “a strong pro-environment advocate who is best known for his community activism defending downtown Columbia from hyper-development,"


What has Alan Klein actually done besides complain?

I challenge the Sierra Club point to one, just one, example of an initiative by Klein that has resulted in improving the environment in HoCo.

The fact is that the Sierra Club of Howard County has a history of being against green initiatives that actually benefit the citizens of HoCo. This is the same club that waged an all out effort to stop the construction of the wildly popular Grist Mill Trail in the Patapsco State Park back in 2002. Despite enlisting the support of William Donald Schafer who was then State Comptroller and a critical vote on the Public Works Board, they eventually lost that battle.

This same group now singles out Mary Kay as the only incumbent unworthy of their endorsement even though they admit that “There's not a lot we can say about Klein because he hasn't held office.”

So let me get this straight, Mary Kay supports a plan that will restore the stream beds in Town Center and correct the storm water runoff problems that have plagued Town Center for decades but the Sierra Club prefers someone who has done nothing but obstruct and complain?


Saturday, August 07, 2010

Doctor Moonbeams

Much has already been written about the Democratic candidate for the 5th District county council seat. Since her late entry into the race, Dr. Zaneb Beams has raised an eyebrow or two for allegedly campaigning door to door in Montgomery County and for her recent letter in support of local farm stands.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, the farm stand she singles out as “key in protecting the rural west from big-box developers,” is hardly a poster child for preserving HoCo agriculture. The Harbin family sold their farm to developers for an active adult community and the farm stand is all that remains.

Don’t get me wrong, I support the Harbin Farm stand but not because it holds the key to supporting HoCo farms. I just happen to like farm stands.

And there really isn’t any imminent threat of “big box retail” coming to western HoCo. The area simply lacks the key elements that these retailers are looking for in a location such as population density, highway visibility and public service.

The real economic issues for HoCo farms are things like whether a farm can host weddings and other events or whether they can put cell phone antennas on their farm silos.

I certainly hope Dr. Beams practices medicine better than she studies local issues.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Apparently there’s an App for That Too

According to this story by Kristen Dize in The Aegis, a group of Hartford County teens have been arrested for using a smart phone app “to simulate police cruiser lights and pull over three vehicles.”

“One of the boys said he got the idea from YouTube and admitted it had been the four of them the previous night as well, according to the report.”

This is just further proof that a smart phone does not convey intelligence.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

In This Months Business Monthly

In what now seems to be a former life, I lived in northern California just across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. Often times on weekends we’d take a drive up north along Highway 1 to Stinson Beach. It is a breathtaking drive up over the hills surrounding Mount Tamalpais and down along the coast. On one such drive we ventured a little farther north to check out the town of Bolinas.

Even back in the mid eighties Bolinas was legendary for its attempts to keep outsiders like me out. Residents continually tore down any sign that Caltrans erected identifying the exit for the town to keep people like me from visiting. Caltrans eventually gave up.

I thought of Bolinas when people got all excited about the second place ranking of Columbia/Ellicott City in Money magazine last month. Sure, it is nice to be recognized but this type of thing should be kept in perspective. There are plenty of nice places to live in America and not all of them care to promote that fact. Some like Bolinas, are perfectly content to keep that fact to themselves.

You can read this months column here.

Also, this issue of The Business Monthly also includes a nice little voter’s guide for HoCo and Anne Arundel county residents.

“The Business Monthly has asked each candidate for local and statewide office, as well as those running for office in counties or districts falling within our primary coverage area, to provide us with a biography and to answer a short questionnaire.”

They got a pretty good response but surprisingly 7 candidates did not bother to take a swing at this softball pitch. District 13 Senate candidate Kyle Lorton, Council District candidate Reginald Avery, School Board candidates David Thalheimer and Robert Ballinger, Register of Wills candidate Larry Blickman, Judge of Orphans Court candidates Leslie Smith Turner and Ajile Brown all took a pass.

There is also a HoCo politico piece by George Berkheimer about the slow pace of this years election.

“Compared to Howard County's last General Election, there's a bit less excitement in the air this year. Candidates have filed later than ever, some at the very last minute, and the first candidates' forum has yet to be held.

By contrast, forums were well underway by mid-May in 2006.”

He also writes that Alan Klein continues to insist that he is not a one issue candidate.

You can find the complete guide here.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Pub Politics

Last night I joined up with a group of folks for an evening of beer and politics at a local watering hole. It was a multi generational group of men and women well versed in the HoCo politico scene, moderates all. We came together for a wide ranging discussion of local politics over cocktails. This was really inside baseball stuff for local political wonks. To encourage free expression, the group established a ground rule that while everyone would be free to share what was spoken of they would not disclose the names of anyone else in the group.

One of the first races to get battered around was the District 13 State Senate race. It was noted that Kyle Lorton failed to participate in the Business Monthly Candidate Guide. This is essentially blowing an opportunity for some favorable free press bringing into question as to whether he has enough fire in his belly. Kyle is one of two Republican challengers in a primary fight to see who will face Democrat Jim Robey in the general election. Kyles primary opponent is Jody Venkatesan. Some felt that if Kyle isn’t going to be serious about this race he should step aside and support Jody. This is a seat that was formerly held by Republican Sandy Schrader so it is a winnable seat for the GOP. The consensus of the group was that Jody is the better candidate. There are quite a few people out there who supported Jim last time that have since jumped ship.

The House of Delegates race in District 13 also was discussed. It was widely agreed that Guy Guzzone is the safest incumbent in this district, followed by Shane Pendergrass. The group perceived Frank Turner as the most vulnerable incumbent and that Ed Priola had the best chance of the four Repubs vying for a seat in this heavily Dem district.

One of the more interesting observations by one of the group was about the primary battle between Mary Kay Sigaty and Alan Klein. This political observer put the odds in this race at 60/40 in Mary Kay’s favor, which is a little too close for comfort. It was pointed out the primary contests in off year elections like this are dominated by the true believers. The trouncing that Linda Odum took at the hands of Phil Kirsch in the Columbia Council election this past spring augured well for Klein.

Nobody in the group liked slates. I personally happen to think that they are an insult to the voter. Just because I like Guy Guzzone doesn’t mean I like Shane Pendergrass. If anything that association detracts from Guy. I think candidates should stand on their own two feet, not on somebody elses slate.

And speaking of Guy, this group did not shy from looking into the HoCo politico future either. It was widely agreed that Guy will make a run for county executive in 2014 but not without a challenge from Courtney Watson. The Repub candidate for county exec that year will likely be Alan Kittleman.

This group of political prognosticators has agreed reconvene on a regular basis for more political crystal ball gazing so stay tuned.