Monday, January 31, 2011

Odds and Ends

Last Friday I attended an open house for the new Colliers International office in Columbia Gateway. The commercial brokerage division of this office is run by my colleague and long time friend, Rob Freedman. Rob and his crew put together a nice little ribbon cutting event with the county executive that featured the biggest pair of scissors I’d ever seen. It turns out these ribbon cutting scissors are the property of Bonnie Heneson Communications which makes sense since most companies only need a tool like this once.

As it turns out, I left the open house at the same time as Ken Ulman and I had the opportunity to chat with him outside for a minute. I know there is plenty of speculation as to Ken’s future political plans but he did let slip an interesting an tell tale comment. I asked him about his future plans for elective office and he responded that he enjoys “being an executive” as opposed to being a legislator, even though he had just finished putting in long hours dealing with the biggest snow emergency of the year…so far anyway.

And speaking of executives, there was a very funny column by Petula Dvorak in The Washington Post about the self importance of Washington area commuters and the recent snowstorm. Petula points out that forecasters “told us things were going to get ugly. The media warned folks for days that it was coming. We didn't listen.”

“Weather? Weather doesn't stop the work we do. We are Washington, and our subcommittee secondary group organizational mission-statement workshop cannot be stopped by snow!

The government urges "nonessential" employees to stay home. Ha! Who you calling nonessential? Admitting that the work you perform is not a vital, integral part of the fate of the world when you work in Washington is akin to admitting that you're not fabulous in L.A. or tan in Florida.”

The net result of this mindset was a ten hour ride home.

And finally, we should be thankful that for most of us in HoCo, our public utility is BGE. Two days after last Wednesday s storm, BGE reported about 20,000 customers were still without power, including about 2,200 homes in HoCo. Pepco, which covers most of the metropolitan area to our south, had over 100,000 people without power as late as Friday, including 70,000 in MoCo.

That sorry performance got them a trip to the woodshed with the governor.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Park Closed

We decided to take a short hike this afternoon. After discussing the various alternatives and the conditions of the loco trails we settled on a walk around Centennial Park. We figured that by now the county parks department would’ve cleared the popular 2.5 mile loop around the lake.

We figured that part correctly. What we didn’t figure on was that the park would be closed.
No matter. We soon discovered that we could easily park right along Centennial Lane and walk into the park from there. We were not alone. At two o’clock this afternoon there was a steady stream of people and dogs going in and out of this side entrance.
I still can’t figure out why the park was closed three days after the storm. On the other hand, there were significantly fewer people walking the path today than would be found on a typical Sunday in January which was kind of nice. It was just us and our fellow scofflaws

You Say Sarah, I Say Sarah…

With gay marriage and civil unions being a hot topic in the Maryland General Assembly this year we thought it would be interesting to have a guest from the LGBT community on our podcast to discuss the issue. We reached out to the HoCo chapter of PFLAG and found Steve Charing who agreed to come on the show and share his thoughts and perspective about gay marriage. As it turns out Steve has been married to his partner for over thirty years and his marriage, which was performed in Massachusetts, is actually now recognized in Maryland, even though we don't have gay marriage in Maryland.

Public policy doesn't always make sense.

The Hoco loco news stories we dissected included the snow story, Ken Ulmans State of the County address, the continuing deliberations over the new Town Center Design guidelines, the Reservoir High School community meeting, Martin O’Malley’s bad driver initaitive and the proposed elimination of the compulsory high school test for social studies.

Paul and I also discussed the Wine Summit with Doug Miller and I was able to give a shout out to fellow HoCo bloggers, Sarah Husain and Tom Coale.

You can listen to the latest podcast here.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Scene This Week In…

It was before last Christmas since I updated my STW pics at the top of the right hand column. The truth of the matter is that it’s not every week that something catches my eye in both Ellicott City and Columbia. Sometimes I’ll see something post worthy in one locale but not the other.

On Thursday, with Peanut home from school because of the snowstorm, I decided to focus on this. It was also a way to get us both out of the house to see what Mother Nature had wrought.

We decided to go for a walk outside of the neighborhood so I drove over  to Meadowbrook Park. It was closed. We drove to Centennial Park. It was closed. Then we headed down through Running Brook to Wilde Lake Park. Not only was it open, CA crews were out plowing the pathways. I know I have been a harsh critic of the Columbia Association in the past so I wanted to make sure that I also give them accolades when they do good. In this case, they done good. We took a nice walk along the lake taking pictures and throwing snowballs out onto to ice.

It was a perfect way to capture winters beauty.

And speaking of snowballs, on Thursday night, as the storm was raging, I received an email from Kimberly Kepnes inviting me to a friendly community snowball fight in the courtyard in front of The Little French Market in downtown Ellicott City. I was intriqued by the idea of a massive snowball fight so I headed down the hill at high noon to check it out.

I suppose these things take time to develop. There were only about ten people on the field of battle. No matter, those who did show up seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was even covered by Nikki Gamer in Ellicott City Patch.

And yes, I did toss a snowball and received return fire.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Road Closed

We had pretty much dug ourselves by 9:00 this morning and were inside enjoying breakfast when the county plow arrived. Though we were happy to see him it was a mixed blessing. We now had a new barrier of snow blocking our drive and it was much heavier than the stuff we cleared earlier.

Earlier I navigated through the unplowed street to get a cup of coffee at my neighborhood Dunkin Donuts. It turned out that our street was the exception and most other streets in our little corner of HoCo were fairly clear.

At the same time there were roads in HoCo where snow on the road was only part of the problem. The heavy snow took a toll on trees and power lines like this scene on New Cut Road in Ellicott City.

It could take awhile to clean all this up.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Showdown @ Noon in EC

Unless you feel comfortable with your snowball throwing skills you’d be advised to avoid Parking Lot D in Ellicott City tomorrow around noon. The Empress of EC, Kimberly Kepnes has issued a call to arms for a “friendly” snowball battle.

“Bring your hats, gloves, your best humor and all of your friends and family! Oh, you might want to bring some money, too, 'cause we have hot drinks including great Coffee and Espresso, creamy Chai Tea and rich Hot Chocolate, Savory Soup and delicious Pastries and French Country Bread!  Perfect for the after-fight celebration!”

Think of it as a flash mob with weapons.

For those who prefer non impact snow activities, The Little French Market is also hosting a snowman building contest starting at one, presumably at the cessation of hostilities.

Hunkering Down

By all indications we’re in for a significant snow event this evening. Already we’re getting a mix of freezing rain and snow on our hill in Ellicott City. About twenty minutes ago we experienced thunder and lightning.

It’s good to be home.

Even better, the whole clan is home, safe under one roof.

Around three o’clock this afternoon I stopped by the Centre Park Giant. I thought I’d grab one of their rotisserie chickens for our dinner. It was a busy place. I was almost too late, there were only three left. I felt like I won the lottery.

I expect that it’s even busier now, but I wouldn't know because I'm not venturing back out there anytime soon. We’re hunkered down, with our larders full, all humans and animals accounted for. Bring on the storm.

Miller Time

HoCo Rising dubbed it the “Wine Summit” but I find that to be a little too formal. What it boiled down to was three new media types met up with an old media type and we shared a few drinks and laughs.

The purpose of the gathering was to see if Sarah, Tom and I could help Doug Miller to “get” the HoCo loco social media scene. Doug had written a column entitled "Facebook frenzy" in the Columbia Flier saying that he didn’t “get it.”

He doesn’t want to get it either. You see, Doug is a bit of a Luddite. He told us he doesn’t even own a cell phone. He told us his kids have them, but he doesn't, by choice. He uses and likes email but that’s pretty much where his technological curiosity ends.

I pointed out to him that HoCo was likely one of the most wired and connected communities in the entire U S of A making his aversion towards technology stand out all the more. He was well aware. Even so, Doug is not alone either as Sarah points out.
Doug Miller is good guy, I enjoyed meeting him. He was also a good sport about the whole thing. I’ll read his stuff with new interest from now on.

After Doug left, the three of us discussed the latest HoCo Blogtail party. Sarah was the only one who had attended.

“Jesse is after me to be a co-host.”

We all agreed that Jesse has done a good job keeping these gatherings going. They certainly have grown from the handful of people that attended when they were first started. 

It also occurred to me that I haven’t volunteered to co-host since the very first one. I told Sarah that I’d co-host with her…sometime this spring. 

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bad Coffee, Good Coffee

As I left my appointment in Towson this afternoon, I pulled into a drive thru Dunkin Donuts on Joppa Road to fuel up for the drive back to HoCo. I ordered a large coffee, no room. After paying for my purchase with paper money I slipped the unopened coffee into the cup holder and resumed my trek back south. At the intersection of Joppa and Loch Raven Boulevard my forward progress was interrupted by a red light. I decided to use the moment to savor a sip of my fresh hot coffee.


Instead of a lovely cup of pure coffee flavor I encountered a cream laden sugary beverage that only remotely hinted of coffee. For me at least, this is undrinkable.

As I waited for the light I pondered my next move. Do I pull a u-turn and return to the scene of coffee miscommunication and demand some java justice?

Or do I simply suck it up and stew about it for the whole ride home?

I opted to stew. I opened the door, dumped out the offending beverage onto the asphalt and tossed the empty cup into the back seat.

As I came back into Columbia my stewing had subsided but I was determined to get a decent cup of joe before going into the office. I pulled into the Starbucks on Dobbin Road. There were two people in front of me in line.

“Can I use this to pay?” the first lady in line asked the cashier. She was holding an iPhone.

The barista assured her that she could and she then proceeded to complete her transaction by waving her phone in front of scanner. The money was deducted from her Starbucks Rewards account.

“Does that work with other smart phones?” I asked.

The second guy in line seemed knowledgeable about these things and he suggested that, by now, there was undoubtedly an Android version of the app as well,


He then added. “Isn’t it funny that they once predicted we’d be driving flying cars by now but they never saw the smartphone thing coming!”

Personally I’m glad the flying car thing never took off.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hasta la Vista HoCo Harley

In May of 2004, Harley Davidson of Maryland celebrated the grand opening of their new location in the Troy Hill Commerce Center in Elkridge. According to this story by Liz F. Kay in The Sun the festivities included “a parade of motorcycles, fire engines and public officials in SUVs celebrated the dealership's reopening - a symbol of the transformation that county officials hope will continue along U.S. 1”

“With County Executive James N. Robey adorned in an orange and black leather jacket for his remarks - and Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" blasting from stereo speakers - the store opened to great fanfare in the Troy Hill Commerce Center, just north of Route 100.”

Those wild days are now over.  This week I received a mailer from my buddy Rob Freedman informing me that the property is for sale. According to this story by Frank Hazzard in Elkridge Patch the motorcycle dealership, “will close permanently on Feb. 28.”

“The business is closing, in part, due to the down economy,” said Tina Ice, 66, who has owned the Elkridge dealership for 20 years.”

Meanwhile, across town in Annapolis Junction, Bob Henig a BMW motorcycle dealer holds his own. Bob told Frank he’d been prudent.

“We had plans in January of ’09 to double the size of  [Bob's BMW] and triple the parking, but we put that on hold when we saw what was coming in terms of the economy. Good decision."

I was never much attracted to motorcycles. They just didn’t look like that much fun to me, which is probably a good thing.

A Deluge of Dunkins

The Beekman Group has announced plans to open eight new Dunkin Donuts in Columbia over the next six years. According to this report from, “The first location is slated to open this year. The company currently operates 9,000 locations nationwide and internationally.”

There are already four Dunkin Donuts stores in Columbia. That's a lot of donuts!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Theme Song for 2011

Yesterday, while listening to This American Life on WAMU, I heard a song that immediately summed up my outlook for 2011.  The song was This Year by The Mountain Goats. Actually it was just the chorus in the song that resonated with me…“I’m gonna make it through this year if it kills me…”

I bought it on iTunes this afternoon.

Dinner and a Movie

We saw The Kings Speech last night. Well technically the 4:40 PM show time was still a matinee which was cool with me because it was cheaper. Both Columbia movie theatres are currently showing the true story of King George VI and his speech coach and we chose the Regal Cinemas at Snowden instead of the AMC in Town Center.

I wonder if we made the right choice.

First of all, the theatre was packed, which surprised us. This movie was released in early December. I figured that by now most people who wanted to see this would have already seen it.

I figured wrong. We were lucky to get two seats without having to sit in the neck ache section.

Second, it was cold. I don’t know what was up, but the heat in the theatre didn’t seem to working very well. We kept our coats on. Mama Wordbones kept her gloves on too.

Despite the chill we enjoyed the flick. Afterwards we headed over to Café de Paris to indulge in their Restaurant Weeks offerings. This time I actually got to enjoy the food

Borders on the Brink

Borders Books is running low on cash. According to this story by Jeanine Poggi in The Street, “Borders announced that it would also delay payments to some of its vendors, which prompted reports that publishers were halting shipments of books to the company. Borders has now spent the last several weeks meeting with publishing big wigs and presenting a plan to get back in their good graces.”

They also fell a little behind the technology curve. According to this story by Maria Panaritis in the Philadelphia Inquirer the national chain "hasn't made the move to digital as quickly as Barnes & Noble" did, said digital-book-publishing expert David Carnoy, executive editor at CNET in New York,”

In the exploding market of e-readers, Borders is playing third string. Amazon was first with the Kindle, followed by Barnes and Noble with the Nook and now Borders has the Kobo.

The Kobo?

Good luck with that.

Borders has already been closing stores in effort to help stem their losses but it still may not be enough to save the company. According to this story by Michael S. Rosenwald in The Washington Post “Whatever progress publishers and Borders make toward a temporary deal, analysts and industry observers say the larger problem is much more daunting: There are just too many big bookstores selling a product fewer and fewer people want, at least in printed form.”

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Another Write Off

The Pen Boutique sells a Mohammed Ali fountain pen for $21,000. That’s for the gold and diamond version. They also sell a sterling silver limited edition for $2,500.

As much as I enjoy writing, I could never see spending that kind of money on a pen. I was given an expensive pen once. I lost it. I didn’t feel compelled to replace it either. When I saw that the Pen Boutique in The Mall was closing, I wasn’t really that surprised. I had never even been in the store.

In the digital age, penmanship is becoming a lost art.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

HoCo Loco Celebrity

Every January Jim and I get together to celebrate our birthdays with a steak dinner.  We’ve been doing this for so long now that we’ve both forgotten when we started.

Jim and I grew up in Columbia in the seventies. When we get together we can spend hours talking about the HoCo loco scene.

“You’re becoming a real local celebrity,” Jim throws at me out of nowhere.

My immediate thought was, “Yeah, in my own mind anyway.”

Then I started to think about what he meant and what it means to be a loco celeb. It’s a simple formula really; the more you put yourself out there, the more people know who you are. The more people who know who you are the higher scale of your loco celeb stature.

For example, the high end of HoCo loco celeb hood is populated by guys like Ken Ulman and Allan Kittleman. Both receive a fair amount of exposure in all manner of media from the mainstream press to the social media networks. Still, at that level, I’ll bet they walk into some places in HoCo where people won’t have a clue who they are or why they should care. Loco celeb street cred is earned simply by the probability of recognition in HoCo places. The county exec and the state senator unquestionably have the highest probability of said recognition.

The next level of HoCo loco celeb status is held by people like Liz Bobo and Warren Miller. Though they are known countywide, their strongest probability of recognition lies within their respective districts.

At the low end of the scale perhaps you’ll find the likes of me and maybe somebody like Barbara Russell.  Nobody knows who we are but a handful of our enemies and our facebook friends

Three Things about Food

This is the first week of HoCo Restaurant Weeks. I have not had the opportunity to peruse the offerings of all the participating restaurants but if the sampling I had is any indication, this is great opportunity to leave your comfort zone and venture into the untried. I plan on taking Mama Wordbones to at least one of the participating establishments this weekend.

On Monday in The Sun, John Lindner wrote about his lunch at Maiwand Kabob in the Harpers Choice Village Center in Columbia and concludes “Maiwand serves up good food at attractive prices.”

I agree and while I on on the subject of kabobs, I recently sampled the cuisine at the newly opened Kabob Hut in Taylor Village in Ellicott City. Maiwand easily wins this kabob kontest, so far at least.

And finally, tonight is yet another HoCo Blogtail Party. This time the gathering wil be held at the Second Chance Saloon in the Oakland Mils Village Center in Columbia. If you want to meet some of the people behind the HoCo blogs, these gatherings are a good opportunity to do so.

Was that three or four?

A Friend of Vice is Friend of Mine

If Delegate Warren Miller has his way, you will soon be able to sample single malts in addition to beer and wine in HoCo. Under current HoCo requlations, sampling of liquor is prohibited in HoCo though it is allowed in AA Co, PG Co, and Baltimore. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, Miller received the support of the HoCo delegation after agreeing to amend his bill “to reduce the total amount of alcohol that could be consumed from four ounces down to one ounce in quarter-ounce shots.”

The only legislator not on board with the booze bill was Liz Bobo.

"To me, there is a big step from tasting wine to tasting liquor with a higher alcohol content," she said, explaining her vote.”

Does Liz think that whiskey is some sort of gateway drug like say, marijuana?

She has already indicated that she is "pro pot" which she believes that “in her heart” should be decriminalized in the Free State.

Millers other vice initiative is a bill that would allow HoCo VFW posts to install up to five slot machines for the use of their members. Warren has pointed out that eight Eastern Shore counties already allow this but that’s no surprise.  Eastern Shore residents are still mad at Millard Tawes for banning slots in Maryland in the early sixties. According to this story by Stephen Janis in The Baltimore City Paper, the state took action against slots because citizens groups complained that they were "destroying the fabric of family and economic life..."

Times and attitudes change, in this case fueled by a thirst for more state revenue.

The HoCo delegation will roll the dice on veterans gambling when they reconvene next Wednesday.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

31 Seconds of Prime Time

A few readers may recall that last spring I spent some time with investigative reporter Dana Priest showing her around the defense intelligence community in our midst. Dana also bought along Michael Kirk and Jim Gilmore, independent producers of programming for Frontline on PBS.

Yesterday I received a call from Jim giving me a heads up that part of the stuff they filmed with me last May would be on TV last prime time no less. He told me to watch the lead story "Are We Safer"  which was one of three stories in the new Frontline Monthly Magazine Show.

I’m on for about 31 seconds. If you’re just curious to see that part you can find me at 14:50. We're driving around Annapolis Junction.

I was on twice as long in an earlier promotional video

No matter, I'm still planning on telling people that I was in story about Homeland Security with the governor.

It Could Be Worse

The DC Metro area and the Baltimore metro were ranked among the top five metro areas in the US for job growth in 2010 according to this story in The Economist which also points out that “America’s recovery is officially longer-lived than the recession that preceded it.”

It’s also better for some than others, particularly those with a degree.

“Why have the rich got richer? Partly because fewer college-educated workers lost their jobs during the recession, so lower unemployment rates in some cities simply reflect a brainier citizenry. But Ed Glaeser, an economist, argues that clusters of clever workers themselves enhance productivity. Such clusters give firms a useful advantage in a productivity-obsessed, cost-conscious world. And in tighter labour markets, firms are more eager to snap up talent while they can.”

The worst metro area for job growth last year was Las Vegas leading me to conclude that it is fortuitous that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Stuff

Suddenly it seems that the HoCo blogosphere has become much richer. Thanks to this post and this post on theHoCo,  I've discovered some great new voices in the HoCo loco blogging conversation.

I actually started linking to HoCo Hangover a couple of weeks ago. Any blog that sets its mission on the study of HoCo bar ecosystem sounds good to me. So far they’ve written up Union Jacks in Town Center, River Hill Sports Grille in Clarksville and Looneys in Maple Lawn. So many bars, so little time.

Though My Other Car is a Pirate Ship it isn’t really a new blog, it’s new to me. The blogger describes herself as “a thirty-something pirate girl, on a quest to find buried treasure in Columbia, Howard County, Maryland and beyond. Join me on the high seas for adventure, good food, grog, and tales.”

Good stuff.

I also like SaySayLobbyist. Meg tells us she loves “to use words that rhyme with Ham, Spit, Switch, and Duck. I also whine, misspell, procrastinate, run with scissors, and am a registered Democrat (The Horror!)."

Could this be the HoCo lefty blogger we’ve been looking for?

Kittleman Steps Down as Minority Leader

Senator Allan Kittleman told a Republican caucus this morning that he will step down as minority leader in the Maryland State Senate. According to this story by Annie Liskey in The Sun, Allan was “heeding concerns from other Republican senators who voiced discomfort over his decision to introduce a civil unions bill.”

“Speaking on the Senate floor he it was "no secret" that he is left of his caucus on social issues. He said the caucus would "feel more comfortable" with a different leader.”

This move was widely expected. It also puts Allan in a better position should he decide to make a run for county executive in 2014.

The Dimming of Route 100

The State Highway Administration is turning down the lights on Route 100 in HoCo. According to this story by Pete Pichaske in The Columbia Flier, “SHA has turned off some 75 lights along that 6-mile stretch of the roadway, about 20-25 percent of the lights.”

It’s being done to save money.

“Reduced lighting requires less energy and saves money that can be used for road maintenance,” SHA District Engineer Dave Coyne said. “With reflective line striping, well-lit signs and headlights from vehicles, some of the overhead lighting along Maryland 100 could potentially be eliminated.”

If the year long pilot program is successful it could be replicated in other parts of the state as well.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Smell of Success

The Barnes & Noble bookstore in Ellicott City is a happening place on a cold Sunday in January. When I dropped in yesterday, a little after two, the place was abuzz with activity.

First of all, I should note that I love bookstores. I love the smell of bookstores. There is certain energy to a good bookstore that emanates from all those books and readers coming together in one place.

And they’re better than a library cause you don’t have to be quiet.

The Ellicott City Barnes & Noble is a great bookstore. Though it was well past noon when I passed through, every seat in the Café was taken. There were lots of students. Some were studying, others socializing. There couples, old and young and there were singles, engaged in a computer or a book.

And there were lots of people browsing the aisles picking up all manner of printed material, while the B&N eBook, The Nook, was on display just inside the door. They even had a couple of tables set up where you could play with one. I didn’t realize that the Nook had Wi-Fi capability. I quickly pulled up the blog, of course.

You have to credit B&N for their retail savvy. I suspect though, that an all eBook bookstore will not smell as nice as the current blended version.

Watson Takes on Jeopardy

Anyone watching football this weekend is already well aware that IBM’s artificial intelligence computer, Watson, is going to go toe to toe with the Jeopardy All Stars, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. This morning I discovered this preview which includes a graphic that shows the other answers Watson considers before answering.

Pretty neat stuff for an otherwise cold and dreary day…

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Package Plan Member #96

Package Plan member number 96 is no longer Dottie Binckley. This is actually a milestone of sorts. Dottie Binckley was one of the first one hundred Columbians to sign up for Columbia Associations’s Package Plan when it was first introduced in the late sixties. For the average Columbia family, Package Plan was a huge bargain over individual memberships for the recreational amentities like swimming, tennis and golf. For a family of eight like the Binckleys it was a no brainer.

Through all these years Dottie has kept her Package Plan membership even though all her kids were grown up and had moved out. She’s in her eighties now and the only amenity she enjoys is an occasional visit to the health club. It would make sense of course to simply cancel Package Plan and pay a daily rate at the health club, but there was that sub 100 number. She was number 96. It was part of her Columbia pioneer bonafides.

Her son hoped that maybe CA could cut her a break and let her keep the number for some sort of reduced rate. He visited the Customer Service Center and pleaded her case. “If we did that for you we’d have to do that for everyone,” he was politely told.

“Really?” he wondered. How many eighty year old Package Plan pioneers could there be?

Not surprisingly, his plea to find some accommodation for preserving his moms Package Plan legacy fell on deaf ears. He turned in #96,

Though CA can spend years and waste millions of dollars on a customer service software program that still doesn’t work they seem to have forgotten what real customer service looks like.

Ironically, this occurred in the same month that CA was touting their improved connectivity with lien payers with a new Facebook page.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Real Guy

I first became acquainted with Guy Guzzone when he was serving on the County Council in the seat now held by Jen Terrasa. At the time Jim Robey was serving in his second and final term as county exec. Back then it was widely expected that Guy would run for exec in 2006 instead of Ken.

Obviously things didn’t turn out that way. Guy was taking care of his aging parents at that time and he eventually determined that he could not handle the time and demands of the exec job in addition to his family obligations. He opted to run for the part time job as a State Delegate instead.

He may now get another chance to be exec. Guys name has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the office in 2014. On the other hand, according to what he said on our podcast yesterday, he may decide to remain at the state level of loco government instead.

We were also joined by Jesse Newborn who shared her perspective on Doug Millers column about social media.

You can listen to the 32nd episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What’s Your Walk Score?

In a recent post on The HoCo, Chris Bachman writes that when comparing the cost of suburban living versus city living “the affordability of Columbia vanishes once we factor in transportation costs.”

One of the resources he used for his post is a website called Walk Score where you plug in an address and it spits back a rating of how walk friendly it is. For instance, my home in Ellicott City received a low score of 22 out of 100, putting it solidly in the Car Dependent category. On the other hand, my work address on Dobbin Road rated an 80 for Very Walkable.

The irony of course is that in reality my office is not very walkable. While there may be plenty of places within walking distance, there are no sidewalks or crosswalks to connect them which causes many people to drive to Panera Bread which is less than a tenth of a mile away.

I also checked out my sisters place in St. Augustine Beach. During my last visit we walked to the beach, the bar and a great farmers market yet her ranking was still in the Car Dependent range with a 29.

It seems that Walk Score doesn't really know the score.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Doug Miller and the Social Media Monster

Doug Miller is not a big fan of social media. In his latest column in The Columbia Flier he posits that he doesn’t “find that much online that's relevant to real life as I know it.”

That’s really quite a statement. His own column is online after all. I’ll assume that Doug wasn’t referring to mainstream media online or sites like WebMD or the US Census. I think he's referring to the social media thing when he says he doesn't "get it." He doesn’t read any loco blogs, and doesn’t use Facebook or Linked In. I’m guessing he doesn’t Twitter either.

What he really doesn’t get is that social media is all that and more. He need look no further than his own column where seven people have already commented have already weighed in on his words. That’s social media Dougie.

I also get that guys like Doug and Larry Carson look askance at blogs and bloggers. These guys came up in a world where the mainstream media and their professional journalists were the gatekeepers for all content and comment. The Internet has busted down those walls and a flood of blogs and tweets has spilled into the void.

It can be a pretty scary world for an old school writer. The coin of the realm in the world of social media is the number of people you are connected to and the number of people who read and/or follow your stuff. Anyone can write a blog but that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will read it. 

Doug actually has a blog. People likely read his blog because they are already on the Explore Howard website. I wonder how it would fare by itself out here in the blogosphere. He last posted on December 23rd.

I actually feel a little sorry for him. His world is changing and he doesn’t understand it. Maybe we should take him out for drinks.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Can We Eat Now?

I was a little surprised when Dave Bittner told me that HoCo Tourism liked the idea of having Paul and I promote HoCo Restaurant Weeks. It is nice to know that some HoCo locos think enough of our podcast to want to be associated with it in some manner.

That was pretty cool.

The best part for me was getting to spend time with Erik Rochard and Joe Barbera, the proprietors of the two establishments we visited. Erik personifies the spirit of joie de vivre. As the chef was preparing the dishes for the shoot, Erik grabbed a bottle of wine and some glasses. The fact that it was 11:00 AM on a Tuesday did not even merit consideration. We talked about food, life and business and shared a few laughs while his staff kept bringing out food and laying it down in front of us. I felt like Bacchus.

Unfortunately we couldn't touch the food until after the shoot. It wouldn't look good after all to zoom in on a veal chop with a bite taken out of it.

With Joe we got the behind the scene tour of his new restaurant, the highlight being the walk in wine cooler that houses both bottles and kegs of wine. Though they are called kegs, the containers are actually stainless steel cylinders. The wine on tap system is made possible by state of the art equipment that insures that the last glass of wine from a keg is as fresh as the first. The wine we sampled was excellent, if that's any measure of anything.

Anyway, we had a good time. I’m not real crazy about how I came across sometimes but hopefully we’ll get another chance to do something fun like this again. If that happens I’ll try to do better.

Thanks to Amanda Hof from HoCo Tourism , Erik Rochard, Joe Barbera, Paul Skalny and Dave Bittner. That was a lot of  fun.

Can we eat now?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Donkey Games

It’s pretty well known that the relationship between Senator Jim Robey and County Executive Ken Ulman is not a real close one. The former county executive has been a less than enthusiastic supporter of his fellow Democrat.

Take the current initiative of the exec to increase the HoCo hotel tax for instance. Ken would like to bring our tax rate up to the same level as Anne Arundel County in order to provide additional funds for HoCo economic development and tourism efforts. According to this story by Larry Carson in The Sun, several hotels “said they support the two-percent tax increase and believe it would generate more business.”

Sounds like a slam dunk to me.

Not so fast says Senator Robey. He wants “written guarantees the money would be used as promised. As a measure that would only affect Howard County, such a tax increase must be approved by the Maryland General Assembly, starting with Howard's 11-member delegation.”

Ken and the HoCo Budget Director, Ray Wacks, would prefer a little more flexibility “in case unforeseen fiscal circumstances develop.”

That seems reasonable. I suspect that Jim would have preferred that flexibility back when he was county executive too but he seems somewhat less trusting of his successor. "I want to make sure if we commit to increasing the hotel/motel tax it goes to tourism," he said.”

Yeah right, that's what this is all about...tourism.

New Show on HoCoMoJo

Tom Coale, the man behind HoCo Rising, has teamed up with Jodi Finklestein for a new podcast called “I Can Fix That” on HoCoMoJo. Since Tom leans a little to the right and Jodi tends to hang a little on the left side they tackle the issues of the day from both sides of the political gridiron.

This could be interesting. Actually I’m listening right now as they dissect Allan Kittlemans endorsement of civil unions in the State of Maryland.

In each show Jodi will give Tom a problem to fix and Tom will give Jodi a problem to fix, hence the name "I Can Fix That."

To tune in and listen for yourself, go here.

Medstar and the Cleveland Clinic

This has been a big week for HoCo loco business news. First there was this column about Martek in The Sun, then it was this release about Sourcefire’s acquisition of an anti virus company. Today, in this story by Lena H. Sun in The Washington Post we learn that Columbia based Medstar Health and the world renowned Cleveland Clinic have agreed to “collaborate to bring medical inventions to market, according to a plan to be announced Tuesday.”

“The alliance, which will affect technologies developed by thousands of scientists and doctors, will be the first of its kind between two large U.S. health systems, executives said. The collaboration is a response to growing pressures on health-care institutions to cut costs while finding innovative ways to improve patient health and care delivery, they said.”

We may never become another Silicon Valley, but the news coming out of all three of these companies indicate that HoCo is still a pretty impressive hotbed of innovation in healthcare, the biosciences and cyber security.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sourcefire is Hot

Martek isn’t the only Columbia based technology company grabbing headlines these days. Sourcefire a developer of “real time adaptive” network security products, is another HoCo loco business in the fast lane. Founded in 2001, the company passed $100 million in revenue in 2009 and now employs over 300 people. They are headquartered in the Patuxent Woods Business Park near the village of Owen Brown in Columbia.

They also just bought another fast growing company. 

Last week the company announced the acquisition of Immunet, an interesting little start up anti-virus subscription service based in Palo Alto. Immunet “leverages the collective intelligence of a growing community, the speed of cloud computing, and the power of social networking to provide a groundbreaking approach to security.”

In just two years Immunet has already signed up 750,000 users in 192 countries.

Sourcefire is a company with a sense of humor too. Their leading product is called Snort which it describes as “the world’s most downloaded intrusion detection and prevention technology with nearly 4 million downloads to date.”

They even have a Chief People Officer which sounds so much nicer than Director of Human Resources.

Gun Crazy

The gunning down of twenty innocent people in an Arizona shopping center this past weekend has reignited the debate about guns in our society. While some have tried to pin the blame for this tragedy on the increasing vitriol in our political dialogue, both proponents and opponents of gun control have seized upon the incident to bolster their cases. The proponents argue that more stringent control laws would have prevented Jared Loughner from purchasing a handgun. Opponents argue that if someone in the crowd had a gun they may have been able to take the shooter down sooner.

In his Blog Briefing Room in The Hill, Jay Schroeder reported that both sides are spinning the shooting to advance their agendas.

“Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called for an investigation into how the man who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and as many as 19 others in Tucson, Ariz., Saturday obtained a handgun despite a "history of mental instability."

Newly minted Senator Mike Lee from Utah saw it differently.

“Laws are already on the books that prevent mentally ill people from obtaining guns, he said.

"I don't think we're going to legislate our way out of the risk," the Tea-Party backed senator said.

 "To the contrary, there is abundant research suggesting that in cities where more people own guns, the crime rate, especially the murder rate, goes down."

I think they are both nuts. It is doubtful that a more thorough background check would have prevented Mr. Loughner from purchasing a gun and it is just as unlikely that someone with a gun could have stopped the guy any sooner than the men who eventually tackled him. If someone had attempted to shoot Mr. Loughner it is just as likely that they’d miss and hit another innocent bystander.

That being said, it is still far too easy to buy a gun in this country. It is harder to get a real estate license than it is to purchase a weapon.

That’s crazy.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

For Some, It’s Never Enough

Martek Biosciencess was in the news again today. In his column in The Sun, Jay Hancock used the company to highlight Marylands failure to attract manufacturing jobs. Even though Martek employs over 200 people in Maryland the company located their DHA manufacturing plant in South Carolina.

“Besides more than 200 Martek employees, the Kingstree, S.C., plant also was responsible for hundreds of construction jobs associated with an expansion, according to The State newspaper.”

Okay, that was a miss but it also should be noted that the higher paying jobs in Martek are located here and the company is actually increasing those jobs in HoCo with an expansion of their offices on Dobbin Road that began this past summer.

It’s sort of like the reaction by some to Allan Kittlemans civil union initiative. Instead of seeing this as a positive step for equal rights in the state, some activists have attacked him for not going far enough, even before anyone has had a chance to actually read the proposed legislation.

Jeez people, come on now!

Verizon iPhone Imminent?

At a neighbor’s house today, while watching the Ravens whooping of the Chiefs, I picked up a rumor that Apple would be announcing an iPhone for the Verizon network as early as this Tuesday.

Then again, it may not happen until February 3rd.

Either way, it does appear that the days of AT&T’s iPhone exclusivity are numbered.

In a way, it’s almost anti climatic now. A year ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to get a Verizon iPhone as soon as I could get my hands on one. Since acquiring my Droid X two months ago, not so much.

The guy who hosted the neighborhood gathering for the game today actually works for Apple. He has an iPhone of course but he didn't have the NFL mobile app. That immediately took some of the luster off of the iPhone for me.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Personal Archeology

I’ve never been mistaken for an organized person. As such it is inevitable that I’ll misplace something, like a receipt for one of the gifts I gave Mama Wordbones for Christmas. This, of course, will end up being the very receipt I need. Though I did manage to keep the lion’s share of my holiday shopping paper work in an easily retrievable location, this particular document seems to have eluded my effort.

I had an idea where it might be.

In my closet I have a drawer of stuff. For the most part this is stuff I take out of my pockets when I’m changing clothes. The drawer is a magnet for an inexplicable collection of stuff.

I should also note that my drawer of stuff is stuffed with at least of year’s worth of stuff. In fact, it was overflowing. Finding the elusive receipt required tackling the stuff drawer, one item at a time, like conducting a personal archeological dig of the past year. This is a task I had put off far too long.

I found it curious what I had collected in the stuff drawer. There was a golf ball, some tees and a couple of ball markers. There were ten pens and a packet of Excedrin. There were three unmatched socks. There was a ticket “Good for 1 Drink,”…such a waste.

And there were three fortune cookie fortunes that I must’ve thought enough of to hang onto, if only for a little while.

And yes, the receipt I sought was also there. 

Friday, January 07, 2011

January Odds

January is not a very fun month for me. The bill for December comes due, along with any previous past dues I may have accrued over the prior months. It’s also cold here in HoCo, even when the sun shines. The prospect of warmer weather is a far off notion.

January is also the month of my birth. Some year’s birthdays are better than others; this year isn’t one of them. As it happens, it is the month of CG’s birth as well and she isn’t exactly thrilled by her birthday this year either.

She has a theory about this. Both of us are facing an even number year.

“The odds are better,” she says.

CG told me that last year, turning 21 was a great birthday. This year turning 22, not so much. “It’s a tweener. I’m not on my own yet, no money, senior in college…”

She goes on to explain that 23 will be cool because by then she’ll still be in her early twenties, working, single, confident…looking good in her crystal ball.

Of course 24, the dreaded evil even year, will mean she can longer qualify for early twenties…and so it went on right up to the fifties, my country.

“50 is hard because you’re, like fifty,” she observed. “51 is better because you’re an “early fifties.”

It took awhile but we finally got to me. The odd / even theory continued to hold up. 56 is all about that transition to the other side of “mid fifties”. I sense the march of time bearing down on me like Ray Lewis on Dustin Keller.

And speaking of which….Go Ravens!

In This Months Business Monthly

I have a weakness for gadgets, particularly electronic ones. When the iPhone was introduced two years ago I openly lamented the fact that, as a Verizon customer with contract extensions that will take me to my grave, this cool gadget was unavailable to me.

I should know better.

The essence of hot technology is that it begins to cool off the day you acquire it. Within a year of the iPhone introduction, Apple rolled out the iPhone 4 significantlty lowering the temperature of the original model. The same thing is about to happen with the iPad. In approximately two months, analysts expect Apple to roll out the iPad 2.

I also understand the positive side of these rapid developments. Before long, technology that was once cutting edge becomes commonplace and the bar is raised for the next big thing.

This was true with many of innovations in community planning that The Rouse Company introduced in Columbia. Forty years ago, burying power lines was cutting edge stuff. Today it is mandatory in all new developments. Forty years ago planners didn’t give much thought to run off from impervious surfaces. Today the Columbia Assocation has a watershed program to get people to rethink their driveways and lawns.

Forty years ago Columbia was a laboratory for new technologies in community planning. The redevelopment of Columbia Town Center presents an opportunity to regain that mantle of innovation. To a development guy like me that's even more exciting than an iPad.

You can read this months column here.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Hot Mail in Hanover

Watching the CBS Evening News tonight I was surprised to see Hanover, Maryland in the middle of national story. It seems that some wacko mailed letters to the Maryland Department of Transportation in Hanover and to the Governor in Annapolis that contained a small explosive device…a very small explosive device.

Hanover is just across the HoCo line near Elkridge.

According to this story by Nicole Fuller, Annie Linskey and Nick Madigan in The Sun, “One package was addressed to O'Malley and the other to MDOT Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley.”

“The note that accompanied the Annapolis package read: "Report suspicious activity. Total [expletive]. You have created your own self-fulfilling prophecy," according to source familiar with the investigation.

The source said the wording on the note, along with the fact that a package also was sent to transportation, leads investigators to question whether the suspect is talking about the overhead highway signs urging motorists to report terrorism tips.”

Of course wackos little stunt resulted in the deployment of every piece of available emergency equipment in Anne Arundel County as well as Homeland Security for what turned out to be nothing more than some sort of  flash powder.

“Certified explosive specialists from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also responded to both locations and "are assisting right now," said ATF Special Agent Clare Webber.

Officials did not offer a motive but the state police Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership with the FBI, has joined the state police and the state fire marshal in the investigation.”

I won't be surprised if the next thing we hear about is the need to spend millions to fortify the mailrooms in every state building.

Officials would be wise to consider that it is impossible to make anything fool-proof because fools are so ingenious.

Exiled on Main Street

Caplan’s , a fixture in the Ellicott City antiques business community is closing up shop on Main Street after 23 years. According to this story by Kim Lemmonds in Ellicott City Patch, “the store will be closing in late January.”

On the surface this closing could be seen as another setback to the retail health of the historic district. Just before Christmas, The Good Life Market announced that it too would be closing by the end of this month after six years. In both cases the owners of these stores were heavily involved in promoting Ellicott City.

That’s where the similarity ends though. The Good Life Market is closing up shop for good. Caplan’s is simply moving out of their Main Street location because they could not work out favorable lease renewal terms with their landlord.

In March of 2004, the 8,700 square foot former department store was sold to a partnership that includes Don Reuwer, Bruce Taylor and Jared Spahn. The new owners plan to renovate the property which includes a vacant parcel of land behind the store. According to this story by Jackie Powder in The Sun, “the businessmen hope to build apartments on a vacant lot behind it that extends to St. Paul Street.”

The departure of Caplan’s will allow that redevelopment program to move forward in earnest and the net result will actually benefit the old mill town.